Fox Cites Ownership Of Appliances To Downplay Hardship Of Poverty In America

Fox News hosts are citing a Heritage Foundation report about the ownership of appliances among the poor in America to ask, in the words of Bill O'Reilly, “So how can you be so poor and have all this stuff?” In reality, the poor in America face hardships in areas that deeply affect their lives, such as health, education, housing, and access to healthy food and legal services -- regardless of their ability to purchase a microwave oven.

Fox Hosts Cite Heritage Study To Call Into Question The Severity Of Poverty In America

O'Reilly: “How Can You Be So Poor And Have All This Stuff?” From The O'Reilly Factor:

O'REILLY: The Census Bureau reports that 43 million Americans are currently living in poverty. The bureau defines poverty as a family of four earning less than $22,000 a year. But the conservative Heritage Foundation says that many poor American families have lots of stuff. Here now to analyze, Fox Business anchor Lou Dobbs.


O'REILLY: Eight-two percent have a microwave. This is 82 percent of American poor families. Seventy-eight percent have air conditioning. More than one television, 65 percent. Cable or satellite TV, 64 percent -- thank God.

DOBBS: Amen, brother.

O'REILLY: Cell phones, 55 percent. Personal computer, 39 percent. And as we said, that's a 6-year-old consumption survey, so these numbers are way up. So how can you be so poor and have all this stuff? [Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor, 7/20/11]

O'Reilly: “We're Not Diminishing The Suffering That The Poor People Have.” From The O'Reilly Factor:

O'REILLY: But let's get back to the poverty issue. We don't want to -- we're not diminishing the suffering that the poor people have.

DOBBS: Absolutely not.

O'REILLY: I mean, you go to any poor neighborhood -- I rode around South Carolina, interestingly enough, a couple of months ago. And you're looking at these shotgun houses and these people living in dilapidated -- and, yeah, inside, they probably have a few modern conveniences, but this is no day at the beach.

But there is a reason for poverty in America. There's almost always a reason attached to poverty. And it's not the capitalist system's fault. It's usually personal responsibility or something like that.


O'REILLY: But again, we don't want to diminish the suffering of poor people.

DOBBS: Absolutely.

O'REILLY: It is intense in any country. But in capitalism, there are going to be poor people. There are going to be people who can't or won't compete. And that's just the system. [Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor, 7/20/11]

Varney Hosts Author Of Poverty Report To Argue That Because The Poor Have “Modern Conveniences,” Official Poverty Figures Are Inaccurate. From Your World with Neil Cavuto:

STUART VARNEY (guest host): A new report showing poor families in the United States are not what they used to be. Now, many poor families have homes with cable TV, cell phones, computers, you name it -- much, much, more. My next guest is digging up all of this stuff. Robert Rector is with the Heritage Foundation.

Robert, I'm just going to give our viewers a quick run-through of what items poor families in America have. Ninety-nine percent of them have a refrigerator. Eighty-one percent have a microwave. Seventy-eight percent have air conditioning. Sixty-three percent have cable TV. Fifty-four percent have cell phones. Forty-eight percent have a coffee maker -- I'm not surprised, they're only about 10 bucks. Thirty-eight percent have a computer. Thirty-two percent have more than two TVs. Twenty-five percent have a dishwasher.

This, Sir, Mr. Rector, is very different what it was just a few years ago, isn't it?

ROBERT RECTOR (Heritage Foundation senior research fellow): No, actually what you see is that the living standards of the poor have increased rather steadily for the last 30 years. And in fact, the poverty report has not accurately reflected their living conditions really for several decades.

VARNEY: Now, I understand that today, the federal government says 14 percent of the population lives in poverty, and that's roughly the same as it was back in 1966, before all the Great Society programs. But doesn't that look poverty as a financial, a monetary thing?

RECTOR: Yes, part of the reason that when you look at the actual living conditions of the 43 million people that the Census says are poor, you see that in fact, they have all these modern conveniences. If you ask them, did your family have enough food to eat at all times during the last year, the overwhelming majority will say yes. If you ask them were you able to meet any medical needs you may have had, they will say yes.

The typical poor family in the United States lives in a house or an apartment and actually has more living space than the average European. Not a poor European, but the average Frenchman or the average German.

So, in fact, there really isn't any connection between the government's identification of poor people and the actual living standards and the typical American -- when an American hears the word “poverty,” he's thinking about somebody that doesn't have enough food to eat, someone that's possibly homeless. It's not true. [Fox News, Your World with Neil Cavuto, 7/19/11]

Poverty Affects Serious Aspects Of Americans' Lives, Like Health, Education, And Housing

Yglesias: “Poverty Is Mostly About Housing, Health Care, And Education.” From a blog post by Matthew Yglesias, a fellow at the Center For American Progress Action Fund, titled “Poverty Is Mostly About Housing, Health Care, And Education”:

The Heritage Foundation is out with the latest version of its annual poor people aren't poor because electronics are cheap report:

A serious person would follow this up with a discussion of relative prices. Over the past 50 years, televisions have gotten a lot cheaper and college has gotten a lot more expensive. Consequently, even a low income person can reliably obtain a level of television-based entertainment that would blow the mind of a millionaire from 1961. At the same time, if you're looking to live in a safe neighborhood with good public schools in a metropolitan area with decent job opportunities you're going to find that this is quite expensive. Health care has become incredibly expensive. [, 7/19/11]

Living In Poverty Worsens Health

CNN: People Living In “Extreme Poverty” Experience “More Chronic Illness, More Frequent And Severe Disease Complications.” From

New research indicates that it's not just the poor who are getting poorer. An analysis of poverty rates and health published in the September issue of The American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that people living in extreme poverty tend to have more chronic illnesses, more frequent and severe disease complications and make greater demands on the health care system.

“When we talk about poverty, there is the tendency to feel it affects a small percentage of the population and the rest of us are doing better,” said Steven Woolf, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of the study. But in this situation, he said, “we're all doing a little bit worse.” [, 8/29/06]

Living In Poverty Limits Education

John's Hopkins Education Researchers: “Poverty Is The Fundamental Driver Of Low Graduation Rates.” From a 2006 commentary published in Education Week by Robert Balfanz and Nettie Legters, researchers at John's Hopkins University's Center for Social Organization of Schools:

We also have learned that poverty is the fundamental driver of low graduation rates. There is a near perfect linear relationship between a high school's poverty level and its tendency to lose large numbers of students between ninth and twelfth grades. In the states we have looked at in more depth, minorities are promoted to 12th grade at the same or greater rates as white youth when they attend middle class or affluent high schools in which few students live in poverty.

Relatively few minorities attend these high schools, however. Nearly half of the nation's African American and Latino students attend high schools with high poverty and low graduation rates. This is social dynamite because in modern America a good education is the only reliable path out of poverty. [Education Week, 7/16/06, (PDF here)]

Education Commission Of The States: Low-Income Students Are Less Prepared For College. From Keeping America's Promise: A Report on the Future of the Community College, a joint project of the Education Commission of the States and the League for Innovation in the Community College:

The research on postsecondary access and success clearly shows that low-income students and students of color participate in college at lower rates, are less academically prepared and thus require remedial or developmental education, are averse to student loans and unlikely to qualify for merit aid, and are less likely to persist, transfer to a four-year college, or attain a postsecondary degree.

Academic Preparation. Low-income students and students of color overwhelmingly attend secondary schools with significantly fewer resources than wealthier, predominantly White suburban schools (Frankenberg and Lee, 2002; NCES, 1998). One of the consequences of this variability of resources for primary and secondary schools is academic preparation. In 2000, only one in five high school graduates from families with income less than $25,000 was highly or very highly qualified for college based upon their secondary school curriculum compared with more than half of high school graduates from families with income greater than $75,000 (NCES, 2000). [Keeping America's Promise: A Report on the Future of the Community College, 7/04]

Living In Poverty Creates Housing Instability

HUD: “A Family With One Full-Time Worker Earning The Minimum Wage Cannot Afford The Local Fair-Market Rent For A Two-Bedroom Apartment Anywhere In The United States.” From the Department of Housing and Urban Development:

Who Needs Affordable Housing?

More people than you might realize. The economic expansion of the 1990s obscured certain trends and statistics that point to an increased, not decreased, need for affordable housing. The generally accepted definition of affordability is for a household to pay no more than 30 percent of its annual income on housing. Families who pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing are considered cost burdened and may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care. An estimated 12 million renter and homeowner households now pay more then 50 percent of their annual incomes for housing, and a family with one full-time worker earning the minimum wage cannot afford the local fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the United States. The lack of affordable housing is a significant hardship for low-income households preventing them from meeting their other basic needs, such as nutrition and healthcare, or saving for their future and that of their families. [, accessed 7/21/11]

Urban Institute: 2008 Data “Suggest That Many Low-Income Working Families Are Likely To Have Trouble Paying The Rent And Meeting Their Mortgages.” From a Q&A with the Urban Institute's Gregory Acs and Margery Austin Turner:

A family can afford to pay about 30 percent of its income on housing, according to widely accepted standards. Data released today [August 26, 2008] on the incomes of U.S. families in 2007 suggest that many low-income working families are likely to have trouble paying the rent and meeting their mortgages.

A family of four (two adults and two children) living at 2007's poverty line ($21,027) can afford $526 a month in rent -- far less than fair-market rents for a two-bedroom apartment in most metropolitan areas. Indeed, this family would have to spend 34 percent of its income to rent in Mobile, Alabama; 45 percent in Phoenix, Arizona; 53 percent in Chicago, Illinois; and 68 percent in New York City, New York. [Urban Institute, accessed 7/21/11]

Living In Poverty Limits Access To Healthy Food, Is Linked To Obesity

Community Health Experts Bell And Standish: “Like The Inability To Obtain Fresh Foods, Obesity And Related Health Problems ... Disproportionately Affect Low-Income People.” From an article in Community Development Investment Review, a publication of the San Francisco Federal Reserve, by Judith Bell, president of PolicyLink, and Marion Standish, director of community health for the California Endowment:

Limited access to fresh foods primarily affects inner-city communities, rural areas, and some older suburbs and is felt most acutely in low-income communities and communities of color. A 2009 study found that 23.5 million people in low-income communities have no supermarket or large grocery store within a mile of their homes. In California, lower-income communities have 20 percent fewer healthy food sources than higher-income ones. In Albany, New York, 80 percent of nonwhite residents live in neighborhoods where one cannot find low-fat milk or high-fiber bread, a staple in any middle-class community.


Like the inability to obtain fresh foods, obesity and related health problems such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease disproportionately affect low-income people and people of color. African American and Mexican American children are nearly twice as likely as white children to be obese. Children from poor families are twice as likely to be overweight as those from higher-income families. Ten-year-old Latino girls have a lifetime diabetes risk of 53 percent and African American girls have a 49 percent risk, while white girls have a lifetime risk of 31 percent. The racial risk profile is similar among boys. [Community Development Investment Review, Volume 5, Issue 3, 2009, accessed 7/22/11]

Living In Poverty Limits Access To Legal Services

Legal Services Corp.: “There Continues To Be A Major Gap Between The Civil Legal Needs Of Low-Income People And The Legal Help That They Receive.” From Documenting the Justice Gap in America, a 2009 report published by the Legal Services Corporation, a private nonprofit organization created by Congress that “promotes equal access to justice and provides grants for high-quality civil legal assistance to low-income Americans”:

This report updates the 2005 Justice Gap Report, using new data. Analysis of this data confirms that the conclusion of the 2005 Justice Gap Report remains valid: there continues to be a major gap between the civil legal needs of low-income people and the legal help that they receive.

  • Data collected in the spring of 2009 show that for every client served by an LSC-funded program, one person who seeks help is turned down because of insufficient resources.
  • New state legal needs studies have added depth to a body of social science knowledge that has produced consistent findings for a decade and a half, documenting that only a small fraction of the legal problems experienced by low-income people (less than one in five) are addressed with the assistance of either a private attorney (pro bono or paid) or a legal aid lawyer.
  • Analysis of the most recent available figures on attorney employment shows that nationally, on the average, only one legal aid attorney is available for every 6,415 low-income people. By comparison, there is one private attorney providing personal legal services (those meeting the legal needs of private individuals and families) for every 429 people in the general population who are above the LSC poverty threshold.
  • New data indicate that state courts, especially those courts that deal with issues affecting low-income people, in particular lower state courts and such specialized courts as housing and family courts, are facing significantly increased numbers of unrepresented litigants. Studies show that the vast majority of people who appear without representation are unable to afford an attorney, and a large percentage of them are low-income people who qualify for legal aid. A growing body of research indicates that outcomes for unrepresented litigants are often less favorable than those for represented litigants. [Legal Services Corporation, Documenting the Justice Gap in America, 9/09]