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Poverty is a way of life for the poor that is passed down from generation to generation through the family

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“Poverty is a way of life for the poor that is passed down from generation to generation through the family.” Explain and assess this view.

In this essay I will assess and explain the view that poverty is a way of life for the poor that is passed down from generation to generation through the family. Thus, firstly I will assess this view from the culture of poverty.

Firstly, the idea of a culture of poverty was first introduced by Oscar Lewis. He developed the concept from his fieldwork among the urban poor in Mexico and Puerto Rico. Lewis argues the culture of poverty is a design for living transmitted from one generation to the next. The culture of poverty has the following elements, on the individual level, a strong feeling of marginality, helplessness, dependence and inferiority, a sense of resignation and fatalism while on the family level; life is characterized by consensual marriages, a highly relative high incidence of the abandonment of mothers and children, a trend towards mother-centred families and a much greater knowledge of maternal relatives. There are high rates of divorce and desertion by the male family head, resulting in matrifocal families headed by women. Other than that, on the community level the poor society are lacking in participation and integration in the major institutions. The urban poor in Lewis in Lewis’s research do not usually belong to trade unions or any associations; they are also not members of political parties and do not participate in the national welfare agencies and make very little use of public utilities. Thus the family is the only institution in which they directly participate.

The culture of poverty takes the force of culture because its characteristics are guides to action that are internalized by the poor and passed on from one generation to the next generation. Lewis argues that the culture of poverty tends to perpetuate itself from generation to generation because of its effect on children. By the time slum children are aged 6 or 7, they have usually absorbed the basic values and attitudes of their subculture and are not psychologically geared to take full advantage of changing conditions or increased opportunities which may occur. Therefore the culture of poverty shows that the attitude of people surrounding the poor people and their mind-set that had been keeping them to stay at the state of being poor longer. Thus this proves that the poverty had been passed down by the family from generation to generation since family is the only institutions that the young generation had been participating.

However, instead of viewing the behaviour of the poor as an internalized cultural pattern, many researchers see it as a reaction to situational constraints. The situational constraints suggest that the poor would readily change their behaviour in response to a new set of circumstances once the constraints were removed. In his classic study, Tally’s Corner, Elliot Liebow (1967) strongly supported the situational constraints thesis. The study is based on the participant observation of ‘black streetcorner men’ in a low income area of Washington DC. The men are either unemployed, underemployed (working part-time) or employed in low-paid. When streetcorner men blow a week’s wages, the middle-class tend to interpret this behaviour as evidence of present-time orientation and inability to defer gratification. Liebow argue it is not the time orientation that differentiates the streetcorner with the middle class but the future of the streetcorner men.

They are aware of their future thus their behaviour is directed by the fact of hopelessness of their future. Liebow applies the similar reasoning to the streetcorner men relationship with his wife and family. They regard a conventional family life as the ideal and strive to play the mainstream roles of a father. However, their income is insufficient to support a wife and a family. Facing daily situation of a failure, men often desert their family. On closer examination Liebow found little support for the streetcorner man’s rationale for marital failure. Marriages failed largely because the men had insufficient income to maintain them. The matrifocal families that were resulted were not due to a culture of poverty but simply to low-income. Liebow therefore rejects the idea of a culture of poverty or lower-class subculture and sees the behaviour of the poor as a product of situational constraint not of distinctive cultural patterns. Therefore, this shows that the family does not play any role in the prolong poverty but instead it had been the situational constraint that had forced them to stay as being poor. Thus, the statement that poverty is a way of life and had been passed down from generation to generation had not been entirely correct since it is proven that situational constraints are the actual problem.

Lastly, according to Shane J. Blackman found that the young homeless had very similar aspirations as the other members of society, but situational constraints such as homelessness had been keeping them at one particular spot which is at the state of poverty. Because of their homelessness, their situational constraints had been much more serious. They tended to suffer discrimination because they were homeless. It became more difficult to find work or housing if they had no address. They also faced problem if they took work in the formal economy, most of the jobs they had a chance of getting were insecure or temporary. These homeless people were also lacking in self-confidence and a poor self-image. Blackman claims many of them felt they were unintelligent because teachers, social workers and others told them as much. Consequently, ‘low esteem meets low expectation which brings about self-labelling of personal underachievement’.

This made it difficult for them to have the self-belief to get out of their situation. The homeless Brighton did engage in some types of behaviour which have been seen as typical behaviour in the culture of poverty. However, Blackman argues that such behaviour was a consequence of their homelessness, not a cause of it. It was a way of coping with their situation. Blackman sees members of the poor society as victims of society whose behaviour changes when they are given genuine opportunities to improve themselves. This shows that family is not the thing that had been passing down the poverty but it is the situational constraints. Therefore, proves that the statement that poverty had been passed down from generation to generation by family is not entirely correct.

In conclusion, I have explained and assessed the view that poverty is a way of life that had been passed down from generation to generation. From the essay above, this conclusion can be drawn, poverty had not been passed down from generation to generation but it was the situational constraints that had been keeping the family poor thus making the younger generation of poor society.

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