Tag Archives: poverty

Behavioral Poverty

More than 50 years of social-sciences evidence demonstrates that behavior is highly predictive of many important life outcomes. Children who are temperamental, fussy, and aggressive often cause their parents to withdraw affection and to limit supervision, which leads to further bad behavior later on, along with subsequent struggles and frustration. Adolescents who verbally accost or threaten their schoolteachers are more likely to be suspended or expelled, as well as to spend less time studying, working on homework, and attending classes. And adults who engage in crime are the same ones who not only frequently end up in jail and prison, of course, but also remain voluntarily unemployed, and often find themselves at the bottom of the economic ladder. Behavior is predictive from one setting to the next, and consequences snowball. The body of research linking bad behavior to negative and cumulative consequences is remarkably robust, extends across countries, and has been replicated across academic disciplines with diverse samples, methodologies, and analytical techniques. These findings provide the basis for a range of policies and cultural narratives that could, if embraced, help people avoid many of life’s costly pitfalls.

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Behavioral poverty is reflected in the attitudes, values, and beliefs that justify entitlement thinking, the spurning of personal responsibility, and the rejection of traditional social mechanisms of advancement. It is characterized by high self-indulgence, low self-regulation, exploitation of others, and limited motivation and effort. It can be correlated with a range of antisocial, immoral, and imprudent behaviors, including substance abuse, gambling, insolvency, poor health habits, and crime.

While behavioral poverty’s causes are likely complex—involving the interplay between parents, genes, and culture—understanding its consequences is not complex: they are depressingly predictable. Because behavioral poverty can emerge early in life and remain stable over time, it’s not uncommon to see behaviorally poor children perform badly at school, compile arrest records as juveniles, and transition into adulthood with few or any skills outside those valued on the street. Few who work in the juvenile-justice system, for example, are surprised to find out that former clients get arrested as adults, or involved with drugs, or pregnant with no means of support.

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The ingredients to living a meaningful life involve self-restraint, tenacity, and personal responsibility.

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Behavioral poverty is perhaps most vividly illustrated in the lives of drug addicts. Here, adult responsibilities and even basic human needs, such as eating and sleeping, are subordinated to the compulsive ingestion of alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, or a mixture of these substances. We’ve interviewed offenders who reported staying mostly awake for ten to 20 days while on a binge. When drugs are not available, the addicts usually resort to crime. Drug offenders commit offenses at rates several times higher than their non-drug-using peers. Much of the incidence of crime, particularly burglary and theft, is tied to drug use.

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[M]any criminal offenders have no desire to engage in conventional, productive adult conduct. In our experience as criminal-justice practitioners, researchers, and clinicians, thousands of offenders have told us as much. All the rigors and responsibilities of adulthood—from paying rent and utilities to maintaining relationships—are fulfilled, free of charge, by the criminal-justice system. Conventional adults are horrified by the idea of imprisonment, but many offenders view jail as a refuge from the demands of life.

Behavior Matters: Why some people spend their lives in poverty and social dysfunction,” by Matt DeLisi and John Paul Wright, City Journal, Summer 2019


Angus Deaton: Measuring and understanding behavior, welfare, and poverty


We’ve known for a long time that unstable family life related to divorce, missing fathers, and communities with large numbers of single-mother households can be bad for kids. Deaths of despair are a red-flag warning that that these disruptions are similarly hard on adults. Though only 32% of the population, unmarried and divorced men account for a stunning 71% of opioid deaths. Emile Durkheim, one of the godfathers of sociology, found a link between suicide and family breakup over a century ago; the same link remains today. Divorce increases the risk of alcoholism for both men and women; so does checking “single” for marital status on government documents.

These numbers shed some light on why deaths of despair are concentrated among those with lower incomes. Higher income folks are more likely to marry and to stay married. They have closer, more sustained relationships with their children, relatives, and in-laws. In recent years, despite its one-time reputation as stalwart family traditionalists, the white working-class has diverged from its more affluent counterpart. As of 1980, about three quarters of white working-class adults were married; that was very similar to the 79% of high-income adults. By 2017, however, the working-class number had fallen to only 52%.

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It’s also true that many singles and divorced people, though unmarried, are not alone. Unmarried couples today frequently live together, sharing a roof, a bed, and meals. But these cohabiting arrangements tend to be short-lived and are often just a pitstop in a series of transitory, quasi-monogamous relationships. Fathers who split up with cohabiting partners are far more likely to visit erratically or disappear entirely from their children’s lives. Moreover, cohabiting couples’ ties to their significant others’ families and friends remain looser than do those of married couples.

The upshot of all of this is a growing subculture of loosely bound or even isolated adults. No wonder so many of them lapse into despair. Humans have always depended on close kin to love and care for them, especially when times are tough. The dismantling of kin networks is proving to be especially hard on the weak, ill, and elderly.

A nation dying in despair, and family breakdown is part of the problem,” by Kay Hymowitz, September 26, 2019

Back Row America

Had I asked people in my hometown why they were still there, I would have received the answer I heard in neighborhoods from Cairo to Amarillo to rural Ohio. They would have looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Because it is my home.”

When communities and towns are destroyed, partly because of the front row’s policies of globalization, the front row solution is, “Well, just move.” What matters is growth at all costs—even if it is brutal—and that requires everyone, always, to be economic migrants. The front row likes to say that the U.S. is a country of migrants, where people have always moved for jobs. It has been done before—the Dust Bowl, the northern migration of African Americans. But those migrations were responses to failure, not signs of success.

Back Row America, by Chris Arnade


America’s forgotten communities — interview with Chris Arnade | VIEWPOINT


Poverty is not the root cause of abortion

You do not have to be a libertarian to say that you do not trust this government to be the first responders for mothers in crisis pregnancies. As a Christian you know you have a responsibility to care for those in need, which requires your sacrifice and your presence, not your abdication of responsibility to a government that requires that the Gospel be left out of its services to the vulnerable.

Poverty is not the root cause of abortion

Family, Jobs, and Place

“I believe that each of us who has his place to make should go where men are wanted, and where employment is not bestowed as alms,” advised New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley in a famous 1871 letter. “Of course, I say to all who are in want of work, Go West!” Basically, Greeley was telling Americans to pick up and go to where the jobs and opportunities are.

Americans were once more willing to heed Greeley’s advice. From the end of World War II through the 1980s, the Census Bureau reports, about 20 percent of Americans changed their residences annually, with more than 3 percent moving to a different state each year. Now more are staying home. In November, the Census Bureau reported that Americans were moving at historically low rates: Only 11.2 percent moved in 2015, and just 1.5 percent moved to a different state. Yet many of the places where people are stuck offer few opportunities.

Why have we become homebodies? In a draft article called “Stuck in Place,” Yale law professor David Schleicher blames bad public policy. Schleicher argues that more Americans are stuck in places with few good jobs and little opportunity, largely because “governments, mostly at the state and local levels, have created a huge number of legal barriers to inter-state mobility.”

To get a handle on the mobility slow-down, Schleicher identifies and analyzes the policies that limit people’s ability to enter job-rich markets and exit job-poor ones. He also describes how economically declining cities get caught in a policy spiral of fiscal and physical ruin that ultimately discourages labor mobility. The effects of lower labor mobility, he argues, include less effective monetary policy, significantly reduced economic output and growth, and rising inequality.

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And homeownership rates correlate with higher regional unemployment and lower inter-state mobility. Mobility may be lessened due to the hassle of selling a house. Another possible effect is that homeownership might hold back development in an area through zoning restrictions that are detrimental to new jobs and entrepreneurial ventures. Of course, the federal mortgage interest deduction is a huge incentive encouraging homeownership.

Why Aren’t More Americans Moving?

McDowell County [West Virginia] has been the iconic symbol of poverty in America ever since the 1960 presidential campaign, during which then–Sen. John F. Kennedy visited the county four times. In his May 3, 1960, speech in the town of Welch, Kennedy cited the collapse of employment in the coal industry and declared that had President Eisenhower “come to McDowell County, he would have seen a once prosperous people—the people of the largest and most important coal-mining county in the world—who were now the victims of poverty, want, and hunger.”

Ever since, the unrelenting awfulness of McDowell’s problems has drawn the eye of storytellers and researchers alike. In March 2014, The New York Times ran a story comparing affluent Fairfax County, Virginia, with McDowell. Besides noting the fact that average per capita incomes are five times higher in Fairfax, the article reported that average life expectancy in McDowell County was the lowest for males in the United States, at about 64 years. “Poverty is a thief,” the Times quoted University of Maryland professor Michael Reich as saying. “Poverty not only diminishes a person’s life chances, it steals years from one’s life.”

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The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources reports that McDowell County has the highest prevalence of fair/poor health among adults in the state (25.3 percent), along with the second highest prevalence of obesity, with 44.8 percent of adults reporting a body mass index of 30 or above. The percent of residents over age 25 who are high school graduates is 64.5 percent; nationally, it’s 86.3. Only 5.8 of residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to the national rate of 29.3 percent.

In his incisive book, “Hillbilly Elegy” (Harper), self-described hillbilly and Yale Law graduate J.D. Vance notes, “Growing up around a lot of single moms and dads and living in a place where most of your neighbors are poor really narrows the realm of possibilities.” He adds, “It means that you don’t have people to show you by example what happens when you work hard and get an education.”

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“The provision of subsidies to induce people to stay in…place delays the inevitable. At worst, such subsidies effectively retain the kinds of people who are the least able to adjust, ultimately, to market forces,” write Iowa State University economists David Kraybill and Maureen Kilkenny in a 2003 working paper evaluating the rationales for and against place-based economic development policies. “It does no good to retain (or attract) people in places that are too costly for most businesses, which cannot sustain economic activity. That turns the place into a poverty trap.”

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Donald Reed works nights at the Welch Hospital as a Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment drug abuse counselor. From that position he sees just how bad McDowell’s drug, and especially prescription opiate, problem is. “McDowell has the second highest overdose rate in the nation,” he says. I ask him if he’s seen any cases in which addiction treatment worked. He sighs. “After 30 to 90 days at a treatment center, they bring you back to exactly where you were. People are so tied to their families,” he explains. “When you come back to where you are comfortable, back to the same habits, and back to the same people, it’s no wonder treatment hardly ever works.” He adds, “There is no support here. The best thing you can do is leave here and never come back.”

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The vast majority of good jobs in McDowell are in government or nonprofit social services. According to the Blueprint Communities report, the public sector accounts for 33 percent of employment in McDowell County. The largest employer is the school board, and teacher salaries average just over $40,000 per year. Entry-level federal correctional officers earn $39,000 annually. That’s considerably more than the median household income of $23,607.

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So why don’t people just leave? That question is actually surprisingly easy to answer: They did. After all, 80 percent of McDowell’s population, including my grandparents, cleared out of the county to seek opportunities elsewhere during the last half-century.

But as the mines mechanized and closed down, why didn’t the rest go, too? Reed, Whitt, and Slagle all more or less agree that many folks in McDowell are being bribed by government handouts to stay put and to stay poor. Drug use is the result of the demoralization that follows.

In a Fall 2014 National Affairs article called “Moving to Work,” R Street Institute analysts Eli Lehrer and Lori Sanders asked, “What is keeping the poor from moving their families to new places to take advantage of better opportunities?” They argue that “the answer lies primarily in the structure of poverty-relief programs.” In other words, the government is paying people to be poor.

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The R Street analysts’ proposed solution to the mobility freeze is to streamline public benefits and provide some kind of subsidy to encourage people to move to areas with better job prospects. Perhaps by expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is now only available to people with some income.

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But when I ask if they plan to come back to McDowell County after they finish their educations, most say that they do.

Why? Mostly because of family.

Donald Reed, the hospital drug counselor, is someone who came back. “We can’t sit here and wait for the government to save us,” the 35-year-old says. “We can’t sit here and wait for coal to come back.” Reed’s day job is as the West Virginia University Extension Agent for 4-H Youth Development. He works in the County Commission Building on Wyoming Street. The windows on the third floor of the municipal headquarters are boarded up with plywood, and signs on the way up direct visitors to the drug-testing facilities. Yet Reed has been quite successful, signing up nearly 800 kids for 4-H programs this year.

I ask him why people stay in McDowell. “People love it here,” he says. “They love the safety of the mountains, the safety of small communities.” As an example, he says that if his car broke down, it wouldn’t be long before one of his neighbors driving by would stop to help him fix it or get him to where he needed to go. I suggest that it might take a bit longer for someone to stop and help me, an outsider. He smiles and allows that that might be the case.

But why did he stay? “I know there is very little opportunity here,” Reed says. “But I wanted to come back because I need someone to remind me of what life is about. I know these people, prayed with them. They carried me when no else would. We value people, memories, and experiences.”

Stuck – Why don’t people who live in places with no opportunity just leave?

Pilgrims and Liberty and Poverty

A man should have the serenity that comes from living in his own home; should not depend entirely on some boss for his livelihood, and daily permissions; nor be entangled from adolescence in debt, nor constantly huzza’d by tempters. He should never be treated as cattle, or chattel, or “demographic target.” He should not be deflected from the life of pilgrim, sub specie aeternitatis; nor deprived of the freedom to make his own way.

Vastly more could be said about the “social teaching” of the Church, as it has been thought through over twenty centuries. Her interest has been in the whole range of human goods; and for the whole man in opposition to the worldly powers that try to control him, and appropriate his labour; to reduce him to a beast of burden, however comfortably stalled. She has thus been against big business and big government, in all of their protean forms; against raw power and thus against raw wealth.

She has opposed wealth, not in itself for its legitimate uses (cathedrals cost money), but as an instrument of power and oppression; she has opposed the corruptions that lead to quick wealth, and assist the cunning in their manipulation of the weak and meek. She has sought to feed the actually hungry, to nurse the actually sick, to teach the ignorant, to rescue the stranded, to visit the imprisoned, and comfort the oppressed; to provide without charge what is urgently needed, and come to emergency aid — in explicitly Christian missions of mercy. And these although each is a secondary, to her primary daily mission, in the administration of the Sacraments.

But “income inequality” was never her concern; nor any other vague, abstract, and ideological, social or ecological “issues.”

Whose poor? by David Warren