December 5, 2012

When we Americans want to do something about poverty, we usually set about “improving” poor people. We may offer education or job training, establish programs to develop the parenting skills of young mothers, require addiction treatment as a condition for receiving housing, put a time limit on welfare benefits in order to motivate poor people to work, or refuse additional welfare payments to discourage future childbearing.

This practice of improving poor people has a long history. Early American reformers traced extreme poverty to intoxication, laziness, and other kinds of unacceptable behavior. They tried to use public policy and philanthropy to elevate poor people’s characters and change their behavior. As the years passed, different sets of behaviors were blamed for poverty and successive methods suggested to improve the poor. Later reformers looked to evangelical religion, temperance legislation, punitive poor houses, the forced breakup of families, and threats of institutionalization - all to improve poor people.

This approach has rested on the individual belief that the individual faults of the poor are the primary causes of poverty: ignorance, lack of training, addiction, laziness, defective character, sexual promiscuity, too many children; the list goes on and on. It is not surprising, of course, that a nation so strongly committed to individualism should so often search for the roots of poverty within the poor persons themselves.


David Hilfiker, M.D. in Urban Injustice

Fun fact: this is also why it is still illegal to sell alcohol on Sundays in some places. 

(via versatilequeen)

(Source: petalsails, via talesofthestarshipregeneration)

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