Poverty and Lifestyle Choices

Dec 30, 2007

I just read a great opinion article by Melvina Young about the relationship between poverty and lifestyle choices. In the article, she explains that we cannot blame poverty solely on lifestyle choices.

Many affluent people try to blame poverty on poor people by claiming that poor people’s bad decisions cause their poverty. However, in reality, many unindividual factors cause poverty. In the article, Young points out limited availability of quality education and high-paying employment as two major impersonal factors that can make or keep a person poor.

Additionally, famine, illness, and other cases of bad luck can also make a person poor.

Melvina Young also points out the absurdity of the whole “get a job” mantra by pointing out that most poor people have jobs. Also, I know that millions of college graduates in the United States live in poverty.

Even a minor, non-self-inflicted crisis could throw most so-called “middle-class” people into poverty by ruining their financial juggling.

Even in the United States, most children born into poverty will remain in poverty throughout their lives. On average, these children achieve significantly less in their lives than more affluent children. That happens because the poor children receive less opportunity. They do not get quality education. They often grow up hungry and unloved, surrounded by violence, crime, drugs, and bad role models. They end up poor on average because of their enviornment. Like a seed planted in infertile dirt without water or sunlight, they have the individual potential but not the environmental opportunity.

In analogy, even the best poker player can lose a hand if he receives bad cards. As Melvina Young says in her article, “Personal responsibility is a powerful and crucial thing. But it’s only part of the picture.”

We live in a world where a smart, hard-working single mother with 3 jobs can live in poverty while a pathetic do-nothing like Paris Hilton lives the pampered life of richness.

People can end up poor not because of their decision-making but because of external factors. Two people who exercise equal decision-making ability will almost always live very different lives because they will receive different opportunity. One could end up poor while the other ends up rich.

I find it absurd for people to blame poverty solely on personal decisions. Obviously, both personal decisions and socioeconomic forces contribute to a person’s financial status. On average, I do not see poor people as significantly lazier or stupider than non-poor people. Socioeconomic forces seem to contribute more to a person’s financial status than their personal decisions.

What do you think? Which do you think contributes to poverty more–personal decisions or socioeconomic forces? Post your responses in this thread at the World Hunger and Poverty Forums.

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Children suffering from Poverty