Why Shouldn’t Poor People Suffer?

AS the US standard of living increases so does that of America's poor.

The latest complaint from the right wing Republicans is the concern that poverty has benefitted from what was up until now the general prosperity of the nation. Taking as the starting point of data to be reviewed from the start of the great anti-poverty programs of the Johnson era, poor people are better off now. Thus what is identified as poverty by the US Census Bureau and the Department of Health and Human Services, a family of four making $22,350 annually, have more amenities than the same family with a lower income back in 1970.

There are an estimated 43M people designated as poor as of the 2010 census. Some Republicans think that number is too high, given that said people back in the day didn’t have the standard of living experienced by many poor people nowadays.

Thus, the reporters and pundits at Fox News are crying foul. Through various sources they have determined that “poor” people in 2011 are not your grandfather’s poor people. 99 percent of those at or below the poverty level have refrigerators. Now whether they actually own these and other items listed is not determined.

81 percent have a microwave and 78 percent have air conditioners. Gosh, there are members of my family who don’t have air conditioners in every room! 63 percent have cable TV; 54 percent have cell phones.

48 percent have a coffee making machine while 24 percent have a dish washer. I contend that every family has a dishwasher; whether it is a machine or not, that’s where that figure comes from, I assume.

Of all Americans, a majority (51 percent) paid no income tax in 2011. Yet, despite this windfall of monetary bloat, the lowest 50 percent of the country owns 2.5 percent of the nations wealth. Still those Republicans are feeling ripped off!

There’s a push from politicians and right wing talking heads that more Americans, if not all, should have some “skin” as far as paying some proportion of their income in taxes. This despite the fact that poor people do pay Social Security payroll taxes. and the various excise and local sales taxes as well.
The problem is, in “today’s economy," the poor just are not suffering enough.

I don’t know how much my readers may travel throughout the country. Most likely, your tourist vacations don’t take you through where most of the “poor” people live. On some of my trips through this great land mass of America, I have travelled and spent time in states like Arkansas, the Appalachian mountain states and Idaho.

In Arkansas, the poorest region of one of the poorest states in the country, there’s a large part of the population who live in ramshackle homes, run-down trailers pitched off the road in the woods and make-shift wooden shacks, many with rippled tin roofs. Similar housing is available at what I assume are affordable prices, in the Appalachian mountains and the northern mountains of Idaho. I noticed in many cases those with refrigerators kept them on the porches of the single family dwellings. Rusting cars decorated their yards. Large vegetable gardens were tended by children in hand-me-down clothes whether too large or too small.

There were a noticeable number of shot guns and rifles among these groups as well. This was for hunting whatever stray squirrels, possum, raccoons, with occasional larger kills during the appropriate hunting seasons. Fishing was another important source of daily food.

My observations of these areas dated back five to ten years. Perhaps they have acquired air conditioning or a micro wave in the meantime.

Certainly the conditions of poor Americans have improved greatly in the past half decade. I doubt many of those in the mountains had much by way if cell phones since there’s probably not much cell coverage there.

Are there people working the system? Yes, there are.There is a subculture of people who live in subsidized housing yet have sufficient funds to eat take out much of the week, have cellphones for their families, and wear brand name and designer label clothes. Many have not worked for some time due to disabilities and lay offs.

How can we remove the wheat from the chaff in these instances? More social workers to visit homes of people receiving assistance could help. However, those people are being laid off as quickly as any other.

The one thing that is not fair is to cut the entire programs by some arbitrary percentage. Remember, as Jesus said, the poor we will have with us always. I just don’t want it to be anyone I know and love.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Ryan Adams August 26, 2011 at 02:15 AM
I don't think it's accurate to describe the poor as being someone not 'worse off.' That someone who's poor has a refrigerator does no good for them if they can't put food in it. The effects of poverty still exists whether someone has a TV. If they're forced in a poor, dangerous neighborhood, good luck raising kids that have a good chance in life. Good luck not having to worry about whether you're going to get mugged that day, or wonder if you're going to find yourself in the middle of a gang fight walking home from the minimum wage job. The reason Republicans in particular and many others in general feel as though they can "bash the poor" these days, because they have "color tv" -- as if that made the quality of their lives the same -- and not have a guilty conscience is because the vast majority of us don't live in these economically depressed areas, where hopelessness is rampant and people feel as though they're in a hole they can never climb out of. Sadly, given the way this country has moved and how difficult it is for people to climb the socioeconomic ladder, 99% of them are right. It used to be that if you worked hard and played by the rules, anyone could climb out. Now, if you do those things, you're feeling lucky if you're not sinking further.
Steve Iannaccone September 02, 2011 at 06:34 AM
Part of the problem is to eliminate the long-term positive moral attitude of the country, so that people generally will be less sensitive to the needs of others because they haven't achieved the level of economic success this generation was expecting. The Republicans want to deflect the blame from their tax cuts to government over-spending. To the extent to which they can convince the general population that the poor are better off than they were in the past, the less need the people generally will feel we have of these government programs. I am afraid that once more I will be surprised at how willing the average American is to vote in their worst interest.
Jim Magary September 02, 2011 at 05:18 PM
Great post Steve, well-researched and well-stated. If only more people could understand the proportional math involved in looking at the poor vs wealthy gap in this country, they would be both astonished and moved to action. John Stewart, who is a more useful social critic through his comedy show that most political pundits are on the serious shows, did a great example recently to show how little tax revenue we would actually be collecting from the poor if we required them to have more "skin in the game". He added up that if we were, hypothetically, to tax the tens of millions of poor people at 50% of what they earn, the amount that it would turn up over ten years would be roughly equal to the revenue we could also turn up by restoring the 1990's tax rate to the richest 2% of Americans. Not raising taxes, mind you, just placing them back to where they were duing the greatest economic boomtime of the last 50 years. It amazes me to see that the clowns at Fox and elsewhere are still making the case that we should tax our poorest citizens to generate pennies while still giving breaks to people who aren't even asking for them. Just sad. Anyway, I enjoyed your post... keep ranting!
Olaf Faeskorn January 28, 2013 at 04:11 PM
Steve, maybe it's time to get over the same old narratives? This is not a "evil Republican" vs. "bleeding-heart Democrat" issue really, is it? Yes, "the poor" are better off than they were 10, 20, 50, 100 ears ago. At least as long as you look at "stuff". What always surprises me is that a lot of "liberals" can't look beyond "stuff" while at the same time accusing Republicans as being "greedy" and "materialistic". Poverty and the behavior issues that often come with it have little to do with "stuff" and money or income. I've met people with a lot of "stuff" that I personally would think of as rather poor - while many people at some point or another had very little income and material goods without ever being "poor" - even though these rather superficial and agenda driven statistics and arbitrary definitions would say otherwise. Using all this as an excuse for a redistribution campaign in which nobody will gain anything completely misses the mark.


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