Poverty is a condition that refers to the general dearth of material possessions or money that prevents people from having access to basic human needs such as food, water, sanitation, clothing, shelter, health care, and education. It is a sad fact of life that in the richest nation in the history of the world, an inordinately high number of Americans live in abject poverty and do not have the means to provide their families with fundamentally basic needs of food, shelter, or healthcare. It is little surprise that Republicans are planning to increase the number of Americans living in poverty according to their intent to eliminate the nation’s anti-poverty programs, and it is not because the country is broke as Republicans are wont to claim. It is more likely due, in part, to one of the two richest men in the country who claims the tens-of-millions of Americans living below the poverty line need to shut up, stop complaining, and start celebrating their good fortune as members of the richest one-percent in the world.
First, it is important to note that poverty, at least relative poverty, is generally defined by reputable economists contextually as economic inequality in the location or society in which people live, and in that context, it is likely that more than half of the American population is living in poverty. Charles Koch completely disagrees and last year his foundation produced a commercial stating that a family earning $34,000 annually are part of the richest one-percent in the world; especially when compared to developing third world nations and countries such as China and India where the majority of the population lives in absolute squalor.
It is not just Charles Koch, another wealthy CEO, Bud Konheim, said just last month that “We’ve got a country that the poverty level is wealth in 99% of the rest of the world, so we’re talking about woe is me, woe is us, woe is this. The guy that’s making, oh my God, he’s making $35,000 a year, why don’t we try that out in India or some countries we can’t even name. China, anyplace, the guy is wealthy.” Except Americans living in poverty do not live in China or India, or third world nations; they live in America where according to the Economic Policy Institute, a family of three would have to earn at least $48,000 annually just to afford the basic necessities to survive such as food, housing, and healthcare. Another organization, the Working Poor Families Project, estimates that the required income to meet the most basic survival needs is $45,000 annually; America’s median household income is approximately $51,000.
If the measure of poverty in America was not based on economic necessities for living standards during the 1950s and 1960s and applied to living costs today, the federal poverty level would exceed three times the current levels meaning that over half the nation is living below poverty. Simple arithmetic informs that if the current measure for a family of three earning 100% of the federal poverty level is $19,790 annually and exactly three times that figure is $59,370, then well over half the American population is, undoubtedly, living in poverty if the median income is $51,000.
It is astounding, but poverty measures are still based on food costs of the 1950s that have at least doubled, housing that has more than tripled, and healthcare costs that are six times higher than they were in the late 1970s. According to the Congressional Research Service, “The poverty line reflects a measure of economic need based on living standards that prevailed in the mid-1950s…It is not adjusted to reflect changes in needs associated with improved standards of living that have occurred over the decades since the measure was first developed. If the same basic methodology developed in the early 1960s was applied today, the poverty thresholds would be over three times higher than the current thresholds.” According to Bureau of Labor Statistics and Census Bureau calculations, a median family income of $51,000 will barely cover food, housing, health care, transportation, taxes, and other household expenditures in America; not China, India, or any sub-Saharan developing country. Between 2000 and 2011, the “official” poverty rate increased 25% with children and senior citizens being impacted the most drastically. Using the official poverty rate, 55% of seniors and 60% of children are considered very poor using “relative poverty” as a measure. For elderly women the figures are worse with Wider Opportunities for Women reporting that “60% of women age 65 and older who live alone or live with a spouse have incomes insufficient to cover basic, daily expenses,” but according to Charles Koch they are members of the richest 1% in the world.
What is often forgotten when discussing the state of American poverty is that the overwhelming majority of low-wage working families and senior citizens earning less than necessary to stave off starvation, ill-health, and exposure could not survive without anti-poverty programs Republicans and the Koch brothers want eliminated to return to pre-Depression era standards. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, food stamps, minimum wage, overtime pay, housing and heating assistance, and school lunch programs are all that keep tens-of-millions of Americans from falling victim to “killing poverty” Republicans and the Kochs are frantic to impose on all Americans. It is probably just one reason why Charles Koch and other extremely wealthy Americans are preparing the population for what is on their horizon by congratulating them for being part of the richest 1% of people in the world while living in dire poverty in the richest nation on Earth; because they have every intent to make conditions worse like in India and China.
It is irrelevant that Charles Koch is patronizing the poor in America by telling them they are wealthy by third world standards; it is precisely what Americans should expect from one of the two richest men in America who can fathom taking everything from the people and will not rest until he achieves his goal. It is not enough the Kochs and their ilk have Republicans in Congress poised to “reform” (read eliminate) anti-poverty programs, Social Security and Medicare, food stamps, and every other safety net preventing 99% of the population from sinking into poverty while “reforming” (drastically cutting) tax rates for the rich and corporations; they have ALEC and the State Policy Network raiding state public employees pensions to drive the entire population into poverty. When Charles Koch says $34,000 annually puts dirt poor Americans in the richest one percent by third world standards, he is preparing Americans for his vision of America to rival living conditions in China and India where those earning $32,000 annually are regarded as the wealthy elite.
It is no exaggeration to claim at least half of Americans are either extremely poor or low income that qualifies them as living in dire poverty according to the Census Department’s “Relative Poverty Measure used in developed countries to measure poverty.” It is likely there are way more than half the population living in poverty because even people barely surviving are likely to over-report their financial situation because no American wants to admit that despite working hard and scrimping to put food on their families’ tables and a roof over their heads, they are stuck in poverty. One thing is certain though, they know that although Charles Koch tells them they belong to the world’s richest one percent, in the richest country on Earth they are still living in dire poverty and with the Koch brothers’ cabal funding Republicans in Congress, they know they will never escape and can look forward to the rest of the population joining them much sooner than later.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.