Today, the Census Bureau released its annual poverty report, which declared that a record 46.2 million (roughly one in seven) Americans were poor in 2010. The numbers were up sharply from the previous year’s total of 43.6 million. Although the current recession has greatly increased the numbers of the poor, high levels of poverty predate the recession. In most years for the past two decades, the Census Bureau has declared that at least 35 million Americans lived in poverty.
However, understanding poverty in America requires looking behind these numbers at the actual living conditions of the individuals the government deems to be poor. For most Americans, the word “poverty” suggests near destitution: an inability to provide nutritious food, clothing, and reasonable shelter for one’s family. But only a small number of the 46 million persons classified as “poor” by the
Census Bureau fit that description. While real material hardship certainly does occur, it is limited in scope and severity.
The following are facts about persons defined as “poor” by the Census Bureau as taken from various government reports:
- 80 percent of poor households have air conditioning. In 1970, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.
- 92 percent of poor households have a microwave.
- Nearly three-fourths have a car or truck, and 31
percent have two or more cars or trucks.
- Nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite TV.
- Two-thirds have at least one DVD player, and 70
percent have a VCR.
- Half have a personal computer, and one in seven have two or more computers.
- More than half of poor families with children have a video game system, such as an Xbox or PlayStation.
- 43 percent have Internet access.
- One-third have a wide-screen plasma or LCD TV.
- One-fourth have a digital video recorder system, such as a TiVo.
For decades, the living conditions of the poor have steadily improved. Consumer items that were luxuries or significant purchases for the middle class a few decades ago have become commonplace in poor households, partially because of the normal downward price trend that follows introduction of
a new product.
Liberals use the declining relative prices of many amenities to argue that it is no big deal that poor households have air conditioning, computers, cable TV, and wide-screen TV. They contend, polemically, that even though most poor families may have a house full of modern conveniences, the average poor family still suffers from substantial deprivation in basic needs, such as food and housing. In reality, this is just not true.
Although the mainstream media broadcast alarming stories about widespread and severe hunger in the nation, in reality, most of the poor do not experience hunger or food shortages. The U.S. Department of Agriculture collects data on these topics in its household food security survey. For 2009, the
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. 82 percent of poor adults reported never being hungry at any time in the prior year due to lack of money for food.