Franke: Politically Incorrect but True

April 20, 2018

by Mark Franke

“Facts are stubborn things,” John Adams asserted after the Boston Massacre. “Whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

Except for when they have the audacity to disprove the received wisdom of our current progressive elites. That is, when they just don’t fit the narrative, a term our former president loved to use.

It is a sad commentary on our society today that we seem to have devolved to a tribe of temperamental adolescents with our fingers in our ears screaming, “I’m not listening to you!” Anything that questions the received wisdom handed down by the political-educational elites must not only simply be ignored but also shouted down with increasing vehemence.

That’s one heck of a way to find solutions to our many problems.

We seem unable to distinguish between causes and symptoms. Take the current fixation on income inequality. Everyone wants to focus on the gap between the top 1 percent and bottom 1 percent, but how many of us are at either level? Just two percent of us, if you take time to do the math.

The question we all ought to be asking ourselves is this:  How does someone get out of poverty and move into the middle class? Two recent studies may have given us the answer. It’s called the Success Sequence.

The term originated back in 2009 as a result of two Brookings Institution researchers doing a longitudinal study of a cohort of Millennials who had reached age 28. What were the defining differences of those Millennials who had moved from poverty into the middle class over against those who remained in poverty?
The researchers found a sequential set of decisions made by a high percentage of these successful young adults.

  1. Graduate from high school.
  2. Get a full-time job.
  3. Delay having children until at least age 21 and only after marriage.

It took a formal study to figure this out?

I’m giving away my age but I was taught these principles throughout my childhood by parents, teachers, pastors and other adults who cared about me. We called it the American Dream back then — what blue-collar parents hoped to see their children achieve.

But back to John Adams. What are the facts about the Success Sequence?

Fact:  Brookings Institute research showed that only about 2 percent of teens who followed this advice were still in poverty. This compared to 15 percent of the total age cohort.

Fact:  Using regression analysis to control for a range of social and economic background factors, marrying before having children reduced the probability of living in poverty by 60 percent, graduating from high school reduced it by 38 percent, and working full-time by 66 percent.

Fact:  The American Enterprise Institute in a followup study in 2017 found that 47 percent of older Millennials who had a baby prior to marriage were in the lower income third, compared to only 14 percent of their peers who married first.

Refusing to communicate these findings to our young people is not only irresponsible, it is cruel. Why would we not tell them this?

Sure, the professional naysayers have found a nit or two to pick. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, hardly the poster boy for family values, placed ads in city subways about the unfortunate consequences of teen pregnancy and was roundly criticized by Planned Parenthood because it stigmatized teen pregnancy. I think that was Mayor Bloomberg’s intent.

I know it flies in the face of an orthodox narrative of victimhood and oppression, opiated by envy of what others have achieved. It puts responsibility back on individuals to make three simple decisions to help themselves improve their lot in life. Not to mention the future lot of their children and grandchildren.

This used to be called pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. I was told by a young friend of the Millennial generation that the bootstrap theory has been discredited. I replied, “Not by this data.”

To her credit she listened, and I believe she will give some future thought to this.  It is because of Millennials like her that the optimist in me hopes things eventually will work out OK. Please don’t prove me wrong.

Mark Franke, an adjunct scholar of the foundation, is formerly an associate vice chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.


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