A payoff out of poverty?

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Reyna Luisa Olmedo Vasquez, the nurse for the clinic in Paso de Coyutla. At health clinics like this one in rural Meico, poor people are paid to bring in their children for checkups.

I am spending the holiday season with my family in California. For the past few days we have been renting a house in San Franciscos Haight-Ashbury. Today,  as part of the “going local” process we went to have breakfast at Boulange on Cole with one of those wonderfully thick Sunday editions of The New York Times.

The magazine has an interesting article entitled  A Payoff Out of Poverty? about Mexicos ground-breaking Oportunidades program. In order to break the cycle of poverty for millions of Mexicans, the state started in 1997 to give the poor cash. But unlike conventional welfare programs it conditiones the receipt of cash on activities designed to break the culture of poverty and keep the poor from transmitting that culture to their children. Thus mothers receive small cash payments when they attend workshops in hygine and health, regularly turn up at medical check-ups with their families and sent their children to school. 

The results are highly promising: With more than 5 million families enrolled, Mexicos poverty rate has sunk from 37,4% in 1996 to 13,8% in 2006. Rates of malnutrition, anmia and stunting have dropped, as have other illnesses. Middle-school and High-school enrollments have risen enormously. And while some sceptical observers feared that the programs cash would either be spent on alcohol or lead to increased domestic violence against women (who are the main recipients of the money), it seems that the majority of men have come to realize the benefits of the program.

The success of the program is such that a number of other countries have started to experiment with it, including Turkey, Cambodia and Bangladesh. But adepts also include New York City, where a pilot program will test whether the Oportunidades model can help New York neighbourhoods where poverty is passed down from one generation to the next.

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