Columnists and anti-poverty advocates have piled on the Heritage Foundation’s recent poverty brief. They’ve focused mainly on the Foundation’s argument that most people classified as poor really aren’t because they’ve got lots of “household amenities.”
This focus makes sense because, as my own critique notes, the Foundation makes a big deal of those electronic devices.
The Center for American Progress offers two great infographics to show how cheap these home electronics are relative to other everyday needs that are squeezing the budgets of poor and not-so-poor families alike, e.g., food, utilities, rent.
Think Progress blogger Matt Yglesias replicates them to make a further point. The basic appliances in the infographics are “actually thrifty things to own.”
A refrigerator, for example, allows a single mom with kids to buy perishable foods at a grocery store and save them until ready to cook — a whole lot cheaper than feeding the family on carryout.
Just want to clarify what we’re really dealing with here. The data the Heritage Foundation uses reflect what households have available for use, not what they own.
If a poor family sold its refrigerator, as one infographic depicts, it would probably be in a world of trouble because, like as not, the refrigerator belongs to the landlord. Same for the microwave, air conditioner and stove.
These “amenities” may make life easier, even cheaper. But they don’t tell us anything about what a typical poor family can afford — except rent or some portion thereof.