The Poorest in the United States

There’s a reason the ad hominem fallacy is a fallacy. It’s been summed up as “even a stopped clock is right twice a day”. Regardless of intent, track record, or any other factor even people you dislike may occasionally be right. Concentrate on the arguments not the individuals. While it may be fun to mock Darrell Issa for being a dope, what’s the reality of poverty in the U. S.?

By world standards the poverty threshold of $11,170 for an individual isn’t poor at all. By IMF and World Bank standards it’s middle income.

However, we do have very poor people in the United States, not just people who meet the official U. S. definition of poverty but those who are poor by world standards. Much of the information in the rest of this post is derived from here.

Based on information from the 2000 Census (the comparable info from the 2010 census isn’t available yet), the poorest community in the U. S. is Allen, South Dakota. The per capita income there is $1,539. It is small, very remote, and 94% of the people who live there are Lakota. That income is roughly $4 a day—that’s not only poor by U. S. standards, it’s poor by Chinese or Indian standards.

When you look at the poorest of poor communities in the United States, you see a pattern. They are small; they are rural; they are in North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Oklahoma, California, New Mexico, Arizona, or Montana. A substantial percentage of their populations is Native American, black, or, particularly in Texas, Mexican.

These people are barely reached by the support systems we have in place which are mostly targeted to the urban poor who, as mentioned above, aren’t poor at all. They’re just relatively poor. They have cars, refrigerators, televisions, DVD players, and cable.

The main problem in the poorest communities isn’t income inequality. It’s just plain poverty. It wouldn’t take much to help a lot in these communities. It’s a scandal and an outrage that we don’t devote more of our resources in time, attention, and money to them. But as long as anti-poverty programs are actually “get out the vote” campaigns that won’t happen.

22 comments… add one
  • Ben Wolf

    Communities like you describe would, it ought be said, benefit disproportionately from public direct job creation. Both parties have chosen a policy of pretending Native Americans in particular don’t exist and the treatment they continue to receive should be a national outrage.

  • When I hear things like the president said today about “scaling up” policies that have worked elsewhere, I cringe. The real anti-poverty programs that are most needed aren’t a matter of scaling anything up. They’re outreach and inclusion.

  • PD Shaw

    Why don’t they move? I suppose I know and don’t want to be insensitive, but Native Americans in particular were forcibly moved to the margins of commercially viable land, and suffer all of the problems of the white man’s world, but none of the benefits.

  • Some Guy

    “aren’t poor at all. They’re just relatively poor.”

    Relatively poor is still poor. Relatively poor is kids who get made fun of for their clothes, and their parents car (or lack thereof) and their lack of toys, and it is kids who can’t take part in extra activities at school for lack of money. It is kids who are embarrassed to have friends over to their place, kids who silently squirm while the other kids talk about their toys and trips , kids who get moved from place to place and can’t settle down anywhere, kids who can’t afford the same education or have the same support system as the other kids, kids who don’t get the same level of health care, kids who don’t see their parents who are working off working multiple jobs, and kids who try to sleep while their parents fight about money, if their parents are even still together.

    Not poor at all? Try it some time.

  • Unless all incomes are precisely equal, something that can only be accomplished via Red Chinese-style authoritarianism, there will always be people who are relatively poor. The issue is one of priorities. I think that those who are genuinely in need should be our first priority.

    As to your taunt, I have been poor. Poor enough to choose between paying my rent or bills and eating. I chose to pay my rent, delay my other bills, and scrounge for food. I also owned no appliances or a car.

  • TastyBits

    The shitholes in the US do not compare to the shitholes around the world. I have been there, and I am sure @Andy and probably @steve have also.

    Poverty in most of the world is a f*cking horror show, and people who voluntarily go into these shitholes to help the people should be given a medal.

    This is no excuse for the US not helping people in its underclass, but they need help getting out of the shithole. Unfortunately, they have been made more comfortable while they have been more solidly entrapped in those shitholes.

    People who want to “help the poor” never want them to be helped to close to them. As long as the poor are fat and happy, they will stay out of the “well bred” areas of town.

  • Some Guy

    “Unless all incomes are precisely equal, something that can only be accomplished via Red Chinese-style authoritarianism, there will always be people who are relatively poor. The issue is one of priorities. I think that those who are genuinely in need should be our first priority.”

    Yes, I retract my suggestion that all incomes should be precisely equal … if only I could recall where I made that suggestion.

    Anyway, it’s not clear to me why the world’s wealthiest country has to set priorities which exclude helping most of the poor. The rest of the developed world has managed better than the U.S. on this front – why is the U.S. incapable of taking this on?

    Judging by your tone, it doesn’t seem like you would describe your previous experience as ‘not poor at all’ so … you’re agreeing with me that you were wrong to characterize it that way?

  • if only I could recall where I made that suggestion.

    Because eliminating relative poverty, your stated objective, is definitionally equivalent to equivalent incomes.

    In the interests of furthering the discussion, here’s what I propose. Take just one of the problems you highlighted above and explain how you’d remediate it.

  • joemack

    Why don’t we put the Bureau of Indian Affairs in one of these towns? A regional office for the Department of Labor or Agriculture. Good federal jobs with new money in the community.
    That’s a federal jobs program Left and Right can agree on. If bureaucrats refuse relocation for the greater good of the truly impoverished, take away their jobs and pensions.

  • That’s not a bad suggestion and very much consistent with Ben’s proposal, above.

    Playing devil’s advocate, the answer is politics. The Powers-That-Be are much more highly predisposed to concentrating these offices in Washington, DC and its immediate environs or in places with lots of voters than they are to spread them around the country and, particularly, in places where there’s need.

Leave a Comment