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Well being in the US
Posted by: McQ on Friday, April 13, 2007

A revealing report has been issued by the Census Bureau, it's first measurement of the "well being" of the nation. Naturally I found it tucked away on page C4 of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Entitled "Extended Measures of Well-Being: Living Conditions in the United States in 2003" the Census Bureau says:
"The living standards of U.S. households are traditionally measured by income," the Census Bureau said. "This report takes a different approach."
That's because income, without benefits and other measures of "wealth" don't paint a very clear picture. So, take a look at the numbers and a few things jump out at you:

Washing machine: 92.2%
Clothes dryer: 89.1%
Dishwasher: 62.3%
Refrigerator: 99.3%
Freezer: 36.9%
Television: 98.8%
Gas or electric stove: 98.9%
Videocassette recorder: 95.0%
Microwave: 90.0%
Air conditioner: 84.6%
Computer: 63.1%
Landline telephone: 94.1%
Cellular telephone: 62.8%


Leaky roof: 5.4%
Pest problems: 9.5%
Broken windows: 3.0%
Exposed electric wiring: 0.6%
Holes or cracks in walls: 2.9%
Plumbing problems: 2.1%


Stay home for safety: 9.6%
Carry something for self-protection: 5.7%
Afraid to walk alone at night: 22.0%
Trash on streets: 7.4%
Streets need repair: 14.0%
Abandoned buildings: 7.0%
Street noise and traffic: 18.2%
Smoke or odors in neighborhood: 3.7%


Unpaid rent or mortgage: 5.5%
Unpaid utilities: 8.7%
Saw doctor when needed: 93.7%
Saw dentist when needed: 92.4%


Expect help from family: 47.6%
Expect help from friends: 35.9%
Expect help from social agency or church: 21.1%

Source: U.S. Census Bureau
First, all-in-all, we're a pretty darn well-off country and the vast majority of our citizens are enjoying the benefit of living here. Basic needs, for instance, are reported not being met in less than 10% of households with medical and dental care available for 90+% of households when needed.

Perhaps the most problematic area of our well-being concerns "neighborhood conditions" and they too are mostly problems in a very small percentage of places (and if I were to guess, concentrated primarily in large urban areas).

Some other interesting points:
About a third of the households in this lowest income segment had cellphones and computers —- compared with about 90 percent of those in the highest fifth, with annual household incomes of more than $91,000.

The decline in the number of households with landline phones was among the most interesting cultural indicators, said its co-author, Annette L. Rogers, a Census Bureau researcher. Since the survey began in 1992 and likely for much of the 20th century, she said, the number of households with phone connections had risen.

But from 1998 to 2003, the percentage of U.S. households with landline telephones fell from 96.2 to 94.1. During this same five-year period, the percentage of households with cellphones nearly doubled from 36.3 to 62.8. The number of households with computers increased from 42 percent in 1998 to 63.1 percent in 2003.
Huh ... we begin to see the decline of landline phones. The rise in the number of households with computers is also instructive.

Wrapping it up:
The reports concluded that most household groups reported higher levels of well-being in 2003 than they did in 1992.
And that's despite all the specious talk about how bad the economy has been. As usual, I'm sure this will be roundly ignored by those who make a living in the poverty industry or think the growing "income gap" is the death knell of our civilization.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Finally an accurate assessment of wealth and poverty based on human sufferring, rather than lowest quintile of income. If you want to see real poverty go to Bangladesh where haggard widows will beg change from you in the streets while carrying a baby in a burlap potato sack. Now someone show this to Paul Krugman!
Written By: Jimmy the Dhimmi
So what? In the depths of every recession over the past 50 years, in the stagflation that knocked out Jimmy Carter, Americans were better off in absolute terms than they were in 1900. Real Americans, for better or worse, don’t compare themselves to 20 or 50 or 100 years ago when deciding if the economy sucks.

I mean, free country, go ahead and point out, we’re all prosperous here. On some level, I even agree. But it’s completely irrelevant to perceptions of the economy.

To use another example: The residents of Western Europe are also, I’m sure, stuck with better percentages of appliances than they were in 1970. That doesn’t stop hordes of free-market ideologues from pontificating on the collapse of the European economy, because their long-run GDP is a point under ours. Well, who the f*ck cares? They sure are more prosperous in the absolute run than the previous generation, right? Just like in America! So F*ck it, let’s be socialists and go home early on Friday.

Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
So F*ck it, let’s be socialists and go home early on Friday.
First you’d better trot on down to the free clinic and get the old blood pressure checked. Funny how showing someone we’re actually doing quite well (thankyouverymuch) angers some people.
Written By: McQ
Nothing makes a lefty go unhinged like good news about America.
Written By: Jordan
URL: http://
I’ve said many times before that income is not wealth. If you were to retire at age 50 with a huge mansion, a yacht, and a safe filled with $50 million in it — which for some reason you decided not to put in a bank and draw interest on — you’d show up as being "poor" because your income was $0.

I wouldn’t mind being poor like that.
Written By: steverino
Real Americans, for better or worse, don’t compare themselves to 20 or 50 or 100 years ago when deciding if the economy sucks.
Well, how about 10 years? 1 year? 5 minutes ago?

Hard to plot trends with one data point.
Written By: Mark A. Flacy
URL: http://
Funny how showing someone we’re actually doing quite well (thankyouverymuch) angers some people.
Are you surprised by that? ;)

Unfortunately, it is becoming less surprising everyday to me.
Written By: cap joe
URL: http://
...sure looks better than the "soup line" conditions of a few years ago....

"Saw doctor when needed: 93.7%". Socialize it then re-run the numbers..I wonder what it would look like then.
Written By: markm
URL: http://
Engram ( has posted a detailed and meticulous comparison between American and European incomes. His conclusion is basically that the lowest quintile are equally well off, but in the higher quintiles, Americans have more.

The reason why, glasnost, is because we don’t go home early on Friday. You are free to do so. Just don’t expect me to subsidize you because I kept working and you knocked off early.

Written By: MarkD
URL: http://
Humor, people. Humor. Irreverancy. Where’s Pogue when I need him? He’d understand.
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
That’s a neat link, Mark, though not surprising info.
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
A Swedish think-tank, Timbro, authored a study a few years ago comparing the EU to the US - (available here: ) that had similar figures on appliance ownership for the U.S. And while it had figures showing percentage ownership of appliances across the entire population, it also had the same figures limited to the "poor"(their definition) population.

What does it mean to be poor in the USA? Major living standard surveys carried out in the USA at regular intervals show the poor to have a surprisingly high standard of living; see Table 3:2. A large proportion own their homes and have one or more cars. Domestic appliances of different kinds are also relatively common, as are one or more TV sets complete with video or DVD. Material prosperity, in other words, is high and not associated with the material standard of living which many people in Europe probably associate with poverty. . . Another indicator of the relatively good material standard of living among the American poor can be obtained by comparing dwelling space among poor households in the USA with average dwelling space in Europe. Table 3:3 compares dwelling space in various countries. Average total dwelling space in Europe is just under 1,000 sq. ft. In the USA it is 1,875 sq. ft for the average household and 1,200 sq. ft for poor households. Adjusting for size of household, one finds that poor households in the USA have slightly more dwelling space than the average European.

Written By: m.jed
URL: http://
I think there are two schools of thought on "let’s go home early on Friday" (though I’d guess that it only applies to a few sectors even in Europe (government, cough, cough, and workers.)

1. Yeaaaaaaagh, I hate my job and don’t give a damn, so I am going home early on Fridays!!! No, wait, I took half a day, so it’s Thursday afternoon!!!!! But I do also do some BS program where I come in early and drink coffee for two hours before anyone else is there, so actually I leave early on Thursday!!!!!!!!!!!

2. Why can’t I find anyone at my German supplier on Friday mornings? I have a question about their product and no one is there. (True complaint from a Swiss purchasing manager) Hey, I have an e-mail from a Chinese company in my in-box...they work all week plus Saturdays...hmmmmmm. (Note that the government workers in China have extravagant holidays with weeks off for May Day and such. Trust me that if you are a factory with serious orders, you ignore these holidays and push on.)
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
Humor, people. Humor. Irreverancy. Where’s Pogue when I need him? He’d understand.
Heh. I know the feeling, ‘nost. I get no respect either.
No worries, I’m laughing right there with you. In fact, when I read your previous post, I thought to myself… hey, I have three televisions… I guess that means I can take the rest of the day off.

I get the point McQ is portraying as well. But it does seem a strange barometer to use for judging the state of the economy. If I have three TV’s to my father having the one TV at the same age respectively, does that mean that I make three times more than my father did at the same age? Hardly. (although, I do make more money than my father did at the same age… Hah!!! In your face, old man. I guess all that talk about amounting to nothing was just a bunch of horsesh*t, wasn’t it? And if you spent a little less time in the bottle and a little less time with those stupid model airplanes, then maybe…. I digress.)

Besides, the cost of consumer goods, like appliances and TV’s have dropped, respectively of course, drastically…
Despite these wide differences, more than 150 million TV sets are sold every year—with double-digit growth rates in less developed countries. This is not because of rising income levels, but because of the continuing fall in the prices of TV sets. In 1956, an RCA color TV set was sold for $500, or $1,300 in today’s dollars. That same year, the average car sold for $2,100 and average annual salary was $5,300. In 2002, it is possible to purchase a standard, no-name 20-inch TV set for $130. That’s a ten-fold decrease in price in 46 years!
So yeah, I would be stupid not to have three TV’s. One in the main room, one in the guest room, and one in the bedroom. I like to go to bed with Stephen Colbert, you understand.

So just because I have three televisions, does that have any bearing on the economy at large??? I don’t know. All I know is that my wife is constantly nagging me to get rid of that third TV. And I simply tell her “NO, if we get rid of that 27” Samsung, then the terrorists win.”
End of discussion.

Back to some of the humor that Glasnost touched on, do we trade some of our comfortable consumerism for a few socialist driven public holidays? I say no, but I also believe that the differences have a lot to do with the differences in culture rather than the differences in the economy. And we have our beneficial,… but they have theirs. And to each their own I guess.

I keep in touch with a few of my old buddies from Australia (a country with a European social democracy structure). And it seems that our priorities differ greatly. For example, do you realize that they get a day off to watch the horse races?

And when I tell them that I have three TV’s, they ask,

”Really? Wow, I can’t afford three TV’s. But why? You don’t need three TV’s.”

“Yeah, I know, but I want three TV’s.”

Okay then, good on ya’, I guess you’ll have multiple TV’s to choose from to watch the races.

“Oh I can’t watch the races, I have to work.”

What!? You don’t get racing day off???


Well, what about ‘Picnic Day’?”

“I’m sorry, but did you say ‘Picnic Day’!?!?”

Yeah, don’t tell me you have to work on ‘Picnic Day’.

“Man, this sucks. I have to work on ‘Picnic Day’.”

But I have to tip my hat to you, McQ. Your post has inspired me to, because of the numerous consumer goods that I own, take the rest of the day off.
Cheers to you, my friend. And I’ll be sure to drink a pint in your honor.

And I’ll be damned if I work on next year’s ‘Picnic Day’. And I will tend no trade… well… except I may have to sell one of my television sets.

Oh, I am really sorry Mr. Customer, but I can’t help you out today. You’re just going to have to take your business elsewhere. You see, today is ‘Picnic Day’. And I’m taking the day off.

I plan on drinking plenty of red wine, and eating a wheel of soft cheese.

And Merry Picnic Day, and God bless everyone.
Written By: PogueMahone
URL: http://
Humor, people. Humor.
That would require you to be funny.
Written By: Mark A. Flacy
URL: http://
Humor, people. Humor. Irreverancy.
Always nice if you have a history of humor and irreverence so people have at least a clue that’s what you were attempting.
Written By: McQ
Cheers to you, my friend. And I’ll be sure to drink a pint in your honor.
A pint? A stinkin’ pint?

Heck, I’m going to drink more than a pint in my honor tonight ... you should do the same.
Written By: McQ
A pint? A stinkin’ pint?

Heck, I’m going to drink more than a pint in my honor tonight ... you should do the same.

Hey man, you give me more excuses why I should take a day off, then I’ll raise more pints in your honor.

Until then, you just get one. For now.
But please continue…

Just how good is my life?

How many pieces of toast can I burn at the same time?

Should I use sheet or liquid fabric softener?

Spot free rinsing? I think so.

‘whip’ or ‘purée’? Most definitely purée.

Ahhh La Dolce Vita.

You know, come to think of it, I think I’ll go in late on Monday as well…

Thanks McQ. I think I’ll raise one more for you tonight.

Written By: PogueMahone
URL: http://
Thanks McQ. I think I’ll raise one more for you tonight.
Two’ll just give you a headache.
Written By: McQ
Now you know what you’re doing, McQ.

You’re encouraging me to drink more. And who knows what will happen?
I just might call in tonight on your show.
Written By: PogueMahone
URL: http://
I just might call in tonight on your show.
Nah ... that’d take three, maybe four.

And you’re just gonna drink two.
Written By: McQ
Reading those stats, it makes sense why Sen Edwards’ "Two Americas" theme hasn’t really caught hold. Well that and his 29,000 ft2 house... and his hair - a real insult to the follicly-impaired.

I recall a NYTimes article relating travails imposed upon the elderly by the high costs of medicine - of course buried deep in the article was the nugget that 50 years ago, statistically, those same folks would have been dead. I mention this because just recently my pop, a veteran and BDS sufferer, commented how bad the economy was, and part of his anecdotal evidence what the "abject" poverty he saw while driving through rural NH. I asked him how many of those poverty-stricken homes he saw had a powerboat on a trailer in the driveway.

It’s all a matter of what perspective one wants to bring to the table.
Written By: bains
URL: http://
That freezer number is wierd. Were they simply counting people who own freezers in addition to whatever freezer is built in to their fridge? Otherwise it sounds like twice as many people have a plac to store their MP3 files as have a place to store the meat order they bought at the butcher.

I think the classic take on this was done by Tom Clancy in Hunt for Red October. You may recall it— the scene in which the Russian submarine crew is purposely driven through the slums of Washington DC, and realize that even the poorest people in American live better than most people did in the Soviet Union, and that every one of those poor despised black vicims of the oppressive US racial system had a car—and that car was better than the common Soviet car, too.

Now, if you don’t mind, I’m off to make plans for Picnic Day
Written By: jeffrey smith
URL: http://
Isn’t it interesting? In America, a family of four earning the poverty limit, would be called Middle Class in Europe. and Upper Class in Africa.
Written By: James E. Fish
That doesn’t stop hordes of free-market ideologues from pontificating on the collapse of the European economy, because their long-run GDP is a point under ours.
Now, I know that was an attempt at irreverance, but just to make sure it is clear, if the US had grown that one point slower over the past century our living standards would be half what they are now. 1% is a huge difference, and in another 20 years if Europe is still lagging by a percentage point the gap (which as pointed out exists but is still denied) will be as silly as anyone arguing that the Soviet Unions citizens were doing as well as us 20 years ago. Oh, wait, I did use to have those debates. Sigh.
Written By: Lance
20 years if Europe is still lagging by a percentage point the gap (which as pointed out exists but is still denied)

It’s mostly a function of population growth, Lance.

Which is a result of immigration.

Thank goodness we’re not going to try to shut down immigration or anything.

Written By: glasnost
URL: http://

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