In politics and society people are constantly looking for ways to eliminate poverty. Some say to increase minimum wage, others say that government programs need to increase; still others say that more education is the key. There’s no lack of suggestions out there.
When we talk about poverty in this way, though, we act as if it’s a virus, randomly infecting who ever happens to walk by. But poverty is not random. It’s politically incorrect to say it, but poverty tends to attach those who have made decisions that make earning a good living more difficult. Of course there are factors beyond our control, but for the most part there are things we can do to help ensure that we do better financially. Those who are parents should focus on poverty prevention among our kids, since we can affect things that government programs can’t reach.
William Galston, Professor of Public Policy at the university of Maryland, found that there are three steps that will give you a 90% chance of avoiding long-term poverty. First, graduate from High School. Those who graduate from High School are much more likely to avoid life long poverty. Then, if you don’t wish to pursue higher education, get a job immediately. Any job. It may not be your dream job, but the experience in working at a restaurant or in retail will lead you to better jobs later in life. Those who are willing to work, even for less money than they would like, find themselves employable down the road.
While you’re busy looking for those jobs, there’s something else you shouldn’t be doing: having a baby outside of marriage. In 2014 57% of parents ages 26 to 31 were not married. But single parenting is the biggest ticket to poverty that there is today. Marriage on the other hand, seemingly acts as a “get out of poverty free” card. Several studies have shown that marriage tends to boost your income potential. So if you can avoid the users, abusers, and stay married long term before having children, you are likely to avoid poverty.
Finally, stay out of trouble. When you find yourself in jail with a criminal record, it’s hard to feed your family and it’s hard to get a job afterwards.
Do these three rules work? Galston says they do. Only 8% of families who have followed these rules are poor, compared to 80% of families who have not. This doesn’t mean that you won’t face occasional lean years, but these experiences will be the exception rather than the rule. These steps aren’t rocket science, and on the surface they don’t seem that difficult. But they aren’t always fun to follow, and that’s why many people often neglect to follow this advice. Galston says many young people have what’s called a ‘magical outlook.’ That is, ask them what they will be doing ten years from now, and they talk about having a nice house, fancy cars, trips to the Caribbean, and more, but they don’t take any steps now to give these things a chance of happening. People today are taught to dream, but not to do.
Learn how to do. It’s not hard: finish high school, get a job, don’t have a baby before you’re married, stay out of trouble. And that’s it. Of course there are no guarantees, and rough times will come. People you love can leave you. You must be careful with credit cards. But these steps offer you as close to a clear future as anything else sociologists have come up with in today’s culture. So don’t make fun of it. Just do it, and make poverty history.