Monday, February 18, 2008


Heritage Foundation's Senior Research Fellow Robert Rector, in an August 2007 paper (footnotes omitted):
Most of America's "poor" live in material conditions that would be judged as comfortable or well-off just a few generations ago. Today, the expenditures per person of the lowest-income one-fifth (or quintile) of house­holds equal those of the median American household in the early 1970s, after adjusting for inflation.

The following are facts about persons defined as "poor" by the Census Bureau, taken from various gov­ernment reports:
  • Forty-three percent of all poor households actu­ally own their own homes. The average home owned by persons classified as poor by the Census Bureau is a three-bedroom house with one-and-a-half baths, a garage, and a porch or patio.

  • Eighty percent of poor households have air conditioning. By contrast, in 1970, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.

  • Only 6 percent of poor households are over­crowded. More than two-thirds have more than two rooms per person.

  • The average poor American has more living space than the average individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens, and other cities throughout Europe. (These comparisons are to the average citizens in foreign countries, not to those classified as poor.)

  • Nearly three-quarters of poor households own a car; 31 percent own two or more cars.

  • Ninety-seven percent of poor households have a color television; over half own two or more color televisions.

  • Seventy-eight percent have a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception.

  • Eighty-nine percent own microwave ovens, more than half have a stereo, and more than a third have an automatic dishwasher.
As a group, America's poor are far from being chronically undernourished. The average consump­tion of protein, vitamins, and minerals is virtually the same for poor and middle-class children and, in most cases, is well above recommended norms. Poor children actually consume more meat than do higher-income children and have average protein intakes 100 percent above recommended levels. Most poor children today are, in fact, supernour­ished and grow up to be, on average, one inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than the GIs who stormed the beaches of Normandy in World War II.

While the poor are generally well nourished, some poor families do experience temporary food shortages. But even this condition is relatively rare; 89 percent of the poor report their families have "enough" food to eat, while only 2 percent say they "often" do not have enough to eat.

Overall, the typical American defined as poor by the government has a car, air conditioning, a refrig­erator, a stove, a clothes washer and dryer, and a microwave. He has two color televisions, cable or satellite TV reception, a VCR or DVD player, and a stereo. He is able to obtain medical care. His home is in good repair and is not overcrowded. By his own report, his family is not hungry and he had suf­ficient funds in the past year to meet his family's essential needs. While this individual's life is not opulent, it is equally far from the popular images of dire poverty conveyed by the press, liberal activists, and politicians.


Michael posts an amusing reductio ad absurdum at AmeriCAN-DO Attitude:
Sorry, that is just not good enough. Not everyone has free health insurance, free college tuition, free cell phones, free gasoline, free X-boxes, free iPhones, free iPods. Therefore, we are oppressed. Oppressed, I say!


OBloodyHell said...

I was researching something and found out that, according to the U.N., the current definition of "poor" (i.e., "living in poverty"), is when your household income is less than half the median for that nation.

This is not poor, by any rational means of the word, in the USA. Using relative wealth as a standard for "poor" is ludicrous, and an inherent justification for income redistribution.

Poverty is about not meeting basic needs. It's not about not having as much as the neighbor or the guy down the street -- or even the guy across town. It cannot be measured by "relative values".

Once again, the socialist idiots have appropriated a term and twisted it so it no longer has any worthwhile meaning. Pravda!

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I would extend OBH's observation to note that even if entirely relative poverty were agreed to be a problem, the solution for it would be helping change their perception, not a dollar amount.

Two contradictory points on the original post: my Romanian sons were contemptuous of any American's claim of poverty when they first got here. Seven years later they are more Americanised and sometimes see themselves as poor because of the things they cannot afford.

I will note that there is a 2% of the population that is genuinely poor, usually because of mental illness. But even of that group, only the most defiantly untreated are impoverished. The small disability sums can be managed, but this requires skills that the illnesses themselves undermine.

Carl said...

In contrast with Rawls and AVI's Romanian sons, I agree with OBH that poverty should not be defined by relative incomes or possessions. And I agree with AVI that the untreated mentally ill tend to be poor. For such:

"America's morality and wealth fully warrants a safety net, funded at taxpayer expense. But the swiftest and surest path from poverty is the secure liberty to seize opportunity. That's why our fathers, mothers and grandparents moved here."

Carl said...

From Wikipedia:

"The main poverty line used in the OECD and the European Union is a relative poverty measure based on "economic distance", a level of income set at 50% of the median household income.

The United States, in contrast, uses an absolute poverty measure. The US poverty line was created in 1963-64 and was based on the dollar costs of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "economy food plan" multiplied by a factor of three. The multiplier was based on research showing that food costs then accounted for about one third of the total money income. This one-time calculation has since been annually updated for inflation."