80% in America Are At or Near Poverty – Here’s Why

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In a 2013 survey conducted by the Associated Press they found that 80% of America’s adults struggled with joblessness, poverty, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives. Of that 80%, 49.7 million of Americans are living below the poverty line. According to the Tax Foundation, rich taxpayers in America are defined as making more than $394,000. According to a 2013 study by BMO Private Bank 67% of these high-net-worth Americans were self-made millionaires and only 8 percent inherited their wealth. According to my data, 76% of the wealthy were self-made, which is not far off from the BMO study. So the question is – what are these self-made millionaires doing differently from everyone else?

I spent five years trying to answer that question. I studied the daily activities, habits, behavior and thinking of 177 self-made millionaires and 128 poor people. What I discovered was shocking to me. The reason individuals are rich, poor or stuck in the middle-class boils down to one factor: Habits.

A recent study by Brown University, in which nearly 50,000 families were surveyed, concluded that habits in children are unlikely to vary after age 9 (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/school-thought/201502/study-finds-habits-in-children-take-root-age-9). Since most of those early years for kids are spent at home and at school, the bulk of the habits your children adopt will come primarily from parents and secondarily from school. As infants and toddlers, our brains are hard-wired by nature for “monkey see, monkey do” behavior. The brain of a child harbors something called “mirror neurons”. The purpose of mirror neurons is to enable them to better survive by mirroring the behaviors, thinking, habits and emotions of their parents. The theory behind this is that when children mimic their parents behavior it increases their likelihood of survival. This mirror neuron physiology has been with humans for millions of years and remains with us to this day. As a result, children pick up the vast majority of their habits from their parents. Good or bad.

Whether you realize it or not you are teaching your children certain habits that set them up to succeed or fail in life. While you may see yourself as good parents, stats don’t lie. 80% of parents are failing their children. What are 80% of the parents in America doing wrong? There are four core areas where parents can dramatically improve the chances for success for their kids:

Law of Association

Children are influenced by their environment and that includes who they associate with. Are their friends good or bad influences? Are their friends exposing them to bad habits like drugs, gambling or bullying? The friends your child spends the most time with are the ones you need to be worried about. How well do you know your child’s friends? How well do you know their parents? If the answer is not very well, then you are failing your kids.


How many books does your child read a week, a month or a year? In my study, the parents of self-made millionaires made their kids read to learn. Sixty-three percent made their kids read two or more books a month for learning, outside of required school reading. What books should you be making your kids read? Here’s a list of books your kids should be reading today:

  • Biographies of self-made successful people such as: Elon Musk, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Andrew Carnegie, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Richard Branson, Warren Buffet, Mother Theresa, Mahatma Ghandi, Dr. Ben Carson, John D. Rockefeller, Steve Jobs, Giorgio Armani, Mark Cuban, John Jacob Astor, J.P. Morgan, Henrey Ford, Milton Hersey, Ted Turner, Steve Allen, Andy Williams, J.C. Penny, Sam Walton, Larry Ellison, Jeff Bezos.
  • Rich Habits
  • Rich Kids
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People
  • The Compound Effect
  • Think and Grow Rich
  • The Greatest Salesman in the World
  • Outliers
  • The Power of Habit
  • The Power of Positive Thinking
  • The Magic of Thinking Big
  • Awaken the Giant Within
  • As a Man Thinketh
  • The Success Principles
  • The Power of Your Subconscious Mind
  • The Science of Getting Rich
  • Psycho Cybernetics
  • Learned Optimism
  • The Alchemist
  • Rich Dad, Poor Dad
  • The 4-Hour Workweek
  • The Tipping Point
  • Unlimited Power
  • Change Your Brain, Change Your Life
  • How to Talk to Anyone
  • This I Believe
  • Meditations
  • The Richest man in Babylon
  • The Leader Without a Title

It doesn’t end there. Every week make your child summarize what they read each week and then have them hand that summary to you to review. Dr. Ben Carson’s mother did this. Dr. Carson was raised in the ghettos of Detroit and his mom made both he and his brother read every day and then required them to provide her with a weekly summary. Are you making your kids read every day? If not, then you are failing your kids.


In my study, the parents of self-made millionaires made their kids eat right and exercise every day. Seventy percent limited their consumption of junk food to less than 300 calories each day. Seventy-six percent required their children to exercise thirty minutes or more each day. The predominant exercise was cardio-related: running, jogging, etc. Good health translates into more energy and longevity. You can’t make money or be successful from a hospital bed. Do you limit how much junk food your kids eat every day? If not, then you’re failing your kids. Do you make your kids exercise every day? If not, then you’re failing your kids.

Video Screens

In my study, 67% of the parents of self-made millionaires limited their kids TV time to one hour or less a day. Other modern day time wasters like cell phones, Facebook, video games and iPads and computers were not in vogue at the time but they are just as wasteful. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the average 8-10 year old spends around eight hours a day staring at video screens: TVs, cell phones, iPads, video games, computers, etc. Most of this time is non-learning time which means it’s wasted time.

It’s up to parents to mentor their kids to succeed or fail in life. If you don’t step in and mentor them, someone else will. Someone who may not have their best interest at heart. They’re your kids and they’re your responsibility. Don’t ignore these four key areas. Hold your children accountable every day in developing good habits. Do you limit how much time your kids spend watching TV, playing video games, reading Facebook or Snapchat? If you don’t, then you’re failing your kids.

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Thomas C. Corley About Thomas C. Corley

Tom Corley is a bestselling author, speaker, and media contributor for Business Insider, CNBC and a few other national media outlets.

His Rich Habits research has been read, viewed or heard by over 50 million people in 25 countries around the world.

Besides being an author, Tom is also a CPA, CFP, holds a master’s degree in taxation and is President of Cerefice and Company, a CPA firm in New Jersey.
Phone Number: 732-382-3800 Ext. 103.
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  1. This is a load of Horatio Alger hogwash. I was and am an avid reader, and now I have a master’s degree. I’m broke and have lived in the NYC shelter system for the past five years because I’ve never been allowed to interview for a living-wage job. Given my medical challenges, the only jobs I can do involve sitting at a desk, which are the most competitive jobs, and usually involve taking an unpaid internship, which means having resources from an alternative source.

    You do realize that some people you listed, such as Steve Jobs, built their careers on criminal activity?

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