The Effects of Poverty on America

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The Effects of Poverty on America

All over the world, disparities between the rich and poor, even in the wealthiest of nations is rising sharply. Fewer people are becoming increasingly “successful” and wealthy while a disproportionately larger population is also becoming even poorer. There are many issues involved when looking at poverty. It is not simply enough (or correct) to say that the poor are poor due to their own (or their government’s) bad governance and management. In fact, you could quite easily conclude that the poor are poor because the rich are rich and have the power to enforce trade agreements, which favor their interests more than the poorer nations. The book, The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe, illustrates clearly the disparities which separate these two social classes. This is a very serious problem in our society today. Poverty is everywhere and it needs to diminish so that our economy can grow stronger. What does it mean to be poor? What does it mean to describe a nation as “developing”? A lack of material wealth does not define one as deprived. A strong economy in a developed nation does not mean much when a significant percentage or a majority of the population is struggling to survive. The Black community of the Bronx in The Bonfire of the Vanities brings to light the degree of poverty that many Americans endure daily. Development usually implies an improvement in living standards such that a person has enough food, water, and clothing, a stable social environment, freedom, and basic rights to have a fair chance for a decent life. Henry Lamb, the black boy who Sherman McCoy and his mistress run over in their car, represents the poor and doesn’t get a fair chance for a decent life, as his life comes to an end after being in comma. Is this actually progress? On the other hand, are we fooled into believing that it is? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services placed the poverty level for a family of four at $19,350 in 2005, and “the poverty rate in 2004, according to the HHS, is 12.7 percent, or 37 million Americans”. (Census). Is there really a way to measure poverty, and to decide exactly what poverty is? Hunger, income level, housing and the economy’s condition of the working poor are just a few examples of what needs to be considered when measuring the poverty levels in our nation. Poverty expands and contracts and its definition changes in accordance with temporary exigencies, including the interests of those who propound the definitions and do the counting, which means that there is no concrete definition of poverty, except for the numbers. (Census).

It appears that the rich are exempt from these statistics though, and of all the groups mentioned in The Bonfire of the Vanities, the rich are thrashed the most by Tom Wolfe. They are shown to the reader as snobs, who care only about their high-class society, and cannot be bothered with the rest of the world. The only way they measure a man's worth is through his paycheck. The poor are rejected. This parallels the real world. Unfortunately, poverty is not something that has just recently become an issue; it has been around for many years. The economy has been a major influence on the levels of poverty in our nation. In 1973, poverty increased because then the economy worsened. Real wages and productivity decreased, and “the economy could not grow fast enough to absorb the large number of potential workers, which caused unemployment to increase” (Katz 11). Ever since then our government has tried to reduce the poverty in our nation, and so far has had a difficult time in doing so. “In 1996, Bill Clinton addressed the welfare bill, and that resulted in an estimated one million children being thrown into poverty” (Egendorf). However, assistance from the Government has also been helpful. Programs such as Social Security, Food stamps, housing assistance are safety nets that have helped lower the high risk of poverty. Without these...
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