A report from the New York Times published Wednesday follows United States Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson as he tours low-income housing units in Ohio. During one stop at a homeless shelter in Columbus, reporter Yamiche Alcindor describes Carson as "plainly happy" to learn that the facility has no TVs, and that the proprietors have stacked "dozens of bunk beds" inside.
Compassion for these people, Carson reportedly said, means not giving them "a comfortable setting that would make somebody want to say: 'I'll just stay here. They will take care of me.'"
At one point, Carson acknowledges that elderly people and people with mental and physical disabilities should receive housing assistance from the government. But others should be asked to fend for themselves more.
"There is another group of people who are able-bodied individuals, and I think we do those people a great disservice when we simply maintain them," Carson said, according to the Times.
These anecdotes from Carson's trip — which included stops in Detroit, Dallas and Miami— highlight his austere views on government assistance for the poor. Carson, who grew up in "dire poverty," has stoked controversy in the past by claiming poverty is a choice.
"Poverty was really more of a choice than anything else," Carson once said, "and it really just depended on how hard I wanted to work."
Carson had no experience running a government agency before he was tapped to become HUD secretary in 2016. But his harsh views toward poor people made him an appealing pick for President Donald Trump's cabinet, which is stacked with inexperienced ideologues known mainly for their extreme conservatism.
Carson is not alone in seeing the poor as feckless layabouts who refuse to work, either. A 2014 report from the Pew Research Center found that roughly one in four Americans also attribute economic inequality to a "lack of hard work" by some.
This is lazy reasoning, considering that most able-bodied, non-students living below the poverty line in the U.S. did work in 2015, the most recent year for which Bureau of Labor Statistics data is available, according to the Center for Poverty Research at the University of California, Davis. Unfortunately, 82% of these people also faced at one of the "major labor market problems" identified by the BLS: low earnings, unemployment and involuntary part-time employment.
Carson's views on poverty have not been demonstrably altered by these facts. In any case, the people living in the units he visited knew his affiliation with Trump spelled bad news for them.
"If he got something to do with Trump, that means he's not really for us," Antoine Williams, a 45-year-old resident of supportive housing for the chronically homeless, told the Times. "It's not surprising. That's what the rich do, they make it hard for the poor."