Behavior analysts in the war on poverty: Developing an operant antipoverty program

Kenneth Silverman, August F. Holtyn, Shrinidhi Subramaniam

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Poverty is associated with poor health and affects many United States residents. The therapeutic workplace, an operant intervention designed to treat unemployed adults with histories of drug addiction, could form the basis for an effective antipoverty program. Under the therapeutic workplace, participants receive pay for work. To promote drug abstinence or medication adherence, participants must provide drug-free urine samples or take scheduled doses of medication, respectively, to maintain maximum pay. Therapeutic workplace participants receive job-skills training in Phase 1 and perform income-producing jobs in Phase 2. Many unemployed, drug-addicted adults lack skills they would need to obtain high-skilled and high-paying jobs. Many of these individuals attend therapeutic workplace training reliably, but only when offered stipends for attendance. They also work on training programs reliably, but only when they earn stipends for performance on training programs. A therapeutic workplace social business can promote employment, although special contingencies may be needed to ensure that participants are punctual and work entire work shifts, and social businesses do not reliably promote community employment. Therapeutic workplace participants work with an employment specialist to seek community employment, but primarily when they earn financial incentives. Reducing poverty is more challenging than promoting employment, because it requires promoting employment in higher paying, full-time and steady jobs. Although a daunting challenge, promoting the type of employment needed to reduce poverty is an important goal, both because of the obvious benefit in reducing poverty itself and in the potential secondary benefit of reducing poverty-related health disparities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)515-524
Number of pages10
JournalExperimental and clinical psychopharmacology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2018


  • Drug addiction
  • Incentives
  • Operant conditioning
  • Poverty
  • Unemployment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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