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The Poor Will Always Be With Us

Poverty is one of the main social problems affected society since ancient times. Some researchers suppose that poverty can be illuminated by hard work and better education, increased wages and stable economic development. In the book, Nickel and Dimed B. Ehrenreich describes her investigation of poor working class conditions and their impact on life of an ordinary citizen. She came to conclusion that poverty will be difficult to illuminate in modern society because of limited job opportunities and social class boundaries. Hard work and desire to learn will not help poor people to achieve higher standards of living and find stable job.

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Poor people will always be a part of society because the state does not promote employment opportunities for working poor. From her own experience as a working poor, Ehrenreich concludes that that it is extremely difficult to find hob for poor people. Stress and work overload are the main problems experienced by poor. Poverty is a lack of sufficient resources, or money, to obtain these things. The way in which various human needs are satisfied is determined socially and will, like standards of living, differ from society to society. In some cultures, each person may grow his own food (Ehrenreich, p. 27). In others, food may be purchased daily in town markets or small neighborhood shops. In still others, food, some of it canned or frozen, may be purchased in larger quantities in shopping centers; buyers will use automobiles to transport it, and refrigerators and freezers to store it. Poverty will be defined differently in each of these societies. In one, the lack of a refrigerator may indicate indigence; in others it may not. There is no universally applicable standard of poverty, either in terms of dollars or in terms of goods and services.

It can also be improved by taking into account economic vulnerability. A person who has a job that pays him precisely the minimum needed to function according to current standards, but who cannot be certain that he will have enough to get by tomorrow if his income falls or his needs increase, is in a highly vulnerable position. He may become poor at any moment (Ehrenreich, p. 29). This limits his range of choices and affects his behavior. Economic vulnerability can be avoided, and economic security achieved, in four ways: by the ownership of wealth, or assets; by access to credit (the ability to borrow); by insurance; and by income-maintenance programs. With no welfare programs and no insurance, the only way to provide for such economic hazards as sickness, unemployment, and business failure is by saving (accumulating wealth) or by maintaining a good credit rating (which often depends on wealth). Welfare and insurance programs are substitutes for wealth. A person can have no assets, and no credit, and yet be fairly invulnerable to economic hazards if he is protected by medical insurance, workmen’s compensation, retirement pensions, and the like. A person who has income security, insurance, and some assets may be less poor than a person with a higher income but with none of these protections.

Poor people have difficulty getting jobs, and the jobs they do get are often only part-time or temporary. Those that are full-time or “permanent” often provide no opportunity for advancement. It is clear that poverty can be a result of unemployment and other employment problems. But these problems are part of a vicious circle of poverty; that is, they can be the result of poverty as well. Sometimes characteristics associated with poverty handicap persons in such a way that they are (in the eyes of employers) “unemployable.” Sometimes unemployment is caused by other factors, completely external to the poor, as in the case of a recession or depression; but even in these cases, the characteristics of the poor may place them at the end of the job line. In Short, the characteristics of the poor sometimes cause their unemployment, whereas at other times they only determine the distribution of unemployment caused by other factors (Ehrenreich, p. 125). In practice, at the individual level, it is virtually impossible to tell which is the case. Poor people have difficulty getting jobs for a variety of reasons. They are less educated, regardless of whether education is measured in years of schooling or diplomas acquired. Sometimes a given level of education is a practical necessity. The job cannot be done by someone without a particular type of knowledge; sometimes educational requirements are merely a job-rationing device, used to simplify hiring when the number of applicants exceeds the number of openings. In any event, whether such requirements are real or nominal, they do exclude a great many poor people from millions of jobs.

Ehrenreich describes pre-employment tests and psychological assessment applied to low skilled job seeker. Ehrenreich finds that much of these tests are useless and even tricky (Ehrenreich, p. 127). Another factor that excludes many of the poor from employment is their arrest record. It is unfortunately true that poor people tend to commit crimes more frequently than nonpoor people; they are also more likely to be apprehended when they do commit a crime, and they are more likely to be convicted. Moreover, the crimes that so often appear on their records – theft, assault, robbery – are precisely those which worry potential employers most. The poor people who have the greatest difficulty getting worthwhile jobs are, of course, ex-convicts, almost regardless of the nature of their crimes. Much is made of the high rate of recidivism (the tendency of ex-convicts to return to crime) in America, and it is often alleged that our prisons are “schools of crime” which teach those who make a single mistake to become chronic criminals. Although there is doubtless some truth in this argument, the main reason for high recidivism is that most ex-convicts simply cannot find a job (Ehrenreich, p. 190). Some of the poor who pass the educational and other tests for employment (perhaps because in a given case they are not applied) fail a physical examination, formal or informal, because of chronic illness or malnutrition. Physical problems are also a reason the poor often lose jobs. Many poor people do not get jobs because they do not apply for them. Either they do not know how to find jobs, or they are afraid of being embarrassed or humiliated by interviews, application forms, reference checks, and the like.

Ehrenreich illustrates that poor people lose jobs more readily than the nonpoor. One reason is that, as the business cycle turns down, poor people are more likely to be fired or laid off. If anything, these unemployment figures understate the problem (Ehrenreich 191). When those who are chronically unemployed give up hope of finding employment and adopt a lifestyle more consistent with reality (that is, one of dependency, crime, or intermittent employment), if they stop looking for work, they are no longer counted as “unemployed.” The number of discouraged job-seekers who have left the labor force is probably greater among the chronic poor than the number of persons counted as unemployed. Because employment is so irregular at the lowest level, there is little or no tendency to promote people from the ranks. In America, people are expected to provide for themselves. Society does not owe anyone a living; people make their own living. It is not always clear what “providing for oneself” comprises: It includes, of course, supporting oneself by working, owning a business, inventing things, and the like. It usually includes, for a woman, marrying a man with legitimate income and raising a family. It may or may not include obtaining income from dividends and bonds, by inheritance, or from relatives, although such sources of funds are usually acceptable. It almost surely includes living on pensions to which one has contributed or which one has otherwise “earned,” insurance, and the like. It most assuredly does not include the acceptance of charity, welfare checks, and other transfers of income not associated with one’s own prior earnings or effort.

In sum, the poor will always b with us because of economic conditions and employment weaknesses which prevent people from stable income. It is conceivable, but not necessary, that all members of a minority group will belong to the same socioeconomic class. If they do not, and people feel solidarity with other members of their class regardless of race or other group characteristics, we have a class society. Class solidarity and prejudice can exist together, of course; but if they do, this will reduce the number of people with whom each person can align himself and associate. Groups discriminated against are isolated in a sense, but not by historic accident or the depletion of resources, and neither the pace of social change nor outward migration is liable to influence this kind of isolation. The situation is worst when the minority and majority groups use the same institutions, but the majority controls them, and when the minority group is prevented from achieving success within the context of those institutions and according to shared values.

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Works Cited

Ehrenreich, B. Nickel and Dimed. Holt Paperbacks, 2002.

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