Every American seems to have an opinion on the causes of perpetual poverty among blacks, despite the inconvenient statistical fact that black families have dramatically risen in wealth over the last four decades. Discussions today have as a kind of background noise the black underclass, which seems impervious to all government programs to lift this statistically unrepresentative group out of poverty. So, in the spirit of helpful do-goodism, which is the politically correct update of what used to be called the white man’s burden, here are my suggestions. They begin with a presupposition: class position isn’t primarily about one’s level of income. Class position is mainly about one’s worldview: one’s theory of cause and effect.
Join a church. I don’t mean some shrinking, liberal, mainline denomination, especially one whose name begins with the word “United.” I mean a Bible-preaching, hell-fire-and-damnation church, which warns people weekly that moral transgressions produce negative results. Avoid the never-ending liberal blame-shifting. “And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat” (Genesis 3:12-13).
Donate ten percent of your income to your church. This practice is called tithing. It announces to yourself and your church’s deacons, “I rely on God for my money, and ten percent off the top is a token of my faith that there’s more where that came from.” In short, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17).
Finish school. Graduating from high school or college doesn’t make you smart. It makes you reliable. It sends a message to prospective employers: “This person finishes what he starts, even if what he starts is inherently boring, such as school.” This is the kind of person employers want to hire. Finish what you start. “And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
Get married and stay married to the same person. This takes advantage of the productivity offered by the division of labor. It’s also a huge motivation for you to get a job and keep it.
Get a job and keep it. There are no dead-end jobs. All jobs are stepping-stone jobs for people who are willing to pay the price to move up. When a job turns into a dead end, start working harder, longer, and smarter to persuade your boss to give you a promotion. He’ll notice. There aren’t that many good workers around. “And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it” (Genesis 39:22). You’ll get a promotion — or a job offer from your boss’s competitor. “And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 41:41).
Work cheaper initially. Want to overcome resistance to hiring you? Lower your price. It’s amazing what business owners’ greed and their desire to exploit an opportunity, i.e., you, can do for your job prospects.
Master something. It doesn’t matter what, just something. Find out how to do something really well. Read everything you can about it. Practice what you’re read. Take a night school class on it in your spare time. Which means. . . .
Stop watching so much television. TV may be free; your time isn’t. Those sit-coms aren’t funny. It doesn’t really matter how a weekly TV drama turns out. Abandon the concept of spare time. Your motto from now on is TANSTASP: There ain’t no such thing as spare time. Jesus said: “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work” (John 9:4).
Volunteer to help others. It doesn’t matter what you volunteer to do. There is plenty of work to be done, and plenty of people who need help. You will also find yourself in closer contact with successful people — other volunteers — as well as people who need help.
Set some goals. You need lifetime goals (age 70), mid-term goals (a decade from now), and short-term goals (every quarter). Age catches up with you.
Save ten percent of your after-tax, after-tithe income. It’s good discipline, and the money adds up over time.
Start a business. Begin working for yourself on Saturdays. This means that you must go out and persuade customers to hire you, so that you don’t get harmed too badly if one of these employers “fires” you. Spread your employment risk.
These twelve steps work equally well for Euro Americans, Latin Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans.
January 21, 2003