"I think poverty to a large extent is also a state of mind."
After U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson uttered these now infamous words during radio interview, social media responded strongly, criticizing Secretary Carson. Although it is incredibly concerning that Secretary Carson expressed this view, we must also realize, and address, that Secretary Carson’s remarks mirror a mistaken, but commonly held belief by many Americans that poverty is intrinsically related to mind set and effort, not circumstances.
There is no doubt that poverty influences one’s state of mind. Poverty causes mental anguish and takes up the cognitive bandwidth needed to accomplish other tasks such as focus on work, school or health. However, this is not what Dr. Carson is suggesting – he believes that those experiencing poverty simply have the wrong attitude.
This has been studied numerous of times, and Dr. Carson, along with the other Americans who believe this narrative, is just plain wrong.
The mistaken belief that “poverty is a state of mind” is a huge barrier that affordable housing advocates ignore at our own risk. If we can take anything away from Secretary Carson’s quote, it’s that we constantly need to evaluate and re-frame the conversation about affordable housing so we can appeal to those with pre-conceived notions about the causes of poverty in the U.S.