|I pledge Allegiance to the flag|
|of The Corporate States of America|
|And to The Conglomerations,|
|For which they stand,|
|One Nation, under Corporate Gods,|
|With Liberty, Justice and privileges to only the wealthy.|
|I pledge Allegiance to the flag|
|of The Corporate States of America|
|And to The Conglomerations,|
|For which they stand,|
|One Nation, under Corporate Gods,|
|With Liberty, Justice and privileges to only the wealthy.|
Corporations and interest groups have an unlimited ability to spend money on political causes, fostering an unethical and potentially illegal system of influence, a powerful Washington DC lobbyist acknowledged to MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan on Wednesday.
Appearing on the first installment of a series called "Follow the Money," the lobbyist, Jimmy Williams, a principal at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP, said corporations and interest groups often do not report to the IRS the large amounts of money they give to lawmakers and political action committees, choosing instead to pay a nominal fine. The money goes into a "black hole," Williams said, perpetuating a system he called "corrupt." In 2009, the congressional publication The Hill named Williams one of capital's top corporate lobbyists.
Williams cited the Supreme Court ruling at the beginning of this year in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (pdf), in which corporations received protection for their First Amendment right to spend money on political causes. Essentially, Williams said, the decision gives corporations the same rights he, a registered lobbyist, has -- except the corporations don't have to register as lobbyists. "If the court is saying that a corporation is a person, then why shouldn't they have to play by the same exact rules that I have to play by?" he said.
The solution, Williams said, is to end the practice of lavish fundraisers, in which these corporations and interest groups write large checks to finance political campaigns, and to switch to a system of federally-financed elections. If each taxpayer paid just four dollars more, he said, every lawmaker and the president would have $1 million per election cycle to spend on publicity.
Williams said both major political parties are in the game and special interests are happy to play in the current system. "Everybody's writing a check."
Yes indeed , Congress must extend the the Bushes Tax Cut to The Rich....it's worked so well in the past ten years...at least it has for The Rich
WASHINGTON — The income gap between the richest and poorest Americans grew last year to its widest amount on record as young adults and children in particular struggled to stay afloat in the recession.
The top-earning 20 percent of Americans – those making more than $100,000 each year – received 49.4 percent of all income generated in the U.S., compared with the 3.4 percent earned by those below the poverty line, according to newly released census figures. That ratio of 14.5-to-1 was an increase from 13.6 in 2008 and nearly double a low of 7.69 in 1968.
A different measure, the international Gini index, found U.S. income inequality at its highest level since the Census Bureau began tracking household income in 1967. The U.S. also has the greatest disparity among Western industrialized nations.
At the top, the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans, who earn more than $180,000, added slightly to their annual incomes last year, census data show. Families at the $50,000 median level slipped lower.
"Income inequality is rising, and if we took into account tax data, it would be even more," said Timothy Smeeding, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor who specializes in poverty. "More than other countries, we have a very unequal income distribution where compensation goes to the top in a winner-takes-all economy."
Lower-skilled adults ages 18 to 34 had the largest jumps in poverty last year as employers kept or hired older workers for the dwindling jobs available, Smeeding said. The declining economic fortunes have caused many unemployed young Americans to double-up in housing with parents, friends and loved ones, with potential problems for the labor market if they don't get needed training for future jobs, he said.
Rea Hederman Jr., a senior policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, agreed that census data show families of all income levels had tepid earnings in 2009, with poorer Americans taking a larger hit. "It's certainly going to take a while for people to recover," he said.
The findings are part of a broad array of U.S. census data being released this month that highlight the far-reaching impact of the recent economic meltdown. The effects have ranged from near-historic declines in U.S. mobility and birth rates to delayed marriage and the first drop in the number of illegal immigrants in two decades.
The census figures also come amid heated political debate in the run-up to the Nov. 2 elections over whether Congress should extend expiring Bush-era tax cuts. President Barack Obama wants to extend the tax cuts for individuals making less than $200,000 and joint filers making less than $250,000; Republicans are pushing for tax cuts for everyone, including wealthy Americans.
The 2009 census tabulations, which are based on pre-tax income and exclude capital gains, are adjusted for household size where data are available. Prior analyses of after-tax income made by the wealthiest 1 percent compared to middle- and low-income Americans have also pointed to a widening inequality gap, but only reflect U.S. data as of 2007.
Among the 2009 findings:
- The poorest poor are at record highs. The share of Americans below half the poverty line – $10,977 for a family of four – rose from 5.7 percent in 2008 to 6.3 percent. It was the highest level since the government began tracking that group in 1975.
- The poverty gap between young and old has doubled since 2000, due partly to the strength of Social Security in helping buoy Americans 65 and over. Child poverty is now 21 percent compared with 9 percent for older Americans. In 2000, when child poverty was at 16 percent, elderly poverty stood at 10 percent.
- Safety nets are helping fill health gaps. The percentage of children covered by government-sponsored health insurance such as Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program jumped to 37 percent, or 27.6 million, from 24 percent in 2000. That helped offset steady losses in employer-sponsored insurance.
The 2009 poverty level was set at $21,954 for a family of four, based on an official government calculation that includes only cash income. It excludes noncash aid such as food stamps.
Arloc Sherman, a senior researcher at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, noted the effects of expanded government programs in cushioning the impact of skyrocketing unemployment. For example, the Census Bureau estimates that 3.6 million people would have been lifted above the poverty line if food stamps were counted – a number that would have reduced the 2009 poverty rate from the official 14.3 percent to 13.2 percent.
Sheldon Danziger, a University of Michigan public policy professor, said while the U.S. has developed policies to combat poverty, it has trouble addressing ever-widening income inequality – even with a growing federal deficit and previous warnings by former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan about soaring executive pay.
An Associated Press-GfK Poll this month found that by 54 percent to 44 percent, most Americans support raising taxes on the highest U.S. earners. Still, many congressional Democrats have expressed wariness about provoking the 44 percent minority so close to Election Day.
"We're pretty good about not talking about income inequality," Danziger said.
NOTE: This article was written2004 however the topic still relevant. Your home & property is never really yours.
The City of Lakewood, Ohio was trying to use eminent domain to force Jim and Joanne Saleet out of their house in order to make way for expensive condominiums.
(CBS) Just about everyone knows that under a process called eminent domain, the government can (and does) seize private property for public use - to build a road, a school or a courthouse.
But did you know the government can also seize your land for private use if they can prove that doing it will serve what's called "the public good"?
Cities across the country have been using eminent domain to force people off their land, so private developers can build more expensive homes and offices that will pay more in property taxes than the buildings they're replacing.
Under eminent domain, the government buys your property, paying you what's determined to be fair market value.
But now, people who don't want to sell their homes at any price - just to see their land go to another private owner - are fighting back. Correspondent Mike Wallace reports on this story, which first aired last fall.Jim and Joanne Saleet are refusing to sell the home they've lived in for 38 years. They live in a quiet neighborhood of single-family houses in Lakewood, Ohio, just outside Cleveland.
The City of Lakewood is trying to use eminent domain to force the Saleets out to make way for more expensive condominiums. But the Saleets are telling the town, "Hell no! They won't go."
“The bottom line is this is morally wrong, what they're doing here. This is our home. And we're going to stay here. And I'm gonna fight them tooth and nail. I've just begun to fight,” says Jim Saleet.
“We talked about this when we were dating. I used to point to the houses and say, 'Joanne, one of these days we're going to have one of these houses.' And I meant it. And I worked hard.”
Jim Saleet worked in the pharmaceutical industry, paid off his house and then retired. Now, he and his wife plan to spend the rest of their days there, and pass their house on to their children.
But Lakewood's mayor, Madeleine Cain, has other plans. She wants to tear down the Saleets' home, plus 55 homes around it, along with four apartment buildings and more than a dozen businesses.
Why? So that private developers can build high-priced condos, and a high-end shopping mall, and thus raise Lakewood's property tax base.
The mayor told 60 Minutes that she sought out a developer for the project because Lakewood's aging tax base has been shrinking and the city simply needs more money.
“This is about Lakewood's future. Lakewood cannot survive without a strengthened tax base. Is it right to consider this a public good? Absolutely,” says the mayor, who admits that it's difficult and unfortunate that the Saleets are being asked to give up their home.
The Saleets live in an area called Scenic Park, and because it is so scenic, it's a prime place to build upscale condominiums. With great views, over the Rocky River, those condos will be a cinch to sell.But the condos can't go up unless the city can remove the Saleets and their neighbors through eminent domain. And to legally invoke eminent domain, the city had to certify that this scenic park area is, really, "blighted."
“We're not blighted. This is an area that we absolutely love. This is a close-knit, beautiful neighborhood. It's what America's all about,” says Jim Saleet. “And, Mike, you don't know how humiliating this is to have people tell you, 'You live in a blighted area,' and how degrading this is.”
"The term 'blighted' is a statutory word," says Mayor Cain. “It is, it really doesn't have a lot to do with whether or not your home is painted. ...A statutory term is used to describe an area. The question is whether or not that area can be used for a higher and better use.”
But what’s higher and better than a home? “The term 'blight' is used to describe whether or not the structures generally in an area meet today's standards,” says Cain.
And it's the city that sets those standards, so Lakewood set a standard for blight that would include most of the homes in the neighborhood. A home could be considered blighted, says Jim Saleet, if it doesn't have the following: three bedrooms, two baths, an attached two-car garage and central air.
“This community's over 100 years old. Who has all those things? That's the criteria. And it's ridiculous,” says Jim Saleet. “And, by the way, we got up at a meeting and told the mayor and all seven council members, their houses are blighted, according to this criteria.”
Cain admits that her house doesn’t have two bathrooms, a two-car garage and the lot size is less than 5,000 square feet.
The Saleets may live in a cute little neighborhood, but without those new condos, the area won’t produce enough property taxes to satisfy the mayor and city council.
“That's no excuse for taking my home. My home is not for sale. And if my home isn't safe, nobody's home is safe, in the whole country,” says Jim Saleet. “Not only Ohio. But this is rampant all over the country. It's like a plague.” Dana Berliner and Scott Bullock are attorneys at a libertarian non-profit group called The Institute for Justice, which has filed suit on behalf of the Saleets against the City of Lakewood. They claim that taking private property this way is unconstitutional.
“This is a nationwide epidemic,” says Berliner. “We have documented more than 10,000 instances of government taking property from one person to give it to another in just the last five years.”
“It is fundamentally wrong, and contrary to the Constitution for the government to take property from one private owner, and hand it over to another private owner, just because the government thinks that person is going to make more productive use of the land,” says Bullock.
“Everyone knows that property can be taken for a road. But nobody thinks that property can be taken to give it to their neighbor or the large business down the street for their economic benefit,” adds Berliner. “People are shocked when they hear that this is going on around the country.” And it's not just people's homes that are the targets in these eminent domain cases. The Institute for Justice has also filed suit against the City of Mesa, Ariz., to save Randy Bailey's Brake Repair Shop - the shop he got from his father and hopes to someday pass on to his son.
The City of Mesa, citing the need for "redevelopment," is trying to force Bailey to relocate to make way for an Ace Hardware Store that would look better and pay more taxes.
"Redevelopment to me means work with existing people who are there and redevelop. Not, 'You get out! We're bringing this guy in,'" says Bailey, whose business has been on the same corner for more than 30 years.
Business has been awesome, Bailey says. But now, he says they’re going to turn his business into dirt. In fact, the city has “made dirt” out of three restaurants and four businesses that once stood on a five-acre lot.
“And it's not just business properties that they're going this on. You know, they wiped out eight people's homes over here. Your home ain't even safe,” says Bailey, who told 60 Minutes that his neighbors let the city buy them out.
But he’s refusing to sell: “I’m standing in their way. I’m their thorn in their side.”
And he’s a thorn in the side of Ken Lenhart, who owns the Ace Hardware Store a few blocks away. Lenhart wants a much bigger store. He could have negotiated with Bailey, but instead, he convinced the City of Mesa to try to buy Bailey's land through eminent domain and then sell it to him.
“The City of Mesa wants to move Mr. Bailey about a block away, and from what I understand it's gonna be a new building, new equipment, moving expenses and everything set up for him,” says Lenhart. “I don't see how Mr. Bailey is gonna get hurt.”
“You can't replace a business being in the same location. This place was built in 1952 as a brake and front-end shop,” says Bailey. “I don't care where you move it in the City of Mesa, it would never be the same.”
So Bailey went to Lenhart looking for a way to stay on his corner.
“I tried to go to him and see if we couldn't work something out on this. And he told me, 'No, there ain't room for you there. We're gonna let the city just take care of you,'" says Bailey.
Lenhart admits that he never tried to negotiate with Bailey: "It happens all over the country. In practically any town you want to go to, they're redeveloping their town centers. Now, we are going to sit in Mesa, Arizona and have our town center decay? As a citizen of Mesa, I don't want that to happen."
But Bailey says his business was on private property, and not for sale: “If I'd had a 'For Sale' sign out there, it would have been a whole different deal. And for them to come in and tell me how much my property's worth and for me to get out because they're bringing in somebody else when I own the land is unfounded to me. It doesn't even sound like the United States.” And this isn't happening just in small towns. In New York City, just a few blocks from Times Square, New York State has forced a man to sell a corner that his family owned for more than 100 years. And what's going up instead? A courthouse? A school? Nope. The new headquarters of The New York Times.
The world's most prestigious newspaper wants to build a new home on that block, but Stratford Wallace and the block's other property owners didn't want to sell. Wallace told 60 Minutes that the newspaper never tried to negotiate with him. Instead, The Times teamed up with a major real estate developer, and together they convinced New York State to use eminent domain to force Wallace out. How? By declaring the block blighted.
“I challenge them,” says Wallace. “This is not blighted property.”
But New York State's Supreme Court disagreed and ruled that the newspaper's new headquarters would eliminate blight - and that even though a private entity (The New York Times) is the main beneficiary, improving the block would benefit the public.
Executives from The New York Times wouldn't talk to 60 Minutes about it on camera.
Back in Lakewood, Ohio, Jim and Joanne Saleet are still waiting for their court decision. Most of their neighbors have agreed to sell if the project goes ahead. But the Saleets, plus a dozen others, are hanging tough.
“I thought I bought this place. But I guess I just leased it, until the city wants it,” says Jim Saleet. “That's what makes me very angry. This is my dream home. And I'm gonna fight for it.” He fought, and he won. In separate votes, Lakewood residents rejected the proposed development, removed the "blight" label from the Saleets' neighborhood, and voted Mayor Cain out of office.
In Mesa, Ariz., Randy Bailey can keep his brake shop right where it is. The week after this report aired, Arizona's Court of Appeals ruled that turning his land over to a hardware store would not be a proper use of eminent domain.
But in New York City, tenants and owners have been forced off their land so The New York Times can begin building its new headquarters.
I find this article offensive. People in America who have slip into poverty be it due to job loss be it from job outsourcing, company downsizing, illness, etc...there are any number of reasons how a person could find themselves living under the poverty line. It could be a slow descent into poverty or can happen in what seems to be a blink of an eye. Another point: just because one has a DVD player or a TV or a dishwasher is of little meaning for the simple fact that many people had a job and were able to buy things such as a DVD player, TV or any other seemingly luxury items before falling into poverty. I am very much offended by this article.....but that's just me.
This is a Backgrounder On Welfare and Poverty and Inequality
Understanding Poverty in AmericaPublished on January 5, 2004 by Robert Rector and Kirk Johnson, Ph.D. Backgrounder #1713
Poverty is an important and emotional issue. Last year, the Census Bureau released its annual report on poverty in the United States declaring that there were nearly 35 million poor persons living in this country in 2002, a small increase from the preceding year. To understand poverty in America, it is important to look behind these numbers to look at the actual living conditions of the individuals the government deems to be poor.
This key research from 2004 has been updated in Robert Rector's new paper, How Poor Are America's Poor? Examining the "Plague" of Poverty in America
Each year, the U.S. Census Bureau counts the number of "poor" persons in the U.S. In 2005, the Bureau found 37 million "poor" Americans. Presidential candidate John Edwards claims that these 37 million Americans currently "struggle with incredible poverty." Edwards asserts that America's poor, who number "one in eight of us…do not have enough money for the food, shelter, and clothing they need," and are forced to live in "terrible" circumstances.However, an examination of the living standards of the 37 million persons, whom the government defines as "poor," reveals that what Edwards calls "the plague" of American poverty might not be as "terrible" or "incredible" as candidate Edwards contends.
For most Americans, the word "poverty" suggests destitution: an inability to provide a family with nutritious food, clothing, and reasonable shelter. But only a small number of the 35 million persons classified as "poor" by the Census Bureau fit that description. While real material hardship certainly does occur, it is limited in scope and severity. Most of America's "poor" live in material conditions that would be judged as comfortable or welloff just a few generations ago. Today, the expenditures per person of the lowestincome onefifth (or quintile) of households equal those of the median American household in the early 1970s, after adjusting for inflation.1
The following are facts about persons defined as "poor" by the Census Bureau, taken from various government reports:
As a group, America's poor are far from being chronically undernourished. The average consumption of protein, vitamins, and minerals is virtually the same for poor and middleclass children and, in most cases, is well above recommended norms. Poor children actually consume more meat than do higherincome children and have average protein intakes 100 percent above recommended levels. Most poor children today are, in fact, supernourished and grow up to be, on average, one inch taller and 10 pounds heavier that the GIs who stormed the beaches of Normandy in World War II.
- Fortysix percent of all poor households actually own their own homes. The average home owned by persons classified as poor by the Census Bureau is a threebedroom house with oneandahalf baths, a garage, and a porch or patio.
- Seventysix percent of poor households have air conditioning. By contrast, 30 years ago, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.
- Only 6 percent of poor households are overcrowded. More than twothirds have more than two rooms per person.
- The average poor American has more living space than the average individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens, and other cities throughout Europe. (These comparisons are to the average citizens in foreign countries, not to those classified as poor.)
- Nearly threequarters of poor households own a car; 30 percent own two or more cars.
- Ninetyseven percent of poor households have a color television; over half own two or more color televisions.
- Seventyeight percent have a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception.
- Seventythree percent own microwave ovens, more than half have a stereo, and a third have an automatic dishwasher.
While the poor are generally wellnourished, some poor families do experience hunger, meaning a temporary discomfort due to food shortages. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 13 percent of poor families and 2.6 percent of poor children experience hunger at some point during the year. In most cases, their hunger is shortterm. Eightynine percent of the poor report their families have "enough" food to eat, while only 2 percent say they "often" do not have enough to eat.
Overall, the typical American defined as poor by the government has a car, air conditioning, a refrigerator, a stove, a clothes washer and dryer, and a microwave. He has two color televisions, cable or satellite TV reception, a VCR or DVD player, and a stereo. 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 equally far from the popular images of dire poverty conveyed by the press, liberal activists, and politicians.
Of course, the living conditions of the average poor American should not be taken as representing all the poor. There is actually a wide range in living conditions among the poor. For example, over a quarter of poor households have cell phones and telephone answering machines, but, at the other extreme, approximately onetenth have no phone at all. While the majority of poor households do not experience significant material problems, roughly a third do experience at least one problem such as overcrowding, temporary hunger, or difficulty getting medical care.
The best news is that remaining poverty can readily be reduced further, particularly among children. There are two main reasons that American children are poor: Their parents don't work much, and fathers are absent from the home.
In good economic times or bad, the typical poor family with children is supported by only 800 hours of work during a year: That amounts to 16 hours of work per week. If work in each family were raised to 2,000 hours per year the equivalent of one adult working 40 hours per week throughout the year nearly 75 percent of poor children would be lifted out of official poverty.
Father absence is another major cause of child poverty. Nearly twothirds of poor children reside in singleparent homes; each year, an additional 1.3 million children are born out of wedlock. If poor mothers married the fathers of their children, almost threequarters would immediately be lifted out of poverty.
While work and marriage are steady ladders out of poverty, the welfare system perversely remains hostile to both. Major programs such as food stamps, public housing, and Medicaid continue to reward idleness and penalize marriage. If welfare could be turned around to encourage work and marriage, remaining poverty would drop quickly.
What Is Poverty?
For most Americans, the word "poverty" suggests destitution: an inability to provide a family with nutritious food, clothing, and reasonable shelter. For example, the "Poverty Pulse" poll taken by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development in 2002 asked the general public the question: "How would you describe being poor in the U.S.?" The overwhelming majority of responses focused on homelessness, hunger or not being able to eat properly, and not being able to meet basic needs. 2
But if poverty means lacking nutritious food, adequate warm housing, and clothing for a family, relatively few of the 35 million people identified as being "in poverty" by the Census Bureau could be characterized as poor.3 While material hardship does exist in the United States, it is quite restricted in scope and severity. The average "poor" person, as defined by the government, has a living standard far higher than the public imagines.Ownership of Property and Amenities Among the Poor
Table 1 shows the ownership of property and consumer durables among poor households. The data are taken from the American Housing Survey for 2001, conducted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Census Bureau, and the Residential Energy Consumption Survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy.4
As the table shows, some 46 percent of poor households own their own home. The typical home owned by the poor is a threebedroom house with oneandahalf baths. It has a garage or carport and a porch or patio and is located on a halfacre lot. The house was constructed in 1967 and is in good repair. The median value of homes owned by poor households was $86,600 in 2001 or 70 percent of the median value of all homes owned in the United States.5
Some 73 percent of poor households own a car or truck; nearly a third own two or more cars or trucks. Over threequarters have air conditioning; by contrast, 30 years ago, only 36 percent of the general U.S. population had air conditioning. Nearly threequarters of poor households own microwaves; a third have automatic dishwashers.
Poor households are wellequipped with modern entertainment technology. It should come as no surprise that nearly all (97 percent) poor households have color TVs, but more than half actually own two or more color televisions. Onequarter own largescreen televisions, 78 percent have a VCR or DVD player, and almost twothirds have cable or satellite TV reception. Some 58 percent own a stereo. More than a third have telephone answering machines, while a quarter have personal computers. While these numbers do not suggest lives of luxury, they are notably different from conventional images of poverty.
A similar disparity between popular conceptions and reality applies to the housing conditions of the poor. Most poor Americans live in houses or apartments that are relatively spacious and in good repair. As Chart 1 shows, 54 percent of poor households live in singlefamily homes, either unattached single dwellings or attached units such as townhouses. Another 36.4 percent live in apartments, and 9.6 percent live in mobile homes.6
Both the overall U.S. population and the poor in America live, in general, in very spacious housing. As Table 2 shows, 70 percent of all U.S. households have two or more rooms per tenant. Among the poor, this figure is 68 percent.
Crowding is quite rare; only 2.5 percent of all households and 5.7 percent of poor households are crowded with more than one person per room.7 By contrast, social reformer Jacob Riis, writing on tenement living conditions around 1890 in New York City, described crowded families living with four or five persons per room and some 20 square feet of living space per person.8
Housing space can also be measured by the number of square feet per person. The Residential Energy Consumption survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy shows that Americans have an average of 721 square feet of living space per person. Poor Americans have 439 square feet.9 Reasonably comparable international squarefootage data are provided by the Housing Indicator Program of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements, which surveyed housing conditions in major cities in 54 different nations. This survey showed the United States to have by far the most spacious housing units, with 50 percent to 100 percent more square footage per capita than city dwellers in other industrialized nations.10
America's poor compare favorably with the general population of other nations in square footage of living space. The average poor American has more square footage of living space than does the average person living in London, Paris, Vienna, and Munich. Poor Americans have nearly three times the living space of average urban citizens in middleincome countries such as Mexico and Turkey. Poor American households have seven times more housing space per person than the general urban population of verylowincome countries such as India and China. (See Appendix Table A for more detailed information.)
Some critics have argued that the comparisons in Table 3 are misleading.11 These critics claim that U.S. housing in general cannot be compared to housing in specific European cities such as Paris or London because housing in these cities is unusually small and does not represent the European housing stock overall. To assess the validity of this argument, Table 4 presents national housing data for 15 West European countries. These data represent the entire national housing stock in each of the 15 countries. In general, the national data on housing size are similar to the data on specific European cities presented in Table 3 and Appendix Table A.As Table 4 shows, U.S. housing (with an average size of 1,875 square feet per unit) is nearly twice as large as European housing (with an average size of 976 square feet per unit.) After adjusting for the number of persons in each dwelling unit, Americans have an average of 721 square feet per person, compared to 396 square feet for the average European.The housing of poor Americans (with an average of 1,228 square feet per unit) is smaller than that of the average American but larger than that of the average European (who has 976 square feet per unit). Overall, poor Americans have an average of 439 square feet of living space per person, which is as much as or more than the average citizen in most West European countries. (This comparison is to the average European, not poor Europeans.)
Of course, it might be possible that the housing of poor American households could be spacious but still dilapidated or unsafe. However, data from the American Housing Survey indicate that such is not the case. For example, the survey provides a tally of households with "severe physical problems." Only a tiny portion of poor households and an even smaller portion of total households fall into that category.
The most common "severe problem," according to the American Housing Survey, is a shared bathroom, which occurs when occupants lack a bathroom and must share bathroom facilities with individuals in a neighboring unit. This condition affects about 1 percent of all U.S. households and 2 percent of all poor households. About onehalf of 1 percent (0.5 percent) of all households and 2 percent of poor households have other "severe physical problems." The most common are repeated heating breakdowns and upkeep problems.
The American Housing Survey also provides a count of households affected by "moderate physical problems." A wider range of households falls into this category 9 percent of the poor and nearly 5 percent of total households. However, the problems affecting these units are clearly modest. While living in such units might be disagreeable by modern middleclass standards, they are a far cry from Dickensian squalor. The most common problems are upkeep, lack of a full kitchen, and use of unvented oil, kerosene or gas heaters as the primary heat source. (The last condition occurs almost exclusively in the South.)
Hunger and Malnutrition in America
There are frequent charges of widespread hunger and malnutrition in the United States.12 To understand these assertions, it is important, first of all, to distinguish between hunger and the more severe problem of malnutrition. Malnutrition (also called undernutrition) is a condition of reduced health due to a chronic shortage of calories and nutriments. There is little or no evidence of povertyinduced malnutrition in the United States.
Hunger is a far less severe condition: a temporary but real discomfort caused by an empty stomach. The government defines hunger as "the uneasy or painful sensation caused by lack of food."13 While hunger due to a lack of financial resources does occur in the United States, it is limited in scope and duration. According to the USDA, on a typical day, fewer than one American in 200 will experience hunger due to a lack of money to buy food.14 The hunger rate rises somewhat when examined over a longer time period; according to the USDA, some 6.9 million Americans, or 2.4 percent of the population, were hungry at least once during 2002.15 Nearly all hunger in the United States is shortterm and episodic rather than continuous.16
Some 92 percent of those who experienced hunger in 2002 were adults, and only 8 percent were children. Overall, some 567,000 children, or 0.8 percent of all children, were hungry at some point in 2002. In a typical month, roughly one child in 400 skipped one or more meals because the family lacked funds to buy food.
Not only is hunger relatively rare among U.S. children, but it has declined sharply since the mid1990s. As Chart 2 shows, the number of hungry children was cut by a third between 1995 and 2002. According to the USDA, in 1995, there were 887,000 hungry children: by 2002, the number had fallen to 567,000.17
Overall, some 97 percent of the U.S. population lived in families that reported they had "enough food to eat" during the entire year, although not always the kinds of foods they would have preferred. Around 2.5 percent stated their families "sometimes" did not have "enough to eat" due to money shortages, and onehalf of 1 percent (0.5 percent) said they "often" did not have enough to eat due to a lack of funds. (See Chart 3.)
Hunger and Poverty
Among the poor, the hunger rate was obviously higher: During 2002, 12.8 percent of the poor lived in households in which at least one member experienced hunger at some point.18 Among poor children, 2.4 percent experienced hunger at some point in the year.19 Overall, most poor households were not hungry and did not experience food shortages during the year.
When asked, some 89 percent of poor households reported they had "enough food to eat" during the entire year, although not always the kinds of food they would prefer. Around 9 percent stated they "sometimes" did not have enough to eat because of a lack of money to buy food. Another 2 percent of the poor stated that they "often" did not have enough to eat due to a lack of funds.20 (See Chart 3.)Poverty and MalnutritionIt is widely believed that a lack of financial resources forces poor people to eat lowquality diets that are deficient in nutriments and high in fat. However, survey data show that nutriment density (amount of vitamins, minerals, and protein per kilocalorie of food) does not vary by income class.21 Nor do the poor consume higherfat diets than do the middle class; the percentage of persons with high fat intake (as a share of total calories) is virtually the same for lowincome and uppermiddleincome persons.22 Overconsumption of calories in general, however, is a major problem among the poor, as it is within the general U.S. population.
Examination of the average nutriment consumption of Americans reveals that age and gender play a far greater role than income class in determining nutritional intake. For example, the nutriment intakes of adult women in the upper middle class (with incomes above 350 percent of the poverty level) more closely resemble the intakes of poor women than they do those of uppermiddleclass men, children, or teens.23 The average nutriment consumption of uppermiddleincome preschoolers, as a group, is virtually identical with that of poor preschoolers but not with the consumption of adults or older children in the upper middle class.
This same pattern holds for adult males, teens, and most other age and gender groups. In general, children aged 011 years have the highest average level of nutriment intakes relative to the recommended daily allowance (RDA), followed by adult and teen males. Adult and teen females have the lowest level of intakes. This pattern holds for all income classes.
Nutrition and Poor ChildrenGovernment surveys provide little evidence of widespread undernutrition among poor children; in fact, they show that the average nutriment consumption among the poor closely resembles that of the upper middle class. For example, children in families with incomes below the poverty level actually consume more meat than do children in families with incomes at 350 percent of the poverty level or higher (roughly $65,000 for a family of four in today's dollars).
Table 5 shows the average intake of protein, vitamins, and minerals as a percentage of the recommended daily allowance among poor and middleclass children at various age levels.24 The intake of nutriments is very similar for poor and middleclass children and is generally well above the recommended daily level. For example, the consumption of protein (a relatively expensive nutriment) among poor children is, on average, between 150 percent and 267 percent of the RDA.
When shortfalls of specific vitamins and minerals appear (for example, among teenage girls), they tend to be very similar for the poor and the middle class. While poor teenage girls, on average, tend to underconsume vitamin E, vitamin B6, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, and zinc, a virtually identical underconsumption of these same nutriments appears among upper middleclass girls.
Poor Children's Weight and StatureOn average, poor children are very wellnourished, and there is no evidence of widespread significant undernutrition. For example, two indicators of undernutrition among the young are "thinness" (low weight for height) and stuntedness (low height for age). These problems are rare to nonexistent among poor American children.
The generally good health of poor American children can be illustrated by international comparisons. Table 6 provides data on children's size based on the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Data Base on Child Growth: Children are judged to be short or "stunted" if their height falls below the 2.3 percentile level of standard heighttoage tables.25 Table 6 shows the percentage of children under age five in developing nations who are judged to be "stunted" by this standard.
In developing nations as a whole, some 43 percent of children are stunted. In Africa, more than a third of young children are affected; in Asia, nearly half.26 By contrast, in the United States, some 2.6 percent of young children in poor households are stunted by a comparable standard a rate only slightly above the expected standard for healthy, wellnourished children.27 While concern for the wellbeing of poor American children is always prudent, the data overall underscore how large and wellnourished poor American children are by global standards.
Throughout this century, improvements in nutrition and health have led to increases in the rate of growth and ultimate height and weight of American children. Poor children have clearly benefited from this trend. Poor boys today at ages 18 and 19 are actually taller and heavier than boys of similar age in the general U.S. population in the late 1950s. Poor boys living today are one inch taller and some 10 pounds heavier than GIs of similar age during World War II, and nearly two inches taller and 20 pounds heavier than American doughboys back in World War I.28
Poverty and ObesityThe principal nutritionrelated health problem among the poor, as with the general U.S. population, stems from the overconsumption, not underconsumption, of food. While overweight and obesity are prevalent problems throughout the U.S. population, they are found most frequently among poor adults. Poor adult men are slightly less likely than nonpoor men to be overweight (30.4 percent compared to 31.9 percent); but, as Chart 4 shows, poor adult women are significantly more likely to be overweight than are nonpoor women (47.3 percent compared to 32 percent).29Living Conditions and Hardships Among the Poor
Overall, the living standards of most poor Americans are far higher than is generally appreciated. The overwhelming majority of poor families are wellhoused, have adequate food, and enjoy a wide range of modern amenities, including air conditioning and cable television. Some 70 percent of poor households report that during the course of the past year they were able to meet "all essential expenses," including mortgage, rent, utility bills, and important medical care.30 (See Chart 5.)
However, two caveats should be applied to this generally optimistic picture. First, many poor families have difficulty paying their regular bills and must scramble to make ends meet. For example, around onequarter of poor families are late in paying the rent or utility bills at some point during the year.
Second, the living conditions of the average poor household should not be taken to represent all poor households. There is a wide range of living conditions among the poor; while more than a quarter of the poor have cell phones and answering machines, a tenth of the poor have no telephone at all. While most of America's poor live in accommodations with two or more rooms per person, roughly a tenth of the poor are crowded, with less than one room per person.
These points are illustrated in Table 7, which lists the financial and material hardships among poor households in 1998.31 During at least one month in the preceding year, some 20 percent of poor households reported they were unable to pay their fuel, gas, or electric bills promptly; around 4 percent had their utilities cut off at some point due to nonpayment. Another 13 percent of poor households failed, at some point in the year, to make their full monthly rent or mortgage payments, and 1 percent were evicted due to failure to pay rent. One in 10 poor families had their phones disconnected due to nonpayment at some time during the preceding year.
Overall, more than onequarter of poor families experienced at least one financial difficulty during the year. Most had a late payment of rent or utility bills. Some 12 percent had phones or utilities cut off or were evicted.
Poor households also experienced the material problems listed on Table 7.32 Some 14 percent lacked medical insurance and had a family member who needed to go to a doctor or hospital but did not go; 11 percent experienced hunger in the household; and around 9 percent were overcrowded, with more than one person per room. Slightly less than 4 percent of poor households experienced upkeep problems with the physical conditions of their apartments or homes, having three or more of the physical problems listed in Table 7.
Altogether, around 58 percent of poor households experienced none of the financial or physical hardships listed in Table 7 These families were able to pay all their bills on time. They were able to obtain medical care if needed, were not hungry or crowded, and had few upkeep problems in the home. Another 20 percent of poor households experienced one financial or material problem during the year. Around 10 percent of poor households had two financial or material problems, while 12 percent had three or more.
The most common problem facing poor households was late payment of rent or utilities. While having difficulty paying monthly bills is stressful, in most cases late payment did not result in material hardship or deprivation. If late payment problems are excluded from the count, we find that twothirds of poor households had none of the remaining problems listed in Table 7. Some 22 percent had one problem, and 12 percent had two or more problems.
While it is appropriate to be concerned about the difficulties faced by some poor families, it is important to keep these problems in perspective. Many poor families have intermittent difficulty paying rent or utility bills but remain very wellhoused by historic or international standards. Even poor families who are overcrowded and hungry, by U.S. standards, are still likely to have living conditions that are far above the world average.
Reducing Child Poverty
The generally high living standards of poor Americans are good news. Even better is the fact that our nation can readily reduce remaining poverty, especially among children. To accomplish this, we must focus on the main causes of child poverty: low levels of parental work and high levels of single parenthood.
In good economic times or bad, the typical poor family with children is supported by only 800 hours of work during a year: That amounts to 16 hours of work per week. If work in each family were raised to 2,000 hours per year the equivalent of one adult working 40 hours per week through the year nearly 75 percent of poor children would be lifted out of official poverty.33
The decline in marriage is the second major cause of child poverty. Nearly twothirds of poor children reside in singleparent homes; each year, an additional 1.3 million children are born out of wedlock. Increasing marriage would substantially reduce child poverty: If poor mothers married the fathers of their children, almost threequarters would immediately be lifted out of poverty.34
In recent years, the United States has established a reasonable record in reducing child poverty. Successful antipoverty policies were partially implemented in the welfare reform legislation of 1996, which replaced the old Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program with a new program called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).
A key element of this reform was a requirement that some welfare mothers either prepare for work or get jobs as a condition of receiving aid. As this requirement went into effect, welfare rolls plummeted and employment of single mothers increased in an unprecedented manner. As employment of single mothers rose, child poverty dropped rapidly. For example, in the quartercentury before welfare reform, there was no net change in the poverty rate of children in singlemother families; after reform was enacted, the poverty rate dropped in an unprecedented fashion, falling from 53.1 percent in 1995 to 39.8 percent in 2001.35
In general, however, welfare reform has been limited in both scope and intensity. Even in the TANF program, over half the adult beneficiaries are idle on the rolls and are not engaged in activities leading to selfsufficiency. Work requirements are virtually nonexistent in related programs such as food stamps and public housing. Even worse, despite the fact that marriage has enormous financial and psychological benefits for parents and children, welfare reform has done little or nothing to strengthen marriage in lowincome communities. Overall, the welfare system continues to encourage idle dependence rather than work and to reward single parenthood while penalizing marriage.
If child poverty is to be substantially reduced, welfare must be transformed. Ablebodied parents must be required to work or prepare for work, and the welfare system should encourage rather than penalize marriage.
The living conditions of persons defined as poor by the government bear little resemblance to notions of "poverty" held by the general public. If poverty is defined as lacking adequate nutritious food for one's family, a reasonably warm and dry apartment to live in, or a car with which to get to work when one is needed, then there are relatively few poor persons remaining in the United States. Real material hardship does occur, but it is limited in scope and severity.
The typical American defined as "poor" by the government has a car, air conditioning, a refrigerator, a stove, a clothes washer and dryer, and a microwave. He has two color televisions, cable or satellite TV reception, a VCR or DVD player, and a stereo. 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 equally far from the popular images of dire poverty conveyed by the press, liberal activists, and politicians.
But the living conditions of the average poor person should not be taken to mean that all poor Americans live without hardship. There is a wide range of living conditions among the poor. Roughly a third of poor households do face material hardships such as overcrowding, intermittent food shortages, or difficulty obtaining medical care. However, even these households would be judged to have high living standards in comparison to most other people in the world.
Perhaps the best news is that the United States can readily reduce its remaining poverty, especially among children. The main causes of child poverty in the United States are low levels of parental work and high numbers of singleparent families. By increasing work and marriage, our nation can virtually eliminate remaining child poverty.
Robert E. Rector is Senior Research Fellow in Domestic Policy Studies and Kirk A. Johnson, Ph.D., is Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Fellow in Statistical Welfare Research in the Center for Data Analysis at The Heritage Foundation.
About the Author
Robert Rector Senior Research Fellow
Kirk Johnson, Ph.D. Visiting Fellow