Poverty is a relative term. In the United States, a person is considered poverty stricken if they reside in a household with income below the U.S. poverty threshold. According to the, U.S. Office of Management and Budget, “The federal poverty level for a family of four in 2003 is $18,850”. Poverty thresholds differ by family size and are updated annually. While this is considered a very low income in the United Sates, the poverty level for a person in China with a family of four is approximately $4,500. And if you are living in a third world or developing country you could have a 75% chance of living below their poverty line. We will be looking at the factors contributing to poverty in a wealthy capitalistic country. Poverty in wealthy capitalistic societies has always existed and poverty will not be eradicated without a change in philosophy from the top.Poverty involves a wide set of deprivations, including and exclusion from society, in addition to lack of material wealth. Poverty is immune to socialite background. It is an accepted belief by many that everyone on welfare is uneducated and came from a poor environment. There are many more factors that can lead a person into poverty. Take Alex for example. Alex was a Doctor that became addicted to drugs and was sued for malpractice. Alex lost his job and license. The closer you are to the top, the harder the fall can be. Alex would not take a job below what he felt he should and over a period of time depression and a feeling of hopelessness spun Alex into poverty. Another example could be Janet. Janet was self employed as a dancer. She worked for twenty years and made good money. After twenty years Janet could not get a job in her profession and needed an entry level position somewhere. She found that the young are the darlings of entry level positions. Employers feel that the young have more energy and can be molded. Janet was below the poverty level without realizing how she got there.
But the highest numbers of people that are living in poverty in America are people who came from a background of poverty. You are a product of your environment. Humans especially at a young age are adaptable. They adapt to the surroundings they are in. There perception of what is right or wrong is obtained from all they see and hear. Most people stay within the percentages of the peers in their neighbor or surroundings. You may be in the top or bottom 10%, but most stay in the middle. So if you grew up in a neighborhood where 80% of your peers graduated from college, with 15% getting PhD are from Ivy League schools, you will be apt to graduate from college. Consequently, if you live an environment riddled with gang violence and drugs, your likelihood of ending up in prison or on poverty is the norm. The playing field is not the same, as the person who grew up with gang violence is setup to fail from the beginning.
It is well known that there is huge disparity in wealth distribution in America. But what is harder to find is how much of a disparity exists. There is very little data documenting the distribution of wealth in America. There is one source, the book Poverty amid Affluence (Fishman), does provide data from 1968. This data suggests that wealth is concentrated in the hands of a small number of families. The wealthiest 1 percent of families owns roughly 39 percent of total net wealth, the top 10% of families owns over 72%, and the bottom 40% of the population owns less than 1%. If you are part of the top 10% what is your motivation for change? Maybe poverty is unavoidable and even the wealthy and powerful can not change the situation. When you look at the statistics, you find that poverty in America is completely unnecessary. According to the Federal Reserve Board, to provide shelter would cost $21 billion, to eliminate starvation and Malnutrition $19 billion, to Eliminate Illiteracy $5 billion, Provide Health Care and AIDS Control $21 billion, Prevent Soil Erosion $24 billion and to stop developing nations debt would cost $30 billion. The total cost would be $120 billion. The current U.S. defense budget is $401 billion and U.S. defense contracts $165 billion. And the statistics given would end poverty not just in the United States, but everywhere in the world.
Since the top 10% has no motivation to end poverty, then why doesn’t the lower 60% of the population demand an end to poverty and homelessness? This would benefit all of them with lower crime rates and better living conditions for all. The top 10% uses control and misdirection to maintain status quo. The powerful, which are generally the super-rich organize and control. They manipulate the mainstream media, workforce, education system, banks, energy supplies and government to large degrees. Misdirection is used to keep people in a constant state of fear from outside forces so that you don’t focus on your situation at home. In America, we always have an outside enemy bent on causing peril. As soon as the cold war was over, the Middle East became a problem. Complacency from the middle class is also a problem. Because we have been cultivated to care about obtaining prosperity for ourselves, we don’t care about prosperity for others. In fact, we don’t want prosperity for others, because it makes a capitalist feel as if they are failing. It is also clear from the data that the gap between the impoverished and others will not be narrowed if the traditional patterns of occupational, social and environmental change are maintained. So poverty will always exist in a capitalistic society, because it is the driving force for prosperity.