NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 31, 2007

People who want more government income redistribution programs often sell their agenda by saying the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer.  But in reality, the rich are getting richer, and so are the poor, says Walter E. Williams, John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University.


  • In 1971, only about 32 percent of all Americans enjoyed air conditioning in their homes; by 2001, 76 percent of poor people had air conditioning.
  • Some 46 percent of poor households own their homes; only about 6 percent of poor households are overcrowded.
  • Nearly 75 percent of poor households own a car; 30 percent own two or more cars.
  • Meanwhile, 78 percent of the poor have a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception; and one-third have an automatic dishwasher.

Further, poverty is not static for people willing to work.  According to a University of Michigan study:

  • Only 5 percent of those in the bottom fifth of the income distribution in 1975 remained there in 1991.
  • Moreover, 3 out of 10 of the lowest income earners in 1975 moved all the way into the top fifth of income earners by 1991.

Poverty in the United States, in an absolute sense, has virtually disappeared, says Williams.  Today, there's nothing remotely resembling poverty of yesteryear.  However, if poverty is defined in the relative sense, the lowest fifth of income-earners, "poverty" will always be with us, no matter how poverty is defined.  But overall, our poor must be the envy of the world's poor.

Source: Walter E. Williams, "Are the Poor Getting Poorer?", October 31, 2007.

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