November 3, 2013: I had not planned on putting up a new blog today – but after reading this piece in the New York Times “Week in Review” section this morning by Mark R. Rank, a professor of social welfare at Washington University, I wanted to share it. The article basically takes on the myths associated with poverty, concluding that “Poverty is ultimately a result of failings at economic and political levels rather than individual shortcomings.” Here is just a sampling:
Few topics in American society have more myths and stereotypes surrounding them than poverty, misconceptions that distort both our politics and our domestic policy making…. They include the notion that poverty affects a relatively small number of Americans, that the poor are impoverished for years at a time, that most of those in poverty live in inner cities, that too much welfare assistance is provided and that poverty is ultimately a result of not working hard enough. Although pervasive, each assumption is flat-out wrong….
Contrary to popular belief, the percentage of the population that directly encounters poverty is exceedingly high. My research indicates that nearly 40 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 60 will experience at least one year below the official poverty line during that period ($23,492 for a family of four), and 54 percent will spend a year in poverty or near poverty (below 150 percent of the poverty line). Even more astounding, if we add in related conditions like welfare use, near-poverty and unemployment, four out of five Americans will encounter one or more of these events.
I get what the author is trying to say, and in many ways I have to agree (please read full article: link above). It also seems that empathy for the poor might depend upon one’s own experiences of poverty. While this is certainly not true of the philanthropists who give because they care, I think that much work must be be done by those who have kept silent while the “criminalization of poverty” continues to escalate across the country. Please consider your own experiences through life – or those of family and friends – and then try to answer this question: How do we help bridge the gap between the false perceptions of poverty even of the most liberal among us - and the reality of rungs on the ladder that differ based on one’s race and class?
Tanya Tull, President/CEO – Partnering for Change