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Doug Smith: One Way Journalism Paints Flawed Picture Of Poverty

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By Douglas K. Smith, author of On Value and Values: Thinking Differently About We In An Age Of Me

As a subscriber and well wisher for the critical role that might be fulfilled by The New York Times, I’m always disappointed when Times’ journalists substitute personal agendas for accuracy. This was glaringly on view last week when three reporters butchered the chance to shed light on the Census Bureau’s new “supplemental poverty measure”.

After nearly fifty years of using a terribly flawed poverty measure – one that looks to the single yardstick of food costs as adjusted for inflation — the Census Bureau acknowledged major elements required for a more realistic picture– cash and cash equivalents received by folks through government support programs, and statistical measures for expenses incurred beyond food.

Instead of exploring the implications, strengths and weaknesses of the new measure, however, the Times’ reporters offered readers to a mostly useless piece of one-way, ‘we’re smarter than everybody else’ journalism, beginning with the headline, “Bleak Portrait Of Poverty Is Off The Mark, Experts Say.”

When I read this, my first thought was “C’mon Man!” (For NC readers who are not football fans, “C’mon Man!” is an ESPN-coined expression commentators use to call out egregiously bad performances by players, coaches, officials, or fans. A personal favorite: referees incorrectly calling a point after touchdown ‘good’ – even after the officials looked at the video replay showing the kick missed. C’mon Man!)

So, sports fans, here’s the highlight reel from the Times’ article:

When the Census Bureau said in September that the number of poor Americans had soared by 10 million to rates rarely seen in four decades, commentators called the report “shocking” and “bleak.” Most poverty experts would add another description: “flawed.”

Slick juxtaposition moment: By contrasting ‘flawed’ with ‘rates rarely seen in four decades’, ‘shocking’ and ‘bleak”, the reporters suggest that poverty is neither shocking nor bleak nor operating at rates ‘rarely seen’. Fact: The official poverty rate in 2010 was 15.2% — a number seen just one single time in the previous forty years. In normal English: ‘rarely seen’. Fact: The new Supplemental Measure of Poverty for 2010 is 16% — that is, even higher than the official rate. One might call this ‘bleak’.

C’mon Man!

Back to the Times:

Concocted on the fly a half-century ago, the official poverty measure ignores ever more of what is happening to the poor person’s wallet — good and bad. It overlooks hundreds of billions of dollars the needy receive in food stamps and other benefits and the similarly formidable amounts they lose to taxes and medical care. It even fails to note that rents are higher in places like Manhattan than they are in Mississippi.

One-way journalism rules: First, you note specific aspects supporting your agenda (here: recognizing the hundreds of billions received in government support), then turn any inconvenient element on its head (here: instead of acknowledging, say, the hundreds of billions in expenses not recognized by the historic measure, one way journalists must offer a flip remark aimed at reinforcing the agenda that poverty is overstated because, well, rents aren’t so high in some places as others. Preferably do this with alliteration.)

C’mon Man!

Back to the Times:

The numbers in this article are based on that research — by the census, the National Academy of Sciences and others — and include not just cash income but also government benefits, work expenses, taxes and cost of living. Many experts expect Monday’s census report, based on similar methods, to add a bit to the official poverty count of 46.2 million, while most experts also expect the recent growth will appear less steep.

Pangloss (‘we live in best of all possible worlds’) moment: The Supplemental Measure points to over 49 million Americans living in poverty – almost three million more than the number reported in the Times. Not to worry though: that’s just ‘a bit’.

C’mon Man!

“We’re actually not as smart as we think we are” moment: Neil deMause at City Limits called out the Times’ ‘too clever by half’ reasoning about recent growth not being so bad: “[The new measures] indicate that poverty was much higher than reported back in 2006—and if things were that bad then, they didn’t have as far to rise. Voila: Half the increase in poverty over the last five years ‘disappears.’ [But] this isn’t an indicator that things are better now … so much as that things were much worse during the last decade than anyone knew.”

C’mon Man!

One-way journalism’s rules for examples: Again, make sure you have an anecdote about someone counted poor in the old way but not in the new way. The Times’ tells us about Angelique Melton and her two children. After losing her full-time job and taking a part-time, low paying position at Wal-Mart, Ms. Melton slipped into ‘official’ poverty. But, the Times’ notes she’s not poor by the new measure. Just one problem: according to Rakim Brooks of Policy Shop, the Times’ reporters got their numbers wrong and Ms. Melton is still poor.

C’mon Man!

The Times’ proceeds to offer the counter example of 69-year-old John William Springs who was not counted as poor the old way, but is in the new – then helps readers see that this counter example is, well, actually not so bad by providing a colorful, agenda-supporting quote from Mr. Springs:

An upbeat survivor of a lifetime of need, Mr. Springs fills his prescriptions in partial amounts and argues the poverty counters got him right the first time.

“I ain’t poor,” he said. “I eat. I got a roof over my head.”

C’mon Man!

One-way journalism’s rules for citing experts: First, get a good quote from an ideologue whose agenda is even more extreme than your own. In this case, Robert Rector of uber-right wing Richard Scaife’s Heritage Foundation let’s readers know that the new measure “sharply overstate(s) the amount of deprivation in the United States” because “government data showing many poor families had game systems like Xbox.”

Then, be sure to avoid any mention whatsoever of opposing views from the other end of the spectrum – even if people with those views have gone out of their way to contact you. Shawn Fremstad of The Center for Economic and Policy Research writes that he contacted the Times’ reporters prior to their article to provide background on how best to interpret the new Supplemental Measure. Evidently, his information didn’t ‘fit’ the story. They ignored him.

C’mon Man!

Look, it’s good news that the government has recognized both the added supplemental supports as well as non-food related expenses in figuring out who and how many folks are poor. Still, serious questions remain:

First, and most subtly, as Fremstad notes, when the food-only measure was established, the poverty line was set at 50 percent of median income. Over many decades since then the inflation-only adjustments failed to recognize increases mainstream living standards – pushing the line down to 30%, not 50%, of median income. Other countries continue to use the 50% mark. But we don’t; nor does the new Supplemental Measure. That means the ‘added cash in and added expenses out” adjustments start against an artificially low base. So, the overall real picture of poverty is worse. Just do a bit of math here. If 50% is a more accurate starting point, then the use of 30% lowers the starting point of poverty by two-fifths (20 over 50). It’s no surprise, then, that dozens of government support programs for years have set thresholds at 130%, 150% and even 200% of the official poverty level.

Second, the numerical adjustments reflecting added support from government programs are easier to calculate than it is to put dollar amounts on non-food expenses such as child care, housing, utilities, clothing, transportation and medical costs. Moreover, nothing is included for interest costs on debt; and, only actual out-of-pocket medical costs are counted (meaning skipped medical care is of no recognized value for the poor – a huge policy glitch). In other words, the new measure understates actual poverty.

Third, and of utmost importance in our highly politicized culture: if Scaife’s Heritage Foundation – and their too many right wing and centrist fellow travelers get their way (whether under the rubric of ‘they have Xboxes’ or ‘austerity), then the cash supports currently counted will diminish and/or disappear.

But the expenses –for food and non-food items alike – cannot be legislated away. Meaning, tens of millions of poor and near-poor Americans remain more hostage than ever to corporate-controlled government.

Readers of the Times, though, didn’t learn anything about any of these points because the reporters were too busy adding heat instead of light to our understanding of extreme income inequality.

C’mon Man!

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74 comments

  1. YankeeFrank

    That whole “they have x-boxes” meme is insulting and stupid. It reminds me of a “debate” between Yglesias and some other privileged idiot bloggers about the added utility of a sub-zero fridge versus a cheap fridge as an important difference between being rich and poor, and how, since there isn’t much difference between the two (both keep your food fresh pretty well) then poverty isn’t so bad.

    The obvious flaw is that someone can save a couple hundred dollars for an x-box, or a few more for a fridge, but be completely unable to afford a thousand, or ten thousand, for needed medical care. The x-box and fridge are one-time costs as well, so the fact that the poor can’t really afford healthy food much of the time isn’t really undercut by the presence of an x-box. How much more does it cost on a monthly or yearly basis to eat healthy versus unhealthy? On a monthly basis it is probably pretty close to the cost of an x-box, hence the one-time cost of the x-box, where a family can get endless hours of entertainment for years, versus a month or two of decent food, is not really comparable.

    Coddled douchebags like Yglesias and these NYT “reporters” don’t really have any empathy for the poverty-stricken so its fun for them to shovel all this glib shit out of their asses and into the ether. At least the venal scumbags at Heritage are honest in their disdain for the poor. These limousine liberal assholes pretend to care only to show their own ignorance and to prove, once again, that having money is no sign of merit or worth.

    1. Kevin de Bruxelles

      I suppose it depends on how you define eating healthfully but I would totally reject your notion that it costs MORE to eat good food. But that is because I would define eating healthfully as minimizing processed and prepared foods and instead buying raw ingredients and cooking them yourself. Raw ingredients are almost always cheaper that processed and prepared foods, even organic raw materials.

      For meat, buying cheaper cuts and cooking them longer in stews or soups is a way to save money. I just got back from my poultry store and the owner GAVE me five small turkey carcasses which I use to make stock. So for less than one Euro (the cost of veggies to flavour the stock as well) I will have five litres of healthy bouillon to make risotto or soups with.

      Eliminating ALL processed snack food, deserts, and cola-type drinks saves a lot of money. Not throwing away food and instead eating leftovers helps as well. One key problem in the poor in America have is the AMOUNT they eat. There is a huge obesity epidemic raging in all of America but especially in the poor neighbourhoods. Obviously lowering the amount you eat will save money as well. And I won’t even mention the amount of money wasted on fast food. The fact is, if the poor started eating correctly, they would strike a blow to Big Food and most likely help small local food producers as well.

      The problem is of course cultural, most Americans, and especially the poor have no idea how to intelligently prepare their own food. Peasant cultures around the world manage to eat modestly but healthfully on a lot less per day than poor Americans get. If the poor wised up and stopped giving their money to Big Food in exchange for total garbage, it would be a huge step in the right direction.

      1. DF

        Another thing that does people in is that it’s hard to prepare healthy meals from scratch when you have to work 2-3 different part-time jobs at near-minimum wage just to make the rent.

      2. Dave of Maryland

        The poor are typically stressed and they frankly don’t give a flying f&*# about fixing anything. Even the ones who can cook, even the ones who have decent pots and pans to cook with. Stress obliterates the sense of “free time”. Instead you run from one thing to another and, frankly, don’t get much of anything done. Grab a bag of chips, grab some chocolate, wash it down with soda, that’s all you can stand to do.

        I am a very good cook, but I am poor and stressed. The last time I cooked anything was years ago. I spend my time worrying about where the money will come from.

        1. Susan the other

          Well defined point. Kevin really does have a good point and you have a good reply. The answer lies elsewhere. It is an unanswered situation at this point. It is an answer in waiting. We should be careful how we organize for economies of scale lest we be vilified as “soviets”, but every block in a big city could do a health-soup kitchen, sponsored by the City and other interested parties. I doubt Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich will contribute. They probably own too much coca cola stock.

      3. 2laneIA

        That is such a clueless comment. I do eat the way you would prescribe, and it takes time, lots of it, to prepare home-canned broth, beans, and stews. Since I work from home, I can oversee long-simmering stews, but for people who work long hours, especially at more than one job, that is a fantasy. My sister and sister-in-law run very different households, with three children each and four jobs between them. They are not poor, but they are exhausted all the time, and have little time between the arrival home and the expectation of hungry children that dinner will appear. Then there are all the other tasks required to keep a house and a family afloat. Drive to the poultry store? Seriously? I have never even seen a poultry store.

        1. niat holder

          Children of working parents are often left unsupervised if 9 or 10years old. Some cook for themselves, siblings and mom or dad as they return. Remember, the poor often will have either a long commute as housing is cheaper further out so it’s late when a parent returns. How many kids are doing the groc shopping? Not many. The alternative is an extended family member who is on SS or unemployment and shares what little they have stretched with “shaken’Bake” racoon. True stories.

      4. Jeff

        Obesity is caused by mineral deficient processed
        factory food. Your body needs and craves and you
        will eat until a minimal level of minerals and
        nutrients are ingested. Factory food has the calories, but not the nutrients, so you eat and eat and get fat.

        Organic food is much higher in minerals and
        nutrients because of the soil that it is grown in.
        You get the same amount of what you need in less
        food. Therefore the putative price of organic food
        is irrelevant and in fact it may be cheaper. Plus
        there is the improved taste and pleasure that organic
        gives. This of course ignores the benefits to the
        environment and local economies that organic favors.

        Organic comes in various strengths. The strongest and most thoroughly vetted is Oregon Tilth. Oregon based companies and others that choose to use it, like many of Costco’s outstanding organic products, are certified by Oregon Tilth.
        Next in quality is CCOF, or California Certified Organic Farmers. It covers CA companies and is much better than what is light years further down in quality, which is
        “USDA Organic”, a national label that is still far better than conventional, (the government was going to allow irradiated food, sewage sludge fertilizer, etc. until the largest comment in history from outraged citizens made them back down).
        Finally, the weakest organic standard is ‘Quality Assurance International’. This is a large set of profit seeking middlemen that hires foreign inspectors to “guarantee” that food has been raised to exacting organic standards. Whole Foods uses them to “guarantee” that their Chinese raised produce is organic.

        1. Susan the other

          Obesity is a modern day epidemic. I think it is more than mineral deficiencies. It is a combination of lack of nutrition and food additives and now genetically modified foodstuffs. Health soup kitchens should be given several garden plots in the neighborhood they serve. Why hasn’t anybody done a video game glorifying inner city gardening? Cooking? Cooperation? Why, because there is not profit for an investor. It is not progressives who are hypocrites. It is investors.

          1. TunoInCA

            The problem with inner city gardening (and even upscale suburban community gardening) is that your produce gets stolen.

      5. rotter

        Theres actually NOTHING in you comment thats true. NOTHING from ” wise third world peasants could teach us a leason” to “fresh foods are cheapers than processed foods” to “free turkeys are available” to “poor people are stupid children who dont know anything.” i understand your complete ignorance comes from a 0 reference point, but ignorance is not incurable, and ultmoately its your responsibility to cure it (in yourself). It ALWAYS has consequences

      6. Mattski

        “[I]f the poor wised up” and got out to the poultry store. . . maybe they could have a quick meet-up and lecture from the likes of you?

        Dunno about the peasants you speak of–I work with farmers in the Caribbean. Many of them have been driven out of business by cheap food imports and aid (google Bill Clinton, Haiti, and rice) that were sometimes instruments of policy DESIGNED to create dependency, and are being pushed to grow one crop for export instead of the wide variety of their traditional foods for local/immediate consumption in order to help earn foreign exchange for their heavily indebted countries; the IMF MANDATES such policies in exchange for continuing loan aid. That may be a question of “culture,” but it’s not THEIR culture that’s being imposed.

        Here in the US, where farming was subsidized to CREATE consumer culture. . . lectures about poor people’s lack of sophistication (“culture”) serve for little. It’s not about being a better consumer but having access to production, production to meet real basic needs (as the Via Campesina says, “the right to produce”). Bon apettit!

      7. kabosh

        Yeah, this is a common mantra of so many in the “healthy food” movement– that the problem of unhealthy eating is due to the ignorance of the poor, that the problem is just in how you prepare the food, etc. Look, many poor Americans live in food deserts– they have, at best, limited access to basic staples, much less higher quality organic alternatives. They don’t have the means to order farmer’s market produce delivered to their door, or go to some Brooklyn greenmarket; in addition, they often have unreliable electricity, inadequate and unreliable access to basic transportation, little space or infrastructure for food preparation and storage, and income and expenses that vary unpredictably from month to month. Frankly, debates about food choices are a privilege of the well-to-do. The rank ignorance of the reality of poverty that this comment exemplifies says a lot about the commenter, but nothing useful about the poor, or about healthy eating.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          The food desert comment is spot on. If you go to Spanish Harlem (which has gentrified considerably, BTW), the grocery stores are terrible. Teeny vegetable sections with sad looking tomatoes and wilted lettuce. The only safe bet in that category is oranges. And really overpriced too. Yes, there is now a Fairway (great big store with lots of veggies and other staples, as well as upscale food) on the Lex line, but it’s not in the ‘hood, and schlepping grocery bags on the train is pretty much not done in NYC.

      8. sharonsj

        Kevin, you are wrong. One time my Social Security ran out due to extra expenses and I was left with $20 to buy a week’s worth of food. I scoped out all the supermarket sales and found they had “buy one, get one free” for soda, white bread, American cheese, bacon, frankfurters, and lots of other unhealthy crap.

        Meanwhile, a cauliflower was $3, one eggplant was $1.75, and grapes were over $2 a pound. I calculated that if I bought the bread, cheese and bacon, I could make enough grilled sandwiches to tide me over.

        A bowl of fruit ain’t gonna do it. Cooking from scratch is very hard for me because of my handicaps. And anyway, I can’t afford the propane delivery to use my stove. I defy any politician, or any of the folks here who like to give advice, to try and live at the poverty level. P.S. Here in PA, my food stamp allotment is $25 a MONTH!

        1. Malcolm Kettering

          Yeah, this is sort of a ‘utopian’ view of things. Plus I don’t think the OP has any idea how CHEAP fast-food can be in the US. Just try driving to the typical supermarket, where tomatoes are going to be maybe $1.99/lb, loaf of bread $3.50, box of cereal $4.50, bell pepper $1.99 EACH, and on the way, with your kids crying in the back because they are hungry, you look upwards to the magic billboard that says: Wendy’s $1 Meals!, McDonalds 99-cent menu!! Taco Bell 5 tacos for $2.50!!! So if you have 4 kids you can give each child a taco and keep one for yourself for the same price as one pepper and one tomato. What sane parent is going to go for option 2?? “Here kids, share this tomato for dinner.”

      9. Neo-Realist

        I’m not quite poor, definitely not rich; however, I confess to eating frozen dinners during the week because I’m too tired to cook after work. I do tend to cook on weekends and eat leftovers if there are leftovers during the week.

        I’m guessing its an energy and time issue for many rather than a rejection of healthy eating.

      10. YankeeFrank

        I won’t bother debunking your assertions about food as they have been amply debunked by others. However, I would point out that not only are you wrong about how much healthy food costs (and time is a factor as well) but you cherry-picked one point out of my comment and ignored the rest. So I guess healthcare is not important in your world. In my world, the lack of decent healthcare leads to lots of desperation, and there is no way you can argue around the fact that poverty in the USA means no way to have decent healthcare (you can be victimized by the health industrial complex of course, but that isn’t decent healthcare). Your comment is typical of those idiot bloggers I mention in my original post. Ignorant snobbery that you think justifies your privileges just makes you look like an ignorant snob. There’s no way to get around you being you, and real poverty is not someone who grows up wealthy and slums it while in grad school, or who choses a low-paying career out of ethical concerns. Its different when you have a choice, and when you grow up with a world of possibility versus a world of desperation and limitation. You’ve obviously never really spent any time around poverty so why do you feel so confident in your views? Ah yes, that is the disease of the limousine liberal douchebag.

      1. Jeff

        What it really boils down to is that uneducated
        immigrants are the vehicle by which uneducated
        Americans and now educated Americans in many cases
        are peonized.

        Every time you hear a “progressive” talking about
        open borders and the demand for “liveable wages”
        and “workers’ dignity”, you are listening to a
        hypocrite.

        1. Jim Sterling

          “But don’t you know free movement of labor is the only way to fight free movement of capital?”

          Whenever you hear someone say that, imagine them saying “But don’t you know the only way to punish the gold thieves is to give them all the silver too?” Labor and capital sound like two opposed forces, but free movement of capital and free movement of labor *both* benefit the rich. Open borders is not going to have capitalists or landlords crying in their beer.

          1. Jeff

            Yes, this is why much of the pro-illegal nonsense
            is sponsored and paid for by the wealthy that
            get wealthier from it. Such as the massive corporate
            farms in California’s Central Valley for example.

            Then there are…were…the big publicly traded
            builders. Whole villages transplanted from
            Mexico to work on the oriented strand board mud covered plastic piped crackerboxes sold to gullible
            Americans.

            Want to stress that you can’t blame the illegals for
            wanting to come here, but you can blame the promoters
            of it in Congress, especially after NAFTA destroyed
            the ability of many Mexicans to earn a living on the
            land.

          2. Dixie ueber alles

            The point you’re missing is that free movement of labor only works to impoverish populations when you blow off the ILO. Your betters have got you blaming immigrants to distract from the great unmentionable taboo: US contempt for world-standard labor relations.

  2. Sock Puppet

    A neighbor is a single mom with two kids in college. She lost her job as aa school counselor due to budget cuts. She’s selling her house and doesn’t know where she’s going to live. Probably not poor by any definition, but hurting none the less. So many out there like her.

  3. Alex

    Why spoil a good story with unbiased fact? It has always been this way. A newspaper/journalist/reporter (especially it seems in the US) not having bias is almost unheard of. Just imagine 20 years ago when we didn’t have the freedom of the internet and you would never get this second opinion! Bloggers are becoming more respected than the mainstream media, and not before time too.

  4. Andrew

    Do you use the phrase “I’m alright Jack” in the USA?

    Alright Jacks have been flourishing and multiplying like rabbits since Reagan and Thatcher kicked off the first Jackfest of the neoliberal era.

  5. Eleanor

    There are all kinds of issues re how most Americans eat. If you are poor, you may have to shop at the local convenience store rather than a distant super market or farmer’s market, because you don’t have a car. I don’t know where my nearest poultry store is. I don’t think there is one in the Twin Cities. You can still find butcher shops — though not many. Mostly you find super markets, full of processed foods. Fresh produce is expensive in the winter, which lasts five months in Minnesota. Obesity is not only a result of eating a lot, but also a result of how many calories can be packed into tiny amounts of processed and fast food. Making meals from scatch takes more time. How much time do the working poor have? It also takes kitchenware and a working stove. And Kevin is right, ignorence is another problem.

    1. Linden

      Kevin is wrong, ignorance among the poor is not a problem. Do you really think poor people live in an alternate universe from the rest of society, where no one has ever heard of fruits and vegetables? Not in my experience. Rather, poor people are experts at maximizing their calories for the lowest price possible. Processed foods have more calories than fresh foods, cost less per calorie unit, and stay edible longer, for convenience in stretching over that time period when the money has run out between paychecks.

      See http://elizabitchez.blogspot.com/2009/10/how-about-you-economists-do-some.html for an actual poor person’s perspective.

    2. Kevin de Bruxelles

      There are plenty of Mexican markets (and sometimes even Asian) in most poor urban areas. I’m sure there are plenty in the Twin Cities and they have good prices and lots of raw materials. I bet they would sell (or give) chicken necks and carcasses for stock. If fresh vegetables are expensive in the winter then there is nothing wrong with frozen vegetables for a few months.

      One good way to get high quality meat is to buy in bulk from a local farm who often delivers. This takes some upfront cash and a big freezer. Luckily Americans almost always have huge freezers compared to say Europeans who normally have tiny freezers. The upfront cash may be another issue.

      In terms of time especially for the single, working poor, parent, it is indeed tough. The only way to make it work is to cook in batches and freeze things. That‘s what my parents did (who both worked) when we were growing up. Unemployed people obviously have time on their hands so being able to cook shouldn’t be a problem.

      1. EMichael

        My question would be: Have you ever been in the US?

        Physically or mentally?

        “One good way to get high quality meat is to buy in bulk from a local farm who often delivers.”

        Where in the world does this thought process come from?
        Where does the thought process that if such “a local farm” did actually exist, that poor people would have the financial ability to buy “high quality meat in bulk”?

        Ever heard the term paycheck to paycheck?

        1. Kevin de Bruxelles

          I spent the first thirty years of my life in the US, a few of them in the rough parts of East Oakland. Why are you and the other so called “progressives” defending Big Food so badly desperately? Stock in Archer Daniels Midland? Or are you just infantilizing the poor? The fact is many, many poor people in the US cook the way I am describing but they are typically first generation immigrants. That’s why for example Central American immigrants can get by on such low salaries.

          The point is it costs less to eat well, but yes it takes a little effort. Immigrants find a way to do it but native born people do not. It is shocking how when someone suggests that native born poor could do more to get away from Corporate Food, so-called Liberals freak out so badly.

          1. spit

            Jeebus.

            Nobody is defending the nasty evil food corps. They’re awful.

            What people are suggesting is that a family of four where both parents are working 60 hrs/wk to pay for rent + basics and also have to figure out childcare by magic is not a family that has a lot of time to be making friggin’ broth from chicken necks, if they can even find a place to get them. Which isn’t easy, despite your continued assertions that it must be.

            I do _exactly_ what you’re talking about. Because I’m too sick to have a job, so I have all damned day to shop around for the best prices on cheap meat and make stuff out of low cost ingredients and remember to soak some beans for tomorrow. Most people don’t have the time.

            As for your freezer meats idea, you have no idea what paycheck-to-paycheck means. People do not have the cash upfront to buy a half a steer, even if they have a chest freezer to put it in (no, it won’t fit in a standard damned fridge freezer, and no, most poor people — despite your assertions — don’t have big chest freezers). Most poor (and poor-ish) people can’t afford an additional $50 cost in a month without planning ahead, much less a couple hundred for bulk meat.

            Elsewhere, I see you talking about “cheap” $6/lb meat. I don’t buy $6/lb meat very often. Most poor people are looking for meat at closer to $2-$3/lb — basically, if they’re cooking meat, they’re eating ground beef and chicken thighs.

            Every now and then, I pony up for a steak, usually cheap cut on sale for $5/lb. I’m not poor, and I’m not unwilling to pay a goodly percent of household income for quality food, but we would be so screwed if we were trying to have our meat needs met at $6/lb. Screwed. Like, can’t pay the electric bill screwed.

            My neighborhood is crammed with recent immigrants, mostly from various Asian countries, but also from Mexico, and I don’t really understand what the hell your point is in trying to use them in some comparison, given that they make up a good chunk of “the poor.”

            Yes, they get by and tend to be incredibly resourceful. They often have 8 people living in a 3 bedroom, though, and they often have a person or two who isn’t working much (due to age, illness, unemployment, whatever) and can devote large amounts of time to cooking and walking around the neighborhood collecting aluminum cans as supplemental income. (Seriously, I’m not being a smartass — we have about 10 different people come by for our aluminum, almost every day — there’s not enough aluminum for all as it is, so it sadly turns rather cutthroat sometimes, and everybody tries to get out earlier than the others, which means this often now occurs — with lots of noise that gets our dogs barking like mad — at 4 in the morning.)

            I look at the ways these folks get by and I think, shit, they are tough as hell to be able to live like that for long. They’re not, in fact, eating incredibly well — some of the kids from around the corner, they are _hungry_ a lot. We have several different churches (huge Latino Catholic congregation, e.g.) and a mosque right here, all of whom feed folks, and without which I fear there would be lots more hunger.

            On the plus side, lots of folks here have gardens, and like many others, I give away a lot of garden veggies. The guy who lived behind us for a while would take half-rotten, baseball bat sized zucchini from our yard waste, even while I tried to give him some that weren’t as likely to be gross. He was not, despite your assertions, eating well enough regularly to apparently care that the yard waste zucchini could make him sick.

            I guess you’re cool with that as a standard of living for the poor, though? They’re doing fine?

            I don’t want anybody to have to live like that, frankly. I want better for them, I want better for everybody.

          2. Susan the other

            I think you are right about chicken/any kind of stock. But you do need a stove top you trust on low for several hours while you are away. Not expensive. And you can use unsprayed dandelions, etc. Russian thistle is very nutritious but now considered a “noxious weed” by every state because it is so prolific. Spray them, kill the noxious beasts! But god forbid you should eat them.

            Also, can anyone tell me how to do quinoa without cementing it to my pan? It is as hard to get off as homemade tofu.

          3. spit

            Susan — re: quinoa, have you tried soaking it for a few minutes, then rinsing, before cooking it? That usually helps it cook more evenly, in my experience. Some quinoa really needs rinsing, some less so — depends on how it was processed.

            Also, as with rice, I find that a quick stir to make sure nothing is just pushed against the bottom, just after it’s boiling — that helps, right before you put the lid on. I check occasionally, too, to make sure it doesn’t need more water later in the process, if it’s not done yet (added water is best already boiling, if needed, so I keep a kettle of hot water handy).

            Also, I would honestly never recommend that anybody leave a stove on if they’re not home — I know people did it in the past, but fires from it also were pretty common, honestly. I don’t even leave it on if I’m running out for more than 10 minutes. We have pets, for example, and any one of them could very easily make that a bad situation all around.

            But a crockpot is a great way to do it — toss chicken parts in, add carrot tops and onion bits (skin included) and celery tops, whatever other scraps (scraps of anything useful from cooking other stuff, I put in a bag in the freezer until there’s plenty built up for broth), a few herbs (I grow them) turn it on. Up to 12 hours on low while you’re doing other stuff, strain it. Broth!

            This is one of the many, many ways I usually manage to get like 4 different meals out of >$1.99/lb bone-in chicken — chicken dinner, leftovers of the same, maybe some bits can be chicken salad if there’s enough, other scraps and bones go to broth. Old school.

            But it takes some effort overall — saving scraps, setting it up, straining, cleaning everything, it’s fairly time consuming on the whole and takes some planning ahead/timing things well even with the crockpot. I certainly wouldn’t expect that everybody has the time or energy left between work and other responsibilities to do it regularly, and bear in mind that it’s all just creating an ingredient, ultimately — broth is not dinner, so that still has to get done, too.

          4. spit

            Ack. That was obviously supposed to be <$1.99/lb.

            Embarrassing, given that I was almost a math major. :P

            Points:

            Yes, if you have time and storage capacity (and hopefully some upfront cash), it pays to buy good food in bulk and use it wisely. But most people are too damned busy and stressed out, don't have the storage or the transportation or even the access, don't have the money upfront, and almost never have the time or energy at the end of the day to do the work involved to make everything from scratch for the cheaper ingredients.

            And using first-gen immigrants as some kind of a "look how well they're doing it" says to me that somebody hasn't been watching a lot of the real situations involved lately. I see it everyday in my neighborhood. It's folks here struggling with a new language and no official support, getting by, barely, through complex social networks, goodwill, tenacity, and luck — just like everybody else who is poor, only with added cultural and language barriers (and hopefully some extra community resources).

            And more power to them, but romanticizing it is crap.

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          There is no room to “store in bulk.” Have you seen how small kitchens and freezer sections are in urban apartments? I couldn’t and I’m in a nice apartment.

          1. F. Beard

            Good point. Being poor is very expensive. Economies of scale require a large initial investment.

            Or to put it another way, “The poor cannot afford to save money.”

      2. sparks

        Buying high-quality meat in bulk requires that the poor person has a freezer large enough to hold the minimum order required for delivery, and the money to buy the order. Neither is a given. Besides, operations like that don’t even have delivery around here. You usually have to drive 50 miles or so to get it.

        As to butcher shops, it is true they are in poor ethnic neighborhoods, but I don’t know the quality of meat they stock. They aren’t cheaper than the supermarket, BTW.

        1. EMichael

          Not to mention the obvious logistic problems involved.

          Exactly how many restaurants are there and how many chicken necks(free or not) do they have every day?

          How many poor people are there in that neighborhood?

          It is laughable to say the least.

          1. EMichael

            How ludicrous is Mr. de Bruxelles thought process is, let’s have a small example.

            In Los Angeles County there are more than 1.5 million people living below the poverty line.

            That is a lot of chicken necks.

      3. Jeff

        It is illegal for a small farmer to slaughter and
        sell his own animals. You have to use a USDA
        licensed slaughter house which means a large
        institution.

        Outside of Minneapolis
        there is an infamous one that at one time paid great wages to uneducated Americans to do meat cutting.
        Years went by, it was converted by new owners to a
        kosher slaughterhouse. Plenty of illegals from
        Mexico were hired at peon wages. Eventually the
        destruction of the small towns schools, gang
        warfare and other imported cultural folkways led
        to Government raids. So the owners started using
        Somalian refugees who where brought here at taxpayer expense to work as peons.

        America, isn’t it a great country?

        1. Kevin de Bruxelles

          Below is a link to Braucher’s Sunshine Harvest Farm located 30 miles outside of Minneapolis. They have a deal with high quality meat at 6 dollars a pound. Every month for four months they deliver 20 pounds of meat plus some eggs. They can also do 10 pounds a month for half the price. They deliver to pick-up points in Minneapolis. I don’t know much about this farm but this seems a whole lot better and cheaper than buying processed or fast food from a huge corporation.

          http://www.sunshineharvestfarm.com/Page_2.html

          1. JTFaraday

            “Below is a link to Braucher’s Sunshine Harvest Farm located 30 miles outside of Minneapolis. They have a deal with high quality meat at 6 dollars a pound.”

            Wow– inland lobster farms! Who knew?

            This is quite the entertaining lunch break.

          2. kabosh

            The Sunshine Harvest Farm delivery example Kevin cites is actually a package that includes a mix of various meats, including ground beef, poultry, various sausages, and eggs, at $6/lb for the whole bundle. I don’t think that works out to be particularly cheap on either a per item or per pound basis, if you compare it to current USDA retail price data (in fact it would only be cheap if the entire bundle were USDA Choice bone-in T-bone; with the chicken and the eggs included, the package is quite expensive– nationwide, fresh whole chicken is averaging $1.20/lb, pork around $4/lb, ground beef around $3-$4/lb, eggs are $2/dozen, and various beef cuts anywhere from $4-7/lb). But it does, I think, go to the point Yves, I, and others were making. To take advantage of this kind of deal at all, you need to be able to 1) get to the distribution points, which are not in the high poverty census tracts of Minneapolis, 2) have the resources to transport, and then store, a significant amount of food, 3) have the resources to apply, sign up, and pay for at least 4 months of deliveries at a time, in advance, and 4) be willing to pay a premium. This kind of deal is great, but it’s not designed for the poor, period.

      4. TunoInCA

        I cook and eat the way you describe (plus am vegan). But you know what – I’m an overeducated hausfrau. It takes HUGE amounts of time. Plus the fact that I have a separate freezer, and a car, and a variety of cooking tools, and a secure place to live, and easy access to the internet (for sales and recipes) makes it possible.

        Back when I was poor I could NEVER have cooked and eaten like this. when you are broke and stressed you can’t stand to make and eat lentil soup – you get overwhelmed by the cost of the ingredients (not as low as you’d think), by the huge blob you’ve produced and how to force it all down in an economically efficient way, and by how much you’d rather have something fatty and salty. And one inedible mistake can totally screw up your budget for the month.

        Ingredients are not cheap – bagged lentils at Safeway are $1.99 per pound. Onions at Safeway are $1.69 per pound! Even frozen veggies are not at all cheap. Yes, here in CA there are produce stands where these things can be gotten cheaper (for a lot of bus fare, if you’re in good shape for carrying). However, in rural New England where I’m from, you’re stuck with Safeway-like places to shop.

  6. arby

    To understand the agenda of the Times, look at its Board. These are a good crosssection of the socially liberal but economically privileged who have ruined the country in conjunction with their counterparts at Fox news who are the socially conservative but economically privileged. The common ground is that both sides go to the same dinner parties and fly on the same private jets and vacation in the same exclusive resorts so that they can have an enjoyable disagreement over social issues. Neither side has a single disagreement over economic policy or war policy.

  7. Gil Gamesh

    Oh, too hard on the NYT. Really, poverty is a problem (e.g. one has to step over the homeless leaving one’s office), and astute US policy makers are rolling up their sleeves to solve it. Given Americans’ anathema to any redistributionist schemes (logic: ain’t gonna give up my double wide so some lazy _____ etc.), shifting wealth from the rich to the poor is simply off the table. The solution: poor Americans should be encouraged to immolate themselves. Better-off friends and neighbors can watch the bonfires, and even roast a few wieners. The plumes of smoke will be visible in space. And Grandfather Reagan’s vision of a shining city on the hill will come to pass.

  8. rps

    Liberty and Property are words expressing all those of our possessions which are not of an intellectual nature. There are two kinds of property. Firstly, natural property, or that which comes to us from the Creator of the universe — such as the earth, air, water. Secondly, artificial or acquired property — the invention or men……

    TO PRESERVE the benefits of what is called civilized life, and to remedy a at the same time the evil which it has produced, ought to be considered as one of the first objects of reformed legislation.

    Whether that state that is proudly, perhaps erroneously, called civilization, has most promoted or most injured the general happiness of man, is a question that may be strongly contested. On one side, the spectator is dazzled by splendid appearances; on the other, he is shocked by extremes of wretchedness; both of which it has erected. The most affluent and the most miserable of the human race are to be found in the countries that are called civilized…..

    It is not charity but a right, not bounty but justice, that I am pleading for. The present state of civilization is as odious as it is unjust. It is absolutely the opposite of what it should be, and it is necessary that a revolution should be made in it. The contrast of affluence and wretchedness continually meeting and offending the eye, is like dead and living bodies chained together…..

    The rugged face of society, checkered with the extremes of affluence and want, proves that some extraordinary violence has been committed upon it, and calls on justice for redress. The great mass of the poor in all countries are become an hereditary race, and it is next to impossible for them to get out of that state of themselves. It ought also to be observed that this mass increases in all countries that are called civilized. More persons fall annually into it than get out of it.

    When wealth and splendor, instead of fascinating the multitude, excite emotions of disgust; when, instead of drawing forth admiration, it is beheld as an insult upon wretchedness; when the ostentatious appearance it makes serves to call the right of it in question, the case of property becomes critical, and it is only in a system of justice that the possessor can contemplate security…..
    T. Paine 1795

    First, we must ask who are the largest percentage of drowning in Poverty around the world? Women and children.

    Secondly, why women and children?

    Who constructed a system of injustice aimed at women?

    What is the purpose?

    Lastly, who benefits?

    1. Susan the other

      Yes, yes. Of course. But, really – I’m so bored. Just look at the NBA/WNBA. You can’t fight it. The guys in the NBA are sloppy, innacurate cheaters and muggers. Some of them can even fly, it’s true. It is just so exciting to watch those monster dudes slap their giant tennies down the court and dunk the ball, isn’t it? Compared to the women. Really the WNBA is too self controlled, too skilled and accurate to really be interesting.

  9. jaymaster

    Basing the definition of poverty on a certain percentage of medium income (be it 30%, 50%, or whatever) is flawed from the outset.

    Under such a definition, poverty can never be eliminated!

    Well, unless every single person somehow receives the exact same income. Good luck with that.

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      Interesting point.

      But I think it’s possible.

      For example, let’s say poverty is 50% of the median income. And let’s say the median income is %30,000 and there are 3 families in the population.

      One family earns $1 billion.

      The second family earns $30,000.

      The ‘poor family’ earns $25,000.

      The median, not the average, income is $30,000.

      And every family earns more than $15,000 (50% of the $30,000).

      1. F. Beard

        The definition of a fool is someone who refuses to learn. I suggest you actually read Proverbs rather than just misquote it.

        1. Jeff

          I’m studying more up to date and per reviewed texts
          than you are.

          It’s a chronological argument perhaps.

  10. rps

    The current economic paradigm is a deliberately rigged platform of winners and losers. Think about this. Our current system is built upon the premise of winners and losers. Just like sports teams, the game must end with winners and losers. Why? The economic models are rigged to ensure the positions of stolen wealth for the few, and demanding ever larger percentages of losers.

    Today’s economic model cannot sustain an adult population of employment at 100%, 90%, 80%, 70%…..

    FDR stated in his “Forgotten Man Speech, “Every man and woman who gives any thought to the subject knows that if our factories run even 80 percent of capacity, they will turn out more products than we as a Nation can possibly use ourselves.”

    The economic designs have always been intentionally flawed, and therefore, unsustainable for every woman, man, and child.

    And here we are again, blindfolded to the simplest truths of the economic models that sink upon the foundations of sand, when all able citizens demand their right to economic stability through equitable living wage employment and security.

    1. Susan the other

      We need a real New Deal based on full employment. Apparently our economy has always been based on at least 6% unemployment. Now it has become 16% unemployment. And nobody is buying this latest “adjustment.”

  11. Robert Windsor

    I would think the takeaway from “journalism” of this standard should be obvious: note the names of the reporters who produce this tripe and never waste time reading a word they write in future {think of all the time we’ll save!) Besides the now-notorious Times trio, Lori Montgomery of the Washington Post comes immediately to mind in this connection.

  12. Anarcissie

    Doesn’t everyone know that the Times is Fox News for the haute bourgeoisie and their imitators? C’mon, man!

    Advice to poor and time-stressed: get a big crock pot / slow cooker. You can cook up about a week’s food in it. If you heat it up continuously or even once a day it won’t spoil; you don’t even need refrigeration. Dry beans and rice are relatively cheap, other foods can be thrown in as they come to hand. Start over once a week.

  13. Tim

    Please don’t insult our intelligence with pro sports
    references. They are about as meaningful as say references to knitting in politics and economics.

    “A stitch in time saves nine!”

    Shadowstats is a greatly venerated reference to the reals inflation and unemployment rates:

    http://www.shadowstats.com

    1. JTFaraday

      Not my favorite, sports analogies. However, if he is a football fan (or a former Penn State students) today I am prepared to cut the guy some slack.

      And, it’s actually relevant to this thread on the poor–and it also reminds me of our culture of impunity for the powerful:

      “Joe Paterno’s reign as head coach of Penn State’s successful football enterprise may soon be over. Petitions and calls for Paterno’s firing blanketed the Internet over the weekend as troubling details of the criminal indictment of his former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, who is alleged to have sexually abused at least eight boys, were brought to light…

      …The facts outlined in the indictment and the consistency of eyewitness accounts of Sandusky raping boys in the Penn State locker-room shower over a period of at least 10 years indicates a known pattern and gross lack of judgment on the part of university officials that reaches beyond Paterno and up to the senior-most levels, including that of the president. Ironically, the university’s general counsel, Wendell Courtney, was also at the time general counsel for Second Mile, the charitable organization founded by Sandusky. Courtney continues to serve as general counsel for Second Mile. All of the children who have come forward alleging they were molested by Sandusky are former participants in the Second Mile program.”

      http://chronicle.com/blogs/brainstorm/joe-paterno-may-soon-be-gone/41144

      “Many children face adversity even before they understand how to dream. The Second Mile, founded in 1977 in State College, Pennsylvania, is a statewide non-profit organization for children who need additional support and who would benefit from positive human contact. The Second Mile plans, organizes, and offers activities and programs for children – and adults who work with them – to promote self-confidence as well as physical, academic, and personal success.”

      http://www.thesecondmile.org/aboutUs.php

      “You have to perform at a consistently higher level than others. That’s the mark of a true professional.”– Joe Paterno

      Oh– C’mon Man!

  14. Sisi

    Not to let the NYT off the hook (we know what the Grey Lady is, the only question is the price) but nearly all journalists, even those specializing in business reporting, are innumerate. They will accept unquestioned the word of self-styled experts because they cannot grasp even basic math.

    I am involved in training journalists, and I can testify that this is true. Every day I work with people who cannot add up their own expense reports or time sheets, much less understand what they hear at state budget hearings.

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      Every time I read something grew 2% in the quarter (or month), I always have to wonder whether it’s 2% from the previous quarter (or month) or 2% from the year before.

      The jounalist usually doesn’t say which.

      I have learned to suffer quietly over the years.

  15. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    Does anyone know if the poor engage in the cheaper forms of gambling (only the rich banksters can afford the more expensive sorts) more than the general population?

    The gambling industry is interesting (to me, anyway) in that it seems to just re-distribute money, not in any ‘efficient allocation of resources’ ways, and it generate employment.

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