The U.S. Census Bureau just released statistics that show that more Americans than ever are suffering in poverty, and already they're being used to justify President Obama's plan to redistribute more wealth in the United States. But what does it mean to be poor in the wealthiest country that's ever existed?
The poverty rate jumped up to 15.1%,the highest rate since 1993. Both Republicans and Democrats are using the term "record-breaking" to describe the poverty situation, given that, in terms of raw numbers, more Americans than ever fall below the poverty line. The term "record-breaking" helps Republicans make Obama's economic policies seem as bad as possible, and helps Democrats justify the need for more of Obama's economic policies. As far as the poverty rate is concerned, however, we're still 7 percentage points away from breaking the record. Furthermore, records have only been kept since the 1950s, and the raw number of Americans in any category is more now than then simply because the population has doubled in the last 50 years.
The biggest problem about poverty statistics is what defines a poor person. Images of frail people standing in long bread lines come to our minds. However, I don't see many of those lines, and the biggest health problem facing the poor is obesity, not starvation.
But being poor in America isn't quite the same as being poor elsewhere in the world.
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.
And many of them have cell phones, cable TV, and big-screen TVs, to boot.
Additionally, poverty stats rarely address the fact that Americans are constantly moving in and out of "poverty." For example, a college student living on his own is "poor" according to the government, even though he may go on to have a well-paying job beyond college.
What is implied by poverty stats is that the 15.1% of people living below the arbitrary poverty line will stay there. However, buried in its 2010 poverty report, the U.S. Census Bureau figures show that the chronic poverty rate is ridiculously low.
Chronic poverty was relatively uncommon, with 2.2 percent of the population living in poverty all 48 months from 2004 to 2007.
Before we rush to blame Obama for creating long bread lines or we attempt to justify another half-trillion in stimulus money, we should realize that 97.8% of the population is not chronically poor, and that condition is only "poor" by America's high standards.