WASHINGTON -- Fewer Americans today blame poverty on the individual failings of poor people than they did in the 1990s, according to a new poll by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal.
Forty-four percent of Americans said poverty is caused by "people not doing enough," compared with 60 percent in response to the same question in 1995. In the more recent survey, 46 percent said poverty resulted from "circumstances beyond people's control," compared with 30 percent 19 years ago.
One possible explanation for the shift is that in the mid-1990s the U.S. economy was in the midst of its longest expansion since World War II, with a steadily falling unemployment rate. Today, the economy is experiencing one of the lamest recoveries of all time.
A recent poll by HuffPost and YouGov yielded similar results. Forty-nine percent of poll respondents in April said the long-term jobless were trying to find jobs but couldn't, whereas 30 percent said unemployed people could find jobs if they wanted. People who said they had experienced unemployment were more likely to sympathize. Stubbornly high long-term unemployment has been a signature feature of the Great Recession and its aftermath. The latest government data show 17 million unemployed and underemployed Americans and 4.5 million job openings.
In the NBC polls from both 1995 and today, Democrats were more than twice as likely as Republicans to see poverty as the result of circumstances beyond individual people's control. The HuffPost / YouGov poll found a similar partisan divide.