Skip to comments.Poverty, American Style: Cars, TVs, Three-Bedroom Homes
Posted on 10/15/2003 8:26:47 PM PDT by FairOpinion
Last month, to much media pooplah, the Census Bureau released its annual report on poverty in the U.S. Predictably, liberals all but wailed about bread lines and soup kitchens. Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut called the poverty figures "a national scandal." But the report contained relatively good news, as recessions go.
As expected, the Census numbers showed poverty had increased in 2002 due to the economic downturn; however, the poverty rise was quite modest when compared to prior recessions. For example, the report showed that during the first two years of the current downturn the number of poor children increased by 550,000 or one half of 1% of all children. By contrast, in each of the previous three recessions (back to the early 1970s) child poverty increased, on average, by two and a half percentage points over the same periodor five times as much. In its impact on poverty, the economic slowdown from which we are now emerging was one of the mildest on record.
But what is more remarkable is the story behind the Census figures: The actual living conditions of the individuals the government deems to be poor. For most Americans the word "poverty" suggests destitution: an inability to provide a family with nutritious food, clothing and reasonable shelter. But only a small number of the 35 million persons classified as "poor" by the Census Bureau fit that description.
While real material hardship certainly does occur, it is limited in scope and severity. The bulk of the "poor" live in material conditions that would have been 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.
Microwaves and Stereos
The following are facts about persons defined as "poor" by the Census Bureau, taken from various government reports:
Forty-six per cent 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 porch or patio.
Seventy-six per cent of poor households have air conditioning. By contrast, 30 years ago only 36% of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.
Only 6% 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. (Note: 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; 30% 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. Sixty-two percent have cable or satellite TV reception.
Seventy-three percent own microwave ovens; more than half have a stereo, and a third have an automatic dishwasher.
As a group the 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% above recommended levels. Most poor children today are in fact super-nourished, on average growing up to be one inch taller and ten 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 hunger, meaning a temporary discomfort due to food shortages. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 13% of poor families and 2.6% of poor children experience hunger at some point during the year. In most cases their hunger is short-term. Overall, 84% of the poor report their families have "enough" food to eat, while only 3% 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, stove, 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 over-crowded.
By his own report, his family is not hungry and in the last year he had sufficient funds to meet his familys essential needs. While this individuals life is not opulent, it is equally far from the popular images of dire poverty conveyed by the press, liberal activists and politicians.
Still, "poverty", even as defined by the broad standards of the Census Bureau, can be reduced further, particularly among children. There are two main reasons American children are poor: Their parents dont work much, and fathers are absent from the home. In good economic times or bad, the typical poor family with children is supported by only 800 hours of work during a yearthat amounts to 16 hours of work per week. If work in each family were raised to 2,000 hours per yearthe equivalent of one adult working 40 hours per week through the yearnearly 75% of poor children would be lifted out of official poverty.
Not having a dad around is another reliable pathway down into poverty. Nearly two-thirds of poor children reside in single-parent homes. Each year an additional 1.3 million children are born out-of-wedlock. If poor mothers married the fathers of their children, almost three quarters would immediately be lifted out of poverty.
While work and marriage are steady ladders out of poverty, the welfare system perversely remains hostile to both. Major programs such as Food Stamps, public housing, and Medicaid continue to reward idleness and penalize marriage. If welfare could be turned around to encourage work and marriage, remaining poverty would drop quickly.
Still, in a sense, the poor will always be with us. The liberal grievance industry needs an abundant supply of apparent victims to keep its motors running. Without a permanent victim class, liberals cannot survive. Thus, in liberal imagination and rhetoric, the microwave must always be bare.
To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, I would say to the U.S. "poor": I know poor. I worked with the poor. I have seen poor. You, Mr. 3-bedroom, two-car, air-conditioning American, are NOT poor.
No kidding. Everytime a hippy asks me for change in the US, a dozen images of street kids I've seen around the world flashes through my head. Somehow, I refrain from popping them in the nose.
Wow, my son does not like to eat breakfast-is he one of these hungry children?
My wife and I were fortunate to spend a week's vacation in Hawaii with an Asian couple we know. They were kind enough to prepare most of the meals.
We purchased a twenty-pound bag of rice for four dollars at a super-market. We had rice with every evening meal and still left behind about 18 pounds for the local food bank.
The people in this article could buy almost ten pounds of rice for the cost of a single gallon of gas. I will leave it to someone with more cooking skills than me to say how many meals can be made from ten pounds of rice.
Okay, here's how I see it:
***poor americans are lucky to have a surplus of second-hand goods to make poverty more comfortable, but it doesn't make it any less spiritually destructive.***
I guess my argument to the above statement would be that people shouldn't define happiness by what material possessions they may have versus the well-to-do family across town. The poorest of the poor can still find happiness from their family and friends or through their deeds. Why do people let society define the haves from the have nots? As long as you have a roof over your head, food to eat and love, that's all you really need (now I'm sounding like a song, huh?).
***many people are looking for work and cannot find it, or they cannot find work that pays better or offers any more opportunity for advancement than welfare***
I don't agree that people cannot find work. It doesn't matter how little education or income one might have, if a person truly wants to work, he or she can find work. However, your argument seems to be that the types of jobs that are available don't pay much more than welfare and so a person is, by default, left with no other choice but to go on welfare. But how is welfare going to help that person in the long run? Maybe the answer is that people might have to work more than one job so they can put a little money away to pay for educational opportunities that could lift them or their children out of their current situation. Let me give you an example of this: my best friend's mother who had no more than a high school diploma was left single with children and was barely scraping by, but she refused to let the government take care of her or take any kind of hand-out. Instead, she worked several low-skill level jobs (yes, even those that would "dress her in a silly uniforms") for several years until she had saved enough money to enroll in a community college. Even while she was a student she still needed to take care of her children so she worked while going to school. It took a lot time and a lot of hard work, but she eventually earned an accounting degree and easily found a good-paying job that could support her family. What made her proud was that she had accomplished all of it on her own. The point is that it ultimately comes down to a person's attitude: are you going to find a way to lift yourself out of a bad situation (no matter how tough that may be) or are you going to rely on the government or others to help you just get by day to day? Of course a person wouldn't have much chance for advancement it they didn't aspire to something higher.
***working in america for the most part means working to enrich someone or some company you don't respect. we all hate it, but we act like it somehow makes us better people to give our time to some coporation that's going to rape the environment, employ slave labor overseas, dodge taxes, brainwash our children with advertising, and sell us overpriced garbage that we don't need. we pretend like it makes us self-sufficient***
This is the classic "corporate america is bad" argument. Well I would ask you, what's the alternative? Have the government take care of our every need and that will somehow make us feel more "self-sufficent"? Isn't that a total paradox? It seems to me that the free market society has made us more self-sufficient because we have the choice to work for the big bad corporation (which, by the way, is owned by ordinary Americans like you and me), work for an independent business owner or open our own business.
I hate to break it to you, but corporations, for the most part, are not evil--I work with them every day (and I'm anything but a member of upper management or management in general). I see a lot of good things that Corporate America does that don't get a lot of media attention (community sponsorships, charitable contributions, mentoring programs, etc.). The idea that a business can deny its workers the right to unionize is untrue--it's against the law to do so and I don't know any corporation that would fire someone without providing either severance or at least assistance with finding another job. A few years ago I was in a situation where huge layoffs had occurred and my company (which employed over 100,000 workers) ensured that every last person was taken care of by offering both severance pay and job placement. Furthermore, the idea that a corporation can "dodge taxes" is impossible because regardless of the amount of taxes paid at the Corporate level, taxes will ultimately be paid at the shareholder level through the dividends tax, it's simply unavoidable.
As far as the "sliding into debt" issue is concerned--that fault falls solely on the individual. It's simply irresponsible to spend more than you earn (except of course for a few basic items like a modest car loan or mortgage payment) and I'll leave it at that.
As for other various items you point out about businesses, I would offer the following:
***...rape the environment"
That's why we have the EPA and environmental standards.
***...employ slave labor overseas"
Is it our fault that foreign countries allow these conditions to occur? Don't you think its their responsibility to protect their own citizens?
***...brainwash our children with advertising***
Children are only brainwashed to the extent that their parents allow them to be. Parenting can easily rectify this.
***...sell us overpriced garbage that we don't need***
Simple...so don't buy it.
I'm not trying to attack you with all of this, but I'm just trying to point out the distinction between personal responsiblity and government reliance. I'm certainly not blind to the fact that some people truly do need help and we should be compassionate to them. It is at that point that some level of government and community or charitable involvement would be needed, but this should be a last resort, not a safety net.