The *Need* to Redefine Poverty in the United States

Poverty in the United States: Air Conditioning, Cable TV and an Xbox | The Heritage Foundation.


The article linked above highlights the need in the United States for a redefining of poverty as deemed by the Federal Government. When an “impoverished” American owns a refrigerator, has cable TV, and a cell phone; something is wrong with the definition.

Poverty is a worldwide concern, but in the United States, the government’s use of the term is only designed to manipulate. Just yesterday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner noted some interesting facts:

“…remember this country, this great nation with our great resources today, one in eight Americans are eligible for food stamps today. Forty percent of Americans born today are born to families eligible for Medicaid.”

When 40 percent of Americans, which is equal to around 120 million people are eligible for Medicaid; it may be time to redefine the eligibility. If 30 million Americans are in “poverty” and 54.5 percent, which is equal to around 16 million, own a cell phone; and there are 90 million more who are eligible for Medicaid, there’s a problem with the proof of eligibility.

Shouldn’t the number of Americans who are eligible for Medicaid come closer to the number eligible for food stamps–about 40 million, as opposed to 120 million?

I understand there should be some give in that number, but when the “poor” in this country have adequate housing–enough to be able to keep a refrigerator running–then as troubling as poverty is, the definition in terms used by the U.S. government is equally disturbing.

Bottom line: if you can afford to have a cell phone ($40 per month) and cable TV ($50 per month), then you’re really close to being able to afford cursory health insurance. In America, as illustrated by these figures, poverty isn’t so much an issue of can’t as it is won’t.

Let’s help the poor, but let’s be wise about the government’s use of the word “poverty”.

–the civil commentator



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  1. #1 by mrguido45 on July 26, 2011 - 16:10

    Is owning a refrigerator a good indicator that somebody doesn’t need help? I think of that as pretty basic. Even AC and a cell phone, anymore. Maybe even cable? Especially if they’re in subsidized housing these thing will be automatic with their lease.
    Would a land line be considered too much? If they had a cell instead of a land line would that be about the equivalent? I don’t doubt that people living below the poverty line spend a lot of money on things they shouldn’t. The items listed, though, are not particularly egregious.
    I do agree that if 40% qualify, the threshold is way off. Maybe instead of setting a “level” they can set some kind of percentile threshold. What if the rule was for the bottom 20% (adjusted for household size) or something like that?

  2. #2 by thecivilcommentator on July 26, 2011 - 17:28

    I hadn’t thought about the fact that some of the items on the list would be ‘included’ with their rent. It’s a good point to consider. Having stated that, if you have those items and they have been included in your housing arrangement…you have a place to live.

    I’m not willing to go so far as to say that those who don’t have this or that are the only ones deserving of assistance, but the article does make a good point that the people who often do without are the ones that most Americans picture in their minds when they think of the poor.

    The word poverty in political terms, as with many other words, has become polluted and is used to manipulate public policy to the bent of politicians. Americans need to see information like the kind presented here in order to have a better grasp of what is poor.

    As a Christian, I think God has called me to this: if a person is without, that person should be helped. The word ‘without’ doesn’t mean, however, that a person can’t live ‘without’ cable TV (if not otherwise ‘free’).

    A person can’t do without clean water. A person can’t do without food. A person can’t do without adequate housing–including adequate sanitary facilities. Can a person make do without health insurance? My family and I did for decades. Is it bad to strive for more and better coverage? No, but should my Christianity be called into question because I don’t believe my tax dollars should not go that. No.

    This gets to the main point of frustration for me. When my Christian obligation to help the ‘poor’ is expanded–by other Christians, non-Christians, atheists, government officials, etc.–to include anyone who the Government considers ‘poor’. I don’t think it works that way. I have to read the Bible and make a determination as to who God considers the poor and helpless and make decisions based on that, not on arbitrary political definitions.

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