Opening Remarks for the Conference of the National Association of Poverty, Unemployment, Hardship, Hunger, and Homelessness Research.
BY David Butler
Aloha and welcome to our 50th annual conference here at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Maui. To commemorate this milestone, we will mine the lessons from the enormous treasure trove of data we’ve produced over the last fifty years. As you know, some 45 million Americans are now living in poverty, child poverty rates are at an all-time high, and long-term unemployment is higher than at any time since the Great Depression. With no immediate improvement in sight, it is vital that we take stock of what we have learned from a half a century of poverty research. Before I introduce our first panel of speakers, let’s briefly review some of the highlights of our agenda.
Today, at 12:00 PM, I encourage all of you to join us for a fascinating lunch symposium: “Falling through the Tattered Safety Net into Deep Poverty and Pauperism.” Our presenters will analyze how the convergence of worsening labor market trends and reductions in income supports and services for poor people caused a “perfect storm” of economic and social devastation for low-income families and communities. The event is taking place in the Tower Ocean View Pavilion, the revolving restaurant on the 30th floor, with panoramic views of the Pacific and the summit of the majestic Halakea Mountain. The luncheon will feature the Pavilion’s renowned seafood extravaganza buffet. Guests who wish to order the Polynesian Bouillabaisse, or any of the seafood or dessert soufflés have to notify the restaurant by 11:30. Menus and order forms will be distributed during the pre-lunch plenary session: "Worsening Inequality and Poverty: Which Matters More?
I’m also very excited about this afternoon’s panel session: “Absolute and Relative Poverty Measures: Is There a Middle Ground?” This session will meet in the Maui Tranquility Salon, which overlooks the 3,000 square-foot Tranquility Pool. The pool is equipped with a state of the art underwater music system and is surrounded by a lush tropical garden. Also, note that the Maui Tranquility Salon adjoins the Serenity Spa. All our conference attendees are entitled to a half off the price of the Authentic Polynesian Spa Package, which includes a Loomi loomi rock massage and a honey, mango, loofah, exfoliation treatment.
Tonight’s dinner plenary session: “The Other Side of Paradise: Maui’s Still Hidden but Growing Face of Poverty” is a departure from our typical “data driven” analyses. A small team of local ethnographic researchers will facilitate a focus group with some of Maui’s Homeless families. We hope the plenary will give these homeless families a chance to learn from some of our leading national experts about why they are homeless. They’ll discuss how it feels to be invisible and desperately poor in an exclusive resort community. The dinner, a ten course luau, will feature what all the travel guides agree is the Island’s best roast suckling pig. The dinner and plenary will begin at 7:00 in the Grand Hyatt’s beachfront Polynesian/Fusion Brasserie, this year’s winner of The Best of Maui magazine’s award for the most beautiful beach front restaurant.
On a lighter note, tomorrow night, we’ll host a Don Ho tribute in the Queen Liluoa Kolani lounge, located inside the Hotel’s private forest preserve. Our guest singer—this guy literally channels Don—is also an economist. I won’t mention his name to keep it a surprise, but he is someone who has done path-breaking work correlating the recent steep increases in family hardship, with measures of neighborhood decline at the census tract level. Sorry, if that gave it away. But I’m hoping after he sings, we can persuade him to give us a little teaser about his exciting re-analysis of these results at the zip code level. While you are in lounge be sure to enjoy the Mai Tais and exotic cocktails prepared by the hotel’s expert mixologists.
I encourage you to participate in as many sessions as you can. We have learned so much in the last fifty years, but I hope we are humble enough to recognize that we have only begun to understand the seemingly intractable problems low-income people face. While we are here to honor our past, let’s also use this anniversary conference to usher in a second half-century of poverty, unemployment, hardship, hunger, and homelessness research. And don’t forget to join us every night in our hospitality suite, from 9:00 PM on for fine wine, the best locally brewed beers, Hawaiian-style Dim Sum, and informal discussions of new developments in Bayesian statistical analysis and non-experimental evaluation design.
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