Research Report Building Blocks and Strategies for Helping Americans Move Out of Poverty
Mary Bogle, Gregory Acs, Pamela J. Loprest, Kelly S. Mikelson, Susan J. Popkin
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This report is part of an evolving body of work informing the US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty.

For people with low income, barriers such as unstable families, poor-quality education, lack of access to educational opportunities and jobs, and inability to meet basic food, health care, and housing needs can hamper upward economic mobility. Some low-income families and individuals can overcome these barriers, and their experience of poverty is transitory. For others, assistance from public or private sources can make the difference. This report provides a framework for thinking about the programs and initiatives that help individuals and families beat these odds and move out of poverty.

We identify and discuss 13 building blocks that are fundamental to advancing the economic mobility of Americans with low income. Each building block is presented with the outcomes initiatives usually seek to achieve.

  1. Family formation and stability: increases in stable, healthy marriages; reductions in teen and unplanned pregnancies
  2. Parenting skills: increases in children’s academic, social, and emotional skills through increases in parenting skills and the time parents can spend with their children
  3. High-quality child care and early learning: short-term increases in children’s cognitive, language, social-emotional, and learning skills; long-term improvements in economic productivity and reductions in criminal behavior
  4. Elementary and secondary education: increases in college and job readiness and accessibility; decreases in criminal behavior
  5. Postsecondary education: increases in knowledge and skills in preparation for jobs and careers leading to higher earnings
  6. Employment and training: increases in job- or industry-specific skills; improved access to jobs; career advancement leading to higher earnings
  7. Wages, wage supplements, and work supports: increases in income through wage supplements or increases in mandated wages
  8. Cash or near-cash safety net: increases in stability and capacity to achieve outcomes in other domains; decreases in stress that may become toxic
  9. Asset formation and access to capital: increases in saving, wealth, and other assets; decreases in debt
  10. Health and mental health: reductions in health disparities, substance abuse, and food insecurity; improvements in access to clean water and air, access to quality health care, and health and mental health
  11. Criminal justice and safety: reductions in neighborhood crime; decreases in justice system involvement; improvements to safety; reductions to trauma; improvements in employment, housing, and health for justice-involved people
  12. Housing: increases in housing stability; improvements to neighborhoods; reductions in unwanted moves and evictions; deconcentrated poverty
  13. Community building and social capital: increases in positive social support and social network; increases in personal efficacy; increases in peer-to-peer knowledge and resource sharing; positive changes in beliefs and expectations about life prospects

To illustrate each building block, we provide examples of programs that address each individually and strategies for combining building blocks. With each example, we examine relevance to mobility and impact.

The building blocks provide a way to organize thinking around mobility from poverty, but it is important to recognize that these building blocks and the programs that address them exist in a broader context. Political, economic, and social factors can influence the effectiveness of strategies and are an important part of the discussion about how to best increase people’s chances at moving out of poverty.


Research Areas Education Wealth and financial well-being Nonprofits and philanthropy Neighborhoods, cities, and metros Families Social safety net Race and equity Workforce Children and youth
Tags Workforce development Racial and ethnic disparities Wealth inequality Mobility Early childhood education Earned income tax credit Inequality and mobility Kids in context Racial barriers to accessing the safety net Racial equity in education Racial inequities in employment