Several years ago, I debated a professor from the University of Louisville at a meeting of the Louisville Forum on the issue of welfare reform. That was during the debate that led up to the passage of welfare reform legislation in the Clinton administration.
The professor talked confidently about a number of things related to poverty, including the problem of hunger in America. I pointed out a number of things about the statistics on "poverty," among them, the fact that hunger was far less of a problem among the American poor than was obesity.
Needless to say, that got my picture in the paper the next morning, along with the headline, "Policy analyst says poor people have a problem with obsesity," or something like that.
The reporter from the Courier-Journal followed me out of the meeting, obviously hunting for the most outrageous quote he could get from me. I obliged him as best I could. "Where did you get those statistics?" he asked. "From the same place my opponent got his: from the federal government, mostly the U. S. Census." Apparently he then went out asking a number of different experts about the statistics I had quoted. But (despite what I'm sure was a concerted effort on his part) he couldn't find anyone who could dispute them. The best he could get out of them was that I had "misinterpreted" them.
On my comments about obesity for example, the best he could do was a professor somewhere who said that, yes, obesity was a problem among the poor, but that was because they ate junk food. That was the closest thing to a refutation the reporter could muster.
Several years later I had a debate with the head of social services for Boyle County at Centre College in Danville, who claimed that over 20 percent of children in Boyle County were living in "poverty." I used the same data I had used before, which met with the same indignation, although little could be said to counter it.
Here is an updated version of the statistics I used then, from Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Institute, drawn from several government reports:
- 46 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.
- 80 percent of poor households have air conditioning. By contrast, in 1970, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.
- Only six percent of poor households are overcrowded; 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; 31 percent own two or more cars.
- 97 percent of poor households have a color television; over half own two or more color televisions.
- 78 percent have a VCR or DVD player.
- 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception.
- 89 percent own microwave ovens, more than half have a stereo, and a more than a third have an automatic dishwasher.
Not if he is relying on the Census definition of "poverty." Part of the problem is that the Census definition involves only income earned during the year. It does not take assets into account. So if you are a business owner with three homes and a luxury yacht, but you had a business loss that year, you are considered to be living in poverty.
Real poverty is not a major problem in the United States, and certainly not in Louisville. If you want to see real poverty, go to a third world country. They know what poverty is.