There are a whole slew of ways to define if someone is poor, middle class, or wealthy. The following chart is one of the most helpful resources I have encountered because it holistically deals with many different characteristics between the poor, middle class, and wealthy. How do the middle class characteristics compare with your own? Do you related to the characteristics of the poor?
The following chart is from Chapter Three “Hidden Rules Among Classes” in A Framework: Understanding and Working With Students and Adults from Poverty.
|Possessions||People||Things||One of a kind objects|
|Money||To be used, spent||To be managed||To be conserved, invested|
|Food||“Did you have enough?” (Quantity)||“Did you like it?” (Quality)||“Was it presented well” (Presentation)|
|Clothing||Valued for individual style and expression of personality||Valued for quality and acceptance. Label Important.||Valued for artistic sense and expression. Designer important|
|Time||Present most important. Decisions made for moment for survival.||Future important. Decisions made against future ramifications.||Traditions and past important. Decisions made based on decorum.|
|Social Emphasis||Social of inclusion of people they like.||Emphasis on self-governance and self-sufficiency.||Emphasis on social exclusion.|
|Language||Language is about survival.||Language is about negotiation.||Language is about connections.|
|Family Structure||Tends to be matriarchal.||Tends to be patriarchal.||Depends on who has the money.|
|World View||See the world in terms of the local setting.||Sees the world in terms of the national setting.||See the world in terms of an international view.|
|Driving Force||Survival, relationships and entertainment.||Work and achievement||Financial, political, and social connections|
Middle Class Characteristics & Characteristics of the Poor: My Thoughts
Having worked now for over three years in a third world context I can say Amen to all of the items listed in the poverty category. The list of characteristics of the poor is indicative of the situation here in Papua New Guinea.
Having grown up in a middle class home I can say that the list certainly describes my experiences.
The wealthy list was actually surprising to me because of the number of categories that actually applied to me. Specifically that money is to be invested and the ability to view the world in terms of an international view.
What if Work Ethic Were Added to the List?
I think if work ethic were added to the list most would say the poor are lazy. The middle class work hard. The wealthy work very hard or are lazy and lucky (depending on how they obtained their wealth). I cannot comment on the accuracy of this statement in a North American context; however, in terms of the world’s poor it is not laziness that causes poverty. It is instead a lack of opportunity. A lack of availability. In a country with a limited number of good paying jobs, only the top few percent have the opportunity to apply their education to an income generating employment. Imagine where you would be if there were a limited number of jobs available? Personally I credit my current financial situation to a lot of things outside of my self – parents’ example, academic opportunities, and an affluent culture. These are things most of the poor do not have the blessing to enjoy.
Is there a solution?
Unfortunately, many think the ultimate goal is for there to be a migration to the right column. Honestly, I think that kind of thinking is a form of idolatry, even with the best intentions. It is idolatry because it shows that we think mammon is the solution. Would the lives of the poor be better if they all migrated to the middle class category? Would they not just encounter a unique set of issues and frustrations?
In an 1989 interview with Mother Teresa (full text appears in The National Catholic Register) Edward W. Desmond (of Time Magazine) asked “Is materialism in the West an equally [referring to previous question about abortion] serious problem?” Mother Teresa responded by saying:
… Take our congregation for example, we have very little, so we have nothing to be preoccupied with. The more you have, the more you are occupied, the less you give. But the less you have the more free you are. Poverty for us is a freedom. It is not a mortification, a penance. It is a joyful freedom. There is no television here, no this, no that. This is the only fan in the whole house. It doesn’t matter how hot it is, and it is for the guests. But we are perfectly happy.
The Time interviewer followed up by asking “How then do you find rich people?” She responded as follows:
I find the rich much poorer. Sometimes they are more lonely inside. They are never satisfied. They always need something more. I don’t say all of them are like that. Everybody is not the same. I find that poverty is hard to remove. The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.
Personally it seems then the solution begins with one first step of understanding. What has caused this burden? What has caused this struggle? What are the names of people afflicted by poverty? From there we will have the resources to truly help the needy.
Photo by LizMarie.
What do you think about the chart? Does it seem accurate based on your experiences?