22nd November 2011
Mickey Kaus is always worth reading.
Let’s just suppose, as a thought experiment, that the New York Times is a liberal conspiracy. In this hypothetical alternate reality, the paper’s editors would like the government to do more to redress the material disparities generated by our version of capitalism, and they commission stories designed to bring this better world closer. They might think it a brilliant idea to get the U.S. Census Bureau to calculate, not just how many people are poor according to the government’s fancy new Supplemental Poverty Measure (which takes into account regional cost of living, and government benefits like food stamps, plus medical expenses and taxes**) but how many are under 150%of this new poverty line. Not poor, but “near poor.” Bet there are a lot of them!
I’ll just bet there are.
So the NYT piece notes, in its lede graf, that within this “near poor” category “many own homes.” Some 20 percent of the “near poor,” it turns out, own their homes mortgage-free. One reason they don’t earn much income may be because they don’t need it to pay the rent! And DeParle contacts Robert Rector of the Heritage Institute, who notes that “near poor” is a loaded term designed to “suggest to most people a level of material hardship that doesn’t exist.”
Imagine that. ‘Poor’ people who really aren’t all that poor after all. Where have we seen that before?
…unlike the old poverty line, it doesn’t measure Americans’ absolute level of material well-being or destitution, but their relative measure of well being. It’s pegged to the expenditures of the 33d percentile rather than a fixed amount of purchasing power (set, under the old poverty line, at three times the cost of a “minimum food diet” in 1963). Under the old poverty line, “poverty” could be eliminated as society got richer–an achievable and widely shared goal. But the new poverty line will rise as society gets richer (“adjust for rising levels and standards of living”). The newly measured poor will always be with us in substantial numbers, just as there will always be a third of the American population trapped in the bottom third of the income char
ts. That will yield a permanent, inextinguishable stream of NYT front page “poverty” stat stories–even if “poverty” no longer means ”poverty” in the sense we now understand the term.
The ‘poor’ you have always with you, by definition. Funny how that works.
If I were inclined to be paranoid–-and I am–-I’d say it’s an audacious, slimy bait-and-switch by liberal activists inside the government anti-poverty bureacracy.
Naw, that couldn’t happen. Could it?