This is my last installment of “The Deprivation of Opportunity” series. The idea for this post came from a social media conversation regarding the initial post that got this series started: “The Frightening Accessibility of Poverty.”
I will present you with two lies about the construct of poverty. I call it the construct, but it may be easier to view it as perimeters of poverty. Yes, there are perimeters, and they exist in many ways based on the view we take of poverty. So here are the two lies:
You can work your way out of poverty.
You will remain in poverty.
I call them lies because neither one can always be true. You may say, “Wait. Then if they can’t always be true, then can’t they always not be false? So maybe they are two truths, instead of two lies.”
That is a valid argument and one we will discuss momentarily. But first, I wish to discuss the whys of these two lies. America, not the world, will again be the subject of the conversation: more aptly, its citizens.
THE TWO LIES OF POVERTY
In order, we’ll take the lie that you can work your way out of poverty. It is preposterous to call this a lie, wouldn’t you agree? It seems…disheartening. A bit of a hope killer. And so it is. But it doesn’t make it any less of a lie.
There are people who are born into poverty. Now whether that is because their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents resigned themselves to the subjection of poverty, or because their parents are lazy, or uneducated, or hapless, or victims of tragedy, or victims of a city or town suffering from economic collapse (use a small town or a place like Detroit as an example), or just victims, as we often like to call ourselves and other people, none of that actually matters. The only thing that matters, in this conversation, is the existence of poverty.
Avoiding poverty is a bit trickier because, as a child, the idea of poverty is almost non-existent. For many children, it appears that poverty is the normal way of life because they are exposed only to poverty, and typically, this condition is an affliction to those of whom they are surrounded. Avoiding it is practically impossible since children can’t work, do not fully comprehend the power of education, and are not liable, let alone capable, of leading their family out of poverty. So we will “avoid” the conversation of avoiding poverty, particularly at a young age, and start only with those who are old enough to actually combat the problem.
THE FIRST LIE
So here goes: You can work your way out of poverty.
You are provided with means to garner a good living, but it falls on your shoulders to do so. This effort takes great enthusiasm and commitment because climbing out of any pit, financial or physical, requires these two characteristics.
In the Great United States of America, you are provided with various opportunities and avenues for self-growth, or at least self-preservation. But what are these opportunities? I will provide a very short-list of government- and privately-established opportunities:
Uncensored Internet access
Places of worship
The list of available opportunities that allow deferred payment, are low-cost, or free is ongoing, but those I labeled above are simply used as reference points. All of the aforementioned provide opportunities for establishing or furthering education, enabling an understanding of life and how to pursue a better one, networking, or garnering assistance until one can get back on their feet.
As of the last Census, which came out this past September, the poverty rate in America was at 13.5%, affecting more than 43 million people. This accounts for all Americans, unlike the unemployment rate. Now the unemployment rate is currently at 4.9%, but of course, this number is not accurate and yet it is. I don’t have time to go into it, but if you do want an accurate number, then read this article by the CEO of Gallup Poll for a little explanation of how the different outcomes work and then visit the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report.
So why are all these millions of Americans in poverty? Especially when you have these opportunities readily and steadily available. These means to a better end, if you will. It is because not all of these opportunities are created equal. Different cities, different neighborhoods, different family cultures, different school districts, different etc., and, therefore, with each of these variables, the opportunity for success varies considerably. These millions of Americans are not all located in one spot in the country. They are scattered throughout the nation, undergoing different turbulences, or no turbulence at all.
Despite the fact that all of these opportunities, benefits, hand-outs, or whatever you want to call them (I think Conservatives and Liberals typically have different vocabularies) vary and are unequal in their own right, the ability to pull yourself up by the boot straps and make a solid living is available. There are people who work two or three jobs and still struggle to make ends meet, but if all of those opportunities are taken into account and utilized, shouldn’t one be able to manage easier? If one is working, studying for a better education by utilizing the Internet or libraries (where the Internet and books are free), networking at places of worship or local events, and spending only when necessary, shouldn’t poverty be avoided?
I leave the lie at the question and move to the next one.
THE SECOND LIE
You will remain in poverty.
That is a lie we all would like to label as such. But what about when we call it a truth? It then takes on the same detrimental meaning as the first.
According to that Census, people who have lower levels of education are more likely to remain in or drop into a lower economic category. So if one is uneducated and already of age, then what good is going to the library or taking advantage of FAFSA? The free education received in the public schools was wasted on whatever it was that seemed more important than learning to read or write or learn math or science. It will take years of tutoring to catch up in order to even consider going to college or at least garner a GED.
Due to the lack education and, therefore, job experience, places of worship or networking events that help people with job placement can only recommend or refer a job that pays so much. So is it welfare that becomes the supplemental income? It can’t be unemployment benefits.
It must become welfare because whatever job obtained won’t pay enough to pay for groceries, a place to live, transportation, clothes, electricity, etc. So it is a combination of a bad paying job and welfare. And it is a place where one must remain: in poverty.
How could poverty possibly be avoided? That is why there are 43 million Americans living in poverty, because it cannot be avoided.
WHICH LIE DO YOU CHOOSE?
You are probably wondering why I wrote this. Writing about two lies regarding the worst condition one can possibly know: the condition of poverty. But it was the conversation on social media that prompted me to it. It was the idea of the two lies that are only lies because they can’t always be true. By the same token, which I trust you gathered from the beginning, they are both truths, because they cannot always be lies.
When I wrote the “The Frightening Accessibility of Poverty”, I wrote about how easily it can come into our lives. More than 70% of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck and most no one, statistically speaking, has a nest egg for retirement. So we, the majority, seem to remain at the window, looking in to view the possible outcome of our own poverty.
Let’s say for argument’s sake that you or I do experience poverty. We must face down the devil that is impoverishment. I brought about these two lies to ask this question: If you were faced with the life of poverty, of those two lies, which would you rather believe?
The fact is many Americans—poor, middle class, or wealthy—believe the second lie to be the truth, or the first lie to be just what it was labeled: a lie. Poverty is an obstacle of the most horrendous kind, but it does not mean you must stay there. For this reason, on a yearly basis, the poverty line fluctuates, showing us that the ease of poverty’s accessibility is frightening, but also that we can get out of it. We are hopeful people and it is hope that forces us to believe certain things that aren't always true. It is the mere possibility of it being true that drives us.
It is not the deprivation of opportunity that some would like to attribute to societal woes. Opportunity is all around us if we only will take advantage of them. They are not, as I mentioned before, definites to eliminating poverty; but they do increase the possibility of doing so.
If you are interested in learning more about poverty and how it is measured, read this explanation by the Universty of Wisconsin-Madison's Institute for Research on Poverty.