Poverty At A Glance Essay Research Paper

Poverty At A Glance Essay, Research Paper

Poverty at a Glance

There is a diversity of faces and voices that define people that are currently living in poverty. If you seen them on the street would you know them? Who are these unfortunate people? Do you think you could point them out? Where do they come from? While some impoverished people are apparent -many are hidden and walk amongst us everyday, fighting to survive, playing the societal game, and hoping to rise up and leave behind a life of poverty and despair. The impoverished is made up of people from all aspects of life with differences in age, race, color, and ethnicity. This group also includes fallen power elitists; impoverished by greed or over consumption of addiction. The issues of poverty and homelessness go hand and hand. The two are so closely intertwined that we often fail to see that they are in reality one problem, and that the homeless, excluding the handicapped, the aged, and the mentally ill, is merely the most severe expression of it. Charity and handouts do not solve the problems, although they often soften the blow. The impoverished continue to fight their battle to survive, and hope, and pray that the next day will be better then the last.

When we speak of the poor, we speak as though they are an unchanging and faceless group to be pity despised or feared. To talk of the “poverty problem” is to talk of some depersonalized permanent fixture on the U.S. landscape. The poverty is people, it’s people standing in welfare lines, it’s people standing in soup kitchen lines and unemployment lines. It’s people living in rat-infested projects and people sleeping on the streets. It’s people struggling to acquire things that the rest of society takes for granted. It’s people coming up short in their quest for the American Dream. It’s 13% of the American population that came up short of the American dream in 1999 (U.S. Census Bureau, 1999).

However, what truly defines poverty? Is it a lack of money, or lack of food or even lack of proper hygiene? Although these characteristics alone or combined can often define people living in poverty, the truth is that these are only perceptions. To live in poverty means that your income falls below the official poverty line for a given family size. In a broader sense, the living conditions of the poor are difficult to measure, both because annual cash income is only one factor related to living conditions, and because the poor are quite heterogeneous (Federman, Garner & Short, 1997). The perceptions or “myths” that the population has about poverty are distinguished by a “high degree of constancy” across generations and by an “equally pronounced capacity for evolution”, adapting to changes in knowledge and social circumstance (Blumenburg, 1995 pp.34). Society buying into these myths and some impoverished adhering to the myths feed the fuel for society’s beliefs and perceptions.

So why is there a need to change society’s view of those living in poverty? The truth is that these perceptions and myths aren’t just generalizations about the mass of impoverished because most of them “fit” the mold. While the belief is that the impoverished are homeless, the fact is that 48% own their own homes, compared to 78% of those not living in poverty. Typically, these home are three-bedroom houses with one-and-one-half baths. The average values of these homes are $65,000 (Goldman 1999). Not only does a good percentage of the impoverished own their own home; they also own the amenities to go along with it. Ninety-two percent of the impoverished own a color television, with nearly half of that population owning two televisions (Bartlett, 1998). Three quarters of the population of those living in poverty have VCR’s, microwaves, telephones and even a car in the driveway (Bracey, 1997). Their homes are in good repair and are not overcrowded. Moreover, by their own report, the poor are not hungry -and even have sufficient funds to meet all essential needs (Susser, 1997). While life is not opulent, it is far from what the popular consensus understands by poverty.

Poverty is the inability to secure for onesself the benefits of ‘civilization’: necessities, comforts, pleasures. What are the causes of this ’shortage’? What was formerly done by human hands is now done by machines (technology). These machines are owned by the minority (the rich) and are worked by the majority (the poor) for the benefit of the minority (the rich). The minority also own the land. The majority must pay the minority for the ‘priviledge’ of being permitted to live in the place of their birth. Generally, the majority works hard and lives in poverty so that the minority may live lives of luxury without working. Poverty is caused by Private Monopoly; landlordism, employerism, ownership.

Until recently, poverty has never been simply the existence of poor people. It was that, combined with a set of understandings about how poor people fit into the overall scheme of things, how economic destitution and its possible eradication relate to ideas about divine providence, human nature, and the ideal society (Russel 1997). These larger meanings inspired the non-poor to take an interest in poverty and to commit their selves to do something about it. Today, however, the idea of poverty has been reduced to a drab, predominantly economic issue. It is a social problem encompassing other social problems –drug abuse, violence, panhandling, children having children–inspire few visions of opportunities to enhance compassion, equality, and justice (Bracey, 1997; Goldman 1999; Russel 1997; Susser, 1997). Their vileness is stark, encouraging the rest of society to block out poverty and retreat to its own more comfortable and intelligible world.

In these circumstances, increasing numbers of non-poor are opting for an alternative posture. Lacking confidence in and commitment to the proposition that poverty can be eliminated, we at least can order where we live, where our children go to school, what we read, and whom we encounter in such a way that we insulate ourselves from contacting or even thinking about the poor with their sordid lives and criminal tendencies. This is the coming solution to the problem of poverty: to make it go away by the cheap and simple expedient of refusing to acknowledge it (Bracey, 1997; Goldman 1999; Susser, 1997).

The impoverished meaning of poverty, and the resulting indifference toward it, enables and encourages politicians to join the rest of us in turning our backs on the poor. The structure of our society is not condolent to helping those in poverty or to improve their situation (Bartlett 1998; Gibbs 1995; Goldman 1999; Susser, 1997). While the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, it seems that if you bend down to help someone up, there is someone else there to kick you down.

Poverty is a disease of “The Money (Profit) System” (Susser, 1997). The smallest group “the rich ” does little or nothing and enjoys the abundance of things made by the largest group – “the poor “- who live lives of semi-starvation and misery. The newspapers (just one of many devices invented and fostered by those who are selfishly interested in maintaining the status quo) are full of accounts of ‘crimes’ committed by the impoverished (’theft of trade’ mainly).

When people in mainstream America think of violence, they also think of poverty: the deviant, defiant, dangerous “underclass” or “undeserving poor” (Federman, Garner & Short, 1997). Such stereotypes contain a grain of truth amid their untruths; the typical American stereotype of an impoverished person is one that is marked by numerous defiant behaviors. Though often seen as drug using, welfare abusing, baby making, jobless minorities, this is rarely the case.

While the myth is that the vast majority of the poor are blacks and Hispanics, the fact is that forty-eight percent of the poor are white, 27% are African Americans, and 22% are Hispanics (Bracey, 1997). Another common belief is that most people are poor because they do not want to work, but, facts show that 7.5 million poor adults work at least 27 weeks out of the year (Hale, 1999). What also must be taken into consideration is that 60% of the poor in the U.S. were not able to work due to their age (to young or to old), or due to disability. This can further be broken down as: 40% were to young 10% were over 65 with the remaining 10% as disabled (Federman, Garner, & Short, 1996). A myth held by many is that most poor get welfare so they aren’t really suffering and once they are on welfare they stay on for long periods of time and make no effort to improve the situation. However, most poor citizens do not receive aid from the government, either because they are not eligible, not willing to apply, or do not know that they are eligible. For those families receiving welfare most did not receive aid for more than two years at a time (Thomas, 1997). It is believed by many that:

“Welfare mothers are promiscuous. Most are morally weak and undeserving. If women do not want to be poor they should make different choices, and change their behavior. This is the myth of the “culture of single Motherhood”" (Thomas, 1997 pp. 351).

Women on welfare are shown to have fewer births in comparison to the rest of the population (Hale 1999). Most welfare recipients are not teenage moms as the media hype and recent myth-driven welfare reforms tend to indicate. In fact, no more than 7% of the U.S. welfare families are headed by teen moms (Thomas, 1997). Another, strongly held myth about the poor is that they are heavy drug and alcohol abusers, statistics show that one out of every four people living in poverty is a substance abuser, many of these are included in the 25% who are mentally ill (Corcoran, 1995).

However, the truth is that bad apples exist in all classes, from muggers among the poor to manufacturers of defective products among the wealthy. Either street crime is primarily caused by poverty and unemployment, or it is not; this need not be a matter of permanent debate. After all, the middle and upper classes do not mug. The crimes that the middle and upper class commit are rarely the crimes that are exploited day in and day out on television, newspapers or media in general. This is due to the fact that the upper classes control society’s views, interests and biases. There is historical bias in the law that favors the power. The power of the powerful interest groups in society determines who and what are deviant by using the power of social control (Corcoran 1995). Social control is used to punish or neutralize organizations or individuals that deviate from society’s norms, especially the poor (Corcoran 1995). However, the only real crime that the poor as a society commit is that they are unable to fill in the gap between the goal of success and the means to attain it. With the biases in hand, the only real and lasting solution to changing the relationship between the poor and the deviant is to radically transform society.

The following is a personal journey to Gods Kitchen to learn more on how the poor and impoverished live:

My journey to God’s Kitchen was a true eye opening experience. I was surprised to see all the hungry people inside, surprised to see all the hungry people standing in line and surprised to see all the hungry people outside . . . and surprised to see that many of them look like you and I. While many people don’t take a second look at the man on the street begging for change, I took a second look while I was at God’s Kitchen. This person could be my neighbor, a co-worker or even a fellow churchgoer. I found it most ironic that in a place called God’s Kitchen, you couldn’t see the difference between the impoverished and your fellow man. The feeling that I got inside from helping these people far outweighed any joy or excitement that I ever received from a material object. From this event, I was able to close some of the biases that I had against the poor and impoverished and learned that we could share the same goals, beliefs and ideas. The real tragedy I feel is that mainstream America appears to be unwilling to give the poor a chance at decent full-time jobs. They need a means to fill the gaps in their search and many are not only willing, but also able to fill various available positions. Without these jobs, the lure of the streets will be too strong, and the incentive to move into seemingly secure and well-paying criminal occupations too great.



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Blumbenburg, H. (1995). Work on Myth. Trans. Robert M Wallace. Cambridge MA: mit Press.

Bracey, G.W. (1997). A few facts about poverty. Phi Delta Kappan, 79, 163-167.

Corcoran, M. (1995). Rags to rags; poverty and mobility in the united states. Annual Review of Sociology, 21, 237-267.

Federman, M., Garner T.I., & Short, K. (1997). What does it mean to be poor in america. Monthly Labor Review, 111 3-17.

Gibbs, N.R. (1995). Working harder, getting nowhere. Time, 146 16-20.

Goldman, R. H. (1999). Food and food poverty: perspectives on distribution. Social Research, 66 (1), 283-304.

Hale, T. (1999). The working poor. Monthly Labor Review, 120, 47-48.

Russel, C. (1997). Who’s poor. American Demographics, 18 8-12.

Susser, I. (1997). The Construction of poverty and homelessness in u.s. cities. Annual Review of Anthropology, 25, 411-435.

Thomas S. L. (1997). Women, welfare, reform and the preservation of a myth. The Social Science Journal, 34 (3). 351-368.

U.S. Census Bureau. (1999). Federal poverty guidelines (WWW document). URL www.census.gov/hhes/poverty/povmeas/falstp.html


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