Is a family with a car in the driveway, a flat-screen television and a computer with an Internet connection poor?
As the New York times reports, “Americans — even many of the poorest — enjoy a level of material abundance unthinkable just a generation or two ago. That indisputable economic fact has become a subject of bitter political debate this year, half a century after President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a war on poverty.
“Starkly different views on poverty and inequality rose to the fore again on Wednesday as Democrats in the Senate were unable to muster the supermajority of 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster of a proposal to raise the incomes of the working poor by lifting the national minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
“Indeed, despite improved living standards, the poor have fallen further behind the middle class and the affluent in both income and consumption. The same global economic trends that have helped drive down the price of most goods also have limited the well-paying industrial jobs once available to a huge swath of working Americans. And the cost of many services crucial to escaping poverty — including education, health care and child care — has soared.
“Without a doubt, the poor are far better off than they were at the dawn of the War on Poverty,” said James Ziliak, director of the University of Kentucky’s Center for Poverty Research. “But they have also drifted further away.”Democrats have generally argued that addressing this disjunction requires providing more support for the poor, raising the minimum wage, extending unemployment insurance benefits and making health care more affordable by expanding the reach of Medicaid and subsidizing private insurance for those who lack employer coverage.Republicans, by contrast, have proposed reducing government regulations and overhauling existing programs to encourage more work, arguing that would allow Washington to decrease spending on the poor.“The question isn’t whether the federal government should help; the question is how,” Mr. Ryan said at the hearing on Wednesday. “How do we make sure that every single taxpayer dollar we spend to reduce poverty is actually working?”For many working poor families, the most apt description of their finances and lifestyle might be fragile. Even with a steady paycheck, keeping the bills paid becomes a high-wire act and saving an impossibility.Tammie Hagen-Noey, a 49-year-old living in Richmond, Va., tapped at an iPhone as she sat on the porch of the group home where she lives — its proprietor is a friend of her daughter’s. She earns $7.25 an hour at a local McDonald’s, and makes a little extra money on the side from planting small plots of land for neighbors who want to garden.Ms. Hagen-Noey is trying to rebuild her finances, which have been decimated by divorce, government liens and addiction. At the top of her list of priorities is finding better-paid work. She produced a paycheck that showed her earnings so far this year: $2,938.51.“It’s impossible,” she said. “Every cent of that goes towards what I need.” A few months ago, she sold her car for $500 to make rent.”