Monday, June 27, 2016

The vast majority of America's "poor" are rich by world and historic standards.

See Rector, Poverty, and Immigration by Bryan Caplan of EconLog.
"Robert Rector has done excellent and courageous work on American poverty.  His chief observations:

1. The vast majority of America's "poor" are rich by world and historic standards.  82% of poor American adults say they were never hungry during the last year because they couldn't afford food; 96% of poor American parents say their children never went hungry because they couldn't afford food.  Half of poor Americans live in a single-family home, and 41% own their own home.  Poor Americans have 60% more living space than the average European.  82% of poor Americans have air conditioning.  64% have cable or satellite t.v.  40% own a dishwasher.  34% have a t.v. that would have made billionaires drool in 1990.  Materially speaking, poor Americans are doing just fine.

2. Most poor American adults could have avoided their situation with prudent behavior - especially by delaying childbearing until they marry.  71% of poor families with children are headed by single parents.  About 80% of all long-term poverty occurs in single-parent homes.  Married high school dropouts have lower poverty rates than single parents with one or two years of college.  Most unmarried fathers earn enough to keep their kids out of poverty:
[O]ver 60 percent of fathers who have children outside of marriage earned enough at the time of their child's birth to support their potential family with an income above the poverty level even if the mother did not work at all. If the unmarried father and mother married and the mother worked part-time, the typical family would have an income above 150 percent of poverty, or roughly $35,000 per year.
If you combine Rector's evidence with common-sense moral beliefs about the deserving poor, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that few "poor" Americans qualify.  The moral admonition to "help the deserving poor" asks us come to the aid of people who are (a) genuinely destitute, even though (b) they took reasonable measures to avoid destitution.  Rector shows that few Americans qualify on either count.  Most "poor" Americans enjoy a long list of luxuries - and most would be even richer if they (or their parents) chose to delay childbearing until after marriage using cheap, effective contraception."

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