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A Misguided View on Poverty



Joined: 4/14/2013
Posts: 13
awdavis2014
If you were paying attention to the news during the past couple of weeks, you likely heard of the fast-food-worker strikes in which workers demanded, amongst other things, a minimum wage of $15 an hour.
Of course if you had the pleasure to be around others when hearing this news story, you likely heard some curmudgeonly grumbles along the lines of “Are they out of their minds?” or “I never made that when I worked those jobs!”
This attitude is understandable to a certain degree. Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour would more than double it from the current $7.25 an hour, and concerns about job elimination and price increases under such conditions are legitimate; President Obama has expressed support for a more-reasonable increase to $10.10 an hour. But this attitude can also be a dangerous one, and is indicative of a larger problem with the American psyche.
This larger problem is the lack of empathy that so many middle and upper class Americans have for the poor. It’s how we can justify things like recent food stamp cuts or failing to extend unemployment benefits. There is a tendency to see the poor as lazy or as exploiters of the system, and to amplify anecdotal evidence in order to support this worldview.
At the heart of this attitude is a view of poverty as a temporary stop-off for those climbing the socioeconomic ladder or as a place where the lazy rest in the social safety net. Too many people ignore the advantages that they’ve had in life when they compare their success to the success of others; consequentially, they are unable to empathize with those who haven’t been as successful. A job at McDonald’s might be a way to earn a few extra dollars while going through high school or college for someone from an affluent family, but for others it is a permanent dead-end job that generates income so inadequate that they must rely on social-welfare programs.
Raising the minimum wage is no panacea for our country’s economic inequality, nor is any single policy change. But if we want to be able to have a serious conversation about poverty in this country, we need to ditch the view of the poor as people who are perfectly capable of helping themselves. The ladder of social mobility must be built and maintained by all of us.
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