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Not All Poor People Need Our Help

09/14/2010 11:17 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

There's been much ado as of late about the invisibility of America's poor. Let Obama tell it, the only community which deserves his administration's tender loving care is the middle class. The battle cry which thundered during the era of MLK and JFK has been hushed to a whisper. Has America forgotten its poor, or is the problem one of governance, and not morality?

In America, a conundrum exists because integrating the desire of liberals to hold the poor close to their bosom while wiping the sweat from their brow with the Darwinist desire of conservatives to throw all weaker and feebler segments of our population overboard doesn't leave much room for a middle-ground.

The point which both political parties miss is that poor people are not a homogeneous group. They don't all require coddling, nor do they all deserve a kick in the backside. People are poor for different reasons, and until we begin to parse the wheat from the chaff, we'll never be able to devise a comprehensive approach to poverty.

Categorizing the nation's poor based upon the circumstances which landed them in poverty is a much better approach for alleviating poverty than are the rudimentary approaches espoused by liberals and conservatives.

As the parsing begins, the first truth we'll be forced to face is that a chunk of the nation's poor will inevitably be left behind. For some in underdeveloped communities, poverty has become a lifestyle that is embraced. To some inhabitants of the urban jungle, suffering is the necessary precursor for blessings to fall from the sky like manna. It's anyone's guess as to whether the nature of expectancy is the afterlife or a lucrative hip hop deal, but mixing biblical principles with poverty bears a strange and often counterproductive belief system.

Along the same lines, if a poor person values hustling on the street more than a 9-5, then the American way of life doesn't hold much for him. Neither does the American dream hold much for the Tea Partier who blames black and brown folks for all of her frustrations and failures. America is a country built upon personal responsibility, the first of which being the responsibility to think thoughts which don't limit your ability to be successful. There's not much hope for a person who uses her mental energy to create vivid concoctions in which the President of the United States is a Kenyan born Nazi Muslim, and then goes to war against her own imaginings. Thus, lifting everyone out of poverty is not an option.

We must separate the nation's poor based upon the level of promise which they believe this nation holds for them - not the other way around. All knowledge must be anchored because it requires context. The question then becomes how do we determine which underprivileged individuals have the mental wiring required to step outside of their circumstances and which don't. Using this frame of reference, we can begin to target dollars to those who are most likely to play a role in lifting themselves out of poverty instead of doling out money based solely upon an individual's income level.

Maybe the twenty three year old math whiz who dropped out of high school just shy of graduation to care for her newborn is a safer bet than the thirty year old who has been in and out of jail all his life and still desires to be P. Diddy when he grows up. Whereas she still has dreams of a good job and a nice car, things easily achievable in American society, he only dreams of bling.

One thing's for sure: By treating all of the nation's poor equally, we are leaving some with less than they need and others with more than they deserve. The inoculation approach at eliminating poverty has become a failure because it is insanely obtuse in both its approach and effects. It is altruism gone wild. What the current system fails to acknowledge is that the only moral approach at minimizing poverty is one that uses a set of measurements uniquely designed to determine which individuals or subsets would most benefit from government assistance.

We can, and should, help the poor and downtrodden. However, inherent in every individual's human rights is the right to live and die by his own judgment. Throwing money at poor people does more than anything else to rob them of this most important individual right.

Yvette Carnell is a political analyst for the African-American business and politics new site, atlantapost.com.