A Brief Post on an Obvious Point: The Poor Didn’t Do It!

September 9th, 2013 at 8:29 pm

We’re starting to prep for “poverty day” around these parts–it’s next Tues, 9/17–the Census Bureau will release the poverty and household income results for last year. There’s lots of rich data and both CBPP and yours truly will have much to say about the results.

But in prepping for a presentation on this stuff for tomorrow, I made the graph below, just showing the sharp increase in the official poverty rate over the great recession.  I’ve noted in many posts the limits of the official measure, most importantly re the dates shown in the figure, how it leaves out many of the safety net benefits that expanded to offset the downturn.

But to explain what struck me in gazing upon this simple figure below, we’re actually better off looking at the incomplete official rate.  How can it make any sense to blame the poor themselves, as per Charles Murray, Paul Ryan, along with pretty much the rest of the House R’s caucus, for this increase in poverty in the midst of the worst downturn since the Great Depression?

How is it that those of us trying to argue on behalf of providing the poor with the opportunities they need are so often back on our heels, defending the increase in the SNAP (i.e., food stamp) rolls against those who claim the safety net is a hammock?  Did the poor come up with the financial “innovations” that inflated the housing bubble?  You know, the one that imploded and took the economy down with it…how about the dot.com bubble?  Was that also the dastardly work of the bottom 20%?

Perhaps I’m a little sensitive after this debate earlier today on CNBC.  Or maybe it’s the juxtaposition of the finance sector’s recent profitability and the flack the $15/hr fast-food strikers are getting from the economic elites.

But really, it’s time to get on offense here, my friends.  Listen, elites: you want less people on food stamps?  Fine…then stop screwing up the economy.  Then we’ll talk.  Until then—until we’re back around full employment, until you stop blowing bubbles, I really don’t want to hear from you about hammocks and the bad decisions of the poor.   You want to talk job creation, infrastructure investment, skills training, mobility, opportunity—I’m all ears.  Otherwise, quiet down and get to work.

OK…rant over.


Source: Census Bureau



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9 comments in reply to "A Brief Post on an Obvious Point: The Poor Didn’t Do It!"

  1. Tyler Healey says:

    Unemployment insurance would be doubled if we lived in a knowledgeable country, because the unemployed are guaranteed to spend that money and thus stimulate the economy.

    Honest studies consistently rank unemployment insurance as the most effective policy for creating jobs.

  2. smith says:

    The graph needs to show more than the years in question for one to get an objective perspective, especially since the left axis (120 – 155) is selective to begin with (and unlabeled). Books of Tufte on graphical representation of data suggest this is important. If conservative blogs showed similar types of graphs, one might suspect they could be purposefully biased or misleading. Not saying this is, but in presenting evidence, there should be a single standard that applies to all. Even the aspect ratio of the graph comes into play.

  3. Pablo says:

    Why is poverty up so much in the “Recovery”. Please don’t say its the Sequesters fault.

  4. Tom Cantlon says:

    No, no! Rant no over! Keep on ranting, and getting others to. As you say, be on the offensive.

  5. Perplexed says:

    So why is again that the most important “commodity” of the poor (and all other workers),their labor, is exempted from anti-trust laws? Does it serve other objectives than concentrating the full cost of the output gap and imposing it on the powerless few? Is there an ethically sound reason those people should be required to absorb these costs?

    This is otherwise known as “tyranny of the majority.” Our Constitution was supposed to have protected citizens against this. Does this qualify as a “market failures” in economic “science?”

  6. purple says:

    According to the ignorant right-wingers, American poor aren’t poor because they have cell phones.

    However my in-laws from the shanty towns of an extremely poor developing country all had cell phones (and TV’s and VCR’s). And though they didn’t have computers, there was a computer store within walking distance.

    It’s true though that the washing machine is a bit of novelty still in the shantytowns, important, since in terms of productivity it is far more important than the internet. (Though many male economists can’t acknowledge that.) Try washing your clothes by hand for a week !