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Old 10-18-2010, 05:05 AM   #1 (permalink)
People in masks cannot be trusted
Xazy's Avatar
Location: NYC
Poor beget poor?

For more than 40 years, social scientists investigating the causes of poverty have tended to treat cultural explanations like Lord Voldemort: That Which Must Not Be Named.

The reticence was a legacy of the ugly battles that erupted after Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then an assistant labor secretary in the Johnson administration, introduced the idea of a “culture of poverty” to the public in a startling 1965 report. Although Moynihan didn’t coin the phrase (that distinction belongs to the anthropologist Oscar Lewis), his description of the urban black family as caught in an inescapable “tangle of pathology” of unmarried mothers and welfare dependency was seen as attributing self-perpetuating moral deficiencies to black people, as if blaming them for their own misfortune.

Moynihan’s analysis never lost its appeal to conservative thinkers, whose arguments ultimately succeeded when President Bill Clinton signed a bill in 1996 “ending welfare as we know it.” But in the overwhelmingly liberal ranks of academic sociology and anthropology the word “culture” became a live grenade, and the idea that attitudes and behavior patterns kept people poor was shunned.

Now, after decades of silence, these scholars are speaking openly about you-know-what, conceding that culture and persistent poverty are enmeshed.

“We’ve finally reached the stage where people aren’t afraid of being politically incorrect,” said Douglas S. Massey, a sociologist at Princeton who has argued that Moynihan was unfairly maligned.

The old debate has shaped the new. Last month Princeton and the Brookings Institution released a collection of papers on unmarried parents, a subject, it noted, that became off-limits after the Moynihan report. At the recent annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, attendees discussed the resurgence of scholarship on culture. And in Washington last spring, social scientists participated in a Congressional briefing on culture and poverty linked to a special issue of The Annals, the journal of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.

“Culture is back on the poverty research agenda,” the introduction declares, acknowledging that it should never have been removed.

The topic has generated interest on Capitol Hill because so much of the research intersects with policy debates. Views of the cultural roots of poverty “play important roles in shaping how lawmakers choose to address poverty issues,” Representative Lynn Woolsey, Democrat of California, noted at the briefing.

This surge of academic research also comes as the percentage of Americans living in poverty hit a 15-year high: one in seven, or 44 million.

With these studies come many new and varied definitions of culture, but they all differ from the ’60s-era model in these crucial respects: Today, social scientists are rejecting the notion of a monolithic and unchanging culture of poverty. And they attribute destructive attitudes and behavior not to inherent moral character but to sustained racism and isolation.

To Robert J. Sampson, a sociologist at Harvard, culture is best understood as “shared understandings.”

“I study inequality, and the dominant focus is on structures of poverty,” he said. But he added that the reason a neighborhood turns into a “poverty trap” is also related to a common perception of the way people in a community act and think. When people see graffiti and garbage, do they find it acceptable or see serious disorder? Do they respect the legal system or have a high level of “moral cynicism,” believing that “laws were made to be broken”?

As part of a large research project in Chicago, Professor Sampson walked through different neighborhoods this summer, dropping stamped, addressed envelopes to see how many people would pick up an apparently lost letter and mail it, a sign that looking out for others is part of the community’s culture.

In some neighborhoods, like Grand Boulevard, where the notorious Robert Taylor public housing projects once stood, almost no envelopes were mailed; in others researchers received more than half of the letters back. Income levels did not necessarily explain the difference, Professor Sampson said, but rather the community’s cultural norms, the levels of moral cynicism and disorder.

The shared perception of a neighborhood — is it on the rise or stagnant? — does a better job of predicting a community’s future than the actual level of poverty, he said.

William Julius Wilson, whose pioneering work boldly confronted ghetto life while focusing on economic explanations for persistent poverty, defines culture as the way “individuals in a community develop an understanding of how the world works and make decisions based on that understanding.”

For some young black men, Professor Wilson, a Harvard sociologist, said, the world works like this: “If you don’t develop a tough demeanor, you won’t survive. If you have access to weapons, you get them, and if you get into a fight, you have to use them.”

Seeking to recapture the topic from economists, sociologists have ventured into poor neighborhoods to delve deeper into the attitudes of residents. Their results have challenged some common assumptions, like the belief that poor mothers remain single because they don’t value marriage.

In Philadelphia, for example, low-income mothers told the sociologists Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas that they thought marriage was profoundly important, even sacred, but doubted that their partners were “marriage material.” Their results have prompted some lawmakers and poverty experts to conclude that programs that promote marriage without changing economic and social conditions are unlikely to work.

Mario Luis Small, a sociologist at the University of Chicago and an editor of The Annals’ special issue, tried to figure out why some New York City mothers with children in day care developed networks of support while others did not. As he explained in his 2009 book, “Unanticipated Gains,” the answer did not depend on income or ethnicity, but rather the rules of the day-care institution. Centers that held frequent field trips, organized parents’ associations and had pick-up and drop-off procedures created more opportunities for parents to connect.

Younger academics like Professor Small, 35, attributed the upswing in cultural explanations to a “new generation of scholars without the baggage of that debate.”

Scholars like Professor Wilson, 74, who have tilled the field much longer, mentioned the development of more sophisticated data and analytical tools. He said he felt compelled to look more closely at culture after the publication of Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein’s controversial 1994 book, “The Bell Curve,” which attributed African-Americans’ lower I.Q. scores to genetics.

The authors claimed to have taken family background into account, Professor Wilson said, but “they had not captured the cumulative effects of living in poor, racially segregated neighborhoods.”

He added, “I realized we needed a comprehensive measure of the environment, that we must consider structural and cultural forces.”

He mentioned a study by Professor Sampson, 54, that found that growing up in areas where violence limits socializing outside the family and where parents haven’t attended college stunts verbal ability, lowering I.Q. scores by as much as six points, the equivalent of missing more than a year in school.

Changes outside campuses have made conversation about the cultural roots of poverty easier than it was in the ’60s. Divorce, living together without marrying, and single motherhood are now commonplace. At the same time prominent African-Americans have begun to speak out on the subject. In 2004 the comedian Bill Cosby made headlines when he criticized poor blacks for “not parenting” and dropping out of school. President Obama, who was abandoned by his father, has repeatedly talked about “responsible fatherhood.”

Conservatives also deserve credit, said Kay S. Hymowitz, a fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, for their sustained focus on family values and marriage even when cultural explanations were disparaged.

Still, worries about blaming the victim persist. Policy makers and the public still tend to view poverty through one of two competing lenses, Michèle Lamont, another editor of the special issue of The Annals, said: “Are the poor poor because they are lazy, or are the poor poor because they are a victim of the markets?”

So even now some sociologists avoid words like “values” and “morals” or reject the idea that, as The Annals put it, “a group’s culture is more or less coherent.” Watered-down definitions of culture, Ms. Hymowitz complained, reduce some of the new work to “sociological pablum.”

“If anthropologists had come away from doing field work in New Guinea concluding ‘everyone’s different,’ but sometimes people help each other out,” she wrote in an e-mail, “there would be no field of anthropology — and no word culture for cultural sociologists to bend to their will.”

Fuzzy definitions or not, culture is back. This prompted mock surprise from Rep. Woolsey at last spring’s Congressional briefing: “What a concept. Values, norms, beliefs play very important roles in the way people meet the challenges of poverty.”
It is a very interesting topic that is not politically correct in many corners to talk about. But of course it becomes the norm for people who see and live in areas where there is crime and graffiti to think of it as acceptable. Also it is much more visible, gangs, crime, single parents, teen pregnancy, drugs, etc...

I live in NYC. In the neighborhood I live in we have already several projects around us, and there is some vacant lots (about 7/10th of a mile away from me) the city want to build on. There have been debates for at least 30 years, since there is a demand for low income housing. To me I think build it in a richer community, they may not want it there, but the truth is it gives them a better chance. They will have easier access to schools where there is a different type of atmosphere, they will not see the same type of people in the streets and see perhaps a better quality of life to strive for. But it is something you can not say in these meetings at a community board, it is taboo to talk of.

It is an issue when being politically correct does not allow us to address properly the real issues involved. I hope this is a step in the right direction and that leaders in these communities, step up and work to address these issues.
Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.
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Old 10-26-2010, 11:46 AM   #2 (permalink)
still, wondering.
Ourcrazymodern?'s Avatar
Location: South Minneapolis, somewhere near the gorgeous gorge
(Only because I didn't think this should not disappear without at least one resounding)


Some of our constructed systems preserve nothing but themselves, the most monstrous of which is what we all accept as a basis. Come up with a viable alternative to money & the blight will disappear. Ugly environments have always made us uglier.

"Who's that?" "Must be a King." "How d'ya know?" "Well, he hasn't got shit all over him." - Monty Python, approximately.

Last edited by Ourcrazymodern?; 10-26-2010 at 01:26 PM..
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Old 10-26-2010, 12:49 PM   #3 (permalink)
Minion of Joss
levite's Avatar
Location: The Windy City
I think that a major part of our problems with poverty have to do with two facts in chief.

The first is that we are spectacularly poor at actually providing the impoverished with the kind of help that they need. Generally speaking, welfare and food stamps together does not provide enough money and support for families to live on with anything approaching a decent quality of life; our public free or low-income housing is both painfully insufficient in quantity and nightmarishly insufficient in quality and safety; and perhaps most importantly, we condone an enormous lack in the poorest neighborhoods of our cities of proper grocery stores and produce markets (meaning that the poor have reduced access to healthy foods), and we permit the schools in the poorest areas to be unsafe, underfunded, run-down and ill-supplied (meaning that not only do fewer students learn and graduate, but fewer students want to go to school, fewer children feel empowered and hopeful about their futures, and thus fewer families feel that they are actually working toward achievable goals).

The second is that our welfare/assistance programs are hideous catch-22s, wherein if people can manage to get approved for aid and assistance at all, they must accept total or near-total aid. As soon as they begin to work and earn money, the aid vanishes, whether they are earning enough to survive or not-- based solely on an abstract calculation made in a government office. Plus, the poverty line itself is both woefully out of date and unreasonably inflexible: what qualifies as sustainable living income in Boise, Idaho is not the same as in The Bronx; and what guarantees a decent apartment and food in the fridge in Waycross, Georgia is not the same as in Los Angeles.

We need massive overhauls of our aid and assistance programs, which allow caseworkers to tailor aid and assistance packages to individual families' needs, in order to get them back on their feet, truly help them find work-- and relocate if necessary-- and wean off of welfare in such a way that they become truly self-sustaining, and are not dropped without a safety net the instant an abstract financial threshold is passed. More caseworkers must be hired, to be able to deal with families in realistic and helpful ways, and those caseworkers must be qualified and decently paid.

We need a flexible poverty line, that is constantly updated, that is drawn to constitute a reasonable minimum quality of life, and which takes into account the cost of living in different areas. And we need a flexible minimum wage, which takes into account the same things as the poverty line, and which guarantees everyone a decent standard of living. And we need to have a flexible structure of tax breaks for small businesses, with a corresponding closure of loopholes, increase in tax, and stronger enforcement of collection from giant megacorporations (most of which should be broken up under anti-trust and anti-monopoly laws, anyhow).

Rather than building endless tracts of public housing, we need to convert to a rent-assistance system, that allows the government to step in, indefinitely fix the rent on a poor person's apartment, and take over payments to the landlord until such time as the person is able to pay themselves.

We need grocery stores in poor areas, government-funded public vegetable gardens and neighborhood beautification programs, and most importantly, local control of schools. If the government wishes to establish a national high-school graduation exam, that might be a way to ensure a national standard, but otherwise, schools must be run locally, teachers and administrators must be paid decently, schools must have adequate security, be clean and well-supplied, and qualified teachers given leave to teach as best they know how, rather than wasting children's valuable class time on endless standardized tests. If left unchecked, poverty breeds not merely crime, but apathy, which is worse.

We need real national health care, not the half-assed mess the Obama administration let the Congress mangle and then pass. An enormous amount of the income of the poor and the lower-middle class is consumed in just trying to keep themselves covered with health insurance. If this stops, the positive effect on poverty will be gigantic.

We need to legalize marijuana, decriminalize most other drugs, and legalize gambling and prostitution nationally. Once the police are not wasting their time catching junkies, petty dealers, hookers and pimps, bookies and number runners, they can actually focus on catching serious violent offenders, and make our streets safer. Plus, the tax and licensing revenues from marijuana and industrial hemp products and sales, and from gambling and prostitution enterprises, will contribute vast amounts of money into the treasury, helping to fund all these revisions to the social assistance programs.

We need to make undergraduate college education in public universities free to all citizens and legal residents. High school is not enough anymore, especially if we want to transform the United States back into a world leader in research, development, and production of new technologies, ideas, and goods.

And we need raise taxes on the rich to help pay for all of this. I'm sorry, but if you make a billion dollars, you should be paying ninety percent of that in income tax. Because you know what? Ten percent of a billion dollars is a hundred million dollars. That is more than enough to be fabulously wealthy on. And if the freedoms you enjoy as an American citizen let you become so successful that you can pay 90% and still have a hundred million dollars left over, then that's your fair payment to help keep this country up. And the same principle holds true if you make half a billion, or a quarter billion, or a hundred million, or fifty million. And if you make forty or twenty or ten or five, then you should pay between sixty to eighty percent. And if you make more than two million, you should still pay fifty percent. And you should not get loopholes to get you out of paying, and you should be fined for everything you've got if you try to evade taxes by tucking your money away offshore.

The truth is that we have so much poverty and so much apathy about improving the lot of the poor in our society because we don't respect the poor. We look down on them. We forget their humanity. And we idolize the rich, just for being rich, and let them get away with anything, because they are so rich. And what will really help us get our society right is when we remember that we are all people, and we all need to be treated decently, and we all have to do our part for one another. You don't get something for nothing, and if we want America to be a society that is clean, busy, prosperous, and respected, then we need to put in time, money, respect, and trust-- which means more local control, and less attempts in Washington to solve all the problems of every neighborhood in the USA using the 535 most argumentative, corrupt, bloated, self-aggrandizing, self-important, selfish, greedy, manipulative, secretive, untrustworthy, idiotic bunch of thieves and lawyers that we could manage to elect.

Dull sublunary lovers love,
Whose soul is sense, cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
That thing which elemented it.

(From "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning" by John Donne)
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Old 10-27-2010, 07:50 AM   #4 (permalink)
immoral minority
ASU2003's Avatar
Location: Back in Ohio
I like what you wrote, except the police should go after pimps and human traffickers. And I think there should be an income tax rate of 25% up to 5 million to encourage innovation and small entrepreneurs. But the stocks and income over $5 million should be taxed at 60% or so.

And I think taxes should be higher on the poor as well, but they should get some benefits like healthcare and better communities.

We also need to work to fix the tax mess at the state and local level. There are too many special deals and tax hideaways for mobile people and businesses.

Last edited by ASU2003; 10-27-2010 at 07:52 AM..
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Old 10-27-2010, 02:47 PM   #5 (permalink)
Minion of Joss
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Location: The Windy City
Originally Posted by ASU2003 View Post
I like what you wrote, except the police should go after pimps and human traffickers.
There's a difference between a pimp and a human trafficker. "Pimp" is just a fancy name for the guy who runs a hooker business. As long as there is no coercion, compulsion, violence, or mistreatment of employees, I have no problem with running a prostitution business, if said business were legal, licensed, taxed, and regulated. Human traffickers specifically refer to those who compel women and minor children into prostitution, and buy and sell them like slaves. Obviously, there is never any excuse for slavery, forced sexual activities, or sex with minor children.

And I think there should be an income tax rate of 25% up to 5 million to encourage innovation and small entrepreneurs. But the stocks and income over $5 million should be taxed at 60% or so.
Here I have to disagree. I have no problem with creating tax breaks, subsidies, reduced-rate loans, and other incentives to encourage innovation and small entrepeneurs. But I think the more you make, the more you ought to pay, and the richest of the rich should be paying in proportion to the disproportionate vastness of their wealth.

And I think taxes should be higher on the poor as well, but they should get some benefits like healthcare and better communities.
I definitely disagree here. I actually think we should make the first $25,000 of income tax-free, rather than the first $8,000; between $25,000 and $35,000 should be paying 5%, $35,000-50,000 @ 12%, $50,000 -$75,000 @ 15%, $75,000 - $100,000 @ 18%, $100,000 - $150,000 @ 22%, $150,000 - 200,000 @ 26%, $200,000 - $250,000 @ 32%, $250,000 - $350,000 @ 40%, $350,000 - $500,000 @ 45%, $500,000 - $750,000 @ 47%, $750,000 - $1M @ 49%, and $1M - $2M @ 50%. And then over that, as I mentioned in my previous post.

Though there is ultimately a sharper rise in these tax rates, they are still comparatively low, if one factors in free healthcare, better infrastructure and working conditions, and free university education. But IMO, it's unreasonable to tax the poor, if for no other reason than they have no money. You don't get blood from a stone. When they asked Willie Sutton why he robbed banks, he replied, "Because that's where the money is." The same principle applies to tax: if you want to make money, you tax the people who have money. When we overtax the poor, and they can't pay, not only does it backfire in making poverty worse, but it creates logistical, bureaucratic, and human resources sinkholes, when we have to spend time, money, and personnel on trying to work out payment plans, bankruptcies, foreclosures, appeals, and so forth with poor people in crisis. It simply makes more sense to try and help the poor out of their poverty, so that they can be productive earners, who can then pay a higher tax rate.

We also need to work to fix the tax mess at the state and local level. There are too many special deals and tax hideaways for mobile people and businesses.
Here we are in complete agreement.
Dull sublunary lovers love,
Whose soul is sense, cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
That thing which elemented it.

(From "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning" by John Donne)
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Old 10-27-2010, 03:36 PM   #6 (permalink)
Location: My head.
^^Jeesus! You want to take away the money the rich people make ... why? Exactly? So if one was to make one million they would have to pay half of that to the govt.? Bullshit! You can't punish rich people because you feel being rich is obscene.
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Old 10-27-2010, 11:36 PM   #7 (permalink)
Minion of Joss
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Location: The Windy City
Originally Posted by Xerxys View Post
^^Jeesus! You want to take away the money the rich people make ... why? Exactly? So if one was to make one million they would have to pay half of that to the govt.? Bullshit! You can't punish rich people because you feel being rich is obscene.
There's nothing wrong with getting rich. Part and parcel of a capitalistic society is that the successful become wealthy.

But nobody gets rich in a vacuum. People get rich in free societies, where they have the support of technological, educational, governmental and social infrastructures that benefit them and their customers and workers. And therefore, they have a duty to support those infrastructures in proportion to their success.

What I propose is hardly overburdening. Somewhere between 18 to 25% of the reporting households of the United States make over $100,000 per year, with the entirety of the remainder of the populace making less. Thus, it stands to reason that if a significant portion of our governmental revenue is to come from income tax (which it does), it is the richest citizens who must pay the most. I am hardly proposing to beggar the wealthy. If you are making a million dollars a year, I don't really see it as a statement of radical socialism to suggest that it take you two years to put a million dollars in the bank, instead of one year. Nor, I am afraid, do I see much likelihood in causing an aching squeeze to the lifestyle of someone making fifty or a hundred million by forcing them to bank "only" five or ten million. There is noplace on this planet that you cannot live in bewildering luxury on five or ten million a year: so how is it so objectionable to still permit the uber-rich to be uber-rich and enjoy their luxury, while at the same time taking the pinch of overburdened taxation and poverty away from the other 75-82% of the population?

Why is it a punishment to demand that people shoulder the burden of society for which they are capable? Why is that not merely social maturity?
Dull sublunary lovers love,
Whose soul is sense, cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
That thing which elemented it.

(From "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning" by John Donne)
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beget, poor

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