Why Doesn’t Evangelical Financial Guru Dave Ramsey Understand the Plight of the Poor? December 2, 2013

Why Doesn’t Evangelical Financial Guru Dave Ramsey Understand the Plight of the Poor?

Dave Ramsey is the Suze Orman for the evangelical Christian crowd, a financial expert who’ll help you get out of debt. (Though Ramsey’s advice also includes giving the church some of your money.)

Turning away from the pros and cons of his typical advice for a moment, he’s been under fire recently after posting an article on his website (written by Tom Corley) about the 20 things rich people do every day — suggesting that if we start those habits, then we, too, can be rich like them. Items include:

1. 70% of wealthy eat less than 300 junk food calories per day. 97% of poor people eat more than 300 junk food calories per day…

3. 76% of wealthy exercise aerobically four days a week. 23% of poor do this.

4. 63% of wealthy listen to audio books during commute to work vs. 5% of poor people.

6. 63% of wealthy parents make their children read two or more non-fiction books a month vs. 3% of poor.

10. 88% of wealthy read 30 minutes or more each day for education or career reasons vs. 2% of poor.

15. 44% of wealthy wake up three hours before work starts vs. 3% of poor.

It’s not hard to find the problem with this list. Rich people usually have time to read, and they have money to spend on audio books (which they can listen to on the commute to work since they either have cars or can afford an iPod), and they have the option of eating healthier meals (which tend to be more expensive than fast-food fare), and they don’t usually have to worry about fighting in wars to make ends meet, or going to school at night while working during the day, or raising kids while juggling multiple jobs, etc. On the flip side, it’s hard to wake up three hours before work starts when you work multiple jobs and only get a few precious hours of sleep to begin with.

The list really shows us the results of being rich, not the reasons people become rich.

As Fred Clark put it, Ramsey should have titled this post “A Rich Guy Finds 20 Different Ways to Accuse the Poor of Being Lazy.” Clark also sarcastically added to Corley’s list by pointing out more habits of the rich: They borrow money from their parents, declare bankruptcy when needed, lobby Congress, exploit tax breaks… you get the idea.

It’s not that the Ramsey team hates the poor. Ramsey’s own bio states that he was broke at one point. But Corley, at the very least, must have no idea what being poor is like. I have a hard time respecting the financial advice of a company that doesn’t know the difference between correlation and causation.

You would think Ramsey would apologize for the bad advice and move on. Instead, in a recent addendum to the post, he defended the faulty logic and blamed readers who interpreted it in a way he never intended:

This list simply says your choices cause results. You reap what you sow. Is the research perfect? No. It is a small sample, but it does pass the common-sense smell test. Does this research or the reason for posting it have anything to do with third-world countries? No. Anyone with good walking-around sense can see that this is a first-world discussion. Is this list a way of hating the poor? Seriously? Grow up.

There is a direct correlation between your habits, choices and character in Christ and your propensity to build wealth in non-third-world settings. To dispute that or attribute hate to that statement is immature and ignorant. To assume that our ministry hates the poor is ludicrous and is a reflection more on you than on our work or our beliefs.

He still doesn’t get it. He still blames the critics instead of looking inward. The big issue here isn’t that it doesn’t apply to those living in third-world countries; it’s that it completely ignores the realities of what it’s like to be poor in the first place. It ignores the bigger problems within our society that makes it ridiculously difficult to get out of poverty once you’re trapped in it. When it would take a McDonald’s worker making $8.25/hour more than 100 years to match what the CEO of the company made in a year, we have some serious wealth inequality problems in this country that go far beyond fixing your reading and eating habits.

So you can understand why Christian writer Rachel Held Evans took to criticizing Ramsey’s approach in a recent CNN article:

[Ramsey’s particular brand of prosperity gospel] also glosses over the reality that economic injustice is not, in fact, limited to the developing world but plagues our own country as well.

When medical bills are the biggest cause of bankruptcy in the United States, there are systemic injustices at work.

When people working 40-hour weeks at minimum wage jobs still can’t earn enough to support their families, there are systemic injustices at work.

When approximately 1% of Americans hold 40% of the nation’s wealth, there are systemic injustices at work.

When the black unemployment rate has consistently been twice as high as the white unemployment rate for the past 50 years, there are systemic injustices at work.

People are poor for a lot of reasons, and choice is certainly a factor, but categorically blaming poverty on lack of faith or lack of initiative is not only uninformed, it’s unbiblical.

Couldn’t agree more.

And how did Ramsey respond to that?

With this tweet:

(The other “attack” he’s referring to is this one.)

He thinks this is all a personal attack on him. It’s not personal — and it sure as hell isn’t inaccurate.

Yes, you can get out poverty by not spending beyond your means and not getting into credit card debt and sticking to a budget and practicing good money management — all of which Ramsey preaches. To those who have gotten out of debt and prospered by following his advice, more power to you. But not everyone has the luxury of doing those things. It is possible in America to work full-time, not waste your money on frivolities, and still find yourself with very little money to work with to pay for rent, utilities, food, transportation, and other basic needs.

To tell poor people that they can get out of their financial situation by just doing what rich people do — without acknowledging that a lot of that advice is very likely beyond their means — is just irresponsible on the part of Ramsey’s team.

That he can’t own up to the mistake should give his future customers a lot of pause before they follow any more of his advice.

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Red-Star

    Anyone complaining about people not bootstrapping should spend a year in Urban Poverty with absolutely nobody helping them and other people relying on them.

  • Red-Star

    Look at countries with real social mobility. You’ll find we actually rank pretty low. Or do you just hate the idea that poor people might work hard cause that might mean HUH…you could’ve ended up poor!

  • Red-Star

    The army did take you though. The army rejects quite a few people, as does the national guard. It is arrogance to think anyone who is living in poverty is there just because of bad choices. You had some options others do not like your in-laws. The Army etc…

    So yes, the people who want higher tax rates aren’t “Looters” or just make bad decisions. You fell but you had a cushion, and a lot of other people don’t have the same cushion you did.

  • Wildcard

    How long has she been in that job? There might be a way depending on how much that job pays and how much she needs to live. I hope so anyway.

  • realeasygoing

    Where was my cushion? My cushion was studying and get my self out of the bad position and not being a whiner or a looter.

  • Red-star

    “had to live at my in-laws house for 3 weeks”


    Those two. I know you think you have a catch all solution because you got out of bad situation. Truth is not everyone can. The army can reject you for health situations and not everyone has in laws they can run too. No amount of hating people who aren’t you will change the truth. Or how about we apply your own anger at people who aren’t currently successful on you…

    Lazy bum had too live with his in-laws! If he just worked harder he wouldn’t have had to been evicted. Lazy bum probably never worked hard a day in his life! lol what a looter.

  • Wildcard

    and beats aping you obviously.

  • TravisJSays

    My financial habits of thrift, being self-reliant, working through college, saving, investing what I saved for high return, etc. over the years have served me well. It’s odd you try to make it personal.

  • TravisJSays

    If you say that, you don’t know Dave Ramsey. Careful with that bearing of false witness thing.

  • Wildcard

    It is odd that you think you are special in this department and couldn’t have failed.

    I am not making this personal actually. I make enough to live. I just care about helping people instead of lecturing them with useless ideas like “get up three hours before work” when they are working 3 jobs.

  • TravisJSays

    You are making personal, get me completely wrong, and miss my point 100%. Nothing I’ve done hasn’t been done by many others who bettered themselves. I’m no better than others. It’s nothing special what we’ve done and about as mysterious as learning to boil eggs. But in fact some do it and some don’t, and it DOES help people to show them how its done. That’s where Dave Ramsey comes in, and attacking and demeaning what he does is hurtful to the people he helps.

    if you really did ‘care’, you’d open your ears a little and listen instead of lecturing others with rather petty ad hominem retorts.

  • Wildcard

    Some do it and still don’t. Your one to talk about lecturing others and making it personal given your passive aggressive attacks and your “don’t give them handouts” bullshit.

    Please don’t try to look like a saint. Dave Ramsey is ignorant of what poverty, (yes their is a difference between that and bankruptcy) is if he wants and stops offering condescending advice that cannot apply to people in terrible situations. So are you, but that much is obvious.

error: Content is protected !!