Criminalization of Race and Poverty

Criminalization of poverty has increased significantly in the U.S. since the Great Recession of 2009. Poor and low-income people, especially people of color, face a far greater risk of being targeted, profiled, fined, arrested, harassed, violated and incarcerated for minor offenses than other Americans. A broken taillight, an unpaid parking ticket, a minor drug offense, sitting on a sidewalk, or sleeping on a park can all result in jail time.

The criminalization of poor people happens at the intersectional oppressions of race, class, gender and gender identity. The criminalization of children is especially inhumane and disproportionality affects low-income Latinx and Black children, LGBTQI children and children with disabilities. The school-to-prison pipeline is a significant factor in removing opportunities for self-fulfillment, education and employment, often creating and perpetuating poverty.

By conducting research and reports on the various components of these injustices, and supporting movements on the ground with resources and capacity, the Criminalization of Poverty project aims to encourage and influence policy that will move us from intersectional injustice into intersectional justice.

Latest Work

With a walking cane for support, a calm gray-haired senior woman resides in a modest apartment, seated on a sofa.

Poverty Made an Alarming Jump. Congress Should Have Stopped It.

It’s time for policymakers to listen to American workers and families instead of billionaires and corporate bosses.
Image of Harvard students protesting recent ruling on Affirmative Action. They're holding signs that read "diversity," "solidarity," "equity."

Affirmative Action Has Ended, but the Need for Diversity Hasn’t

Protecting diversity on campus creates better paths to opportunity for students of every race. The question now is to figure out how.
joe biden announcing his 2023 budget

Criminalization of Race and Poverty Program at the Institute for Policy Studies Responds to the Debt Ceiling Deal

"It makes it harder for poor and low-income families to access food benefits they deserve, while making it easier for wealthy people to cheat on their taxes."

Raise the Debt Ceiling, and Invest in America

The debt ceiling is an arcane artifice without a real connection to the economy. But how well we invest in our families and workers directly relates to it.

The Human Cost of McCarthy’s Debt Ceiling Demands Would Be Catastrophic

McCarthy and his caucus are holding American families and the global economy hostage to his demands to slash vital social programs.

When ‘Decorum’ Means ‘Mob Rule,’ It’s Time to Break It.

In Tennessee and Montana, Republicans silenced the voices of three young lawmakers because they dared to challenge the undemocratic status quo.

‘I Don’t Mind the Work’: An IPS Tribute to Harry Belafonte

IPS experts remember their time with the legendary activist, entertainer, and IPS board member.
joe biden announcing his 2023 budget

Criminalization of Poverty Program at IPS's Statement on President Biden's Budget

"As an expression of values, its proposals to invest in families and workers, protect Social Security, and strengthen Medicare reflect the values of most of us."

President Biden: Don’t Negotiate With Fiscal Terrorists

If Biden gives in, he’ll be as much to blame for a possible recession and spiking economic hardship as McCarthy and his party of extremists will be.
5 social security cards stacked and slightly fanned out.

An absurd issue demands an absurd solution: Let’s mint a bazillion-dollar coin to bring the curtain down forever on the Republicans’ farcical debt-ceiling theater

Congressional Republicans don’t want fiscal responsibility. They want to destroy the government’s ability to improve the lives of American citizens.

Four options for Democrats to avert another debt ceiling crisis

The debt ceiling has one use: helping extremists take our seniors, veterans, and kids hostage to political demands. Congress should abolish it now.
Profile silhouettes of a mult-racial group of people.

Americans of every race deserve a fair shot. Affirmative action provides one.

Far too many are denied this chance simply because of the color of their skin.
Poor People's Campaign supporters gather for a demonstration

These midterm elections have enormous stakes for poor and low-income Americans

Our country faces a material and moral crisis – and Republicans are offering only resentment and false solutions.

The data is in: Poverty is a political choice

Common sense federal investments caused poverty to plunge during the pandemic shock. If we fail to renew them, we’re choosing poverty.
Barbara Ehrenreich at the 2008 Letelier-Moffitt Awards

Remembering Barbara Ehrenreich

The acclaimed author and activist had a 40-year history with the Institute for Policy Studies, first as a staff member and later as a project leader and board member.
militarized schools

Schools Won’t Be Safe Until Lawmakers Respect Students

Lawmakers are filling schools with police and viciously targeting students and teachers. How are kids supposed to learn?
A projection display thanking Democrats for the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act is displayed in front of the White House on August 12, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

Biden’s Inflation Bill Is (Mostly) Good News for People and the Planet

But it needs to be a first step, not the last.
police officer and his k-9 getting ready to enter a school

‘Hardening’ School Security Is the Wrong Answer

If we are serious about keeping children safe, lawmakers should heed the dozens of school districts across the country that have begun decreasing their reliance on police in schools.
a masked woman carrying a crate of food during a volunteer food drive

A Pandemic of the Poor

As we approach 1 million COVID-19 deaths, Americans in poorer counties have died at double the rate of wealthier counties.
supreme court justice clarence thomas with his wife virginia ginni thomas

Clarence Thomas’ Conflicts Put Our Whole Constitutional System at Risk

Federal law requires Supreme Court justices to recuse themselves from cases in which their “impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”

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Reimagining School Safety

A look at the dangers posed to students by law enforcement and how to invest in real school safety for our nation’s children.

Report: Students Under Siege

How the school-to-prison pipeline, poverty, and racism endanger our school children

Report: Mothers at the Gate

A movement of family members is developing around the country that aims to challenge both the conditions in which their loved ones are held and the fact of mass incarceration itself.
Jailed man gripping prison bars

The Poor Get Prison: The Alarming Spread of the Criminalization of Poverty

This report provides a new understanding of the growing ways in which those in poverty are disproportionately targeted, marginalized, and prosecuted.