It is the day before Thanksgiving, and CBS News, not exactly a radical, alternative news source, informs us that 1 in 6 Americans don't know where their next meal is coming from. And I am wondering how many of those self-aggrandizing, power-mad assholes in Washington know what's going on in the hinterlands outside the Imperial Capital.
That 1 in 6 number is no doubt based on the alternative measurement of poverty recently released by the Census Bureau. It turns out that some of those assholes in Washington are fully aware of poverty in the United States, except they don't think the poor are actually poor. Let's quote from the Christian Science Monitor's New poverty calculus: Cause for alarm or political deception?
The Census Bureau's attempts to improve how the government measures poverty have unleashed criticism from conservatives who say the move is a bid to politicize America's class struggles.
The new Census measure suggests that the ranks of the poor – at 49 million – are 3 million larger than previously thought. The increase comes in the new way poverty is measured. The new Census report for the first time includes government subsidies and benefits such as food stamps as a part of household income, but it also factors in rising costs, such as health-care expenses. The result creates a new poverty line and a new view of who in the US is poor.
The new threshold for poverty for family of four, for example, is $24,343, as opposed to $22,113. And the revision reveals greater poverty trends among Asians, Hispanics, whites, and the elderly, and declining poverty for blacks and children, who tend to be greater beneficiaries of food stamps.
Sociologists say the new numbers give greater nuance to the portrait of poverty in the US, highlighting the degree to which government programs are keeping struggling Americans afloat. Critics counter the numbers are engineered precisely to make government assistance appear indispensable and to pave the way for a broader redistribution of American wealth toward the poor.
If you've lived on this planet long enough, and you've learned a few things along the way, which most people decidedly do not, you'll find that Human Beings can spin (rationalize) anything to suit their purposes, however evil those purposes might be. Government assistance is indispensable to the impoverished, but those who want to take it away from them don't want it to appear that way. Take the case of Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation, who is quoted by the Chistian Science Monitor.
"This [new count] is a deliberate deception, a Trojan horse to smuggle the goal of income leveling in under the slogan of poverty," says Robert Rector, a poverty expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "The reason they call it poverty instead of income inequality is that there's not a lot of political demand for income equalization in the United States"...
An overwhelming majority of both Democrats and Republicans in a Rasmussen poll in September said they believe that someone who has adequate housing, air conditioning, cable TV, and a computer in the house – which government data show is typical for a poor family – is, in fact, not poor.
The real poverty rate, by the measurements of Mr. Rector, who helped engineer President Clinton's welfare reform in 1996, is likely closer to 4 percent.
"When the average American thinks about poverty, they're thinking about significant material hardship, where you're living in a boarded up house and your kids are malnourished," he says. "I'm not saying they're living in luxury, but to pretend that [deprivation] is typical of someone in poverty is ridiculous. Those people are an even smaller portion of this new poverty population that's being defined."
The rationalization Rector employs is straightforward: the so-called "poor" are not really poor. All Robert needs to do is raise the bar so high for being poor that only 4% of Americans make the new grade—basically, the homeless and those close to it.
Since I am expert in this particular area, I have crafted a response. I live on less than $20,000 per year, and I have adequate housing, air conditioning, cable TV and a computer in the house, though not a working automobile. (I don't drive anymore). Am I poor? You betcha! At least financially, but not in spirit.
But according to a "majority of both Democrats and Republicans," I am not poor. Unlike those who are officially impoverished, I don't receive government assistance, whereas almost all of the rest do, as they try to scrape by on incomes of at most $24,434 per year for a family of four. (I live alone.) Are they poor? According to that majority, and Mr. Rector, they are not.
What is the solution to this puzzle? Clearly, we should take away their government assistance, and then do a quick count of how many people are truly poor before most of them die off of starvation or exposure, frozen to death on the couch in front of the TV set. That will tell us how many people were poor (before the die-off) and has another virtue as well: it will considerably reduce the ranks of the poor. Talk about killing off two birds with one stone!
See my older post 29% Of Americans Say It's Difficult To Afford Food (January 3, 2011). That post also reports that 51% say it is difficult to afford health care, while 48% say the same about their home heating and electric bills. And what about those living above the official poverty line?
Nearly half of all Americans lack economic security, meaning they live above the federal poverty threshold but still do not have enough money to cover housing, food, healthcare and other basic expenses, according to a survey of government and industry data.
The survey, released on Tuesday by the advocacy group Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW), found that 45 percent of U.S. residents live in households that struggle to make ends meet.
That breaks down to 39 percent of all adults and 55 percent of all children, the group found.
"This is a wake-up call for Congress, for our state policy-makers, really for all of us," said Donna Addkison, President and CEO of WOW.
"Nearly half of our nation's families cannot cover the costs of basic expenses even when they do have a job. Under these conditions, cuts to unemployment insurance ... and other programs families are relying on right now would push them from crisis to catastrophe."
Here's the CBS News video describing America's new poor. Bear in mind that according to Mr. Rector and a majority of polled Democrats and Republicans, the people shown or interviewed are not actually poor.