Social mobility still a work in progress

Associate Professor Teo You Yenn offers important insights into low-income families, their poor choices due to poverty, and how society should treat them with respect and dignity ("Why low-income parents may make 'poor choices'"; Thursday).

Whenever statistics are examined, it is clear that social mobility is still a work in progress.

It is difficult, often impossible, for people to move between classes: The rich stay rich, while the poor stay poor.

It is also disrespectful to say that people who are poor are lazy and unmotivated.

Poor people work just as hard as the rich, usually at jobs that are more physically and mentally gruelling.

A series of unfortunate events or poor choices - for example, gambling addiction, getting into drugs, and borrowing money from loan sharks - can lead to destitution.

It also does not take long for one catastrophic illness to catapult a family into poverty.

Although some may make bad choices that lead to poverty, the majority either grow up in poverty, suffer from mental illness or have setbacks that make it difficult for them to get ahead.

Things are easier for someone who grows up in a stable family and has a good education, but not for someone who grows up in a dysfunctional family.

That said, people can still rise above poverty if they work hard, engage in lifelong self-improvement, make good choices in life, and form good habits.

Those who continually seek to better themselves and their circumstances create their own good luck, and wealth may follow.

Francis Cheng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 12, 2016, with the headline 'Social mobility still a work in progress'. Print Edition | Subscribe