Last week I read a comment that stopped me in my tracks. “We have SPCA for cats and dogs,” noted a woman, “and do not have money to stop poverty.”

On the surface this sounded compassionate and concerned. But then I started thinking about it. Does money stop poverty? Can poverty be stopped by applying money to it?

The Johnson administration started the War on Poverty in 1964, allegedly for reasons of compassion and concern. No one wants to see women and children suffering hunger or hardship.

But we all know the resulting unintended consequences of this compassionate, concerned program: Fathers were ejected from homes as unnecessary and unwanted; personal motivation became utterly destroyed; and multigenerational welfare dependency became the de facto career choice for millions.

In other words, the result of 50 years and almost $21 TRILLION spent to stop poverty has been … nothing. The same percentage of people are still living in poverty.

So how do you stop poverty?

I knew a man who (legally) arrived from Mexico in 1990 and got a job picking fruit in orchards. He worked hard, lived frugally, saved his money and rose to become orchard supervisor for an enormous corporation specializing in gourmet mail-order fruit. And he did it without handouts.

I have in-laws (my sister-in-law’s extended family) who came to America in 1982 from Taiwan. They arrived literally with a suitcase apiece and no English skills. They are now homeowners, business owners, and all their children are college graduates who are busy building lives for their own children.

Go back a couple generations and the same story was repeated by my grandparents – fresh immigrants who arrived in poverty and spoke no English, and within 20 years they had achieved similar success. It’s a story that’s been repeated literally millions of times by poverty-stricken immigrants.

My mother’s people weren’t recent immigrants, but they were poor … so poor that starvation was common (my mom weighed 87 pounds on her wedding day when she was 27). Her answer to poverty was to get an education (nursing) and marry a hardworking man (a son of those aforementioned poor Polish immigrants).

No one gave any of these people money to stop being poor. What they had was the motivation and the freedom to rise out of poverty. Freedom is the primary reason so many legal immigrants come to America. The countries they leave behind had government systems in place to trap people into endless poverty through no fault of their own.

In America, nearly everyone – immigrants and native-born alike – can rise out of poverty by following four basic rules: work hard, live frugally, become educated, and don’t have children out of wedlock.

  • Working hard means you’re striving for financial independence rather than government dependency. It also means you show up on time, work your allotted hours to the best of your ability and contribute to the success of your employers so they can continue employing you.
  • Living frugally means you’re applying your income toward useful things that will improve your future, rather than shallow temporary things such as partying, fashion, personal electronics, or expensive vehicles. It also means you save for the future.
  • Becoming educated means acquiring on-the-job training, vocational training or other practical improvements to your skills set. It also means you work to gain additional education to allow you to advance.
  • Having children out of wedlock has been demonstrated over and over as one of the primary components of poverty. Avoiding this decreases the odds of long-term poverty. It also means you have a constant and caring helpmate who will spur you to greater success … and greater rewards.

None of these components requires government assistance. All of these components are attainable by anyone who is able-bodied and of sound mind.

Learn how to achieve a simple lifestyle without “going green” or joining a monastery. Read Patrice Lewis’ helpful book, “The Simplicity Primer: 365 Ideas for Making Life more Livable”

It’s a funny thing about people who work hard, live frugally, acquire education and raise families: They generally don’t have time to get into trouble. They’re too busy building their lives to have the time to tear down someone else’s.

But when people refuse to work even when physically able; when they blow their money on useless stuff; when they refuse education or improvement in any form; and when they persist in procreating out of wedlock – and we fund those choices – then we have swaths of people with massive amounts of government-paid time on their hands to do nothing but cause trouble, riot, or otherwise manifest behavior resulting from sheer boredom and hopelessness.

I hope readers understand that these rules do not apply to those unable (not unwilling, unable) to follow them. The elderly, disabled, chronically ill, or others who cannot be contributors deserve the safety blanket of assistance. This is, after all, why government assistance was conceived in the first place: concern and compassion for those unable or no longer able to be contributors.

Nor am I addressing those people temporarily (rather than permanently) down on their luck. In this uncertain economy, I have no issue with anyone who needs a temporary bridge to help them out of a crisis – as long as that bridge doesn’t extend for decades because they lose the motivation to do whatever work is available, however humble.

Remember, government financial assistance was never meant to support bad personal choices. But people who are “compassionate” and “concerned” seem to have no problem throwing endless amounts of money at poverty caused by individual bad choices; and they sincerely believe this is all that’s needed to end poverty, despite all evidence (50 years and trillions of dollars) to the contrary.

In many respects, climbing out of poverty is like giving up drugs or alcohol: The motivation must come from within. Enabling drug or alcohol addiction by supplying someone with drugs and alcohol and not requiring the victim to stop taking drugs means the person has absolutely no motivation to change.

Where does it end? Can anyone honestly tell me throwing more money at poverty will end poverty?

These four simple actions (working hard, living frugally, becoming educated, and being married before you have kids) have done more to end poverty than all the money ever spent by the “compassionate” and “caring” government types who, coincidentally I’m sure, make a very healthy living off of the continued existence of the poor.

The ironic thing is, people who follow these four rules and rise out of poverty are often punished for their success. I’ll address that issue in a future column.

Media wishing to interview Patrice Lewis, please contact [email protected].

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