Harvard and Princeton Sociologists Resurrect the“Culture of Poverty” During the Worst Recession Since the 1930’s

Jacqueline S. Homan, author of Classism For Dimwits and Divine Right: The Truth is a Lie

In the October 17th, 2010 New York Times article, Culture of Poverty Makes a Comeback by Patricia Cohen, labeling the poor as “the Other”, as “less than” and as morally and socially defective by Princeton and Harvard sociologists and various other poverty pimps has made a resurgence and is now once again in vogue. The article cited former Assistant Labor Secretary Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s description of urban poverty in terms of race and a culture that was a “tangle of pathology” of unmarried mothers and welfare dependency couched as moral deficiencies to blame the poor for their own misfortune.

Moynihan’s analysis appeals to politicians who bandy the poor around like a political football, especially conservatives and moderates (Reagan Democrats), and led to the passage of the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, which placed a lifetime limit of five years, regardless of one’s ability to get a living wage job. This was more generous than the draconian measure that Clinton initially proposed: limiting welfare to two years.

Neither proposed welfare reform bills, including the one that was passed in 1996,  came with the guarantee of a right to a living wage job; or any job at all.

Clinton, like his predecessors Reagan and Bush the Elder, and both parties of Congress declared war on this nation’s poorest, most economically vulnerable and socially disadvantaged citizens: poor women and children and the disabled. These measures were largely the result of the influence wielded by purveyors of the “culture of poverty” school and all its tangential deficit theory views about the poor.

The article quoted coddled Ivy League members of America’s selfish class, as if their bovine excreta passing for “research” were some sort of infallible gospel.

Princeton sociologist Douglas S. Massey argues that Moynihan was unjustly maligned, saying, “We’ve finally reached the stage where people aren’t afraid of being politically incorrect.”

Cohen’s article mentioned that at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, attendees broached the subject of the “culture of poverty.” In Spring of 2009 in Washington DC, social scientists participated in a Congressional briefing on the “culture of poverty” linked to a special issue of The Annals, the journal of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. The introduction proclaimed, “Culture is back on the poverty research agenda.”

How convenient for the resurgence of this deficit theory view of the poor to come on the heels of the worst economic depression since the 1930’s where we now have one in seven Americans living below the federal poverty level. How convenient, indeed, that the entire discourse shifts the burden of poverty from government and the most privileged members of society onto the backs of the poor.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) said that the “culture of poverty” views “play an important role in shaping how lawmakers choose to address poverty issues.”

This blame-the-victim claptrap is propagated by those with the most interest in preserving a system of unearned privilege. Blaming the poor for their misfortune is nothing new, but such views that shape social and economic policies never include the views, experiences, and voices of the poor at whom said policies are aimed.

Also quoted in the article was Harvard sociologist Robert J. Sampson who conducted a well-funded and large study of the poor conducted in a way to assign personal value judgments against the poor and confirm his own class bias using the “culture of poverty” school of thought. His experiment entailed dropping fake letters on the streets of a poor Chicago neighborhood to see if anyone would pick them up and return them. Sampson said he studies inequality and that the dominant focus is on structures of poverty, and suggested that the poor are amoral with no respect for the rule of law because they “believe that laws were made to be broken with impunity.”

It is beyond arrogant for those who have received the most advantages and benefits from an entire system of unearned privileges to authoritatively proclaim that it’s the undeserving, defective poor who need to be “fixed” and taught how to get with the middle class program, and then call such ideas “scholarship.”

There is nothing that remotely passes for intellectual and academic honesty in a study that was undertaken with confirmation bias reeking with the stench of classism.

Poverty pimps who advance the “culture of poverty” school despite knowing better, do so to curry favor and receive social prizes and rewards from the corporate ‘Massas’ who endow their academic department chairs, fund their research, and pay them to serve as “policy experts” in right-wing think tanks.

Capitalism is based on entitlement, and as you go up the economic ladder, attitudes of self-importance and entitlement increase. But we never talk about the culture of greed and getting ahead at all costs that is so prevalent among the middle and upper classes who think they have a “divine right” to come first.

The notion that the misery and deprivation commensurate with grueling poverty is merely the “undeserving poor” getting their “just desserts” for being morally defective is not an original idea. It is rooted in Protestant Calvinism — the Calvinist deficit theory view of the poorest and most downtrodden people is predicated on the ideologies of predestination.

The argument for the “culture of poverty” has been internalized these past 30 years by lawmakers from both sides of the aisle who say that social security is a “milk cow with 310 million tits”; that unemployment benefits (which only cover about 40% of the unemployed) makes the jobless “lazy” and encourages them to buy drugs; that the miserly inadequate food stamps allotment in post-welfare reform America makes the recipients rich and causes obesity; and that the solution for 50 million uninsured Americans, 44 million struggling in unrelenting misery below the poverty level, and for the 35 million ill-housed, are more vouchers, more “free market” capitalism, and more budget cuts for food stamps, Medicaid, and Medicare to pay for middle class unemployment benefits extensions — leaving the poorest of this nation’s jobless to starve to death given that food stamps is the sole income for six million of the most disadvantaged and unemployable jobless.

As it stands, deregulation of utility monopolies in tandem with deep cuts to the already underfunded LIHEAP program, which provides very stingy and inadequate help to only 20% of the eligible poor while 80% of the poor are turned away, has resulted in nearly ten million US households suffering without at least one life-sustaining utility. The increasing number of casualties among the poor from freezing in unheated homes and apartments or fatal residential fires caused by unsafe alternative heating methods in a desperate attempt to avoid freezing to death, evidences only some fruits of the “culture of poverty” school’s bitter harvest of classism.

The past three decades of abusive social and economic policies justified by the “culture of poverty” amount to one sordid continuum of human rights violations against the “undeserving” poor. For those who have unfairly benefited from a legacy of unearned privileges, including advanced educations at prestigious universities, to use their privileges like a cudgel to beat the poor into the ground and crush them underfoot for personal gain and accolades under the guise of “scholarship” is sociopathic.

We don’t have a “culture of poverty.” We have a culture of capitalism that promotes, perpetuates, and maintains classism — the least challenged bigotry that is responsible for the most social harm. We have a capitalistic society that touts greed and self-centered entitlement as a virtue. We have an architecture of aggression in which capitalism’s biggest losers (poor women) are set up and labeled as “the Other”; devalued and unacknowledged.

"Classism For Dimwits" by Jacqueline S. Homan

This culture of capitalism is centered on the idea that wealth and privilege is sacrosanct, that only the “fittest” deserve anything and to hell with those of us who have been socially excluded and economically marginalized in order to make way for the spoiled, overprivileged alpha dipshits of this society to grab everything they can latch their greedy grasping meat-hooks onto; without a shred of remorse for the human casualties they leave in their wake.

Since cultural norms, mores, and trends are largely defined by the higher status and more affluent classes, this “culture of poverty” was created by the privileged. The injustices and social ills framed by deficit theory thought are not caused by “just a few bad apples.” They’re caused by a cultural ethos; a sociopathic one that is reflective of the dominant class’s “values.”

It has not escaped the notice of those of us who struggle in poverty and who agitate for social justice that the government is described as “democratic” when it serves only the interests of the privileged and economically powerful elements of our society. In the words of Michael Parenti: we have a “democracy for the few.” And whom this “democracy” serves was made painfully obvious by the absence of poor people’s voices.

When poverty is couched in euphemisms that really mean race and gender, it’s a deliberate attempt to justify classism and legitimize the economic terrorism and social repression visited upon the poor of all races and genders. Being black, being a woman, or even being a single mother doesn’t make one poor — abusive social and economic policy and discrimination does.

Raising rhetorical questions associating crime and poverty in terms that label the poor as “criminals” is a deliberate promotion of prejudice. The poor are routinely denied employment opportunities because there is now a widely held view among human resources personnel and corporate employers that the poor are a bad risk for hiring because they’re likely to steal. Asking why the poor “break the law with impunity” implies that they’re not punished — an outright fraud when everyone knows that the poor overwhelmingly comprise the US prison population. It further ignores the fact that when people see those with lots of money and privilege breaking the law on a grand scale with impunity, there is a loss of respect for any law.

The “culture of poverty” claptrap also led to the assumption that poverty can be reduced to a lifestyle choice — something former House Speaker Newt Gingrich claimed from his bully pulpit during the Clinton administration as he cheered the Welfare Reform Act of 1996. The Welfare Reform Act of 1996 threw this nation’s poorest and most socially disadvantaged families and individuals under the bus; 99% whom were women and children (only 1% of AFDC recipients were able-bodied men) under the guise of “personal responsibility” — a unilateral social contract best described as a policy of Benign Neglect in which the entire burden of poverty was dumped on the poor while society and government did nothing to guarantee poor women living wage jobs with health benefits, child care help, and assistance in obtaining reliable transportation.

Former Wisconsin governor and US Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson provided the template for the Welfare Reform Act of 1996 is one of the “pro-life” religious conservatives who would deny poor women access to birth control and abortion while cruelly leaving poor single moms and their babies utterly destitute if society failed to provide the supports required for poor mothers to enter the workplace and guarantee them living wage jobs with health benefits.

Since the enactment of Welfare Reform, Tommy Thompson (and other political leaders who swallowed the “culture of poverty” pablum spoon-fed by Ivy League “poverty experts”) defeated measures to track the outcomes of all the poor women and children thrown off of welfare after exhausting their five year lifetime limit, regardless if they were able to get a job.

Are the promoters of the “culture of poverty” school proud of these “scholarly” achievements that encouraged nationwide mother-mugging and framing poverty as a “choice?”

There is a fundamental mathematical theorem that has been proven over 200 years ago, named after mathematician and clergyman Thomas Bayes, who studied how to compute a distribution for the probability parameter of a binomial distribution. Bayes’ Theorem treats conditional probability and the outcome based on the relationship of the conditional and marginal probabilities of events. One of the most simple and basic mathematical statements of Bayes’ Theorem is:

P(A|B) = [P(B|A)*P(A)/P(B)]

{Read as: “The probability of A given B is equal to the probability of B given A times the probability of A, all divided by the probability of B.”}

where :

P(A) is the marginal probability of event A. It is “prior” in the sense that it takes nothing into account of anything known about event B.

P(A|B) is the conditional probability of A, given B.

P(B|A) is the conditional probability of B, given A (also called the “likelihood”)

P(B) is the prior or marginal probability of event B and acts as a normalizing constant.

Theorems analogous to this one cover situations entailing more than two events. Applying Bayes’ Theorem to the existing axioms and theorems of calculus, we can describe the marginal probability distribution of a variable to a data set where the likelihood function is the probability of “y” successes in “x” trials for a binomial distribution, in the set of all real variables. (The most common application being in the study of voting patterns and employer drug testing).

More famous applications of Bayes’ Theorem are the Monty Hall Paradox and the Principle of Restricted Choice, which proves with a mathematical certainty that making the “right choices” 100% of the time is impossible. It is therefore intellectually dishonest and morally bankrupt to frame the discussion of poverty in terms that blame the poor for their poverty by reducing it to “lifestyle choices” and the “culture of poverty.”

It is no secret that middle and upper class people also frequently screw up and make the same “poor choices” as poor people. But the difference is that the outcome is totally different; such that it does not punish them with lifelong destitution and misery. It is also known that the middle and upper classes have a lot more options available to them while options for the poor are really a Hobson’s choice (either way, you’re screwed). Any well-funded and large “study” of poverty that makes personal value judgments about the poor based on whether or not anyone in a poor neighborhood picked up fake letters deliberately dropped on the street is shambolic. So here’s a thought for future “poverty studies”:

Being poor is being fetishized, demonized, and infantilized by teams of “poverty experts” from the middle and upper classes.

Being poor is hoping you and your disabled spouse make it through winter alive without freezing to death, or dying in a house fire from a space heater mishap after your gas got cut off because they raised the rates by 20% and you can’t afford the bill.

Being poor means nothing around your run-down home ever works and everything is in serious disrepair because there’s no money, or way of getting money, to fix what’s in disrepair.

Being poor and white means being an invisible non-person.

Being poor means you have no pictures of your “ancestors” — or even of yourself and your sister — after being evicted where anything you might have had got taken away from you when your roach-infested ghetto apartment got padlocked.

Being poor is a lifetime of everything always getting taken away from you.

Being poor is being wrong even when you’re right.

Being poor is never fitting in.

Being poor is guilty until proven innocent and still getting slapped with unaffordable fines or a criminal conviction regardless.

Being poor means never getting a chance your entire life, and then having some self-centered privileged person tell you how poor they are when they enjoy far more economic opportunity, comfort, and security than you will ever get a chance to have — especially if you’re still poor by the time you’re middle-aged (and therefore unemployable) after an entire lifetime of never getting a chance for a good job, no matter how hard you tried.

Being poor means going hungry at least two or three days out of each month for years.

Being poor is living in a neighborhood where you can’t put chairs or a couch near the window because of the drive-by shootings.

Being poor is dying or becoming permanently disabled from pregnancy and childbirth complications.

Being poor is facing having to go blind from glaucoma because there really isn’t “all this help out there.”

Being poor is losing a leg from diabetes complications because you couldn’t get the help you needed to afford diabetic supplies and the low starch/low carb low MSG diabetic-friendly foods so you could manage your diabetes better in the first place.

Being poor means that your only interactions with middle class “professionals” are through bullet-proof glass windows at government agencies and welfare offices after waiting all day to be “served”, and then being told “sorry, we can’t help you.”

Being poor is everyone who isn’t poor wondering why you went back to the abusive asshole (whom you hope won’t kill you) who gave you that black eye when it’s either that or live on the streets with NO way to get a living wage job and get on your feet and support yourself after your 30 day time limit at the battered women’s shelter is up.

Being poor means you have to choose whether you have electric or gas, or food or a roof over your head.

Being poor means you don’t get the early preventive glaucoma treatment options to save your eyesight, while being told that you don’t deserve your eyesight because you’re just a “loser” who “blames everyone else for your problems” — it’s never the fault of employers who refused to hire you at a good job with health benefits, and it’s never society’s fault for being too selfish and punitive to have a safety net for the economically excluded.

Being poor means access to dental care is a luxury that is as far out of reach for you as a day trip to Sedna.

Being poor is getting denied even a minimum wage job in retail or as a supermarket cashier where you must face the public because of your visibly decayed/broken/missing teeth as a result of never having access to decent dental care — while everybody else who has never been anywhere near as poor as you or for as long as you, tells you that it’s all your own damn fault that you don’t have any teeth and lack the “right image” to be “deserving” of a job because you were “too stupid to brush your teeth properly.”

Being poor means dying a lot younger than those who lived in middle class comfort for most, if not all of their lives.

Being poor means suffering with an untreated UTI until it goes into your kidneys because you couldn’t afford antibiotics.

Being poor means you can’t even get a chance for a minimum wage job at Wal-Mart because your credit is poor due to poverty — which is, by definition, not enough income to afford your basic needs, including utilities, let alone afford an expensive emergency room bill because you didn’t have a good job with health insurance when you got that UTI or that abscessed tooth.

Being poor means that even if you go into unaffordable debt for a Bachelors degree from a state college in order to be “worthy” of a chance for a job, you still won’t get one because your visibly decayed/broken/missing teeth, a big gap in your work history of menial jobs, your lack of the proper clothing and a car, and your address is in the “wrong” side of town — all which serves to alert the employers’ middle class gatekeepers that you’re “not a good fit” for the office culture and that you “lack work ethic.”

Being poor means that nobody cares about you, your problems don’t matter.

Being poor means that no matter how hard you try and whatever you try, you never get a break but you sure get a generous helping of middle/upper class social Darwinist lip service, condescension, and personal value judgments that they call “advice.”

Being poor is always being told that it’s your own fault you had to suffer without getting your needs met your entire life because you’re nothing but a “loser.”

Being poor (if you’re white and female) means that decent paying blue-collar “men’s jobs” are never afforded to you so you can support yourself without having to resort to prostitution or stripping.

Being poor (if you’re white and female) means you’re never good enough to be wanted, loved, married and supported by some middle class mother’s grad school bound son because everybody knows that poor white women are all nothing but “whores who get pregnant only for the welfare check” — or “gold-diggers” who have no social status and cultural capital to bring to the table.

Being poor (when you’re white and female) means never being wanted or accepted. It’s getting left on the shelf since poor white males either see you as a burden they can’t afford/don’t want, or if they DO commit, you frequently become a punching bag for them to take out their own frustrations and resentment at their own oppression.

Being poor is being begrudged any pleasure in life; even the most basic human need to have sex because your birth control options are very limited and if you get pregnant, you have no money to travel to get an abortion and pay for the procedure.

Being poor means any hopes, dreams and aspirations you might have once had got crushed out of you and ground underfoot.

Being poor means you don’t get to have any hobbies because all the cool stuff costs a lot of money — which you don’t have.

Being poor means owing a lifelong debt of nothing but misery and deprivation to the comfortably off for the status crime of being born into “their world.”

Being poor means your suffering and misery doesn’t matter, only those who are poor in other countries are worthy of middle/upper class concern.

Being poor is when middle class people with advanced educations read what you write, they act shocked that you’re actually smart and educated too.

Being poor is having scars that will never heal.

I cannot speak from the perspective of a poor white male or a poor person of color. I am a poor white female that was a homeless orphaned teen who endured danger and deprivation on a daily basis on the streets in a Philadelphia ghetto, so my experience is a white female urban one. I am a 43 year old woman who did “all the right things” and who has no criminal record, but I never made it out of poverty because I never got a chance.

I can count the number of times on one hand that I’ve had access to medical and dental care throughout my entire life. I saw one of my neighbors lose her leg to diabetes for lack of help. I saw another neighbor die at age 37 from an abscessed tooth. I face possible blindness from glaucoma that I got diagnosed with three weeks before my 43rd birthday this past May for which I have yet to get any help outside of universal health care to afford the routine monitoring and possible future treatments in order to preserve my eyesight — a cruel blow for someone in poverty whose life is already difficult enough and whose only outlet is reading books and writing.

I could certainly go on with more on what being poor is, but I think I’ve illustrated enough for you to get my point. I have over 40 years worth of life experience in the trenches of poverty, suffering because of inequality and classism in addition to all the “gender taxes” too. You don’t get to be more of a poverty expert than that.

Jacqueline S. Homan,

Author: Classism For Dimwits

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14 Responses to “Harvard and Princeton Sociologists Resurrect the“Culture of Poverty” During the Worst Recession Since the 1930’s”

  1. Larry Carter Center Says:

    the attack on the poor to justify tax breaks for the rich is relentless for centuries with only minor ebbs and flows in mild reform efforts sold politically amdist massive war efforts, such as LBJ’s “guns & butter” establishments of significant welfare spending, housing programs and food stamp/WIC programs…..there has never been a time in US History where human rights to eat, rights to clean water, rights to medical care, education or safe housing has ever been fundamental and inviolate WHILE THE CORPORATIONS RIGHTS TO KILL, CHEAT, RAPE, POLLUTE and literally print money for wealthy use has been the defining timeline of US gov’t struggles…..the veterans of US wars and the middle class have been bought off with one program or another but starving women, children, racial and handicapped people have been shoved off into one gulag or ghetto ALL THE WHILE LIED ABOUT BY academic elites into re-defined bullshit terminologies as well described by J S Homan here 843-926-1750 Larry ….politically racists in so called Universities such as Winthrop in South Carolina control the “legitimacy” of who might come forward to be elected to places of power and decision making….so called Professor Huffmon is raw and naked in his PUSH POLL paid for with over 20 thousand dollars in tax payer money to allow Tom Clements for US Senate to be a suggested name against Alvin Greene & the insane criminal incumbent James DeMint BUT CENSORS the one African American Green Party Candidate in the only other 3 way race for South Carolina Governor, DR Reeves runs on a platform of full employment, year round schools, total commitment to caring for every worker’s family or farm with real doubling of the economy with Green sustainable technoligies….I am always shocked at the obscene racism of journalists and so called academics who play king maker, knocking down those who stand for really helping people

  2. Larry Carter Center Says:

    the so called culture of poverty is simply another way to describe wage slavery keeping wages low instead of legislating a legal limit on exploitation above what would be properly considered a living wage, with one other feature of dominating theocratics, the complete denial of women’s right to health care AND THAT MEANS FULLY FUNDED BIRTH CONTROL WITH ABORTIONS…. without that, women are the virtual breeders of more wage slaves by the Catholic & Baptist theocrats who define most local elections

  3. Larry Carter Center Says:

    we have a poor man’s “draft” where only military enlistment is the practical job with benefits offered to the poor graduates of the public school “system” being whittled away by the tax cutters for the rich, our society promotes most the teaching 18 year olds to kill for gov’t profiteering and the dumbing down of women as sex objects with creationism diluting down science in public schools

  4. epppie Says:

    Bullies always blame the victim.

  5. Lily H. Says:

    Just so happens I just read that article, too. I wondered why on earth are these people bringing up this tired, old topic — especially now, when there are so many middle-classers falling into poverty as well as the poor who are already there. I suspect TPTB are lining up their ammunition to fire back at the poor when questions start being asked about why there are so many? They’ve got to have a set of answers and formulas ready to lob back at the “whiners” to justify enacting even more draconian policies at those afflicted. We’ve already heard from several GOP’ers who claim the unemployed “don’t want to work”, etc. Isn’t that what they used to say about welfare mothers?
    What makes this entry so ironic is just this afternoon, I was invited out to a birthday lunch with my father and girlfriend, who live in an all-white, gated community and live in luxurious comfort, compared to me, an S.S.I./Soc. Sec. recipient suffering from Stage IV breast cancer, had colon cancer surgery, have diabetes, and am soon facing cataract surgery. While I’m “lucky” enough to have benefits/Medicaid, I am also what might be considered a “living orphan”, have actual parents (in my case, one) but have bought into the GOP/YOYO “You’re On Your Own” mentality.
    As per my last entry, I played by the rules, but these people decided I was too unworthy to invest their time, resources or sweat to see to it that I didn’t wind up, never mind fall, into poverty. As usual, they chatted amongst themselves, mostly pre-occupied with their lives, never mind mine.
    I got a “free lunch”, but I paid for my own groceries at the 99-Cent Store they decided to pass through…they had no clue I’d already shopped at my local Blg Lots three days earlier.
    Of all things, one of their conversation topics was about several of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who seemed to have spawned a number of unwed pregnancies and were grappling with the ensuing dramas. I thought, here I am, having played by the rules, my own children never having spawned any unwanted children, and I get swept away like street trash. My aunt even commented, “I’m just waiting for ONE of them to make a commitment”. Guess mine didn’t count…
    As I read Jacqueline’s “Being Poor” essay, I am inclined to write a version of my own, mirroring many of her points, adjusted for my reality.

    Being poor…middle-classers are amazed at how well-read and educated you are, yet don’t do a damned thing to help you get a leg up, etc.

    Being poor…no hobbies (read lofty stories of middle-class housewives who adroitly thought up a nifty new invention/gadget, but had husbands, relatives willing to put up the necessary means to fund, etc.), or ways to cultivate any creative pursuits — impossible when you’re forced to work 24/7 AND have welfare tell you you’re not working long enough hours.
    By the way, does anyone know J. K. Rowling, author of the “Harry Potter” series, wrote her first installment while on welfare in the UK? Seems no one was making her pound the pavement day in, day out for a dead-end job! Where would we all be if poor Ms. Rowling was unable to have fulfilled her dream?

    Being poor…means being left on the shelf because no males in their right mind would have anything to do with a poor woman/mother, unless they were flawed themselves…and with those odds, who needs that problem?
    (For an account of my own experiences, read my article, “Dan Quayle Says They’re Out There, So What Gives?” There are NO Prince Charmings out there, trust me!

    Being poor…no matter how hard you try, you never get a break. I can’t even begin to tell how many times I’d actually gotten half-way decent jobs with some possibility of a future, only to get mercilessly wrenched from them via in-house problems, and you know WHOM gets the boot out the door.
    I once obtained a job for a small firm publishing articles of incorporations for new businesses, beating out forty other applicants for the position by guessing where the office was through an obscurely worded classified ad, AND sporting a bad head cold as well. Nonetheless, I plowed ahead, thinking if I was the only one who showed up in person, I’d be a shoo-in. After the boss expressed her astonishment at my sleuthing, she hired me and had me type out 39 reject letters for the candidates who didn’t pass muster.
    She’d told me she’d be going on vacation shortly, but hoped I’d be trained by then. I was to run the office alone, with contacts in Sacramento if I had any problems. As luck would have it, late Friday afternoon, a client called in, wanting to start the process, so I had to rush to my area FedEx office, drop the papers in the mail, and hope for the best. Somewhere along the line, there was an error in the paperwork, and I was held accountable the following week, even though I was only a trainee. You can guess the outcome — I was canned. Incidentally, the client decided to pull out of the arrangement, so he didn’t lose anything thereof, but I lost MY chance at a well-above minimum-wage job with paid parking privileges in a tony section of my city’s downtown. I got hired in December, started in January, and was fired in February. I suspect this boss simply wanted a cheap fill-in so she could go to Bermuda without worrying about getting behind.
    Under this same umbrella, I had been active in my leftist community, working with many middle-classers who supposedly identified with the downtrodden — and as Jacqueline pointed out, mostly from far-away countries rather than from a few neighborhoods away. During a large conference in our city, a wife of an area business (co-op market) seemed to take an interest in me, asking about my background, etc. I then became aware she had also been associating with another woman, a retired social worker who had less-than-progressive leanings, even though she was also involved otherwise. After that, the first woman inexplicably began giving me the cold shoulder, avoiding contact and otherwise occupying herself.
    I presumed she had been tainted by her associates’ biased viewpoints.

    And, I can’t emphasize enough, being poor is having family where the dynamics is dominated by one party (in my case, my father) who literally dictates what others close enough (think of the Mafia) think and do.
    If that supposed mental dynamic means you’re to be left alone like an aged Eskimo on an ice floe, then so be it. No one dares break the spell, and no one utters a cross word or independent thought. There are no less than four women formerly, directly or indirectly involved, who spout the party line as we speak (or I write).

    P.S. The article in which I speak was published in the organization’s quarterly newspaper, Mother Warriors’ Voice, which I am a contributor.
    And, I’m certain their editor would more than likely appreciate any feedback from Jacqueline. I also acquainted them with another compelling blogger, Kristin Anderberg, whom I have corresponded with regularly.

    Sometimes, being poor can actually benefit one, that is, if you happen to fall under the right benefactor’s radar or parameters when I was invited to appear on our city’s PBS TV station as the representative “single mom” among a panel of citizens. I loyally came to the locale, speaking about my entrance into the world of poverty despite having been married, educated and employed.
    The night before the program was to air, I was notified I’d been bumped from my slot, but that I was still able to attend. As I’d put so much effort into my role, I surely didn’t want to miss this event. I was to find that I was bumped by another single mom who had just earned a sociology degree, and had been a recovering drug addict. When I asked the producer why I’d been bumped, she replied that I was deemed “too middle-class”.
    I’d found out later that the sponsors of the program had an interest in the field of recovery, so I can only presume my clean-living lifestyle wasn’t “sexy” enough for publication.
    Before this latest turn of events, I’d pondered if after the show aired, would I get any feedback from the viewing public (nationally, not just locally), perhaps maybe even some help? I discovered my “alternate panelist” has since earned a Ph.D. and is a practicing counselor. What, if the tide had remained originally, might have happened if I had been allowed to show my face and story on national television? One can only imagine, failing at becoming the coveted “Poor Person of The Week”.

  6. UnEasyOne Says:

    I have a few things to add to your list that were particularly painful for me as a disabled white male single parent – (whose injured back was “healed” by the stroke of a pen by a Social Security administrative law judge.)

    When your kid is sick and you have no family doctor because you can’t afford one; that is painful.
    When the best/only clothes your child has to wear are ill-fitting hand-me-downs, that is painful.
    When you aren’t “officially” disabled, you don’t qualify for free school lunches, so your kid goes hungry; that is painful.
    When you find a cheap place to live in a rich area so your kid can have decent schooling (which makes him the poorest kid around), that is painful.
    When your kid lacks the funds to participate in school activities that cost very little, that is painful.
    When your kid can never participate in the things all the other kids do as a matter of course, like go to the movies or an amusement park, that is painful.
    When your kid gets an afterschool job and you have to take the money to pay a bill – and you have to do that on a consistent basis, that is really painful.
    When the best food you ever get for your child is at Thanksgiving and Christmas (the only time society at large seems to care if you go hungry, that is painful.
    And when your child doesn’t complain, that really hurts like hell.

    Things could have been worse for us, but when you are a child and the poorest people you know are yourself and your parent, it’s hard to imagine worse.

    • Jacqueline S. Homan Says:

      I cannot begin to imagine your pain as a parent, being that I never had kids. But I am very, very glad to see/hear you raise your voice as a poor white male who was a single parent with a disability. If I could reach out and give you a big, warm hug through cyberspace, I would.

      It is the raising of all our voices together on a floor of equal footing, shouting down the lies and the harmful propaganda routinely dished up to paint poor people as sub-humans.

      For the last 30-40 years, the haves and the have-mores have had the microphone, so to speak. We’re taking it back. All of us.

  7. Improving access to higher education for AFDC recipients. (Aid to Families with Dependent Children)(speech by researcher Erika Kates) (Women and Welfare … An article from: Social Justice | Best Justice Books Says:

    […] Harvard and Princeton Sociologists Resurrect the“Culture of … […]

  8. UninformedLuddite Says:

    You want to know a cheap medicine to assist with glaucoma? it’s called marijuana. Don;t believe me? do some research. You do not need fancy expensive drugs pushed by the doctors

  9. blueollie Says:

    I hadn’t read this post until now. I put a link to it (with an excerpt) on Daily Kos; I hope that is ok:

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/08/14/1006733/-A-poor-persons-pushback-on-the-Culture-of-Poverty-meme?detail=hide&via=blog_664102

  10. 14 August 2011: Ding Dong, the Wicked T-Paw is dead…sort of (and other topics) « blueollie Says:

    […] is another person’s take; it is very telling: Being poor is being fetishized, demonized, and infantilized by teams of […]

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