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(Photo: Shannon Stapleton / Reuters)

Evidence That Poor People Aren't Lazy

Paul Buchheit

Many wealthy white conservative males believe they deserve their good fortunes, and that the poor are taking handouts. But on average little of the money of the wealthiest Americans is spent on productive job-creating ventures. Potential young entrepreneurs, in contrast, are too often mired in debt and deprived of opportunities to prosper.

Based on the evidence, the very people demeaned by the rich as 'lazy' are generally the hardest workers.

Most Safety Net Recipients Are Working

Almost 63 percent of America's work-eligible poor are working, and 73 percent of public support recipients are members of working families. As noted by Paul Krugman, "only 26 percent of jobless Americans are receiving any kind of unemployment benefit, the lowest level in many decades."

For Those Who Aren't Working, Living-Wage Opportunities Aren't Available

Congress has continually thwarted job creation proposals, contributing to a stunning increase in the long-term unemployment rate, from 17.5 percent to 43.7 percent after the recession, and then down to a still-middle-class-crushing 27 percent today.

The Middle Class Produces the Entrepreneurs

Experience has shown that productive new ideas, and the job creation that comes with them, are generated by young middle class people. But as debt and job loss has plagued this part of America over the past 30 years, the number of new startups has dropped dramatically.

Immigrants Bring Even More Entrepreneurship

According to the Wall Street Journal, immigrants make up 13 percent of the population, but 28 percent of the small business owners. Plus, they boost local economies by starting businesses in developing neighborhoods.

In the last three years, the number of Hispanic-owned businesses has grown at an annual rate 15 times that of the rate for all companies.

Income Experiments Show that the Poor Use Money Productively

Results from a 2005 program in Britain support the argument that the reduction of poverty promotes family stability, rather than the other way around. Increases in family income, especially through work opportunities, led to "sharp and sustained decreases in material hardship for the most vulnerable families," and, in the cases of households with children, more spending on family needs and less on alcohol and tobacco. A broader study of 18 European countries found "increasing employment commitment as social spending gets more generous" -- in other words, dividend payments encourage people to work harder, rather than the other way around.

Even the concept of providing grants to homeless people seems to work. In both Utah and California, trial programs have led to stable living conditions for dozens of formerly homeless people, with few conflicts or behavioral issues within the communities, and at a significantly lower cost than the alternative of temporary shelters.

At the Other Extreme: The Idle Rich

Many wealthy white conservative males believe that hard work is the reason for their great fortunes. But for every ONE DOLLAR in safety net programs, SIX DOLLARS goes to tax expenditures, tax underpayments, tax havens, and corporate nonpayment. For many privileged Americans, denial is easier than facing the fact that the hardest workers are those who have to fight their way up from the bottom.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit is an advocate for social and economic justice, and the author of numerous papers on economic inequality and cognitive science. He was recently named one of 300 Living Peace and Justice Leaders and Models. He is the author of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (2008) and "Disposable Americans: Extreme Capitalism and the Case for a Guaranteed Income" (2017). Contact email: paul (at) youdeservefacts.org.

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