How to Break The Culture Of Poverty In America

Suffer The Children

Douglas Wallace wants you to do some math next time you go out to eat.

“Count the children you see,” he said. “When you get to 10, subtract two. According to federal statistics, those last two kids live beneath the poverty level. The real number is 21 percent, and it’s 30 percent for African American kids. And I’m not talking kids who have food and shelter and are just living without cable TV – I am talking about back-breaking, life-changing, impossible poverty. Not having a home, not having a bed, and when they can find one, going to that bed hungry every night. The really tough part is that it doesn’t have to be that way.”

Wallace, author of the autobiographical Everything Will be Alright – an October 2009 release from Greenleaf Book Group Press ( – grew up as one of those children. But as he grew to adulthood, he was able to break the bonds of what he calls “the culture of generational poverty,” a phenomenon that conspires to not only keep those kids poor, but ensure that their kids grow up the same way.

“Generational poverty victims are those who are born into families that have lived in poverty for two or more generations,” he said. “What most people don’t know is that generational poverty victims are among the poorest of the poor. They represent a small portion of the overall society classified as poor. Generational poverty victims rarely escape the cycle of poverty. For example, in my family, I was one of eight children who made it out. None of my nieces or nephews has escaped the cycle despite my best efforts to intervene.”

Which is one of the ways to recognize the culture of poverty, Wallace said – the reluctance to accept help from a successful sibling.

“There is a feeling among the generational poor that fosters disdain for the educated and successful,” he said. “They are the enemy, and from the standpoint of the poor, it is better to be a ‘self-made man’ than to get an education and be one of the elite. The hopelessness of being poor is turned upside down into pride, which is a way that the poor use to shield themselves from the shame of poverty. They defend their plight not as tragic, but as the product of rugged individualism.”

There are other ways of determining if you or a friend or family member may be caught in the cycle of generational poverty:

  • They do not actively seek a way out of poverty. They act as if they are living the way they prefer.
  • They show disdain for education and the educated.
  • Violence is a way of life. There is very rarely anger in the household without it being followed shortly by violence. Disagreements become confrontations, generally physical in nature, very quickly.
  • Help is generally either not sought, or not accepted when offered.

    Conversely, the poor are willing to be proactive and do what they can to survive, but they are not willing to make a long term plan for actually getting out and thriving.

    “For instance, my mother lacked the knowledge and communications skills necessary to understand the rules for getting on welfare,” Wallace said. “It wouldn’t occur to her to that someone was willing to give us money. When my father went to jail for a felony theft, the officials at the courthouse helped her understand these rules and for the first time we received welfare benefits. But that was only for six months until my father got out of jail. My mother knew the only way to survive and that was through hard work, very hard work. I didn’t complain. Who was I going to complain to? We survived by doing what we had to do. That’s one of the hidden rules of generational poverty. You do what you have to do to survive and you don’t wait on others to volunteer to help.”

    Wallace grew up in abject poverty, and after joining the military, he came home and went to college, graduating law school from Woodrow Wilson School of Law. He practiced law from 1976 through 1999, as a principle of Wallace & deMayo, P.C. based in Atlanta, Georgia. In November 1999 he merged his law firm with Synovus Corporation, a large regional bank listed on NYSE. He retired at the age of 50 and moved west to a ranch in San Diego.

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