Many Americans fail to realize that poverty is not only a problem for the rest of the world but rather, poverty affects millions of lives in our own country. Many people are unaware of the severity, and there is little conversation about its real root causes and who it effects in the United States. Many chose to turn a blind eye to the poor, after all, this is a country founded on opportunity and the American Dream. There are hundreds of exuberantly wealthy business CEO’s, actors, and athletes. But in reality, about 25% of the United States population has dipped below the poverty line at one time or another (Brady, 2018).
Causes of Poverty
From a sociological standpoint, there are some explanations for poverty. The first attributes poverty to the social structure of the United States (Brady, 2018).). The way our society is set up makes it much harder for certain people to gain access to jobs and education. This structure, based on discrimination and stereotypes, can prevent opportunities for some groups over others.
Research suggests that many people have misconceptions about the causes of poverty and people who are poor. These stereotypes include being lazy and choosing not to work or get educated. Many times, people living in poverty actually work multiple jobs. This would not leave any time to go to school (Brady, 2018).). All of these stereotypes place blame on the victim. Sociologists do not support this theory and encourage others not to either. Despite this, many people continue to perceive the poor as being at fault for not having financial stability because they are not working hard enough (Brady, 2018).
Income inequality is another factor that impacts poverty. Unlike any other country in the world, the wealth gap in America between the rich and poor is massive and continuing to grow. The poor are having trouble digging themselves out of poverty because wages have flat lined and income is concentrated at the top.
Conflict theorists have their own perspective on the causes of poverty in the United States. Conflict theory views society as different groups competing for limited resources. In America, wealth and opportunity are limited resources. These resources are sought after, and there is not enough for everyone. This creates a conflict and competition between groups over who will be able to obtain the resources. This conflict is the basis of how society operates (Brady,2018).
Functionalists however think society is made up of different parts that contribute to the whole. According to a functionalist, society needs the rich, to invest and start companies. This will provide jobs for the middle and lower class. The function of the poor is to work the minimum wage jobs that require little to no higher education. Society would not be as productive without people cleaning, working the trash trucks, and providing maid services. Each class, the rich and the poor, fit together to make society operate. Each class relies on the other and society would not function without each class completing their jobs.
Who is Effected by Poverty?
A large majority of research explains that children are the group that is ultimately most affected by poverty because they have very little control over their economic state and have no control over what family they are born into. In the United States alone, more than 13 million children live in poverty (Sauter, 2018). Children are most affected by poverty because they face the most detrimental effects that impact their health, education and criminal activity. Poverty can impact a child’s likelihood to be involved in crime. In slums and pockets of poverty, there is oftentimes an illegitimate opportunity structure. Aside from attending school, an alternative way to be considered successful and earn money is through crime, gambling and gang activity (Sauter, 2018). A child will be significantly more likely to partake in delinquent activities when they are in desperate need for money. Robbery, gangs, and drug dealing can provide an instant income that could support a family.
In areas of poverty, education suffers, which negatively impacts youth. Women are also more likely to work in low-paying jobs and/or more likely to not work to stay home with a child or ill family member. More specifically single mothers have a very high risk for living in poverty which can in turn result in generational poverty (Sauter, 2018).
According to Poverty USA minority races make up 89.9% of people living in Poverty in America with Native Americans at 25.4%, Blacks at 20.8 %, Hispanic at 17.6% and Asian 10.1%. There are a variety of factors that lead to why minority races are in fact experience higher rates in poverty which include prejudice, discrimination, social exclusion and marginalization (Poverty USA, 2019).
a. Poverty is a complex sociological problem with a multitude of causes rather than one single primary factor.
b. The causes of poverty differs amongst communities’ therefore the cause of poverty in America would not necessarily be the same for a different country. However, there are some common themes and trends of the causes of poverty across various communities and countries.
c. Poverty still exists in America today due to the fact that there is still a great deal of stigmatization and stereotyping around the causes and reasons for becoming poor therefore current programs combatting the issue are not working due to not understanding the issue. The culture of America today still blames the poor for their own doing rather than on our broken government system and structure, the distribution of wealth, income gap, and racism.
d. Poverty effects many populations however it predominantly effects children, single income households, people who lack education, and minority races.
e. There are multiple strategic anti-poverty programs and programs currently combatting poverty yet many are not working. If they were we would not be one of the wealthiest countries in the world with 1 and 4 people still living below the poverty line.
f. Americans attitudes toward people experiencing poverty differ and vary. There are trends in beliefs that align with political parties such as Republicans having a harsher more stereotypical view of the poor in comparison to Democrats and Socialists-who are the biggest advocates.
I chose to utilize interviews as my methodology so that I could thoroughly examine the issue of poverty. My questions were formulated to learn about respondent’s feelings, attitudes, opinions, and knowledge about poverty in America, who poverty affects in America, and the causes. I interviewed 3 men and 2 women ranging in ages 29 to 55. 3 were Caucasian, 1 was Mexican, and 1 was Bosnian.
There were a variety of similarities and differences found from the interviews, a number of which correlated with previous research and my own hypotheses. When interviewing five people total I had found that 2 of the interviewees believe that the cause of poverty is because of the government which aligned with my own hypothesis as well as the body of research while the other two stated that it resulted from individual characteristics and/or generational poverty (the poor stay poor). Four out of five people interviewed believed that the lack of education is an effect of poverty as well. Research believes that the way that society is set up makes it much harder for certain people to gain access to jobs and adequate education.
When asked why poverty still exists in America today the answers were mixed. Two people believed that poverty still existed based on people relying upon the system. They believed that people became dependent and comfortable relying on the help they are receiving. This is a common stereotype among American opinions. However I found that 40 states in America require a time limit on temporary assistant aka welfare (Center on Budget and Policies Priorities, 2018). Another person stated that the programs that are offered to the poor are not working. They think that the government is unfair and should assist people equally giving everyone a chance. Another interviewee took a functionalist perspective stating that poverty still exists because as a society it is needed. He suggested that there always will be poor people and wealthy people. He however does not agree with the wealth distribution being as skewed as it is. His remarks can also be associate with the conflict perspective as he makes mention of the divide of social classes and how society is structured to perpetuate the rich getting richer and poor remaining poor. This also aligns with a great deal of research and my own hypothesis of income inequality being a huge factor.
All parties interviewed agreed that vulnerable populations such as children, single house hold families, and minorities are affected by poverty. This is found be true amongst researchers however a wealth of research also finds people with disabilities and women to be at higher risk as well. This also supports my own hypothesis.
Two out of 6 interviewers agreed that poverty still exists because there are not enough programs to assist the poor where 4 people interviewed believe that there should not be more programs to support the poor. 2 made mention that there should be a better, equal more fair system. I found that there are mixed reviews in regard to the research about anti-poverty programs. S
In regard to Americans attitudes toward the poor results were mixed and varied as my hypothesis believed it would. Three out of five of the individuals interviewed believe that Americans have a good attitude towards the poor. They believe that America continues to take care of their people. They believe that America has always been giving freely without asking for anything in return. All of the support systems that are put in place are to benefit the poor people of the United States. Two of the interviews believe that Americans do not understand the poor. They believe that there is a lot of judgement and stereotypes and stigmas towards the poor.
Overall my hypotheses were found to be true in regard to the body of research and the interviewees I had interviewed had agreed on our opinions. Poverty is on the rise and we must act now to get it under control. Being a student myself and only being able to work part time I also am having a hard time making ends meet. In the meantime with the government’s assistance through financial aid I will be able to graduate and get a career where I will earn a decent living and will no longer need the help or assistance from the government.