Friday, January 5, 2007

Thoughts on Poverty, Part 2

So, why are people poor? Let's get rid of a couple of sub-groups of the poor, for starters. Some folks (I mentioned before, I once was one) are temporarily poor as a part of growing up, getting started in life, etc. Some significant percentage of those in the bottom 20% of income-earners will within a few years be in the upper half. Another group is "down on their luck"--a job layoff, a natural disaster, illness, or something similar. Both of these groups may need a leg up, in some way, but for the most part, they'll eventually be OK. Let's also exempt, for now, the aged and disabled (we may talk about Social Security some other day, but not now) as folks who cannot DO much of anything personally about their situation. I'll even stipulate that we (as families, churches, or even a nation) have an obligation to help them out.

What does that leave? A large class of people who are long-term poor, for some reason(s) at least partially within their control. I heard a statistic a while back on the radio. (I have no idea where to look for a link, so you'll have to trust me on the veracity.) It said that if you do three simple things, there is something like a 90% chance you won't be poor. Or, alternatively, that around 90% of the poor did NOT do these three things. They were: (1) Finish high school. (2) Don't have children out of wedlock. (3) Don't get married before you're 20. Of course, there are successful people who have managed to violate all three rules in various combinations--and anyone can make a mistake and overcome it. But that makes sense to me. Add another statistic to that--family units in that bottom quintile have less wage-earners and work less hours than those in the top four. Again, this is not to demonize the poor, and some of those situations cannot be helped. But it only makes common sense that a family with one or more people working full-time will have far more resources than less people working part-time. Consider the example of the "working poor" I used in my post on the minimum wage: 40 hours x $5.25 an hour = under $11k. Now take a guy who finished high school, who gets a low-skill job at a place like Costco, and stays long enough to get a raise or two. Say he makes $8. (Or, if you prefer, say that we raise the minimum wage as planned). Let's also say he works 6 hours a week of overtime. Now he makes over $20,000. If he and his wife both work like this, they make right at the national median income of $41k. So, stay in school, keep your pants up, get a job, and stick with it.

If that's all there is to it, then why is anybody poor? More on this later.

2 comments:

Philip Murphy said...

I guess this means you won't be voting for John Edwards.

Also, do you read Larry James' blog? He's pretty opinionated on this subject. He operates some poverty centers in DFW. http://larryjamesurbandaily.blogspot.com/

I'd read his blog more often, but it always seems like I don't have the time as I've got to go foreclose on someone's house every day.

Jeffrey Schimizze said...

I don't have much to say about poverty in America. I've honestly never given any attention to government policies and what not until recently. However I've developed my own opinion about poverty here in Turkey. Turkey is a third world country and very far behind the times. Their only slight saving grace is Istanbul which really isn't anywhere near where it should be considering how close to Europe it is. I believe that Turkey will stay the same for years to come simply because they're afraid of change and they don't want to do the work it takes to turn their country around. Turkey has been trying to get into the European Union for quite some time now and they've been turned down every time. I believe they get turned down because they have nothing to offer to the EU. They would only be benefiting from it and not holding up their end of the bargain. If they could make some economic/cultural changes and bring something to the table maybe they could sneak in there. I could be way off here and simply being completely biased but maybe I'm not.