In an August 2 op-ed, Washington Examiner columnist Thomas Sowell used a recent Heritage Foundation study, which determined that many of those living below the poverty line own household appliances like a microwave, to claim that those defined as poor by the government are not truly poor, writing, "If there were a contest for the most misleading words used in politics, 'poverty' should be one of the leading contenders for that title." In fact, regardless of the appliances they own, the poor in America still face hardships in areas such as health, education, housing, and access to healthy food and legal services.
Sowell also claimed that " '[t]he poor' are the human shields behind whom advocates of ever-bigger spending for ever-bigger government advance toward their goal." From the op-ed (emphasis added):
If there were a contest for the most misleading words used in politics, "poverty" should be one of the leading contenders for that title.
Each of us may have his own idea of what poverty means, especially those of us who grew up in poverty. But what poverty means politically and in the media is whatever the people who collect statistics choose to define as poverty.
This is not just a question of semantics. The whole future of the welfare state depends on how poverty is defined. "The poor" are the human shields behind whom advocates of ever-bigger spending for ever-bigger government advance toward their goal.
If poverty meant what most people think of as poverty -- people who are "ill-clad, ill-housed, and ill-nourished," in FDR's phrase -- there would not be nearly enough people in poverty today to justify the vastly expanded powers and runaway spending of the federal government.
Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation has for years examined what "the poor" of today actually have, and the economic facts completely undermine the political rhetoric.
Official data cited by Rector show that 80 percent of "poor" households have air-conditioning today, which less than half the population of America had in 1970. Nearly three-quarters of households in poverty own a motor vehicle, and nearly one-third own more than one motor vehicle.
Virtually everyone living in "poverty," as defined by the government, has color television, and most have cable TV or satellite TV. More than three-quarters have either a VCR or a DVD player, and nearly nine-tenths have a microwave oven.
Actual studies of "the poor" have found their intake of the necessary nutrients to be no less than that of others. In fact, obesity is slightly more prevalent among low-income people.
[T]he political left hates means tests. If government programs were confined to people who were genuinely poor in some meaningful sense, that would shrink the welfare state to a fraction of its current size. The left would lose its human shields.