Stephen Pimpare, author of a new book called “A People’s History of Poverty in America” (New Press). Pimpare is a professor of political science and social work at Yeshiva University here in New York. His previous book was titled “The New Victorians: Poverty, Politics, and Propaganda in Two Gilded Ages.”
on Democracy Now
AMY GOODMAN: Share some of the stories, because its really the color, the power of this book.
STEPHEN PIMPARE: One of, I think, the things that comes through most clearly if we actually listen to those who are facing dire need of one form of another and looking towards institutions whether they are public or private, familial or neighborhood, for some sort of assistance, is the almost universal contempt and disdain for the manner in which they’re treated by those institutions. The notion their poor through some of their own moral failings and they need to be redeemed, they need to be rehabilitated, that they need to be made a respectable, normal . If we look at the experience of poor people over time, that independence is something they hold very dearly just as you or I would.
What they’re fighting for is dignity, independence. What they’re fighting for often access to a good job at a living wage that makes it possible for them to have some control over their own lives, some ability to support their families in the manner that they chose. It is perhaps some measure of how poorly—the narrowness we think about poverty, we focus our attention on welfare, which is absolutely essential as an interim measure while people are in between jobs, escaping abusive relationships, trying to put themselves through college. These are vital and essential programs as interim measures but they are used as interim measures. The notion that poor Americans are looking for a free ride, that they are looking for a welfare check so they do not have to work is simply not borne out by the testimony by offer over and over again about the need for greater choice in their own lives, the ability to make their own decisions of how they are going to put together the complex puzzle that is survival day-to-day.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about surrender a culture of poverty.
STEPHEN PIMPARE: We have historically understood poverty as a more failure. In fact, we have a whole architecture of language we use to talk about this, the culture of poverty. The notion that there is either something inherent in individuals that leads them to be poor selling them to be poor, some sort of moral emotional, intellectual failing, or some sort of collective culture that is born and bred in poor communities, in which we pass poverty around, almost as if it is some sort of disease.
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