working poor are poor because they work too few hours and are lazy. While working additional hours reduces the chance of poverty, many full-time and year-round workers are still poor, due to the low wages they receive (Quammen, 1996). In addition, of those who could climb out of poverty by working year-round, many are unable to do so, due to disability, age, or individual circumstances. This paper will examine whether or not the poor could potentially escape poverty by working 40 hours per week, year-round.
According to Coryn (2001): "Research shows that stereotypes and attributions for poor people and poverty are overwhelmingly negative in the United States. The act of attribution is one in which one ascribes or imputes a characteristic (or trait, emotion or motive, etc.) to oneself or another person. Several studies have identified three fundamental attributions for poverty: individualistic/internal, structural/external, and fatalistic. Individualistic/internal attributions are those that ascribe personal characteristics of individuals as causes for poverty (e.g., laziness, immorality, and alcoholism). Structural/external attributions are defined as those causes of poverty outside the sphere of the individual control (e.g., social environment, economic conditions, prejudice, and innate economic inequality). Fatalistic attributions are those described as bad luck, illness, fate, etc. Recent research has found that persons in the United States tend to favor individualistic/internal explanations for poverty, although attributions for poverty are also correlated with sociodemogaphic variations (e.g., age, gender, ethnicity)."
When a "welfare-reform" bill was passed recently, limiting welfare for the poor, proponents of the bill blamed the poor for allowing themselves to fall into poverty (Quammen, 1996). This group argued that the poor are lazy and irresponsible; that they would do almost anything to get "something for nothing"; that poor young girls would get pregnant to collect welfare; and that the only way to get the poor to work is to force them by taking away some of their welfare benefits.
However, studies reveal that the consequences of continuing to ignore the economic plight of the poor are great. Many researchers note that the plight of the poor is not he result of laziness but rather by our unwavering reliance on a system of free market capitalism that favors the rich even though many processes harm the rest.
For several years, many governors and members of Congress have been calling the poor lazy and irresponsible, labeling them as liars and cheats, and chastising them publicly. A few years ago, House Speaker Newt Gingrich went so far as to claim that the tragic murder of two innocent children by their mother was caused by welfare. In addition, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole made equally obtuse remarks about the poor during a recent speech in Minnesota on welfare.
While our country's leaders are bad-mouthing the poor, little is being done to fix the system that keeps them in poverty. Advocates of the poor have urged leaders to examine the detrimental impact that things like low wages, lack of child care, health care, and job training has on getting the poor off welfare, yet nearly every state has quietly slipped in provisions for these things in one way or another. According to Quammen (1996), "This is and always has been a major factor in the decision by many poor to stay on welfare to at least survive, rather than work for a less-than-living wage and starve; but it is the poor who were blamed, not the deficiencies in the feeble attempts at help. Even job training is futile in most cases since there is an inadequate supply of jobs to employ even a quarter of those who need them."
In Nickel and Dimed (2001), a documentary about a middle-aged, middle-class writer that goes undercover in a variety of low-wage positions, including waitress, hotel maid, nursing home helper, and Wal-Mart associate, the author, Barbara Ehrenreich, sets out to determine whether these common, low-wage jobs could support a single person. These jobs challenge her expectations. She learns that no one can tell the difference between her and the other low-wage workers - her education and upbringing do not distinguish her from the others. She also discovered that it is extremely difficult to support one person, never mind a family, on minimum wage.