I have mentioned before that I was a struggling student throughout college and received no support from my retired parents nor any kind of financial aid or student loans. I spent over 6 years to get my bachelors degree and more than 3 years to get my masters degree almost 40 years ago, so I know how it is to be dirt poor and struggling to pay for food and rent for an extended period of time. I took jobs as a bus boy, dish washer, picking tomatoes, and at a cannery. I even lived in my car. But after 10 tough years I graduated with a degree in Engineering which led me to a much more prosperous life and career.
So poverty is no stranger to me. But I never experienced extreme and hopeless poverty. I have never live surrounded with abject poverty where everyone was either unemployed, working at menial and often degrading jobs, or serving time in prison. I have never lived in an environment where it was the expectation to always be hopelessly poor with no prospects of getting ahead. I have never lived in an environment where college was not even a dream and where money could only be made through criminal means or through excelling in sports. I have never live in circumstances where if for some reason someone wanted to get ahead they were repeatedly rejected until they gave up. I have never lived in a family where parents told me it was no use to dream about a better future but to face the fact that a living could only be made by working at hard and menial jobs like they were.
We are all more or less the product of our social environment. As an Asian I grew up in an environment in which almost everyone went to college and got good paying jobs. That was the expectations of my parents and my peers. So in spite of all my learning and social difficulties (see An Autistic’s Personal Perspective) I was driven to succeed by virtue of the social environment in which I grew up and lived. Failure was not a pleasant option. But for a kid living in an environment of abject poverty I can imagine the difficulties they would face in trying to excel in school or going to college to escape their world of oppressive poverty. Such environments do not provide the nurturing and social expectations to become successful. The only feasible way to make significant money is through criminal means. The only way to get nurturing as a youth is to join a gang since parents were usually not at home due to work or otherwise occupied. So the social lessons of youth in such an environment teaches them that success is exclusively a rich white man’s prerogative. They are conditioned to believe that they cannot succeed in a rich white man’s world and if they even try then they are doomed to rejection, ridicule, and ultimate failure.
Such is the world of many poor and minorities in America such as Hispanics and especially Afro-Americans. In this country of milk and honey there live millions of people who believe there is no hope for a better life. Their feelings are very real to them. There is actually a better world out there but they have been given no encouragement from either their families and peers nor from society as a whole for hope. Look were churches often focus there charitable contributions towards: foreign countries. Yet the need is just as great in the very poorest areas of this very country. It is almost as if American’s are embarrassed to admit that there is poverty just under their noses. There are members of Congress who want to take away essential funding for our poorest citizens (see Conservatives would like to Cut Subsidy Programs to the Poor), so there are many politicians that simply don’t care about poverty in America. They rather give it away in foreign aid and wars abroad. We are a nation which denies that poverty exist and where people in poverty feel it is hopeless to join the nation of milk and honey. There are American’s who simply cannot understand why a Black kid in the slums of American cannot simply escape poverty by working hard to get a college degree or work hard to succeed in a lucrative career. We are simply a nation in self denial.
In reality it is possible for the extremely poor to succeed. There are success stories that do not involve being a super star at sports. But they are so few that their impacts are insignificant. This is a very complex and deep seated issue making it difficult to solve because barrier need to be overcome by both those with means and those without. Part of the solution is to provide a nurturing environment to the youth of such communities to counter prevailing negative environmental attitudes and values. It must be done through social, educational, and environmental changes. Children must be constantly nurtured with the hope and prospects of success. This will require a lot of things to happen together in a coordinated effort to change attitudes of the hopelessness of poverty and the unwillingness for compassion.
Most of all it will require the will of the have’s to demand that solving domestic poverty of the have not’s is a top priority and that a coordinated strategy for solving this complex issue must be urgently started. It must be a higher priority than bringing piece in Iraq and Afghanistan or funding military actions. It needs to be as much a national priority as increasing employment. After all they are a significant part of the unemployment problem. There are millions of people in hopeless poverty and despair in our country. It seems the right thing to me to help these people get out of poverty so they can contributes and be part of this country’s wealth and econometric prosperity. We are after all the wealthiest country in the world. Why not show some compassion for those in this country who are as poor as many in impoverished nations in this world that we give aid and help to?