During the First Great Depression, the United States spent a lot of money creating poverty. Americans also spent a lot of time thinking and writing about poverty, which produced some real classics, such as Walker Evans and James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.
Now, in the Second Great Depression, we’ve also created a great deal of poverty—and are finally beginning to think and write about it (although I can’t say we’ve yet reached the level of Evans and Agee or, for that matter, Steinbeck, Caldwell and Bourke-White, or Blitzstein—and I don’t think Hunger Games counts).
But we have learned, thanks to the Associated Press, that 4 out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near poverty, or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives.
While racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to live in poverty, race disparities in the poverty rate have narrowed substantially since the 1970s, census data show. Economic insecurity among whites also is more pervasive than is shown in government data, engulfing more than 76 percent of white adults by the time they turn 60, according to a new economic gauge being published next year by the Oxford University Press.
The gauge defines “economic insecurity” as experiencing unemployment at some point in their working lives, or a year or more of reliance on government aid such as food stamps or income below 150 percent of the poverty line. Measured across all races, the risk of economic insecurity rises to 79 percent.
“It’s time that America comes to understand that many of the nation’s biggest disparities, from education and life expectancy to poverty, are increasingly due to economic class position,” said William Julius Wilson, a Harvard professor who specializes in race and poverty.
There are also, as Tyler Durden explains, at least 5 things nobody tells you about being poor.
Being poor is like a game of poker where if you lose, the other players get to screw you. And if you win, the dealer screws you. . .What I am saying is that people are quick to tell you to pick yourself up by your bootstraps and just stop being poor. What they don’t understand is the series of intricate financial traps that makes that incredibly difficult.
Finally, Alanna Shaikh [ht: sm] confesses that she would suck at being poor.
This is all a really long way of saying that maybe the most important thing I have learned in my career is this: poor people are still people. It’s not surprising when they make bad choices, because we all make bad choices. Being poor teaches your some very specific skills for facing a hard life, but it doesn’t make you immune to mistakes and poor choices. It just makes the consequences of those bad choices worse.
I’d only add that, when poor people make mistakes, it only affects them and their children. But one of the pathologies of the rich is that their mistakes affect large numbers of people, especially when their desire to acquire as much money as possible creates a Great Depression.