In interviews, several respondents to the 2014 NBC/WSJ poll who said they believed poverty was caused by factors outside of individual control explained that they think too much government assistance can help lock poor Americans into poverty.
"When you consistently get something for doing nothing for it, you begin to accept it and expect it," Vergere said.
Yet most of these respondents also said they think that the government should do more to create greater access to jobs and educational opportunities. Others pointed to wealth inequality as a factor in producing poverty.
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"Without a good education, and without family money to support young people, it's hard to get ahead," said Donna Myers, 61, a conservative independent who works as an insurance agent in rural North Carolina and earned a college degree well into adulthood. "If you are born into a social economic group, you pretty much maintain that." Myers says part of the problem comes from low-wage jobs that don't pay enough to support workers.
Leslie McCall, Ph.D., a political scientist at Northwestern University who studies inequality and public opinion, says that Americans have held on to 90s era stigma about family safety-net programs, while becoming more invested in opportunity-building policies.
"Concerns about inequality, or poverty, are not associated with an increase in support for traditional forms of safety net like welfare," McCall says. "But they do associate with increased support for spending in education, increased earnings for people at the bottom or the middle, and access to jobs. People look around and see that conditions are not a result of individuals, but of structural problems."
The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll was based on nationwide telephone interviews of 1,000 adults, including 337 reached by cellphone. It was conducted June 11-15 by Public Opinion Strategies/Hart Research Associates and has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points.
Reporting contributed by Nona Willis Aronowitz.
—By Seth Freed Wessler, NBC News