This column by Joe Queenan from the LA Times provides great, pragmatic advice for the poor. If you know any poor people, pass it on:
In a world bristling with such sexy topics as the latest exploits of predatory hedge funds and lupine private equity firms, why would anyone want to write about the poor, who never do anything that is even vaguely exotic? In a world filled with flashy megalomaniacs including Paris Hilton, Mark Cuban, Tom Cruise and Madonna, why would anyone want to read about glamourless screw-ups living in public housing at Cabrini-Green?
…For society to function properly, there must be a top, a middle and a bottom. Otherwise, economic mobility ceases, stasis sets in and a society starts to die. The problem in the United States today is that fewer and fewer young people are emotionally equipped to handle the enormous responsibility of being poor, and those who do choose to remain poor are not holding up their end of the bargain by leading desperate lives suffused with quiet dignity, thus serving as shining beacons for the rest of us.
In 2007, the United States finds itself at a moral and demographic crossroads. It cannot expect the upper class to provide strong moral leadership because the upper class is filled with people who work for Halliburton. It cannot expect the middle class to assume that burden because the middle class has always suffered from a certain moral flabbiness as a result of commuting long distances to jobs they hate. Realistically, only the poor are in a position to provide inspiration to the rest of us because they have the most time on their hands.
Still, for the poor to return to those halcyon days when Tom Joad was idolized by millions, the poor are going to need to undergo a classwide makeover. For the underclass to get back to the point at which society actually honors them, appreciates them and seeks out their advice on salt-of-the-earth issues, the poor are going to have to shape up.