Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Poverty in America? Let's Keep Things in Perspective.

When you've been to places like Akwa Ibom State (Nigeria), the slums of Madras and Calcutta (India), the bush country outside Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), and even the smaller villages in Belarus, you realize that what we know of poverty in the United States is a radically different thing than what is experienced in so many other parts of the world.

Want a few details of the difference? Here's Ken McIntyre over at NRO.

What is poverty? Americans might well be surprised to learn from other government data that the overwhelming majority of those defined as “poor” by the Census Bureau were well-housed and adequately fed even in the recession year 2009. About 4 percent of them did temporarily become homeless.

Data from the Department of Energy and other agencies show that the average poor family, as defined by Census officials:

● Lives in a home that is in good repair, not crowded, and equipped with air conditioning, clothes washer and dryer, and cable or satellite TV service.

● Prepares meals in a kitchen with a refrigerator, coffee maker and microwave as well as oven and stove.

● Enjoys two color TVs, a DVD player, VCR and — if children are there — an Xbox, PlayStation, or other video game system.

● Had enough money in the past year to meet essential needs, including adequate food and medical care.

Rather than report such detailed surveys, Rector and co-author Rachel Sheffield write, the media “amplified” the Census Bureau’s annual misrepresentation of poverty over the past 40 years. News reports routinely suggest that poor Americans typically are homeless and hungry — and U.S. foes and rivals such as Iran, China, and Russia are delighted to report the same.

“Regrettably, most discussions of poverty in the U.S. rely on sensationalism, exaggeration, and misinformation,” Rector says. “But an effective anti-poverty policy must be based on an accurate assessment of actual living conditions and the causes of deprivation.”