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Moving Out of Poverty: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives


Chapter 1.  Agency, Opportunity Structure and Poverty Escapes
Deepa Narayan and Patti Petesch

Deepa Narayan and Patti Petesch, co-authors of the World Bank’s Voices of the Poor study, review approaches in the fields of economics and sociology for analyzing poor people’s mobility. They make a case for applying an empowerment framework to understand the underlying causes and processes of poverty transitions.  The authors then review the rich and diverse evidence presented by the contributors to the volume in relation to the central concepts of the empowerment framework, namely opportunity structure and agency. They conclude by drawing attention to important gaps in the leading conceptual and measurement approaches to poverty and mobility analysis, and argue for an empowerment approach to research and policies in support of poor people’s mobility.

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Chapter 2. Poverty and the Politics of Exclusion
Charles Tilly

A pioneering sociologist at Columbia University, Charles Tilly examines the underlying processes that produce, reproduce and transform inequality.  The author posits an “interactive theory of inequality” in which interaction between persons or sets of persons generates greater advantages for one than for the other.  While such unequal exchanges can operate at the level of interactions among individuals, households, or firms, the author argues that it is more common for such interactions to operate at wider societal levels involving categories of people determined by gender, class, race, religion, or ethnicity. Tilly draws special attention to the presence of frequently paired and highly uneven social groupings such as “male-female” and “black-white.” The norms and behaviors which surround these pairings do the organizational work to maintain a society’s unequal structures, including by giving rise to interactions between the pairings which routinely favor the dominant social group.  The chapter specifies ten different mechanisms by which poor and disadvantaged groups are excluded from value-producing resources.  It then calls for actions that help poor people to reduce their exclusion by directly destroying, undermining, bypassing or creating alternatives of their own to the barriers they face. Channels which can facilitate escapes from poverty for individuals as well as for whole categories of people include:  kinship; religious affiliation; political connections including government employment; underground economies; occupational mobility; and educational achievement. The chapter concludes with a model for understanding poverty escapes which examines whether the channel generates poverty escapes at an individual or collective level and whether the channel requires little or major transformation of existing systems of inequality.

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Chapter 3. Moving On, Staying Behind, Getting Lost: Lessons on Poverty Mobility from Longitudinal Data
Stefan Dercon and Joseph S. Shapiro

Stefan Dercon and Joseph Shapiro of University of Oxford review recent work on poverty dynamics derived from developing country panel studies which use consumption or income data.  They find recent research identifying a considerable number of people moving in and out of poverty. The literature suggests that household endowments, including education and assets such as land or livestock, are important for mobility; so too are community characteristics such as roads and other infrastructure.  For urban areas, evidence points to location and access to certain types of jobs as important. The authors also signal health shocks as not only important for short-term downturns in mobility but also for longer lasting effects that keep households trapped at lower levels of wellbeing over extended periods.  In revisiting this literature, the authors conclude that many opportunities are missed with the analysis to move from correlations to providing causal evidence.  They also call for more attention to underlying problems with the methods and datasets, including difficulties related to measurement error, attrition and limitations in tracing households that no longer reside in the original localities.

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Chapter 4. Intragenerational Income Mobility: Poverty Dynamics in Industrial Societies
Brian Nolan and Robert Erikson

Brian Nolan, a research professor at the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), and Robert Erikson, a sociologist at Stockholm University present cross-country findings on intragenerational income mobility and poverty dynamics in industrialized countries.  The authors draw distinct conclusions when looking at poverty dynamics independently and in the context of overall income mobility.  Although the United States is an outlier in terms of low levels of transitions out of poverty, its income mobility across the entire distribution is similar to other industrialized countries when considering 3-5 year panel studies.  In their case study of Sweden, the authors find that even in this highly developed welfare state, the older population is likely to remain in poverty over longer periods than are younger age groups.  The authors then assess whether the type of “welfare regime” affects the degree of income mobility and poverty dynamics.  Although this examination does not find consistent patterns for income mobility, it does find that the poor in Canada and the U.S., which have welfare regimes with minimal roles, are less likely to escape poverty from one year to the next than in other industrialized countries with more extensive welfare programs.  The authors conclude with reflections on different approaches to measuring mobility of the poor, and acknowledge that each produces relevant information and a variety should be employed in any attempt to understand poverty dynamics. 

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Chapter 5.  Escaping Poverty and Becoming Poor in Three States of India, with Additional Evidence from Kenya, Uganda and Peru
Anirudh Krishna

Duke University political scientist Anirudh Krishna conducted a major comparative study of the factors which contributed to movements in and out of poverty over twenty-five years in 178 communities across three states of India.  An additional 92 communities were examined in Kenya, Uganda, and Peru, and 13 communities in North Carolina. The methodology featured a qualitative Stages of Progress data collection tool with community groups and detailed interviews with 7000 households.  The findings reveal that (a) escape from poverty and descent into poverty have occurred simultaneously in every village; (b) even quite well-to-do households have fallen into abiding poverty; and (c) the set of factors associated with escapes out of poverty differs from the set of factors associated with descents into poverty.  Krishna argues that two separate sets of poverty policies are necessary: one set of policies to facilitate households’ escapes out of poverty, and another set to head off descents into poverty. Because reasons for escape and descent vary by region, both sets of policies need to be regionally differentiated and locally controlled.  In particular, measures to prevent descents into poverty deserve particular attention because up to one-third of those who are presently poor were not always poor but fell into poverty within their lifetimes.

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Chapter 6.  Poverty, Caste and Migration in South India
T. Scarlett Epstein

Scarlett Epstein, an anthropologist and Director of PEGS (Practical Education & Gender Support), presents a rich micro study of the villages of Wangala and Dalena from the state of Karnataka in south India. Covering a fifty-year period dating back to1954, the author vividly illustrates how caste and highly unequal patron-client relations play key roles in perpetuating enduring poverty across generations for lower castes despite the transformation of the two study villages to prosperous commercialized economies.  An examination of rural-urban migration out of the villages finds few pathways for mobility for the lower castes; good employment, housing and educational opportunities in nearby towns and cities remaining out of reach for most poor migrants over the study period. The paper concludes with a call for renewed commitment to rural development by supporting greater diversification of village economies. The author recommends the establishment of urban-rural linkages which can foster greater off-farm income-earning opportunities, including for disadvantaged caste groups. 

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Chapter 7.  Elusive Pathways Out of Poverty:  Intra- and Intergenerational Mobility in the Favelas of  Rio de Janeiro
Janice E. Perlman

Janice Perlman of the Mega-Cities Project fills an important gap in urban poverty dynamics with her multi-generational study of mobility in three favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  The mixed methods research began in 1969 and was followed 25 years later by a restudy which concluded in 2003.  The restudy involved data collection in the original favelas as well as surrounding neighborhoods of Rio in order to reach the original interviewees as well as their children and grandchildren.  With each successive generation, the results showed significant improvement in urban infrastructure and community services as well as in housing, consumer goods and educational levels.  Males, young people, people with smaller families, and those raised in communities close to the upscale neighborhoods of the city had a distinct advantage in socioeconomic and spatial mobility. About half the sample in each generation reported that their lifetime achievements had exceeded their expectations.  Nevertheless, the third of the sample that remained in the favelas over the study period had significantly lower outcomes than did the families and individuals which moved to public housing and better neighborhoods.  Tight labor markets for workers without high levels of education, discrimination against residents of favelas, political obstacles, reduced trust and social capital, and increased lethal violence related to drug and arms trafficking presented important barriers to greater upward mobility.  The last section of the chapter presents selected life stories of the most and least successful in the sample, and particularly draws attention to the importance of family culture and support in the movement out of poverty.

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Chapter 8. Resisting Extreme Poverty: Learning from Families in Burkina Faso and Peru
Xavier Godinot, Claude Heyberger, Patricia Heyberger, Marco Ugarte, and Rosario Ugarte

In this chapter a team with the International Movement ATD Fourth World presents selections from two in-depth monographs and reflects on their findings.  The monographs chronicle the life of Paul, a youth struggling to survive on the streets in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, and the Rojas Paucars, an extremely poor family in Cuzco, Peru.  ATD Fourth World volunteers worked alongside Paul and the Rojas Pacuar family for eight and twelve years respectively and collaborated closely with the families to document their efforts to resist poverty.  The monographs draw attention to the families’ extremely precarious lives, social exclusion and accumulated insecurities.  The authors conclude the chapter by drawing attention to the need for policies which recognize the fundamental importance of parents, families and communities for efforts to move out of extreme poverty because they bring affiliation, identity, education, protection and sharing of responsibilities.

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Chapter 9. Moving Away from Poverty: Migrant Remittances, Livelihoods and Development
Anthony L. Hall

Anthony Hall of the London School of Economics explores the social and economic benefits and costs of migration in Latin America.  While remittances to developing countries amounted to $167 billion in 2005 – more than double the levels of foreign aid – their impacts on economic development have been more limited than expected.   To explore the constraints to leveraging the funds for development purposes, the author identifies three distinctive categories of remittances: family remittances, collective remittances and entrepreneurial remittances.  The first, family remittances, represents some 90 percent of the total and is largely used for food, clothing, household items, health, education, and debt repayment.  The author then examines the smaller share of remittances for community development and business activities, and highlights important market and institutional constraints faced by local communities and entrepreneurs to using these funds more effectively.  The author advises that policymakers must understand the nature and function of these different forms of remittances as well as important institutional hurdles that must be overcome before these funds will better serve local economic development.  

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Chapter 10. Migration, Remittances and Ethnic Identity: The Experience of Guatemalan Maya in the United States
Shelton Davis

Shelton Davis of Georgetown University presents a micro-level analysis of the large wave of Mayan-speaking migrants who fled Guatemala in the 1990s for the United States.  The chapter reviews the high levels of poverty, low human development, agrarian crisis, political violence and high unemployment propelling the migration. It then turns to migrant experiences in the state of Florida and in Los Angeles – both significant receiving areas for this group – and their great difficulties with housing, work, legal uncertainties and discrimination. Despite such hardships, the author finds that the Mayan migrants provided important support back home through remittances to family members and contributions to Home Town Associations (HTAs). The HTAs and other migrant associations serve to reaffirm immigrants’ ethnic identities and cultural heritage in the United States, while also supporting greatly needed community development in their home villages. The chapter also examines developments in the financial sector to lower the cost and ease access in rural areas to overseas money transfers.  It concludes with a call for migration policies which better recognize the important role of migration and remittances in reducing poverty and inequality.

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