News & Politics

More than Half of Americans Willing to Concede that Poverty Is Not a Result of Character Flaws

Now, if only mainstream media would tell the real story.

Photo Credit: fasphotographic/

Hey look, according to a new poll 47 percent of us aren't monsters.

In 1995, in the midst of a raging political debate about welfare and poverty, less than a third of poll respondents said people were in poverty because of issues beyond their control. At that time, a majority said that poverty was caused by "people not doing enough." Now, nearly half of respondents, 47 percent, attribute poverty to factors other than individual initiative.

“In hard economic times, people become more sympathetic to the poor,” says Martin Gilens, Ph.D., a political scientist at Princeton University.

Go figure. It turns out about half us recognize that there are things that can make you poor—from simple lack of opportunity to medical crises to local economic conditions to a not-very-long string of bad luck—that do not stem from a simple case of insufficient bootstrap-pulling.

We could probably boost that number if certain news organizations let folks know that actual poor people still existed, but it's a start.

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