Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Simple Rules for Avoiding Poverty

The headline of George Will's recent column in the Washington Post reads "What if the Major Causes of Poverty Are Behavioral?" Huh. Despite the fact that a lot of people have been insisting for a long time that much of the poverty in America is largely a result of the choices and behavior of those who find themselves stuck in it, progressives have turned a contemptuous ear to the very idea that people are in large measure responsible for their station in life.

It's therefore encouraging to see the WaPo entertain the notion that that idea may very well be correct after all.

Will begins by describing the collapse of communities like the Bronx in New York into intergenerational poverty. He notes that perhaps the chief cause is the disintegration of the American family and goes on to remark about what a pair of University of Virginia researchers have called the "success sequence" for Millenials:
Something now seems indisputable: Among today’s young adults, the “success sequence” is insurance against poverty. The evidence is in “The Millennial Success Sequence,” published by the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for Family Studies and written by Wendy Wang of the IFS and W. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia and AEI.

The success sequence, previously suggested in research by, among others, Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution, is this: First get at least a high-school diploma, then get a job, then get married, and only then have children. Wang and Wilcox, focusing on Millennials ages 28 to 34, the oldest members of the nation’s largest generation, have found that only 3 percent who follow this sequence are poor. A comparably stunning 55 percent of this age cohort have had children before marriage. Only 25 percent of the youngest baby boomers (those born between 1957 and 1964) did that.

Eighty-six percent of the Wang-Wilcox Millennials who put “marriage before the baby carriage” have family incomes in the middle or top third of incomes. Forty-seven percent who did not follow the sequence are in the bottom third.
Progressives tend to scoff at this prescription for success because it smacks of bourgeois values, but such disdain puts ideology ahead of people. It derides the means of escape from poverty simply because it's the means that have worked for a class of people they don't like. Some leftist African Americans also sneer at the success sequence because it implies that blacks should live the way white people do.

Well, yes. But a lot of whites don't live this way and are poor and a lot of blacks do live this way and aren't poor. What's more important, racial ideology or getting people out of poverty?

I would add to what Will says about the success sequence just a couple of things (in italics): 1. Get a meaningful diploma. Make sure you can at least read on a high school level when you graduate. 2. Get a job and don't leave it unless it's for something better. Be the best employee you can be. 3. Get married before having children and stay married, especially after having children. 4. Stay away from drugs and alcohol. 5. Regularly attend a good church.

There may be people who've followed this prescription who are still living below the poverty line, but I'll wager that one would have to look awfully hard to find them, and it's worth mentioning that, except for education, none of this costs the taxpayers a penny.