Persuasive Essay On Poverty In America

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Poverty Essay


Introduction

Poverty can be difficult for Youths and especially to those hailing from low income families. The effect of poverty on American youths has been controversial and this has triggered a great debate across not only the poverty reduction proponents and opponents but also society. Every person; politicians, activists, individuals, youth groups among other bodies reflects on how poverty continues to screw the youths.

A clear understanding of poverty impacts on American based youth is highly imperative for all professionals, welfare organizations and adults called upon to support young generation. According to several journals such as Prevention Researcher; the effects of poverty are immense among youths. Therefore, any poverty reduction proponents must first engage in surveying meaning, causes, theories on poverty and finally the impacts on youths in America.

American youth’s poverty statistical figures are shocking. They reveal that poverty continues to encroach progressively to the youth community. Steven Ungerleider, Ph.D. and the founding editor of The Prevention Researcher in 1994 discussed information about the effects of poverty on youths in America. Programs that create supportive based environments for youth, strategies for preventing various problems affecting youth in America and resources that help youth-serving professionals and families. The main idea behind the objectives of this dissertation is to address the impact of impecuniosity on American youth (Steven & Wheaton, June 06, 2010). To meet this objective, the researcher purpose to critically look into the meaning of poverty and especially to youths, causes, theories and finally link to impacts.

Discussion

Poverty is a state of privation or lack of usual socially accepted amount of basic needs or money to meet one's daily wants. The U.S government has set the poverty threshold that defines poverty among youths as the lack of necessary goods and services commonly termed back the mainstream based society as a basic. The official youth poverty threshold is embedded on inflation and consumer price index. In 2012, the U.S government revealed that youths from 58.5 percent of all Americans wallowed in cornucopia of poverty, with those aged 12-25 years old adversely affected. The poverty level rates are persistently high in inner city parts and rural areas compared to the suburban based areas. A 2013 UNICEF poverty report ranked U.S as one of those states with highest relative children and youth poverty rate. Americans were ranked second with over 16 percent of the entire population being poor youth (Wenk, & Hardesty, March 01, 2003).

Looking at the study published in The Prevention Researcher from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, Vanessa provides a descriptive analysis of American youth living in poverty. She reveals reviews the consequences of penuriousness to the children as well as the adolescents, and the main hypothesis used to expound the result of impecuniosity on youth outcomes. The article states that Poverty among youths aged 17–25 is a growing problem. Some types of youth, such as black and Hispanic and those living with poorly educated single parent or living without parents altogether, are at a risk of being poor than others.

In addition to that, the U.S statistical Bureau released some shocking statistics that “the trend in poverty among adolescents aged 18–34 mirrors around the entire population. In 2000, 14% of youth were poor. By the year 2009, the percentage of the youth living in poverty had increased to above 17%. When youth who are living in near-poor based families with incomes that ranged between 100% and 199% of the aforementioned poverty threshold is included, a total of 38% of all youth lives in low-income based families an increase from 33% in year 2000.

A case study about a newly single mother was used to exploring four of the most common explanations for why people and especially youth are impoverished. The variables were; individualism, social structuralism, the culture of poverty, and fatalism. She notes that youth and families living in poverty must move beyond own myths as well as biases. First and foremost, penuriousness is a highly intricate predicted phenomenon, and that it is likely that most of the explications come into play at once.

Some of the impacts of poverty witnessed on youth from America include; Leads to Poor health status; Poverty affects youth both mentally and physically. The absence of necessities, extracurricular programs and recreational opportunities made to benefit those leads to poor health and stress, therefore, mental infliction. The parents tell them that they do not have the means or ability to finance education, good health among others, therefore, this affects negatively the youth’s social life. Psychologists admit that this situation wreaks greater havoc on the youth than any abuse-based situation.

An article written by Meredith Minkler on behalf of the Park Ridge Center provided a critical thinking on how poverty affects health. Public health specialists reveal that once poverty gets into the skin, the health will worsen due to several factors. Poverty can worsen health status after chronic deprivation and limited access to various health resources. those resources include food — housing, and education, unsafe jobs — or those even involving high demands and some low resources for coping, chronic based psychological stress and exposure to environmental based slums toxins.

Most of the scholars have linked the high-income inequality and especially in United States of America with an adverse effect of poverty on health. In America, it’s just not being poor but being in a poor society where many others are stinging of riches. Raft of studies demonstrated that the very fact of being around individuals who are higher on the socioeconomically based ladder causes someone to experience significant elevated stress, lower level of feelings and control over his or her lives, and mistrust in the society and surroundings. Another factor suggests that people at a lower level of socioeconomic status have correspondingly less opportunity to control the different circumstances and events that affect lives.

In the words of epidemiology this lack of "control over my destiny and life” may be a fundamental concept that can assist to explain why the poor are weak in almost all the disease and disability category, regardless of their particular habits and behaviors. Therefore in conclusion, poverty has a great effect on health.

Secondly, the high poverty level affects the academic achievement or educational level of the American youth. As per the United States of America Bureau of Labor Statistics (2012), Poverty has particularly adversely impacted on the educational outcomes of youth, especially during early childhood. The children attend schools even when they have not eaten. The adversely affected children are those from single mothers are comprised of 30 percent of the impoverished nation. The single mothers cannot even avoid diapers.

This triggers negative child mental, health, and behavioral effects. Some of the areas in which youth education and academic performance have been affected include; District of Columbia, Arizona, Minnesota, North Dakota, New Hampshire and Virginia. In addition to that, those who fail to secure university grades find it difficult to proceed with education. Some of them do not even manage to attend polytechnics hence poverty had an adverse effect on their health. To cut the school dropout of youths aged 12-17 years in high schools, the government decided to ensure that 31 million low-income children and youth received free price meals daily through the National School lunch program started in 2012 federal fiscal based year (Berzin, & De, January 01, 2010). Therefore, poverty has a negative effect on the quality education.

Given that the education system in America is locally funded, quality of materials and teachers reflects the affluence of the community. Low-income communities can’t support quality education compared to the high income communities. To some extent, the children of the poor or in-cognizant people are visually perceived as just mere replicas of their parents fated to live out the same impoverish or in-cognizant life.The result of such a perception will be edifies that will not put forth the indispensable effort to edify and students that are opposed to mundane learning; in both scenarios the conception is that the poorly predicted student is incapable. Females from a poor family are withal liable to becoming pregnant at early ages, and with fewer resources to take care for children. Young women often drop out of school. Due to these reasons the quality of education level between the classes is not equal.

Therefore in summary form, Poverty has an adverse effect on the academic performances of children, especially during the early childhood season. According to American Psychological Association (APA) 2010 report, need trigger chronic stress associated poor children’s concentration and loss of memory which may impact their ability level to learn. The same report stipulated that in 2007, the rate of dropouts of students who live in the low-income families was about ten times higher than the rate of their peers hailing from high-income families (8.8% vs. 0.9%).

Third, penuriousness causes psycho social effects among the American predicated youths. The American Psychological Association revealed that children living in impecuniosity are at higher risk of behavioral and emotional predicated quandaries. Some of the behavioral problems may involve the impulsiveness, difficulty getting along with their peers, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), aggression, and conduct disorder. Moreover, emotional quandaries may cause apprehensiveness, high melancholy, and low self-esteem. Lastly, unsafe neighborhoods environment may expose sundry low-income children to home predicted violence which trigger psycho social difficulties. Violence exposure can also create future violent based behavior in youth which places them at higher risk of injury, mortality and juvenile justice system (Sreenivasan, 2009).

In the integration to that; impecuniosity may additionally trigger youth to engage in perilous demeanor such as reckless smoking or engagement in early sexual activity. Black and Hispanic youths are adversely affected hence tempted from engaging in sexual immoralities or crime to earn daily bread. Some of them are also subjected to early marriages where they end up giving birth to more children then how they can support (Berliner, December 24, 2013).

These children turnout to suffer just like parents and, therefore, proceed to become urchins. 21% of all children who live in the United States live in penuriousness, about 46% of the black children and 40% of the Latino children reside in impecuniosity. All these turn out to be poor youth who can define own life. The US government has been accused of ignoring income disparity which has triggered tremendous generic based poverty across the country. The youth has no employment opportunities amid of having good papers.

Another result of the poverty level on American youth was an increased number of suicides. Most of the youth find it difficult to cope with hard economic life. The eventual result involves them commit suicide or even hang them. The federal government and health agencies identified lack of jobs and poverty as the main cause of the problem. Given that insurance covers are not accessible to low income youth, Medicaid practitioners ignore the low income youth patients (Arrighi& Maume, 2007).

The eventual result of this involves low income youth spent nights in emergency rooms instead of nursing beds. This means that the state and community must play an active role in saving these youth from poverty, The federal government should create youth fund, implement substantial drug and abuse prevention based programs that call for the reduction of drug abuse. Moreover, the aged should be provided with business related fund so as to start own business. Moreover, the federal government can achieve some tax based programs so as to control the excessive, poor and rich differences within the country. The youth pleads with government for more job opportunities and reduction in license costs so as to enhance low income people prosperity.

More connection between the schools and federal government in the provision of school based health programs. The program may identify in advance those children suffering from mental illness for early treatment. The eventual result will be reduced suicide cases and, therefore, healthy youth who can work for the country develops. Whenever, the youths are ignored, some of the government based programs fail such as sports. This call for the state to recognize sports and they can create some job opportunities for the impoverished youth. It can also reduce the number of crimes and alcoholism in the country and especially among youths.

As poverty level increases in America from 46.2 in 2012 to 50 million, where the parents are totally financially unstable, and the number of youth indulged in poverty increased to 21.9 percent. This means that they are in the great depression of not even earning or saving for own needs. High poverty level denies the youth from engaging in life based epic situations such as saving and becoming independent.

The lack of jobs coupled by extreme home poverty lead to most of them reach adult age but continue to eat, cook and bathe under the parents care. This situation means that they cannot even safe for future life. The living standard lived to not match their standard. Given that it can chronologically move from the parents to children, the children tend to inherit poverty rather than wealth. The vulnerable youth from low income families is at danger of being further screwed by poverty till the end. A large number of them have not attended school or are school dropout.

They have little or no knowledge about financial matters or business. America needs to take necessary precautions so as to reduce poverty and homelessness especially for the future generation found from the current youth. A good example of this happened in Oregon province where everyone out of four of the youth wallowed in extreme poverty. In 2007, 2.9% of Oregonians lived below the poverty line.

However, on failure of the youth to save and engage on instrumental country building activities, the poverty rate reached 17.5% in 2011.This means an increase of 190,000 Oregonians fell below the poverty line. A competition for high school scholarships will become increasingly high and the number of students joining various colleges will decline a substantial number. The youth grows to become adults and, therefore, we can accede on the principle of an incremented penuriousness level.

Poverty has also been linked to youth being unable to meet their basic needs. Like food shelter and clothing. Most of them are in streets or even dependent on the parents for the basic needs. The parents cannot sustain them and, therefore, a lot of quarrel and fight dominates the families. The youth end up being very arrogant and, therefore, elope from the family to streets. In the street, they cannot be provided with all necessities. Some of them have tattered clothes and do not take a bath, therefore, they live miserable life (Bugental et al, December 01, 2010)..

Recently, the United States street children statistics and released by the United States Census Bureau were alarming. They revealed a three hundred percent increase in the number since 2002.This was a clear indication of most youth engages in marriage or promiscuity before giving birth to unwanted children. The government had to come up with incipient policies on how to reduce the number of street children by family orchestrating measures among the youth levels. However, this does not solve the eminent poverty problem and, therefore, income generating projects should be introduced. Essentially, the government should also ensure more school and no dropout in schools (Valadez, November 01, 2010).

A 2013 FBI (Federal Bureau Investigation) report revealed that violent crimes such as murders and robberies increased by over 3.7 percent since 2010.Most of these malefactions are committed by puerile boys and girls aged from 18-25 years(Zuberi, January 01, 2011). The crimes are rampant in over 18 cities and suburban regions, The Study found out that many youths have limited parental oversight and are too easily influenced by gang based membership hence glamorized violence in popular culture. Moreover, that an increasing number of offenders appear to be young and their crimes highly violent and, therefore, laws in some states provide very few, if any, tough penalties on juvenile offenders.

The nationwide crime rates spike triggered the justice department to pledge for an additional 50 million dollars for more juvenile cases. This reflects how the poverty cases have led the youths to engage in crime matters. Most of them have lost lives on the process through bullets. Moreover, others have been stoned to death by angry mob, therefore, the state and the entire society must cooperate to see how they can create jobs or provide them with the loans for local businesses. Increasing the number of courts and jails is not a solution to the problem.

Conclusion

In summary form, the above mentioned effects of poverty on youth in America should be solved through various ways. First, the youth must be supported financially to start companies. Secondly, they must be provided with necessary education for business. Moreover, the high income disparity has discouraged most of the poor individuals, therefore, the state must devise some mechanisms such as taxation to control the difference. In addition to that, the youth should be provided with insurance covers for better health services. The hospitals must understand that youth represent the future wealth of the nation and, therefore, they deserve a good health.

References

Wenk, D. A., & Hardesty, C. (March 01, 2003). The Effects of Rural-to-Urban Migration on the Poverty Status of Youth in the 1990s¹. Rural Sociology, 58, 1, 76-92.
Berliner, D. C. (December 24, 2013). Effects of inequality and poverty vs. teachers and schooling on America's youth. Teachers College Record, 115, 12.)
Arrighi, B. A., & Maume, D. J. (2007). Child poverty in America today. Westport, Conn: Praeger.
Valadez, L. (November 01, 2010). Medium-term effects of household poverty on child well-being: A study in a subsample of pre-school children in rural Mexico. Journal of International Development, 22, 8, 1146-1161
Berzin, S. C., & De, M. A. (January 01, 2010). Understanding the Impact of Poverty on Critical Events in Emerging Adulthood. Youth & Society, 42, 2, 278-300.
Eduardo, M. (September 06, 2011). How Do Social Networks Matter in Reducing the Effects of Poverty?. International Journal of Sociology, 41, 2, 10-27.
Steven Ungerleider, & Wheaton, L. (June 06, 2010). Estimating the potential effects of poverty reduction policies. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 29, 2, 387-400.
Bugental, D. B., Schwartz, A., & Lynch, C. (December 01, 2010). Effects of an Early Family Intervention on Children's Memory: The Mediating Effects of Cortisol Levels. Mind, Brain, and Education, 4, 4, 159-170.
Zuberi, D. (January 01, 2011). Contracting Out Hospital Support Jobs: The Effects of Poverty Wages, Excessive Workload, and Job Insecurity on Work and Family Life. American Behavioral Scientist, 55, 7, 920-940.
Sreenivasan, J. (2009). Poverty and the government in America: A historical encyclopedia. Santa Barbara,

[The following is excerpted from The Forest and The Trees: Sociology as Life, Practice, and Promise, rev. ed. For more information click here.]

F

ollowing the course of major social problems such as poverty, drug abuse, violence, and oppression, it often seems that nothing works. Government programs come and go as political parties swing us back and forth between stock answers whose only effect seems to be who gets elected. If anything, the problems get worse, and people feel increasingly helpless and frustrated or, if the problems don’t affect them personally, often feel nothing much at all.

As a society, then, we are stuck, and we’ve been stuck for a long time. One reason we’re stuck is that the problems are huge and complex. But on a deeper level, we tend to think about them in ways that keep us from getting at their complexity in the first place. It is a basic tenet of sociological practice that to solve a social problem we have to begin by seeing it as social. Without this, we look in the wrong place for explanations and in the wrong direction for visions of change.

Consider, for example, poverty, which is arguably the most far-reaching, long-standing cause of chronic suffering there is. The magnitude of poverty is especially ironic in a country like the United States whose enormous wealth dwarfs that of entire continents. More than one out of every six people in the United States lives in poverty or near-poverty. For children, the rate is even higher. Even in the middle class there is a great deal of anxiety about the possibility of falling into poverty or something close to it – through divorce, for example, or simply being laid off as companies try to improve their competitive advantage, profit margins, and stock prices by transferring jobs overseas.

How can there be so much misery and insecurity in the midst of such abundance? If we look at the question sociologically, one of the first things we see is that poverty doesn’t exist all by itself. It is simply one end of an overall distribution of income and wealth in society as a whole. As such, poverty is both a structural aspect of the system and an ongoing consequence of how the system is organized and the paths of least resistance that shape how people participate in it.

The system we have for producing and distributing wealth is capitalist. It is organized in ways that allow a small elite to control most of the capital – factories, machinery, tools – used to produce wealth. This encourages the accumulation of wealth and income by the elite and regularly makes heroes of those who are most successful at it – such as Microsoft’s Bill Gates. It also leaves a relatively small portion of the total of income and wealth to be divided among the rest of the population. With a majority of the people competing over what’s left to them by the elite, it’s inevitable that a substantial number of people are going to wind up on the short end and living in poverty or with the fear of it much of the time. It’s like the game of musical chairs: since the game is set up with fewer chairs than there are people, someone has to wind up without a place to sit when the music stops.

In part, then, poverty exists because the economic system is organized in ways that encourage the accumulation of wealth at one end and creates conditions of scarcity that make poverty inevitable at the other. But the capitalist system generates poverty in other ways as well. In the drive for profit, for example, capitalism places a high value on competition and efficiency. This motivates companies and their managers to control costs by keeping wages as low as possible and replacing people with machines or replacing full-time workers with part-time workers. It makes it a rational choice to move jobs to regions or countries where labor is cheaper and workers are less likely to complain about poor working conditions, or where laws protecting the natural environment from industrial pollution or workers from injuries on the job are weak or unenforced. Capitalism also encourages owners to shut down factories and invest money elsewhere in enterprises that offer a higher rate of return.

These kinds of decisions are a normal consequence of how capitalism operates as a system, paths of least resistance that managers and investors are rewarded for following. But the decisions also have terrible effects on tens of millions of people and their families and communities. Even having a full-time job is no guarantee of a decent living, which is why so many families depend on the earnings of two or more adults just to make ends meet. All of this is made possible by the simple fact that in a capitalist system most people neither own nor control any means of producing a living without working for someone else.

To these social factors we can add others. A high divorce rate, for example, results in large numbers of single-parent families who have a hard time depending on a single adult for both childcare and a living income. The centuries-old legacy of racism in the United States continues to hobble millions of people through poor education, isolation in urban ghettos, prejudice, discrimination, and the disappearance of industrial jobs that, while requiring relatively little formal education, nonetheless once paid a decent wage. These were the jobs that enabled many generations of white European immigrants to climb out of poverty, but which are now unavailable to the masses of urban poor.

Clearly, patterns of widespread poverty are inevitable in an economic system that sets the terms for how wealth is produced and distributed. If we’re interested in doing something about poverty itself – if we want a society largely free of impoverished citizens – then we’ll have to do something about both the system people participate in and how they participate in it. But public debate about poverty and policies to deal with it focus almost entirely on the latter with almost nothing to say about the former. What generally passes for ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ approaches to poverty are, in fact, two variations on the same narrow theme of individualism.

A classic example of the conservative approach is Charles Murray’s book Losing Ground. Murray sees the world as a merry-go-round. The goal is to make sure that “everyone has a reasonably equal chance at the brass ring – or at least a reasonably equal chance to get on the merry-go-round.” He reviews thirty years of federal antipoverty programs and notes that they’ve generally failed. He concludes from this that since government programs haven’t worked, poverty must not be caused by social factors.

Instead, Murray argues, poverty is caused by failures of individual initiative and effort. People are poor because there’s something lacking in them, and changing them is therefore the only effective remedy. From this he suggests doing away with public solutions such as affirmative action, welfare, and income support systems, including “AFDC, Medicaid, food stamps, unemployment insurance, and the rest. It would leave the working-aged person with no recourse whatsoever except the job market, family members, friends, and public or private locally funded services.” The result, he believes, would “make it possible to get as far as one can go on one’s merit.” With the 1996 welfare reform act, the United States took a giant step in Murray’s direction by reaffirming its long-standing cultural commitment to individualistic thinking and the mass of confusion around alternatives to it.

The confusion lies in how we think about individuals and society, and about poverty as an individual condition and as a social problem. On the one hand, we can ask how individuals are sorted into different social class categories, what characteristics best predict who will get the best jobs and earn the most. If you want to get ahead, what’s your best strategy? Based on many people’s experience, the answers come fast and easy: work hard, get an education, never give up.

There is certainly a lot of truth in this advice, and it gets to the issue of how people choose to participate in the system as it is. Sociologically, however, it focuses on only one part of the equation by leaving out the system itself. In other words, it ignores the fact that social life is shaped both by the nature of systems and how people participate, by the forest and the trees. Changing how individuals participate may affect outcomes for some. As odd as this may seem, however, this has relatively little to do with the larger question of why widespread poverty exists at all as a social phenomenon.

Imagine for a moment that income is distributed according to the results of a footrace. All of the income in the United States for each year is put into a giant pool and we hold a race to determine who gets what. The fastest fifth of the population gets 48 percent of the income to divide up, the next fastest fifth splits 23 percent, the next fastest fifth gets 15 percent, the next fifth 10 percent, and the slowest fifth divides 4 percent. The result would be an unequal distribution of income, with each person in the fastest fifth getting nine times as much money as each person in the slowest fifth, which is what the actual distribution of income in the United States looks like.

If we look at the slowest fifth of the population and ask, “Why are they poor?” An obvious answer is, “They didn’t run as fast as everyone else, and if they ran faster, they’d do better.” This prompts us to ask why some people run faster than others, and to consider all kinds of answers from genetics to nutrition to motivation to having time to work out to being able to afford a personal trainer.

But to see why some fifth of the population must be poor no matter how fast people run, all we have to do is look at the system itself. It uses unbridled competition to determine not only who gets fancy cars and nice houses, but who gets to eat or has a place to live or access to health care. It distributes income and wealth in ways that promote increasing concentrations among those who already have the most. Given this, the people in this year’s bottom fifth might run faster next year and get someone else to take their place in the bottom fifth.

But there has to be a bottom fifth so long as the system is organized as it is. Learning to run faster may keep you or me out of poverty, but it won’t get rid of poverty itself. To do that, we have to change the system along with how people participate in it. Instead of splitting the ‘winnings’ into shares of 48 percent, 23 percent, 15 percent, 10 percent, and 4 percent, for example, we might divide them into shares of 24 percent, 22 percent, 20 percent, 18 percent, and 16 percent. There would still be inequality, but the fastest fifth would get only 1.5 times as much as the bottom instead of 12 times as much, and 1.2 times as much as the middle fifth rather than more than 3 times as much.

People can argue about whether chronic widespread poverty is morally acceptable or what an acceptable level of inequality might look like. But if we want to understand where poverty comes from, what makes it such a stubborn feature of social life, we have to begin with the simple sociological fact that patterns of inequality result as much from how social systems are organized as they do from how individuals participate in them. Focusing on one without the other simply won’t do it.

The focus on individuals is so entrenched, however, that even those who think they’re taking social factors into account usually aren’t. This is as true of Murray’s critics as it is of Murray himself. Perhaps Murray’s greatest single mistake is to misinterpret the failure of federal antipoverty programs. He assumes that federal programs actually target the social causes of poverty, which means that if they don’t work, social causes must not be the issue. But he’s simply got it wrong. Welfare and other antipoverty programs are ‘social’ only in the sense that they’re organized around the idea that social systems like government have a responsibility to do something about poverty. But antipoverty programs are not organized around a sociological understanding of how systems produce poverty in the first place. As a result, they focus almost entirely on changing individuals and not systems, and use the resources of government and other systems to make it happen.

If antipoverty programs have failed, it isn’t because the idea that poverty is socially caused is wrong. They’ve failed because policymakers who design them don’t understand what makes the cause of something ‘social.’ Or they understand it but are so trapped in individualistic thinking that they don’t act on it by targeting systems such as the economy for serious change.

The easiest way to see this is to look at the antipoverty programs themselves. They come in two main varieties. The first holds individuals responsible by assuming that financial success is solely a matter of individual qualifications and behavior. In other words, if you just run faster, you’ll finish the race ahead of people who are currently beating you, and then they’ll be poor instead of you. We get people to run faster by providing training and motivation. What we don’t do, however, is look at the rules of the race or question whether the basic necessities of life should be distributed through competition.

The result is that some people rise out of poverty by improving their competitive advantage, while others sink into it when their advantages no longer work and they get laid off or their company relocates to another country or gets swallowed up in a merger that boosts the stock price for shareholders and earns the CEO a salary that in 2005 averaged more than 262 times the average worker’s pay. But nothing is even said – much less done – about an economic system that allows a small elite to own and control most of the wealth and sets up the rest of the population to compete over what’s left.

And so, individuals rise and fall in the class system, and the stories of those who rise are offered as proof of what’s possible, and the stories of those who fall are offered as cautionary tales. The system itself, however, including the huge gap between the wealthy and everyone else and the steady proportion of people living in poverty, stays much the same.

A second type of program seems to assume that individuals aren’t to blame for their impoverished circumstances, because it reaches out with various kinds of direct aid that help people meet day-to-day needs. Welfare payments, food stamps, housing subsidies, and Medicaid all soften poverty’s impact, but they do little about the steady supply of people living in poverty. There’s nothing wrong with this in that it can alleviate a lot of suffering. But it shouldn’t be confused with solutions to poverty, no more than army field hospitals can stop wars.

In relation to poverty as a social problem, welfare and other such programs are like doctors who keep giving bleeding patients transfusions without repairing the wounds. In effect, Murray tells us that federal programs just throw good blood after bad. In a sense, he’s right, but not for the reasons he offers. Murray would merely substitute one ineffective individualistic solution for another. If we do as he suggests and throw people on their own, certainly some will find a way to run faster than they did before. But that won’t do anything about the ‘race’ or the overall patterns of inequality that result from using it as a way to organize one of the most important aspects of human life.

Liberals and conservatives are locked in a tug of war between two individualistic solutions to problems that are only partly about individuals. Both approaches rest on profound misunderstandings of what makes a problem like poverty ‘social.’ Neither is informed by a sense of how social life actually works as a dynamic relation between social systems and how people participate in those systems. This is also what traps them between blaming problems like poverty on individuals and blaming them on society. Solving social problems doesn’t require us to choose or blame one or the other. It does require us to see how the two combine to shape the terms of social life and how people actually live it.

Because social problems are more than an accumulation of individual woes, they can’t be solved through an accumulation of individual solutions. We must include social solutions that take into account how economic and other systems really work. We also have to identify the paths of least resistance that produce the same patterns and problems year after year. This means that capitalism can no longer occupy its near-sacred status that holds it immune from criticism. It may mean that capitalism is in some ways incompatible with a just society in which the excessive well-being of some does not require the misery of so many others. It won’t be easy to face up to such possibilities, but if we don’t, we will guarantee poverty its future and all the conflict and suffering that go with it.

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From The Forest and The Trees: Sociology as Life, Practice, and Promise, rev. ed. For more information click here.

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