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Faux News thinks the poor aren't so bad off
January 24, 2004 8:00 AM   Subscribe

Faux News cites a Heritage Foundation report that asserts the poor in America are doing just fine because many of them live in their own homes and have cars. However, I know poor homeowners who have to deal with rampant crime, high property taxes (to subsidize the suburbs,) bank redlining, lousy schools and crumbling infrastructure. Also, car ownership is a necessity for most people in most places- not a luxury as would be suggested. Rather than citing the statistics of DVD-player ownership, I'd prefer to know more about real quality-of-life issues, such as how many of these people have health insurance. What do you think?
posted by drstrangelove (72 comments total)

 
I sympathize, but we already know Faux sucks. You might want to draft a letter to the editor to cleanse your mind, and go read something better.
posted by stonerose at 8:06 AM on January 24, 2004


Why blame the news organization--bad as they are--when in fact it is the very conservative Heritage Foundatin they are citing for their "facts." A lot depends on how one defines "poor." and for sure comparing those in the US to those ils some awful thrid-world nation is misleading...I have worked soup kitchens and discovered that many of what we called homeless were in fact with places to live but unable to afford food!
posted by Postroad at 8:35 AM on January 24, 2004


Why bother linking to the Heritage Foundation ? Their credibility is weak.

Find some good academic (not "Think Tank") research on the subject.

Paging Homunculus. Paging Homunculus. Pithy links needed. Links needed........

I've got a ton of material, but I've done my 'Filtering for the day. I'll load some recent research tonight maybe, if H (or some other patron saint of good information) doesn't fill the void before then.

Not to reject the Heritage study out of hand either - I've made that mistake before (recently, too). There just might be be a valid critter of a point hiding amidst that dark and tangled Heritage forest of ideological slant.
posted by troutfishing at 8:37 AM on January 24, 2004


Why blame the news organization--bad as they are--when in fact it is the very conservative Heritage Foundatin they are citing for their "facts."

Because news organizations are supposed to present (ahem) fair and balanced accounts of the issues of the day, rather than parroting the findings of known ideologues.
posted by stonerose at 8:38 AM on January 24, 2004


46 percent of the technically "poor" live in their own homes, most with more living space than the average person in Paris, London or Vienna.

Oh, you have to laugh at that specious comparison. I bet they have even more living space than the average person in New York. You know, because of strange things like population density and the availability of housing stock, and the fact that the US is a big place with lots of spare land, unlike Paris, London or Vienna. By that criterion, living in the middle of Arkansas, in a trailer that's bigger than, say, a little studio flat in Mayfair or a pokey apartment off the Avenue Montaigne, means you're out of the Poor Club. Not to mention the basic statistical dishonesty that arises from comparing apples ('living space of the poor throughout America') and oranges ('living space of people in densely-populated cities where a garden shed sells for £200k.') Or the sneaking suspicion that homeless people are statistically weighted with the 'living space' of an entire city. (Such freedom! Such personal liberty!)

I'd check to see if it's put that way in the report itself, but it's not yet crawled onto the Heritage.org site.

"I think we should see it as good news and be very grateful that poverty in this country is not worse and in fact, material hardship, as we know it, is significantly lower than many people might have previously imagined," said study author Melissa Pardue.

Well, that's nice. Dear young Ms Melissa Pardue, with your degree in social work, I hope you tell the drug addicts and developmentally-disabled kids you work with that they should buck up their ideas and stop thinking they're really poor. That is, when you're not telling them to stop fucking. Wood for the trees.
posted by riviera at 8:45 AM on January 24, 2004


Here's some information on the author of the Heritage Foundation study, and here's a link to the study--actually a survey of other studies--itself. MeTa.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 8:48 AM on January 24, 2004


A nice social anthropological study on getting by in America on "the living wage" is Nicked and Dimed: On (not) getting by in America. (Author = Barbara Ehrenreich)

Take a look at the challenges she went through on just trying out being a working poor person.
posted by fluffycreature at 8:51 AM on January 24, 2004


Luckily, they have they answers: "To accomplish this, we must focus on the main causes of child poverty: low levels of parental work and high levels of single parenthood."
posted by Blake at 8:54 AM on January 24, 2004


I guess the definition of Poor according to Faux News is african-starvation-level poor, you know the starving kids occasionally shown on tv to make you feel bad about them and feel comparatively rich.

But that's nonsense at its worst. I may be surrounded by tons of stuff , but what if I'm in debt and still haven't paid for them ? (Ask George or any of his friends, spending is good for economy if you got money to spend..but they didn't say don't make debts, which is important for economy as well)

Or what if the market value of the stuff that surround me is so low that I'll be luckly if I earn $100 out of the $1000 stuff I bought ? Guess I WAS maybe rich, but I'm no longer rich...which proves that measuring wealthiness by stuff that loses value incredibly fast (tv,dvd,cars,other crap) is dead wrong.
posted by elpapacito at 9:01 AM on January 24, 2004


To accomplish this, we must focus on the main causes of child poverty: low levels of parental work and high levels of single parenthood.

I think they're on to something. if all these lazy poor people would just get right with god and become holy people of prayer, then no matter they do god will bless them. trust me!
posted by mcsweetie at 9:40 AM on January 24, 2004


here's a link to the study--actually a survey of other studies--itself

I saw that, and I don't think that's 'the study' Fox is referring to, monju_bosatsu. No reference to living space, TV ownership etc.... ah, this is the study Fox cited. Ms Melissa was actually riffing on the food bank question, so I owe her a partial apology; it's these two who deserve the blame for the crap in the Fox report. Rector and Johnson attempt to justify their soundbite comparison with London, Paris, Vienna and Athens by saying 'Overall, poor Americans have an average of 439 square feet of living space per person, which is as much as or more than the average citizen in most West European countries.' it simply magnifies the speciousness of their basic premise, since it doesn't correct for (or at least acknowledge) the effects of population density on living space. You can often live 'better' in a smaller space in a European country because of easier access to services, public transportation etc. Or as CEROI puts it:
Floor area per person is a response indicator, as well as a pressure indicator. In high-density cities, floor area per capita is usually lower than in low-density cities or towns. This is influenced by housing regulations in general. Thus, in low-density cities, the floor area per person is usually larger than needed for the inhabitants; this commonly leads to the misuse of resources such as electricity, land, water, etc.
Meaning that larger housing stocks in the US may actually be counterproductive because they place a greater demand upon residents in terms of heating, create sprawl and so on. There's also a positive correlation, unsurprisingly, between metropolitan floor area per capita and petrol consumption.

Note that Washington D.C. is chosen as the representative US city, which seems a bit arbitrary. The statistics are also over ten years old. I can understand why, given that floor area per capita for US cities isn't included on nice easy public datasets such as the UNCHS Citibase, but is the Heritage Foundation really too cheap either to ask for datasets from the US Census Bureau or the US Housing Survey? Even I could probably knock something up from the tables here for New York if I could be arsed and was getting paid for it.

Finally, this nugget:

In good economic times or bad, the typical poor family with children is supported by only 800 hours of work during a year: That amounts to 16 hours of work per week. If work in each family were raised to 2,000 hours per year--the equivalent of one adult working 40 hours per week throughout the year--nearly 75 percent of poor children would be lifted out of official poverty.

The implication from the use of the passive tense -- 'If work were raised' -- is that the poor are lazy and coddled by welfare, rather than, say, stuck in part-time work. And you have to wonder how the 'work-hour' is defined here, since the study leaves it perhaps deliberately murky: '2000 hours of work' at Wal-Mart probably translates to '800 hours of work' at a decent job.

Statistical fraud? Not quite. Damned lies... and statistics? Pretty much so. It's just really bad research: taking indicators that sound good but are neither properly analysed nor have a consequential impact on the study's hypothesis. Try the World Bank's Urban Poverty Indicators for a considerably more thoughtful set of indicators, none of which mention 'colour TV'. (Think 'house price to income ratio', 'rent to income ratio' etc.)

Christ, I feel like I'm back at university here.
posted by riviera at 10:01 AM on January 24, 2004


Ah, I see. So not only does Fox give us a woefully under-developed news piece on the poverty problem, they confuse the authors of the studies. Wonderful.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:10 AM on January 24, 2004


Riviera : excellent ! I guess Bill O'Reilly would have blessed you with a nice sequel of "Shut Up ! SHUT UP ! Cut his mike!" counter arguments :)
posted by elpapacito at 10:17 AM on January 24, 2004


"...I'd prefer to know more about real quality-of-life issues, such as how many of these people have health insurance."

Since almost no one had health insurance 75 years ago, and bankruptcy is not nearly as bad as death, isn't that a bit extreme? That said, there is poverty and poor quality of life in the United States. And a lot of it is not due to lack of income, but lack of education--McDonalds, anyone?

I also wonder how much more there would be in Europe and elsewhere if, over the years, so many of "their" poor didn't immigrate here.
posted by ParisParamus at 10:20 AM on January 24, 2004


Much of the issue of poverty isn't poverty, it's stupidity. Stupidity on the part of those who are trying to alleviate it, irrationally; and, let's face it, stupidity on the part of those who are poor.
There are endless examples I can cite here on both sides. But the overall effect is ruinous on the "good intentioned"--that is, the people who not only want, but try to make a difference.

Some of the odder paradoxes are those who want to "help" the poor because they hate and fear the poor. "Helping" or forcing them out of poverty, approached like ethnic cleansing.

Then there are those that hate and blame the *programs* that help the poor--who strive to make them NOT work. Who make programs so hard that no one can benefit from them.

Then there are the poor who refuse to do one iota of effort to help themselves. Even if it is free, they insist that someone come to their dwelling and give it to them. And this means everything, to the point of nonsense. "Why can't a doctor come here instead of me having to go to the ER?" "Why can't someone apply for work for me and just tell me where to go, and then take me there?"

Added to the poor who will take anything offered, only to waste and misuse it so terribly as to shock and dismay. (A social worker friend quit because after he had spent months on a family, they now had a ridiculously expensive wide-screen TV with satellite hookup on installment; but would still only eat rice and beans and not wash their clothes, nor look for work or send their kids to school.)
posted by kablam at 10:56 AM on January 24, 2004


Paging Homunculus. Paging Homunculus. Pithy links needed. Links needed........

Here ya go.
posted by homunculus at 11:13 AM on January 24, 2004


Oh, you said "pithy." Sorry.
posted by homunculus at 11:14 AM on January 24, 2004


Yaddi yaddi yadda... The usual leftists complaining on this thread about the living conditions of the American poor.

Here's an advice: if America is so bad, why don't you sneak through the border and become an illegal immigrant in Mexico? Oh wait, people are sneaking through the border from the OTHER way. Why would they do that if being poor here is so bad?

The answer is that the lifestyle of the poor in America is pure luxury compared to being poor in Mexico (and most of the rest of the world, asa matter of fact). The most telling evidence is the lack of illegal immigrants going into other countries from US. People from North Korea run through a freakin' mine field to escape to South Korea... The US-Canadian border is not even defended for god's sake!

If you are poor in America, you should look for ways to work your way up. Upward mobility is still possible there. I have zero respect for people who whine without knowing how lucky they are compared to the REAL poor people in rest of the world.

Actually, I bet that you people do know how good you have it, but you just like to whine anyway.
posted by VeGiTo at 11:28 AM on January 24, 2004


Nice, VeGiTo. Kind of like, "Well, you may have had both your legs run over, but at least you can still crawl your ass around."
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:51 AM on January 24, 2004


Here's an advice: if America is so bad, why don't you sneak through the border and become an illegal immigrant in Mexico?

can't argue with that. LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT, BUDDY! my greatgranduncle lost an ear for your freedom!

Oh wait, people are sneaking through the border from the OTHER way. Why would they do that if being poor here is so bad?

but that's irrelevant. we're talking about america, and america has a different standard of living than mexico.

If you are poor in America, you should look for ways to work your way up.

such as...move to mexico?

Actually, I bet that you people do know how good you have it, but you just like to whine anyway.

is "you people" referring to the everyone in this thread or some imaginary poor person stereotype?
posted by mcsweetie at 11:51 AM on January 24, 2004


answer is that the lifestyle of the poor in America is pure luxury compared to being poor in Mexico

Heck, if you're going to compare things to Mexico of course the U.S. looks pretty good. Like why should Cubans whine about poverty, they have better health care than and education than Mexicans.
posted by bobo123 at 11:54 AM on January 24, 2004


I like how Vegito's comment was not at all addressed to the content of either the post or the thread. It's like he's got a pull-down menu of rants and he just selected "poor people".
posted by Hildago at 11:58 AM on January 24, 2004


we're talking about america, and america has a different standard of living than mexico.

Precisely my point. The standard of living in America is so high that even the lifestyle of the poor is unrecognizably luxurious compared to the majority of the world.

The only reason a lot of people feel poor is because there are some really rich people in America to whom you look poor in comparison. What we have here is that while there are some people who are insanely well off, the poor is still very well off in comparison to the rest of the world. Is this really that bad? Or should we just make everybody poorer so you can feel better?

LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT, BUDDY!

If you didn't notice, I was being sarcastic when I made the suggestion of escaping to Mexico. The advice I gave later, which is working your way up the class hierarchy, is probably too daunting of a task for you to even consider?
posted by VeGiTo at 12:01 PM on January 24, 2004


Hildago, well do you have any thing to say about my "pull-down menu of rants" other than ad-hominem attacks?

Or may be what I said hit the nail so squarely that you have nothing better to say?
posted by VeGiTo at 12:03 PM on January 24, 2004


The standard of living in America is so high that even the lifestyle of the poor is unrecognizably luxurious compared to the majority of the world.

yes but it's still irrelevant. you could just as easily say that the poor have absurd wealth compared to say, the poor in Liberia.

The advice I gave later, which is working your way up the class hierarchy, is probably too daunting of a task for you to even consider?

first of all, where the hell did that come from? second of all, why do you assume I'm poor and furthermore not working to improve myself? I'm not and furthermore, I am. I don't have it good but it's better than the poor in america. third of all,

Hildago, well do you have any thing to say about my "pull-down menu of rants" other than ad-hominem attacks?

you're one to talk.
posted by mcsweetie at 12:23 PM on January 24, 2004


This may be sidelong to the developing argument, but I'm reminded of Tom Tomorrow's take on a similar Heritage Foundation study from 1998, where one measure of poverty is access to color televisions. If we get nothing else out of this thread, let's be reminded about the importance of concept formation and operationalization as crucial to any social science studies...
posted by .kobayashi. at 12:29 PM on January 24, 2004


Why is it irrelevant that being poor in America is better than being poor in most other countries, and possibly even better than being moderately well off in some of them? It seems like by Rawls's Difference Principle, the relative status of the least advantaged under different systems is exactly what we should be comparing.

I don't know if the factual claims of this study are right or appropriate ways to compare material status, but if so, then they seem highly relevant to the question of whether we should be more like Sweden, or more like Cuba, or continue as we are going (I assume no one seriously thinks we should be more like Mexico.)
posted by maciej at 1:31 PM on January 24, 2004


I also wonder how much more there would be in Europe and elsewhere if, over the years, so many of "their" poor didn't immigrate here.

Although I have no beef with the rest of your comment, But I just think this sentance is interesting because it is a good demonstration the classical "conservative" view of being poor. The suggestion that Europe appears richer than the US because poor people have somehow been subtracted from Europe and added to the US. Nevermind that there are still plenty of poor people in Europe (go for a wander around a UK council estate some time). Nevermind that it was those poor Europeans who moved to America who helped make it rich.
posted by Jimbob at 1:37 PM on January 24, 2004


I think the Heritage Foundation is doing its part to try to shore up the chances for a Bush re-election. Like the new "space program".

Everytime I go downtown, I see a lot of poor people who don't have cars, or homes, or apartments. Healthcare has been priced out of reach for a third of Americans. What's going on in other countries is irrelevant -- or should we eliminate most of our weaponry because we'll still have better than the rest?

Just as the danger of radioactive spills can be eliminated by redefining risk levels, conservatives would like to define the poverty problem away. Not a new ploy.

LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT, BUDDY!

Oh wow, haven't seen one of those rattling around for a while.

working your way up the class hierarchy

That's so laughable there's nowhere to start except with a complete re-education.


posted by Twang at 1:53 PM on January 24, 2004


Why is it irrelevant that being poor in America is better than being poor in most other countries, and possibly even better than being moderately well off in some of them?

because it's useless information. if I show you an american who is an ambulance ride away from bankruptcy, and you tell me that in genericastonia this same person would be upper-middle class, not a single one of us have will have learned anything, and the american is still shit-out-of-luck.
posted by mcsweetie at 1:53 PM on January 24, 2004


The standard of living in America is so high that even the lifestyle of the poor is unrecognizably luxurious compared to the majority of the world.

Access to small luxuries is not a good index of poverty. During the 1930s, people still spent money on tickets to the cinema and smart suits (and beer and ciggies) to provide a momentary diversion from their shitty lives. Now they have DVDs and Nikes.

I wouldn't go as far as the guy at the end of the Fox story and say that measuring quality of life or poverty by pointing to material possessions is morally bankrupt, but it certainly is statistically and intellectually bankrupt. (I forgot to mention that the big problem with the 'floor area per capita' indicator is that it doesn't really prove anything ; the Heritage people are making it sound as if it does, but as CEROI says, 'The ideal floor area per person cannot be defined; individual cases should be considered.')

Like I said, have a look at the core indicators accepted as a fair way to judge poverty around the world. They may require slightly more abstract thought than a story which says 'American poor people have TVs! So they have something to keep them amused when they get sick, have no healthcare, and then get laid off work! Scandale!'

The only reason a lot of people feel poor is because there are some really rich people in America to whom you look poor in comparison

Gosh, you're onto something. Finally. Because the differential between mean and median incomes -- that is, the 'poverty gap' between the richest and poorest -- is a very important indicator indeed. Guess what? Feeling poor is part of being poor. Because feeling poor means feeling worthless, abandoned and basically shitty, as well as feeling hungry, uncertain how the rent's going to be paid, and so on. But obviously that 'pursuit of happiness' thing is a historical artifact.

Why is it irrelevant that being poor in America is better than being poor in most other countries, and possibly even better than being moderately well off in some of them?

Because it's often regarded as irrelevant that being rich in America not only means, quite often, being several orders of magnitude richer than one's foreign counterparts? Because societies that concentrate wealth tend to be pretty nasty ones? And god forbid someone like Hugo Chavez gets elected, promising to address the gap between the lives of brown Venezuelans and pale-skinned ones.

America's last Gilded Age gave the world Andrew Carnegie, who said this:
This, then, is held to be the duty of the man of wealth: First, to set an example of modest, unostentatious living, shunning display or extravagance; to provide moderately for the legitimate wants of those dependent upon him; and, after doing so, to consider all surplus revenues which come to him simply as trust funds, which he is called upon to administer, and strictly bound as a matter of duty to administer in the manner which, in his judgment, is best calculated to produce the most beneficial results for the community -- the man of wealth thus becoming the mere trustee and agent for his poorer brethren, bringing to their service his superior wisdom, experience and ability to administer, doing for them better than they would or could do for themselves.
And while Bill Gates is finally growing into that role... well, look at Dick Cheney, saying that all those nasty people are criticising Halliburton.
posted by riviera at 2:04 PM on January 24, 2004


Start > Run > Asshole.exe
posted by trondant at 2:16 PM on January 24, 2004


the american is still shit-out-of-luck
The american is still better off than the genericastonian, as well. I don't get your point at all.

Between food stamps and welfare, America's "poor" have nothing about which to complain.
posted by mischief at 2:51 PM on January 24, 2004


Let them eat cake.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 3:24 PM on January 24, 2004


The american is still better off than the genericastonian, as well. I don't get your point at all.

yeah, the water isn't brown. splendid! look, america is supposed to be the greatest nation on earth. why are you judging us by other nation's standards? it's just a cop out.
posted by mcsweetie at 3:42 PM on January 24, 2004


because it's useless information. if I show you an american who is an ambulance ride away from bankruptcy, and you tell me that in genericastonia this same person would be upper-middle class, not a single one of us have will have learned anything, and the american is still shit-out-of-luck.

So maybe he faces bankruptcy in this unlikely scenario (although that is better than no access to medical care at all, let alone access to the most technically advanced medical care in the world). But maybe any system that provided him with free health care would leave everyone materially worse off overall, including the poor. Indeed, I would rather have a horrible disease as a poor person in America, bankruptcy and all, then as a well-off person in, e.g. the UK where there are 6-month waiting lists for critical treatments and surgeries.

It's nice to imagine there could be a perfect system where you can have the material plenty of America, yet still provide free food, housing, health care, clothing, child care, etc to everyone. But maybe such a system is not possible.

What I am hearing overall here is that (some of) the left has abandoned the "difference principle" justification of capitalism - the idea that differences in outcome (even huge ones) can by justified if overall they are to the benefit of the least advantaged. I must admit I have a hard tying seeing the advantage of the "let's all be equally poor" system.


"working your way up the class hierarchy" That's so laughable there's nowhere to start except with a complete re-education.

When I was a kid my family got food stamps and lived in the ghetto and now I am kind of at the high end of the income distribution. Now that's just an anecdote. But here is some data and here is some more.
posted by maciej at 4:24 PM on January 24, 2004


Here is the reason why poor people stay poor

Think about it. Generations of immigrants come here, and begin their lives at the very bottom rung of the economic ladder. But in 20 years, they are statistically richer than most americans, while their poor neighborhood neighbors stay on the same rung all their lives. My family has done it, and all the other immigrant families I know have done it.

You know why? Because some people work hard to achieve their goals (own a house, get an education), while others work hard to waste their money away on sneakers, fast food, and a rented plasma TV.

Witold
www.witold.org
posted by Witold at 4:25 PM on January 24, 2004


Indeed, I would rather have a horrible disease as a poor person in America, bankruptcy and all, then as a well-off person in, e.g. the UK where there are 6-month waiting lists for critical treatments and surgeries.

That's because you obviously know fuck-all about the UK, and rely upon ideologically-driven falsehoods.

What I am hearing overall here is that (some of) the left has abandoned the "difference principle" justification of capitalism - the idea that differences in outcome (even huge ones) can by justified if overall they are to the benefit of the least advantaged.

Well, you have a tin ear. Differences in outcome can be justified if they arise from equality of opportunity (an abstract concept, of course, but a useful rule of thumb); without equality of opportunity, differences in outcome are simply a crass justification for a new Gilded Age, whereby we rely upon either a government that isn't intent on stuffing the mouths of the wealthy with cash, or on rich quasi-monopolists getting that ol' philanthropic religion.
posted by riviera at 4:32 PM on January 24, 2004


Oh, how witty! Calling Fox News Channel the "Faux News" Channel!

Damn, I wish that I could be as creative, insightful, and witty as that.
posted by davidmsc at 5:01 PM on January 24, 2004


Hildago, well do you have any thing to say about my "pull-down menu of rants" other than ad-hominem attacks?

Yes. The rant itself was absurd and not terribly well thought-through. You're right that it did leave me speechless, however.
posted by Hildago at 5:45 PM on January 24, 2004


If George W. gets reelected the sky will fall.
posted by chickenLittle at 6:08 PM on January 24, 2004


So maybe he faces bankruptcy in this unlikely scenario [ambulance ride] (although that is better than no access to medical care at all, let alone access to the most technically advanced medical care in the world).

My friend didn't have health insurance because he was taking a semester off to work and save up money for college. While moving a couch, he broke a window with his hand and severed two tendons and the main nerve. The most technically advanced medical care in the world patched him back up, but didn't provide physical therapy on credit because he didn't have insurance. He's left with a dominant hand that doesn't have much of its former dexterity or feeling (pretty bad for someone who made ends meet by playing guitar at parties) and a bit less than $30,000 in medical bills, as well as $10,000 in student loans (now accumulating interest, as he's out of school) towards a degree he may never complete. Last I heard, he was couch surfing in LA.

"Unlikely" is a piss-poor adjective for his situation. "Unfortunate" or "unnecessary" are a bit closer. Accidents happen to everyone. So is the appropriate course to tell him to pull himself up by the bootstraps with his good hand?

The idea that "the poor" are poor due to laziness is a intellectual shortcut for actually analyzing the dynamics of poverty. Talk to poor people about what makes them poor; just about every one will tell you exactly what the problem is. It's not inferiority, lack of virtue, or an inability to "get it together" that keeps people poor. Poor people buying DVD players, color TVs, and lotto tickets on credit isn't an example of their wonton disregard for fiscal responsibility, it's an example of their resignation to the fact that they are the wide, stable base of the economic pyramid in this country which allows a tiny tip of the population to live like gods.

I have a feeling those decrying the poor mentality wouldn't know a poor person if they were put up against the wall and shot by one.

(The bitterness is showing again. Sorry.)
posted by Coda at 6:35 PM on January 24, 2004


wouldn't know a poor person if they were put up against the wall and shot by one

see! they have guns!
posted by quonsar at 7:18 PM on January 24, 2004


That's because you obviously know fuck-all about the UK, and rely upon ideologically-driven falsehoods.

Wow, the blinding light of your facts and logic has converted me. Your argument is rock-solid.

But wait, let's see what the UK department of health has to say. Let's see they are trying to cut wait times *down* to 6 months. Damn them and their ideologically-driven falsehoods!
posted by maciej at 7:28 PM on January 24, 2004


"The idea that "the poor" are poor due to laziness is a intellectual shortcut for actually analyzing the dynamics of poverty." - Coda, it is all of that and more - it is the perennial justification for the rights of kings, moguls, and tyrants. It is the distilled spirit of Calvinist doctrine booming out in robust, stentorian tones about the divine grace falling upon the privileged. It is the cudgel which beats the poor while they struggle against stacked odds - and it is the lazy hope of ideological innoculation from the buffeting winds of fate and chance.

To those who would rightly note that fortunes are built on exceptional talent, I would counter with the "Regression to the mean". For those cases in which fortunes are built on exceptional ability, the offspring of those dynastic founders will tend to be less capable - even less than the average, in some cases : so then - much of dynastic, hereditary privilege is not based on capability at all !

And then, of course, some of those who found dynastic forunes are crooks or sociopaths (though certainly intelligent). J.P. Morgan founded his fortune on sales of defective rifles to the Union Army, during the Civil War - specifically, he knowingly bought defective rifles and then resold them to the US government as reliable weaponry.

Some fortunes have been built on worse - the Bush family dynastic fortune, for example.
posted by troutfishing at 7:42 PM on January 24, 2004


I haven't had time to read the rest of the comments, but I will say that if you own a DVD player (or cable TV, or subscribe to magazines, or an internet connection, or buy lottery tickets, or etc.) I have no sympathy for you. If you used the internet connection for business, but you get my point.
posted by BackwardsHatClub at 8:02 PM on January 24, 2004


I have - absolutely - no self-defeating behaviors. It is greatly uplifting to be poor, and to know it - as is possible in America through the graces of television : and so I maximize my minimal economic utility at each and every possible turn, like an eager dog waiting for table scraps.

Arf.
posted by troutfishing at 8:08 PM on January 24, 2004


gads! someone remove that common cur from the dining area.
posted by quonsar at 8:49 PM on January 24, 2004


america is supposed to be the greatest nation on earth. why are you judging us by other nation's standards? it's just a cop out.
Umm, don't you have to judge America "by other nation's standards" to determine it is "the greatest nation on earth"? Further, if it is "the greatest nation on earth", then why fuss over its so-called "poor"?
posted by mischief at 8:55 PM on January 24, 2004


I hate the term "Faux News" too. It's really stupid sounding, incredibly lame. How about finding something that rhymes with "Fox?" Cocks News? Head Full of Rocks News? Or maybe just "The Other Fake News," with the primary one being "The Daily Show?" Fox sucks, but so does Faux News. It's crap.
posted by raysmj at 9:07 PM on January 24, 2004


Differences in outcome can be justified if they arise from equality of opportunity (an abstract concept, of course, but a useful rule of thumb); without equality of opportunity, differences in outcome are simply a crass justification for a new Gilded Age, whereby we rely upon either a government that isn't intent on stuffing the mouths of the wealthy with cash, or on rich quasi-monopolists getting that ol' philanthropic religion.

[The Gilded Age is the time of] kings, moguls, and tyrants. It is the distilled spirit of Calvinist doctrine booming out in robust, stentorian tones about the divine grace falling upon the privileged. It is the cudgel which beats the poor while they struggle against stacked odds - and it is the lazy hope of ideological innoculation from the buffeting winds of fate and chance.

[In the Gilded Age, the poor must be resigned] to the fact that they are the wide, stable base of the economic pyramid in this country which allows a tiny tip of the population to live like gods.

>small>just a little stolen-IP rap
posted by five fresh fish at 9:11 PM on January 24, 2004


Differences in outcome can be justified if they arise from equality of opportunity (an abstract concept, of course, but a useful rule of thumb); without equality of opportunity, differences in outcome are simply a crass justification for a new Gilded Age, whereby we rely upon either a government that isn't intent on stuffing the mouths of the wealthy with cash, or on rich quasi-monopolists getting that ol' philanthropic religion.

[The Gilded Age is the time of] kings, moguls, and tyrants. It is the distilled spirit of Calvinist doctrine booming out in robust, stentorian tones about the divine grace falling upon the privileged. It is the cudgel which beats the poor while they struggle against stacked odds - and it is the lazy hope of ideological innoculation from the buffeting winds of fate and chance.

[In the Gilded Age, the poor must be resigned] to the fact that they are the wide, stable base of the economic pyramid in this country which allows a tiny tip of the population to live like gods.

(just a little sampled-word rap)
posted by five fresh fish at 9:12 PM on January 24, 2004


(damn)
posted by five fresh fish at 9:13 PM on January 24, 2004


let's see what the UK department of health has to say. Let's see they are trying to cut wait times *down* to 6 months.

Your reading and quotation skills, unfortunately, are not so rock-solid. Those kinds of surgery, as you'd know if you'd looked past the first few Google results, are either elective or non-urgent. The median waiting time for inpatient or day cases is 40 days. And most serious, but non-urgent surgery -- that is, for relatively stable conditions -- is scheduled within three months.

Now let's see what you had to say: 'there are 6-month waiting lists for critical treatments and surgeries.' Not so. There are six-month waiting lists for elective and non-urgent surgery: varicose vein removal, for instance. But if you need, for instance, cancer surgery, or an urgent heart bypass, you'll get it within a matter of days or even hours.

The waiting times for elective surgery are too long -- the result of the NHS's underfunding for the last two decades -- but clichés with their origins in the bowels of right-wing think tanks, implying that the chronically and critically ill are subject to six-month waiting periods are frankly untrue and offensive. (Perhaps you didn't intend 'critical' to modify 'surgeries'; in that case, we'll put you on the waiting list for a grammar transplant.)
posted by riviera at 9:33 PM on January 24, 2004


I lived well below the poverty level from the age of 12 to about 25. Ffrom the age of 16 on I can honestly say that even a little bit of effort on my part would have lifted me above the poverty line.

Hell, I'm half-assing it now and do OK.
posted by Mick at 10:23 PM on January 24, 2004


mcsweetie,

If you think the American system is all fine and dandy, and it is the poor's own damn fault that they are so poor, then you are right that there's no point comparing them to the real poor people in Mexico, and I rest my case.

But if you claim that it is the American system that is making them so poor, then yes, we should compare the results of this system against those of the other countries in the world.

You can't have it both ways by decrying the government or the American capitalistic system without doing an honest empirical comparison of how much the American poor has vs. what the other 3 billion poor people in the world have.
posted by VeGiTo at 10:56 PM on January 24, 2004


Fascinating that wingnuts always compare American health care to British health care, and then fill this comparison with misconceptions. I guess its just too easy to ignore the fact that health care is universally accessible in ALL the western European countries is just too ugly a comparison with the US.

Even the discussion of poverty and its definition is a diversion from the reality that America's working people are worse off than they were, with no improvement in sight.
posted by Goofyy at 11:44 PM on January 24, 2004


America may be the greatest nation on earth (although it isn't, but it could be better. Heck, if I were a C+ student in high school, and all my teachers said I could be getting A's if I just applied myself, does it make sense for me to say, "At least I'm not flunking all my classes like Mexico over there"? It's just a cop-out. The more fruitful comparison is with students of my aptitude who do in fact apply themselves and are getting A's and B's. These would include: Norway, Sweden, Canada, Belgium, and Australia. Among other things, they tend not to pay their CEOs quite so disproportionately, and they seem to be doing fine. The top two countries in terms of CEO-worker compensation ratio? The U.S. at 350:1, and at 233:1... Mexico.

Also, I fail to see how these people are any better off here than in Mexico.
posted by skoosh at 5:27 AM on January 25, 2004


what skoosh said. I still think it is useless information. so some people in america are better off than some people in mexico...what helpful conclusions can we draw from that? that there is no poverty in america? thats obviously not true. that people in poverty don't deserve aid? right wingers think that because they are mad about paying taxes, but thats also not true. since other countries' systems are worse, the american system is incapable of improvement? that may be true, but I hope it isn't.
posted by mcsweetie at 11:28 AM on January 25, 2004


I hate to tack more onto this thread, but...

riviera: Actually, I didn't mean the world critical to also modify "surgeries". But I don't think that makes my comment ungrammatical, just ambiguous. Mea culpa. I think it is terrible that you should have to wait 6 to 9 months for any medical treatment.

Also, even on further reading, I'm not finding confirmation that really critical surgeries are available in "hours or days". For instance, this Guardian article from last month said the wait for heart surgery in "some parts" of Britain was as low as three weeks, that 300 people had still been waiting more than 6 months, and that two years ago, many people had been waiting over 9 months, and many had died while waiting. They describe this reduction in wait times as an "end to the waiting list" so it's not like they are trying to make the NHS look bad.

Here's a BBC article that mentions the number of people waiting more than 18 months has been cut by a fifth. I can't believe anyone is waiting more than 18 months for any kind of surgery!

Could you cite a specific link that shows urgent surgeries are available within a matter of "hours or days"? I'm willing to be convinced this has changed, but I'll need to see something more concrete than general abuse hurled in my direction. I'm trying to figure out the actual facts of the matter but you don't cite any specific info.

Incidentally, most of the grousing I've heard on this subject has been from sources in the UK, not "right-wing think-tanks". In fact, even trying to find more specific data on the topic, I did not see any coming from think-tanks of any kind.

I do think this is a lesson in unintended consequences though. Price controls tend to cause scarcity and often lead to rationing. Just having good intentions won't necessarily make a social system good in outcome.
posted by maciej at 12:42 PM on January 25, 2004


I think many people "blame the victim" so they can continue thinking life is somehow fair. It's scary to consider that one day we might be doing fine, have a good job, a house, a car. Suddenly, however, so very suddenly it's all gone. Things we've spent lifetimes acquiring and building are gone in a matters of days or hours or even in a single instant. Be very clear about this , folks: Life Is Not Fair. Life is trying to kill us all and one day, it will.

My point? We have very little control of our fates. We can work hard all of our lives and still own little more than a $35 DVD player and a legacy of debt and medical bills. We can work hard all our lives and one single accident can take it all away. We can work all our lives and lose everything, because life isn't fair.

That scares us, and it should, but that's why people try to blame the victim. They want life to be fair. Bad things happen to bad people - poor people are lazy, etc. "It couldn't happen to me" "Life is fair"
posted by elwoodwiles at 2:00 PM on January 25, 2004


Who let the dogs in the house dammit?!

Probably some of those people who are poor 'cause they're stupid and lazy. Or, as the WSJ would put it, those lucky duckies!

If only Ken Lay could start over at the bottom (in prison) instead of living the high life off my and your 401k retirement monies he stole.
posted by nofundy at 3:23 PM on January 25, 2004


maciej: I can trawl for links when I have more time, but I do have anecdotal experience of friends and family in various parts of Britain who have gone from GP referral to specialist cancer diagnosis in a matter of weeks, and from there to either surgery or chronic treatment (radio/chemotherapy) in a matter of days. Emergency admissions take a matter of hours. That's to say, when time truly is of the essence -- the NHS seems to get its shit together. The knock-on effect, right now, after only a few years of enhanced state funding and the removal of layers of pseudo-market-driven bureacracy, is on elective and non-critical surgery.

You're right that waiting lists are a very bad thing, and it's no good saying that that it's acceptable for someone to wait six months for, say, hip replacement, just because lack of mobility (and severe pain) isn't critical. And I apologise for jumping on a remark of yours that was ambiguous. But the NHS remains a real barrier to absolute poverty in the UK, because it buffers individuals to the extent that the actual treatment of sudden, life-threatening illness or injury (as opposed to its consequences) does not come with the threat of penury.
posted by riviera at 3:30 PM on January 25, 2004


Witold,


There could be a difference between highly-motivated recent immigrants and families that have been trapped in poverty for generations. Using the immigrant example to "prove" laziness amongst these people doesn't seem to be a fair comparison.
posted by drstrangelove at 4:26 PM on January 25, 2004


And, for Christ's sake, those of you who are so uptight about my spelling of Fox as "Faux"- get a life.
posted by drstrangelove at 4:29 PM on January 25, 2004


My friend didn't have health insurance because he was taking a semester off to work and save up money for college. While moving a couch, he broke a window with his hand and severed two tendons and the main nerve. The most technically advanced medical care in the world patched him back up, but didn't provide physical therapy on credit because he didn't have insurance. He's left with a dominant hand that doesn't have much of its former dexterity or feeling (pretty bad for someone who made ends meet by playing guitar at parties) and a bit less than $30,000 in medical bills, as well as $10,000 in student loans (now accumulating interest, as he's out of school) towards a degree he may never complete. Last I heard, he was couch surfing in LA.

What's your point? I know plenty of fairly well-off people who would not be able to avoid bankruptcy if $40,000 of debt fell into their laps; what does this have to do with poverty? Or are we just bashing the healthcare system now?

"Unlikely" is a piss-poor adjective for his situation. "Unfortunate" or "unnecessary" are a bit closer. Accidents happen to everyone. So is the appropriate course to tell him to pull himself up by the bootstraps with his good hand?

"Unlikely" is entirely accurate. Most people don't have $30,000 in hospital bills. The government should protect us from all possible eventualities at any cost?

I have a feeling those decrying the poor mentality wouldn't know a poor person if they were put up against the wall and shot by one.

I have a feeling that the upper-middle-class condescending liberal assholes claiming that the poor can't possibly manage to do anything for themselves without being spoonfed by the government wouldn't know a poor person if they were put up against the wall and shot by one. I've spent plenty of time being poor, and I'm still a far cry from the middle class — the only thing I've ever wanted from the government is for them to stop fucking with my already-pitiful paycheck every two weeks.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 4:40 PM on January 25, 2004


I think many people continue thinking there is a "victim" so they can continue thinking life is somehow fair and that we are all equally disciplined and talented. It's scary to consider that something other than blind chance, oppression, or Republicans could cause some to fall through the cracks, or that there might be other different, yet equally ethical, methods to help them than Socialism. Be very clear about this , folks: Life Is Not Fair. We all demonstrate widely different levels of responsibility, productivity, and ingenuity.

My point? Saying we have little control over our fate is a self-fulfilling prophecy. People who work hard all of their lives are much much more likely to be successful, reach their goals and be satisfied with their lives. Many people will work much harder and reap much more, because life isn't fair.

That scares us, and it should, but that's why people invent a "victim" and myths of equality and social perfectibility. They want life to be fair. Bad things happen to poor people because of heartless Social Darwinist free-marketers - rich/middle-class people are exploiters, etc. "People are equal, a pound of cure is superior to ounces of prevention, and bad outcomes are independent of choices" "Life is fair"
posted by dgaicun at 4:52 PM on January 25, 2004


Interesting spoof, dgaicun, and perhaps it is my fault that you completely missed my point. I'm not blaming anyone for life's unfairness, not the free market, not social Darwinism or even republicans. I'm pointing out that bad things happen to good people for no reason. I'm pointing out that poor people have often worked very hard for what little they have. Life is essential unfair and, guess what, it always has been and always will be. Blaming poor people for being poor isn't productive, it's just creating a false sense of security for those who aren't poor.

And I suppose my assertion that we have very little control over our own fate is a tad metaphysical and an anathema to most, but I stand by it. I didn't choose to be born an American (though I'm glad I was.) People don't choose to die in accidents, develop cancer or mental illness. People don't choose the amount of ability they have or their level of intelligence.

In a way your little thought experiment sums up the way some people sublimate their fear of life's inherent unfairness into a system they can handle - a system where they can delude themselves into thinking they have any more than .01% control over their lives. (and that .01% is mostly about accepting the other 99.99%)
posted by elwoodwiles at 5:43 PM on January 25, 2004


!
posted by Opus Dark at 5:56 PM on January 25, 2004


(Wow, witold, you're sourcing The Onion for your argument? Really?)

How very glass-half-full on the part of Fox. "Look, some of them aren't completely dead yet! Let's turn our backs on them for a few more decades!"

Hey, I'm poor! I wonder how my experience stacks up? Sure, it's just as anecdotal as anyone else's here, and I'm pretty sure that I'm going to be one of the temporarily poor (although the frequently come-and-go cyclical nature of poverty does have me a bit worried), but just for thread variety...

Possessions check: I have a color TV. Three, in fact. Of course two of those I salvaged from a nearby college dorm's trash pile (They weren't cable or remote control-ready, and lacked antennae, but were perfectly serviceable otherwise), and the third is a 13-incher I bought from Best Buy about six years ago ($100 and came with a VCR; I figured it was a bargain), but it's still the height of opulence, is it not? Car? No. Washing machine? Yes (score another one for college dorm theft salvage! You can find the most interesting things when dorms remodel-- given the number of other people hauling furniture away by the truckload, it's no secret either). I do lack a dryer-- fortunately my landlord provides one for me. (Obviously I do not own my own home. The room I rent isn't air conditioned either, so I guess that completes the survey.) So where does all that place me on Fox's "technically poor" spectrum? I need them to tell me exactly how grateful I should be for all the things I've managed to scrape together.


I was also intrigued by mischief's post. His Atlanta seems a little different from the one I'm familiar with if there's government assistance there for the taking. I know this because I swallowed my pride and applied for food stamps last October-- I figured I couldn't keep working miracles with coupons and store discounts forever. (My personal best was the day I bought $32 worth of groceries for $8.91. Later I read Nickel & Dimed and was amused to see that I wasn't the only poor person to obsess about food prices and penny-pinching: but I digress.) I do work more than the 20 hour minimum required for qualification, but I hit the strangest snag: my social worker told me that I needed to submit a copy of my financial aid assistance in order to complete my application, which is a problem because I don't have financial aid-- I pay my own way these days. Apparently I don't qualify for aid because I am not currently receiving aid. Interesting little loophole, isn't it? They sure as hell still take taxes out of my paycheck, though. But gee, that sounds too much like complaining. I'm sorry.

Oh, and back in December I twisted my ankle pretty badly. Not broke, not sprained, just twisted enough for it to hurt when I walked. I don't have health insurance, and most of my money is taken up in rent, food, and tuition (at this very moment, for example, I have about four dollars to my name until my next paycheck, 90% of which will go directly to next month's rent). I suppose I could've just limped my ass over to Grady Memorial and begged for a free examination, right? Yeah, I didn't think so either. I ended up hobbling around for the next few weeks until the pain subsided. You can bet that I spent more time ruminating on the precarious nature of my situation though.

And if you think Medicaid gives a rat's ass about helping a single independent college student when it's currently poised to cut back on aid to needy children and pregnant women...

*sigh* Why the hell did I even bother making this long-ass post? It's getting near closing time here at the library (the library you damn smug "how can you afford the internet if you're so poor?" posters) and I'm tired of typing. As I said, I'm confident that my situation is transient, but Jesus, Metafilter sure can be cold and indifferent sometimes.

[on preview] dgaicun, your portrayal of the US as some sort of near-perfect meritocracy doesn't really fit either. Perhaps there is a middle ground in there somewhere?
posted by tyro urge at 6:37 PM on January 25, 2004


I know plenty of fairly well-off people who would not be able to avoid bankruptcy if $40,000 of debt fell into their laps; what does this have to do with poverty?

Perhaps it has to do with the argument that a better index of poverty isn't the capacity to own a DVD player, but the equation of one's exposure to risk and the capacity to absorb it. Poverty is often not visible penury; it's being one missed paycheque or one illness away from deep shit, and the fact that such a way of life weighs you down like lead boots. It's the equivalent of walking on thin ice with bricks in your pockets.
posted by riviera at 7:31 PM on January 25, 2004


I really don't see any point to this discussion whatsoever. Are people really denying that real poverty and hunger exist in the USA? By anyone's standards, I can assure you that it does. In a previous career, I used to to IT Software Development in the community health sector. During this time, I had occasion to visit some pretty squalid areas of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. What I saw there, the level of despair, hunger, disease and abject poverty rivals anything that I have seen in my travels in the slums of South America and North Africa. Smug "ya gotta pick yourselves up by your bootstraps" aphorisms, are not only ridiculously ill-informed in these instances, but practically immoral in their callousness. I wanted to stay out of this particulary fray and avoid stepping on a soapbox (which is usually tantamount to putting up a lightning rod on this site), but this was one of the most disgusting threads I've read on Metafilter.

There are some people in this country that need a fucking wake up call. Yes, there are people in the US who are so deeply mired in poverty and can't get out of it, and these are the people that need help, both psychologically as well as from a food and shelter perspective. Poverty is not just a state of financial condition, it is almost always an inherited mindset, and this stuff doesn't go away just by pretending it's not there, or worse, criticizing people for not being able to pull themselves through it. Don't get me wrong, I am not proposing bringing back the welfare state, but I do think that there is value in providing counsel, help and training to help those among us who need it the most. Everyone benefits when that level of poverty is eradicated.
posted by psmealey at 8:36 AM on January 26, 2004


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