Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Thomas B. Edsal: "The Hidden Prosperity of the Poor" @ The New York Times

Introduced by Uncle Academic's buddy Professor Popcorn with the following note:

Thomas Edsal's "Opinionator" column of January 30, 2013, analyzing variety of conservative arguments that deny the existence of growing poverty among the poor in the US, with links to studies and data and writings of others who have criticized the fallacies in these studies, basically coming from the usual conservative think tanks and authors. Edsall will be writing weekly columns for the NY Times every Thursday. Lots of comments and discussions of his column that are unusual in being informative and useful as opposed to the usual sort of dumb arguments found in many blog-type and newspaper opnions, e.g., Washington Post articles. 

I notice the absence in these studies of the growing rates of homelessness, especially in large urban and metropolitan areas where high rents and gentrification have wiped out traditional inexpensive SRO's and the lack of mental health facilities and services aggravates the condition of many of the homeless, especially middle-age and older women (cf. the article in the Feb 11, 2013 Nation by Rose Aguilar, "Old, Female and Homeless) that looks at the situation in San Francisco.) Also, the high incidence of veterans among the homeless. 
- Professor Popcorn

A concept promulgated by the right — the notion of the hidden prosperity of the poor — underpins the conservative take on the ongoing debate over rising inequality.

The political right uses this concept to undermine the argument made by liberals that the increasingly unequal distribution of income poses a danger to the social fabric as well as to the American economy.

President Obama forcefully articulated the case from the left in an address on Dec. 6, 2011 at Osawatomie High School in Kansas:

This kind of gaping inequality gives lie to the promise that’s at the very heart of America: that this is a place where you can make it if you try. We tell people — we tell our kids — that in this country, even if you’re born with nothing, work hard and you can get into the middle class. We tell them that your children will have a chance to do even better than you do. That’s why immigrants from around the world historically have flocked to our shores.
The conservative counterargument – that life for the poor and the middle class is better than it seems – goes like this: Even with stagnant or modestly growing incomes, the poor and middle class benefit from the fact that a stable or declining share of income is now required for basic necessities, leaving more money for discretionary spending. According to this theory, consumption inequality – the disparity between the amount of money spent on goods and services by the rich, the middle class and the poor — remains relatively unchanged, even while income inequality worsens.

Read more of this article by Thomas B. Edsal at the New York Times.

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