New information from the Census Bureau puts the number of
Americans in poverty at 15 percent -- roughly the same number as
Robert Rector, senior research fellow at The Heritage
Foundation's DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society, says
the news is not particularly good, but that it does show a lot of
information about poverty is "simply incorrect."
"The report does show that the American public is suffering a
lot," he acknowledges. "But when the American public hears that
there are 46 million poor people, they're thinking about people who
don't have adequate housing, don't have enough food to eat and
can't put clothes on their kids' back -- and the reality is that a
very small number of the 46 million people that the census is
identifying as 'poor' meet those conditions."
According to Rector, the overwhelming majority of poor
households live in a house or apartment that is in good repair and
is not overcrowded. Meanwhile, most of them have air conditioning
and cable television, and half of them have a computer. Moreover,
Rector says an overwhelming majority say they had enough food to
eat in the last year, they were able to meet their essential needs
and they got medical care when needed.
"Why is the census so inaccurate?" Rector asks. "Well, when the
census defines a family as poor, they say, for example, a family of
four will be poor if it has an income of less than $23,000 over the
course of a year. But when they count income, they exclude almost
the entire welfare state, all food stamps, all public housing [and]
the earned income tax credit."
Last year, the government spent $927 billion on means-tested
welfare programs providing cash, food, housing and medical care for
low-income Americans. Rector says 100 million people received at
least one benefit out of that means-tested system, which does not
include Social Security or Medicare. The average benefit per
recipient is around $9,000.
More information on Heritage's research, including links to that
mentioned above, is
available on the Heritage website.