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The poverty scam in the US (update)
Posted by: McQ on Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Are there poor in the US. Yes, absolutely. Are they as large a portion of our population as politicians routinely try to claim there are (think John Edwards). No. Not at all. Robert Rector brings us up to date:
The following are facts about persons defined as “poor” by the Census Bureau, taken from a variety of government reports:

  • 46 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.
  • 80 percent of poor households have air conditioning. By contrast, in 1970, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.
  • Only six percent of poor households are overcrowded; two thirds have more than two rooms per person.
  • The typical 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.
  • 97 percent of poor households have a color television; over half own two or more color televisions.
  • 78 percent have a VCR or DVD player.
  • 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception.
  • 89 percent own microwave ovens, more than half have a stereo, and a more than a third have an automatic dishwasher.
As most understand "poor" - as defined in the US - is a relative term. There will always be a percentage of people in this country considered to be poor as long as the measure of poverty is defined as a certain percentage of the median income.

However, when compared to the lifestyles of those living in other countries, a good percentage of those considered to be poor - based solely on income - live as well as the middle class in many other 1st world countries. The bullets above speak to that.

The present measure of poverty also doesn't consider in-kind payments such as welfare or food stamps or government housing.

In fact, a retired person with minimal need and a small retirement income which happens to fall under the poverty threshold is "poor" even though they own their own home and car and, most likely, all of the other items listed above.

Some have argued that to really measure poverty, a new method is needed:
According to the panel's recommended measure, income would include, in addition to money received, the value of noncash benefits such as food stamps, school lunches and public housing that can be used to satisfy basic needs. The new measure also would subtract from gross income certain expenses that cannot be used for these basic needs, such as income taxes, child-support payments, medical costs, health-insurance premiums and work-related expenses, including child care.
Regardless of how it is measured, the point is it remains a permanent excuse for further government intervention. The fact remains that poverty, by design, will never go away. And it gives radical egalitarians (yes I'm on a radical egalitarian kick) such as John Edwards the political leverage they need to use the government to "fix" a problem that will never be fixed.

UPDATE: Oliver Willis is reduced to stereotypes and mischaracterization (not to mention completely missing the point of the post) in an attempt to portray "progressives" as the only "caring" people around.
 
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Then, of course, this hits MSNBC via the AP (sorry, links don’t work for me):

WASHINGTON - The nation’s poverty rate dropped last year, the first significant decline since President Bush took office.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20476601/

Of course, the tagline was,"But the number of Americans without health insurance increases". Mustn’t have too much good economic news.
 
Written By: Strick
URL: http://
The nation’s poverty rate dropped last year, the first significant decline since President Bush took office.
Yup ... but as we all have learned with Iraq, you can’t stay at "war" unless you show progress.

It will be interesting to see how Edwards greets this news.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Compared to third world countries, our poor are rich. Politics is, of course relative, and our poor won’t compare themselves to third world folk but to others in the US. Moreover, for all but a small percentage of urban and rural poor, basic needs are met, and there are opportunities for improvement. More can be done — Muhammad Yunus had interesting ideas about micro-credit for even America’s poor (I’m not sure where that’s gone). But income redistribution is not the answer, nor is "radical egalitarianism." One thing that irks me a bit about my culture is how materialist oriented everyone seems to be. Happiness depends on material possessions, but because Madison Ave tells people what they don’t have, people aren’t able to really appreciate the fact that the vast majority of Americans live in more wealth, comfort and convenience that even the wealthy and elite of almost all of history, let alone much of the planet. I’d much rather see Edwards approach the issue of poverty by focusing on helping people gain the confidence and ambition to take control of their lives, and assure there are vehicles available for self-improvement and development if people chose to do that rather than emphasize government programs to try to create equality.

 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Scott? Is that really you?
 
Written By: meagain
URL: http://
I’d much rather see Edwards approach the issue of poverty by focusing on helping people gain the confidence and ambition to take control of their lives...
Which is much harder to do when government insists on running so much of those self-same lives.

"You can’t smoke anywhere, it’s bad for you.

"No, you can’t choose a school for your children - you’re stuck with this inner-city one where the achievement test scores are in the bottom 5% and the local gangs recruit the students.

"No, you can’t open a hair salon to do corn rows; you have to spend a few hundred hours in cosmetology school studying irrelevant techniques and get a license for that.

"And don’t even think about getting a private account from Social Security. We know how to handle your money better than you do. Yes, we understand that a disproportionate number of you will die before ever getting those benefits, so you pay in all your life neither you nor your estate gets a penny of it, but hey, that’s better than you deciding for yourself what to do with that money.

"And don’t forget, whatever happens, it’s somebody’s else’s fault. Remember that fact when your betters run for office to take care of you. It’s not your fault, and only we can do anything about it."
 
Written By: Billy Hollis
URL: http://
I think you’re making excellent points there, Billy. When we get away from foreign policy, we agree on much more.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
We have so few poor people we import them from Mexico.
 
Written By: MarkD
URL: http://
"More can be done"

But does that make it government’s responsibility to do it? Does it mean that government can respond to it? And perhaps at its most basic; who gets to decide whether or not government responds to it?

Perhaps you’ve heard of Walter Williams, the economist. Teaches at George Mason university, I believe. I don’t have the copy to hand, (My file and print server is offline, doing maint) but I remember a calculation he wrote up in an article of his, suggesting that the costs of raising every pore person above the poverty level by simply giving them money directly, would be a fraction of the cost of the number of overfed programs supposedly aimed at helping the poor out of poverty. This is precisely the kind of response expected from a bureaucracy... Wherein, procedure, not results are the thing.

The point I’m making, of course, and I suggest the point he was making as well, is that it is neither required nor desired for government to take action as regards poverty. If you’re willing to stipulate to this, Scott, we can move forward.

Here’s some reading.
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
I suggest the point he was making as well, is that it is neither required nor desired for government to take action as regards poverty.
That goes a lot farther than any Republican in Congress would go. Beware of absolutes.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Ever the liar, Boris Erb writes:
I’d much rather see Edwards approach the issue of poverty by focusing on helping people gain the confidence and ambition to take control of their lives,
No you wouldn’t.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
Boris Erb, the pragmatic libertarian collectivist, writes:
Beware of absolutes.
I have a far more pragmatic suggestion, Boris. It’s that students at the University of Maine at Farmington beware of finding themselves in any of your classes, and that they head directly to the drop/add booth right now, before it’s too late.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
Boris Erb writes:
Compared to third world countries, our poor are rich.
But, alas, our academic types, particularly our "social scientists," lag behind even the most abject of dirt-scratching savages.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
Here’s what’ll happen.

In 200 years, we’ll be subjected to heart-wrenching reports that the rich, in their private space stations, are unfairly taking too big a piece of pie from the poor, who are forced to live in mere 8-bedroom mansions with indoor pools.
 
Written By: FisherOfMen
URL: http://
Beware of absolutes.
Absolutely?

 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
I trotted over and read what Oliver had to say. It struck me that I could arrange it around a bit and it would be a speech from Hugo Chavez.

The ability of the left to self-delude themselves on economics never ceases to amaze me.
 
Written By: Billy Hollis
URL: http://
Would it be sporting to say that your speech isn’t far removed from Hitler-style survival of the fittest? No. But that’s the same thing as you comparing me to Hugo Chavez. Think for a change.
 
Written By: Oliver Willis
URL: http://www.oliverwillis.com
*Grin* Most of the time!

For instance, shouldn’t there be government programs in the case of starving children or elderly who somehow absolutely need assistance, or military vets who are suffering from PTSD and thus are down and out.

I’d shift government action against poverty to an intense focus on ’helping people help themselves,’ perhaps including microcredit, and other opportunities for people who want to do something. I’d move away from government redistribution and traditional social welfare programs. What we need to promote is people taking responsibility for their life and their choices, while the current system creates a psychology of dependency that often does recipients of aid more harm than good. I think there is a role for government to play there, but I’d prefer it decentralized (e.g., not major huge government programs) and minimal direct transfers.

To those who think this sounds heartless, my thinking on issues like social welfare really has affected by looking at extreme cases, like Russia and former East Germany, where you could see how dependence on government ravaged the very soul of the citizenry by essentially stifling notions of initiative, innovation, and individual creativity. Some could never recover. When I think about the failure of the "war on poverty" here, and read about the way inner city (or rural poor) communities simply continue, it became clear to me that this idealistic notion that you could simply ’take from the rich and give to the poor’ was misguided. I think that too often hurts the poor, and creates perverse incentives not to work. On the other hand, there are many who are in real difficult stituations who want to work and want to succeed. There has to be a way to support and encourage that, IMO. I don’t think markets can do that all on their own.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Quote: "Oliver Willis is reduced to stereotypes and mischaracterization (not to mention completely missing the point of the post) in an attempt to portray "progressives" as the only "caring" people around."

Is that characterization untrue?
 
Written By: Enoch Root
URL: http://www.google.com/
I went and read Oliver’s post myself, and left feeling something was lacking. Then it hit me.

It was an actual proposal for a solution.
 
Written By: The Gonzman
URL: http://
Micro-credit sounds supiciously like sub-prime loans.

That’ll help, yeah.....
 
Written By: John
URL: http://
I went and read Oliver’s post myself, and left feeling something was lacking. Then it hit me.

It was an actual proposal for a solution.
It was unspoken, but I can help. To parphrase:

Progressive see problems and want to fix them [by using coercive government and violating the rights of some for the benefit of others].
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Think for a change.
Physician, heal thyself.
 
Written By: Billy Hollis
URL: http://
Would it be sporting to say that your speech isn’t far removed from Hitler-style survival of the fittest? No. But that’s the same thing as you comparing me to Hugo Chavez.
Well, let’s see now. I can find plenty of defenders of Chavez on the left. This fellow here, for example, defended him, has reconsidered and wonders why many on the left don’t do the same.

For your hypothetical equivalence to have any credibility, you would need to find supporters of Hitler to balance that.

Now, Oliver, I wait eagerly for you come back with one of your patented smart @$$ remarks instead of anything that might actually have some logic behind it.
 
Written By: Billy Hollis
URL: http://
Bashing government statistics that include homeowners among the "poor" is unfair. Many older Americans have paid off their mortgage (or make a small monthly mortgage payment), and that’s the only reason they can get close to paying the bills. In my region, it would be difficult to find a rental that cost less than an average mortgage payment. And that is even more true for retirees who purchased homes decades ago. I have helped many seniors improve their income stream by taking out a reverse mortgage on their home. This government-insured program began because many seniors have a large portion of their assets tied up in their home, but selling the home doesn’t improve their situation. A reverse mortgage allows them to keep their home as long as they want to live there, and to get access to their home equity, as well.
 
Written By: Skip Holt
URL: http://www.arizona-reverse-mortgage.com
Bashing government statistics that include homeowners among the "poor" is unfair. Many older Americans have paid off their mortgage (or make a small monthly mortgage payment), and that’s the only reason they can get close to paying the bills.
Yeah, I believe I covered that:
In fact, a retired person with minimal need and a small retirement income which happens to fall under the poverty threshold is "poor" even though they own their own home and car and, most likely, all of the other items listed above.
And why is pointing out that the way the government defines poverty is deficient "bashing government stats"?
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Bashing government statistics that include homeowners among the "poor" is unfair. Many older Americans have paid off their mortgage (or make a small monthly mortgage payment), and that’s the only reason they can get close to paying the bills.
But they ain’t poor. They have a house that’s likely paid for. They don’t need the same income a younger person does.
I have helped many seniors improve their income stream by taking out a reverse mortgage on their home.


You helped them go into debt?
 
Written By: Don
URL: http://

 
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