This article discusses a book written by Charles Karelis titled “The persistence of Poverty” in which the author tries to convey to the reader what it feels like to be poor using the analogy of one’s reaction to a single bee sting as compared to having received many bee stings. The author considers that by having many bee stings the individual would not see the benefit in having only one sting relieved, when he still has several more causing pain. In addition, that being poor only results in being poorer and once one has reached such a degree of poverty one may stop trying to find a way out of it.
The author talks about a term used by economist called “the law of diminishing marginal utility” which if you could imagine being in a desert and being extremely thirsty for water, when you get that first amount of water the desire for that water is great, however, once your thirst is quenched and the availability of water is plenty, you may not be so concerned with having more water, the water becomes less important to you. According to the author, this logic flips when one is dealing with extreme poverty or privation.
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For example, when considering being poor and having only one problem to deal with or even two or three, such as paying rent, electric, and buying food the desire to continue trying to move forward may be higher, then if one were working to pay rent, electric, and buy food, but could not buy clothing for their children, put gas in their car, pay credit card bills, or even afford to go to the doctor if they were sick, then the individual may be less incline to work to pay any of these bills.
So the author’s argument is that once one gets to this point, their privation or dept of poverty causes even more lack, and the spiral of poverty cannot be broken. The author goes on to discuss a term he calls “relievers” which he describes as providing a means to significantly reduce the hardships the poor have to deal with, so that instead of having many problems to deal with, they would have just a few, which the author states would make the poor more likely to work to eliminate the smaller number of problems.
This idea is quite different the author says as to how the experts and policy makers view the idea of giving more aid to the poor. He brings up the term referred by David Ellwood, an economist called “the helping conundrum” which worries that by giving the poor more aid from the government, they would be less likely to work to provide for themselves. The good thing about the article is that the author offers a solution to solving the problem of poverty in his term “relievers” however; he provides little factual data if any to support his argument.
While the author does provide another view, that of the economist of why providing additional aid for the poor would not work, citing a study done in the 1970s to substantiate this idea, the author does however; present a clear argument given in his examples to support his concept as well as presenting the opposition to his concept. My reaction to his article is that I think the author presents a “positive” solution to a “negative” problem, breaking the cycle of poverty; however, I would like to see more data to support the author’s theory.
In addition, I would have to say that I do think that tilting the scale too far in one direction would not serve to encourage the poverty stricken individual to want to do whatever it took to work to relieve the few remaining problems. If I were to relate this information to my own experiences, I would have to relate it to the events I had to overcome after Hurricane Katrina. At first, losing my home and everything in it, combined with no longer having a job to go to, as well as no longer being able to continue my education because the school I was enrolled in was destroyed, was overwhelming to say the least.
I would go to my house and just look at it, not really knowing where to start. Then, the volunteers came, this was as the author puts it the “relievers” bringing enormous amounts of help to begin to clean up my house, begin repairs, and provide positive energy needed to move forward again. Since the workers came in weekly groups and sometimes skipped weeks, this kept me moving forward to help myself all the while knowing that the next group would return at a next step in the process.
As far as this information and my reaction to it impacting the field of social work, I would have to say that the information reinforces the idea that “help” to remedy any given situation in whatever form would be a “positive” thing. As a social worker, one is a helper who provides those in need of help with resources in the form of aid for find ways to remedy their problems. So, I would have to agree with the author’s theory about providing “relievers” to help those in poverty overcome the problems of poverty itself.