What keeps people in poverty in the United States? According to research by Atlas Network partner John Locke Foundation, both economic factors and the criminal justice system turn poverty into a trap. The organization’s Empowering North Carolinians to Escape Poverty initiative is a comprehensive approach to understanding, addressing, and ending poverty in their state. They have already succeeded in aiding the passage of several pieces of legislation aimed at solving some of the root causes of cyclical poverty.
Part one of Empowering North Carolinians to Escape Poverty entailed looking into the causes of poverty and reaching out to the public with what they found. They produced two initial pieces of research, one focused on the economic causes of poverty, while the second examined the effects of run-ins with the criminal justice system. Their marketing focused on building grassroots support among college students and disseminating their research findings through social media, television appearances, and John Locke Foundation’s video series.
Partially thanks to the organization’s efforts, state legislators introduced 17 bills addressing the causes of poverty. Seven of these bills are now law, while the legislature still has the opportunity to act on several more. Several new laws address economic causes of poverty, such as healthcare costs, overregulation, and inefficient public services. To improve health systems and lower costs for consumers, one law opened the market for teledentistry, while another allows pharmacists to administer injectable prescriptions. Two more laws focused on increasing opportunity through decreasing regulation, including deregulating the care of children with autism and implementing a regulatory sandbox. In addressing the ways in which the criminal justice system exacerbates poverty, lawmakers looked to recommendations from John Locke Foundation as they crafted a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill, which includes policing reform and the creation of a task force to simplify criminal laws in North Carolina. The foundation will build on these successes in coming months with phase two of their Empowering North Carolinians to Escape Poverty project.