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You Have Chosen to be Poor

Updated on September 15, 2013

You Have Chosen to be Poor©

October 27, 2011

In response to the protesters in New York City, who were voicing their discontent with the financial market corruption, Republican Presidential hopeful Herman Cain said, "Don't blame Wall Street, don't blame the big banks, if you don't have a job and you're not rich, blame yourself. It is not someone's fault if they succeeded, it is someone's fault if they failed," the ex-Godfather's Pizza CEO declared.[1]” This is not the first time this conservative line of logic has been presented in defense of corporate wealth. George Washington University economics professor Walter E. Williams in a 2003 article declared, “If you're a poor adult in America, for the most part, it's all your fault. That's true, at least today, whether you're black, white, brown or polka dot.”[2]Both men are absolving corporations and the wealthy of any responsibility for the economic conditions people face.

I will take up the challenge; as such, this is not going to be a discussion about race it will be focused on the economic class structure in America. This article will begin by looking at Dr. Williams’ article, because at this time Mr. Cain does not provide any proof to support his political rhetoric. Since there is no official government definition of “poor” or “working poor”, so as a point of departure the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) definition of the phenomenon of poverty will be used.

Poverty definition
Following the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) Statistical Policy Directive 14, the Census Bureau uses a set of money income thresholds that vary by family size and composition to determine who is in poverty. If a family's total income is less than the family's threshold, then that family and every individual in it is considered in poverty. The official poverty thresholds do not vary geographically, but they are updated for inflation using Consumer Price Index (CPI-U). The official poverty definition uses money income before taxes and does not include capital gains or noncash benefits (such as public housing, Medicaid, and food stamps).[3]

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 48 possible thresholds to determine if a person or household is living below the poverty line[4]. For a single person under the age of 65 that level is $11,344.00 annual income. If a person is working fulltime[5], that equates to $5.45 an hour, which is a $1.80 more than the federal minimum wage standard. Theoretically, if a person is single and working fulltime, with the assumption that the employer is incompliance with all wage laws, no one should be living below the poverty line. Yet in 2009, 12.4% of our population was living at or below the poverty line. A superficial review of the data just presented seems to support Dr. Williams’ theory, “A married couple, both working full time at a minimum wage job that pays $5.15[6] per hour, would earn an annual income of $20,600. Keep in mind that few adults earn wages as low as the minimum wage and those who do earn a higher wage after a few months on the job. If a married couple, both working at the minimum wage had no children, they would not be poor; if they had two children, they wouldn't be living in the lap of luxury but neither would they be below the poverty threshold.[7]

Dr. Williams is making the argument that the poverty line is the point that separates the poor from the not poor. I would argue that the line of separation should be higher. A problem with using the U.S. government threshold of poverty as the dividing line is the fact that it applies across the nation regardless of geographic realities. Depending on the location, the amount of funds required to meet basic living expense varies greatly. If you were living in Dickey County North Dakota (ND), at $7.25 an hour you would be about the living wage required to sustain a single person[8]. However if you were living in Cass county ND, at the same pay rate you would be .69 cents an hour short of the living wage[9]. That means in a year, working 40 hours a week you would fall $1,435.20 short of what you needed to live.

A couple with one child, both parents are working at a minimum wage job, together they are making $14.50 an hour. Technically again they are not living at the poverty line, however to use my example of living in Dickey County ND, they are falling short of a living wage by $2.88 an hour or $11,980.80 annually[10]. In 2009, the poverty rate in ND was 11.7% and in Dickey County, it was 12.6%[11]. A significant percent of the population of that county (approximately 666 out of 5289 people) is living below the poverty level. At the same time the unemployment rate for the county was 4.4%[12] and for the state it was 4.3%[13]. Unemployment and underemployment have afar reaching effect, not only is the worker impacted, but their family as well. Looking at the ND Job Service[14] web site on October 25, 2011 there were 105 job openings in the county. Many of the positions posted were only part-time or temporary work, even if all the vacancies were filled, it does not allow for full employment for the county. There are not enough jobs or jobs that pay enough to keep all the population out of poverty, let alone to meet the minimal living expenses for the area.

This leads into Mr. Cain’s statement, “if you don't have a job and you're not rich, blame yourself[15]”, which has two distinct parts that need to be examined separately. First Mr. Cain is making the assumption with, “if you don't have a job” that for every American that is able to work, there is a job. Mr. Cain is forgetting one of the major tenants of the Capitalistic system, in that there is always some level of unemployment. My old college economic textbook explains that even in times of full employment that does not mean everyone has a job. “One way of defining full employment is to identify some level of unemployment as “normal,” or acceptable, and only count unemployment in excess of that amount[16]” So even in full employment there are not jobs for everyone.

This article is not trying to absolve responsibility each adult has to themselves and the society. I currently make a living by holding employees accountable for their own actions; a part of that process includes terminating their employment. However, individual actions do not account for all unemployment situations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistic, (BLS) in August of 2011 alone, “Employers took 1,587 mass layoff actions in August involving 165,547 workers.[17]” When the BLS measures “mass layoffs” they are only looking at events that involve 50 or more employees for a single employer. The reasons for the mass layoffs are many; it could be due to a lack of work, slipping sales, change in production process, transferring work to a foreign county, or to increase profits of share holders. From September 2010 to August 2011 the seasonally adjusted numbers for mass layoffs events in the U. S. was 18,354, which equated to 1,712,525[18] initial unemployment claims.

The second part of Mr. Cain’s statement “you're not rich, blame yourself.” This goes far beyond what Dr. Williams was presenting. This is a reiteration of the mythology of America, which does not line up with the reality. The problem with using terms such as “rich” or “poor is there is no agreed upon definition. According to, rich is “having wealth or great possessions; abundantly supplied with resources, means, or funds; wealthy: arichman;arichnation.[19]” The Wall Street Journal tried to address this question of what is rich in a 2008 article. “A net worth of $1.4 million will put you in the top 5% of Americans, according to the Federal Reserve. Yet to the wealthy today, having $1 million (including the value of your homes and certain retirement assets) seems like chump change. Just as there are two economies today — the rich and everyone else — there are also diverging definitions of rich. There’s America’s definition (the top 5%) and the wealthy’s definition.[20]

I do not believe that Mr. Cain is claiming that all Americans can have their personal wealth that matches the top 5%. If that were the case then inflation would be astronomical. To be generous, let us assume that he means that everyone has a chance to become wealthy. It is true there are examples of people who have come from poverty, who through work and other factors are now considered wealthy. However just because the possibility exists does not mean that everyone has the same chance or faces the same obstacles or that it is probable that they can. The social economic conditions a person comes from will greatly influence the chances of their success. For every example of a person who was able to break from the joke of poverty, there are multitudes of people who followed the every changing rules of the game who do not.

I picked Dickey county ND for my example because it is rural, it does not have a large population and the cost of living is not high. Given that the medium household income for the county is only $40,400.00 annually. Also it has homogenous population; it is a 96.5% Caucasian. I could have picked New Castle county Delaware, which has a very different social and economic composition and come up very similar results. In New Castle County has a mixture or rural and urban population and the unemployment rate is 8.3%[21] while the poverty rate is 10.1[22]%. The phenomenon of unemployment, underemployment and poverty transcends geography to adversely impact all regions of the country.

The claim that employment alone should be enough to get you out of being poor, and that if you are still poor it is your own fault is an attempt to remove responsibility that individuals have to the society. There is a quote by Dr. Obery M. Hendricks Jr., which specifically addresses accountability within a society for the economic status of people. “It is true that no one, whether rich or poor, strong or weak, should ever be absolved of responsibility for his or her own actions. And it is important that those in need be counseled to do as much as they can to help themselves. But it is more than important, it is our sacred prophetic duty, to identify and call by name the polices, government officials, corporate officers, events and developments, and greed elites that are responsible for the impoverishment of the people.[23]” People on both sides of the equation have to take responsibility and be held accountable for their action or inaction. However, even though the focus of this article has been on jobs, they are not the only things that will have to change. Several catalysts in addition to equitable employment are to break the cycle; healthcare and education are just as critical in the challenge of creating a society that is self sufficient.

I usually like to close my articles on a positive note; however I think that George Carlin summed it up best, “You know how I describe the economic and social classes in this country? The upper class keeps all of the money, pays none of the taxes. The middle class pays all of the taxes, does all of the work. The poor are there just to scare the sh_t out of the middle class. Keep them showing up at those jobs.”[24]

[1]Shahid, Aliyah. Daily News Staff Writer. Herman Cain to Occupy Wall Street protesters: If you're not rich 'blame yourself'. Wednesday, October 05, 2011. (accessed October 15, 2011)


[3] (accessed October 15, 2011)

[4] (accessed October 15, 2011)

[5] Fulltime defined as person being paid for 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year

[6] When Dr. Williams wrote this article the minimum wage was $5.15 an hour







[13] IBID


[15] Shahid, Aliyah. Daily News Staff Writer. Herman Cain to Occupy Wall Street protesters: If you're not rich 'blame yourself'. Wednesday, October 05, 2011. (accessed October 15, 2011)

[16] Amacher, Ryan C. and Holley H. Ulbrich. Principles of Economics 5th Edition. South-Western Publishing. 1992. Page 110

[17] Bureau of Labor Statistic, U.S. Department of Labor News Release. For release 10:00 a.m. (EDT) Thursday, September 22, 2011 USDL-11-1375. (accessed October 16, 2011)

[18] IBID


[20] Frank, Robert. Wall Street Journal. A Rich Person’s Definition of Rich. January 9, 2008. (accessed October 20, 2011)



[23] Hendricks Jr., Obery M. The Politics of Jesus: Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Nature of Jesus’ Teaching and How they Have been Corrupted. Doubleday. 2006. page 148

[24] George Carlen. Jammin' in New York, (Paramount Pictures) 1993

© 2011 Mark Monroe


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    • Keith Engel profile image

      Keith Engel 6 years ago from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

      Perhaps more useful stats to be provided would have been to show out of those surveyed, how many people think that once they are done with high school or college their education is done. That there is no need ever again to pick a book and gain new knowledge. How many books on Economics, personal finance, and tips on how to make money and becoming rich have those surveyed actually read?

      That would be more thought provoking and is actually what both Mr. Cain and Economist Mr. Williams are actually referring too. If you want to become rich, well it actually takes risk and being willing to sacrifice the possible safe and secure life of having a job, and instead start a business or some other venture like writing here on hub pages or writing a book. Having a job actually means you will never become rich, but you can live safely and securely. It is not the business owners job to make you rich, it is his job to give you the pay check that you agree to when working for him. It is your job to get rich if you want to, and to learn and figure out how exactly and what that means. This as stated actually requires risk and a great deal of work involved, reading and other matters about making money and keeping money in your pocket.

      You will find that most people don't want to put in the required work, effort, and risk needed to become rich, and expect somebody else to make them rich.

    • Mark Monroe profile image

      Mark Monroe 6 years ago from Dover De

      In the near future I do not see any change

      Thank for leaving your comments

    • Christopher Dapo profile image

      Christopher Dapo and S. 6 years ago from Havelock, NC

      Thank you Mark Monroe for this very smart and informative hub.

      I'm sure we've all heard the phrase "keeping the man down." I have actually witnessed evidence of this happening. I live in an area where bad business procedures have ran rampant. People lose their jobs at the drop of a hat, often over the most minimal of an excuse. These are jobs that people work very hard at and need desperatly to live. Sadly this never has seemed to matter. I hope this changes in the near future.

      Voted up and shared.

      - S.

    • Mark Monroe profile image

      Mark Monroe 6 years ago from Dover De

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my hub

    • rebekahELLE profile image

      rebekahELLE 6 years ago from Tampa Bay

      You've written a well documented analysis of an absurd statement made to the American people. I like how you broke it down and cited your information.

      Thanks to you and also to phdast7 for sharing. I saw this on my feed.


    • Christopher Dapo profile image

      Christopher Dapo and S. 6 years ago from Havelock, NC

      Truely beautiful piece of work here. I myself am in a position of having to try to find a way out of the hole, but no matter, it will still happen. Unfortunately, the same is true for the wealthy and corrupt in this country, they will continue their onslaught and spawn more to continue in their wake.

      I'm sharing this with my friend S. and I'm pretty sure you will get their comment on your wonderful words as well.

      Poverty or not, we're all people. If the naive wish to remain on their high horses, they will continue to set forth the downfall we are all feeling. Why someone would want to harm their fellow man is beyond me, I wouldn't accept being paid to "off" others like a commentor above stated, but the idea does have it's charm in the fact that those idiots do wish that on me.

      Can't we all just get along?

      - Christopher

    • shea duane profile image

      shea duane 6 years ago from new jersey

      Everyone in America should read this hub!

    • justateacher profile image

      LaDena Campbell 6 years ago from Somewhere Over The Rainbow - Near Oz...

      Great hub! Well thought out and presented! Feenix- love your comment!

    • profile image

      Charles Hilton 6 years ago

      The notion that literally anyone can get rich has never been true in any society at any time, but, is a myth that shifts the responsibility of society's woes onto the working class. J.P. Morgan once said, "I can pay half the working class to shoot the other half." And the industrialists of his era often did just that.

      David Koch once said: "I got rich the old fashioned way---I inherited it." And that is the way most of today's wealthy got that way---they inherited it. It's not rocket science to know that those born to upscale families have social advantages that the rest of us don't: stable homes; better neighborhoods; better schools; better nutrition; family name which goes far in hiring and higher education, etc. In other words, capitalism creates its own self-perpetuating aristocracy.

      Even our laws and institutions reflect the values and mores of the wealthy. And that's true of any society.

      How many children born to poverty go on to become doctors and lawyers; politicians or foreign diplomats? Those prestigious positions go mainly to those born to wealth.

      The only avenues to wealth for the poor are those we are all familiar with---athletics and the arts. But, even there, it's only a tiny few who actually "make-it".

      Other than that, the only way for the poor to get rich is for a dizzying array of factors to fall into the right place at the right time, and how often does that happen?

      And it's so telling that it's politicians and rich people(most of whom were born into wealth) that are saying that anyone can get rich, when they never had to make that trip.

      And the truly sad part is, that, half the poor(conservatives) are buying into the lie, and as a result, the propaganda has created a working class full of false hopes and self-loathing.

      Excellent, well researched and well written hub and thank you for writing it!

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 6 years ago from California

      Really an excellent hub! Well thought out-well researched! Sharing--

    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 6 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      It is not the Greeks, any more than it was the hopeful home buyers! It's the same subprime lenders who moved over to Greece and subprimed a whole country, and some of them still want 100% of their Euros back with interest! It seems things were better when bankers limited themselves to "bankers' hours" and hadn't learned to use computers! The thought that the whole world's economy is finally in the hands of the modern day Rothschilds is not surprising, but hold them accountable or they will not only persist but grow exponentially. Financing wars is another in their stock in trade!

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Mark - Reading this for the second time and it is a remarkably good piece of analysis and writing. Thank you for your efforts to provide the HP community with well-written and well-documented material. SHARING

    • Mark Monroe profile image

      Mark Monroe 6 years ago from Dover De


      Thank you for taking the time to leave a message.

    • Anne Pettit profile image

      Anne Pettit 6 years ago from North Carolina

      This is an excellent hub! I started reading it initially because the title made me mad.

    • Mark Monroe profile image

      Mark Monroe 6 years ago from Dover De


      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my Hub.


    • feenix profile image

      feenix 6 years ago

      Hello, Mark Monroe,

      I am a 65-year-old black man and I grew up in 1950's and 1960's in one of the poorest and most dangerous and rundown sections of Los Angeles.

      Essentially, there were two kinds of young people in my neighborhood:

      (1) There were the ones who made up their minds to succeed in life, regardless of the fact that such realities as segregation, discrimination and other forms of racism stood in their way. And the majority of those young people did go on to succeed in life.

      (2) There were the ones who never carried out initiatives to improve their status. For the most part, they just sat back and complained about how the "white man was holding them back" and waited for government to provide for them. And on those occasions when the "white man" really made them angry, or when government did not come through for them fast enough, or did not come through for them at all, they would start protesting and acting out in various other ways (such as committing criminal acts).

      And the vast majority of those youngsters went on to get locked up for long stretches in places like San Quentin and Folsom -- and being hoplessly and permanently dependent on welfare and other government-assistance programs.

    • Mark Monroe profile image

      Mark Monroe 6 years ago from Dover De


      Thank you for taking the time to read my hub.

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Amazing Hub. It deserves wider readership - sometimes they just slip through the cracks. You write extremely well, you are logical, you base your points and build your arguments appropriately...and you use citations! I think I am in love.

      There is a lot of good material on HubPages (and a fair amount of fluff), but I really appreciate writers who take the time and value what they are writing enough to document it. You have gone above and beyond and I am very appreciative. I also happen to agree with you.

      If you long for citations as I do, I am in the process of writing a series of Hubs about the American GI's who liberated the Nazi concentration camps. I hope to read more of your work in the future, whenever I can crawl out from under the pile of history papers that I am grading. Excellent work and thank you.

    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 6 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Great Hub Mark. The majority of Republicans have completely abandoned the majority of this country. You have illustrated that well.

    • profile image

      SanXuary 6 years ago

      The only rich people our the ones who know the truth and realize that being rich is nothing if you have to be evil as well.

    • the bunco squad profile image

      the bunco squad 6 years ago from Savannah GA

      Great hub, I read it twice. I am thankful that death is the great equalizer.


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