Why Are People Poor?


This week, your co-hosts Melissa Harris-Perry and Dorian Warren get personal.

Melissa’s grandma Rosa lived and worked in poverty in the south of Jim Crow. She was a seamstress who suffered from arthritis and she made tremendous personal sacrifices to secure her twin sons. William and Wesley could go to college and create one Legacy of Achievement and Activism. Her story is inspiring, but why did she have to choose between personal comfort and her children’s future?

Dorian’s grandmother also grew up poor on the south side of Chicago. She was born in the middle of the Race Riot of 1919 and grew up during the Great Depression. She taught him “make nickel, save 2 cents,” which proves that while she needed more money, she didn’t need “financial literacy” programs suggested by many think tanks and philanthropy as a solution to poverty.

These were resilient, forward-thinking women – but they still struggled with poverty. This prompts Melissa and Dorian to ask the key question for this episode: “Why are people poor?” Why does the richest country in the world still tolerate millions of our poor neighbors? And why is it so rare to hear about people living in poverty in the media, in the philanthropy boardrooms, in the halls of power in Washington, DC?

To answer all these and other questions, we turn to our experts. Aisha Nyandoro, CEO of Stepping stone to opportunities talked to System check about the Magnolia mother’s trust. The Trust is the first guaranteed income project in the country to explicitly focus on racial and gender equality. Magnolia Mother’s Trust donates $ 1,000 a month to extremely low-income black women who live in government-subsidized, affordable housing. Nyandoro started the program in 2018 as a little pilot with just 20 women in Jackson, Mississippi. Today, 110 women are paid $ 1,000 a month for a year and the results are amazing.


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