The Causes of Poverty in the United States

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Even though the U.S. is arguably the richest country in the world, a considerable part of its population suffers from the problem of poverty. The current paper explores the causes of such poverty. It is demonstrated that there exists a variety of contributory causes that together frequently lead the poor to preserving their socioeconomic status quo or becoming even poorer.

One of the significant causes of poverty is the lack of access to college education. Generally speaking, the access to higher education is restricted to individuals who come from the middle socioeconomic class or higher, which is due to high tuition costs that colleges and universities charge. Although there is a possibility of gaining a loan to pay one’s tuition, it is difficult to impossible to obtain such a loan for a representative of the lower socioeconomic class, since the loan-providing organizations are frequently unwilling to trust them to pay their debts. As a result, it becomes practically impossible for these individuals to obtain high-quality education, which means that they are generally restricted to unskilled jobs.

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Naturally, the low wages for the persons selling their unskilled or low-skill labor constitute another contributing cause to the problem of poverty in the United States. While prices continue to grow constantly as part of inflation, the salaries of low-skilled workers rarely follow. In addition, there is such a problem as structural unemployment (Harvey 10-16); due to the ongoing globalization, many businesses choose to use offshore labor that is more cost-efficient (in other words, cheaper) and transfer their manufacturing facilities to other countries. As a consequence, there is a dearth of low-skilled jobs in the U.S., and those few positions that are available are not well-paid and do not propose any social benefits. Because of this, unskilled workers, even if they manage to find a job, rarely manage to make enough money to cover all their expenses.

In addition, there is another problem that contributes to poverty in the United States of America, namely, the lack of affordable housing, as well as the generally high expenses related to housing. This problem is especially severe for those who do not have a place to live of their own. The high costs of rent consume a significant part of their salaries, and they have little money left to cover food, health care expenses, childbearing costs, and so on. In this population, single mothers perhaps suffer the most, being subjected to a high probability of not having an appropriate place to live. When it comes to those who own a house, an apartment, or other type of real estate, the high housing bills still consume a significant part of their salary; furthermore, if they are faced with unemployment, paying the bills becomes nearly impossible, and these individuals face the possibility of losing their home. After that, the chances of their finding employment plummet down even more, and there is little hope left for them to find some other housing and job, and return to the normal life without significant external assistance.

Another issue plaguing those of low socioeconomic class is the extremely high expenses associated with health care (DeNavas-Walt et al. 22-28). Low-skilled jobs rarely, if ever, come with a social package, and the need to cover a wide array of other expenses deprive individuals employed at such jobs of the possibility to purchase medical insurance. It is clear that paying for health care services out-of-pocket is also rarely an option for these people. As a result, these people tend to be deprived of an opportunity to use medical services, and often have poor health, which further restricts their access to employment.

While the market economy continues to harm the poor in a variety of ways, such as the market-driven globalization and the resulting structural unemployment, high tuition costs, and unaffordable housing and health care services, the government also fails to protect the representatives of the lower class from the hardships they are forced to endure, instead exacerbating the situation further. For instance, the government may engage in the distribution of wealth from the poor to the rich, e.g., by levying sales tax on consumer goods and providing various types of subsidies for large businesses. It is also paramount that there is a lack of welfare programs in the U.S., or programs that are aimed at providing adequate employment for the poor. In contrast, the criminalization of poverty also takes place (Geraghty 195; Reiman and Leighton 118-132). The cancellation of welfare programs is often followed by increases in the prison population, which is due to the fact that the poor who are unemployed have no way to make money honestly, and are forced to engage in crime to survive. This means that the costs to fund welfare programs are effectively redirected to funding prisons. In addition, the U.S. penal system often tends to convict poor for other minor misconducts, and their inability to pay high fines frequently leads to imprisonment (Geraghty 198-201). In this respect, it should be noted that the U.S. has the largest prison population in the world (National Research Council 335). Clearly, these phenomena may be considered a failure of the government to address the problem of poverty (Reiman and Leighton 11-25).

All in all, it should be stressed that a considerable part of the U.S. population suffers from poverty that may be attributed to a number of causes which contribute to the impossibility of the poor to overcome their hardships. Such causes include the lack of access to college education, low wages for the unskilled labor, the dearth of affordable housing, expensive health care, as well as the failure of the government to deal with the problem of poverty (which includes the criminalization of poverty, the cancellation of social welfare programs, and the distribution of income from the poor to the rich). These causes need to be addressed if the problem of poverty in the U.S. is to be overcome.

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