Poverty and Living on the Edge

Perhaps I misunderstand the article “Living on the Edge” in last week’s Rappahannock Record in Kilmarnock, Virginia but the tone suggests that any “gap” in the matrix of services for those deemed “less fortunate” points to a need for some combination of increased philanthropy and/or an expansion in the number and size of programs designed to make them “more fortunate.” In my opinion as a professional helper, it is far from a foregone conclusion that the helping industry is unacceptably small and that things would be better for the less fortunate if only there were more services and generosity.

Economist Walter Williams at George Mason University has suggested that avoiding poverty is relatively easy to accomplish if only people made better decisions, and one’s circumstances can be improved if a better pattern of decisions becomes introduced into one’s way of being in the world. In various essays and syndicated columns, he suggests the following:

  1. Take school seriously and graduate from high school with a good GPA and a good reputation such that obtaining favorable letters of recommendation from former teachers and a good transcript are easy to provide if requested.
  2. Obtain a two-year degree from the local community college with continued good grades and a good reputation. Pursue the degree on a part-time basis, if necessary, and explore opportunities for financial assistance. Express gratitude for the source of the financial assistance.
  3. Work at gainful employment while studying toward the Associate’s Degree, and work hard at your job so that your boss will be pleased at the decision to hire you in the first place and will speak well of you when you are ready for that better job.
  4. Do not start a family until you are married.
  5. Buy an inexpensive home as soon as you can afford to do so.
  6. Take care of your credit score. Borrow money only for something that will increase in value.
  7. Make the first six items on this list a part of your core values, and only date people who share them.
  8. Have a starter home and some money in the bank before you marry and start a family.
  9. Stay focused and recognize that a large cadre of professional helpers requires a large population of “helpees” to stay in business. Avoid a style of help that cultivates dependency.

The importance of these principles seems conspicuously absent in the discussion of how best to address the “gaps in dealing with poverty.” Perhaps future discussions will better address the issue of personal responsibility. Readers may wish to visit walterwilliams.com for an elaboration on his recommendations.

Andrew J. Billups, PsyD


About ajb

I am clinical psychologist and academic coach with more than twenty years of psychotherapy, academic coaching, and training experience. I operate from my base camp in the Chesapeake Bay Country of Tidewater Virginia. I have a long-term interest in the relationship among public policy, education, mental health, poverty, and change language.
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