One could argue the unfortunate trait that poverty possesses is its restrictive nature, a vile form of circumscription that prevents those affected from truly being able to lead a full and happy life. Poverty is a jail with no bars, no cell, no warden, but it confines just the same. Freedom is not something enjoyed by the impoverished, at least those who continue to try and escape from the prison with no walls. Sadly, the most wretched truism about poverty is that it is necessary, for without it society could not function. Yes, it is natural to feel ill once making this sad but true realization.
Without poverty, there would be no one to do the necessary work such as collecting garbage, maintaining sewer systems, and all the other dirty jobs that make living in a civilized society possible. People do not strive to be garbage men or fast food clerks, but it is the circumstances which they encounter that force them to choose between vagrancy or a life of menial and quasi-degrading work.
Nevertheless, it is the circumstances of poverty—a seemingly infinite array—that is the crux of Jacqueline Jones article, The History And Politics Of Poverty In Twentieth-Century America. In exploring why poverty exists, Jones creates a vivid portrait of poverty's place in society and how integral poverty is to modern economic systems. Whether that was her intention one cannot say, but that is what comes across upon finishing the article.
Similar to the opposing goals of employer and employee as expressed in Karl Marx and Peter Engel's essay, Bourgeois and Proletarians, population growth and rapidly increasing technology are in direct conflict with each other. Automated machines that can consistently and efficiently produce goods have led to mass lay-offs. A job that once required ten men to complete, now only needs one to the run the machine.
Moreover, if such machines were eliminated and a reversion to the old methods of production was made, it would only drive up the cost of the product. The company would then have to pay more workers on a weekly basis to produce the goods that one machine, which was purchased for one lump sum, was capable of doing. In order for an economic system to be successful, the cost of living should be proportionate to the average wages of that nation's citizens. Unfortunately, in America , finding the proper balance has been a difficult, if not impossible task.
And it is globalization and its by-product, outsourcing, which highlight the necessity and sad inevitability of poverty. Outsourcing has worked to lower companies' production costs, allowing for the products to be sold at lower prices, making the items affordable for the average consumer. The problem with outsourcing is that it feeds on poverty and in turn perpetuates it. By opening a factory in an impoverished region, companies can hire people to work for low wages and be content in doing so. However, the time will come when the worker becomes discontent with their wages and, justifiably so, demands a wage increase. As evidenced by the American labor movement, it is hard to deny the effectiveness of worker's protest in asking for better working conditions and wages.
So, it is only natural to assume that the areas where outsourcing are currently taking place (areas of extreme poverty) will eventually rise up and escape the exploitation that is responsible for keeping them impoverished. Such movements typically take decades, and by the time the exploited are being paid livable wages, a new region will fill the poverty void. Then, the factories will be moved to that region, where desperate people willing to work for low wages as a means to survive will take the jobs of the once exploited, keeping the cycle turning.
The glory days of American prosperity are long gone. We have peaked, and during that time our population exploded as people were able to afford bigger families. With more people and not enough jobs for all of them, it was inevitable that our prosperity would eventually fade. Americans are now relying heavily on impoverished regions to produce goods cheaply as a means of keeping their retail cost low. This tactic will only have negative consequences in the long run. By sending jobs overseas, America destroys jobs on the home front.
The societal cost of keeping product costs low is certainly not worth the economic collapse that will eventually come from foreign produced goods. After all, a jobless person will not be able to afford a pair of Nike's regardless of how cheap they are. The most frightening part of the present American economic conflict is that our turn as the factory for the world might be just around the corner.
As mentioned in Jones' article, certain things need to change. Our glorification of materialistic ideals is certainly one of them, but that is only one of many illogical and detrimental practices that need to go. The robber barons of the nineteenth-century will rise again if Americans continue to remain indifferent to the invisible prison that is poverty. Soon enough it will imprison us all.