NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Good News on Poverty

December 19, 2003

The latest report from the Census Bureau claims nearly 35 million Americans lived in poverty last year. But when we look at the living conditions of the people deemed poor, many surprises emerge, say Heritage Foundation researchers Robert Rector and Kirk Johnson.

Real material hardship does occur, of course. But most poor people live in conditions that would have been judged fairly comfortable just a few generations ago. Consider:

  • Forty-six percent of all poor households own their homes; the typical "poor" home is a three-bedroom house with 1-and-1/2 baths, a garage and porch or patio.
  • More than 3 in 4 poor households have air conditioning; 30 years ago only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.
  • The average poor American has more living space than the average individual in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens and other European cities.
  • Nearly three-quarters of poor households own a car; 30 percent own two or more.
  • The average consumption of protein, vitamins and minerals is virtually the same for poor and middle-class children.
  • Poor children actually consume more meat than higher-income children do and have average protein intakes 100 percent above recommended levels.
  • Most poor children today are in fact supernourished, with the average male growing up to be 1 inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than the GIs who stormed the beaches of Normandy in World War II.

In short, this individual's life, while far from opulent, hardly conjures the images of poverty often conveyed by the press, poverty advocates and politicians, say Rector and Johnson.

Source: Robert Rector and Kirk Johnson, "Encouraging news on poverty," Washington Times, December 19, 2003.

 

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