Monday, May 23, 2011

Kiwis choose to be poor

So Sir Paul Callaghan makes a point from the view of scientist. But there is another aspect to this statement which is just as worthy of debate.

When I heard that Newt Gingrich was going to run for the US presidency the first thought that jumped into my head was a quote about how to avoid poverty. As it turns out it wasn't attributable to Gingrich but exactly the sort of thing he might say.

It comes apparently from the Economist but certainly that is not where I first came across it:

"An American's chance of staying poor is less than 1/2 percent if he or she does the following three things: (a) completes high school; (b) gets and stays married; (c) stays employed, even if initially only at the minimum wage. Americans who fail these three requirements have an up-to-80 times greater chance of staying for a long time below the official poverty line, and breeding sad generations there."

But I think there is another version that includes children somewhere. Ah, yes. Walter Williams' rules for avoiding poverty:

* Graduate high school
* Get married before you have children
* If you get married, stay married
* Get a job, any job. A minimum wage job is a stepping stone
* Avoid engaging in criminal behavior

Sounds a bit fusty?

Even acquiring some NCEA credits and sticking with a de facto partner would probably boost the chances of avoiding poverty significantly.

But thousands fail to meet even those conditions. Maori in particular. The education levels of people on the DPB for instance are woeful. Let me look them up.

Sole Parenting in New Zealand: Understanding sub-groups of sole parents receiving main benefits

Educationl attainments for sole parents reistered as jobseekers December 2005

None 48
School qualifications 44
Post-school qualification 6
Unknown 2

So returning to Sir Paul:

Kiwis are poor because they choose to be, says Sir Paul Callaghan, one of the country's top scientists.

This assertion was part of a series of attacks he has directed at the Government's plans to develop the economy.

If the government stopped "planning" so much, the economy and the lives of people perceived as needing their assistance, NZ would be richer for it.


Lucia Maria said...

Hi Lindsay,

Walter Williams would have specifically mentioned marriage, not de facto partnerships, because marriage protects far more from relationship break up than de facto partnership by virtue of the expectations of the spouses and the commitment that is made. A de facto partnership is generally more casual, and therefore far more likely to disintegrate, especially once children come along.

Lindsay Mitchell said...

Agree. The statistics back up your assertion about marriage also. But I did suggest "sticking with a de facto partner" as a second tier rule.

Lucia Maria said...

Hi Lindsay,

Oh yes, I did see that in your comment. As an idea, yes it makes sense. However, as a general principle, it's far more prone to failure despite best efforts.

I was just being pedantic in pointing that out.