Brooks: ‘The Problem Is Not That We Don’t Care’ About Poverty

New York Times columnist David Brooks argued that when it comes to poverty “the problem is not that we don’t care. We don’t know what to do” on Friday’s “PBS NewsHour.”

Brooks stated, “The problem is not that we don’t care. We don’t know what to do. And so, if you look at poverty spending, we spend about $14,000 — more than $14,000 per person in poverty [note: in his op-ed, Brooks put the figure at $14,000 per person for 2013 and cited a Washington Post article putting the number at $13,000 in 2011 based on Congressional testimony]. If we just took that money and handed it to a family of four in poverty, they would suddenly have an income twice the poverty level. So, we spend a fair bit. Baltimore in 2011 had the second highest spending per pupil in its educational system of all the top 100 cities in America, $15,000 per kid. So there’s a lot of spending there. The neighborhood where Gray was from, Sandtown, had a massive urban renewal project over the last 20 years led by then-Mayor Kurt Schmoke (D), and then by Rouse, a big developer in Baltimore. They put well over $100 million into that neighborhood trying to fix it. And, as we just heard, now it’s a neighborhood where there’s no grocery store.” He added, “those efforts are not failures. They have helped. They have alleviated a lot of suffering. But we just don’t know how to — we can cushion poverty. We don’t know how to take concentrated areas of poverty and lift them in any real way.”

Later, Brooks stated, “and, to me, the only response — and I give Obama credit, though I’m not sure he followed through aggressively. He talked during the campaign, his first campaign, about taking a lot of Harlem Children’s Zones and transplanting them around the country. Harlem Children’s Zone is a thing in Harlem run by a guy named Geoffrey Canada where they do everything. There’s schools. There’s Boys and Girls Clubs. There’s mentoring. We don’t know what works, so you just try everything all at once in a geographic zone. And that has shown some promise. Obama and the administration has spread it around, but not as aggressively as I think we could. And spreading that model around, it seems to me, at least one model that’s plausibly successful.”

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