Economics 101 & Public Square

Five Ways Christians Can Increase Income Mobility

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Editor’s note: Today we introduce Dr. Manuel Salazar, the newest contributor to the IFWE blog. Dr. Salazar teaches economics, finance, and accounting at William Jessup University, and will blog periodically about issues at the intersection of faith and economics.  

Over the past few years there has been much discussion about reducing poverty and increasing income mobility (also referred to as economic or social mobility) in the United States, but few viable solutions have been offered which can actually improve this important economic measure for individuals and families.

Recent research conducted by Pew’s Pursuing the American Dream: Economic Mobility Across Generations found mixed results regarding U.S. economic mobility, including mobility from generation to generation.

This should alarm the faith community. Assisting people to move out of poverty and the low income realm is not merely an economic issue. It is a compelling moral issue for Christians, churches, Christ-centered universities, and other Bible-focused organizations.

We are called by God to be the salt and light of this world (Matthew 5:13-16) and moved with compassion for those in need (Matthew 14:14).

Christians can answer this call by working to increase income mobility. Here are five ways to do just that.

Strengthen Families and Provide Mentoring

The traditional family unit is the foundation which permits people to flourish economically. In an article entitled “Improving Opportunities for Social Mobility in the United States“, author Raj Chetty highlights decades of research showing that “Children of married parents also have higher rates of upward mobility if they live in communities with fewer single parents.”

It is imperative for us to invest in making families become more whole, vibrant, and strong. The home is the first and most important place where faith and character are learned and attributes like diligence and determination are formed.

When families are incapable of supporting children (broken or troubled homes, for instance), we must step up and help mentor the next generation. Chetty states,

Social networks and community involvement…are very strongly correlated with mobility. For instance, high upward mobility areas tend to have more religious individuals and greater participation in local civic organizations.

Mentoring the next generation is crucial to advancing upward income mobility over time.

Support Exceptional Education

Chetty also states that,

The quality of the K-12 school system [is] also correlated with mobility. Areas with higher test scores (controlling for income levels), lower dropout rates, and smaller class sizes have higher rates of upward mobility.

It is vital we significantly reform our K-12 system to be more effective and efficient or we will not only leave future generations behind, but the U.S. will cease to be a global economic leader. Furthermore, even with college tuition levels increasing, it is still one of the best investments to help people increase their earnings, reduce poverty, and decrease unemployment, as this chart from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Department of Labor shows.

Focus on Developing Skills and Abilities

God has equipped people with certain abilities and interests which we can help foster. The development of these specific marketable skills over time often moves people up the income mobility ladder.

Learning vocational skills or earning professional credentials in areas such as information technology, management accounting, medical technology, etc. will aid in this endeavor. Developing sound communication, collaboration, and critical thinking skills are also essential for upward economic mobility.

Help Establish Habits Which Foster Success

Assisting people in creating disciplines which foster success, such as effective time management, professional etiquette, goal setting and achievement, and proper nutrition and exercise routines support each of the vital areas mentioned above. Mentoring and accountability can help people establish these types of successful habits.

  • Hard work and perseverance play a role in developing good habits. Help people to see their work as a gift from God and an incredible opportunity to fulfill his purpose for their lives. As people grow and persevere in their vocation, they will often flourish and increase in their levels of income.
  • Developing a winning mindset helps when trying to establish any of these habits. Helping people change their mindset is not an easy task and takes compassion and patience.
  • People need to develop an understanding that risk and return have a direct, positive economic relationship. A discerning individual must properly evaluate risk and then take the appropriate “plunge” at times, whether it is an entrepreneurial endeavor or new vocational training.

Promote Saving and Faithful Financial Stewardship

Previous research supports the premise that families who save more have higher levels of future income. This connection is found in the lives of savers’ children, too.

According to another Pew Charitable Trusts report,

Seventy-one percent of children born to high-saving, low-income parents move up from the bottom income quartile over a generation, compared to only 50 percent of children of low-saving, low-income parents.

Thus, teaching people how to save and better steward God’s financial resources is more important today than ever before in helping parents and their children move up the earnings ladder.

These are merely five of many more ways in which the faith community can help people improve in the area of income mobility. Let’s start by bringing broad awareness and then compassionate action to this worthy cause. We must see the great need and take the lead, prioritizing, organizing, and mobilizing our efforts and resources for the cause of Christ and for “the least of these” (Matthew 25:45).

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