Does America Hate the Poor? The Other American Dilemma: Lessons for the 21st Century from the 1960s and the 1970s

By John E. Tropman | Go to book overview

Part IV
WHY AMERICA HATES THE POOR

The attitudes that are revealed here are deep within the American character. They existed during the heyday of social programs--the 1960s and early 1970s--when American society was as concerned about social rights and social wrongs as any time since the Great Depression. Mothers in Detroit, respondents in Kansas City and Boston, and a national sample of welfare directors each revealed suspicion of the poor and programs that serve the poor. Perhaps more ominously, this suspicion was held even among the disadvantaged respondents themselves.

The power of these images, robust during "liberal" times, has increased in the 1990s. They were never too far from the surface. Hate of the poor, like anti-Semitism in Europe, seems to be a deep undercurrent.

The poor--the underclass or status poor and the life cycle poor--are hated because they are threatening. I have made some preliminary suggestions, but in this section I would like to offer some more detailed considerations. Let me share some thoughts from The Catholic Ethic in American Society:

American society has always reached out to help others. Communal barn raising and mutual assistance in rural communities have become legendary. Town neighbors have always been ready to lend "a cup of sugar" if you were a bit low. The tendency for neighbor to help neighbor in the daily tasks of living is a historical part of the American experience.

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