The American Way of Poverty

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Poverty in America is made up of both the long-term chronically poor and the new working poor—the tens of millions seriously affected by the economic downturn and cutbacks in social welfare programs. Sasha Abramsky argues that for the majority of Americans, financial insecurity has become the new norm. He looks at economic inequality and poverty, and suggests ways for devising a fairer and more equitable social contract. In The American Way of Poverty, he looks at topics from housing policy to wage protections to affordable higher education, and calls political changes and a new, more effective War on Poverty.


Sasha Abramsky

Comments [48]

Can you ask your guest if there are examples of of how communities or individuals have banded together to fight poverty on a grass roots level?

Mar. 17 2014 01:36 PM
Wayne Johnson Ph.D. from Bk

The fact that he mentions Harrington's "The Other America" shows that this author really gets what's going on in this country.There is a great CBS Reports companion piece: "Hunger In America" with correspondent Charles Kuralt.

Sep. 12 2013 03:43 PM
Ehren Joseph from Brooklyn, New York

The American Caste System:

"It is no longer a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, but a government of Wall Street, by Wall Street, and for Wall Street. The great common people of this country are slaves, and monopoly is the master".

-Mary Elizabeth Lease in a speech @ 1890


On Slavery:

The first articulate description of wage slavery was made by Simon Linguet in 1763:

The slave was precious to his master because of the money he had cost him . . . They were worth at least as much as they could be sold for in the market . . . It is the impossibility of living by any other means that compels our farm labourers to till the soil whose fruits they will not eat and our masons to construct buildings in which they will not live . . . It is want that compels them to go down on their knees to the rich man in order to get from him permission to enrich him . . . what effective gain [has] the suppression of slavery brought [him ?] He is free, you say. Ah! That is his misfortune . . . These men . . . [have] the most terrible, the most imperious of masters, that is, need. . . . They must therefore find someone to hire them, or die of hunger. Is that to be free?[Wikapedia-wage slavery]


We are kept in a systemic folly of poverty in oder to subjugate. Those who work for a company at minimum wage are often the same individuals purchasing product and produce from that company. What incentive is there to raise wages allowing turbulence in the company's market base?

Sep. 12 2013 02:47 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

No Schmulik

Had the Jews done what the Zionists were urging, and gone to Palestine in the 1920s and '30s, instead of mostly following the path of the Socialists or the Communists or the ultraorthdox rabbis, there would have been no Holocaust. Had my grandmother and my whole family done what my mother wanted to do, and go to Palestine in the mid 1930s, they would not have been shot into ditches in 1941.

As for the "world" being against us, that has been going on since Israelite days. That's like saying "the world" is against Blacks. Racism and antisemitism are ancient. But to get a nation to accept mass murder on the scale of the Holocaust requires much more than run of mill racial hatred. Class war and mass murder in the East (Soviet Union) 1917-1921, and 1929-1932, is what led to Race War 1933-1945. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Bolshevism led to Fascism, not the other way around.

Sep. 12 2013 02:15 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

The Hebrew word for prince is "nasi" (pronounced na see) while NAZI is the acronym for the NSDAP or Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers' Party). No relations whatsoever.

Sep. 12 2013 02:07 PM
Schmulik from Queens

Hmm so if the Bolsheviks DID bring the Jewish communist revolution to Germany then the modern GERMAN holocaust would have never happened ... but since it didn't the christian german jews and their princes are to blame any way

NO wonder the world is against us .....
VERY interesting mind you have there buddy....! ;)

Sep. 12 2013 02:05 PM
Schmulik from Queens

Umm 19th century? I pointed holocausts back to the crusades... Very convenient how you LEFT ( or should I say RIGHTED ) that out .. the RIGHT always seems to edit (forget ) the fact....s man you should not be sitting around on this forum you should be writing for FOX news!

Sep. 12 2013 02:01 PM
jgarbuz from Queens


I love Stephen Colbert; he's the funniest man on TV since I don't know when. My favorite show by far.

But I am still right, and your are still wrong. I CHALLENGE you to read about the collectivization campaign in the Ukraine, 1929-1932, and what Stalin's stupid left wing young Jewish commissars helped do. A Ukrainain holocaust 10 years before the Jewish one. You don't know squat. Yes, antisemitism has existed since the time of the ancient Israelites, but were it not for the horrors committed by Stalin's stupid minions - in the name of "progress" - that Hitler was able to get 40% of the vote in the last election in Germany which led to his coming to power. Jews were fine and served bravely in the German army in WWI. So what happened between WWI and WWII to so change the German people? The Bolshevik (Jewish) revolution in Russia and their promise to bring revolution to Germany as well!

Sep. 12 2013 01:59 PM
Michael from Manhattan

Yeah I was just in Athens economic problems... but a beautiful place and has a great reputation in history ....
Socrates well he was mortal and legends are legends

Somehow... I think Athens will be around ANOTHER 3400 years not bad and as for Socrates yeah I see his name carved in stone everywhere including my alma mater had to read and study him in humanities ... not bad at all

Where will you and YOUR philosophy be in 3000 years ? if you can match those two examples ... that will be saying SOMETHING

Sep. 12 2013 01:57 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

To Michael from Manhattan

Do you know what happened to Athens and Socrates in the end? Read some more if you don't.

Sep. 12 2013 01:52 PM
Schmulik from Queens

Read ? wait I was denied an education to keep me on the plantation! Wait ... let me get this straight I don't need to read I have your own quotes to understand :
"Hitler said: ,Judaism = Bolshevism and Trotsky was a Jew .... ok let me get Steven Colbert's calculator and apply Jgarbuzz's logic to the equation ( 1+ 5 = 2 , 100 - 0 - 5000) hmm Nazi is a HEBREW word for meaning a Prince..... add that and subtract common sense
that means that jews are responsible for the Holocaust and we are responsible for our own genocide...
the Princes (Nazis) were a bunch of self hating communist Jews!
Well that was a trip.....I think it's time for me to leave this crazy bus

Sep. 12 2013 01:51 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

To Shmulik

No, I'm right and you're wrong. No, I suggest YOU READ about the Collectivization drive in the Ukraine, 1929-1932 which brought about the starvation of 4-7 million Ukrainian "kulaks." YOU read about Rosa Luxembourg and her "Spartacists" who took over the State government house in Bavaria in 1918, and what happened to her. Imagine if a Jewish communist feminist took over the Texas State House! YOU READ about naive Jewish bolsheviks who carried out Stalin's directives, thinking they were doing a "good thing" in trying to create collectives. YOU GO LEARN why so many Ukrainains collaborated with the Nazis in 1941 after what they had been through in 1931! When you learn some more, you will understand why I say, that Bolshevism in the USSR led to the Holocaust! Yes, antisemitism and pogroms were routine in the 19th century Russia, but the Bolshevik revolution, led in many cases by identifiable Jews, is what scared the German people into buying into the Nazi propaganda of the 1930s.

Sep. 12 2013 01:46 PM
Michael from Manhttan

@jgarbuzz Sorry I am with Schmulik on this one ... from wikipedia:
Critical thinking is a way of deciding whether a claim is always true, sometimes true, partly true, or false. It can be traced in the West to ancient Greece with its Socratic method and in the East to ancient India with the Buddhist kalama sutta and abhidharma literature. Critical thinking is an important component of most professions. It is a part of formal education and is increasingly significant as students progress through university to graduate education, although there is debate among educators about its precise meaning and scope.[1]

So actually .. YES it does mean you think critically about EVERYTHING ... that's what separates us from the simpler, reactive nervous systems in flat worms and such... well at least in SOME of us ...

Sep. 12 2013 01:41 PM
Schmulik from Queens

"I blame the bolsheviks for the murder of my family in Poland by the Nazis"

What kind of wrong headed over thinking is that ? Amazing how you conflate and convolute the facts to suit your world view...

The Horrible actions of the Nazis blame is to be held by them and them alone. Racism/ and outright evil hostility particularly towards Jews in Europe predates the Bolsheviks.... AGAIN ....READ...
from Wikipedia on pogroms:
Massive violent attacks against Jews date back at least to the Crusades such as the Pogrom of 1096 in France and Germany (the first "Christian" pogroms to be officially recorded), as well as the massacres of Jews at London and York in 1189–1190.

So the Bolsheviks were behind this too ? Lay blame where blame is due pogroms especially against Jews is a part of White European culture and tradition... period .... it's deep and since Christianity is a form of Judaism actually some form of weird and sick mentality with it's roots in our own religion ... NEVER forget Numbers 31....

Sep. 12 2013 01:37 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

To Michael from Manhattan

"Critical thinking" didn't originally mean to be constantly critical of everything you see. Unfortunately, that is what it has become, being CRITICAL of everything in sight!

Sep. 12 2013 01:28 PM
jgarbuz from Queens


I got my history straight, so get yours straight too.

The Bolshevik revolution, led by Lenin and Trotsky in 1917, led to the rise of the Nazis in Germany and the Holocaust! Learn from that history. Hiller used to say, Judaism = Bolshevism. It was that idea that made what eventually happened happen.

Sep. 12 2013 01:25 PM
Michael from Manhattan

"All that the universities produce are left-wing malcontents always militating for an overthrow of the status quo"

Yeah ... Study, fact learning....EDUCATION and critical thinking tends to have that effect.....
I can completely understand why you and your crowd are against it ... you can't keep em down on the share cropping farm or plantation if they get hold of that book learning... reminds me ... it used to be ILLEGAL to teach black people to read and write and the southern white racists did everything they could to prevent it.. The Governor standing in the door way to school to prevent access ... replaced by Jgarbuzz in the same spirit at the violating... um Voting booth....


Sep. 12 2013 01:24 PM
Schmulik from Queens

@ jgarbuzz : NOW you have your history straight ;)

Sep. 12 2013 01:17 PM
Tony from Canarsie

jgarbuz from Queens -- You betcha! Have a good day.

Sep. 12 2013 01:15 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

To Tony of Canarsie

You are correct. Most of the Israelites were simply Canaanites who like the Mormons in recent times, changed religions, but were joined by some runaways from Egyptian-run slave mines. And so this saga of Israelite bondage in Egypt was created by scribes in Babylon. But it's good storytelling, nonetheless. All ancient peoples had their founding mythologies.

Sep. 12 2013 01:10 PM
Tony from Canarsie

jgarbuz from Queens -- Just my two cents, but there is no archaeological or written evidence of mass Jewish enslavement in Egypt (for instance, contrary to common belief the pyramids were build by trained, paid and well-looked after workers), or that Joseph ever existed, so I'm assuming all your other points are based on folklore. ;)

Sep. 12 2013 01:06 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

To Schmulik

The Bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917 is what brought Hitler to power in GErmany in 1933. Never forget that fact! All of this liberal, left wing trash pushed by left wing JEWS have brought nothing but TRAGEDY down upon us! I blame the bolsheviks for the murder of my family in Poland by the Nazis. Once again, the STUPID LEFT IS PUSHING FOR MORE CRAZINESS!!! Stop it!

Sep. 12 2013 01:01 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

To Ashley

A bunch of sheperds, who liked to lay back on the grass and gaze the stars day-dreaming while tending their sheep suddenly end up in a society with a higher standard of living requiring organized, back breaking work. It was tough on them. They probably envied Joseph with all the income inequality when he got a cushy job as chief adviser to the Pharaoh. Pure envy.

Sep. 12 2013 12:56 PM
Ashley from Manhattan

@jgarbuzz should have stayed outta Egypt then ! ;)

Sep. 12 2013 12:52 PM
Schmulik from Queens

@Jgarbuzz you have no idea what you are talking about and repeating anti communist/socialist propaganda at it's most inaccurate and misinformed does no thing to make your ridiculous assumptions sensible.. any person that knows any thing about this planet can point out many many countries and societies where this type of economic disparity of income does not exist ... repeating the lie over and over again only convinces your self and the time doing so would be better spent learning history AND something about the world we live in ... especially in a country that practiced racist slavery for 300 year. Start in your own backyard..... what hypocrites to point fingers !

Sep. 12 2013 12:49 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

To Ashley

Yes, we Jews have been complaining about hard work since Egyptian bondage days :) I too don't like backbreaking work. We Jews just aren't built for it :)

Sep. 12 2013 12:44 PM
Schmulik from Queens

@ Ashley see? what did I predict! we already have jgarbuzz claiming that serfdom was "not that bad" and a step up from did I get this crowd right!

Sep. 12 2013 12:43 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

There was a Communist revolution in Russia, Eastern Europe and China, to rob the rich and make everyone equal. Guess what? They ended up literally as SLAVE STATES, with vast numbers in Gulags and work camps being literally worked to death! That is what will happen in America if all this gibberish about "income inequality" keeps rambling on until the inevitable revolution comes, and in the end, slavery will follow. As it did in Russia, China and Eastern Europe until thankfully Communism was overturned with a push by Ronald Reagan.

Sep. 12 2013 12:42 PM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

I don't know whether the guest is correct in his comments about raising the minimum wage having little impact. But the example he cited from Florida seemed to be one of a large company. Can he say the same about the impact on small businesses?

(And I AM sympathetic to the idea of raising the min wage; however, I am a believer in the notion that "nothing is free" -- that is, there will be SOME cost that SOMEONE will bear, for example displacements of individual jobs, even if the overall effect is positive.

Sep. 12 2013 12:41 PM
Ashley from Manhattan

@ jgarbuzz that sounds like the EXACT situation the Hebrews were in in Egypt in Ancient times.. a bunch of impoverished desert dwellers on the fringes of a great empire, dirty, unwashed, undocumented, flooding in to a great and rich civilization looking to work and then later whining about being "enslaved" ... they were supposed to be slaves to the Pharaoh (which is actually a myth) and slavery was their lot in life ... who are they to claim that they are entitled to a land or freedom?

Sep. 12 2013 12:40 PM
brick from brick,nj

The guest does sound quite hackneyed in his older-Left dissection of the middle class - who are getting quite squeezed. So much so, Canadian society, without the "Southern" problem, has taken a different tack lately.

Sep. 12 2013 12:39 PM
Sally from work

There is a punitive feel in the way the conservative right talks about poverty, a lack of compassion. Is that the American way?

Sep. 12 2013 12:38 PM

What effect, if any, did NAFTA have on poverty in the US?

Sep. 12 2013 12:37 PM
Tony from Canarsie

A very informative and common sense guest btw. Look forward to reading the book.

Sep. 12 2013 12:36 PM

Please address /corporate/ welfare and how so many support it while railing against the "cycle of dependency" that welfare breeds, etc.

Sep. 12 2013 12:36 PM
Schmulik from Queens

Next up from this crowd .... "actually, SLAVERY is not that bad..... we need to rethink the 14th amendment" oh yes the apologists for this type of exploitation have the reinstitution of slavery in their sites this mindset is a pestilence ....and should be treated as such

Sep. 12 2013 12:36 PM
Tony from Canarsie

The comparison your guest made a minute ago reminds me of the news the other day of the Republicans in the Florida legislature commissioning a study about voter fraud in that state, the results of which showed that the only instances of voter fraud they could find was done by the Republicans themselves. I assume the GOP won't be crowing about that study.

Sep. 12 2013 12:36 PM
BigGuy from Forest Hills, NY

The Cato Institute last month published a study called The Work versus Welfare Trade-Off: 2013. Charles Hughes and Michael Tanner used data mining of census data to argue that (potentially millions of) the Poor who collect all possible benefits can do better than those who work for minimum wage.

Out of those potential millions of the Poor, they did not document even ONE single mother with kids who actually does collect all the benefits.

I emailed back and forth with Hughes. If Mr. Abramsky requests, I'll send it all to him.

Sep. 12 2013 12:35 PM
John from Washington Heights

The speaker's comment that "we don't tell middle class people how to spend their money or what type of food to buy so why should we tell people on food stamps what to buy?" is hogwash (and I'm a liberal, progressive democrat). If someone is taking my hard earned money (earned at an office job I HATE but need for the health benefits) then I get the right to tell them not to waste it on sodas, chips, liquor. If they don't like the deal, fine, don't take my money (taxpayer) money.

Sep. 12 2013 12:34 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

To Ashley

Feudalism was an improvement over slavery which was what preceded it. In the Roman empire, as in most empires, you were either free or a slave. When Christianity became the dominant religion, slavery was reduced and most people became serfs instead. They could sharecrop a certain amount of land. They were happy if the Land Lord hired them as servants in the castle, or if they were very strong, to be body guards or "knights" in the Land Lord's little army. Later on, the landed gentry produced jobs in those big houses and big gardens that were quite sought after by the masses toiling on the soil. And then came factories with the industrial revolution. But regardless of the system of production, "poverty" or living in subsistence will ALWAYS be with us. There is no such thing as eliminating poverty. It is pure nonsense, like eliminating gravity.

Sep. 12 2013 12:33 PM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

I agree with the guest as to the unsustainability of the widening income/wealth gap on our society, and I give the greedy of our society no quarter in that regard. But there is culpability in the lower economic classes as well.

What I mean is the changes in behavior and values as we have become more and more a consumer society. What happened to a culture of living within your means, prioritizing what is truly important, and living modestly?

I can't tell you how many times my mother sewed patches on the knees of my jeans while I was growing up in mid-20th Century Brooklyn.

For years, I've seen people in the lowest rungs of the economic ladder wearing gold chains. They can't afford food or rent, but they CAN afford gaudy, ostentatious jewelery -- I mean for every day use! Nowadays, that is augmented with tattoos all over themselves -- how much does THAT cost?

Not to mention owning the latest electronics devices, playing games on their smartphones 24/7. I still have an old-style flip phone. This goes for lower-middle class people too, who complain about the cost of living, but still seem to spend money they either don't have or for things they truly can't afford.

There are many more examples of this. I don't deny the right of poor people to have SOME stuff, but where are priorities, and where is sacrifice for their kids?

In other words, what part does culture play in all this?

Sep. 12 2013 12:27 PM
Ashley from Manhattan

There is a vested interest in keeping poverty alive.... you cannot control or feel privileged unless you have someone to "lord" over.... If you are rich and have hordes of people at your disposal, begging to get any crumb you fling from your table, like a lap dog at the table .... you have the power to exploit everyone else as you see fit. It's not a matter of there not being enough food , shelter , etc, it is a matter of keeping mean spirited privilege, exemplified by Limbaugh and all those that seek to perpetuate this economic serfdom.

They wish to go back to the middle ages with serfs and lords. Where you own nothing and live at the pleasure of the "rich".

Men love it when women are poor ... and they are rich ( to use a classic example) it allows huge, physically unattractive buffoons like Limbaugh to weld economic access and power over women to get what they want , because their intellect , talent and skills would never allow them to gain that access on it's own... These guys exist surrounded by sycophants that aspire to emulate them.

Sep. 12 2013 12:27 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Your guest is the perfect example why I ceased to support "higher education." All that the universities produce are left-wing malcontents always militating for an overthrow of the status quo, no matter how good that status quo may be. Tell your guest to read Samuel Smile's 1859 tome, "Self Help." What he said then in the Victorian Era, is equally true today.

Sep. 12 2013 12:25 PM

Cornell West had some cogent comments about how poverty was effectively a dirty word during the last presidential campaign. West, along with Tavis Smiley, conducted a 'Povery Tour' during which they drew attention to the issue.

Sep. 12 2013 12:25 PM

On the Right, people are proposing to bring back work houses.

Sep. 12 2013 12:23 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

"War on Poverty" is nonsensical left-wing rhetoric. I went from rat-infested tenement in the 1950s to the brand new shining Housing Projects surrounded with greenery. Did not eliminate "poverty." There is no such thing as "eliminating poverty." There is only raising the subsistence level, which we have done very well.
"Inequality" is due to greater world trade. Nothing wrong with inequality, as long subsistence levels keeps rising. People who today live "in poverty" often have TV sets, refrigerators, and plenty of potato chips. I'm poor, and I live well. I have my TV and my Xbox 360, and access to the internet, and can watch Khan Academy and get an education for free, etc. I no longer drive, but I don't care. All this left wing drivel about "poverty" is nonsense. People who have money for crack or methamphetamines have the money for eggs and meat and milk.

Sep. 12 2013 12:19 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Economics is not a science, but it is dismal. The underlying reality is, that most living creatures, including humans, live at some level of subsistence, if at all. Subsistence is the norm; anything above subsistence is a temporary boon which never lasts. We has such a lucky period after WWII for a few decades. That period is gone forever. Fortunately, subsistence in America is much better than subsistence in sub-Saharan Africa. The level we call "poverty" is materially much better than the way 3 billion others live on this planet.

Sep. 12 2013 12:05 PM

MEMO to Sasha Abramsky:

“It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a ‘dismal science.’ But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.”

Sep. 12 2013 08:15 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.