Every program designed to decrease poverty is based upon assumptions either as to the nature and causes of poverty or what is necessary to help the poor improve their lot (Spilerman and Elish, 1970; Task Force on Economic Growth and Opportunity, 1966; Valentine, 1968). Often these assumptions are only implicit, and supervisors of the program might not even agree with the assumptions if they were stated. Nevertheless, a program would itself make no sense unless certain statements about poverty were true. For example, a program of economic development to increase employment opportunities assumes that, first, much poverty is due to structural features, especially a shortage of jobs in the labor force, and that employment of the poor will be a major factor in decreasing poverty. On the other hand, job training assumes that there are jobs, but that the poor are not qualified to fill the openings.

The amount of support or opposition to programs in the area of poverty depends not only upon cost and apparent effectiveness, but also upon the concepts of poverty extant in the public view. As sociologists are increasingly involved in applied work in the area of poverty, the necessity of knowing the assumptions and concepts found among leaders in the public and private sectors is of paramount importance. Failures in communication and actual disagreements can only be minimized if the sociologist is aware of the implicit assumptions in programs and the often unexpressed concepts held by those who are to accept or reject his recommendations.