What if a major issue in the world was almost entirely ignored because people just don’t see it? Such is the case with the poor in the United States. Poverty is an often understated and largely ignored issue in the United States. We tend to overlook it since we see the number of poor in the poorest countries and in comparison to them our problem doesn’t seem as pad. In truth many of the poor, as David Shipler stated are “invisible” because they are constantly “working.” We have more poor than we think, but since we do not often see them on the streets and elsewhere in our normal day-to-day activities, the problem is invisible to us.
Mr. Shipler, a Pulitzer-prize winning former foreign correspondent and bureau chill for The New York Times, says addressing poverty is similar to “connecting the dots.” Without the connecting lines it is nothing more than a scattered constellation with no tangible meaning or useful interpretation. Without a good understanding of the problem, how can one hope to address it? It can’t be, which brings us to Shipler’s explanation of some of the larger stars in the constellation of poverty. Crossing the poverty line is similar to a minefield. One misstep can send you back to square one. Because of this, according to Shipler, the ability for one to make the path out of poverty usually requires good luck and fortune, since pure determination will usually not get you out of the pit of poverty.
Shipler, who spent the day on the campus of Texas A&M Texarkana on November 10th, says “poverty” is the still picture and “debt” is the moving picture. Poverty is not static and results in accumulating debts for simple things such as food and water, items most Americans take for granted. Those who are in poverty are not aware of this. Shipler says this is because poverty is relative. If you are surrounded by poverty with it being all you see, your place in the visible community is not at the bottom, but equal to everyone else. This life of always living in poverty can lend itself to a sense of “learned ‘hopelessness’” whereby, people don’t want to try an advance themselves because they have an inherited sense of no hope for the future. Advancement within the affluent society, that they stand on the edge looking in on, is nearly impossible and rationally non-attainable.
Shipler says the poor often wear the “camouflage of work.” This lends itself to invisible to mainstream society. The reason no one sees the poor in America is because they are the waitress, the women at the drycleaners, the cashier at the restaurant where they are putting on their façade for work: the uniform. If seen in the context of their home, one could see the true state of the hardworking, unseen poor.
If a child remains poor through his middle and junior high years of schooling, a child’s dream for the future, a future where he or she is not poor, dies. This is why numerous children drop out of school once this dream is crushed and enter the workforce to continue the decades-old cycle of working to just survive.
Shipler gives one reason for the difficulty of addressing the issue of poverty is in its very structure. Rather than existing as a culture in society Shipler says in reality it has more in common to an ecological system with all of its intricacies, lending to a simple fix not existing for the problem.
One of the key links in the cyclical nature of poverty, says Shipler, is the issue of housing. Research shows when the bill for rent comes due and money is tight as usual the food budget is the first to be cut back. The reduced amount of food in the early stages of childhood can lead to developmental issues with children particularly neurological maturity. This can lead to bad choices perhaps being made by these underdeveloped children, bad choices that strengthen the grip poverty has on the families that originate form poorer communities.
Another issue affecting the poor comes when they apply for a job. People can develop a fear of work when they have had numerous failures. Such fear can keep people from ever applying for jobs and keeping them form taking the first step out of poverty. In Shipler’s interviews with people to compile his book he often saw the issue of fear come up in conversation with the interviewees. Its prevalence leads Shipler to assert that the issue is real and haunting.
Shipler’s ideas bring up an important issue for discussion. The poor in America are a forgotten group. Pushed to the side, left out in the open with no visible safety net. Federal programs exist to help combat the issue but a majority of those are under-utilized as of a direct campaign by those in charge to keep expenditures down why still taking the credit for providing such programs. Texas A&M University- Texarkana is proud to have hosted such an important discussion on such an important issue. The University hopes to be a forum for numerous future discussions on equally important issues.