NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 1, 2010

What has historically been defined as "poverty," nationally or internationally, no longer exists in the United States, says economist Walter Williams. 

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the 2009 poverty guideline was $22,000 for an urban four-person family.  In 2009, having income less than that, 15 percent or 40 million Americans were classified as poor, but there's something unique about those "poor" people not seen anywhere else in the world.  Robert Rector, researcher at the Heritage Foundation, presents data collected from several government sources in a report titled "How Poor Are America's Poor? Examining the 'Plague' of Poverty in America": 

  • Forty-three 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.
  • Eighty 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.
  • The typical poor American has more living space than the average individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens and other cities throughout Europe (these comparisons are to the average citizens in foreign countries, not to those classified as poor). 


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

Material poverty can be measured relatively or absolutely.  An absolute measure would consist of some minimum quantity of goods and services deemed adequate for a baseline level of survival.  Achieving that level means that poverty has been eliminated.  However, if poverty is defined as, say, the lowest one-fifth of the income distribution, it is impossible to eliminate poverty.  Everyone's income could double, triple and quadruple, but there will always be the lowest one-fifth, explains Williams. 

Source: Walter Williams, "Where Best To Be Poor," Jewish World Review, June 30, 2010. 

For text:  

For Rector study: 


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