Peter Edelman has been fighting poverty since the Kennedy administration. In an NYT opinion piece this Sunday, Edelman asked, “Poverty in America: Why Can’t We End It?” His first of four reasons why poverty is so hard to beat, from a national perspective: “An astonishing number of people work at low-wage jobs.” And how do we create more good jobs that pay decent wages?
The first thing needed if we’re to get people out of poverty is more jobs that pay decent wages. There aren’t enough of these in our current economy. The need for good jobs extends far beyond the current crisis; we’ll need a full-employment policy and a bigger investment in 21st-century education and skill development strategies if we’re to have any hope of breaking out of the current economic malaise.
Contrast that with Diane Ravitch, writing in March in the NY Review of Books:
Every testing program—whether the SAT, the ACT, or state and national tests—demonstrates that low scores are strongly correlated to poverty. … To the extent that we reduce poverty, we will improve student achievement. … But no matter how admired the teaching profession becomes, our society must do much more to reduce poverty and to improve the lives of children and families.
Improve schools to beat poverty or beat poverty to improve education? I’ve never bought the Ravitch camp line that we should forego efforts on the former to focus primarily on the latter. Edelman has fought poverty for more than five decades. If he says we need better education to create the jobs to beat it, then I’m inclined to think that’s what we need to do.