Why does poverty still exist in the U.S. and why we fail to eliminate poverty

There are many social problems such as violence, racism, drug abuse, and other problems in today’s society. The United States government has been engaging in these problems to find proper solutions but their efforts were not successful. Among these social problems, however, poverty is one of the biggest concerns in the U.S. The share of high poverty and high-inequality proportion in the U.S is growing as it hit 37 % in 2008 from 29 % in 1989. In addition, in the United States, more than one person out of six people are suffering from poverty. Since United States is a country with abundant resources and capitals, the statistics can be seen ironic. Joseph Stiglitz, a recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences says “poverty exists because the economic system is organized in ways that encourage the accumulation of wealth at one end and create conditions of scarcity that make poverty inevitable at the other”. He not only claims that poverty is not the result of individual action, but also mentions that poverty cannot be eliminated unless the system of our society is changed. Nevertheless, not only the government in the United States but also other nations tries to alleviate poverty through focusing on individuals, which is the most important factor that explains why they keep failing to fix the problem not knowing the exact causes.


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The social system in which we now live is capitalism. In the capitalist society, only a few people can control most of capital to generate wealth. While the people who do not have capitals are drowning in debt, capitalists are drowning in profits in the capitalist society. Thus, gap between poor and rich increases as only a few elites can accumulate most wealth. On the other hand, people who have no capital have to fight each other to get what is left to them by the elite. This eventually leads to competition that motivates companies to engage in maximizing their profits by using the cheapest labor or replacing full-time workers with part-time workers or using machines instead of humans. They also often establish companies where laws protecting companies even though working condition such as the natural environment from pollution or workers from injuries are not unenforced. Therefore, investors or people in charge of those companies can make huge benefits from these kinds of decisions. However, it also results in negative effects on millions of people who can lose their jobs or earn lower income because of actions or decisions that are made by a few elite. In addition, in today’s society, full-time job does not necessarily mean that you have decent living. This explains why there are many working couples in our society because they have no means of producing wealth by themselves without working for other people, the elites. Although they seem to make enough for their living, problems occur when they divorce, which results in many single-parent families who have to take care of themselves and their children with their insufficient income. In today’s society, there are many arguments about what factors led human beings to starve from hunger. Many economists give us one of reasons why poverty still remains in our society by explaining the capitalist system generates a gap between a few elite and people who do not have capitals which eventually leads to poverty existing all over the world.

There are many substantial elements we should consider when solving social problems. Among those elements, we should look into the factors that causes the problem. Murray argues, “Poverty is caused by failures of individual initiative and effort.” In other words, he claims that the reason why poor people are poor is because of something lacking in them such as education. However, I believe that poverty cannot be eliminated unless the system is changed. That is to say, changing the way individuals participate in society cannot be a solution to the larger question of why poverty still remains in our society. Most antipoverty programs do not focus on how systems produce poverty but they only care about changing individuals with using their limited resources. Another error of antipoverty program is that they provide poor people with welfare payments, food stamps, housing subsides, and Medicaid. Although these can alleviate poverty’s impact, these efforts will be all in vain unless they try to fix what the real problem of our system is.

Thus, we should not emphasize the importance of individuals that can affect poverty. Yet, we first have to find problems in our system and find solutions that can allow economic and other systems work well in our society.

One thought on “Why does poverty still exist in the U.S. and why we fail to eliminate poverty

  1. Chris Pedersen

    I think it also might be interesting to think of poverty in relative terms. The measure of poverty has never been an absolute measure but a comparison to what is considered the “norm”. If you look at poverty in this respect there will always be relative poverty because one would need to create an economic system in which everyone was allocated equal resources.

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