Professor speaks about ‘The War on the Poor’

April 11, 2013

By Raina J. Johnson Special to the Milwaukee Times

“The War on the Poor” has been brewing in this county for years and now it seems as though, especially in Milwaukee – things are about to change. Cardinal Stritch University hosted author and Professor Joe Soss from the University of Minnesota Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Departments of Political Science and Sociology. Soss has expertise in the politics of inequality, race and poverty; he earned both a masters and Ph.D. in political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Cardinal Stritch hosted him for their sociology, English and political science department students for a brief discussion on “The War on the Poor” and how looking back throughout history we still see trends and parallels in today’s society. Soss co-authored “Disciplining the Poor: Neoliberal Paternalism and the Persistent Power of Race” (University of Chicago Press, 2011). The book chronicles a 3-year study completed by the authors in Florida, where they took an in-depth look at welfare reform, race, politics and how the economy continues to discipline the poor today.

While at Stritch, Soss presented a short Power-Point presentation with some daunting research facts regarding welfare in our county and how welfare and other systems have been maintained over the years to maintain control and power over the poor. Soss pointed out a few key areas on how power and control is kept over the poor: “Contain and control” through ghettos, prisons, mental asylums and workhouses; “the principle of less which” Soss described as making eligibility more difficult for people which leaves few alternatives; “myth and ceremony”, such as promises of job clubs and work activities, with no real investment in the people, but the focus has shifted to servicing local employers and job developers.

If history tells us one thing, it’s that change and reform can happen in this county for groups in the minority. “Social movements have historically had an impact on this. Reforms have been driven by social movements and protests have actually taken place. At the poverty level, we’re starting to see an influence of some real change. Particularly…we are seeing more people interested in the area of incarceration,” said Soss.

These talks are especially important in Milwaukee and to area youth and college students. Communicating these tough issues to young energy is helpful to everyone involved. Every seat in the large conference room was filled, with some people standing up in the back and along the sides of the room. That goes to show, reform is possibly on its way.