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July 11, 2006

Smackdown of the Day

Publius takes on Captain Ed's smug response to John Edwards' poverty numbers:

According to this chart, about 50 million people live at 125% of the poverty line or below. About 13 million live in between 100% and 125%. Thus, to get the number of people below the poverty line, you subtract the two. And if I’m recalling my second-grade math correctly, 50 minus 13 equals 37. Or if you’re a visual learner, 50 apples minus 13 apples equals 37 apples, which is the number that Edwards used (after canceling out the apples of course). The Cap’n didn’t read the column headings. Now don’t get me wrong, column headings can be tricky things. I’m no stranger to their treachery. But you really should look at them before basing your opposition to anti-poverty initiatives on them.

The whole post is fantastic -- read it.

July 11, 2006 | Permalink


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Captain Ed clearly misread the poverty table and Publius did a very good job of snarkily taking him apart for that.

Interestingly though, Publius's own numbers show that Edwards was making up his.

Edwards said: "Thirty-seven million of our people, worried about feeding and clothing their children,” he said to his audience. “Aren't we better than that?"

And as Publius convincingly showed, Thirty Seven million is the number of people who are at or below the poverty line. Not 37 Million parents, but 37 million people. Many of which, including the millions of kids below poverty, are certainly not worried about feeding and clothing children that they do not have.

This doesn't really change Edwards point of course, but it does highlight that Edwards is making a purely emotional, rather than an intellectual appeal. Opinions will vary on whether this is a desirable tactic to take or not of course, I prefer reason and fact to emotion myself.

Posted by: Dave Justus | Jul 11, 2006 1:19:53 PM

"I prefer reason and fact to emotion myself."

Ah. Not an Iraq war supporter then.

Posted by: Kylroy | Jul 11, 2006 1:23:43 PM

So, the best that Mr. Justus can do is point out that many of those 37 Million Americans in poverty are children, and then complain about the emotionalism of the appeal, since even he admits that the basic point is correct.

Mmmmm... nitpicky goodness.

Posted by: paperwight | Jul 11, 2006 2:06:48 PM

The War on poverty is working in Iraq. Edwards voted for it. Bombing the poor there has really helped the bottom line and profit margins of blackwater contractors, headquartered in North Carolina.

Throw John Edwards under the bus.

Did he vote for the tax cut for the waelthiest 'Merkins?

Posted by: Mr.Murder | Jul 11, 2006 2:21:18 PM

Actually, Edwards is probably radically understating the number. Assuming that 37 million folks are actually below the line, millions more are probably existing uncomfortably right above it, still worrying about adequately providing for their loved ones.

Posted by: Ezra | Jul 11, 2006 2:30:44 PM

They don't call him "Special Ed" for nothin', you know.

Posted by: Heywood J. | Jul 11, 2006 2:40:22 PM

John Edwards voted against tax cuts for the rich.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Jul 11, 2006 2:46:22 PM

I would love it if only 37MM of our people (at current population levels) worried about feeding and clothing their children.

I'm living roughly paycheck to paycheck, and making rather more than 125% of the poverty level.

(And, gosh, Cap'n Ed and Cokehead, the percentage below 125% went up from 2003 to 2004, while the percentage between 100 and 125% went down; anyone still wonder why it's called a "jobless recovery"?)

Posted by: Ken Houghton | Jul 11, 2006 3:01:07 PM

He caught Ed's error. Publius's bit about "a reduction in percentage isn't important, its the raw numbers that matter" doesn't sit right with me though.

Posted by: slickdpdx | Jul 11, 2006 4:28:10 PM

In discussing "poverty", there is a tendency to use the definition that is most advantageous. So, are you talking about the government's official number? Does that take into account the free social services available such as food stamps and section 8 housing? Or are you using an economic definition of poverty?
This issue has been so politicized that it's important to know what you are talking about.


If a family has free housing, a car and two color TV as well as free medicaid health insurance, but only has an outside income of 24K, are they still in poverty?

Posted by: Fred Jones. | Jul 11, 2006 5:17:27 PM

Shorter Fred: Are there no workhouses? No prisons?

Slightly longer shorter Fred: Let's add every possible benefit that poor people could get in to their income to prove that they're not really poor, so that we can then take away all of those benefits.

Posted by: paperwight | Jul 11, 2006 5:30:27 PM


Oh please. You're not even trying.

Section 8 housing is subsidized, not free. Medicaid is not free healthcare. It's a health insurance program that covers certain services for certain people and that requires copays and such.

Why don't you mention how no one in the USA is actually poor because you read somewhere that in other countries people live on $1 a day?

No one in the USA could possibly be "poor," because anyone who wants to can go to a post office or VA hospital and gaze rapturously upon the benevolent visage of Our Glorious Leader, George W. Bush. His steady gaze is sustenance enough for the grateful citizens living under his munificent rule!

Posted by: Stephen | Jul 11, 2006 5:59:31 PM

No one in the USA could possibly be "poor,"

Is "poor" the same as poverty? So, what is wrong with defining "poverty" so that we can all discuss it? What you wish to do is not define 'poverty' at all and attack anyone who asks what you mean by the word.

When you run your mouth about something, you should be able to define the term (at least!).

Posted by: Fred Jones. | Jul 11, 2006 6:31:31 PM

It seems to me that a reasonble criteria for poverty would be the amount of income available to the earner for savings after all expenses are met. While the ability to save income doesn't confer the status of prosperity, the impossibility of making such savings would seem to mandate an impoverished state, excluding interest income of course.

Posted by: W.B. Reeves | Jul 11, 2006 7:55:35 PM

Wow, anti anti-poverty! What a MAN!!!
Captain Ed, channel Ken Lay and ask him how that rich man and the eye of the needle thing is going right now?
You'd might want to ask yourself now big an anus can fit through the eye of a needle. Ooops. You can't fit an @$$hole through a hole. My bad...
Maybe you're safe after all.
Keep up those great post's you (edited for your moral safety)...

Posted by: c u n d gulag | Jul 11, 2006 9:22:45 PM

*SHHH* Don't tell Right-Said-Fred that an income of $24,000 is above the federal poverty line anyways.

Posted by: ItAintEazy | Jul 11, 2006 10:11:01 PM

If a family has free housing, a car and two color TV as well as free medicaid health insurance, but only has an outside income of 24K, are they still in poverty?

The "poor people can't have a color TV" idea was first introduced by, of all people, P.J. O'Rourke, way back when he wrote Parliament of Whores. However, O'Rourke is a satirist. (Or at least, he was.) The point has, unfortunately, been picked up un-ironically by conservative talking points manufacturers, who have thrown it out there seriously. And then people like Fred here use it.

Look - I can go to Wal-Mart and get a brand-spanking-new color teevee for less than ninety bucks. Heck, I can go down to a pawnshop and get a nineteen-inch color teevee for thirty bucks, if I don't mind buying one that's five or six years old. Does that alone make me not poor?

I've known folks who've bought cars for five to eight hundred bucks and not bothered with anything beyond the most basic of legally required insurances because they intended to drive those cars until the cars died, which was about a year and change usually - and believe me, these were not rich people either. They just counted the car as part of their necessary transportation budget.

Painting what have, in North American society anyway, become the basic essentials of everyday life (television, car - I remember one such talking point that went "ninety-five percent of SUPPOSEDLY POOR Americans have a TELEPHONE, can you believe that?" like having a crappy ten-dollar phone from Radio Shack made them into the stereotypical example of the American dream because they somehow managed to possess the single most important mass-produced communications tool of the twentieth century) as luxuries is just another way to dismiss poverty. Which is all they want to do in the first place.

Posted by: chdb | Jul 12, 2006 1:36:54 AM

Nevermind the fact that you can go to a thrift store and buy a teevee for under a sawbuck.

Posted by: ItAintEazy | Jul 12, 2006 2:25:37 AM

It seems to me that a reasonble criteria for poverty would be the amount of income available to the earner for savings after all expenses are met.

Mr. Reeves is the only one that has even attempted to define poverty and his is woefully lacking. Simply balancing revenues against expenses would define many of high lilfestyles as impoverished. The '3 stooges' posting above have avoided the issue completely. And who can blame them? Even the arbitrary line drawn by the federal government doesn't take into account social services available or even the disparties in cost of living in different parts of the country. Who really believes that the same family, monetarily defined as impoverished, would have the same experience in New York and Peoria?
Until you can better define 'poverty' and distinguish it from 'poor', all you have left is a political talking point when you flap your gums and those who are really in need will not be served.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Jul 12, 2006 8:33:51 AM

Does anybody know when the last time the poverty threshhold was updated? At the very least, I'm pretty sure the Poverty Limit doesn't keep up with inflation at all, so comparing poverty numbers between 1990 and today may be pretty meaningless. In other words, those in poverty in 1990 were better off than those in poverty today. It's a way to keep the number as low as possible.

Posted by: spike | Jul 12, 2006 9:46:05 AM

Fred sez: "Since no-one can define poverty, it must not exist. QED"

Fred. There currently IS a definition for poverty. You mentioned it in your last post. Since you don't like it, why not come up with a better one and see it accepted, rather than just trying to tear everything down for the express purpose of then sweeping the now non-defined problem under the rug? Actually, the onus to do exactly that would be on YOU by the rules of logical, reasoned debate. Tool.

Posted by: KL | Jul 12, 2006 9:57:22 AM

Although I was pilloried for the concept that actual numbers, rather than made up ones, are more useful in addressing poverty, here are a few facts about poverty measurements.

First off, Poverty threshholds used by the census are indeed adjusted for inflation using the CPI.

The original measurement of poverty, established in 1963-64 were based upon USDA food budgets for 'families under stress' and data on what portion of income these families spent on food.

Poverty measurements include most cash income, but not non-cash benefits such as food stamps and housing subsidies. They also exclude income from capital gains.

Poverty measurements are not adjusted geographically. The threshold for the Ozarks is the same as the threshold for NYC.

There is, I think, a great deal of difference in combating 'poverty' and improving the lot of the poor. For example, if our only goal is to reduce poverty numbers, than ending the food stamp program and replacing it with a cash benefit of equal value would lower the number of people under the poverty threshold. It would probably not however improve anyone's standard of living. From the other perspective, establishing free clinics for the poor, increasing the food stamp program, and increasing housing subsidies would all almost certainly improve the situation for poor people but would have no effect on poverty numbers.

This is why I believe that defining ones terms and goals and using a minimum level of precision is more useful than emotional claims. I have a lot of sympathy for Edwards goals, but I believe his methods are counter productive.

Posted by: Dave Justus | Jul 12, 2006 11:05:37 AM

Fred sez: "Since no-one can define poverty, it must not exist.

A mischaracterization at best and a lie at worst. Please show us where I said anything remotely clost to this assertion.

Posted by: Fred Jones. | Jul 12, 2006 12:03:55 PM

Actually, the onus to do exactly that would be on YOU by the rules of logical, reasoned debate.

I disagree. When you advocate more spending of tax money for a problem you see that is not currently being addressed, you should be able to make your case and that includes, at the very least, defining the problem.

Posted by: Fred Jones. | Jul 12, 2006 12:18:20 PM

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