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The War Against the Poor Instead of Programs to End Poverty
Transcript of The War Against the Poor Instead of Programs to End Poverty
By Easton Clark
Herbert J. Gans: Context
Herbert J. Gans is a professor of Sociology at Columbia University. He has written numerous articles and books on the subject of poverty including "The Urban Villagers," "The Levitt-towners," "People and Plans," "Popular Culture and High Culture," "Deciding What's new," "The War Against the Poor," and "Making Sense of America."
Explanation of the War against the Poor: How Gans makes his project
Gans is very explicit with his project and states it in the opening sentence of the article. "While liberals have been talking about resuming the war on poverty, elected officials are doing something very different: waging a war on the poor" (504) Gans shows his analysis in a few different ways breaking it down into the actions of those in power that are making the war on poverty possible.
Gans' 10 point Defense of poverty
Gans next part of his project was a 10 point reflection on the representation of poverty, particularly focusing on why african americans are especially targeted. This video sums up Gans' project well, This man has several degrees yet is still having trouble finding a job and says himself that it might be because he is black, which is one of the major points Gans references in his work.
Poverty is not equivalent to Moral Failure
In his first point Gans is trying to debunk the connection made between poverty and immorality. "Bums can be found at all economic levels, however, more prosperous miscreants tend to be less visible...abusive middle class parents may remain invisible for years...but violent poor parents soon draw the attention of child-welfare." (507) Here Gans explains that immorality exists at all levels of wealth from the poor to the upper classes, he notes that it is those below the poverty line that get noticed more than those in other classes. Gans' continues and states the double standard that has developed among the classes in American society. When was the last time you heard someone say "undeserving" middle or upper class?
Un-deservingness is an effect of poverty
In this point Gans is continuing his argument from his first point about immorality and the "undeserving" poor"People who are not poor themselves do not understand how much they do is poverty-related" (507) Gans remarked in this point that it is not that the impoverished are poor because they are immoral, but that they appear immoral, due to the media (which will be explain din the tenth point) because they are poor. For example a teenage mother is only really seen as immoral if the family she comes from is bellow the poverty line. If the teenage girl was the daughter of a rich family it would never be known.
According to Gans, firms (businesses) are outsourcing their manufacturing jobs to China and other places that have low labor costs. At the same time firms are requiring more and more skilled labor, meaning those that they have to train to operate a piece of equipment or be a manager, positions that the everyday person without training couldn't do. (505) If you skip to 1:00 in the song there is a line that sums up what manufacturing used to be and highlights unskilled labor "Even people who ain't to clever, can learn to tighten a nut forever, attach one peddle, or pull one lever." This is all very detrimental to the poor who's jobs were in manufacturing and is part of the reason why we have an issue with poverty, and its representation today.
According to Gans the US government has "restricted the welfare safety net for the middle class, while job creation, social services, housing and educational programs are being cut as well, creating a poverty cycle, that is when a person enters it, it is incredibly difficult to get out." (505) What Gans is trying to get at here is the age old battle between the classes; those in power want to stay in power, and they do this by attempting to keep those below the poverty level there, the difference this time is that politicians mask it in the forms of bills that appear to help the economically disadvantaged.
In War against the Poor Gans' project is made in two parts
That American Culture and society have declared war on the poor both in the private and public sectors. Private firms outsourced jobs over seas and demand skilled over unskilled labor. Leaving those people who are considered unskilled out of luck. For example the auto industry. There are almost no laborers in the auto industry anymore, cars are made by machines.The government has also played its role in keeping the poor in poverty by issuing welfare programs and social services that decrease the number considered middle class and increased the gap between lower and upper class citizens.
A 10 point defense of those in poverty and the beginning steps of how to change in the representation of poverty
Currently poverty is synonymous with immorality, they are seen as "miscreants who behave badly who cannot adhere to middle class moral values" (Gans, War against the Poor 507) These people are seen as the "undeserving poor" in other words those who do not deserve to escape poverty.
The Responsibilities of the Poor
Blacks should not be treated like recent immigrants
Laborers are looking for people who are willing to work for a sub minimum wage job. Any natural born American will not do that today. This is especially challenging for blacks who are forced, due to their financial situation, to compete with immigrants who will work for a sub-minimum wage. "Employers prefer immigrants because they are more easily exploited or more deferential than native born africans...blacks are blamed for not having an immigrant work ethic." (508). Poor blacks, like others below the poverty line are seen as lazy, and free riders, which can leas to discrimination, or at least what appears to be, making blacks compete for sub-minimum wage jobs with immigrants. Because of the notion Gans makes stated above this is very hard for them
Debunking the Metaphors of Undeservingness
Gans uses the idea that the poor are unskilled "surplus" labor" because of the evolution of the economy, off of that Gans claims that "Not only is there no identifiable underclass, but a class "under" society is a social impossibility," (508). These people deemed under class citizens are deemed that way because of the switch to skilled labor over unskilled labor and the fact that they have to rely on politicians and officials to determine their welfare eligibility, which is virtually impossible for most poor. 2/3 people are rejected from welfare.
The Dangers of Class Stereotype
Gans remarks that because of this idea of undeserving poor, there is discrimination by the middle and upper class against those who fall below the poverty line. "Underclass an other terms for the undeserving in poor are class stereotypes, which reinforce class discrimination," (508)
Gans here is comparing class discrimination with racial discrimination, these stereotypes become so common place they are taken for granted and turn into "self-fulfilling prophecies"
Black Troubles and Misbehavior are caused more by Poverty than by Race
Once again Gans is adressing a stereotype among the poor, particularly poor blacks, that the misbehavior by poor blacks is due to there financial situation and not there race, people tend to generalize that poor blacks are dangerous people. "Because of the proportion of blacks who are criminals, school dropout, heads of single families, or unmarried mothers is higher than among whites, blacks increasingly have to face the outrageous indignity of being considered genetically or culturally undesirable. (508). This misrepresentation of blacks is brought around by being poor, for decades the income disparity between poor blacks and poor whites has been large. This is largely due to the fact of discrimination since they were brought here as slaves centuries ago.
Improving Reporting and scholarship about the Poor
My Understanding of the Representation of Poverty: Coming to Terms with Gans
Gans makes some excellent points in his article, with a strong claim and excellent cohesiveness throughout it. I am still not convinced if the problem with the representation of poverty can be fixed, at least not using this article as an example. For starters Gans references all these topics, skilled versus unskilled labor, sub-minimum wages, and other labor statistics, all of which belong to the field of labor economics. As I stated previously Gans is not a labor economist, he is a Sociologist; I do not doubt his level of intelligence as a scholar, for it surpasses mine as a student. Gans makes some excellent economic points, but you can not blame the increase in poverty on the progression of the American economy. Yes we have decreased the number of manufacturing jobs; that decrease has allowed us to increase production ten fold if not more. If it were not for the de-industrialization of the past 40 years we wouldn't have the immense amount of technology we cling to everyday. If we are to truly change the representation of poverty in America we need to look at the root causes of poverty and find solutions to those causes of poverty. Some of which Gans has pointed out in the article. "Probably the only truly effective solution is a prosperous economy in which the anger between all groups is lessened" I agree with Gans completely here, there will be very few ways to fix the representation of poverty while the economy is still recovering.
The Drastic Scarcity of work for the Poor
Blaming the Poor reduces neither poverty nor poverty related Behavior
Gans points out in his next to last point that simply pointing the finger at the poor is not going to solve anything."Labeling to poor as undeserving does not attack the causes of street crime, improve the schools of poor children, or reduce adult jobless-ness" Its fairly ways to assume that simply pointing the finger at the impoverished is not going to solve the problem, only fixing the financial situation of the nation and those in poverty will remedy the problems with the representation of poverty will.
Uses and Limitations
This article was written by an educated person who has written other articles and books about similar topics, his prior experience makes this article a relatively credible source. On top of this he makes a very cohesive argument in explaining how the war on the poor is being made, along with a lengthy defense of the poor and idealistic views on how the poor should be represented.
Gans is very direct in his writing, in particular with this piece, he gets to the point , he's not implicit. This is an important concept all though not detrimental to his article if he was, it allows us as readers to more easily see his project and to have a better understanding of what his project really is.
Gans although he writes a very good argument uses almost no sources for his article. This can be a good thing being that it is entirely his opinion but for this case this is a serious limitation. without proper source material no matter how educated Gans is, due to this lack of sources his project is simply heresy and invalid. He is a very astute man and makes a very convincing argument besides that, if he had used source material and real data to back up his point, his project would be that much stronger.
He does not take the opposition into account at all, his article is very one sided, being a magazine article I am not expecting anything major being that his audience is going to be random people on the street who do not have a degree in sociology. He still does not mention any opposite opinion that might be plausible, it is very one sided.
He also looks at this with an outsider perspective, unlike others who have written about poverty, Barbara Ehrenreich being one of them, he cannot fully understand poverty without being immersed in it himself, as he states in his argument defending those below the poverty line., Gans states how society should work without giving any examples of how to fix the initial issues.
His biggest problem with this article is its level of idealism, ti puts forth no plausible solution to changing the representation of poverty
"Decent jobs that are open to the poor, especially to blacks, were the first to disappear when our de-industrialization...Incidentally, the myth that the unemployed are unwilling to work is never attached to the rising number of working-middle class jobless." (508) This is due to the reduction in the industrial sector of the economy, as more industries rely on machines to do the jobs that laborers in industry used to do.
In this point Gans references politicians remarking about the responsibilities of the poor to the society. The poor according to Gans do not feel that they need to be responsible until society accepts the responsibility of helping them get out of the poverty cycle. "Acting irresponsibly becomes an angry reaction, even a form of power, over that society." (507) Gans continues on remarking on the amount of choice the poor have, which is very little.
In his last point Gans remarks on the media and its failure to report the news at its face value and throwing its on opinions into it. "How many reporters ask whether economic hardship is part of the crime story?" (509) Gans continues to explain that there have been several studies on the poor, but very few studies why the poor live as they do.