Misconceptions always impede progress. In the case of poverty, misconceptions most often lead people to turn away in premature defeat: Their instinct to want to do something about poverty gets sapped by a sense that the problem is insurmountable. So it is nice to get some talking points to share with others when they are discouraged by poverty myths.
Mark R. Rank is a professor of social welfare at Washington University argues that the facts contradict the following 5 common beliefs about poverty:
- That poverty affects a relatively small number of Americans
- That the poor are impoverished for years at a time
- That most of those in poverty live in inner cities
- That too much welfare assistance is provided
- That poverty is ultimately a result of not working hard enough
Excerpts from “Poverty in America Is Mainstream” – NYTimes.com (11/3/13)
Myth 1: That poverty affects a relatively small number of Americans
• Contrary to popular belief, the percentage of the population that directly encounters poverty is exceedingly high.
• nearly 40 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 60 will experience at least one year below the official poverty line during that period ($23,492 for a family of four), and 54 percent will spend a year in poverty or near poverty (below 150 percent of the poverty line).
• half of all American children will at some point during their childhood reside in a household that uses food stamps for a period of time.
Myth 2: That the poor are impoverished for years at a time
• For most of us, the question is not whether we will experience poverty, but when.
• average time most people spend in poverty is relatively short.
• The typical pattern is for an individual to experience poverty for a year or two, get above the poverty line for an extended period of time, and then perhaps encounter another spell at some later point.
Myth3: That most of those in poverty live in inner cities
•Only approximately 10 percent of those in poverty live in extremely poor urban neighborhoods
Dispersion of poverty has been increasing over the past 20 years, particularly within suburban areas.
• there is also a widespread perception that most individuals in poverty are nonwhite. [T]wo-thirds of those below the poverty line identified themselves as white — a number that has held rather steady over the past several decades.
Myth 4: That too much welfare assistance is provided
• Contrary to political rhetoric, the American social safety net is extremely weak and filled with gaping holes.
Myth 5: That poverty is ultimately a result of not working hard enough, “a lack of motivation, the failure to work hard enough and poor decision making in life.”
• my research and that of others has consistently found that the behaviors and attitudes of those in poverty basically mirror those of mainstream America.