By Margaret L. Woods
V2, I3 – August 2017
Poverty is more than a lack of income, it is the consequence of the effects of societal and institutional biases particularly against people of color. Being the victims of these institutional biases cause our youth to make decisions that negatively impact their well-being. And the longer our youth are exposed to certain conditions the harder it will be for them to avoid poverty. Data clearly shows that dropping out of high school, having children without a spouse, working only part time or not working at all, substantially increase the chances of long-term poverty. For youth to avoid poverty they must follow “5 Golden Rules.”
Rule #1: Finish High School
Don’t drop out. When there were more manufacturing jobs and it was easier for teenagers to learn a trade, it wasn’t that important to stay in school. However, in today’s economy the thousands who leave school with no qualifications will struggle to find a role in an economy bustling with the world’s workers. The average high school dropout makes only $19,000 a year, a high school graduate makes $28,000 a year, a college graduate makes, on average, $51,000 a year. These are substantially different incomes, especially when it involves building a future.
Rule #2: Avoid Teenage Parenthood
This rule matters most to women. Among Latinos, families headed by unmarried parents are three times more likely to be poor. For African Americans, these families are five times more likely to be poor. It is, of course, quite possible to have a child at a very young age and then start a well-paid career afterwards. But, as you might expect, it’s much harder.
Rule # 3: Get A Job and Keep It
Avoid long-term unemployment before hitting one’s mid-20s. Unfortunately, the longer a youth stays unemployed the harder it becomes to try and find a job. Unemployment can become self-reinforcing after a certain period and those who stay active stand a better chance of landing a stable job. Youth will do better by staying active and not becoming a victim of “long-term” subsidized assistance (welfare).
Rule # 4: Find Love and Have a Long-term Relationship
Marriage and long-term relationships are not always the same thing but a wedding ring is no guarantee of longevity. However, what really matters is the ability of a couple to stick together and to work on establishing a stable and respectful union. When it comes to fighting poverty, this matters even more than finishing school. Raising children is hard, doing it alone is not impossible but it is much harder.
Rule #5: Just Wait
Waiting to have children until you are in a stable relationship significantly reduces the chances of poverty. In minority communities, the collapse of marriage has become especially acute. More than half of Latino children are born to single mothers, as are seven out of 10 African American children. Waiting to find a stable long term relationship and planning to have children does work out better for the parents involved and especially the children who will feel safe and develop a sense of security.
Certain behaviors are a recipe for success. Among those who finish high school, have a long term healthy relationship, wait to have children and go to work, the odds of long-term poverty will significantly diminish. Professionals who work with our youth must in a nonjudgmental way concentrate on helping them to see the value and importance of these rules.