When does poverty become part of the culture? The culture of poverty’s formal development is attributed to Oscar Lewis; he created a thesis to explain this question. He seeks to understand poverty as a culture, with its own structure and rationale, more as a way of life passed down from generation to generation along family lines. The culture of poverty is a feature of highly stratified, competitive systems. This economic system tends to have high rates of unemployment and low wages for the “unskilled” jobs with high turn over rates. The theory maintains that culturally based attitudes or predisposition such as “present-mindedness” is the major barrier to economic mobility for many of the poor.
It is argued that poverty in modern nations is not simply economic deprivation but often has a life of its own. Lewis explains that the culture of poverty is an adaptation to a set of objective conditions of the larger society. Once it comes into existence, it tends to perpetuate itself from generation to generation because of its effects on children. People stuck in poverty feel there are limited to no opportunities for them to succeed. People struggle just to survive, faced to take multiple low wage jobs, to try and get by in poverty. He claims that by the time children in poverty are 6 or 7, they have usually absorbed the basic values and attitudes of their subculture and are not psychologically prepared to take full advantage of the changing conditions and increased opportunities that may arise in their lifetime.
Often, a culture of poverty is created when a stratified social and economic system breaks down or is replaced by another. One example supporting that is moving from feudalism to capitalism. A culture of poverty has resulted from imperial conquest, in which native, social, and economic structure is broken down, it may also occur in the process of detribalization. A culture of poverty developed most often among the people in the lower strata of the rapidly changing society during urbanization.
Lewis’ theory likewise implies that this is not a short-lived financial predicament for the poor, but a way of life restricted by the hopelessness of accomplishing even minor economic goals. He argues that there are certain cultural characteristics among the poor in industrial capitalist societies. Some of these characteristics are the absence or lack of value of childhood (prolonged and protected state in the life-cycle), early initiation into sex, a relatively high incidents of abandonment of wives and children, a tend toward female or mother centered families, a strong predisposition toward authoritarianism, lack of privacy, and competition for limited goods and material affection.
These characteristics all relate back to the “feminization of poverty”. This is where urban poverty families are raised by the women. She becomes the sole provider for family. Women who head these families in poverty are forced to take low paying jobs with high turnover rates. They are unable to spend time or money to educate them to get better paying and overall jobs, keeping them in the service end of jobs and other “unattractive” jobs. There are No Children Here portrayed this idea of feminization of poverty; Layefette and Pharoah are forced into this situation. Their mother LaJoe was forced to provide for the family, leaving them alone during the day, and unattended. They boys went out to the streets to be with other children of poverty, all with little or no aspirations. LaJoe speaks of a billboard in their communities that said “Needles Kill”, She could only remember when it said “Drugs Kill”. This deterioration of the community amplifies that drugs are now being accepted, showing the lack of confidence in their children to ever grow, and get out of the city.
A true culture of poverty tends to flourish in societies with a common set of conditions, like: A cash economy, wage labor, and production for profit; A persistently high rate of unemployment and underemployment for unskilled labor; Low wages; Little social, political, and economic organization provided either voluntarily or by government imposition; Great value put on the accumulation of wealth and property.
Poverty is viewed as the result of personal inferiority or inadequacy, people’s self esteem is often affected by the label of “poor”. It is argued that a culture of poverty develops for the poor under these conditions. It is both an adaptation and a reaction of the poor to their marginal position in a class-stratified, highly individuated, capitalistic society. It represents an effort to deal with feelings of hopelessness and despair over the chances of succeeding on society’s terms. They are being forced to succeed under harsher conditions with less opportunity to get out.
Beliefs about the culture of poverty feel socialization of the poor lead into political apathy, immediate gratification, broken families and passive responses of their economic plight. It is thought that by lack of opportunities the poor will have different behavior. Accordingly, the culture of poverty theory has been investigated by social scientists, economists, sociologists, anthropologists, and found to be a false theory of families in poverty. To social science researchers this theory was considered dead because it was found that poor people do have the same culture, values, and social consciences as any other classification of people. Thus, poverty seems to be a vicious behavioral cycle, based on subculture adaptations.
I agree with Lewis’s theory that poverty is part of culture. Generations after generations fail to elevate out of poverty and struggle just to get by. We create this problem by the stratification of social class; Upper class people are not willing to do the “dirty” work. They create an atmosphere that minimum wage jobs are for minorities and “unskilled” work, but rely and often employ these people. Wait staff, cooks, service jobs, maids are just some of the jobs that people facing poverty are forced to take. These jobs are low wage jobs, with little or no job security, creating a high turnover rate among minimum wage jobs.
I was given many opportunities during my life time which have helped me become successful. If I hadn’t been fortunate to grow up in the upper class, I too would feel the pressure forcing and keeping you down. When I was younger I recall reading a book telling a tale about a white middle aged woman conducting a research project. She would travel to different economic areas taking minimum wage jobs, renting an apartment while paying first and last months rent. Her study was to try and show what we are forcing these people to live with, forcing them to work long hours at multiple jobs, while still trying to keep a balanced family relationship. While she was doing research she fortunately had enough money to pay first and last month’s rent, and she too felt the hardships. Not only hardships in financial means but also in the workplace, she talked about the long hours, the harsh conditions, little to no respect at her job, and the physical and emotional strain. This was just a research project but There are No Children Here shows the other side of actually living that life. These families like LaJoe and her two boys are forced to face those realities every day, and just survive not prosper to a higher class. They don’t have the options to get up and move out when jobs are low they are forced to live in the deteriorating city. I also believe that the mismatch theory represents why people in poverty can move out. They are restrained by close proximately of work, as jobs move out they are not able to move with jobs. This is the belief that physical distance played a major role in creating poverty and then the culture soon followed. People in poverty are forced to take jobs in which they can travel to fairly easily and quickly, for most don’t own cars and rely on public transportation. In belief of the culture of poverty I feel society creates this culture by creating these lower levels of class. Our society has created a culture that in essence is “The rich are getting richer, while the poor get poorer”, which sums up my belief in the culture of poverty.
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