There’s a formula for escaping poverty in America, and entering the middle class, which we’ve repeated here a number of times: here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
- Don’t have sex before age 20.
- Don’t have sex until after marriage.
- Stay married.
- Obtain at least a high school diploma.
A couple of contrasting articles came to my attention recently. The first, “Telling Poor, Smart Kids That All It Takes Is Hard Work to Be as Successful as Their Wealthy Peers Is a Blatant Lie,” explains why the poor are so disadvantaged that no amount of hard work can overcome their disadvantage. The other, “Will Your Child be Rich or Poor? 15 Poverty Habits Parents Teach Their Children,” explains the difference in ways of thinking between the poor and the wealthy.
The formula above is pretty minimal. Out of poverty means you’ve got housing, clothing, and food handled. But it might require a lot of hard work, lifelong struggle, and lack of the perks of wealth: travel; additional education; art and music for pleasure; luxuries and comforts; enjoying better foods, clothing, and housing.
Is that fair? People who think it is wrong for some people to enjoy things that all can’t enjoy are different from people who enjoy those things without guilt. And our beliefs determine a lot about our lives. So maybe those thoughts are worth looking at.
The you-can’t-get-out-of-poverty beliefs revealed in the first article are something like, “No one gets wealth just from hard work, good ideas, and social connections; they get that on the backs of the disadvantaged,” and “The deck is stacked against the poor, so no matter how hard they work, they’ll never get ahead.” The beliefs are self-fulfilling.
Changing thoughts can change the outcome.
There’s something to be said for social capital; it can make up for lack in a limited number of households. But if the larger community doesn’t have enough social capital, the disadvantages of social-capital-lacking families can be devastating.
The disadvantages can’t be overcome with money. Certainly they can’t be wiped out by taking money from the wealthy and giving it to the disadvantaged. Money is useful as economic capital, but it isn’t moral—it’s neutral.
The second article shows there's a difference in habits and ways of thinking that overcome the disadvantages, using a couple of lists. The first list contrasts habits of the wealthy and the poor. And the second describes what parents can do to teach the right ways of thinking that allow for wealth.
Here are a few of the contrasts (some of these I’ve paraphrased):
- 80% of the wealthy are focused on at least one goal vs. 12% of the poor.
- 83% of the wealthy attend/attended back-to-school night for their kids vs. 13% of the poor.
- 67% of the wealthy watch 1 hour or less of T.V. per day vs 23% of the poor.
- 9% of the wealthy watch reality T.V. shows vs. 78% of the poor.
- 73% of the wealthy were taught the 80/20 rule vs. 5% of the poor (live off 80% save 20%).
- 8% of the wealthy believe wealth comes from random good luck vs. 79% of the poor.
- 79% of the wealthy believe they are responsible for their financial condition vs. 18% of the poor.
So what is on the list of what to teach? All of it assumes teaching them the minimal formula of escaping poverty, listed above; that goes without saying. Then, some of it is clearly economic, but much of it is social (again, somewhat paraphrased).
- Limit TV, social media, and cell phone.
- Require educational reading, in addition to recreational reading.
- Get kids to physically exercise every day.
- Limit junk food.
- Teach goal setting—short-term and long-term.
- Expect children to work to earn money, and to volunteer.
- Teach children to save a large portion of their earnings and gifts of money.
- Teach manners, and gratitude.
- Encourage children to risk making mistakes, which can be used for learning.
- Teach children to manage their anger and negative emotions appropriately.
- Encourage sports and additional extracurricular interests.
- Spend time talking together as a family every day.
- Teach principles of good time management.
The poor need to learn that poverty can be a temporary place, and that within themselves lie great possibilities. Nothing keeps them in poverty more than thinking they’re stuck there, and then making decisions as though nothing they do matters.
Changing thinking would work better than taking all the money from all the top 1% of earners, and redistributing it to the poor. Those wealthy who are newly made poor are likely to recover, probably within their own lifetime, and certainly within an additional generation. Those given sudden wealth would remain in poverty, or return to it within a generation.
Prosperity requires certain economic practices, but it also requires living the principles of civilization. We don’t need ways to take wealth from those who have made it; we need ways to teach those who don’t have it what it takes to earn it. Teach them the habits and beliefs of prosperity.