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As I See It

Getting grip on poverty a step-by-step process

Last week John Edwards, the former U.S. Senator from North Carolina and John Kerry’s vice presidential running mate, launched his 2008 presidential bid. Actually, he announced that he is now a “poverty warrior” committed to eradicating the causes of this insidious disease from American society.

If this platform kept him in the limelight enough to make him a viable presidential contender, I don’t think he would mind one little bit.

As a child of the late 1950s and early 1960s, I cut my teeth on President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. America spent untold billions of taxpayer dollars to get rid of poverty once and for all. How could it be that poverty is still with us today? We expanded low-income housing, welfare, food stamps and minority set-asides to make poverty go away and it’s still here?

Yes, it is. And, unless we come to terms with what really causes poverty it’s still going to be here when John Edwards moves on to something else, like suing people. We have spent untold fortunes treating the symptoms without ever examining the patient to see what is really causing the problem.

Excluding that small percentage of people who truly can’t overcome their situation by themselves, most poverty is the result of attitudes and lack of goals and self-discipline.

One simple word: victimhood

To date our poverty programs have promoted permanent victimhood. Low-income Americans have been led to believe that they are helpless to change their situation and that they shouldn’t worry because the government has just the program to fix everything. And, after all, it’s the result of racism, sectionalism and all the other -isms and so nothing can be done without government intervention to make things better.

What a bunch of bunk!

Poverty exists today, in large part, because people are waiting on government to do what they can, and should, be doing for themselves. To prosper in any society, a person must contribute something of value. The higher the value of the contribution, the higher the person rises on the economic ladder. Success comes with preparing oneself to make a high value contribution.

Alternatively, if one contributes nothing, one is forever dependent of the generosity of society (i.e., the taxpayers) to provide the basic necessities of life. This is great for politicians, particularly those of the liberal persuasion, since it gives them a permanent, dependable constituency. They get to trade taxpayer dollars for votes and are assured to be re-elected. Unfortunately, they are playing politics with real lives and real dollars, some of which I contribute.

Step-by-step solution

OK, so much for what’s wrong with our approach to ending poverty. What should we do? The answer is really pretty simple. People must prepare themselves to make a contribution to society and have the ambition to actually deliver their contribution.

How does one who is in poverty escape? Isn’t the cycle endless from generation to generation? Yes, unless one breaks the chain of failure and ventures out into the world of work it truly is endless. But people break out all the time so it is not impossible, difficult, but not impossible.

Step one. Stay out of jail. Adding a prison record to one’s résumé makes the leap to the middle class extremely difficult. At the risk of appearing simplistic, one stays out of jail by obeying the laws.

Step two. Don’t have children until married, educated and trained in some occupation. Even ignoring the moral issues involved, kids having kids is virtually a guarantee for failure.

Why do so many unmarried girls become pregnant? Beats me. It seems that all that would be required is to look around at youngsters who have birthed children out of wedlock and see how their lives are going to convince a young female that joining the crowd is a bummer.

Step three. Learn to do something that produces a good living. College is fine, but increasingly our high-tech society demands skilled workers who don’t have degrees.

Everyone needs some type of training beyond high school. With all the loans and scholarships and programs available, just about anybody can finance their training and set themselves up for a place in the middle class and escape from poverty. Incidentally, dropping out of high school almost assures a lifetime of low-income. So, why do so many kids drop out of high school and lay around waiting for something to happen?

Step four. You must have sufficient ambition to get off your duff and claim your place in society. You can’t get there from sitting around waiting on somebody to do what you should be doing for yourself. It’s hard to break out of the doldrums and become a contributor to society, but it’s certainly not impossible as tens of thousands of low-income Americans do it every year.

So, there you have it. Four extremely difficult steps out of poverty that work every time. Will John Edwards propose something like this in his crusade to end poverty? You can safely bet that he will not since eradicating poverty would take away his stage and constituency and, even worse, imply that we are responsible for our own fate.

I am sure that his message will be a continuation of the old “you can’t help yourself, but I’m here to help you.”

What a disservice to the American people.

Thought for the Moment

When you have got an elephant by the hind leg, and he is trying to run away, it’s best to let him run. — Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)

Joe D. Jones, CPA (retired), is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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