Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Average Poor American

This from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank:

# Forty-six percent of all poor households actually own their own homes. The average home owned by persons classified as poor by the Census Bureau is a three-bedroom house with one-and-a-half baths, a garage, and a porch or patio.
# Seventy-six percent of poor households have air conditioning. By contrast, 30 years ago, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.
# Only 6 percent of poor households are overcrowded. More than two-thirds have more than two rooms per person.
# The typical poor American has more living space than the average individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens, and other cities throughout Europe. (These comparisons are to the average citizens in foreign countries, not to those classified as poor.)
# Nearly three-quarters of poor households own a car; 30 percent own two or more cars.
# Ninety-seven percent of poor households have a color television; over half own two or more color televisions.
# Seventy-eight percent have a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception.
# Seventy-three percent own microwave ovens, more than half have a stereo, and a third have an automatic dishwasher.

The post then goes on to talk about the complements to those percentages:

Of course, the living conditions of the average poor American should not be taken as representing all of the nation's poor: There is a wide range of living conditions among the poor. In contrast to the 25 percent of "poor" households that have cell phones and telephone answering machines, ap-proximately one-tenth of families in poverty have no phone at all. While the majority of poor households do not experience significant material problems, roughly a third do experience at least one problem such as overcrowding, temporary hunger, or difficulty getting medical care.

The Heritage Foundation thinks that with full employment for one parent in a two parent household, child poverty could be largely eliminated. They think that the best solution is for all of the poor people to get married before they have kids. I'm not really willing to make that kind of recommendation, but I think their other suggestion, making sure at least one parent is fully employed, is a good one. How to make that happen is of course open to debate, and I'm not sure anybody has a ready answer.

But what I like most about this article is that it helps distinguish between the government definition of poverty and what I would consider actual poverty. If we conform our definition of poverty to include only those actually experiencing material hardship, that'll allow us to focus on those people who actually need it. That job seems much more manageable.

I should note, although I don't find any support for it in the article, that I believe these percentages are probably much different than the percentages you would get if you just reported on the urban poor or the rural poor. I imagine that for the rural poor home-ownership is prevalent, while for the urban poor it is non-existant. Conversely, air conditioning has got to be more widespread in the city than in the countryside. At the same time, a dollar goes farther out in the country, and I'm not sure if poverty statistics apply any cost of living adjustment for different areas. So it's possible that we could get a better picture of the actual prevalence of poverty by running everything through the lens of cost of living. We might find that the rural poor aren't so poor after all, while the urban poor might be in worse shape.


Orrin Johnson said...

This is the data Darcy called me a liar over.

Cato said...

Yeah, actually I think I found it while following your links. I'd forgotten that that was how I found it.

Modmilq said...

Did y'all see that the Seattle Times is endorsing Reichart: It's his great hair I tell you! Seriously though, their rationale for doing so is complelling (and this from a moderate milqtoast such as myself!)