Life rules help avoid poverty

Hurricane Katrina pealed back the interior curtain of the Big Easy and revealed a large number of its residents who have never seen the American Dream, much less experienced it.

The poor and disadvantaged in New Orleans were front and center before Americans for several days as they waited on overpasses of Interstate 10, in the city's convention center and its enclosed sports arena, the Superdome, for the arrival of help.

There was no escaping the fact that tens of thousands of residents were trapped in their city, many in their homes, because they had no means by which to evacuate. Recall the sight captured by cameras of people wading in chest-deep water carrying a few belongings in garbage bags.

Sure, the poor will always be among us, but they shouldn't be in such great numbers. Louisiana has the largest percentage - 30 - of children living in poverty in the United States and is tied with Mississippi for the highest infant mortality rate - 10.3 per 1,000.

Some among this group now have an opportunity they thought never would come. They left living conditions and neighborhoods they have referred to as "incarceration" and are getting assistance and direction in life from fellow Americans.

How did so many people in one city become mired just blocks from $200- and $300-a-night hotel rooms and multimillion-dollar homes?

For answers we can look at what experts suggest is a practical formula for avoiding poverty:

Complete high school graduation.

Don't marry as a teenager.

Wait to have children until you are married.

So the way to avoid reaching the condition in which you can't even save your family or yourself is simple. Few people living in poverty have an education. It stands to reason that if a person completes high school and can read on grade level, do math and write and speak proper English, they may well be interested in higher education. If not, they are trainable, thus will be of value to an employer.

The issue at hand is what to do about these New Orleans citizens who were unable to respond to the initial evacuation call. Government programs can help, but they are not the long-term answer. In fact, government programs may have perpetuated the poverty cycle through several generations of families.

Each community where evacuees have landed must take them where they are and help them better themselves so they can become productive citizens.