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Are the Poor Really Lazy?

Updated on May 8, 2012
Camden, New Jersey where 35.9% of the population is living below the poverty line. Statistics like this show poverty is not an individual problem, but a societal issue.
Camden, New Jersey where 35.9% of the population is living below the poverty line. Statistics like this show poverty is not an individual problem, but a societal issue.

Only 5% of Americans find poverty to be an important issue while 12% of Americans are so poor they don’t have enough to eat.

So why don’t we see poverty as an issue?

For this ‘hubby’ I’m going to stick with only one of the many pesky issues keeping us blindfolded to poverty, a rather ideological thing called meritocracy. In America the idea has been paved in gold, if you work hard you will be rewarded. If you do not work hard, you will pay the consequences. Perhaps this is how we speed past homeless people, our fingers clicking down on the locks. They deserve their poverty because they didn’t work hard enough. And zoom, our car has speed on by, left them in the dust… where they will remain as if unseen.

The largest issue with poverty is its tendency to reproduce across generations. The majority of people who are poor will give birth to the future of poverty. Not because being in poverty is a jolly good time but because of the culture of poverty. We only know what we grow up with, if one is born into a family who has nothing, in a town full of nothing, this is all they will know. Food stamps, hungry nights, and hot summers, they often grow up putting school on the backburner to do what is functional for their family’s situation- get a menial wage job. This is actually an admirable characteristic, putting one's own future aside for the well being of the family but because this is not a middle-class value it is demoralized and used in the future as blame for one's economic struggles.

Despite the statistics that show poor people do not have more children than middle-class woman; the stereotypes prevail, as do comments like, the poor shouldn’t have children at all. When one’s family is a victim of generational poverty, meaning two or more generations have lived below the poverty line, the chances of climbing out becomes extremely slim. If someone knows they will never have money what should one do? Lie down and die, not have the children they always wanted to love? When people have nothing, a blooming family is something to look forward to. To expect the poor to not have children is only devaluing them as people.

Back to the hypocrisy of meritocracy; it’s those in poverty that are often working the hardest! Barbara Ehrenreich, a highly educated and successful author, poised as a part of the working poor in three separate states, chronicling her hellish adventures in “Nickel and Dimed.” Along the way she works as a waitress, a housemaid, a hotel maid, and a Wal-Mart worker; all of which pay very little and treat her with even less respect. Her overall findings: she couldn’t live- monetarily or with her intact health- under the oppressive conditions minimum wage workers live a lifetime of.

In the eye opening PBS documentary, “People like Us,” we meet Tammy. Determined to support her two sons and self in the modest trailer they own on the edge of a Waverly Ohio, Tammy walks 10 miles (5 each way) to her job at Burger King nearly everyday. With no money to buy a car or pay for insurance, Tammy has to walk, keeping happy by thinking of her long-time dream to become a schoolteacher. Getting an education is far out of Tammy’s reach, although an education is her only way out of poverty and into the middle class.

By blaming the poor we will never address the real issues that keep poverty systematically in place, its cold grasp tight on many members of our collective society. Start assessing the homeless people you see not as lazy or unworthy but as truly unlucky, receiving the worst sanctions of capitalism with little aid from capitalist profiteers. Although there are always members in any group- rich or poor- truly undeserving of help, there are far more people who do deserve a leg up, a first chance. I argue it’s worth weeding through the few disappointments in order to seek out and assist the potential prospects this country too often ignores.

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    • Rice Girl 2011 profile image

      Rice Girl 2011 5 years ago from Southeastern United States

      You are right there, Becky! I did appreciate his comments . . . and I got a real kick out of the last statement. I have really enjoyed the back and forth conversations inspired by your hub. Thanks! And, absolutely, thanks! to rcrumple!

    • Becky Bruce profile image
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      Becky Bruce 5 years ago from San Diego, CA

      I'm glad you were so bold to address Rice Girl 2011 and I'm sure she will feel the same! I'm glad to read your thoughts and not only because I 100% agree! The get rich schemes are everywhere and sometimes... you catch yourself watching.. wondering, 'wait? what? really?' and then you snap out of it... but for many people who are desperate or have never been taught these are dangerous programs and commercials. by the way I actually laughed out loud as I read your last sentence about the lottery! You are funny rcrumple!:)

    • rcrumple profile image

      Rich 5 years ago from Kentucky

      If I can be so bold as to address Rice Girl 2011's comment (since I was also mentioned here) I would like to go just a little further. The Get Rich Quick schemes run only as long as the audience allows them to do so. There are viable ways to make money (produce or sell a product wanted by the public/ find a niche service that has yet to be tapped by big business/ become a part of big business/ etc.), there are ways that are questionable (stock market/ gambling/ etc.), and there are those that prey upon the hopes and dreams of the weak (Get Rich Quick/ Crime/ Politicians (okay, so I speak my beliefs)/ etc.). As long as there's a marketplace for the scam to exist, it will thrive. However, these exist because people have forgotten the basics: 1) It takes money to make money more times than not, 2) When effort and opportunity meet success occurs, and 3) If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. So, without money and without effort appeals to those that would rather dream than seek a valid solution to their woes. I apologize for rambling. Must go...have to buy a lottery ticket before the drawing tonight!

    • Rice Girl 2011 profile image

      Rice Girl 2011 5 years ago from Southeastern United States

      I find your comments, Becky - and rcrumple - interesting. I would also like to add that for the past 15 years or so, as best as I can recall, television stations began bombarding their viewers with get rich quick scheme commercials. I found it interesting that one such commercial continued to run long after its subject was in prison. People who feel as if they have no options will either forget "if its too good to be true, then it probably is" or, they really want to believe what the announcer is telling them, "if I can do this, than anyone can" philosophy. And for some, that may be the only positive information the viewer may hear - that he or she CAN do this. Of course, then the commercials show that once the riches have been made, the person does not work a regular job, but instead takes regular vacations - or they work from a beach or a cruise ship, etc. Great hub as usual, Becky. Voted up and interesting.

    • Becky Bruce profile image
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      Becky Bruce 5 years ago from San Diego, CA

      rcrumple, thanks for taking the time to really read and contribute to my hub! I definitely agree with you on many levels. We do all have low points, it just fascinates me how some people can crawl out of their lowest hour while others get stuck.

    • rcrumple profile image

      Rich 5 years ago from Kentucky

      Even considering the factor of environmental conditioning, "preparation" and "opportunity" add strongly to this equation. Having grown up in a small town, I recognized early on that my opportunities for success were extremely limited. Most of the jobs available consisted of basic factory labor or working retail for a family owned business. Either way, the future was somewhat limited. Only by escaping that town did I find the means to properly prepare for future opportunities that allowed substantial advancement and income. Too often "the poor" consider themselves victims and fail to see avenues of success that are available. Or, the sacrifices that success demands are too great a challenge. It's much easier to stay within their comfort zone, be hypnotized by reality shows, and blame society for their woes. I agree, there are many that deserve a chance. But, they must seek out these opportunities! If one isn't born with a "Silver Spoon" lifestyle, action and effort is the only way to create one. It's not the failures in life that matters. We all have low points. It's being a fighter and never giving up that makes the difference. I'll have to look into "The Potbelly Syndrome" as I've known many a successful person be overweight because of they enjoy food and can afford whatever offerings in which they wish to indulge. Good Hub!

    • Becky Bruce profile image
      Author

      Becky Bruce 5 years ago from San Diego, CA

      Your father is a very bright man! I'll have to take a look into his book :)

    • LetitiaFT profile image

      LetitiaFT 5 years ago from Paris via California

      Great article. Voted up. According to my father, who wrote a book called "The Potbelly Syndrome" and who has done some research into this issue, people are often poor (or lazy, or simply fat) because they are sick, most often from chronic infections, rather than the other way around as is usually believed. Healthy people think more clearly, are more industrious and naturally inclined to find ways to rise above their condition. It's not the only factor, but it appears to be a major one.