There’s little room to talk about jobs and the real economy in DC—where it’s debt and deficit every day, all the time. But what’s completely off the radar is poverty, despite record numbers that will be even bleaker when the Census report releases new data come September.
As of 2009, over 43 million people lived below the poverty line—$22,400 per year for a family of four— including one in five children, and one in four African-American and Hispanic people. Struggling in deep poverty—at less than one-half the poverty line—are 19 million people, including a stunning 6 million people whose only income is food stamps.
While there are indeed some good people in Congress—notably the Congressional Out of Poverty Caucus, led by Representative Barbara Lee, which has pressed the White House and leadership to protect “social service programs that serve as a life line for our nation’s low income and poor communities”—there’s a real vacuum in our political and media landscape when it comes to bringing attention to the lives of those who are being hit hardest by this economic crisis.
Enter the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank that earns a chunk of its change from wealthy interests enamored by its poverty-denial business. Heritage has gladly stepped into the void again with a (would-be laughable if not for the attention it’s received) report: “Air Conditioning, Cable TV, and an Xbox: What Is Poverty in the United States Today?”
Using 2005 data, fellows Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield argue that “most of the persons whom the government defines as ‘in poverty’ are not poor”; that they have “amenities” like “a refrigerator, an oven and stove, and a microwave…a clothes washer, clothes dryer, ceiling fans, a cordless phone and a coffee maker.” They assert that “the major dietary problem facing poor Americans is eating too much” and that “most poor families stated that they had had sufficient funds during the past year to meet all essential needs.”
(Here’s a modest proposal for Heritage: if living below the poverty line is so cushy, pay your analysts $22,000 a year to support their families so they will have data that’s more current than 2005 on which to base their flimsy studies.)
It was great to see Stephen Colbert give it a proper skewering, while articulating a lot of normally unspoken right-wing ideas about the poor—ideas that are the real subtext of the Heritage report.