This encompasses a lot of my reaction when I first read this article a few years back, and before I spent some time volunteering with charities in the US. I was, frankly, angry. Most of the time, being poor in the US is not a matter of sheer survival (except for health care), but simply a very deep hole which is hard to climb out of. But possible, right? So why not just do it?
But these days, this reaction is what really angers me. It's still a fucking deep hole. And the psychological effect of being raised in these circumstances is what doesn't get acknowledged a lot. A lot of the time you have to be taught that it's even possible to dig out of it, let alone how. This is especially true if you were raised in poverty, by parents who were also raised in poverty, in a place where the schools are a joke and you don't know anyone who has been successful. It's very easy to simply despair in these conditions, and not even realize it might be possible for things to change, because as far as you know it's not. And while the rare person might be able to summon the willpower to escape this, I'd like to know how many people truly think they could if they had never even seen what success looked like, except on TV.
Hell, I was raised in an area which was simply rural middle class, not poor by any definition; and almost no one there could imagine that good schools, good health care, or a substantially better life were in reach. The idea of attending any private university, let alone an Ivy, was a joke. And we were luckier than 99% of the world, and knew it! For some... I simply can't imagine.
The dismissive attitude exhibited in so many tech forums towards the poor is just infuriating, both in the "lazy poor" category and the "it's not as bad as elsewhere!" type. If you're in that situation, it doesn't matter that there's someone out there worse-off. What does matter is if you were brought up to think success isn't possible, you despair of making anything better, and you've lost hope. I won't argue back and forth about "handouts" because a lot of the time that's used to be dismissive too. But making it known that it's actually possible to have a better life--that is what needs to be done.
(Tangentially, it's worth pointing out that Scalzi acknowledges the difference between being poor in the US and in the Third World, as in his followup post here: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2005/09/04/quick-followups/ .)