Poverty and Power: Conclusion

What we need is real change.  And that covers all aspects of change, especially from a mental standpoint.  As a whole, we still place entirely too much of the blame on the victim.  I would be naive if I didn’t get a small amount of credibility to the individualistic perspective.  Unfortunately, there are lazy people in the world, but that should not characterize the millions that deal with poverty on a daily basis.  The bad bunch does not dissolve responsibility from the structural obstacles in society.  Edward Royce argues that “today’s poverty problem originates from deep-rooted disparities in income, wealth, and power.  No program for alleviating poverty can be successful, moreover, without confronting these underlying economic and political inequalities.  Poverty is structural problem and it demands a structural solution.”  Power in this country is not equally distributed.  Those who have it can easily overcome hardships, but that leaves far too many that cannot.  How can a country that’s so wealthy with intelligence and technology also have so much poverty?  Some say it’s a dog eat dog world.  To quote Wesley Snipes in White Men Can’t Jump, “You either smoke or you get smoked.”  Going by this analogy, the Haves are suffering from lung cancer and the Have Nots are the butts they smoked on.   But I’m full of quotes today and I have another one that sums it up perfectly.  “Say the Haves gave the Have Nots half of what they have, then the Haves would still be the Haves, but the Have Nots would be the Have Somethings.”  Couldn’t have said it better if I tried Fred Sanford.


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One of the most disheartening things about poverty is that there’s actually obstacles and roadblocks that prevent people from doing something about it.  It’s bad enough being in that position, but to have hurdles along the road to recovery is an insult to injury.  In the case of this article, the consequences of the criminal justice system add to the inequalities of society.  Edward Royce discusses this in his book Poverty and Power.  “The decline of urban employment opportunities due to deindustrialization, the legislation of stringent sentencing policies, and a “race conscious” war on drugs have dramatically increased the rate of incarceration for poorer Americans over the last thirty years and have made imprisonment a common experience in the lives of young minority men.”  The problem is we are too quick to put someone behind bars rather than address the root of their behavior.  On top of that, those who are released from prison are now marked with a scarlet letter that prevents them from properly rehabilitating.  So the punishment is never ending.  The double edged sword cuts them from societal norms no matter which way you slice it.  So inside or outside of the law, they remain poor.  Organizations such as Jobs for Life work diligently at alleviating poverty, especially for the recently incarcerated, rather than standing by and watching.  They put over 5,000 people through their program per year, but the overwhelming amount that need help makes their efforts look like a ripple in the ocean of this problem.  The scarlet letter is indeed a label they cannot easily overcome, forever perpetuating poverty.


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Structures II: Culture and Society

Culturally, we are sending mixed messages when it comes to the real struggle of poverty.  Take this still photo from one of my favorite musicals (yes, I love me some musicals) Mary Poppins.  Here, Dick Van Dyke’s character is shown as a happy go lucky chimney sweep who’s almost never seen without a smile on his face throughout the entire movie.  I get it, who wants to see a chimney sweep actually portrayed as a down on his luck chimney sweep.  But it’s movies like this tend to sweep the issue of poverty under the rug as if it doesn’t really exist.  Movies are meant to represent real life to a certain extent, but why do we gloss over important issues in children’s movies.  Are we trying to protect them?  Or are we trying to disguise the ugly reflection of society?  I guess adding catchy songs and dances make poverty okay.  Most would say that children are supposed to entertained at movies and not educated.  Others would add why ruin a child’s outlook on the world at such an early age?  My question to most and others would be why characterize these cultural issues at all if we are taking the truth out of it.  Keep it completely G-rated.  Don’t go beyond bunnies and teddy bears.  Otherwise we are doing our children a disservice my marginalizing the difficulties of poverty.  Yes, these types of movies are supposed to have a certain feel to them, but kids are plastered in front of the television at a young age and therefore molded by the content they are taking in.  Maybe I’m way off base here.  Maybe I’ve just answered my own question.  Movies = entertainment.  Life education should be left to the parents.


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Structures I: Economics and Politics

It’s funny how poverty is politicized but only to publicize it as a talking point.  You see, politicians know that poverty is an issue, so it is often brought up during campaign tours and press conferences because they know the people will rally around this type of change. In Edward Royce’s book Poverty and Power, he points out that how much workers earn and the likelihood of escaping or avoiding poverty is contingent upon the balance of power between contending interests and the inevitable decisions of elected officials.  One of the reason why this editorial piece refers to raising minimum wage as “economic fantasy” is because Democrats and Republicans will forever have contending interests, much to the detriment of the American people.  This leads me to a few questions.  I’m assuming Bernie Sanders is an educated man, so if this is commonly referred to as an honorable but flawed answer to this problem, does he know something we don’t or is he blowing smoke up our tail pipes?  According to this article, raising minimum wage has had little to no effect on poverty and is mostly seen as counterproductive.  So again, do politicians just throw out key words like poverty, abortion, or immigration to gain sympathy votes or do this issues really matter to them?


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Individualistic Explanations

The old quote “there’s no I in team” seems to aptly fit in this blog post.  Individualistic explanations are derived from the individualistic perspective in sociology circles.  Delving a little deeper into this perspective brings us to the cultural theory of poverty and inequality.  This theory, adopted in the early 1960’s, prompts people to blame the victim for their circumstances rather than placing responsibility on economic and political institutions.  Edward Royce explains it in this manner in Poverty and Power:  “The habitual ways of thinking and behaving that characterize the poor are deeply rooted as well, such that improvements in external circumstances are likely to have little effect.”  That’s like saying wearing a coat in cold weather will have little effect on your warmth.  And as you can see by the title of this article, most Republicans have drank the cultural theory Kool-aid as well.  The Pew Poll illustrates the Republicans view on poverty.  Over half believe that poor person finds themselves in poverty due to a lack of effort on his or her part versus the 32% that believer external circumstances play a part.  The Democrats on the other hand believe the complete opposite at the rate of 63% to 29%.  Maybe this is why many view Democrats as being for the middle class while Republicans cater to the wealthy elite.  The more troubling statistics comes from poll of everyday Americans.  Sixty percent of the American people still believe hard work gets you ahead in life.  I guess the title of this article should have been “Most People think  poverty caused by laziness…”  I find that often times people get a little defensive when issues such as poverty can be attributed to social constructs.  This whole “no it’s not us, it’s them” mentality when it comes to poverty sickens me.  So Most Republicans…..I think thou doth protest too much.

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Poverty as a Social Problem

“I believe the children are our future.  Teach them well and let them lead the way.  Show them all the beauty they possess inside.  Give them a sense of pride, to make it easier.  Let the children’s laughter, remind us all of how it used to be” – Whitney Houston.

These lyrics, sung by the late great Whitney Houston, highlight the subject of this  article.  Our children are indeed the future, but a shocking amount know their future before it ever comes into fruition.  Edward Royce, author of Power and Poverty, says that advantages such as wealth, social skills, and personal contacts aren’t the only things passed along to their children.  Disadvantages are as well.  Aimee Picchi, who crafted this article (sorry, her name was cut off of this screenshot), emphases the fact that 40% of American children spend at least one year in poverty before they turn 18.  And who has custody of these children before the age of 18?  Yes, their impoverished parents who more than likely inherited this social status from their parents before them.  It’s a vicious circle of life many will never understand.  But it gets worse from there.  Poverty inhibits cognitive functions, which can affect learning from kindergarten all through high school.  Season that with dilapidated schools, lack of books and supplies, and unqualified teachers and you have a recipe for an unsuccessful life.

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Poverty and Power

Shhhhh.  Be very, very quiet.  [Hushed tone], you see what we have here is a failure to communicate.  The United States, as great as it is, has some deep, dark issues that no one seems to really care about.  We are socially plague with the disease known as poverty.  The land of the free and the home of the brave slogan conveniently overlooks the overwhelming percentage of Americans that are poor or extremely poor.  As Edward Royce highlights in his book Poverty and Power, “The problem of poverty is rarely depicted on television shows or in the movies, receives only passing coverage from the news media, and is largely absent for the political agenda.”  It really comes down to a matter of perspective:  the individualistic and the structural.  The individualistic perspective places poverty on an individual platform; meaning those who are impoverished find themselves in that position due to some failing or inadequacy.  But it goes further than that.  It’s not just being unskilled or uneducated, this perspective also attacks the character of the poor by saying it’s a lack of ambition, determination, make bad choices, unwilling to put forth the effort to succeed, etc.  On the other hand, the structural perspective takes a more humbling approach by taking ownership of the problem.  There is plenty of blame to go around and this theory states that clearly.  It’s the choices made by the powerful elite from an economic, political, cultural, and social level that contributes to poverty.  They’ve created a system that focuses profits instead of people.  Discrimination, segregation, and isolation have funneled the distribution of power down a narrow pathway with only a chosen few to reap the benefits.  Hopefully this blog contributes to the opening of the eyes of everyday Americans who still believe hard work pays off in the end.