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The upside to being 'poor' in America

September 14, 2011 |  5:14 am

Michelle Obama at a DC soup kitchen poses for a photo for a customer 3-06-09

The Census Bureau has released disturbing new numbers, showing the population of poor Americans at 46.2 million, or 15.1% of the population last year. That's the highest rate in 17 years and the largest number in 52 years.

The Census Bureau defines 2010 poverty as $22,314 for a U.S. family of four. Median household income remains just under $50,000.

The disappointing poverty information was widely disseminated and attributed by media to high unemployment nationally (above 9% for 25 of the last 27 months) and to the economy, which has remained stagnant despite nearly $1 trillion of government stimulus spending by the Obama-Biden administration.

Less noticed Tuesday, however, was the release of another non-government report on U.S. poverty, this one by the Heritage Foundation. It paints a dramatically different portrait of poverty in America than the popular conception of stark deprivation -- hungry people wearing rags and living in cars or boxes.

Using the same Census Bureau data, Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield looked into the actual living conditions of America's official poor.

And here are some of the startling steretype-shattering things they discovered:

During the year 4% of the poor became temporarily homeless. Forty percent live in apartments, less than 10% in mobile homes or trailers and about 50% live in standard one-family homes. In fact, 42% own their own home.

The vast majority are in good repair, with more living space per person than the average non-poor person in Britain, France or Sweden.

Ninety-six percent of poor parents say their children were never hungry during the year due to an inability to afford food.

Eighty percent of poor households have air conditioning and 92% have a microwave.

One-third of poor households have a wide-screen plasma or LCD TV, 70% have a VCR and two-thirds have satellite/cable TV, the same proportion as own at least one DVD player.

Half of the povery households have a personal computer and one-in-seven have two or more.

And half of those with children have a video game system like Xbox.

Almost 75% have a car or truck and nearly a third have two.

Other than that, being poor in America is just like you thought.


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Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press (A Washington soup kitchen client photographs Michelle Obama with his cellphone).