WASHINGTON (Jan. 9, 2013) – A new White House initiative to ladle federal funding on socially and economically challenged communities continues a policy of “place-based relief” that has proven an abject failure, the R Street Institute said today.

President Barack Obama’s newly announced Promise Zone Initiative proposes awarding a bundle of federally subsidized tax incentives and grants to local public-private partnerships, with the first five zones established through pilot programs in San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Southeastern Kentucky and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

The program appears likely to replicate the results of other efforts to help the poor where they already live, which have not served to cure or even to mitigate poverty, said R Street Senior Fellow Lori Sanders.

“With this week marking 50 years since the dawn of the War on Poverty, the nation’s poor deserve better than to see both the left and the right continue to recycle the same failed ideas,” Sanders said. “While well-intentioned, the president’s Promise Zones appear likely to suffer the same undistinguished fate as Enterprise Zones and Empowerment Zones before them.”

Sanders recently co-authored a piece with R Street President Eli Lehrer in the Winter 2014 edition of National Affairs looking at the role declining geographic mobility has had in depressing income mobility. Among the alternative policy options the pair propose are “mobility grants” that would allow the unemployed to receive a lump sum distribution of some portion of future benefits to which they would otherwise be entitled, and use those to pay job-search and relocation costs to move to more thriving metropolitan areas.

“Too many assistance programs, delivered through local social services networks, end up trapping the disadvantaged in broken communities with declining job growth and economic opportunity, ” Sanders said. “By reviving the American tradition of geographic mobility and extending it to the poor, federal policy could help break these cycles of poverty, while simultaneously helping productive communities to grow and thrive.”

Featured Publications