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The Myth of the Virtuous Poor

by David French

In defense of accountability

More than at any other time in recent American history, the political class is obsessed with the poor and the working class. The fact that Donald Trump rode a white working-class wave to the Oval Office would be notable enough, but this political upheaval occurred just as the social-science data indicated that only half of the youngest cohort of Americans have done better economically than their parents, and — at the same time — that the death rate for white poor and working-class families is actually rising, with the rise driven in part by increases in suicides and drug overdoses. The sad scent of despair is in the air.

Let’s begin with a series of simple, indisputable facts. If a person finishes his education, gets married, and stays married, his chances of either becoming poor or staying poor are small. Drop out of school, and the poverty rate skyrockets. Have children out of wedlock and raise them in single-parent families, and the poverty rate skyrockets. There are no guarantees, of course. There are people who make bad choices yet still achieve good outcomes. There are people who do all the right things yet still struggle. But on the whole, a simple series of good choices can have an extraordinarily positive impact on a person’s economic prospects.

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