Saturday, November 1, 2014

"Poverty" in America

           One thing that stood out the most when reading the assigned chapters and listening to today’s lecture from class were the negative connotations that are directly correlated with the word poverty. In class, when we were going around the room and discussing what comes to mind when thinking of the poverty, mostly everybody’s reaction was one of negativity or pessimism. I believe it is fair to say that the society we live in today assumes that poverty comes from a lack of hard work or determination. In my personal opinion, that could not be further from the truth.  

There are millions of workers in America who work full-time jobs, sometimes more than one, to try and support their family’s needs but somehow still fall under the poverty line. “In 2011, the US Department of Labor reported at least 10 million people worked and were still below the unrealistic official US poverty line, an increase of 1.5 million more than the last time they checked” (Quigley, 2013). That is an astonishing number, to me, for a couple reasons. Not only is that simply an obscene number of people who are working but still struggling to provide for their family, but more importantly, how many people need to struggle in order to get their voices heard. Nobody who works hard in America should struggle to feed their children. Yet, nothing substantial seems to be done for the “working poor” in America to end this ridiculous problem.  

This is also a very serious problem I’ve seen my entire life growing up in a small town outside of New York City. One perfect example that I have from my adolescence that proves this to be sadly true came when I worked my first job in a kitchen at the local hospital in town. One of my co-workers was a mother of three, and worked six days a week, 7:30 to 3:30, day in and day out. She also worked a night job about three days out of the week. One day at work I overheard her talking to her friend, who also worked at the hospital, saying that the night before she had to put her children to bed hungry. She simply did not have the money or resources, for dinner, on that particular night. I remember thinking how absolutely ludicrous that sounded, and I haven’t forgotten since, and probably never will. In fact, the more I think about it, the more infuriated I become.

One of the biggest reasons why the working poor are left with absolutely no money or resources, is the outrageous income disparity in America today. Over the past 25 years economic growth has not been beneficial to all workers, in fact, it really only benefited those who were already well off. “ The top 20 percent of households in this country realized an increase of more than 50 percent…while the bottom 20 percent realized an increase of only 2 percent” (Segal, 2013). A 2% increase over the past 25 years? While the rich just keep getting richer? That doesn’t even seem possible in this country, but it is. Does that sit well with you? Because it sure doesn’t sit well with me.

Therefore, my main goal of this blog post was to simply get everyone to think differently about the word “poverty” if you haven’t already. Poverty does not describe the type of person you are, or how much effort you put in every day of your life. So next time you hear a discussion about poverty and the negative connotations that go along with it, maybe drop some actual knowledge on what poverty in America truly is.


  1. Almost forgot my resources:

    Quigley, B. (2013, January 1). Working and Poor in the USA. Retrieved November 1, 2014.

    Segal, E. (2013). Poverty and Economic Inequality. In Social Welfare Policy and Social Programs (3rd ed., pp. 178-9). Belmont: Brooks/Cole.

  2. Great illustration of how our thoughts about a topic can be misconstrued. One thing I believe we all realized is, poverty is becoming a reality for more and more individuals like ourselves everyday. It saddens me to know the politics are more interested in helping the rich and crippling the middle class and totall ignoring the poor. While it may be true that poverty may always be an issue, we could definitely do something with our policy to reduce those unfathomable numbers. It's a task that's worth our attention. In this country that we live, we have the abundance for wealth to go around so that poverty is reduced to an minis yak figure.

  3. Hey Ryan;

    I enjoyed reading your post. Poverty is such a huge problem I America. Who would think that so many people in America are so poor and many times don’t even have food to eat. Last year when I traveled to the Dominican Republic I talked to a few people there and they think that everyone here have a lot of money, but when I told them that so many people struggle just to purchase groceries for their families, they were in shock. I grew up in a one bedroom apartment in the Bronx New York. My sisters and I shared the living room as our bedroom. My mother worked at a community college kitchen but that wasn’t enough especially in New York, we also received benefits from the county assistance office. But I never even thought that we lived in poverty until I was a teenager and learned, I thought that we weren’t poor because we had a roof over our heads, food and clothes. When I thought of being poor I thought about homeless people and countries overseas. It breaks my heart to see friends working ridiculous amounts of hours but yet not being able to afford buying their children Christmas presents. I remember on Saturdays lecture, Suzane said that we are greedy, we often buy things we don’t need, we keep wanting things because of insecurity about what tomorrow may bring. I feel like today’s society is not concern about the people in need, but only on themselves and their loved ones. This Holiday season, we should consider making someone’s holiday a little better and show them that people do care.

  4. Hi Ryan - Great post and way to continue the conversation!!

    Documentarian, Morgan Spurlock did a show that aired a few years ago called, 30 Days. He featured different issues that challenge Americans. One episode was based on the challenges of poverty - Here's a link to some of the episode.

    Anyway, it really illustrated the way the working poor are faced with limited options and often are rendered helpless when life events such as accidents or illness strike.

    I think it is also very important for us to see how commercial businesses pry on those living in poverty. Things like payday loans are traps set for those most vulnerable and uneducated to the dangers the possess.

    It is disguising the way this is allowed, but goes to enforce the idea that many feel poverty is a reflection of choice and does carry the negative stigma we discussed earlier. Citizens would never stand for a business that blatantly took advantage of children or the elderly, but the same "safety net of protection" is not granted to those who are impoverished.

    I agree with earlier comments about giving to the disadvantages when possible but we also need to think creatively and help fight the stigma of poverty. The poor are not just dirty bums drinking out of a paper bag on the street corner, they are single moms, working people, people who became ill or hurt, the disabled - the list can go on..... Each person has a story and we can not paint the issue of poverty with a broad brush of stereotypical ideas.

    I think on some level for most Americans think if they keep the idea of poverty as something that only effects "others", those that are unlike themselves it is easier for them to continue living a lifestyle that is based on consuming - which is what the past few generations has gone to for meaning and purpose. When you examine how close we all are to losing our financial security it is scary and not something most are equipped to deal with - so we continue with our head in the sand - vilifying those who are victim to a societal issue/

  5. Great, great, great post Ryan! When I started to read your post all I could think of was my grandmother. My grandmother worked Monday-Friday 8am until 3;30pm. My grandmother was a hard working woman who made ways out of no ways. I remember going to sleep hungry some nights. It killed my grandmother! I remember her always trying to have a smile on her face and telling me everything was going to be okay. My grandmother worked hard and some nights she took on jobs like driving the neighbors around for extra money. We weren't poor but there wasn't a lot of resources for my grandmother and our family for extra help. My grandmother didn't get any welfare assistance and I remember her having to fight for health insurance for me. I was a child that felt like we needed help. My grandmother wasn't lazy and she worked everyday until she became sick. It's really sad that the saying "The poor gets poorer and the rich gets richer" is true. This country is about money and the more of it you have, the more better off you're in society.

  6. Great post Ryan, very insightful. I also think that the way that people view the poor in this country is truly disturbing.
    I have listened to people complain at length about how individuals on public assistance are “entitled”, and a drain on the economy, after witnessing someone purchase a candy bar with an access card, however they will not raise an eyebrow when a corporation gets a multi million dollar tax break because they are “job creators”. I believe that says a lot about our morals as a country when a person would rather help a faceless, multi national, conglomerate then their fellow Americans.
    Unfortunately, I think this mindset is a reflection of America’s individualist culture; often we care so much about our individual needs that we lose sight of the needs of the collective. Many Americans view welfare and other social programs as a loss to the individual and not a gain for society as a whole (the “I” is more important then the “we”).

  7. Thank you Ryan, I enjoyed your thoughts on poverty. I recall when I was younger hearing the phrase, “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” even as an adult I didn’t fully understand it but today I understand fully, the less you make the more money taken out of your pay, it’s ridiculous! It’s also heartrending to know our country is set up to keep the poor, poor. When I looked up the definition of poverty, it states, “the state of one who lacks a certain amount of material possessions or money” and absolute poverty is defined as deprivation of basic human needs, which commonly includes food, water, sanitation, clothing, shelter, health care and education. Absolute poverty is what Susan spoke of in our lecture, our country is greedy, and we purchase items we don’t need. I am guilty of being greedy; I make purchases sometimes on things I want knowing I have my basic needs met. For me, I believe it’s the stimulus effect, even though it wasn’t given to me, it’s what I earned, sometimes I feel I deserve to treat myself occasionally, I work hard, why not, right? But then I realize I am contributing to keeping myself at the working poor level while the rich get richer. No it doesn’t sit right with me Ryan; just to buy a two dollar cup of coffee or enjoy dinner out with friends is a financial hardship for numerous amounts of individuals. The poverty and economic inequality is a disgrace to America, we were once viewed as the land of opportunity and where people have come to fulfill dreams. Sadly, today it is only a lifetime dream which for many will never come true.