Center on Assets, Education, and Inclusion

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Welcome to the 2013—2014 speaker series “Is There An American Dream for You: How Institutional Failure Perpetuates Poverty”. We are very pleased that you are interested in learning more about how we can reimagine the discussion, research, and politics around poverty in America.

Over the four events during this academic year, you will have an opportunity to listen to presentations by key researchers and participate in discussions on how institutional failures perpetuate poverty in America. This speaker series will critically assess current scholarship, chart future directions, and set the stage for policy decisions based on what works to combat poverty.

The idea of the American dream—that, with hard work and ability, Americans can improve their economic and social standing—has powerful allure. It has become an important part of our collective identity, despite today’s reality of constrained mobility, persistent poverty, and deepening inequality. Examining evidence about who is poor, and why, reveals that patterns of inequity are maintained in large part because asset-based welfare policies serve to facilitate the further advancement of already privileged Americans while those less-advantaged are hindered by consumption-based welfare policies and locked out of asset accumulation structures. To reverse these patterns we must understand poverty as an institutional failure. Americans thrive when institutions—the labor market, public policies, higher education—augment their effort and ability. They remain stuck in poverty when a system that creates artificial winners and losers hollows out the promise of progress.

Social workers have a long, if not somewhat sporadic, history of coming to the aid of the poor. However, since America abandoned its “War on Poverty” from the 1970’s for what now appears to be a “War on the Poor” beginning in the 1980’s and with little exception continuing through the present today, there is a growing need for a renewed commitment by social workers and others concerned with the well-being of the poor to once again reimagine how we understand poverty in America.

The University of Kansas’s School of Social Welfare and its Assets and Education Initiative (AEDI) are hosting four events throughout the academic year to examine how the war against poverty in America can be reignited and reimagined to restore the promise of the American dream to a generation.