Poverty in America is once again rising to the top of the political agenda. Never a good sign.
Poverty should be so rare, we pay it little heed. But we live in times where poverty rates in America have risen to some of the highest levels in years (now about 15 percent or 46 million people), and where discussion of poverty’s causes is once again creating a political divide that may thwart solutions.
Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan recently raised the issue in talk radio show suggesting our work culture, not our economy was to blame.
He pointed to “inner city” pockets of people who don’t want to work. Ryan took straight aim at the culture and suggested that the ingrained set of beliefs we all tend to carry was somehow going south in a very serious way.
It seems he is suggesting our culture has somehow miraculously changed from a bootstrap culture to one where millions of Americans wake up lazy one morning. It’s hard to find evidence for his thesis beyond the talk-radio anecdotes.
And as families dictate culture, his comments pointed to the family and family structure, including single-parent households.
Ryan struck a chord that was easily interpreted as controversial and even racist but many overlooked a more startling suggestion: America’s work ethic that has driven the American dream for more than two centuries was somehow faltering for those in poverty.
We think that’s a big leap of logic without a lot of evidence.
We are not so cynical to believe that the American dream and its corollary — the American work ethic have all of a sudden declined into a culture of dependency on government or there is some general cultural cancer that is smothering the idea that has driven America for centuries: that if you work hard, you will get ahead.