Obama’s Abuse of Poverty


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Coining phrases and controlling the use of language has been a cornerstone of liberal success for the past few decades.  Nowhere is that brilliant turn of inaccurate phrase more evident than in the “battle to end poverty.”  Each year for decades, the United States Census Bureau has reported that between 30 to 47 million Americans live in “poverty.”  http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/poverty.html  President Obama has stated that

“I absolutely will make that commitment…Understand that when I make that commitment, I do so with great humility because it is a very ambitious goal. And we’re going to have to mobilize our society not just to cut poverty, but to prevent more people from slipping into poverty…”  http://www.spotlightonpoverty.org/obama_overview.aspx

If you ask the average American to define poverty, the overwhelming majority of responses will focus on homelessness, hunger or not being able to eat properly, and not being able to meet basic needs.  http://www.usccb.org/cchd/PP4FINAL.PDF   I agree with that definition and would hope our country would strive to eliminate this scourge.

So, do we have 30 to 47 million people in America unable to meet their basic needs?  Not even close.  Rather than relying on this rather common sense definition of poverty, the U.S. Census Bureau uses an income based measure.  The result?  The poorest Americans today live a better life than all but the richest persons a hundred years ago.  James Q. Wilson, The Marriage Problem: How Our Culture Has Weakened Families(New York: HarperCollins, 2002), p. 1.  The typical household defined as poor by the government has a car and air conditioning. For entertainment, the household had two color televisions, cable or satellite TV, a DVD player, and a VCR. If there are children, especially boys, in the home, the family had a game system, such as an Xbox or a PlayStation.  http://explore.data.gov/Energy-and-Utilities/Residential-Energy-Consumption-Survey-RECS-Files-A/eypy-jxs2  In the kitchen, the household had a refrigerator, an oven and stove, and a microwave. Other household conveniences included a clothes washer, clothes dryer, ceiling fans, a cordless phone, and a coffee maker.  http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2011/07/What-is-Poverty#_ftn4 

The home of the typical poor family is not overcrowded and is in good repair. In fact, the typical poor American has more living space than the average European- that is NOT the average POOR European, that is the AVERAGE European. The typical poor American family is also able to obtain medical care when needed. By its own report, the typical family is not hungry and has sufficient funds during the past year to meet all essential needs.  Poor families certainly struggle to make ends meet, but in most cases, they are struggling to pay for air conditioning and the cable TV bill as well as to put food on the table. Their living standards are far different from the images of dire deprivation promoted by activists and the mainstream media.  http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2011/07/What-is-Poverty#_ftn4

Consumer items that were luxuries or significant purchases for the middle class a few decades ago have become commonplace in poor households. In part, this is caused by a normal downward trend in price following the introduction of a new product. Initially, new products tend to be expensive and available only to the affluent. Over time, prices fall sharply, and the product saturates the entire population, including poor households.  http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2011/07/What-is-Poverty#_ftn4

Obviously this does not mean that there isn’t hunger and real need for help for some families.  About .5% of families have ongoing problems getting enough food to eat – that is a problem we need to work to solve.  There is obviously homelessness in a small percentage of the population – another problem that we need to work to solve.  However, this intentional gross overstatement about the extent of the problem deflects away from rather than helps arguments about the need for government programs.


About Geoff Willis