Published in 1962 by activist scholar Michael Harrington, The Other America showed how millions of Americans, including half the nation's elderly, lived in poverty despite rising affluence across the country. The book's revelations about malnutrition and illiteracy from Appalachia to inner-city Los Angeles spurred many policymakers to embrace a more active government role in combating poverty.
The 1965 report by Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned of a brewing crisis in race relations. Moynihan's detailed study urged national leaders to help stabilize black families by addressing drug abuse, steep unemployment, surging teenage pregnancy rates, and a disturbing achievement gap in education. The report blamed racism as a major factor in the rise of single-parent households, and it also referred to many black families in urban ghettos as "dysfunctional." Civil rights leaders, government workers and scholars dismissed the report as an unfair "blame the victim" indictment of African American families. With the benefit of hindsight, many scholars say they wish they'd taken the report's data more seriously, especially the concerns that attempted to deal with the increase in single-parent families. Read more about the Moynihan Report.
In Losing Ground, conservative scholar Charles Murray took a look at poverty policies from 1950 to 1980. He concluded that government welfare programs mostly hurt poor people instead of helping them. In essence, he argued poverty programs created incentives for poor people to stay poor. Murray's work provided an intellectual framework for the conservative backlash against welfare that gathered momentum in the 1980s. Researchers have since challenged many of Murray's findings and the conclusions he drew from his data sets.
The scholar William Julius Wilson blamed poverty on changes in the economy, including the demise of manufacturing in central cities and the rise of service sector and information technology jobs. His 1990 book documented the ways that poorly educated inner-city residents weren't qualified for good jobs in the new economy, a problem compounded by high dropout rates. They were economically and socially isolated in ghettos. Wilson argued that concentrated poverty and joblessness led to a host of problems including teenage pregnancy, violence and criminal activity. Read a New York Times review of The Truly Disadvantaged.