Ezra Klein posted last week about the difficulty, for politicians, of discussing poverty – and in one paragraph, he did a very good job of concisely summarizing the point:
…the basic problem is that poor people, by virtue of being poor, can’t donate a lot of money to popularize their concerns, and are fairly marginalized from the political process in general. The result isn’t that those concerns are entirely ignored in Congress,… [but] that there’s little infrastructure for pushing them into the national conversation.
There’s also the fact that those in a position to implement policies or programs that could help the nation’s poor have rarely experienced poverty themselves. So there’s often a disparity between the every-day reality experienced by the impoverished and the way it is perceived by the (more fortunate) general populace. Many people – from all levels of affluence – have been sick, or had a child who was sick and needed care at home, or had car problems; perhaps they’ve even had trouble making rent or had an account overdraft. On their own, we call these problems ‘trifles.’ But it’s less often that most people encounter them all at once, and often, and without the support of family or dependable friends to fall back on (it’s why they’re more fortunate!). These are all problems that cause each other to cause each other, and so on… one of my favorite passages from The Working Poor, by David Shipler:
For every family, then, the ingredients of poverty are part financial and part psychological, part personal and part societal, part past and part present. Every problem magnifies the impact of the others, and all are so tightly interlocked that one reversal can produce a chain reaction with results far distant from the original cause. A run-down apartment can exacerbate a child’s asthma, which leads to a call for an ambulance, which generates a medical bill that cannot be paid, which ruins a credit record, which hikes the interest rate on an auto loan, which forces the purchase of an unreliable used car, which jeopardizes a mother’s punctuality at work, which limits her promotions and earning capacity, which confines her to poor housing… [adding up all of the] individual problems, the whole would be equal to more than the sum of its parts.