Generational Poverty: Role Models Can Save Victims

Published: 22nd September 2009
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While it is true that America doesn't have a caste system, it does possess economic layers labeled as poverty class, middle class, and wealthy class. These classes collectively define the economic classes, as most people understand them, in America today. It should be noted that the middle class is further divided into lower middle class, middle class, and upper middle class, making it a total of five economic classes in American culture. However, the poverty class itself is wrongfully lumped into a single category-one that is defined by and based upon the income per household. How we define poverty is an important first step toward solving the problems for children born into impoverished families.

Poverty, like the middle class, has several layers. The situational poverty victims are at the top of the ladder in the poverty class, comprised of those members of society that are temporarily poor. Situational poverty generally occurs because of divorce, sudden illness, or loss of job. These members of society may be poor, but they are not a part of the poverty culture. When their situation improves they will easily move back into middle class.

Recently members of this class also include victims of mortgage foreclosures brought about by the housing market crash. This is the category of poverty that we most often hear about in the news. However, members of this class are temporarily experiencing poverty and otherwise function well in mainstream society. Though poor, and perhaps even homeless, members of this group function well in mainstream society. When their economic situation improves, and it often does, they will easily move back into the middle class. They were never part of the culture of poverty.

The next rung on the ladder is represented by the working poor. These members are working full time jobs, but earn insufficient income to be classified as middle class. The members of this class also have a chance of upward social mobility because they are working steadily, understand the rules of middle class, and have a chance to receive regular pay increases and promotions. They may be poor, but their determination to work hard separates them from the culture of poverty. Even a lifetime of low wage jobs will steadily move members of this group up the social ladder and away from the culture of poverty.

At the bottom of the barrel are those members of immigrant poverty and generational poverty.

Immigrant poverty members are isolated from mainstream society by language and custom barriers. We also hear about immigrant poverty in the news. Immigrant poverty is overcome by learning the language and customs in America. A tradition of hard work and the use of proper planning skills enable many members of this group to move into the middle class.

Generational poverty members are thought to represent less than six percent of the poverty class. Members of generational poverty are chained to a cycle of poverty that traps successive generations. A trap that is nearly impossible to avoid. No one escapes without the assistance of role models or perhaps a miracle. It includes all races, Native Americans, Black Americans, Hispanics, Caucasian, Asian and others. Members of this class are those who suffer the most among the poor, and yet they have no public voice in society. You almost never hear about this group in the news media. I was born into a generationally impoverished family. Out of four generations, I was the only member to escape.

Children born to members of this class aren't bused to middle class schools, or offered preferential treatment in the employment process. For reasons I have outlined in other posts on this blog, we know children born into generational poverty are virtually guaranteed to remain in poverty, unless given support systems to enable them to merge into mainstream society. We can't save every adult member of this class from a life of poverty, but we could save many of their children, simply by providing qualified role models to tutor them. Without role models, or literally a miracle, they are condemned to a life of poverty.


About the author: Doug Wallace is an attorney, a successful entrepreneur and a published author. His book, Everything Will Be All Right is a memoir about growing up in generational poverty in the rural south. Doug chose to write his story of growing up in poverty as a way to call attention to the unimaginable hardships for children of the generationally impoverished. Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Kindle, Sony Reader and fine book stores everywhere.

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