Andy note: "Blast from the past - Best of Eddie" - This one is originally from Sep. 2010. If there's an old post from Eddie you'd like to see up again shoot me a message.
Yesterday's conversation about who is rich was so interesting that I thought I'd take today to explore who is poor, and what it means to be poor in America these days. Just so we're all operating with the same figures, here is the latest U.S. poverty index. The data concludes that the poverty line for 2010 is an annual income of $22,000 for a family of four. A greater number of Americans live below the poverty line now than at any time in the 51-year history of U.S. poverty statistics (but not the greatest percentage).
We touched on this yesterday, and I commented (admittedly with little frame of reference) that $22,000 seemed pretty high, especially in relation to the $50,000 median U.S. family income rate. So I did some research and found some pretty fascinating facts about what it means to be "poor" in America.
Before you label me a fascist, I'm not making light of anyone's unfortunate circumstance. With the possible exception of my ex-wives, I hate to see anyone suffer - especially children. I realize that no one wants to be poor. I also realize that government has a vested interest in keeping people poor, and creates dis-incentives to people bettering their lot in life. Nowhere is this case better illustrated than in Uncle Sam's Plantation, for those who are interested.
So what does it mean to be poor in America? Are the majority of the poor homeless? Are they starving? The latest year I could find accurate figures for was 2007 and, while the housing picture may have changed in the interim for some, I'm guessing the rest of the stats are pretty accurate.
Thirteen percent of the poor (so 13% of 43.6 million people, or about five and a half million) experience food insecurity at some point over the course of the year. That means that just under six million Americans don't know where their next meal is coming from at least once per year. Make no mistake - that's a travesty. But it also means that food is not an issue for 98.5% of the population.
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 middleclass 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 that the GIs who stormed the beaches of Normandy in World War II.
Here are some startling facts about what it means to be "poor" in America:
- 46% of poor households own their own home and it is a 3-bdrm, 1.5 bath with a garage and porch/patio
- 80% have air conditioning
- 66% have more than 2 rooms per occupant
- 75% own a car; 31% own 2 or more
- 97% have color TV; more than 50% have 2 or more color TVs
- 78% have a VCR or DVD; 62% have cable or satellite
- 89% have a microwave; more than 50% have a stereo; more than 33% have an automatic dishwasher
The real kicker for me is that the average American below the poverty line has more living space than the average citizen (not poor citizen, the average citizen) in Paris, London, or Vienna.
Again, I'm not pointing this stuff out to be a jerk and say, "Hey, look how great they've got it!" Nothing could be further from the truth. But if the upper middle class in the U.S. is going to be demonized for being unwilling to live without what lower-income individuals consider luxuries (private schooling, vacations, etc...), I think it should cut both ways.
The poor in America have a higher standard of living than the average citizen in the vast majority of the rest of the world, and that's as it should be. We are, after all, the land of the free and the home of the brave. But runaway welfare spending and soak-the-rich programs are dooming generations to a life of prolonged misery. When a young man makes more money to sit in a strip club (or worse, to sling crack on the corner) than to get a job and pull his family out of poverty, we all lose.
I know this is an emotional issue, so I would ask that you at least try to keep it civil in the comments section. There are desperately poor people in America, and we should all do more to help them. But they are far from the majority of American poor.
Can someone give me a rational reason why it doesn't make more sense to abandon the monstrous tax code that clearly favors one class above another and go to a national sales tax? Isn't killing off the IRS once and for all reason enough to try it? Seriously, guys. What are the real arguments against a consumption tax that taxes everyone equally?