Myths & Stereotypes about Poverty in the U.S.
Did you know that poverty is a serious, real issue in our society?
I’m not surprised if you didn’t know that because we have been silent about this problem for too long. However, there are a lot of myths and stereotypes about the poor people in this country that need to be debunked before any changes can be made.It isn’t easy to let go of a lot of beliefs you already have about those living in poverty—mainly because these beliefs are constantly reinforced by the media. Another reason it is difficult is because those of us who aren’t in poverty, and didn’t grow up in poverty, see the world in a completely different way than those living in poverty do.
It is so easy for us to see how they can get out of poverty. It generally is easier to see the big picture when you are outside the box, looking in. But, try to imagine what it is like to be in the box, where the walls are not transparent—how easy would it be to see the larger view?
Imagine always worrying about your physiological survival.
Myth: Poverty is a minority issue.
This doesn’t mean that minorities are not living in poverty; it means that it is not solely a minority issue. Let’s look at the statistics. In 2004, the overall poverty rate was 12.7%. 25% of Blacks, 22% of Hispanics, 8% of Asians, and 8.6% of Whites were categorized as poor. When you look at the total numbers, however, the majority of people in poverty in the U.S. are White. 47% of the people in poverty in the United States are White. In 2004, that was almost 17 million people.
Myth: Government assistance is sufficient and encourages independence.
However, it is almost impossible to get out of poverty by relying on government assistance alone. Again, let’s look at the numbers. In 2005, the average welfare check for one parent with two children was $478 a month. Did you know that 20 years ago, it was $408? The assistance available for those in needs barely allows them to cope with their conditions, let alone help them get to a place where they no longer need assistance.
Myth: Poor people have babies to get more welfare (the Welfare Mamas).
Having more children does not mean receiving more aid. The average welfare increase is around $60 per month for a baby. There are some states where you don’t qualify for any additional aid after the second child is born. Other states only allow slight increases (like $25) for a new child.
Myth: Social mobility is possible.
There is a prevalent idea and belief that people can get out of poverty by working hard. The numbers:
- 2/3 of people living in poverty work an average of 1.7 jobs
- 1 in 4 earns poverty level wages (less than $8.84 an hour)
- 27% of working families have incomes below 200% of the poverty level
Myth: Education is available and accessible to everyone. Everyone knows that education is the way out of poverty.
Statistics show that less than 60% of the children eligible for Head Start programs were actually able to receive this service. For those of us who don’t live in poverty, it is easy to fit into school. However, for those living in poverty, it is difficult to fit in. When every moment of every day is devoted to finding ways to survive, school can be seen as one more thing keeping you from doing what you need to do to survive. If a single parents is desperately trying to make sure there is food on the table for dinner, money to pay rent, and working to keep the electricity from being turned off, this doesn’t mean the parent doesn’t support their child’s education. It simply means that making ends meet (or close enough to meeting as possible) takes the priority over making sure the child completes homework.
One of my co-workers told me a story a teacher told her. The teacher thought she was helping a little boy who lived in poverty by making him complete his homework during recesses, lunch, and breaks. However, she only created more of a divide between the poor child and the other children. He was, in fact, being punished for living in poverty. The teacher said she had no idea what she was actually teaching this boy until she began to learn more about poverty.
These ideas are truly the tips of the iceberg. I suggest that you further research poverty, the cycle of generational poverty, and the effects these poverty rates have on our society. It isn’t a case of us against them, but a case of what we can do to help those who truly need help.
The statistics and ideas in this article were taken from See Poverty...Be the Difference, by Dr. Donna M. Beegle. For more information, check out www.combarriers.com.
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