By Walter Williams: Syndicated Columnist
Ministers Louis Farrakhan, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Washington, D.C.’s Mayor Anthony Williams and others recently met to discuss plans to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the October 1995 Million Man March. Whilst reading about the plans, I thought of an excellent topic for the event: how not to be poor.
Avoiding long-term poverty is not rocket science. First, graduate from high school. Second, get married before you have children, and stay married. Third, work at any kind of job, even one that starts out paying the minimum wage. And, finally, avoid engaging in criminal behavior.
If you graduate from high school today with a B or C average, in most places in our country there’s a low-cost or financially assisted post-high-school education program available to increase your skills.
Most jobs start with wages higher than the minimum wage, which is currently $5.15. A man and his wife, even earning the minimum wage, would earn $21,000 annually.
According to the Bureau of Census, in 2003, the poverty threshold for one person was $9,393; for a two-person household it was $12,015; and for a family of four it was $18,810.
Taking a minimum-wage job is no great shakes, but it produces an income higher than the Bureau of Census’ poverty threshold. Plus, having a job in the first place increases one’s prospects for a better job.
The Children’s Defense Fund and civil rights organizations frequently whine about the number of black children living in poverty. In 1999, the Bureau of the Census reported that 33.1 percent of black children lived in poverty compared with 13.5 percent of white children. It turns out that race per se has little to do with the difference. Instead, it’s welfare and single parenthood. When black children are compared to white children living in identical circumstances, mainly in a two-parent household, both children will have the same probability of being poor.
How much does racial discrimination explain? So far as black poverty is concerned, I’d say little or nothing, which is not to say that every vestige of racial discrimination has been eliminated. But let’s pose a few questions.
Is it racial discrimination that stops black students from studying and completing high school? Is it racial discrimination that’s responsible for the 68 percent illegitimacy rate among blacks?
The 1999 Bureau of Census report might raise another racial discrimination question. Among black households that included a married couple, over 50 percent were middle class earning above $50,000, and 26 percent earned more than $75,000. How in the world did these black families manage not to be poor? Did America’s racists cut them some slack?
The civil rights struggle is over, and it has been won. At one time, black Americans did not have the same constitutional protections as whites. Now, we do, because the civil rights struggle is over and won is not the same as saying that there are not major problems for a large segment of the black community. What it does say is that they’re not civil rights problems, and to act as if they are leads to a serious misallocation of resources.
Rotten education is a severe handicap to upward mobility, but is it a civil rights problem? Let’s look at it.
Washington, D.C. public schools, as well as many other big city schools, are little more than educational cesspools. Per student spending in Washington, D.C., is just about the highest in the nation. D.C.’s mayors have been black, and so have a large percentage of the city council, school principals, teachers and superintendents.
Suggesting that racial discrimination plays any part in Washington, D.C.’s educational calamity is near madness and diverts attention away from possible solutions.
Bill Cosby had the courage to speak out against individual irresponsibility. Surely those who profess to have the best interests of blacks at heart should be able to summon the courage to do so as well.
Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. He writes for Creators Syndicate and may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org