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The U.S. poverty rate currently stands at 12.3%, with new updated numbers expected soon. Poverty rates declined sharply during the 1940s, '50s and '60s. But the decline stopped in 1970, right after the War on Poverty was adopted in the mid-1960s. The rate stood at 12.6% in 1970, virtually the same as today’s rate almost 40 years later.
Among those classified as poor, there is rapid turnover. Browning cites studies showing that 45% of the non-elderly poor in any year are not poor one year later. Within 3 years, 70% are no longer poor.
In calculating the poverty rate, most government welfare assistance, the roughly $735 billion being spent this year, is not even counted. So many people are counted as poor who are really not after the government aid they receive is considered. Maybe that is why surveys find that the poor consistently consume more than twice their estimated incomes. When the poverty rate is calculated based on what the poor report they actually consume, the rate declines by half.
MOREOVER, OTHER STUDIES show that the poor consistently underreport both their incomes and their consumption levels. The poverty income thresholds are also adjusted each year for inflation, but economists recognize that these inflation adjustments greatly overcompensate for actual inflation. Adjusting for these data problems, Browning concludes, shockingly, that the actual “poverty rate would be in the range of 1 to 3 percent”! (emphasis added)
So not only is the notion that we are not spending enough for the poor completely wrong. The notion of widespread significant poverty is wrong also.
Maybe that is why studies of the actual consumption and living conditions of the reported poor are so inconsistent with the notion of actual poverty. Browning reports, based on official government data, that 46% of the poor own their own homes (compared to 65% for the non-poor). “The average home owned by the poor is a three bedroom, one and a half bath home with a garage,” Browning writes, equal in value to about 70% of the median value of all homes in America.
Moreover, more than two thirds of the poor live in housing with more than two rooms per person. Only 5.7% of the poor live in housing with more than one person per room. Today, 76% of the poor have air conditioning, while 30 years ago only 36% of all Americans had air conditioning. Browning also reports that nearly three-fourths of the poor own a car or truck, with 30% owning two or more. Color televisions are owned by 97% of the poor, with more than half owning two or more, and 25% owning a large screen TV. Microwave ovens are owned by 73% of the poor.
In regard to food consumption and nutrition of the poor, Browning cites Robert Rector and Kirk Johnson, who write, “The average consumption of protein, vitamins, and minerals is virtually the same for poor and middle class children and, in most cases, is well above recommended norms. Poor children actually consume more meat than do higher income children and have average protein intakes that are 100 percent above recommended levels.”
Rector and Johnson also report that only 2 percent of the poor state that they often do not have enough to eat due to a lack of funds. Doug Besharov of the American Enterprise Institute adds, “Adolescents from needy families are twice as likely to be overweight” as those from non-needy families. Besharov writes that “real hunger in America…is found predominantly among people with behavioral or emotional problems, such as drug addicts and the dysfunctional homeless.” These facts again all come from official U.S. government data, surveys, and studies collected by these authors.
FINALLY, WE SHOULD ASK what causes the poverty that does exist in America. Browning states, “[T]he most fundamental cause of poverty: Most of the poor do not work full-time and, indeed, do not work at all. In 2005, among poor adults (aged 18-64), 56 percent did not work at all during the year, 30 percent worked part-time, and only 14 percent worked full time. With only one in seven of the poor working full-time, the very concept of the ‘working poor’ is nearly an oxymoron.”
In the '60s and '70s, with the Great Depression still within collective memory, some could still believe the excuse that the poor just could not find work, though this argument was already an anachronism even then. But today with millions and millions of illegal immigrants pouring across our borders to work in America, arguing that the poor just cannot find work is so silly it should be against the law. Even among the poor themselves, only 6.2% say that the reason for their nonwork is that they cannot find a job.
Among those who do work full-time, the median annual earnings of male high school dropouts over the age of 25 was $27,189 in 2005, 36% above the poverty line for a family of four. For a married couple where the wife earns the median income for female full time high school dropouts as well, the combined family earnings would be $47,314, “nearly 85 percent as much as median family income, and 2.4 times the poverty threshold for a family of four,” Browning writes.
Another important factor causing poverty is teen pregnancy and child bearing outside of marriage. Browning writes, “Among families with children who are poor…more than 60 percent are in single parent households, most of which are female headed households.”p>The Working Seminar on Family and Welfare Policy, a collection of leading academics and experts, summarized American poverty this way, br>
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?