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Overcoming poverty with the Success Sequence

For many years, the Success Sequence – graduate from high school, work full time, and don’t have kids until you’re married – has been identified as the tool to escape poverty and live a life free of poverty.

That’s because, it is. Backed by new data, the formula adopted by Brookings Institute scholars, now shows that those who follow the steps as younger adults remain out of poverty when they are older. Among adults who are 32-38, only 3 percent of those who followed all three steps are in poverty today. Meanwhile, of those who missed all three steps, 52 percent are in poverty.

And the sequence doesn’t care about race or your background. For blacks who follow all three steps, just 4 percent are in poverty as adults. For Hispanics, it is 3 percent. The same rate of whites. So essentially no difference. Among those who grew up poor but followed the three steps, 6 percent are in poverty today. And if you followed the steps, but only have a high school diploma, just 5 percent are in poverty.

At Unleash Mississippi, we talked poverty and how to overcome it, from the standpoint of an individual and what groups should be doing in communities.

What do barriers to the Success Sequence look like? A major blockade is regulations that prevent you from working in a series of fields without first obtaining a government license.

Mississippi requires licenses for 66 of the 102 professions that do not require a traditional 4-year college degree. From 1993 to 2012, Mississippi added licensing requirements for 49 professions, which was 18 above the national average. This ranks Mississippi as the 15th most widely licensed state.

Around 19 percent of workers in the state are required to obtain a license in order to work. The average licensed worker in Mississippi in these 66 professions pay an average of $130 in fees, spend 160 days in education, and take two exams.

Occupational licensing laws present significant costs for Mississippi residents. Because of the barriers to entry created by licensing requirements, economists have estimated that licensing reduces the number of jobs in Mississippi by 12,942. This helps contribute to Mississippi’s second-lowest labor force participation rate in the country.

For those with a prior record, the task is even more daunting. That is because licensing boards have the ability to restrict anyone from receiving a license if they have a criminal record, whether it has anything to do with their field or not. That means a drug conviction from 20 years ago could prevent you from being able to work as a barber, cosmetologist, landscape architect, tattoo artist, scrap metal dealer, check casher, bus or truck driver, casino employee, mobile home installer, among others.

After serving their sentence and rehabilitating, an individual should not be judged based on their worse moment. But when people are prevented from working in legitimate professions, they can choose to return to a life of crime to support themselves and their families.

Many aspects of the Success Sequence require messaging and work in communities, and that could and should start in schools. At the same time, the state should continue to address barriers imposed by government roadblocks.

You can help reform occupational regulations. Please sign the petition below.

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