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Old October 25th, 2010, 07:30 AM   #1

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The Culture Of Poverty


The NY Times recently published an article on the "Culture of Poverty". The article points out the the term itself, is again finding acceptance after many years of the negative association of the term with racial groups.

I see the manifestation of this culture on a daily basis. There are many people, predominately young, who have jobs paying mere subsistence level wages, living paycheck to paycheck, at best, who no longer dream of owning a house. Who do not dream of sending their children to college, who do not dream of the next generation having an improved living standard.

When I was growing up in a lower middle class ethnic neighborhood in the 1950's almost everyone held the dream of home ownership. Many also wanted to send their children to college.

Now the same demographic have essentially quit, just wanting to survive another week and live in the moment or day. I do not know when this occured, but I think the mid 80's would be a very good guess.

There have been posts from countries other than the US that I also see this lack of hope.

For more than 40 years, social scientists investigating the causes of poverty have tended to treat cultural explanations like Lord Voldemort: That Which Must Not Be Named.

The reticence was a legacy of the ugly battles that erupted after Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then an assistant labor secretary in the Johnson administration, introduced the idea of a “culture of poverty” to the public in a startling 1965 report. Although Moynihan didn’t coin the phrase (that distinction belongs to the anthropologist Oscar Lewis), his description of the urban black family as caught in an inescapable “tangle of pathology” of unmarried mothers and welfare dependency was seen as attributing self-perpetuating moral deficiencies to black people, as if blaming them for their own misfortune.

Moynihan’s analysis never lost its appeal to conservative thinkers, whose arguments ultimately succeeded when President Bill Clinton signed a bill in 1996 “ending welfare as we know it.” But in the overwhelmingly liberal ranks of academic sociology and anthropology the word “culture” became a live grenade, and the idea that attitudes and behavior patterns kept people poor was shunned.
Now, after decades of silence, these scholars are speaking openly about you-know-what, conceding that culture and persistent poverty are enmeshed.
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/18/us/18poverty.html?scp=1&sq=poverty%20culture&st=cse


The article describes an interesting experiment that was conducted that determines culture of a neighborhood. I think it was quite clever concept and I have difficulty disputing the premise.

To Robert J. Sampson, a sociologist at Harvard, culture is best understood as “shared understandings.”

“I study inequality, and the dominant focus is on structures of poverty,” he said. But he added that the reason a neighborhood turns into a “poverty trap” is also related to a common perception of the way people in a community act and think. When people see graffiti and garbage, do they find it acceptable or see serious disorder? Do they respect the legal system or have a high level of “moral cynicism,” believing that “laws were made to be broken”?

As part of a large research project in Chicago, Professor Sampson walked through different neighborhoods this summer, dropping stamped, addressed envelopes to see how many people would pick up an apparently lost letter and mail it, a sign that looking out for others is part of the community’s culture.

In some neighborhoods, like Grand Boulevard, where the notorious Robert Taylor public housing projects once stood, almost no envelopes were mailed; in others researchers received more than half of the letters back. Income levels did not necessarily explain the difference, Professor Sampson said, but rather the community’s cultural norms, the levels of moral cynicism and disorder.
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/18/us/18poverty.html?scp=1&sq=poverty%20culture&st=cse

Finally, here are some of the letters to the editors of the NY Times about the article. There are only four of them and they are short, both resulting from editorial limitations, but they are also interesting:


http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/25/opinion/l25poverty.html?_r=1&ref=opinion
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Old October 25th, 2010, 07:38 AM   #2

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Re: The Culture Of Poverty


Quote:
Originally Posted by Edratman View Post

I see the manifestation of this culture on a daily basis. There are many people, predominately young, who have jobs paying mere subsistence level wages, living paycheck to paycheck, at best, who no longer dream of owning a house. Who do not dream of sending their children to college, who do not dream of the next generation having an improved living standard.

When I was growing up in a lower middle class ethnic neighborhood in the 1950's almost everyone held the dream of home ownership. Many also wanted to send their children to college.

Now the same demographic have essentially quit, just wanting to survive another week and live in the moment or day. I do not know when this occured, but I think the mid 80's would be a very good guess.
Well that's not good.

Isn't the theory that "Debt incumbent" home owners don't go on strike?

What are the implications for the future?
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Old October 25th, 2010, 08:35 PM   #3

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Re: The Culture Of Poverty


This sounds like social theory that belies the real facts. "The poor are poor because of some personal flaw or deficiency. It's just not right to be poor." (Economic Darwinism)


When I got on my own in the mid-sixties, I worked a minimum wage job at McDonald's and with my pay check I paid the rent on my apartment and paid my transportation and had money left over.
Could an honest kid getting out on their own do that today?


Where the US is concerned they speak of the growing disparity of wealth. The news media talks about concepts like health care and social security as if these are flawed and unworkable systems.



I contend that the growing and accelerating poverty in the US is being engineered deliberately by corporations who control the government through political contributions. Our elected officials are working for them, not us. These corporations no longer need American labor and when we can no longer to buy their goods, they will cut us loose to look for new markets abroad leaving only collecting agencies and gambling casinos in their wake.
I played by the rules and worked my whole life and contributed to Social Security only to see our currency being printed into worthlessness. Social Security is only a ponzie scheme because the contributions were put into the general fund and squandered by the very people that say it doesn't work.



I have always worked for myself and earned my own money and have never taken public assistance but something is happening here in the US and it resembles a feeding frenzy on the part of the higher ups. I can say this because I am old enough to see profound changes.



Finally, I hear the cry, "Entitlements, entitlements!" with no mention of a huge bloated military that carries on wars on behalf of the same big corporations.
Quote:
If you head North from Manhattan on 95 you pass through Coop City. Built at the same time as the ill fated predominantly black projects. Coop City survives today in great shape not because it was mostly white, but because they offered ownership. A concept that enabled people to build wealth. They did not offer ownership in the black projects. With no real stake in their place to live, they fell into ruin. That is the real difference.
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Old October 25th, 2010, 08:52 PM   #4

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Re: The Culture Of Poverty


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Originally Posted by Sharks and love View Post
Well that's not good.

Isn't the theory that "Debt incumbent" home owners don't go on strike?

What are the implications for the future?

I will probably sound awfully naive, but isn't poverty relevant?
I mean, in Bulgaria most young people cannot afford to rent or buy a house or an apartment, so they live with their parents until the latter die...pretty much, the young get married, have kids, and live with one pair of their parents, usually the parents of the husband, and this is considered normal, not a sign of poverty. One teacher makes the equivalent of $375 a month, and doesn't feel bad about it.
I was lucky while I lived there to have my own apartment in the capital of the country/you have to buy them though, the rents are too high, like $500 for 2 rooms a month/, and I have 2 small rooms and a balcony made in a kitchen. So I had the before mentioned teacher's salary, didn't have a car, didn't have a TV, was as happy as a lark and considered myself lucky if I can afford to buy book per month. I got my Master's in the Sofia University on scholarship, worked on my English by myself, went to lessons for a Classical guitar,and took care of my son and my alcoholic father /I was divorced/.
Now, I'm living in a rural area, substitute in 6 school districts /26 schools/ and make $1000 in a good month, my husband and I are building our house literally plank by plank /because the bank refused to give us a loan/, have a 15 years old car, I buy bagfuls of books mostly from thrift stores ans used books stores, play my old Bulgarian guitar, save our pennies so my husband and I can take short vacations, and I'm saving money to get another endorsement in SS. Do I feel poor?No, I don't, even though I'm sure that all bunch of people around me think so, as I'm living in the 2 rooms will build, while we are working on the second story.
So, you tell me, what exactly is poverty in American context?
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Old October 25th, 2010, 09:00 PM   #5

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Re: The Culture Of Poverty


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Originally Posted by larkin View Post
When I got on my own in the mid-sixties
Excuse me, did you mean mi-sixties, or mid-sixteen?
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Old October 25th, 2010, 09:17 PM   #6

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Re: The Culture Of Poverty


whole thing seems spot on
brilliant experiment
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Old October 26th, 2010, 02:31 AM   #7

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Re: The Culture Of Poverty


Quote:
Originally Posted by Robert165 View Post
whole thing seems spot on
brilliant experiment
Real clever experiment! Once and a while you encounter something that you just have to admire.
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Old October 26th, 2010, 02:34 AM   #8

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Re: The Culture Of Poverty


Anna, while you may not have a lot of material possessions, you are not stuck in the culture of poverty.

Many people do not have the same capacity. I do not know why, but I believe that it is a real and tangible attitude.
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Old October 26th, 2010, 09:46 AM   #9

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Re: The Culture Of Poverty


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Originally Posted by Edratman View Post
I do not know why, but I believe that it is a real and tangible attitude.
I believe that also. I see many people around here, living for generations on welfare, and I'm looking for the reasons too.
That's why I started the Welfare thread, because my impression is that the way welfare is given here, WA, USA contribute to the willingness of poor people to except poverty as a lifestyle. Now, I don't say "Don't give them welfare money", I think more how the same money to by used as an incentive to drag these people out of the poverty culture and help them create more productive lives.
Now, keep in mind that this is my 9th year in the US and I don't really understand the American society, I got my info through Sociology textbooks and what I see in my subbing around and meeting kids from all social levels in my area - some urban - suburban from Spokane, and all the way through the 50 miles from the Canadian border, which is thickly inhabited my so called "rednecks", or 'bums", living for generations on welfare and steeped in grass and meth /all homegrown stuff/.
I'm not sure how the"culture of poverty" stays with the "excepted poverty",I'm talking about in the Welfare thread - I'm talking about people who don't work at all, "professional welfare takers" so to speak. I don't have impression from people who work menial jobs and are poor, because everyone I met where I lived who was working had the same standard of living as mine or better, and I'm not poor.
I lived for an year in Glenn Burney, a suburb of Baltimore, then for and year in a town house in Baltimore, then in a house in Spokane, and now I live 20 miles north of Spokane. Of course, I came from Bulgaria, and my youth passed in the communist era, so I am used to equality of living - everyone would the same like the others, no matter if you are a bus driver or a university professor, the latter will get more respect than the former, but the same standart of living. So all this incredible variety see around me, when it comes to living conditions and their correlation with the money available and the jobs worked on, is baffling, not to say confounding. Hence my outsider's look and conclusions. It seems that so much depends on where you live...first I though that every American lives in a 2 story, 5 bedroom house; then I was left with the impression that everyone lives for rent in townhouses; the I discovered the middle size city with the variety of neighborhoods, depending on the paycheck, now I see people living in motorhomes, without water and sewer, who cook meth in their small kitchens..., and nice big mansions setting on hills overlooking 5 miles in diameter...and I get more and more astounded - how and why is it so, what are the reasons and is there some way to help the poorest and the most discouraged to make better lives, because they definitely don't like the ones they have.
I also wrote on the Gypsy thread, and my impressions from the posts of West Europeans who had dealt with the Gypsies is that the amount of free money they get is not helping them live more productive lives, in fact, the opposite happens, and the Gypsies are definitely a poverty culture. On the welfare thread I am trying to connect all those pockets of chronically unemployed and living on welfare people and look for possible solutions that could maybe work for all of them in some variations.
but we definitely cannot pretend that they don't exist, that's what I know for sure...

Last edited by Anna James; October 26th, 2010 at 02:58 PM.
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Old October 26th, 2010, 03:33 PM   #10

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Re: The Culture Of Poverty


There are probably a hundred reasons why there is generational poverty. What appears to me to be the most common reasons ascribed to this state, most of the "right" thinking would attribute it to laziness and a desire to get something for nothing and others would say it was lack of opportunity. I would also add that there are those who have given up all realistic expectations of improvement of their economic status.

I see many of the latter every day, they seem to be reasonably happy, or at least content with their lot in life. Delusional happiness or real happiness, who knows and what's the difference. From their conversations, their children are going to stay in the same place: pregnant at 15, multiple arrests, high school drop-outs, these are all common topics regarding their children.
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