6 March 2008
Up and Out of Poverty:
While sitting in your apartment and studying your bullet-hole ridden dining room table, you realize this is not the life you want to live. So you go to college and try to get a degree, but you aren't able to feed your five children and yourself, pay all the bills, work, and go to college at the same time. This was Angela Whitiker's life; an example of a single, poor mother trying to raise her children and move out of poverty at the same time. There are a few things that the government can do to make it easier for the poor to work their way out of poverty, as well as a few things that society could do to change our culture. However, there are still a few things that are up to the individual for them to work their way out of poverty. Duplicating Angela's success is difficult, but there are a few ways to increase the ability of people to move out of poverty.
Moving out of poverty is ultimately up to the individuals. They themselves have to be the ones to push themselves to work hard to improve themselves so they can move out of poverty. For some of the poor, ambition is a major problem because they don't want to spend the time to improve themselves. "[A] rising number of young Americans in recent years [have] spent their free time watching television and surfing the Internet" (Friedman 354). It would be more beneficial if these people would read and study on their own to better themselves rather than sitting in front of the TV doing nothing. But there are a few that want to move out of poverty and are willing to work towards their goal. Those people, like Angela Whitiker, find that moving out of poverty is very difficult and help from society and the government would be greatly helpful.
The government could make it easier for the poor to work their way out of poverty. According to Class Matters, 39 percent of people who are hired for a job climb their way out of poverty (Muhammad 231). So if the government increased the availability of jobs, such as by hiring poor people for a highway cleanup crew, it would greatly increase the chance of the hired people moving out of poverty. In Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich suggests that the working poor need higher wages just to survive. Today, low wage workers are earning less than they did 27 years ago (Ehrenreich 203). "In the first quarter of 2000, the poorest 10 percent of workers were earning only 91 percent of what they earned in the distant era of Watergate and disco music" (Ehrenreich 203).
However, an increase in the minimum wage is also a double edge sword. The wage increase would immediately benefit the poor and would give them the opportunity to move up in class. On the other hand, it would discourage specialization such as a college degree because the poor would not see a need for a higher education since they would be doing fine without it. Education is very valuable in order to move out of poverty and we should not discourage it by increasing minimum wages. Thirty-five percent of the poor who get at least a two year college degree move out of poverty (Muhammad 231). If more scholarships and grants were awarded to the poor, more of them would rise out of poverty and we would hear more success stories similar to Angela Whitiker's.
In addition, the government could also provide a way for the poor to get affordable child care and housing. For many minimum wage workers, paying for child care and housing is just too much. In Nickel and Dimed, Ehrenreich mentions how many other countries compensate workers lack of descent wages with benefits such as childcare and affordable housing:
Most civilized nations compensate for the inadequacy of wages by providing relatively generous public services such as health insurance, free or subsidized child care, subsidized housing, and effective public transportation. But the United States, for all its wealth, leaves its citizens to fend for themselves-facing market-based rents, for example on their wages alone. (Ehrenreich 214)
Since the poor have to fend for themselves, there is no way a single mother without any help could get out of poverty. Today, "reliable child care is just too expensive, even for middle class families" (Ehrenreich 214). It's no wonder that it took Whitiker six years to get a two year degree at a community college when she had to constantly take care of her five children. Affordable housing is another major problem of the poor, and for some "[t]he home is a car or a van" (Ehrenreich 214). With government help, the poor could live in actual houses instead of cars, in some cases, and those who want to go to college would be able to in a timely manner because they wouldn't have to constantly take care of their children.
Another way to help the poor move out of poverty is to increase social capital. For the poor, having someone to help share costs is very beneficial. In Whitiker's case, having a husband allowed her to finish her college degree, which led to a better paying job and therefore she moved out of poverty and into the middle class of America. "[O]f poor single mothers who marry, 56 percent are lifted out of poverty" (Muhammad 231). If a poor, single mother is able to marry a supportive husband, there is a good chance that they will move up in class and out of poverty. However, this is not a very common occurrence and should not be heavily relied upon. Only 1.4 percent of poor, single mothers actually get married every year, so if you do the math, only 0.78 percent, or 78 of every 10,000 poor mothers actually get married and move out of poverty every year.
Overall, duplicating Angela Whitiker's success is difficult, and much of the responsibility to move up in class is on themselves. Those of the poor that do desire to work their way out of poverty and chose not to live the low class life find that moving up is incredibly difficult, and the government and society should lend a helping hand to those struggling out of the hole of social disparity. With a helping hand, the poor that are willing can and will move out of poverty and we will have successfully duplicated Angela Whitiker's inspiring success.