Policy: Economy

Escape poverty: graduate, work, get married, have kids

By |
Opinion,Columnists,Terence Jeffrey,Economy,Poverty,Income Inequality

Fifty years ago today, in his State of the Union address, President Lyndon Johnson declared an "unconditional war on poverty in America."

Over the next two years, he massively expanded the federal government, creating Medicaid, Medicare and the food stamp program, and increased federal involvement in public education.

What impact did this have on poverty?

In the mid-1960s, as measured by the Census Bureau, the percentage of Americans living in poverty was on its way down, dropping from 22.4 percent in 1959 to 14.7 percent by 1966.

Yet, since Johnson declared his war on poverty in 1964, the poverty rate has never dropped below 11.1 percent (the level it hit in 1973) and there has been only one three-year period when it persisted above 15 percent.

That was the last three years on record — 2010, 2011, 2012.

But what causes some people to be relatively poorer than others in the United States?

The Census Bureau determines who is in poverty by placing them on a scale that measures income by family size. In 2012, a single person under 65 would be in poverty if he or she earned less than $11,945. A family of nine with seven children under 18 would be in poverty if they earned less than $46,165.

In 1964, 19 percent of Americans fell below the federal poverty level. But they were not equally distributed demographically. Members of families were less likely to be in poverty (17.4 percent) than Americans overall. But Americans in families headed by a female with no husband present were far more likely to be in poverty (44.4 percent) than Americans overall.

Since 1964, the poverty rate for people in families headed by females without husbands has never dropped below the 28.5 percent it hit in 2000. In 2012, it was 33.9 percent.

Could differences in family structure contribute to differences in family income?

In 2012, households headed by females without a spouse had a median income of $30,686. Households headed by a male without a spouse had a median income of $42,358. Households with married couples had a median income of $75,535.

What about children? Could they make a difference?

Single women did better if they had no children. The median income for a female householder who had no children was $42,147 in 2012. The median income for a single woman who had one or more children 18 or younger was $25,493.

But married couples did better with children. The median income for a married couple with no children under 18 was $70,902. The median income for a married couple with one or more children under 18 was $81,455.

Indeed, married couples with at least one child under 18 earned a mean (as opposed to median) household income of $101,738 in 2012.

In addition to getting married and having children are there any other secrets to financial success? Yes.

Go to school and do your homework. High school dropouts had a median household income of $30,107 in 2012. For high school graduates, the median household income was $49,486; for college dropouts, it was $57,933; for college graduates, $95,418; for master's degree holders, $110,048; for doctoral degree holders, $132,467; and for professional degree holders, $154,137.

It also helps to get a job and keep it. American families in which the householder worked at a full-time job at least 50 weeks during the year had a median income of $83,468.

Married couples in which both the husband and wife worked in 2012 had a median income of $91,779 and a mean income of $112, 217. No doubt many of these husbands and wives both held jobs because they wanted to earn the money to raise and educate their own children.

But what has happened to family life and the work ethic since LBJ and his liberal allies declared their "war on poverty?"

Last week, the federal Centers for Disease Control published its report on births in the United States in 2012. It pointed to two telling trends: Unwed motherhood remained near an historic high while the overall fertility rate hit an historic low. Americans are having relatively fewer babies and more of them are illegitimate.

"The 2012 general fertility rate declined to 63.0 births per 1,000 women aged 15-44, another historic low for the United States," said the CDC.

Of the 3,952,841 babies born in the United States during the year, 1,609,619 — or 40.7 percent — were born to unmarried women.

As recently as 1980, only 18.4 percent of the babies born in the United States were illegitimate. In 2008, the percentage exceeded 40 percent for the first time. It was 40.6 that year, then 41.0 in 2009, 40.8 in 2010, 40.7 in 2011 and 2012.

In the fourth quarter of 2011, according to the Census Bureau, 108,592,000 Americans — 35 percent of the population — received benefits from one or more mean-tested federal welfare program.

That number will surely rise if Americans continue having 40 percent of their babies out of wedlock.

And, in their "war on poverty," left-wing politicians will no doubt increasingly target for redistribution the wealth of married, two-parent, hard-working, diploma-earning families who cause this nation's income inequality by living exactly the sorts of lives we must live if we wish to remain free.

View article comments Leave a comment