2017-05-31

Poverty - A State of Mind

Original Article Here  (New York Times - Upshot)

Carson is both right and wrong here. And the Times misses an important point as far as I am concerned.
According to the article, we have more poverty in this nation than there is in any other developed nation. I don't doubt that. The question is why.

One possibility is that of the perceived lack of opportunity or a level playing field. A level playing field is really a myth anyway, but the perception that it is at least gently sloped as compared to a sheer rock face that must be climbed is important.
While the article cites studies done on children who have or have not climbed out of poverty to the middle class or beyond, it seems to me that one of the factors left out is this perception of 'it is possible'. Whether that perception is based empirical evidence or anecdotal data, it is very important that two things exist in that perception:
1) That there is a way to 'climb the ladder' without someone actively trying to dislodge the climber.
2) That the goal is worth achieving.
That second one is I think is as important as the first. Why should I bust my ass to get out of poverty and off welfare if the general economy is such that when I reach the middle class, it is not going to benefit me much more than when I was in poverty? Now days, it is not even stable! We have plenty of proof of that from the 2008 melt-down and it's subsequent devastation wreaked upon home-owners, retirees retirement accounts, and job losses which have led to folks who used to have steady jobs now working two or three low paying jobs with no benefits, just to pay the basic bills.
Then there is the debt picture: Why would I bust my ass to save for my kids college education, pay my own education loans, save for my retirement, buy and pay for a house when all of it can disappear in a heartbeat if my job goes away, or I get hurt? Oh yeah, all the while my spouse is busting ass to pay for their educational loans and make enough to "do those extras". Needless to say, we have limited time to spend with our 2.5 children who on average spend 5 hours a day yammering on facebook or tweeting like the President does.
Yeah, I am going to get right out there, dive in, and bust my ass to bootstrap myself up for that kind of risk...?
So given that gloomy outlook for what I might achieve by bettering myself, what is my compelling reason for getting off welfare and climbing out of poverty? Whether or not that gloomy outlook is accurate or not, that is the perception that I think many have, and that is a big problem.
And if you wonder why we have had populists getting all the attention and winning elections the last four presidential elections, I think at least part of the answer is in what I am postulating here. Perception....
Ben Carson is not all wrong, but he is a long way from right....
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