Want to know how to move out of poverty? Or just move up the socioeconomic ladder? Here are the basic lessons:
Authors who advocate government action in order to address income inequality and upward mobility are fond of their statistics. An example from Foroohar:
The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Economic Mobility Project has found that if you were born in 1970 in the bottom one-fifth of the socioeconomic spectrum in the U.S., you had only about a 17% chance of making it into the upper two-fifths.
Such figures are meant to inform a social diagnostic which too often prescribes more subsidy of the poor. However, that prescription takes a dim view of the human condition and fails to account for how 17% of children born in 1970 beat the odds and rose from the bottom one-fifth of the spectrum to the upper two-fifths. It wasn’t chance, as the figure cited out of context suggests. It wasn’t the mechanical effect of flipping society’s bureaucratic levers. There is no magic formula of government action which propels people from one class to another.
The key to upward mobility, to improving the quality of life, is the acceptance and application of certain ideas. At first glance, they may seem overly simplistic or blatantly obvious. Yet so few actually implement them that it is worth our time to review them. To that end, here are 5 ideas you need in order to rise from poverty to the middle class.
5) Understand Value and How to Create It
Let’s be honest. Upward mobility is a euphemism for making more money. There is no shame in that, and we shouldn’t gloss it over…
Since none of us are born innately aware of how to produce the many conceived values enhancing our lives, we come to benefit from them through trade. Can’t make a spear to save your life, but crank out gathering baskets by the dozen? You’ve got a trade. Money is our medium of exchange, something easily portable and generally expected to hold its value. In short, money is the stand-in for any conceivable value we may obtain through trade.
Understanding this helps us dispense with the sophomoric notion that money is the root of all evil, or that we ought to shy away from accumulating it or apologize for having it. It is through the production of value that we “make money.” Dad was right when he said it doesn’t grow on trees. Nevertheless, it can grow if properly cultivated. By identifying what value we are adept at creating, we position ourselves to take the first step toward rising from poverty, earning an income.
Granted, if you are poor, it may be that the value you are capable of producing does not command much in the market. Even so, the most menial of productive tasks can be the seed from which upward mobility springs, provided you embrace the rest of our presented ideas.
4) Untether from Your Class
The tidbits I picked up about my father’s childhood were usually overheard during my parents’ arguments. A recurring theme of their marital discord was my father’s tendency to provide monetarily for his brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews. It frustrated my mother to see him dispense handouts from his earned and limited income to subsidize the irresponsible behavior of extended family members.
I think we’re seeing that one writ large on society right now. But I digress….
I was too young to understand the dynamic at the time. In retrospect, I believe my father was acting upon a sense of guilt endemic of the class into which he was born. Rather than celebrate my father’s upward mobility or congratulate him on his earned success, his family resented him and regarded him with a “who do you think you are” attitude. Accepting this unearned guilt as somehow legitimate, my father regularly paid penance for his success by sacrificing to our extended family.
It demonstrated a limitation in my father’s ability to untether from his class, to disregard the expectations, traditions, assumptions, and dictates of family, friends, and neighbors. That’s not to say my father did not transcend cultural limitations. Indeed, the success he met with could not have been possible otherwise.
Had he listened to his family while growing up, he would have believed himself as inferior as he was treated. As a black man raised in the civil rights era, he also could have believed himself a victim of society. Although he never completely shook these influences, he did overcome them through sheer force of stubborn, persistent will.
His rise was nothing glamorous. He started fueling airplanes… He earned his way into a position as a stock clerk and, seeing that he required education to advance further, began taking night school courses to become an airplane mechanic….The effort bore him an opportunity to move to Northwest’s main hub in Minneapolis, where he earned far more than before.
…If you think someone is keeping you down, it becomes an excuse to stay there. More insidious is the policing of class which takes place among peers. A starving artist is respected until he makes it big, then he’s demeaned as a sellout. Much of the hatred directed at Sarah Palin was no doubt fueled by the animosity of women in her demographic range who resented the aspiration to high office while raising a family and looking good doing it. There is an unwritten rule, “Thou shalt not make the rest of us look bad.” Those who transcend their class always break that rule. If you seek upward mobility, you must be comfortable being persecuted for it.
And there’s always the cry of “Uncle Tom” or “coconut” of those students who do well in school. Sad, sad, sad. I guess success in the minority groups is only accepted if it’s accompanied by crime or sex, and in drug gangs or the entertainment industry.
3) Live Within Your Means
Well, there goes all of DC….
I remember the moment I first realized how ridiculous consumer credit could be. I had purchased a computer on credit several years prior and had mindlessly sent in my minimum payments month after month. One day, about the time the computer became obsolete, it occurred to me that I should be pretty close to paying it off. When my next statement arrived, I took the highly unusual step of looking at it and discovered that I had indeed paid an amount far surpassing the original principal… and still owed an amount equal to the original principal. I was shocked! How was such a thing possible? How could I still owe when I had already paid more than the original purchase was worth? It seemed somehow unfair that I could owe so much, after having paid so much, and all for something I could no longer use.
This was the manner of my economic education — the school of ignorant screw-ups. Had I known at the start of my adulthood what I know now, I could have positioned myself to be much better off.
Unable to change the past, I now focus upon the present and the future. I resolve to not only live within my means, but to put my savings to work through investment and teach my sons the financial lessons which no one bothered to teach me.
A 2009 study by the Pew Economic Mobility Project indicates that the choice to save improves the odds of generational prosperity:
Children of low-saving (i.e., below median), low-income parents are significantly less likely to be upwardly mobile than children of high-saving, low-income parents.
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.
It should go without saying. Yet it doesn’t. Live within your means.
2) Live Intentionally
On the spectrum of sexy, “time management” falls somewhere between estate planning and bed pans. Yet the ability and willingness to effectively direct our attention can have a profound effect upon our physical, mental, and financial well-being.
We commonly say that we are busy, that we do not have time, or that there aren’t enough hours in the day. However, we more likely have plenty of time that we choose to prioritize in habitual ways. …
Without intention, without an agenda for the day, time can easily sift through our fingers as we drift aimlessly down a path of least resistance. Such days are sometimes necessary, and take on the intentional purpose of rest and relaxation. However, life should not be an endless string of such days. Proverbs 10:4 puts it simply:
A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.
Laziness might be defined by a lack of intention, living life by luck and lottery. Most of us have a respectable work ethic in certain contexts. We do our job … Yet, too often that ethic goes unapplied to the overall direction of our life. We plug away, living from check to check, enjoying feast and riding out famine, waiting for our proverbial ship to come in. Foroohar identifies the problem:
The mythology of the American Dream has made it difficult to start a serious conversation about how to create more opportunity in our society, since many of us still believe that our mobility is the result of our elbow grease and nothing more.
The author goes on to make a case for government activism. However, spending tax dollars to subsidize poverty will not end it. Elbow grease commands respect. However, it must be the right work for the right purpose managed in the right way. Hard work applied to an unproductive process is an unconscionable waste.
It is not enough to pat ourselves on the back for a particular job well done. We have to make sure the fruit of our labor is managed toward a larger goal. Otherwise, we can expect perpetual check to check living.
1) Seek Advice from Successful People
It’s not enough to untether from your class. If you want to grab the next rung, you need to acquire the habits of successful people. If you are poor, or at any point less than where you would like to be, this means accepting the uncomfortable truth that your friends, family, and neighbors are probably not the people you want to take advice from. After all, if they had insight into the secrets of success, they wouldn’t be your socioeconomic peers.
Does that mean you have to crash country clubs and rub elbows with big investors and CEOs? By all means, if you can acquire a rich friend willing to mentor you, do so. Otherwise, start reading books.
… Dave Swindle once hammered this point home in a review of Douglas Rushkoff’s Program or Be Programmed:
Read books. Do not just read blog posts and articles. …
There’s a reason why people write books. Certain ideas and arguments require a volume to properly convey. This is especially true when introducing new concepts like those which separate wealth creators from wealth consumers.
Public education does not convey essential economic concepts such as what value is and how to create it. Nor does it effectively teach how money works or how to best manage it. Instead, public education is mandated … to mold “world citizens” who will be pliantly managed from cradle to grave.
I remember graduating from high school and spending the next few years experiencing a nagging sense of abandonment. For 18 years, between the structure of home, the structure of religion, and the structure of public education, I had been told where to go and what to do without ever being trained how to think. … Truly valuable learning must be sought.
My reading list includes the Rich Dad, Poor Dad series, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, What I Didn’t Learn in School But Wish I Had by Jamie McIntyre, and The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason. Each address the attitudes and mindsets which separate the wealthy from everyone else. In their own way, these books are like having a rich friend willing to mentor you. Best of all, books are cheap. You can even benefit from them for free if you visit a library.
I see from experience how the schools don’t teach kids to think. Heck, it barely teaches SOME of them how to count. And the products of this poor education become the clay from which tomorrow’s society will be built – and that clay is being molded by the likes of the liberal media and liberal educational systems. Without learning how to think for themselves, we see things like the Occupy movement and the vast array of poverty pimp users and abusers.
Do something good today. Show this article to some young ‘uns. Tell them it’s important to buck the peer pressure, to be their own person, and learn to reason things out. The future you save might just be ours.