Robert Pagliarini

Which country has 43.6 million residents in poverty, including one in five children? Bulgaria? Croatia? Thailand? Jordan? Bahamas? No. Each of these countries has a lower poverty rate. Sadly, the mystery country is the United States of America.

The Census Bureau reported recently that the poverty rate in the U.S. is at its highest level since 1994. When I heard this statistic, especially that one in five kids lives in poverty, it brought me back to my own childhood. I'm not sure what it took to "qualify" for poverty in the late 1970s, but with a single mom working part time and raising five kids, I'm guessing that we easily qualified for the poverty club.

Even as I got a little older and my mother re-married, we still struggled. My stepfather worked in the lumber industry in the 1980s. Due to many different factors, the lumber business shrank, and he was laid off. Deja vu all over again. Were we destined to remain in poverty?

Because of the upheaval in the lumber industry and other industries at the time, President Clinton initiated a government subsidized program that would re-train those who were affected with new skills in growth industries. My stepfather jumped at the opportunity but said that many of his coworkers scoffed at having to go back to school and instead tried to cling to their antiquated skills in a dying industry.

Over the following year, my stepfather went to classes, poured over books and diligently learned a new set of skills while his former colleagues languished. He graduated and became a successful HVAC technician. His new career allowed him to save money for retirement and to help pay for my college.

There were probably dozens of reasons why we were in poverty, but I can identify two reasons why we were able to break free from its grip -- education and initiative. The opportunity for education coupled with my stepfather's initiative to do something different pulled us out of poverty.

Even though there are a lot of highly educated folks who are struggling, the benefits of education are as real today as they were 25 years ago. No doubt you've heard that the national unemployment rate, which is associated with a higher poverty rate, is nearly 10 percent, but this doesn't tell the whole story. The unemployment rate for adults with less than a high school diploma is more than 40 percent higher. Even more telling, the unemployment rate for those with a bachelor's degree is 50 percent less than the national average. Education and initiative might not be the only solutions to poverty, but they're a great place to start.

You may not be in poverty, but if you are struggling or just not where you want to be, focus on boosting your existing skills or gaining knowledge in a new area. Does this mean you have to go back to school? Maybe, but not necessarily. Entrepreneur and personal development founding father, Jim Rohn, has said, "Formal education will make you a living; self education will make you a fortune." Maybe you just need to pick up the latest books or journals in your industry or attend a few more conferences or webinars.

Whether you go back to school or study on your own, it requires some of your other eight hours and initiative. It's been said that the only difference between a rut and a grave is their dimensions. Break free from what you've been doing and do something different. Learn, grow and develop. Greater knowledge won't solve all of your problems, but it sure beats the alternative.


Robert Pagliarini is a CBS MoneyWatch columnist and the author of "The Other 8 Hours: Maximize Your Free Time to Create New Wealth & Purpose" and the national best-seller "The Six-Day Financial Makeover: Transform Your Financial Life in Less Than a Week! ."


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Eliminating Poverty: Lesson From Childhood