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A Chance to Take on the Cycle of Poverty

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The chance to end the cycle of poverty
OPINION features excerpts of pieces by columnists from the Op-Ed page and other sections of The New York Times. All columns from the last seven days are available at; Op-Ed pieces (by columnists and outside contributors), plus Editorials and Letters to the Editor, are at Please let us know what you think of OPINION at

Hurricane Katrina has given us a chance to do something serious about urban poverty. That's because it was a natural disaster that interrupted a social disaster. It separated thousands of poor people from the rundown, isolated neighborhoods they were trapped in. It has created as close to a blank slate as we get in human affairs, and has given us a chance to rebuild a city that wasn't working. The only way to break the cycle of poverty is to integrate people who lack middle-class skills into neighborhoods with people who possess these skills and insist on certain standards of behavior. For New Orleans, the key will be luring middle-class families into the rebuilt city, making it so attractive to them that they move in, even knowing their blocks will include some poor people. As people move in, the rebuilding effort could provide jobs. Churches, the police, schools, and social welfare agencies could weave the social networks vital to resurgent communities. The feds could increase tax credits, so workers can rise out of poverty. Tax laws could encourage business development. We can't win a grandiose war on poverty, but after a tragedy comes opportunity.

—David Brooks [9/08/05]

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