45 Policies to End Urban Poverty


Early Learning

Focus the next generation of Early Learning Challenge Grants on improving quality measures.

As resources are directed to the implementation and improvement of state-level early childhood education programs, it is imperative to ensure that programs are of high quality. This is the time to examine what to measure, how to measure it, how often, at what cost, and where to regulate.
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Scale up the Boston pre-K program.

In 2005 Dr. Jason Sachs led an overhaul of Boston’s pre-K system to allow for new literacy curriculum and activity based instruction that encourages community building values.  The program required substantial investments in teacher training, but produced significant advances in the math, literacy and language skills of children who participated.  This program should be scaled up, but at a gradual pace to allow time for longer term affects to be evaluated.

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Increase the income of families with small children.

Given the high rates of poverty among very young children and the research pointing to their consistent achievement gains in response to poverty reduction, it makes sense to consider policies that would boost the incomes of families with young children.  Whether using new resources or reallocating existing ones, payments to families with children under age 6 should be twice as large as payments to families with older children.
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K-12 Education

Retool the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program to focus on longevity of implementation.

Expand the timeframe schools have to show results from 3 years to 5-10.  Simple plans should be prioritized, and the mandate that schools choose one of four prescribed turnaround plans should be dropped in favor of a more flexible approach.
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Improve dissemination of school information to parents during periods of choice.

Parents face increasing options when deciding which school is best for their children, which can result in choice fatigue.  New models for disseminating this information should be explored, such as hiring retired teachers and principals to serve as coaches.
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Educate parents to educate children.

Even though there is no proven way to affect student achievement by altering parent behavior, parents are too important to ignore.  A series of pilot programs that reduce barriers faced by parents in promoting their children’s education should be developed.
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Help students visualize future goals like college so they don’t seem impossibly distant.

Several studies have demonstrated that helping student set and check in on goals increases academic achievement. For example, a savings plan that activates at birth or school entry can solidify the idea that the present is connected to the future.
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Strengthen ties to post-secondary education for disadvantaged youth.

It is well documented that the GED is not valued in the labor market but that GED holders benefit from post-secondary education as much as high school graduates. Programs like GED-Bridge (which prepares students for the GED exam and college using a contextualized curriculum taught in a college class structure) help with this important transition. Other programs focusing on the GED or short-term training should consider adding services that foster a connection to college.
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Promote a changed outlook among disadvantaged youth.

Programs should promote a consistent message of positive change for participants, their families and their communities in order to achieve a significant transformation in the aspirations and beliefs of young people.  Programs like YouthBuild, a nonresidential program offering construction-related training, educational services, counseling and leadership development opportunities, can serve as a model.
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Expand high quality career and technical education (CTE) for young adults.

Remove the stigma from vocational education programs to train low income young people for college and careers simultaneously.  Learning while earning and apprenticeship provide two successful models of vocational education.
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Reform financial aid and remediation.

Make Pell grants easier to apply for and more supportive for students.  Remediation efforts should be faster and more directly linked to labor market information or training.
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Integrate higher education and workforce development programs.

Strengthen the connections between higher education institutions and workforce development organizations.
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AcornWorkforce Development

Expand sectoral and career pathway programs.

Sectoral training targets economic sectors that have well-paying jobs for middle skill workers.  Career pathways focus on occupational ladders where employees can earn “stackable” and “portable” credentials, which allow them to seek employment in the short term with supplemental credential attainment over time.
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Look for programs that that are nimble enough to shift rapidly in response to changes in the labor market.

It would be worthwhile to explore mapping out “occupation clusters” that enable individuals to quickly identify alternative occupations to move into based on an existing skill set.  These “occupation clusters” can potentially aide workforce organizations in identifying alternative jobs/careers which individuals can take on in the face of changing labor market conditions.
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Explore models including job creation through social enterprise, ‘pay for success’, and tax credits to businesses that hire specific populations.

These programs, which operate at the intersection of economic development and workforce development, could create significant impacts through public-private partnerships, but they have not yet been thoroughly studied or evaluated.
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Former Prisoners

Reform transitional jobs for the formerly incarcerated to increase employment and reduce recidivism.

Past programs demonstrate that transitional jobs must be longer to better demonstrate employability; participants need to be able to return to these jobs if unsubsidized employment fails; jobs need to be more substantive and offered in conjunction with vocational training; and incentives in the form of earnings supplements might encourage sustained employment.

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Offer earning supplements to former prisoners.

Research finds an association between higher wages and reduction in crime, but little research has been conducted into how pay incentives affect former prisoners. At a minimum, it would increase their income, which is typically $12,000 a year or less. Doubling that amount should pull more disadvantaged men into work instead of the criminal justice system.

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Utilize Cognitive Behavior Therapy as a tool to reduce recidivism.

Individuals who engage in crime have distorted reasoning that is learned rather than inherent. An analysis of CBT focusing on such traits as moral reasoning, anger management, and impulse control could lead to significant reductions in recidivism among former prisoners.

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As they become vacated, allow housing authorities to raise money by selling projects at market rate without restrictions on future rents.

If housing authorities could sell buildings that have become too costly to maintain they would have enough funding to assist far more families with housing vouchers.

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Do not renew contracts with existing private owners of affordable housing.

Current subsidies offered to private owners to get them to stay in the program should be redirected to tenant-based vouchers, and private owners should be forced to compete for the tenants’ business.

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Active subsidized construction programs should be phased out by reducing authorizations by 10-20% each year.

These tax credit programs come at significant public cost.  The money would be better spent on expanding HUD’s well-targeted and cost-effective Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program.
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Lower housing voucher amounts in some markets.

Though HUD’s program is the most cost-effective and equitable housing assistance offered, voucher amounts are excessive in some markets and should be lowered to offer slightly more modest housing to a greater number of families.

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AcornHealth Care

Expand the number of “Medical Extenders,” such as Nurse Practitioners (NPs) and Physician Assistants (PAs).

Even if everyone were insured, access to health care would be limited by the supply of providers.  The federal government should finance additional training program for NP’s and PA’s that agree to provide care in underserved areas, and all states should allow NP’s to practice independently.

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Expand Community Health Centers.

A Community Health Center should be available in every high-population urban area that is poor and underserved.  Centers should offer child care, a pharmacy, specialist services, and nurses.
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Provide primary care in childcare settings.

Children and their families can access care more easily and less expensively in places where they already spend time.  An NP, a nurse, or even a primary care technician could serve at a childcare or community center.

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Restructure Emergency Room Triage.

For many urban poor their usual source of care is the ER. Patients appearing to require only limited care should be sent to primary care clinics connected to emergency rooms.

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Explore innovative technologies as a means to improve upon and expand health care workforce effectiveness.

Technological advancements, including Electronic Medical Records and communication devises like smart phones, allow doctors to provide better service to patients at a lower cost.  This is especially important in underserved rural regions where access is limited.

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Re-frame the discussion away from access to health care and health care providers toward access to health.

Access to the health care workforce likely accounts for no more than 10-20% of the variance in health outcomes.   The remainder of the variance is accounted for by genetics, community resources, education, social support, wealth/poverty, and culture, which in part dictate health beliefs and personal health habits. Until all communities devise health promoting strategies that cut across multiple sectors disparities will persist because the health care system is not sufficient to reduce the effects of poverty alone.

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Expand the community-based work force to help reduce the incidence of risk factors and chronic conditions that are poised to collapse the current health care system.

The health care industry is expecting an ageing population in which most people have multiple chronic diseases.  This will require a community based workforce to work in communities providing care to these individuals.  We should be prepared to educate these employees in a way that leverages them as a maximized resource.

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AcornImproving Executive Function Skills

Redesign human services programs using executive function principles.

Improving executive function skills, understood as the cognitive processes required to execute routine and complex tasks, solve problems, sustain attention, follow rules, and set goals (among other things), is critical in helping low income individual succeed.  Several programs have shown that it may be possible to redesign workforce, parenting, and other social service programs to improve executive function skills for participants, ultimately yielding higher rates of employment and educational attainment.

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Increase family income.

We can maximize an individual’s ability to develop and utilize strong executive function skills by increasing their family income. A greater income would allow them more mental “bandwidth” to focus on long term goals and create a supportive environment for young children.   We can achieve this by increasing the minimum wage or providing subsidized jobs.

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Reduce the burdens associated with applying for public benefits.

Applying for public benefits can be time consuming and labor intensive.  Simplifying these processes could free up cognitive resources for other tasks.  One potential way to streamline the process is through data sharing between enrollment agencies.

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Make work pay for immigrant laborers.

The poverty rate for full-time, year-round non-naturalized workers has risen dramatically.  Boosting income for immigrants who are working but still mired in poverty could be accomplished by raising the minimum wage, reforming labor law to facilitate unionization, targeting the elimination of wage theft, and enforcing labor rights.

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Make mobility possible for immigrants.

Simply lifting up the bottom of the labor market is not enough; immigrant progress must be facilitated over time. Potential upward trajectories for adults can and should be enhanced, with those gains benefiting subsequent generations. The single largest way to boost immigrant income (and parental engagement in schools) is to increase English language skills.

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Serve the new geography of immigrant populations.

The suburbanization of the immigrant population has been underappreciated, leaving suburbs poorly equipped to provide services.  More resources, philanthropic and otherwise, must be devoted to addressing challenges in older suburbs.  Immigrant groups can help by developing suburban outreach programs and by organizing immigrants to lobby for local services.
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Legalize undocumented immigrants.

It is hard to overstate the transformative effect legalization and citizenship would have on immigrant economic outcomes. Proposals that fall short of citizenship, however, come with negative consequences. Legalization without a path to citizenship, for example, would reduce economic benefits and create a permanent second class. Legalizing undocumented children could unleash economic mobility for the next generation but leave adults behind.

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AcornThe Role of Place

Strategies to eliminate poverty should transition from place-based to place conscious.

Place conscious interventions are less constrained by rigid neighborhood boundaries, more attuned to market-wide opportunities, and more open to alternative models of how neighborhoods can function then traditional place based approaches.

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Reform policies and activate resources at the neighborhood, city, state and federal levels.

Some interventions are effective block-by-block; others require a larger geography. Determining the most effective scale to leverage proper resources lays an important foundation for neighborhood improvement.

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Connect residents with resources outside of neighborhood boundaries.

Interventions aimed at connecting people with opportunities beyond neighborhood boundaries may be more effective than trying to duplicate those resources within a neighborhood. Job training and opportunities in the broader region, for example, can work better than trying to create that training or employment opportunity within a neighborhood.  Programs helping people to buy and maintain cars can help make regional connections.

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Advocates for the poor should be open to offering assistance that encourages positive moves that bring families closer to quality jobs and schools.

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A single entity should be designated to organize the efforts of all agencies working to transform a community. Funders should be open to supporting this organizing and capacity building work.

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Organizations coming together to fight poverty in a particular neighborhood must agree on a set of measurable goals so that participating groups can hold each other accountable and align their efforts.

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Make place less relevant in anti-poverty programs to reach growing populations of low income individuals living in the suburbs.

There are several ways to accomplish this goal, from investing in people based program (like the Earned Income Tax Credit), to expanding school choice programs, to subsidizing labor mobility via private transportation.

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Make place-based programs more relevant to suburban areas.

Encourage service providers with a proven track record of success to offer service over a broader area, promote collaboration across jurisdiction lines, and provide enterprise level investment.

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Provide competitive funding in the form of a metropolitan opportunity challenge, which would provide funding to scaled intermediaries focused on achieving long run positive outcomes.

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