Southern Utah University professor Richard Ropers basically accepts his lot as one of society's gloomsayers.
"That's the sociologist's role; people have to understand that," he said.Still, Ropers, an associate professor of behavioral and social science, couldn't help but wince at the name of his third book on social problems in America. "Persistent Poverty: The America Dream Turned Nightmare" was not his choice for a title.
"At least it's a white cover and not this gloomy thing," he said, holding up a black-covered copy of his first book, "The Invisible Homeless."
Gloomy or not, "The Invisible Homeless" sold out its first printing in four months, and he followed it with "Urban Ecology in the 1990s: Living the American Nightmare." Ropers has also contracted with McGraw-Hill to write an introductory sociology textbook, and his latest work has already received high praise.
"Through his examination of the economic and social roots of poverty and homelessness, Ropers pinpoints the villains and points the way to creative solutions," said Paul Tepper of Shelter Partnership Inc.
"Ropers skillfully leads us through the maze of numbers and political rhetoric to help us find a more clear definition of poverty. He gives us an understanding of what constitutes poverty, what it means to be poor, and how extensive poverty actually is in this country," said Wayne Hinton, head of the department of behavioral and social sciences at SUU.
A passionate spokesman for the poor and homeless, Ropers has sought to debunk the myth that they are unmotivated "bums" and "derelicts," a theme he addresses again in "Persistent Poverty" in a chapter titled "Blaming the Victim." Some 60 percent of the poor in America have full or part-time jobs, Ropers says. Of those who are classified by the government as poor, 40 percent are children, 30 percent are women and 11 percent are among the elderly.
The figures simply don't fit the old ideas of who the poor are, he maintains, and poverty is not a distant problem but one that can be found in our own "back yards."
In Utah, for example, more than 82,000 children live in poverty and many of them experience hunger. In Cedar City, median family income is $24,000 a year, while the national average is $30,000 and some 75 percent of the members of the Paiute tribe in the community live below the poverty level. Despite new industry, "underemployment" remains a significant problem, he said.
The declining American farm is only a part of the rural poverty problem, he noted, because most people in rural areas are not farmers, but are all too often employed by low-paying local industries. The federal government defines the poverty level as a $12,675 per year (or less) income for a family of four, and by its own statistics more than 32 million Americans live below that line.