The most pernicious thing about poverty in America is its increasingly trap-like nature. For an average American adult, it has become all-too-easy to slide into poverty, and quite a bit more difficult to climb back up the economic ladder once below that line. Worse still, it has increasingly trapped American children born into poverty – because their parents are relatively lacking in resources (in terms of money, time, and education), poor children in America have become less and less likely to escape poverty during their lifetimes than they were fifty years ago, leading to an even stronger entrenchment of poverty in the American system.
One of the impacts of this generational nature of poverty, in combination with a few other social trends, has been the growth of a distinctive set of attitudes in poor families and communities. These attitudes and behaviors differ from the “traditional” set of American cultural norms in that they place a lower emphasis on the need for education and tend to result in much higher rates of single motherhood, male unemployment, and criminal behavior. The incorporation of these things into the cultural fabric of a community makes the problem of poverty within it even harder to fix than it would normally be.
This “locking in” of poverty through economic, generational, and cultural means is something that’s relatively new to America. A large degree of upward mobility has always been one of our society’s hallmarks, and the fact that that mobility has markedly decreased in the last half-century is very worrying.
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