Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The Poverty Industry and the Poverty Lobby

You would not think the poorest of Americans have their own lobbying groups, and you'd be right about that.  But the folks who make a living from poverty do.

A reader writes about a recent article that calls into question a study, a survey, and of course, a book, written about poverty.  The premise of the book is that an alarming number of Americans are living below the "extreme poverty" line of less than $2 a day.  The study was based on self-reported survey data.

In reviewing that data, researchers noted that these same people surveyed conveniently "forgot" to mention several sources of income, including food stamps, government-provided (or subsidized) housing, free cell phones (the so-called Obamaphone), TANF, ADC, Obamscare, and the whole host of other government assistance programs that do exist - and do work - in this country.   Their conclusion was that few, if any are living below this "extreme poverty line" and that some folks in the survey are actually living above the poverty line.

I did an analysis on this before - how, if you captured every possible subsidy out there - and there are many - you could actually live quite comfortably, even on a minimum-wage job.  Once you get even a part-time job, you qualify for medicaid, or Obamacare, food stamps, an Obamaphone, Section-8 housing, and so on and so forth.  Add it all up, and you've got a pretty middle-class lifestyle, or at least one approaching lower middle-class.

It is like other alarmist articles that claim that a large number of people in the USA, if faced with a $400 expense, could not afford to pay it.  Again, some more digging reveals that indeed, people do have options, including using a credit card, borrowing from family members, or even resorting to onerous loans.   But the idea that they have no way to pay an unexpected bill, was a little overstated.

The other problem with these statistics is not only do they rely on unreliable self-reported data (and let's face it, no one living near the poverty line has any incentive to over-report income) but also rely in specious definitions of classifications, in order to pad the numbers.   As I noted in another posting, I was shocked to discover that alarming surveys about "homeless youth" included as "homeless" people living in trailer parks, with grandparents, or in motels.   The implication of these studies is that an alarming number of homeless kids living on the street, when in fact, they are living in homes, often with relatives.   But that doesn't sell a narrative.

And people want to sell narratives.  Who are these people and what narratives are they selling?   Well, to be sure, our Russian friends love to run down the United States, as do a lot of other folks.   Not a day goes by when The Guardian doesn't run an article describing the United States as some sort of Calcutta of the 1920's, with people dying in the streets and children starving to death.   These folks clearly have some sort of agenda, and that agenda is that capitalism is bad and socialism is good, or more precisely, socialism is the only answer.

Politicians use these skewed statistics to get elected.   We are told how awful things are and how we need to change things - often radically - because things are so bad and there is no other way.   So we need to make Electra Alternating-Current as President, so we can live in a socialist paradise, where everything free, even the money, and this is a rational solution because things are so, so bad.

But as I noted before, in America, being poor means you drive a shitty car.  In the rest of the world, being poor means not having eaten today.   And while some folks like to sell the idea that people are "starving" in America (even right-wing religious charities, trying to raise money), this really isn't the case, outside of isolated examples were criminally negligent or culpable parents intentionally starve their kids as punishment, or because they use the ADC money to buy drugs.

So why do we hear all the time about poverty in America - when we are one of the wealthiest countries in the world?  Well there is an industry of poverty in America, comprising lobbyists, politicians, foundations, charity groups, and government agencies, whose sole business is to pander to the poor and serve them.   It is funny, but these organizations and people often refer to the poor as "clients" in their interactions, as indeed, they are the customers of the poverty industry.

And unfortunately, the poverty industry in America seems to be more concerned with public relations than with actually "helping" the poor.  Because, let's face it - if people actually rose out of poverty, they'd be out of a job.  So in addition to keeping people in a permanent underclass, they also can stay in business by continually redefining what "poor" means.   Even if everyone was handed a million dollars tomorrow (and that didn't destroy the currency) the poverty industry would still argue that those with "only" a million were "poor" compared to someone with two million because of "relative wealth disparity".

Jesus said, "the poor will always be with us" or something along those lines.  And now I know what he meant - poverty will always exist so long as people keep moving the goalpost!