The Left has massively exaggerated extent of poverty in America

Dan Mitchell from Cato relates remarkable findings from study showing Americans in "poverty" have more living space than average Europeans.

Poverty is a problem, but is it really worse in America?
Daniel J. Mitchell
On 20 July 2011 07:12

Is America filled with tens of millions of people suffering from harsh material deprivation?

That’s what the pro-redistribution crowd wants you to think, but a new report from the Heritage Foundation demolishes that stereotype.

Here are some of the most remarkable findings in the study.

"For most Americans, the word “poverty” suggests destitution: an inability to provide a family with nutritious food, clothing, and reasonable shelter. …Yet if poverty means lacking nutritious food, adequate warm housing, and clothing for a family, relatively few of the more than 30 million people identified as being “in poverty” by the Census Bureau could be characterized as poor.

"While material hardship definitely exists in the United States, it is restricted in scope and severity. …As scholar James Q. Wilson has stated, 'The poorest Americans today live a better life than all but the richest persons a hundred years ago.' In 2005, the typical household defined as poor by the government had a car and air conditioning. For entertainment, the household had two color televisions, cable or satellite TV, a DVD player, and a VCR."

Here’s one of the most remarkable findings from the report.

"…the typical poor American had more living space than the average European".

And here’s the key data on healthcare and nutrition.

"The typical poor American family was also able to obtain medical care when needed. By its own report, the typical family was not hungry and had sufficient funds during the past year to meet all essential needs. …Consumer items that were luxuries or significant purchases for the middle class a few decades ago have become commonplace in poor households. …On average, the poor are well nourished.

"The average consumption of protein, vitamins, and minerals is virtually the same for poor and middle-class children. In most cases, it is well above recommended norms. Poor children actually consume more meat than higher-income children consume, and their protein intake averages 100 percent above recommended levels. In fact, most poor children are super-nourished and grow up to be, on average, one inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than the GIs who stormed the beaches of Normandy in World War II."

So why does this issue matter? Because the left understands that an agenda of redistribution is more likely to be successful if they can deceive the American people about the true scope of poverty. This polling data cited in the report shows why the left is so anxious to perpetuate falsehoods about how many people suffer from genuine deprivation.

"…a poll conducted in June 2009 asked a nationally representative sample of the public whether they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: 'A family in the U.S. that has a decent, un-crowded house or apartment to live in, ample food to eat, access to medical care, a car, cable television, air conditioning and a microwave at home should not be considered poor.' A full 80 percent of Republicans and 77 percent of Democrats agreed that a family living in those living conditions should not be considered poor."

Last but not least, we find out that a bad situation may become even worse. The left already uses a grossly exaggerated definition of poverty for political gain. But that’s not enough. As I noted in an earlier post, the Obama Administration wants to use a new methodology that would – no joke – show that there is more poverty in America than Bangladesh.

"There is a vast gap between poverty as understood by the American public and poverty as currently measured by the government. Sadly, President Barack Obama plans to make this situation worse by creating a new 'poverty' measure that deliberately severs all connection between 'poverty' and actual deprivation. This new measure will serve as a propaganda tool in Obama’s endless quest to 'spread the wealth' and will eventually displace the current poverty measure.

"Under the new measure, a family will be judged poor if its income falls below certain specified income thresholds or standards. There is nothing new in this, but unlike the current poverty income standards, the new income thresholds will have a built-in escalator clause. They will rise automatically in direct proportion to any rise in the living standards of the average American. …Another paradox of the new poverty measure is that countries such as Bangladesh and Albania will have lower poverty rates than the U.S.—even though the actual living conditions in those countries are extremely low—simply because they have narrower distribution of incomes, albeit very low incomes."

There is one thing that’s worth adding to all the good information cited from the study. Regardless of how the poverty rate is defined, the massive increase in federal spending on anti-poverty programs has been a terrible failure. Trillions of dollars have been spent since the “War on Poverty” began, but the poverty rate has been flat, averaging about 13 percent.

But what’s most remarkable is that the poverty rate was steadily falling before the so-called War on Poverty began. In other words, once the federal government began subsidizing poverty, we stopped making progress.

Daniel J. Mitchell is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, the free-market, Washington D.C. think tank. This piece is cross-posted by agreement on his blog.

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