Commentary by James H. Shott
Last month a story by the Associated Press told the nation that nearly half of the country is living in poverty, or on the edge of it: “Squeezed by rising living costs, a record number of Americans — nearly 1 in 2 — have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income.”
Can’t you just hear the astonishment expressed over this horrible development? “Things are so bad in America that nearly half of us are poor or almost poor.”
Poverty: the word conjures up images of people living on the streets or under bridges, with ragged clothes, begging for food. Or a family of ten crowded into a 3-room apartment or a dilapidated trailer. That is the picture of poverty. But for the vast majority of those that are the subject of the AP story, conditions are much, much better than that. Nevertheless, some folks accept this awful scenario without question, because it fits into their view of America as a deeply flawed country that ignores the needy and must be fundamentally transformed.
True, the protracted and anemic Obama recovery has had terrible effects, as anti-business policies create uncertainty about the future, which keeps people unemployed, causes some businesses to impose cut backs while others are forced to shut down completely. However, even in the throes of the ghastly Obama economy, half of us are not in or near poverty. At least not true poverty.
In order to get close to the shocking 50 percent threshold, the AP had to double-down on the poverty levels by adding in those earning up to twice the poverty level, then describe these people as “scraping by” as low income earners. There are 49.1 million people whose earnings level classifies them as in poverty. That’s a lot of people, but it is a long way from 50 percent, only about a third of that number.
To truly shock people, a 16 percent poverty rate just won’t do; the number must be much higher. So, by adding in the 97.3 million classified as “low income,” which is the group at 100 to 199 percent of the poverty level, that adds another 31 percent to the total, and gets pretty close to one out of two Americans.
The purpose here is not to diminish the dire existence of truly poor Americans, but to bring honesty into the discussion.
I have written before about how “normal” the lives of many of those in the “poor” half of the population are, using government data that show that the typical poor household has a car, air conditioning, cable or satellite TV service, not one but two color TVs, a VCR and a DVD player, and kitchens equipped with a refrigerator, a range and a microwave. Half of them have a home computer and a third have a widescreen TV, and one in four has a digital recorder.
It is a positive aspect of the capitalist system that the price of products becomes more affordable over time, enabling more and more of us to acquire things we want. However, it is a truism that truly poor people cannot afford to purchase such unnecessary items at any price.
The anti-capitalism folks on the Left want you to believe that despite having these modern conveniences, poor families still are deprived of basic needs, like food and housing. If this is true, doesn’t that beg the question of why these families spend scarce dollars on non-necessities instead of on food and better housing?
But, as the Heritage Foundation explains, the truth is that half of the people addressed in the AP story live in single-family homes and 40 percent live in apartments. Their residences are not overcrowded and for the most part are in good repair. “Poor Americans, on average, live in larger houses or apartments than does the average, non-poor individual living in Sweden, France, Germany or the United Kingdom,” Heritage’s Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield wrote in September.
But what about the children, the one in four who go to bed hungry every night? Well, as it turns out, that, too, is untrue. Heritage reports from Department of Agriculture data that “96 percent of poor parents stated that their children were never hungry at any time during 2009, despite the severity of the recession.”
It is nothing short of despicable, and maybe it ought to be illegal, to attempt to convince the American people that half of us are in poverty or in dire financial circumstances when that is provably untrue. We can only guess at the motivation of the Associated Press in perpetrating this fraudulent picture of life in the United States. Playing such games – exaggerating the conditions and the numbers of poor – benefits some, but it does not benefit the poor.
It’s an attempt to soften us up and make us more willing to support starting new government programs or expand existing programs to help the poor, and it shifts the focus away from other serious cultural problems, like the collapse of marriage and the family, and the erosion of the work ethic.
Cross-posted from Observations