For the sake of a metaphor, let's say you are one of the founders and designers of a new, dystopian world. You have no self-determination, only control over potential resources. You have no idea about your family makeup, your race, your gender, your sexual orientation, your physical and mental abilities, your job opportunities, your income, your health, your food access, your neighborhood, your education. But you do know that you can determine programs now to potentially help you in your new life. Knowing that you have the potential to be disadvantaged in any (or every) aspect of your basic liberties, would you want a safety net?
John Rawls calls this a veil of ignorance, the original position of equality, or the clean slate that we all are supposed to start out with before life decides to deal its cards. But for many low-income families, this position is influenced by certain factors before the children are even born, while they're still in the womb - many factors over which their parents have no control.
The selfish part of the flipped side of the coin is this: when your veil of ignorance is your own economic privilege. it's convenient for you to not want to invest socially in the welfare of Americans living in poverty because you don't have a vested interest in the issue. But when you grow up in an environment with a lack of economic opportunity, your future opportunities are already very limited by necessary influences that many of us who haven't experienced this take for granted: access to nutritional food, quality education, educational enrichment outside of the classroom, healthcare, and even quality time with your parent(s) because of how hard they work to provide for the family. For people living in poverty, each step has a new obstacle because of the previous step's obstacle one had to overcome.
We can say that poverty is an individualized problem, but all that does is allow us to dodge responsibility. Do you think that the good Samaritan was obligated to stop and help the robbed and beaten man on the side of the road? You may say, Of course, I would never pass by someone without stopping to help them.
Here's the thing: many of us do it every day. We choose to overlook the burdens of our neighbors that limit their liberties every single day, which in some cases are actually life-threatening. Just because poverty is invisible to you, to many of our politicians -- it doesn't mean that it's nonexistent. Where is the morality in saying you are only obligated to help others who you see, and then choose to shelter ourselves and close the blinds of our eyes?
Another thought is this: what if the good Samaritan had only assumed the most immediate needs of the man on the side of the road and hadn't bothered to ask? He wouldn't have the information he needed to comprehensively support his recovery.
If this is the case, we can't rely on our good neighborliness to be enough to solve this rampant issue of national (and global) poverty. With the rise in unequal distribution of wealth and the decline of the middle class, it has already proven to not be enough. The role of government in anti-poverty measures doesn't have to and should not be a one-party, partisan issue. We owe the hard-working people of this country so much more than criminalization, the underhand of "us versus them," and destabilizing financial burdens. Let's cross the aisle and talk about economic justice.