Last week, the Associated Press reported that, based on the Census Bureau’s new poverty measure, half of America is now poor or low-income.
Forget about Occupy Wall Street’s ballyhooed 99 percent of Americans who aren’t “rich.” Now we’re supposed to believe 50 percent of us are poor or close to it.
Of course, that all depends how you define “poverty” or “near poverty.” And by the definition of this new measure, quietly ushered in by the Obama Administration, “low-income” in some areas of the country can now mean up to nearly $90,000 for a family of four. As Heritage’s Robert Rector explains in National Review Online, suddenly, what was thought to be the median income in most communities is now considered “low-income.”
By dramatically expanding the definition of poverty (and near poverty), the administration furthers the president’s agenda to “spread the wealth.” By artificially inflating the number of Americans counted as poor or near poor, the administration expects to generate political pressure to expand the welfare state and raise taxes.
This new definition of poverty disconnects any true meaning from the word. In reality, it acts as a measure of inequality, by placing poverty thresholds on a sliding scale. Thus, rather than measuring the purchasing power of an individual or family—how much they can buy—the new measure calculates how much a person or family can buy in comparison to others. In one fell swoop, the Obama Administration can now categorize half of America as poor or nearly poor.
This new measure might not be quite so egregious if the Administration would simply call it what it is: an inequality index. But it insists on using the emotionally charged term “poverty.” That’s because most Americans aren’t willing to increase welfare spending—and with it, taxes and the deficit—to meet the liberal goal of equal outcomes for all.
The federal government already spends nearly $1 trillion every year to fund approximately 70 welfare programs. Yet rather than addressing the causes of poverty and helping individuals become self-reliant, this burgeoning welfare state has incentivized government dependence. Adding Obama’s new measure to the mix will only encourage greater reliance on government.
Perhaps even more tragic, obscuring the definition of poverty removes the focus of anti-poverty policy from those who are truly in need. With an unclear understanding of poverty, it is impossible to create sound, effective policy to help those who indeed want for the necessities of life.
Of course, if the goal is not to address the causes of poverty but to redistribute wealth, the new poverty measure is the perfect tool.
For further information about poverty, see “Understanding Poverty in the United States.”