Why Equality of Opportunity is a Myth - Ezra Klein - Star Wars - Yuval Noah Harari - Thrawn - Ahsoka - Sapiens

Why Equality of Opportunity is a Myth

I used to listen to the Ezra Klein show on a regular basis, and Klein was frequently critical of the idea of equality of opportunity. In our country, the idea of equality of outcomes is looked down upon, but the idea of equality of opportunity is praised. However, Klein argued that equality of opportunity was actually a much more difficult and radical idea to achieve  than equality of outcome. When you really consider all the advantages the children of millionaires or billionaires have over middle class children, and the subsequent advantages those children have over children raised in poverty, you can see that equality of opportunity is little more than a myth.
This idea is reflected in Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Harari writes, “most abilities have to be nurtured and developed. Even if somebody is born with a particular talent, that talent will usually remain latent if it is not fostered, honed and exercised. Not all people get the same chance to cultivate and refine their abilities.”
Our country believes that everyone can pull themselves up by their boot-straps, but the reality is that we almost all need someone outside of ourselves to help encourage us, coach us, and aid us in developing our skills, even if we are born with a natural talent. As I write this, I am reminded of two Star Wars books I recently listened to through Audible. In Star Wars: Ahsoka, the titular character explains to the parent of a force-sensitive child that if the child is not brought up by a Jedi and her force abilities are not nurtured, then they will eventually fade away. The force, and the ability to tap into the force, in Star Wars is a god-like power, but even those born with a special proclivity toward the force will lose that power if not properly trained. The child in the book, born on a planet on the outskirts of the major center of the galaxy, was not likely to have a chance to harness and maximize her force powers. She did not have the same opportunity to develop her natural talent as the Jedi Ahsoka did.
In another Star Wars title, Thrawn by Timothy Zahn, the titular character Thrawn meets a young cadet named Eli Vanto who is exceptionally skilled with data and strategic analysis, but who is also from a planet on the outskirts of the galaxy. Despite his exceptional skill, his rural and low status upbringing slotted him into a relatively minor career path within the Galactic Empire. Thrawn recognizes his talent by chance and continually encourages and challenges Eli to maximize his abilities (often against Eli’s own desires). In the end, Eli raises to a military rank he never expected, and while his own talent played a huge role, it was largely thanks to Thrawn that Eli had the opportunities to maximize his abilities.
The two Star Wars novels may be fiction, but they reflect a reality in our society that we are all aware of, but prefer not to think about. Instead of acknowledging that our talent needs to be cultivated, and that cultivation and the opening of doors often has to come from beyond ourselves, we imagine that we can get where we want through hard work and determination alone. Those are certainly important character traits, and can be seen clearly in the story of Eli Vanto, but alone they don’t mean that we are really going to maximize our potential.
In Sapiens, Harari continues, “even if people belonging to different classes develop exactly the same abilities, they are unlikely to enjoy equal success because they will have to play the game by different rules.” We like to believe that talent, hard work, and grit are all one needs to succeed to the greatest extent possible, but where we are born, who we know, and the opportunities that our birth, appearance, and upbringing provide can overwhelm the advantages that talent, hard work, and grit give us. Equality of opportunity is a myth, because we are playing different  games by different rules, and because we all rely on assistance from outside of ourselves to  get to where we want to be. For some, that assistance comes more easily than for others, and for some there are exceptional hurdles that make it difficult to get onto a path toward great success.
Severe Trauma and Medical Mistakes

Severe Trauma and Medical Mistakes

Some of us acknowledge that we are not great under pressure, but the reality is that pretty much all of us perform worse when we are under more pressure. The more stress, urgency, and high stakes consequences of the moment, the less likely we are to perform well. Whether we are on a cooking show, officiating a contentious sporting event, or trying to save someone’s life in the emergency room, the more pressure and faster things have to be done, the worse our outcomes will be.
In Grunt Mary Roach addresses this reality in relation to combat medics. “bleeding out is the most common cause of death in combat. This is the grim calculus of emergency trauma care. The more devastating the wounds, the less time there is to stabilize the patient. The less time there is and the graver the consequences, the more pressure medics are under – and the more likely they are to make mistakes.”
Give yourself a pass if you have performed poorly in a high stakes and high pressure situation in the past. If you have had to make quick decisions with people yelling at you, with things on fire, or with people unpredictably sick and injured, you probably didn’t perform well. Based on the research that Roach shares, that is to be expected. We perform well in situations where we can practice a lot, where we get immediate feedback, and where we have good aids to help us with our decision-making. The kind of high pressure situations that Roach describes are hard to practice, sometimes don’t have immediate feedback that is of any use for us, and don’t come with any aids to our decision-making. They are fast, confusing, and chaotic.
I would suggest that we simply accept that we will be in these kinds of situations at some points in our lives. If we are in a profession where we are expected to perform in such situations, then we probably do need to find a way to practice under pressure and stress, but don’t beat yourself up for repeatedly failing in practice. Failure under enormous pressure is something we can expect based on our physiological responses to stress and anxiety and our mental challenge of decision-making in such situations. Hopefully most of our actions and decisions can be mostly routinized, setting ourselves up for success rather than chaotic failure.
Personal Responsibility & Failure

Personal Responsibility and Failure

In Tell Them Who I Am Elliot Liebow writes the following about one of the homeless women he met while researching his book, “Shirley found it too difficult and too painful to petition her children for assistance, not after she had spent years teaching them the importance of being self-reliant and independent.” Shirley represents a reality we often don’t think about in the United States. In our country we place a premium on personal responsibility. When we succeed we can feel great about ourselves, because we highlight the role of individual hard work, determination, and good judgment when we measure success. However, Shirley shows us the opposite side of this infatuation with personal responsibility – when you fail, it is all on you, and you are the one to blame. While success is understood to reflect personal virtues, failure is understood to reflect personal ineptitude or worse.
I like the narrative of personal responsibility. I like feeling good about the things in my life that have gone well. My dad came to the United States when he was 5, and grew up poor. My parents, and my uncles on my dad’s side, all made good decisions, have worked hard, and have avoided drugs and alcohol. Embracing the personal responsibility narrative feels good because it validates their lives and experiences, elevating their good character traits and decisions and ultimately elevating their social status. For me this is inspiring and has encouraged me to try to be as successful as they have been and follow their good examples.
But my parents and uncles are outliers and focusing on their story of individual success fails to acknowledge the ways that external forces can shape what is possible in someone’s life – theirs’s included. There is much we do not chose and much we cannot control that determines what is possible for us. Yes, we have to make good decisions and be hard working, but it is not all in our control. (For example, my dad and uncles are immigrants, but pass as white and one uncle answers ethnicity questions by lying and saying he is Italian – a tacit acknowledgement that not all of their success is entirely due to his own hard work and ingenuity.) Emphasizing personal responsibility, self-reliance, and independence fails to recognize how dependent we can be on others, and it can become crushing when we do fail or run into bad luck.
Shirley took her failure and homelessness personally, as a reflection of her character. She was too ashamed to ask for help, too ashamed to face her failure and look to family for assistance. When we highlight the individuals and downplay the systemic, structural, and social forces that influence our lives, then we put failure (not just success) on the shoulders of the individual. We become blameworthy for our failures, and for us to ask society, family, or friends for aid is to announce our personal failures and shortcomings.
Ultimately, I think our emphasis on personal responsibility can drive us to do great things, to try our hardest, and can reward us for grit and good decision-making. But I think we should also consider the flip side of the equation. When we fail, this narrative puts the failure entirely on us, without consideration of bad luck, larger economic and social forces, or other barriers and limits that we couldn’t control. We need to be aware of this and develop institutions that encourage the hard work of personal responsibility without crushing the individuals who fail, because we can’t be successful in absolutely everything we do, and some of us will have bad luck and face complete failure. We do not want people to be left in a position where they embody their failure and give up on hopes for improving themselves and their lives.
Eviction and Job Loss

Eviction & Job Loss

When we think about eviction and job loss, we probably imagine job loss being the cause for eviction. People lose their jobs, either because of an economic downturn or due to poor performance, and end up being evicted if they cannot find another job in time to pay the rent. Jobs provide money which is needed for maintaining stable housing, so the causal arrow flows from job loss to eviction.
But Matthew Desmond argues that the causal arrow can often point in the other direction. Eviction can cause job loss. In Evicted he writes, “job loss could lead to eviction, but the reverse was also true. An eviction not only consumed renters’ time, causing them to miss work, it also weighed heavily on their minds, often triggering mistakes on the job. It overwhelmed workers with stress, leading them to act unprofessionally, and commonly resulted in their relocating farther away from their worksite, increasing their likelihood of being late or missing days.”
Housing is not something we can afford to think of as a luxury or as a reward for good behavior and an industrious attitude. Housing is in many ways a basic right, and our economic system depends on people having reasonable and affordable housing to participate in the labor market. When we make housing impossible for people to maintain it has an effect on their job performance, hurting our economic system.
The fact that the causal arrow can flow from eviction to job loss also belies another idea that we pride ourselves on in our country – the idea that everyone deserves a second chance. Instead, what Desmond’s quote shows is that one bad outcome can compound and overwhelm an individual. Rather than having a second chance, people snowball into worse states of affairs, each setback making recovery harder and further away. Perhaps an individual spent unwisely, perhaps they used drugs, and perhaps they made other serious mistakes that made their eviction inevitable. But instead of a second chance and an opportunity to bounce back from their mistake, we punish them further by making it harder for them to keep their job. If they do lose their job following an eviction, then they are marginalized even further and pushed further from society. Rather than a second chance, we seem to push people against a steep cliff where any breeze of bad luck could send them tumbling with no end in sight.
Losing Wealth - Matthew Desmond Evicted

Losing Wealth

During the Great Recession many Americans lost a lot of wealth, through lost wages from lost jobs and lost equity in homes as bankruptcies and mortgage defaults rocked the national economy. The Great Recession is a major factor that contributed to the housing crisis that Matthew Desmond looks at in his book Evicted. Additionally, it greatly contributed to the racial disparities in homelessness and poverty that Desmond explores and documents in the book.
Regarding the impact of the Great Recession to black and white families, Desmond writes, “between 2007 and 2010, the average white family experienced an 11 percent reduction in wealth, but the average black family lost 31 percent of its wealth. The average Hispanic family lost 44 percent.” He states that black and brown neighborhoods were targeted by banks pushing subprime mortgages, the vehicle that failed and ultimately crashed the entire banking and financial industry. Predatory mortgage and loan practices impacted many families, as the statistics in Desmond’s quote shows, but impacted black and brown families much more than white families.
The loss of wealth from the Great Recession will have a long tail. Wealth is different from income and can have long-term consequences for individuals and their family members for several generations. Wealth is the total value of the assets and property that an individual owns. Homes, cars, fancy paintings, family wedding rings, and cash in the bank all factor into a person’s wealth. Throughout American history, public policy and social norms have reinforced structures that allowed white Americans to generate wealth at the expense or exclusion of minorities. The result is a massive wealth gap today, even as minority populations have closed income gaps. Minorities may be on par with whites in terms of wages and salaries, but they are still far behind whites when it comes to total wealth and asset valuations.
Familial wealth allows individuals and families to weather storms like the Great Recession. Whites didn’t lose as much wealth as blacks and Hispanics because their families had more wealth that could be tapped into in order to keep up mortgage payments during an unemployment spell to avoid losing a home. Whites likely had better financial terms on their mortgages and loans because they had more wealth and could have wealthy family members co-sign mortgages or loans to improve the terms. The end result was that wealth helped protect wealth during the Great Recession, while minority populations who were already less wealthy than whites took a harder hit.
The History of Redlining

The History of Redlining

I often find myself thinking about the history of racism in America and asking how that history could still be impacting the lives of Americans today. While it feels like we have made huge steps in addressing racism and in expanding economic and social opportunities for black and minority people in our country, we still have a long way to go, and the effects of our history of racism still plays a role in the world around us.
Homeownership is a great example of the way that historic racism still impacts the racial inequality that we see around us today. Matthew Desmond in his book Evicted does an excellent job showing how racist and segregationist policies influenced the homeownership and economic development of black people in the United States. He writes, “in the 1920s and ’30s, rent for dilapidated housing in the black ghettos of Milwaukee and Philadelphia and other norther cities exceeded that for better housing in white neighborhoods. As late as 1960, rent in major cities was higher for blacks than for whites in similar accommodations. The poor did not crowd into slums because of cheap housing. They were there – and this was especially true of the black poor – simply because they were allowed to be.”
For many Americans, a house is the most expensive thing they own and is their primary vehicle for wealth creation. Being able to purchase a home can set an individual up for a retirement, an inheritance to pass on to children and grandchildren, and can provide numerous other financial and social benefits for the individual and their family. The practice of redlining was a deliberate act of denying housing to black and minority individuals. Both homeownership and renting was limited, as Desmond’s quote shows, to certain neighborhoods and areas within cities for black people. They could not purchase homes in suburban areas, because banks would not lend to them for purchasing a home outside a redlined area. Real estate agents would not show black people homes in white neighborhoods. Landlords in white neighborhoods wouldn’t rent to black people.
From this segregation came the crowding of black and minority populations into city centers that were ignored and underdeveloped. Housing was limited in these areas, driving the price up for those who could not buy or rent in a cheaper white area due to racism. Black people could not build wealth, even if they became successful business people. They were stuck around low socio-economic status people, meaning their children could not connect with more wealthy individuals and network for future opportunities.
For decades after the Civil War, black people were intentionally denied access to the kinds of assets that allowed many American’s to get started on a path toward wealth generation for themselves and their families for generations to come. Not only were black people not able to purchase homes in good neighborhoods that would appreciate in value, they were denied affordable rent in white neighborhoods, paying more for worse quality housing in redlined areas. They were denied the opportunity to begin building wealth and to pass an inheritance along to their children while paying more for worse housing. When we see the wealth gap that exists between black and white people today, we can look back and see that redlining played a direct role in the creation and maintenance of that gap. Racial disparities that exist today often have deep roots that we cannot see if we don’t look closely to understand how the policies impacted the lives of those who could not build wealth and set their families up for future success.
When Personal Responsibility Runs Into Trauma

When Personal Responsibility Runs Into Trauma

Recently, my reading and writing has been critical of the idea of personal responsibility. Because we live in a society that is hyper focused on personal responsibility, because we live in an economic system where success is taken a representation of individual characteristics, and because the dominant religious views in our nation have viewed success as rewards for good individual choices and attributes, I find it necessary to push back against that narrative and look for examples of how personal responsibility can be discounted in evaluating the success or failure of another person. Perhaps living in a society that hyper devalued personal responsibility I would feel the need to highlight the role of individual responsibility in our lives, but as things are, it feels important to me is to write about the ways that structural and systemic forces can influence our lives, including the level of personal responsibility we are able to bring to individual situations and circumstances.
Trauma is one of those large structural and systemic forces that should make us re-think personal responsibility. Entrepreneurial autobiographies, self-help books, and even philosophical thinkers (like Ryan Holiday who I really find influential) talk about the importance of being able to overcome obstacles to become successful. However, a failure to adequately address and process trauma, something almost no one can (perhaps no one at all), can do on their own can prevent individuals from being able to overcome even the smallest of obstacles. Trauma can originate from incredibly early on in our lives, at a time when our brains are in their infancy and unable to even remember and recall the trauma. This doesn’t mean that trauma won’t still influence a life for decades to come. There have been lots of studies that look at childhood violence, food scarcity, and other traumatic factors and life outcomes for individuals as adults and found that those who experienced trauma have worse economic outcomes later in life.
This isn’t surprising, but somehow these findings never seem to properly make it into self-help books or our narrative around personal responsibility. Often, if past trauma is addressed in our personal responsibility culture, it is presented as another personal responsibility of the individual facing the trauma to seek out the proper help and therapy to be able to reprogram their mind.
This leaves individuals who have faced trauma in a precarious position. Their trauma is ignored and when it is recognized, it falls back onto the individual to do something to overcome it. Larger structural forces and systems don’t make an effort to understand an individual’s trauma and we don’t have larger systems and structures to provide a robust social support system to encourage and provide therapy to those who need it.
In $2.00 A Day authors Kathryn Edin and H. Luke Shaefer demonstrate how severe the trauma of others can be in shaping their lives and driving them into $2.00 a day poverty. Regarding one individual presented in the book they write, “surviving repeated abandonment by the adults in her life and a nearly constant exposure to danger had left Rae with underlying feelings of rage. Even at the relatively calm Parma store, Rae’s temper could flare up unexpectedly with slight provocation.”
For Rae, past trauma made it almost impossible for her to function in an individualistic and capitalistic society. Our individualism and capitalism has helped propel America to be the richest country on earth and has given us great luxury and has improved our world in many ways, but it has also left those who faced severe trauma, such as repeated abandonment as a child and physical danger, left alone with no appropriate way to cope with routine stresses and anxieties. It is no surprise that Rae had trouble holding a job, trouble connecting with other people to be a stable roommate, and  trouble containing her anger when provoked by rude customers. When living with the kind of trauma of physical abuse and abandonment that Rae experienced, self-preservation required a fierce and powerful reactions to threats, and that mindset could not simply be turned off even if Rae had read the best self-help book on the market.
We need to think of the trauma of others in our daily interactions and judgements of them. The United States does not have ample social support systems such as professional therapists, well trained mentors, or robust family networks for most people to receive the support necessary to overcome severe trauma. It is easy to dismiss someone who seems to act irrationally, as we can imagine Rae often did on the job or in her personal relationships, because we focus so intensely on the individual and personal responsibility. However, if we don’t recognize the role that trauma plays and the importance of social support for individuals who have been traumatized, then we risk pushing people to ruin, to $2.00 a day poverty, and potentially to suicide. It is not unreasonable to argue that our society needs to do more to support these people than say it is their personal responsibility to seek out the help they need on their own.
A Clash Between Personal Responsibility and Structural Forces

A Clash Between Personal Responsibility and Structural Forces

Personal responsibility in the United States is huge. It drives much of how we understand ourselves, others, and our economic and political systems. We believe that the individual has the power to shape their life for the better, to overcome obstacles, and to find success as long as they take the responsibility to do the right things. We reward those who are responsible and succeed and we offer little aid or assistance for those who can’t seem to figure it out on their own.
“Yet laying the blame on a lack of personal responsibility obscures the fact that there are powerful and ever-changing structural forces at play,” write Kathryn Edin and H. Luke Shaefer in their book $2.00 A Day. In the United States there is opportunity to achieve the American Dream and to reach for a better life, but there are also challenging factors that limit the opportunities for some while amplifying the opportunities for others. There are real structural forces which limit the opportunities and second chances for some people, and are ignored by those who don’t face such challenges.
Writing specifically about the low-wage job market, Edin and Shaefer continue, “whatever can be said about the characteristics of the people who work low-wage jobs, it is also true that the jobs themselves too often set workers up for failure.”
Edin and Shaefer explore commonalities among low-wage jobs that seem designed to provide marginal benefits to employers by making the jobs themselves more challenging for the employees. Service sector jobs often have unpredictable hours, don’t come with any benefits, don’t include opportunities for promotion, and can be physically demanding without appropriate supplies and materials for employees to complete their work. When low-wage workers are desperate for employment, they cannot complain to any government agencies about unfair or poor working conditions. If the employer is shut down, then they loose their source of income, even if it is dehumanizing. As a result, hard work doesn’t pay in these low-wage jobs. After enough poor experiences where working hard doesn’t help someone get ahead, it is not surprising that many opt out all together or put forward minimal effort when they do get an opportunity.
The larger structural forces, however, often end up being ignored. In the United States we chose just to focus on the individual and their responsibility, blaming them for quitting a job which was designed to make them fail. We blame the individual for not being smart enough, skilled enough, or resilient enough to stick it out and get to a better position after starting at a minimum-wage, dead-end job. Personal responsibility and structural forces clash, but from the outside we are only able to focus on the failures of the individual, giving little thought to the larger forces at play.
Hating Welfare

Hating Welfare

Kathryn Edin and H. Luke Shaefer write about David Ellwood, a Harvard Professor who studied welfare during the 1980’s and 90’s. Ellwood studied welfare and found that most welfare recipients used the program as temporary assistance, not as permanent support. His findings contrasted with the popular narrative that welfare made people lazy, dependent, and degenerate, leaving them stuck in the system with no possibility of ever escaping. Ellwood had trouble getting traction with the lessons he learned from his studies and as the authors write, “Ellwood came to a critical realization: Americans didn’t hate the poor as much as they hated welfare.”
Welfare represents the opposite of the American Dream. We believe that anyone can improve their situation in life as long as they are willing to work hard enough, pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and apply ingenuity and grit in pursuit of their goals. Welfare says that individuals have no chance of improving their situation on their own, and thus require assistance from the government for basic functioning and survival. The American Dream is individualistic, creative, nimble, and innovative. Welfare is slow, bureaucratic, and lazy. It threatens the American Dream, and is hated by those who pursue the American Dream and by those for whom the American Dream has slipped away.
Edin and Shaefer note that at the time that Ellwood was presenting his research, a time when Ronald Reagan was pursuing a war against poverty and welfare, American opinions captured in surveys showed that the percentage of Americans who thought the country was spending too little on help for the poor rose from 63% to 70%. People wanted to do more to support the poor, but they hated the systems and institutions that existed to provide aid.
This reveals a challenging paradox that our country still has not solved. We all want to pursue the American Dream, but we also still want to be generous and good people. Our highly consumeristic and capitalistic culture tells us that we should constantly be pushing for economic success, that having a big house, numerous cars, and nice things is a reward for our hard work, and that these purchases are socially beneficial because they power the economy to keep everyone advancing along the American Dream. At the same time, we still manage to feel compassion for those who fall on hard times, and we want to have a social system, especially one backed by the government, that helps people when in need. However, we hate the system we have developed for that purpose.
We have developed highly individualistic institutions to support our American Dream and our consumer culture.  We strive to live in the best neighborhood possible, economically segregating ourselves from lower socioeconomic status individuals and families. We push ourselves to constantly work harder, maintaining longer work weeks and hours than most other western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic countries. We spend our time as part of professional organizations more than as part of social missions. Nevertheless, we still want to help the poor who we run away from. We still want government (someone else) to solve the problems of people who fail in our capitalistic society. We want to be generous, but we only invest in the institutions which have furthered our own individualistic paths toward the American Dream, leaving others behind. We don’t have the institutions which would truly help those in need, and we chide the welfare institutions that do help them. This is the paradox we face, and the only way to get out is to find new institutions that allow us to continue to work toward a version of the American Dream while simultaneously being more socially active.
$2.00 A Day

$2.00 A Day

In $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, authors Kathryn Edin and H. Luke Shaefer provide an insight into the lives of people living in extreme poverty in the United States. The book highlights a population that is largely invisible in the United States, those living on $2 a day or less, averaged across the entire year. It is hard to imagine that anyone in the United States could live on such a low income or even have such a low income, but Edin and Shaefer show that it is the case for some American’s and explain what life is like for those individuals.
They write, “Two dollars is less than the cost of a gallon of gas, roughly equivalent to the that of a half gallon of milk. Many American’s have spent more than that before they get to work or school in the morning. Yet in 2011, more than 4 percent of all households with children in the world’s wealthiest nation were living in a poverty so deep that most Americans don’t believe it even exists in this country.”
About a year ago I did a mini-dive into a series of books on homelessness and extreme poverty in the United States. Our country prides hard work and makes a lot of our social support programs conditional on individuals making an effort to improve their lives through their own industriousness. Our system is designed to reward those who work hard and put forward the effort to make their lives better, certainly something that is admirable and socially desired. However, one downside of this system is that people who either cannot or will not take the steps necessary to work hard and improve their lives are cast aside with minimal support.
I completely understand people’s dislike (in some cases even hatred) of free riders. It doesn’t feel good to have to go to work every day, to sacrifice sleep or spending time with the people and things we like, and to have to pay for for food, necessities, and pleasures out of hard earned paychecks. It is even worse when we see other people getting by without making the difficult choices that we make each day.
But I think the important thing to remember is that we are all humans, and that our true value as human beings doesn’t come from the work we do, but just from being humans. I think it is important that we all recognize how dependent we are on others, how much we have benefitted from other people to get to the place we are in (even if it isn’t where we want to be), and how much we all want to be respected simply for being ourselves. While we like to be admired for the things we accomplish, at the end of the day we want to be valued for being who we are, and not because of the special things we have done. A system that casts people out, allows them to degenerate on the streets with no support, and blames people who fail without aiding them is a system that has forgotten that our value as human beings is not dependent on our value to an economic or social system.
$2.00 a Day is an important book because it acknowledges an uncomfortable truth that most people try to ignore. For many of us we would rather not look at the person on the street corner asking for money, we would rather not think about people living in abject poverty, and we would not like to bear any responsibility for the poor living conditions of others. After all, most of us work very hard to try to maintain the lifestyles we live. $2.00 a Day reminds us that people living in poverty are still human, shows us that sometimes one poor decision multiplied and placed individuals in situations where making the right decisions to improve their lives was nearly impossible. It helps us appreciate how we got to where we are, and recognize a responsibility to the rest of our society, especially the segment of our society that has failed to the greatest extent. Ignoring the worst poverty in the nation and simply assuming that people are lazy and hopeless denies the humanity of those who suffer the most and can only perpetuate a problem we would like to wish away.