Poverty & A Color TV

An interesting article on msn by the Christian Science Monitor titled Poverty Now Comes With A Color TV. Well worth the read:

“In terms of the items people have … it amazes me the number of people who are at or near the poverty line that have color TVs, cable, washer, dryer, microwave,” says Michael Cosgrove, an economist at the University of Dallas in Irving, Texas. That’s not to ignore the hardships of poverty, he adds, “but the conveniences they have are in fact pretty good…”

The Census report also compares, from 1992 through 1998, people’s perceptions of whether basic needs were being met. More than 92% of Americans below the poverty line said they had enough food, as of 1998. Some 86% said they had no unmet need for a doctor, 89% had no roof leaks, and 87% said they had no unpaid rent or mortgage.

Is it bad that those considered in poverty have color TVs? It depends why they have them and that is difficult to see in the numbers. Having the color TV and foregoing nutritious food to have it is one thing while having the color TV because the prices of TVs have been reduced to where they’re affordable (can you even buy a black and white TV today?) by even those in poverty are two completely opposites that could look the same in the numbers.

Although I have not done a lot of research in this area, I found the numbers more positive than I’d imagined they’d be. While I still believe there is no excuse to have anyone going hungry in the US or not to be able to get medical treatment or to be living in poverty in the first place, there isn’t the divide in basic technology that I had for some reason assumed (although I imagine that the divide in income and wealth still is quite drastic).

It was good to see the numbers. Now it’s time for me to digest them a bit and see where my opinion lands…

6 thoughts on “Poverty & A Color TV

  1. I’ve lost track of the number of people I know or have come across who say they’re having financial troubles, near bankruptcy, or living in poverty who have ALL of those items you listed. I think some people just assume that having a roof over one’s head automatically means having cable TV under that roof is a must.

  2. Working for the local Cable company, I am amazed at how people are late on their bill, yet still can’t give up a channel and downgrade their service! Please… people always say there is nothing on the 3-500 channels, so why pay 80-120 dollars for it?

  3. another point of interest, sometimes made when people are examining this quirk of “poverty” in the USA, is that Americans living in poverty actually possess many of the home items and expensive appliances that only Europeans from the middle class (or higher) can afford. That’s not to say that people living in poverty here in the State are spoiled or anything. . . but, I do think it says something important about the standard of living here in the States when it comes to appliances/electronic goods like these. What’s more, when you consider the lifestyles of those living in the developing world, the American “impoverished” are actually “rich” by most standards of measure. For example, in places like China, it used to be that owning a bike gave one a major leg up when compared to your neighbors. While I’m sure this has changed some over the previous decade (given China’s emerging middle class), I think it is fascinating how “poverty” means different things depending on how you live. By American standards (and, if one were only considering goods like TV’s and microwaves), most of the world must live in poverty. This isn’t even touching on that here in the States (as with nearly all of the developed world) you can literally eat better than most of the world’s population by dumpster diving behind a few choice restaurants. Although such a practice is something I would never do (unless I was starving), such is the type of practice that Americans would never “stoop” to. . . which is ironic, considering that much of the world’s populace would kill to eat so well, regardless of how the food was obtained. In fact, now that I think about it, in many countries (particularly Asian), meat is a bit of a luxury that is used primarily for flavor (i.e., it is not the meal’s main course per se). Yet, as unsettling as it might sound, here in the States you can go behind any fastfood joint and find meat galore. I know going hungry/not having medical services is serious, but when people can cover these needs (yet still only make a salary which qualifies as at or under the poverty level), I think we need to reconsider what “poverty” is. This is not to say that poorer families don’t need assistance or we should view “basic needs” as the only type that need to be met when considering helping others. . . However, I think our standard of living in the States is impossible to maintain when we have people living in “poverty” who are as well off, if not more so, than a majority (or large minority) of the world’s total population.

  4. Still, considering America to be one of the most prosperous countries in the world and a land of opportunity & freedom, we should expect very high standards and China is not a good comparison. And one thing I wonder is people in poverty may have a color TV and other appliances, but do they have the time to watch TV if they have to hold 2 jobs to support themselves?

  5. this reminds me of a story from “walden”. when thoreau was living his
    perfectly content, happy, and financially independent life in the woods,
    some of the ladies of the town criticized him for not doing anything to
    help the poor. so, he went around to some of the poor people in the
    neighborhood and offered to help them live as he lived. they preferred
    to remain poor.

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