Poverty across the U.S. community populations: Do local governments' economic development and public welfare policies matter?


 Dr. Linda Lobao, Department of Human and Community Resource Development
Rank at time of award: Professor
Dr. Mark Partridge, Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Developmental Economics
Rank at time of award: Professor
Dr. Davie Kraybill, Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Developmental Economics
Rank at time of award: Professor


The distribution of poverty and related socioeconomic conditions across community populations has extensively interested social scientists. Demographers, sociologists, regional scientists, and geographers have produced large literatures on the determinants of community-level poverty. Family poverty rates range from 1% to 64% across U.S. communities.  Why does poverty vary so markedly across community populations? Interest in this question continues as analysts seek to explain poverty variations as a function of new shifts in employment structure, human capital, migration/immigration, and demographic composition.
The proposed project evaluates a new, generally unexamined set of factors that we hypothesize affect poverty across community populations: local government activities. We have collected a unique panel, primary data set on local social/public services and economic development policies and programs. These policies and programs have intended goals of raising human capital, increasing employment, and strengthening the social safety net-which we hypothesize affect family poverty rates. We request funding to test this hypothesis, demonstrate the feasibility of our research approach, and prepare research articles and two grant proposals.
This project brings together an interdisciplinary team, who independently have produced numerous articles and several books on poverty/socioeconomic inequality across community populations (Lobao, Locality and Inequality and The Sociology of Spatial Inequality; Partridge, The Geography of Poverty).  The purpose is to collaborate data on a new project that would extend our respective work and position us for new funding opportunities.
Significance of this Project
For IPR objectives, poverty and socioeconomic inequalities are known correlates of health status and family stability across populations. A large body of research on mortality rates across county populations identifies poverty and income inequality as key determinants (see McLaughlin et al. 2007). Researchers also have long assessed how poverty affects family formation across community populations, for example, as indicated by the concentration of women-headed households (Lichter et al. 1997) and teenage fertility (Lobao 1990).
The proposed project should yield new insights on poverty. Nearly all research on poverty across community aggregates is based on secondary data of limited scope--generally economic structure, education, demographic composition, and location. Most of these determinants reflect passive indicators rather than community-level decisions and actions. Our study will be the first nationwide study to assess whether local policies and programs make a difference in poverty alleviation. Two ways communities can act to reduce poverty is through economic development and social/public service programs. Successful economic development programs create jobs that raise family income. Social and other public services may build human capital, promote family well-being and reduce poverty rates.
Our study also bridges a gap in the literature on social and public policy. A large debate exists about whether welfare program devolution, locally provided social services, and local efforts to promote growth help or harm populations. Some see greater local (versus federal) control as more efficient; others argue local governments wastefully compete to attract business and divert scarce resources away from needy populations. The former view suggests devolving policies to the local level may improve aggregate well-being and reduce poverty while the latter view suggests the opposite. To our knowledge, no study has assessed these propositions about the effects of governmental devolution across community populations.

Publications resulting from this seed grant

Linda Lobao, Amy Glasmeier, Gregory Hooks, Mark Partridge, and Ann R. Tickameyer. Spatial Inequality: A Research Agenda for the Social Sciences. Edited by: National Science Foundation, SBE 2020: Future Research in the Social and Behavioral Sciences. Washington: The National Science Foundation.

2016. Linda M. Lobao, Mark Partridge, Minyu Zhou, and Michael Betz.  “Poverty, Place and Coal Employment in a New Economic Era.” Rural Sociology 81 (3):343-386.

2015. Betz, Michael, Mark Partridge, Michael Ferran, and Linda Lobao.  “Coal Mining, Economic Development, and the Natural Resources Curse.”  Energy Economics 50  (July):105-116.

2014. Linda M. Lobao, Lazarus Adua and Gregory Hooks.  Privatization, Business Attraction, and Social Services across the United States: Local Governments’ Use of Market-Oriented Neoliberal Policies in the Post-2000 Period.  Social Problems 61 (4):644-672.2009. Linda Lobao and David Kraybill.  Poverty and Local Governments: Economic Development and Community Service Provision in an Era of Decentralization. Growth and Change 40(3):418-451.

2012. Linda M. Lobao, Wilner P. Jeanty, Mark Partridge, and David Kraybill. Poverty and Place across the United States: Does County Governments Matter to the Distribution of Economic Disparities? International Regional Science Review. 35 (2): 158-187.2009. Linda Lobao, Ron, Martin, and Andres Rodriguez-Pose.  Rescaling the State: New Modes of Institutional-Territorial OrganizationCambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society. 3(1): 2-9. 

2011. Linda Lobao and Lazarus Adua. State Rescaling and Local Governments’ Austerity Policies across the U.S.A., 2001-2008. Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy, and Society. Vol. 4, no. 3: 419-435. 2011.