360: The Difference Between Poverty and Wealth

That title sounds ludicrous, right? Everybody knows the difference – one has money and one doesn’t. One has plenty and one not enough. Simple, right? Not really. You see, the difference here is in the offspring of the poor and the wealthy.

I am a teacher, for more than twenty years, most of which was spent in public USA schools, in urban, suburban and rural areas of Georgia. That means, for those of you who are not familiar with that environment, that I am intimately acquainted with the offspring of poverty. A significant percentage of our school populations were receiving free and reduced lunches.  These were students in my classes, and the students of poverty had some fairly common issues.

First, most of them had maturity issues. Oh, yeah, they were grown, and would TELL you they were grown, but mature? Please. They were clueless about delayed gratification, logical critical thinking and problem-solving. They were often street-smart, but woefully book-stupid. There is a clear distinction between ignorance and stupidity. We are all born ignorant, and that state is fixed with education. Stupidity is a choice, and many of my students were so choosing.

There is an analogy I often thought of when I saw them in groups. Fishermen who fish for crabs take along a washtub to throw the crabs they catch into. The sides of these tubs are not tall, and the crabs can, with a little effort, climb out. But the crab fishermen never need to take lids for the washtubs to keep their catch, because the crabs themselves perform this function. When one of the crabs reaches up for the edge of the tub to freedom, the other crabs reach up and pull the escaping one back down into slavery and certain death. I saw my students do this to their classmates as they glorified thug style, denigrating education and “looking and acting white,” as if being educated was automatically not something a person of color or poverty could ever have – or would ever even want, and applying strong peer pressure against any student who actually dared to apply themselves in class.


Many of them were raising themselves, because their parents were either working two jobs and gone all the time, trying to make ends meet, or their parents were drunk or stoned and out of it that way. That’s if their parents were still (or ever) married. Either way, their parents were essentially no-shows. They never heard no, because there was no one around to say it. It did not help to make for dedicated students.

I remember the gifted middle-school child in my class when we were researching careers. She asked me why we were studying this stupid stuff, because when she grew up, she was gonna go on Welfare like her mama. I thought, honey, at that point, there is nothing I can do for you, when that is the height of your ambitions – even if you were born with intelligence, it won’t take long to snuff that out of you.

Here lately, however, rather than working with the children of generational poverty, I have moved overseas from the USA and am teaching at private, international schools. These children are from some of the wealthiest families in the country. They have their own chauffeurs. What I discovered, contrary to what I thought I would find, is that these children of the ultra-wealthy…..have exactly the same issues as children of extreme poverty.

I was shocked when I realized this….because I expected that they would have different issues, and would have many varied experiences that children of poverty could never have experienced, and to some extent, that was true. These kids knew how to travel and shop. That’s about it.

What I learned is that children of wealth..essentially raise themselves. Mom and dad (assuming they are still married, too), are off on business trips or pleasure vacations all over the world. The maid, or nanny, or chauffeur could not care less about raising a quality human being, and deferred to their little masters in every way in order to keep their jobs. They never heard no, because there was no one around to say it. Even if mom or dad were at home, there was a maid to cook, clean the room and messes, so they never actually did anything useful like chores, or laundry. And much of the time, mom and dad were just gone. Boarding school didn’t help, either. My poor little rich kids were almost identical in stupidity and immaturity as their poverty counterparts.

Now, it is one thing for a person who has nothing, to choose to be stupid and lazy – they have nothing to lose. It is another thing for the offspring of one of the richest families in the country to make those choices (and they did), because they had LOTS to lose. I used to try to tell them they needed to work harder than the others less fortunate, because they needed to know more than their employees (accountants, managers and brokers) so they would know if they were being cheated. I never seemed to make an impression.

So what’s the difference between wealth and poverty? Not much, it seems…..


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