This week’s New Yorker carries an excellent essay by John Cassidy discussing the history and evolving standards of poverty in the United States, and some of the different ways in which poverty can (and should) be measured.
Most interesting and relevant to some of our discussions is the idea of “relative poverty.” If we hold most of what we call poverty in the U.S. up against the 1 billion dispossessed that Mike Davis writes about in his new book Planet of Slums, we find that most Americans are incredibly wealthy. Even if we compare poor Americans today with poor Americans in the 1960s when poverty was first "discovered" in this country, we find today’s poor loaded up with stuff (most of America’s poor own television sets and dishwashers and have running water and electricity, among other services).
But this kind of measurement may miss the point about poverty, Cassidy suggests:
Although many poor families own appliances once associated with rich households, such as color televisions and dishwashers, they live in a society in which many families also possess DVD players, cell phones, desktop computers,... Read more