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Sunday, January 16. 2011
Steinberg debates the late great Moynihan in Poor Reason - Culture still doesn’t explain poverty. Steinberg claims that the behavior of the black poor is a consequence of poverty, not a cause. But what about the white poor?
This is from Wiki (US poverty rates, as I understand it, are calculated prior to government or charitable monies, goods, or benefits):
After reading Steinberg's essay, I am more convinced that Moynihan was right. There is substantial white poverty in the US too. Regardless of racial differences - Asian, black, Hispanic, white - (and excluding penniless new immigrants who rightly expect a challenging beginning) - I'd be willing to bet that poverty in the US can be understood mostly in terms of bad luck, character (including tendencies, interests, abilities, and personal inclinations), parental role models, or, most often, life choices. (Behavior is a choice, as a human being.) These things are not all "culture", but they are part of it.
I believe that many people choose poverty, in the broad sense of "choose". And, as a reader notes, if X% of the population is below the poverty line by definition, it's impossible to get rid of it no matter how much money people take in.
Furthermore, in my opinion, if you have heat and a roof over your head, a TV if you want one, a functioning vehicle if you need one - or a bus pass or a subway token, beer money, and funds for clothes and Big Macs, you aren't really poor.
We have all lived hand-to-mouth at some points in our lives. I decided that it wasn't for me, so I made a plan for my life. And then another one when the first plan didn't work. Eventually, I made a plan that worked and I could afford a family and a wife who likes horses. Still, I need to work every day and plenty of weekends too, to support Casa Barrister.
Final word: I suspect that all of these opinion pieces about black poverty have the agenda to support the notion of "institutional racism." With a black guy in the White House, it's getting difficult to maintain that invention, just like it's getting difficult to maintain the notion of "institutional sexism" with Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton as presidential contenders (on some days, it seems that women are the real stars of the Conservative movement).
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When poverty is defined as the botton 20% of the income range; there will always be poverty inspite of the life style. JPB
Steinberg is an existentialist. He believes existence determines essence. In other words, poor people make lousey choices because they are poor, they aren't poor because they make lousey choices, don't want to go to school or work and want instant gratification.
We have the richest poor people in the world. Our poor on welfare live better then the middle class in Europe. It is incredible that our government chooses to not measure the welfare and benefits the poor receive before declaring them below the poverty line. A recent comparison between a poor family receiving welfare and a family earning $60k showed the welfare family actually had more net income and benefits. Considering how beneficial it is to make sure you can qualify for welfare I am suprised we don't have more "poor" people.
It is amazing how people can have multiple Cars, Big TVs, Ipods, DVD players, Cell Phones, A/C, Washers, Dryers, and still be considered in poverty.
A lot of Americans didn't have these things in the 70s and they were not considered poor.
The average person in Europe has a lower standard of living than the "poor" in the US... Yes, I said the Average European!
We don't have a lot of poverty in the US, we have a lot people making poor lifestyle choices.
If you'd like to know how people actually choose to live a life of poverty (and what it's like) read the book "Glass Castle" by Jeannette Walls; its a memoir of her life. What Jeannette describes, and unfortunately romanticizes, is the poverty in which her parents choose to live and raise their children.
The two strongest memories I took from the book, besides the chapter in which she describes picking the marrow from chicken bones, is 1) her mother's fear she would become a Republican and 2) where her grown brother says (and I paraphrase): really, how hard was it to put a simple meal on the table (speaking of his parents negligence & the starvation he experienced as a child) .
The story struck me because it frighteningly parallels my own life, as a white person, of being purposely raised in real poverty (not the false liberal scenario) . From my own experience of hell, I believe that poverty in this country is too often (not always) a choice. That today the poor in the U.S. are starving from obesity proves that point. Food, clothing and shelter - the demand for more is spiritual poverty.
I think the most revealing statistic regarding persistent black Amerian poverty and underclass is the % of kids born out of wedlock. This isn't a issue of morality. It's about a system that allows a man to escape the consequences of impregnating women and provides government support for women who adapt to rather than overcome being a mother without an ongoing male partner.
Ultimately it is about the role of genetics on behavior. It plays a much larger role than our culture wants to believe. Once a man has one child that he will not economically support, he should be given one choice: support the child or if not, then a long prison term or sterilization. He should lose the right to sire if he can't or won't meet the responsibilities. A similar tough love should be with the women. Get impregnated by one irresponsible man, OK, strike one, everyone can make a mistake. Get impregnated a second time then a condition of government support should be strerilization. You lose the right to reproduce if you can't provide a decent home for the child.
Over time these tough love policies will have an amazing result on black social and economic success by reducing the incidence of bad apples in the bunch. Now bleeding hearts don't get your shorts in a bunch. Not every out-wedlock or single mother kid is destined to be bad news. We should help these folks. Yet allowing people whose behavior shows they are losers to continually reproduce and be supported by the government violates the natural rule of survival of the fit and produces an underclass who is destined to remain so.
Regarding how the poor live in the US compared with conditions in Europe, this Timbro report from Sweden gives some information.
From page 24: the dwelling space for a European household averages 395.7 square feet per person. In the US, dwelling space for a poor household averages 438.6 square feet per person. All households in the US average 721 square feet per person.
By this housing standard, the poor in the US do live better than the average European.
Another autobiography of growing up with parents who chose poverty is Clane Hayward's The Hypocrisy of Disco. Her parents were self-indulgent hippies who paid more attention to their whims than to their children.
Impulsivity, the inability to delay gratification, explains a great deal - including why poor people have expensive objects that they feel they deserve, rather than insurance, better housing, savings. Then when bad luck comes - as it does to most of us sometime - they lose all, including those objects. Then they start again, not always wiser.
Some luck is so catastrophic that we could hardly expect a person to make a full recovery. There are inspiring tales of those who do, but it pays not to consider them normative. Sometimes the good luck parts of those stories are left out of the telling, in order to make the story more dramatic. I know some self-made men who aren't really self-made, as I'm sure you do too.
After living in the middle east for many years I've noticed that the USA and Europe are really expensive places to live so that may also be a cause of poverty.
I live in Egypt and have been to Thailand and the Philippines, all places where there is real poverty. You won't see anything like that in the USA or Europe.
Average size of a European home for a family of 4: 1000sq feet.
Average price of that home: $350.000
Average income for such a family: $50.000 a year before taxes, or roughtly $30.000 after taxes
Average number of televisions: 1 (20-30")
Average number of cars: 1 (think VW Beetle size)
That's for the more affluent EU countries (Germany, Netherlands, etc.).
For the US, a poor family of 4 would have a house twice the size at half the price, and a before taxes income 20% higher, with an after taxes income 50% higher.
They'd also have 3-4 40"+ televisions, and 2-3 large cars.
p.s. I don't agree with Steinberg that black behaviour is the result of poverty rather than the cause.
While poverty can cause people to get listless, give up hope for the future, and gravitate them to crime, a lot of those who turn out poor start out with those tendencies or they'd not become poor.
Of course for those born into poverty or thrust into it despite efforts to avoid it, it makes getting out of it that much harder.
Think people loosing their job in this economy and not finding a new one after years of frantic searching, only to also loose their home and life savings, a lot of them will just give up, see no way out, and either turn to crime or suicide.
I have seen Koreans, Vietnamese, Laotians, Haitians, Indians, Lebanese, Ghanians come to this country as immigrants with few friends and little in the way of resources. But all had a burning desire to improve themselves and provide a better life for their children. They embraced the American dream.
I see little whinning or "give me choruses" with these people. I see way too much of it among us born blacks and surprisingly some american born latinos.
Yet Mexican immigrants are good workers. What is it in the US culture that turns some into successes and others into welfare queens?
You people are so incredibly racist it's disgusting. I won't even try to intellectually banter your incredulous points because at a certain point, you can't stupidity like this too seriously.