With President Obama stressing economic inequality in his State of the Union Address, a new poll seemed to support the idea that the nation’s distribution of wealth is fundamentally unfair. According to the Pew Research Center, more people say an individual’s poverty comes from “circumstances beyond his or her control” than those who blame “lack of effort.”
But the question’s wording is biased and misleading: had the pollsters asked whether people are poor because of “bad choices and mistaken priorities” many more would have agreed than the 35 percent who cited “lack of effort.”
Determined hard work can’t always make up for mistakes like dropping out of high school, teenage criminality and drug abuse, or pregnancy outside of marriage. Most Americans also understand such behavior isn’t entirely “beyond” an individual’s control—even for the most deeply disadvantaged young people.