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Americans change stance on poverty

Date posted:  5/22/15 08:15:00 AM More Americans believe poverty is out of an individual's control.

There's been a major shift in American opinion. According to a recent poll from NBC News and The Wall Street Journal, a growing segment of the nation's population believes that poverty is caused by circumstances beyond an individual's control.

In stark contrast from a previous poll of the same nature nearly 20 years ago, nearly half of respondents - 47 percent - stated that poverty comes into play for other reasons than individual initiative.

When the question was posed in 1995, only a third of respondents said people were in poverty because of issues beyond their control. That poll found the majority of respondents stating that poverty was caused by "people not doing enough."

Martin Gilens, a political scientist at Princeton University, told CNBC that the change in rationale regarding poverty stems from the nation's tough financial landscape.

"In hard economic times, people become more sympathetic to the poor," Gilens said. "In 1995, we were in a period of economic expansion. Even the less well-off benefited considerably. Now we're in the most visible period of dire economic circumstances for Americans. If you look around and you see that there's high unemployment and a generally poor economy, you're more likely to explain poverty through those factors."

Changing of the guard
Meg York can empathize with those struggling with their financial standing. York, a resident of Maine, is a single mother running a family farm.

"As a teenager, I thought if you work hard enough in the United States of America, then it's your own fault you're poor," she said. "I adopted the conservative view around here. But my view has definitely morphed and changed over the years, and I see a bigger picture."

York is part of the Democratic Party where 60 percent believe forces outside of a person's control are the most significant causes of poverty. Meanwhile, just 27 percent of Republicans felt the same was true.

Men and women also differed on the matter. More than half of all women respondents said poverty is structural. On the other hand, less than 40 percent of men agreed with that line of thinking.

Good sign for economy
In good news for the economy, the Labor Department recently reported that the nation's unemployment rate fell in 20 states last month, while nearly 75 percent of the states added employment.

Employers added 217,000 jobs in May, which was the fourth straight month of gains of more than 200,000 jobs added to the economy. That marks the first such spell of four solid months since 1999. The unemployment rate remained at 6.3 percent, matching a five-year low.

Illinois posted the largest drop in unemployment, as rates fell from 7.9 percent in April to 7.5 percent in May. Massachusetts was second in line as unemployment fell 0.4 percent to 5.6 percent over that span. On the other hand, Georgia tallied the highest increase in unemployment, going from 6.9 percent to 7.2 percent in May.

Unemployment did rise in 16 states and remained flat in 14, according to the Labor Department.

Despite the economy's slow healing, Mike Vergere, a marketing manager for a medical manufacturing company in the suburbs of St. Louis, told CNBC that the country still has a long way to go.

"The first issue is that there are not enough jobs in this country that pay enough money so that people can live at the bare minimum to be able to make what we'd consider a living," he said.

Donna Myers, an insurance agent in North Carolina, believes that it's hard to get ahead in life without family money to support the younger generations.

"If you are born into a social economic group, you pretty much maintain that," she said.