1. Complete at least a high school education
2. Work full time
3. Wait until age 21 and get married before having a baby
The report was both surprising and intuitive. Surprising because we think that poverty is more complicated than that. We think that you can have all of those things and it isn’t enough. But it does work for most people. Only 2% of those in poverty have the three things. If everyone in America had the three things than only 2% of the population would be in poverty instead of the 15% that are in poverty today (See Poverty Statistics Page).
Intuitive, because you could hear your grandfather explaining the three things; telling you why an education is important, why marriage is valuable or how obtaining a work ethic is an essential personal trait. He wouldn’t think the three things are all that revolutionary – to his generation they were basic life skills everyone must master.
But today the basics too often are lost. Perhaps because too many of us were never taught them to begin with or grew up where survival was the day to day concentration, not education or work ethic. Perhaps there are no jobs out there and therefore no way to work. Perhaps homelessness, crime or drugs bury the three things in irrelevancy. There are lots of reasons why we have lost the basics, but the harsh reality is that we had better find them. They are our best hope in the fight against poverty. They might even be our only hope.
There is much talk in America about government programs that would truly rescue the poor from poverty by getting them a “living wage”. A living wage is an annual income that individuals and families can truly live on. There is talk of income redistribution, a guaranteed income, getting what we need for the “99% “from the “1%”. But such talk will never result in government programs that distributes a living wage in America. That isn’t meant to be a political statement, just a factual one. Consider the following:
- A living wage for the 45 million people in poverty and the additional 61 million below two times the poverty level (which is closer to a living wage) would be larger than the entire welfare system in America today (See the Living Wage Page).
- In six years of progressive policy under The Obama administration, the first two of which had a democratic, progressive super majority in the Senate and a strong majority in the House, nothing on the order of a “living wage” was passed. It wasn’t even proposed.
- Tax laws may change, minimum wage laws may get enacted, existing programs such as SNAP or Obama Care might be expanded, but these are a far cry from a guaranteed income equaling a living wage. The fight over Obamacare is intense and yet today it only helps about 10 million people get a subsidy for their health insurance - small potatoes compared to a living wage.
- Americans have a strong commitment to work – in a recent poll 80% of American Adults agree with the statement, “Work is the best solution for poverty” (See work for welfare page). There is simply not the support in America to create a large and expensive government program, dwarfing anything we have today.
The simple fact is that if you are in poverty waiting on the government for a living wage, you are going to be waiting a long time. The same is true for charity. Which brings us back to the three things.
No matter your political persuasion it is unrealistic to pretend that government or charity will cure poverty in America. Only the individual in poverty can do that. They can get help along the way, but they are going to have to personally accomplish the three basic skills if they want to get out of poverty, simple as that. If they have missed the third one already then they are going to have to work extra hard on the first and second. Hopefully government programs, charities and caring people can help, but if the person truly wants to leave poverty behind, they will ultimately have to solve the problem themselves.
That is the harsh reality our grandfathers knew. Maybe that is why they were big believers in education, work ethic and marriage.