The Culture of Poverty Rhetoric

At The Week, Matt Bruenig looks at debate between Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jonathan Chait, who have been discussing black culture and poverty, and how easy and wrong it is to conflate the two:

Our discourse around poverty, and particularly the so-called “culture of poverty,” often proceeds as if most poor people are black and most black people are poor. Neither is true. In 2012, 46.5 million people fell below the official poverty line. Within that 46.5 million, there were 1.9 million Asians, 10.9 million blacks, 13.6 million Latinos, and 18.9 million whites. Although black people have the highest poverty rate at 27.2 percent (barely above the Latino poverty rate of 25.6 percent), black poverty accounts for less than one-fourth of U.S. poverty.

Thus, most of what is said about black culture and black poverty fails to address three-fourths of the overall problem. What causes black poverty rates to be so elevated is an important discussion to have, but it is a much narrower one than most people seem to think. If black poverty rates were as low as white poverty rates, that would amount to seven million fewer people in the ranks of the impoverished. To reiterate: There are 46.5 million people currently below the official poverty line. Seven million people is a lot of people, but it is not the totality of the American poverty problem, not even close.

Bruenig also looks further back in our history when pundits also blamed poor whites for their “culture of poverty.” In a book published in 1979 called Dixie’s Forgotten People, Wayne Flint argued that “poor whites lacked ambition; they were violent, sexually promiscuous people who did not respect human life.” Bruenig sums it up like this: “anywhere you find poor people, you also find non-poor people theorizing their cultural inferiority and dysfunction.”

Poverty in America

The New York Times's 22,000-word piece about Dasani, an 11-year-old who is part of an "invisible tribe of more than 22,000 homeless children in New York, the highest number since the Great Depression, in the most unequal metropolis in America" has been making the rounds on the internet, and yes, is most definitely worth reading.

Another Rich Person Tries to Live on Food Stamps, Finds It Hard

Kind of hard to believe this isn’t a game show yet.

What Poverty Does to Our Genes

David Dobbs has a fascinating story in the new issue of Pacific Standard, which examines how the environment we live in, the support systems we have, and our feelings of loneliness change the way our genes express themselves. Meaning, each of us come with a blueprint of genes, but researchers like Steve Cole, a Professor of Medicine and Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the UCLA School of Medicine, has found that some genes turn off and on like a dimmer switch depending on the activity in our environment. This is known as gene expression. Genes switch on to heal wounds and fight infection. Gene expression can determine what we look like. Dobbs writes: "When it comes down to it, really, genes don’t make you who you are. Gene expression does. And gene expression varies depending on the life you live."

Correlating Poverty With Marriage Distracts From the Actual Problems Driving Poverty

Ari Fleischer wrote an editorial in The Wall Street Journal earlier this week suggesting that income inequality could be fought through marriage. The week before, Emily Badger had a piece in Atlantic Cities arguing precisely why this line of thinking is ill-conceived. Margaret Simms, a fellow at the Urban Institute and director of its Low-Income Working Families Project points out an obvious flaw: "You cannot solve poverty by just marrying people if – jointly – they cannot generate sufficient income to raise a family above poverty."

Harper’s Goes Long on the Fast Food Strikes

We've been covering the fast food/low-wages strike, and for today (or for your reading list this weekend) add Thomas Frank's Harper's story to your list, who visited North Carolina earlier this summer to report on the strikes.

Poverty in Zambia

Our pal Michael Hobbes has a feature at Pacific Standard today looking at poverty in Zambia. An excerpt:

Britain Discovers Food Banks, Can’t Decide If It Likes Them

Britain is in the middle of a food crisis. For the first time since World War II, a significant number of Britons don't have enough to eat, and an even more significant number can only afford processed junk food, the biscuits and TV dinners that are always cheaper, always more available, than fresh fruits, vegetables and meats.

The Rise of Poverty in Suburban America

This weekend, PBS Newshour looked at the growing rate of poverty in U.S. suburbs. According to the report by Megan Thompson, there are now more poor residents living in suburbs than in urban cities and rural areas, a shift that occurred in part as more people moved into the suburbs, and in part by the financial crisis. And while cities figure out how to address the needs of those living in suburban poverty, food pantries, and other charities have been stepping in to provide some help.

I Mean How Could You Not Click

My Name Is Jason, I’m A 35-Yr-Old White Male Combat Veteran…And I’m On Food Stamps.”

Poverty is Living in a World of No

Alex Andreou explains to food activist Jamie Oliver why poor people, of which he was one, often eat shitty food. One reason: It’s cheap. Another: It’s easy to say yes to: “What I had not understood before I found myself in true poverty, and what Oliver probably does not, is that it means living in a world of ‘no’. Ninety-nine per cent of what you need is answered ‘no’. Ninety-nine per cent of what your kids ask for is answered ‘no’. Ninety-nine per cent of life is answered ‘no’. Cinema? No. Night out? No. New shoes? No. Birthday? No. So, if the only indulgence that is viable, that is within budget, that will not mean you have to walk to work, is a Styrofoam container of cheesy chips, the answer is a thunderous ‘YES’.”

Where You Are More Likely to Rise Out of Poverty

The New York Times has a fascinating study based on millions of anonymous earnings records around the country showing the metropolitan areas in the U.S. where low-income families have a higher chance of climbing the income ladder and rising out of poverty. The study showed that living in cities with mixed-income neighborhoods encouraged this kind of income mobility, as well as, unsurprisingly, living in cities with good school systems. The story is filled with really nice interactive charts, which you can see here.