The New York Times Spouts Nonsense On "Poverty"

A big source of the Manhattan conventional ignorance is that most all members of the professional class read the New York Times and somehow think that because the Times has such a condescending high-brow tone it must know what it is talking about.  Big mistake.  Sorry, but a very high percentage of what masquerades as news in the Times is just naked advocacy for government spending as the solution to all human problems.

A good example among many is a front page article from Sunday's print edition, "50 Years Later, War on Poverty Is a Mixed Bag," by Annie Lowrey.   As readers here know, one of my persistent themes is that government "poverty" statistics are deliberately misleading.  They deem to be "poverty" things that have nothing to do with physical deprivation in order to wildly inflate the numbers, and are designed specifically so that no amount of increased government spending can ever eliminate or even reduce the "poverty."   Thus they are used to justify unending pleas for more ineffectual spending.  For a few of my prior articles, see here, here, and here

In her piece Ms. Lowrey demonstrates both an appalling ignorance of the scam and an adamant refusal to apply any critical thinking to the subject matter.   The basic idea of the article is to bemoan the fact that after five decades of vast spending in a supposed "War on Poverty," the rate of "poverty" as measured by the government has barely budged.  Ms. Lowrey goes looking for the reasons in deep social science doublethink without ever considering the extent to which the government actually measures what it claims to measure.

Here are a few basics that are necessary for any discussion of U.S. "poverty" statistics:  (1) The amount of needs-tested benefits passed out per year from all levels of government, which is over $900 billion, is far more than enough to remove every person in "poverty" from that status if the money were simply passed out in cash. (2) Instead of being passed out in cash, the large majority of the benefits are passed out in-kind (e.g., food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance, WIC and other "nutrition" programs, etc.) and then counted at zero in determining "income" for purposes of the poverty statistics.  Given the vast amounts that are spent without being allowed to count in the measure of "poverty," the official statistics long since ceased to have any meaning and instead are just a tool cynically used by the government to defraud the public into acquiescing in continuing government growth.

But here we have Ms. Lowrey spouting the usual statistics as if they mean something:

But high rates of poverty — measured by both the official government yardstick and the alternatives that many economists prefer — have remained a remarkably persistent feature of American society. About four in 10 black children live in poverty; for Hispanic children, that figure is about three in 10.

The "four in ten" and "three in ten" figures for black and Hispanic children are completely the result of failing to count the in-kind benefits in the statistics.  What are the real numbers after the benefits are counted?  The government won't say, and Ms. Lowrey is not curious (or intelligent) enough to ask.  There is nothing "remarkable" about the persistence of "poverty" in the United States in the face of spending that would long ago have eliminated it under honest measurement.  The whole idea is to spend the money in ways that don't count in order to have a reason to advocate for yet more spending.

Then we have this howler:

According to one recent study, as of mid-2011, in any given month, 1.7 million households were living on cash income of less than $2 a person a day, with the prevalence of the kind of deep poverty commonly associated with developing nations increasing since the mid-1990s.

Please, Ms. Lowrey, how does "living on cash income of less than $2 a person a day" equate with the "deep poverty" of "developing nations"?  She is just completely omitting that people in the United States may have lots of reasons to have little or no "cash income" in a given year, but still have plenty of resources to live on.  Who are these people in "deep poverty" living on less than $2 per day?  Just give it a moment's thought (something Ms. Lowrey appears incapable of) and you will realize that you know lots of them and you had no idea that they were in "deep poverty."  Examples:

(1) Students, particularly students in graduate and professional school who are over 21, live apart from their parents, and for whatever reason do not take a paying job during the year.  They live off (a) scholarships (don't count as "cash income"), (b) student loans (don't count as "cash income"), and (c) support from the parents or other family members (doesn't count as "cash income").  In lieu of a summer job, perhaps they think it is to their advantage to take that unpaid internship this year.

(2) Early retirees who live for a few years by consuming savings before taking their social security.  Consuming savings does not count as "cash income."  Also in this category are those who have large equity in a home and take a reverse mortgage to get a monthly check.  That also does not count as "cash income."

(3) Small business owners who have a losing year.  Oddly enough (given all the other arbitrary exclusions), losing money in a business actually does count as "cash income."  Yes, it is entirely possible to have "cash income" that is negative.  In fact, if you have a large enough business, you can have a very large negative cash income, even millions of dollars.  Is that what they mean by "deep poverty"?  Of course, people who have a business large enough to lose millions of dollars in a year are likely in real life to be "rich" by any normal definition of the term, although not by the absurd definitions that the government uses to measure "poverty."

(4) Young people out of school who take a year or two to enjoy themselves before starting work.  Maybe they travel in Europe.  Maybe they hike the Appalachian Trail.

And I haven't even gotten to people who make their money off the books where the government doesn't count it, like drug dealers and many casual construction workers.

When you think about it, you will realize that in the context of today's United States, going a year without any meaningful "cash income" is far more likely to be a luxury than a hardship.  (Clearly I am not saying that no one in the United States lives in conditions of hardship.  Undoubtedly there are many.  It's just that the government statistics do not give us any meaningful information on how many, nor does the "cash income" measure give any meaningful indication of which people are the ones in real hardship.) 

Given the many reasons why a person may go a year without earning money, it is actually surprising that the government statistics only come up with 1.7 million people reported as living in families with "less than $2 per day per person" cash income.  In my own circle of extended family, friends and acquaintances, there are multiple people who likely fit this definition.  If you met any of them, you would think that they were upper middle class, or even wealthy in some cases.  It would never occur to you that they are what the government -- and Ms. Lowrey -- mean by "deep poverty."

And I have only scratched the surface of the flaws in this preposterous article.