Poverty–One Man’s Opinion

Selected definitions of poverty from various online dictionaries:

1)The state or condition of having little or no money, goods, or means of support; condition of being poor.

2)The state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions

3)The state of being extremely poor.

The Federal Government recently revised its formula for calculating the official poverty level in this country. This resulted in an instantaneous increase in the number of people officially classified as poor of some 2.6 million individuals. I hope the Feds sent them all a letter of congratulations on achieving membership in this exclusive club—oh, wait, it’s not so exclusive. The percent of the population who are now poor is 15.1% in 2010. That’s up from 14.3% in 2009.

But wait a second. Haven’t we (the government) been waging the “War on Poverty” since President Johnson declared war in 1964? My first question is what was the poverty level when the war started? According to the Feds, that level was approximately 19%.

So a war that has lasted more than 45 years has resulted in an official net decrease in poverty of 3.9% That computes to 0.087% per year. Wow, at this rate, poverty in the United States will officially be eliminated in the year 2183.

Why hasn’t the poverty rate gone down substantially, or stayed down, or been eliminated, in the last 45 years?

Shouldn’t we be asking that question of our leaders?

I think so, but it never gets asked. And they certainly won’t volunteer an answer, so here’s my answer:

BECAUSE POVERTY IS RELATIVE. It’s a moving target. It’s subjective. One man’s poverty may be another man’s wealth. The definition of poverty keeps expanding to include more and more of us.

In America, we have a relatively great income disparity due to many variables: talent, luck, work ethic, accumulated wealth from previous generations, tax code manipulations and legislation, and random chance in some cases. In the rest of the world, minus a good chunk of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South America, and South Africa, the vast majority of people (billions) survive on one or two dollars a day.


But we consider those in our lowest income strata to be in that same class—impoverished—if they are making about $60 a day. (Roughly minimum wage). So true poverty in the world is $2 a day, but somehow the government has convinced us that 30 times that amount is the definition of poverty.


We have the richest “poor” people in the history of mankind. How dare we even mention the word poverty when even the poorest of our poor have so much more than average people have in the rest of the world?

Furthermore, why do we only discuss poverty in terms of money? What about poverty of the soul, poverty of the spirit, poverty of morals, poverty of compassion? Maybe we consider our poor to be poverty-stricken not because they have less money but because they are morally and spiritually bankrupt. Does the government foster those beliefs by encouraging this something-for-nothing lifestyle?

Please don’t get me wrong. I know firsthand that many people are truly suffering in this economic climate. Single mothers top the list, but also consider the returned veterans who have fallen through the cracks of the Veterans’ Administration safety net. Then there are drug addicts, those without high school diplomas, those who are unable to work due to disability, ex-convicts, OUR NATIVE AMERICAN POPULATION IN CERTAIN AREAS, such as the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, where casino income has not provided adequate restitution for those whose culture and lifestyle we have destroyed in our march to dominate this continent.

But our government, in its guilt–as well as its insistence that it can do no wrong so the poverty of its people is not its fault–has decided that it needs to force the rest of us to pay to maintain the wretched lifestyle of those they have impoverished as our leaders gradually establish a nanny state whereby we all become dependent on our rulers for everything. Our poor are just the vanguard of that movement.

Sure, we make sure they have a roof over their heads (subsidized housing), food (food stamps), clothing, as well as TVs, cell phones, cars, air conditioning, computers—all because our government-mandated welfare benefits are extremely generous and “poor people” somehow manage to afford those items that were considered luxuries fifty years ago.

Maybe the reason we have relatively wealthy poor people is because our underground economy, the gray and black markets, provides substantial income for many people whose visible income (reported on tax returns) is only a part of their overall income.

For instance, I have to believe there are a great many drug dealers, prostitutes, pornography peddlers, and those who simply barter for goods and services or keep cash transaction off the books, who hide substantial chunks of income from the government. I don’t fault these people for doing what they deem best for their survival. I fault the government for pretending this income doesn’t exist and insisting that poverty is only determined by the income people pay income taxes on.

Don’t get me wrong again. I have no trouble contributing to charitable organizations that provide necessities for our poor, but I choose to donate to those entities. Government forcibly extracts money from me to subsidize people who I might not otherwise want to help. I don’t believe in subsidizing convicted murderers, child molesters, rapists, fraudsters, those who pull insurance scams or file fraudulent lawsuits to rip off law-abiding businesses and individuals, drug dealers who prey on children, and just plain lazy folks who have bought into the entitlement mentality that our government has spent decades instilling into our psyches. And that goes double for corporate welfare. I have the least desire of all to give money to any corporation that wangles a tax break from the government.

The underlying societal destroyer is the entitlement mentality the government is fostering. They are more than happy to say, “Leave everything to us. We’ll take care of you. Just tell us what you want and we’ll get everyone else to pay for it.”   The great fallacy of that idea is that eventually everyone will climb on board the entitlement bandwagon and there will be no one left to pay for those entitlements.

This is easily seen with Social Security and Medicare. Decades ago, there were four or five workers paying into these programs for every person who received benefits. Now the ratio is more like 2:1 or 3:1. Sooner or later, as our retired population increases exponentially due to advances in health care, there will be more people receiving benefits than there will be people paying for those benefits. Something’s got to give.

The events in Europe concerning the overwhelming debt of Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland are a preview of the coming disaster the U.S. faces if the government insists on becoming the provider of last resort for all its citizens. Much of their troubles stem from promising too much to too many citizens.

My guess is the government will inflate the currency so much that benefits will be reduced to pennies on the dollar in terms of buying power. This will create another huge underclass of people in poverty–old folks, mainly baby boomers–who trusted the government to take care of them. More promises that can’t be delivered will be broken because the government is not the source of unlimited funds. They only want us to believe they are. Every dollar they have has been forcefully taken from you, me, and every other citizen in the form of taxes.

Like the other “wars” we currently fight–the War on Drugs, the War on Terrorism–the War on Poverty can’t be won. You can’t win a war against an invisible opponent. Or, in this case, a war against a subjective concept. It’s time to declare a truce and let Americans take care of themselves, their families, and their friends. We’ll all do a better job of helping each other and waste a lot less money on inefficient, uncaring bureaucracy.

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