Rethinking The Roots of Poverty

Monday, October 18, 2010

Forty five years ago, Daniel Patrick Moynihan introduced the idea of a “culture of poverty.” The idea has since been derided for describing the urban black family as caught in a “tangle of pathology.” But it never lost its appeal to conservative thinkers.

And with one in seven Americans living in poverty today, scholars are revisiting the idea.

Forty five years ago, Daniel Patrick Moynihan introduced the idea of a “culture of poverty.” The idea has since been derided for describing the urban black family as caught in a “tangle of pathology.” But it never lost its appeal to conservative thinkers.

And wIth one in seven Americans living in poverty today, scholars are revisiting the idea.

The New York Times revisits this today with a look at the controversial idea of a "cultural" explanation for modern poverty issues.

We talk to William Julius Wilson, professor of sociology and social policy at Harvard University, who has always defended the Moynihan report, along with Mario Small, professor of sociology at the University of Chicago.

Guests:

Mario Small and William Julius Wilson

Comments [6]

Eric Jennings, Ed.D from Vicksburg

The work of William Julius Wilson has guided me on the long and lonely journey of completing my dissertation at Teachers College. His work on When Work Disappears connects the job market factors to lifestyles. It helps explain why public schools in de-industrialized cities are in the shape they are in. Research has been done that shows violence as a major impediment to learning. His work contributes to why the violence exists in inner city.

Feb. 16 2014 12:51 PM
David Zapen from Miami FL (WLRN)

LBJ never finished his War on Poverty, sacrificing it to the Vietnam War like he did taxes on houses of worship (leading to current mega-churches and billionaires like Pat Robertson), the full government control of Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac, and ultimately the Space Race after the Apollo 13 near-tragedy. Maybe if he had publicized Nixon's known efforts to sabotage peace talks with North Vietnam it would have been different. Efforts to help African-Americans have always been a step behind and underfunded, whether the idea of forty-acres-and-a-mule in 1865 or hopes of factory jobs circa 1965. It's time to embrace the European Dream, created by Truman for Germany and Japan but never brought home: free education, free healthcare, and reliable mass transit free or otherwise, Sean Hannity's nightmare.

Oct. 19 2010 09:34 AM
Nicky McCatty from Brookline, MA

Economic segregation deprives very poor people of examples of "people like me" who succeed without remaining likable or familiar. It's really the absence of opportunity that occurs, "When Works Disappears," as Glenn Loury explains, which creates the whirlpool which is so hard to escape.

The real culture of poverty is America's anti-intellectualism. The Tea Party's fundamental premise, when it uses Sarah and her ilk as exemplars, is that Reality Show celebrity is a substitute for talent, hard work, and substantial originality. When conservatives talk about the culture of poverty, it's a euphemism for Black-, Latino-, Native- or Brown Cultures; however, it's the culture P.T. Barnum derided which really keeps 'em down.

Oct. 19 2010 07:05 AM
lois cobb

The culture-of-poverty theory "blames the victim" & their culture for their poverty and deterioration of their family. Certainly, individuals have responsibilities, expectations and now rights for (l)getting an education (although taxes determine equity/equality i.e. how much money school districts receive, a family's financial status determines how much they can spend toward education & meeting basic needs), (2) getting a job so you can "pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps" (what happens when that bootstrap is broken by your job downsizing or moving to other countries for cheaper labor/relaxed operating laws?), and (3) taking care of their families needs; which research says most parents want the best for their families. So, if you lose your job because of no fault of your own, are you lazy, will your children be labeled lazy. This leads me to a structural consideration of poverty. Someone said a civilization is measured by how it treats its ALL its citizens. America, the land that I love has a dual history of accepting and rejecting people who are different. We have been socialized (reared) to think & feel that way. We have discriminated & been discriminated against in all social institutions in covert & subtle ways and the effects remain devastating for all involved. The first step in eradicating poverty is an honest discussion of the individual & structural reasons why people are poor. I was born on a cotton plantation during the time of "Jim Crow" Mississippi, educated & reared in the South & North, appreciate the cultural value & humanity of all people, admire the strength/courage of single & two parent/caregiver families who "make a way out of no way". To relegate lives to a simple "culture-of-poverty" statement is to invalidate the complexities of life and the decisions we make along the way.

Oct. 18 2010 10:38 AM
amalgam from Manhattan by day, NJ by night

As a sociologist myself, I truly appreciate a necessarily nuanced and complicated view of poverty, etc., using a deep cultural lens being aired on your show. Life is not simple, so its analysis shouldn't be either.

Social science rising!

Oct. 18 2010 09:47 AM
Jessicaleekowal@gmail.com from Rhode Island

It is not up to government to fix everything. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps just like everyone else has had to in the past. The resources are out there if you truly want them.

Oct. 18 2010 09:45 AM

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