Poverty Makes Everything Harder, Including Making Decisions

If one has ever been poor, you know it makes you tired; because you’re constantly scrambling to keep things together. Your time, your options, your freedom become circumscribed, and the energy you have to deal with everything is almost constantly near “empty.”

Emily Badger, who’s becoming one of my favorite writers, has a piece on Atlantic Cities describing a new study, “Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function” in the journal Science. It’s firewalled, so you’ll have to join to read the entire thing, or perhaps seek out the study itself. But you can read the abstract, or Ms. Badger’s reporting. You can also follow her on Twitter at @emilymbadger. It’s worth it. Some declare poverty is the result of stupidity, making bad choices. Actually, it appears it may be the other way around.

I get really, really angry at the condescending and, frankly, cruel jerks who write about how the greedy, lazy poor are such a drain on us hard-working taxpayers, leeches, really, parasites. Let those bastards spend a couple of years with nothing, perhaps homeless to boot, and see how parasitic they feel. Yes, there are welfare cheats out there; I’ve even known a few, but compared to the tens of millions of people who’re trying to keep going in the face of very long odds with very few resources, they don’t count for much, except in political rhetoric.

Oh, and a little policy side note: In the late 1950s, there were about 40 million Americans in poverty, 22.4 percent of the population. These numbers declined steadily throughout the 1960s, reaching a low of 11.1 percent, or 23 million people, in 1973. Over the next decade, the poverty rate fluctuated between 11.1 and 12.6 percent, but it began to rise steadily again in 1980. By 1983, the number of poor individuals had risen to just over 35 million people, or 15.2 percent. For the next ten years, the poverty rate remained above 12.8 percent, increasing to 15.1 percent, or a little over 39 million individuals, by 1993. The rate declined for the remainder of the decade, to 11.3 percent by 2000. From 2000 to 2004 it rose each year to 12.7 in 2004. See any correlations here?

There are about 46 million Americans living in poverty, double the number 40 years ago; 16 million are children, or one in five children in this country. Approximately 8 million Americans in poverty are 16 or older but have a disability. About one in five poor Americans is working. And a whole lot of us are much closer to poverty than we might know. That phrase about millions of American families being one lost job or one big medical bill away from poverty is truer now that when it was coined.

Poverty is hard. It’s not the result of laziness, stupidity or immorality. It’s the result of social, economic and political forces that are pushing more and more Americans towards the bottom of the ladder.

Later,

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2 Responses to Poverty Makes Everything Harder, Including Making Decisions

  1. Robert Gershon says:

    For a good on-the-ground perspective on the actual human beings to which all these numbers refer, try this story in Salon (http://www.salon.com/2013/08/30/tom_friedmans_bizarre_fantasy_an_america_that_doesnt_exist/) and this blog (http://open.salon.com/blog/livia_gershon). Disclosure: it’s my daughter’s work.

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