Paul Krugman: 'Poverty is Poison.'

The increasingly fervent folks over at Jack & Jill have decided they were through with New York Times columnist and Princeton economist Paul Krugman for his criticism of Barack Obama. Didactic as he can be sometimes (and what columnist isn’t?), he is often very, very right.

America’s failure to make progress in reducing poverty, especially among children, should provoke a lot of soul-searching. Unfortunately, what it often seems to provoke instead is great creativity in making excuses.

Some of these excuses take the form of assertions that America’s poor really aren’t all that poor — a claim that always has me wondering whether those making it watched any TV during Hurricane Katrina, or for that matter have ever looked around them while visiting a major American city.

Mainly, however, excuses for poverty involve the assertion that the United States is a land of opportunity, a place where people can start out poor, work hard and become rich.

But the fact of the matter is that Horatio Alger stories are rare, and stories of people trapped by their parents’ poverty are all too common. According to one recent estimate, American children born to parents in the bottom fourth of the income distribution have almost a 50 percent chance of staying there — and almost a two-thirds chance of remaining stuck if they’re black.

That’s not surprising. Growing up in poverty puts you at a disadvantage at every step.

I’d bracket those new studies on brain development in early childhood with a study from the National Center for Education Statistics, which tracked a group of students who were in eighth grade in 1988. The study found, roughly speaking, that in modern America parental status trumps ability: students who did very well on a standardized test but came from low-status families were slightly less likely to get through college than students who tested poorly but had well-off parents.

None of this is inevitable.

Poverty is Poison. [NYT]



Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs and reports on race and ethnicity for NPR's Code Switch team.
  • LH

    As ever, Krugman makes some salient points but does little more than provide a statistical overlay to what most know to be true if only anecdotally.

  • I have vehemently disagreed with bhis views every since i saw him on CSPAN a few years ago. Any who, my fault, last comment i promise since im not supposed to freely say what I feel

  • Lee

    LH, is he supposed to be offering more than stats?

  • Tasha

    LH, apparently most do not know this to be true.

  • Lee

    rawdawg, why do you vehemently disagree?

  • LH

    Lee, we’ve had enough soul searching. I’d like to read some ideas about how to reduce poverty.

  • LH

    Tasha, I can’t be sure either way in a general sense, but of the people I speak to regularly it is the case that most of them know what Krugman wrote to be true.

  • L.H.: He does propose ideas to reduce poverty pretty regularly (in fact, he does so in this column.)

  • LH

    G.D.: I should have been more specific. I’d like to read something from him that I haven’t read before. That said, he may be in the wrong line of work. I think most of his ideas make sense. It’s too bad he can’t affect change directly.

  • Big Word

    LH: Krugman does propose some ideas to reduce poverty. One of which he outlined in his book Conscience of a Liberal involved getting rid of obstacles against workers organizing to demand a fairer share of revenue. For instance, if workers for say Wal-Mart were allowed to organize, you’d have almost one million new members of the middle class overnight.

  • LH

    Big Word: Thanks.

    And I think Krugman’s idea had some traction.

  • d_goodman

    I performed stand up comedy with this Clown named Baratunde Thurston who is part of Krugman, “Why you got to be hating”, Jack and Jill discussion, he cross posts on their website and his blog. After my set where I made fun of the fact Barack “you gotta believe in hope” Obama didn’t have a platform that isn’t written on a mountain poster in some fat chick’s cubicle, he accused me of holding back the whole black race. He’s says he’s a comedian, author, and vigilante pundit, which means like every guy who says he’s an actor/rap/model, he’s none of those things. It’s always great when the voice of tolerance says you’re unacceptable.

  • Sahnice

    What is Krugmna’s thesis statement, what are his standards for writing this article, and how does he feel about the topic?