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More on Poverty, Envy, and the Class Divide

My good friend and persistent foil, Jessica, replied to my last post on this topic with some lengthy comments. While my life doesn’t allow for extended internet conversations (we’ve got a 2-month-old and 16-month-old over here, and one always on my arm), her comments at usual merit a reply. Raising envy as a human condition is not to “disparage” just concern for the poor. It is to suggest reorienting the general American mindset about what we even consider poverty, because often people purporting to care for the poor make “poverty” sound worse than reality to advance a political agenda. The current administration has recently done exactly this: “Under President Obama’s new definitions, a family of four in Oakland is “near poor” if their annual pre-tax income is less than $89,700 plus medical insurance. In metropolitan Washington, D.C., the near-poverty line became $80,500. In New York, it’s now $78,500; in Boston, $68,900; and Chicago, $68,600.” Jessica is a social-services worker who works with low-income people every day, so her observations about middle-class folks’ attitudes towards the poor are fair and from experience. I will point out, however, that this same American middle class gives more to charity than any other society and that envy does not discriminate by class. I’m middle-class, and I noted my own battle with envy. At the same time, my husband and I have also worked extensively with poor and marginally employed people, and our own observations confirm my belief that much of social welfare as it is currently structured endangers civic virtue and engenders envy and entitlement. We’ve seen poor people decide to work less or not at all so they could get more public benefits, hold off marriage for that reason, and similar actions. We’ve also known a heck of a lot of barely-makin’-it people with iPhones, ridiculously expensive weekly nights on the town, and $300 shoes. So this idea of “the noble poor” is as much phooey as the idea of “the noble savage.” As for her three reasons why the (inflated) poverty level matters in the U. S., I have some recommended reading explaining why they are faulty. 1) On the U.S.’s actually massive income mobility 2) Poverty is less important to children’s wellbeing than a stable home, which itself reduces poverty and 3) Luckily for us, eminent social scientist Charles Murray has a new book explaining that growing divide between the working class and middle class/rich as a function of deteriorating marriage, honesty, work ethic, and religion among the working class. He outlines his research here and will give a livestreamed talk about the same in a few days. His conclusion and suggestions for action require serious consideration from socially concerned conservatives, and will surprise and possibly compel even Jessica.