The Gap Between the Rich and Poor

My husband and I took a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University class a few years ago, which has saved us countless marital money fights, no doubt.  We are thankful for the work that Dave is doing to help folks gain and keep financial freedom.  We don’t agree with all of his premises and promotions, and that’s ok.  We took what was applicable and true for us from the course, and we left the rest.

Today, I noticed a several month-old Dave Ramsey blog post that disappointed me.   The post is a distinction between 20 things that the rich regularly do that the poor don’t do.  It’s content taken from a man name Tom Corley, but without disclaimer or addition from Dave Ramsey, one is left to assume he agrees or supports this information.

As a social worker, and a Christ-follower who is trying to figure out the church’s role in caring for the poor, I’m disappointed in a fellow Christ-follower for posting something like this.

Jesus commanded His followers to care for the poor, to give to the poor, and to welcome the poor – not draw lines in the sand and judge the behaviors of the poor.

I’ll give you a few examples of the comparisons:

70% of wealthy eat less than 300 junk food calories per day. 97% of poor people eat more than 300 junk food calories per day.

Maybe Dave doesn’t know about food deserts or how challenging it is to shop healthy on a restricted budget.  Maybe instead of pointing out how healthy the rich eat, Dave should encourage his wealthy readers to lobby for food stamps (SNAP benefits) to be raised not cut so that the poor can afford healthy food.  Maybe Dave should encourage his wealthy readers to go into low-income communities with healthy options and nutrition education.

76% of wealthy exercise aerobically 4 days a week. 23% of poor do this.

Maybe Dave isn’t aware that gym memberships cost about $40 a month per person, and the average low-income person can’t afford that when they’re struggling to cover rent, utilities, and food.  Maybe Dave isn’t aware that many poor individuals live in neighborhoods that are less than safe for outdoor aerobic activity (since a gym membership is out of budget).  And maybe Dave forgets that many poor have several jobs so finding time for regular exercise is extra challenging than for the rich who typically just manage one job.  Maybe Dave should encourage his wealthy readers to start walking groups and open community health centers in low-income neighborhoods to offer health outlets for poor people.

63% of wealthy listen to audio books during commute to work vs. 5% for poor people.

Maybe Dave doesn’t realize that many poor people rely on public transportation as their vehicle, which are not equipped with personal sound systems.  Sure, some poor have mp3 players (or discmans, or walkmans), but certainly not the majority of them.  Maybe Dave should encourage his wealthy readers to donate to public libraries to increase their supply of audio books and to donate mp3 players to those that cannot afford them.

 67% of wealthy write down their goals vs. 17% for poor

Maybe Dave doesn’t realize that it’s really hard to plan for the future when you’re not sure you’ll survive the present due to violence, abuse, hunger or…  Maybe Dave doesn’t understand priveledge and power and class and race and the ability to dream and set goals that comes with priveledge.  Maybe Dave should encourage his wealthy readers to mentor youth and rally with community members for safe neighborhoods.

67% of wealthy watch 1 hour or less of TV every day vs. 23% for poor

Maybe Dave doesn’t realize that it’s cheaper to watch TV than it is to do a lot of things.  It costs money to play sports and sing in choirs and go to camps and go out to eat and go to movies.  The wealthy have more money, so they have more options.  Maybe Dave should encourage his wealthy readers to donate to and create community-based programs and camp funds and scholarship opportunities that would get poor youth and their families access to more opportunities

6% of wealthy watch reality TV vs. 78% for poor.

Maybe Dave doesn’t know my friends.  I have a lot of friends who I’m assuming qualify as wealthy (as in roof over heads, own a car, don’t struggle to put food on the table, take vacations every few years, and even have a savings account) who watch loads of reality tv.  Maybe all 6% are my friends?  This one seemed skewed to me.  Maybe Dave should check his sources?

86% of wealthy love to read vs. 26% for poor.

Maybe Dave doesn’t realize the stark academic achievement differences between students who qualify for free and reduced lunch in school (those students who are close or under the poverty line), and those who do not. Maybe Dave doesn’t realize that poverty is generational and that many of the parents of the low-income students don’t read well, so they can’t teach their children to read.   Maybe Dave should encourage his wealthy readers to volunteer to help children and adults learn how to read (often a love of reading comes with the ability to read).

Dave, what if, instead of promoting differences between habits of the rich and habits of the poor, you promoted closing the gap between the rich and the poor?  You talk about living like no one else so you can give like no one else in your Financial Peace classes, so why not talk about how people can do that?

Many poor people can’t just “pick themselves up by the bootstraps”, or they would have.  The poor people that I know have more grit and determination and hard-work ethic than most wealthy people I know. I’ve never met a poor person who wanted to stay poor.  There’s a lot that goes into being poor, and most of that “a lot” doesn’t contain laziness, as many assume.

As Christ-followers, we shouldn’t be ok with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.  We shouldn’t be ok with being proud of the wealth gap.  We are called to live differently.

“There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.”
Deuteronomy 15:11

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9 thoughts on “The Gap Between the Rich and Poor

  1. I’ve always struggled with statistics like these. We spend a lot of time pointing out the differences in habits between the rich and the poor but minimal time helping close those gaps. Let’s find ways to bridge those gaps, not make them wider. Good stuff Allison, as usual!!!

  2. Yes, yes, yes! I read his blog post before I read on in yours, and I was thinking many of these same things. We are by no means poor, but we have struggled with finances this year as my husband returns to grad school, and even a lot of these habits are true for us, not because we suddenly don’t care about our health or our minds, but because we are just trying to survive. And it’s hard to know you can’t eat the way you always want or stimulate your brain. How much more true for someone who was born into poverty and doesn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.

    1. Agreed. We have been in seasons where much of this is true for us (grad school being one) and you’re right it’s hard. Also right, how much more hard when there’s no end in sight.

  3. Maybe Dave doesn’t know about food deserts or how challenging it is to shop healthy on a restricted budget.
    The myth is that healthy food is more expensive than fast food/.junk food. this myth has been debunked so many times. The NY Times did a good job on this topic a few years ago. Here is the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/25/opinion/sunday/is-junk-food-really-cheaper.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
    Maybe Dave isn’t aware that gym memberships cost about $40 a month per person
    You can jog outside for free.You can also do push ups, planks and any number of exercises to develop your core. You don’t need a gym.
    Maybe Dave doesn’t realize that many poor people rely on public transportation as their vehicle
    This is true. You can go to library and borrow books to read on the bus or train
    Maybe Dave doesn’t realize that it’s really hard to plan for the future when you’re not sure you’ll survive the present due to violence, abuse, hunger
    If that were true then than why is it that many poor people lift themselves out of poverty. Steve Harvey would give you an earful about your comment. It’s a mindset. I wrote Rich Habits to end this generational cycle of poverty. Goals focus your attention and your energy into productive areas. They make the how irrelevant.
    Maybe Dave doesn’t realize that it’s cheaper to watch TV than it is to do a lot of things.
    It is cheaper to read than to watch T.V.
    I have a lot of friends who I’m assuming qualify as wealthy (as in roof over heads, own a car, don’t struggle to put food on the table, take vacations every few years, and even have a savings account) who watch loads of reality tv.
    Like the Junk Food calorie statistic, this one perplexed me until I found a comment in my study from a wealthy person. the comment was: “Why would I watch someone’s life on T.V.. when my life is of more interest to me?” If you want to get a good read on this from a wealthy person’s perspective watch my CBS Dallas interview of November 8th.CBS News: Rich Habits Interview with Kate Sullivan http://richhabits.net/cbs-news-rich-habits-interview-with-kate-sullivan/
    Maybe Dave doesn’t realize that poverty is generational
    You are spot on. Poverty is generational. Poor parents inadvertently teach their children Poverty Habits. I’m trying to end the generational cycle of poverty. That is precisely why I wrote Rich Habits. I don’t want anyone to have to go through poverty like I did.

    1. Thanks Tom for replying and for your work to help folks get out of poverty. It’s not a simple issue, there are certainly many dimensions, causes, and hopefully solutions. We’re both fighting the same fight, I love meeting fellow poverty-fighters!

  4. I think we can all agree that the difference between earthly rich and earthly poor is too complex an issue to be reduce to a list of 20 oddly specific habits. There is no magic formula for earthly wealth and success, but I think sometimes even Christians like to think that there is. I am thankful that no matter how rich or poor I am here on earth, I have a heavenly Father who knows exactly what is best for me now and for the rest of eternity.
    “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

  5. hi alison,
    I’m a Brit looking for my next job and i’ve been asked to do a presentation for an interview titled
    “What is the difference between rich and poor and how would you respond being a professional Evangelist?” Oh MY!! but thanks for your blog its helped me focus!!!!

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