Social mobility: People at the bottom of the ladder are stuck in quicksand

The poorest people rarely just lack money. They’re almost always poor in other resources too. They often lack:

  • the proper role models while growing up
  • mentors that can guide them through formal education.
  • a social network of people who like you for who you truly are
  • nearby family members who can share some burdens of daily life
  • a friendly neighbor who helps them file their taxes each year

When people are stuck in social isolation, debt, and poverty, it’s very hard for them to be happy and productive in any sustainable way. For you, your yearly tax-return is a tiny problem that’s solved by your friend who happens to be an accountant. For someone in poverty, it can be a major source of uncertainty that’s sticky and adds yet another noise in their brain which lasts for weeks.

Here’s a quote from the excellent book Understanding Poverty.

Support systems are resources. To whom does one go when help is needed? Those individuals available and who will help are resources. When the child is sick and you have to be at work-who takes care of the child? Where do you go when money is short and the baby needs medicine? Support systems are not just about meeting financial or emotional needs. They are about knowledge bases as well. How do you get into college? Who sits and listens when you get rejected? Who helps you negotiate the mountains of paper? Who assists you with your algebra homework when you don’t know how to do it? Those people are all support systems.

It’s hard to climb the social ladder when you’re standing at the bottom of the ladder while being stuck in quicksand.

February 5, 2023

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