Creating an Opportunity Society to Help People Move out of Poverty


“Graduate from high school, work hard, and get married before you have children and the chance you will ever be in poverty is just two percent. Yet if you don’t do these three things you’re 38 times more likely to end up in poverty!”

 – Rick Santorum, 2012 Republican National Convention

That’s a statistic cited by Rick Santorum during his speech at the recent Republican National Convention in Tampa.  The numbers come from a 2009 Brookings Institute report called “Creating the Opportunity Society.” Taken on its own, this staggering statistic points to poverty as purely a behavioral issue that can be fixed with improved decision-making.  

As is often the case with numbers gleaned from research — there’s much more to these findings.

The full Brookings report focused on social and economic mobilty in the U.S. The conclusion – poverty is both behavioral and structural, but you have a 42% chance of staying poor if you are born into poverty. In fact, poor people in the U.S. have some of the worst prospects for upward mobility when compared to the impoverished in other advanced countries. 

See the PPT presentation and the Brookings Institute’s recommendations for creating an “Opportunity Society.”

A 2011 study by the Economic Policy Institute offers this perspective — that marriage, employment, and education are difficult to attain, particularly for those raised in poverty.

 “Continually high poverty rates among blacks and Latinos are the result of highunemployment and incarceration rates and declining shares of good jobs in the American economy,” wrote Algernon Austin, the author of the study. “The decline in marriage among these groups is a collateral consequence of these negative economic conditions.”

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A blog by the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office.