Guess the Most Common Reason for Poverty

If you want to escape poverty you probably only need to do one thing (or maybe two things if you want to have children).

No need to hold you in suspense. According to a recent study the most common reason people are in poverty is they don’t have a job. A single mother with two children will remain above the poverty line if she works a minimum-wage job at thirty hours a week. On the other hand (and this brings up the second thing you might do), if the woman marries a working husband and works herself, they will never sink below the poverty line no matter how many children they have.

So the main thing is work diligently at a job and the second is, stay married.

Of course, lots can go wrong. A person can have a medical emergency that disrupts a person’s ability to work and loads them up with medical bills. But the law of averages is clear. Welfare is never a path out of poverty, work is. Thus, to the extent that welfare benefits persuade people not to work they make them perpetually poor.

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The Federalist reports, “Study: The No. 1 Reason Any Americans Are Poor Is They’re Not Working.”

Last Friday an attempt to reauthorize the perennially porky farm bill failed, with Democrats opposing its requirement that able-bodied, working-age adults work at least part-time or participate in job training to receive food welfare.

While “A whopping 82 percent of Americans support requirements that all able-bodied adults work … as a condition of receiving food stamps,” only 38 percent of such recipients currently work at all. Food stamp use remains at record-high levels, with approximately one in seven Americans tapping others to pay their grocery bills despite a surging economy.

Despite popular depictions of subsidy recipients as the deserving poor or people hardly able to feed themselves or their children without help, the statistics tend to show another picture. A recent economic study highlighted the shocking fact that essentially nobody in the United States will be poor if he or she merely works full-time at the minimum wage, even if that person has children.

“The main reason people are poor is because they aren’t working,” said study author Peter Ferrara […]. “The welfare state deserves a lot of blame for that.”

A single mother who has two children and works merely 30 hours per week at the minimum wage will earn enough income to place her family above the federal poverty level, the study says. Without two Republican-instituted measures that subsidize lower-income Americans through the tax code — the Earned Income Tax Credit and the child tax credit — that mother would have to work 55 hours a week to pay her family’s own bills above poverty level herself at a minimum-wage pay level.

That means she’d have to spend 46 percent of her waking hours working to support herself and her kids without tapping other Americans’ earnings at all, assuming eight hours of sleep a night. I wouldn’t exactly call that too much to ask before one lays claim to other citizens’ earnings. A couple wherein each partner works full time at the minimum wage, the study says, “won’t be poor no matter how many children they have” (emphasis added).

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The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

About the author

Joe Scudder

Joe Scudder

Joe Scudder is the "nom de plume" (or "nom de guerre") of a fifty-ish-year-old writer and stroke survivor. He lives in St Louis with his wife and still-at-home children. He has been a freelance writer and occasional political activist since the early nineties. He describes his politics as Tolkienesque.

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