My conservative counterpart on the show—Robert Rector of the right-wing Heritage Foundation—made his views on poverty clear early on in the conversation when he lamented that our aid programs are “too generous.” Believe it or not, he went on, poor people in America have basic household appliances such as refrigerators, stoves, ovens, microwaves, and—gasp! —air conditioning. He accused folks on the left—and the nonpartisan Census Bureau—of “exaggerating” the state of poverty in the United States.
These are hardly new talking points for Rector. He’s been putting out “research” on how good poor Americans supposedly have it for years. Back in 2011, Rector’s brazenly titled paper “Air Conditioning, Cable TV, and an X-Box: What is Poverty in the United States Today?” got the attention of Stephen Colbert, who gave it the treatment it deserves on The Colbert Report: “A refrigerator and a microwave? They can preserve and heat food? Ooh la la! I guess the poor are too good for mold and trichinosis.”
All joking aside, the fact that Rector is still peddling this line reflects just how out of touch right-wing views on poverty are today.
For starters, are our aid programs “too generous”?
As I noted on Washington Journal, Rector should try telling that to the more than 6 million Americans whose only income is food stamps—which provides just $1.40 per person per meal in nutrition assistance. Or the three in four low-income families who are eligible for housing assistance but don’t receive it and can spend 60, 70, or 80 percent of their income on rent and utilities each month, while they remain on decades-long waiting lists for aid. Rector should see how his line goes over with the three in four families with children in poverty who are not helped by Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), because it was converted to a flat-funded block grant that’s lost one-third of its purchasing power since 1996. Or even with the small fraction of families lucky enough to receive TANF—because in no state are benefits greater than half the federal poverty line.