The Non-Poor Below the “Poverty Line”

Clayton Cramer points out that most people classified as poor by the federal government are actually not poor at all. Most people below the federal poverty line have a living standard that is higher than most Europeans’, and higher than what Americans enjoyed in past generations. For example, 97 percent of “poor” households have a color TV. Many of them own their own home, and those that do typically have a “three-bedroom house with one-and-a-half baths, a garage, and a porch or patio.”

My own home contains only two bedrooms and no garage. But then, I’m not “poor,” so I have to pay taxes. And all of my income is taken into account by the government, unlike the “poor,” whose food stamps, earned-income tax credits, and welfare are all ignored in classifying them as falling below the poverty line.

As a Robert Rector, an analyst at The Heritage Foundation, observes,

Overall, the typical American defined as poor by the government has a car, air conditioning, a refrigerator, a stove, a clothes washer and dryer, and a microwave. He has two color televisions, cable or satellite TV reception, a VCR or DVD player, and a stereo. He is able to obtain medical care. His home is in good repair and is not overcrowded. By his own report, his family is not hungry and he had sufficient funds in the past year to meet his family’s essential needs. While this individual’s life is not opulent, it is equally far from the popular images of dire poverty conveyed by the press, liberal activists, and politicians.

Earlier, I wrote about the bogus “Food Stamp Challenge,” in which lawmakers pretend that it’s hard to eat on a Food Stamps budget to justify more welfare spending. I spent less on food than many food stamp recipients for years. I see people using food stamps when I shop at the Grand Mart. They would use coupons if they were really watching every penny, but they seldom use coupons. I do. I saved $10.50 on one product alone using coupons I clipped last week from free newspapers like Washington Hispanic. Maybe if food stamp users were as thrifty as I am they wouldn’t “need” food stamps.

The only Americans I have ever heard of who had difficulty getting enough to eat were fathers ordered to pay more in child support and alimony than they earned in after-tax income (based on the practice of “imputed income,” which is where a family-court judge sets support obligations based on what he thinks the father should earn, rather than what he actually earns). They weren’t deemed to be below the poverty line, because the federal government does not consider child-support obligations in determining whether someone is below the poverty line. (Incidentally, I am not divorced, and have no children by anyone other than my wife).