Do you have an idea about how to reduce poverty?


Larry Jacobs: the University of Minnesota political science professor is a household word in political circles and among members of the media, who know he’s the go-to guy for in-depth analysis or the pithy quote on presidential and legislative politics and a variety of other topics.

But, until now, I didn’t think poverty was necessarily one of those other topics.

Now Jacobs is helping launch and spotlight the Ideas for Action Award, a competition sponsored by the Northwest Area Foundation and aimed at uncovering and furthering ways to reduce poverty long term.

Community Sketchbook focuses on the economic and social challenges facing communities, especially low-income communities and communities of color, and how people are trying to address them.

It is made possible by support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Minneapolis Foundation, and some Minneapolis Foundation donor advisors.

Community Sketchbook articles may be republished or distributed, in print or online, with credit to MinnPost and the foundations.

Why now? “…We have a record number of poor and shocking silence about their plight…,” Jacobs told me, and “you’d have to search far and wide to find any discussion of poverty of a serious sort among presidential candidates. ’’

That’s got to change, he implies.

I pulled out the numbers. Officially 46.2 million Americans – 15.1 percent– qualify as poor, according to the U.S. Census accounts.

In Minnesota, that figures at almost 11 percent – more than half a million people – who are officially poor.

In case you don’t know, the federal government has set $23,050 as the 2012 poverty guideline for a family of four. Poverty takes a high toll among Minnesota’s African-Americans and American Indians, where the poverty rate exceeds 1 in 3.

The goal of the competition, according to a University of Minnesota news release that seems to be written in that language unique to academia, is: “to instigate examination, discussion, evolution of practical ideas and eventually, implementation of policies that will help reduce poverty and build sustainable prosperity.’’

More simply, Jacobs calls for “new thinking and renewed attention on what is working to create opportunities for those of low income.”

And he urges action, as the deadline is June 29.

“Send us a letter, a short letter. Write us a letter that crystallizes your idea or the program. We’re not looking for a dissertation or term paper, but something succinct and to the point,’’ he says.

Oh, and by the way, there are monetary awards, starting at $5,000.

Up to 10 winning ideas will be selected by a panel of nine and shared with local, regional and national policy makers and practitioners.

Other information is here.

The contest is co-administered by the Humphrey School of Public Affairs’ Center for the Study of Politics and Governance, where Jacobs is director, as well as the Nancy Bell Evans Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington in Seattle.