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Bias on Poverty in America

Updated on December 16, 2014
Homeless Family
Homeless Family | Source

by Amber Maccione

Being in poverty is defined as “a family, and every individual in it, is considered poor when the family’s income is less than the income threshold set by the U.S. Census Bureau” (Enwefa, Enwefa, & Jennings, 2006). The U.S. is one of the richest nations in the world, yet it has the “highest discrepancy relative to youth poverty rates” (Enwefa, Enwefa, & Jennings, 2006). In the U.S., the view upon poverty or being poor is negative. Newt Gingrich in a 2011 interview stated that “poor ethnically diverse children” are “lazy” and have “no work ethic” (Martin, 2014). Almost half of America would agree with him in that Americans living in poverty are to blame for their own circumstances (Sweeney, 2012). Forty percent believe that if these individuals just put their minds to it and worked hard, they could bring themselves out of poverty (Sweeney, 2012). They believe that poor individuals are there because they refuse to invest in skills, education, and hard work to start earning a living and move up the socioeconomic ladder (Sweeney, 2012). Therefore, the consensus is that poor individuals are lazy, irresponsible persons who lack the morals to value education and hard work.

Pimpare stated that a good political economy would address the poor in the best way by creating a welfare state, which would be derived from listening to the voices of those who had already experienced what it was like to be poor (Loiacono, 2010). Unfortunately, in the U.S., the well-off such as the rich politicians and middle class white think they know what is best for the poor and created a system out of what they think (Loiacono, 2010). Most in America think that the welfare system actually causes poverty because the poor just sit on welfare since it is easier than getting a job and working hard to support themselves. Yet, when thinking about the concept of being poor verses having actual money to move forward in life, who would want to be poor? The answer is no one (Enwefa, Enwefa, & Jennings, 2006). Being poor is a constant struggle because of all the social problems it brings such as educational failure, single parenting, incarceration, unemployment, substance abuse, inadequate housing, homelessness, and health issues (Enwefa, Enwefa, & Jennings, 2006). They are poor not because of their own choosing, but because their needs of belonging, safety, and physiological are not being met (“Drug Addiction Treatment: Part 1”). Until these needs are addressed, individuals in poverty will continue to stay there because they are more concerned about survival than gaining skills and knowledge to get out of their predicament (Enwefa, Enwefa, & Jennings, 2006).

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Although the welfare system in the U.S. offers services that would help poverty stricken individuals, there is a perception that comes from America’s majority that those in poverty are there because of bad choices and bad values, and therefore, the minority or those affected by poverty believe that they are looked down upon and discriminated against (Stepanikova & Cook, 2008). As a person’s income rises, poverty stricken individuals believe that the racial and ethnic bias and discrimination against them will fade (Stepanikova & Cook, 2008). Since they are in poverty though and society believes it is their own doing, poor individuals perceive racial and ethnic bias and discrimination against them when they go to seek help for their social problems (Stepanikova & Cook, 2008). Because of this perception, the poor are less likely to go to healthcare centers and public clinics (Stepanikova & Cook, 2008). Since the poor are not getting the real help they need and are unable to afford it on their own, they remain in poverty.

In order for the U.S. to really help those in poverty, Americans need to start advocating for them (Enwefa, Enwefa, & Jennings, 2006). Through these advocates, doors can be open for families to connect with programs in the community that will provide resources and support to help the poor begin to climb out of poverty (Enwefa, Enwefa, & Jennings, 2006). Advocates can be the voice the poor need to hear to feel safe and not criticized for being poor. Also, programs need to give the same amount of care to these individuals as they would a rich white American so that the poor feel cared for and not discriminated against (Sweeney, 2012 & Enwefa, Enwefa, & Jennings, 2006).

Bias on Poverty
Bias on Poverty | Source

Middle- and upper-class Americans see poverty as a result of individuals being lazy and unmotivated, who have made bad choices and live by bad values such as not having any on education. If they would only push themselves to achieve, they would be able to get out with their own doing. Unfortunately, this thinking is detrimental to the poor themselves as they see individuals who are working in the welfare programs as being uncaring and judgmental towards them. Therefore, their problems just grow and they remain because they have more concern on survival then moving out of the socioeconomic status of poverty. In order for this plight to change, advocates for the poor need to bridge the gap and help those in poverty get connected in the community to the resources that will help them fulfill the belonging, safety, and physiological needs.

Hatred of Poor - Our Justice System


"Drug Addiction Treatment: Part 1." [PowerPoint slides] Mendocino College. Retrieved from

Enwefa, R. L., Enwefa, S. C., & Jennings, R. (2006). “Special Education: Examining the Impact of Poverty on the Quality of Life of Families of Children with Disabilities.” Forum on Public Policy. Retrieved from

Loiacono, G. (2010). A people's history of poverty in America. Journal of Social History, 43(4), pp. 1080-1082. (Document ID: 2069423921).

Martin, M.E. (2014). Introduction to human services: Through the eyes of practice settings. (3rd ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

Stepanikova, I. & Cook, K. S. (June 2008). “Effects of Pverty & Lack of Insurance on Perceptions of Racial & Ethnic Bias in Health Care. “ Health Services Research, 43(3): 915-930. Doi: 10.1111/j.1475-6773.2007.00816.x

Sweeney, K. A. (2012). “The Culture of Poverty & Adoption: Adoptive Parent Views of Birth Families.” Michigan Family Review, 16. Retrieved from

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