Examples of The Culture of Poverty and the Poverty Mindset

In my prior post on my attendance of the Poverty Symposium, I mention the Culture of Poverty and the Poverty Mindset.  I did not want to get too side-tracked by getting to deep a discussion of the Culture of Poverty and the Poverty Mindset.

Danny Bivins of the Fanning Institute said that in looking at the “root causes”, they also wanted to be able to measure it and collect data on it.  That is fine as a statistical exercise but I am not going to absolve common sense and my personal encounters with people who come from a culture of poverty and have the poverty mindset.  It is all around us.  The Culture of Poverty and the Poverty Mindset IS a root cause because it is a belief and life system that must be changed for all the other social programs to work.  Otherwise, the symptoms of poverty will continue to persist.

People have to believe, be driven to get out of poverty, and become self-sufficient not just talk about it and assume money will solve all their problems.

Instead of a textbook discussion, I am going to make give some pointed examples of how I know it exists and reasonably prevalent.  Let me preface my statements by saying there are always exceptions to the rule and some rise above it all.  But many do not.

1.  As a property manager and landlord, I am accustomed to dealing with tenants of all types.  Many are good tenants but many are not so good either.  I tell everyone the same thing, if you get into trouble, call me, and send in what you have.  Some call, many do not.  It has nothing to do with money, it has everything to do with the willingness to communicate and face a problem and not putting their head in the sand.

2.  Each year, there are some tenants that put Christmas gifts and the top of the list and rent at the bottom of the priority list.

3.  There are many poorer people who have much nicer and larger TV’s than I do.  Many also have nicer tire rims than I do on my car.

4.  How many lottery winners have we heard from over the years that said the money ruined them and that they were worse off than if they had not won the money?  It wasn’t the money.  It was their inability to become financially knowledgeable or responsible.  They were too worried about spending and impressing others with their new-found wealth than to learn to save or invest. Boxing champion Mike Tyson is fundamentally poverty-conscious despite the many millions he made over the years.  Yet, he went bankrupt years ago.

5.  I know tenants who intentionally keep their income low so that they can continue to get government assistance in their housing and food stamps.  Most people I know would do it as a very last resort, it it even came to that.  And if they did resort to that, they would do everything they could to get off government assistance.

6.  Poor people put a high priority in having cash on hand.  They do pocket accounting. What cash they have in their pocket is often how they manage their money.  They also seem to do better with cell phones with pre-paid minutes.  It seems they cannot self-control the minutes they use and so a billing system does not work for them.  They do not like checking accounts because it requires financial management.  The credit system is foreign to poor people.

7. The Internet and the digital world is entirely foreign to most poor people.  It is simply too abstract and non-tangible for them.  No one has shown them or educated them.  The digital divide is alive and well.  Anyone who can find and read this blog mostly likely did not come from the culture of poverty.  But that does not mean poor people couldn’t.  After all most public libraries have computers with Internet access.

These are some real-life examples that the Poverty Mindset exists and that the cycle of poverty can be very difficult to break because the value system is passed on from one generation to the next.  Also, people have a tendency to be friends and associate with others that have a similar value system.  Thus, the poor have other poor friends who have a similar poverty mindset.

Instead of just throwing money and offering more services, we need to provide more educational and mentorship programs that teach people how to adopt a new set of life values, life skills, and an entrepreneurial work ethic.  Hard work is not enough.  Working smart with leverage are concepts have to be introduced.

I may update this article as I learn more about the issue and culture of poverty.

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