How Jobs, Marriage, and Illegal Immigration Affect Poverty

Poverty is a terrible thing and, in many cases, avoidable and unnecessary. Especially in the United States. What puts & keeps people in poverty? Without going into a huge discussion, I think the causes can be grouped into two, broad categories: environmental circumstances and personal choices. (By “environmental”, I do not mean ecological; rather, I’m referring to the neighborhood one lives in, family & friends, local schools, local economy, etc.) I’ve done a little reading on the subject lately by some research fellows at The Heritage Foundation.

Single Black mother with 2 kidsOne particular piece I found interesting was done by Robert Rector, a leading national authority on poverty, the U.S. Welfare system and immigration. Rector’s 2007 study serves to give a more realistic understanding of the conditions those classified as “poor” in America live in. He looks at several factors, but I wanted to focus here on one section in particular, which connects nicely with my earlier post called “Is ‘The Man’ Keepin’ You Down?“.

“The remaining poverty in the U.S. can be reduced further, particularly poverty among children. There are two main reasons that American children are poor: Their parents don’t work much, and fathers are absent from the home.

In good economic times or bad, the typical poor family with children is supported by only 800 hours of work during a year: That amounts to 16 hours of work per week. If work in each family were raised to 2,000 hours per year — the equivalent of one adult working 40 hours per week throughout the year — nearly 75 percent of poor children would be lifted out of official poverty.

Father absence is another major cause of child poverty. Nearly two-thirds of poor children reside in single-parent homes; each year, an additional 1.5 million children are born out of wedlock. If poor mothers married the fathers of their children, almost three-quarters would immediately be lifted out of poverty.”

It’s actually common sense that these things are related. But, sometimes, we need to read/hear it and see some of the real numbers for it to begin to sink in. A complete, traditional family is not only recommended for moral/religious reasons. In fact, I believe that many religious traditions promote the family unit because it is recognized as encouraging responsibility and economic stability (i.e., get a regular job to support your family), as well as personal growth. Furthermore, having a job/career gives one a sense of self-worth and self-sufficiency, which is much better than being dependent on the government.

Here are some additional, relevant observations by columnist Ken Blackwell:

“We have heard a lot about compassionate conservatism. And we’ve heard accusations that conservatives are ‘downright mean.’ Well, defending marriage is the most compassionate thing conservatives can do.

Even some liberals recognize this. Bill Galston once worked for Bill Clinton. He says if a young couple will just finish high school, avoid having children out of wedlock, and marry, the chances are only 4% they will ever live in poverty.

Big government feeds on the breakdown of marriage. Our prisons are filling up with fatherless young men. What Bill Bennett wisely called the Broken Hearth fuels demands for more money for extra helpers in schools, for food stamps, for expanded medical coverage -— all these needs are exacerbated by the breakdown of marriage.

Today, tragically, nearly 40% of our children are born out-of-wedlock. And big government consumes nearly 40% of our Gross Domestic Product.

I don’t believe the 40/40 link is imaginary?

If you want smaller government, lower taxes, and a return to constitutional principles, the fastest way to do that is to defend marriage, empower the family, and show Americans real compassion.”

I’ll second that.

Men standing in line for welfare

What else does Rector have to say?

“While work and marriage are steady ladders out of poverty, the welfare system perversely remains hostile to both. Major programs such as food stamps, public housing, and Medicaid continue to reward idleness and penalize marriage. If welfare could be turned around to require work and encourage marriage, poverty among children would drop substantially.

However, while renewed welfare reform can help to reduce poverty, under current conditions, such efforts will be partially offset by the poverty-boosting impact of the nation’s immigration system. Each year, the U.S. imports, through both legal and illegal immigration, hundreds of thousands of additional poor persons from abroad. As a result, one-quarter of all poor persons in the U.S. are now first-generation immigrants or the minor children of those immigrants. Roughly one in ten of the persons counted among the poor by the Census Bureau is either an illegal immigrant or the minor child of an illegal. [Note: Remember that Rector’s report was published in 2007, so the numbers have probably gone up a little.] As long as the present steady flow of poverty-prone persons from foreign countries continues, efforts to reduce the total number of poor in the U.S. will be far more difficult. A sound anti-poverty strategy must seek to increase work and marriage, reduce illegal immigration, and increase the skill level of future legal immigrants.”

Makes sense to me.

In a few days, I’ll follow up with more of Rector’s findings about America’s poor, which I hinted at in my opening comments.


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