February 24, 2008

Why Indians remain poor

A scientific and sociocultural response to the "blame the victim" attacks often leveled against Indians:

Poverty Is Poison“Poverty in early childhood poisons the brain.” That was the opening of an article in Saturday’s Financial Times, summarizing research presented last week at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

As the article explained, neuroscientists have found that “many children growing up in very poor families with low social status experience unhealthy levels of stress hormones, which impair their neural development.” The effect is to impair language development and memory—and hence the ability to escape poverty—for the rest of the child’s life.

So now we have another, even more compelling reason to be ashamed about America’s record of failing to fight poverty.
And:[E]xcuses 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.

9 comments:

Nina said...

GRAR.

Okay. I come from a $12,000-per-year family consisting of my mother, myself, and a younger brother. I'm in college. I'm an average student. Big flippin' deal. I think whether or not I'll make it through school successfully depends on myself, not my background. If I am able to overcome my own childhood/upbringing/emotions/issues and get motivated to do well and get out of the situation I was born into, it'll be because I made the conscious choice to do so. I know kids from much worse situations than me who succeed in school admirably, and kids who had the world handed to them on a silver platter who flunked out. Blaming the victim for their own poverty doesn't accomplish anything...they should spend more time encouraging people in poverty so that they don't feel as trapped by it!

Rob said...

So you're saying minorities who don't make a "conscious choice...to get out the situation" are choosing to be poor? Sounds like more of the "blame the victim" mentality to me.

Anonymous said...

Redshellwin: encouraging people in the face of many obstacles is like blowing smoke up someone's A#$ - we don't need encouragement; we need actual tools to overcome those obstacles, and to admit, yes, it is difficult to get out of poverty - here are some ways you might be able to do it.... not to keep repeating the same old story "you can do it no matter what" - sure there are poor kids who make it to become the first person in their family to do this and that- yet those stories are less likely to happen, especially with the current president and economic reality of a recession... get real and give real tools- not hot air

russell said...

Writerfella here --
Such 'research' does the researchers well but never the subjects of their 'research.' The word 'poverty' became that catch-all for the subjects that were not researched. Do poverty-level families receive anything near nominal nutrition, or nominal medical care, or nominal habitation, or even nominal educations? Certainly not, but the 'research' seemingly was concentrated on "low social status" and "unhealthy level sof stress hormones" and "impair(ment of) neural development, language developent and memory." That not so much is blaming the victim but rather is begging their own questions about why all of the above should be so. Likely the same researchers would 'research' a tornado-destroyed city, opining and otherwise noting all the tears and blood and despair and death while ignoring the tornado that caused it all in the first place...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

I'm sure people have done tens of thousands of studies on the causes of poverty. This particular research showed how the poor react to poverty. It was an important and useful corollary to the other research.

For more on blaming the victim, I'd suggest reading Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich. I'd say anyone who wants to offer an opinion on the subject should be familiar with this book.

For some excellent thoughts on the matter, see Has Class Trumped Race? Part 3.5--An Aside by our friends at Racialicious.

russell said...

Writerfella here --
Ah, then the researchers ostensibly would be studying how the tornado victims react to the tornado, except the tornado isn't being examined at all. In the 1960s, 'researchers' at UTEP received a $6 million dollar grant to research and to study the disintegration and eventual diaspora of a Native tribe living on the Rio Grande. Their poverty grew worse, the tribal members were winnowed down by disease and starvation, and surely enough, the few survivors scattered from their small amount of land into the cities, losing their tribal identity altogether. TIME Magazine was outraged, asking what writerfella asked: would $6 million possibly have saved that Native tribe from disintegration and practical extinction? There never was an answer but the research papers and resultant books went on sale the following spring, even winning the 'researchers' academic awards...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

Re "the tornado isn't being examined at all": Yes, it is. That's why I wrote, "I'm sure people have done tens of thousands of studies on the causes of poverty."

You can find some of these studies by Googling "causes of poverty." You'll get about 233,000 hits, which suggests the subject is well studied.

russell said...

Writerfella here --
Okay, then how many of those ostensible 'hits' have to do with Native Americans?
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

I have no idea. I didn't look at all 233,000 hits. But unless a study about the poor explicitly excluded Indians, it would implicitly include them.