On Poverty

“There are so many opportunities to make a living and throw some money in the bank. It basically comes down to if a person has any sense of the value of money and the moral fiber to make their own way in life rather than get into debt, or milk the system.” – Anon poster
“Hey, I can tell you that if you are poor there is as much (more?) opportunity to get an education then if you are middle class or borderline wealthy.

I got into Brown (which would have been interesting as my wife went there) and I could have gone for about $2000 a year because of my background.

These days if you can get in you can go. – Anon poster 2

There is a difference between having no money but still having opportunity, and really understanding the despair, hopelessness, and pervasive social diseases of the mind that plague the chronically poor.

There are still things people take for granted when talking about their rags-to-riches stories, things not everyone has – a healthy family, good role models active in their life, personal support from friends and family, strong mentors, good teachers, a community that values success, and opportinuties that reward hard work – these things are NOT available to all people, and make a HUGE difference, REGARDLESS of background. Rich kids without these ALSO turn out pretty crappy.

When you look at successful people, you see common threads – there are anomalies, but there are clear advantages that are NOT dependent on financial opportunity. In this sense I agree with you, Amp360, but we also have to realize that these things are not available to all people, and that they make a HUGE difference in whether someone grows up able to sacrifice for achievable goals, or whether they are more concerned with getting by. Having a strong support structure, and being able to start early with achievable and tangible success is paramount (I could go into our self defeating “self esteem” based education system, being a long time educator myself, but I won’t 😀 )

The social and psychological damage done by poverty, especially generational poverty, cannot be understated. When the culture around you is of people who have been beaten for so long – regardless of whether it’s their own actions (drugs, alcohol, infirmity, etc) or not, that poisonous thinking pervades whole communities. Not just ghettos and inner cities, but the rural poor as well. Sociologists have looked at this for decades, and the hardest thing to do when trying to alleviate poverty is breaking the mental chains that keep people from giving up. Remember, these communities often house the infirm and mentally ill, other disenfranchised and people with a very negative view of society, authority, and opportunity, and often promote counter-productive social memes. Expecting people just to shrug that off and tromp blithely to success is completely unrealistic.

We’re seeing this now with people from ALL walks of life that are giving up on finding a job, after almost two years on unemployment. People making $150,000 a year who bought homes beyond their price range, enticed by predatory lenders, who were counting on that equity for future expenses have been suddenly faced with downsizing, and have given up on finding another middle management position, but can’t work at McDonalds.

To assume moral standing via socioeconomic situation is an American disease. To say that someone is shiftless, lazy, or a criminal defrauding the government simply because of their economic situation is the height of American Prosperity Gospel hubris. NO ONE enjoys being on the bottom. NO ONE. You may find ways to compensate for the burden of shame – themselves usually counter-productive, but slightly better than shoving a gun in one’s mouth – but it’s a rare person that wouldn’t rather be a productive member of society. Yet to say that you know what challenges people face because you went without money is like saying you know what a cheeseburger tastes like because you’ve eaten sand.

Instead of viewing this as a morality play, where God punishes the weak with poverty and rewards the just with riches, we have to view this in terms of the human cost. Without compassion there can be no understanding. Without understanding there can be no solutions.

Instead of judging people for being poor, and continuing the shame-and-blame cycle that KEEPS people from trying harder (“If you’re just going to call me a lazy piece of trash, why shouldn’t I act like one?”), we need to understand the roadblocks people put in their own way as well as the systemic inequalities and psychological morasses people fall into.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans are out of work, and there’s no end in sight. The more of these people who go long enough to be snared by the poverty mindtraps of despair and hopelessness, the longer it’ll take for us to recover, and the more radical solutions we’re going to need. Every day, more people are internalizing this loathing we have of the poor, the unemployed, etc. Within the Western world, we have the most brutal and counter-productive view of our needy. And now it threatens whole swathes of American people.

Whatever political solutions you favor, if they are not based on the complex reality of the varying layers and levels of poverty and it’s vast framework of both good and bad gestalts, we’re going to fail.

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