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For decades, societal influences have ingrained an image of poverty into our minds: the rugged homeless, the undocumented immigrant, the urban poor—models that foster negative ideas of laziness, feebleminded, and worthlessness.
|Video of people walking to represent society, transitioning to the three ingrained images of poverty.|
|These stereotypes are outdated and damaging, diverting attention away from the values of altruism and opportunity that America so highly upholds and focusing solely on deviance.|
Yet, they are continually reinforced and affect the lives of the impoverished today, encompassing the undermining beliefs of social stigma.
|Photograph of a woman crying into her hands, B-roll of lady walking down the street, a visual representation of deviance, and a clip of the city.|
(Inserted text with the phrase “deviance” and “social stigma” matching with the audio)
|Wall Street Journal’s video, “A Portrait of Poverty in America: Job Insecurity and Payday Lending,” published in 2018, illustrates the life of David Howard, a farmer, bus driver, and custodian, that barely scrapes by financially daily despite his enduring efforts. |
Living under the poverty threshold, Howard along with nearly 38 million other Americans share similar stories that are overlooked and abandoned (Fessler, 2019, para. 4).
|Video clip of David Howard working multiple jobs from the video published by the Wall Street Journal.|
(Inserted text with in-text citation for “Living under the poverty threshold, Howard along with nearly 38 million other Americans share similar stories that are overlooked and abandoned (Fessler, 2019, para. 4).”)
|Poverty thresholds vary by the size and age of families, determined by comparing income to the minimum amount needed to cover basic needs. |
Homelessness is defined as a person who “lacks fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence” (Plainfield Public Library, para. 1).
Although not every individual living in poverty is homeless, homelessness is an extreme representation of poverty that will continually be elaborated on throughout this video essay.
|Video clip of a homeless woman leaning against a pole on the sidewalk. |
(Inserted text with in-text citation for “Homelessness is defined as a person who ‘lacks fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence’” (Plainfield Public Library, para. 1))
|Through my semester-long extensive research on this topic, I have uncovered peer-reviewed scholarly sources, blog posts, news articles, and photographs that depict this issue through multiple angles and truths that aim to add transparency to this dilemma.||Video clip of someone typing on their laptop followed by overhead footage of tall buildings to symbolize perspective.|
|After tracing the history of poverty in society, I will apply my research to the Clemson University community, bringing into light the life around us and offering ways our clubs and organizations can relieve this cause, or even ourselves individually. |
As privileged college students with the opportunity to pursue an education and sustainable living, being able to look beyond the seclusion imposed by society can free us of the “single story” of poverty our lives portray, and this starts with knowledge and awareness.
|Overhead of a university followed by a clip of a group of college students talking.|
|The prominent factor of social stigma negatively affects the experience of living for the impoverished communities of America by contributing to mental illness, the persistence of unemployment, and prejudice.|
|Photo of a homeless man to compliment the thesis statement.|
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Tracing the emergence of poverty throughout history in America, it is clear that this issue has never been eradicated, but in fact, is still growing.
|Vintage clip to set the historical tone followed by B-roll clip of city overhead.|
|Premilla Nadasen (2017) marks the beginning of this timeline following the Great Depression as modern welfare bolstered the poor, elderly, single mothers, and disabled, and eventually led to the implementation of food stamps, public housing, and welfare (para. 5).||Photograph of old public housing.(Inserted text with in-text citation: “Premilla Nadasen… and welfare (para. 5)” at the bottom of the screen.)|
|Extreme poverty continued to stay out of sight until the 1970s, in which labor regulations protecting workers diminished and educational and public funding was reduced.||Video clip of U.S. money.|
|In 1996, the welfare reform limited assistance to 5 years for poor single parents with some states mandating fingerprinting or drug testing of applicants (Nadasen, 2017, para. 8).||Video clip of a mother holding her child’s hand, followed by pictures of a fingerprint analysis and drug test.|
(Inserted text with in-text citation: “In 1996… applicants (Nadasen, 2017, para. 8)” at the bottom of the screen. Bold and highlight “5 years,” “fingerprinting,” and “drug testing.”)
|Although this issue is rooted in economics, it has grown to persist as a social issue in the form of stigma that has been painted with criminalization, harassment, and disregard.||B-roll clip of American flag near government buildings followed by a photo of a poor woman on a train.|
(Inserted side text with the words, “criminalization,” “harassment,” and “disregard” on the second photo.)
|According to Belcher and Deforge (2012), social stigma is defined as the “labeling, stereotyping, separating, status loss, and discrimination” of individuals of “unequal social, economic, and political power” (p. 931).||Photograph of a poor woman begging in the streets.|
(Inserted text with the narration and in-text citation: “According to Belcher… political power” (p. 931)” on the right side of the screen.)
|The stigmatization of impoverished communities that are embraced by society does not go unnoticed by the affected individuals and strongly harm their mental state. |
Belcher and Deforge, authors of “Social stigma and homelessness: The limits of social change,” published in 2012, emphasize that the process of stigmatization occurs when a group becomes “marginalized” and cast as an out-group by an individual, these domineering attitudes often heightening a sense of tension in those targeted, resulting in anxiety and feelings of threat and victimization (Belcher & Deforge, 2012, pp. 932-935).
|Clip of a woman looking out, footage of a dark sky and trees, photograph of the back view of a woman looking down, clip of a woman standing alone, and a video of a typewriter typing “:(“|
(Side text with the words, “marginalized” and “out-group” for the third picture.)
|These conflicting aspects of poverty are not restricted to adults but impact the youth as well. |
Professors of Psychology at Clark University and the University of Massachusetts, Heberle and Carter (2020) respectively, studied culturally diverse children between the ages of 4 and 9 and found that children of more financially disadvantaged backgrounds exhibited increased awareness of stereotypes and development of self-stigma (pp. 342-345).
|Photograph of poor children against a wall.(Inserted text with in-text citation: “Professors… self-stigma (pp. 342-345).”)|
|Additionally, mental and behavioral symptoms of anxiety, depression, and violence were observed, likely attributed to their understanding of others’ perceptions of themselves. |
In a sense, the experience of poverty can be traumatic as the exposure to social stigma is dehumanizing and negatively impacts the mindset of these individuals.
|Photograph of a woman crying followed by B-roll footage of a reflection of a tree by rain on a sidewalk.(Inserted text with the words, “anxiety,” “depression,” and “violence” on the left side of the screen.)|
|However, the poor are not alone in the act of internalizing stigma, especially in the field of work.||B-roll zoomed out footage of a skyscraper|
|Society recognizes the destruction long-term unemployment can cause for individuals and families but embodies a double standard for the impoverished that endure this same struggle.||Clip of a couple in tension, woman leaves.|
|Nichols and McDade (2016) states as joblessness continues, skills and social networks diminish and “workers become tainted by a perception of ‘unemployability’” that deters employers (para. 5).||Blurred video clip of people working. |
(Inserted text of “Nichols… employers (para. 5)” for the blurred video clip.)
|Further reinforced by the image and stigma centered around the poor, the stereotyped characteristics of laziness, filthiness, dangerousness, and non-productivity ultimately produce an endless cycle between unemployment and poverty.||Photograph of a homeless man followed by footage of spinning spokes on a bicycle wheel to symbolize “cycle.”|
|In the absence of a job, these individuals seek immediate relief in any way they can just to survive and help their families, which in turn, prevents them from pursuing employment.||Video of a woman buying eggs at the flea market.|
|Calvin Head, a local community organizer of the heavily impoverished city of Tchula, Mississippi, conveys the experience of living for the poor out of employment as a struggle of meeting basic needs, every decision being “a temporary fix to a long-term problem,” such as using a propane tank for heat (Wall Street Journal, 2018). |
The adverse effects of stigma burden more than the job search but the adaptability of these individuals as well.
|Video clip of a fire being lit. |
(Inserted text with in-text citation: “Calvin Head… heat (Wall Street Journal, 2018).”)
|Overall, the assimilation of stigma in society, both of the established ingroup and outgroup, has led to the harmful consequence of prejudice within impoverished communities.||B-roll clip of people walking in the street to symbolize society.|
|In the eyes of the public, poverty is a devalued “social identity” that represents individuals that are unworthy of equal opportunities, rights, and access to societal resources because they failed to pursue or accomplish the American Dream (Belcher & Deforge, 2012, p. 931).||Overhead footage of a city at night with the focus on the waving flag.|
(Inserted text with in-text citation: “In the eyes… American Dream (Belcher & Deforge, 2012, p. 931).”)
|Arising from these beliefs is active discrimination, interpreted by Belcher and Deforge, in their article “Social stigma and homelessness: The limits of social change,” published in 2012, as the satisfaction of boosting self-esteem and proving control by degrading the humanity of the vulnerable, in this case, the poor (para. 8).||Clip of someone writing “no” on a chalkboard to symbolize discrimination followed by a video of two people taking game controllers.|
(Inserted text with the word “control” matching the audio.)
|Additionally, the media contributes to this social stigma by fortifying the homeless image of mental illness and substance abuse while society promotes these beliefs by making them a focus of police surveillance, forcing relocation to rid of the “threat” in communities, and justifying their attitudes by indicating they are “bad for business” (Belcher & Deforge, 2012, p. 932)||Video clip of someone scrolling through social media on a phone followed by images of the police and a closed sign. |
(Inserted text with in-text citations: “Additionally… “bad for business” (Belcher & Deforge, 2012, p. 932).”)
|These prejudicial perspectives are even enforced at the federal level, especially in the emergence of hostile urban architecture that aims to institute a gated-community that excludes outsiders. Karl de Fine Licht, author of “Hostile urban architecture: A critical discussion of the seemingly offensive art of keeping people away,” published in 2017, pinpoints specific construction such as the unsleepable “Camden bench” and the prevention of sitting or standing with “anti-homeless spikes” and addresses the claim that these establishments violate the rights and respect of the poor, depicting the intolerance and animosity politicians have towards these individuals (pp. 33-36).||Footage of gates closing, video of construction, photographs of anti-poverty benches, and a photo of a woman’s hands tied in rope..(Added text “gated community,” “Camden bench,” and “violate the rights and respect of the poor” to match the audio.)|
|In both rural and urban areas of America, the prejudice experienced by the impoverished reflects the arrogance of those in power and with status and makes their lives a hidden entity of society.|
|Blurred video clip of people walking on the street.|
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Many Americans, however, reject the presence of social stigma regarding poverty and accredit the negative aspects of living the poor bear to their shortcomings and capabilities.
Babjáková, Džuka, and Gresty (2019) describe this philosophy as the individualistic view that places the blame of poverty on the individuals themselves, emphasizing the lack of effort from the poor, alcohol or drug abuse, negligence, lack of intelligence, and stubbornness to change (p. 326).
|Photograph of a finger pointing at a globe to represent blame followed by a homeless man looking down.|
(Inserted text with in-text citation: “Babjáková… (p. 326).)
|In a nation founded on the ideology of individualism, proponents of this mindset believe everyone is given the equal opportunity to achieve the American Dream due to the abundance of employment, education, and opportunity that is available; anyone that falls short is accountable for their actions. |
Social influences are concluded as a mere cover-up for the fault of the poor.
|360 view of a waving American flag followed by a clip of someone painting to symbolize a “cover-up.”|
|Although this belief may hold in some individuals, this issue encompasses a much broader range of factors. |
An applicable study conducted by Seider, Rabinowicz, and Gillmor (2010) observed the results of the Pulse Program of Boston College, a project intended to introduce students to other marginalized communities, a majority of which confided in the individualistic view (p. 106).
|Clip of ocean to represent “broad” followed by a photo of college students.|
(Inserted text and in-text citation: “An applicable… individualistic view (p. 106).”)
|Upon community service in urban elementary schools and emergency rooms with low-income families applying for affordable housing, a significant number of students with changing conceptions of poverty resulted as their involvement opened their eyes to the social and environmental aspects that negatively affect life for the poor.||Video clips of an elementary classroom, a hospital waiting room, and a person walking in sandals on a carpet to symbolize “walking in someone else’s’ shoes.”|
|The insight gained from the students included accounts of undesirable services being placed only in poor communities, the detrimental impact of poor education, and the difficulties of maintaining a job due to prejudice (Seider et al., 2010, pp. 116-119).||Video clip of someone cleaning a pair of glasses with a cloth.|
(Inserted text with in-text citation: “The insight… prejudice (Seider et al., 2010, pp. 116-119).”)
|Reiterated by Belcher and Deforge (2012), contributors of the Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, the roots of homelessness are rather complex and often attributed to the inequalities they face and the limiting policies that are implemented in society (p. 929).||Close-up video of a tree.|
(Inserted text with in-text citations: “Reiterated… in society (p. 929).” Highlight “complex” in yellow and “inequalities” and “limiting” in red.)
|It is apparent that once these barriers of stigma were broken down and experienced, poverty was seen with clarity and as a social rather than individual issue.|
|Photograph of two hands of different race touching.|
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To conclude, the persistence of poverty growth in the United States remains a prevalent social issue and is gaining attention by activists and photographers across the nation.
|Footage of a photographer positioning his camera.|
|In particular, a well-acclaimed photographer, Matt Black, has captured images that offer a glimpse of the reality of poverty in his project called the “Geography of Poverty,” published in 2014, shining a light on its pervasiveness and emphasizing humanity and community in America. |
Photography and writing captures raw experiences that gradually break down the stigma of unworthiness and idleness—granting second chances and reviving humanity.
|Screen recording of photographs from Matt Black’s “Geography of Poverty” project.|
|Additionally, Rebecca de Souza, author of the book, “Feeding the Other,” asserts that food pantries can advocate for the poor by amplifying their voices, accounting for the trauma and grief experienced and inviting them to join a community of acceptance rather than shame (“The stigma of poverty,” 2019, para. 25).||Background image of a food pantry.|
(Inserted text with in-text citation: “Additionally… shame (“The stigma of poverty,” 2019, para. 25).”)
|Drawing upon the entirety of this research and relating back to our Clemson roots, it is important to first recognize the distinct family incomes of the students at our university. |
IVSTAT’s data table, “Grants of scholarship aid statistics by income status at Clemson University,” published in 2017, highlights the imbalanced distribution of income, particularly the skewness in data towards the higher incomes of the selected group.
|Image of Clemson followed by a data table of income distribution and financial aid of Clemson University of a select representative group.|
|As the mass majority of students come from advantaged backgrounds, it is easy to become blind to the struggles that our peers may be exposed to, let alone the broader population of the United States. |
With this blindness, we can become captives to the social stigma that society confines us to, unless we seek the other stories.
Whether we accept that our views have been tainted with prejudice or put our efforts towards helping the poor, all forms of change are crucial to the eradication of this problem.
|Photograph of blindfolded people followed by footage of flipping pages of a book and a woman opening her eyes.|
(Inserted text “blind to the struggles that our peers may be exposed to” for the first picture.)
|A great example of students taking action is Clemson’s student volunteer organization, Habitat for Humanity Campus Chapter, with the vision of eliminating poverty housing by donating time, money, and materials towards the development and renovation of houses of low-income families. The opportunities around us are endless towards providing relief and it is our duty to be self-aware, serving individuals of our community and beyond. The help we give loosens the tight grip social stigma has on the impoverished, transforming the adjectives, “lazy,” “unintelligent,” and “worthless” into “beautiful” and “deserving.”||Videos of a man working on construction in a warehouse, someone pouring water into another person’s cup, a community holding hands, and unwinding string.|
(Inserted text “beautiful” and “deserving” to match the audio behind the unwinding string.)
|As the stigmatization of poverty hinders growth and denies fundamental needs, contributing to mental illness, difficulty finding employment, and discrimination, it is important to us as college students to be aware of how our actions and attitudes can defend or discredit the poor.||Clip of someone pulling petals to symbolize the hindering of growth, a homeless man on a set of stairs, a picture of handful of coins, a man with a hand shadow cast on his face, two girls hugging, a hiring sign, and a video clip of “I love you” being erased from a chalkboard.|
|The thoughts that cloud our minds, the words we express over the media and in-person, and the actions and outlooks we convey regarding poverty constitute the atmosphere that can drive this issue into turmoil or bring it to resolution by values of understanding and assistance.|
|Video clip of a sign saying “Love shouldn’t hurt.”|