Poverty and Unemployment Facts, Collected

My statement that it is “simply a fact that people who work hard, finish their education, get married, and stay married are rarely — very rarely — poor” has kicked up a hornet’s nest here on the Revolution, on NRO, at the Gospel Coalition, and elsewhere.  While I unpacked my theological arguments a bit more in this post, I thought I’d share some core facts about unemployment, eduction, education, and marital status.

Unemployment rate of civilians with less than a high school diploma: 14.1%

Unemployment rate of civilians with a high school diploma (but no college): 9.1%

Unemployment rate of civilians with a high school diploma and some college or an associate’s degree:  8.5%

Unemployment rate of civilians with bachelor’s degree and higher:  4.7%

Poverty rate of individuals who worked full-time, year-round:  2.7%

Poverty rate for all workers (including part-time): 6.9%

Median annual household income for a household with a  married couple:  $71,830.00

Median annual household income for a male householder, no wife present:  $48,084

Median annual household income for a female householder, no husband present: $32,597

Poverty rate for a family with a married couple:  5.9%

Poverty rate for a family with a male householder, no wife present: 16.9%

Poverty rate for a family with a female householder, no husband present: 29.9%

These statistics don’t even include the effects of drug use and criminality.  If we can easily identify the risk factors for poverty, shouldn’t our anti-poverty efforts be focused on those risk factors?  Why do we de-humanize the poor by pretending they’re incapable of staying in school, of abstaining from pre-marital sex, of getting married or staying married?

No single person reading this blog can change the macro-economic forces that have driven factories out of cities and limited opportunities in vast areas of our country, but is your message to the poor that they should throw up their hands and give in to the temptations of destructive behavior?  Or is your message something different: that their parents’ choices don’t define their destinies, that they can persevere, and when they d0 — even it is the challenge of a lifetime — not only will their lives be better but their children will have much greater prospects?

Or why leave your involvement with a mere message?  After all, the thoughts in your head — even if passionately expressed on a blog comment board — are basically irrelevant to any person’s destiny.  Why not invest yourself fully in individual lives?  Mentor young people, take in foster children, think about adopting the orphaned and abandoned.  Take action to counter the prevailing pressures of the poverty-stricken communities with your own, living breathing example.  No one is righteous, but we can point our struggling neighbors to the One who gives life and hope.

But as you reach out, understand that you’re taking a risk.  Hollywood endings are rare.  I’ve been robbed, exploited, and left heartbroken by some of the kids I tried to mentor, but there are few greater joys than seeing the work of the Gospel in the heart of a young guy who was drifting into oblivion and witnessing a true transformation as cycles of poverty and despair turn into lives of virtue and promise.

The poor are accountable for their actions — as we all are — but with accountability comes hope.  There is a better way.

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  • Jeff

    The natural flaw in these statistics is human nature. We embrace Capitalism over Communism granting that human nature would not allow for a truly Socialized government structure. Inevitably, some will work harder than others and should be rewarded for this rather than seeing the benefit of their hard work passed on to the slothful members of society.

    There are some unemployed individuals making an ACTIVE effort to find employment. This cannot be disputed. There are also those that are content to leech off whatever social means they are able to sustain themselves with. The second group is the more interesting to look at in this topic. Would the naturally lazy group be more prone towards the effort required to complete a four year degree? Each step of education shows a smaller percentage of unemployed. This isn’t so much evidence that education is responsible for fixing unemployment. This is more of a display that those that are WILLING to work tend to do so, in any aspect of life.

    Yes, education can make finding valuable jobs easier. Yes, rising costs make education more difficult to obtain. But, utilizing the stats posted as anything more than further evidence of human nature is irresponsible. Those that WANT to be educated will find a way. Emphasizing it to those that aren’t interested will serve no purpose other than diluting the quality of today’s education. We already suffer the consequences of lazy students complaining about courses being too difficult. The loudness of their lazy voices has gradually impacted courses to the point that most are hand fed passing grades rather than grades to be earned. Pressing more unwilling students into the classroom won’t increase the quality of the education to those that actually want to be there. It’ll just equate to putting a band-aid on a broken bone.

    Obviously, two incomes often trump one income. That’s not so much a statement of marriage as it is simple mathematics. From your Christian perspective, shouldn’t the sanctity of marriage play a much greater role in the desire to seek marriage than a second income?

  • fuster

    it’s still a lousy argument. see Matt Yglesias on the difference between correlation and causality.

    http://thinkprogress.org/yglesias/2011/08/24/303655/the-depravity-of-the-poor/

  • fuster

    —–The modal person living in poverty is a non-Hispanic white living in a married couple family or in a childless family—–

    —–Although real GDP continues to rise, the US poverty rate has remained relatively constant——

    http://www.econ.ucdavis.edu/faculty/hoynes/publications/Hoynes-Page-Stevens-JEP-2006.pdf

    • David French

      Fuster, I appreciate your comments. I read the study you cited (with statistics from 2003), and it makes my points quite well. I’ve pasted two excerpts:

      “The poverty rate for individuals for whom the head of the family is married was 7 percent. In contrast, among individuals in families with an unmarried head and children present (five-sixths of whom are female unmarried heads), the poverty rate was 40.3 percent. Finally, among those with single heads, but no children present, the 2003 poverty rate was 17.9 percent.”

      And:

      “Finally, education is a strong predictor of poverty status. Among individuals living in families in which the head has less than a high school education, 31.3 percent are below the poverty line, compared with just 9.6 percent of those whose head has at least a high school education.”

  • fuster

    and the poverty figures for two-income families, David, are just that, figures for two-income families and figures for the economies realized from two adults in the household.

    they’re entirely independent upon whether those two adults are married or not and also independent upon whether those two adults are a hetero- or homo-sexual pair.

    what’s that do to you “depravity” deal, David?

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  • carlos

    It seems that based on the facts of the reasons for poverty you have described, that the solution you suggest is to pursue higher education, get married, work full time, abstain from drugs and immoral behavior. Have you consider that the majority of the problem is that some people are just too stupid to learn and follow wise instruction? I got a son like that.

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