Urban Institute

The War on Poverty

In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson founded the Urban Institute to “help solve the problem that weighs heavily on the hearts and minds of all of us—the problem of the American city and its people.” The Urban Institute was born at a time of severe polarization, as Americans clashed about whether and how to grapple with the country’s deep legacy of racism and segregation. Early attempts to lift families out of poverty and narrow inequities were often stabs in the dark without a clear understanding of whether new policies were working—or for whom. Among Urban’s first contributions was a microsimulation tool that forecasted the combined effects of federal antipoverty programs on family well-being. How did cash benefits, food stamps, tax credits, and other subsidies interact? And were they helping people get ahead? Since then, Urban researchers have built a portfolio of microsimulation models on taxes, health insurance, and retirement security. Each is built to predict how people, communities, and spending will be affected by proposed policy reforms—giving policymakers and the public crucial information to better shape and target solutions.

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