Causes of Poverty

Poverty seems to be inevitable anywhere at any given time period in history; throughout the world’s past, a particular group of people have always experienced a lower life standard than the rest of the society. Poverty is a rather hot topic today, even in the United States, a first world country and what is considered the land of opportunity to the rest of the world – trust me, I’m an immigrant. So why can’t one of the leading economies, one of the most technologically advanced, one of the nations with the highest life standards, get rid of something as significant and as dangerous as high levels of poverty? While it is a combination of political, economic, cultural and individual factors, I see the biggest effect coming from government policies and the culture that these people in the lower part of the spectrum develop and pass on to the future generation. The biggest causes of poverty in America today are political and cultural factors, although economic and individual do play a role in keeping the cycle that seems nearly impossible to break.

Political Factors

                In Coming Apart, Charles Murray discusses the European welfare system compared to the one that the United States currently has (Murray, 2010). He argues that the way of life that people carry out is directly affected by what the government is willing to provide for those people who would rather be out enjoying life than working to earn their living. The “American Project versus the European Model”, as Murray refers to it, ends up showing what America could become if welfare programs keep increasing, if the government keeps aiding those people who are perfectly capable of maintaining themselves. Murray argues that European people live to, per say, “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” (Book of Mormon: 2 Nephi 28:7); he argues that European people decide to live off the government because life is, after all, to be enjoyed with the least amount of work possible, that one must have as much fun and as much as they can in order to have a fulfilling life. This is what is also happening to America; people are deciding, though not as much as Europeans, that it’s easier to just live off the government, to not work and to have a low quality of life but to still have all the time in the world to do as one pleases. This causes people to not want to get out of the poverty cycle; this makes people basically educate their children to do as little as possible, to get through with the necessary (instead of the satisfactory) and to live off government problems designed for people who truly cannot get out of the cycle. This is a big problem and we cannot let this keep going; people used to work because they loved what they did, because they enjoyed doing that work, but it’s safe to say that people today give up their precious time to work in order to raise their standards of living, not just because it’s fulfilling for them.

                 America has many wonderful programs that are supposed to aid people living below the poverty line. Perhaps the programs are not necessarily wonderful; perhaps the idea and purpose of the programs is wonderful. Thing is, while government aid through Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, etc., is great in theory, it has not been working out too well in recent times. Following John F. Kennedy’s term, and for a couple of decades after, poverty percentages decreased significantly; the programs that we have today worked 30 years ago, but they are just being taken advantage of today. People decide to just use these programs to their benefit because it is so much easier than going out, getting an education, putting the effort in to find a job; it is definitely easier than going to work every day in order to rightfully earn your living. People often purposely decide to have children out of wedlock because they know that the government will help support those children; people don’t mind living on food stamps or relying on Medicare or Medicaid for their health problems; some of these people, if not most, don’t even go out and vote, yet they will contact the government in order to fulfill their most basic human needs such as food, shelter, and care. These people, however, have a way of life and a culture that the rest of the American society, a culture that is hard to leave behind and definitely hard to try to get out of while still being immerged in it.

Cultural Factors

                The government is one of the main causes of poverty in the United States, but so is the culture of poverty, a trend among the less fortunate of the American society. This culture of poverty is what causes millions of people in the United States to be stuck, to not be able to get out of the cycle that they are often born into. In Whatever It Takes, Paul Tough argues that “…they lack certain specific skills… reformers might be able to directly improve the lives of poor children simply by raising their skill level” (Tough, 2008). So the problem with poverty is that children born into the cycle do not develop the skills that are necessary to succeed in today’s competitive workforce. Because their parents did not have a proper education – although sometimes they do and seem to simply forget it all -, children have a hard time developing social and educational skills that they would need in an academic and professional setting. This is a culture problem; in their mind, gaining an education is not necessarily important, much less directly related to future success. They don’t understand that receiving a proper and long education is key to getting far in a professional path today.

                A study by Betty Hart and Todd Risley, according to Tough, proved it once again: it was the parents’ education than had a bigger impact than anything on a child’s academic and skill development. According to Tough, “they found that a child’s experience of language mattered more than socio-economic status, more than race, more than anything else they measured”. It was even taken a step further by Annette Laureau, also according to Tough in Whatever It Takes, who came to the conclusion that parenting methods are what shape a child more than anything; wealthier parents, she argued, raised their children differently than those in the working class, which made all the difference in the skills that their children would eventually develop. It turns out that the children raised by wealthier parents had developed the skills that are most essential in the workforce today, while those raised by working class parents developed different ones that are not as important when looking for a job.

                What is most important from Paul Tough’s argument is clearly stated towards the end, where he argues that “their research also suggests that the disadvantages that poverty imposes on children aren’t primarily about material goods…[but] the language that their parents use, the attitudes about life that they convey” (Tough, 2008). It’s not about how many cars you have in your garage, or how many laptops are in your house, or how many concerts you’ve gone to; what really defines who a child grows up to be is their parents’ education and values, it’s about what they are taught at home, not just what they are taught in school.

                The idea that poverty is caused mostly by a government that seeks to protect their people as well as provide the best quality of life possible and by those people who live in poverty is rather scary. It is federal laws and government policies, it’s those people who don’t understand the value of education, those people who would rather live off of food stamps because it seems to be easier than going to work; it’s a combination of all these things that has America where it is today: where many people live below the poverty line.



Murray, Charles. 2012. Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. New York, NY: Crown Forum.

Tough, Paul. 2008. Whatever It Takes. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co.