Poverty and Barriers To Social Mobility

Reply Sun 10 May, 2015 09:06 am
Readers react to a column by David Brooks about the barriers to social mobility.

To the Editor:

Re “The Nature of Poverty,” by David Brooks (column, May 1):

At a moment when the nation is finally engaged in a long overdue conversation about police aggression and the inequity of how people of color are treated in the criminal justice system, Mr. Brooks seeks to change the subject, and to turn our attention instead to the social psychological roots of impoverishment.

But there are two problems with this line of argument.

First is the fact that mobility is almost nonexistent in the United States today. Second is that racial discrimination in labor and housing markets, and in the criminal justice system, makes mobility even less likely for residents living in neighborhoods such as the one where Freddie Gray, the man killed in Baltimore, lived.

Under these circumstances, Mr. Brooks’s call for renewed attention to the “quality of relationships in a home and a neighborhood” is a red herring. It not only blames poor African-Americans for their own impoverishment, but also distracts attention from the political and economic roots of poverty, and the deleterious impact of racial discrimination on people of color, at a moment when the country is finally trying to grapple with these topics.

New York

The writer is an associate professor of anthropology at the CUNY Graduate Center.

To the Editor:

David Brooks admonishes us to pursue the social psychology of why the urban poor remain poor. To be complete, such an analysis would have to examine why so many wealthier Americans seem determined to punish the poor.

At least 12 states require public aid recipients to submit to drug testing or screening. A bill introduced in the Missouri Legislature would prevent food stamp recipients from using benefits to buy steak or seafood. Kansas has enacted a law that could effectively deny recipients — many of them children — the pleasure of a swim or a movie. All of this seems designed to make the poor as miserable as possible. None of it promotes upward mobility.

The poverty line is not simply a rung on a ladder that anybody can climb past. Along with municipal and school-district boundaries, it is a border that separates the richer “us” from the poorer “them.” Perhaps one reason it doesn’t move is that many wealthier people want to keep it where it is.

Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich.

To the Editor:

David Brooks sets up a straw man by implying that well-meaning progressives say we only need to spend more money to cut poverty, and that what mobility truly requires is a new “social psychology” that encourages responsibility and ambition.

Progressives are on record supporting efforts to strengthen family cohesion and engage all sectors to revitalize high-poverty neighborhoods. And while no one can be against an ethic of personal responsibility, for that sentiment to translate into mobility will require a real national commitment to creating jobs, raising wages and basic labor standards, addressing racial and gender discrimination, and investing in early childhood education, which, yes, will require money.

Continue reading the main story

Continue reading the main story
“Ambition” requires hope, and hope requires opportunity. The real lack of social norms can be found in a politics that fiddles while Baltimore burns.


The writer is vice president of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress.

To the Editor:

David Brooks contends that the world is waiting for a social psychologist to explain the nature of poverty. But we don’t need a social psychologist to explain what reams of good social science research already indicate: Growing up in high-poverty and racially isolated neighborhoods leads to seriously bad outcomes.

Neighborhood segregation produces educational segregation as well, and a new report from the Century Foundation and the Poverty and Race Research Action Council, “A Better Start: Why Classroom Diversity Matters in Early Education” (of which I am a co-author), describes how this educational segregation starts in preschool. We don’t need to wait for a social psychologist before we enact housing and educational policies to address the causes of what we see in Baltimore and cities across the country.

New York

The writer is a research scientist at the National Center for Children and Families, Teachers College, Columbia University.

To the Editor:

It is a gross oversimplification to add up poverty program money and divide it per capita the way David Brooks does. But the issue is indeed money and opportunity.

In my city, Oakland, Calif., if you happen to be born to a family living in the Fruitvale District, you are likely to attend Fremont High, a school that has police cars permanently parked outside and during the summer looks like an abandoned ruin from Beirut. If you happen to live a few miles away, you attend Piedmont High, a lovely school where graduates attend prestigious universities. The difference is money, how we spend it and how we apportion it.

We want our children to get the best education, so we move to expensive neighborhoods that have good schools. Those who cannot move endure the leftovers.

We have a highly divided society in which access to opportunity is not in any way equitable, and we seem to pay attention only when our cities explode. If we follow Mr. Brooks’s lead, we are bound to keep repeating the same cycle of mistakes and unnecessary misery.

Oakland, Calif

NYTimes.com 5/10/15
  • Topic Stats
  • Top Replies
  • Link to this Topic
Type: Discussion • Score: 0 • Views: 1,866 • Replies: 0
No top replies


Related Topics

Why Race? - Discussion by snood
Im white . - Discussion by shewolfnm
what are you? - Discussion by dyslexia
Be Black - Question by Victor Murphy
Fear of a Black President - Discussion by snood
Ten questions about race - Discussion by nimh
  1. Forums
  2. » Poverty and Barriers To Social Mobility
Copyright © 2024 MadLab, LLC :: Terms of Service :: Privacy Policy :: Page generated in 0.03 seconds on 07/17/2024 at 10:59:58