How Do You Insure An Ever Present, Massive Welfare State? By Defining Poverty Upwards

There is no arbitrary standard for poverty; so what makes a person “poor?” Can you live in a million dollar mansion and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and be poor? Actually, you can under the government’s current defintion of poverty, which is based on income, not net worth. Can you collect more than $50,000 a year in income and government benefits and still be considered poor? Absolutely, you can. But, even these incredibly loose standards aren’t enough — well, that is, if your goal is to expand the welfare state as opposed to helping the genuinely poor. If you want to expand the welfare state, you need as many poor Americans as possible, no matter what the economy looks like. So, how do you do that? Simple, you put poverty into a sliding scale that insures the number of poor people can never really drop.

The federal government now considers a family of four in New York City to be poor if its pre-tax income is below $37,900.Even with full medical coverage.

The calculation helps explain why newly revised Census Bureau figures hike the number of poor Americans to 49 million as of last year, further widening an already yawning gap between ordinary perceptions of poverty and how the government sees it.

This breathtaking number begs the question: What does it mean to be “poor” in the United States?

To the average American, the word “poverty” means significant material hardship and need. It means lack of a warm, dry home, recurring hunger and malnutrition, no medical care, worn-out clothes for the children. The mainstream media reinforce this view: The typical TV news story on poverty features a homeless family with kids living in the back of a van.

But poverty as the federal government defines it differs greatly from these images. Only 2 percent of the official poor are homeless. According to the government’s own data, the typical poor family lives in a house or apartment that’s not only in good repair but is larger than the homes of the average non-poor person in England, France or Germany.

The typical “poor” American experiences no material hardships, receives medical care whenever needed, has an ample diet and wasn’t hungry for even a single day the previous year. According to the US Department of Agriculture, the nutritional quality of the diets of poor children is identical to that of upper middle class kids.

In America, about 80 percent of poor families have air conditioning, nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite TV, half have a computer and a third have a wide-screen LCD or plasma TV.

All these government statistics were based on the Census Bureau’s old definition of poverty. The new definition, released last week, stretches that gap between common-sense and government perspectives even further.

Previously, a family of four was considered poor if cash income was less than $22,800. The new definition sharply jerks up this threshold, especially in large cities.

Now, a family of four with full medical insurance, living in Oakland, can be considered “poor” if its yearly pre-tax income is below $42,500. In Washington, DC, the figure is $40,300; in Boston, $39,500; in New York, $37,900.

Remarkably, for the first time these new poverty thresholds are linked to an “escalator” that will boost them faster than inflation year after year. The income thresholds will rise automatically in direct proportion to any rise in the actual living standards of the average American.

While the old poverty measure counted absolute purchasing power (how much steak and potatoes you can buy), the new measure counts comparative purchasing power (how much steak and potatoes you can buy relative to other people.)

This means it will be difficult to reduce poverty in America no matter how much the living conditions of the poor actually improve. Imagine a sprinter in a race where the finish line is moved back four feet every time the runner takes a step.

Look at it this way: If the real income of every single American were to double overnight, the new measure would show no drop in poverty because the poverty-income thresholds also would double. Under this new definition, we can reduce poverty only if the incomes of the “poor” rise much faster than those of everyone else.

This change isn’t about poverty; it’s about politics. Politically, Republicans benefit from seeing Americans pulled up out of poverty while Democrats have heavy incentives to see as many poor Americans as possible. If the Democrats can’t make people poor with their policies, then they’ll just have to cook the books to make them appear poor.

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10 Responses to How Do You Insure An Ever Present, Massive Welfare State? By Defining Poverty Upwards

  1. Jason Tweed says:

    Actually, there is a standard for defining poverty level. It’s been in place for decades and is updated quarterly depending on the economy. The federal government uses a complex formula, and virtually all funding gets adjusted based on this number. Ironically, when the economy goes bad the actual index of poverty goes down, even though more individuals may fall below it. It’s used by Social Security to determine increases and decreases.

    Contrary to your opinion, the poverty line standard is not a partisan issue. The same standard has been in place for decades and it’s updated by researchers not politicians.

    The number of people above or below the poverty level is based on the average economic indicators, and their percentage above or below.

    You are correct that poor people can afford air conditioning etc. but this is because in America we are blessed with the standard of living that is far higher.

    Also, your article indicates that there will always be poor people. That’s not actually true. It is possible for everyone to exceed the poverty level number, although that’s extremely unlikely. The poverty level number has dropped in the past few years, however the number of people falling below that level has increased, largely due to the collapse of the housing market and banking scandals. It has nothing to do with partisan politics.

  2. Billy says:

    All you have to do to see how poor that poor people are is go to town. I’ll bet that America has the highest population of obese poor people in all of the world.

  3. I make gross yearly income of 1,069.00 My monthly check monthly is for 718.00. Do I qualify for assistance?? I get 15.00 monthly for EBT. I worked for DOD at DDEAME for 26 years. I’m completely, totatly and permantly disaabled. Do I qualify for anything else !5.00 is not much help. I work very hard for many years. I wasn’t sorry and stayed home with me child and live off welfare. But I’m old woman now and I’m having a hard time.

  4. I work for DOD for 26 years at DDEAMC, And I worked very hard. I didn’t stay home and draw welfare and take care of my son. I worked in South and the oay is not like up north! My yearly income is 11,069.00. After deduction my monthy check is 718.00 a month. I get 15$ a month if food stamps. Almost funnyl When is the proverty level on income tax going to be changed from 10,000 dollars. It has been 10,000 dollars for as long as I can remember????? Look at the cost of living changes in the last 40 years! I can’t afford dental care or meat at the grocery store. I have to put up money each month for house taxes and fire insurance, And also car insurance. Just thought I tell you how hard life if for people like me.

    • Courtney McLaury says:

      Life IS hard for people that did not get an education and chose to have children. Let me guess…single mother? You say you do not get welfare? Food stamps is welfare. Now you are looking for more than what your disability check gives? Sigh. SS/SSD is not meant/never was meant to be the sole income, it is meant to pad your retirement/savings/pension from your job.

      The taxpayers now pay for everything you get-disability and food stamps. How much more do you think we should pay you to exist?

      I sincerely wish you would have done some research on this when you were young and capable.

  5. Merrill Hess says:

    I work in a State office. Back in the latter ’90s our office received a 100+ page report funded by the Wiesenthal Center on the state of poverty at that time. In the introduction, the report lamented the difficulty of measuring poverty by the old standards because the standard of living of those they considered poor had risen so much. If they did not measure poverty differently, they would not be able to generate the statistical numbers necessary to justify continued funding of their “anti-poverty” programs. So, they did exactly what the article says, they redefined poverty upward and softened the definition to sweep up a new segment of people. From time to time I look back and wish I had kept that report.

  6. pam says:

    My uncle works in a gas station that sells grocery items also, he came home from work extremely angry the other night. A man dressed in a ralph lauren shirt new looking brand name jeans, nice Nike shoes, and Jewelery came in used his food stamp card then bought two black and mild cigars and said for my uncle to hurry his @$$, explaining he had to get his kids name on the angel tree so they would have a lot of Christmas presents. I think that’s one reason people get so upset.

  7. Glenn says:

    If your uncle let him pay for cigars with food stamp card HE your uncle aught go to jail.I’m on food stamps and i can only get food , Now is cigars food I THINK NOT PAM

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