If an unexpected medical emergency bankrupts you, you view yourself as a victim of bad fortune while seeing other bankruptcy court clients as spendthrifts. Why? Outclassed: The Secret Life of Inequality is our new column about class. Read all articles here

Cecilia Mo thought she knew all about growing up poor when she began teaching at Thomas Jefferson senior high school in south Los Angeles. As a child, she remembered standing in line, holding a free lunch ticket. But it turned out that Mo could still be shocked by poverty and violence especially after a 13-year-old student called her in obvious panic. He had just seen his cousin get shot in his front yard.

For Mo, hard work and a good education took her to Harvard and Stanford. But when she saw just how much chaos and violence her LA students faced, she recognized how lucky she had been growing up with educated parents and a safe, if financially stretched, home.

Now, as an assistant professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University, Mo studies how to get upper-class Americans to recognize the advantages they have. She is among a group of scholars trying to understand how rich and poor alike justify inequality. What these academics are finding is that the American dream is being used to rationalize a national nightmare.

It all starts with the psychology concept known as the fundamental attribution error. This is a natural tendency to see the behavior of others as being determined by their character while excusing our own behavior based on circumstances.

For example, if an unexpected medical emergency bankrupts you, you view yourself as a victim of bad fortune while seeing other bankruptcy court clients as spendthrifts who carelessly had too many lattes. Or, if you’re unemployed, you recognize the hard effort you put into seeking work but view others in the same situation as useless slackers. Their history and circumstances are invisible from your perspective.

Here’s what has gone wrong: hard work and a good education used to be a sure bet for upward mobility in the US at least among some groups of people. Americans born in the 1940s had a 90% chance of doing better economically than their parents did but those born in the 1980s have only 50/50 odds of doing so.

As the dream has faded, however, its effects have not. Several elements of normal psychology combine to keep many across the economic spectrum convinced that the rich and the poor deserve what they get with exceptions made, of course, mainly for oneself.

This error lays the groundwork for beliefs that would tend to justify [systemic] inequality, says Arnold Ho, principal investigator for the psychology of inequality lab at the University of Michigan.

A great example of what the fundamental attribution error looks like in real life can be found in the bestseller Hillbilly Elegy. JD Vance writes of seething with resentment as he worked as a teen cashier, watching people commit fraud with food stamps and talking on cellphones that he could only dream about being able to afford.

From his perspective, the food-stamp recipients were lazy and enjoyed selling food to support addictions rather than working honestly. But he had little idea how they saw it from within, whether they were using illicitly purchased alcohol to soothe grief, pain and trauma; whether they were buying something special to celebrate a child’s birthday; whether the hard life that he had been able to manage had just gotten the better of others who were born wired differently or who didn’t have any supportive family members, as he did with his beloved grandmother.

Another instance can be seen in this quote found in an article in the Washington Post about immigrants from a retired factory worker in Pennsylvania: They’re not paying taxes like Americans are. They’re getting stuff handed to them, the retiree complained. Free rent, and they’re driving better vehicles than I’m driving and everything else. He may not have known or didn’t care that immigrants do pay taxes (and so do millions of undocumented immigrants) or that they don’t typically get free rent either.

Indeed, this type of complaint that undeserving people cut the line, as sociologist Arlie Hochschild puts it is so common in coverage of Trump voters that it was recently caricatured by Katha Pollitt in the Nation: I played by the rules, said retired rancher Tom Grady, 66, delving into the Daffodil Diners famous rhubarb pie. Why should I pay for some deadbeats trip to Europe?

Another aspect of this phenomenon is known as actor-observer bias. When we watch others, we tend to see them as being driven by intrinsic personality traits, while in our own case we know that, for example, we acted angrily because we’d just been fired, not because were naturally angry people.

We tend to see the world through our own experiences, explains Stephen Pimpare, lecturer in American Politics at the University of New Hampshire and author of the forthcoming Ghettos, Tramps, and Welfare Queens: Down and Out on the Silver Screen. We often think it is structure or circumstance that constrains our choices, but it’s the behavior of others that alters theirs.

In other words, other poor people are poor because they make bad choices but if I’m poor, its because of an unfair system. As a result of this phenomenon, Pimpare says, poor people tend to be hardest on each other. He gives the example of a large literature in anthropology and sociology about women on welfare published since the 1980s. It finds over and over again that some of the nastiest things you ever hear about women on welfare come out of the mouths of women on welfare.

For instance, one woman will talk about how another down the hall is lazy and sits around, exploiting the system even though her own behavior could be viewed from the outside as virtually identical. Some will even go so far as to deny that they even get welfare payments, he adds.

Biases about the nature of inequality, of course, don’t only affect poor people.

Among the wealthy, those biases allow society’s winners to believe that they got where they are by hard work alone and so they deserve what they have while seeing those who didn’t make it as having failed due to lack of grit and merit.

The myth of meritocracy turns out to be deeply anti-meritocratic, says Richard Reeves, author of Dream Hoarders, a new book that suggests that it’s not only the 1% who need to take a look in the mirror when complaining about inequality more like the top 20%.

It’s something of vicious circle, he says, describing how rising inequality increases physical and geographical segregation by class, which then reduces cross-class contact and decreases the ability to interact and empathize. Less empathy then fosters greater political polarization and justification of inequality, which in turn causes the cycle to repeat.

Cecilia Mo’s experience of the effects of inequality on education came during a stretch with Teach For America, a selective program that allows top university students to spend two years teaching in poor communities. It inspired her to study that organization, to learn whether close contact with people across class can change attitudes.

She figured that the elite students who wanted to join the program were already inclined to see structural disadvantages but found that, even for them, real experience deepened their commitment.

Intimate contact such as the experience of teaching in the inner city, mentoring, other types of services that allow people to connect despite class difference builds empathy. The more you engage with people unlike you and learn about their lives and stories, the harder it is to see them as stereotypes or to dismiss their challenges as trivial.

While not everyone can participate in such intense service, the more we can recognize biases in ourselves, the less likely we will be to fall prey to them.

Outclassed: The Secret Life of Inequality is our new column about class. Read all articles here

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Disgraced Abby Lee Miller was a hot mess before she began serving her sentence for bankruptcy fraud, the Tuesday night Lifetime special “Dance Moms: Abby Tells All” revealed.

‘The View’s Jedediah Bila interviewed the former “Dance Moms” teacher and reality TV cameras followed Miller in the two weeks before she had to report to prison.

Miller was sentenced to one year and one day in federal prison after she plead guilty to not reporting an international monetary transaction and one count of concealing bankruptcy assets.

The special showed that Miller, 50, was desperately afraid of going behind bars.

“If I’m thinking about it every minute, I’m crying my eyes out,” Miller told Bila. But she vowed to make the most of her time before surrendering, saying, “I want to eat the food that I like, swim every day. I’ve got a lot of living to do in the next two weeks.”

Cameras showed the star famed for yelling at her girl dance students visiting her bariatrics doctor Michael Russo after he had removed 80 percent of her stomach in April 2017.

Miller admitted she hadn’t been dieting: “I’ve been eating what I like, what I’m going to miss,” before prison.

Dr. Russo said that was okay and she sighed, “I doubt there’s a salad bar,” behind bars.

The doctor told her she’d lost 30 pounds, and later, Miller said to Bila that she was trying to follow a vegan diet and remembered how her late father “was tough on me about [my] weight.” He told her, “Stop eating! You’re eating like you’re going to the electric chair.”

Although Miller obviously didn’t face the chair for her crime, she was still unhappy about her sentence of 366 days in federal prison and appeared to blame others, whining to Bila, “I made lots of mistakes, the number one being trusting other people with my money.”

Miller was accused of hiding money in secret accounts during bankruptcy. But she claimed in the interview that she had permission for multiple accounts.

“I’m not this horrible, evil person! I just made mistakes and I was stupid!  I thought I was paying everybody back,” Miller said.

Miller also admitted she was disappointed that her most famous “Dance Moms” kid, Maddie Ziegler, 14, and Ziegler’s mother, now don’t speak to her.

“That’s not the kid I raised,” she said of the girl she treated like a daughter.

Ziegler wrote a memoir in which she never mentioned her longtime dance coach but Miller said without her guidance, “I don’t think she would be where she is today. I hope that she doesn’t forget the good times.”

The reality TV star sobbed at the prospect about having nothing when she came out of jail, even though a friend had agreed to run her Los Angeles dance studio for her.

Miller visited a prison consultant who advised her on what the experience would be like and cried about being handed prison clothes, “What if they don’t fit?”

Then Miller’s closest female friends shared a last supper with her the night before she had to go to jail.

“The khaki things scare me, they don’t have a pool,” Miller complained to pals about her upcoming ordeal. “I don’t know if they’re going to have a bra that fits me.

“I’m going to be a hot mess.”

And she certainly was the morning she left for the jail in Victorville, California.

Miller broke down in hysterical tears as she bid pals good-bye and then was driven away in a van.

The TV star had brought leftover macaroni salad in a big Tupperware container and started eating it in the van with a napkin after forgetting her fork.

A friend handed Miller a plastic spoon so she could eat properly before having to check in.

Then, at the prison, cameras were abruptly shut off as the special ended.

When it comes to health care, politics is always personal. That’s the particular message from one New Jersey mother who, as lawmakers wrangle recently with an Affordable Care Act alternative bill , has opened up about how exactly such legislation could impact the life span and survival of her younger son.

Two-year-old Ethan Chandra was born with heterotaxy syndrome , a rare genetic disorder that can result in the malformation or abnormal agreement of internal organs. His mom, Alison Chandra, told CNN on Weekend that Ethan was born along with multiple congenital heart defects, two left lungs and several spleens. His liver, gallbladder, plus stomach are all not in the proper place.

The toddler has suffered a slew of medical procedures since he was born, including multiple cardiovascular operations. On Friday, Chandra discussed on Twitter the hospital bill on her sons most recent surgery, an open cardiovascular procedure.

Thanks to their insurance coverage, the family only had to pay $500 for the surgical procedure. In an ensuing Twitter exchange, Chandra explained how insurance has assisted the family to cover her children’s mounting medical expenses which she said has long surpassed the million-dollar mark.

Referring to the health care expenses the GOP unveiled last week, that allows states to reintroduce annual and life time limits on insurance coverage, Chandra expressed deep concern how this kind of change could impact her child.

If this bill is passed, it can depend on how [the New Jersey] authorities react in terms of safeguarding families such as ours, Chandra told Buzzfeed. In the event that lifetime caps are reinstated, we all simply won’t be able to afford the out of pocket costs without insurance. We might have to choose between his life plus bankruptcy .

Her tweets on Friday, Chandra’s story have gone viral.

Chandra has been using the media’s attention as an opportunity to share the stories associated with other families whose lives will be fundamentally altered by an ACA repeal.

The Congressional Budget Office released a report Monday showing that 22 million fewer individuals would have health coverage over the next 10 years under the proposed GOP healthcare bill compared to coverage under the ACA.

Chandra said she expectations lawmakers will consider children such as Ethan as they decide what to do following.