I grew up a poor immigrant and spent much of my childhood killing roaches with 99 cent slippers. In public high school, I was surrounded by kids from every race, nationality and class. (I suspect they were inspecting my mullet.) But their success had nothing to do with any of those traits. Those who did well had two things in common: a stable home and effort. Not much has changed since then – or the beginning of time, except the messaging. We can now blame all ills on “the system”, the way medieval peasants blamed plagues on witches. It’s time we re-discover how much power we have over our own destiny. Even the poor.
I spend a lot of time coming up with novel products and services. But it’s often the simplest things that have the biggest impact. Analysis by the left-leaning Brookings Institute identified three steps that virtually guarantee avoiding poverty and likely, entering the middle class:
- Finish high school
- Get a full-time job
- Wait until at least 21 to get married and have kids (Marriage can also be interpreted as a committed relationship with dual incomes. Even better – save that ring and reception loot for a house, tuition or retirement.)
We’ve ALL internalized these rules. If you’re reading this, I bet most people you know already live by them…or try.
So why are we OK holding the poor to a lower standard than we do our own kids? Or, others we know?
Because they’re poor?
Or, we assume they’re not as smart?
Or, we feel guilty or uncomfortable? So we choose easier “solutions” that coddle our sensibilities.
None of those are acceptable.
We’ve seen decades of decay, empty promises, ineffective programs, zero acknowledgement or adaptation from past failures.
So how long do we keep pretending? How long do we let politicians use the poor as cynical pawns? Promising all sorts of freebies that nip at the edges of symptoms, but NEVER fix the problem or address root causes.
Who’s going to talk about broken families? It’s one of the biggest missed opportunities of the Obama administration, given his upbringing and absentee dad.
Like it or not, family is – and will continue to be – our first and best line of defense against a life of struggle and failure. Community is second. Everything else? A distant third, especially government.
Sure, we can try defying norms, changing culture, and rewriting rules of the game. But wait at your own peril. Reality will slooooooowly roll over you like a Zamboni, driven by a pothead. You’ll be a pancake long before a savior arrives.
So what’s easier or more realistic:
A) Waiting for a massive government solution that hasn’t come yet? Or…
B) Educating poor kids and struggling adults on how to follow three rules that are 100% within their control?
We can start on B today. Change curricula, get influential people to evangelize family and responsibility, encourage mentoring, promote organizations that are already doing this well (I listed several in this post). It’s all cheaper than empty promises.
I won’t pretend it’s easy to change behavior – even when you know what’s good for you. My waistline reminds me, daily. But if we offer struggling people a hand up, while convincing enough of them to adopt these rules, they WILL END POVERTY in one or two generations. And it will feel empowering.
Don’t expect to hear any of this from a politician. No one wins votes by telling us we don’t need them.
This doesn’t mean we should stop fighting corruption, discrimination, and inequity of opportunity. But encouraging others to wait for rescue means The System isn’t the only thing that’s broken.