The "American Dream" has been a great public relations campaign for the United States in the last century. For who could argue against a country of where anyone can succeed, regardless of race, class, or gender?
Everyone loves a Cinderella story, of whose repertoire now includes the impressive 8 Oscar victories by hit film Slumdog Millionaire. However uplifting the story, we all know deep inside that the chances of anyone in poverty truly rising out their condition without resources is slim to none. America is no exception.
Knowing this is true, why are we so quick to judge those on the lower rungs of the later? American popular culture has historically given a tough shrug to its poor residents. If you can't pick yourself up and rise above, its your fault. It would seem that the foundations of our culture would not allow smart, hard working people to fail.
In the idea of the American dream, a philosophy based off of self-reliance and personal responsibility, there exists a an inherent problem: the idea that some of our poor are deserving or their condition, whereas others are not.
Generally, the "deserving poor" refers to people who live in generation poverty. Generational poverty is a cyclical problem where those who lack resources for their own lives have none to give to their children to rise above their conditions. As studies suggest, education is one of the highest indicators of poverty across the United States. Parents who lack education themselves are rarely in conditional to give their children advice on how best to pursue theirs.
On the other hand, the "undeserving poor" refers to those of whose poverty status is situational or temporary. This group of poor has likely greatly expanded with the recent layoffs caused by the economic crisis. Unlike those in generational poverty, these members usually have either job experiences or education necessary to rise out of poverty again when the opportunity comes.
The idea of deserved and undeserved poverty needs to be broken. At a time when our economic playing field is leveled, there is a chance for increased empathy towards all people in poverty conditions. It is time we should realize that whether generational or situational, no one deserves to live in a condition where they struggle to meet their basic needs.
If we do not break this ideology, it could have rippling effects on our society and the well-being of all Americans. When the economy finally does recover, no one knows how long it could take to reach its previous height. What will result is families who were once in situational poverty could find themselves being confronted with a long-term problem. It is like a fish net: while many will be lifted up through the net back to financial stability, others will fall through to the bottom.
Someday after this depression has passed, we will forget about the distinction between deserving and undeserving poor. Those who fell through the net could find themselves less deserving for aid than before.
Its time to change the discourse on poverty not because we need to save these few. It is simply because no one deserves to be labeled as undeserving.