While few now favor his single tax on land, many would agree with social reformer Henry George’s famous 1879 observation that the association of progress and poverty is the great enigma of our time. Today we better understand both poverty and economic progress but both are still very much with us. The U.S. measure of poverty indicates that in 2010 about 16% of all persons in the US were “in poverty” – some 49 million people, including nearly 14 million children. NORC has studied the causes and the consequences of poverty, its distribution among groups and over time, its harmful impact on the life-course, and social attitudes toward poverty and income inequality more broadly.
As early as 1942, NORC conducted one of the country’s first attitudinal studies of race, economic status, and public perceptions of poverty. Some two decades later, NORC participated in the evaluations of Great Society initiatives to combat poverty and subsequently NORC’s General Social Survey tracks attitudes and behaviors associated with impoverishment.
NORC also helped establish a deeper understanding of America’s growing homeless population through its 1985 Chicago Homeless Study. The study used innovative sampling strategies and tenacious interviewing—in alleys, bridges and doorways, between 1:00 am and 6:00 am—to arrive at new insights and more precise measurement of the nation’s homeless: How many people are homeless in Chicago? What are their social characteristics? And how did they come to be homeless in America? Also during the late-80s, NORC undertook a study of poverty in Chicago known as the Urban Family Life Survey. That study yielded new knowledge about ethnic groups in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
For over thirty years NORC has been tracking the lives of cohorts of youths as they age from adolescence through their middle ages and into their later years. The National Longitudinal Surveys of Youths document the behaviors associated with impoverishment as well as with economic success, and thereby contribute to our understanding of both determinants and consequences of poverty, inequality more generally, and economic progress. Henry George might approve of the NLSY as it even documents home or land ownership in its questions about assets.
NORC recently provided consultation, survey design, and other research support to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Making Connection program, a multi-phase 22-city effort to engage residents and other local stakeholders in designing initiatives to transform tough neighborhoods. A 2010 NORC study, entitled Survey of Runaway Children and Youth, presents research to date on the youth runaway problem and its connection to poverty and homelessness. NORC’s expertise in poverty research, advanced methodologies, and our interviewers’ cultural competency have laid the foundation for current and future studies which look more broadly at systemic issues and interventions.
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