Poverty: The Nemesis of the American Dream

| Opinion | April 18, 2019

“Lack of power is a universal and basic characteristic of poverty. Poverty is not solely a lack of income but rather a vicious cycle of powerlessness, stigmatization, discrimination, exclusion and material development which all mutually reinforce each other.” – Wesley James Wiles

If you are a working-class Republican and you are frustrated about paying into services to help others in poverty when you can barely help yourself, I get that. I really do.

What I don’t get is why you blame the needy instead of the richest for placing the entire burden on you.

If you’ve worked hard all your life and were successful enough to achieve a relatively comfortable lifestyle in a safe environment for yourself and loved ones, you may want others to have worked just as hard without government support. I understand your ire if you’ve heard that those “others” are just “on the dole,” and “just too lazy to work hard” and you think of them as loners who probably ruined their lives with drugs, alcohol or criminal activity. But being successful is not just based on hard work alone.
According to a recent Ted Talk, it was LUCK if you were born into a family that had no strikes against it. Imagine for a moment you are in a marathon race, and instead of being in the starting front line of runners you are unfortunately lumped with others to start 50 yards behind the starting line. Everyone wants to win, but your unequal starting position places you at a considerable disadvantage.

So it can be with life. If you were born into a racial minority family, say Afro or Latino, you most likely already have a strike against you trying to climb the social ladder to success; discrimination, still dominate, is still a major hurtle in achieving the American Dream. If you are a woman, you’ll have the double unfair disadvantage of fighting misogynous men who disrespect you (and feel you should be in the kitchen); you’ll fight inequality in pay and advancement. Being a single mother with a child to nourish, if you become sick, growth to success stops. Then there are the under-employed, the old, the unemployable, and the mentally challenged; with street people littering the streets, you see a society sliding into impoverishment in need of help from those more fortunate.


Poverty seems to disappear within more social democracies but lingers on in more capitalistic democracies. President Trump preached to make his rich (aristocratic) base richer again. Joe the plumber, thinking the message was meant for him will only find austerity in his future. Recent proposed cuts to social programs will allow Trump’s rich base to further reduce their taxes, and it will force society to cope with the consequences.

His recent budget proposes:

Reductions in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Cuts in food stamps for the poor by a third.
Cuts in Housing and Family Assistance.
Undermining HIV treatment in Medicaid.
Cuts in AIDs Relief.
Cuts in Family Leave Program.
Undermining the Affordable Care Act (to advance Profits for Healthcare.)
Destroying protection for people with pre-existing conditions.
Reduces reimbursements to hospitals.
Cuts in EPA funds by 1/3 to stop work on climate crises.
Closing Disease Control and Protection Centers
Closes the Head Start program.
Cuts in the National Science Foundation search on climate by 1/3.
Eliminates subsidized federal student loans for higher education.
No repayment of student loans.
Undermines Public Education with $4B to Private Schools K-12.

But there’s hope. There are more socially democratic, friendly countries in the world which find it morally wrong to capitalize on the less fortunate. The Nordic countries, good examples, all have a lower GDP than the U.S., yet are able to afford their citizens a stable, happy and safe society.

Norway, in particular, being the second happiest society in the world, enacts more social-friendly laws without deterring corporate aristocracy profits. Its tax rate is only around 1 percent higher than the U.S. rate, yet its citizens are afforded free health care, free higher education, and financial security for seniors; people get eight weeks paid vacations and have a higher life expectancy.

It’s ironic that our capitalistic democracy, having the richest aristocracy in the world, cannot muster a steady, happy, poverty-free, unburdened safe society. Dreamers should demand it. Poor Joe may wonder why he’s not achieving the American Dream, but then he simply hasn’t traveled anywhere else.

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