Five myths about the poor

There is an article a friend posted on Facebook that highlights five myths about the poor, and boy are they true.  I see this in my work, with my clients, and the research I read. The article mentioned these myths and explained and gave proof for them, so I won’t do that here, but I am adding my own thoughts given my own experience and observations.

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Education and inequality

On my way back from the Happiest Place on Earth, I bought a book from the airport (Why do those little shops always have such good selections?) called The Price of Inequality, by economist Joseph Stiglitz. This book is rich in economically sound explanations for inequality and why it sucks for everyone (and isn’t merely a moral failing of the poor themselves.)

At one point, he says a few things about the impact of education on poverty that underscore the idea that education isn’t the end-all be-all to ending poverty.

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Is Education the Answer to Economic Inequality?

I thought this was interesting, as education may be seen as a panacea for the impoverished. Education is surely important, but I appreciate how this post underscores how “education simply won’t address the root causes of today’s economic inequality.” The post suggests solutions like “public policies that will create more jobs, increase wages…and protect people from the financial ravages that often accompany illness, natural disasters, and other devastating and expensive events.”
What do you think about these suggestions or this post?

Working-Class Perspectives

One of the most common solutions offered to reverse America’ growing economic inequality is increased access to education.  President Obama may have started the trend with his call for universal, high-quality preschool, but others have joined the fray.  In March, Ronald Brownstein argued in National Journalthat “Education remains critical to reversing the erosion in upward mobility that has made it harder for kids born near the bottom to reach the top in the United States than in many European nations.” On The Century Foundation’s website just last week, Benjamin Landy posted a blog entitled “To Battle Income Inequality, Focus on Educational Mobility.”   

According to Brownstein, colleges and  universities are failing to make those opportunities available, because higher education has become too expensive and doesn’t do enough to help lower-income students succeed. In their 2009 study of college completion rates, William G. Bowen, Matthew M. Chingos, and Michael…

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Lessons needed to rebuild a life – Example 1

Yesterday, I helped a client fill out his tax forms for a job in our program’s kitchen. I say “helped;” I didn’t do it for him, though, and if he was gonna report being ‘exempt,’ I wasn’t going to tell him he needed to-that’s his call. I tried to explain exemptions to him. He said, “I don’t know, Miss Sarah, I was a criminal all my life. I never did nothing like taxes.” It was so humble and tired and sweet.

This is the simple kind of challenge that every one of my clients needs to learn how to overcome in order to rebuild their life, and then does, hopefully. It requires, not only their willingness to learn, but also patient teachers.

3 things the U.S. doesn’t include in poverty measurement

One of the showstoppers from the 1996 musical Rent deliberates ways to count a year in the life. In minutes? (525,600, for those who don’t know the song.) Handshakes? Cups of coffee?

That song was in my head as I was thinking about the way that the United States measures  poverty and how much it shapes our understanding of it.  The U.S. measures poverty in one straightforward simple way: income. This refers to a family’s income before taxes, but not non-cash benefits like food stamps. There are three things that the U.S. doesn’t include when measuring poverty, but are included in other country’s measures:

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Perspective

Talk about first world problems.

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I write about structural forces that reinforce poverty in the US, part of this includes American economic inequality. I just read this article from the Mail Online that presents in picture that economic disparity across the globe, never mind in the US.

The top one per cent comprises anyone with an income over $34,000 after tax

(Incidentally, many social workers don’t fit into that category, just FYI. 🙂

This ties in to something I’ve been mulling over and will write on soon, relating to the way that poverty is measured.

Until then, this is a nice dose of perspective.

American Servants

A particularly powerful point, to me, this blog made is that the U.S. still has servants in the form of certain kinds of employment. For example, nannies paid under the table or illegal immigrants.

I have usually heard this phenomenon couched in either two politically-charged terms that have associated judgments. This may be an example of “people stealing American jobs” (and the judgment is “Boooo! “They’re doing something wrong! Stop them!”)

Conversely, it may be “people working hard to make their way” (and the judgment is “Yea – they’re going the ole bootstrap approach! Good for them!”)  I realize these categories are oversimplified, but in both cases, the judgment is on what “they’re” doing wrong.

If these people are relabeled “servants,” that changes the judgment entirely.  It removes the focus from what “they’re” doing and transfers the responsibility to us, the system that allows and benefits from it.

One of the problem with calling them “servants” is that it sheds light on a complicated snarl of possible factors – immigration policy, minimum wage, education and job training, public opinion, and there isn’t an easy or clear way to  unravel that. In reality, it’s a result of a combination of all of those things and more.

A good start may be to call a spade a spade and start calling these people “servants” rather than “employees.” I think public discourse would begin to shift.

Working-Class Perspectives

In season two of Downton Abbey, the inimical Dame Maggie Smith (who plays the “Dowager Countess”) finds out that one of the family’s servants will be allowed to live out his final days (after suffering an incurable war wound) in the family’s lavish second floor quarters. The Countess is displeased by this and opines that “It always happens when you give these little people power, it goes to their heads like strong drink.”

If you are a fan of the show, one of the 7.9 million US viewers who watched Downton Abbey kick off its third season on PBS earlier this month, you know full well that the “little people” in this early 20th century British world—the kitchen maids, ladies’ maids, footmen, valets, chauffeurs, cooks, housekeepers, and butlers—have very little power. They scheme and scrap for the merest improvements in pay and job title. A few of them rise…

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