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How the poor really live

How the poor really live

Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic writes:

The Pew Research Center on Thursday released a massive report about public opinion. One finding jumped out immediately. Pew had asked respondents about the poor—whether “they have hard lives because government benefits don’t go far enough,” or if “they have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything.” Opinion overall was split, but, as my colleague Danny Vinik noted, it wasn’t evenly distributed. The committed liberals in the survey were overwhelmingly likely to say the poor had it tough. The conservatives were just as likely to say they had it easy.

Fortunately, Cohn adds, we have data that tell us how the poor really live:

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities late last year complied some statistics on people with household incomes below the poverty line, which today would be a little less than $20,000 a year for a family of three. More than half reported difficulty paying for food, living in overcrowded housing, paying rent or mortgages late, or having utilities cut off. The figures for people with incomes up to twice the poverty line were not that much better. Although statistics like that can inflate the extent of true hardship, the phenomenon is real. Luke Shaefer, from the University of Michigan, and Kathryn Edin, from Johns Hopkins, once did a study of “extreme poverty”—people living on less than $2 a day. In early 2011, when they conducted their study, nearly 3 million children lived in such families.

What accounts for the great discrepancy in attitude between liberals and conservatives on this issue? What keeps us from seeing poverty clearly and doing something about it?


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Chris H.

Liberals have noted for awhile that conservatives in Red states that vote against Medicaid are voting against their own interests. Part of that is trying to give themselves some self-worth. Here in Montana several publications have said that the goal of different welfare programs is to get the unemployed to about the level of $35,000 income. The state average paid income is $39,000 including the oil field jobs. So people on gov’t assistance are living the same as the working folk who also have trouble with rent, etc. and pay taxes supporting the guy next door who does nothing. The only thing workers have is their pride in not being a “welfare queen” so they vote against giving others more than they have. Montana really isn’t very religious (not all conservatives are), but Paul’s story of people doing nothing while others worked which lead to “if you don’t work you don’t eat” sounds pretty reasonable here.

Also, voting Democrat can be self-defeating. Democratic environmental policy will destroy the well paying jobs here which are mostly in energy and resource markets: Coal, oil, timber, etc. and the military. Once built “clean energy” windfarms and solar arrays only employ 2-5 people regularly and won’t support communities. Even those are being stopped because birds can get hurt and nobody wants to build the electric lines needed. Everyone here knows that a local Democrat would be a Republican or Centrist in New York or California. They have to be. There aren’t enough Liberal approved jobs for everyone.

Chris Harwood

(Sorry if this duplicates, sign in issues)

Lisa Shirley Jones

I have no idea. It really confounds me. How can conservatives, many of whom claim to be the Christian Right of American, be so indifferent and even show contempt toward the poor? It is definitely on my list of things to ask God and often something about I shake my fist toward the sky.

I suspect that a major cause is compassion fatigue. There is so much economic insecurity and poverty around us, that we feel helpless against it, and so we channel that self-imposed guilt onto the poor and insecure.

David P. Kendrick

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