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Do you have an idea about how to reduce poverty?

Larry Jacobs
Larry Jacobs

Larry Jacobs: the University of Minnesota political science professor is a household word in political circles and among members of the media, who know he’s the go-to guy for in-depth analysis or the pithy quote on presidential and legislative politics and a variety of other topics.

But, until now, I didn’t think poverty was necessarily one of those other topics.

Now Jacobs is helping launch and spotlight the Ideas for Action Award, a competition sponsored by the Northwest Area Foundation and aimed at uncovering and furthering ways to reduce poverty long term.

Why now? “…We have a record number of poor and shocking silence about their plight…,” Jacobs told me, and “you’d have to search far and wide to find any discussion of poverty of a serious sort among presidential candidates. ’’

That’s got to change, he implies.

I pulled out the numbers. Officially 46.2 million Americans – 15.1 percent– qualify as poor, according to the U.S. Census accounts. 

In Minnesota, that figures at almost 11 percent – more than half a million people – who are officially poor. 

In case you don’t know, the federal government has set $23,050 as the 2012 poverty guideline for a family of four. Poverty takes a high toll among Minnesota’s African-Americans and American Indians, where the poverty rate exceeds 1 in 3.

The goal of the competition, according to a University of Minnesota news release that seems to be written in that language unique to academia, is:  “to instigate examination, discussion, evolution of practical ideas and eventually, implementation of policies that will help reduce poverty and build sustainable prosperity.’’

More simply, Jacobs calls for “new thinking and renewed attention on what is working to create opportunities for those of low income.”  

And he urges action, as the deadline is June 29.

“Send us a letter, a short letter. Write us a letter that crystallizes your idea or the program. We’re not looking for a dissertation or term paper, but something succinct and to the point,’’ he says.

Oh, and by the way, there are monetary awards, starting at $5,000.

Up to 10 winning ideas will be selected by a panel of nine and shared with local, regional and national policy makers and practitioners.

Other information is here .

The contest is co-administered by the Humphrey School of Public Affairs’ Center for the Study of Politics and Governance, where Jacobs is director, as well as the Nancy Bell Evans Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington in Seattle. 

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by A. E. Pasquino on 06/18/2012 - 05:57 pm.


    I find it ironic that an initiative inviting new ideas to reduce poverty chose to to invite those ideas via crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing is one of the most powerful income reducing forces in the marketplace right now, asking creatives and inventors to pitch their best ideas in exchange for a remote chance of being paid a relatively small one-time sum of money and no ownership.

  2. Submitted by Nick Magrino on 06/19/2012 - 12:49 pm.


    A contest to get out of poverty with a monetary award? Isn’t that called working for a living?

  3. Submitted by Sue Reynolds on 06/17/2015 - 11:18 pm.

    Reducing Poverty

    Start with a list of 500 of the poorest people in the country, by them signing up. Must be legal in citizenship and have offficial identification. Everyone in the country send these 500 people $1.00. This would be set up in an account for these people by the leaders of the group.

    In one month these 500 people would have over $1,000,000. Next month do the same thing with another 500 people and so forth. This continues until everyone in the country who is living at or below poverty level would be millionaires in a few months. This account is frozen from withdrawals until all citizens have the cap amount set by program leaders. Then release the money to each person, and it is not taxed until the following year.

    In an eggshell, everybody (volunteer basis) send everyone in the country $1.00 and in a few months, with our population at 318.9 million people, everyone would never need food stamps, welfare, etc. If, however, they don’t sign up, they get no money. What they do with the money after receiving it is solely their business.

    Also make a great reality tv show.

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