“It’s no shame to be poor. But it’s no great honor either.” Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof.
New figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show that in 2013 nearly one in five (18.5%) West Virginians live in poverty. The Charleston Daily Mail reported last week that’s slightly higher than the previous year—17.8 percent—and nearly at the highest rate in recent years of 18.6 percent in 2011.
The Daily Mail goes on to report that 98,000 West Virginia children, or about one-quarter of all children in the state, live below the poverty line. The federal government defines poverty as a family of four living at or below $23,500 a year.
The state and the country have sizable safety nets, which have raised the standard for living of the poor throughout the years. According to a study by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, the living conditions of those defined as poor by the Census Bureau are significantly better than they used to be.
Eighty percent of poor households have air conditioning. Nearly three-fourths have a vehicle and 31 percent have two or more cars or trucks. Nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite TV. Half have a personal computer. More than half of poor families with children have a video game system.
But of course poverty presents myriad challenges. As anyone who has struggled financially knows, simple problems, such as a needed car repair, a broken refrigerator or new shoes for the kids, can become overwhelming obstacles, especially when they come in bunches.
Wealth redistribution and social programs ease the burden and a compassionate society has an obligation, a social contract if you will, to help those in need. However, those actions do not solve poverty. If they did, we would have eliminated poverty by now.
According to U.S. Census figures, the poverty rate in America is 15 percent, and it’s held pretty close to that mark for the last 50 years.
The Heritage’s Robert Rector reports that in the 50 years since President Lyndon Johnson launched the war on poverty, we have spent $22 trillion dollars. “Adjusting for inflation, that’s three times more than was spent on all military wars since the American Revolution,” Rector writes.
The left wants to solve poverty through more spending on social programs, but that only goes so far. The best way out is by way of a thriving economy. As Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman said, “There has never in history been a more effective machine for eliminating poverty than the free enterprise system and the free market.”
The ability of individuals to freely engage in their economic pursuits, a strong work ethic, and personal responsibility are the most powerful tools available for breaking out of poverty.