According to Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, there is very little that is good about America.
Alston recently released a statement chock full of misleading statistics that are being bandied about by people like former Obama official Andy Slavitt, who repeated one of Alston’s claims on his Twitter feed: “In the wealthiest country on earth, 40 million ppl live in poverty.”
Are there really 40 million people living in poverty in America?
Robert Rector was the architect of the successful welfare reform in the late 1990s. According to Rector, here are a few facts, based on a number of government reports, about poverty conditions in America:
- Eighty percent of poor households have air conditioning.
- Nearly three-quarters have a car or truck; 31 percent have two or more cars or trucks.
- Nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite television.
- Two-thirds have at least one DVD player, and a quarter have two or more.
- Half have a personal computer; one in seven has two or more computers.
- More than half of poor families with children have a video game system such as an Xbox or PlayStation.
- Forty percent have a wide-screen plasma or LCD TV.
- Ninety-two percent of poor households have a microwave.
- Forty-two 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.
- Ninety-six percent of poor parents stated that their children were never hungry at any time during the year because they could not afford food.
- The average consumption of protein, vitamins, and minerals is virtually the same for poor and middle-class children and in most cases is well above recommended norms.
- Most poor children are, on average, one inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than the GIs who stormed the beaches of Normandy in World War II.
And in spite of all the rhetoric about hunger in America, the bigger problem is obesity.
There are several reasons the 40 million poverty figure is misleading. First, America’s poverty statistics are based on income, not assets. So a hedge fund manager who had to take a loss on his taxes but who has a mansion, drives a Bentley, owns assets worth ten million, and has butler named “Jeeves” would be poor, according to this measurement.
Second, the census statistics on poverty completely ignore all the welfare money people classified as such receive. This money is simply not counted in their statistics.
We’ve got problems in this country. But misleading people on what they are and how bad they are doesn’t help.