Over the past few decades, poverty governance in the United States has been transformed by the convergence of two powerful reform movements. The first, often referred to as “paternalist,” has shifted poverty governance from an emphasis on rights and opportunities to a stance that is more directive and supervisory in promoting preferred behaviors among the poor. The second, often described as “neoliberal,” has shifted governance away from federal government control toward a system that emphasizes policy devolution, privatization, and performance competition. During this period, public officials have proved remarkably willing to hand policy control over to lower jurisdictions and private providers. They have been equally eager to use public policies in ways that overtly promote values, enforce obligations, and curtail deviance among the poor. In the era of neoliberal paternalism, poverty governance has become more dispersed in its organization, more muscular in its normative enforcement, and more firmly rooted in the logics of performance-based accountability and market competition.

Document Type

Research Paper

Publication Date


Discussion Paper Number

DP 2009-02