We have seen the future, and it sucks.

Meet the New Poor, Same As the Old Poor (Plus Dog)

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?

7 Responses to “Meet the New Poor, Same As the Old Poor (Plus Dog)”

  1. Dennis Nagle Says:

    Just exactly how much time, effort, brainpower, and creativity will the right expend in the effort to square this circle and demonstrate that poor people really aren’t, if you look at them sideways and kinda squint?

    The classes can be simply defined. The criterion is ‘money worry’, specifically what kinds of things people worry about when it comes to money.

    The ‘working’ (read: ‘low’) class worry about being able to cover the mortgage/rent this month, or buy school clothes for the kids, or put food on the table this week, or buy gas today. They are getting by from paycheck to paycheck, and have no idea what they’ll do if the furnace dies.

    The middle class worry about discretionary spending, like taking a vacation or re-roofing the house or retiring at what they consider a reasonable age. They don’t worry about the necessities, because they know they’re covered. They can afford to take a longer view.

    The upper class–which may or may not equate to ‘rich’, but usually does–don’t worry about money at all. They may be ‘concerned’ about their investments, and can be as frugal and prudent in purchasing as the next person, but they don’t really worry about where the next meal will come from or whether they can afford a cruise this summer.

    All the rest is smoke and mirrors. Folks on the margins slide back and forth on occaision–like a comfortable middle-class person who gets laid off and suddenly has to worry about the cost of going to the movies–but by and large the distinction between ‘poor’, ‘nearly poor’, ‘not-quite-but-in-danger-of-becoming poor’, are exercises in how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. They’re interesting in their own way, but not helpful.

  2. Tim of Angle Says:

    The problem is that you don’t need to look at them sideways and sort of squint — that’s what ‘progressives’ and their lapdogs in the media are doing all the time, and what they want us to do, too. We just point out that it’s all bullshit. There are people with millions in the bank who have more ‘money worry’ than you or I; just read the financial press and the tabloids. Half of the population of the Upper East Side of New York City worry about whether they’re going to make their kids’ preschool/boarding school/Ivy League college payments, worry about whether they’ll lose their $2,000,000 condo, worry about whether their Mercedes will be repossessed. Ask Bernie Madoff. The essential distinction between ‘rich’ and ‘affluent’ has been out there for viewing ever since Vance Packard in the sixties, but ‘progressives’ keep ignoring it, because it doesn’t square with their fantasy world.

  3. Dennis Nagle Says:

    I’m sorry, but there is a qualitative difference between worrying whether you can pay your kid’s private school tuition and worrying whether you can afford to send your kids to school at all; whether your Mercedes will be repossessed vs. whether you can afford any kind of vehicle. When my junker breaks down and I can’t afford to fix it, I lose my job because I can’t get to work. When their Behemoth Belchfire SUV breaks down they just go buy another one. Yet the mantra remains, “You have a car, and I have a car; that means you’re doing as well as I am. What’s your problem?” That’s some significant squinting.

    As for ‘affluent’ and ‘rich’, it is a distinction without a difference. Such Byzantine definition of words is merely a tool used by those who have to deny those who have not. If we narrow the increment on the spectrum enough we can then assert that blue and green are indistinquishable, even though any fool can tell at a glance that they are different. Legalism at it’s worst.

  4. Tim of Angle Says:

    Nobody in America has to worry about whether they can send their kids to school AT ALL; that’s what our public education system is all about. Whether it will be a good school, and whether they will learn anything, is a different question. And, in any case, one can borrow (for free) from a local public library sufficient materials to homeschool the kids and get them at least to the point where they can read and write and do arithmetic, which some of our government schools appear unable to do. (And they won’t be robbed or assaulted while in the custody of the government, either, another thing that our government schools appear unable to avoid).

    If your junker breaks down and you lose your job, you get one that you can walk to. (I hadn’t heard that you were living out in the woods on the Yoop.) There are dozens of places of employment that I can walk to from my place; I don’t work there because they don’t pay as well as the place that I drive to (which pays me enough that my car isn’t a junker and isn’t likely ever to be one). And I don’t know where you’re hearing this “I have a car, you have a car” mantra; perhaps from Richard Gere, who has more car than either of us and is suitably socialist? I’ve never said that, nor anything like it. If you want to argue with your fantasy vision, go right ahead — just don’t pretend that it looks anything like me. The point you’re avoiding is that the rich have just as much ‘money worry’ as those you embrace as ‘the poor’; that’s what you were talking about, so that’s what I was talking about. If you want to quit talking about that, be my guest. But don’t pretend that you still are when you aren’t.

    Ignoring the difference between important concepts, such as the one between ‘rich’ and ‘affluent’, is one of the building blocks of the ‘progressive’ intellectual hypocrisy — distinctions that support your argument are important, those that don’t aren’t, as your tango around whether we’re like the rest of the world (unless we’re not) is an entertaining illustration. (Your last two sentences are impenetrable, and bear no relation to the rest of your post; sometimes I think even you can’t keep track of what you’re saying.)

  5. Dennis Nagle Says:

    Well, it’s a sure bet that you can’t keep track of what I’m talking about, probably because you’re so busy trying to re-frame the discussin in terms that favor your position that you can’t seem to remember where we started.

    My point was, and still is, NOT that some folks worry about money and some don’t, but rather what they worry about. Working class people worry about the necessities of life: food, clothing, shelter, transportation. Not what gradiant of necessity they will be able to afford (“Can I afford the Porsche, or should I just settle for the Lexus?”), but whether they will be able to access them at all. When faced with a choice between buying one’s prescriptions or paying the heat bill, that’s worry.

    To the extent that one can just ‘downgrade’ but still meet the requirement–e.g., going from a three-bedroom ranch to a one-bedroom walkup–they are middle class. In the example given, the subject is not in immanent danger of being homeless. Lower-middle, upper-middle, 2/5 above the median–none of that matters. They are still middle class.

    Those who have no cause to worry about money are the true upper class. That doesn’t mean they don’t worry, it just means that any reasonable outside observer would scratch his head in puzzlement over why they are worrying. “Crying with a loaf of bread under each arm,” is how my former father-in-law would have described it.

    (And BTW, you wouldn’t be able to get a job at the places you could walk to. They won’t hire you because: A. You’re too old. B. You’re too educated. C. You’re overqualified for anything they have. I learned that lesson the hard way. I used to be of the, “I’ll push a broom if I have to, but I’ll have a job” persuasion–until I actually tried to get such jobs. Nada. Zilch. Bupkis. So continue on with your fantasy, but I hope you never actually have to implement your simple plan; you’ll be sadly disabused.)

    What I object to mostly, however, is this concerted and ongoing attempt–to which you have added your modest contribution–on the part of the Right to define the poor out of existence, as if manipulating the words can somehow, through some arcane sympathetic magic, manipulate the reality. “They’re not poor because they have an air conditioner,” or “they’re not poor because they don’t live in a cardboard box on the outskirts of Calcutta,” or some such nonsense–anything to be able to say, “See? There are no poor people here, so there’s no problem,” and go on your merry way siphoning all the money to the top 1% in the belief that somehow it will trickle down like manna on the rest of us.

    I call bullshit. It hasn’t worked. It’s failed for the last 30 years since St. Ronald began the process, and there’s no reason to believe that it will work in the future. The Grand Trickle-Down Experiment has failed. Let’s move on.

  6. Tim of Angle Says:

    I call bullshit right back at you. You can’t have it both ways: Either the standard is how the person involved subjectively feels about his economic condition, in which case most of the well-to-do are just as anxious about their economic position as these purportedly poor people that you wring your hands over, or the standard is how objectively well off they are materially, in which case calling people with big-screen TVs, internet connections, and cellphones ‘poor’ is stretching that word out of all recognition. Using your own terms, ‘any reasonable outside observer would scratch his head in puzzlement over why they are worrying’. ‘It’s free! It’s free! Just swipe your EBT!’. As the indian guy said, ‘I want to visit America. I want to see a place where the poor people are fat.’

  7. Whitehawk Says:

    Dennis the Left has been defining the argument in their terms for far too long. Part of the reason we are broke. The Left has discovered the political treasure in defining “poor.” After defining a group of “needy,” naturally they need an advocate. Cha-ching! The perfect political strategy. Use the “needy” to extort taxes from your political opponents (the working/producing) and use it to buy faithful constituents. All the while you maintain the appearance of having the moral high ground. Bunk!

    We were just discussing over Thanksgiving dinner how the “poor” have no money problems. Here in my hometown the poor have their hot meals delivered daily (meals on wheels-for Thanksgiving they could order the number of meals they needed for any visiting guest; yes government funded catering), their rent is paid (the amount is prorated to the amount of disability or welfare they get), they live in public housing (maintained by the gov’t.), and they use free public transportation to get to their Medicaid funded doctors appointments.

    I have a very demanding, time consuming job. Makes me feel pretty silly for busting my hump. I’m not buying anything the Left has to say about the poor. Seems they only know how to make people poor, not get them out of poverty.