Getting unstuck: Why some people get out of poverty and others don't

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  • Fred44 Salt Lake City, Utah
    Nov. 17, 2013 8:46 a.m.

    Anecdotal stories are great, and I congratulate everyone of you on this board who has successfully improved your lot in life. The fact of the matter is that it is tougher to live the American dream, because we are losing blue collar jobs to automation and third world countries who have no regulations protecting workers and the wages paid are practically zero.

    There are two problems at work here one is that we do have an entitlement mentality and there are those who would rather sit than work, and that has been well discussed. But the other part of the problem deals with those businesses who only have one concern, the bottom line. They no longer have an America first attitude, where they could live with a little less profit and keep jobs here at home. Hundreds of thousands of jobs have been exported, and the majority of jobs being created today are minimum wage jobs, and those jobs simply do not pay enough to raise a family on. American businesses must be part of the solution by creating good paying jobs here in America, or this problem will only get worse.

  • RBB Sandy, UT
    Nov. 16, 2013 8:42 p.m.

    Alt 34

    Food stamp expenditures rose from 30 Billion in 2007 to 74 Billion in 2012. During the same time, expenditures per person were up almost 30 percent even though inflation was about 10 percent. Maybe we should all just get on food stamps. The commercials make it look fun.

  • high school fan Huntington, UT
    Nov. 12, 2013 6:58 p.m.

    Over the past forty or so years, nine out of ten of my parents children made it out of poverty (but we didn't realize until much later that feel into this category) and we all did it the same way, we worked hard and mostly made smart decisions.
    My parents never had help except my Grandpa's garden and as far as I know, neither have any of us children. We don't actually help those by helping those that don't want to help themselves.

  • Truthseeker SLO, CA
    Nov. 12, 2013 9:25 a.m.

    Ruby Payne's book was not peer-reviewed, was self-published and has received much criticism.

    Utah, with its large majority of Mormons, is the perfect place to show us how we don't need govt programs to deal with poverty, that individuals and charities can take over aiding the poor and needy.

  • wally1121 Taylorsville, UT
    Nov. 11, 2013 9:18 p.m.

    I got an education and worked hard all my adult life. My first experience with unemployment came in 2003 after a 30 year career. I found it was WAY too easy to NOT find a job. Sure, there *WERE* no jobs in 2003, so that re-enforced the behavior. I was getting $444 per week TAX FREE for NOT working. Why would I ever take a job paying less than $20/hr under these conditions? My take-home pay would be the same. I was thankful for the money, but the circumstances made it far too easy to sit back and wait for the "ideal" position to open up, rather than accept an "underemployed" position.
    I think welfare should be left to churches and the private sector. In those settings, there is better oversight, and a more personalized approach to finding appropriate "help" for the recipients. The government only knows how to throw money at the problem, which solves little and encourages abuse. It's also NOT charity if taxpayers are FORCED to provide the support. Charity needs to be voluntary.

  • wally1121 Taylorsville, UT
    Nov. 11, 2013 9:17 p.m.

    Those who "make it" follow the rules you outline, but they also learn to live within their means. It doesn't matter how much you make. If you spend more than that, you're on the road to destruction.
    I have no data to support this, but I also suspect that the successful NEVER spend any significant time on public assistance. Being on the dole is addictive.

  • Kings Court Alpine, UT
    Nov. 11, 2013 7:52 p.m.

    Ready "Understanding Poverty" by Ruby Payne. It explains all you need to know about generational and situational poverty and how to overcome it.

  • NeilT Clearfield, UT
    Nov. 11, 2013 7:05 p.m.

    Shame on any business that refuses to hire someone that is unemployed. That is not the American way. If I find out a business does this I will not patronize them. The answer is in the scriptures. Give a man a fish you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime.

  • Wasatch Rebel Kearns, Utah
    Nov. 11, 2013 4:41 p.m.

    The article overlooks a few problems that are causing upward mobility to cease. One of these is no father in the home. Studies have shown that homes without fathers remain in poverty much longer than homes with two parents. Others have mentioned institutionalized welfare, and that is a big problem, but again, it generally stems from no father in the home.

  • Samurai Jake Salt Lake City, UT
    Nov. 11, 2013 3:40 p.m.

    A higher focus on financial education is what our country needs. Children continue hearing that they need to work hard in school, to get a good education, to then get a good job. This is wrong. Especially when many of the jobs kids work so hard to get a good education to qualify for, are paying at or below poverty level to begin with!

    A job is one of the riskiest agreements that adults enter into. The potential for being fired at any moment, for any reason, is scary business. While education may boost some to a new level, the real issue is the type of education we are providing the future generation. Traditional education provides little to no real world instruction on money, credit, savings, investing, and the like. Being guided on how to read your own financial statement should be the highest priority, as opposed to teaching math most kids will never use, or being forced to write 30+ page research papers for university assignments that, if we're being honest, typically remain unused and forgotten about once the assignment gets turned in. Real life financial how-to's are what's missing in our current educational system.

  • Strider303 Salt Lake City, UT
    Nov. 11, 2013 3:42 p.m.

    IMO we may confuse Education with Culture in describing what is needed to break out of the lower rungs of poverty. The culture of poverty breeds itself in attitude and behavior. A person may have degrees(s) but lack the culture of budgeting, deferring gratification, goal-setting and plain old "grit".

    Our materialistic society is built upon having what you want, now. Don't worry about payments just sign you name and drive it, eat it, wear it, live in it now. We create a culture of seeking the latest item regardless of need or ability to afford it, i.e., pay cash.

    A culture of saving, deferring wants and selflessness in service and life will focus us outward and we will find the way out of poverty, be it financial, cultural or emotional.

    In my not so humble opinion.

  • MatchboxWhistler Atlanta, GA
    Nov. 11, 2013 3:20 p.m.

    A popular Atlanta radio show host simplified getting out of poverty into three steps:

    - Wait until you're married to have children.
    - Stay out of jail.
    - Get a job and keep the job.

    It's not overly difficult. My family came out of the bottom too by paying attention to consequences and thinking before acting.

  • hermounts Pleasanton, CA
    Nov. 11, 2013 2:13 p.m.

    That's why they call it the American "dream"--because it doesn't always come true.

  • sisucas San Bernardino, CA
    Nov. 11, 2013 12:41 p.m.

    Savings, education, etc all boil down to one thing. Some people have to have their reward now, and some can save it for later. I rose from the bottom quintile to the top. Many of my friends and siblings did not. The biggest difference is that I saved and worked hard. When they were buying cool clothes and having fun in high school I put my money in savings for college. In our twenties they got jobs that made them feel rich and partied every weekend while I went to the library. I went on to graduate school and lived like a pauper while they bought stuff, traveled and played. Now I make more than 10 times what my dad made, have a huge savings and still order from the dollar menu, shop at Ross and drive a 7 year-old truck. Meanwhile I see people all the time who I know make a fraction of my income and have the fanciest phones, new cars and expensive clothes, while receiving welfare benefits. I don't know what makes some people need an instant gratification and some not, but those who can wait are the ones who make it far.

  • joe5 South Jordan, UT
    Nov. 11, 2013 11:50 a.m.

    The analysis in this article is flawed. It starts with this quote: "One of the hallmarks of the American Dream is the belief that anyone who works hard and plays by the rules can achieve economic success." That suggests an "if-then" postulate. IF you work hard and play by the rules, THEN you can achieve economic success.

    (As an aside, I don't know who determines the rules but education, frugality, saving, generosity, etc certainly must be included in the rule set.)

    However, this article uses data from the entire population including those who do not satisfy the IF part of the postulate. How can you determine if the American Dream is still alive (as defined by the author) if you include data that violates the opening premise?

    By the way, I see economic success stories (moving up at least one level) all the time but invariably by people who satisfy the "work hard and play by the rules" criteria.

    The American dream is not a flawed concept. Just the analysis is flawed.

  • Brer Rabbit Spanish Fork, UT
    Nov. 11, 2013 11:24 a.m.

    There has never been a time in this country when education and opportunities for minorities have been more available than today. There has never been a time when more resources have been available to lift people out of poverty, but they seem trapped by their own lack of vision.

    Lack of vision, and a victim mentality hold many people back. This is being fed by the breakup of the family and a lowering of values of integrity and work ethic. It is easier to blame than to take the necessary steps to change, especially when you have been convinced by the media and government that it is not your fault. It is going to take more than money to turn this around.

  • atl134 Salt Lake City, UT
    Nov. 11, 2013 11:21 a.m.

    Recently there were 5 billion cuts in food stamp funding. That is an amount equal to the entirety of all food banks across America. Republicans wanted to cut 40 billion from it...

  • Brave Sir Robin San Diego, CA
    Nov. 11, 2013 10:42 a.m.

    Too many red herrings in this comments section. It actually has very little to do with welfare or dependency or government handouts. It has everything to do with education.

    In the poverty cycle, parents are poor because they don't have a good education. Because they don't have a good eduction, they don't understand the economic value that comes from a good education. And because they don't understand the economic value that comes from a good education, they don't emphasize the importance of education to their children. And because they don't emphasize the importance of education to their children, their children do poorly in school and don't end up getting a good education. And we're back to the beginning of the poverty cycle.

    I've seen the cycle and seen it broken in my own family. My grandparents and great-grandparents were poor farmers. It wasn't until they emphasized to my parents the need to go to college that my progeny was lifted from the cycle of poverty. It's not a coincidence - education is the key to lifting generations from poverty.

  • spring street SALT LAKE CITY, UT
    Nov. 11, 2013 9:12 a.m.

    @ Kralon: Business Insider has a very good article that debunks that claim. It also addresses ways to eliminate welfare traps and encourage people to return to work instead of punishing them for it.

  • JSB Sugar City, ID
    Nov. 11, 2013 9:12 a.m.

    I've always had a pretty average income but and better off than most in my income bracket. One thing that has made a huge difference is that I have never made a car payment. If I couldn't pay cash, I didn't buy it. My cars were usually dependable but they were not anything to brag about. But we've saved literally thousands of dollars in interest over the years. Also, insurance is less. Just a little advice for people who are financially stressed and looking for a way to save money.

  • J-TX Allen, TX
    Nov. 11, 2013 8:28 a.m.


    I completely agree. One-on-one is how you make a difference. Because I speak fluent Spanish, and many of the at-risk in Texas are Hispanic, much of my outreach is in that community. Good thing I'm a jeans and t-shirt kind of guy.

  • Tekakaromatagi Dammam, Saudi Arabia
    Nov. 11, 2013 8:18 a.m.

    @J-Tx. Good for you.

    I think that if someone wants to fight poverty, that the government is not the solution. (It may be a necessary band-aid but it isn't a solution). If you want to fight poverty go into the poor parts of town and help children learn. I used to volunteer to tutor junior high school students in the poor black part of town where I lived. That is how to fight poverty.

  • J-TX Allen, TX
    Nov. 11, 2013 8:16 a.m.

    (cont.) to attend a small state school. I worked 3 jobs, took a constant overload (avg. 23 hours) and graduated with 3 BAs, but still didn't know what I wanted as a career.

    4) Willingness to try new things- I have worked as a paperboy, street paver, bus boy, sewer maintenance worker, waiter, singer / actor, ditch digger, singing waiter, loan officer, model, restaurant manager / trainer, Finance company asst branch manager, hotel manager, technology inside sales, technology field sales, Home Depot freight team member, and technology Territory Sales Manager. Tomorrow, I'll probably sell shoes....

    5) Willingness to help others- Because of humble beginnings, I have always tried to be active in volunteering and donating to charities. Habitat for Humanity, BSA, GSA, Community Theater, you name it. Others need help to get out of the bottom 5th, too.

  • J-TX Allen, TX
    Nov. 11, 2013 8:06 a.m.

    I grew up in the bottom 10th. I have 3 siblings. They are still in the bottom 10th. I am somewhere in the middle, earning over $100K. Here are my contributing factors, different from my siblings:

    1) Eagerness to work- I was laid off in 2009 - unemployed for the first time since 1972, when I first started slinging newspapers. While I applied for unemployment, I never collected it, because in the 5 months between 'real' jobs I worked at Home Depot.

    2) Ability to learn from others' mistakes- I saw that drugs, alcohol and other addictive behaviors around me only yielded unhappiness, and was unwilling to live like that. But this also extends to social, entertainment and pastime decisions.

    3) Desire for an education- I was the first to go to college on either side of my family. It looked for a long time that the only option would be a military academy. I loathed the idea, because I had grown up with a dad in the military and hated the lack of family life it delivered, but was willing to go that route to get an education. Fortunately, a series of miracles afforded me the opportunity (cont)

  • techpubs Sioux City, IA
    Nov. 11, 2013 7:17 a.m.

    Lost in this article is the fact that not all on welfare are on it for the same reason(s). Some have always needed it, some have been forced onto it, and some have learned to work the system so that they can do other things while receiving it.
    Until we as a Nation find and make the appropriate changes this will continue.

  • Kathy. Iowa, Iowa
    Nov. 11, 2013 6:41 a.m.

    May I suggest reading A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne. There are different rules for staying in poverty and rising above it.

    Planning ahead for future need just seems beyond the ability of some.

    I have siblings that spend every dime they have and every dime they can borrow. That habit keeps them in poverty. They probably wouldn't admit it but they really never plan to pay what they have borrowed. They are also always surprised when perfectly predictable expenses arise.

    I do know we have the sick among us that cannot provide for themselves and I am not talking about them.

  • K Mchenry, IL
    Nov. 11, 2013 5:14 a.m.

    The American dream is that your social level isn't set by birth. It's not. That doesn't mean everyone goes up. It can mean someone going down. It means you not have to work in a specific occupation because that is what your father did. It means you can go to school seven if you are a girl or farmers child.

  • Truthseeker SLO, CA
    Nov. 10, 2013 10:34 p.m.

    "Helping people in need is good, but welfare needs to be revamped and limited in time"

    The 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act granted states the ability to design their own systems, (for cash assistance) as long as states met a set of basic federal requirements. The bill's primary requirements and effects included the following:

    Ending welfare as an entitlement program;
    Requiring recipients to begin working after two years of receiving benefits;
    Placing a lifetime limit of five years on benefits paid by federal funds;
    Aiming to encourage two-parent families and discouraging out-of-wedlock births;
    Enhancing enforcement of child support; and
    Requires state professional and occupational licenses be withheld from illegal immigrants.[24]

    In granting states wider latitude for designing their own programs, some states have decided to place additional requirements on recipients.

  • Kings Court Alpine, UT
    Nov. 10, 2013 8:43 p.m.

    It is interesting to see how some people on these forums are so fixated on poor people receiving government assistance (welfare) that they fail to see an epidemic of government assistance (welfare) to large corporations. There are two welfare classes in the United States, the very poor and the very rich and the rest of us are stuck holding the bag.

    Nov. 10, 2013 7:55 p.m.


    "I think your approach is incorrect. People go to the government because they have no other choices. People don't want to be on welfare nor do they choose it--they would much rather be able to provide for themselves. Unfortunately their circumstances do not allow for it."

    In 39 states, welfare programs pay better than the starting salary for a secretary, this is from watchdog dot org.

    Helping people in need is good, but welfare needs to be revamped and limited in time for those that are physically and mentally able to work.

  • charlyk salt lake city, UT
    Nov. 10, 2013 7:34 p.m.

    Lighting the Way,
    I think your approach is incorrect. People go to the government because they have no other choices. People don't want to be on welfare nor do they choose it--they would much rather be able to provide for themselves. Unfortunately their circumstances do not allow for it.
    By removing the welfare program entirely you would further cripple a class that already is the most disadvantaged. How could they think about going to college when they don't know where their next meal is going to come from? Saving money is impossible when you need every cent and more in order to keep the electricity turned on or prevent eviction? Welfare can be a stepping stone for people to enable themselves to gain financial stability and independence. It is not a crutch for the weak, it is a lifeline.