Tom Joad Shrugged


Some good news about poverty:

The Census Bureau reported Tuesday that 36.5 million Americans, or 12.3 percent—were living in poverty last year. That's down from 12.6 percent in 2005.

The median household income was $48,200, a slight increase from the previous year.

And Robert Rector crunches a mountain of data to come up with a generally positive picture of the Forgotten Americans.

Overall, the typical American defined as poor by the government has a car, air conditioning, a refrig­erator, a stove, a clothes washer and dryer, and a microwave. He has two color televisions, cable or satellite TV reception, a VCR or DVD player, and a stereo. He is able to obtain medical care. His home is in good repair and is not overcrowded. By his own report, his family is not hungry and he had suf­ficient funds in the past year to meet his family's essential needs. While this individual's life is not opulent, it is equally far from the popular images of dire poverty conveyed by the press, liberal activists, and politicians.

Of course, the living conditions of the average poor American should not be taken as representing all the poor. There is actually a wide range in living conditions among the poor. For example, a third of poor households have both cellular and landline telephones. A third also have telephone answering machines. At the other extreme, however, approxi­mately one-tenth have no phone at all. Similarly, while the majority of poor households do not expe­rience significant material problems, roughly 30 percent do experience at least one problem such as overcrowding, temporary hunger, or difficulty get­ting medical care.

Yet the cult of John Edwards shows no signs of thinning.