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Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 170 -- U.S. Poverty Rate.

America's Poverty Rate-

Hurricane Katrina is forcing many Americans to deal with the uncomfortable issue of poverty. But it is also spawning quite a bit of erroneous demagoguing and misinformation on the subject.

First, let's take America's official poverty rate, which climbed from 12.5% to 12.7% betweem 2003 and 2004.

Well, it might be reason for great concern, until you consider that the official poverty rate is a broken yardstick:

According to the latest poverty rate estimates--released by the Census Bureau on Aug. 30--the total percentage of Americans living in poverty was higher in 2004 (12.7 percent) than in 1974 (11.2 percent). According to that same report, poverty rates for American families and children were likewise higher last year than three decades earlier.

Does this make sense?

Is poverty really worse, or at least more widespread, than it was 30 years ago?


And here's why the official poverty rate is increasingly worthless:

Per capita income adjusted for inflation is over 60 percent higher today than in 1974. The unemployment rate is lower, and the percentage of adults with paying jobs is distinctly higher. Thirty years ago, the proportion of adults without a high school diploma was more than twice as high as today (39 percent versus 16 percent). And antipoverty spending is vastly higher today than in 1974, even after inflation adjustments.

Americans, by nearly any reasonable measure, are far better off than they were in the 1970s:

The soundings from the poverty rate are further belied by information on actual living standards for low-income Americans. In 1972-73, for example, just 42 percent of the bottom fifth of American households owned a car; in 2003, almost three-quarters of ''poverty households'' had one. By 2001, only 6 percent of ''poverty households'' lived in ''crowded'' homes (more than one person per room)--down from 26 percent in 1970. By 2003, the fraction of poverty households with central air-conditioning (45 percent) was much higher than the 1980 level for the non-poor (29 percent)....

All strata of America--including the disadvantaged--are markedly healthier today than three decades ago. Though the officially calculated poverty rate for children was higher in 2004 than 1974 (17.8 percent versus 15.4 percent), the infant mortality rate--that most telling measure of wellbeing--fell by almost three-fifths over those same years, to 6.7 per 1,000 births from 16.7 per 1,000.

Americans are healthier and wealthier than they have ever been.

But some poverty does indeed persist.

So let's think about how best to ameliorate poverty in America. Is it through an expanded welfare state and forced, feigned equality, like in France and Germany?

Non. Nein.

We need to have a serious discussion about poverty in this country, but we can't have that discussion if we focus on the same old class and race warfare, with the same old 1930s and 1960s solutions (i.e. MORE PUBLIC FUNDING!). We have to think about how to empower the disadvantaged to become entrepreneurs and small business owners, how to lift the ghetto-dwellers from soul-destroying public housing units and into homes they own, how to empower every parent of every child in every failing educational institution with the choice of attending a better school, how to snuff out corruption and mediocrity in every local law enforcement unit, how to incentivize investment in poor communities, and how to encourage every American in every square inch of America to thrive and succeed.

For most of America, thriving we are.

But for those remaining in chronically failing communities, we must take a different approach. More of the same simply will not work.


Previous Trivia Tidbit: The History Of Immigration To America.

Posted by Will Franklin · 15 September 2005 10:36 AM


You failed to mention that the nation spent 6.6 trillion dollars in the past 40 years to relieve proverty. How much does that add up to for the number who are supposed to be in proverty? I am at my present financial status because of the decisions I have made. I should be well off, but I made some bad decisions. I will make better decisons. Those in proverty will not make better decisions.

Posted by: H.Stringfellow at September 15, 2005 09:03 PM

Actually, one other marker that you've failed to mention is the number of immigrants that are now arriving in the US without education and that have more children and live well under the poverty line which is well above their own poverty line in their originating nation.

Immigration has increased exponentially over the years and immigrants are more likely thave three or more children thus increasing the number of children living in poverty without a significant change in number/percent of adults in poverty

Posted by: kat-missouri at September 15, 2005 09:42 PM

Posted by: No Oil for Pacifists at September 16, 2005 06:17 PM