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The Children of the “Unworthy Poor” and the Vicious Cycle of Poverty

August 21, 2015

I just read Serena Rice’s Common Dreams article titled “Our Perceptions About the “Unworthy Poor” haven’t changed” and it reinforced my belief that our political power system is predicated on the continuation of this misperception. According to this concept, anyone who is poor lacks industriousness and is therefore unworthy of any government assistance. This concept can be reinforced by finding singular examples of individuals who are freeloaders— and there are undeniable and verifiable examples of individuals who take advantage of welfare the same way, say, hedge finders take advantage of the tax code— and write an airtight set of laws that penalize those who try to take advantage of the system. The results of these arguably well-intentioned laws is to penalize children born into poverty even more.

Rice’s article offers one example of a State who’s rules required an unwed mother to move back with the father of her child in order to get any benefits for that child…despite the fact that the father was not gainfully employed and despite the fact that he refused to use birth control. When the woman hd a second child out of wedlock, the mother could not collect any additional benefits for that child. Worse, it was more difficult for the mother to find employment, more stressful at home, and BOTH children in the family faced even more abject poverty. The law penalized this MOTHER for being “unworthy” to receive welfare, but the real recipients of the penalty were the CHILDREN. With less money available for each child, no means of providing the children with sufficient food let alone intellectual stimulation, is it any surprise that these children begin school with more deficiencies than those of the hedge fund manager who gamed the tax code.

Progressive blogs and writers expose the flaws in the mental model that characterizes those on welfare as “lazy and undeserving” by illustrating the challenges all workers face in this economy and the way the current system I rigged in such a way that corporations now anticipate their employees to supplement their low wages with welfare. But the mainstream media by and large unquestioningly repeat the conventional thinking of conservatives and neo-liberals-that welfare recipients take advantage of the government’s largesse while corporations make shrewd investments that enable them to avoid onerous taxes. In the meantime the children of “the undeserving poor” are underfeed, under-stimulated and unprepared for entry into school…and we continue to believe that with a mix of grit and good luck they will be able to move up the economic ladder in order to avoid facing the fact that since Bill Clinton ended “welfare as we know it” we’ve seen the demise of social mobility as we knew it.

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