Poor households are wellequipped with modern entertainment technology. It should come as no surprise that nearly all (97 percent) poor households have color TVs, but more than half actually own two or more color televisions. Onequarter own largescreen televisions, 78 percent have a VCR or DVD player, and almost twothirds have cable or satellite TV reception. Some 58 percent own a stereo. More than a third have telephone answering machines, while a quarter have personal computers. While these numbers do not suggest lives of luxury, they are notably different from conventional images of poverty.
Housing space can also be measured by the number of square feet per person. The Residential Energy Consumption survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy shows that Americans have an average of 721 square feet of living space per person. Poor Americans have 439 square feet. Reasonably comparable international squarefootage data are provided by the Housing Indicator Program of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements, which surveyed housing conditions in major cities in 54 different nations. This survey showed the United States to have by far the most spacious housing units, with 50 percent to 100 percent more square footage per capita than city dwellers in other industrialized nations.
As examples looks at efforts by the federal government to alleviate poverty during the depression, the advent of social security and the welfare system and the problem of unemployment among young, undereducated Americans.
It compares the people living at the povety level in America with people in other countries and finds that poor Americans are in worse shape because of the cost of living.
This program recounts these stories of desperation and hope and explores the origins of the federal government's war on poverty and how attitudes toward race and faith in the accessibility of the American dream shape the battle plans for the nation's greatest effort to reduce poverty.
. The Census Bureau defines an individual as poor if his or her family income falls below certain specified income thresholds. These thresholds vary by family size. In 2002, a family of four was deemed poor if its annual income fell below $18,556; a family of three was deemed poor if annual income was below $14,702. There are a number of problems with the Census Bureau's poverty figures: Census undercounts income, ignores assets accumulated in prior years, and disregards non-cash welfare such as food stamps and public housing in its official count of income. However, the most important problem with Census figures is that, even if a family's income falls below the official poverty thresholds, the family's actual living conditions are likely to be far higher than the image most Americans have in mind when they hear the word "poverty."
The typical American defined as "poor" by the government has a car, air conditioning, a refrigerator, a stove, a clothes washer and dryer, and a microwave. He has two color televisions, cable or satellite TV reception, a VCR or DVD player, and a stereo. He is able to obtain medical care. His home is in good repair and is not overcrowded. By his own report, his family is not hungry and he had sufficient funds in the past year to meet his family's essential needs. While this individual's life is not opulent, it is equally far from the popular images of dire poverty conveyed by the press, liberal activists, and politicians.
In recent years, the United States has established a reasonable record in reducing child poverty. Successful antipoverty policies were partially implemented in the welfare reform legislation of 1996, which replaced the old Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program with a new program called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).
The generally high living standards of poor Americans are good news. Even better is the fact that our nation can readily reduce remaining poverty, especially among children. To accomplish this, we must focus on the main causes of child poverty: low levels of parental work and high levels of single parenthood.
. See Katha Pollitt, "Poverty: Fudging the Numbers," The Nation, November 2, 1998. Pollitt argues that it is misleading to compare the living space of poor Americans nationwide to that of average citizens in major cities in other nations, since European cities, in particular, have small housing units that are not representative of their entire nations. However, the author of the United Nations Housing Indicators report asserts that, in most cases, the average housing size in major cities can be taken as roughly representative of the nation as a whole. A comparison of the data in Table 4 and Appendix Table A would appear to confirm this.
Overall, more than onequarter of poor families experienced at least one financial difficulty during the year. Most had a late payment of rent or utility bills. Some 12 percent had phones or utilities cut off or were evicted.
John Slagle -- Norval Morris / by Kathie Robertson -- Alvin Paul Mitchell / by John Lipman, KIRO, Jesse Wineberry, Michael King -- William King / by Jimmy Sternfield -- Clarence Lusane ; Alexa Freeman / by Eddie Becker -- Barbara Franklin ; Jeanne McKinnis / by Jeanne C.
Second, the living conditions of the average poor household should not be taken to represent all poor households. There is a wide range of living conditions among the poor; while more than a quarter of the poor have cell phones and answering machines, a tenth of the poor have no telephone at all. While most of America's poor live in accommodations with two or more rooms per person, roughly a tenth of the poor are crowded, with less than one room per person.