Economics 101 & Public Square & Theology 101

Five Factors Impacting Poverty Today

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Some time ago, economist Walter Williams offered some apt advice in an article entitled, “How Not to be Poor.” This piece has stayed with me in my income inequality research, and it immediately came to mind when Heritage recently released their 2014 Index of Culture and Opportunity. Let’s take a moment to examine how America is doing in regards to Williams’s four points.

The Impact of Graduating from High School

Heritage reports that over a ten year span, “the percentage of public high school students who graduated on time (i.e., four years after starting 9th grade) increased by 6.9 percentage points.” This growth in high school graduation rates is encouraging.

Stewardship is as much internal as it is external. When God called mankind to have dominion over the earth and to cultivate it, he was calling them to turn their gifts and talents to the development of his creation. This is why it is essential that each of us respond to the same calling by pursuing the development of our gifts in an academic realm.

For most, this means a minimum of a high school education, but this will look different for everyone. Some will not learn well in a public setting; others might need the hands-on experience of trade school. Each of us must pursue the method of stewardship for which God has uniquely suited us.

The Impact of a Lasting Marriage

“From 2001 to 2011, the marriage rate dropped by 10.3 marriages per 1,000 unmarried women ages 15 and older,” according to Heritage’s report. Concurrently, the divorce rate has remained relatively stable during that time, “decreasing by 0.4 divorces per 1,000 people.”

Heritage’s W. Bradford Wilcox explains that the decreased marriage rate disadvantages children who are more likely to go on to experience hardship as adults, fuels growing social and economic inequalities between the highly educated and less-educated Americans, and is a drag on the American Dream because marriage and family stability are often correlated with prosperity.

Flourishing requires faithfulness. We’re designed to be in relationship with our Creator, and marriage mirrors this intimacy. On a more mundane level, marriage allows a couple to share the burdens of daily life and of raising children.

The Impact of Working Any Job, Even One That Starts at Minimum Wage

I ran some quick math, and if a couple were both working minimum-wage level jobs, their joint pre-tax income would be $29,000. This is above the national poverty level.

  • However, according to a study released last year by the Cato Institute, in thirty-nine states, it is more cost effective for an individual to remain on welfare benefits than to earn a secretary’s starting salary.
  • In eleven states, welfare pays more than “the average pre-tax first year wage for a teacher.”
  • In light of the available welfare packages, it makes perfect sense that the labor force participation rate for adults ages twenty-five to fifty-four has fallen two percentage points from 2003 to 2013.

We were called to work. Being able to work allows us to take part in the cultural mandate and the Great Commission. Just as we are called to faithfulness in relationship, we’re called to faithfulness to family and community.

The Impact of Avoiding Criminal Behavior

It’s commonly accepted that peace and harmony are consistent with flourishing. Unfortunately, in a broken world, crime and violence are unavoidable on some level. Heritage’s report reveals that “from 2002 to 2012, the violent crime rate declined by 107.5 crimes per 100,000 people.” As Heather MacDonald comments in the same study, this drop in crime is puzzling because it can’t be traced to efforts by either political party or to family breakdown.

It has been shown, however, that combining market societies with Christian values leads to a decrease in crime because there is an inherent value for life. Furthermore, with an increase of economic freedom comes greater peace. Whatever the cause, it is one factor that seems to have improved in the cycle of poverty.

The Impact of Realigning Incentives

In the discussion of poverty and income inequality, we often hear race or other factors being blamed exclusively for the plight of the poor, but there are additional incentives for individuals to remain unemployed.

As long as high welfare benefits, coupled with minimal work-like activity requirements, compete with basic jobs, self-sufficiency rates will continue to be low. With such high welfare packages, it makes sense that recipients would choose to continue to receive help instead of seek work. As Christians, we’re called to encourage one another to be the best stewards possible of the resources with which we have been gifted.

We are certainly not called to perpetuate stumbling blocks. How can we help others embrace prosperity?

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