“Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, told an interviewer recently that poverty results from “the wrong mindset:” low-income persons with strong motivation can escape poverty while those with negative attitudes remain poor” (Rothstein, 2017). These are very unwise words from one of the few people to drastically change his SES in one generation. As a doctor, especially a neurologist, he should know this is a false statement. Though later I will discuss one mindset that could have a big impact but it is by no means the only cause.
Fifty three percent of African Americans will remain poor as adults (Rothstein, 2017). Does it make sense to assume that that percent of African Americans just have the wrong mindset or is there a more reasonable answer? Reasonable may be a stretch because it is a complicated puzzle that leads to this outcome.
The most obvious is systemic racism. “For low-income black and white children who are similar in every observable respect (single parenthood, parent education level, etc.), the whites grow up to have higher adult incomes. About one-fourth of the difference results from black children being more frequently raised not only in poverty but in poor neighborhoods” (Rothstein, 2017). This evidence points to more than just mindset.
When 22% of a specific population lives in poverty, there must be a deeper cause (Tonya Harris Cornileus, 2018). This means that at least 22% of the African American population struggles to eat, maintain housing and many other necessities of life. African American communities have always been at a disadvantage in America. They have less access to good jobs, affordable housing, transportation, healthcare, higher quality neighborhoods and have systematically been denied the rights of their white counterparts. They are also much more likely to live in single parent homes due to our unfair judicial system.
There is no more obvious example of systemic racism than in our judicial system. African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of white Americans; African American women are twice as likely to be sentenced to prison as white women (Criminal Justice Fact Sheet). African Americans only make up approximately 12% of the American demographic yet they make up 33% of the state and federal prison population though this trend is finally declining (Gramlich, 2018).
Another example of this systemic racism was the Wagner Act of 1935 which specifically allowed unions to exclude African Americans from high quality jobs (Rothstein, 2017). Another example is “In the mid-twentieth century, the government subsidized builders to construct suburbs of single-family homes — Levittown east of New York City, Lakewood south of Los Angeles, and scores of similar developments between — on explicit federal condition that no homes be occupied by African Americans” (Rothstein, 2017). These are just two examples of the thousands and thousands of blatantly racist government and societal mandates.
Motivation is the one of the biggest things lacking with people stuck in the cycle of poverty. “But, the main point here is that when poverty is deep within a way of life and thus, a belief system, it can be hard to imagine breaking out of that life. Therefore, behaviors that serve to keep generations in poverty persist. One way in which this plays out is in motivation for educational attainment. If a child does not see higher education as a viable opportunity, their incentive to study and do their best in school may not be as great as a child who thinks that college is a sure opportunity” (Tonya Harris Cornileus, 2018). This motivation is not the same at the motivation to get off the couch and go to the gym. This is a deep level of motivation that is knocked down at every turn for people that live in poverty. This motivation is founded on hope and when hope is limited motivation is hard to come by.