Poverty is an epidemic that has swept the American nation many times over. Whether it be quietly lingering under the surface, or blatantly staring us in the face as it is in this current recession, it affects people across America on individual, community and national levels alike. While there are many causes and effects of poverty, it is important to view the issue of poverty and its causes from all angles when one seeks to tackle the problem. These factors include socio-economic status, mental illness, family values and work ethics, to name a few. In this essay, I will be examining these factors as they are discussed in the book, The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls (referred to as Glass Castle throughout essay), as well as in the article Poverty in America from the Congressional Digest, December 2010 (referred to as Census throughout the essay).
When children are born into poverty, it is the only life they know. They often grow up to either see life from the viewpoint of, “that’s just the way it is,” or become determined to better their status when they are old enough to do so. Children don’t often realize they live in poverty until they are told by their peers, such as when they are called poor and see people taking pity on them or make fun of them. They may also realize they are different when they are exposed to what other people have and realize that they have much less. As noted in Poverty in America, poverty level, in itself, is merely based on an income deficit, whereas one’s household receives less money than another; it also relates to the standard of living (Census, pg. 300). When one has less income, less things are afforded, however living within those means will often create or hide the barrier that is poverty. While one family may learn to utilize their resources effectively and appropriate funds where they belong, another will attempt to make fast money such as through crime or gambling. As in the story of the Glass Castle, the father spends the money the family has on gambling, sometimes paying off and spending the money on lavish dinners out and treats; other times they are deeper in poverty since gambling funds are not the most stable income (Glass Castle, p. Living in Las Vegas).
Addictions and mental illness have impacted the nation and led many families into poverty. While not directly discussed in the article, it may be presumed that these issues play a role in keeping people from holding jobs, working full time and gain the skills necessary to find gainful employment. The article cites work experience and less-than-full-time workers as being affected by increased poverty rates, especially in this recent economic downturn. Additionally, whereas it was normal for a single mother to stay home and care for her children in the 1950’s when the poverty census was first started, it is expected now for single parents to work and better their economic status for the well-being of their family. With the costs of daycare and living skyrocketing since the 50’s, women sometimes seek easier means of making money and still staying at home, including prostitution and drug dealing. Many of these women were also sexually abused and preyed upon because of their economic status and other issues affecting their childhood, which may lead to substance abuse in adolescence and early adulthood. Sexual abuse was a prominent theme in the Glass Castle, as the parents were very hands-off and flighty, leaving the children exposed to predators and even victim to family members. While Jeanette’s parents felt that the children will only become stronger by facing hardship, these factors will often cause self-esteem, trauma, depression and anxiety in children who grow up into alcohol and drug abusing adults; this may also begin the poverty cycle for generations to come.
The cycle of poverty being exacerbated by drug and alcohol use is first noted in the Glass Castle with insight into Rex’s drinking problems. While he has...
References: 1. Congressional Digest (December, 2010). Poverty in America: Census Population Report. Retrieved April 1, 2011 from www.congressionaldigestdebates.com.
2. Walls, J. (2005) The Glass Castle: A Memoir. New York, Simon & Schuster.
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