What is poverty? It is commonly seen as a lifestyle choice made by minorities in decaying urban areas, but is this the actual form in which it appears? In the United States of America, two beliefs exist: the idea that the poor simply need to "get a job" to earn their way out of poverty, and the belief that the impoverished will not survive unless they receive help from a higher entity. Everyone will say that poverty is a pest, but few will acknowledge where it comes from or what can be done about it. Poverty is the result of an out-of-control economic system that the government and the wealthy refuse to fix; it has rarely been the conscious doing of the impoverished person.
The startling number of Americans in financial deficiency despite the success of the economy suggests that a deeper force is contributing to this issue. Time magazine reports that in 2010, "46.2 million Americans lived below [the poverty line], the most since the U.S. Census Bureau began keeping track in 1959" (Kiviat). More people are in poverty now than there ever have been in the last fifty years. Calculations made by Stephan Whitaker, Christopher Vecchio, and Anne Chen of Economic Trends reveal that this massive number equals fifteen percent of the total population, or roughly three in twenty people. The United States, the second wealthiest country in the world, should not have an outrageous number of people in poverty. America could easily sustain itself and its citizens, but strangely, it is unable to, which suggests that national finances are being put into unnecessary areas. "…the poverty rate has broadly been on the rise since 2000, which means that for years, it was growing along with the economy. That's a historical anomaly and an indication that forces much deeper than the unemployment rate are at play" (Kiviat). The poverty rate should not be growing with America's supposedly improving economy because too much insufficiency is associated with a struggling economy. Many besides Barbara Kiviat who have researched this subject tend to agree that suspicion is on the economic system - not the poor. There were next to no adequate sources explaining why the impoverished are at fault for their poverty.
A widely-accepted idea about the poor is that their poverty is directly associated with jobs, but this creates false generalizations, such as the poor being lazy and jobless. Unemployment, however, cannot be the issue, considering that "the economy created 156,000 jobs in September, and an average of 178,000 jobs per month over the first three quarters of this year, down from 211,000 over the first nine months of 2015" (IHS Global Inc.). Jobs are being created at a slower rate than they previously have been, but this suggests that enough people are getting jobs that there is no need to invent as many. Stereotypes assume that the poor are exempt from this process although they are not. "Another possibility is that industries that employ low-skilled, low-wage workers might have permanent employees whose household income remains below the poverty thresholds" (Whitaker, Vecchio and Chen 8). The jobs that are hiring are service jobs with annual wages near or under the poverty line. So yes, the poor are working, but their jobs do not offer them any relief from their struggle. They can work multiple jobs, but without an expensive college degree or higher wages, they will never be boosted out of their current standing. Kiviat enforces this by saying, "Over the course of a year, 20% of families in the poorest fifth will see their incomes drop by at least half from one four-month period to the next, according to Urban Institute research" (Kiviat). Those in deficiency need more money, not less. The income of those at the bottom is decreasing, which means that the income that was supposed to be theirs is going to people of higher classes. People of higher classes can afford college educations, which gets them better careers. It appears that capitalism has developed into a system of bias, where the poor are doomed to fail.
The argument that the poor are lazy is the result of stereotyping among those whose power brings them wealth, and the middle class cannot help but follow in silence. "Among those with annual family incomes of $50,000 or higher, a majority (59%) say the government can't do more to help the needy, while 36% say the government should do more" (Krogstad and Parker). The wealthiest enforce the majority, arguing that government debt is too chaotic for change to take place, but their middle class neighbors in the same statistical group disagree. It is true that United States debt is out of control, but if money was actually put in the right places, debt would not be a problem, and the poor would be on their way to recovery. Opinions on whether or not the government can provide aid is also swayed by political party affiliation, with 73% of wealthy Republicans saying that the government cannot do anything, and only 32% of Democrats saying this (Krogstad and Parker). It is interesting that these wealthy Republicans also make up most of Congress – which suggests that those in power are working hard to keep their wallets stuffed.
Public opinion as a whole is divided nearly in half regarding the difficulty of impoverished persons' lives and on what the government should do about it. Pew Research Center's 2014 study reveals that "forty-four percent [of Americans] say poor people 'have it easy'… while 47% say 'poor people have hard lives'" (Krogstad and Parker). A majority of Americans agree that impoverished persons struggle, but no one really knows what to do about it. "When asked which view comes closer to their own, roughly half of the public (51%) says the 'government can't afford to do much more to help the needy'" (Krogstad and Parker). Just under half the public is aware of the issue, but more than half the public decide that poverty is inevitable and unstoppable. If wealthy government officials cannot push themselves to incite change on economic and job systems, public opinion will never be shaped to the truth, and America's poverty rate will continue to rise until the country is as divided in terms of wealth as day and night. Public opinion tells the government what the people want, and if the people do not want the poor to get back on their feet, nothing will change.
Poverty is not the result of lazy workers; it is the result of a biased economic system and a selfish government. Divided America is doing little to prevent the increasing number of poor people, blaming any deficiency on unemployment and following the stereotypes put in place by the powerful wealthy. Unless the government works to smooth out the economic system, division between classes will rise until all that is left are billionaires and vagrants. The best way to start recovery is to get informed about the reality of poverty. Perhaps then, the public will cry for change just as much as the educated and the poor have been doing for many years.
IHS Global Inc. "Country Intelligence - United States." Academic Search Premier [EBSCO]. N.p., 27 Oct. 2016. Web. 20 Dec. 2016.
Kiviat, Barbara. "Below The Line." Time. Time Inc., 28 Nov. 2011. Web. 20 Dec. 2016.
Krogstad, Jens Manuel, and Kim Parker. "Public Is Sharply Divided in Views of Americans in Poverty." Pew Research Center. Pew Research Center, 16 Sept. 2014. Web. 20 Dec. 2016.
Whitaker Stephan D. Whitaker Research Economist Stephan Whitaker's Current Work Includes Research on Housing Markets and Studies of State and, Stephan, Christopher Vecchio, and Anne Chen. "Industries, Job Growth, and Poverty Trends." Clevelandfed. Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, 2 Sept. 2014. Web. 20 Dec. 2016.