Anti-Poverty Expert: ‘Jesus Said Poverty Would Always Be With Us’

By Penny Starr | December 4, 2012 | 4:14 PM EST

Alan Berube, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program spoke in Washington, D.C, about reducing poverty in the United States on Dec. 4, 2012. ( Starr)

( - Although poverty in America is at its highest level in 50 years, that doesn't mean community development efforts have failed, according to one policy analyst who quotes Jesus as saying, "We'll always have the poor with us."

Alan Berube, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program, was in Washington on Tuesday to discuss his new book, which focuses on anti-poverty strategies. asked Berube: “If community development works, why is poverty at a record level, and is this evidence of public sector failure and would the private sector do better?”

“Is the existence – I mean what I talk about in my chapter – is the existence of poverty, you know, higher level today than in 1965, evidence that community development has not worked?” Berube said. “That’s kind of an unfair barometer. Jesus said, ‘We’ll always have the poor with us,' and here we are.”

Berube called the question a “false dichotomy” and said that community development is, in fact, using “private capital to address market failures.”

“I think the fact that there is market failure is just that private capital alone is not going to be sufficient to address some of the barriers that these communities face in connecting to wider economic opportunities,” Berube said.

The book, “Investing in What Works for America’s Communities,” is a joint project of the Low Income Investment Fund and the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, with support from the Citi Foundation, according to the book’s acknowledgements.

On his website, Berube writes that many of the fundamental problems that community development set out to address in the late 1960s are still present today.

He also points to Brookings Institution research, which found that adults who do three things -- finish high school, work full-time, and wait until marriage to have children—"have a poverty rate equivalent to one-sixth of the national average."

According to Berube, "the future success of community development as an antipoverty strategy may depend on whether it can help meaningfully increase the likelihood that children—black or brown, in working and nonworking families, in cities and in suburbs—achieve, at a minimum, those fundamental outcomes" (high school, full-time work, and marriage before children).

The book had numerous contributors, including commentary from several Obama cabinet members -- Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

“One in six Americans lives in poverty – the highest level in half a century – and where a person lives is one of the most powerful influences in their life,” a press release on the book states. “In fact, in America today, our zip codes are one of the strongest predictors of our future health, education, and even how long we will live.”

The press release states that “severe poverty is deepening” and the “nearly half of kids born into poverty will remain poor throughout their childhood. And nearly one-third of poor children will remain impoverished into adulthood.”