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The poverty myth: How the U.S. Census Bureau is undermining American society

Posted By -NO AUTHOR- On 09/29/1998 @ 1:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled

Each year the U.S. Census Bureau issues its annual report on the number
of
Americans who are “living in poverty.” But a closer look at the actual
material living standards of persons defined as “poor” by the Census Bureau
suggests that these official poverty reports are misleading. Specifically,
income has been systematically underreported and living standards grossly
misrepresented on a regular basis, ever since the inception of the census
rituals in their present form during President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on
Poverty.”

This month, Robert Rector exposes “The Myth of Widespread American
Poverty”
in
his Heritage Foundation piece.

According to this report, the majority of households classified as “in
poverty” today possess amenities such as cars, multiple televisions, VCRs,
and
microwave ovens — two thirds even own air conditioners. The typical home
owned by the 41% of the “poor” who are homeowners is a three-bedroom house
with one-and-a-half baths; it is in good repair, and has a garage or
carport
and a porch or patio. The very statistics of poverty, even as thus weirdly
defined by the Census Bureau, are bogus: the Labor Department reported
$1.75
in spending for every $1.00 of income that the Census Bureau claimed the
lowest quintile of households possessed in 1995. Real material hardship
does
occur in America, certainly, but most of the official “poor” would have
been
judged comfortable or well-off a few generations ago.

Why all this flagrant misrepresentation, anyway? As Rector points out,
the
implicit message of the Census Bureau’s poverty report is that government
should throw more and more welfare benefits at the designated poor, thus
instituting and perpetuating the notorious welfare culture — and the
bureaucracy that sustains it.

But the damage to American society extends farther than that, and in more
insidious ways. Rector suggests that Census Bureau poverty figures “have
had a
distorting effect on the national dialogue by focusing attention
exclusively
on income and material living standards while ignoring values and behavior
. … [The report] encourages policymakers to focus on the symptom of income
shortage while ignoring behavioral problems, which are the root causes of
the
lack of income.” In other words, not only are the Bureau-defined “poverty
levels” of income bogus, they just don’t matter as much as they’re supposed
to: they’re an effect of decaying standards, not a cause.

The downgrading of personal behavior in importance in favor of a Census
Bureau-fueled obsession with fetishized and spurious income levels has had
visible effects on America ever since the War on Poverty began — effects
which have now permeated every stratum of society from Watts to the White
House (remember who got elected to the imbecile strains of “It’s the
economy,
stupid”, as if your wallet and not the man William J. Clinton were running
for
election?) I don’t think many will have the chutzpah to claim that those
effects have been positive.

A different Jewish voice

We American Jews have by and large identified ourselves with the left
wing
in
this century to the degree that many Americans, both Jewish and non-Jewish,
seem to hold a conscious or unconscious belief that Judaism and liberalism
are
two sides of the same coin. Toward Tradition
begs to differ with this prevailing viewpoint. A conservative Jewish
organization headed by Rabbi Daniel Lapin, who spoke at the 1996 Republican
National Convention and is a popular Seattle-based conservative radio talk
show host (“Rabbi’s Roundtable”), Toward Tradition maintains that Judaism
is a
fundamentally conservative and traditional religion and that the teachings
of
the Torah, Talmud, and rabbinic literature are incompatible with the spirit
of
contemporary liberalism.

I can’t personally stomach every single position espoused by the group,
but
that’s not the point: what they are trying to do is to explain and set
forth
what Jewish law in its strictest interpretation actually says about a given
issue, and that is a valuable service. Once you understand it, you can
choose
as an individual to accept it or to leave it alone, but at least you have
some
idea what the Torah verdict — stripped of all the usual politically
correct
obfuscations — would be.

The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy finds a home on the Web.

You know who they are. They are those who, and I quote, “desire to see
the
United States enter into an era of Glory where government is restrained,
people lead their own lives and are solely responsible for them. Where
character counts and morality and ethics form the basis of personal
choices.
That, and we like to screw with the liberals.” Or, to put it another way:
“When people moan that they can not get ahead because ‘the man is keeping
me
down’” or they can’t succeed because of “the man,” they are speaking of us.
That’s right, gentle reader: We are the Man. WE DA MAN!”

With a strong sense of humor that’s coming from a clearheaded, sound-
principled, feet-on-the-ground political perspective (no fringe crackpot he

though such are cordially invited to join the VRWC’s Extremist Right-Wing
Cabal), Jose Rojas steps into the breach to provide the much-vaunted “vast
right-wing conspiracy” with its very own home on the World-Wide Web. Become
a
card-carrying member today (seriously, an actual VRWC membership card as
well
as other goodies like conspiracy stationery are in the works) and receive
the
brand-new official VRWC newsletter, The Gipper, which isn’t out yet but
which
promises to “keep members of the Conspiracy updated on current events and
how
the Conspiracy is involved and or responsible for them.”

Best stripper on the Web: Carol Lay’s “Story Minute”

Rich and haunting and moral, Carol Lay’s lyrical cartoons outclass your
average decent-quality comic strip by several orders of magnitude. They can
be
very funny, but that’s not altogether why you keep reading them. They
create
in me a simultaneous feeling of recognition on the one hand and anxiety on
the
other that always makes me want to cut them out and show them to someone.

Two terrific examples of Lay’s “Story Minute” strip can be found here and here.
Salon runs a
new
“Story Minute” strip every Tuesday (),
and there’s a good Lay-devoted Web site, approved by the artist.

Staying connected

It’s endlessly annoying the way your Internet connection tends to get
timed
out because of “lack of activity” while you’re in the loo or getting a
glass
of milk or fondling an intern or whatever it is that you’re doing when you
turn your back on the screen for five minutes. The $10 shareware (i.e., pay
for it if you like it) utility Alive and Kicking
becomes activated whenever
you hook up to the net. It’ll then download a Web page you specify,
repeatedly, at a preset interval of your choice, thus keeping your
connection
alive. Requires Visual Basic 5.0 Runtime.

Webster’s Thesaurus for E-Mail

Another decent download. Designed especially for email and chat-room use,
but
functional even when you’re off the ‘Net, it’s a conveniently arranged
275,000-word thesaurus-at-your-fingertips. You can download only letters A
and
L for free — you have to pay $19 to get the whole shebang — but it’s
pretty
cool software if you tend to use a thesaurus often. Download the demo here.


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