Avoiding poverty in America


In the richest country in the world, there are still millions of people who are living in poverty. As pf 2020, according to usafacts.org, 11.4% of Americans live in poverty. And, as census.gov states, this translates to 37.2 million people living in poverty. President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, now 58 years old, has not accomplished the goal of eliminating poverty in this country.

How has this all happened? More importantly, what can people do to get out of poverty? Two organizations, poles apart politically, came up with the same solution.

The two organizations were the Brookings Institute (a left-leaning think tank) and the Heritage Foundation (a right-leaning one). The results and conclusions of their studies were the same.

Three steps were outlined that, regardless of race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identification, wealth status, etc., would almost guarantee that individuals who follow them could avoid living in poverty.

Those three steps are:

1) Graduate high school.

2) Get employed and maintain employment.

3) Wait until you are past 21 and married to have kids.

It seems almost too simplistic. Get a diploma, get, and keep a job, and don’t get married and have kids until you are at least 21 years old and married. Yet, we know that high school dropouts are likely to be destined to have menial jobs, if they can get one at all. And, if they do, promotions and significant pay raises are rare. High School dropouts have nearly twice the unemployment rate of high school graduates.

If it’s difficult to get a job in the first place, the problem is compounded by people who quit those jobs, get fired, or change jobs often. I once knew a person that had over ten different jobs in a year. It’s very difficult to establish a track record as a dependable employee with that kind of record. It’s also very difficult to get more than a minimum wage if one moves from job to job.

And marrying and/or having children at a very young age puts additional pressure on the couple/parent and may result in the children being raised in poverty, especially if the child has an absent father. And, as I observed during my social worker days, children raised in poverty have difficulty escaping the poverty cycle.

According to the U. S. Census, children in married households are the least likely to be in poverty, at 11 percent. Children living in single-mother households have poverty rates more than twice that of children in single father homes (48 percent vs. 22 percent).

Certainly, there are people who overcome these formidable obstacles and go on to do well. But, according to the Brookings Institute and Heritage Foundation studies, there are handicaps that can be avoided and lay the foundation for a better future — one not plagued by the curse of poverty. When the Left and the Right agree on something, it is probably worthwhile to take notice.

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). Worship services are at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays but is also live streamed at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life) and may contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]


  1. A friend of mine, who happens to be a corporate executive and is quite affluent, also happens to be a mentor for at-risk teenagers. A young man who was his mentee was a good kid but had a terrible home-life. His father had never been in the picture, mother was a drug addict, grandmother who had been raising him had died, and he was 17years old and living in a group home in the state system (Florida). The kid was going to turn 18 in December of his senior year of high school and the state system was going end his eligibility for the group home on that date, even though he still had the last half of his senior year in high school to complete. The odds are pretty good that he would have ended up dropping out of school and going to work just to survive.
    My friend, who already had 5 adopted children, took the young man in as a foster child, then ultimately adopted him as a son just before he turned 18. This allowed him to finish high school. He ultimately went on to college, which would have been virtually impossible if my friend had not offered help when he needed it.

  2. Obviously, the steps Rev. Epps outlines are significant predictors of financial success and overall contentment as well. The task is convincing people who come from families and environments for which these actions are not normative to believe that they have the agency to adopt them and then to persist in their implementation when hurdles are encountered.

    For populations with majorities that already practice these behaviors, their implementation seems simple and undeniably logical. For populations with majorities that do not already practice these behaviors, they can appear more daunting and difficult to implement.

    Identifying positive strategies is very useful. Assisting people in implementing these effective strategies is much harder, but not impossible. Education, mentoring, etc. can all be used effectively to produce these results. I hope our society is up to the task. It will be a win for all of us!

  3. I went to a seminar (pre-covid days) about poverty’s ability to change/alter DNA thus helping to continue the cycle of poverty. It was truly fascinating. When it is broken down into three basic steps it seems so simple. Public schools do a lot but they cannot be the great panacea. Maybe one day someone will figure out missing variable/ingredient. Until then I guess we march on and do the best we can for the kids.