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Dependency, not poverty

Walter Williams's picture

There is no material poverty in the U.S. Here are a few facts about people whom the Census Bureau labels as poor.

Dr. Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield, in their study “Understanding Poverty in the United States: Surprising Facts About America’s Poor” (, report that 80 percent of poor households have air conditioning; nearly three-quarters have a car or truck, and 31 percent have two or more.

Two-thirds have cable or satellite TV. Half have one or more computers. Forty-two percent own their homes. Poor Americans have more living space than the typical non-poor person in Sweden, France or the U.K.

What we have in our nation are dependency and poverty of the spirit, with people making unwise choices and leading pathological lives aided and abetted by the welfare state.

The Census Bureau pegs the poverty rate among blacks at 35 percent and among whites at 13 percent. The illegitimacy rate among blacks is 72 percent, and among whites it’s 30 percent.

A statistic that one doesn’t hear much about is that the poverty rate among black married families has been in the single digits for more than two decades, currently at 8 percent. For married white families, it’s 5 percent.

Now the politically incorrect questions: Whose fault is it to have children without the benefit of marriage and risk a life of dependency? Do people have free will, or are they governed by instincts?

There may be some pinhead sociologists who blame the weak black family structure on racial discrimination.

But why was the black illegitimacy rate only 14 percent in 1940, and why, as Dr. Thomas Sowell reports, do we find that census data “going back a hundred years, when blacks were just one generation out of slavery ... showed that a slightly higher percentage of black adults had married than white adults. This fact remained true in every census from 1890 to 1940”?

Is anyone willing to advance the argument that the reason the illegitimacy rate among blacks was lower and marriage rates higher in earlier periods was there was less racial discrimination and greater opportunity?

No one can blame a person if he starts out in life poor, because how one starts out is not his fault. If he stays poor, he is to blame because it is his fault.

Avoiding long-term poverty is not rocket science. First, graduate from high school. Second, get married before you have children, and stay married. Third, work at any kind of job, even one that starts out paying the minimum wage. And finally, avoid engaging in criminal behavior.

It turns out that a married couple, each earning the minimum wage, would earn an annual combined income of $30,000. The Census Bureau poverty line for a family of two is $15,500, and for a family of four, it’s $23,000. By the way, no adult who starts out earning the minimum wage does so for very long.

Since President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty, the nation has spent about $18 trillion at the federal, state and local levels of government on programs justified by the “need” to deal with some aspect of poverty.

In a column of mine in 1995, I pointed out that at that time, the nation had spent $5.4 trillion on the War on Poverty, and with that princely sum, “you could purchase every U.S. factory, all manufacturing equipment, and every office building. With what’s left over, one could buy every airline, trucking company and our commercial maritime fleet. If you’re still in the shopping mood, you could also buy every television, radio and power company, plus every retail and wholesale store in the entire nation” (

Today’s total of $18 trillion spent on poverty means you could purchase everything produced in our country each year and then some.

There’s very little guts in the political arena to address the basic causes of poverty. To do so risks being labeled as racist, sexist, uncaring and insensitive. That means today’s dependency is likely to become permanent.

[Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University.] COPYRIGHT 2014 CREATORS.COM


brooksdad's picture

...the entitlement mindset and current welfare system. Will America wake up to this before it destroys us? No surprise the race troll DM is silent on this.

suggarfoot's picture

People are having babies out of wedlock to get checks. It is horrible. He is also so right about our spineless politicians!

Is obviously a big deal, per the stats referenced above.

Working on year 46!!

Gort's picture

When I left my daddy’s home in 1968, I was poor. If it wasn’t for the GI Bill, I would have stayed poor, or close to it, my whole life.

Remember: If you think Social Security and Medicare are worth saving, vote Democratic.

All of these statistics are meaningless. Why?

The conservatives hold up a cartoon image of the righteous USA but the reality of it is less than folks want to admit. Folks won't look at the reality. And with mindless propoganda trash like this in the papers, is it any wonder ?

Ther are kids in America who are hungry, who do not know when they will get thier next meal. If the USA is so high and mighty, how can this be possible in the greatest country on Earth. Forget images on TV of starving kids in far away lands. The USa needs to take a good hard look at home.

GOP attacks on the poor while bankrolling corporate handouts for their richs buddies does not help. Demonizing the President of the USA to satisfy the ego of the rich and spoiled is bad for the country. I always wonder who they will cry when the tables are turned, and say another Bush enters the White House and the Democrats decide to systematically stonewall that president for 4 or 8 years. Will the GOP cry foul? If so why?

Also, it is interesting that the GOP systematically opposes social reform designed to level the playing field, and then calls the efforts that only partially succed, a failure. I assume when I see that, they want the same standards applied to their effort to 'improve the country'.

It seems to me that the people are being played for fools, and those who line up behind the ideas called out in this article must have checked their minds at the door.

One USA. U Plurbus Unum. Not the play thing of the ultra rich.


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