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Analysis: Poverty Theories


This paper explains theories postulated by sociologists in an effort to explain the causes of poverty throughout the world. Two significant theories are the individual theories and the structural theories. According to the individual theory, divided into innate inferiority and cultural inferiority, an individual is responsible for his poor financial. When an individual cannot compete in a competitive environment of the society, according to Darwinism law, that person will be disadvantaged. The personality of a person determines what that person becomes. People with inferiority complex do not have the right attitude to compete for the scarce resources; hence the individual inferiority theory. Secondly, from the poor personal attitude, a culture of losers can be formed, thus, cultural inferiority. On the other hand, some of the society’s structures perpetuate poverty among a certain group of people: Structural Theory. According to sociologists, such as Michael Harrington (1963), people are poor because of the partisan structures in the society. For example, capitalism tries to reduce wage bills of workers while trying to increase the profit margins.


Poverty remains one of the commonest social challenges even to the modern America, which ironically to the world, it is the richest country on earth. There are many theories put forward to explain poverty. According to some sociologists, the poor are to blame for their financial state. However, other researchers believe that the social structure in countries is responsible for perpetuating poverty, even amongst the already disadvantaged.  These concepts give two explanation of poverty. Firstly, there is the individual or cultural explanation, which blames individual’s perception and character for poverty. According to social Darwinism, life is a competition and only the best survive. Herbert Spencer supports the idea that poverty is a nature’s way of sorting the weak and the fit (Duncan, 2004). Therefore, innate inferiority may explain poverty. Cultural inferiority explains that people who think they belong to the underclass adopt to poverty and will always transfer the perception through generations. On the other hand, Structural Explanation of poverty points accusation to the systems of governments, the social structures, policies and general idea of capitalism. The poor structures, for example, makes a poor child miss school and makes a struggling poor mother miss good health facilities. This essay will analyze the articles under study while comparing and contrasting the points and themes highlighted in these articles.

Similarities in the Readings

According to the readings in context, many similarities cut across all poor people. There are problems that are commonly associated with the poor. According to Poverty or At Home in a Car, the poor white struggles with shelter and has to live in a car as he fends for his life. It is evident that the white has individual inferiority when he points out that McDonalds cannot hire a bum like himself. The author also confess to fight with feeling of being nothing. This individual inferiority is consistent with black man’s comments on the No 40 acres and a Mule. According to the farmer, blacks do not believe in themselves hence the poor support of his course. He further explains that to achieve economic and political strength, blacks need to understand that they are worth every good thing about land ownership.

While the poor have to struggle with homelessness, poor health and food scarcity, just to name a few problems, the government and institution’s structures still fail to implement non-discriminatory policies. According to the white man in Poverty or At Home in a Car, even the poor people have brilliant ideas but lack financial support kills the ideas. Additionally, some poor managements care less about the safety of their workers. “I got chemical burns…” (22). Similarly, Feeling Trapped highlights the pains that government programs make a poor person go through in the hope of getting assistance. The discriminatory structures of governance is also exemplified by the suppression of the blacks in acquiring lands as narrated by black farmer in No 40 acres and a Mule. All these different structural failures perpetuate poverty in the society.


While other poor people may not have individual inferiority that curls them into poverty, they may have other factors that makes them poor. Secondly, the levels of poverty vary from one community to the other. Some communities just struggle with the basics of life: food, clothing, shelter. Other people considered marginalized have the basic needs but their work conditions may be poor, e.g. having to travel long distance to work.

The black man in the NO 40 acres and a Mule also envisions the potential of blacks. He understands that blacks can deliver just as whites do. This contrasts other poor people who think that they are doomed. This is the reason why author in the Notes of a Racial Caste Baby also believes that they were not poor because of physical or mental abilities but because of limited opportunities.

On the welfare issue, the author of Feeling Trapped feels the idea of making people work for their welfare is not a good idea. He feels that idea of working for some hours to earn welfare is wrong. Additionally, the author belittles the programs ability to impact influential skills on the poor. This contrasts the ideology of Notes of a Racial Caste baby in which the author believes that the welfare is beneficial if it were sufficient to the needs of the poor in the society.

Common Themes

The articles under study show several common themes relating to poverty in the society.

Poverty Problems: there are many problems consistent with poor people wherever they are. The commonest problems are food, shelter and clothing. While some struggle to maintain their budget within a provisions of the welfare, others have to rampage through litter to get food. Homelessness is also common, with other people forced to sleep on their cars. Other people have to pay high rental fee for poorly conditioned houses too.

Individual Inferiority:  most of the poor people struggle with personal problems that adversely affects their association. Lack of personal drive to make change still cripples the poor. Others concentrate on hating the whites too instead of capturing the available opportunities.

Discrimination: there are different discriminations portrayed in the articles. Racial discrimination stands out as one of the common factor that bars blacks from opportunities or justice. Gender discrimination is also common with women having to work on lowly paid jobs. Structural discrimination in the work place leads to more working demands for poor and low payment.

Welfare: The accessibility and efficiency of welfare comes into perspective throughout the paper too. Undoubtedly, the poor need welfare but the policies should be accommodate more people while at the same time increasing its effectiveness to the eradication of poverty. 

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