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Sunday, December 15, 2013

The 98% Solution to Kids in Poverty

The 98% Solution to Kids in Poverty
May I speak plainly? The first thought on whether to have kids now or later should be, Can I responsibly care for a child? If your answer is no, then nothing else is important. Loving a child means choosing what’s best for them, not for you.

Five great questions of life: Life * Love * Learning * Labor * Leadership

Love: Who Will I Spend My Life With?

The 98% Solution to Kids in Poverty

By Evan Nehring

May I speak plainly? The first thought on whether to have kids now or later should be, Can I responsibly care for a child? If your answer is no, then nothing else is important. Loving a child means choosing what’s best for them, not for you.

A recent study gave a clear formula for 98% of people to avoid poverty[1]:
  1. Work full-time 
  2. Graduate from high school 
  3. Get married before you have kids 
Photo Credit: Williams-World on Flickr Creative Commons

Let’s break it down. First, if you don’t take steps to make yourself marketable in a career field, then point number one is a fail and you have chosen to raise kids in poverty. If you don’t work day and night to pursue an income to support yourself and anyone attached to you, you are choosing poverty. It’s no one’s fault but yours. You’re not a victim. It's your choice.

Second, if you don’t work day and night to pursue your high school diploma, then point number two is a fail and you have chosen to raise your kids in poverty. More education will take you farther. High school is the minimum.

Third, if you don’t act responsibly in your dating relationships and you create a child out of wedlock, then point number three is a fail and you have chosen to raise your children in poverty. Kinda takes the romance out of it, doesn't it?

What if you've messed up on any of those points? Well, it’s never too late to take responsibility for your life, but your path will be tougher. Don’t shake your fist at the system or at the cruel rich people. You have chosen poverty. It’s a free country.

I'll still be there to love you and help you however I can, but I wanted you to know.

Comments Are Always Welcome...

So, have I stated this too harshly? How can we best help people to make responsible choices without rejecting them or failing to show love?

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[1] Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill. Creating an Opportunity Society. (Brookings Institution Press, 2009). 


  1. Don't get me wrong. There is statistical truth to what you are saying. Sure enough, do all 3 of the things you outline and most will likely avoid poverty. However, I read an underlying, unspoken message that the poor are poor because they choose it which is simplistic and for many, completely wrong.
    There will always be those who are lazy (though that is not an indicator of whether you are hardworking as even the rich can be slothful) and to those, I say, 'work or you do not eat'. But an honest look at the issues facing the poor is humbling and will cause one to 'put my hand over my mouth'. The following is my own experience living among and working with the poorest residents of Milwaukee; I see some really ugly, foolish, lazy folks. I also see parents who attended schools that passed them on even though they did not know how to read or write. They then are expected to successfully guide their own children through the very same system that victimized them. I see hardworking people (yes, as hard working as those of us who 'have') living in lead painted, cold, dilapidated apartments that dull the brain and the heart. They live in communities that are dangerous, due to no wrong doing of their own, that lead them to become enclosed, angry and defensive. I see generational brokenness-of-heart due to family sin and no enduring role models willing to show them that there is another way. I see good people, mixed in with the bad, who are judged and disenfranchised simply because of they lack...and because those who were born into advantage, at no right doing of their own, aren't willing to take responsibility for any of the obstacles the poor face. Finally, I often hear my brethren tell them that if they do not have enough money, they should not multiply (a direct contradiction to Gods mandate, Who, by the way, never inquires as to the financial status of a family when He blesses with children). "Wait", they say, until you can fix the system we created/provide. "Wait" until you make enough money to move into a really nice place where your kid can be warm and happy. "Wait" until you are healed enough to have broken free of all those spiritual strongholds so that you can raise happy, adjusted children like out own. "Wait" until you are as good and as smart and as hardworking and as rich as we are.
    By only and the very grace of God, Who reached into my poverty with the witness and discipleship of christian brothers and sisters, I once was poor and now am not. But I can still plainly see that achieving those 3 things you outline Evan, are so very much easier for some of us than others.
    Yes, it was a hard read.

    1. Tinkaboutit, I appreciate your thoughtful response and respectful pushback. I'm honored by that. It seems very likely we both want the same thing: blessing and prosperity for all who pursue it. So, how to get there. I find these statistics very hopeful. I understand that accomplishing all three is more difficult for some. But knowing the blessing they offer is an important first step. It's devastating to think about the obstacles some will have to overcome, but knowing is important.

      Another consideration is that this is a 98% solution, not a 100% solution. 2% of Americans (and probably a similar percentage elsewhere) will do these three things and still face poverty. So our work as a society is still great, but 98% is pretty good odds. If I were trying to escape poverty, this would give me great hope!

      I also want to convey that having children is a massive responsibility that requires tremendous self-sacrifice and commitment. That sort of love is found, beautifully, in all segments of society!

    2. I've got one other thought on poverty in failing urban centers. If I were concerned for the safety and success of my children in that situation, I would push a stroller and pull a wagon if needed day and night down the highway to get to a community which would serve us better. I would exit the drama and take anyone willing with me. I would find the Salvation Army in any community along the way or willing churches. I would plead for help and offer to work day and night to improve our situation.

      If my family were unsafe, I would walk however many hundred miles necessary to escape.

  2. The problem of poverty is also the problem of ignorance. In the literal sense of the word, the state of being uninformed (lack of knowledge). The poor people mostly don't know about other choices, or the choices they make, make perfect sense in their surrounding.
    Sadly people grow up with this kind of example. Before my son was born I worked in a school in a very problematic city here in Ecuador. The school was famous for having the most problematic students. One of them asked, in the middle of the class, how old I was. I told them my age (28) and they didn't believe me. I asked why, and they told me that it wasn't possible for a woman to be that old and have no children. There was one of the girls who was 19 (this was senior year) and she told that she already had two children. I kept asking around and all the girls over 16 years old had at least one child.
    All of them had grown in enviroment with broken homes, no fathers or deadbeat dads, abusing dads, alcoholic dads, and sadly abusing and alcoholic mothers also. I don't know if one of them had their dad actually living with them, single mom was the norm.
    It is very hard to see beyond this kind of situation and imagine yourself a different kind of situation. And sadly, most of the young men had grown used to the situation also. They saw nothing wrong in leaving the girl bregnant and taking care of the child alone.
    Those are very good guidelines and I wish everyone would follow them. But we need rolemodels for the youth. We need to tell them about options. We need to show them people who live differently and have good lives, in a way that they understand.

    1. Joanna, I've been thinking about this comment since yesterday. It really moves me. As you've stated so clearly, poverty is about so much more than poverty. It's about brokenness, loneliness, rejection, dysfunction and disease. The need is so great! You and I will do what we can to light a candle in the darkness. We will speak the truth in love and do our best to live out the examples they need.

      Prayers for Ecuador...