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Poverty In America: Why It’s Difficult To Climb Out Of Poverty

By: Nichole Jaworski
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(Photo by JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)

(Photo by JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)

(CBS Charlotte) — For many Americans, making ends meet has become increasingly difficult — if not nearly impossible.

For people who are not experiencing poverty, it’s hard to understand from the outside looking in how difficult it can be to climb out of poverty.

But, being poor in America is not uncommon. In fact, it’s not unusual for people in our country to live in poverty. In 2011, 46 million Americans lived below the poverty line — and 10 million of these individuals were employed. They are referred to as the “working poor.”

Surrounded by poverty and often living in poor conditions, has it become nearly impossible for poor people to get ahead?

The “American Dream” gives Americans hope that if they work hard, they will eventually be successful and they will “climb up the ladder.” But, has the “American Dream” failed to deliver to many Americans? Indeed.

In today’s society, it has become nearly impossible to “climb the ladder.” Those mail room jobs that later lead to a person becoming the President of the company rarely exist anymore. Many minimum wage workers work just as hard as anyone else, if not harder. But, their hard work is rarely rewarded with a raise or a promotion. Furthermore, our socioeconomic status is an unfortunate label that tends to stick with a person.

(Related Article: Poverty In America: Myths About Welfare Recipients)

Poor people are often viewed and treated differently — as if they were a small segment of the American population. As if being poor was their fault…

To make matters worse, besides the way that they are viewed, poor people are often pushed further into poverty due to restrictions, lack of available funds, and unexpected financial burdens that they have no way to prepare for.

For example, everyone has forgotten to record a bank transaction/credit card transaction at one point or another. But unlike a person who is living in poverty, most people have a little extra padding in their bank account to absorb an unaccounted financial transaction.

For a person who is poverty stricken, just a few unaccounted swipes of their debit card can have dire consequences on their finances. These unaccounted swipes can cause their checking account to incur bank fees if their account becomes overdrawn — making it tremendously difficult to pay their bills the next time payday comes around. Moreover, any unexpected fee or financial burden drastically reduces a poor persons available funds, and it creates a vicious cycle that hinders their ability to afford basic needs — one that they can rarely escape.

Poor people do not have assets, savings, or anything to help them rise out of poverty — and many go to sleep each night worrying about how they will pay their bills. This stress can lead to poor decision making, poor health and alcoholism. These are normal responses to an unbearable and hopeless situation. Just as a person dieting can’t resist a piece of chocolate cake, a person living in poverty who suffers from alcoholism cannot resist purchasing alcohol — even though they can’t afford to drink. It’s a coping mechanism that inevitable leads to more stress, anxiety, and even more drinking.

On the other hand, if a minimum wage worker were to obtain a better paying job, or qualify for a job training program that led to a better paying job, in time, this would enable them to slowly climb out of poverty. However, there are simply not enough good paying jobs to go around, and even over-qualified individuals have had no other choice but to accept a minimum wage job.

American society as a whole seems to have adopted this notion that people who work minimum wage jobs aren’t intelligent enough to get a good paying job, and that they somehow deserve to be poor because they haven’t worked as hard as the person who is successful. What many people fail to realize is that your ability to obtain a job that pays well and sustain the job has a lot to do with luck — not just hard work.

For example, two people could start working in the same field, earn the same pay, and work equally as hard at different companies. One person could excel in the company, receive promotions and earn more income, while the other person could eventually be laid off because the company is having financial issues, etc. After exploring all other possible employment opportunities, but being turned down, and in the face of their unemployment benefits running out, the laid off worker has no other choice but to accept an underpaid position, possibly making minimum wage.

In truth, the longer a person is surrounded by poverty, the greater the chance that they will remain living below the poverty line.

-Nichole Jaworski, CBS Charlotte

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