But they have cell phones

Nothing wrong with this that deregulation and tax cuts can’t fix:

When the Census Bureau this month released a new measure of poverty, meant to better count disposable income, it began altering the portrait of national need. Perhaps the most startling differences between the old measure and the new involves data the government has not yet published, showing 51 million people with incomes less than 50 percent above the poverty line. That number of Americans is 76 percent higher than the official account, published in September. All told, that places 100 million people — one in three Americans — either in poverty or in the fretful zone just above it.

After a lost decade of flat wages and the worst downturn since the Great Depression, the findings can be thought of as putting numbers to the bleak national mood — quantifying the expressions of unease erupting in protests and political swings. They convey levels of economic stress sharply felt but until now hard to measure.

Cue Andrew Sullivan blockquoting Megan McArdle agreeing with Tyler Cowen that these statistics are flawed.

Thirty or forty years of muddying the waters and what do you expect? It’s probably not as bad in the midwest, though, where people stick together.






67 replies
  1. 1
    Davis X. Machina says:

    There’s the GOP’s base, right there.

    Not those with nothing to lose, but those who fear losing the little they’ve got that keeps them from falling among the first group. The people in ‘the fretful zone just above povert’ are desperate in a way that is politically useful. They’ll grab a ballot — but only a ballot — and heave it at someone.

    A little less money, they’ll heave a brick, or worse — and that might not be helpful to the booted and spurred and ready to ride.

    A little more money, they couldn’t care less. A lot more money, they’ll have a contractor heave the brick for them.

    If you have never read John Holbo’s classic piece on Donner Party conservatism, do so.

    Reviewing David Frum’s Dead Right,
    he says:

    The thing that makes capitalism good [to Frum], apparently, is not that it generates wealth more efficiently than other known economic engines. No, the thing that makes capitalism good is that, by forcing people to live precarious lives, it causes them to live in fear of losing everything and therefore to adopt – as fearful people will – a cowed and subservient posture: in a word, they behave ‘conservatively’. Of course, crouching to protect themselves and their loved ones from the eternal lash of risk precisely won’t preserve these workers from risk. But the point isn’t to induce a society-wide conformist crouch by way of making the workers safe and happy. The point is to induce a society-wide conformist crouch. Period. A solid foundation is hereby laid for a desirable social order.

    Cowed. Contingent. Compliant.

  2. 2
    somethingblue says:

    This is good news for Rick Santorum!

  3. 3
    Waldo says:

    You have to figure that at some point even the rubes will notice the wealth is being vacuumed up instead of trickling down. Maybe we’ve reached that point.

  4. 4
    Yutsano says:

    You fergot the flat screen TVs and XBOX 360s DougJ. Young bucks are moving up from T-bone steaks!

  5. 5
    RossInDetroit says:

    Probably 60% of my co-workers fall in that category. Yesterday was payday. When the office opened they were in line for their checks. Driving on fumes to throw $10 in the tank and go pay bills. It’s gotta suck being under economic pressure and fear of failure around the clock.

  6. 6
    Phylllis says:

    @RossInDetroit: This. Our district gave everyone lump sum checks yesterday to reimburse for the furlough days we’d been docked this year. Several people cried when they opened their envelope and realized what they were holding. One person had even emailed the superintendent the night before asking if there was any way to get our regular paychecks a few days early because she didn’t have the money to buy groceries for her family.

  7. 7

    @RossInDetroit: #5

    It’s gotta suck being under economic pressure and fear of failure around the clock.

    Yup.

  8. 8
    chrome agnomen says:

    can nothing be done about the change.org petition ads that have been blocking the page for quite some time now? jeebus h fsm!

  9. 9
    RossInDetroit says:

    @Phylllis:

    And these are the people WITH jobs. If you’re the 11% around here without, it’s much worse.

  10. 10
    Amir Khalid says:

    @chrome agnomen:
    If you’re using Fifefox, as I am, you could try blocking it with AdBlocker.

  11. 11
    Brandon says:

    The obvious conservative critique will be that the baseline poverty level is too high. They’ll likely do one or both of: (i) try to demonstrate why the poverty level is actually a lot of money, i.e. “the U.S. poverty levels is high enough that the poor can afford flat screens, iPhones and Xbox Kinetic”, and/or (ii) insist on adding government programs as ‘benefits’ into the mix, including: Medicaid, Sect. 8, TANF, EITC, WIC, food stamps, etc and then claim that if you sum all these benefits into the mix that the poor are actually rich, or should be rich except that they live profligate and immoral lives through their own choice and because these ‘benefits’ make them lazy and that it is the duty of conservatives to show them the proper path towards righteousness.

  12. 12
    Hoodie says:

    @Davis X. Machina: No doubt. Income inequality is a feature, not a bug, which is why they really don’t give a shit about it.

  13. 13
    DougJ says:

    @chrome agnomen:

    It is driving me nuts. Email John.

  14. 14
    Samara Morgan says:

    @DougJ:

    but they have cell phones.

    and they can vote, and they do not show up in Rasmussen landline biased polls.

  15. 15
    Phylllis says:

    @RossInDetroit: Oh yeah. And while it was a nice surprise for me (new laptop already ordered), I know our cafeteria staff and bus drivers and custodians probably felt like they’d won the lottery.

  16. 16
    Cliff says:

    showing 51 million people with incomes less than 50 percent above the poverty line. That number of Americans is 76 percent higher than the official account, published in September. All told, that places 100 million people … either in poverty or in the fretful zone just above it.

    But Steve Benen keeps telling me that the economy is doing better than I think it is.

  17. 17
    gnomedad says:

    OT, but if scientists found evidence contradicting climate change they would totally bury it because shut up, that’s why.
    Second experiment confirms faster-than-light particles

  18. 18
    RossInDetroit says:

    Freedom is a lot more than the ability to protest and to vote out a politician. It’s also the ability to tell a boss to go pound sand, and find a better job. Or to pack and move if your landlord is a dick. Or to get your kids into a better neighborhood and school. Freedom is also having economic security to run your own life and not be under someone’s thumb.
    Near-poverty makes people far less free and correcting that should be a priority in a land that values freedom.

  19. 19
    eemom says:

    @DougJ:

    Email John.

    No, e-mail John’s Mom. He never fixes anything on the blog until she tells him to.

  20. 20
    Jennifer says:

    @Davis X. Machina: Righto.

    For a good example, go read the thread before last, where there’s a solid chorus of “but that would ruin my credit rating” against the idea that you can only get free of the tentacles by telling them to fuck off, you’re not going to pay them. It’s the same reason you hear any time the topic of mass strikes come up – it’s just too painful to risk a little illusory “security” in return for taking back a measure of true freedom.

  21. 21
    Snowball says:

    @RossInDetroit:
    The words “freedom” and “socialism” are the two most misused words in the English language.

  22. 22
    Maude says:

    @RossInDetroit:
    And poverty is very painful One has to keep one’s mouth shut with a mean, nasty, arrogant, lying, cheating landlord.

  23. 23
    Amir Khalid says:

    @RossInDetroit:
    You realize, of course, the small but significant flaw in your definition of freedom: a certain breed of one-percenter doesn’t feel like a free person as long as an employee or tenant or customer has the power to tell him to go pound sand.

    EDITED to avoid a too-sweeping generalization.

  24. 24
  25. 25
    PurpleGirl says:

    @Brandon: Well the Section 8 housing program hasn’t had new money in a few years and they keep cutting it. NYC hasn’t added people to the WAITING list in 3 years(– they no longer even give out applications). And a few years ago, some 400 families that had gotten letters telling them they were approved for vouchers then got letters telling them that there was no money for them and the vouchers were canceled.

  26. 26
    gelfling545 says:

    Just a word about the whole cell phone deal. There are 2 (that I know of, maybe others) companies that provide free cell phones to persons of limited income and are on SSI, disability, food stamps, medicaid, etc for free. They are limited to (if I recall) 250 minutes a month (naturally in the hope that other minutes may be purchased but largely for access to emergency services, etc.). In other words, they may have a cell phone BECAUSE they are poor and purchasing a land line is out of their reach financially.

  27. 27
    Snowball says:

    Why is my comment in moderation?

  28. 28
    Maude says:

    @PurpleGirl:
    The HUD list here has been closed since 2005.

  29. 29
    Hill Dweller says:

    @Cliff:

    But Steve Benen keeps telling me that the economy is doing better than I think it is.

    This is the kind of self-defeating shit that makes me think progressives will never have any real power in this country.

    Setting aside the accuracy of your accusation for a second, is Steve Benen really the problem? Benen has a very good blog, and I bet his views mirror your views on almost everything, but it still isn’t good enough.

  30. 30
    Ruckus says:

    @RossInDetroit:
    It’s gotta suck being under economic pressure and fear of failure around the clock.
    Near-poverty makes people far less free and correcting that should be a priority in a land that values freedom.

    You are firing on all 8 cyl today. (little Detroit humor)

    Both these exemplify ideals are what conservatards think are features not bugs. Control of the workers, control of all the money. For people that scream so much about freedumb they sure sound like commies don’t they?

  31. 31
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @Hill Dweller: Precisely. Did anyone read Benen’s piece all the way through? Or just glanced at the headline?

    So, is it time to start feeling a little better? No, probably not. For one thing, Europe still threatens to cause a global recession, and there’s nothing we can do about it. For another, congressional Republicans appear determined to pursue policies — including an increase in the payroll tax — that will serve as a drag on the domestic economy in 2012.

    Didn’t think so….

  32. 32
    Phylllis says:

    @Jennifer: You can default and within about three-four years, go right back to getting preapproved credit card offers. From the same company you defaulted on. Because they’ve already written that old debt off as a loss, sold it to a collection agency, and are more than happy to get you right back in to the overextending sweepstakes.

  33. 33
    Cacti says:

    Unlike the fiction that there won’t be any jobs if the top tax rate goes up 1 percentage point…

    The difference between qualifying for medicaid/food stamps or nothing at all can literally be $1 a month.

  34. 34
    RossInDetroit says:

    @Ruckus:

    You are firing on all 8 cyl today. (little Detroit humor)

    We’re living it here. I’m trying to make good workers out of people with few skills so they can get ahead. Teaching them is one challenge. But all the pep talks in the world don’t help when the baby’s sick, car’s got a flat tire, bills are due and they can hardly keep their mind on the job at hand much less think about the next step up.

  35. 35
    Yutsano says:

    @Phylllis:

    Because they’ve already written that old debt off as a loss, sold it to a collection agency, and are more than happy to get you right back in to the overextending sweepstakes.

    And reported the write-off as your income. Which is the real evil trick there.

  36. 36
    Linda says:

    Of course they have cell phones–many totally homeless people do, and they recharge them in the library.

    @Rukus:

    Yes, they want people scared–workers get a lot less uppity when their health care is tied to their jobs. BTW, they also want less funds for libraries. Because who needs to know more stuff? The wingnut guy I work with once told me that people didn’t need to get any more information than they can get from the weekly right wing rag.

  37. 37
    Arclite says:

    Thirty or forty years of muddying the waters and what do you expect? It’s probably not as bad in the midwest, though, where people stick together.

    Thing is, Bobo would read that and not understand it was a take down.

  38. 38
  39. 39
    PPOG Penguin says:

    The ‘keep them cowed and compliant’ bit always reminds me of how Roosevelt phrased the ‘four freedoms.’ ‘Freedom’ in American political discourse always seems to mean ‘freedom to,’ never ‘freedom from.’

    (Not that the right is interested in the particular ‘freedoms to’ that Roosevelt enunciated, but you get the idea.)

  40. 40
    Snow says:

    @RossInDetroit:

    The two most misused words in the English language are “freedom” and “socialism”.

    BTW – This was deleted before. Why?

  41. 41
    Brandon says:

    I do have to take issue with one thing though, it is emphatically not the ‘midwest’ where ‘people stick together’ and show real ‘Murkan values, it is the ‘heartland’. The key difference of course is that the ‘heartland’ is that mythical place where Republican voters live. The ‘midwest’ includes Gomorrah, like Chicago, Detroit, and any rust belt small town with no jobs and lots of meth/oxy addicts. Everything bad about those places are the fault Big Labor and Democrats.

  42. 42
    AA+ Bonds says:

    After a lost decade of flat wages and the worst downturn since the Great Depression, the findings can be thought of as putting numbers to the bleak national mood — quantifying the expressions of unease erupting in protests and political swings.

    This is a very prissy way of saying something incredibly important, “quantifying the expressions” = a lot of people are really really really pissed off

  43. 43
    gnomedad says:

    Just clicked on a banner add for Spreadable and was told they are shutting down. Is BJ the kiss of death or something?

  44. 44
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @gnomedad: From the horse’s mouth.

    Mike Arsenault, Product Manager of Spreadable (Deadpooled), A Product of Grasshopper Group, Reveals How & Why Spreadable Failed, Shares Mistakes/Lessons Learnt.

  45. 45
    Josie says:

    @chrome agnomen: I was having trouble with ads and loading the site, so I switched to Safari for BJ and am having no problems now. The other thing you could do is go shopping on a couple of retail sites (you don’t have to buy anything, just click on stuff) and the ads will change that you see on BJ. Spooky.

  46. 46
    WereBear says:

    @Yutsano: Yutsano, how would that work for people who have 10k in debt paying 29% on a credit card? Docked as income at what rate? And it would be a one-time, not revolving?

    I know the IRS takes payments…

    What I’m asking is, would that turn into a better deal?

  47. 47
    Mike G says:

    @Waldo:

    You have to figure that at some point even the rubes will notice the wealth is being vacuumed up instead of trickling down. Maybe we’ve reached that point.

    This is where the ‘American Exceptionalism’ scam comes in. Corporatists and their willing media handservants keep repeating that ‘America has the highest living standards in the world’, the ‘best healthcare’, etc etc to make John Q. Public feel he should be damn thankful just to live in Murka and STFU, and not compare too closely his actual inferior living standards, vacation time, labor protections and medical/education costs versus his cohorts in some other Western countries.

    The only international comparisons you ever hear from rightards are with basket-case countries like China, Iraq and Saudi Arabia: “At least you’re not in China making 60c an hour and eating dog food”; “In Saudi Arabia they’d cut your head off for mentioning Jesus”. It’s never “Germans get 8 weeks’ vacation”, “France has the best-ranked health system in the world” or “The minimum wage in Australia is US$16”.

    The right wing want a scared-stupid, docile and ignorant population.

  48. 48
    Yutsano says:

    @WereBear: If you walked away from the $10K debt, then that $10K debt goes towards your taxable income. If you include it on the return along with all your other payments/deductions you’d come out ahead easily. You’d only be responsible for the tax on it rather than the whole debt.

    However, I DO NOT ADVISE THAT YOU DO THIS. The bank is the one responsible for remitting the 1099-C to you, and my experience has been they do it when they feel like it. It’s too fine a needle to thread for most folks.

  49. 49
    Phylllis says:

    @Yutsano: I think that’s only if you do one of those settlement deals with them.

  50. 50
    Yutsano says:

    @Phylllis: No, any debt that is forgiven or cancelled by the issuer is considered income and is taxable.

  51. 51
    Chris says:

    @Mike G:

    The only international comparisons you ever hear from rightards are with basket-case countries like China, Iraq and Saudi Arabia: “At least you’re not in China making 60c an hour and eating dog food”; “In Saudi Arabia they’d cut your head off for mentioning Jesus”. It’s never “Germans get 8 weeks’ vacation”, “France has the best-ranked health system in the world” or “The minimum wage in Australia is US$16”.

    Oh, that’s not completely true: you often hear them comparing themselves to Europe and saying things like “well God damn it, at least you’re not in Europe where everything’s socialist and sucks.” They rarely provide specific examples or evidence, and when they do they’re generally horseshit anyway, but when you combine the American ego trip with the overall ignorance of anything foreign, it’s easy to get away with it.

  52. 52
    Chris says:

    (Oh, sweet mother of Christ, fuck this ban on the word Soshulist).

    @Mike G:

    The only international comparisons you ever hear from rightards are with basket-case countries like China, Iraq and Saudi Arabia: “At least you’re not in China making 60c an hour and eating dog food”; “In Saudi Arabia they’d cut your head off for mentioning Jesus”. It’s never “Germans get 8 weeks’ vacation”, “France has the best-ranked health system in the world” or “The minimum wage in Australia is US$16”.

    Oh, that’s not completely true: you often hear them comparing themselves to Europe and saying things like “well God damn it, at least you’re not in Europe where everything’s soshulist and sucks.” They rarely provide specific examples or evidence, and when they do they’re generally horseshit anyway, but when you combine the American ego trip with the overall ignorance of anything foreign, it’s easy to get away with it.

  53. 53
    gelfling545 says:

    @Cliff: Isn’t the point of this that by a new, more accurate measure, the reporting of actual numbers in poverty is being more accurately done. It is nothing that has anything to do with the condition of the economy at the current moment per se, just that, in all likelihood, there have pretty much always been more people in poverty than have been reported. That certain aspects of the economy might have seen slight improvement is neither proved or disproved by these figures.

  54. 54
    BBA says:

    @Chris: Things DO suck in Europe right now, but socialism has nothing to do with it.

  55. 55
    RSA says:

    @Chris:

    Oh, that’s not completely true: you often hear them comparing themselves to Europe and saying things like “well God damn it, at least you’re not in Europe where everything’s soshulist and sucks.”

    Sometimes you also see them arguing with the statistics. For example, the U.S. has one of the highest infant mortality rates among all OECD countries. “But we measure infant mortality differently!” That’s true–in most countries early neonatal deaths aren’t counted. But among those countries that measure infant mortality the same way we do (there are seven, if I remember correctly), we’re still the highest. Or “But those statistics are skewed by a limited subpopulation [e.g., infant mortality is much higher for poor African American mothers].” This is also true–but so what? We only care about the middle class and above? It’s irritating to see these sorts of arguments, because they never look beneath the surface at either the details of the data or the implications of their views.

  56. 56
    Ruckus says:

    @RossInDetroit:
    Yeah living it up here as well. A lot of people where I am are not suffering all that much. But all the small business owners I know are just surviving. That is all the one’s still in business. 25 miles away? A different world, not so good there.
    Have a very good friend whose cousin lives in Detroit and says it’s almost like a ghost town, at least compared to what it used to be.

    @Linda:
    I moved to a job back east almost 20 yrs ago and bought a house 6 months into the job. The president of the company made the comment that he liked people buying a house because it meant that we would be staying put. I lasted 10 more years before I had to get out or go nuts. I may have stayed too long.

  57. 57
    cckids says:

    @Jennifer:

    where there’s a solid chorus of “but that would ruin my credit rating” against the idea that you can only get free of the tentacles by telling them to fuck off, you’re not going to pay them. It’s the same reason you hear any time the topic of mass strikes come up – it’s just too painful to risk a little illusory “security” in return for taking back a measure of true freedom.

    The prospect of blowing up your credit rating also affects your ability to rent a new place and, most importantly, to get a job. I lost my house to foreclosure & filed bankruptcy due to medical bills; finding a new place to rent was extremely difficult. And forget getting a new job that is anything better than minimum wage & sometimes not even that. I agree with you as to “what can the banks do” if huge numbers of people just blow their debt off, but the surrounding repercussions are huge.

  58. 58
    RossInDetroit says:

    @Ruckus:

    cousin lives in Detroit and says it’s almost like a ghost town

    Well, when I’m in the city there are zero traffic problems. Not too many top 25 cities you can say that about. Detroit once had 2M people. Now it’s on the low side of 800K, although that took a long time to happen.

  59. 59
    Phylllis says:

    @Phylllis: How routine is it for the banks to send out the 1099?

  60. 60
    Little Boots says:

    come up thread, you goob.

  61. 61
    Yutsano says:

    @Phylllis: Depends on the 1099. A 1099-INT is common and routine and mailed by banks all the time. Granted not too many lately, but whatever. Every tax document is required to be mailed to a taxpayer in a timely fashion to allow the return to be mailed by April 15th.

  62. 62
    LosGatosCA says:

    Near-poverty makes people far less free and correcting that should be a priority in a land that values freedom.

    That once described the goal of the USA. Now the freedom, like justice, comes with a hefty price tag. And the 99% just can’t pay it. I’m old enough to remember when a conservative (James Buckley) actually got the Senate to pass a bill to protect personal privacy, too.

    If you can’t pay for something, how can it be worth anything to you. And if your parents didn’t leave you enough money to buy your freedom from ndentured servitude too bad the Republican god of money hates you.

  63. 63
    OzoneR says:

    This is because this generation is lazy and doesn’t work hard enough and gets everything handed to them.

    Now excuse me, I have to go now, my dad is letting me pick out my new Lexus he’s buying me and then I have to go to the bank with him to get the $10,000 down payment for my condo.

    -1%.

  64. 64
    OzoneR says:

    @RossInDetroit:

    It’s gotta suck being under economic pressure and fear of failure around the clock.

    It does, but you know, that’s life, now how about those black mothers on welfare who have 10 kids and don’t work, collecting free money while I struggle. That bitch should be struggling to.

    You think I’m kidding, this is the mentality where I come from.

  65. 65
    4jkb4ia says:

    I appreciate that DougJ mentioned this article. The writer(s) of the original article about the supplemental poverty measure seemed to be aware that the poverty line measure is one thing, and the hovering around it by people who used to consider themselves middle class is another thing. It is not the absolute poverty but the trend. This article forcefully made that point.

    That this comment is about three minutes after the football thread went up was just a coincidence. None of my teams are even playing now.

    (No one will read this. But I was a jerk. Not only in the thread I mentioned on Friday were there two commenters who managed to mention Ron Paul without being insufferable about it, but John has been at this gig long enough to know that with a comments section where you don’t have to register you don’t make the main post about Ron Paul. His fans will take over the whole thread.)

  66. 66
    4jkb4ia says:

    It’s probably not as bad in the midwest, though, where people stick together

    Well, for African-American unemployment, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Cleveland are all in the top 10, so sticking together is relative.

  67. 67
    4jkb4ia says:

    The latest statistics for unemployment by MSA have the top 10 all in housing bubble areas and Rockford, IL is just outside that.

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