The Culture of Generational Poverty > Chapter 2 - Double Jeopardy: Poor and At-Risk

Chapter 2: Double Jeopardy: Poor and At-Risk

Double Jeopardy: Poor and At-Risk

“The rich would have to eat money if the poor did not provide food.”   Russian Proverb

The Bible tells us that “the poor will be with us always.” Any freshman sociology textbook will be quick to inform the student that “economic balance” is achieved within democracies by maintaining a class system. The rich employ both the middle class and poverty class, and the middle class also sustains itself on the labor produced by poverty class. The weight of the entire system rests on the poverty class, so it must be maintained. This is basically the argument that the Bush administration has made for doing little to stem the flow of illegal immigration. America must have a steady supply of workers who will perform low-paying, labor intensive jobs that other Americans refuse to do. In other words, we need more poor people if the rich are to get richer.

Throughout the history of America, the rich have found creative methods for maintaining a poverty class in our society. The American Indians were given disease-bearing blankets to cover themselves with to weaken their physical strength and reduce their numbers. Alcohol was provided to tribal chiefs to muddle their minds and addict their tribesmen.

In Colonial America slaves were divided by selective breeding. Slave owners were directed to rape light-skinned female slaves and impregnate them to produce a breed of slaves that were suitable to live in the main house and care for the family. The slaves were then segregated by skin tone, so as to create house Negroes and field Negroes which were pitted against one another to divide and conquer this strong and rebellious race of people. The Willie Lynch Letter [i] suggested that one might make a slave by breaking his spirit, much as one would break a horse for use as a beast of burden.

During the emancipation era slaves were denied the reparations that they were promised by the government, and were disempowered by laws were designed to limit their earning capability when they showed themselves to be gifted entrepreneurs.

Any avid conspiracy theorist is able to offer up proof that the CIA was behind the introduction of crack cocaine into impoverished black communities in the early 1990’s to destroy any ambition that might be sprouting there.

Through the early 20th Century child labor laws were lax, if not non-existent, so that shop owners could exploit the cheap labor provided by children in the U.S. This practice still exists in the countries that currently supply the U.S. with the goods that stock the shelves of our “Big Box” stores.

Currently, it seems that politicians are prepared to look the other way while millions of undocumented immigrants flood our southern boards to live in over-crowded homes and take migratory jobs that feed, clothe, and house middle class Americans.

Unfortunately, both historic and current practices that were put in place to oppress the poor are still reverberating in society today. Alcoholism on American Indian reservations is at an all time high. Used as a means of escapism, alcohol has robbed over 10 generations of American Indians of their rightful place in today’s society. Even more tragic is the intellectual decline of these stoic people caused by multiple generations of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome which causes mental retardation and developmental disabilities.

In the African-American community drug addiction continues to be the scourge that interferes with economic security. Out-of-wedlock births continue to be higher in this population than in any other, and black on black crime is still far more common that black on white crime. Willie Lynch promised that if his system of slave control was set into motion that its impact would continue for 200 years, and it appears that he was correct.

These past practices, along with hunger, a lack of health care, poor educational resources, and lingering oppression of the poor all come together to produce a dependent population with a myriad of social, physical, and psychological impairments that put them at double jeopardy in today’s dog eat dog world.

Does Money Solve the Problem of Poverty?

The Welfare Reform Act of 1996 declared that all able bodied welfare recipients were to find gainful employment and end their dependency on the welfare system. Although millions of dollars were poured into job training programs, occupational training, child care, and resources for the poor (transportation, household appliances, bus tokens, job seeking skills classes, etc.) the impact on poverty in America was minimal. Welfare reform was successful in one regard, it moved the poor from unemployment to under-employment. Although the number of working poor rose, few of these families were successful in moving out of poverty.

For those who like to view hard data, the Census Bureau has compiled a press release that summarizes the face of poverty in America in 2006. These figures appear below. [ii]

Poverty Overview

  • There were 37 million people in poverty (12.6 percent) in 2005. Both the number and rate were statistically unchanged from 2004 and marked the end of four consecutive years of increases in the poverty rate (2001-2004).
  • There were 7.7 million families in poverty in 2005, statistically unchanged from 2004. The poverty rate for families declined from 10.2 percent in 2004 to 9.9 percent in 2005. The poverty rate and the number living in poverty both declined for married-couple families (5.1 percent and 2.9 million in 2005, down from 5.5 percent and 3.2 million in 2004). However, the poverty rate and number in poverty showed no statistical change between 2004 and 2005 for female-householder-with-no-husband-present families (28.7 percent and 4.0 million) and for male-householder-with-no-wife-present families (13.0 percent and 669,000).
  • As defined by the Office of Management and Budget and updated for inflation using the Consumer Price Index, the average poverty threshold for a family of four in 2005 was $19,971; for a family of three, $15,577; for a family of two, $12,755; and for unrelated individuals, $9,973. Race and Hispanic Origin (Race data refer to people reporting a single race only.)

[QN.No.#4. Statistics show that...]

Poverty rates remained statistically unchanged for blacks (24.9 percent) and Hispanics (21.8 percent). The poverty rate decreased for non-Hispanic whites (8.3 percent in 2005, down from 8.7 percent in 2004) and increased for Asians (11.1 percent in 2005, up from 9.8 percent in 2004). The three-year average poverty rate for American Indians and Alaska Natives was 25.3 percent. The three-year average poverty rate for Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders was 12.2 percent. (Because of the relatively small populations of American Indians and Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, the Census Bureau uses 3-year-average medians.)


  • The poverty rate in 2005 for children under 18 (17.6 percent) remained higher than that of 18-to-64-year olds (11.1 percent) and that of people 65 and older (10.1 percent). For all three groups, the rate was statistically unchanged from 2004.
  • In 2005, the number in poverty remained statistically unchanged from 2004 for people under 18 and people 18 to 64 years old (12.9 million and 20.5 million, respectively).
  • The number in poverty increased for seniors 65 and older – 3.6 million in 2005, up from 3.5 million in 2004.


  • Among the native-born population, 12.1 percent, or 31.1 million, were in poverty in 2005. Both the rate and number were statistically unchanged from 2004.
  • Among the foreign-born population, 16.5 percent, or 5.9 million, were in poverty. Both the rate and number were statistically unchanged from 2004.
  • Among the foreign-born population, poverty rates in 2005 were 10.4 percent for foreign-born naturalized citizens and 20.4 percent for those who had not become citizens – both statistically unchanged from 2004.


  • In 2005, the poverty rates in the Northeast (11.3 percent) and the Midwest (11.4 percent) were not statistically different from each other. However, they were lower than the other two regions. Poverty rates for the South and the West were 14.0 percent and 12.6 percent, respectively. Both the poverty rate and the number in poverty remained stable in all regions between 2004 and 2005.

During the '90s, there was a steady decrease in poverty, the first since the 1970s. But, there has been a 10 to 12 percent increase since the late '90s, according to Census Bureau statistics, with no change in the last year.

Obviously giving people money has never helped much to bring them out of poverty. The contention that a person doesn’t value what s/he does not earn is likely accurate, but even when the poor earn money it seems to slip through their fingers like water through a sieve. Of course, when you are earning minimum wage and only being given 15-30 hours of work per week, there isn’t a lot of money to hold on to.

Does money alone alleviate poverty? No, it doesn’t. Poverty today means not one simple thing--lack of money--but many complicated things: low cognitive skills, depression, lack of transportation, and lack of self-esteem. So if money doesn’t help, what does?

Resources Lacking in Poverty Culture

There are a number of resources lacking in poverty culture:
  • Financial
  • Emotional
  • Mental
  • Spiritual
  • Physical
  • Legal
  • Support Systems
  • Relationships/Role Models
  • Knowledge of Hidden Rules
Along with a dearth of money, those who live in generational poverty often lack the will to keep trying. It is not uncommon to find an impoverished person who has run through a series of minimum wage jobs in a short period of time. Depression sets in, and they simply quit searching for work outside their home. Some become convinced that God has turned his back on them. Others find they cannot tolerate the physical demands of a labor intensive position. More than a few find they are mired in a legal mess due to past bad decisions that have left them without a driver’s license or with an insurmountable pile of debts.

Support systems in poverty culture are usually composed of other poor people who have no more information about the way out of poverty than those they are supporting. Flesh and blood role models are scarce, and relationships are often in turmoil due to a lack of stability and a dependence on irresponsible others. The generationally impoverished have no real idea about how the other half lives, and how to change their thinking and behavior to gain entrance into mainstream culture. With the hurdles to economic success being so hard to scale, some decide that they want no part of life in the middle class, and simply refuse to jump through the hoops to get there.

[QN.No.#7. It is difficult for the generationally impoverished to climb out of poverty because...]

Special Needs Means Special Costs

One might argue that all people who live in generational poverty are at risk in today’s society because they lack the resources to meet their basic needs, and the contention would be right on target. There are, however, special populations that exist within the poverty community whose lives are further complicated by disabilities.

Poor Children with Learning Disabilities

Children with learning disabilities (LD) are of special concern. Special education is more costly for school systems to offer than mainstream education, and children who come from poverty are often overlooked when deciding who will get a coveted seat in an LD class. Middle class parents are often heard to complain that they must hound their school district to get their child tested for LD and enrolled in a special class. If fierce parental advocacy is a requirement for entry into an LD classroom, poor children already find themselves behind the eight ball. The parents of children living in generational poverty are likely to have educational gaps themselves, and may not know the how the education system works. They fail to advocate for their children believing that the school system will do right by their offspring without their assistance or interference.

[QN.No.#5. Which of the following statements about impoverished children with learning disabilities is false?]

Robert Worth’s scathing article entitled The Scandal of Special Ed succinctly sums up several concerns regarding the plight of impoverished children: [iii]

Anyone who's spent time in an inner-city classroom can tell you that the challenges the average poor kid faces are often hard to distinguish from those you'll find in special ed. This may be the greatest absurdity of the special ed law: It fails to acknowledge "environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage" as disabling conditions. Why should a child with a broken back be guaranteed round-the clock, state-of-the-art medical care, no matter what the cost, while the millions of kids whose difficulties stem from poverty and neglect are left to hope that their teachers will break the rules so they can get some extra help? Should we really be spending $10 billion (at least) a year on "learning disabilities" when we still don't adequately fund Head Start and Title I, the federal programs that were designed to help poor children catch up with their wealthier peers?

Mr. Worth also points out that impoverished children who do get into special education classes often languish there without regular re-evaluation and do not get mainstreamed when their skill level achieves designated benchmarks, thereby further retarding their progress.

The No Child Left Behind Act holds special education students to the same high standards as regular education students, meaning that by the year 2014, learning-disabled children must perform proficiently or above on all state tests. With more than 13% of public school students receiving services under the Individual with Disabilities in Education Act, it is imperative that we find better ways to help learning disabled children reach these standards.[iv]

Children who need special education but are not receiving it are already failing mandated proficiency tests needed to receive a high school diploma. These youth are forced to enroll in Graduation Equivalency Diploma (GED) classes to validate their education. The problem is that GED classes for the learning disabled are as scarce as hen’s teeth.

It is common for an adult who lacks a diploma to undergo testing prior to enrollment in GED classes. The Test of Adult Basic Education (TABE), or a similar test, is used to assess a student’s grade level in math, reading, language, and writing. It is not unusual for a student to test at a third or fourth grade level in these basic skill areas although they stayed in school until the eighth or ninth grade. One might suspect that undiagnosed learning disabilities are at play here, yet, without LD GED classes, the student is set up to fail again by being required to participate in a regular GED program where the student will eventually drop out due to overwhelming frustration at their own lack of progress.

On its’ face, this situation is dismal enough, but when one considers that any welfare grant the person is receiving will be sanctioned (withheld) if they drop out of a GED program, the problem becomes untenable. Label the student as too “resistant and uncooperative” to help, and cut them loose to depend on their own devices. It is little wonder that these individuals sometimes turn to a life a crime to support themselves and their families.

The Real Deal
Melinda is the mother of four. She has recently been abandon by her spouse and is a middle school drop out. With an eighth grade education she is unable to find a living wage job to support her family, and her spouse cannot be located to pay child support. Although she vowed that she would never depend on the State Welfare system, she makes a visit to the local office to apply for Aid for Dependent Children and food stamps. At age 22 she is found to have no marketable job skills, and is placed on a work assignment to earn her meager welfare grant. She is assessed with a TABE which reveals that she has attained only a fourth grade level in her learning.

Day after day Melinda struggles in a GED class where the other students come and go after a few weeks of education, yet Melinda remains, unable to pass even one of the pre-tests offered in class. Ten hours of class a week, coupled with 30 hours a week cleaning cages at the local dog pound, and studying each evening leaves her little time to spend with her children. The Welfare Department’s daycare provider lives across town from her home requiring the family to catch the bus at 6:00 AM each morning, and not return home until 6:00 PM each evening. Melinda suspects that her children are not being well cared for by the daycare provider because they cry in protest each morning as she wrestles them to the front door of the sitter’s home.

One morning Melinda can no longer ignore the desperate protests of her children, gathers her brood, and returns home without attending her GED class. She borrows a neighbor’s phone and calls her caseworker to explain why she must drop out of school, and is informed that she that her check will not be issued until she comes into compliance with her self-sufficiency plan. Now sobbing, Melinda hangs up the phone and allows her lecherous neighbor to console her.

“You know,” he states, “You could earn $200 a night with that cute little body of yours while your kids sleep in their own beds if you weren’t so uppity. An education ain’t gonna feed your babies until sometime next year. They look like they are hungry now!” Can you guess what this young mother decided to do?

Poor Seniors at Risk

Congressional hearings were conducted in 1984 to look into the plight of impoverished seniors who are denied nursing home care. An excerpt from the Opinion Paper abstract reads:

This Congressional oversight hearing was convened to examine evidence that many of the nation's nursing homes restrict or deny access to the elderly poor and disabled, leaving the 18 million Americans dependent on Medicaid especially vulnerable to neglect and exploitation. Evidence was heard on discriminatory admissions, on the practice of demanding cash payments before accepting a Medicaid patient, on the eviction of residents once they become eligible for Medicaid, and on racial discrimination. Witnesses include a former nursing home admissions director, two citizens with experiences of nursing home malpractice, an attorney from the National Senior Citizens Law Center, the attorney general of Maryland, and the deputy executive vice president of the American Health Care Association.[v]

[QN.No.#6. Which statement is true? Impoverished seniors are often...]

To this day, nursing homes find reasons to deny admission to those who pay using Social Security Insurance (SSI) and/or Medicaid/Medicare as their sole means of payment. When middle class people enter a long term care facility, their home is attached with a lien. When the family’s money runs out, the home is sold and the proceeds are confiscated by the facility. Poor people typically do not own property, so their stay in a long term care facility is compensated by only a government pittance. There is no profit margin in serving this population.

Seniors and disabled individuals who must continue living in impoverished neighborhoods despite their declining mental and physical capacities can quickly become targets for neighborhood criminals. If there is no one to look out for their best interests, unscrupulous others will exploit them financially, physically, sexually, and emotionally. Sometimes their own children are the culprits.

The Real Deal

“Don’t call me Mama, because I am not your Mama,” Sally screamed as the landlord looked on. “She is confused again today, Alzheimer’s you know,” explained Marcia, Sally’s self-proclaimed daughter. “Just don’t let her pee on the floor anymore,” the landlord replied before heading for his pick-up truck.

Eviction time came seven months later, three months after Marcia quit paying the rent, and the landlord returned to the home to make sure the family had cleared out as ordered by the court. He found that only Sally had been left behind. At the age of 93 she was unsteady on her feet, and yet, there she was, wading through trash up to her knees. As she turned to see who was sneaking up on her, the landlord noticed that she was covered with bruises, and her eyes were nearly swollen shut. “What happened?” the landlord inquired.

“They beat me with a 2” by 4” and then they moved out while I was unconscious,” replied Sally. “I think they stole my radio. I can’t find it anywhere.”

“Your daughter did this to you?” asked the disbelieving man. “She isn’t my daughter.” the feisty woman corrected.” She was my neighbor when we lived over on Howard Street. She kidnapped me when she moved over here so she could have my social security check. Yesterday I snuck and used Marcia’s cell phone to call the law. She and her kids beat me silly after the police left.”

“And by the way,” Sally added, “It wasn’t me that was peeing on the floor.”

The Impact of Poverty on At-risk Populations

Children, youth, women, the disabled, and the elderly can all be considered “at-risk” populations if they are forced to live in irreversible poverty. These individuals are routinely exploited by the system, their community, and sometimes even their own families.

Generational poverty culture is a place where “survival of the fittest” is the unspoken credo. Only the strong survive. Whether you are referring to The Hood, The Barrio, The Ghetto, The Reservation, Chinatown, The Inner City, Little Italy, The Slums, The Trailer Park, or any other known impoverished area in the United States, there are certain commonalities. These commonalities are not due to race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or gender because these diversity factors are present in most all impoverished neighbors. They are due to circumstance, and the circumstance is generational poverty.

It matters little if you are talking about urban, rural, or suburban areas, anywhere the poor are gathered is an area at-risk. Without fail, these are areas where food and gas prices are high, and opportunists are plentiful. Guns are easily available, and frustration is high. The crime rate is the highest in the area, and the easily victimized go unprotected. Single woman head the majority of the households, and the children regularly “go without.” Drug and alcohol abuse is prevalent, and people have little money to feed their habits. If that isn’t risk, what is?

What is Poverty?

  • Poverty is hunger.
  • Poverty is lack of shelter.
  • Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor.
  • Poverty is not being able to go to school, not knowing how to read, not being able to speak properly.
  • Poverty is not having a job, is fear for the future, living one day at a time.
  • Poverty is losing a child to illness brought about by unclean water.
  • Poverty is powerlessness, lack of representation and freedom.
  • Unknown

Yes, there are families in America drinking from unsafe wells, obtaining their water supply from a muddy creek, and hooking a lead-lined water hose to their neighbor’s spicket to use for cooking, drinking and showering. The number of those who are homeless to grow annually. A lack of health insurance and the lack of transportation to get to the doctor cause people to suffer and die from treatable medical conditions. A felony on one’s record will lock a person out of consideration for even a minimum wage job.

Hungry children go unfed, yet no one seems to listen. No one in power seems to care. The impoverished feel that they have

[i] Final Call (2005, August) Willie Lynch Letter: The Making of a Slave. Retrieved July 10, 2007 from FCN Publishing, (2007) at

[ii] US Census Bureau Public Information Office (2006, August) Income Climbs, Poverty Stabilizes, Uninsured Rate Increases. Retrieved July 10, 2007 from the US Census Bureau website (2007) at

[iii] Worth, Robert (1999, June) The Scandal of Special Ed. Retrieved July 11, 2007 from The Washington Monthly Online website (1999) at

[iv] Dietel, Ron (2004, January) Testing Students with Learning Disabilities. Retrieved July 11, 2007 from Center for Assessment and Evaluation of Student Learning (CAESL) (2003) website at

[v] Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) (1984) Discrimination against the Poor and Disabled in Nursing Homes. Retrieved July 11, 2007 from the ERIC Website at

Question No.4. Statistics show that...

a. There were 37 million people in poverty (12.6 percent) in 2005.
b. The poverty rate in 2005 for children under 18 (17.6 percent) remained higher than that of 18-to-64-year olds (11.1 percent).
c. Poverty rates remained statistically unchanged for blacks (24.9 percent) and Hispanics (21.8 percent). The poverty rate decreased for non-Hispanic whites (8.3 percent in 2005, down from 8.7 percent in 2004).
d.All of the above

Question No.5. Which of the following statements about impoverished children with learning disabilities is false?

a. Poor children with learning disabilities are usually diagnosed early and enrolled in LD classes before third grade.
b. Parents in poverty class may not recognize that they have a responsibility to advocate for their children to get them enrolled in an LD program.
c. The 'No Child Left Behind Act' holds special education students to the same high standards as regular education students, meaning that by the year 2014, learning-disabled children must perform proficiently or above on all state tests.
d. It is common for an adult who applies for welfare and lacks a diploma to undergo academic testing prior to enrollment in GED classes.

Question No.6. Which statement is true? Impoverished seniors are often...

a. Given priority for entrance into extended care facilities because their stay is paid for with Medicaid.
b. Taken care of at home where they are safe from victimization.
c. Are especially vulnerable to exploitation and neglect.
d. None of the above.

Question No.7. It is difficult for the generationally impoverished to climb out of poverty because...

a. They are exploited by select middle class vendors.
b. They have few mentors, sponsors, and role models to help them gain entrance into the middle class.
c. They are not privileged to the hidden rules of the middle class.
d. All of the above.

The Culture of Generational Poverty > Chapter 2 - Double Jeopardy: Poor and At-Risk
Page Last Modified On: April 28, 2015, 08:41 PM