For decades, the U.S. Census Bureau has reported that over 30 million Americans were living in “poverty,” but the bureau’s definition of poverty differs widely from that held by most Americans.
In fact, other government surveys show that most of the persons whom the government defines as “in poverty” are not poor in any ordinary sense of the term. The overwhelming majority of the poor have air conditioning, cable TV, and a host of other modern amenities. They are well housed, have an adequate and reasonably steady supply of food, and have met their other basic needs, including medical care.
Some poor Americans do experience significant hardships, including temporary food shortages or inadequate housing, but these individuals are a minority within the overall poverty population.
Over the past one-, two-, and three-decade periods, both middle class and poor households have experienced noticeable gains in living standards. Their gains are slower than those experienced by middle-income families in the earlier post-war era, but the gains are well above zero.
In 1980, in-kind benefits and employer and government spending on health insurance accounted for just 6% of the after-tax incomes of households in the middle one-fifth of the distribution. By 2010 these in-kind income sources represented 17% of middle class households’ after-tax income
…The broadest and most accurate measures of household income are published by the CBO. CBO’s newest estimates confirm the long-term trend toward greater inequality, driven mainly by turbo-charged gains in market income at the very top of the distribution. The market incomes of the top 1% are extraordinarily cyclical, however. They soar in economic expansions and plunge in recessions. Income changes since 2007 fit this pattern.
What many observers miss, however, is the success of the nation’s tax and transfer systems in protecting low- and middle-income Americans against the full effects of a depressed economy.
via Gary Burtless
HT David_Boaz’s Tweet – https://twitter.com/David_Boaz/status/477910953548197888?s=09
Roland Fryer carried a gun at 14 as a member of the gang; worked extra jobs at college to pay off his father’s bail bondsman; and an assistant professor at Harvard at the age of 27. He is the sharpest economist around working on the economics of inequality and discrimination.