Creating Mobility from Poverty: An Overview of Strategies

Research Report

Creating Mobility from Poverty: An Overview of Strategies


This report is part of an evolving body of work informing the US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty.

The promise of the American Dream is that anyone can rise up from poverty and succeed. But research shows that the odds of moving up the economic ladder differ considerably based on family, race, neighborhood, and other factors.

There are many diverse programs to help people move up from poverty. This paper aims to classify those efforts. Gaining a better understanding of the types of strategies that exist can give policymakers, researchers, and practitioners a road map for significantly increasing mobility. We do not evaluate, rank, or recommend particular programs—that work comes later—but instead offer this framework to open up discussion and gather key insights about alternative strategies.

In this paper, we outline six types of strategies.

  1. Fundamental building blocks for promoting mobility. These programs aim to improve or meet fundamental needs or building blocks, such as health, housing, or education, which can support or lead to mobility. Examples include early childhood development programs and efforts to reform schools.
  2. Initiatives generating comprehensive personal or family mobility pathways. These programs tend to focus on an individual or family and determine what combination of services, training, and support they need to succeed. A navigator, advocate, or coach may help the person or family assess their needs, set goals, and connect to available services.
  3. Place-conscious strategies to create neighborhoods of choice or opportunity. These programs recognize that place (typically neighborhoods) matters for economic mobility, and so they strive to improve neighborhoods of concentrated poverty or help people experiencing poverty move to better neighborhoods.
  4. egional, cross-sectoral, jointly accountable partnerships. These efforts bring together community leaders and service delivery organizations that collaborate on and are accountable for setting and achieving joint goals, such as improving academic success for students in their region. These programs are distinguished not by shared delivery, but by collective responsibility for ambitious, population-level outcomes.
  5. Large-scale economic, political, and institutional changes. These efforts aim for nationwide, systemic changes—such as antidiscrimination or desegregation policies and criminal justice reform—which many argue are needed to genuinely increase mobility.
  6. Accountability, informational, and managerial innovations. These strategies aim to improve data systems and administration to evaluate and improve mobility programs. Vastly improved, readily available performance and outcome measures could spur innovation, accountability, and learning.

Many government and nonprofit resources are devoted to enhancing building-block programs in the first category of strategies. Substantially increasing mobility from poverty may require investing in more comprehensive strategies and tackling the intense challenges associated with larger social and economic forces.

Cross-Center Initiative

Cross-Center Initiative: 
To reuse content from Urban Institute, visit, search for the publications, choose from a list of licenses, and complete the transaction.