Ignorant tosspot bastards at The Guardian

US census figures show more than one in five children are living in poverty

No, the US census figures do not show that.

The figures released by the census also show that little dent has been made on America\’s high levels of poverty, with some 15% of the nation – representing around 46.2 million people – living in poverty in 2011.

No, they really do not show that.

Here, in the Census report, is why they do not say that:

The poverty estimates released today compare the official poverty thresholds to money income before taxes, not including the value of noncash benefits.

What the Census figures actually report is the number of people who would be living in poverty if it were not for most of the things that the American Government does to alleviate poverty.

This is an important difference.

This chart uses a very different measure of poverty* but does allow us to compare across countries.

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You will note that the level of poverty by market incomes alone is exactly the same in the UK and US and actually lower than it is in Sweden.

The second measure is after taxes and benefits. Yes, isn\’t it amazing: if you give money to poor people then they will be less poor. And there will be fewer poor people once you measure the help given to the poor.

Except, except, we come up against something of a problem. Much of what the US does to alleviate poverty comes through either the tax system or is benefits in kind. As we can see from what Census says, they are not including this in their calculations of poverty. In that second measure of poverty they are also not considering benefits in kind. I am not sure whether they are including the effects of the tax system (more specifically, I know they are including income taxes paid but not sure if they are including tax credits offered).

In more detail: the US poverty figures include market income plus direct money transfers. Essentially, the traditional welfare, or TANF (or whatever they\’ve renamed it). They do not include the EITC (equivalent to our working tax credits), Section 8 housing vouchers (housing benefit) nor Food Stamps (we have no equivalent).

And the EITC, Section 8 and food stamps are the three major poverty alleviation programs (actually, Medicaid is much larger but that\’s a difficult one to estimate the importance of in these figures) in the US.

Therefore, essentially, the US poverty numbers detail poverty in the US before poverty alleviation attempts. The numbers for all other countries show them after poverty alleviation attempts.

Anyone care to calculate the UK poverty figures before housing benefit, tax credits and income support? For that\’s pretty much what that US number is.

Which brings us to what The Guardian (and every other fucker out there to be honest) gets so wrong. The US poverty numbers do not count the number of people living in poverty. Not by the standards we apply to every other country.

They count the number of people who would be living in poverty if the government were not attempting to alleviate poverty. They are, not quite but much more closely, akin to the market incomes measures of poverty, not the post tax and benefit ones.

 

 

*The standard US definition of poverty is an absolute standard. This chart shows relative poverty. But the same point about poverty alleviation still stands.

13 thoughts on “Ignorant tosspot bastards at The Guardian”

  1. Rather weird : you are showing how effective governments are at relieving poverty by redistributive and other policies.Do you really want to be doing that? The top line of the graph/bar chart shows the mess the private sector makes: the bottom line how governments clear it up.

  2. you are showing how effective governments are at relieving poverty by redistributive and other policies.Do you really want to be doing that?

    Clearly, he does.

    The point made here is that the claims being made in the Guardian are not justified by the facts. Because the most of the US poverty relief does not show on the bottom line in their or Tim’s figures – because of the US abhorrence of cash benefits.

    And, addressing your sneer, if the “mess the private sector makes” (which the top line isn’t, given the number of people in public sector employment) is actually less of a mess in the UK and the US than it is in the socialist paradise of Sweden (as we are told by everybody bar the Assange fanbois), as well as Japan, Australia and New Zealand, then, well, it’s not that much of a mess is it?

  3. Julia,

    Simples (if you think that way.)

    1. Some people are in poverty.

    2. Poverty is caused by not having enough money.

    3. Not having enough money is caused by not being paid enough.

    4. The government is wholly beneficient and all-wise therefore it must be the fault of the evil capitalist baby-eating bastards in the private sector.

    The unjustified leaping to conclusions and lack of actual logic can be waived away because you CARE about the poor people …

  4. Okay, so let’s take DBC Reed’s assertion at face value. Market incomes are entirely the fault of the private sector and nothing whatsoever to do with governmental factors like regulation. (As if that’s believable; but for the sake of argument let’s play the game.)

    So the French, German, Italian, Belgian, even the Swedish private sectors generate more poverty than the UK, US, New Zealand, Canada. Most of the above beat Australia, too. This is a failure of the Anglo-Saxon model of capitalism how, precisely?

  5. Let’s remember that the status quo until the industrial revolution was that >90% of the population lived in or very near absolute (not relative) poverty.

  6. What Emil says. For all their much vaunted low taxes and small government*, it was shit.

    * Lies of course, the government and the large landowners were the same thing, still are really, and they ran the show for their own benefit. It’s just that the Faux Lib’s fail to accept that rents paid on land going into the landowner/ruling class pockets is just as much taxation as any other kind of taxation. And it was the landowner/ruling classes who invented monstrosities like income tax and VAT and so on.

  7. >90% of the population lived in or very near absolute (not relative) poverty

    As do a large but fortunately decreasing number of people nowadays – a small percentage of whom are living in first world countries. Which makes the relative poverty ratchet so appallingly inappropriate.

    For all their much vaunted low taxes and small government, it was shit.

    Indeed. Limited productivity means limited resources to share – subsistence level for the majority, a very slowly growing middle class – squires and burghers (and clerics, but can we ignore them, please), and even the aristocracy lived in conditions we (western world) would consider significantly substandard.

    Unless, of course, you prefer flunkies to warmth, don’t mind dodgy food and worse sanitation. Oh, and 3 hour sermons on Sundays.

    What any of this has to do with abuse of stats on modern poverty in the US, or DBC Reed’s strange insistence that the general reader here is opposed to basic forms of redistribution …

  8. @ DBCReed ‘The top line of the graph/bar chart shows the mess the private sector makes: the bottom line how governments clear it up.’

    Given that the only money the government has is money extracted from the private sector, yours is a tough argument to make.

  9. Can we have a “Like”/”Recommend” button please?

    I want to “like” Surreptitious Evil’s comment #5.

    I am especially pleased with the last line.

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