What does it mean to be poor in America?

Major welfare programs as of 2012
Major welfare programs as of 2012

You might think that there are a lot of poor people in America, given the way that Democrats are always talking about the need to take money away from job creating businesses and working families to hand out in welfare to the 47% who pay no income tax. The U.S. Census says that lots of people are poor in America. But is it really true?

Here’s an article from the Daily Signal to explain.

It says:

On Tuesday, the Census Bureau released its annual poverty report declaring that 43.1 million Americans lived in poverty in 2015.

We should be concerned about any American living in real material hardship, but much of what the Census reports about poverty is misleading.

Here are 15 facts about poverty in America that may surprise you.  (All statistics are taken from U.S. government surveys.)

  • Poor households routinely report spending $2.40 for every $1 of income the Census says they have.
  • The average poor American lives in a house or apartment that is in good repair and has more living space than the average nonpoor person in France, Germany, or England.
  • Eighty-five percent of poor households have air conditioning.
  • Nearly three-fourths of poor households have a car or truck, and 31 percent have two or more cars or trucks.
  • Nearly two-thirds of poor households have cable or satellite TV.
  • Half have a personal computer; 43 percent have internet access.
  • Two-thirds have at least one DVD player
  • More than half of poor families with children have a video game system, such as an Xbox or PlayStation.
  • One-third have a wide-screen plasma or LCD TV.

(The above data on electronic appliances owned by poor households come from a 2009 government survey so the ownership rates among the poor today are most likely higher.)

Activist groups spread alarming stories about widespread hunger in the nation, but in reality, most of the poor do not experience hunger or food shortages. The U.S. Department of Agriculture collects data on these topics in its household food security survey. For 2009, the survey showed:

  • Only 4 percent of poor parents reported that their children were hungry even once during the prior year because they could not afford food.
  • Some 18 percent of poor adults reported they were hungry even once in the prior year due to lack of money for food.

The following are facts about the housing conditions of the poor.

  • Poverty and homelessness are sometimes confused. Over the course of a year, only 4 percent of poor persons become homeless (usually a temporary condition).
  • Only 9.5 percent of the poor live in mobile homes or trailers; the rest live in apartments or houses.
  • Forty percent of the poor own their own homes, typically, a three-bedroom house with one-and-a-half baths that is in good repair.
  • The left claims that one in 25 families with children live in “extreme poverty” on less than $2 per person per day. Government surveys of self-reported spending by families show the actual number is one in 4,469, not one in 25.  The typical family allegedly in “extreme poverty” reports spending $25 for every $1 of income the left claims they have.

Why does the Census identify so many individuals as “poor” who do not appear to be poor in any normal sense of the term?  The answer lies in the misleading way the Census measures “poverty.” The Census defines a family as poor if its income falls below a specified income threshold. (For example, the poverty threshold for a family of four in 2015 was $24,036.) But in counting “income,” the Census excludes nearly all welfare benefits.

In 2014, government spent over $1 trillion on means-tested welfare for poor and low income people. (This figure does not include Social Security or Medicare.) Welfare spending on cash, food, and housing was $342 billion.

I’ve talked before about how welfare programs incentivize young women to have fatherless children, and how fatherless children put a burden on society through crime and other unhealthy behaviors. What is really going on here is that there is not very much real poverty in the United States, but talking about poverty is just a way that Democrats trick the public into supporting more confiscation of wealth from job creators so that the Democrats can buy votes from people.

The right solution to poverty, of course, is to encourage young people to marry, to eliminate teacher unions, to enact vouchers for school choice, and to give financial incentives to people who want to start a business or hire people for their existing business. Democrats are opposed to all of these measures, because they rely on keeping people unmarried, unemployed and dependent on welfare in order to get votes. Government spending to alleviate poverty is just vote buying, especially when the welfare is not temporary and attached to a requirement to look for work.

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