Fall 2023 - 61308 - PA 393L - POVERTY AND POLICY IN THE U.S.


Course Description

The purpose of this class is to explore how poverty in America has changed over time, to understand past approaches to anti-poverty policies in the United States in their historical context, to consider what poverty means in America today, and to look at possible policy approaches to the problems of poverty and inequality. Attitudes and approaches to poverty-related issues are often shaped by underlying beliefs about the causes of poverty and about previous attempts to aid the poor. This class aims to examine the evolution of knowledge and beliefs about poverty in the United States, and to explore the impacts of that evolution on anti-poverty policies. 


Effective anti-poverty programs must be grounded in an informed and accurate view of the impacts of past actions as well as a clear understanding of the problems of today. To aid in that understanding, we will also consider how poverty in the U.S. compares with economic circumstances in other nations, comparing U.S. policies concerning poverty and deprivation to policies and outcomes in other countries. The goal of the course is to familiarize students with the scope of anti-poverty policies in the U.S. and to provide both a historical and an international context for understanding and assessing those policies. 


The class will be conducted as a weekly seminar, with weekly assigned readings and class discussion of the topics for each week. The class will require some knowledge of basic economics, but there are no specific prerequisites. In addition to informing students about poverty and policy, the class aims to provide opportunities for research and analysis, and will require a high standard of written work.




  • Assigned reading each week and participation in class discussions
  • Weekly: brief (1 page or less) notes on previous week’s reading and class discussion, summarizing key points
  • Research paper on poverty-related issue
    • Topic chosen by week 3
    • First draft by week 8
    • Final draft by week 12
    • Presentations on research weeks 12-14


Grading: Grades will be based on the preliminary and final versions of your paper and on your presentation. Class participation and submission of weekly notes will also be considered.


Assignment                                        Date due:                               Percent of total grade:


First draft of research paper               Oct. 14                                                20%


Final draft of research paper               Nov. 11                                               40%


Presentation                                        Nov. 11-Dec. 2                                   15%     


Class participation

and discussion notes                           Weekly                                                25%




Your presence is critical to achieving our goals for this course.  Please keep in mind that if you miss classes you will see a dip in your participation points. You are responsible for submitting notes on any class you miss. If you must miss class, please contact me to discuss how to make up.



Where possible, I have assigned readings that can be downloaded from the internet (links shown). However, it would be useful to buy copies of the following books:

  • Michael Katz, In the Shadow of the Poorhouse (available in paperback or ebook from Amazon; cost $17-$30 dollars; available used for less. Either the first or second edition is fine.)
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