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August 11th, 2011
04:25 PM ET

Poverty in America: If Poor People Own 'Luxury' Items, Are They Really Poor?

Dave Schechter

CNN Senior National Editor

I recently toured an exhibit of photographs that included Depression-era works by Walker Evans and Margaret Bourke-White. Their photographs – including a family standing on the porch of a shack and African-Americans flood victims lined up to receive food and clothing in front of a billboard promising prosperity – present a visual image of how decades later many Americans still define poverty.

As Congress and the White House engaged in heated debate over the cost of government, the Heritage Foundation, a D.C. think tank with a perspective favored by political conservatives, threw a log on the fire with a report provocatively titled: “Air Conditioning, Cable TV, and an Xbox: What is Poverty in the United States Today?” that could be interpreted as suggesting that certain items in their homes should disqualify them from being considered as living in poverty.

“As Congress struggles to find a way to cut spending as part of raising the $14 trillion debt ceiling, they should take a close look at the more than $1 trillion spent every year on welfare. You’ll be surprised to learn that many of the 30 million Americans defined as “poor” and in need of government assistance aren’t quite what you’d expect — rather than homeless and on the streets, the average poor American household has luxuries like air conditioning, cable TV, and Xbox video game consoles,” a summary of the Heritage Foundation report reads.

The Heritage report states: “Poor families certainly struggle to make ends meet, but in most cases, they are struggling to pay for air conditioning and the cable TV bill as well as to put food on the table. Their living standards are far different from the images of dire deprivation promoted by activists and the mainstream media.”

Needless to say, not everyone concurs with the Heritage Foundation’s conclusions. “The implicit assumption is that they’re spending money on the wrong things. . . . The implicit assumption is that the poor shouldn’t have those things,” said Marybeth J. Mattingly, who directs research on vulnerable families at The Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire. Mattingly credits the Heritage Foundation for acknowledging that America’s poor today live better than their predecessors in earlier generations and better than the poor in other nations, but suggests that different conclusions can be drawn from the same data.

Mattingly worries about how inferences drawn from the Heritage Foundation report might play into policy debates about government assistance for the poor. “It is clear that people are relying on these programs,” she said, noting the recent report detailing a growing gap between the income of the wealthiest and the poorest Americans.

How the U.S. government determines what constitutes poverty is controversial. I’ve written before about the need to update a formula that was created using data from 1955.

Back in 1995 a panel of the National Research Council concluded that “The official poverty measure in the United States is flawed and does not adequately inform policy-makers or the public about who is poor and who is not poor.” Alternatives using more up-to-date criteria have been proposed but not adopted for official use, so touchy are the political ramifications of a change in defining who is poor.

The existing formula determined that in 2009 14.3 percent of the population - 1-in-7 Americans - lived below the line that made them eligible for federal assistance. For 2011, the federal poverty guideline for a family of four in the continental United States is a household income of $22,350 (slightly higher in Alaska and Hawaii).

Using 2005 data from the Department of Energy on residential energy consumption (the most recent available), the Heritage Foundation compared the percentage of all U.S. households with “various amenities” with the percentage of poor U.S. households with those same items.

The online version of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines an amenity as “something that conduces to comfort, convenience, or enjoyment.” The same online dictionary defines poverty as “the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions,” which certainly leaves plenty of room for discussion.

“According to the government’s own survey data, in 2005, the average household defined as poor by the government lived in a house or apartment equipped with air-conditioning and cable TV. The family had a car (a third of the poor have two or more cars). For entertainment, the household had two color televisions, a DVD player, and a VCR,” the Heritage Foundation report reads.

In order, the top five items for both the population and a whole and those classified as poor were: a refrigerator, television, stove and oven, microwave and air-conditioning.

What about a personal computer? The Energy Department data held that 68 percent of Americans in 2005 had a personal computer, but only 38 percent of those classified as poor. The data also held that 27.5 percent of all American households had a big screen television, but just shy of 18 percent those classified as poor did, as well. At the bottom of both lists, for those curious, was a jacuzzi, found in 6 percent of all households but only .6 percent of those classified as poor.

Given the brutal heat wave that afflicted much of the country in recent weeks, causing numerous deaths, defining air-conditioning as a luxury seems a sure way to start an argument. What about cable TV or an Xbox video game system?

Mattingly pointed out that, particularly in rural America, cars are necessary to reach a job and that having more than one car does not mean that all are in working order. An Xbox system or other entertainment options at home may ensure that a child plays at home rather than venturing out into neighborhoods that may not be safe. A computer with Internet access increasingly is critical for children and adults to take advantage of educational opportunities or to access social services. Appliances, such as a microwave or clothes washer, may be owned by a landlord and not by the resident of a house or apartment.

Filed under: CNN Newsroom
soundoff (61 Responses)
  1. Bob

    Air condition should only be a must with people with health conditions. Cable TV, X-Box, Internent should not be considered for qualifing as poor. Also, people applying for assistance should have to pass a drug test just like people applying for jobs have to. Other items not are not necessary for people applying for assistance are going to the beauty shop, getting a maincure or pedacure, driving Cadilacs and other expensive cars, fur coats etc., when they need to put food on the table for their children and pay rent. Oh by the way store oweners should not replace food with alcohol of any kind, but many do as well as cigarettes. Also these people should not take vacations and apply for assistance. When I first got married and had two children to provide for II did not take a vacation for twelve years cause I couldn't afford it. I saved just alittle every year until I saved enough to take a vacation and that vacation was taking my wife and children to Disney World not a personal vacation. People today don't know how to sacrifise and then they want other people to pay for their basic living needs. Way back when I first got married my income would have qualified me for assistance but I refused to mooch off of the system I had too much pride. It was my family and my responsibility.

    August 11, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
  2. Cissy Baker

    Nicely done. Gives a perspective we don't readily think about. It makes some mad. It causes some to defend. Whatever the emotion, it is painful to be poor. And, it is painful to see people pretend to be poor, spending our hard earned money.
    Best, Cissy

    August 11, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
  3. Jennifer

    I understand some people abuse the system, but it's hard to say because someone has cable and a computer they are not poor. Maybe the money isn't be invested into the correct items, but has anyone stopped to think that maybe some of these people had obtained these items well before they needed the assistance of the government. Just because someone is poor now doesn't mean they were poor five years ago. Look at how many people that have lost their jobs in the last few years. Should they give up their everyday items to fit into the "poor" category? Just a thought.

    August 12, 2011 at 8:54 am |
  4. James

    The bigger problem is that some people that fall into the poverty category actually think they are "middle class". Americans have been sold the idea of "middle class" as defined by what you own not what you earn. Very sad.

    August 12, 2011 at 10:52 am |
  5. Jordan

    Our welfare system needs a drastic overhall. I am all for helping out those who are truly in need with FOOD not money to buy junk disguised as food. Our tax payer dollars should be spent giving recpients specific core food items like milk, dried beans, eggs, fruits and vegetables etc similar to the WIC program. I am sick and tired of seeing our some food stamp recipients walking out of grocery stores with a grocery cart full of meat and processed food/junk food. Try living on a food stamp budget of $4.75 a day, it's doable there is just no room for any extras just some basic foods that you end up eating repeatedly. Given and inch people will take a mile, that's just human nature. I also think that volunteer work should be required for those receiving unemployment. Volunteering will help build back self esteem and the possability of learning new skills.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  6. Dhuibh

    Interesting that these "luxuries" are what can allow someone to escape their impoverished reality, if only through a television show or video game. Internet access is a modern necessity in allowing access to job searching, education and community engagement. The majority of Americans live paycheck to paycheck and couldn't come up with $1,000 in a 24 hour period. If you loose your job... You'll be one of the 40% of Americans who will qualify as being below the poverty line at some point over a ten year span. This "Heritage Foundation" report is just another distraction from the real problems of getting the top 2% of the wealthy to pay taxes to the government instead of fees to accountants to avoid paying anything at all.

    August 13, 2011 at 1:32 am |
  7. Holly

    I do agree that some people that have lost their jobs and have found themselves now in Poverty, I think those people need to some how give up some of their luxury items and sell them such as X-box. cable tv, (watch tv from antenna for a while till you can make enough $$ to be able to afford cable again). Get rid of the cell phone services, Yes, people need to have air conditioning (especially in the southern states and our in the southern western states where the temps are very hot). but all other luxury items such as listed above, if people can afford to pay for a cable bill, a cell phone bill, and pay for internet and luxury's like that, then I would not say that they are living in poverty. If they can't afford things like that, they need to sell off some of the luxury items they do have to make some $$ until they can get out of their poverty and afford to pay for item's like that for them selves.

    August 14, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  8. MarcDLS

    This is treading dangerously close to the implication that a caste system based off of what one possesses. If you are "poor" you can own X but not Y; if you are "middle class" you can own a two of either X, Y, or Z, but not all three; etc.

    Talk about a push for more consumerism. This is exactly what I would expect from the Heritage Foundation: Give corps more power by enticing the people to buy things more as a means to increase their social standing.

    August 14, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
  9. Nikki

    Everything should not be turned into politics. If you don't have food to eat, shelter or clothing, in my opinion, you are poor and in need of assistance. When it gets to the point of things you can live without – X-box, Cable TV, you need to earn those. Libraries are free and the books in them can be signed out. An X-box is not necessary to maintain life, so taxpayers should not have to pay for it.

    August 21, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  10. PA-Citizen

    Welfare was meant to be "short term" assistance for people who were down on their luck. Now it's a lifestyle with multiple generations of whites and blacks who complain that they aren't getting enough free stuff. Enough is enough!!!

    I work 40+ hours a week, provide health care for my 2 children, pay child support for one of them. I do not have cable, air conditioning or an xbox. Why should someone on welfare, who I'm helping to support by the way,have these things?

    These aren't poor people, they are the end result of Democratic, "let me buy your vote" policies. This country provides 12 years of free education and some states offer 4 years of secondary education at a reduced cost.

    Apparently that's too hard for some people. Its easier to sign up for a government program than to take responsibility for ones life. They blame their race or someone elses for their current dilemma. Liberals have created a cycle of poverty and despair to garner a seat in our government. Shame on you. Do what's best for the country and not what's best for yourselves.

    Reduce the handouts and provide real incentive to people who are perfectly capable of working but chose not to.
    I don't see too many bleeding heart liberals buying home or opening businesses that cater to the permanent underclass that they helped to create. Why is that? Oh that's right it's not their money it's everyones but theirs.

    August 21, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  11. Curt

    What I would like to see is data on the rich. For example, what percentage of people making at least $1 million per year have two or more homes? What percentage own cars that cost more than the average poor family's home? What percentage send their kids to expensive colleges? What percentage spend more on their vacations than the average poor family makes in a year? I think that would be very interesting information, don't you?

    August 21, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  12. wally

    I'll agree that there is abuse of the welfare system where the poor purchase the wrong items as part of their subsidy. They should be intelligent enough to really conserve during the period of need. I do not think that we will ever solve this problem. I do believe that welfare should not be free. I know the WPA system instituted by President FDR during the depression had some value but it also did considerable damage. If a new system is implemented, it should be designed to provide meaningful work without doing environmental damage. One such possibility would be to have a group of welfare employees take over some of the tasks that the Habitat for Humanity now does. There is no reason that laid off workers can not build new homes for the handicapped or repair homes for the unemployed. This would benefit the economy by stimulating the housing industry in the use of materials and improve the neighborhood plus give the workers self worth plus educate some of them for a possible job in the future. I'm convinced that requiring work for pay is the right way to go after reading the success that has been done with the homeless were the individual was required to sweep streets and progress if he/she showed improvement. The article claimed to have a 89% success rate while the typical government success rate was a low 11%.

    August 21, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  13. pat

    As a middle class single woman, who's grandmother lived during the great depression. I find it hard to believe that people claim to be in property but have air condition, cell phones for themselves and there kids and cable T.V. Americans are lazy and are not willing to work 2-3 jobs like my grandmother did. I had an uncle who was out of work and was happier being a homeless person then work at a gas station. As an american I can say we are spoiled! We have not had to deal with a financial and war crisis for over 70 years. We except results yesterday and when we don't get it we are mad and blame everyone but ourselves for the problems. I myself was unable to find work when I graduated college in the 1990's but I was willing to take any job even if it was outside my field, because I felt responsible to support myself and not depend on others for my problems.

    August 21, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
  14. nanobelle

    Are sacrifice and suffering the only options available? There are thousands of people who are on the edge of destruction- can we really insist that they lose everything first before they can be helped? How are we to determine what constitutes poverty without first knowing what the requirements of these individuals are? Loss of a computer might mean the loss of an income or education. Loss of a car might mean the loss of employment. People without opportunities lose hope. Desperation does not foster a positive outcome. We do not merely feed bodies- we feed souls.

    And where will the judgement end? Will we demand that all their possessions be audited? Will there be home inspections? Will we forbid them certain cuts of meat and brands of clothes? Will we insist that they give up their homes and live segregated in poor communities? Is humiliation a fair price for charity?

    Yes, hard times demand tough choices but compassion need not be neglected in making them.

    August 21, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
  15. dx2718

    I know plenty of upper middle class people who don't have XBoxes, A/C, etc. Then when it comes time to pay for college, the upper middle class people who didn't own TV's and video games and did their best to survive the hot weather without A/C, end up paying full tuition while the "poor" who spent their money on frivolous stuff get full rides. That is, if they can even get into college, given that they spent all their time playing video games instead of studying. It used to be that immigrants would come here with nothing, work extremely hard, save every penny, and ensure that their kids would have it better than they did. Now the "American Dream" is to live in the lap of luxury even if you have no marketable skills? I can't imagine this is healthy for anyone. People are happier when they are working hard towards a goal of EARNING the things they enjoy. Furthermore, if you grow up having everything you've ever wanted, there's a slim chance you'll learn that you need to work hard to get/afford things you want in the future – and therein lies the trouble.

    August 22, 2011 at 2:27 am |
  16. Jason

    The problem with this kind of view is that "luxuries" like cable TV or an Xbox cost very little relative to the price of food or housing. I've lived out of my car for short periods of time, but even then I had a cell phone and a laptop with internet. Having internet/cell phone access is a life line that has priority even above food unless faced with immediate death of starvation for someone in that situation (which is something that never happens in the US). The idea that a "poor" person should not have these things is not a realistic view in the 21st century.

    August 22, 2011 at 2:54 am |
  17. Pam

    Ok so my two children and I are "poor". I was laid off but qualified for free education (thank you Jimmy Carter) but we get by on $270/week. Our xbox (now an antique) was purchased over 5 years ago when I was married and we were doing well. Our 1 TV is 15 years old. We have TWO (!) air conditioners: 1 donated by a family member and 1 purchased used for $50 – the temps were over 100 for weeks. My son's WII system (not anything I could have ever bought – even used) as well as most of my kids clothes (that we receive new) come from Grammy (thank you Grammy). My sister pays my monthly cell phone bill so that when my crappy car breaks down on the way to school I can actually make a call. My refrigerator is MORE than 15 years old and when it goes out we lose the food. My kids are SICK OF peanut butter and jelly and mac and cheese (I add hamburg when I get the extra cash). I struggle to provide them with the 5 servings of fruits and veggies a day the government says they should have (most days they are lucky to get 2 or 3 – cheap fruit like bananas). A lot of days we have cereal for breakfast and cereal for supper (at least its fortified and they get their calcium). We go to the playground for vacation. We struggle struggle struggle. Maybe I should have stayed in the abusive relationship (or got a new one!) – its not what I wanted to teach my children. I don't use drugs or alcohol (and believe me some days I could sure use it). Nobody has health insurance and I hope nobody gets sick. Somehow we are above the poverty line so we don't qualify for food/utility assistance. I'm working hard to get my nursing degree and I KNOW things will be better when I graduate. I can't wait to be able to get my boys some of the things all the other kids have, get off the 'dole', and be in a position to help family members in need instead of always being the needy taker.

    August 22, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  18. A.A.

    Who r we 2 judge others. The old saying "Walk a mile in my shoes". Unless we r in the "poor" situation how can we
    know what others r going thru. The BIBLE says Judge not lest ye b judged. Instead of complainin abt who needs wot why not try helpin instead. How many of us that "HAS" help those that we know for sure 'HAS NOT'. U'll not only be
    doing something to help but also give urself a wonderful feelin inside that u did the right thing. U can run errands for an Elderly person, go thru ur clothes closet and get rid of the clothes u don't wear anymore and give them to someone who can really use them--just a few ideas. Thank U for listening whether u agree or not.

    August 22, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
  19. edp

    Cable TV is actually a very cheap form of entertainment. Consider the costs of a baseball or football game, theater, musicals, etc...Those that are poor can experience some of the finer things in life without having to save several hundred dollars to do so.

    August 30, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  20. MJV

    WE ARE SO JUDGMENTAL. Sure, there are people abusing the system. There are also many families who were considered "middle class" in '05/'06 who can barely make things meet after '08 who desperately need assistance. So from some of the comments you have to fall out and be in the street before you "deserve" help? By the time you're selling off your pre-paid cell phone and an Xbox from '05, you're in big trouble and probably cant maintain a residence anyway. If you're on the street, you cant qualify for food stamps and if you have no mailing address, you can barely receive aid. If you're living with someone, you have to obtain documentation from them also. Some of you haven't a clue, you're just talking. Pam, mother of two – I applaud you and wish you the best.

    September 14, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  21. Christopher M

    "Internent should not be considered for qualifing as poor."

    I have internet access. I Only make about 700 dollars a month. Don't have cable tv or "fur coats" . I just I shouldn't apply for jobs online or be able to communicate with my work place (they send e-mail, not phone calls)

    "Also, people applying for assistance should have to pass a drug test just like people applying for jobs have to."

    I didn't have to take drug test where I work now. So what are you talking about?

    October 13, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
  22. Eric R

    I live in maine and the welfare up here is so out of hand it's insane. I understand that some people actually use it properly. I haven't had much experience with people who don't abuse it to the MAX! They almost all have subsidized rents,food stamps, almost free daycare, you name it they have it. Me and my girlfriend try very hard to provide for the children we have,but sometimes we both wanna throw in the towel because if we just both decided to work way less hours and be bumps on logs we would get way more handed to us for free. Everyone I know on welfare play the system.. they make sure not to work to much and have no problem having new kids. Almost all of them smoke and drink and of course drugs... most of which we pay for because they get free healthcare. They get to sell the pills to buy different drugs like marijuana. The welfare system has failed terribly it does nothing to get people back on their feet but rewards them for being complete losers which they pass onto their kids that get to see the parents never work so they don't develop any type of work ethic.

    What I don't get is that the folks on welfare get free money and healthcare.. but they don't need to be drug tested and they can smoke and stuff.. If I smoke my healthcare goes through the roof or i get dropped completely at this point..Not to mention if your getting welfare WHY ARE YOU BUYING CIGARETTES???? These people know nothing of sacrifice or pride.. RANT OFF!

    Sorry for the people who do not abuse it and thank you for being a decent human being.. too bad so many abuse we are ready to burn anyone on welfare like a witch =(

    October 26, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  23. Joe

    What a joke. Which luxury items would you leftists EVER include that people would have that would disqualify them from being poor? I doubt if they owned yachts you'd accept that they should be labeled poor. "Well, they need that yacht to mingle with people who have money in an effort to get somewhere in life." You'll think of any excuse. None of you know any poor, and even if you do I think your left-wing ideology blinds you. I know poor people. I also know people who are not on govt assistance but are too addicted to their luxury items to bother buying things like HEALTH CARE. Many of these people are poor because they're too stupid to NOT buy the big screen tv. They don't have health care because they feel they deserve a new car. I've seen poor people complain about gas because they have a crappy car that gets poor gas mileage and then go out and buy a similar car that gets similar gas mileage. It's unreal. The poor in this country feel they are entitled to things. Entitled to the luxuries of those who are working hard to earn the things they have. No one is entitled to other people's things. Get over that concept, leftists!

    July 17, 2012 at 7:16 am |
  24. Catherine

    I personally hate the middle class. I am on SSI about 3 dolllars out of every 100 they spend in taxes goes to help the disabled. Because they see that extra starbucks latte flying out the window they like to get on ineternet forums and complain that i don't really look disabled and you saw me carrying a cell phone. And that just pisses you off. Well it pissed me off how you and your friends bullied me and called me a retard and wouldn't do anything but take delight in making me feel bad...and now that I am a basket case you complain. And you know you ALL did it in school and you miss it so you come pick on poor people here. Well you lose because here I am with a xbox(no not really) and there you are without your starbucks...

    August 30, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
  25. Lonely Me

    I considered myself to be middle class until I read this article... now I think I am poor. I have not had a home phone in over a year and a half, I have not had a cell phone in 2 years, I do not have cable or internet (yes I am using someone elses internert). I struggle to pay my bills, I do not receive cash assistance from the govt, my husband has a job and so do I but we dont make enough. This is life when all of your money goes to medical bills. I thought everyone in the lower middle class suffered like us... but after reading this article I think I was just not wanting to admit I am poor. Wake up call, omg. I have not bought clothes in more than 6 or 7 years and none of them fit me and all my pants have holes (in places you cant see lol)... but I dont sit at home crying oh poor me... I just make do with what I have. Some people just have their priorities messed up!

    November 3, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  26. Mandi

    well, I think what they should really look at is the cost of living for some of these people. I know a bunch of people who are on government programs and still live at home. They pay little to nothing in bills. Yet because they "look poor on paper" they get government aid. I think the government should re-evaluate how they do things when it comes to welfare. It's not fair that some people who live in expensive cities (hence they make more money but spend so much more on bills) have to sacrifice a large portion of their income. It's not fair. There are so many people who legitimately need help and yes the government should help them. I am completely for helping those who truly need the help. But those just taking advantage because they can should get off. (I.E. those living without bills who still use government aid).I don't like it that I see people day after day who pay little to nothing in bills and still get huge amounts of help from the government. Some of these people mentioned actually have brand new computers, and clothes. One of them is on a trip to Europe right now which she blew $8,000 on to go stay in a castle for a couple of months. 😦

    November 7, 2012 at 12:44 am |
  27. Mandi

    when I say "at home" I mean they are living a comfortable life with their parents who pay most if not all of their bills for them.

    November 7, 2012 at 12:45 am |
  28. BS

    Let those without sin cast the first stone.

    Instead of finding ways to lash out and place blame, lets unite and find a way to help each other. We are all brothers and sisters in God's eyes.

    December 28, 2012 at 9:19 am |
  29. c

    You are seriously disadvantaged if you don't have internet access and you wish to learn a trade online, such as programming. You really can't get far on the library computers because they only allow you an hour at a time and you have to wait. And you can't get any serious work done on them, they don't even allow any word processing or saving files(some do but not the library near me). You need a laptop to bring, then you can work all you want but can't print anything. I consider myself lucky I can afford a lightweight laptop and printer. I actually have internet at my home but am having it disconnected because I spend too much time on forum boards.

    January 10, 2013 at 10:30 pm |
  30. Vickie

    What if you have become poor recently and the items you have and own are items you have had for years. Yes luxary but when you now cannot afford food or cable not even the water coming from the pipes.... I have no cable I do have interenet only cause it is bundled with my phone... however my daughter needs it for school... so I have no choice but to keep it. I cannot afford food... I eat ketchup sandwiches and we seem to be living on roman noodles not good for high blood pressure. Trying to look for a cheaper place to live but thus I just had major surgery and can't do much of anything. My husband died 2 years ago... I am very alone... I am told I make too much for food stamps....are you kidding me... the bills in the house stayed the same my husband died and my son moved out on his own with his new wife.... everything is the same bills did not go away just people so .... now I can't afford anything... not especially food... if my water is gettin cut off every other month something is really wrong I get paid I pay bills and there is nothing left. I have lost alot of weight go figure and I am still loosing

    January 27, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
  31. Shauntay

    I do believe politics is grimy. Cash assistance in Michigan is 432.00 for a mother and 2 children. And after 2 years of receiving that whooping payment monthly they are kicked off FOREVER. WHO can live lavishly off of 432.00 with rent, gas, water and personal items to buy. BLAMING THE VICTIM is a redherring effect to take your mind off what is really going on. WAR is the reason why we are in a deficit. Libraries in the urban areas are being shut down daily.... Why? To keep poor people uneducated to keep their options few, to keep high drafting numbers in the service up. Its the 1% against the rest of us but the media will continue to keep cleavages formed so we will never see the big picture together.

    February 6, 2013 at 9:16 am |
  32. Nancy

    Here is what a lot are missing. These "poor" people with Xbox, cable, AC, iPads, MacBooks, nails done, trendy clothes....they are able to buy these things directly because they pay no bills. They get HUD, food stamps, medical assistance, day care vouchers....then any money they do have can go to luxuries and yes I think the above mentioned things are luxuries. A certain woman I know gets all of those benefits and takes 3 vacations a year to Vegas, FL and CA. She lives in MD. She flies too. It makes my mom so angry because my mom has a Masters degree, retired from her job, my dad makes $150k a year and they do not live as well as this woman. They are taxed to death, they're still paying a mortgage on a house built for their 4 kids whom are grown, they have to save still for retirement, their Cadillac health plan was downgraded and they can't afford $800 a month for meds. Yet here's this lady on all these gov freebies living the high life. Stop the entitlements!

    April 8, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
  33. Silly

    I do NOT believe Nancy nor the other rants about "poor" people taking 3 vacations. Hog Wash! PROPAGANDA is everywhere just like it was during Hitlers time. Makes it easier to cut programs ( as they are doing now with sequestration) when you gullible people believe garbage from people like Nancy.Politicians love her nonsense- she may be an undercover one who knows?
    We need real ideas to FIX the job market and help people. Remember changing hearts and minds?Starts with you people!

    April 12, 2013 at 6:22 am |
  34. Dr. Peter M

    Interesting report and a few well written comments: I, too, am tired of paying for others' luxuries.

    June 3, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
  35. Rob

    I am a public school teacher with a master's degree, I work full time and teach night and summer classes at the local community college. After losing her job last year, my wife has not been able to find a job that will cover the cost of childcare ($1500/month/child in our area) for our twins, despite having a bachelor's degree in business. Without food stamps, we would be unable to afford healthy meals for our children. Perhaps I should sell my computer for $100 bucks and save the $30 per month on Internet access...after all, according to many of these posts I am lazy and taking advantage of the system therefore I don't deserve things like Internet access or air conditioning. In that case don't expect me to answer your emails concerning your children, plan high quality lessons, or stay up to date on current research, because these are all things teachers are expected to do at home.

    July 28, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
  36. Jon

    Rob, I wouldn't want to stop short term support for people who lose their jobs, but it is hard to believe that $30 per month for Internet access is the only excess spending that you could trim. Regardless, there are examples of people who make good use of aid and examples of people who take advantage. Most people in the US don't have have enough saved to cover even 3 months of expenses. The problem is that so many people live beyond their means without planning for job loss or other emergency. That is what rubs me the wrong way, that irresponsibility is encouraged through government programs.

    August 12, 2013 at 9:07 am |
  37. foster

    I would be curious to find out how many of these judgmental people have actually been poor. So much energy is wasted on trying to tell people to "trim" their budget 30 bucks for internet so we can fix the economical disaster in America. It's not the poor people's fault. It comes from the top down... If the large corporations paid their taxes... thats it paid their taxes... not give up their yachts and private islands... pay their taxes, we wouldn't be in the position we are in. I'm tired of people with money telling me that it's my fault the government is broke and I need to not have a phone. I make just enough to not qualify for assistance and it's VERY hard. I work hard for what I have... I could have a yacht and an island too if I didn't give a s#(t about people or the environment. The top 1% gets there money, not by "hard work" like we are told, its by paying of the government to cram more money in their pockets... judge them, not the poor kid with an xbox.

    January 11, 2014 at 2:01 pm |
  38. God

    We need to eliminate SUBSIDIES... Rich corporations take the billions in handouts they don't need. The republicans love to re-distribute the money from the poor and avg, to the rich. Throw in the billions in tax breaks. If anyone disagrees, then they're a puppet on a string being pulled by Faux News.

    PS. the numbers are easy to look up.

    March 15, 2014 at 6:55 pm |
  39. Florence

    It's fantastic that you are getting thoughts from this post as well as from our discussion made at this time.

    April 23, 2014 at 11:18 am |
  40. matt m

    why is it that people that claim poverty live to a higher standard than the ones working for a living because in America we pay people to have babies so they can live it up a illegitimately. they have housing and health care and everything for free and the people that are trying to make a living by actually working honestly are the ones that can't get anything from support and they are starving to death. why does the United States promote Hispanic and black people to have 3 babies and get paid for them and for individuals just trying to make a living and not be a liar get nothing whose side are you on?

    June 12, 2015 at 9:57 am |
  41. Ashley

    BTW, the Xbox was given to me from a friend. It didn't work anymore, so I took it apart and fixed it. It's amazing what you learn and how creative you get when you have no money. I do live in public housing. We do have inspections, at least once a year, but sometimes more often. Just depends on what the excuse is for them to enter your dwelling. I didn't call it a home for a reason. We're not allowed to have washing machines or dryers in our apartment. There are no hook ups, but there is a laundromat on site that is more than happy to destroy your clothes. Half the time they aren't even working. Usually there's only 2 of each working for 90 some apartments. There's where I could save a lot of money. As for clothes, I go to churches and clothing centers. Food stamps does not give you that much. It's not like we get thousands of dollars every month. I have to go to food pantries just to make it through the month. Have any of you been to one of those? Also, get this. How many of you can actually save money? How nice that must be. I can't. I'm allowed to have a grand total of $2000 at any one time, which would be great to have believe me, but there's no way I can save for the future or for emergencies if I wanted to. If I have over $2000, even by one cent, I do not qualify any more. Check it out if you don't believe me. How am I supposed to save for college for my children? How am I supposed to be able to put money in bonds or in savings? Instead of attacking people like me you should be attacking the government for making it nearly impossible to leave these programs. I HATE being on assistance. I HATE IT! I hate having to give the government all my information, access to my children's school records, telling them every freaking detail. Have any of you actually looked at one of those applications? They have access to everything! I do not want to be on any assistance and can not wait until my family can support itself! I met a woman that can not get any assistance because her income was over by $1! And her husband was in the service! I'm not kidding. They will count everything right down to the last cent. As for a cell phone, I have one of the government issued ones that give me 250 minutes a month. That's just enough to make doctor appointments and so their school can keep in touch. It's not a flashy phone either. Honestly, it's a piece of crap, but I need a phone for job applications, so their school can reach me in emergencies, to make appointments, among other things. So this is not a glamorous lifestyle like so many of you believe. Most of you couldn't live a single month the way I do.

    January 15, 2016 at 11:10 pm |
  42. Ashley

    I see my previous post didn't post, so I will try to remember what I wrote. We weren't always poor. My husband had a good job, we had a good working car, and didn't struggle wondering where we where going to cut stuff to make ends meet. Do I have an Xbox? Yes. It's an Xbox 360 that was free. It was given to me because it no longer worked. Other family members bought a few games for it. Usually for a birthday, or one for christmas. Do I have cable? Yes. If I could get basic channels without having cable I wouldn't have it. I have it to watch the news to see what the weather is going to be so I can dress my children appropriately or to see if their school has closed because of weather. Do I have internet access? Yes. We need it to go to school online, so our children can use it for school, and to put in job applications. Yes, libraries are free, but it also costs gas to get there. Not to mention there's a time limit per day. By attending school online I can go to a non profit college and save money on gas, books, loans, etc. We have one car. It isn't a flashy car either. It's a 2005 town and country chrysler mini van. It's used to go to work, go to doctor appointments, grocery stores, to pay bills (it costs more money to pay them online). As for air conditioning, yes, I do have access to it. Whether I use it or not is a different story. I do live in the south where it gets very hot in the summers. I leave the windows open unless it becomes hard for me to breathe as I have asthma. I have to be gasping before I turn it on, which is around 90 degrees, sometimes more, but depending on how humid it is. Even then I cringe at the thought of turning it on because thinking of having to pay another bill is more than I can stand. Still think living this way is so easy and glamorous as you thought?

    January 15, 2016 at 11:27 pm |
  43. Linda

    Anyone who believes that the poor are living the high life has no experience with actual poor people. The money is going somewhere, but not to them. As other posters have stated, luxury items are almost always left overs from better times or were received as gifts. Often what you are seeing is the result of ingenuity – a woman doing her own manicure (costs about 30 cents), or designer clothes purchased at Goodwill. Our society encourages people to "be resourceful" yet the poor are denied even that one point of pride. To those of you who think it's so easy, I say "give it a go", see how YOU like it. Maybe you think that you can handle being more financially deprived than you are right now (and you will be), but can you handle also being a social pariah? The truth is that every one of us wants to be the one on top, wants to be the hero that rushes in and saves the day, rather than suffer the embarrassment of being the one in need – this is just basic human nature. As I said, the money is going somewhere. And welfare fraud is about 1%. If you are really tee'd off at how much taxes you are paying, and don't want to sound like a dope,I strongly suggest that you look beyond the decoy that has been maneuvered into position, obscuring your view.

    January 20, 2016 at 5:38 am |
  44. Heartweaver

    I'd say that the car (especially if the commute to work is far and there aren't many essential facilities nearby), air conditioning (in hot areas) and internet are important, but certainly not the xbox, cable tv and jacuzzi. The kids can play online games on a PC that they also use for studying and for the adults to do work on, and there's free-to-view tv (albeit they suck,that's why I got rid of tv altogether). There's also tv programmes to watch online. If they want a jacuzzi, go to a leisure centre.

    I am not saying that the poor should live like beggars on the bare minimum, but some are completely unnecessary things that one can easily live without.

    March 18, 2016 at 9:24 am |
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    Summer break can be stressful for families who are homeless or living at or below the poverty line. Some families believe summer camps won't fit their budget. But it doesn't have to mean spending thousands of dollars for your child to have the "camp experience." The lack of high-quality, engaging summer programming means youth may not have a safe place to go while their parents are at work. Even those engaged in daytime activities may not be receiving the quality educational or recreational programming necessary to keep them healthy and to avoid the “summer slide.” Chris Salamone is the present CEO of the law firm, Chris M. Salamone & Associates. His experience in several organizations such as the Florence Fuller Child Development Centers (FFCDC), has helped him in many ways. At the FFCDC, Chris Salamone has been providing child care programs for children from low-income households. Summer Camp was one of the most notable program of the FFCDC. Also, he has been actively involved in non-profit educational sphere where he shared his views on various subjects relevant to government, law and leadership.

    August 20, 2016 at 4:06 am |
  49. darryl ireland

    it doesn't matter to me if you have an in ground pool n tennis court w/ steam room. if you don't work – you don't EAT.

    October 27, 2016 at 10:52 pm |
  50. Sarah

    Heres a thought if we dont want people living off the goverment cut cash funding make them get jobs and make it to where felons can get jobs and the disability thing is rediculas if you arent really disabled dont be lazy get a job not meanimg to sound harsh but if you give people the oppertunity to be lazy and someone else pay for everything they will im technically disabled but still worked all my life and im a felon so there are no excuses just wish i could get better paying jobs but background checks ckick my butt everytime im not a criminal but society sure is trying to make me one my kids will have a decent life no matter what

    November 9, 2016 at 10:59 am |
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  52. Lena

    There always seems to be this stigma around being poor. If I work my butt off every single day, you bet your sweet one that I am going to go home to an air conditioned home and play my playstation. I'm 23, and I do fall under the description of living in poverty. I work hard. I am not some lazy person mooching off of the system. I do, however, feel like I deserve to be able to enjoy some fruits of my labor. If you want to judge me for having an iPhone, PlayStation, laptop, and a decent car, fine, judge me. I just don't see the point in living miserably if you don't have to.

    November 18, 2017 at 10:09 am |
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    June 23, 2018 at 6:56 am |
  54. cristina

    I am sorry but if you live in Arizona like where I live air conditioning is not a luxury it is a necessity see if you can live here without one in this extreme heat what about those heat waves where the elderly dies because they don't have access to one they die heat kills you know air conditioning is a human right

    July 25, 2018 at 6:30 pm |
  55. Gin

    There seems to be this overall idea that every single America can go to college and get great jobs. Just because you are blessed or complacent in your struggling life while big biz and certain employers get rich or wealthy on the backs of many working poor doesn’t mean the system we have works great. It’s a broken system that needs reform not cuts or deletion. Some people cannot attend college they either have disabilities that would never be able to pass, or the jobs they can realistically do won’t be worth the debt they’d have to pay after. I hear so many say fast food is just for kids learning how to work...but if that was really true yer not getting McDonald’s in the middle of the night or yer lunch break. It’s really easy to say the things you say when you are doing ok. I wish I could have actual communication with people that can make changes happen and could figure out how to turn my ideas on how to start fixing things into reality. You see so many wealthy using charity to get tax about make a special charity that connects to our poor where money goes to utility companies to start doing a sliding scale for those costs and having free utilities for those that need it. Don’t give free tax breaks for millionaire homes...require them to qualify for the tax breaks to hire 90 percent of employees in the United States. I have other good ideas too but they are in the raw, actual implementation takes way more than an idea plus money to make the changes. No more bandaids to fix problems please now we are at the point we just have to rip them off and it’s going to hurt.

    July 27, 2018 at 10:41 am |
  56. Gin

    One more thing to say...the biggest deal is made over who is gonna be president when we should worry a lot more about who is in Congress you can get a great president in but if congress keeps saying no to changes that will make a difference or turning a great idea into a lousy one that hurts the same class of people then what’s the point? Supreme Court also shoul not be a lifetime term it should be like the rest of the political positions that have such power in shaping our laws and etc.

    July 27, 2018 at 10:49 am |
  57. Gin

    As to luxuries even before I was disabled and had a decent job...I don’t think tv or etc is a luxury for poor. I’d rather them have some other entertainment that keeps things to where babymqking isn’t one of the few sources of entertainment. Education should be better at all ages too the better the education the more likely that most people won’t be in the position to need aid, but there will always be people that need help and they should never be punished for what the people that cheat the system do.

    July 27, 2018 at 10:56 am |
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    December 27, 2018 at 8:35 am |
  59. John

    Why don’t we just have poor houses again? You are a complete idiot. What about the working ooor? What should the government do add a committee that goes from house to house to make sure that they don’t have xbox or air conditioning. The employees will be Federal Workers all of the United States going from house to house to make sure that the poor are living in shacks with dirt floors. Again you are an idiot. How much would the government pay for that. Who are you to judge anyway. Maybe if minimum wage would be raised enough that the working poor would not need to decide whether to put food on the table or letting the utilities to be shut off. People like you are self righteous ignorant people. Just like the people that voted for the idiot in office. What type of hate groups are you a member of?

    December 27, 2018 at 12:58 pm |
  60. WThompson

    My issue with many of the poor people I know is that they don't want to change or conform in any way required to progress, yet they think they should have things handed to them. The culture now says you're fine just the way you are and the way you want to be and you shouldn't have to suffer consequences for it.

    October 18, 2019 at 4:43 pm |
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