The Public Interest

Paradoxes of American poverty

Nathan Glazer

Fall 1965

Presidents, socialists, reformers and academicians have set the prevailing contemporary tone in discussing poverty in America– shock and outrage that it should exist, followed by a direct and earnest passion that we should do everything necessary to wipe it out. And for the most part the mass media and the people have followed these guides. Poverty, as Michael Harrington told us in The Other America, is largely invisible in the United States.  This is true. He concluded, therefore, that there is more than we can see, and that our society obtusely refuses to acknowledge it or act against it. After the past year in the war against poverty, one might conclude just the opposite: that one effect of the invisibility of poverty is to make it easy to persuade most Americans that there is much more than there is– and thus quite well informed people do believe that poverty is increasing and that it is harder to deal with than ever, when as a matter of fact the truth is just the opposite. And yet, despite the successful conversion of most Americans to the view that poverty is a far graver problem than they envisaged, underneath the ready popular response to the war on poverty there is a good deal of uneasiness.  Somehow, the problem of poverty keeps dissolving into a series of paradoxes.

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