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Deliberate Plunge Into Poverty–And Out

Those who with any regularity read my columns know of my disdain for the actions of able-bodied persons who refuse to work, or who are quick to whine about there being no jobs available, or who live with the mantra; “The pay is so little at any job I can find, I am better off living through government programs.” Equally–no to a greater extent–do I admire those who despite challenges of every description–from ill-health, little privilege, severe disabilities, poor job market, inferior education, and racial prejudice–despite these hindrances, they scratch and claw their way into a job which supports them and their families, and that spins them on an upward trajectory.

From the Christian Science Monitor and picked up by ABC News is a splendid story by Adam Shepard who, as an experiment, left the “good life,” and took to the wrong side of the tracks. In this fascinating article, he chronicles his ascent from poverty into success. I’ve printed some of the writing here with a link to the entire article.

Alone on a dark gritty street, Adam Shepard searched for a homeless shelter. He had a gym bag, $25, and little else. A former college athlete with a bachelor’s degree, Mr. Shepard had left a comfortable life with supportive parents in Raleigh, N.C. Now he was an outsider on the wrong side of the tracks in Charleston, S.C.



But Shepard’s descent into poverty in the summer of 2006 was no accident. Shortly after graduating from Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass., he intentionally left his parents’ home to test the vivacity of the American Dream. His goal: to have a furnished apartment, a car, and $2,500 in savings within a year.To make his quest even more challenging, he decided not to use any of his previous contacts or mention his education.During his first 70 days in Charleston, Shepard lived in a shelter and received food stamps. He also made new friends, finding work as a day laborer, which led to a steady job with a moving company.Ten months into the experiment, he decided to quit after learning of an illness in his family. But by then he had moved into an apartment, bought a pickup truck, and had saved close to $5,000.The effort, he says, was inspired after reading “Nickel and Dimed,” in which author Barbara Ehrenreich takes on a series of low-paying jobs. Unlike Ms. Ehrenreich, who chronicled the difficulty of advancing beyond the ranks of the working poor, Shepard found he was able to successfully climb out of his self-imposed poverty.

He tells his story in “Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream.” The book, he says, is a testament to what ordinary Americans can achieve. On a recent trip to the Boston, he spoke about his experience.

The entire interview is here:

I’m interested in hearing your opinions on this subject. Should every healthy person in America be able to climb out of poverty? Or, are there families who have lived so long with a “welfare mentality” that it is virtually impossible for them to think differently, and thus they are all but unable to pull themselves upward?


My devotional blog is here.