Redefining 'Poor': The Fifty-Year Change in Quality of Life
Ten years ago, 2002, people are still insisting I should have a cell phone; I still refuse. You can still buy a 21-inch TV if you look, but 28- or 32-inch TVs are more common and run, yes, about $350. (About $80 in 1972 dollars.)
This year, I have a cell phone; I hate the thing, but I have one. It cost me $10 at Wal-Mart, and costs me about $20 a month for service (in 1982, that's about $2/$6; in 1972, $4/$8). I just bought a TV, 32-inch, for about $300 -- but it's 32-inch, high-definition, and as well as the hundred-odd cable channels I'm getting, it connects to my wireless network: I can buy a movie (or even get one for free from Amazon) and watch it, any time I want, and if I don't like that there's always Netflix and Hulu and YouTube.
* * *
So that's fifty years. Think about a poor person in 1962: outdoor plumbing and no phone. In 2012, I doubt there are many people with outhouses except the occasional back-to-the-land hippie who actually stuck it out; they're much more likely to live in a separate home, and that home probably has telephone service -- if the family bothers, since cell phones are so cheap.
In fact, while this article was in the queue, PJ Media editor David Steinberg pointed me to a study by the Heritage Institute that examined statistically what I've been saying anecdotally.
This study -- "Air Conditioning, Cable TV, and an Xbox: What is Poverty in the United States Today?" -- found that the "typical poor family with children" had the following:
Amenities in Poor Families with Children. Poor families with children have more conveniences and amenities than other poor families. In 2005, the median amenity score for poor families with children was 16. We examined all poor families with children with an amenity score of 16 to determine which items appeared most frequently in these homes.
- These homes typically had both air conditioning and a personal computer.
- For entertainment, they typically had cable or satellite TV, three color televisions, a DVD player, a VCR, and a video game system, such as an Xbox or Play Station.
- In the kitchen, they had a refrigerator, a stove and oven, a microwave, and an automatic coffee maker.
- Other amenities included a cell phone, a cordless phone, and a clothes washer.
Now, here's a comparison for you: I'm a senior professional in my day job, and single, and I make a decent amount of spare cash as a writer.
But this list of amenities pretty much matches what I've got in my house -- and I just bought my first computer game machine this year.
Yeah, I have some other things a poor family doesn't have, but both poor people and I have a life of unimaginable wealth compared to even well-to-do people fifty years ago -- or twenty.
It turns out the "trickle-down fairy dust" talking point doesn't stand up very well to close examination; the truth is that over time, even poor people are richer.