Document Type

Article

Journal Title

Columbia Human Rights Law Review

Volume

47

First Page

97

Publication Date

Winter 2015

Abstract

Antipoverty efforts are persistently subverted by broad societal contempt for poor people. The belief that poor people are morally and behaviorally inferior, and that their personal failings are the cause of their own poverty, is a staple of American opinion polls and political rhetoric. This presumption is so widespread that it even permeates antipoverty programs, which treat poor people with disdain even as they offer aid and assistance.

Income discrimination creates not just social stigma, but legal inequalities. The Supreme Court recognized some forty years ago that welfare law promoted wealth-based Constitutional inequalities, and responded by invoking the doctrines of equal protection and due process to protect the rights of the poor. The Court grounded these rulings in an affirmation of the human dignity of all people, regardless of wealth. Yet these dignitary rulings have not prevented societal discrimination against the poor from flourishing. This societal discrimination has consistently undermined antipoverty initiatives and turned programs meant to alleviate suffering into tools of subordination.

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