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Poverty: The Poor Get Poorer, and Poorer

Updated on August 22, 2019
William F. Torpey profile image

Graduated NYU 1963. Worked in NYC in public relations 2 years then as reporter/news editor 32 years at The Hour newspapers. Retired in 2000.

'Ain't We Got Fun' Sheet Music

'Ain't We Got Fun'  Music by Richard A. Whiting, Lyrics by Raymond B. Egan and Gus Kahn
'Ain't We Got Fun' Music by Richard A. Whiting, Lyrics by Raymond B. Egan and Gus Kahn | Source

John D. Rockefeller & John D. Rockefeller Jr.

A few decades ago, songwriter Gus Kahn penned the phrase, "There's nothing surer, the rich get rich and the poor get poorer" as part of the lyrics of "Ain't We Got Fun."

The phrase is now just another cliché, but like most clichés, has considerable basis in fact.

Not only do the rich often get richer, but Americans have great fun watching the ups and downs of men like Bill Gates and Donald Trump.

For instance, in the recent stock market mini-crash -- which followed on the heels of the debacle in Southeast Asia -- the media was quick to point out how many billions of dollars were lost in one day (Oct. 27, 1997) by America's wealthiest men (and, in the days following, how much they recovered!)

But what about the poor? Does anyone care about them?

The poor, far more often than not, do get poorer -- but their fate attracts much less attention.

Countless 'Get Rich Quick' Books

There have been countless How-I-Made-My-Fortune books over the years, and, perhaps, even more How-You-Can-Become-A-Millionaire tomes in the past few decades. But, then again, there are many men of wealth who would rather that you did not know who they are -- or how much they are worth.

Although stories about people who tried to become rich, but failed, are common, no one to my knowledge has told the quintessential story of the poor, the truly poor -- how they became poor, and why, ultimately, they always will be poor!

It's common knowledge that wealthy people like to hold on to what they have (For example, John D. Rockefeller used to give out dimes to children and, it's been said, to those seeking a handout. The message was clear: "I got started on a dime, so can you."

Generosity to a Fault

On the other hand, anyone familiar with the truly poor can tell you that poor people will give you their last dime (or dollar, if they have one) if they believe you need it more than they do. There are always exceptions, of course, but, in general, poor people are generous to a fault.

The wealthy have their reasons for believing as they do, and -- believe it or not -- so do the poor.

The rich know where their money came from. Generally, they learned early in their lives, largely from family, about what some have called the Miracle of Compound Interest. The principle (which you, of course, know all about) refers to the incredible growth of money invested over a period of years at compound interest rates.

Accumulation of Wealth

By extension, wealthy people know that one rarely, if ever, becomes rich on wages, or even relatively high salaries. To really accumulate wealth, it takes investments that bear fruit in the form of compound interest, dividends, capital gains, real estate, and other non labor-intensive investments.

Poor people know little of such things. They may have heard of compound interest, but, if they have, its significance was lost on them. For the most part, poor people come from poor people; they have a long history that tells them it's not likely they'll ever be rich.

So they resign themselves to their poverty and live on their meager earnings from day-to-day with only an occasional sign of dismay about their plight.

Despite their poverty, and the belief that wealth is beyond their grasp, most poor people can boast of a rich and happy life.

I wrote this column as a "My View" for The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on Jan. 3, 1998.

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