Amid all the debate over poverty’s causes and cures right now, little focus has been on what the poor can do to help themselves. They’re more often cast as the victims of concentrated wealth, misguided policies, and a laissez-faire capitalist system that’s created more crises and fewer opportunities to succeed. As President Barack Obama noted on June 23 at the White House Summit on Working Families: “There are a whole lot of people who are working harder than ever and can’t seem to get ahead.” When it comes to such issues as trade and taxation, workers obviously don’t hold much sway. Almost half of Americans now attribute poverty to factors other than individual initiative, according to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journalpoll. In 1995, less than a third felt that way.
Yet many Americans continue to move into higher income brackets, despite stagnant wages and job growth. They pay for cars, cell phones, and college without getting crippled by credit card debt. They’re able to buy homes and save for retirement. To John Hope Bryant, an entrepreneur and founder of the nonprofit Operation HOPE, the root of that success isn’t skin color or rich parents but an understanding of the language of money. In his provocative new book, How the Poor Can Save Capitalism (Berrett-Koehler Publishers), Bryant lays out the case for an “economic Marshall Plan” to give the poor “access to capital and knowledge about how to use it.”
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