Poverty (Henslin ch.33 p.376-382)

The chapter, The Uses of Poverty: The Poor Pay All, from Henslin’s book “Down to Earth Sociology” discusses the advantages of Poverty, the possible changes that could be adopted, and why poverty is important (mostly to the elite) to the classes above poverty level. 

Although usually viewed in a bad light there are some advantages to poverty, most being for the elite. Some of these may be because there are low status jobs; low paying, dirty, backbreaking jobs that need to be done and poverty ensures they will be. My stepfather once met a homeless man (in poverty) who cleans bathrooms at fast food restaurants in exchange for food or a small amount of cash, this ensures that he gets a meal and that this “dirty work” is geting done. It also encourages people to work these jobs outside of receiving money from welfare or other money systems. The poverty stricken population work at poor wages, therefore they support many government and upper class groups which they believe will help themselves later. They also support the upper groups by paying larger amounts of their wages in taxes and supporting testing (like medical testing). I know a woman who is considered lower-middle class to lower class and she supports the government because most of what she makes goes back to them. Also being that she doesn’t have much money she can’t afford good medical care and therefore is willing to take what she can get and is sometimes a guinnipig without even knowing it. I’ve also heard of broke college students partaking in studies or medical testing for money. The Poor also take jobs that are in the interest of the elite. For instance it is the poor people who are willing to risk it (anything including life) to make it big, so that means they are more likely to take risky jobs if it means they can earn more. Lastly the poor often compromise for things that are “outdated” thus helping our economy by buying the goods that otherwise would have been waisted. Although I didn’t grow up in poverty, I grew up in a home where everything must be used and not taken for granted we used things past their expiration date (if still good), wore hand-me-downs, and used everything to its fullest. Thing like this are more common among people in poverty and they will buy things already outdated. 

Other functions of the poor are more social than economic, and again mostly benefit the upper class or elite. One thing the elite can resist is the label of deviance, but the poor can not. By labeling some or those of Poverty as deviant we can establish social norms. For example, if someone of the upper class were said to have used drugs excessively they would not be deemed a drug addiction or ridiculed for it instead they’d receive private treatment and be good as new, but if this happened to someone in poverty they would be punished, ridiculed, shamed, and may not even receive treatment. The Poor are also said to partake more in “deviant” acts and thus making a socially exceptable amount that the rest of the classes can abide by and partake in too. Someone like a “hooker” may be low class and very sexually active and deviant so they have created an acceptable standard or way to be sexual without being deviant. Much of the art and creations that we take into consideration as being highly valued come from the poor. Country music originated from a poor area, artifacts were created by the historically poor people, etc. Poverty also gives a baseline for others to base their class off of. If you are not poor you must be doing good right? Poverty gives motivation to those in poverty or just above to do better and not be considered poor. Everyone wants to do better and better themselves so we work more and save more so we can move up in the class system. Seeing as that the poor are, well poor, they have little power over the elite and the rest of the classes. This is an advantage for the other classes because they can make the poor do the heavy work or bear the burden of taking on costs of growth. Because the poor don’t often vote they give the political system to the power of elite, but some may bring a balance to the bipartisan system. Each of the political parties has different views and one sides more for the wealthy and the other appeals more to the poor so the poor are more likely to side with the one that appeals more to them. Lastly the poor provide a moral support for the elite because without them who would be inferior and accept charity or welfare. 

This is not to say that poverty should exist or that most or all of these things could be do everything exist without the poor but it is simply “easier” this way. Other ways we could fulfill many of these is with youth, different job descriptions, the incompetent, higher wages or incomes, etc. But again there must be an inferior in a hierarchy system, and there always will be an inferior. The reason poverty is so important is for the elite because without the poor the elite would have no “mules” to do their dirty work.


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