"In terms of the items people have ... it amazes me the number of people who are at or near the poverty line that have color TVs, cable, washer, dryer, microwave," says Michael Cosgrove, an economist at the University of Dallas in Irving, Texas. That's not to ignore the hardships of poverty, he adds, "but the conveniences they have are in fact pretty good."But, are they really? Mr. Cosgrove examines data that presents averages and statistics, but does that data present a realistic picture of daily life for everyone below the poverty level?
I don't think it does. The first clue is the phrase "color TV". Color TV!? What is this, 2006 or 1966? Look, anyone who has a television in 2006 (or for the last ten years, really), is likely to have a color one simply because that is pretty much the only kind that has been manufactured (with very few exceptions) for many years now. It's harder to find a black & white TV than it is to find a color one. And, for those of you who are not in the know, low-income people don't buy their appliances new at Sears or Best Buy or wherever, they buy 'em in thrift stores or pawn shops or at yard sales, or receive them as hand-me-downs. So, the scenario implied in the article that poor people are going out and dropping a couple of c-notes on a new television is bullshit. Sure, they have a "color TV"... they skipped lunch for a few weeks and picked it up at Goodwill for forty bucks. The same holds true for microwaves, which can be picked up in thrift stores for a pittance these days, as can many kitchen appliances like coffee makers or electric can openers.
Cable? In the mountainous rural area where I grew up, you could not pull in a TV signal with an antennae. You had to have cable to get the five channels that were available in those days (ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, and one local station from the capitol city 250 miles away - there was not yet any such thing as MTV, HBO or any of that). So, I happen to know that rural poor families might have cable simply because it is the only way to get television at all. Now, you may consider TV a luxury, but it is important to clarify that "cable TV" does not mean the same thing in every area of the country.
And how about the washer-dryer thing? This is where the passage quoted can be misleading: it doesn't say that poor people own a washer/dryer, it just says they have them. Now, unless someone can show me data to prove otherwise, I believe that most poor people are renters, and most of them live in apartments. Most apartment complexes have coin-op laundry facilities. So, most poor would have access to washers & dryers, even though they do not own them, or a home to put them in. For all we know, the data cited in the article may have included access to a local laundromat as evidence that a poor family, or even a homeless person, had a washer & dryer.
The apartment-life factor also renders the "air conditioning" thing moot. Quite frankly, in all the places I have lived it is quite difficult to find an apartment that does not have air conditioning, or at least a swamp cooler. Maybe things are different in different parts of the country, but I'll bet that where air conditioning is desirable, it is common in apartments, and low-income renter have no control over that. Hell, they might never even turn on the AC to keep their electric bill down, anyway.
Cars? Owning a car isn't always an indicator of convenience. Does it run? Is it registered? Is it reliable? Is it safe? Is it transportation, or is it your home?
My point is, having some stuff does not mean you aren't poor, and the things mentioned in the article are misleading. There are other things which could drive the point home a lot more credibly, in my opinion. For example, if you have enough money to support a two-pack-a-day cigarette habit, you aren't poor. If you support a cig habit and a six-pack of beer every day, you're not poor. If you blow your money on gas for a dumbass SUV when your kid needs a winter coat, you're not only not poor, you're an asshole. If you're a researcher who judges poverty level lifestyles based on an average number of "color TV's" owned by a sample of low-income households, then you have an unrealistic, inaccurate point of view.