Poverty in America is certainly a serious problem, but the plight of the poor has been moderated by advances in the economy. Between 1970 and 2010, the net worth of American households more than doubled, as did the number of television sets and air-conditioning units per home. In his book“The Poverty of the Poverty Rate,” Nicholas Eberstadt shows that over the past 30 or so years, the percentage of low-income children in the United States who are underweight has gone down, the share of low-income households lacking complete plumbing facilities has declined, and the area of their homes adequately heated has gone up. The fraction of poor households with a telephone, a television set and a clothes dryer has risen sharply.
In other words, the country has become more prosperous, as measured not by income but by consumption: In constant dollars, consumption by people in the lowest quintile rose by more than 40 percent over the past four decades.
Income as measured by the federal government is not a reliable indicator of well-being, but consumption is. Though poverty is a problem, it has become less of one.
Look. I am not saying that there aren’t degrees here, and that by and large somebody living without INDOOR PLUMBING in 20FUCKING11 isn’t worse off than somebody who has it, but can we please stop with “your lack of income is not a problem if you have a waffle iron?” This line of thinking is a cousin to all those dicks who saw Slumdog Millionaire and were like, “Poor people in America have nothing to complain about har har har.”
Jude and I were talking about this recently, about just how few truly rich people have ever been to a second-hand store and know that you can get an air conditioner or a microwave for ten bucks. They might suck and be old, but they will be an air conditioner and a microwave and thus prove to this cockyank that you are not THAT poor. Not really poor. Not Charles Dickens/Appalachia movies poor.
Some apartments come with a washer/dryer. They’re still not mansions. Some apartments come with air conditioners. Doesn’t make them summer homes in the Caymans. I used to live in a place that was billed “luxury apartments” and once a friend came to visit and was all “ooh, fancy!” until I drove her around and showed her that all the apartment complexes in the area said “luxury,” regardless of how small/weird they were. And even if “luxury” meant something special (one place did have wood-burning fireplaces, which was kind of nice) it still wouldn’t make me Donald Trump.
American views about inequality have not changed much in the past quarter-century. In their 2009 book“Class War? What Americans Really Think About Economic Inequality,”political scientists Benjamin Page and Lawrence Jacobs report that big majorities, including poor people, agree that “it is ‘still possible’ to start out poor in this country, work hard, and become rich,” and reject the view that it is the government’s job to narrow the income gap.
BUT IT’S NOT THE GOVERNMENT’S JOB TO KEEP WIDENING IT, EITHER, WHICH IS THE WHOLE POINT YOU KITCHEN APPLIANCE.