Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Readers Spar Over Timing of Report on Falling US Poverty Rate

WASHINGTON, D.C. Sept. 26 (DPI) – The New York Times this weekend rather awkwardly declared that levels of poverty are declining across the US, a report whose substance and timing set off debate among hundreds of readers.

The Times cited recently released census data suggesting that rising wages for the lowest rung of workers and increasing employment levels combined to lift about three million above the poverty level.  But readers scrummed over 1) whether “millions” was statistically significant given that the drop in poverty was only 1.2%, or whether to trust the data’s validity at all; 2) to what extent The New York Times, which posted the story on its index page for three days, felt politically motivated to run the story going into the first presidential debate; and 3) why poorer states with higher poverty rates never vote Democratic, and that Obama should get more credit for the economic recovery.

Even the headline “Millions in US Climb Out of Poverty, at Long Last”  suggested an emotional exhale from The Times, which over the weekend not only endorsed Hillary Clinton but took the added step of imploring citizens not to vote for Donald Trump.

Among the most popular comments:

Wow, imagine what Obama could have done with even a marginally cooperative Republican Congress….

Sorry, not “millions”, only 3 millions and only a 1.2 per cent drop in poverty–why is that impressive? Let’s not exaggerate. And raised how much over the poverty line–$500? Furthermore, to compare to 1999, not a great moment either (can we compare to better times, the 1970s or 80s?) may be a bit disingenuous. And what kind of new jobs were created? Burger King jobs? Precarious jobs? We need a keener analysis of the data’s significance.

What stuck me is that the article generally doesn’t suggest that government programs led to this change. Based on the profiles presented, it was largely the motivation and self-determination of these individuals. It is a very complex mix of several factors, to be sure. Don’t let anyone on the right or the left tell you it was due to X, Y, or Z. Read this article and others carefully–note the myriad factors underlying how an economy changes and shapes itself. No one person (no one president, in particular) truly “controls” the economy. Rather, it is a maddeningly complicated process of supply, demand, inputs, outputs, and rational (and irrational) behaviors. Whether you support Ms. Clinton, Mr. Trump, or one of the third-party candidates, don’t delude yourself into thinking he/she has all of the answers. The truth is that 330 million Americans need to find ways that work for them, in their circumstances, and based on the skills they have or can acquire. All too often, we think one magic bullet will make the difference. If that were true, no nation would ever know recession or economic hardship.

The more interesting question is: Why in the richest nation on earth are millions of people in poverty to begin with?


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