Saturday, November 5, 2011

Dreaming That We're Poor

This past week, the New York Times ran a front page piece titled, “Bleak Portrait of Poverty is Off the Mark, Experts Say.” It was basically a packaging of “expert” criticisms of a U.S. Census Bureau study titled, “Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010.” The study stated that, among other things, the number of Americans living officially below the poverty line grew by 9.7 million between 2006 and 2010. (That figure is found in Table B-1, on page 62 of the report.) The report states that the number of Americans living in poverty has grown to 46.2 million, over four consecutive years of increasing poverty, and that the official poverty rate in 2010 was 15.1 percent. There are also now 49.9 million Americans without health insurance coverage.

The experts quoted by the Times (as well as the writers and editors at the Times) object to such a stark depiction of American poverty, saying that it does not take into account the availability of safety net programs for the poor as well as earned income tax credits. According to these talking heads, such things would cause “as much as half of the reported rise in poverty since 2006” to “disappear.” These talking heads grudgingly acknowledge a rise in the numbers of “near poor” people (what does that mean?!), who make too little to live comfortably and make too much to qualify for aid or tax breaks or reduced-cost medical care.

I find such talk to be very far from reality. It seems to me that the nation has become poorer. Social safety nets have been and are being gutted in every state in the Union while the rich continue to concentrate wealth. Access to social safety net programs is dwindling for most Americans. It's easy for so-called experts and their media mouthpieces to redefine “poverty” by fudging numbers. They have no idea what it is to experience life on $18,000 a year. But maybe I'm asleep, dreaming that most of us are poorer. If I just pinched myself hard enough, I'd wake up to find that most of us are rich.

Then again, maybe pinching myself wouldn't work. Maybe those of us who are tired of pinching ourselves should tell our stories to each other, lest the experts convince us that we're all crazy or dreaming. What if we bloggers mounted a campaign to contradict the Times and its talking heads by citing the Census Bureau study and posting our own stories of the poverty we're seeing?

By the way, if you want a copy of that Census Bureau study, you'd better download it fast. According to the Times, on Monday the 7th of this month, the Census Bureau will publish a “long-promised alternate measure meant to do a better job of fudging the numbers counting the resources the needy have and the bills they have to pay.”

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