Why Do Americans Blame 48 Million People For Things That Aren’t Their Fault?


“Why should I pay higher taxes so that some lazy poor person can pick up another unemployment check and then go back to sitting on the couch and spending my money?” This is the increasingly commonplace question posed by Everyday Feminism in their article titled, “How We Ignore Poverty and Blame the Poor.”

Assertions about the poor being lazy, thieving leeches on society are not surprising coming from Tea Party Members and many in the Republican Party, however, harmful beliefs about those in poverty are becoming increasingly common throughout the United States. Blaming the poor is troubling because it hinders solutions to assist the poor, and prevents learning.

It is one of the biggest misconceptions (or lies) about this country that is one of the main causes of hostility towards the poor. The United States prides itself on a promise of equal opportunity. However, the simple truth of the matter is that this promise is a farce. Everyday Feminism cites a perfect example of the rubbish that is equal opportunity, “Some people are born with a trust fund and a summer house in the Hamptons. Some are born to a single-parent low-income family in a city slum.” They continue by challenging someone to explain how factors like, “family situation growing up, level of education, the job opportunities you are handed, the rate of crime and drug use in your neighborhood” could possibly have zero affect on a person’s future.

With the belief of equal opportunity so strong, it empowers the idea that the poor are lazy. Many believe that poverty is something that can be broken out of with hard work alone. However, a poor kid who lives in a city slum is only afforded certain opportunities — the jobs around their area and the schools in their area are too large factors. If young people are unable to obtain quality education it will severely hinder their ability to apply and get into college. Likewise, it is difficult for those same poor young people to obtain decently paying jobs if they were only able to build work experience through service jobs (fast food, clothing stores, are two examples).

Lack of understanding of these realities is what continues to strengthen negativity towards the poor. Barbara Ellen of the Guardian explains that poor shaming, as she calls it, is becoming a “national bloodsport.” She cites slut-shaming, a trend of mocking and justly embarrassing young women who partake in sex and sexual activities in a style or quantity that is against society’s norms, as similar to poor shaming. She states, “On a wider level, one disquieting feature of these modern takes on slut shaming is how quickly (indeed shamelessly) they embedded themselves into the collective psyche as borderline normal.” She continues, “How long would it take for “poor-shaming” to embed itself in the national psyche as borderline normal? Or perhaps it has already done so?”

Ellen’s point is well taken, as it appears as though people have little to no difficult in insulting and degrading the 48 million people (according to of the most recent census data) that live in poverty. Making judgments about an entire group is never appropriate, and will always be an extension of prejudice. Citizens and politicians both fight for the stripping of safety net spending, because people have rallied around falsities about the poor. The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 is fighting to increase minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. “Almost six million workers would be lift out of poverty.” Unfortunately this step forward can’t and won’t occur until the support of the Congress and general populace is won. Blaming the poor stands directly in the way of this progress.

At the end of the day it is impossible to cast judgment on a group of millions of people. There is no proof that poor people are lazy, and there is no proof that they are not trying to escape poverty. There is no evidence that proves that government assistance drastically improves the lives of “lazy” people. In fact, America’s Wire reports, “Not all poor families qualify for all the various assistance programs, and amounts they receive are relatively modest, enough to keep some from falling below the official poverty line of $21, 954 for a family of four.” They add, “ … but not enough to move them far above it.” Why then should we punish them? In our judicial system we live by a policy of "innocent until proven guilty," so why can we not apply this idea to our beliefs about the poor? Poor blaming is just a way to escape learning.

Some people refuse to accept the privileges that they have, in favor of a reality where we are all equal in the United States. Until we stop blaming, and start listening and helping, the inequality and hatred towards the poor in this country will continue for years, maybe decades to come. Worst of all, it may never end.