The Instigator
Pro (for)
0 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
0 Points

Poverty in the United States is self inflicted

Do you like this debate?NoYes+0
Add this debate to Google Add this debate to Delicious Add this debate to FaceBook Add this debate to Digg  
Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 0 votes the winner is...
It's a Tie!
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 7/9/2019 Category: Economics
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 694 times Debate No: 122400
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (8)
Votes (0)




The vast majority of the 39. 1 million people in the United States that are unable to adequately support themselves and are living in poverty are not victims of society. Rather they live as do by personal choice and or as a consequence of making poor life decisions.


The fact that you think making poor life decisions/personal choices and being a victim of society are mutually exclusive things exposes an underlying misunderstanding of poverty as a system, And how socio-economic systems function in general. I am genuinely curious how you will back up this statement considering it goes against pretty much all consensus in both the sociological and economic communities as a whole. You have completely simplified this problem to such a basic answer that doesn't even ask the most important question of all, Why do people make these decisions. I can give you reasons people do this, Like the fact that we see that people tend to remain within the income bracket they were born into throughout their lives, A concept know as "stickiness at the ends". We know that being born into a lower economic bracket means you will probably have a much lower quality of education, Especially considering how schools are currently funded, Through property taxes, Meaning that the financial standing of the neighborhood you live in will effect the funding of the school you go to. We know that schools with less funding tend to have higher drop out rates and worse sex education programs. We know that people who are born into lower income brackets tend to be less financially literate, Usually because they have worse educations in general. These factors go on and on, And I didn't even get into how poverty connects to crime rates, Or drug addiction. All I'm trying to say is that simplifying this issue to (people are poor because they make bad decisions and that it has nothing to do with society) completely ignores the way that socio-economic factors effect people's lives in incredibly complex and interconnected ways.
Debate Round No. 1


At some level, You seem to be agreeing with my position that poverty is a consequence of personal choices. And then you counter with the causes and reasons people make bad decisions. This debate does not challenge why people make bad decisions, Only that they do. The other point made in my opening statement is that it is not societies fault.

Regarding personal choice, Here are just a few of the more significant and common poor choices that leads to poverty:
1)Not securing an education that provides marketable skills. Most notably this would be those that drop out of High School one of the more significant factors that contribute poverty. Also, But to a lessor degree those that choose not to gain a specialized marketable skill. This includes post graduate schooling, But also includes OJT job skills such as carpenter, Plumber, Welder etc. The later requiring little to no cash investment.
2)A very significant percentage of those that are living in poverty produced (had) children at an early age. This often leads to a lack of education, An inability to work and a dependence on social program.
3)Those living in poverty are far more likely to be a single adult household. As to the reason the person is single, That may have be personal preference or it may have been a consequence of bad judgement. It is none the less a personal determination.

For the sake of not making this overly complicated, I will choose not to address, Alcoholism, Smoking, Use of drugs, Convictions of crime, Laziness, Etc. All of these are personal choice items. Let me just say that the percent of those living in poverty that have graduated from high school, Have secured a marketable skill and chose not to have children until they could support them is is extremely low.

Regarding my position that it is not societies fault that the individual lives in poverty:
I will very quickly agree that many of those living in poverty (not all) grew up in families and in areas that provided few good role models. However, I clearly stated "Society" and in that context, I am referring to what society may or may not have done to cause certain people to make the very poor decisions they made that put them in poverty. I believe it would be nearly impossible to convince those that critique this debate that the country or the state itself caused those that are living in poverty to get pregnant at 16, Drop out of high school, Never gain a marketable skill and remain an unmarried single person living on welfare. Set aside the other endless list of poor decisions that lead to poverty.


Yes, We do agree on some level, It would be ridiculous to argue that the choices people makes have no effect on their economic status. However, Saying this debate doesn't concern why people make bad decisions is fundamentally false, Specifically because you are also arguing that it is "not societies fault". By saying this you are inherently saying that there are other reasons besides society that cause people to make these decisions. Honestly, Besides straight up biology, I couldn't think of any other factors that would affect how people make these decisions. The society around us effects us in highly complex and multi faceted ways, And the end of the day we are all products of it.

Regarding your points on personal choice
1) Education within the U. S. Has a number of issues that effect the level of educational attainment people get, There is a reason we rank so low in education when compared to other first world countries. As I stated in my previous argument, The way we fund schools in the U. S. Means that the funding your school receives is directly connected to the income tax of your neighborhood, So if you live in a poorer neighborhood the school you go to will receive less funding then a school in a nicer neighborhood, And when you look at the drop out rates between these schools, You start to see a link. Less funding means the school has less of an ability to provide the same classes or extracurricular activities as other schools. A kid born into a lower income household may also have to work a job at a younger age to help support their family giving them less time for school, Not to mention the fact that being in a more poverty ridden area means that the criminal activity is probably higher, Making it easier for kids to engage in said criminal activity, Especially if they don't have or can't afford to engage in other extracurricular activities that would otherwise fill their time. Beyond that, When you talk about higher education, The price of getting into different colleges or taking on student loan debt can be hardcore deterrents when it comes to lower income families. These are all socioeconomic/societal factors that make it significantly harder for people born into poverty to get good educations, In turn continuing the cycle of poverty.

2)+3) This also comes back to a point I brought up in my previous argument, Sex education in America is incredibly flawed in significant and apparent ways, Consider the fact that there are still many schools that have abstinence only education, If anything at all, And that teaching sex ed is only even a mandated thing in 24 states. Living in poverty also means you have reduced access to contraception, Alongside the fact that you may not even be taught about what contraception is and how to properly use it. We know that studies show that comprehensive sex education in schools and easy access to contraceptives significantly reduce both the rates of teen pregnancy and single parent house holds, Both things that have been connected to lower attainment of education, And higher rates of crime and poverty. This is again, A socioeconomic/societal problem that effects poor people disproportionately.

We don't have to go over these things (Alcoholism, Smoking, Use of drugs, Convictions of crime, Laziness, Etc. ), But I can connect pretty much all of them to societal factors that make them more prevalent among lower income people.

Regarding your position that it is not societies fault that people live in poverty
You can say this, But your opinion goes against pretty much the entirety of the collective opinions/research of both the sociological and economic communities. There is a reason why you can find studies measuring how and why pretty much any of the factors you have brought up happen.

Look, The reason I focus on how society affects the decisions of people in poverty as opposed to just saying that people make bad choices and that's why people are in poverty is that the former leads us to actual solutions that can be enacted through legislative and social change and the latter doesn't seem to have much usage when it comes to coming up with solutions in general.
Debate Round No. 2


I believe we have a bit of challenge with this debate. It seems that the point of contention being promoted by Con is more about defining what "self-inflicted" really means. Honestly, My intention and the challenge I presented was simpler that than that. I meant, "self-inflicted" in its more literally sense, As in self accountability, Something so lacking in much of society today. Still, I will admit that I phrased the challenge the way just to see who would step forward and argue against something that is really a "no sh. T". However, Con has taken this to a deeper level.

My interpretation of what Con is saying, Is that the decisions a person makes in life, The actions they take or don"t take, Are to a very great degree, A consequence of the environment they grew up in. This would include among other things, Family income, Moral teachings and education opportunities. The list goes on, But Con"s counter argument really seems to be that you can"t blame anyone for anything they do or do not do. After all we are all little more than products of our environment. Con, Correct me if I got that wrong.

Assuming I got that correct, My counter is very short and to the point. This cause and effect stance taken by Con is nearly as "No Sh. T" as my self-inflicted opening argument. The reason or motivation a person does something or does not do something is not the argument as presented.

What if I were to say; "Poverty is most often self-inflicted as a consequence of poor life decisions made by the person(s) living in poverty"? Agree? Ok, So what? It does not change the validity of the opening statement. Try this one" Do you agree that as a society, We have little choice but to hold all adults accountable for their actions?


The only reason I took umbrage with you original argument was that by saying that people in poverty aren't victims of society and are just there because of poor life choices, It felt as though you were downplaying the incredibly complex ways in which society influences the lives of people in general. I already agreed that poor life decisions were the reason many people live in poverty, I only wanted to bring up the fact that the reason people make said bad decisions, Ultimately tends to come back to the many flaws that can be found in different societal institutions, Something that it seems we both agree on if I'm reading you correctly.

Listen, I think that the core of our disagreement may just come down to the perspective we come at the poverty with. Part of my background is in sociology, So the way I tend to analyze issues like poverty is from the framework of a more widespread group and systemic form of thought, This inevitably leads me to focusing far more of my attention on how different external factors effect people in this situation as opposed to focusing on things like individual accountability which doesn't really matter to me when it comes to solving these problems on a larger scale. You on the other hand seem to come at this from a much more individual perspective, Which makes sense because when it comes to examining the issues of an individual, The focus on personal accountability would be far more relevant. Neither of these approaches are inherently better then the other, They just serve different roles, One works for solving the problems of larger groups of people, And one works better at solving the issues of an individual. It's just important to be aware of when you should make the distinction in using each thought process.

The reason I am pretty weary of the term "holding people accountable for their actions", And I'm not saying this is what you are trying to do, Is because, Usually, When I see people bringing this argument up, It's so that it can be used as a distraction from talking about any systemic or social issues that play a role in poverty by people who tend to prefer continuing the status quo and just placing the blame on those who are in poverty without looking at the larger structures around it. I obviously have a big issue with this as it doesn't ever really seem to lead to better outcomes for society as a whole.

If we were to go even more fundamental, We could look at the ideas of free will vs determinism and how things like compatibilism plays into the greater discussion, But this moves into more abstract philosophical thought and argumentation, Something I don't know if we want to dive into. Overall, I really do think our disagreement might just be one of the perspective we each choose to take when comes to poverty.
Debate Round No. 3


Con, Your last response is excellent as it summarizes both views, Individual accountability vs. Society"s accountability. I would almost, But not quite declare a tie. In your last, You choose to explain your position, More accurately your logic and motivation for your position. I will now do the same.

The average American today seems to believe that most of those entering the United States came here to avoid persecution, Primarily, Religious persecution. I do not believe that that to be true. In fact, I believe the vast vast majority of those immigrated to the America"s came here for finical opportunities, Aka, "MONEY" (dare I say such a thing). In my view of the United States and its history, We are a country that was historically colonized by strong break-a-way individuals that had an above average sense of self determination. I believe this was the case throughout our history, At least until, Or about the mid 1970"s when the end of the war brought many thousands of South Vietnam refugees into our country. You may wonder what this has to do with the subject matter?

The people I speak of wanted individual freedom and had great fears of centralized big government. Few looked for or expected much in the way of social programs. This earlier group of Americans where more than independently minded. I"m not sure how I could prove this is true, But I would guess most of those that came to the United States (North America) were the more rarefied from their countries, Likely on average, They were the more intelligent, The more aggressive, They were greater risk takers and they were the more adventurous. Even when I read our constitution, I see these values and priorities embedded in it. It was this very group of people that made the United States the powerful country it became. These are the kind of people that took great risks, Created the industrial revolution, Made scientific discoveries and made the United States the country it became.

However, I now fear for United States. There is an ever-growing part of our population that would deny my view of history and instead try to paint the United States as some sore of moral beacon and shelter for the depressed of the world. With that as their platform, They call for ever increasing numbers of publicly financed social programs. The youngest of our adult population is obsessed with "that"s not fair", "that"s not nice, And "where"s mine".

I have often said; One of the greatest lies ever perpetuated is the adage; "The key to success is hard work". That"s just not true. Look at the many hard-working people that bust their butts and still have nothing. The actual key to success is making wise decisions in life. And I detest being held accountable via tax for others making bad decisions. It is from this vantage point that I have a concern for the future of for our country. And that is why that I argue, "poverty is self-inflicted".


Ok, There is a lot to dig into here so I'll try to be as concise as possible. Your view of United States history seems to oversimplify a lot of what was going on. The reason people came to America wasn't as much about any one thing as it was a collection of factors. People originally came seeking freedom, Religious freedom, Economic/financial freedom, And political freedom to be specific. I also know that it is appealing to think the people who originally came and built this country were the above average, The intelligent, And the more rarefied of their countries, And while for a few this was true, For many others it wasn't, A lot of the original settlers who came here, Came here specifically because of the hardships they faced in their own countries, Many of them were outcasts within their home nations, Which is why the came to the United States in search of a new beginning. Now this can get really easily side tracked into a lot of historical detail, Something I don't know if either of us have the knowledge base within in order to have such an in depth conversation on, And I'm not saying your view is entirely incorrect, Just that it seems a bit rose tinted in its examination and lacks the nuance of all the factors that are included within U. S. History.

Your point about the people you spoke of having not wanted a centralized big government, Is partially true but once again contains more nuance then it would seem on the surface. The argument between having a strong centralized government vs having a loose one that gave more to states rights is one that has been going on since the drafting of the constitution, Just look at the disagreements between the federalists and the republicans. The people you speak of were just as torn on this issue as we are now. More importantly, I think its important to recognize that as we have grown as a country, We have changed, So just looking at what our population may have used to think isn't the strongest argument, I mean just think about the fact that people in our country used to think that slavery was morally acceptable. Income inequality has been an issue for all of American history, It's why a lot of people left their original countries for America in the first place, And it has been and issue within the United States since it's very inception. Just because these people weren't thinking about the social programs we have today doesn't mean said programs wouldn't have been helpful. What I value more is the outcomes of things like social programs, What are the actual tangible results of these forms of legislation, Not what people from our nations past's opinions on them may have been.

I understand that it can feel like people are just complaining when they talk about how things are "unfair" but a lot of these complaints are based on structural realities. There is a concept within sociology called stickiness at the ends, Which is basically an examination of how limited economic mobility currently is. Simply put, People tend to remain within the economic bracket they are born into, This is true of lower, Middle, And upper income earners. The reason experts think this lack of mobility exists, Is because of the differences in opportunity allotted to people within different econ brackets, And I would argue that some of these differences, Such as education ( something that should serve as a great equalizer when it comes to economic opportunity), Or access to contraception, Shouldn't exist, And that these inequalities must be rectified via social programs and legislation, As these seem to be the only changes that result in any measurable positive effects.

When you say you "detest being held accountable via tax for others making bad decisions", It feels as though you may be viewing things from the standpoint that you are losing for the gain of someone else with no positive outcome for yourself. However, This isn't really true, These programs are for the gain of everyone in society including you. Most of these social programs are meant to help people in poverty come out of it, And to give them greater access to different opportunities, When these people are doing better there is a direct link to drops in crime and incarceration, Things that you would have to pay for via your taxes anyway. When people have greater economic opportunity, Their more likely to be active contributors to the overall market, In turn helping the economy as a whole. Having social programs that help with education, Means a rise in educational attainment for the populace which means you'll see a greater rate of innovation in different fields, And more competition in the job market, Which leads to better products for us consumers. Basically, What I'm trying to say is that it's not about being held accountable for other peoples bad decisions, Its about working towards a better and stronger population that will help to ensure the healthy growth and future of our country.

Relevant Links: https://www. Pewtrusts. Org/~/media/legacy/uploadedfiles/pcs_assets/2012/pursuingamericandreampdf. Pdf
https://www. Cbpp. Org/research/poverty-and-inequality/economic-security-programs-help-low-income-children-succeed-over
https://www. Cbpp. Org/research/various-supports-for-low-income-families-reduce-poverty-and-have-long-term-positive-effects
http://www. Equality-of-opportunity. Org/assets/documents/abs_mobility_summary. Pdf
Debate Round No. 4


I"m traveling with my wife and she has threatened to divorce me if I don"t stop debating. If that were to happen, I would likely end up living in poverty. I would then argue that that would be an example of sell-inflicted poverty. Would you agree? I grew up in a home where my father and I would debate and argue for hours just to entertain ourselves. Based on your logic, It"s not my fault that I love to debate (too much), It was the environment I grew up in. (Example of my sad sick humor)

I really have no choice but to cut this short. I cannot deny the reality that we are all products of our environment and or limited by our environments. That being the case, It is rather obvious that not everyone is given a fair hand. Be that financial, Education, Health, Intellect, Moral direction, Etc. , Etc. Does this mean it is not their fault? I"ll close this debate by saying that all of us receive our values and priorities from the environments we live in. Still, As a practical matter we have no choice but to hold each adult responsible for their life decisions

I"m running out of time (wife"s tolerance). Earlier, I referred to my fear of our younger generation"s lack of self-accountability. This concern is a core concern of mine in this debate and likely will be core concern in any future debate I may participate in.
Thanks Con,


No worries buddy, It's been a good back and forth, I hope things work out with your wife.

Once again, I'm fine with holding people responsible for there actions on the individual level, It's just that when we start looking at things from the perspective of groups within society, This way of thinking loses its effectiveness, And examining the underlying societal reasons for the actions taken by a group becomes far more necessary in coming up with solutions.

I really appreciated this discussion buddy, Gave me the chance to review my own thought process and go over a couple studies I've been meaning to look at. Once again I hope things work out between you and your wife, Good luck out there.
Debate Round No. 5
8 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 8 records.
Posted by Phil-E-CheeseSteak 2 years ago
Also, I'm not sure exactly how to open my messages, I thought they were already open
Posted by Phil-E-CheeseSteak 2 years ago
Nah, I would argue that if the selective service draft is a thing, It should include women, So we don't really disagree on that topic
Posted by JImBrosious 2 years ago
Suggest you open your messaging option.

If you would like to to the "Con" position, Join me in my new debate: "Should US women be subject to the Selective Service (Draft)"
Posted by Dr.Franklin 2 years ago
Posted by Phil-E-CheeseSteak 2 years ago
Thnx buddy, I try, I will definitely find the time to look into that documentary, It sounds interesting. As a bit of an olive branch, I'll say that when giving advice to an individual, I would probably tend to take your approach of telling someone that at the end of the day it is up to them to make the right choices in order to better their own life and that they should never throw around the blame as it can serve as a distraction to the work you can do personally to see self-improvement. It's just that when you widen your lense and start to examine things from a more overall group minded perspective you realize that that way of thinking stops serving any real purpose and that examining how different conditions effect the decisions people make will tend to lead you to better solutions that we can work to enact. It's a hard balance to find between how you would interact with an individual verses how you would examine a group of people, But it's a balance that will infinitely expand your ability to analyze these different problems.
Posted by JImBrosious 2 years ago
God. . . You are good. . .
Such fun. . .

If you have access to PBS watch a documentary called the Gilded Age. Late 1890's struggle between the wealthy and the poor.

https://www. Pbs. Org/video/the-gilded-age-nun3cr/

In the end I will argue that ultimately we have no choice but to hold each person accountable for their actions. Regardless of what their birth advantages were or were not.

I'll be back
Posted by JImBrosious 2 years ago
From the above comment. . .
Are you suggesting that for one to have more. . . Another will have less?
Such deep thinking. . . That"s is so profound!
Posted by DeletedUser 2 years ago
Poverty has to exist for rich people to exist
No votes have been placed for this debate.

By using this site, you agree to our Privacy Policy and our Terms of Use.