Discussion Paper Icon

Poverty Politics and Policy

  • Mary Jo Bane
  • September 2008
  • DP1355-08

This paper is available in a volume in fall 2009, Changing Poverty, Changing Policies, co-edited by Maria Cancian and Sheldon Danziger and published by the Russell Sage Foundation.

In 1992, ‘ending welfare as we know it’ was an important theme in Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. It polled well, and was consistent with other aspects of the New Democrat agenda that Clinton was campaigning on, an agenda that also included ‘making work pay’ and ‘reinventing government.’ Candidate Clinton talked a good deal about welfare in the context of an approach to poverty that emphasized work and responsibility. In May 2008, when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were neck and neck for the Democratic nomination, neither of their campaign issues Web sites mentioned welfare. Both had issue papers on poverty, Clinton’s a sub-topic under the broad issue of ‘Strengthening the Middle Class,’ Obama’s one of twenty issue areas. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, included neither poverty nor welfare in his list of important issues, though he did have an economic plan that included proposals directed at the struggling middle class. Much has happened in politics and policy around poverty and welfare after and to some extent because of Clinton’s 1992 campaign agenda. In this paper, the author addresses three questions: What changed in policy, practice and the lives of the poor? What changed, if anything, in public opinion and the political context around poverty and welfare? What are the prospects and the best political strategies for improvement in the lives of the poor going forward from 2008?


Economic Support, Food & Nutrition, Food Assistance, Means-Tested Programs


, ,