Monday, April 7, 2014

If a Person Stays Poor in the US, He is to Blame

By Walter E. Williams

There is no material poverty in the U.S. Here are a few facts about
people whom the Census Bureau labels as poor. Dr. Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield, in their study "Understanding Poverty in the United States: Surprising Facts About America's Poor"), report that 80 percent of poor households have air conditioning; nearly three-quarters have a car or truck, and 31 percent have two or more. Two-thirds have cable or satellite TV. Half have one or more computers. Forty-two percent own their homes. Poor Americans have more living space than the typical non-poor person in Sweden, France or the U.K. What we have in our nation are dependency and poverty of the spirit, with people making unwise choices and leading pathological lives aided and abetted by the welfare state.

The Census Bureau pegs the poverty rate among blacks at 35 percent and among whites at 13 percent. The illegitimacy rate among blacks is 72 percent, and among whites it's 30 percent. A statistic that one doesn't hear much about is that the poverty rate among black married families has been in the single digits for more than two decades, currently at 8 percent. For married white families, it's 5 percent. Now the politically incorrect questions: Whose fault is it to have children without the benefit of marriage and risk a life of dependency? Do people have free will, or are they governed by instincts?

There may be some pinhead sociologists who blame the weak black family structure on racial discrimination. But why was the black illegitimacy rate only 14 percent in 1940, and why, as Dr. Thomas Sowell reports, do we find that census data "going back a hundred years, when blacks were just one generation out of slavery ... showed that a slightly higher percentage of black adults had married than white adults. This fact remained true in every census from 1890 to 1940"? Is anyone willing to advance the argument that the reason the illegitimacy rate among blacks was lower and marriage rates higher in earlier periods was there was less racial discrimination and greater opportunity?

No one can blame a person if he starts out in life poor, because how one starts out is not his fault. If he stays poor, he is to blame because it is his fault. Avoiding long-term poverty is not rocket science. First, graduate from high school. Second, get married before you have children, and stay married. Third, work at any kind of job, even one that starts out paying the minimum wage. And finally, avoid engaging in criminal behavior. It turns out that a married couple, each earning the minimum wage, would earn an annual combined income of $30,000. The Census Bureau poverty line for a family of two is $15,500, and for a family of four, it's $23,000. By the way, no adult who starts out earning the minimum wage does so for very long.

Since President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty, the nation has spent about $18 trillion at the federal, state and local levels of government on programs justified by the "need" to deal with some aspect of poverty. In a column of mine in 1995, I pointed out that at that time, the nation had spent $5.4 trillion on the War on Poverty, and with that princely sum, "you could purchase every U.S. factory, all manufacturing equipment, and every office building. With what's left over, one could buy every airline, trucking company and our commercial maritime fleet. If you're still in the shopping mood, you could also buy every television, radio and power company, plus every retail and wholesale store in the entire nation" ( Today's total of $18 trillion spent on poverty means you could purchase everything produced in our country each year and then some.

There's very little guts in the political arena to address the basic causes of poverty. To do so risks being labeled as racist, sexist, uncaring and insensitive. That means today's dependency is likely to become permanent.

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University and author of Race & Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?



  1. "No one can blame a person if he starts out in life poor, because how one starts out is not his fault."
    True that.
    " If he stays poor, he is to blame because it is his fault"
    .Tell that to the victims of State institutionalized rascism and/or bigotry. Is Mr. Williams denying that this happens? I can show him countless videos of cops planting drugs upon urban youth.
    " Avoiding long-term poverty is not rocket science. First, graduate from high school."
    Government schools? don't carve a pop-tart into a shape of a gun. You'll be tagged for life. Government schools institutionalize children. They do not educate.
    " Second, get married before you have children,"
    True dat.
    " and stay married."
    Good luck there.......when the entire works to break families apart.
    " Third, work at any kind of job, even one that starts out paying the minimum wage."
    Good luck there also.....when you were kicked out of school for making a pop tart gun, minimum wage laws,the Employment Lawyer cartel, bodily fluid sniffing Cartel,etc..........
    " And finally, avoid engaging in criminal behavior."
    In Soviet America criminal, behavior engages YOU.
    This ain't the fifties.
    This ain't the sixties.
    And it sure as hell isn't the seventies.
    This is the USSA.
    Easier said than done Williams...........
    easier said than done.

    1. It is definitely much harder today than probably any time in my lifetime. But I would say that this has only become true in the last 10 years. So long as we continue to put in safety net upon safety net, things are only going to get worse as more and more will realize that one can have more leisure time if one is willing to accept a lower standard of living and total dependence on the state. My wife has two family members in her family, both in their 50s that have stopped working and now work the welfare system (and us).

    2. "Soviet America"? Your hyperbole is absurd.

      Go educate yourself about how leftists in Russia used the term before the revolution. For example, you might read Robert Service's biographies of Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin. Service has written also several histories of Russia.

    3. Sorry Anon dude.
      I meant Soviet AmeriKa.

  2. JT, you sure are full of excuses!

    1. No .....just empathetic.
      We're all only one IRS audit or corrupt cop encounter away from abject poverty.

  3. " By the way, no adult who starts out earning the minimum wage does so for very long."

    Self-employment is a great way to consistently make less than minimum wage...for years.

  4. I made my first million 30 years ago, at age 30; my 2nd million, a month later, and even today, one can achieve wealth. However, the bias in favor of the wealthy, whether by tax policy, 40 years of inflation, favoring those with assets, and all the QEs, almost exclusively benefiting the top 1/2 of 1% (not me) have made getting out of poverty more difficult than ever. Sure, point out there is still opportunity, but please also point out that America is no longer the land of opportunity it had been (and please don't hold as examples the few internet billionaires; largely also the result of Fed policy.)

  5. Staying married requires the consent of both parties, which in some cases may be considerably more challenging than rocket science.

    1. No kidding. Especially when the state incentivizes women to divorce their husbands and get a beautiful cash payout as a reward. It also rewards the sluts who have endless kids outside of marriage. They spit out one welfare baby after another on my fucking dime!

      Got to love the state, eh? Makes people into bums and whores. You know, I don't think enough has been written on the terrible moral effects the state has on people.

  6. Collectivists can cry me a river...I'm originally from a 3rd world country, as an Objectivist I have been called "callous" towards the poor due to my morality of individualism and not considering private charity a virtue.

    You lot in the states are so spoilt, inbred, parochial and lacking perspective..take this seriously, when I say that it is INSULTING to even me and ACTUAL poor people in the 3rd world when you categorise anybody here as poor.

    In the US - even the homeless, handicapped and YES EVEN DOGS have a higher standard of living than actual poor people in the rest of the world including upcoming countries like BRIICS, Malaysia and lately Southern Europe.

    It is similar to when a someone checks a girl out here in the States and they pronounce "I literally got raped by this guy on the street" evincing a lack of understanding of what actual rape is.

    Your discussion of poverty is childish at best and downright condescending to the rest of the world. Even a blue-collar worker here makes more on a purchasing power parity adjusted basis than a doctor/engineer with a masters/PhD. degree everywhere else.

    SHAME ON EVEN US born LIBERTARIANS for not speaking up, I manage to shut the Left Coast and North-East people up in 5 seconds citing statistics and showing pictures on google of actual poor people and cities in the third world.

    Good job Robert@EPJ, for posting articles like this. Keep up the good work!!!


  7. And don't forget the Prison Industrial Complex.
    They WILL stay full, one way or the other.