My Job Search and the Lifelong Curse of Poverty

Presently, I’m looking for work. To be honest, the biggest obstacle I have is a subconscious though ingrained notion that there are no job opportunities outside large box grocery stores. The path to security is marked by low but predictable hourly wages, “hard work” which basically means satisfying repetitive tasks in a predictable and dependable manner, and showing up without question whenever requested.

It’s an awful state of mind, basically a subconscious wage slavery that relies on the charity of large and powerful business owners and the willful subservience of workers. I know I’m not alone.

I grew up in poverty. Actually, I grew up in the worst sort of poverty. A poverty not as a result of deep structural factors and institutionalized racism, but of parental irresponsibility and drug abuse. Though my poverty differed from the poverty of those around me growing up in Jackson, Mississippi, and also from the global poverty I work with on a daily basis, the cancerous effects are the same.

Poor people are trained to believe that their situation is unchangeable. Hollywood loves to feed us lottery style rags to riches stories, but these only reinforce that idea that success comes not from (true) hard work and determination, but from chance events and divine grace. In short, we believe that leaving poverty comes not from within, but from above.

I’m not alone on this. Black/white difference in attitudes toward success and mobility have long been demonstrated. Poor attitudes in African American boys have been shown to correlate negatively with academic outcomes. The same has been shown in other contexts.

Certainly, mobility is hindered by access to financial resources. In fact, without money or assets, it is impossible to change the social and financial outlook of an individual. Capitalism relies on capital to function.

I argue though, that the awful, ingrained self-image of the poor is self-sustaining. As an example, the access to jobs for poor African-Americans is certainly limited, but the worst and most reprehensible barriers (reinforced by those who profit off of it) are those which come from within.

For me, I’m an idiot. Though I constantly see Meijer in my future, I am blessed with the ability to (stupidly) not say NO to anyone. If someone has a cool idea and wants help, I’m there and rarely consider the consequences. This alone will keep me out of what would have been a complete mess had I listened.

About Pete Larson

Researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Lecturer in the University of Michigan School of Public Health and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I do epidemiology, public health, GIS, health disparities and environmental justice. I also do music and weird stuff.

3 responses to “My Job Search and the Lifelong Curse of Poverty”

  1. Peter Walters says :

    Dude, you should check out unemployment stories on Gawker. BTW, I dig your blog. We’re on our way to Laos in January to shoot a short video for Vets without borders. Your page on UXOs is very helpful. Thanks.

  2. Pete Larson says :

    Excellent, man. Travel safe. If you need graphics or something for that movie, let me know.


  3. Peter Walters says :

    Actually my partner is a designer with a degree from Parsons so, at least, we have that part of the project covered. And I’ve studying your maps carefully to see if there are any UXO sites where we’ll been shooting – in villages just north of the capital. Look pretty clear.


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