Prejudice of Poverty: Why Americans Hate the Poor and Worship the Rich



Take a breath.

Take a deep breath. Let your lungs expand. Let the air collect inside you.

Hold it.

Now exhale slowly. Feels good doesn’t it? You’d never realize there are hundreds of contaminates floating invisible in that air. Dirt, germs, pollution – all entering your body unnoticed but stopped by your immune system.

If only we had such a natural defense against prejudice. Racism, classism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia – we take all that in with every breath, too.

It may not seem like it, but all these value judgments are inherent in American culture. They’re as much a part of life in the United States as the flag, football and apple pie. And to a greater or lesser extent, you have subconsciously accepted them to help construct your ideas of normality.

What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a woman? How should black people be treated? To whom is it appropriate to be sexually attracted? What makes a person poor and why? All of these questions and so many more have been answered one way or another for us by the dominant culture. Not everyone accepts this perceived wisdom, but most of us have swallowed these solutions whole without thought, logic or criticism – and we don’t even know it’s happened.

Take our preconceptions about wealth and poverty.

Well paying jobs are drying up. Minimum wage work is becoming more common. Salaries are shrinking while productivity is increasing. Meanwhile the cost of living continues to rise as does the cost of getting an education.

Yet we still cling to the belief that all rich people deserve their wealth and all poor people deserve their poverty.

When we hear about someone on Welfare or food stamps, we sneer. The average conception is that this person is probably faking it. He or she could have earned enough to avoid public assistance, but he or she isn’t trying hard enough.

Moreover, we KNOW with a certainty that goes beyond mere empiricism that many of the poor still manage to buy the newest sneakers, have flat screen TVs and eat nothing but Porterhouse steaks.

You can hear this kind of story uttered with perfect certainty from the mouths of white, middle class people everywhere. They don’t mind helping people who are really in need, they say, but most poor folks are gaming the system.

Never once do they stop to consider that this story about impoverished individuals living better than middle class Americans is, itself, one of the most pervasive myths in our society. We know it the same way we know all Polish people are dumb, all Asians are smart and all Black people love fried chicken and watermelon.

However, none of this “knowledge” is supported by the facts. Look at the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). According to the New York Times:

Allegations of fraud, including an informal economy in which food stamps are turned into cash or used to buy liquor, gasoline or other items besides food have been used to argue that the program is out of control. In fact, the black market accounts for just over 1 percent of the total food stamp program, which is far less than fraud in other government programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

If you include erroneous payments because of mistakes on applications, overall loss to the food stamp program comes to 4%, according to the Department of Agriculture. Compare that to the 10% lost to Medicare and Medicaid – programs no one is calling to be cut or eliminated.

But figures like these don’t convince the average American. We’re so certain that all or most poor people are just lazy parasites. Everyone “knows” some low-income person they deem to be living too high for their circumstances.

And, yes, sometimes you do see an impoverished individual not wearing rags. Sometimes you do peek into an indigent person’s hovel and see new electronics or game systems.

How does this happen?


Credit card companies are waiting in the shadows to extend a line of credit to just about anybody. It’s a safe bet for these businesses. If they give you money today, they can charge exorbitant rates of interest – even more so with the highest risk clientele. But there isn’t much risk to these corporations these days when almost anyone can take a job as a state constable or bail recovery agent to hunt down debtors and bring them to economic justice.

When you see a destitute child with new sneakers, his parents probably bought them with plastic. When you see an X-Box in a needy person’s house, chances are that wasn’t paid for in cash. They used the charge plate and will end up paying for that game system many times what it’s worth.

It’s a problem not limited to the poor. Even middle class folks are drowning up to their eyeballs in debt. As wages have decreased, people have used their credit cards to keep a standard of living they expect. But they’re paying for it with huge portions of their paychecks going to these credit card companies. Yet even though we all do this, middle class folks look down their noses at people lower down the economic ladder for doing the same thing.

In fact, they refuse to even see that obvious truth. Instead they cling to the lie that poor folks are social parasites. We even begrudge them food. Those are my tax dollars going to pay for that penurious person’s free ride, they say.

Unfortunately, we don’t stop to consider how much of our taxes are actually going to help the less fortunate.

Let’s say you make $50,000 a year. That means, you pay $36 toward food stamps. That’s ten cents a day – the same amount many charities ask to help feed starving children in Africa.

If you add all safety net programs, the cost only goes up an additional $6 a year. That doesn’t seem like a huge chunk of my taxes. Honestly, do you begrudge needy people less than the price of a meal for a family of four at Bennigan’s?

By and large, your tax bill isn’t going to the poverty-stricken. It’s going to the wealthy. Over the course of a year, you pay $6,000 for corporate welfare.

You read that right. Six K. Six grand. Six thou. Those are your tax dollars at work, too. And it’s a much larger burden on your bank account than the $42 you shell out for the poor.

What do you get for that $6,000 outlay? It includes at least $870 to direct subsidies and grants for corporations. An additional $870 goes to offset corporate taxes. Another $1,231 goes to plug holes in the federal budget from revenue lost to corporate tax havens. Oh! And don’t forget a sizable chunk for subsidies to Big Oil companies that are polluting our skies and fueling climate change and global warming.

Most of your money isn’t going to feed hungry children. It’s going to recoup losses for giant transnational corporations like Apple and GE that hide their money overseas to boost profits and avoid paying taxes for things we all need like schools, police and fire departments.

This money subsidizes giant multi-national corporations that are already making billions and billions of dollars in profit each year. In the past decade alone, corporations have doubled their profits – all while reducing their American workforces and sending jobs overseas. Yet we only complain about poor folks using food stamps and buying new sneakers on credit.

Why is that? Why does it only bother us when poor people get help and not when huge corporations do?

Part of it is the media. We’ve been convinced that big business deserves its money and poor people don’t. Another part of it is that these facts often go underreported. Movies and TV shows love portraying the parasite poor person but rarely portray the corporate leech. Outside of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Carol,” the wealthy are usually portrayed in the most positive light possible and not as addicts hoarding cash they don’t need to compete with each other in a childish game of one-upmanship.

Finally, there is the racial and sexual element. By and large, corporations are run by white males. The poor are mostly black, brown and though women make up a slightly higher percentage than men, it is often conceptualized as uniquely female. Take the term Welfare Queen. Why is there no Welfare King? How telling that our conception only allows for one gender in this role!

The reality is much different. The true Welfare Queens are Big Businesses. They make unprecedented profits and avoid paying taxes on them. They have tons of cash on hand but never can seem to get enough. And if we increased the corporate tax rate to what it was in the 1950s when the Unite States was more prosperous than it has ever been, these same corporations would still be Filthy. Stinking. Rich.

So the next time you hear someone blaming the poor for gobbling up your taxes, remember the facts. First, it’s simply not true. There is no widespread fraud by the poor. They are not gaming the system. They are not putting an undue burden on the middle class. However, big business IS – in fact – cheating you out of income. Business people are getting fabulously wealthy on your dime – and even if we stopped subsidizing them, they’d still be fabulously wealthy!

Finally, don’t ignore the racial component. Would middle class Caucasians still complain so vehemently about the poor if they weren’t mostly talking about Black people, Latinos and women? I doubt it.

We may breath in these prejudices but we’re not helpless. It’s up to all of us to dispel these myths, not to let them stand, to confront them every time they come up. And, yes, I mean EVERY. TIME.

The only immune system we have as a society is education, knowledge, wisdom. And once you know the truth, don’t let anyone get away with this kind of racist, classist bullshit.

NOTE: This article also was published in the LA Progressive and on the Badass Teachers Association blog.


37 thoughts on “Prejudice of Poverty: Why Americans Hate the Poor and Worship the Rich

    • Great article, yes. But if you don’t see the irony in this statement…

      “Finally, don’t ignore the racial component. Would middle class Caucasians still complain so vehemently about the poor if they weren’t mostly talking about Black people, Latinos and women? I doubt it.”

      Wow. Yes, prejudice is everywhere, even against white people.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dude, gently pull your head out of your ass. She is calling out racism. If you even understood what pressures many African Americans, Hispanics, and other people of color had to face you would be less sympathetic to the plight of the white people, who are being discriminated against for the violent and cruel domination educationally and economically and historically.


  1. I agree with everything the article says but when it gets to the part about media I got a little skeptical. because the article says that we have been “convinced” as in like TV shows and movies. but I can name plenty of movies and shows that praise the poor and have bad big businesses.


  2. I should add too, that when you see a poor person with possessions that seem to mark them as not thrifty enough there are possibilities besides debt as to how they acquired these things.1. Second hand merchandise. We have so much surplus stuff that you can find lots of new stuff with tags on at second hand shops. 2. Gifts. Poor people have friends and family too and sometimes they have friends and family with a little more money who give them nice things on their birthdays and Christmas. 3. Stuff acquired before a layoff, divorce or other event that changed their financial circumstances. 4. Charity, for example a program that provides nice business attire to poor people to help with their job search.

    You can’t always tell by looking.

    Also, there is another bit of “corporate welfare” that tends to go unnoticed, and that is when the minimum wage is not a living wage, you have people working full time and still qualifying for food stamps, which means the rest of us subsidize those poverty level wages via the tax system, while the business is able to have labor essentially below cost.

    Liked by 2 people

    • So true. I’m one of those people who until recently was giving on a monthly basis to a relative who is poor and on welfare. I also gave her huge Christmas gifts. According to the govt the recipient is supposed to report all of this (so they can subtract it from their check). So, give me a break!

      The truth is since the 20s we have been subjected by propaganda from the rich teaching us to hate the poor, that they are vermin.


  3. Why did you completely leave out the Republican propaganda machine and it’s constant demonizing of the poor, disabled, minorities, etc.? FoxNews has been around for almost 20 years now, and right-wing hate radio about as old. The ideas that the poor caused their fate or that the rich automatically deserve their riches have been repeated day in and day out for decades to the listeners of these outlets. What the $250 million per year funding of the propaganda network has given this nation is highly polarized citizenry, with one party living in an “alternate word” where everyone non-right-wing is considered slime, and the voters believe they should trust their politician always, even though they very seldom vote for the voters’ interests. The problem in this country is not the pre-conceived notions you talk about, but the fact that these “beliefs” have been cultivated carefully over decades by a truly evil organization.


  4. […] The same goes for the poor. Brigham and his Nazi admirers thought that people were poor mainly because of their genes. They are genetically predisposed to being lazy and good for nothing, so they can’t keep a job or advance themselves. Therefore, they’re poor. Pause for a moment to consider the large numbers of people in America today who would agree with them. […]


  5. […] Today of course, it is also the suit-and-tie, the automobile, the big home, the jewels, and all other openly recognized badges of social and/or economic superiority. The look-at-me-bling of the superficial masses holds no attraction to YHVH’s Elect. But the Godless masses think they are better than others, based upon money-centric themes, and everywhere that the human infestation promoted Social class throughout the ages. Even the employed will think of themselves as superior to the unemployed: that’s the capitalist mentality. Read: Prejudice of Poverty: Why Americans Hate the Poor and Worship the Rich. […]


  6. “Oh! And don’t forget a sizable chunk for subsidies to Big Oil companies that are polluting our skies and fueling climate change and global warming.”
    Really….Blaming the oil companies for these things patently circumvents the truth when you consider that it is the behavior of the American consumer with their demands for oversized houses, oversized/over powered cars, a TV in every room and always-on electronics, because they are too lazy to get up walk across the room and turn on a simple device like a TV that drives the petrochemical industry. People (and their behavior) are the problem and until we are intellectually and emotionally developed enough to admit that; nothing is going to change. Americans comprise ~ 5% of the population of the world yet consume ~ 25% of the worlds energy resources.


  7. This cultural disgust at the poor is inherited from Britain-we were a British colony, after all. Their upper crusties hated the poor. If they were good, they wouldn’t be poor. Therefore riches are a sign that you are good. This is not about racism, it is about classism-and Britain still has that hangover.


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