Don’t Feel Sorry for Poor People (in America)

I get tired of all the solicitations I get for charity. Donate to end hunger at the checkout line, donate a bookbag to poor children at the local school, donate a meal to poor families at Thanksgiving, donate a toy for poor children at Christmas.

The fact is that most of the poor in America are in the global top 1 percent.

If you work for a living and earn at or even above the average income in America, there are “poor” people receiving benefits who end up with a greater “income” than you. In Hawaii, welfare benefits packages came to $49,175 in 2013. In D.C., it’s $43,099, and in Massachusetts, $42,515 annually. In 13 states, welfare pays more than $15 an hour. According to the Cato Institute report, “The Work Versus Welfare Trade-off: 2013”

In 11 states, welfare pays more than the average pre-tax first year wage for a teacher. In 39 states it pays more than the starting wage for a secretary. And, in the 3 most generous states a person on welfare can take home more money than an entry-level computer programmer.

Meanwhile, in India, a poor child may have one outfit, live in a two-room mud hut with a family of nine, and eat porridge made from rice and discarded vegetable stalks. Lighting consists of one government-supplied 25-watt bulb. Others live in huts made of grass and mud with no electricity, and certainly no TV and Xbox. Children’s toys are homemade from cardboard. The poor in America really do seem to have it made when all this is considered. In fact, the poorest 10 percent of Americans have higher living standards than the top 10 percent in Russia, Portugal, or Mexico. Living at the poverty level in America means having a higher median income in Turkey, Spain, Portugal, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Mexico, Hungary, Estonia, Greece, and Chile, and is comparable to the median income in Belgium, Ireland, Italy, and Slovenia:

There are certainly a number of reasons to feel sorry for the poor in America. They may be addicted to drugs, have mental illness, lack basic skills in reading and communication, lack knowledge about basic hygiene, or live desperately unhappy lives surrounded by cheap materialism. But that’s not too different from the lives of many in the working and middle classes. In the modern world, we’re all prone to being poor in spirit and suffer from the death of the sacred in society. 

Here are just some of the facts about America’s “poor.” Some of these “privileges” are fully funded by taxpayers; others are things that the average poor family owns or has access to just by virtue of living in the U.S. 

Shelter and Sanitation

  • Unlike the truly poor, like those in parts of India and Africa, they have shelter from the elements, including a mattress or sofa to sleep on (obviously, homeless Americans are excluded from most of these).
  • A large amount of space per person, with 94 percent not being overcrowded. In fact, the average poor American has more living space than the typical non-poor person in Sweden, France, or the United Kingdom,” and more than two-thirds have more than two rooms per person.
  • 5 percent living in single-family houses or townhouses, 40 percent in apartments, and 9.5 percent in trailers. (42 percent of poor people even own their own homes.) Less than 1 percent of poor people are homeless (including living in cars).
  • Access to central heating.
  • 80 percent have air conditioning (meaning about every poor person in America’s warmer areas has AC). To contrast, in 1970, 36 percent of U.S. households had air conditioning.
  • They have indoor plumbing, including a kitchen sink, flushing toilet, and indoor bath/shower. (Less than 1 percent of Americans don’t have indoor plumbing.) 
  • Clean drinking water (for the most part).
  • HUD houses and subsidies
  • Charities that provide free furniture, electronics, kitchen goods, clothing, bedding, and other household items.
  • Government-sponsored loans and grants to buy a home, or rental assistance. (It was such government-backed loans that led to the collapse of the wealth of the middle class in the 2008 housing crash.) 
  • And the Federal Housing Administration is still giving loans to people who can’t qualify through a bank, and comprised 22 percent of all single-family mortgages in 2016. 

Transportation and Communication

  • Nearly 75 percent of poor people own their own car, and 31 percent own two or more vehicles.
  • Access to public transit (buses or subways).
  • Paved and maintained roads and highways.
  • Trash pickup (typically at their home or in their apartment complex).
  • Mail delivery to their door or complex.
  • Low-income programs for cell phones, paid for by working families who are taxed on wireless services.

Health and Safety

  • Health coverage through Medicaid. Meanwhile, health insurance remains a luxury many working families can’t afford, with monthly premiums costing more than a mortgage and deductibles at $10,000 or more. 
  • For pregnant women, 100 percent free cost of baby delivery in a hospital, including pain drugs like an epidural and the cost covered for any complications. The U.S. is the most expensive country in the world to give birth (the average health insurance plan covers half the cost), unless you’re poor in which case you pay nothing. 
  • Free vaccinations for children. 
  • Police protection a phone call away.
  • Ambulance a phone call away.
  • Sliding scale fees for doctor’s visits if they don’t have Medicaid.  
  • Charities that help pay for medical treatments not covered by Medicaid.
  • Disability payments for life if they’re injured (or just too obese or depressed to work).
  • Access to a plethora of the OTC medications and natural supplements that can be used to treat non-serious illness.

Education

  • Free education for 13 years. In some states, free community college
  • Transportation to school for children (with pick-up at the door or just down the street, and a special bus to accommodate disabled children).
  • Special classes and programs in school for children with learning disabilities.
  • Free public libraries, including books, magazine subscriptions, newspapers, DVDs and music.
  • Half of poor people own their own computer (one in seven has more than one computer).
  • Those without a computer at home have access to free computers at public libraries.
  • 43 percent of poor Americans have Internet at home.
  • Those that don’t have free Internet at public libraries.
  • Access to need-based scholarships and grants for which middle class students are ineligible. 
  • Charities that give their children free school supplies.
  • Access to government aid that’s off limits to students from middle-class families. 

Food

  • So much food that the entire family is obese. 
  • EBT cards (food stamps). Monthly payments can be so excessive that families buy things other than food, or use them to buy expensive meats and snacks. 
  • Free or reduced lunch for their children at school. 
  • A refrigerator (in the households of 99.9 percent of poor Americans). 
  • An oven and stove (98.5 percent of poor Americans have them).
  • Food banks where they can pick up free food. But those with higher incomes are prohibited from accessing food banks. 
  • Access to grocery stores stocked with fresh fruit, vegetables, grains and beans (yet they seem to choose Doritos and hamburgers).
  • 92 percent of poor households have a microwave.
  • They are not starved or lacking in nutritional intake compared to the upper-middle-class.

Plus . . .

  • Social security payments for their children if one parent dies.
  • Most have a TV, and one-third have a wide-screen plasma or LCD TV.
  • Nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite TV.
  • Two-thirds have at least one DVD player, and 70 percent have a VCR (from data published in 2011).
  • More than half have a video gaming systems like Xbox or PlayStation.
  • One-fourth have a digital video recorder (DVR) system.
  • Access to free public parks, some with exercise equipment, walking trails, gardens, or tennis courts.
  • In some areas, taxpayer-funded pre-K programs that middle class families are banned from. 
  • Cash cards that can be used to purchase anything (up to $433 in cash for a family of four each month for a single person, up to $158 a month). 
  • Charities that give their children free toys at Christmas.

All of this isn’t to say that there aren’t people in the America and the West we should feel sorry for. The homeless, mentally ill without treatment, and veterans waiting for months for healthcare all draw my sympathy. But I know poor people whose kids have more toys than mine does, and, if they end up with no food in the house one day it’s only due to watching TV all day rather than going to the store and spending their food stamps. Every single person I’ve known who receives welfare or benefits has been scamming the government in some way. The people I really feel sorry for are the working class and middle class Americans who are suffering due to having to pay for all these things.