'Two things fill the mind with ever-increasing wonder and awe, the more often and the more intensely the mind of thought is drawn to them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.' -Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason

Poverty Levels In America Mean Nothing

by Libertarian Money, Wed, Jan 01, 2014 - (Edited) Wed, Nov 11, 2015

Editors Note: This is a guest post from Libertarian Money.

Over 16% of Americans are living below the poverty line in America. I find that this subject tends to bring up a lot of misunderstandings. An individual living in America making less than $11,490 a year is said to be living under the poverty line. As the number of people in the household goes up, the number required to stay above poverty increases.

People tend to take this poverty threshold number and say one of two things:

  1. There is no way that a person could live on less than that. They must be suffering a ton.
  2. Wow, that’s not so bad. Sounds reasonably comfortable to me.

Naturally, if you have one of those two opinions then you probably think the other opinion is absolutely insane, but both sides are true. A single number is completely arbitrary without some context. One of the most important contexts involved is location.

Geography Matters

If you’re used to living in a city in America, this might surprise you. I live on less than half the poverty level in America. (I make significantly more, but that’s a long story.) All of the expenses I have add up to less than $500 a month and I live reasonably comfortably in a rented apartment. I don’t have any major advantages like owning property and this includes everything.

Living in a city is significantly more expensive than living outside of a city. In most major cities around the United States, a person couldn’t get an apartment for less than $1000 a month. That immediately means that an individual would need to be living above poverty to afford a place to sleep at night.

People living outside of America in a less developed country may be living for less than $250 US a month. The location a person is living in can make a huge difference in real life suffering. Poverty rates in the United States do not account for this.

This raises some major questions. Is it really fair to provide the same federal subsidies to people living comfortably to those struggling to pay for food? Is it the city dwellers responsibility to move out? I don’t know, but the questions need to be asked.

A Marshmallow Castle Won’t Hold Off Intruders

Poverty levels are measured based on an arbitrary equation created in the sixties. It is dependent on the inflation. Inflation as a statistic is nothing but fluff. The legal way of defining inflation has changed consistently based on political expedience. That makes any attempt to use it to define poverty ridiculous. Its sole purpose is political gain.

Specifically, poverty levels are based heavily on the cost of food in America. When the statistic was first created, food costs added up to around a third of a person’s living expenses. Today it’s been estimated at less than a 1/6 of living expenses.

The poverty level can’t mean anything because it’s designed with no stability. Food prices are not always going to be 1/3 of living expenses. Sometimes they will be more. Sometimes they will be less.

You cannot base poverty on a line that government can change whenever they like because government will change it whenever it wants.

Poverty… I Don’t Know…

Poverty is not a problem that can be simplified to a single statistic. It’s a problem that needs to be looked at through a number of different lenses.

A person living on the streets in America today can eat better than almost everyone did 100 years ago by just digging through the trash. Certainly, I’m not suggesting they should have to, but it’s absurd to look at poverty without considering the relative improvements from the past.

You would have had to been rich to enjoy fresh oranges in North America during the middle of winter only a few hundred years ago. This is an extravagance that can be had for under 10 minutes work today. Poverty is a relative term.

Poverty will ALWAYS exist, but at the rate the world is going, it won’t be long before food insecurity is a thing of the past. Even impoverished countries will be eating enough to survive due to sheer abundance. People will still be impoverished. (Perhaps there hover cars won’t have leather seats, (OH THE HUMANITY!) but they won’t be suffering in the same way we are today.

Those suffering from a sub-par life in the future will get just as much sympathy as people suffering today.

This is certainly not an excuse to dismiss the people struggling day to day.

This is just to say that blindly following the government’s definition of poverty is absurd. The vast majority of progress made in solving poverty doesn’t come from the government providing a benefit. It comes from the world improving relative to what it was before.

Poverty will always be a problem. Suffering over subsistence is something that can and will be ended.

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