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Are you in poverty if you have an Xbox?

The conservative think tank, The Heritage Foundation, has just released a study questioning whether the U.S. Census Bureau should allow Americans with a multitude of unnecessary electronic devices to be considered “in poverty.”

According to the most recent Census, 21.8 percent of Mississippians live below poverty level, as opposed to 14.3 percent nationally. According to USDA numbers reported by the Wall Street Journal, Mississippi has a higher percentage of its population — 20.8 percent — on food stamps than any other state in the nation. (See July 1 Business Blog post.)

The title of the Heritage study is “Air Conditioning, Cable TV, and an Xbox: What is Poverty in the United States Today?

The abstract:

For decades, the U.S. Census Bureau has reported that over 30 million Americans were living in “poverty,” but the bureau’s definition of poverty differs widely from that held by most Americans. In fact, other government surveys show that most of the persons whom the government defines as “in poverty” are not poor in any ordinary sense of the term.

The overwhelming majority of the poor have air conditioning, cable TV, and a host of other modern amenities. They are well housed, have an adequate and reasonably steady supply of food, and have met their other basic needs, including medical care. Some poor Americans do experience significant hardships, including temporary food shortages or inadequate housing, but these individuals are a minority within the overall poverty population.

Many think of poverty as hunger and possibly homelessness. Heritage found that according to 2005 Census numbers, the typical household defined as poor by the government had a car and air conditioning, two color TVs, cable or satellite TV, a DVD player and a VCR.

The report concludes: “Anti-poverty policy must be based on an accurate assessment of actual living conditions and the causes of deprivation.”

What do you think?


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About Amy McCullough


  1. Welcome to the Mississippi Delta! They also drive Cadilac Escalades!!

  2. That’s absolutely unbelievable! The median “poor” are living one helluva lot better than I.

  3. jacqueline spencer

    There are more of them than there are of us in MS. They are gonna vote in the ones who will keep giving it to them. I can’t aford a new tv because the government is talking about cutting my medicare benefits, but they are not worried. They eat better than we do and live a lot better. They don’t worry about the electric bill or the house payment. They just make sure they all vote right. And it just keeps right on coming.

  4. Ha! It seems that some people are upset that people live in MS with air conditioning, enough food, cable tv(can’t see it without cable or a digital box)and other things that the status quo deems not needed for survival, and are considered poor. Who do you think you are to judge what a person does or doesn’t need? Maybe if you open those greedy hands, and air out those clustered minds some good things will flow your way. Don’t begrudge others. You will never prosper if you are constantly upset about what others have. You are not the “poverty” police. The reactions above are just what right wingers want. It keeps you unfocused on what is really going on. Oh, by the way, this is America and any citizen old enough to vote can. Kinda levels that pedestal you’re standing on doesn’t it? Welcome to the new Plutocracy. Democracy is dead but those living in “poverty” can still vote!!!! Just ask Citigroups top management team. Or do you think having a vote is having too much to be considered poor also?

  5. So was the above posted with the IPHONE with data plan thats $100/mo or the computer with internet that cost $40/mo. Oh yeah, that’s another one of those necessities, along with Nike Shocks, X Box, 60″ flat screen TV. Need I go on? All paid for with money donated by me and other hard working citizens. Oh that’s right. That is how our government stimulates the economy! All the money in those bogus tax refunds distributed come January 1. Head to all the Walmarts and Bestbuys and watch what is being loaded into the buggys by all the folks living in poverty. And the families in poverty that get $600 mo. in food stamps. I don’t buy $600 groceries in 2 mos! Yep, I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.

  6. Priscilla, as a taxpayer in one of the most charitable states in the union, I believe Mississippians have every right to choose the level and recipient of support. As a WORKING single mother, I can tell you that a budget that allows for all of those luxuries AND provides enough food to keep the recipient the most obese in the country is more than common sense and civility call for.

    Get a clue and put YOUR greedy hand back in your own freakin pocket.

  7. I think it is difficult to look at what a person has in his/her home and determine whether they are living in poverty or whether they poorly manage their money.

    Before everyone gears up to attack me – I have never benefited from government assistance. I work full time and have been employed with the same company for nearly a decade (and I’m not 30 yet).

    I DID grow up poor. When I say poor, I mean we ate boiled dry beans for every meal for months on end, and sometimes there was only enough for my brother and I. My mother worked in a factory and didn’t have breakfast or lunch – ever – for several years.

    That said, we did have some of the things listed here. We had a VCR and some tapes of cartoons, we had a Nintendo & games. Why? Because at Christmas and on birthdays, they were gifted to us by extended family. I’m guessing that’s the equivalent of a DVD player and an Xbox. I suppose that if you came into our home, some would have judged her because we did have a few nice things – they might overlook that she walked 5 miles to work each day, had only two outfits (jeans & homemade shirt), bought our clothes at thrift shops, etc.

    We need to recognize that there is a difference in what a person possesses and what they spend money on.

    As for air conditioning – really? REALLY? In a state where people die of heat stroke EVERY summer, do you really begrudge the poor AIR CONDITIONING? If so, grow a blasted heart, people.

    That said, there are a lot of things that it irritates me to know people on public assistance are paying for, like: Smart phones – the plans for those things are crazy high and must be paid every month. Cable/Satellite – my husband and I are both professionals and we don’t throw money away like that.

    Priscilla – as for your statement “Who do you think you are to judge what a person does or doesn’t need?” If I’m the person PAYING the bill, I think I’m VERY entitled to judge what someone needs. I work 50-60 hours a week, only to have the government take $200 or $300 right off the top to pay for other peoples’ things. If someone spends their days doing whatever the ****** they want to, and living off of the taxes that other working people and I pay, they should be willing to face a little scrutiny. (We face scrutiny every day – at work.)

    Still, in a country as prosperous as ours, I think it would be a shame not to help those truly in need. I really don’t mind contributing to those who really need it (the truly disabled for example). I don’t want to see them tottering on the edge of life. I want them to have healthcare, food, a roof over their heads, and yes, air conditioning – and I’m willing to pitch in, and do so through taxes and charity.

  8. You know, I only receive satisfaction in knowing that “what goes around comes around” and in that God knows what is going on here with the handouts. I join Reba Cook when I say that, with an M.Ed degree, working two jobs, I seem to be below poverty level after I pay for all my insurances. I will never get Medicaid, or have anything else to fall back on. Get real-don’t just give our money away to people who don’t even work.

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