The government’s own data show that the typical American defined as poor (according to the traditional, pre-Obama poverty measure) has two color televisions, cable or satellite service, a VCR or DVD player, and a stereo. He also has a car, air conditioning, a refrigerator, a stove, a clothes washer and dryer, and a microwave. He is able to obtain medical care. His home is in good repair and is not overcrowded. By his own report, his family is not hungry, and he had sufficient funds in the past year to meet his family’s essential needs. While this individual’s life is not opulent, it is far from the stark images conveyed by the mainstream media and liberal politicians.
Clearly, “poverty” as currently defined by the government has little connection with “poverty” as the average American understands it. The new Obama poverty measure will stretch this semantic gap, artificially swelling the number of “poor” Americans, and severing any link between the government’s concept of poverty and even modest deprivation.
In honest English, the new system will measure income inequality, not poverty. Why not just call it an “inequality” index? Answer: because the American voter is unwilling to support massive welfare increases, soaring deficits, and tax increases to equalize incomes. However, if the goal of income leveling is camouflaged as a desperate struggle against poverty, hunger, and dire deprivation, then the political prospects improve. The new measure is a public-relations Trojan horse, smuggling in a “spread the wealth” agenda under the ruse of fighting real material privation — a condition that is rare in our society.
True, the new Obama measure will not, at present, alter benefits or expand eligibility for welfare programs. But the new measure does establish a new philosophy of poverty. For the first time, the government is planning to define poverty as a problem that can never be solved by the American dream: a general rise of incomes of all Americans across society over time. By definition, poverty can now be solved only by the dream of the Left: massive taxes on the upper and middle classes and redistribution to the less affluent. In effect, the Obama poverty measure sets a new national goal of class warfare and income redistribution.
Of course, massive “wealth spreading” is already under way. This year, government will spend some $900 billion on means-tested aid for the poor and low-income persons, around $9,000 for each American in the low-income third of the population. According to the Left, that’s not nearly enough. The new poverty measure will use deception to promote a much larger welfare state. Taxpayers, beware.
– Robert Rector is a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.