Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Three Simple Rules for Beating Poverty

Ron Haskins, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute, offers some advice to anyone who truly wishes to rise up out of poverty into the American middle class:
Policy aimed at promoting economic opportunity for poor children must be framed within three stark realities. First, many poor children come from families that do not give them the kind of support that middle-class children get from their families. Second, as a result, these children enter kindergarten far behind their more advantaged peers and, on average, never catch up and even fall further behind. Third, in addition to the education deficit, poor children are more likely to make bad decisions that lead them to drop out of school, become teen parents, join gangs and break the law.

In addition to the thousands of local and national programs that aim to help young people avoid these life-altering problems, we should figure out more ways to convince young people that their decisions will greatly influence whether they avoid poverty and enter the middle class. Let politicians, schoolteachers and administrators, community leaders, ministers and parents drill into children the message that in a free society, they enter adulthood with three major responsibilities: at least finish high school, get a full-time job, and wait until age 21 to get married and have children.

Our research shows that of American adults who followed these three simple rules, only about 2 percent are in poverty and nearly 75 percent have joined the middle class (defined as earning around $55,000 or more per year). There are surely influences other than these principles at play, but following them guides a young adult away from poverty and toward the middle class.
There's much more worth reading in Haskins' essay and readers interested in the plight of the poor are urged to check it out. Here are a couple of suggestions, in addition to the three mentioned above, that Haskins is perhaps alluding to when he mentions other influences, but doesn't make explicit.
  1. Get married before you have children.
  2. Stay away from drugs, alcohol and pornography.
  3. Strive to be the best employee at your workplace.
  4. Never stop learning.
  5. Limit your time on social media.
Sound too preachy? Consider #1 about which Haskins offers some statistics:
Today, more than 40 percent of American children, including more than 70 percent of black children and 50 percent of Hispanic children, are born outside marriage. This unprecedented rate of non-marital births, combined with the nation’s high divorce rate, means that around half of children will spend part of their childhood—and for a considerable number of these, all of their childhood — in a single-parent family.

As hard as single parents try to give their children a healthy home environment, children in female-headed families are four or more times as likely as children from married-couple families to live in poverty. In turn, poverty is associated with a wide range of negative outcomes in children, including school dropout and out-of-wedlock births.
Sure, it's harder for some than it is for others, given the circumstances of their lives, to rise into the middle class, but someone who wants to do it can certainly make it much less difficult by following Haskins' advice.