Thursday, March 23, 2017

Seven Steps to Getting Out of Poverty

Is it possible to escape the trap and cycle of poverty?  Yes, but it isn't easy, and few are able to do it simply because they are not smart enough.  And most of those simply don't have the willpower or inclination.

After reading about "poverty girl" -  who apparently now has a paid-for house, multiple Twitter accounts, raised tens of thousands of dollars online, and also published a book - it got me to thinking about the entire concept of poverty and the premise of her book.    Like so many other people on the Left, she posited that it is impossible in America (usually spelled with one or more k's) to escape poverty, although she seems to have done so herself.

It is possible to escape poverty, but it does require some intelligence.   Middle-class kids who dropped out of college and fell into poverty (which poverty girl and myself both did) were able to escape because we had some native intelligence and were able to figure things out, one way or another.

For folks like her, myself, family members and friends I know, poverty is often a transitory thing experienced early in life.  College graduates live in poverty after graduation, because they didn't study hard, or hardly studied the idiotic major they chose while stoned.   Many such folks later move on in life and climb up the economic ladder.  Even my friend's idiotic stinking hippie brother decided that living in an unheated barn in Vermont was sort of lame.  Today, he drives an SUV and calls himself "Doctor" although I would not go to him for any sort of medical ailment.

The point is, the middle-class often slides down the ladder of poverty, particularly after leaving home after college (or in the middle of college).   This comes as a shock to many, as they are used to a certain standard of living.   And for many young people, they enjoy discovering this "other side of the tracks" even if it is just as a transitory tourist.

But others, like my late Sister, slide down the ladder and never escape.  Because once you have kids, get married, and your job prospects are set low early in life, it is harder and harder to escape from poverty, at least on your own.    But such folks do have intelligence, and native intelligence is the strongest weapon you have in your arsenal to escape a life of marginal living and paycheck-to-paycheck nonsense.    These are the sort of people this post is directed towards.

But for the truly poor - people who are mired in poverty for generations, who are not very bright folks - it ain't so easy.   They are not on the Internet reading this, or indeed, reading much else.    Stupidity (in terms of lack of intelligence, lack of education) is what keeps a lot of people down and allows them to be snookered with horrifically bad bargains and thus perpetuate the cycle of poverty their entire lives.

There are a few folks who manage to get by, like my neighbors back in Chittenango who were decent honorable people, just not very bright.  They were fortunate in that friends and neighbors and their local church sort of formed a committee to look after them and make sure they were not taken advantage of.   Churches used to do that sort of thing, before it became all about tithing and paying off the mortgage on the Mega-Church building.

However, the vast majority of the poor will remain poor.  "The poor will always be with us," Jesus said, which has two meanings in my book.   First, no matter how wealthy a society is, there will always be someone at the bottom of that society.   The "poor" in America are wealthy by African standards, or indeed, many parts of the world, where starving is a real possibility.   Only in America can you be "poor" and own a car.   But since comparatively they are poor to the rest of Americans, we consider them poor.    So no matter how wealthy a country is, there will always be someone poor in that country, not in absolute terms, but by comparison.

Second, there will always be the poor in spirit.   Poverty is something of a mental attitude as well as a bank balance.   When you start to think poor you tend to assume you are only worthy of the shittiest deals and the poorest bargains.   You expect little, and you get little.   This is not to say you can "think your way to wealth" only that when you have a poor mindset, then it becomes easier to accept crappy financial deals as you think that is all you deserve.   It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

For example, if you are proud to be a redneck and indulge in "rebel pride" you are poor in spirit and destined to remain poor.   Similarly if you embrace ghetto culture and ebonics as defining who you are and as a "cultural heritage" you are poor in spirit and will never escape the ghetto.  If you embrace poverty as being noble and better than wealth, then not surprisingly, wealth will elude you for all of your life.  Similarly, whether in the ghetto or trailer park, if you eschew education and knowledge, you will likely remain poor.  If you think that fake news is real news, you are likely to remain in your station in life forever.

But for many others, poverty isn't a natural condition.   Like I said, many well-educated middle-class people fall down the economic ladder for no apparent reason at all.   Well, there are reasons, as we shall see - often they have to do with low-self-esteem and their upbringing.   Drugs are usually involved as well, as either cause, effect, or both.   And there are also smart people born into poverty, who see no way out, other than criminality or marginal living.   The smartest of the poor, if they don't figure a legitimate way out, often find illegitimate ways out.   Career criminals and organized crime members are often very smart people - who just apply their intelligence in the wrong direction.

So say you are a poor person, either in wealth or spirit or both, but you are intelligent enough to read this far - and you want to change your life and work your way up the economic ladder.   How do you escape the mire you are bogged down in?  Well, here are some suggestions, which at least worked for me, and as far as I know, for a few others as well.  But they will only work if you have a modicum of smarts and are willing to challenge almost everything you have been lead to believe in life.

But again, this is not a guaranteed process.   It won't work for folks who are plain stupid and can't read.  It won't work for people with no talents.  It won't work for drug addicts who refuse to quit. And sadly, it won't work for the severely mentally ill, either.   But as far as I know, these are the only ways to get out of poverty - by changing your mind, to change your circumstances.   None of these things are easy to do.   If they were, there wouldn't be so many poor people in the world. 

1.  Stop Blaming Other People For Your Problems:   Poverty lady, in her book, goes on profanity-laced diatribes about how unfair it is to live in America and how awful poor people have it.   This is what I have termed externalizing and it isn't helpful to you personally at all, but in fact, very, very harmful.

Even assuming it is true that the evil 1%'ers are out to get you, obsessing about this isn't going to change your life one bit.   If you buy into this narrative, it is an easy way to simply give up and assume that nothing in your life will ever change so why bother trying?

And that, in a nutshell is why people externalize.   I spent many an evening sitting around some cigarette-burned coffee table, doing bong-hits with fellow pot smokers, while everyone whined about how the system was stacked against them.   It was a way of bootstrapping our own admissions of defeat in life.   Why bother trying?  Just get as high as you can, all the time, and forget about succeeding.

My late sister, who had every opportunity in the world (elite boarding school, college degree paid for by parents, etc.) fell down the economic ladder and stayed there by blaming Ronald Reagan, and later George Bush, for her economic woes.  She was obsessed about national politics, but less concerned with balancing her own checkbook.   This prevented her from addressing the real root causes of her poverty.

2.  Stop Obsessing About the Past:  It is easy to let the past control the present and the future.  Maybe you were abused as a child, or your parents were crazy.   It is easy to let this affect your present sense of well-being by letting it squash your self-esteem.

Again, as an example, my late sister spent an inordinate amount of time obsessing about her childhood and her relationship with her Mother.   Women seem to be particularly prone to this nonsense, never satisfied until they can have a Mother-Daughter relationship that is like in the movies or on television.  Those simply don't exist in real life.  Never confuse television with reality, especially reality television!

You can let the past dominate your life, or simply move on.   And this is a hard trap to escape, particularly for folks who have had traumatic life experiences.    But a traumatic past does not dictate a traumatic future.   The left loves to obsess about PTSD, and it is a real concern.   But sadly, the Left posits that everyone who went to war or who has PTSD is destined to have a tragic life.   This negates the experience of other folks who have similar experiences and are able to overcome them.

You are not predestined to do anything.   Don't let the past lock you into a dismal future, or worse yet, let other people tell you that you are preordained to fail because of your past.  Don't let others pigeon-hole you as a "victim" or encourage you to use your troubled past as an excuse not to try hard today.

3.  Stop Using Drugs:  This includes alcohol and cigarettes.   Not only are drugs expensive, but they distract you from life.   If you drink and smoke pot, odds are you will lose jobs and your career will go nowhere.  You will make nonsensical decisions in life and make very poor financial decisions, often because you are wasted and are just living for the moment.

Not only that, but drug use and compulsive behaviors go hand in hand.   If you have a shopping problem, compulsive sex addiction, compulsive gambling habit, or whatever, chances are, you are just in as bad shape as a drug addict, both in terms of how much it costs you and how it drags down your life.

Drug use often is tied in with items #1 and #2 above.   For example, my late sister smoked a lot of pot and then felt sorry for herself rather than taking charge of her life.  And alcohol abuse in the family squandered more than one paycheck.   You have to get sober - at least for a while - to get your finances back on track.

Again, this isn't easy.   Psychological dependency and peer pressure will drag you back to the bong again and again.   My friends and even family were alarmed when I gave up drugs and drinking - particularly since the latter was a religion in my family.   I had to ditch friends and family and look out for my own life.

I never said this was easy!  Never!

4.  Cut Back on Spending:   This seems pretty obvious, but I know a lot of "poor" people with hobby cars, motorcycles, and other big-ticket items (usually broken down in the back yard).   Or they have cable or satellite television, or a monster truck to commute to work in, plus of course, the latest cell phone and cell phone plan.   Sell the hobby car, unload the monster truck for a cheaper to operate and lower cost secondhand sedan.  Get rid of the pricey cell phone plan and try something cheaper.

And for God's sake, stop squandering cash on idiotic things like tattoos, piercings, exotic pets, and all the other trailer-park bullshit that just squanders the cash of the people who can afford it the least.

In order to accumulate wealth you need to spend less.   And accumulating wealth isn't just necessary to create a retirement nest egg, but to save money.   As I noted before, there is a snowball effect in finances.  If you are paycheck-to-paycheck all the time, then you are screwed if your car gets towed.  And no, you can't take advantage of buying in bulk.   You get the worst deals because no one has to offer you better ones.

Once you have money in the bank, you stop bouncing checks and your credit improves - and you get better deals.  Once you fall down the financial ladder, things get shitty in a real hurry.  In order to get ahead of the game, you have to stop spending, period.

No, this is not easy, either!

5.  Stop Looking for Easy Answers & Stop Being a Sucker:  The poor are always the one looking for the "trick" to getting out of debt, as if you could walk away from debts with no consequences whatsoever if you knew the insider trick.   Similarly, they believe that to get rich, you have to know someone or invest in a get-rich-quick scheme like an IPO or a pyramid scheme or an MLM plan.

The poor never believe that just putting money aside will make you rich over time.  But that is really the only way for most people to ever accumulate wealth.  Everything else is a long-shot deal or just an utter ripoff.

Again, if it was easy to make money and not be poor, there wouldn't be so many poor people in the world.  It takes hard work - and not just at a job, but in your personal life.  The poor bite on raw deals all the time, because they are convinced there are shortcuts to wealth or "that's how everyone does it".

But payday loans and check cashing stores are not smart moves, but just a one-way ticket to poverty.  You won't make money through an MLM scheme or whatever - they will just take money from you.

This is probably the easiest step to take, but you'd be surprised how many middle-class people fall for this nonsense and buy time shares.

6.  Find a Skill and Use It:   Everyone has some talent or another, or can obtain a salable skill.  If you don't have skills, learn some, but not at some con-job "for profit" college that wants you to borrow yet more money to get a worthless degree.  See #5 above.

Study something hard, not easy.  Folks sign up for these worthless colleges, convinced they are going to make a lot of money and have fun at the same time!   But real learning is not easy, and in fact can be the most painful thing out there.

For me, going back to college and finishing my degree was the way out of poverty.  I learned firsthand that not having a useful college degree was a real handicap.  And I learned from my friend's brother than having an expensive college degree in "communications" was worse than no degree at all (I was able to land better jobs than he did, as a college dropout, than he could with a "communications" degree).

Get a skill.  It could be a trade, a college degree, or even how to type.   But make sure there is a demand for that skill, otherwise you are wasting your own time or money.   Pretty much any program that promises to be "fun" is bound to be a ripoff.   Nothing good in life is easy!

This is also a hard step to take, as many young people in particular tell me they have no marketable skills or interests.   It amazes me how many young men will blow through tons of dough trying to hop up their old economy cars, but would never think of going to a trade school to learn how to fix cars - instead working minimum-wage service jobs.

7.  Move Away:  MOVING AWAY from impoverished areas is often the first step of such a plan - or at least a step you probably should take as soon as you can afford it.   If you live in a ghetto, you will be influenced by very poor people with very poor normative cues.   They will drag you down to their level, and before long, you will start to accept things like payday loans and buying-on-time as "normal" parts of life, rather than the shitty deals they are.  The redneck trailer park is no better, and arguably worse, as you not only take the same shitty bargains, but are trained to blame the people in the ghetto for your own situation.

For me, moving away from Chittenango and my drug-addled friends and family members was a very important part of the process.   Living in a nicer town in a nicer place (even though it was an apartment and not a house) set different standards and different normative cues in my life.  I realized that I had very low expectations in life in a small town.  The big city challenged me - and I rose to the challenge.  Most people do, out of necessity.

We had neighbors once, on Washington Road, who rented the neighbor's house.  They came from an impoverished area of Central New York (as I did), and told me they wanted to raise goats and chickens in the back yard and buy a diesel Jetta, as these were all desirable things to do in impoverished Central New York (like heating your house with wood, which is also a poverty waste-of-time).

Within a few years of living in the Washington, DC area, their values changed dramatically.   They didn't quite become Yuppies, but the idea of raising goats and chickens quickly went by the wayside as their careers took off and they started to make real money.   They eventually did move back to their farm - and maybe the goats and chickens - but this time with a lot more cash in the bank.   Changing their location was essential to changing their circumstance.  They never would have gotten ahead in life if they had stayed on the goat farm.

Many people fall into this trap - living in their home town where there are no real options for advancement.   They live with parents because it is easy and comfortable.   Becoming successful is never easy and comfortable - it involves risk-taking and hard work.   But it ain't all that hard, either, as a lazy man like me was able to do it.

Moving away isn't all that hard, but it may require you acquire those job skills first, so you have a job offer or at least a prospect in a new location.   The very poor just move, willy-nilly, and assume a job will materialize somewhere.

* * *

Could you do all of these things and still fail?   Yes, but not likely.   You might be very unlucky.   But the old saying, "The harder I work, the more my luck improves" has a lot of merit.   And what some people call "bad luck" others call "shitty life choices".   In fact, stop believing in luck is probably step #8.   Yes, random shit happens in your life a lot, but in retrospect, you'll discover that a lot of the bad things that happened in your life were in fact not bad luck but bad decisions.  Or at least, I can attest to this in my own life - nearly every shitty thing that has happened to me was the result of some bonehead decision I made.   Luck helps on the upside, maybe.  Bad luck, on the other hand, is usually created by the self.

For example, many a young person has tried to convince me they had "bad luck" because they got into an accident with their car or motorcycle.   Then you see how they drive - rolling stop signs, speeding, tailgating, never using turn signals, driving distracted - and you realize that luck had a lot less to do with it and shitty driving had far more.

Some adults try to convince me that had "bad luck" investing, which you might believe until you see they put all their money into one fund with one company, and didn't diversify their portfolio.   Worse yet are the "get rich quick" people who claim they had "bad luck" investing in such schemes.   Again, not so much luck as shitty choices.

Bad luck is getting cancer - and not from smoking cigarettes, either (yes, cigarettes are a choice and a health crises is a predictable outcome).   Bad luck is having your house burn down.   Shitty choices is not buying fire insurance because you'd rather spend money on cable TV (you laugh, I know a family that did just that - and their house burned down!).

But regardless of how bad your luck is, you are always better off being prepared and making better choices.  "Luck favors the prepared" is another saying that illustrates this concept.

The narrative that the media likes to sell and the Left harps on is that your outcome in life is determined 100% by chance or your upbringing and that your hard work and efforts mean nothing.   If you are successful in life, it was because you got "lucky" and nothing else.  But nothing could be further from the truth.   I know this because I was lucky in life - had great opportunities in life from the get-go, and threw them away in a fit of drug use and self-pity.   I was able to reverse the trend through hard work and effort - and the longer you wait, the harder it is.  Most of my friends, who were similarly lucky, did not - and rode the train all the way down the tracks to povertyville.

Note also that you cannot skip steps you don't like and still succeed.  "Can't I keep smoking pot and still get out of poverty?"  No, not really.   Or at least you are making it ten times as hard as it need be.  Think of it this way - once you are financially secure and retired, smoke all the pot you want.  But in the meantime, if you want to seek your fortune, you need to be sober.  Hey, it's only 30 years or so, it will fly by in a flash, trust me.

And you'd be surprised how many people will say that not smoking pot is a deal-killer.  I would have said the same thing when I was 21 years old.   "Not smoke pot?  Not likely, buddy!" as it becomes almost a religion with some folks.   A very simple thing that really adds nothing to your life, and yet many folks immediately say "No" if you tell them that is the one key to their becoming successful.   Funny how people are, ain't it?

Similarly, people say, "Well, can't I just stay in Flint, Michigan and still be successful?"  Not bloody likely.   Depressed places are depressing.  There are few opportunities and if you live in places like that, you start to think things like collecting deposit bottles are a worthwhile pastime.   Move to where the money is.  Again, you'd be surprised how many people will say that not living in Utica, New York is a deal-breaker.   Their loyalty to a run-down rust-belt city is more important than their own well-being.

And I have to say, I fell into this trap.   I romanticized my home town and home State until many years later, I bought a vacation home there and discovered, as a mature adult, what I did not see as a young man - high taxes, high poverty, the welfare state, low expectations, and so forth.   While it was pretty for two months out of the year when the sun came out, the rest of the time, it was simply a place you move away from.   Sadly, it took well over $100,000 to learn this lesson!

No, there are no shortcuts, you have to do all seven steps.   You might succeed in spite of skipping some steps, but that is due to luck and not hard work, and you can't count on luck.

Of course, not everyone can escape poverty.   But chances are, if you can read all of this, you at least have a shot at it, because you can actually read and digest more than a Tweet, and that is a damn hard skill to find anymore these days.   Apply yourself and you will succeed.  It starts with putting down the bong...

NOTE:  While researching the graphic above, I came across many more (google "cycle of poverty" images).   Many of these graphics posited that part of the cycle of poverty in the USA was hunger and lack of food, disease and bad water.   While this may be true in some very bad parts of our country (crack house in the ghetto) most of our poor are not hungry and diseased - although that is certainly true in other countries in the world.

Another graphic proscribed the solution to this cycle - with a government intervention at every stage - in terms of health care, education, job training, free child care, and so forth.   Noble ideas to be sure!  But with the current administration, not likely to happen.  And not likely to happen in any administration, given the deficit and budget problems.

And of course, we have to ask ourselves, should we make being poor attractive?   Because their does reach a point where if you provide enough government assistance, people will take it, instead of working.   Or is this assistance a sop to the poor, or a subsidy to low-wage employers?   Who benefits from food stamps, the person receiving them or Wal-Mart who can now pay that person $1 less an hour as a result?

But the deal is, the best way for YOU to escape poverty is to take action in your life, rather than wait for a government program that will never materialize.   No, this is not easy.  No one every said it would be.