This past election cycle highlighted the difference in the way liberals and conservatives view the poor and factors that explain homelessness and poverty. In 2010 (the most recent year for which statistics have been compiled), 46.2 million people in the United States were in poverty and the nation’s official poverty rate was 15.1% and the gap between the rich and the poor continued to widen. But if you ask a liberal or conservative to explain why there are so many poor, you will hear two very different explanations.
During the presidential election we heard conservatives use terms like “freeloaders” and “lazy” to describe the poor. Conservatives tend to believe that becoming impoverished is more often then not driven by a lack of motivation to help oneself only made worse by government aid/entitlements. They argue that government aid will disincentivize the individual from going out to find work and make them “lazy”. A key factor missing in this view is that– while not impossible- it is often very difficult for many of the poor to find work because of environmental circumstances that don’t alway provide for healthy social networking or good schools and/or job opportunities. Moreover, to assume that most people just want to sit around and feel useless, that they don’t want to work and feel good about themselves defies common sense.
In contrast, liberals attribute the growing levels of poverty to factors such as a poor economy, lack of affordable housing, and lack of good schools and resources necessary for teaching and developing basic skills required to at a minimum apply for employment. They also point to the corporate corruption and ethical misconduct that often takes advantage of the poor, uninformed, and unsuspecting. Hence, they argue the poor deserve public aid to assist them as they move forward to break free of the social and educational boundaries of poverty.
Why such a difference in the way conservatives and liberals view poverty. People tend to see the world and assess situations based on are their own values and core principles. For example, conservatives place significant value on self-reliance, security, traditions, and smaller government with less entitlement programs. Liberals hold humanitarianism, tolerance, environmentalism, and equal rights for all as strong core principles. While some will argue you cannot make such a blanket statement about conservatives and liberals, it is safe to make a pragmatic generality based on the core principles held by the two differing ideologies.
In this writer’s opinion, America remains the greatest country in the world and must do what it can to provide fair and just opportunities to the poor and disenfranchised. If this means government assistance in one form or other to help those in need with things like cost of living expenses to help them get by and feed their families as they look for work, or to help assist with fees for night classes for those who are motivated enough to educate themselves – so be it. While it behooves us to be firm enough to refuse and weed out those who want to take advantage of the system, we must continue to look out for those who are willing and want to contribute. If we consider this issue from both a moral and pragmatic view- isn’t the right thing to do to help as many individuals as we can who are trying to survive with hopes of one day living the American dream? Moreover, would it not make more sense for a healthier and more productive society to help the poor and not leave them behind.
This is something this writer can’t wrap his head around. How can any human being with compassion support taking away food and benefits from children, women, and yes even working people who are teetering on poverty. At the present time, the country does not have enough jobs for everyone who conservatives maintain need to “lift themselves by the bootstraps”. We have a newly elected President who is making a concerted effort to address the job problem with infrastructure programs, working with manufacturing companies on job training programs, and investment in education. Moreover, he is holding accountable those U.S. corporations making billions in profits that continue to outsource jobs overseas.
In the meantime, if it were not for the government helping the jobless, the poor, where would they turn. The poor are not just a business or conglomerate group which can be dismissed as a non-profit generating, non-productive sector of society that we are unfortunately stuck with. These are fellow Americans, fellow human beings, real people – for whom we should show some concern for and responsibility.