Poverty Eliminated — But Not According to the Feds

In the New York Post yesterday, Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation published a column that proved important–and maddening. Rector’s argument consists, essentially, of two points:

1. The United States of America has accomplished something unknown in all human history: the elimination of poverty. Even below the poverty line, Rector notes,

The typical “poor” American experiences no material hardships, receives medical care whenever needed, has an ample diet and wasn’t hungry for even a single day in the previous year. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the nutritional quality of the diets of poor children is identical to that of upper middle class kids.

In America, about 80 percent of poor families have air conditioning, nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite TV, half have a computer and a third have a wide-screen LCD or plasma TV.

In this country, in short, poverty — poverty as understood throughout human history; poverty as material want; poverty as hunger and homelessness — poverty has been, simply, eliminated.

Has the government responded by ending programs that are no longer needed? Of course not. Which brings us to Rector’s second point.

2. The federal government has now redefined poverty.

While the old poverty measure counted absolute purchasing power (how much steak and potatoes you can buy), the new measure counts comparative purchasing power (how much steak and potatoes you can buy relative to other people)….

The goal of fighting poverty…has been covertly shifted to equalizing incomes or “spreading the wealth.”

Divorced from actual living conditions, the new government report on “poverty” is merely…[a] tool for expanding the welfare state.

The virtual elimination of hunger and homelessness — this represents one of the signal achievements of all time. And now it’s being used to distort and undermine the very free markets that made it possible.

Elections matter, darn it, and this is the sort of thing that happens when we lose.