Tuesday, September 04, 2007

What does the government really mean by "poor"?

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, published a report on Poverty in America.

Last year, the US Census Bureau released its annual report on poverty in America. It stated that there are 37 million poor people in the US, roughly the same as in the past. (A report that came out a few days ago says that the amount of poverty has gone down slightly in the past year.)

What is interesting is that the Census Bureau's definition of poverty is radically different from the popular image. When you talk about poor people, you usually get a mental image of people who are homeless, or living in substandard housing, without enough food to eat, poor medical care, etc. Nobody doubts that such people exist in the US, but most of the 37 million "poor" people described by the Census Bureau don't even come close to this description.

Go read the Heritage Foundation's report (linked above) for an eye-opening examination of what the government considers "poor". Most of the people in this category live better than middle-class families did in the 70's, and better than the average person in most other countries. To quote the article's conclusion:

The living conditions of persons defined as poor by the government bear little resemblance to notions of "poverty" promoted by politicians and political activists. If poverty is defined as lacking adequate nutritious food for one's family, a reasonably warm and dry apartment to live in, or a car with which to get to work when one is needed, then there are relatively few poor per­sons remaining in the United States. Real mate­rial hardship does occur, but it is limited in scope and severity.

Keep this in mind the next time some politician tells you about how we're suffering from a poverty crisis. Sure, there is a huge number of people classified as poor, but that's only because the government has chosen an unrealistic definition of the word. Today's "poor" are living far better than the poor of the 1970's (and even better than much of the middle-class of that time), and the number of people who are truly destitute is much smaller than it was back then.

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