20 things the poor really do every day

3 December 2013 — 279 Comments

[Note: This post has been updated to more clearly identify the sources for each claim made below. The original post included links to each source but did not call them out as clearly.] Dave Ramsey probably wasn’t expecting this much pushback when he shared a piece by Tim Corley contrasting the habits of the rich with those of the poor. In her response on CNN, Rachel Held Evans noted that Ramsey and Corley mistake correlation for causality when they suggest (without actually proving) that these habits are the cause of a person’s financial situation. (Did it never occur to them that it might be the other way around?) Ramsey fired back, calling the pushback “immature and ignorant.” This from a guy who just made 20 sweeping assertions about 47 million poor people in the US — all based on a survey of 361 individuals. That’s right. To come up with his 20 habits, Corley talked to just 233 wealthy people and 128 poor people. Ramsey can talk all he wants about Corley’s research passing the “common-sense smell test,” but it doesn’t pass the “research methodology 101” test. To balance the picture a bit, I wanted to take a fact-based look at 20 things the poor do on a daily basis… 1. Search for affordable housing. Especially in urban areas, the waiting list for affordable housing can be a year

making them artificially cheaper than natural food sources. More than 80 percent of impoverished children have at least one parent who works.or more. Go to bed 3 hours before their first job starts. Try to avoid getting beat up by someone they love.000 63. half of all homeless women in America ran away to escape domestic violence. That’s how much the average food stamp recipient gets each month. that is… (Sources: Washington Post. poor families either have to make do with substandard or dangerous housing. But that could be because they’re more likely to work multiple jobs. Put themselves in harm’s way. March 2008) 4. During that time.38 per day. Which means (among other things) that they’re sometimes forced to go without eating. (Source: New York Times) 2. Subsist on poor quality food. (Sources: World Vision. Work longer and harder than most of us. the poor work longer hours than the so-called “job creators.” It may be true that most poor people don’t wake up three hours before work starts. So the poor are forced to eat bad food — if they’re lucky. US Department of Agriculture) 5. Overall. Journal of Nutrition. only to be kicked to the streets afterward. Number 15 on Ramsey and Corley’s list was. 60 percent have at least one parent who works full-time. or go homeless. 2009) 8. nutritious food. in which case job #1 means they’re probably just getting to bed three hours before job #2 starts. Not because they want to. depend on the hospitality of relatives. Skip a meal. April 2008) 7. “44% of [the] wealthy wake up three hours before work starts vs. (Source: National Coalition for the Homeless. They’re trapped in a food system that subsidizes processed foods. It’s not easy. (Source: Poverty and Learning. One in six Americans are food insecure. the poor actually work longer and harder than the rest of us. which is why many impoverished families resort to #3… (Source: Kaiser Family Foundation) 3. April 2008) 6. How else do you explain 67. While it’s popular to think people are poor because they’re lazy (which seems to be the whole point of Ramsey’s post).000 homeless veterans? .” (Source: Poverty and Learning. Imagine trying to eat well on $4. Try to make $133 worth of food last a whole month. but because they can’t afford high-quality. 3% of [the] poor. According to some estimates.

(Source: The Center for Voting and Democracy) 13. In other words. And who can blame them? I would be less inclined to vote if I didn’t have easy access to the polls and if I were subjected to draconian voter ID laws that are sold to the public as necessary to suppress nonexistent voter fraud. Pew Research Center) 14. When they do vote… vote pretty much the same as the rest of us. economic mobility — the idea that you can claw your way out of poverty if you just try hard enough is.” including the poor. payroll tax. conservatives took solace by reasoning that they’d lost to a bunch of “takers. In fact. There is a 10-14 year gap in life expectancy between the rich and the poor. Live shorter lives. Some conservative pundits and politicians like to think the poor don’t pay their fair share. Fall further behind. In . etc. The reality is a bit more complex. updated to reflect the most recent data) 9. Economic Policy Institute) 12. A child’s future earnings are closely correlated to their parents’ earnings. (Source: Kaiser Health News) 15. more often than not. you are 3-4 times less likely to graduate high school. (Sources: OECD.000 a year are twice as likely to report feeling physical pain on any given day. Casey Foundation) 11. you are 5 times less likely to graduate. Raise kids who will be poor. Annie E. Those earning less than $12. who voted for Democrats because they want free handouts from big government. (Sources: NPR. Only a third of low-income voters identify as Democrats. If you spend your entire childhood in poverty. Children’s Defense Fund. Which means your future has been all but decided for you. Pay more than their fair share of taxes. about the same for all Americans. (Source: Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy. Vote less. (Sources: World Vision. Even when poverty is the result of poor decision-making. Live with chronic pain. the bottom 20% of earners pay TWICE as much in taxes (as a share of their income) as do the top 1%.” While it’s true the poor don’t pay as much in federal income tax — usually because they don’t earn enough to qualify — they do pay sales tax. including wealthy voters. a myth. often it’s someone else’s choices that make the difference. that they are merely “takers. Following their defeat in 2012. January 2013) 10. If you experience poverty as a child.(Source: US Department of Veterans Affairs.

For them. (Source: US Department of Health and Human Services) 20. compared to more than $90 billion on corporate subsidies. Accomplish one single goal: stay alive. drug use is pretty evenly spread across income groups. life is not something to be enjoyed so much as endured.recent years. And rich people actually abuse alcohol more than the poor. Despite the odds. (Source: US Department of Health and Human Services) 19. most welfare recipients enroll in some form of vocational training."] . Use drugs and alcohol pretty much the same as (or less than) everyone else. the vast majority of beneficiaries leave the welfare rolls within five years. Even in the absence of official welfare-to-work programming. those with whom Jesus identifies most closely. 2012) 16. And that’s not counting the nearly $60 billion a year in tax breaks corporations enjoy by sheltering profits offshore. see "Poverty is more than a matter of poor decision-making. poor people do not have loads of children just so they can stay on welfare. Receive less in subsidized benefits than corporations. Oil companies alone get around $70 billion. April 2008) 17. No. Why? Because they’re desperate to get off welfare. (Source: Poverty and Learning. These are the real habits of the poor. Or the $700 billion bailout banks got in 2008. poor people’s life expectancy has actually declined — in America. but many working poor families are nonetheless preoccupied with day-to-day survival. Poverty in America may not be as dire as poverty in other parts of the world. (Source: Think By Numbers) 18. Get themselves off welfare as soon as possible. The US government spends around $60 billion on public housing and rental subsidies for low-income families. (Source: Health Affairs. Have about the same number of children as everyone else. Despite the common picture of inner city crack houses. the wealthiest nation on the planet. [Note: For a follow up to this post.

the only variable in the discussion you can personally control is YOU. are so broken that making better choices does not produce better results. then you have a problem. it gets written off as a consequence of poor decision-making by individuals: If you are broke or poor in the U.S. You can make better choices and have better results. however. Almost everyone — including Dave Ramsey — accepts there are systemic. How is it that we can see the systemic causes of poverty elsewhere. or a first-world economy.S.” Ramsey writes. but not in our own country? Do we think because our ancestors got rid of institutional . structural injustices which cause poverty in the other parts of the world.Poverty is more than a matter of poor decision-making 4 December 2013 — 10 Comments Behind the controversy over Dave Ramsey’s “20 Things” post and his defense of it. If you believe that our economy and culture in the U. At that point your liberal ideology has left the Scriptures and your politics have caused you to become a fatalist. When it comes to poverty in America. “The third-world economy is and should be a whole different discussion. there’s an assumption that poverty in America is fundamentally different from poverty in the developing world.

it’s your own fault. Translation: we prosper because we understand the Bible better. materialist ideology that we can’t even entertain the possibility of any flaws in our economic system? Or do we just think we’re better than everyone else? Again. The Bible gets reimagined as a roadmap to prosperity. Financial success is reimagined as proof of God’s favor. causing and perpetuating poverty in America? Blacks and Native Americans are nearly three times more likely than whites to live in poverty. instead of a roadmap to the cross. Jeremiah’s lament against the wealth of the wicked is quietly purged from our scriptures. And so we tell ourselves (and our impoverished neighbors): if you are poor and you live in America.50 an hour? Do we really think poverty is just a failure of personal drive to get an education when schools in poor communities receive less funding and have to cope with outdated equipment and crumbling infrastructure? Do we really think poverty in this country is just a matter of personal decisionmaking? . Really? Sure. Do we really believe the economic and social disparities affecting black communities have nothing to do with centuries of slavery and segregation — not to mention subtler forms of discrimination that persist in our day? Do we really think the massive displacement (and partial genocide) of Native Americans is unrelated to the comparatively poorer health and economic outcomes they experience today? Do we really think we can end poverty just by telling people to “live within their means” when a quarter of all jobs in this country don’t pay enough to put a family of four above the poverty line? Do we really think it’s just a matter of telling people to be smart with their money when the average amount needed to afford a two-bedroom apartment exceeds the average renter’s wage by $4. Ramsey: One of the main reasons our culture has prospered is because of our understanding and application of biblical truths.) But do we really believe there are no structural or systemic factors at work.slavery and child labor that there are no more structural injustices to be rooted out? Or are we so beholden to a capitalist. (In fact. in recent years almost all of us have experienced some measure of financial distress because of bad choices made not by those at the bottom of the economic ladder. but by those at the top. there are people in financial distress because of bad choices that were made.

To fail to acknowledge the systemic factors affecting poverty is to perpetuate them. We cannot help someone until we dismantle the stereotypes that prevent us from seeing and understanding them properly. but what about actually helping people out of poverty? It’s a fair question. In response to the list I shared yesterday. someone rightly asked. . I believe the first step in tackling poverty is to be honest with ourselves about the causes and contributing factors. “Where’s the hope?” It’s all well and good to diagnose.

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