Three things from the healthcare debate with Senators Sanders and Cruz that I can’t forget.

  1. That such a debate is necessary shows how very, very behind the United States is and how its lacks an important component of the government’s actual moral mission. (And why between Cruz and Sanders!!)
  2. The woman who when talking about her struggles to get good health insurance and health care prefaced her comments with “I never smoked……” – politics of respectability does not help anyone. Smoking or not doesn’t and shouldn’t matter if someone needs help. 
  3. Sanders’s constant, surprising comments in general and to specific people about being working class. People in the United States generally think that by virtue of being White and being in the United States they are wealthy and classism is not an issue.

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda 

Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives

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3 replies

  1. I, too have been thinking about the class system in this country. I have concluded that Americans truly hate the poor, so why should they be willing to fund a health care system that helps them? Especially wealthy politicians, who, if they were not wealthy while running for office, ascended to this level once in office, with the half $million salary and guaranteed pension they get as prize for winning. We hate criminals so much that we want them to suffer in prison, unlike most European countries. We want them to suffer once their sentence ends, too, unlike Europe. We keep cutting budgets for education, medical, and psychological services for prisoners.

    Much of the classism may actually reflect the fear that one person of color or gender is probably poor, or at least relatively poorer. Many a black and/or hispanic upper middle class man has been accused of stealing a car precisely because the accuser cannot imagine that a black/hispanic person might actually earn enough to own that car.

    Women who became education enough to get better paying jobs enter into a male world of such privilege that we might be surprised at the hatred they will get from such men. They face a very different world than women without the education in low wage jobs face. Sexism might actually be a lot higher for the former than the latter since we cannot separate it out from the hatred for being poor in the latter.

    Some have argued that the poor demand resources that better off people want but cannot get. I strongly suspect the hatred is so much deeper than that. Their existence tells us that we could fall into that category, but if they would only hide themselves from sight, we would not be bothered by their existence.

    There is also the mistaken belief that the poor are more likely to be a threat to others. Granted, there are more poor people in jail, but that may only be because the justice system is clearly slanted against them. As I have mentioned before, the poor are more likely to be suspected in a crime, more likely to not be able to pay bail, more likely to serve time in jail until the trial, more likely to be found guilty, and will be given longer sentences for the same crime or even similar white-collar crimes (e.g. stealing from a person in real-estate fraud gives a lesser sentence than stealing items from the same house).

    Most of the problem lies in not being able to hire the better paid lawyer. Treating a poor person badly is not handled as a hate crime in our justice system. So the poor have little or no recourse about their situation. It takes so much more good luck to rise from poverty, than from middle class wages. People who point to so-and-so and say “Oh, look there, he did it. So can anyone else if they just tried.” The power of N=1 is amazing. We do not hear about the thousands of poor people who do not make it, and did the same thing as the one successful person did. We hear about many successful people, coming from a place of privilege who let drugs/alcohol/bad friends take them down to poverty and early death. They are the exception that proves the rule, but so is the poor person who “makes it.” Hatred of the poor is that great.

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    • So, so true, all around. It’s going to be really interesting (and scary?) to see how things change as technology makes more and more people unemployable. How will people react when 30%+ “unemployment” is the new norm – when there are simply not enough jobs. And I was reading an article earlier today that was discussing how almost no one is prepared for retirement. So many problems–economic, gender, sex, race, etc.–seem to be nearing a breaking point, all at the same time.

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  2. There is another aspect of poverty that has all-reaching effects simply because poverty appears to predict so many mental healthproblems. It has been estimated that 80% of prisoners are mentally ill. That mental illness includes PTSD and many social abnormalities and pathologies. I have written in my blog about how early childhood maltreatment (that includes abuse and neglect as well as just observing abuse/neglect/violence perpetrated against someone you know) has such profound, lifelong consequences in that child. The ACE studies (Adverse Childhood Experiences–see Vincent Felitti et al) show this. This interview included the effects of bullying on the brain, but the ACE studies did not include bullying, probably because it is not as prevalent during the earliest years of life. But, as shown in other studies of child maltreatment, a throw-away child becomes a throw-away adult who often produces more throw-away children.

    With an increasing average age at death in this country, the only thing that might reduce the risk of producing an ever-increasing group of throw-away people because of this inter-generational effect, if unemployment does not rise at all, is the fact that young black boys have a huge risk of before reaching adulthood (I think I heard 25%. I don’t know what the risk is for other ethnic groups). If they survive past this age, they might actually reach the same average age of death that white men have. Given what happens with high ACE score children, even with intervention later in life, it is highly unlikely they will survive long, or live anywhere near what a large number of privileged people think is a “normal” life.

    I just saw the interviews Charlie Rose did on PBS last night (airdate: 10 Feb 2017) as part of his Brain series featuring neuroscientist Eric Kandel ( ). Episode 5 of Series 3 is not up on the internet yet but they usually get there within a week from airing). This episode was on the effects of childhood adversity on the developing brain. The changes to the brain are truly profound, but the one factor that has the highest effect is poverty. They also narrow the window for critical intervention as within the first 3 years of life. Intervening before 3 years of age can totally change the brain to what a normal child should have. They do not know if intervention later will return a person to what a normal childhood should produce but they know that the later the intervention the longer it takes to achieve change. However, they seem hopeful because they recognize how plastic the brain is. Latest research shows that a great deal of change in anatomy and physiology can be achieved with the right intervention. The problem is what intervention is right, and for how long? There is some evidence for certain programs having an effect until adulthood.

    Past socioeconomic research shows that the single-most important and effective method for getting a family out of poverty is money. Educational help for either/both parent and child, health care, help with housing, transportation and day care only seem to act as bandaids lasting as long as the program does. No permanent change in the prospects for children born into poverty. Giving people a cash supplement, high enough to raise their income to out-of-poverty levels is the best way to help a family avoid the biological, sociological, and psychological effects of poverty. One of the main reasons why is that it reduces stress of worrying about how to pay for the simplest of things needed in life, and thus, all of the ripple effects of stress on kids (60% of addicts have high ACE scores and most live in poverty-stricken rural communities). Readily available and affordable health care is only a tiny step toward alleviation.

    The people Charlie Rose interviewed know that there has never been a true randomized controlled experiment measuring the effects on a developing brain of using cash supplements to remove poverty from family life. Bill Moyers did a two-episode show on PBS a few years ago, featuring two families in poverty who were part of a sociological experiment. The effect of just reliably available simple cash supplements were enough to change the lives of the children completely. People worried about the work ethic in the recipients should be aware that getting such help in most people allows them to develop a work ethic because they finally are able to see how working hard can lead to a better life, when previously that connection just did not exist. It is well-known by economists that the hardest working people get the lowest wages.

    But that experiment was limited in population size, and to measuring only sociological variables. However, the associations found in past studies between certain measured brain changes with income level and behaviors point strongly to alleviating poverty as a way to reduce crime, anti-social behaviors, raise test scores, IQ, educational levels, and general health and success in life. Kimberly Noble, one of the people interviewed, is part of a team who are presently raising funds to launch such an interventional, and truly experimental study ( She is known for her research into childhood cognitive development (

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