According to the Census Bureau, approximately 14.3% of the people in the United States were living in poverty in 2009. This amounts to 43.6 million people. This does not sound good, and it isn’t, and yet the truth is than poverty isn’t what it used to be.
When I think of poverty, I imagine people who go without food on a regular basis. People who wear rags and go about barefoot. It would seem that there is very little of that sort of poverty in America, The trick is, how to define “poverty”. According to the Wikipedia article linked above, poverty in the United States is measured in more than one way.
The most common measure of poverty in the United States is the “poverty threshold” set by the U.S. government. This measure recognizes poverty as a lack of those goods and services commonly taken for granted by members of mainstream society. The official threshold is adjusted for inflation using the consumer price index.
Relative poverty describes how income relates to the median income, and does not imply that the person is lacking anything. In general the United States has some of the highest relative poverty rates among industrialized countries, reflecting both the high median income and high degree of inequality
Note that either way, poverty is a relative measurement. Someone considered poor in America could easily be considered fabulously wealthy by the standards of Africa. Poverty in the United States then is not a matter of living on the edge of starvation, but of not having as much stuff as many others.
Which brings me to this article by John C Goodman at Townhall.com, in which he asks “are the poor really poor?” Consider these facts:
• The average household defined as poor lived in a house or apartment equipped with air conditioning and cable TV.• The family had a car (a third of the poor have two or more cars).
• For entertainment, the household had two color televisions, a DVD player and a VCR.
• If there were children in the home (especially boys), the family had a game system, such as an Xbox or PlayStation.
• In the kitchen, the household had a microwave, refrigerator, and an oven and stove.
• Other household conveniences included a clothes washer, clothes dryer, ceiling fans, a cordless phone and a coffeemaker.
The home of the average poor family was in good repair and not overcrowded. In fact, the typical poor American had more living space than the average (non-poor) European, the Heritage scholars note. The poor family was able to obtain medical care when needed. When asked, most poor families stated they had had sufficient funds during the past year to meet all essential needs.