3 Things We Can Learn About Poverty from The Moral Underground

In The Moral Underground: How Ordinary Americans Subvert an Unfair Economy author Lisa Dodson documents how the current economic situation is affecting those in poverty and those who work with, teach and heal them. I loved this book because it also discusses something that we hardly ever hear/talk about: the pressure poverty puts on those who are NOT in poverty, but see its effects and must make decisions on a daily basis on where to draw the line in regards to getting involved with helping those in need. Throughout the book we see stories of individuals who believe employers/supervisors should in no way get involved with employees who are in need, employers who help others within their legal limits, and those who are willing to do things that are illegal in order to help.

Whatever your position may be, there are at least three things we can all learn from the book.

1.  You can be impoverished without technically falling within the poverty guidelines or thresholds.  According to the 2011 HHS Poverty Guidelines (used to determine eligibility for some government programs) a family of four is considered to be in poverty if they earn $22,350. The truth is that even if a family makes $30,000, they will struggle to provide for their families. Not only that, even though they may be struggling to meet basic needs, their income may be too high to qualify for some assistance programs. The family may not technically fall within poverty guidelines, but they are still impoverished.

The poverty thresholds (different from the poverty guidelines), which are determined by the Census Bureau, are different but are not too far off – $22,113 for a family of four including two children. Note that the Census Bureau website states that the thresholds “are intended for use as a statistical yardstick, not as a complete description of what people and families need to live.”


2.  Poverty doesn’t just affect low-income families. An economy that marginalizes the working poor also affects those who work with the working poor. It forces supervisors, coworkers, teachers, nurses, doctors, etc. to make difficult decisions. If they decide to bend the rules or break the law to help those in need, they’ve now also affected the institution they work for; it creates a ripple effect.

3. People will always find a way to respond. Lisa Dodson describes this best in the introduction of the book. “History teaches us that whenever people are denied access to a society’s normative ways of self-protection and survival, they will compose alternatives.” – Lisa Dodson

I really enjoyed the book because it told a story we don’t often get to here and it helps one better understand poverty and its effects. With that being said, I will leave you with one last quote from the book:

“Deep change comes only when regular people start naming what is happening, talking to one another, and, inevitably,, some of them decide that they can’t accept such injustice. Occasionally they move a nation.” – The Moral Underground



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