George Will’s Impoverished Education as to the Causes of Poverty

George Will has decided the former Senator John Edwards has an old paradigm of what causes poverty in America:

Edwards has a 1930s paradigm of poverty: Poor people are like everyone else; they just lack goods and services (housing, transportation, training, etc.) that government knows how to deliver. Hence he calls for a higher minimum wage and job-creation programs. And because no Democrat with national ambitions will dare to offend teachers unions, he rejects school choice vouchers and says this: “Give working parents who are poor housing vouchers so they have a chance to move into neighborhoods with better schools.” But the 1930s paradigm of poverty was alive in 1968 when the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, created in response to urban riots, thought this would be an imaginative cure: government creation of 2 million jobs. This at a moment when the unemployment rate was 3.7 percent. The 1930s paradigm has been refuted by four decades of experience. The new paradigm is of behavior-driven poverty that results from individuals’ nonmaterial deficits. It results from a scarcity of certain habits and mores — punctuality, hygiene, industriousness, deferral of gratification, etc. — that are not developed in disorganized homes.

Will mentions James Q. Wilson who touts Will’s very old view as to how to avoid poverty:

To avoid poverty, do three things: finish high school, marry before having a child, and produce the child after you are 20 years old.

It is interesting that neither Mr. Will nor Mr. Wilson cite the time series data on poverty rates such as this series showing the percent of the population below 125% of the official poverty level. Four decades ago, this rate was 21.3% and it declined to only 15.8% by 1978. It is true that the next 15 years saw this rate rise to 20%, which was partly the result of 3 recessions and the type of neglect to solving poverty that Mr. Will advocates we return to. Of course, the Clinton years saw more progress at reducing poverty so that this rate dropped to 15.6% before George W. Bush took office. Then again – this rate has increased to 17.1%. I wonder why.