July 26, 2011
By Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.
Actually, you don’t have to imagine. Their federal government conducts numerous surveys that contain detailed information about the living conditions of those classified as poor - information that comes directly from those in poverty.
Are they experiencing significant hardship? Do they just barely scrape by, with no modern conveniences and hardly any food? Some do, unfortunately. But for most, it’s a different story.
Air conditioning? Cable TV? A car? The average household defined as poor by the government has these, the survey data show. It also has a microwave, a washer and dryer, a dishwasher, a coffee maker, and a cordless phone. Half of poor households have a computer. Add to this two color televisions and a DVD player, along with a video-game system such as an Xbox or a PlayStation for those households with children.
But what about where they live? One could have any number of modern gadgets and conveniences and still live in a broken-down, cramped residence. That isn’t the case, however. “Poor Americans are well housed and rarely overcrowded,” writes Heritage Foundation welfare expert Robert Rector in a new study. “In fact, the houses and apartments of America’s poor are quite spacious by international standards. The typical poor American has considerably more living space than does the average European.”
Moreover, 43 percent own their own homes, the government data show, nearly all of which are in good condition.
OK, so the average poor family lives in an uncrowded house or apartment, it’s in good repair, and it has many modern conveniences. What about food? Again, the surveys indicate that, on average, the poor are well-nourished. The level of protein, vitamins and minerals that children in poverty consume is virtually identical to what middle-class children get.
Some poor households do experience temporary food shortages. But again, this is a distinct minority. More than 92 percent of poor households say they always have had “enough food to eat” over the past four months. Only 6 percent say they “sometimes” don’t have enough, and 1.5 percent say it happens often.
The point of all this is not to argue that there aren’t people in this country living in poverty. There are. And those truly in need deserve a helping hand. But the good news is that the problem isn’t as widespread or as chronic as we’re led to believe. We wind up wasting money when we pretend otherwise.
In addition, we fuel the anti-American propaganda spread by countries such as Russia and China, who accuse the United States of human rights violations. Why? Because, they claim, the millions of Americans classified as poor are enduring a life of desperate poverty - “like a Third World nightmare,” as the Russia Today TV network once put it.
The average poor household in the United States isn’t living the high life. But it’s also not the dust-bowl existence pictured in John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” or the dramatic “Two Americas” picture painted by John Edwards. As scholar James Q. Wilson notes, “The poorest Americans today live a better life than all but the richest persons a hundred years ago.”
We do those who experience substantial hardship a real disservice when we spread misinformation that inflates their true numbers, especially in a time of tight budgets. We need to base anti-poverty policy on facts, not on lurid anecdotes and exaggerated rhetoric.
Ed Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in The Washington Times
Family & Religion Initiative of the Leadership for America Campaign
Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.
Read More >>
Request an interview >>
Please complete the following form to request an interview with a Heritage expert.
Please note that all fields must be completed.
Heritage's daily Morning Bell e-mail keeps you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.
The subscription is free and delivers you the latest conservative policy perspectives on the news each weekday--straight from Heritage experts.
The Morning Bell is your daily wake-up call offering a fresh, conservative analysis of the news.
More than 200,000 Americans rely on Heritage's Morning Bell to stay up to date on the policy battles that affect them.
Rush Limbaugh says "The Heritage Foundation's Morning Bell is just terrific!"
Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) says it's "a great way to start the day for any conservative who wants to get America back on track."
Sign up to start your free subscription today!
The Heritage Foundation is the nation’s most broadly supported public policy research institute, with hundreds of thousands of individual, foundation and corporate donors. Heritage, founded in February 1973, has a staff of 275 and an annual expense budget of $82.4 million.
Our mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense. Read More
© 2013, The Heritage Foundation Conservative policy research since 1973