Sunday, November 4, 2012

Define “poor”

A couple months ago, Fox “News” pundits pooh-poohed a survey about poverty in the United States, expressing amazement that, according to the survey, something like 90% of all poor people own a refrigerator. Fox’s rationale? If someone owns a refrigerator, how can they be poor?

A couple days ago, conservatives were at it again: Romney economic adviser Kevin Hassett in a Wall Street Journal article questioned how someone can be poor if they own a microwave oven (Daily Kos).

When I was ten, my family visited Puerto Rico. Several times during our stay we drove a causeway in San Juan over a shantytown on stilts along the banks of a dirty, marshy river. My father explained that people lived there because they couldn’t afford a house on land. Each time we took that highway, I stared at the houses and people below. I knew they were poor, yet they were fat and wore nice clothes. I was puzzled. This didn’t square with my picture of poverty. When you are poor, you're supposed to be starving and dressed in rags.

When my eldest daughter was 14, she went with a small group to Bangladesh through a project sponsored by her school. While they were there, they visited a slum in Dhaka. When she came home and talked about the visit to the slum, she was surprised that even though the people who lived there owned almost nothing, most of them had a cell phone.

I can’t tell if Fox News and Hassett are being deliberately obtuse or just disingenuous. Do conservatives really need to be told that how things look are not necessarily how things are? As a child, I didn’t know that cheap, high carbohydrate rice and beans were an Island staple and that clothing can be cheap or expensive. And things once deemed luxuries are inexpensive today, and to some people, necessities: Dhaka slum dwellers may live in shacks but they all have cell phones. Does this mean they’re not poor?

Poverty is not about the things people have. It’s about things and opportunities they don’t – nutritious food, appropriate clothing, decent housing, safety, education, and the ability to acquire these things for oneself and one’s family.

My message to Fox and Hassett?

Grow up!

© 2012 Kvick Thoughts. All rights reserved.

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