Researchers spend a lot of time trying to identify the root causes of poverty. But the perception of the public matters too—particularly due to the impact of these perceptions on political discourse (and vice versa
). A new poll released this week revealed that “fewer Americans blame poverty on the poor
” in the wake of the widespread unemployment caused by the recession. Specifically, in response to the question, “What Causes Poverty?” only
44% responded “people not doing enough,” compared to 60% in 1995. By contrast, 46% of respondents identified “circumstances beyond people’s control” as the primary cause, compared to 30% two decades ago. It’s encouraging that more Americans perceive poverty as a structural problem rather than the product of individual choices. Yet preventing a retrenchment of this perspective as conditions improve will require a concerted effort—and a deliberate departure from the past.