NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 11, 2007

Presidential candidate John Edwards and others lament that 37 million Americans struggle with incredible poverty every day.  But it is not so simple or accurate to think of them as truly poor, says Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.


  • The overwhelming majority of "poor" households in the United States have cable television, air conditioning, microwaves and two color TVs; 45 percent of them own their own homes, which are typically three-bedroom homes with 1 1/2 baths in very good condition.
  • On average, poor people who live in either apartments or in houses are not crowded and actually have more living space than the average person living in European countries, such as France, Italy or England.
  • Further, the average nutrient intake of poor children is virtually indistinguishable from upper-middle-class children.

If you are looking at people who do not have adequate warm, dry apartments that are in good repair, and don't have enough food to feed their kids, you're probably looking at one family in 100, not 1 family in 8, says Rector. 

Further, the poor will mainly be families that have many behavioral issues in addition to mere economic issues -- possibly drug problems, mental problems, certainly very low work effort, probably unmarried mothers and so forth, and they would be spread around the country.  Also, very few of them are elderly.  Even though the elderly appear to have low incomes, they are not likely to lack food or to have a hole in their roof.

Source: Bill Steigerwald, "Are Our 37 Million Poor Really Poor?", September 11, 2007.


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