By Dr. Harold A. Black
How poor are the American poor? The 2020 Census says that 34 million Americans live in poverty. The official poverty line for a family of four is $27,750 or $6,937 per person. Add $4,720 for each additional person and subtract $4,720 for each fewer person. However, last year we spent $714 billion on anti-poverty programs. That’s $21,000 per poor person or $84,000 a year for a family of four. We could have just mailed every poor person a check for $10,000 and saved $374 billion. That $374 billion explains why we have no plans to eliminate poverty in the United States. The poor are a commodity and support the poverty industry. Mailing the poor a check would unemploy the thousands of administrators who depend on the poor for their livelihood.
We are spending enough each year to make the poor middle class. That is why long ago when I started paying enough in taxes to support a family of four above the poverty level, I suggested that the government just assign me a family. I would send them the money, give the kids birthday presents and visit them at Christmas.
The standard of living of America’s poor is higher than that of the average European. Poverty in America does not mean the devastating poverty seen in the rest of the world. Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation points out that very few of America’s poor live in the type of poverty that suffer significant hardships. Rector notes that 40 percent of the poor own their homes of which 84 percent are air conditioned, two thirds have cable or satellite TV, three-fourths own a car, 98 percent own a color TV with two-thirds owning two or more color TVs. Sixty percent own computers. The typical poor American has more living space than the average European. Poor boys at 18 are an inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than the GIs who stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.
This is not to say that we should not address the issues faced by the poor. The problem is that we have programs that do not encourage incentives that lead to a reduction in poverty. We have programs that do just the opposite. Those programs, when first implemented, saw the black nuclear family little different that whites. Now disincentives translate to 70 percent of black babies being born to single mothers. I would subsidize the poor nuclear family, especially those whose kids are not in trouble, who go to school and work hard. Surely we are smart enough to structure anti-poverty programs that encourage people not to be poor.
The poor are ill-served by the politicians that represent them. I have yet to hear positive solutions coming from Maxine Waters, Cori Bush or Ayanna Pressley. Indeed, suggestions made by socialist politicians like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would make the poor even poorer and more dependent on the government. Yet the so-called poverty experts who get most of the press time tend to be socialists rather than capitalists. This is likely due to the politics of the media. No positive solutions ever come from these people on the left.
Those with positive solutions typically come from thinkers and practitioners who are pro-market and are capitalists. They receive less press than those on the left. Perhaps the most famous thinker is Thomas Sowell and perhaps the most prominent practitioner is Bob Woodson. But there are many others that are pro-market and pro-free enterprise. Typically, the media ignores them and runs to Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ibram X. Kendi or even Al Sharpton rather than Shelby Steele, Glenn Loury or John Sibley Butler.
The media trumpets the agenda of the left and choose those who are like-minded to speak for poor minorities. We are therefore left with apologists who blame every ill on racism. One of the best examples of media bias is the 1619 project of the New York Times. Despite its well-documented poor scholarship, flaws and mischaracterizations, it has received favorable coverage and considerably more media attention than the Woodson Center’s 1776 Unites (1776Unites.com) which is positive and touts individual responsibility.
Blacks have a higher percentage of their population in poverty than do whites but white poverty is typically ignored by the media. The result is the impression that most blacks are poor when this is not the case. The black poverty rate is around 18 percent while that of whites is 8 percent. Yet I would wager if you took a poll, most would put the black rate much higher and the white rate lower. The media has painted a caricature of blacks that is far from reality. A caricature that is a lie and does a disservice to the blacks in this country.