I grew up poor—at least by American standards. But later in life I had occasion to visit parts of the world that changed my whole perspective on poverty. By the standards of some countries, the poverty of my youth would be classified as wealth. There were a lot of times in my younger years when I wasn’t sure where the next meal would come from but in most cases—thanks to churches, friends, and neighbors—the next meal did usually come. But I have been to countries where starving people have stopped worrying about the next meal and instead wonder if they will ever eat again. Many won’t. This is why I am convinced we need to rethink what we call poverty in America.
Liberals are fond of attacking the wealthy in America—the so-called top one percent. What they never say is that people who live below the government established poverty line in America would be considered wealthy in many parts of the world. Consider these facts. The average household income in America is approximately $50,000 per year. In America this is not a lot of money, but throughout the rest of the world it represents a fortune. In fact, if your annual household income is just $34,000 you are in the top one-percent globally. If you are at the government established poverty level of $14,000, you are in the top 12 percent of income earners on the global stage.
My experiences in settings where poverty amounted to living in shanties with no running water, no electricity, and no food changed my perspective concerning what it means to be poor. What is does not mean is mere discomfort or having comparatively less materially than others. Seeing the depredations of real, abject poverty seared into my soul a deep and abiding interest in the concept. In my earlier 20s, I came to understand that there is the state of being poor—as we view it in America—and the state of living in poverty—real poverty. The two concepts are not the same. On one hand, there are people in America who really do live in poverty. But on the other hand many of those who are classified as poor in America are poor only in that they don’t have as much in the way of material wealth as they would like to have. Few of the poor in America are actually missing meals and wanting for fresh drinking water. If you would like to test this statement for veracity, ask yourself why so many of living in so-called poverty in America are obese. Obese people are not missing many meals.
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