CHICAGO — Those who have and those who do not are much more than just a Tyler Perry sitcom. What is it like to be poor in America is an extremely broad question, so let’s walk and talk as we explore the challenges closer to home.
Is being poor simply having very little money and even fewer possessions? Is it as simple as just not having enough money for the basic things that people need to live properly? Is there a compelling argument that expresses “being poor is as pretty much a state of mind?” A sad reality is that in 2009, 27.5 percent of Chicago’s population was under the poverty level. The amount of the population under the poverty level is steadily increasing. Politics is a big thing throughout Illinois and Chicago in particular. The poor seem to be getting poorer, the rich seem to constantly be doing better and the middle class seem to slip through the middle.
The economic crisis has pushed poverty to its highest point in decades. Our wise elected officials decided to not extend the unemployment benefits period. Nearly one in three Illinoisans are now considered poor or low income, which is an astounding statistic. This issue can no longer be on the back burner.
Policies and investments need to better reflect the commonly held American values of opportunity, economic mobility and economic security. Citizens need to start demanding an economy that works for everyone, work that pays a living wage, acknowledging that everyone should have access to a quality education with a clear path toward earning income sufficient enough to best help families make ends meet. Simple things like part-time jobs for youth can go a long way; economically, as well as socially. Everyone wins when the less privileged realize mobility is a reality. The higher the poverty rate, the higher the crime rate. There needs to be part-time job opportunities for young adults, especially in Chicago.
There is much to be said for the argument that reducing the poverty level will go a long way toward stopping violence in communities. There is a direct correlation between violence on the streets and the lack of opportunities in the city. Chicago politicians appear to be content with the separation between the “us” and “them” of the city.
Is it “us and them,” or do we say “them and us?” I do not know for sure — but, you ask, why the fuss? In the end, it is really about who is really driving the bus. The bus is your life, gus. The problem is that the “them” look down on the “us,” never realizing that “us” could one day be a “them.” If not for the grace of God, “they” could one day become one of “us.” So whether it is “us and them” or “them and us,” the lesson is to never look upon one another with disgust.
Now that we have come full circle, let us answer the question of how the “have nots” can join the rank of the “haves.” The “them” have no plans to give anything to the “us.” The truth is far too many of the “us” are living below their true potential. Far too many have developed the belief that no matter how hard one may work or the level of education, the “us” will never get out of the financial and personal straitjacket.
Psychologists call this phenomenon "learned helplessness." Martin E. P. "Marty" Seligman is an American psychologist, educator, and author of self-help books. His theory of learned helplessness is popular among scientific and clinical psychologists. Dr. Martin Seligman coined this term, and it comes down to one thing — control. The cause of learned helplessness is being repeatedly exposed to an uncontrollable event. Often, even without the failed attempts, the brain "learns" that success is beyond its control, which means that the “us” of society no longer even really attempt to become a “them.”