When Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared a war on poverty in New York City in 2005, he had two clear instructions: First, he wanted a focus on helping people achieve economic success, not escape poverty through bigger transfer payments. New York City’s safety net was already strong and wide – what was needed were better strategies to break the cycle of poverty. Second, he wanted to be clear about what worked and what didn’t. Open to non-traditional approaches, his main demands were to have evidence on the results, support what works, and end what didn’t.
The result was a 4 percent drop in New York City’s poverty rate by the time the Bloomberg Administration ended – at a time when the poverty rate in most other major cities and across the nation was rising.
To carry out his vision, Bloomberg tapped Geoffrey Canada, founding director of the Harlem Children’s Zone, and Dick Parsons, then CEO of Time Warner, to head up the city’s poverty fighting shop, the Commission for Economic Opportunity. Canada and Parsons became the guiding force behind Bloomberg’s request for a data-driven war on poverty that would consider the city’s many different populations.