Changed Life of the Poor: Better Off, but Far Behind
WASHINGTON — Is a family with a car in the driveway, a flat-screen television and a computer with an Internet connection poor?
Americans — even many of the poorest — enjoy a level of material abundance unthinkable just a generation or two ago. That indisputable economic fact has become a subject of bitter political debate this year, half a century after President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a war on poverty.
Starkly different views on poverty and inequality rose to the fore again on Wednesday as Democrats in the Senate were unable to muster the supermajority of 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster of a proposal to raise the incomes of the working poor by lifting the national minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
House Republicans, led by Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, have convened a series of hearings on poverty, including one on Wednesday, in some cases arguing that hundreds of billions of dollars of government spending a year may have made poverty easier or more comfortable but has done little to significantly limit its reach.
Indeed, despite improved living standards, the poor have fallen further behind the middle class and the affluent in both income and consumption. The same global economic trends that have helped drive down the price of most goods also have limited the well-paying industrial jobs once available to a huge swath of working Americans. And the cost of many services crucial to escaping poverty — including education, health care and child care — has soared.
“Without a doubt, the poor are far better off than they were at the dawn of the War on Poverty,” said James Ziliak, director of the University of Kentucky’s Center for Poverty Research. “But they have also drifted further away.”