How “Poor” Are the Poor?

FrontPageMagazine.com | Robert Rector | August 28, 2007

Poverty is an important and emotional issue. Last year, the Census Bureau released its annual report on poverty in the United States declaring that there were 37 million poor persons living in this country in 2005, roughly the same number as in the preceding years.[4] According to the Census report, 12.6 percent of Amer­icans were poor in 2005; this number has varied from 11.3 percent to 15.1 percent of the population over the past 20 years.[5]

To understand poverty in America, it is important to look behind these numbers—to look at the actual living conditions of the individuals the government deems to be poor. For most Americans, the word “poverty” suggests destitution: an inability to provide a family with nutritious food, clothing, and reasonable shelter. But only a small number of the 37 million per­sons classified as “poor” by the Census Bureau fit that description. While real material hardship certainly does occur, it is limited in scope and severity. Most of America’s “poor” live in material conditions that would be judged as comfortable or well-off just a few generations ago. Today, the expenditures per person of the lowest-income one-fifth (or quintile) of house­holds equal those of the median American household in the early 1970s, after adjusting for inflation.[6]

The following are facts about persons defined as “poor” by the Census Bureau, taken from various gov­ernment reports:

  • Forty-three percent of all poor households actu­ally own their own homes. The average home owned by persons classified as poor by the Census Bureau is a three-bedroom house with one-and-a-half baths, a garage, and a porch or patio.
  • Eighty percent of poor households have air conditioning. By contrast, in 1970, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.
  • Only 6 percent of poor households are over­crowded. More than two-thirds have more than two rooms per person.
  • The average poor American has more living space than the average individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens, and other cities throughout Europe. (These comparisons are to the average citizens in foreign countries, not to those classified as poor.)
  • Nearly three-quarters of poor households own a car; 31 percent own two or more cars.
  • Ninety-seven percent of poor households have a color television; over half own two or more color televisions.
  • Seventy-eight percent have a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception.
  • Eighty-nine percent own microwave ovens, more than half have a stereo, and more than a third have an automatic dishwasher.

As a group, America’s poor are far from being chronically undernourished. 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 100 percent above recommended levels. Most poor children today are, in fact, supernour­ished 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.

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Comments

  1. Fr. Hans writes: “Welcome to America Jim, where the regulation of abortion will be contentious, and certainly not to your liking in some cases.”

    Remember the “equal rights amendment” of the 1970s? One of the main arguments against it was that no one could say with any certainty what it meant or how it might be interpreted, an argument I thought had some merit. What you’re suggesting with the overturning of Roe v. Wade is a similar kind of uncertainty. After Roe is gone, what happens is anyone’s guess. The most you can say is some state wills be liberal, some conservative. What does that mean? No one knows.

    Fr. Hans: “You are correct that some of the ideas to regulate abortion are not reasonable. But reasonableness is not your aim. Rather you want to see abortion on demand remain the law of the land and such travesties as partial birth abortion continued. That’s why the argument is ludicrous, Jim.”

    What constitutes a “reasonable” position? Dean mentioned “balancing” the rights of the pregnant woman with compelling state interest. What is that balance? With what concessions would the religious right be satisfied? As far as I can tell, the ultimate goal of the religious right is virtually the total elimination of abortion, and there simply isn’t anything short of that that would satisfy. So it’s not clear to me what would count as reasonable opposition to that. I’ve never heard anyone on the religious right specify what inherent rights the pregnant woman has. After 30 years of silence on that issue, one begins to suspect that in the view of the religious right, she doesn’t have any.

    Fr. Hans: “If you extract the question of whether or not the unborn child has any inherent value from any discussion of the effects of abortion on the public culture, you a just a few short steps away from the proponents of infanticide like Peter Singer.”

    Under Roe abortion is already regulated in two out of three trimesters. This is in addition to other restrictions that states have been able to implement. And all that is in addition to other success that the religious right has had in driving various abortion providers out of business. Mississippi now has only one abortion clinic left.

    But I’m willing to live with all that. Yet you say my position is unreasonable. So I ask again, at what point would my position be reasonable? What more would it take?

  2. Christopher says:

    I would only like to add that I am sure that another 20 posts by Jim in favor killing unborn human beings will not only be a witness to him, but any other lurkers as well. Dean, could you chime in – We don’t get enough holocaust witness around here.

    Since this thread is supposed to be about “the poor”, maybe we can lament how poor people have to scrape up a few bucks to give to “the man” when killing their children……:(

  3. Note 101. Jim writes:

    Remember the “equal rights amendment” of the 1970s? One of the main arguments against it was that no one could say with any certainty what it meant or how it might be interpreted, an argument I thought had some merit. What you’re suggesting with the overturning of Roe v. Wade is a similar kind of uncertainty.

    Not quite right. The ERA was a proposed constitutional amendment. The issue was that because of its vagueness, interpretation would fall to the courts. It would be a mess.

    Roe v. Wade on the other hard, was the overturning of state laws by judical fiat. It does not in any sense have the authority of a constitutional amendment. In fact, what Roe v. Wade really means is still up in the air. It will never be “overturned” as such since the Justices are loath to overturn a previous Court’s decision. It can, however, be defined out of practical existence which it should be because it is perhaps one of the most sloppily reasoned decisions ever to come out of the Court.

    Under Roe abortion is already regulated in two out of three trimesters. This is in addition to other restrictions that states have been able to implement. And all that is in addition to other success that the religious right has had in driving various abortion providers out of business. Mississippi now has only one abortion clinic left.

    Again, not quite right. Roe was redefined under Doe v. Bolton, which opened up abortion to a split second before the fetus emerged from the womb. How else do you think partial birth abortions were ever allowed?

    I’ve never heard anyone on the religious right specify what inherent rights the pregnant woman has.

    Questions like this will be decided state by state. What you may see is a diminution of this notion that “rights” language is even appropriate in cases of abortion. It’s largely a polemical consruct promulgated by the pro-arbortion lobby years ago. Yes, I know the Rawellian logic, etc etc. But pitting mother against child is just not morally compelling. That one reason why it never really flies except with those who are already pro-abortion to begin with.

  4. #96

    Re “The Dutch on Abortion”

    Most Europeans have no idea how unrestricted abortion is in the US. When you explain to them what is allowed they usually recoil and say “that is barbaric” or something to that effect. In a similar vein, Pete Singer, the post-natal abortion enthusiast is denied entry into Germany, where remembrance of such attitudes is somewhat more vivid than in the US. Germany also prohibits all stem-cell research. Right and left political dogma doesn’t always translate across the Atlantic.

  5. I went and heard a business analyst speak at a luncheon meeting today. In ten years, the labor force will be short 10 million workers he said. “Do you know why that is,” he asked? “It’s because the Boomers are retiring. Right now one Boomer retires every eight seconds.”

    Well, yes and no. Sure, as Boomers retire more labor is needed to take their place. But is this the only reason there will be a shortage? Another reason is that we have aborted 40 million of the next generation.