Our Nation's Poor Live Like Kings

The right's response to record-high U.S. poverty rates

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There's a growing consensus in the right-leaning blogosphere this afternoon following the morning's Census Bureau report of record high U.S. poverty: American poor people aren't like other kinds of poor people. While left-wing standard bearers such as Think Progress blogger Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein's Wonkblog busy themselves with the declining real median household income or poverty rate charts distributed by race and age, the focus on the right is on the lifestyles of the poor and a rejection of the statistics provided by the Census Bureau. Here's a sampling:

The nation's poor do quite well for themselves, write Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield at Real Clear Politics:

According to data compiled by other government agencies, the typical household considered “poor” by census officials has a car and air conditioning. For entertainment, the household has cable or satellite TV, two color televisions, a DVD player and a VCR. If children (especially boys) are in the home, they have a video game system such as Xbox or PlayStation. In the kitchen, the household has the ordinary conveniences: refrigerator, oven, stove, microwave. Half the poor now have a personal computer. A third have a widescreen TV (plasma or LCD); a quarter have a digital video recorder such as TiVo. In all these cases, U.S. Department of Energy data say so.

The Census Bureau is misleading, writes Tim Worstall at Forbes:

When we calculate who is in poverty, who is below the poverty line, we include in the income said person or family gets their market income (of course) and also any cash that they get given directly by the government to alleviate their poverty...

We do not include in that household’s income all of the other things we do to alleviate poverty. We don’t include free medical care, or maybe help with the rent of an apartment or house. We don’t include any help that comes through the tax system nor do we include any vouchers: like Food Stamps for example.

Mass poverty is exaggerated, writes Robert Rector at National Review

Public perception of poverty in the U.S. is governed by the mainstream media, which invariably depicts the Census Bureau’s tens of millions of poor people as chronically hungry and malnourished, homeless or barely hanging on in overcrowded, dilapidated housing. The strategy of the media is to take the least fortunate 3 percent or 4 percent of the poor and portray their condition as representative of most poor Americans. While we must have compassion for those who are truly homeless or without food, they are far from typical among the poor.

How do the poor live? For starters, a poor child in American is far more likely to have a widescreen plasma television, cable or satellite TV, a computer and an Xbox or TiVo in his home than he is to be hungry.

They seem to eat just fine, writes Mike Brownfield at The Heritage Foundation. He cites 2009 U.S. Department of Agriculture data "showing that  96 percent of poor parents stated that their children were never hungry at any time during the year because they could not afford food, 83 percent of poor families reported having enough food to eat, and over the course of a year, only 4 percent of poor persons become temporarily homeless, with 42 percent of poor households actually owning their own homes." He also cites housing statistics. "Want an international comparison? The average poor American has more living space than the average Swede or German."

Dissent Responding to the claim that ownership of modern appliances equates middle class living, Melissa Boteach and Donna Cooper at The Center for American Progress write that "appliances are all significantly cheaper these days." But that's not the case for "everyday basics such as quality child care and out-of-pocket medical costs, both of which have risen much faster than inflation, squeezing the budgets of the poor and middle-class alike." They then provide this handy chart showing what modern appliances cost in proportion to basic family goods:

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