City Desk

Poor People Can Have Refrigerators And Still Be Poor

Empty Refrigerator

Courtland Milloy, Post columnist and Washington City Paper cover subjectdoesn't quite buy the right-wing Heritage Foundation's take on poverty in America:

A study released this year by the Heritage Foundation argues that living in poverty isn’t as bad as most of us imagine. Indeed, from the way poverty is portrayed by the conservative think tank, you’d think that the average poor person was actually living large.

“Poor children actually consume more meat than higher-income children consume, and their protein intake averages 100 percent above recommended levels,” wrote Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield, authors of the study: “Air Conditioning, Cable TV, and an Xbox: What is Poverty in the United States Today?”

“In fact,” they continued, “most poor children are super-nourished and grow up to be, on average, one inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than the GIs who stormed the beaches of Normandy in World War II.”

Who knew? Good thing, too, since so many poor children end up fighting our wars.

It is incredibly difficult to overstate how ridiculous the Heritage report is.

The authors ignore the very real effects of poverty on people who grow up in it: lack of access to good education, increased obesity due to crappy food, a shorter lifespan, more incidences of domestic partner violence, more unwanted pregnancies, less preparation to enter the workforce, etc, etc.

Instead, they focused on the so-called "amenities" that poor people have in their homes, and compared the poor in the U.S. to the poor in other countries. And sure, people living in Barry Farm obviously have it "better" than someone living on $400 a year in a Southeast Asian nation, but in America—which is where the poverty numbers the government publishes are based—a refrigerator is a fairly basic life necessity.

But according to Heritage, the poor are pretty well off because the median poor household has a cell phone and two color (!) TVs in the home. Never mind that, again, cell phones are often a household's only phone (and therefore also its only way for employers to reach them), or that cable TV is often the way to get on the Internet, or that a television is a cheap, basic part of American life, and poor folks deserve some entertainment—especially when going to the movies is expensive, and playing safely outside isn't always a viable option.

About one in five District residents is living in poverty these days. Maybe the folks going to work every day in the Heritage Foundation building by Union Station don't encounter them, but they're here, and as Milloy rightly points out, they might not agree that having a TV makes them rich.

Photo by Global X via Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

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  • Hailey

    "Maybe the folks going to work every day in the Heritage Foundation building by Union Station don't encounter them, but they're here."

    Probably because they didn't get their brainwashing in an environment that forces them to witness poverty with their own eyes.

  • Jason

    F-ck the Heritage Foundation.

  • Dick K

    It is always interesting to read how people are victims. They have access to quality education. The make their own decision to eat "crappy" food. All of the things you site are true only to the extent that they do not take advantage of the opportunities for education. A cell phone is a necessity? A TV is a necessity? Cable because it is the only way to get on the internet?. If you research further you find that more than half have two cars. I live in an area where there are many people who live below the arbitrary poverty line and they do fine. Several people in that category work for me on occasion and when I need them to work I call the number of a friend or relative. Anecdotal stories don't carry much weight but I know several "poor' families of four or more who have phones for all members of the family. As you intimated, phones are necessary. The only reason they are necessary is because everybody has one. That is the reason
    some of the children I teach give.