Let the poor sweat

There was this recent article in the National Review, Modern Poverty Includes A.C. and an Xbox, reporting on a Heritage Foundation report, What is Poverty. The implication was clear: the poor in the United States don’t have it all that bad.

My initial inclination was not to even to address the issue. After all, it was one of those unwinnable arguments with people of a particular mindset And look at some of the items- Owning a refrigerator? Probably provided by the landlord; ditto the stove and oven. Air conditioning is a necessity in much of the country. TVs are relatively cheap form of information and entertainment. Even people in Afghanistan and sub-Saharan Africa have cell phones. And are these new items or second-hand?

But some of my data colleagues made interesting points:

One wrote: “Poverty status is about the ability of a ‘family’ to obtain a given standard of living based on its current flow of resources during some relatively short period, e.g. one year. Much of today’s poor were not poor in the recent past, when they were able to purchase the consumer durables” measured. Interestingly, my seven-year daughter made pretty much the same observation when I was talking about this.

Another data colleague reflected on the interesting responses of who “bought stuff when employed, and now haven’t worked in years and it’s difficult to replace what they have. Where Heritage sees luxurious poor people, I see a desperately sliding middle class. And there’s no substantial research here to prove either view is right.

“Not to mention the details. If you have an air conditioner, you may not be able to afford to turn it on. Individual pay-as-you-go cell phones are encouraged for the unemployed as a help in job searches and more stable than land lines given the instability of housing for the poor… Subsidized housing often comes with washers and dryers because it takes less resources than trips to the laundromat. Go into any thrift shop in the U.S. and find used x-box systems for $10 or less as the employed trade up to a better system. And non-digital TVs for the taking.”

It’s clear that the writer created “a ‘straw man’ in selectively picking out polling data indicating that most Americans view poverty as third world style depravation. If you think that is approprate to the US, then quite right; few Americans qualify.” But, by American standards, the promise of children doing better than their parents is very much in question.
The Effect of Income on Appliances in U.S. Households

0 thoughts on “Let the poor sweat”

  1. After years studying legitimate polls and peer-reviewed studies, I’ve come to believe that if something is put out by the Heritage Foundation, it’s simply not credible or reliable. Sometimes their data is technically correct, but it’s also meaningless; your post points out how selective data selectively reported presents an illegitimate view of, in this case, poor people. Heritage Foundation does this all the time, so in my opinion, the only rational conclusion is that they had an intended conclusion and found “data” to back it up.


  2. You make some good points. All reasonable and feasible. To add to the discussion, I believe there is a definite change in what people value as *necessary* today. That used x-box for $10 is a good deal, but if you are on a tight budget and barely paying your bills, perhaps that $10 should go towards something more necessary, like food or utilities. Same for mobile phones. If you have a land line, do you really, really, really need a mobile phone expense too? Or vice versa. I drove by a run down house in a not-so-good part of town the other day and saw a new Corvette in the driveway. Admittedly, I don’t know their past or present circumstances, but it made me wonder…..


  3. There are many poor people in my country, who live on the streets of big cities. They are often mentally ill and don’t know how to cope with their problems, how to find work, how to find the next meal. Our government is in favour of young, intelligent, healthy people. They don’t understand that there are weak, mentally retarded people who cannot find a job.They possess nothing. I personally know one of them.I help him as much as possible.


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