You are to write a position paper making the case for some policy that you believe will reduce poverty.
While you may certainly draw on evidence from outside the United States, the policy should be
applicable to the United States. You should
1. Describe the groups/causes of poverty that the policy is intended to address.
2. Explain why economic theory suggests that the policy should be desirable.
3. Address any problems suggested by theory.
4. Discuss relevant research that shows whether the policy is effective.
Because you need to use research to support your policy, you will probably want to do a variation
on an existing policy. For example, you might want to modify Head Start or have a school supper
program in addition to the school breakfast and lunch programs. Simply expanding an existing
program generally does not make for a first-rate paper, but you can use information about the
existing programs to support your conclusion that the new or modified program would work. If
you come up with a completely new program that has never been tried, it is unlikely that you will
be able to make a compelling case for adopting it. For the same reasons, it is generally very hard
to write a good paper arguing that abolishing some poverty program will reduce poverty:
abolishing all taxes might create incentives for job creation, work, etc., but it is usually hard to
make a really strong argument that global economic changes of that sort will reduce poverty.
Similarly, do not try to develop a program that will eliminate all poverty. If, for example, your
issue is neighborhood poverty, you do not have to address poverty programs aimed at the elderly
outside areas of concentrated poverty, and a narrowly targeted policy, such as one aimed at
children in public housing, is perfectly acceptable.
The paper should be no more than 2500 words (or about eight pages in 12 point proportional font
double-spaced type) including footnotes and/or endnotes. Any standard style of referencing is
acceptable. References do not count in the word limit.
There is no one set format that the paper must follow. How much you will spend on each section
will depend on the topic you choose. For example, subsidizing private school education probably
requires discussion of economic theory of subsidies, but a publicly-provided after-school tutoring
program, probably does not require more than a paragraph on enhancing human capital. Some
proposals will have more supportive evidence than others, but do not ignore relevant but distinct
programs. If you want to create urban gardens in public housing projects and encourage teenagers
to participate in growing their own food, you will certainly want to look at literature on the
effectiveness of community involvement programs.
The following outline may nevertheless be helpful:
1. Describe the nature of the poverty problem you are addressing including relevant data on its
prevalence (1 page). Many people “warm-up” by, for example, describing how poverty is
measured. This is a waste of time. Keep your introduction focused. Avoid gratuitous and
irrelevant statements: “Every year, through no fault of their own, millions of children are born into
poverty.” I doubt that many people think that children are born into poverty by choice or as a
punishment for something they did in a previous life. If they do, adding the phrase “through no
fault of their own” will not change their opinion. Similarly “Poverty can never be abolished” may
or may not be a correct statement, but it is surely not relevant to a paper that seeks to reduce one
aspect of poverty.
2. Discuss the history of policies designed to alleviate the problem including evidence of whether
or not they have worked (1-2 pages). Again, avoid “warming-up.” Stay focused. Make sure that
your review is clearly related to the proposal. If your goal is to improve neonatal nutrition, it is
unlikely that an extensive discussion of TANF is appropriate. Your review should focus on
programs that bear some resemblance to yours or that had a similar focus. If a study is important
to your analysis and we have not discussed it in class, be sure to describe it sufficiently so that it is
clear whether you understand the basis for the causal inference. “Smith showed that students who
studied nuclear physics in first grade were more likely to major in science in college,” is much
less convincing than either ““Smith showed that students who studied nuclear physics in first
grade were more likely to major in science in college, but there are good reasons to be concerned
that students who studied nuclear physics that early were unusually talented in science so that the
causality probably runs from science aptitude to first grade physics and college science” or “Smith
showed that several schools introduced physics in first grade but most did not. After they changed
their policy, the schools that adopted physics in first grade increased the number of graduates
going on to major in science in college while the other schools showed no change.”
3. Your proposal. Why theory suggests it should work. Additional evidence that you can bring to
bear on the topic. In presenting the case for this policy, you should consider costs as well as
benefits. Use economic analysis and data to support your arguments (4 pages).
4. Conclusion (1 page)
If you are modifying an existing program, then the second section will probably be longer and the
third section shorter since you will want to spend time in the second section clarifying the
weaknesses in the existing program that your modifications are intended to address. The third
section will probably be shorter. Do not forget to address obvious weaknesses in your proposal.
Will it create work disincentives or other inefficiencies?
All thoughts, words, and ideas that are not your own must be referenced appropriately. You may
cite references from popular magazines and newspapers and the textbook, but you should not rely
solely on these sources. P&D frequently cites the original research papers that form the basis for
my conclusions. I am not particularly interested in being told what I have said (although it is
occasionally amusing). You will want to look at the original papers. A good paper will go beyond
what is available in the assigned readings and show that you have learned how to analyze policy
related to poverty in-depth. While your interest in the policy may be based on opinion or emotion,
your paper will be evaluated on the basis of the effectiveness of your rational argument(s).
My most common comments on papers are:
Causality? (You should think about and discuss whether “Studies show that children who eat
breakfast do better in school.” shows that getting kids to eat breakfast will improve school
performance or whether the studies merely show that kids from the sorts of households that
ensure that they eat breakfast have other advantages that enhance school performance. The
studies may or may not address causality.)
Evidence? (What is your evidence for your statement “Less educated mothers are less effective
parents.” And, of course, is your evidence convincing about causality.)
Cite? (This is a variant on “Evidence?” but suggests that you claim that evidence exists but have
not referred me to the source of that evidence.) “Research has shown” is almost always an
indication that you did not put enough effort and/or thought into the paper. By this point in the
course, you should be aware of the strengths and limits of the research. “A study by … compares
outcomes for As and Bs and shows that As outperform Bs. Since assignment to A or B is random,
this is convincing evidence that being an A causes better outcomes.”
A couple of more points:
Citations to long pieces should have page numbers. If the whole paper is about a particular
experiment, it will make sense to cite the entire paper. But x% of people believe … (Encyclopedia
Britannica, 10 edition) is not an adequate citation. It is fine to cite P&D, but I generally know th
the material in P&D. It should not be your only source.
The paper must be typed, double-spaced using a font size of 12 or larger.
I am not a native speaker so please don’t use the word too complicated and make the essay looks easy to understand.