Opportunity Overcomes Poverty
What’s the answer to poverty? I believe it’s opportunity—and hope.
I grew up in South Houston, Texas, an urban area of Houston in the 1980s and ‘90s. I lived in a lower-income, single-mother, two-child household. My mostly absent father was on disability due to epilepsy.
I had opportunities to attend private school, public school, and finished K-12 in home school. But those years were tough—in a loving yet chaotic home shadowed by traumatic events, budget troubles, and stints of living at my grandparents’ house.
Much of poverty is dependent on family structure and location.
Kids living with a single mother are much more likely to live in poverty than with a father and mother. And this is associated with less upward income mobility and higher incarceration rates. But some overcome this path by taking available opportunities, whether divinely or otherwise directed.
For my part, I made bad decisions in my late teenage years that could have devastated my future in ways that so many others suffer.
I started on the right track by working at 16. But I started straying the next year when I began living the “rock star” life as the drummer for a hard rock band. Over the next few years, I found myself walking close to the edge of life and the law.
Fortunately, God’s grace—evidenced through a life-threatening car accident—changed this trajectory from poverty, jail, or death to meeting my calling of helping others. I went on to college, earning a doctorate in economics. Then I found a fulfilling career and built a loving family.
At every juncture, a combination of grace and opportunity (also, in my view, a manifestation of grace), opened new paths to me.
One such opportunity allowed me to earn my high school diploma. Others helped me to start a full-time job, and to get married before having kids. Unknown to me at the time, this is what’s called the success sequence—and it put me in a better position to achieve prosperity. And this success sequence is clearly correlated with less poverty and better family outcomes.
But not everyone has the same opportunities I had—most often, because government gets in the way.
And that’s precisely why the Texas Public Policy Foundation is releasing its Alliance for Opportunity campaign. This campaign will work closely with similar efforts by the Georgia Center for Opportunity and Pelican Institute in Louisiana in releasing an online roadmap with practical ways to provide poverty relief.
The Alliance is working to move people off government dependency onto a path toward self-sufficiency, hope, community, and restorative justice.
Ronald Reagan was right when he said, “I believe the best social program is a job.” We need more opportunities for people to receive an education, training, and a job. That’s done by removing obstacles, mostly from government.
The need is clear. Nearly 42 million Americans were on food stamps in 2021, up 5.3% from the prior year, showing more people in poverty. Of course, rapid inflation from bad policies out of Washington has made matters worse. Fewer are working; the key labor market measure of the prime-age (25 to 54 years old) employment-population ratio remains depressed. And the misery index remains historically high even during the recovery. These troubling signs for Americans reject the White House’s claim of a robust economy.
Dependency and lack of community—of the institutions that give our lives meaning—have led to a rapid rise in deaths of despair. While many of these deaths may have been avoided without the mistaken shutdowns, the key to overcoming poverty’s lethal toll is more opportunities to flourish. Oftentimes government supports abundant opportunities while inhibiting others.
But there’s hope. Lives can be saved and improved with strong families, robust civil society, limited government, and free enterprise. Those are the things that make success stories like mine possible.
We have our work cut out for us. But I’m ready to go to work to help make the Alliance’s efforts to improve people’s lives more purposeful and prosperous. Join me.
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Vance Ginn, Ph.D.