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Enough of the individualistic rhetoric; the real causes of worker poverty are systemic

Courtesy of the author
350 workers attended NOC’s Workers Rising March and Rally on July 15.

One of the defining features of American political culture is our commitment to individualism. We are individualists in at least two senses of the word. First, we support the rights of individuals. We believe that there are some rights that belong to individuals that no government or other entity has a right to infringe upon. We are also individualists, secondly, in that Americans are more likely than people in other countries to explain social problems in terms of individual behavior. We prefer explanations that focus on individual behaviors rather than social structures and institutions that largely determine options and influence outcomes.

Nowhere is this preference for individual explanations for the causes of social problems more evident than in American rhetoric about poverty and economic success. Jeb Bush’s remarks in New Hampshire are an excellent example. At a campaign stop, Bush said:

My aspiration for the country — and I believe we can achieve it — is 4 percent growth as far as the eye can see. Which means we have to be a lot more productive, work-force participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows, means that people need to work longer hours and through their productivity gain more income for their families. That’s the only way we’re going to get out of this rut that we’re in.

Let’s unpack Bush’s comment here. According to Bush, we’re having some economic problems — slow economic growth, low worker productivity, and Americans families who aren’t bringing in enough income. According to Bush, the individual behavior of American workers is to blame for these problems. Ultimately, for Bush and others like him, poverty can be explained away by attributing it to the failure of low-income people’s individual work ethic.

Bush’s rhetoric may be compatible with our individualist political culture, but as an explanation for our economic problems it fails miserably. And it fails precisely because it focuses on the individual behavior of American workers, rather than the economic and political institutions within which they find themselves.

Two reports about working people in Minneapolis published by Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) illustrate the structural challenges Minneapolis workers face when providing for their families. These reports offer a clear and direct challenge to the rhetoric Bush is promoting. 

For “Our Time Counts,” NOC surveyed more than 500 hourly workers in North Minneapolis about their work schedules, compensation, and benefits like paid sick days. Fifty-one percent of the workers NOC surveyed make $10 an hour or less. “Nearly 40 percent of workers surveyed are working part-time schedules, which is 34 hours or less per week.” People working only part-time and at low wages are struggling to provide for their families. To them, Jeb Bush would say, “work more hours.”

But as NOC’s report demonstrates, these vulnerable workers can’t work more hours. It’s not that they don’t want to. In fact, 78 percent of part-time hourly workers and even 58 percent of full-time hourly workers reported that they would prefer to work more hours than they are currently assigned. However, hourly workers have little to no control over their schedules and cannot simply choose to work more hours.

Often, they are scheduled for on-call shifts, meaning they must be available to their employers to work a shift, but they are not guaranteed work that day. The employer may choose to not call them in and the worker then loses that opportunity to gain income from a day’s work. In addition, hourly workers are often sent home early before the end of their scheduled shift. On-call shifts and sending workers home early save the employer money, but have negative effects for the workers who lose income and cannot adequately budget due to unpredictable earnings.

Some might argue that part-time hourly workers should simply get a second job if they want to be able to provide a decent life for themselves and their families. However, NOC’s research demonstrates that most workers are not free to find secondary employment. Many of the workers NOC surveyed are required to have “open availability,” which means they can be scheduled to work at any time, day or night. The challenges workers face due to open availability policies are compounded by schedules that change weekly, or even daily. “Over half (55 percent) of all hourly workers surveyed reported that they receive their schedules a week or less in advance.” Subject to open availability policies and without a set schedule, coordinating a work schedule with a secondary employer is prohibitively difficult. Unpredictable schedules and open availability policies are, then, significant impediments to secondary employment.

NOC’s other recent report, “It’s About Time,” illustrates the transit challenges that low-income workers face that make secondary employment virtually impossible. In Minnesota, people of color are disproportionately employed in low-income jobs. In addition, low-income people of color are significantly more likely to rely on public transportation to get to and from their places of employment. As NOC’s research demonstrates, workers using public transportation to commute to work pay a significant time penalty for doing so. “Every year, Black and Asian transit users spend the [hourly] equivalent of about 3.5 weeks of work more than white drivers on their commutes alone. For Latino transit users, it is nearly 4.5 weeks.” As NOC points out the transit penalty has deeply problematic effects on workers from communities of color. “That means that for a month a year more than white drivers, transit commuters of color are unavailable for working, helping children with homework, helping parents get to the doctor, running errands, volunteering in their communities, or participating in their churches.”

NOC’s reports demonstrate important ways in which the individualist rhetoric around poverty in America obscures the causes of poverty among low-income workers. Low-income workers are vulnerable to economic exploitation by their employers. They do not earn a living wage and have little control over the number of hours they work in any given week. Our labor laws and economic policies at all levels — city, state, and national — put the interests of employers over workers. To say to the most vulnerable among us “work harder” is to ignore the structural challenges low-income workers face. It’s an individualistic oversimplification of the problem.

The Minneapolis City Council has an opportunity right now to address the real causes of poverty among low-income workers by adopting a comprehensive package of worker protections, like fair scheduling requirements, mandated earned sick and safe time, and — most importantly — adopting a $15 an hour minimum wage so hourly workers can provide for themselves and their families. Six council members (Lisa Bender, Alondra Cano, Jacob Frey, Elizabeth Glidden, Cam Gordon, and Andrew Johnson) have expressed their support for improving worker protections in Minneapolis. We must ensure that the remaining members of the council cannot ignore these issues. Now is the time for all Minneapolitans to contact their representatives and demand strong worker protections that promote the dignity and well-being of all Minneapolis workers and their families.

Kathleen Cole, Ph.D., is a political science professor in the Social Science Department at Metropolitan State University. Her view do not necessarily represent the views of her employer.

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Comments (51)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 07/27/2015 - 09:32 am.


    I used to tell my kids that life is all about choices. By paying attention in school and graduating with good grades, you’ll get to choose where you go to college. You’ll get to choose how you will make your living, and ultimately, you’ll get to choose whether you are self-reliant or you live in poverty.

    Even though we’ve always known that, we still have people expecting society to adjust to them and their poor choices, at the expense of people who’ve made the right choices.

    • Submitted by Peter Stark on 07/27/2015 - 07:54 pm.

      So many bad choices…

      If your thesis is correct, then it seems that bad choices of one generation are highly dependent on bad choices of the previous generation. Research by Pew shows that a person’s social mobility (i.e. their ability to move from one income quintile into a different one) is highly dependent upon which income quintile they were born into.

      For example, people born into the bottom quintile have a 43% chance of staying there their entire lives, and only a 9% chance of moving into the top quintile. Conversely, a person like me, born into the 4th quintile, has a 24% chance of moving into the top quintile. I’ll have you know, through a combination of knowing the right people, shaking the right hands, and going to the right school, while not working hard at all, I’ve firmly entrenched myself in the top quintile. The best part is that my kids have a 40% chance of staying in the top quintile, and an 8% chance of falling into the bottom quintile.

      Poor Kid: 8% chance of becoming well-off, 43% chance of staying poor
      Well-Off Kid: 8% chance of becoming poor, 40% chance of staying well-off

      That sure doesn’t strike me as being dependent on individual choices.


    • Submitted by jody rooney on 07/28/2015 - 12:00 am.

      If they didn’t go to school or make good grades

      and couldn’t make good grades where do the work?

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 07/29/2015 - 12:48 am.

      Suppose everyone went to college and

      majored in business, computer science, engineering, medicine, and other “professional” fields or learned a skilled trade.

      Who would work in the daycare centers? Who would clean hotel rooms? Who would load merchandise onto trucks at wholesale outlets? Who would cook school lunches? Who would stock shelves at big box stores? Who would collect trash? Who would sort the trash? Who would do the cooking in low- to mid-level restaurants? Who would load moving vans? Who would do data entry? Who would change the diapers of Alzheimer’s patients in nursing homes?

      Who would do all the necessary but unglamorous jobs that keep society running?

      Somebody will do that work. Somebody MUST do that work.

      Are you saying that such people are not worth a living wage and a predictable schedule? (It’s hard to, say, take community college classes or arrange childcare if your employer treats you as an interchangeable cog who should be able to drop everything at his convenience and should not care if he is full time one week and part time the next week.)

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 08/02/2015 - 08:30 am.

        Supply and Demand

        If more people were academically successful and became Engineers, Medical Professionals, Computer Science, Plumbers, Electricians, Mechanics, etc there would be fewer people available to work in the lower knowledge required positions. Therefore the wages for the lower knowledge positions would increase and the wages for the “professionals” would fall somewhat.

        And if the illegal aliens were deported, that would reduce the lower knowledge required workforce and drive wages up even faster. That is if the applicable American citizens would be willing to do those “unglamorous” jobs even if they paid better.

        Mandating higher minimum wages and benefits for people who performed poorly in K-12 is just a way to reward them for their life choices at the cost of all American consumers, including them. The question is how do we provide incentives and support these folks to learn and improve the level of value they offer to prospective employers.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/03/2015 - 11:15 am.

          Well, No

          There is evidence that the “shortage” of tech workers has been deliberately overstated:

          Academic success isn’t always a choice, but if you were born into the right family, a lack of success is no barrier. Just ask our 43rd President.

  2. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 07/27/2015 - 10:44 am.

    Gosh, so many people who made the “poor choice” to be born in a low-income family in the inner city where schools are not good, and where there aren’t even supermarkets to get healthy food!

    The fact that the first response to this article is a blatant, and ignorant, re-statement of the individualist argument shows how convincing the article is, and thus how dangerous it is for politicians and theoreticians on the right who do not want workers to see the system’s fault lines.

    Interesting, to see which Council Members are involved in this effort to improve working conditions for the lowest paid and most manipulated, and who are not.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 07/27/2015 - 11:02 am.


      You described me in your first paragraph.

      • Submitted by jody rooney on 07/28/2015 - 12:06 am.

        So just because you did it every one can?

        You’ve probably sat in board rooms and I have sat in board rooms and executive meetings and heard stereo type after stereo type. You might want to review that chapter in Freakonomics about the same resume being sent to the same company with different names and see how that works. Guess which one always was picked out the one with the clearly white guy name.

  3. Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 07/27/2015 - 11:06 am.


    When I was at Sam’s Club in 1991, the starting wage was $7/hr. According to CPI inflation, which is dubious in it’s calculation, suspect of being manipulated low, puts 7 @ 14 in 2015. What is the starting wage @ Sam’s Club today? $9?

    When Home Depot went big in 1994, they were @ $12 to start, with regular raises. When I started there in 2013, they were @ $10/hr. Part time, schedule changing every week, four hour shifts in the middle of the day. I was the first at that store to be Associate of the Month, the first month there. I am a former general contractor/builder. I am an expert gardener (I was in the garden center.) After six months, any raise? No. Any opportunity for full time hrs? No.

    Where did all those wages go, with this systemic wage suppression, shift from full time to part time? Executive compensation and investor returns, that’s where. Systemic theft.

    Where has government been, throughout this process? Handmaidens of corporations and banks? Nay, a kind of National Socialist collusion between corporations, banks and gov, in the national interest of empire building, surveillance police state institutionalizing, military industrial complex metastasizing.

    Now TPP/TTIP/TISA trade regime threatens to accelerate this trend, indeed undercutting the sovereignty of America and it’s people, and our ability to make laws to protect ourselves from economic predators.


  4. Submitted by Scott Walters on 07/27/2015 - 11:39 am.

    Society SHOULD Adjust to People

    And I find it amazing that such a simple proposition should even need to be stated.

    We make the rules. We get to change them when we decide they aren’t working well. They aren’t working well. Since the mid 1970s, the share of national income going to labor disconnected from productivity increases. Workers have been working smarter, but gaining almost nothing from doing so, instead, the gain from laborers working smarter has gone to the owners.

    Time to change the rules to benefit laborers, not owners.

    In other news: interesting dichotomy – “you’ll get to choose whether you are self-reliant or you live in poverty.” Nobody is “self-reliant.” Get over it. You didn’t build that. We built it together, but some profited from it greatly, and others profited little.

    • Submitted by joe smith on 07/27/2015 - 01:05 pm.

      Do owners who put up capital, endless hours and assume all the downside risks deserve to make money? Do they deserve to make more than employees? Who will decide how much they make? You, me, Al Franken, some elitist in DC? That idea sounds like socialism, which has never worked anywhere in the world over time. Capitalism has lifted more folks out of lower class to middle and upper class than any other system ever tried.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 07/27/2015 - 01:43 pm.

        It’s Blue In Mine

        With all due respect (in a nod to the mods), what color is the sky in your world? Seriously, have you been paying attention lately? Assuming all of the downside risk? That’s been socialized for years!

        Do you recall the big time free marketers that crashed the economy in 2008? They got bailed out, if you recall. And those too big to fail banks? They got bigger. CEOs and other high level corporate execs play with other peoples’ money in a huge heads I win tails you lose scheme. If it goes south, no problem, there’s a golden parachute waiting for you.

        How much risk does the owner of any professional sports franchise make when a new stadium is built?

        Scot Walker’s WEDC just lost millions on loans of taxpayer millions when the enterprises went bankrupt.
        Risk? Like Leona Helmsley’s comment on taxes, risk is for the little people. Like the worker bees that diligently took money out of each Enron paycheck and bought company stock in their 401Ks, all the while the big wheels in the board room were selling theirs as fast as possible.

        No, profits are private, but losses are socialized for those at the top.

      • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 07/27/2015 - 03:24 pm.


        Few argue that employees should earn as much as employers, any healthy society would agree. This society apparently believing employers, particularly those corporations masqueraded as persons, should parasitize capital until the host is dead. National Socialism being very good for empire building, like cancer. Capitalism today behaving unto like a death cult.


  5. Submitted by joe smith on 07/27/2015 - 12:26 pm.

    So if we assume all the facts in this story are true, what are the solutions? 15$ an hour wages in Seattle will be a litmus test for the rest of the country. So far there are mixed results, higher prices in some stores, less workers in others, no change in some stores and the most disheartening cases are workers who are asking for less hours so they can stay on food stamps, housing subsidies, and other programs. As far as limited hours for “on call” employees goes the owner of the business, who has money invested, deserves to earn a living also. Having employees working in down times or slow downs just doesn’t make economic sense for many businesses.
    As far as schools go, we should be pushing many kids into the trades instead of college. There is no shortage of electricians, welders, plumbers or other skilled trade jobs. Also teaching our kids and this new generation that hard work is not a bad word would help. I am amazed at how so many folks look at working hard, it used to be a badge of honor to be a hard worker. If you don’t have a white collar job, you had better get used to the idea of hard work because that is what you will be doing. There is no shame in that at all, as a matter of fact, my blue collar friends are some of the best folks I know.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/27/2015 - 03:18 pm.

      Lower Classes–Behave!

      “If you don’t have a white collar job, you had better get used to the idea of hard work because that is what you will be doing.” The folks with the white collar jobs have it easier. They will be lolling about, reaping the fruits of your good old hard work. It’s your fault for choosing to be born into the wrong family. Deal with it.

      “There is no shame in that at all, as a matter of fact, my blue collar friends are some of the best folks I know.” Words fail me.

  6. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 07/27/2015 - 06:53 pm.

    Individuals have no clout

    Studies too numerous to mention (they’re easily found on the web), and from well back into the 20th century, not to mention the ongoing research, virtually all support both the headline and the first paragraph of the article.

    “…We prefer explanations that focus on individual behaviors rather than social structures and institutions that largely determine options and influence outcomes….” I’d argue that a good part of the underlying cause for the truth of that statement is that social structures and institutions, which are largely the result of “haves” in the society, are not only much more difficult to address because they’re often ubiquitous, they’re difficult to address because doing so would challenge, or at the very least make uncomfortable, those people and institutions that, as the quote suggests, “…largely determine options and influence outcomes.”

    Over the course of my lifetime, we’ve increasingly become an oligarchic society. The 1%, or perhaps it’s the 10%, run the show. Laws are written to favor them, and while they’ll occasionally distribute some crumbs from the economic or political table to the commoners, they’re not likely to voluntarily give up the reins of power and privilege that allow them to live so comfortably.

    Yes, we all make choices about paying attention in school, working hard, saving money, etc., and there are people for whom those choices actually work – we all know a Horatio Alger story of some sort. But the problems, economic and political, that dominate the current version of society, are, as the author suggests, systemic. The system is rigged against both individuals and groups who, for whatever reason, cannot or do not, fit the stereotypical definitions of the 19th century. Further, as a certified old guy who taught in a high school for 30 years, I’ve observed many people who *do* follow the rules, study in school, work hard, try to save money from incomes that are inadequate to begin with, and thus end up, if not at the bottom of the ladder, very close to it.

    There are also, I might add, plenty of people who are *not* consumed by the need to make a six-figure income, who would prefer to help their fellow citizens in one capacity or another, and thus choose occupations that this society considers to be of less value than something mechanical and/or corporate, even though the lower-paid professions and occupations are, in fact, what keeps the society going for everyone, including those in the upper 10%. Just sayin’.

    • Submitted by joe smith on 07/28/2015 - 09:36 am.

      The 1st rule in getting folks to believe they need Big Brother Govt to take care of them is the fear that the problem they face is too big for them to handle by themselves. Both parties do this daily. I am old now, but just can’t imagine the feeling that no matter what I do my station in life is set in stone. I hear the “no hope” mantra on this site steady. The power of the individual is the enemy of Big Govt, they hate the fact that millions of us look at Govt as part of the problem not an end all solution. I never understood how folks could give the power of their life over to elected officials because they felt they had no answers to issues that confronted them. I was taught for every problem there is a solution, it is in you and up to you to find it.

      • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 07/29/2015 - 12:51 pm.

        And yet…

        The first thing out of the mouths of so-called conservatives is “How’s that Hope and Change thing going for you?” as though hope and change are a foolish thing to believe in. Then, they belittle the efforts of those working hard and still not making it by saying things like “folks…believe they need Big Brother Govt to take care of them” as though not being able to afford housing or food on their own even while working 50 and 60 hours a week is a matter of laziness or moral weakness.

        I started at the bottom and worked my way up–I’m pretty firmly upper middle class, in the 4th quintile (income-wise, at least), in fact. I know lots of people that worked as hard or harder that barely make ends meet. I am not so foolish as to believe that I wasn’t, in part, very, very lucky.

  7. Submitted by joe smith on 07/27/2015 - 07:44 pm.

    Wow, where are you guys living?? I am the son of a miner who worked 42 yrs in the pits of N. Minn, he also fought in WW2 and taught me the value of hard work. I have logged, mined and had assorted other blue collar jobs, news flash- they are tough, hard, long hour jobs. Many of the guys I grew up with spent their lives on these jobs, they worked hard and are some of the best folks I know. I always kept a lake home up on the Range and now have chosen to live my summers here, I play golf daily with those same blue collar guys I played sports with as a kid. So I know a thing or two about blue collar jobs and keeping friends for 50 yrs.
    As far as socialized businesses, yes Bush started the bailouts of banks and certain financial groups (big time supporters of politicians) Obama kept the bailouts going and added GM (union payback). Thousands of small businesses folded in the yrs 07-12 putting out of work of thousands and thousands of workers!! I missed the bailout of those businesses. When you start up a business it takes folks willing to risk most of what they have to get going. That is why those of us who live in the real world celebrate the success of folks who do well. Those of us who have started businesses know the work and risk that go into it. It sounds like a lot of you never risked it all to follow a dream. Too bad for you, it is what made this country special.

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 07/28/2015 - 01:21 pm.

      Its amusing

      Do you live in a world where corporate bankruptcy has ceased to exist? Hint: if you aren’t really losing anything but some excess capital you invested to try and start a business you aren’t really risking much. As opposed to the employees, who stand to see the ruination of their entire fiscal lives in the event of a job loss.

      • Submitted by joe smith on 07/28/2015 - 05:01 pm.

        Matt, it is clear you have never started a small business. They just don’t give you the money to start up a business for nothing, you have to put up collateral. Who do you know who has excess money to lose on a whim? You are talking like small business owners are millionaires who have money to burn. Have you ever tried getting a small business loan? Believe me by the time you have declared bankruptcy, you have gone thru the ringer financially and emotionally. It is not only the end of your money and credit, but your dream is gone also. The utter ignorance as to what starting a small business entails is staggering.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 08/03/2015 - 06:49 pm.


          I have always been tempted to start a business, however I am a big chicken and being a corporate drone seems safer… My company fails, I apply elsewhere and get a new job. All I have to do is keep my skill set current and marketable. I am impressed and confused by those who risk so much to try to be their own boss.

          The idea that employees have more at risk than business owners always amuses me. If the business closes most owners take the biggest financial loss plus experiencing the loss of something that they believed and worked for. Whereas capable employees just move to another company.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 07/28/2015 - 06:36 pm.

      We aren’t alike

      Sir Joe, you yes, others no, grow up with any polio or paraplegic kids, how about a little mentally short? How about alcoholic fathers, mothers, abusive siblings, parents? Unemployed parents? How about not quite up to Doctor or dentist or Business owner status in a small, how about criminal parents, perhaps a farm family W/O indoor plumbing that sat next to you in English? Unless you have walked in their moccasins you do not know the difficulty of their path. Yes I live in the real world, but had advantages like work ethic, 70 Hr weeks at 14-15 years old working construction or contract hay baling, had medical treatment to fix broken arms and rheumatic fever, had a home, parents that would not let me quit school, an older sister that believed more than I did, a teacher that challenged me, a US Navy that proved to me I could do better, an Uncle Sam that paid my college, You give yourself way too much credit, its probably more luck than making good decisions. This country was founded to celebrate the success of all of us “We the people” not we the individual. Yes you can Quote the founders on that.

      • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 07/28/2015 - 10:14 pm.

        Thanks for the truth Dennis

        Luck always runs out

      • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 07/30/2015 - 08:58 pm.

        Your story is exactly why

        We should pay $15.00 an hour for the most menial of jobs, even if part-time or requiring no education, skills, or ability to understand the language of more than 50% of the residents of the state you are working in.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 08/03/2015 - 04:13 pm.


          So are you going to put your money where your opinion is?
          Us consumers will ultimately be paying the higher wages.

          When costs increase everywhere in MN, will you continue to buy Minnesotan / American, or will you buy the less expensive products and services that will be available elsewhere?

          History has shown that consumers will buy where they can get the best value for themselves. Not sure why Liberals think it will be different this time.

  8. Submitted by jody rooney on 07/28/2015 - 12:29 am.

    Someone needs to explain the word productivity to

    Jeb Bush. Increases in productivity usually come when the ratio of capital to labor increases. Which means output per person increases.

    Anyone remember the quiet demise of the occupation of secretary, typists, loggers? The ones that are left in similar occupations are dealing a lot more sophisticated with technology.

    You are only paid for what you know and what you can do. If you are smart and have access to technology you can succeed. If you can read at the third grade level or even the 10the grade level things will be tough.

    I imagine like all the folks who supervise many of the folks at Home Depot and Sam’s Club they are working on the MCDonald’s principal – they want turn over to keep wages low, so they schedule part time and ignore effort because if you don’t know how to sell more then the only thing you can do is keep wages down. Retail sales is a place holder job it is no longer a ladder position. These kind of career paths – learn on the job have pretty much disappeared and those that don’t do well in academic pursuits are not going to succeed.

  9. Submitted by Michael Hess on 07/28/2015 - 09:32 am.


    his comments are without doubt confusing and can be unpacked to mean different things. does “need to work” mean he is blaming the workers for not showing up to the job enough, or they “need” to work because demand for their good or service are so great? It’s not clear, but if you tie back to the growth comment, need to work comes from the demand, not from a exhortation to show up for more hours unrequested.

    He (Bush) later clarified his comment that he was referring to part time workers. to quote:

    Bush later defended his remarks, saying: “You can take it out of context all you want, but high-sustained growth means people work 40 hours rather than 30 hours and that by our success they have disposable income for their families to decide how they want to spend it rather than standing in line and being dependent upon government.”

    WE should at least be debating the right issue.

  10. Submitted by Erik Kengaard on 07/28/2015 - 02:30 pm.

    Impressions of poverty

    It is true that we believe in individual rights; it is also true that from the beginning of the nation until recently we believed in community. The latter belief diminished as the state took the place of community. In the 19th and early 20th century, the family and community cared for people who had fallen on hard times. Poverty was considered shameful, and people worked hard to avoid becoming poor. That changed, beginning with the actions of the administration elected in 1964. The state took the place of the community, and the state actions increased poverty. Worse, the population of poor was unnecessarily increased by importing millions of poor.

    • Submitted by Ed Kohler on 07/29/2015 - 08:09 am.

      Erik, your comment doesn’t seem to be supported by facts. Try Googling “poverty over time” for more information, or check out this link to a historical summary of poverty in the United States provided by the National Poverty Center:

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 07/31/2015 - 12:36 pm.


      I just read an article a few days ago on Medicare. The program helped halve–as in reduce by 50%–the poverty rate for the elderly.

      That hardly sounds like a bad thing.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/03/2015 - 11:19 am.

        Subsidizing Poor Choices

        And there you have it. Big government is subsidizing the choices these people made to be poor AND old.


  11. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 08/01/2015 - 11:34 am.

    The 1% do not want the larger American community to know about, or understand, the true nature and systemic causes of the incredible economic inequality in our country. Or, how “the American dream” became a reality that existed really for only the post-World War II generations, into the 1980s. It’s all been stagnant and downhill since then. Please read the data Th. Picketty published.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 08/02/2015 - 08:49 am.


      Please help me understand your rationale for this statement?

      “The 1% do not want the larger American community to know about, or understand, the true nature and systemic causes of the incredible economic inequality in our country.”

      The 1 percenters I know like learning, working, saving, investing and watching their investments grow. They also love consumers and capable workers who can make this possible. Why do you think they are pushing so hard to change the Public School systems to help close the academic achievement gap?

      Having a bunch of poor struggling people does nothing to help them achieve their goals. Just as paying people more than their academic achievement, skills, productivity, etc does nothing good for America on the whole.

      As I often say, the American consumers control this situation. As long as they are unwilling to pay more for and demand higher domestic content products and services, there will be a shortage of good paying jobs for low knowledge American workers. Just one example, all those Toyota Prius owners freely shipped their money and tens of thousands of American jobs to Japan.

      • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 08/03/2015 - 09:54 am.

        The other side of the coin

        The philosophy of making $ ignores many consequences. Example “Pay Day Lenders” some folks make super $ at the expense of folks under financial stress, or basically financially incompetent, don’t see the 1% starting a drive to “make folks more financially smart” actually see it the other way around, board rooms and marketing programs to increase the deception to the unwary. The flaw in the “rationale” used is the same as the Adam Smith “theory”, we do not all possess the same level of knowledge or access to information, nor were we raised the same or have the same experiences. i.e the apples to apples comparisons are a ruse when using theory against reality, or them to us. That comparison is only in very broad and general terms. And we all know that generalities serve very little purpose/direct correlation to individual situations. The part also missed is the inequality of taxation, which has been covered numerous times in these Minn Post commentaries. Reality must be faced, wealth allows manipulation of the tax code through access to politics/politicians the folks that write the tax codes. There is a large chasm between “free market theory” and reality, espousing theory may make one feel better and smug about their success. The last point, could we get off the false premise that all wealthy folks only got it because they were hardworking, industrious etc, etc. Much of their wealth has been inherited, all no, many/most yes, and once you are wealthy and part of the crowd that controls the tax laws, the wealth making machine just keeps spitting out money, period.

        Your Toyota example is not a good one, most American Built vehicles Top 10, 3 are Toyota’s, 2 Honda’s, other 5 are split Ford, Chev and Dodge. (Another discussion in and of itself)

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 08/03/2015 - 10:40 am.

          Domestic Content

          I picked on the Prius to avoid the usual “Assembled in America” discussion. Please see this link to compare the top 10.

          Toyota and Honda do pretty good on their highest volume cars. Most of the other foreign models / brands are pretty low.

          Please note the PRIUS family of cars score a 1. Where as the Volt scored a 65.5. And the Focus Electric scored a 72.5.

          Please remember that manufacturers must compete or they go out of business. If VW builds in Mexico, China, etc to keep costs low, the Domestics will need to follow suit… So when consumers buy low domestic content they are the ones driving the off shoring of US jobs.

          Same with Samsung, Sony, etc. Americans flocked to those lost cost high quality devices, and the American firms either went bankrupt or moved their production to China, Taiwan, etc. Do you really think Apple would still be in business if they had kept production here?

          The American consumers love a bargain, even if it costs them their jobs or income at some point in the future.

          • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 08/03/2015 - 05:15 pm.

            Need to answer the big question

            Come on JA, you dodged the point. Its about “Poverty” Not Auto imports. i.e. their is one hell of a Software Industry in the US, wasn’t here in 1973. There are some global forces at work, we get that, your auto model does not explain the continued Rich richer, poor poorer, why should the rich get richer when all the industry is moving off shore, shouldn’t they theoretically get poorer along with the poor?

            • Submitted by John Appelen on 08/03/2015 - 10:29 pm.

              Not Really

              Most investors like myself have a diversified portfolio of domestic and foreign stocks. We earn money whether consumers buy from Toyota, GM, Subaru, Honda, Ford, Apple, Microsoft, Google, Nestle or pretty much any other publicly traded stock.

              For example… I use Vanguard and here are their foreign stock fund holdings.

              It is just the American workers and stagnant American companies that suffer from the American Consumer’ s passion for that best deal.

              As for Software, Medical Devices and other High Tech industries, please remember that people like myself who work in those industries still have good paying stable jobs. Those jobs are hard to outsource without putting your intellectual property at risk. The jobs that are moved or automated are those that can be done by HS grads or those who dropped out.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 08/03/2015 - 05:30 pm.

          Piece by Piece

          Here is a link to a site that is there to help people learn personnel finance. Please see who has set it up.

          • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 08/03/2015 - 10:20 pm.

            Point counter point

            How many poor folks you think have internet access?
            Why do the inner city libraries have so many computers for Internet access?
            First folks have to realize they have a finance problem!
            There is a complete different mentality that these folks operate under ie. the issue is “systemic”: “of or relating to a system, especially as opposed to a particular part.”
            Their world operates under different premises, rules, mores, culture etc. back to the original premise, your/our rules, thoughts etc. don’t apply very well in their world, i.e. your/our solutions don’t fit.

            The pay down your debt example from BOA: is overly simplistic in nature and not realistic:
            Single mother 2 kids
            Here do this one: Income $1600 a month ~ $9/Hr plus change.
            Rent $800
            Food $400
            Insurance (Can’t afford it)
            Electricity: $80
            Water: $45
            Heat: $80
            Existing debt at minimum payment: $75 (18%) being generous
            Kids medical bill $1600 (Now due) (generous)
            Monthly bus transportation $45
            Laundromat: $40/month (~ 2-3 wash loads a week)
            Clothes: (Can’t afford)
            Dental : (Can’t afford)
            Back to school supplies (can’t afford)
            Day care while working?

            • Submitted by John Appelen on 08/04/2015 - 12:41 pm.


              Single mother 2 kids

              Where is the father(s) of the children and the child support?
              Where are the Parents of the Woman?
              Does she have a room mate who can help share the bills?
              What has her trapped in $9/hr job?
              – Lack of educational success?
              – Those different mores, culture, etc?

              I don’t think having Uncle Sam / Tax Payers trying to fill the void of family is likely to be very successful. As we have seen.

              How do we encourage this Woman, the father(s) of her children, her family and friends to help her and the kids? Not passing the costs of their choices on to the tax payers.

              • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 08/04/2015 - 10:16 pm.

                2 Points

                Point 1: History is history, regrets are regrets, we need to deal with today and today’s reality, it is real today, and that is what the article is all about “systemic” it is what it is now deal with it or or ignore it, pay now pay later. “Sho-ga-ni”

                Point 2: Still waiting for the Right or the left wing to force the Male(s) involved to provide commitment and resources to raise the kids etc. etc.
                Point 2a: now you know why some of us are pro choice: Where is the support for the woman etc. after the kid is born?
                Next stop social services:
                You are asking the magical questions, but forget there is ~ 1/3 of the population already in the poverty soup. Option 1: let them die and beg in the streets, acceptable? They are off the taxpayer plan! But we still support the super rich with corrupt tax breaks. Go figure.

                • Submitted by John Appelen on 08/05/2015 - 07:47 am.

                  My Version of Reality

                  The Present: I love “The Present”, it is a great book and philosophy. What can we do in the Present to change the behaviors of people so they stop trapping their families in the cycle of poverty? I don’t think just giving them more money for nothing is going to do it.

                  Please remember that I am Pro Choice through the first trimester. And the woman should not have conceived if she was not financially and emotionally ready to be a Parent. If she has the rights, she also has the responsibilities and the consequences. Though we don’t want kids hungry or homeless, no one said the woman has to comfortable after being irresponsible. If she gets pregnant while on welfare, maybe mandatory adoption should be required or having tubes tied. She has proven that she is not taking responsibility for her kids and she is in a government program.

                  Corporate tax breaks were put there to encourage some behavior, not to help the rich. And any of us who have pensions, 401K, work for corporations, etc benefit from our companies being profitable. Besides the rich and ourselves then paypersonal taxes on those profits or capital gains.

  12. Submitted by Jay Willemssen on 08/06/2015 - 08:31 pm.

    Excellent piece, Dr. Cole

    There’s clearly a need to point out the context of poverty to combat the common derogatory stereotypes about it in this society.

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