The Paradox of Wealth and Poverty

Guidelines for the Final Paper


We have examined a variety of different policy and programmatic responses that address widening inequality and/or the difficulties faced by many poor and working-class people in the U.S. and around the globe.  We have also discussed their strengths and weaknesses, evaluating their potential effectiveness. For this assignment, we ask that you delve deeper into an issue that you are interested in investigating further.


Please select one specific example of a policy or programmatic response targeting inequality (e.g., living wage, state EITC, educational initiatives, voucher programs, housing initiatives, community capacity project, asset building project, unionization campaign, etc.). Class lecture, discussions, and readings have presented a variety of possibilities for exploration, however, you are welcome to choose an alternative. Your policy/program need not be one we went over in class, but should work within the context of course themes.


Please construct an 8-11 page case study of your particular example. Your paper should address the following:

  • Document, describe and frame the specific problem your policy/program addresses
    • Outline your policy/programmatic response in detail and evaluate it in light of all that you have learned this semester – what does it do and how? Why is it important?
  • Establish how this initiative is an effort to assuage the problem/ inequality
  • Marshal evidence to support your claims and establish trends throughout. You may use course materials and outside sources to back up your points and suppositions.

Please consider all aspects of the question and be clear, concise, well organized. Use your classmates as a resource- you can brainstorm with each other!


Note that papers should be double spaced with 1 inch (top, bottom, left and right) margins, have page numbers, 12-point font and be between 8-11 pages in length (excluding bibliography) and be free of typos/spelling errors and grammatically correct. Include a bibliography/references page in addition to citations in text based on a standard and consistent format for references (Chicago, APA, MLA).






Final Paper Tips

Suggested Structure of Paper:

  1. Introduction (1/2 page):
    1. name and BRIEFLY describe the problem and your policy solution
    2. state your overall evaluation (remember, it can have several parts to it, e.g. the policy helps in some ways but has unintended consequences that cause harm)
    3. state the 3-4 points you are going to make about it that support your overall evaluation
  2. Problem description (1 ½-2 pages – approx. 1/5 of paper):
    1. describe the problem and how your policy seeks to address it
  3. Policy description (approx. 1 page):
    1. Describe the policy and how it works.  What is the policy supposed to do?  How is it supposed to do it?
    2. Provide context: the policy/program history, intent/goals, how it works
  4. Critical analysis (6-8 pages) Supporting Points
    1. Your evaluation using the themes from the course as a lens
    2. Is the policy doing what it is supposed to be doing?  In what ways?
    3. In light of the themes we have discussed in class, consider these questions:
  1. Is the policy an effective tool to address inequality? or to create opportunities for mobility?
  2. Does it dismantle the barriers to mobility we have discussed in class? Does it create more barriers to mobility?
    1. Use DATA to show the actual impacts of the policy!  Data can be quantitative or qualitative or both.  Your use of evidence to support your claims is the most important part of your paper.
    2. Underlying mechanisms – engage themes and concepts from the class
    3. What works/what doesn’t/how would you change the policy
  1. Conclusion (1/2 page): summarize your paper and, if you want, add in any of the following:
    1. Your idea of how to fix the policy so that it works the way it is supposed to
    2. An area of research around the policy that has not been looked at yet


While writing your papers, you may want to consider the following list to make sure that you have the following items covered:


  • Clear definition of a policy or issue or program related to inequality, poverty, etc.
  • History of the policy/issue/program
  • Goals of the policy/issue/program
  • What are its impacts on household assets and financial stability?  What are its intended and/or unintended consequences?
  • Distributive consequences (intended or unintended) – have some people been helped or hurt more than others?
  • Demonstrated understanding of themes and concepts discussed in the course.
  • Relationship between policy or issue and the main themes and concepts of the course.
  • Use of data/examples from research to support argument
  • Overall clarity and organization
  • Works cited (sufficient sources, correct use of citation style)



For Review: Engage themes and concepts of the course:

  • Major theme of class: how policy can create or address inequality
    1. Part I: Introduction
      1. Using data to measure poverty, inequality, quality of life
      2. Link between structure barriers and individual agency in driving poverty
      3. Effects of inequality
      4. Increasing inequality
    2. Part II: Ain’t No Making It
      1. Social mobility vs. reproduction
        1. Intra/intergenerational
        2. Role of the habitus
        3. Meritocracy
      2. How policy can create or perpetuate inequality
        1. Education
        2. What data do we need to answer the question?
        3. Intent v. Impact
      3. Forms of capital
        1. Social
        2. Financial
        3. Human
        4. Natural
        5. Cultural
        6. Political
      4. Structure, culture and agency
  • Part III: South Africa & Globalization
    1. How policy is used to create and redress inequality deliberately
      1. Apartheid, TRC
    2. Not if but how
      1. What kind of labor market do you want?
        1. Parking tickets example: technology vs. employment
      2. Role of policy in creating global markets and regulating them
        1. World Bank, IMF, trade agreements
      3. Part IV: Wealth, Toxic Inequality
        1. Leveraging assets as tool for social mobility
          1. Housing
        2. Legacy of racialized policy in the past – how it is implicated in present inequality
          1. Legacy of Slavery; Jim Crow
          2. Redlining
          3. Drug Policies (AKA “The New Jim Crow”)
        3. Contemporary policies and practices
          1. Residential segregation
          2. Estate tax
          3. Home mortgage interest deduction
        4. Part VI: Policy solutions
          1. Fiscal & Monetary Policy
          2. Asset policy
            1. Children’s savings accounts
            2. IDAs
          3. Minimum wage
          4. Living wage
          5. EITC