Where best to be poor?

What has historically been defined as "poverty," nationally or internationally, no longer exists in the United States, says economist Walter Williams.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the 2009 poverty guideline was $22,000 for an urban four-person family. In 2009, having income less than that, 15 per cent or 40 million Americans were classified as poor, but there's something unique about those "poor" people not seen anywhere else in the world. Robert Rector, researcher at the Heritage Foundation, presents data collected from several government sources in a report titled "How Poor Are America's Poor? Examining the 'Plague' of Poverty in America":

  • Forty-three per cent 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 per cent of poor households have air conditioning; by contrast, in 1970, only 36 per cent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.

  • Only 6 per cent of poor households are overcrowded; two-thirds have more than two rooms per person.

  • The typical 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 per cent own two or more cars.

  • Ninety-seven per cent of poor households have a colour television; over half own two or more colour televisions.

  • Seventy-eight per cent have a VCR or DVD player; 62 per cent have cable or satellite TV reception.

  • Eighty-nine per cent own microwave ovens, more than half have a stereo, and a more than a third have an automatic dishwasher.

    Material poverty can be measured relatively or absolutely. An absolute measure would consist of some minimum quantity of goods and services deemed adequate for a baseline level of survival. Achieving that level means that poverty has been eliminated. However, if poverty is defined as, say, the lowest one-fifth of the income distribution, it is impossible to eliminate poverty. Everyone's income could double, triple and quadruple, but there will always be the lowest one-fifth, explains Williams.

    Source: Walter Williams, Where Best To Be Poor, Jewish World Review, June 30, 2010.

    For text: http://jewishworldreview.com/cols/williams063010.php3

    For Rector study: http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2007/08/How-Poor-Are-Americas-Poor-Examining-the-Plague-of-Poverty-in-America

    For more on Economic Issues: http://www.ncpa.org/sub/dpd/index.php?Article_Category=17

    First published by the National Center for Policy Analysis, United States

    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 06 July 2010
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