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“If You Work in This Country You Should Not be Poor, and Your Kids Should be Doing Better”: Bringing Mixed Methods and Theory in Psychological Anthropology to Improve Research in Policy and Practice


  • Thomas S. Weisner


New Hope (NH) was a successful poverty reduction program that offered a positive social contract to working-poor adults. If you worked full time, you were eligible to receive income supplements, childcare vouchers, health care benefits, a community service job, and client respect. NH did reduce poverty and increase income and earnings for some participants, and improved outcomes for some children. But in spite of relatively generous benefits, NH was only selectively effective. Only those not working when NH began and those with few barriers to work were positively affected by the program through achieving more work hours, poverty reduction, and income gains. Boys in program families benefited, girls did not. Take-up of NH benefits was typically partial and episodic; for instance, some parents would not use childcare programs for young children. Ethnographic evidence was essential for understanding these sometimes-surprising program impacts and their policy and practice implications, and was effectively combined with an experimental, random-assignment research design. Psychological anthropology can bring its traditions of integrating qualitative and quantitative methods and its focus on experience, context, and meaning to understanding and improving policies and practices within a scientific frame of the committed, fair witness.