I'd like to interject my (suitably nigh-worthless) two cents into this topic, as someone who has a possibly unique perspective into the trials and tribulations of the poor, regardless of other variables.
I grew up in a community that was 90% poor, or around it. At least, upwards of 90% of us received free or reduced-price lunches, which is a fair barometer for the poverty of a community in this day and age. However, every single family had at least one adult employed. We all had homes that were kept up, and there was community pride, as well as significant motivation to succeed.
I grew up in the U.S. Air Force.
Now, I'm already feeling the thought waves of some small percentage: 'An Air Force Brat! Privilege! Insulated community! Safe from crime and similar depredations!' Insulated, yes, from other communities, not so different from how poor, middle-class, and rich communities are insulated from one another, though. Safe from some crimes, yes. Not increased rates of alcoholism, abuse, and suicide, though. Every community has their pros and cons. My point is that just because people are poor may have no bearing whatsoever on their motivation to succeed. Poverty may be built-in to the culture.
Note that I said culture. So often I hear people wax on about this race or that ethnicity, when the focus should be on the economic structure of said group. When discussing the amount of welfare recipients among African-Americans, it does well to remember that there are far more white Americans on welfare. Or that the majority of African-Americans are middle-class. Please bear witness to modern Atlanta, Georgia, and believe.
But I have had the opportunity, yes, opportunity, to live in four poor communities: a white one, an hispanic one, a black one, and one where the three ethnic groups each made up one-third of the population.
You'd be surprised how many similarities there between the three made up of one predominant ethnic group. For all intents and purposes, the three of them shared 75% of the same difficulties. The devil, to paraphrase, however, is in the differences. And all three, to me, are not based on racial, but cultural differences.
Of the three, the hispanic community was the most vibrant. I ascribe that to them having a large immigrant segment. After all, attempting to journey to a new nation in search of improved economic conditions requires motivation, and a desire to improve one's lot. But, for the hispanics who'd been citizens for generations, there was much less motivation to succeed. Families tended to stay together instead of divorce. Religion was important. Drug use was less, but drug-selling was not. Gang violence was a problem in some sections--drug-selling Mexican gangs. Mistrust of the authorities was widespread--for reasons of immigration.
The white community was rural and close-knit. They had a large percentage of single-parent mothers. Religion was important. There was rampant drug-use--methamphetamines. Gang violence was a problem in some sections--drug-selling bike gangs. Mistrust of the authorities was widespread--for reasons of all manners of conspiracy theories against the government.
The black community was inner-city and insular. They had a large percentage of single-parent mothers. Religion was important. Gang violence was a problem in some sections--drug-selling gangs. Mistrust of the authorities was widespread--for reasons of suspected institutionalized racism.
There was a cultural belief among them that I found ran through all three communities: despair. Only in the hispanic community was education respected as a way out of poverty--mostly due to the respect afforded education in the old country by immigrants. The longer generations had been in the country, the less education was looked at favorably. In the white and black communities, education was a laughingstock, even if teachers were still respected to a point by both--if the teachers could identify with the community. Motivation was severely lacking, too in both the white and black communities, and both also had a definite culture of victimhood--'the liberal government' by the whites, and 'the racist white man' by the blacks. Demonized enemies: check. Both black and white communities had endemic levels of non-supportive fathers and adult males of able body on welfare. Both had an emphasis on physical skills, rather than intellectual skills. Both had a focus on survival skills, like being able to pick up and move from an apartment or house within a few hours, or where to find the most free food from food banks. Both had a culture of victimhood....a lack of acceptance of personal responsibility, a resignation of the futility of trying to improve one's lot in life.
The closer-knit hispanic community had a vibrant community culture, and even though poor, the community looked healthier. There was a sense of pride of community. The despairs of generational poverty had not yet set in.
I saw in the black community, and--surprisingly to me at the time--the white community, the same unmotivated, helpless sensibilities as those found on Native American reservations. Once welfare and/or other government support was the only way income came about, after a few generations, the desire to 'lift one's selves by the bootstraps' was nonexistent. The whole concept of work ethic, which so many people raise, is absent from these communities. It has literally been erased from their cultural memories. It is as alien to them as snow in the Sahara. Take away a people's reason to work, and you take away a chance for them to have dignity. Of course, simply stripping away welfare immediately won't solve the problem, either--broad-brush tactics seldom do. Education works, but education has to be accepted as a possibility for success...and in these two communities, the typical individual is so beaten down, even by the age of eight--eight!--that there is little or no incentive to improve one's lot in life.
Take a moment to soak that in. Imagine that, by the age of eight, you believed yourself so worthless, that there was simply no power left in you to try to better yourself. It had already been beaten out of you emotionally, spiritually, or physically.
I am someone who believes there is little difference between Middle Eastern terrorists and gangbangers of any color. There is little difference between disenfranchised young men with no hope for improvement and low self-esteem and that carry AK-47s, regardless of them being white supremacist bikers, black gangbangers, or Afghani Taliban. They are created by the same sick formula. Despair, poverty, and lack of community.
I do have to add, however, that I saw a higher number of disadvantages for blacks than whites or hispanics. The image of the angry young black gangbanger, the welfare queen, and the uneducated ebonics-speaker carries heavier weight as stereotypes among the majority white population, and the hispanic population, and, yes, the black middle-class, than the racist white redneck hick or the lazy siesta-taking Mexican stereotypes. Gangster rap and its accompanying videos hasn't helped the stereotypes.
What is truly sad, however, is the mixed community. I did see a lot of ethnic intermixing, multi-ethnic children, and a great reduction of racism. Instead of rallying together to improve their common lot, however, I saw an even greater incidence of reinforcement of concepts of entitlement and 'deserving' welfare, regardless of ethnic group. The ignorant didn't work together to help themselves...they merely increased their feelings of helplessness...'look, it doesn't matter what color you are--we're all always going to be poor and helpless.'
I'd also like to add, however, that when given the opportunity to actually work--really work to live, not at slave labor wages--that I saw people formerly reduced to despair work fiercely hard to keep themselves from falling back into the black hole of poverty and blame. All ethnic groups. It seems that dignity has no color barrier, does it?
Take it for what it is. I'm a teacher, and for someone who is borderline Asperger's, I've learned damn well and good what empathy is, and how to empathize. The most fearful thing I see, however, isn't welfare, or racism...but lack of empathy for others. I see the next generation of poor children becoming sociopaths without care for their fellow humans due to lack of parenting by severely-emotionally handicapped parents.
I've also seen, unfortunately, the same sociopathic tendencies in middle-class children given too much ADHD medication by parents just wanting to shut down normal childhood behavior, too much time in front of TVs and videogames by parents too interested in being on Facebook or MMORPGS for hours at a time, or chatting on iPhones nonstop while their toddlers scream and reach out for a simple hug at the supermarket, needy for emotional contact and support. This might not have anything to do with the initial discussion, but it segues into it--there are threats to children at all economic levels. And they become the adults of the future. Future problems are being created now.