Many of the 30 million Americans living in poverty "are not poor in any ordinary sense of the term," the Heritage Foundation claims, because they have access to air conditioning, television, and a car.
"They are well housed, have an adequate and reasonably steady supply of food, and have met their other basic needs, including medical care," authors Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield write. The vast majority of them own refrigerators, televisions, stoves, microwaves, air conditioning and other consumer electronics not available to even the richest families a few generations ago.
Tens of millions of Americans are uninsured and 50 million suffer from insecure access to food. But nearly all poor households own a refrigerator, television, and microwave. Surprising? Not really. It's a snapshot of one of the most important trends of the U.S. economy: the productivity paradox.
I think the answer goes back to why so many families -- not just the very poor, but the firmly middle class -- feel squeezed in these times. Productivity increases in electronics, food manufacturing, and textiles have made consumer electronics, food, and clothes extremely cheap. Watching TV, reading news, listing to music, wearing clothes, and eating meals has never been more affordable, because we've figured out ways to bring down their cost through automation, outsourcing, and new technology.