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Americans react to the poor with disgust," said Susan Fiske, professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University and the designer of the neuroimaging tests. She has studied attitudes toward the poor for 12 years. "It's the most negative prejudice people report," greater even than racism, Fiske said.
I'm always challenged when talking about poverty issues with friends and family who are not poor, especially my wealthier, Republican friends.  There always seems to be something missing from their hearts or minds that prevents the sort of empathy that I find among liberals I know, regardless of social class.  I've usually put this down to their living in a suburban bubble, but not all do.  Maybe this explains it.

Today's Philadelphia Inquirer has another "must read" by Alfred Lubrano, one of their best reporters.  This is one in a series he started several years ago chronicling poverty in Philadelphia.

Follow me after the squiggle-thing for more.

Ever hear something similar to this?

While government measurements of poverty focus on economic factors, Mead stresses that behavioral dimensions play a larger causal role. Poverty would be simple to fix if it were just about economic need: then we would only have to give more money. But the long-term poor today are unlike the working poor of yesteryear. In an affluent society like ours, Mead argues, “poverty is not usually forced on people for very long by conditions.” Rather, “most have become poor, at least in part, due to not working, having children outside marriage, abusing drugs, or breaking the law.” Simply doling out more money does not counter these underlying causes of poverty, which call for behavior changes that encourage law-abiding, productive lives.
I hear something like that all the time--people are poor because they just have no personal responsibility.  "C'mon poor person--get a hold of your life and live the American dream!  That's why my great grandfather came here--what a country, where anyone can get ahead if you work hard enough!  What's wrong with you?"   Or, as Bill-o put it:
O'REILLY: Reagan was not a confrontational guy, didn't like confrontation, much rather be your pal ... doesn't want to get involved with the really nasty stuff, the tough stuff, and that's what racial politics is -- nasty and tough. ... It's hard to do it because you gotta look people in the eye and tell 'em they're irresponsible and lazy. And who's gonna wanna do that? Because that's what poverty is, ladies and gentlemen. In this country, you can succeed if you get educated and work hard. Period. Period. I mean I know people from Haiti, from the Ukraine from eh, -- we got callers all day long on The Factor. From Romania. You come here, you get educated, you work hard, you'll make a buck. You get addicted, you don't know anything, you'll be poor. But Reagan did not want to confront the issue. And that's the truth about it.
And that's not just sad, but it's also a problem.  Lubrano's article highlights where this can lead:
People are savvy enough not to vocalize that the poor sicken them, Fiske said. But as a social psychologist, she can dig deeply enough to learn what loathing looks like in people's minds. "And," she said, "once you've dehumanized a person, it's easier to neglect him." That kind of neglect is always on display, even without a brain scanner, said Sister Mary Scullion, cofounder of Philadelphia's Project H.O.M.E., which helps the homeless. She was named one of Time magazine's World's Most Influential People in 2009. "We're losing part of our humanity," she said. "These were the seeds to the Holocaust: That some lives matter more than others."
Race, of course, plays a role as well, with most conservatives linking race to poverty.  This ties into politics, as many on the right see anti-poverty programs as another way for Democrats to secure a solid voting bloc.  Ya see, helping the poor through governmental services is one big Democratic plot by the liberal to win elections!  Tell us, Rush:
RUSH:  Imagine that. And it’s been the number one issue of the Democrat Party out of their mouths for — since 1964, when LBJ first started to care about poverty. Percentage-wise, same number of people. In fact, under Obama, it’s gotten worse, four out of five American families are experiencing poverty. Nine million jobs have been lost since Obama took office…9 million!  They’re just gone…because of his policies.

Well, in the arena of ideas, this is why the Republican Party is not standing up. They’re not pushing back.  They’re not articulating what is the opposite of this. You can point to successful people all over the country, no matter how successful, there are different levels of it, you point to them, how did they do it? That’s all you have to do. How did they do it?  There are recipes: They cared, they worked hard, they had ambition, they learned what they had to learn. Some of them may have had connections here and there… nobody does everything by themselves. But, you’re certainly not going to eradicate poverty by creating dependency! All it is is a way to buy votes, that’s why the democrats want amnesty.

You see, the Democrat Party needs a permanent underclass. They need a certain level of poverty, they need a certain level of uneducated, hopeless, unskilled people to vote for them! That’s their base! And as in a normal economy, as those people escape the bonds of poverty and rise to the middle class, become more self-reliant, they don’t need Santa Claus. They don’t need the democrats, so they start voting other ways. “Hello amnesty!” We have 11 million illegals here, and by polling data alone, 8 million of them are going to vote democrat the minute they’re given the chance. That’s why…all this talk about solidarity with hispanics and compassion, and the wonders of beauty of immigration, it’s all BS.

Sigh.

We have a serious problem in the US with poverty.  I think most here at DK know and understand that.  However, one of the biggest challenges is an attitudinal one.  Americans--especially conservatives from the middle classes--don't get it.  Poverty seems to be an affront to the American Dream and American Exceptionalism.  The very myths they have been brought up to believe and pass along to their kids from generation to generation founder on 43 million poor people--the majority of whom are white.  So what do they do?  They make excuses.  

The numbers are wrong.

Those poor people have plenty of stuff!

If only they would have REAL families!

The ideology of personal responsibility makes it easy to blame the poor.  And, after all, didn't Jesus say they would always be among us?  And, hey if you read the Bible very closely, God doesn't want government programs for the poor!  Giving should be voluntary, not forced!

Jesus never taught that the poor are to be provided for by anyone but individuals who give according to their own love and choice to give. God, far from endorsing government programs, denies their validity as they violate nearly every biblical principle of Christian giving.
In the end, the reason poverty exists in the United States is that there are too many who buy into this sort of ideology, spewed forth mostly by Republicans and their conservative apparatus.  We know the top 1% often think this way, so that's no surprise.  It's the middle and working class folks, often feeling squeezed and threatened in hard economic times, who are open to this and they vote against their economic interests.  

Dartagnan had a very good diary last weekend that quoted Christopher Flavelle from Bloomberg criticizing a recent speech by Obama addressing income inequality.  

After noting the decline of unions at the start of his speech, the president failed to mention them again. He argued, correctly, that a secure retirement is a cornerstone of being middle class -- but said not a word about the share of private-sector workers in defined-benefit plans, which fell from 38 percent to 20 percent between 1980 and 2008, or how federal policy might address that shift.

One explanation for Obama's unsatisfying proposals is that inequality is partly the result of underlying changes in the economy, as the chairman of the president's own Council of Economic Advisers pointed out earlier this year. Another is that inequality is a product of cultural changes as well as of government policy.


The increased social acceptability of conspicuous consumption; the growing antipathy toward government; the decline of the social compact between employers and workers; the segregation of communities by income; the declining exposure of the average person to unions; the shifting focus toward other areas of social consciousness, including environmentalism and gay rights -- each could be seen as both cause and effect of the economic changes the president bemoaned.

That last paragraph matters in this discussion.  Attitudes have changed but the poverty remains.  If we want to continue to fight the war on poverty or make advances in a social agenda that emphasizes equality, then we have to fight the uphill battle to regain the idea of the common good.  Once upon a time, FDR could campaign on these ideas....perhaps we need to work to make them fashionable again...
The followers of the philosophy of "social action for the prevention of poverty" maintain that if we set up a system of justice we shall have small need for the exercise of mere philanthropy. Justice, after all, is the first goal we seek. We believe that when justice has been done, individualism will have a greater security to devote the best that individualism itself can give. In other words, my friends, our long-range objective is not a dole, but a job.

 At the same time, we have throughout this Nation . . . widespread suffering. . . All agree that the first responsibility for the alleviation of poverty and distress and for the care of the victims of the depression rests upon the locality—its individuals, organizations and Government.... Yet all agree that to leave to the locality the entire responsibility would result in placing the heaviest burden in most cases upon those who are the least able to bear it. In other words, the communities that have the most difficult problem. . . would be the communities that would have to bear the heaviest of the burdens.

And so the State should step in to equalize the burden by providing for a large portion of the care of the victims of poverty and by providing assistance and guidance for local communities.  Above and beyond that duty of the States the national Government has a responsibility....

And so, in these days of difficulty, we Americans everywhere must and shall choose the path of social justice—the only path that will lead us to a permanent bettering of our civilization, the path that our children must tread and their children must tread, the path of faith, the path of hope and the path of love toward our fellow man.

Peace.

Originally posted to dizzydean on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 09:40 AM PDT.

Also republished by Psychology of Conservatives and Liberals.

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