Sunday Morning Sermon - April 27 2014
When it comes to poverty in the USA, there are two main lines of thought. The most common one is that a person is poor because of personal traits. These traits in turn have caused the person to fail. Supposed traits range from personality characteristics, such as laziness, to educational levels. Despite this range, it is always viewed as the individual's personal failure not to climb out of poverty.
Another theory that is postulated is a contrary argument to this idea that personal failings are the cause of poverty. The argument presented is that US poverty is a result of “failings at the structural level. Key social and economic structural failings which contribute heavily to poverty within the U.S. are identified in the article. The first is a failure of the job market to provide a proper amount of jobs which pay enough to keep families out of poverty. Even if unemployment is low, the labor market may be saturated with low-paying, part-time work that lacks benefits (thus limiting the amount of full-time, good paying jobs).
Development plays a central role to poverty reduction in the third world. Some sociologists feel that the national mindset itself plays a role in the ability for a country to develop and to thus reduce poverty.
Some theorists believe the way poverty is approached, defined, and thus thought about, plays a role in its perpetuation. When poverty is a prescribed agency, it becomes something that happens to people. Poverty absorbs people into itself and the people, in turn, become a part of poverty, devoid of their human characteristics. In the same way, poverty is viewed as an object in which all social relations are obscured. Issues such as structural failings, institutionalized inequalities, or corruption may lie at the heart of a region's poverty, but these are obscured by broad statements about poverty.
The term “poverty”, is often used in a generalized matter. This further removes the poor from defining their situation as the broadness of the term covers differences in histories and causes of local inequalities. Solutions or plans for reduction of poverty often fail precisely because the context of a region's poverty is removed and local conditions are not considered.
The specific ways in which the poor and poverty are recognized frame them in a negative light. In development literature, poverty becomes something to be eradicated, or, attacked. It is always portrayed as a singular problem to be fixed. When a negative view of poverty (as an animate object) is fostered, it can often lead to an extension of negativity to those who are experiencing it. This in turn can lead to justification of inequalities through the idea of the deserving poor. Even if thought patterns do not go as far as justification, the negative light poverty is viewed does much to ensure little change in the policies of redistribution.
The environment of poverty is one marked with unstable conditions and a lack of capital (both social and economical) which together create the vulnerability characteristic of poverty. Because a person's daily life is lived within the person's environment, a person's environment determines daily decisions and actions based on what is present and what is not. The poor's daily practice of navigating the world of poverty generates a fluency in the poverty environment but a near illiteracy in the environment of the larger society. Thus, when a poor person enters into transactions and interactions with the social norm, that person's understanding of it is limited, and thus decisions revert to decisions most effective in the poverty environment. Through this a sort of cycle is born in which the “dimensions of poverty are not merely additive, but are interacting and reinforcing in nature.
The unstable life of poverty often limits the poor's aspiration levels to those of necessity (such as having food to feed ones family) and in turn reinforces the lowered aspiration levels (someone who is busy studying, instead of looking for ways to get enough food, will not survive long in the poverty environment). Because the capacity to aspire (or lack thereof) reinforces and perpetuates the cycle of poverty, Expanding the poor's aspiration horizon will help the poor to find both voice and exit. Ways of doing this include changing the terms of recognition and/or creating programs which provide the poor with an arena in which to practice capacities. An example of one such arena may be a housing development built for the poor, by the poor. Through this, the poor are able to not only show their abilities but to also gain practice dealing with governmental agencies and society at large.
At the end of the day it is only compassion that can lead the way towards sharing and the eventual comforts reaped of moving away from poverty.