NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 11, 2007

Some 34 percent of Americans say they belong to the "have-nots." Twenty years ago, only 17 percent of Americans defined themselves this way.  But taking a closer look at today's "have-nots" reveal that they lead considerably better lives than they did even a decade or two ago, says talk show host Larry Elder.


  • In 1995, 66 percent of poor households had air conditioning; just 10 years later, in 2005, 80 percent of the poor had air conditioning at home.
  • In 1995, 70 percent of poor households owned a car, and 27 percent owned two or more cars; by 2005, almost 75 percent owned cars, and 31 percent owned two or more.
  • About 25 percent of the poor owned an automatic dishwasher in 1995; in 2005, more than 33 percent have a dishwasher.
  • Microwave ownership jumped from 64 percent in 1995 to 89 percent by 2005.

What about the rest of America?  According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO):

  • From 1991 to 2005, earnings for families with children increased for the poorest 20 percent by 78 percent, after adjusting for inflation.
  • The next 20 percent saw a 23 percent increase; the middle 20 percent had an 18 percent increase, and the 20 percent above them saw a 22 percent increase.
  • The richest 20 percent enjoyed a 54 percent increase, still less than the very poorest 20 percent.

Yet despite this long-term, across-the-board upward economic mobility, the number of Americans who describe themselves as belonging to the "have-nots" has doubled in two decades, says Elder.  What does all this mean?  It says that the offensive and divisive claims of an economic "societal divide" work.  When Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards speaks of "two Americas," people buy into it.

Source: Larry Elder, "Did America's Have-Nots Double in 20 Years?", October 11, 2007.


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