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Poverty just ain’t what it used to be

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in Columns

By Roger Hedgecock

In time for the world “Anti-Poverty Summit” at the United Nations, the Obama regime released data indicating growing “poverty” in the U.S.
My local newspaper ran the headline “Nation’s Poverty Rate Rises to 14.3 Percent.”  The article claimed 3.7 million more Americans slipped below the “federal poverty line” in 2009 and that a total of 43.6 million Americans now live in poverty.
The easy talk show point here is to ridicule the Obama “spread the wealth around” effort as the failure that it is — and that any spread the wealth around effort always is. When government spreads the wealth around, everyone gets poorer.
The other easy point to make is the failure of the federal 40-year “War on Poverty.” Since the 1960s, the U.S. government has spent more than twice as much fighting poverty than it spent (in constant dollars) to win World War II — and “poverty” apparently won.
But there is a deeper point.
Poverty just ain’t what it used to be. Remember the young man who took a picture of Michelle Obama with his cell phone while waiting in line for the free soup she was ladling out?
Used to be poverty meant not having a place to stay, food to eat or many clothes to wear. Not any more.
Government reports, cited by the Heritage Foundation, indicate that 43 percent of the “poor” own their own homes.
Eighty percent of “poor” households have air conditioning. More than 67 percent of “poor” households have two or more rooms per person. The average poor American has more living space than the average resident of any major European city.
“Poor” American children eat more meat than higher income American children and average protein intake 100 percent above the recommended levels. Obesity is the predominant health hazard to America’s “poor” children. “Poor” children in this country grow up to be on average one inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than the average G.I. who stormed the beaches of Normandy in World War II.
Some poorer families, of course, do experience temporary food shortages. But government surveys indicate that 89 percent of poor families have “enough” food to eat, while only 2 percent say they “often” do not have enough to eat.
Beyond the basics, according to the government, America’s “poor” are living better than most people on the planet.
Seventy-four percent of “poor” households own a car; 31 percent own two or more cars.
Ninety-seven percent of “poor” households own a color TV; over 50 percent own two or more color TVs.
Seventy-eight percent have a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite service.
Eighty-nine percent own microwave ovens; more than a third have an automatic dishwasher.
The key to understanding the contradiction here is the way the government defines “poor.” An individual is poor (2009 figures) if making less than $10,830 a year; for a family of four, it’s $22.050. Sounds like real poverty given the cost of living these days. But the government does not count as “income” any income received from the government. If you get food stamps or WIC payments or Section 8 housing subsidies or a disability check, this income does not count as income.
A U.S. Marine wife called the show, said her husband was an E-6 making about $28,000 a year and that their family of four (two adults, two kids) qualified for WIC (Women, Infant, Children) welfare payments of about $200 per month. The rest of the conversation revealed that the Marine got a tax-free, off-base housing allowance, tax-free deployment pay, Marine Corps-provided food allowance for the kids and Marine Corps medical coverage for the family. All told, the family made over $60,000 a year and still qualified as “poor” because the government only counted the base pay when computing eligibility for welfare benefits.
The federal government has built a huge empire of welfare workers. Their incentive is to define more and more Americans “poor” to make them eligible for benefits administered by more and more state and federal bureaucrats. The welfare “reform” of the 1990s has not stopped the trend toward making everybody dependent on government cheese.
Obama plans to atten the “Anti-Poverty Summit” at the U.N. to support a new international financial transaction tax to fund a U.N. welfare program to fight poverty around the world. The bulk of this new international tax would come from U.S. taxpayers, even those making less than $250,000 a year.
My local newspaper story on the increase in the poverty rate was written to stimulate support for more government spending to fight poverty. To illustrate the point, the article included a profile of three poor families. All three looked healthy and well-fed, were pictured in attractive housing surroundings, clothed in good style and bright colors and, in one picture, proudly displayed their 30-inch flat-screen TV. All three told stories of living with too much fear of the future, too near foreclosure, unable to pay bills.
More government spending is not the answer. Taking the fruit of their labor from productive people and giving it to the unproductive makes both groups poorer.
I’ve been poor. Poorer than any of the people in the newspaper article. My advice to the “poor”?  Get a job, any job. I’ve worked up to four jobs at a time in my younger years to make ends meet.
No jobs you say?  Really? Then how are an estimated 11 million illegals in this country able to work and make enough to send home almost $20 billion last year — just to Mexico alone?
Yes, the Obama regime has made it more difficult to find a job by it’s jihad against successful Americans and it’s wasteful, deficit-fueled spending spree. But now, because of this mounting debt, we can no longer afford handouts to people who are not poor.
Save the Planet; Save the Country; Buy another flat screen TV; Get a Job.

Roger Hedgecock is a former mayor of San Diego and is a nationally-syndicated radio talk host. Visit

2 Comments on “Poverty just ain’t what it used to be

  • Pingback: 43.6 Million Americans Now Live in Poverty |

  • Mr. H. is living in the 1970s when a microwave cost $500 ($1500 in today’s money). You can get one now for $40, $15 for a used one. Price of a half dozen loaves of bread. How poor do people have to get. Same with a VCR (do they even make these anymore)? I know people who use old phones ($5?) as cameras but don’t have a phone plan. Go shopping yourself sometime please.

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