Exactly 50 years ago a bestselling book entitled The Other America helped America "discover" the existence of an "invisible" class of poor Americans. It was an important book, but it contained a disastrous idea, writes author Barbara Ehrenreich in Salon: It envisioned the poor as essentially different, caught in a "culture of poverty," characterized by laziness and intemperance. "Harrington did such a good job of making the poor seem 'other' that … I did not recognize my own forbears and extended family in it," Ehrenreich writes.
The "culture of poverty" went on to "become a cornerstone of conservative ideology." Welfare was redesigned not to help the poor, but to cure them of their wicked ways. Affluent Americans had discovered "not the poor, but a flattering way to think about themselves." Decades later, post-subprime crisis, and with a growing army of "working poor," it's time we rethink all that. It's time we realized that "poverty is not, after all, a cultural aberration or a character flaw. Poverty is a shortage of money." Read the full column here. (Read more poverty stories.)