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Bipartisan Poverty Shaming: The Moynihan Report at 50


Bipartisan Poverty Shaming: The Moynihan Report at 50

Susan Greenbaum

Blaming poor people for their own misery is a convenient way to avoid recognizing or fixing the real causes of the problem. Most commonly associated with Fox News or conservative politicians, the ideological roots of this perspective are deep and bipartisan.


From the article:

“By focusing instead on behavior and attitudes in large random samples of poor people, many policy researchers encourage the belief that cleverly marketed, data-driven social engineering of people and space could largely eradicate poverty by offering escape into the middle class.”

That’s an incisive insight.

Similar logic is used to insist that inner city schools don’t function well and “fail” due to individual attitudes and behaviors. It’s a covert way of turning attention away from the issues of poverty, deprivation, social privation, and the ensuing despair.

What the article is NOT taking into account and falls profoundly into the equation is The War on Drugs and how it disproportionately impacts the Black Community.

If 2.2 million people are incarcerated with an estimated 6 million more either on probation or parole, and a large majority of these individuals are persons of color; then it’s the Prison-Industrial Complex that is playing a major role (through its counterpart, the War on Drugs) in BREAKING UP the Black Family. Small wonder that some fathers have gone missing!

What was initially taken as a conspiracy theory, this idea that the CIA was pouring “crack” into Black urban communities turned out to be true!

Whether it’s the Koch Brothers or a think tank that they hire that farms out kids to repeat talking points in forums like this one, similar stances are taken to justify war by turning it into an alleged human behavioral problem, rather than a means–on the part of the empowered few–to gain possession of the assets of the many.

And while Ms. Greenbaum points out the way Conservatives and Liberals approach the problem to ensure that the status quo will remain in place, she falls into the trap that conflates what elites put into policy as somehow indicative of what the majority of citizens agree with. THAT is not so; and it presents another Grand Lie in an era where the public’s will is being abrogated at every chance.

Let’s be clear about WHO is doing the shaming and why… before arguing that everyday people reflect these attitudes by some kind of “natural law.”

“In stigmatizing and shaming the victims of poverty, we infantilize and marginalize them and silence their voices. And we persist in viewing poverty as a personal failing, rather than as a breach of the social contract.”

WE do not infantilize and WE do not shame the victims of poverty. That’s the Talking Point trafficked in the same way that similar Official Talking Points insist on Assad gassing his own people; Putin practicing aggression in Ukraine; Iran being guilty of building covert nuclear weapons, etc.


People who put shame on the impoverished have NO clue how people get to be in this predicament. They have no concept of the lack of mobility that goes with being born into poverty, the desperation and despair! Where is their compassion? Blaming the poor only diverts attention from the real factors at play.
Barriers to finding jobs are more numerous than ever. I won’t go into detail here about the lack of jobs in rural communities with little mobility. Along with various types of discrimination and screening out those with criminal history for minor drug offenses, credit screening is also required among many job applicants. When one loses a job and has no savings to fall back on, and falls behind on bills, a low credit score may prevent one from being hired! There are myriad ways to punish the poor and pull out the stops to them. A female friend of mine has been denied jobs in the security field because it remains a male dominated line of work.
Most of the jobs available in the small town where I live are part-time, minimum wage retail and fast food. Everyone I know in those jobs lives with friends, family, or in public housing and receives food stamps and other benefits.
HOW can people survive on these low-wage jobs and afford the exorbitant rent? I see slummy houses in the neighborhood I live in renting at $950 a month!
To qualify for rental assistance in my home city (the housing projects were destroyed) one has to work a 30-hour a week job or receive disability. Due to budget cuts, disability is nearly impossible to receive but for the most extreme cases.
What kind of sick nation has such disregard for the humanity of its poor? How can they deny benefits to the most vulnerable and still sleep at night? And these people who perpetuate the myths of the “welfare queen” and “lazy moochers” who also don’t want their tax money going to programs to benefit the poor?
These are the VERY SAME people who gripe about “affirmative action” and cry “reverse discrimination!”
Nobody I have ever met chooses to live in poverty! Not out of" laziness" or “wanting something for nothing!” Those who deny the poor their dignity and sense of worth, are the ones who should be shamed upon!


There is also hiring discrimination against the long term unemployed…


No doubt. I am finding that one out the hard way.


So many words, but no connecting the dots to the common denominator which accounts for all of the problems facing us today. Nothing is going to change anything until we replace corruption with morality in both of the parties.Our electoral system allows bribes to direct the votes away from any real corrections.Bribes allow the rich to hide over 30 trillion dollars in tax havens.So we lack money to fund our public schools. To pay for the 3.5 trillion needed to maintain our infrastructure.Our uncontrolled war machine is driving our economy deeper and deeper into debts that we are paying with newly printed dollars, that will drop in value like a stone if we do not stop our wars and pull a plug on our lust for domination of the world.All of this is going to destroy our country if we do not throw the lobbyists of corporations out of the halls of our government, throw the two bribed parties out of our capitol and copy what other nations did when their governments went beserk. Their citizens arose and built Labour Parties that recruited patriotic citizens to right their ships. This rewarded their citizens with Free Healthcare for all.And Free college educations for their children. Wake up, folks. Organize groups in every state to register the Labor Party and recruit the best people to represent the 99%. This is not a new idea. It just has not happened in the USA. Visit my website www.BoldThoughts.org and see the blue print on how to assure the LP candidates will stand tall for us. Howard M Greenebaum


Thanks for the link! I’ve bookmarked it. Yes, the labor party!
What I would like to see would be a change to a parliamentary democracy in this country. Where minority parties at least might have a seat and a say into what goes on. The “two” party system represents only two sides of the same coin.

If you would like to read a first-hand account on the struggle to obtain benefits and the damage budget cuts have caused to the safety net, check this one out:
This is coming from someone who knows what “hard times” is all about.