It is true that poverty, like wealth, provides an avenue for certain temptations to come our way (Proverbs 30:8-9). We are all tempted in various ways. Poverty comes with its own circumstances which Satan uses in his desire to lead us away from God and righteousness.
But is there a necessary link between poverty and theft and other immoral behavior? Some social scientists and liberal politicians proclaim in essence that such is the case (often in order to get more funding for some inner-city program or project). But are the two, poverty and criminal or immoral behavior necessarily linked?
A professor of economics at George Mason University, Walter Williams, has written: “The fact that Washington and Harlem have 80% illegitimacy has nothing to do with racism in America. It has to do with 13, 14, and 15-year-old girls having sexual intercourse without the benefit of marriage. In 1925, blacks were far poorer and there was more discrimination” (William J. Bennett, The Devaluing of America: The Fight for Our Culture and Our Children, page 190).
Two other professors, James Q. Wilson and Richard Hernstein of the University of California, Los Angeles and Harvard University, have written in their book, Crime and Human Nature: “During the 1960’s, one neighborhood in San Francisco had the lowest income, the highest unemployment rate, the highest proportion of families with incomes under $4,000 a year, the least educational attainment, the highest tuberculosis rate, and the highest proportion of substandard housing.. that neighborhood was called Chinatown. Yet, in 1965, there were only five persons of Chinese ancestry committed to prison in the entire state of California” (William J. Bennett, The Index of Leading Cultural indicators: Facts and Figures on the State of American Society, page 21).
Another has written, “The Great Depression caused a level of poverty unknown to exist in America today, and yet, I have been unable to find any accounts of crime waves sweeping our large cities. In fact, I can’t find reliable information that even documents a noticeable increase in crime, period, during the Great Depression.” (Rush Limbaugh, See, I Told You So, page 83). Again, he said, “Let me posit two facts that prove conclusively that there is no direct causal connection between poverty and crime: (1) Most poor people never resort to crime; and (2) even some wealthy people commit evil acts to enrich themselves further… Let’s probe even more deeply into this poverty-equals-crime myth. Where, do you suppose, is the poorest community in the United States? Harlem? East Los Angeles? The South side of Chicago? Surprise, Surprise. None of these famous ‘bad neighborhoods’ is even on the top ten list. In fact, the most financially strapped areas in the United States are not even urban areas. According to the latest U.S. Census report, the poorest communities in the United States is Shannon County, South Dakota, followed by Starr, Texas and Tunica, Mississippi. When was the last time you heard that the residents of one of these communities rioted to protest their living conditions?” (page 282, note this was written in 1993).
Folks, here are the facts: (1) Not all poor folks live a life of crime and immorality. This is true in the inner-city as well. (2) Poverty is an external circumstance which brings certain temptations. But, one need not give in to temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13). Paul wrote, “I have learned in whatever I am, to be content: I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13). (3) Even though men might have pity, emotionally speaking, upon the one who would steal food due to hunger, the old law did not exempt such a one (Proverbs 6:30-31).