Why is poverty so persistent in the US?


Let’s look at some possible explanations for poverty’s persistence in the face of unprecedented economic growth:

  • Is there a culture of poverty? Oscar Lewis’ research

    • A culture–passing down from one generation to the next
    • Characteristics: Marginality, helplessness, dependency, inferiority
    • ‘Self-defeatist,’ difficulty delaying gratification (sound like McLeod’s Hallway Hangers?)
    • Critiques (can we compare poor and non-poor behaviors?)

William J. Wilson’s theory of the underclass

      • industrial re-structuring
      • ‘outmigration’ of jobs
      • ‘White flight’ (exclusionary outmigration of people)
      • those forced to stay suffered greater stressors affecting family, health, household economy, socioeconomic status, opportunity, risk, etc.
        Blacks as immigrants in their own country …

Charles Murray’sbell curvethesis

    • Smarter people do better in our society;
    • Smarter people have different genetic make-up;
    • Based on IQ tests, which measure intelligence, whites are smarter than blacks and Hispanics;
    • There is a correlation between intelligence and socioeconomic status;
    • Differences in socioeconomic status that look like social stratification with a heavy racial component are genetic in nature.
    • Thus intelligence is in large part genetically inherited, but unequally among different races/ethnic groups.
    • This explains the racial component of social stratification (versus, say, social and other structural forces, or historical factors, in this case such as slavery, discrimination).
    • More recently

Counter evidence (critiques of Murray’s thesis):

    • Black and white children from similar backgrounds have similar IQs;
    • Black children adopted by white parents score higher on IQ tests (i.e., can’t be genetic);
    • IQ gap between blacks and whites increases over time when unequal socioeconomic situations are held constant (inequality in schools, e.g.);
    • IQ scores for all groups have risen over last 50 years or so (are we all becoming more intelligent?)
    • Black children moving from rural to urban areas improve IQ scores (again, could this be a genetic connection?);
    • Research shows that quality education can improve IQ scores of any group, even those classified as mentally retarded;
    • Improving prenatal diets of mothers increases their offsprings’ IQ scores (relationship between prenatal care and child IQ–Hernstein and Murray’s book claimed that poor childrearing was a result of lower IQ.
    • So . . . Murray reverses the causal order, or at least confounds it with personal bias–his thesis claims SES is the result of intelligence, and since IQ scores (claims he) suggest racial disparities, SES is the effect, race is the cause
    • A more honest reading of the data: SES influences IQ scores

Other considerations / possible explanations

    • Herbert Gans and functionalism (Someone’s benefiting … )–power and politics
    • Allan Johnson and systems of privilege
    • Rural poverty–different?
    • Lareau’s book and thesis?
    • Poverty as institutionalized?
      • Institutionalism–structures that continually reproduce themselves
      • People in poverty more likely to be, stay poor (duh!)–Murray calls it genes, turns stratification from cause into effect

Any patterns in these explanations (the more compelling ones, especially), in terms of sociology, structure/agency?

Lareau and class