Are Poor People Lazy?

About a week ago, J.D. over at Get Rich Slowly posted an article about the difference between high income earners and low income earners. Most of the differences between the two that he listed come largely down to personal effort and personal choices.

In the comments, many people jumped to the conclusion that “poor people are lazy,” which is an extremely broad brush, but a fairly reasonable one. After all, if the difference between high incomes and low incomes is a handful of personal choices and actions, the people not taking them – the people with low incomes – must be lazy, right?

To an extent, I agree. Some poor people are lazy. But so are some rich people. Let’s dig into this a little more.

The Nature of Luck
Let’s take a look at that list of traits that J.D. pointed out:

* They maintain a strong work ethic.
* They don’t watch the clock.
* They seek to improve their skills.
* They do quality work.
* They’re flexible and adaptable.
* They maintain a good social network.
* They possess self-confidence.

Most of the time, opportunities and career paths that lead to a high income are purely a matter of luck. Some people do get all the breaks – others simply don’t.

Luck is about being in the right place at the right time with the right people and the right skills and the right information. If you can be there, opportunities open for you – if you can’t, opportunities will pass you by.

Those traits listed above simply increase your odds of luck. Doing them increases your chances of being in the right place at the right time with the right people and the right skills and the right information.

But great opportunities regularly happen to people who don’t do any of these things. The child of a successful businessman can be lazy and unmotivated, but he gets his foot in the door because of his father. A random joe happens to be standing nearby when someone really needs help in a pinch.

At the same time, you can do all of these things and the opportunities don’t unfold. They help build a business that’s later destroyed by a poor manager. They get sick the night before a big opportunity comes along. They make a bad choice or two when they’re young that haunts them for the rest of their lives.

Poverty and Luck
Here’s the problem, though. Building the traits above takes time. You have to invest time in building a good social network. You have to invest time in quality work. You have to invest time in building skills.

Quite often, in order to have the free time that’s needed to build these things, you need to have a strong, stable income. If you’re currently working a minimum wage job and supporting other people, you’re likely working two or three jobs and you simply don’t have the time to develop these things.

In other words, luck is amplified. Someone who gets a great opportunity due to sheer luck is often able to build up traits that lead to further luck. Someone who doesn’t get that opportunity is often restricted in their ability to build up those traits.

While laziness is indeed a factor in all of this – since lazy people won’t bother to put in the work to build up these traits – luck is another huge factor. A rich person you know may have had a great opportunity or two early on, while another person does not. A poor person might have made a bad choice thirty five years ago that they’re still affected by.

What’s the Solution?
The solution is pretty straightforward – live as cheaply as you can and use your spare time to improve yourself.

Instead of buying a case of beer and watching the ball game, drink some water and work on your skills.

Instead of dropping several hundred dollars on hunting equipment and heading out in the woods every weekend with your buddies, dump that money into weekend classes at the local community college.

Instead of cruising for an hour or two before work, go have lunch with someone up the food chain from yourself and ask for advice.

Instead of doing the minimum at work, go the extra mile when you can, especially when it makes everyone’s lives easier.

Instead of buying gadgets and other toys to “escape” from your situation, put that money in the bank and use it to pay cash for your next vehicle, gradually snowballing your positive financial state.

Keep making these little choices all over your life – and these are choices you can make no matter what your situation – and you’ll find, over time, that those lucky opportunities slowly start unfolding for you.

Fortune favors the prepared. Preparation requires work. So, if you want fortune to favor you, you can’t be lazy.

Poor people aren’t lazy, but lazy people are often poor.

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