Darrow Miller and Friends

Poverty: It’s Not Too Late to Win the War

Poverty often results from the natural human tendency to respond to incentives. That’s true, by the way, not only for those who receive money from government programs but also for those whose livelihood depends on managing government programs.

poverty is less likely in a two-parent familyOne example is the breakdown of the family. Research has shown that intact, two-parent households have a higher standard of living than single-parent households. Many government welfare programs pay single mothers more as they have more babies. This has the consequences of separating the parents. The man loses much of the incentive to father the children he has created. The mother bears more children to increase her income. A well-intentioned program has the unintended consequence of increasing poverty. Single mothers are incentivized to bring more children into poverty rather than to make the changes necessary to escape poverty.

My wife tells a related story from her role as a nurse doing postpartum visits to a young mother and her baby. On entering the darkened home of this young mother, in a poor neighborhood, she found four generations of the family sitting on a couch in the middle of the day watching TV. The new mother with her baby, and her mother and grandmother sat “amusing themselves to death,” to borrow from Neil Postman.

That’s what life on welfare often looks like: no husband, no work, increasing poverty, enough government assistance to survive. Without some dramatic changes, the baby would grow up in this environment, assuming such a life to be normal. In 15 years the same couch might hold another newborn and four women watching soaps on (a new) TV. What a tragedy.

“There is a strong connection between the breakdown in marriage and child poverty.”

Rachel Sheffield is a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation. She recently wrote an article, “Marriage Won’t End Poverty. But It Will Help (A Lot).”

There is a strong connection between the breakdown in marriage and child poverty. Living with two working parents raises household income. Children in single-parent homes are more than five times as likely to be poor, regardless of parental education level. They also are more likely to drop out of high school, spend time in prison, abuse drugs and alcohol, and have an unwed birth.

As the message spreads throughout Central America that if you get to the USA “Obama will take care of you,” more and more people will seek to cross the border. What would I do in similar circumstances? Quite likely, I would try to get my children across the border.

What mentality do we encourage and support? Do we reward work or idleness? Living within our means or excessive spending? Responsibility or imprudence? Family formation or divorce and single-parent households? Michael Tanner, a senior research fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, writes:

The vast majority of current programs are focused on making poverty more comfortable — giving poor people more food, better shelter, health care, and so forth — rather than giving people the tools that will help them escape poverty. … And we know that the best way to create wealth is not through government action, but through the power of the free market.[1]

Is it compassionate to spend more money on programs that are failing, programs that create dependency, that engender a whole class of chronically dependent people? An objective analysis of results and a heart of compassion compel us to stop what we are doing and transition to new programs that actually change people’s minds and circumstances. Sheffield writes of some of the factors that need to change.

Multiple factors … contribute to opportunity: a strong economy, a thriving work ethic, access to quality education, as well as strong families. These factors work together, not independently of each other.

A sound anti-poverty strategy must include: self-sufficiency through work, implementing policies to encourage job creation, improving access to quality education, and taking steps to restore a culture of marriage. Combining these efforts will help create a society where more individuals have the opportunity to succeed and flourish.[2]

We need the courage to recognize the failure of current welfare programs. We must acknowledge that the failure is a direct result of faulty policies derived from faulty principles and paradigms. We need to begin to work from the biblical worldview. We must articulate biblical principles that directly relate to the causes of poverty and to the creation of free and flourishing people, communities, and nations. We need to develop policies and their corresponding programmatic application that will lift people out of poverty. We need to invest money in programs that will reduce poverty by preparing people to flourish in their home and in the workplace, to be wealth creators, not simply wealth consumers.

We follow the One who “preached good news to the poor.” Surely we can be more effective servants to them in his name.

–          Darrow Miller


[1] http://www.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/PA694.pdf
[2] http://dailysignal.com/2014/07/31/marriage-wont-end-poverty-will-help-lot/?utm_source=heritagefoundation&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=morningbell&mkt_tok=3RkMMJWWfF9wsRonuaXNZKXonjHpfsX56eUvWa62lMI%2F0ER3fOvrPUfGjI4ASMBlI%2BSLDwEYGJlv6SgFQrLBMa1ozrgOWxU%3D


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Darrow is co-founder of the Disciple Nations Alliance and a featured author and teacher. For over 30 years, Darrow has been a popular conference speaker on topics that include Christianity and culture, apologetics, worldview, poverty, and the dignity of women. From 1981 to 2007 Darrow served with Food for the Hungry International (now FH association), and from 1994 as Vice President. Before joining FH, Darrow spent three years on staff at L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland where he was discipled by Francis Schaeffer. He also served as a student pastor at Northern Arizona University and two years as a pastor of Sherman Street Fellowship in urban Denver, CO. In addition to earning his Master’s degree in Adult Education from Arizona State University, Darrow pursued graduate studies in philosophy, theology, Christian apologetics, biblical studies, and missions in the United States, Israel, and Switzerland. Darrow has authored numerous studies, articles, Bible studies and books, including Discipling Nations: The Power of Truth to Transform Culture (YWAM Publishing, 1998), Nurturing the Nations: Reclaiming the Dignity of Women for Building Healthy Cultures (InterVarsity Press, 2008), LifeWork: A Biblical Theology for What You Do Every Day (YWAM, 2009), Rethinking Social Justice: Restoring Biblical Compassion (YWAM, 2015), and more. These resources along with links to free e-books, podcasts, online training programs and more can be found at Disciple Nations Alliance (https://disciplenations.org).


  1. cam

    October 27, 2014 - 8:50 am

    Benjamin Franklin
    “I am for doing good to the poor, but…I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. I observed…that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.”

    • admin

      October 27, 2014 - 2:46 pm

      Great quote, Cam. Thanks very much for sharing that.

      Gary Brumbelow