NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 30, 2007

The average "poor" person, as defined by the government, has a living standard far higher than the public imagines, says Robert E. Rector, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

The following are facts about persons defined as "poor" by the Census Bureau, taken from various government reports:

  • Some 43 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.
  • Some 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 6 percent of poor households are overcrowded; two-thirds have more than two rooms per person.


  • Nearly three-quarters of poor households own a car; 31 percent own two or more cars.
  • Some 97 percent of poor households have a color television; over half own two or more color televisions.
  • Some 78 percent have a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception.
  • Some 89 percent own microwave ovens, more than half have a stereo, and a more than a third have an automatic dishwasher.

Clearly, material hardship does exist in the United States, but it is quite restricted in scope and severity, says Rector.  The main reasons that American children are poor include parents that don't work much, fathers that are absent from home and the country's immigration system.  A sound anti-poverty strategy must seek to increase work and marriage, reduce illegal immigration, and increase the skill level of future legal immigrants.

Source: Robert E. Rector, "How Poor Are America's Poor? Examining the "Plague" of Poverty in America," Backgrounder No. 2064, Heritage Foundation, August 27, 2007.


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