The Cycle of Poverty
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America is one of the wealthiest nations on earth with having a high inequality than other industrialized country. Inequality exists in income, wealth, power and education. Persons who are legally and socially poor in the United states tend to stay in a cycle through life, not always by choice but because they are given fewer opportunities, education and tools to achieve success. Poverty class has a much larger income gap than the upper class, the American Dream is lessens through opportunity and is shown through statistics.
Inequality exist and is high in America because the amount of income and wealth that is distributed through power. In America the income distribution is very inequality and the value of a person wealth is based on their income with their debts subtracted. “As of 2007, the top 1% of households (the upper class) owned 34.6% of all privately held wealth, and the 19% (the managerial, professional, and small business stratum) had 50.5%, which means that just 20% of the people owned a remarkable 85%, leaving only 15% of the wealth for the bottom 80% (wage and salary workers)” (Domhoff, 2011). In contrary the poor do not get ahead and the rich get more. Americans are judged and placed in class categories through their home ownership which translates to wealth. Americans social class is often associated with their assets and wealth. “People seek to own property, to have high incomes, to have interesting and safe jobs, to enjoy the finest in travel and leisure, and to live long and healthy lives” (Domhoff, 2011). Power indicates how these “values” are not distributed equally in American society. Huge gains for the rich include cuts in capital gains and dividends and when tax rates decrease for the tiny percent of Americans income is redistributed. Taxes directly affect the wealth and income of Americans every year.
“For most Americans, the word ‘poverty’ suggests destitution: an inability to provide a family with nutritious food, clothing, and reasonable shelter” (Rector, 2007). Poverty can be socially defined through severe deprivation of education, food, safe water, sanitation, and health care regardless of one’s income. The U.S. Department of Health and human Services periodically updates poverty guidelines and depending on what state you live in the guidelines range.
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In 2009 the poverty threshold “for a family of five is $25,790” (Services, 2009). The federal poverty levels are measured through the poverty guidelines and to determine financial eligibility is done through poverty thresholds.
Poverty rate has many variations between ethnic and racial subgroups. “In 2009, 25.8% blacks and 25.3% of Hispanics were poor, compared to 9.4% of non-Hispanic whites and 12.5% of Asians” (Michigan, 2006). Black or Hispanic families headed by single women are statistically higher in poverty than of families head by single men or married couples. Children are at higher risk of poverty verse elderly or middle-aged persons. Poverty is around us regardless if it is a big city, small town and affects all groups differently and poverty is often concentrated. The communities that are suffering from poverty are low-quality communities, schools, with little jobs available. Social network is at risk in communities that breeds drug and alcohol, abuse and violence.
The social class of the poor is not achieved it is ascribed. People do not achieve to be poor, get a less of an education, and struggle to get food, clothes and shelter. Social classes work hard to achieve higher opportunities and advancements. Social mobility and growth within demographics can be altered through negative stereotypes. It is imperative that persons who are in poverty find self determination, educational opportunities and find a way in society through upward mobility.
There are levels of social mobility for the poor based on the degree to which one’s earnings, housing status, education, and benefits change. People may feel as if they are poor but earn a living higher than the poverty threshold. Education plays a role in the continuation of the poverty cycle because the opportunity for education is less for the poor verse other classes. The opportunity for education through scholarships can help in the poverty cycle by giving opportunity to achieve an education. Higher education enables a person to have better qualifications to get a better paying job and helps the poor move out of poverty and into higher social roles. When opportunities are inadequately provided to the poor it is at a macro level. A micro level is through various cultures of poverty and values that poor people set and hold.
The American dream is sought through the success, wealth, fame, and power. Anyone can achieve their American dream. All levels of success vary depending on what one would like to achieve. It is hard to justify the American dream when so many people are poor because different people are “consumed by desires for status, material goods, and acceptance, Americans apparently had lost the sense of individuality, thrift, hard work, and craftsmanship that had characterized the nation” (Warshauer, 2003).
“Anthropologist Oscar Lewis argued that poor people hold a set of values-the culture of poverty- that emphasizes living for the moment rather than thrift, investment in the future, or hard work” (Brinkerhoff, Ortega, Weitz, & White, 2011). Due to the fact that most generations follow the class that they are born into, does not mean their “family values” are lessened of other classes. The culture of poverty holds true if people who are raised on welfare believe that it is best to remain on welfare verse seeking employment to better them and make a living to support their families.
Labor markets affect poverty levels because as there are fewer opportunities available for people to achieve jobs when the market is down, the number of Americans that are falling into poverty increase. If the labor market is good, then if you are a motivated individual in poverty you can achieve your American dream through hard work and determination and climb out of the poverty cycle and out of the poor class. “Macroeconomic indicators include economy-wide phenomena such as unemployment rates, national income, rates of growth, gross domestic product, inflation, and price levels” (Page & Stevens, 2005). Without labor market opportunities the number of jobs from low to high skills, and wages may not be available making it more difficult for one to fill their American dream.
Brinkerhoff, D. B., Ortega, S. T., Weitz, R., & White, L. K. (2011). Essentials of Sociology. In D. B. Brinkerhoff, S. T. Ortega, R. Weitz, & L. K. White, Essentials of Sociology (p. 166). Belmont: Wadsworth.
Domhoff, W. G. (2011, January). Power in America. Retrieved March 11, 2011, from www.sociology.ucsc.edu: http://sociology.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/wealth.html
Michigan, T. U. (2006). Poverty in the United States. Retrieved March 11, 2011, from www.npc.umich.ed: http://www.npc.umich.edu/poverty/
Page, M. E., & Stevens, A. H. (2005, July). Understanding the Relation between Labor Market Opportunities and Poverty Rates in California. Retrieved March 11, 2011, from www.cppr.ucdavis.edu: http://cppr.ucdavis.edu/pdf/labor_and_poverty.pdf
Rector, R. (2007, August 27). How Poor Are America's Poor? Examining the "Plague" of Poverty in America. Retrieved March 11, 2011, from www.heritage.org: http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2007/08/how-poor-are-americas-poor-examining-the-plague-of-poverty-in-america
Services, U. D. (2009, January 23). The 2009 HHS Poverty Guidelines. Retrieved March 11, 2011, from www.aspe.hhs.fov: http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/09poverty.shtml
Warshauer, M. (2003, February 23). Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Retrieved March 11, 2011, from www.americansc.org: http://www.americansc.org.uk/Online/American_Dream.htm
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The small, thin, Black boy got my attention. After going around the class of about 80 Grade 10 children gathered on my university campus, the responses to my single question were familiar and predictable. "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Yes, of course, doctors and engineers and pilots and astronauts. That will not happen, at least not if these young minds simply did what they do where they do it in a South African township school. That is, they attend classes and hope the teacher shows up on the day and that textbooks arrive on time and that even if the teacher decides to teach, that she holds enough subject matter knowledge to help the learners learn anything.
And so it is the turn of the small, thin, Black boy to answer the question, and I am stunned by his answer. "I want to be a historian," he says, and then, without prompting, "because in order to know where you're going, you got to know where you're coming from." The class falls deadly silent, then loud applause.
This is my prospective group of "first generation students" (1G, as the intervention is called) who will start university classes in subjects like mathematics and chemistry and law and sociology. But instead of taking these introductory university courses in one year, they will do it over three years so that by the time they finish high school they would be granted exemption from the subjects they passed. More importantly, they would already have this precious thing called "university knowledge"--knowledge of how to use the science laboratories, navigate the large library, ask questions in large classes, summarize key points from a lecture, and do university-level assignments.
More than half the children who start Grade 1 in South Africa will not complete the final year of schooling in Grade 12. And of those in Grade 12 who pass, about 20% of fewer will qualify for university training. Of that group, a small percentage comes from the disadvantaged black schools of the country. And of the students who enroll in the first year of university studies, more than half will drop-out or not complete a university degree. That is the wastage of human potential on a grand scale, and yet we continue to do what we do as if the system will fix itself if human intentions remain noble. The students who are the more likely to successfully run this gauntlet from Grade 1 to a degree tend to be White and Black middle class students.
The University of the Free State does two things in response to this crisis. First, we work directly with the most disadvantaged schools in the country with a carefully-crafted mentoring model for teachers and principals to ensure that knowledge is gained and applied on the site of practice in ways that change the outcomes of schooling in a sustainable way. Second, we take the most promising Grade 10 children out of school and prepare them for university in a parallel education stream (they continue with normal classes) that uses after-school hours, weekends and holidays for extended learning in the 1G program.
I do not know of another way to break the cycle of poverty in homes where no adult has finished school or completed a university degree. The South African data is clear: a young person with a degree normally gets a good job and feeds the benefits of an earned salary back into the home so that other children can complete their schooling while all in that domestic situation at least live a life that is bearable.
There are and should, however, be many critical questions and concerns about this approach, among them the following. Children also need leisure time and this intensive model of schooling can be stressful for young minds. This approach cannot change a system of 27,000 public schools; it can, at best, make a difference in those schools reached by a regional university. This cannot therefore be the task of a public university, whose primary mission is the education of post-school students, but of a government. And, is this kind of intervention sustainable in a poor country? It takes considerable private sector investment to keep the 1G program going and, of course, the goodwill of professors who give of their time and energy to teach children from poor schools in the region.
What do you think? Are you running similar programs at your universities? How is the program preparing students for higher education and beyond?
Jonathan D. Jansen is vice-chancellor and rector of the University of the Free State in central South Africa, the president of the South African Institute of Race Relations, and a fellow of the Academy of Science of the Developing World.