Poverty And Social Structure Essay, Research Paper
May 17, 1999
POVERTY AND SOCIAL STRUCTURES
Although the United States is one of the richest countries in the world many of it’s people sleep in the streets, dig through garbage cans to find food, and carry all that they own in this world on their backs or in shopping carts. These people are known as the homeless. Recently I had the opportunity of helping, and at the same time being educated by one of the members of this unfortunate group. I was able to experience first hand how a homeless person thinks and feels through an intimate means of communications popularly known as writing notes. Why writing notes? Because the individual that I invited into my home and fed was both deaf and mute. He was male, middle aged, and of African American decent. Needless to say it was a “conversation” unlike any I have ever had. In this paper, I plan to detail the observations I made during our interaction, specifically addressing how social structures form a key element in both the lives of the affluent and indigent.
I met Reggie through some of my friends. He was homeless and in need of help. One night he knocked on my door and wrote on his piece of paper, “may I come in?” I nodded affirmatively and motioned him to have a seat on the couch. After retrieving a pad of paper and pen, we began to communicate. We began with a couple of trivial questions and then I asked if he would like something to eat. He responded by writing “yes please” on his pad of paper and I quickly prepared some of the food we had in our refrigerator. As he ate, I asked him about himself and how he had arrived at the position he was currently in. He said he was from Virginia and was Mormon. He had been baptized there and learned that there were a large number of Mormons in Utah, and for that reason decided to move to out here. He had a car and so he packed his few belongings and came out to live with a people “who had the love of Christ and would be more accepting.” He obtained a minimum wage job and even a small apartment. Things seemed to be going good.
After a short period of time Reggie lost his job because he missed too many days without notifying his employer, a result of his genetic disabilities, and shortly after could not pay rent. At the time I talked with him he was living in his old beat up car, trying to find a meal. Why did Reggie find himself in this impoverish state, and why was he unable to climb out of it? I believe it is largely because of social structures, namely his networks.
When individuals form networks or groups they tend to associate with those who are like them. Equity theory explains this by claiming that people are most satisfied with a relationship when the ratio between benefits and contributions is similar for both partners. This would infer that networks would exist between those within a specific class but not across classes. By forming associations with those of equitable status, the rich form a very supportive network and the poor form a network that can sympathize with their situation at best. Networks are vital to class mobility in that they are critical in molding life chances, providing resources, and presenting options. Reggie was African American, deaf and mute. He could only communicate by writing things down, a slow process, which required a great amount of patience. There are not many people similar to Reggie in the world, let alone in Utah. Forming a social relationship was hard for Reggie and the friends he did have were mostly of low economic status.
The family forms a microstructure that produces both economic support and opportunities. The extent of economic support is primarily determined by the financial status of the family. The more affluent one’s family the greater amount of resources it has to assure that the basic needs of its members are fulfilled. This has a determining impact on children from a young age. Being born in a poor family significantly affects a child’s necessity to obtain employment, working hours, future education, earnings, stress, and lifestyle choices. These factors combine to make class mobility difficult at best. The dynamics of an individual’s family significantly affect his/her life chances. An affluent family will more than likely be involved in a social network consisting of many other prominent, wealthy families. The ramifications of these associations will effect all areas of an individual’s life. Most importantly, they will provide many options for aggrandizement in these areas. Coming from a low-income family, Reggie did not have the option to receive an education that would allow him to learn to overcome his genetic flaws and communicate effectively. When he was faced with a crisis situation economically, his family did not have the resources to help him, nor did the poor families in his neighborhood with whom the family associated. Although Reggie began to move upward upon moving to Utah, he discovered that even the people with the love of Christ could not be of absolute help. This brings me to another social network, religious associations.
Reggie attended church on an active basis. He went to the meetings although he could not understand well. Although you would think he could form a religious based social network, I gathered that he had not. Due to his communication barrier and often having to work on Sunday, it was difficult for him to form meaningful social relationships at church. I have wondered how his trials might have been different if he had a religious social network. With a large religious network he might have been able to overcome his economic problems. It would be safe to assume that had Reggie had more options such as job networking in order to find another job, or maybe receiving a loan, the crisis situation could have been overcome.
The structure of the educational system has a substantial effect on the lives of many who have conditions similar to those of Reggie. The educational structure does not afford the necessary training and development for those with genetic handicaps. The public school system frankly does not have adequate programs for those who need extensive amounts of help but can not afford it. After high school or its equivalent, educational development is primarily on a volunteer basis and available only to those with the time and money. Those that either do not meet the criteria or simply do not have the resources necessary to complete or further their education, continue their lives without the skills necessary for advancement. This lack of training and skill development becomes extremely consequential throughout an individual’s life course.
The social structure of the job market governs one’s employment patterns. For the indigent it is oftentimes difficult just to break into the job market. Obtaining employment requires going through the interviewing process. To succeed in a job search one must have access to a shower or method of bathing, the supplies of personal hygiene, and a clean set of clothes. Once the basic necessities of life are met one must work on social skills that will make him/her a desired commodity. To move up in employment in our society one must have the qualifications of the job. This usually means an advanced degree or special experience or training. It is often difficult to obtain the necessary resources needed to complete an advanced degree or certificate program.
Poverty is a problem that effects us both at the individual and societal levels. Many of the social structures in our society not only sustain the level of poverty in our nation, but also further it. The upward movement of individuals into higher classes is largely determined by characteristics of those in their networks. These networks prescribe life chances, the options that will be available to him/her, and the resources that he/she may call upon. Social structures form a key element in the lives of those that pertain to all classes and are a major source of class stability. I think it is safe to conclude that the poor stay poor and the rich get richer because of those around them and the support they provide.