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Cognitive and Behavioral Distancing From the Poor

Cognitive and Behavioral Distancing From the Poor

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Cognitive and Behavioral Distancing From the Poor

Bernice Lott University of Rhode Island

The author argues that distancing is the dominant response to poor people on the part of those who are not poor and that distancing, separation, exclusion, and devaluing operationally define discrimination. Such responses, together with stereotypes and prejudice, define classism. The article focuses on classism in the United States. Classism is examined in the context of theoretical propositions about the moral exclusion of stigmatized others and is illustrated by cognitive distancing, institutional distancing (in education, housing, health care, legal assistance, politics, and public policy), and interpersonal distancing. The adoption of the Resolution on Poverty and Socioeconomic Status by the American Psychological Association Council of Representatives in August 2000 is cited as an important step in the direction of eliminating the invisibility of low-income persons in psychological research and theory.

his article is about classism in the United States and examines particularly responses to poor people and poverty by those who are not poor. I propose that a dominant response is that of distancing, that is, separation, exclusion, devaluation, discounting, and designation as “other,” and that this response can be identified in both institutional and interpersonal contexts. In social psychological terms, distancing and denigrating responses operationally define discrimination. These, together with stereotypes (i.e., a set of beliefs about a group that are learned early, widely shared, and socially validated) and prejudice (i.e., negative attitudes) constitute classism. My objective in this article is to encourage an examination of how psychologists and psychology collude with others in maintaining classism. I hope this article, which focuses on the general manifestations of classism in the United States, can serve as a starting point for such an examination. Illustrations of distancing responses to the poor in institutional and interpersonal contexts, taken from an interdisciplinary literature, are presented in the context of relevant theoretical propositions to provide background and encouragement for more specific discussions in psychology’s various academic, research, and clinical settings. The work of researchers, teachers, and practitioners will surely be enriched and increased in validity by knowledge of the social class contexts of people’s lives. But although social class distinctions in general have significant consequences for everyone, the focus here is on poor people’s lives, because it is their treatment as other that has the most widespread consequences for society as a whole. Psychologists committed to social justice must carefully 100


document and analyze the barriers erected by classist bias that maintain inequities and impede access to the resources necessary for optimal health and welfare. Further, for psychologists to be maximally effective in their theories, research, and practice, such an examination needs to be followed by serious discussion of the role they might play in the reduction or elimination of classist discrimination. The magnitude of economic disparities in the United States has taken on crisis proportions. Other articles (Bullock & Lott, 2001; Lott & Bullock, 2001b) have documented the dramatic and increasing inequity in economic resources between the rich and the poor in the United States. For example, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (Shapiro, Greenstein, & Primus, 2001) reported that between 1979 and 1997, the after-tax income of the poorest fifth of U.S. households decreased from $10,900 to $10,800, while that of the top 1% of households increased from $263,700 to $677,900. With respect to childhood poverty, the latest Census Bureau figures are roughly the same today as they were in 1979: Over 12 million children— one in six—live in poverty. Thus, “compared to the rest of the industrialized world, this country remains at the bottom of the heap” (Sengupta, 2001, p. WK3). For families of single working mothers, the poverty rate is 19.4%, the same in 1999 as it was in 1995 (“Single Mothers,” 2001). The American Psychological Association (APA) has taken a bold first step in recognizing the relationship of such data to the work of psychologists by adopting the Resolution on Poverty and Socioeconomic Status (APA, 2000). This well-referenced resolution ends with the promise of advocacy for research, education, training, and public policy in the interest of low-income members of the national community. It is hoped that this resolution will make a difference, but as Brown (1990) noted earlier, by generally accepting the assumption that U.S. society is classless, psychologists in science and practice have made invisible those who are not middle class. Reid (1993), too, has called attention to psychology’s exclusion and silencing of those
Editor’s note. Heather Bullock served as action editor for this article. Author’s note. Portions of this article were read at the National Multicultural Conference and Summit II, Santa Barbara, California, on January 25, 2001, as part of the panel in the session entitled “Social Class, Poverty, and Affluence,” and at a Psychology Department colloquium at the University of California, Santa Cruz, on January 30, 2001. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Bernice Lott, Department of Psychology, Woodward 10, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI 02881. E-mail: blott@uri.edu

February 2002 ● American Psychologist
Copyright 2002 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 0003-066X/02/$5.00 Vol. 57, No. 2, 100 –110 DOI: 10.1037//0003-066X.57.2.100

Thus. 2000) revealed again “a dearth of literature on poor women” (p. . they do not personally experience the stigma and exclusion associated with being poor. p. For example. in housing projects. poverty and social class were rarely mentioned. Power. The White middle-class woman “consumed the greater proportion of attention in the literature . and name and describe those with less power. 1998. gender. Announcements for the Public Interest Directorate’s miniconvention. p.” once again ignores social class. those in the middle class (and primarily European Americans). unearned advantage and conferred dominance) and power” (Moon & Rolison. 2). 166). When White middle-class people use the term White trash. and heterosexism or the stigma and exclusion associated with a disability. sexual orientation. . and she was represented by national leaders” (Richie.478). that is. they are talking about 101 . a dysgenic race unto themselves” (Wray & Newitz. The glaring omission of social class in considerations of multicultural issues illustrates certain realities about the discipline of psychology. n. an analysis by Richie (2000) suggested that public sympathy for victims and survivors and a concern with their needs were largely focused on those who were not poor and not minorities of color. 134). n. he did note that his characterization was not likely to be true for the millions of working-class youth who do not attend college right after high school and who constitute the forgotten half in psychological research and theory. for the third multicultural conference (APA. 1993). The words racial minority and inner city are often used as codes for low income. . 251). on chaingangs” (p. 1135). 2000. ageism. . The printed announcement for the second multicultural conference. . to Blacks. and disability in the call for papers. 19). mentioning only race. sexual orientation. however. p. Families. As Unger (2000) has noted.d. held in 2001. and Seniors. A sizable minority within the discipline of psychology may come from a low-income or working-class background. Sweeney (1997) noted that “White Trash . is done by those who require such categorization to maintain their power. are defined by their proximity .” at APA’s 108th Annual Convention in August 2000 also omitted mention of social class (APA. Theoretical Concepts and Context Categorization of groups of people into upper and lower strata. . into superior and inferior. Unlike others. entitled “Valuing Diversity.-a). People in the United States have invented labels to designate the poor both directly and indirectly. Like other theorists. I came to the following realization. 1993. in sharecroppers’ shacks. prevent others from obtaining an equal share of resources. Social class functions similarly in interaction with other social categories and as a distinct construct.. ethnicity. . talked about this period in industrialized societies as one of “independent role exploration” (p. sexism.e. entitled “Celebrating Our Children. It is now widely accepted that social categories like gender and ethnicity intersect and that these intersections require study as psychologists examine each February 2002 ● American Psychologist category. she was featured in public awareness campaigns. n. and it has been argued that rural poor Whites are also “racialized” as “a breed apart. 132).d. in developing a theory about emerging adulthood in young people in their late teens through the 20s. and sustain the myth of superiority (Williams. classism results from unequal “class privilege (i. And Sidanius and Pratto (1999) presented data and a convincing argument to support the conclusion that “it is power . enables the group with greatest access to set the rules. frame the discourse. at the first multicultural summit sponsored by APA in 1999. p. Although those who are middle class or affluent can experience the negative consequences of racism.-c). In trying to understand this phenomenon. . “Those who have the power to define the acceptable qualities of others benefit from their ability to label” (p. 235).d. The near invisibility of the poor in psychology as well as psychologists’ lack of attention to social class in general continues even when there is a direct focus on multiculturalism and diversity. Arnett focused on the middle class. When national attention was finally given to violence against women in the United States. Psychological theories are preoccupied with people who are like those who construct the theories. gender. As just one recent example. And the most recent announcement.-b). but it is clearly not a salient feature of their current lives. Members of high-power groups will be more able than those in low-power groups to maintain their power as they receive its benefits and increase their ability to maneuver within the society they control. 1997. defined as access to resources. A more recent search of the literature (Saris & Johnston-Robledo. described it as a summit dealing with “race/ethnicity. that enables one to discriminate” (p. Arnett (2000).Bernice Lott outside the White middle class and to its relative lack of interest in “lives different from our own” (Reid. and disability” (APA.

Wyche. from overt evil to passive unconcern” (p. 1). disillusion. and five years over a lifetime).“them. thereby making discrimination easier. ambition. which are referred to as secondary emotions and include guilt. . . 3). they are not likely to experience empathy. for the most part. this was a dominant theme in the enthusiastic support for the insultingly worded Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act championed by both major political parties. as Fine and Weis (2000) have done. negative expectations about their behavior. talent and morals” (Beck et al. appropriate. and sensitivity. and disenabling them. travel on different streets. delight. because they are largely insulated from and do not know poor people. (2000) presented evidence that individuals “regard out-groups as in some ways less human” (p. p. . eat in different restaurants. For example. Respondents endorsed significantly more of the negative traits they were asked to respond to as being true of the poor than of the middle class. the research literature supports the conclusion of Halpern (1993) that the tendency in the United States is to see poverty as an individual problem and to be preoccupied “with poor people’s behavior. 1989). Researchers conducting a recent investigation with a midwestern college sample compared beliefs about poor people with beliefs about members of the middle class (Cozzarelli. stupid. uninterested in education. Whitley. expendable. that “today. 194) or deficient in “the human essence” (p. “the poor are perceived as failing to seize opportunities because they lack diligence and initiative . or undeserving. . unpleasant. are not experienced among members of outgroups. Within such a theoretical framework. is now given block grants by the federal government to use in assisting poor people for limited time periods (no longer than two consecutive years. The related theoretical constructs of moral exclusion and delegitimization have been introduced in the effort to explain the atrocious and inhumane treatment of stigmatized people by those in power. 2001) found that. One example comes from a study by Fiske and her colleagues (Fiske. . including members of Congress and state legislators who shape public policy.” not “us. As summarized by Bullock (1995). have been invented for these others: crackers from Georgia and Florida. & Williams. or just” (p. 98) and low intelligence. more rational.” and are saying “We are not that” (Hartigan. Moral exclusion can take many forms. These negative descriptors included uneducated. dependent. places. . okies from the west. research indicates that. Xu. 917).. 1999. and their children [often] attend different . . . and circumstances. rather than the social and economic arrangements that perpetuate poverty. lazy. . dehumanizing them. & Tagler. and the harm done to those designated as other ranges from direct and overt damage to the results of disregard and inaction. Through cognitive distancing and institutional and interpersonal discrimination. The mass media tend to reinforce this ignorance. One study (Beck. What the investigators found was “consensus . lazy. working-class and poor women (and men) have been tossed from our collective moral community” (p. The dominant images of poor people in the United States include negative beliefs about their characteristics. . and treating them as outcasts. thrift. As noted by Berrick 102 (1995). and even necessary. Middle-class people tend to respond to issues about poverty with ignorance. it can be argued. some assume that certain emotions that are not shared with other animals. For example. which. discrediting. BarTal (1990) proposed that categorizing members of certain groups as having unacceptable values or norms serves to permit or justify excluding them. in particular. Poor people and welfare recipients are typically characterized as dishonest. and social exclusion” (p. . discounting. In 1996. Treating poor people as other and lesser than oneself is central to the concept and practice of classism. 125). 2001). Stereotypes about the poor abound and appear to be communicated with little hesitancy or embarrassment by those who ascribe to them. Examples of moral exclusion are. as in “need [of] sanctions and other coercive behavioral measures to ensure their cooperation in moving from welfare to work” (p. schools” (p. 160). These behaviors include a lack of effort. those who dehumanize other people can more easily behave in ways that run counter to such supposedly human values as sympathy and compassion (Schwartz & Struch. By and large. 51). & Glick. an analysis of congressional hearings on The Family Support Act of 1988 by Naples (1997) revealed a view of poor women. A sizable literature on the subject of beliefs about the poor and poverty is found primarily within sociology and social work. and hillbillies or ridge runners from West Virginia. 1999) examined the beliefs of members of the Georgia General Assembly. lintheads from the Carolinas. dirty. & Wolk. like all state legislatures. numerous across historical periods. consequently harming them appears acceptable. When people dehumanize others. embarrassment. meant to be amusing. “Moral exclusion can occur in degrees. the two groups “shop in different stores. and promiscuous” (p. Welfare recipients were found to be the only group that was both disliked and disrespected and whose members were perceived to lack both warmth and competence. As Opotow (1990) has noted. February 2002 ● American Psychologist . Leyens et al. sadly. cognitive distancing more typically takes the form of stereotyping. and the attribution that their poverty is caused by their own failings. Wilkinson. . 13). unmotivated. in general. . 1140). 1999) in which respondents made judgments about 17 groups often stereotyped in the United States. . Opotow (1990) argued that “those who are morally excluded are perceived as nonentities. angry. 1997. p. A review of media images of the poor by Bullock and her colleagues (Bullock. inequality. Thus. Cuddy. Derogatory terms. Cognitive Distancing Although psychologists distance themselves and the discipline from the poor by generally ignoring social class as a significant variable in research and theory. the poor are either not presented at all or portrayed as outsiders who are deficient in character or morality. 195). that the poor do exhibit behaviors that . perpetuate their poverty. the nonpoor succeed in separating from the poor and in excluding.

. criminal.g. . drug/alcohol user. p. 103). poor schools. Gemmel. whether economic.. p. A review by Chafel (1997) of two decades of relevant national studies found a remarkable similarity in the thinking of adults and children . whereas political conservatives were least supportive of such efforts. Albright. however. “as emanating from individual differences in merit” (Chafel. . working-class women were also judged to be more unsuitable for the job of vice president. . a phone survey revealed that respondents who had personal contact with the poor were less likely than others to blame them for their circumstances (Wilson. In another study. are more likely to view the poor unfavorably” (p. and just. Similarly. not good people. [pointing out] that. has been found by others (Zucker & Weiner. And. not surprisingly. In a replication with some variations. alcoholic. 112). Similarly. in press) in which respondents made judgments about hypothetical target women. participants who had no performance 103 . they were on welfare through no fault of their own” (pp. 108). Those found to be most in favor of government efforts to eradicate poverty were non-White responFebruary 2002 ● American Psychologist dents and low-income respondents. The cognitive responses of middle-class children to poor people and poverty have been found to mirror those of adults.g. disgusting. 1997. abusive. In two studies (Lott & Saxon. cruel. They “distinguished between ‘me’ and ‘them’ . Although these low-income children perceived the nonpoor as scorning the poor. Social class cues were varied. & Holt. dirty. one rundown and one a suburban ranch-style residence. Responses were analyzed thematically. and Malloy (1995) found that. And Jacob (2000) found that a sample of African American women and men described a hypothetical lowincome woman as being less intelligent than a higherincome woman. the most frequently listed traits for the former were uneducated. Although cognitive responses to the poor are typically measured by survey methods. Poverty is seen as inevitable. Some research has found differences among groups in the degree to which they hold negative beliefs about the poor. Darley and Gross (1983) had college students watch a videotape of a fourth-grade girl taking an oral achievement test. 1993). occupational. . they did not share the negative beliefs. from national survey data across several decades. troublemakers. effort. Clydesdale (1999) concluded that “Americans with high social statuses. 1999) was asked to list common stereotypes for lower-class (the study’s terminology) and middle-class people.immoral. the respondents evaluated their own circumstances quite differently. Whether presented as a potential parent– teacher organization (PTO) vice president in her children’s school or as a possible girlfriend for the respondent’s older brother or cousin. as failures of personal initiative. Although subscribing to the dominant constructions of women on welfare. At the same time. 456). It is also of interest that beliefs about low-income people may vary as a function of their ethnicity and the ethnicity of respondents. Bullock found that the low-income women she studied were eager to distance themselves from the others on welfare by talking about how the others cheated and did not work hard enough to leave the welfare system. and prejudice. Haagenstad. and. ability) than external–structural ones (e. 1998) also found that both Black and White respondents tended to distance themselves from others on welfare. 1997. [and] a job’” (Weinger. “they described poor people straightforwardly as in need of resources: ‘They need money. an interview study of a sample of mothers receiving public assistance in Florida (Seccombe. unkind” (Weinger. but observers always saw the same child and the same test performance. . James. not taking care of their family. experimental techniques have also yielded data supporting the proposition that distancing is a dominant middle-class reaction to low-income people. Instead. and asked them to respond to questions about the people they thought might live in each. social class was found to be a powerful trigger for expectations. stupid. p. or educational. (p. with age. ugly. an unfavorable labor market. Cues about her social class were conveyed visually by the child’s clothes and the playground in the background and by verbal information about her parents’ occupations and education. necessary. in two studies. dirty. Baron. 1996). 434) Adults consistently view the poor as “morally deficient and personally responsible for their plight” (Chafel. & Walters. Viewers who were led to believe that the girl came from a low-income home judged that her test performance indicated a substantially lower level of ability than did those who were led to believe that she had a high socioeconomic background. poor people are more likely to favor structural explanations for poverty than are middle-class people (Bullock. . In an important finding. children come more and more to accept the status quo and to view poverty as adults do. . determined. 1993). they need paint. Jacob’s (2000) sample of African American adults described a White target woman earning $12. Weinger (1998) showed a sample of low-income White and Black children photos of two houses. . nasty. and the investigator concluded that the children expected others to describe members of the poor household as “messy. That conservatives tend to see poverty in individualistic terms. doing drugs. that is. when a sample of college students in another study (Hoyt. 1998. and criminal. p. 1999). 1996) found that Blacks and Latinos are more likely than Whites to attribute poverty to such societal factors as low wages. that is. mean. a working-class woman was judged to be more crude and more irresponsible than was a middle-class woman. [B]oth view economic privation as a self-inflicted condition. lazy. A telephone interview study of a large sample of adults in southern California (Hunt. and stressed. racism). business students were found to have more negative beliefs about the poor than did undergraduates majoring in social work or sociology (Atherton. and violent. unlike other poor women. In the PTO context. 856 – 857). 438). For example. 1998.000 a year as lazy and ugly but described an African American woman with the same earnings as frustrated. emanating more from personal factors (e. crazy.

Regardless of its form or the extent to which people are aware of it. and perhaps even necessary for the public good” (p. Thus. for him to live in their community. . These girls were survivors of an inhospitable educational system and were making it to graduation.. 2000) that in schools with the most disadvantaged students. One investigator (Luttrell. In both cases. 116). 104 markedly segregated. skin color. These groups. businesses. The U. Kirby (1999) gave a sample of college students information about potential neighbors who were considering the purchase of homes near them. teachers aides rather than qualified teachers were being hired and paid with the federal money. physical appearance. then. 114). As noted by Books (1998). Link. p. Sidanius and Pratto (1999) described institutional discrimination as the way that . and often dangerous and overcrowded schools” (p. and forms of knowledge” (Luttrell.g. justifiable. and executions) to subordinates. and keeping elite children away from them was seen as desirable. 1999. Department of Education recently examined how federal dollars in six different programs were being used in the public schools and reported (cf. 1503). 1997) solicited life stories from low-income women in adult education classes in both an urban and a rural community. like janitors and maids or other “nonpersons” and not worthy of recognition. Fine argued that if two thirds of the students in a White. as noted by Moon and Rolison (1998).g. For example. Those described as receiving public assistance were “always rated worse and objected to more than either those with some inherited income or those earning all of their income” (Kirby. Using a vignette approach. financed primarily by community property taxes. but their stories provided many examples of how school personnel had responded to them with narrow and limited conceptions of who they were and what they were capable of becoming. welfare recipients). . poor housing. good housing) to dominants and disproportionately allocate negative social value (low social status. exclusion. It has been argued that inequity in the schools is not accidental and that schools simply “reproduce the social organization of inequality” (Smith. the “threat” to middle-class students was seen to come from those with torn clothes. In another vignette study. ‘rednecks. good health care. Fine concluded that the schools were teaching “these young women and men to see public exclusion as natural. . high social status. In reflecting on their public school experiences. among whom only 19% had a bachelor’s degree.S. It is not surprising. students not doing well academically “were viewed as inferior and perceptually transformed into a threat to the well-being [of the other students]” (Fine. disdain (e. middle-class school dropped out before graduation. In addition. styles of dress. 2000. p. and Stueve (1997) asked telephone respondents how willing they were to hire a hypothetical 30-year-old man for odd jobs.. looked down on. When he was described as homeless. Half of the instructors supported by special programs designed to help poor children were teachers aides. 1149) that exists in other institutions. are either invisible. Education The system of public education in the United States. and government bureaucracies disproportionately allocate positive social value (e. with no supervision. and for him to work at some job in their local school. Schultz (1999) interviewed a small sample of girls in their senior year at a comprehensive urban high school in northern California. (p. Wong. 1999. 129). 1508).’ poor ‘White trash’). These potential neighbors were described as differing in source of income. These results were replicated in a study in which homeowners served as respondents. some students learn that February 2002 ● American Psychologist . the report noted that low-poverty schools were gaining more access than high-poverty schools to federally funded computer technology. 118).g. 1990. respondents expressed significantly greater social distance than when he was described as living in a small apartment.. the women talked about having been “degraded by teachers and school officials for their speech. . others are ghettoized and forgotten in rundown. there was strong evidence of “prejudice based on economic class” (Kirby.information rated the low-socioeconomic status target girl as lower in ability than the high-socioeconomic status girl. Fine (1990) studied three urban high schools in three different eastern states in an effort to understand the motives of students who dropped out and the community response to this problem. or hypervisible “as symbols of ridicule (e. Moore. “Even as some students receive a world-class education. the underclass. Phelan. p. Institutional Distancing Institutional distancing. deportment. and another contains run-down and decaying schools in which there is generally a lack of everything but problems.. 127) What follows are some brief examples of ways and contexts in which institutional distancing from low-income persons is accomplished now in the United States. and/or fear (e. schools. Forty-one percent of the teachers aides reported that half the time they were teaching students on their own. At another school.g. . Such experiences have been discussed by others and validated in many studies. to learn that two thirds of the entering students left school before graduating and that these students were from low-income families and were minorities of color. Much has been written about this dramatic and dismal example of classism. this figure was 10% in the schools with the highest poverty rate. has resulted in a two-tiered institution: One tier is well-equipped and maintained and serves mostly suburban. gangs)” (p. middle-class children. At one high school. but it remains a revealing and continuing feature of American life. long prison sentences. and given little encouragement. institutional discrimination punishes members of low-status groups by erecting barriers to full societal participation. 1997. for him to be a close friend. p. or discrimination may be deliberate and obvious or it may be subtle and indirect. the community would be outraged and would not accept the rationalizations offered. p. They remembered being treated with disdain and disrespect. xxii).

Despite an exemplary academic record and awards at graduation for highest achievement in mathematics and science. 1994). The segregation of the poor into urban ghettoes and sections on the other side of the tracks in small towns across the United States reflects the desire and ability of the middle class to distance itself from the poor. The new federal regulations permit no more than 30% of a state’s caseload to count education as work. The distancing is accomplished with physical space and also with language. researchers examined the communities surrounding 53 Florida Superfund sites. A new element in the housing crisis is reluctance on the part of landlords to accept tenants who receive some form of governmental subsidy. p. As in other studies. despite what is known about the positive relationship between education and the ability to get meaningful and better paying employment. as well. 2001). high school. and an aid recipient may do so only for a maximum of 12 months if he or she is also engaged in some other work activity for 20 hours a week. It has been reported that the rates at which low-income people are attending college have steadily declined (Hoyt. concluded that “displacement. that they count. It is noteworthy. that the so-called welfare reform legislation enacted by Congress in 1996 (Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. 1998). apartment buildings for the more affluent are guarded around the clock. Baumohl. It is well documented that communities in which poor people and minorities of color live are most likely to be put in environmental danger: They are most likely to be selected as the location for polluting industries as well as for hazardous waste sites. I had no teacher or counselor ever tell me about college scholarships or encourage me to apply for any college except the one that was tuition-free and that I could attend as a commuter. landlords are rejecting the applications of subsidized tenants (Bernstein. and beyond. & Hopper. 1996) has concluded that “To save time and money. 1994. identified as containing hazardous waste.” 2001) found that in the year 2000. and originate” (Margolin. For the most part. 2001. He describes gifted child education as “a strategy to develop a class of people who lead. companies seek to locate environmentally hazardous industries in communities which will put up the least resistance. whereas the nonpoor live in high-rise apartments! Of course. I ran into a former high school classmate whose academic record had not been extraordinary and who had married at graduation and followed her husband through a career in the navy. and found that these were more likely to be areas lived in by low-income African Americans and Hispanics. & Johnston-Robledo. 2000). That ethnicity matters as well as income is indicated by the results of a study of aid recipients in Virginia (cf. income and ethnicity were identified as significant variables. and are more dependent upon local job develop105 . is inescapably an assault on personhood” (p. as landlords sell their property for great profits and as poor people are unable to afford the dramatically increased rents. Shinn. As Moon and Rolison (1998) pointed out. Displacement—the exclusion of people from their communities—follows from forced evictions. gentrification and urban renewal succeed in uprooting about two and a half million low-income people in the United States each year from neighborhoods that are discovered by finance capital for new investment. Margolin (1994) has discussed the gifted child education movement in the context of social class and inequality and has argued that gifted child education is related to maintaining the power of the affluent. This is not surprising. whereas other students learn the opposite lesson. A few years ago. “College Aid. Savner. This is more often true of poor families who are also minorities of color (Halpern. the act of casting out. reinforcing their general experience of exclusion from the world of mainstream expectations and achievement. Housing The subject of homelessness has been discussed and analyzed elsewhere (e. Carr (1994). which are less informed and less powerful politically. 77). the urban poor live in housing projects. A recent report by a congressional panel (cf.300.their voices will be heard. 1996) restricts access to higher education by persons receiving financial assistance. compared with 16% for middle-class families and 7% for the highest income families. the cost of college was 62% of family income for low-income families. Saris. It is generally the case that the majority of low-income families live in communities that are geographically and socially separate from middle-class communities. Shinn & Gillespie. whereas middle-class folks live in mobile home communities. I learned from her that she had been recommended for and received a scholarship at a prestigious college that she ended up declining. whereas not a single one of the Black recipients reported such encouragement. Another investigator (Pinderhughes. Forty-one percent of the White respondents reported being encourFebruary 2002 ● American Psychologist aged by their caseworkers to go to school. In one study (Stretesky & Hogan. who studied 400 poor families that were displaced for urban renewal from a privately owned apartment complex in a Virginia neighborhood. particularly to study for a general equivalency diploma. the differences are more than linguistic. and that they will be recognized. see Rollins.g. currently at a maximum of $3. Not surprisingly. Although the projects are dangerous and poorly maintained. In addition. 1993). 1999). Pell grants.. unlike me but like most of the teachers in our high school. My own experience as a low-income high school student is relevant here. 200). “White trash” live in trailer parks. This personal story is congruent with qualitative research data and illustrates how conceptions about social class can affect the guidance offered by school counselors and teachers and do not reflect an appreciation of the adult paths that the lives of young people may take. social class has a powerful influence on educational paths and opportunities in grade school. direct. cover only about 39% of the annual costs at a public four-year college. In cities around the country. college enrollment on the part of aid recipients has declined dramatically (Gault & Um’rani. 2001. She had been middle class and Irish Catholic. 2000). thus helping to support rank and privilege. given the ever-increasing costs of a college education.

Miller. hospitals has been cited since the law was passed. the greater likelihood that low-income women will be reported for drug use during pregnancy. the most inequitable of the industrialized countries of the world. 233). the decline in physical functioning with age occurs at twice the rate as it does for the most wealthy. and unequal political power. and differences in attitudes and beliefs held by health care workers. violent crime. so it is no surprise that the United States. . They see the poor as “inarticulate and suspicious .ment efforts” (p. Other empirical studies have documented the greater severity of punishment of poor juveniles for drug offenses. One in five U. 2000). it is not surprising that investigations of physician–patient communication (cf. accidents. 52). 1999. and Kimmel 106 (1988) found that a sizable percentage believed that most poor people prefer to stay on welfare. resistant. Bullock. 1999). D. For example. Costs for industries are lower in poor neighborhoods. marital dissolution. To my knowledge. Thus. apathetic and passive” (Leeder. “inequalities in health status related to SES [socioeconomic status] remain and may have even grown larger in the past 100 years” (p. 2000).000 physicians who could be funded by a federal loan program that encourages doctors to work in poor areas. 1160). found that more than 500 hospitals in the United States (10% of all hospitals) have been cited by the federal government between 1997 and 1999 for violating the “antidumping” law passed in 1986 (cf. and deaths from all causes” (p. Further. That these well-established facts have as yet had little or no influence on public policy has been pointed out by many (e. The result is environmental inequity.” 2001). 1996. and that the “gap in mortality between the economically advantaged and disadvantaged is larger than that between smokers and nonsmokers” (p. Newman. of nations that is correlated with the longevity of their citizens. “The environmental protection apparatus in the United States does not provide equal protection for all communities” (p. Desmond. differences in access to high-quality treatment. and the residents have little influence on permit-granting city governments and few resources enabling them to move. “Poverty is associated with elevated rates of threatening and uncontrollable life events. Price. Roter. 91% of the uninsured were employed. and other risk factors were taken into account. p. low-income clients are more likely than others to receive therapy that is brief and drug-centered and to be treated by students or low-status professionals. Lawyers. It is also not surprising to learn that out of 20. in a national study. a conclusion that was unaffected when cholesterol levels. and they cannot obtain federally funded abortions. King and Meyer (1997) found. Z. Also illustrating inequality in medical resources is the fact that the reproductive benefits of poor women receiving Medicaid assistance are different than those received by women who are covered by employer plans. Snyder. 1988. As noted by Lee (1999). 1986). 296). In this way. homicide. 1996).” 2000). 574).g. 26). exercise. In 2000. as indicated by the results of an extensive literature review (Davis & Proctor. Jackson. Less than a third of low-income people who need an attorney can get one (Merry. Tarlov. It “turns February 2002 ● American Psychologist . 1988) have revealed that low-income patients tend to receive less information. are similarly reluctant to provide services for the poor. [the] denial or limitation of services for economic reasons” (Price et al. professional health workers put distance between themselves and the poor. dependents of an employed person. As summarized by Belle.900 physicians are currently participating (cf. not the wealth. or retired (Coalition for Consumer Justice Education Project. that young women have babies to collect welfare checks. that most poor people are lazy. less positive talk. 135). . Poor women on Medicaid have mandated coverage of contraceptives but not for infertility. 45 million people were without any health insurance (“Toward Universal Coverage. only 1. 720). Merry (1986) studied the ways in which working-class and poor people in the United States think about and use the law and concluded that their attempts to have the legal system work on their behalf result in frustration. infant mortality. noxious life conditions. Belle et al. the report by the World Health Organization was never mentioned by the major party candidates in the recent presidential election. Doucet. Lee. and Tan (2000). 1999. that “reproductive benefits are distributed differentially on the basis of class” (p. many diseases.. and that poor people cannot understand directions about their health care. . As noted by Bullard and Johnson (2000). in a study of cardiovascular disease (cf.S. a consumer advocacy group. 2000). “Hospitals Violating Indigent Law. Harris. p. and discrimination against poor women in their treatment for HIV and AIDS (cf. 2001). In a study of family practice residents. It is the egalitarian nature. nor was much attention paid to the amply documented conclusion that health outcomes are strongly correlated with social class position. Reid (2000) argued that “the public feels little concern or affinity with the disadvantaged people who are now the predominant victims of AIDS” (p. as cited in Leeder.. as a group. Mental health workers also do not feel comfortable with low-income clients and find it difficult to empathize with them. and less talk overall than higher income patients.. . 618) resulting in low-income patients being transferred from facility to facility.. Distancing is further illustrated by the well-documented phenomenon of “patient dumping. researchers found that heart attacks were significantly more likely for people in poor neighborhoods than for those in affluent neighborhoods. is behind 19 other nations in citizen life expectancy (cf. “Heart Risks. . Mirowsky and Ross (2000) have reported that for people at the bottom of the economic distribution. Inc. Social class affects health status through differences in access to health-promoting resources. Health Care and Legal Assistance A World Health Organization analysis ranked the United States 37th in the world in its overall quality of health care because of the unfair treatment received by the poor and because of the huge number of persons in the United States who are uninsured (World Health Organization. a clear consequence of social class. economic injustice. 1995). An investigation by Public Citizen.” 2001).

and public offices. who counted the number of times each phrase was used in February 2002 ● American Psychologist speeches at different points of the campaign. and their behavior was subject to continual negative scrutiny. compared with a single use in a 22-minute speech given in Cleveland while on the campaign trail. 346) is documented in a series of articles in an issue of the Journal of Social Issues (Lott & Bullock. Careful attention to the recent presidential campaign would have led a visitor from another planet to conclude that there were no poor people in the United States. Although parents who accept public assistance are often criticized for what their critics perceive as inadequacies. She presented examples of attorneys whose words and actions reflected negative. the low-income women found that their knowledge and experience were discounted.S. It is difficult to imagine children being treated with such suspicion in middle-class or affluent neighborhoods” (Bullock. but it is really the case. They talk about being insulted or disregarded by others in shops. in his 52-minute convention speech. The shop owners.. because their incomes are too low to qualify for them. Neither the Democratic nor the Republican candidates for president championed raising the federal minimum wage. attorneys recommended the death penalty for 183 of these defendants. This issue focused on poor people’s daily experiences of exclusion. and only allow a small number of children in the store at a time so they can be carefully observed. 142). the phrase middle class was used 12 times. their suggestions were unwelcome..S. Eighty percent of the 682 defendants who have faced capital charges in the federal courts since 1995 have been minorities. were “concerned with stealing. 310). U.15 an hour earns someone working 8 hours a day. low-income defendants and those who are minorities of color are more likely to be convicted of a variety of crimes. confusing. 2001a).300 a year. cashiers and others closely scrutinize the food that . [and] the court [is seen] . so seldom were they mentioned by the candidates from the two major parties. p. . p.S. shifted during the campaign from use of the phrase working families to focus on and use the phrase middle class. .S. . tax credits. The journalist suggested to the politician a way of differentiating his party from the other one: “How about the poor? You could always champion the poor!” The politician replied. [looking] for women who buy steaks with food stamps” (Seccombe et al. as Rothblum (1996) has pointed out. 1998. their “Whiteness” was called into question. . . and U. stereotyped beliefs about low-income clients. in addition. And there are special benefits available to the very rich from “corporate welfare. classrooms. “poor people commonly experience faceto-face classist discrimination in their daily activities” (p. “Looking for evidence of fraud. Justice Department (as cited in “Deadly Disparities. Not only were they poorly 107 . A sample of women interviewed in one study (Seccombe et al. 266). For example. distancing reactions are experienced directly from middle-class persons with whom low-income persons interact. 143). . Home owners receive direct financial assistance by being allowed to enter mortgage interest and property taxes in their list of itemized federal deductions. into which only one or two were allowed at a time. $10. Another example comes from the recollections of children who grew up in trailer parks (Berube & Berube. the more benefits. The tendency for crime victims who are poor or homeless to receive less attention in the justice system than those who are more affluent is a phenomenon that is mirrored in the media. 1986. and other free ‘perks’ are available” (p. 1997). . 40 hours a week for 50 weeks. [is] purchase[d] . The respondents reported frequent disparagement and embarrassment at the grocery store. . 1999) that featured an interview of a politician by a journalist about the similarities between the two parties. poor families” (p. 1992). Because they were White and poor. and uncertain process . 1995. “That’s it—throw us your dregs!” Perhaps life does imitate art as well as vice versa. 143) lining the sidewalk outside of stores.. complicated. p. and arbitrary” (Merry. 7). are federal tax credits for child care and home ownership. Gore used the phrase working families 9 times. 854). 1998) spoke of the negative comments directed toward them by welfare workers and of the contempt shown toward clients. On the job. .out to be a time-consuming. Huston (1995) reminded readers that “We do not consider parents inadequate if they accept direct aid through the tax system” (p. I was reminded of a Doonesbury cartoon (Trudeau. The Democratic Party candidate. from whom mention of the poor might have been expected. in the same speech. Although low-income victims receive less attention in the justice system. Politics and Public Policy Middle-class taxpayers often see themselves as taken advantage of by tax-supported programs for the poor. . and they were continually challenged and provoked by the middle-class White kids who lived nearby in houses. that “the higher one’s income and status in the U. as unpredictable. institutions reduce the effectiveness with which poor people can access mainstream opportunities and benefits. including those they must go to for public assistance.” 2000). and. As Bullock (1995) concluded from the research literature as well as from stories told by lowincome people. which at $5. which also gives less coverage to and shows less interest in such crimes (Viano. Interpersonal Distancing What Bassuk (1993) referred to as “our unwillingness as a nation to commit the necessary resources to . she guessed. One study (Riemer. 1997) of a group of women who left the welfare rolls in their city and took jobs as nurse assistants in a geriatric facility reported on how the women were marginalized and stigmatized by their nurse supervisors. Just one dramatic example comes from a report by the U. This change in language and approach was noted by one journalist (“Gore Pitches. Bullock (1995) reported seeing in her own neighborhood “a long single row of children” (p.” Among the family-friendly advantages enjoyed by middle-class taxpayers that are not available to the poor. 74% of whom were minorities and poor. of being demeaned and discounted.” 2000).

. . . You won’t find them in the same neighborhoods . L. young. Elsewhere I have written about the responses to low-income parents by teachers and principals in the public schools (Lott. politics. 268). Albright. Polakow (1995) has argued that “ countless middle-class people in the human service professions have built their careers as the direct beneficiaries of poverty . For example.org/pi/urban/povres. (1990). Such a conversation might include attention to the speech given by Jesse Jackson (2000) at APA’s 107th Annual Convention in 1999. female. DC: Author. Cause and consequences of delegitimization: Models of conflict and ethnocentrism. Social and economic hardships of homeless and other poor women. . gender. which operationalize classist discrimination.d... families. These advantages are obtained by maintaining barriers that restrict access to resources by the others. Atherton. skills. 1053). A study of recent news stories (Bullock et al. Retrieved December 17. .. Real efforts to counteract the serious personal and social consequences of excluding the poor 108 from respectful consideration and concern may soon be seen. But help is too often accompanied by beliefs in the dysfunctionality of poor families and the discounting of strengths.apa/pi. & Wolk. . He reminded us then that Most poor people work every day. the behavior of those trying to help will reflect distance. J. .-b). The literature on beliefs amply illustrates cognitive distancing and the fact that poor people tend to be seen as other and lesser in values. 28 –30. and a lack of collateral support” (p. . Where poor people personally interact with the nonpoor in shops and offices. J.S. isolation. . 63. In conclusion. J.d. . Valuing diversity: Public Interest Directorate miniconvention at the APA 108th annual convention [Announcement]. Washington.-c). D. 469 – 480. (2000). 29(4).. . but their interactions with supervisors “squashed their enthusiasm and motivation” (Riemer.. Most poor people in the U. p. and examples of such distancing in the form of exclusion. 1). no job is beneath them. (p. These document the reality behind the recent words of a New York Times columnist (Herbert. sexual orientation. a representative from the U. Washington. REFERENCES American Psychological Association. Most poor people are White. and potential. 2001) found fewer negative stereotypes than in the past and more sympathetic portrayals. from the American Psychological Association Web site: HYPERLINK http:// www. Washington. J. Measuring attitudes toward poverty: A new scale. motivation. They put food in our children’s schools. Gemmel.-a). to read Bullock and Lott (2001) for ways to implement the resolution. 2001). invisible. 21. R. T. I urge readers to consult the Resolution on Poverty and Socioeconomic Status (APA. and disability: Celebrating our children. character. . As argued by Schwalbe et al. housing. Bassuk. They work in hospitals. Bar-Tal. DC: Author. 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