Carson was right to tell me that poverty is a state of mind

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It really is a shame. During my Sirius XM 126 interview with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, he began to explain some of the principles and market dynamics affecting policy initiatives at HUD. He noted that at its core, poverty is the result of a “poverty mindset” that is often reinforced by family and social conditions. The mainstream media immediately selected that quote and ran with it. The media’s implication was that “cruel, tone-deaf Carson blames poor people for their poverty.”

But the media totally ignored the other things Dr. Carson said on the subject of housing, and the general formula for avoiding poverty. In the interest of truth, it is only fair that we reset the balance here. Carson first said that there are studies that show there are three major self-initiated behaviors that can ensure that the vast majority of people do not wind up in poverty. First, finish high school; second, get married; and third, delay childbirth until after marriage. These three factors alone would filter out almost 95 percent of all poor people in this country. Carson’s remarks focused on what the average person can do to avoid or alleviate poverty.

This isn’t brain surgery. Dr. Carson is not some elitist rich guy born with a spoon in his mouth who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. His story is well-documented. He was born to a mother who did not finish high school, and who was eventually forced to leave a bigamist marriage with two children she had to raise on her own. She was forced into poverty.

{mosads}But as anyone who has studied Carson’s life can tell you, Carson chose a different path. He attended college and graduated, then went on to medical school. He married his college sweetheart Candy, to whom he remains married to this day. And they both delayed child birth until after they had completed their education and gotten married. On my program, Carson added that he understood the value that a committed marriage and family plays in one’s life. It gets you out of a situation in which you are merely focused on yourself and your own wants and needs, and increases your “responsibility muscle.” By being committed to another person (or persons), you begin to seek opportunities and to develop skills that enable you to expand your earning potential. You invest in a home in which you can raise a family. Your sense of economics grows as you share your income and decide on priorities involved with raising a family. And over time, this process of growing to manage additional responsibilities increases your wealth.


Let’s take the contrapositive position. If you do not complete at least a high school level of education, your job prospects in this country are dismal at best. Not only are you unqualified for most of today’s middle class jobs – police officer, EMS, teacher, etc. – but you may not even have the intellectual foundation to supplement your education without first learning the basics of reading, writing and math taught at the high school level. Needless to say, this puts one at a distinct disadvantage in the job market. If one then adds an out of wedlock child to these poor economic prospects, you are starting out in a deep hole. You may not initially want to depend on the government for housing, food and clothing – but in the absence of marketable skills, that’s often what ends up happening.

This in turn helps foster a cycle of poverty. Your children grow up without role models of success. Most of the people around them and with whom they associate are also in the same conditions — growing up in broken homes, without intact families, supported by government assistance. They begin to believe this is the norm. Why can’t they do it too? So they end up dropping out of school, having kids out of wedlock, and failing to advance to a middle-class lifestyle. This is what’s known as a “poverty mindset.”

What’s the upside in all of this? It’s that it is totally within your control to change this behavior. You don’t have to wait on a government program or a lottery ticket to do this. You can start now, right where you are. You can end the cycle of poverty in your community by changing your mindset, and that will lead to behaviors that support wealth and prosperity.

But this is so simple and obvious that it’s almost not even worth reporting. How many of the prognosticators have failed to heed this basic formula in their own lives? How many of the lofty writers for mainstream rags had to fight their own way out of poverty and broken homes to end up at the heights of their profession? Probably very few.

So when they take Carson out of context for the sake of cheap political theater, chances are they are being a little less than candid about their own middle class values. But peddling the myth that government programs can solve the entrenched problems of poverty in this country — despite all the evidence to the contrary — well, apparently that’s an easier sell.

Armstrong Williams (@ARightSide) served as an adviser and spokesman for Dr. Ben Carson’s 2016 presidential campaign. He is manager and sole owner of Howard Stirk Holdings I & II Broadcast Television Stations and the 2016 Multicultural Media Broadcast Owner of the year. He’s on Sirius XM126 Urban View nightly from 6:00-8:00pm EST.

The views of contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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