twenty habits of the rich, compared to those of the poor. Corley studied 233 wealthy people and 128 poor people, and surveyed their habits over a period of five years. The list outlines the behavioral differences between the rich (67% of whom exercise aerobically 4 times a week, for example) and the poor (only 3% of whom make their children volunteer for 10 hours a month or more).
It's not great when I let someone else's writing bother me, but for some reason this list did. It's likely my politics getting in the way again. I've also heard some defenses of Corley's research, claiming he is simply talking about correlation and not causation. And that's a reasonable defense. But I also know that the author's point was not to list a series of interesting correlations, but then immediately caution readers that no one should infer that those actions had bearing on those people becoming wealthy or poor. The author's desired conclusion was not for readers to think, "Hey, that's interesting - but clearly we should not conclude that poor people might improve their lot if they changed their habits." In fact, it was the opposite. As Corley states in his interview with Dave Ramsey, "If you have good daily success habits, or 'rich habits'...you are going to be successful; if you have more poverty habits then rich habits, you are going to be poor. It's really not that complicated." That's a clear argument for causation.
Recently my wife sent me a story about one man's struggle with poverty and homelessness, and I thought it provided an interesting insight. Rather than a sweeping observation of classes of people, it is an autobiography of one college grad's brief period of misfortune that resulted in him having no place to live. Before going on, I'd ask that you please read the short article here.
The author documents how after moving to Montana for an AmeriCorps job, he came home after a week of working outside the city to find his belongings packed in boxes in the garage. His roommate's rent checks had be bouncing, and their landlord didn't make any mention of this until he came with eviction papers. The story then documents the surprisingly high costs of being homeless, from commuting costs (having to drive out of town in order to sleep in his car), to food costs (without a refrigerator, his food went bad), to housing (as going to a shelter early enough to get a bed required him to leave work early and jeopardize his job). Every so often, a large portion of his salary would go to renting a hotel room, just so he could shower. While it was expensive, it made him presentable enough to keep his job, allowed him to go to the library without sticking out, and improved his success rate when he asked friends to sleep on their couch again. The story certainly takes a turn as he documents how, with very little money but too much time, he starts doing drugs. It is interesting to note he started using after becoming homeless, to kill time, rather than it being a root cause to his homelessness. Eventually he took a chance at a new locale by moving to Seattle, where he has been housed ever since.
I have two main takeaways from this story. One, homelessness affects a wider group of people than I originally thought (e.g. - 39% of homeless are under 18). And two, once homeless, there are a multitude of financial and logistical complications that make it difficult to improve your lot. It is harder to eat healthy food once you no longer have a refrigerator. It is harder to leverage relationships for favors or better employment when you do not have regular access to showers. It's harder to maintain employment when dealing with the realization that you are right on the edge of disaster.
Now, I should note that this is a poor counterpoint to Corley's list because it is a case study on a questionable website, and Corley's list is based on years of surveys. And even though there is some obvious overlap, poverty is not the same thing as homelessness. But what I took away from the article is that, just as there are with the homeless, there are likely obstacles that make it difficult to get ahead once you find you are in poverty. I imagine it is more difficult to eat healthy food when the nearest grocery store that contains produce is two bus rides away. I imagine that long term self-improvement is harder if your focus is directed towards short term financial crises.
And just as economists might hope that giving money to poor people is a silver bullet that, in one motion, would solve the myriad problems of the poor, my guess is that Corley also believes he's stumbled upon a grand unifying theory of wealth and poverty: our habits determine our financial status. Want to solve poverty? Get better habits. As always, the real solution is probably going to be more complicated.
*Photo is from D.C.Atty at Flickr Creative Commons.