Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Enough with the study and the talk!

Okay, I'll be the first to admit the obvious: we spend a good bit of time here talking about, studying, debating poverty and the various issues orbiting around its hard reality. Our mission here is to provoke thought, educate those interested and, hopefully, inspire new and more effective action.

That said, it is also true that words are limited in their value. Compassionate hearts and minds are never enough.

If we are serious, we must take action.

This Thursday, at another talking event--our monthly Urban Engagement Book Club--we will discuss Jawanza Kunjufu's book, An African Centered Response to Ruby Payne’s Poverty Theory (African American Images, Chicago 2006). Educators will be familiar with Payne's now famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) best-selling "red book" on poverty and educating the children of poverty, A Framework for Understanding Poverty.

Kunjufu has heard enough of the talk, seen enough study. He points us in a different direction:

"I don’t want to study poverty. We now have “poverty pimps.” {Robert Woodson, Sr., The Triumphs of Joseph). They can talk about poverty, make money off of poverty, and write books on poverty. They can do everything but solve poverty. . . .

We will instead study economic empowerment. If people are so concerned about poverty, then we should teach poor people how to acquire wealth in America. We should explain to poor people how it came to be that 1 percent of the population owns 57 percent of the wealth and 10 percent own 86 percent of the wealth. The remaining 90 percent only owns 14 percent of the wealth"
(p. xii).

Strong, challenging words, huh?


chris said...

Robert Rector's latest research shows that the "poor" in America aren't poor at all when compared with the rest of the world. They are homeowners, with cars and conveniencies like dishwashers and microwaves. Their children eat more protein than children of the middle class. In addition poverty has declined since the last report. Read the latest Hereitage Foundation report.

Justin said...


There are people who are desperately poor in this country. Maybe not as poor as people in third world countries, but taking "averages" on things doesn't necessarily say who has what.

If you put me at a table with Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, the average person in that group of people probably has 20 TVs, but I certainly don't have 20 TVs.

It appears that this guy wants to educate the poor in this country how to acquire wealth. Its not easy, though its far more easy in this country than in other places. One of the biggest things is education and helping people get in situations where they see good examples.

Why don't we stop with the trying to nullify everything Larry says, ok? I will be the first to say that I don't agree with everything he says, but if anything, this post is saying lets do SOMETHING.

I don't want to make assuptions, but I would challenge you to go to the inner city and see how many of those people are homeowners, how many have cars, or dishwashers. The number that don't have those things may surprise you.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Justin. Nice to see you picking up Larry's side once in awhile. :)

Chris, the problem with comparing American poverty to third-world poverty is complex, and extremely unneccessary. They are not the same.

In third-world countries, you have an extremely large underclass where everybody is poor. The systems in place do not allow for the systemic movement of a group of people into a "better" more "middle class" life like most of us enjoy.

In America, we have a system that supposedly works. Supposedly, "anybody" has the opportunity to pull themselves up and achieve anything -- most commonly known as the American Dream, less commonly known as the American Lie.

There are systems in place, sometimes bad choices, often times structural defects in our society. These prevent the opportunities so often "guaranteed" to every person.

The problem of American poverty is that we think we have a system that works for everybody, but it actually marginalizes a group of people.

In the third-world, "everybody" is poor. In our country, we have an incredible gap that shouldn't exist.

Larry James said...

Chris, I saw the report. When you dig into the details in the original report, you will find that average household income rose slightly, thus pushing the poverty numbers down. The explanation for that phenomenon is not that lots more people are working at great jobs, but that the same people are working longer and more jobs to achieve that income growth.

Larry James said...

Justin, you are correct. Chris hasn't been riding around in the parts of Dallas, Houston or Nashville that I'm most concerned about.

To put it in more detail for you, Chris:

The U.S. Census Bureau’s release of its most recent income data, which reported a modest gain in real median incomes and a slight, statistically insignificant drop in the number of people living in poverty for 2006. The household incomes of white households were the only ones to experience gains, rising 1.1% between 2005 and 2006; Asian, Hispanic and African-American real median household incomes remained statistically unchanged.

The poverty rate in 2006 for households headed by women was 28.3%; 24.3% of African-Americans and 20.6% of Hispanics were poor. The South remained the poorest region in the country with a poverty rate of 13.8%.

The Census Bureau also reported that the number of uninsured U.S.-born residents rose to 34.4 million (13.2%) in 2006.

For more information, see the US Census Bureau’s Aug. 28, 2007, news conference, available on-line at For a more detailed breakdown of the Census report, see “The New York Times” article from Aug. 29, 2007, “Census Shows a Modest Rise in U.S. Income,” (available on-line at

Anonymous said...

Poverty probably always has been, and always will be, of two types: absolute and relative. Absolute poverty might be described as not having enough food to eat or a (solid) roof over your head.

But relative poverty is still real. The average income in a housing authority "project" here in Dallas may be more than the average income in all of Mexico. But the average Mexican in a small rural village doesn't live side by side with a slew of million dollar homes in Highland Park and Preston Hollow, or live in a society that values a person by the amount of stuff they own. Try living on $1,000 a month in Dallas. You may have food to eat and a roof over your head. You may even have a dishwasher. But with a leak in your roof, an old beater of a car and hand-me-down clothes and no luxuries in life, you're going to feel pretty poor, especially within a short bus ride of those million dollar home. The sharecropper in his shack may have had enough to eat and a place to live, but would you really argue he was not poor relative to the guy on the hill in the ante-bellum mansion?

KentF said...

Let's don't bother chris with a real picture of poverty. He's already developed a mental picture of his idea of poverty.... which is lazy homeowners that sit around eating all day, milking the government for free money, with all the creature comforts of the middle class.

I think others call that class warfare, but I could be wrong.

Anonymous said...

Awesome "book club" yesterday on these two books!