TCS Daily


Edwardian Poverty

By Tim Worstall - July 25, 2006 12:00 AM

I realize that I'm excessively optimistic in thinking that politicians should be economically literate. I might as well ask that they be fiscally continent. I am clearly whistling in the wind with a request that Senator John Edwards actually learn a little about poverty, how it is measured, what we already do about it and why his proposals will have little effect.

Allow me to linger on that last point first. Sen. Edwards' is suggesting billions upon billions of spending which will not, by the very measures he uses, have any effect at all on the number of people in poverty in the USA. That actually ought to make the man eligible for an award of some kind: much government spending is wasteful, inefficient, some even deleterious, but to spend billions and have precisely zero, nada, zip, effect is remarkable. So I shall remark upon it.

Over at his One America Committee we are told:

In 2004, 37 million Americans lived below the poverty line, a 1.1 million person increase from 2003.

This is, according to the official figures and the official definitions of poverty, exactly correct. The Census has them here as an historical table. That is, I'm afraid, just about the only thing that he gets correct in this whole exercise.

In the 1990s, the Earned Income Tax Credit lifted 7 million people out of poverty.

Err, no it didn't. Don't get me wrong, I think the EITC is and was a good idea and I'm sure that it really did alleviate a lot of working poverty. But it did not, as you'll see in a moment, change the number "in poverty", not by the measures that the Senator uses, not by one single individual.

From a speech he delivered at The National Press Club we get this (as well as that 37 million figure again):

America has fought poverty before. Past efforts like Social Security, Medicaid, welfare reform and the Earned Income Tax Credit have made a real difference.

Two of those four have had no effect at all. Zip again.

And we would create a million more housing vouchers for working families.

Now personally, I'm all in favor of vouchers. Certainly, I think they're far better than the vertical slums which HUD provides for the poor to cluster in; far better, in other words, than when the government actually tries to do things directly. I might also ask why vouchers are such a good thing for the housing market when evidently they are -- from the Senator's viewpoint -- not so for schools. Perhaps that's something to do with the Teachers' Unions' power within the Democratic Party.

Either way, the effect upon that 37 million number of one million vouchers? Perhaps one million households? Perhaps three or four million people taken out of poverty? Unfortunately not. The exact and precise effect of housing vouchers upon the number of Americans defined as living in poverty will be exactly zero. Zilch.

So how can all of these things be true? That there are people in poverty, we spend a lot to help them out of it and even when we propose (as some of the above plans are) entirely sensible things, they have no effect on the number of people in poverty? No, this isn't an effect of moral hazard, or "welfare doesn't work" or anything so contentious. It's a simple artefact of the way in which poverty is defined. From the Census:

Poverty definition [...] The official poverty definition uses money income before taxes and does not include capital gains or noncash benefits (such as public housing, Medicaid, and food stamps).

The EITC has, as cited above, made a real difference. But not to the number of people counted as being in poverty; because we count only pre-tax income: something which does not include tax credits, just as it does not include taxes paid. Housing vouchers make no difference because they are not included -- i.e. they are non-cash transfers. Food stamps do not count because.....well, you get the picture. We could in fact print up housing vouchers like there was no tomorrow, spend on food stamps like Ted Stevens does on bridges, double, triple, even quadruple the EITC and do you know what? There would still be 37 million people defined as being below the poverty line in the USA. All that spending would have absolutely no effect whatsoever on that number.

Come to think of it, this is actually pretty good politics isn't it? Advocating policies which you know will have no effect whatsoever on the problem being discussed so that you can simply call for more of the same next year? At least I hope that's what the Senator is doing. I really would be far more worried if he was simply ignorant of that fact. He did nearly get to be Vice President after all.

Senator Edwards also tells us that:

"In the 1960s we fought a war on poverty. Our intentions were good, but sometimes we expected government to do things that only individuals and communities can achieve. Sometimes we gave too much money to bureaucracies, not people. Yet those efforts still helped cut the poverty rate by 43 percent from 1963 to 1973."

If we look back at the historical poverty numbers from the Census we can see that this is so. Those in poverty as a percentage of the population did indeed fall and has risen (slightly) since then. Should we credit this to globalization? To having Republicans in power? The increasing inequity of the society? Or could it be, once again, simply an artefact of the way in which we calculate the figures? Try this (page 2 of the Census):

"Federal expenditures intended to assist the low income population are now concentrated in programs that provide in-kind or noncash benefits. The market value of these means-tested noncash benefits surpassed that of means-tested cash assistance by 1970 and has continued to grow in importance."

My apologies for working with old numbers but that cash assistance in 1979 was $35 billion, in 1986, $32 billion. The non-cash part was $97 billion in 1979 and $136 billion in 1986 (figures in 1986 dollars). The craziness is that the 32 and 35 numbers are included in the incomes before we calculate those who are in poverty. The 97 and 136 are not. So we've actually had a rise of $36 billion in spending upon the poor but (that portion of their incomes that come from the Feds anyway) the incomes of the poor have fallen by $3 billion. Given the way these numbers are calculated, the way the official figures work, no wonder we haven't been able to eradicate poverty.

There was an important and wise man a couple of millennia ago who point out that the poor, you will always have them with you. Well, if you're going to state that there are 37 million people below the poverty line and then not add in all the things you're doing to stop them being poor this is pretty much a no brainer, isn't it?

Now despite my (carefully polished and assiduously guarded) reputation as a heartless libertarian I am all in favor of a reduction in the number of the poor in the USA. I do think it right that we organize society so that all may take part in its bounties and wonders. But before we start to do all of that, can we begin with measuring poverty -- including all the things we are trying to do about it -- properly? I realize it will be impossible to stop ambitious politicians trying to bamboozle us with statistics; but can we, ourselves at least, try to get them right? Only then can we begin to work out what we should (if anything) be doing.

Tim Worstall is a TCS Daily contributing writer.

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24 Comments

Poverty in America is an Illusion
In America, 'poverty' is just a stick the proponents of big government use to whip the proponents of limited government.

Compared to the rest of the world, our 'poverty rate' is
Unfortunately, the media and politicians in this country are so fixated on imposing big government on all of us, they ignore reality and invent a fantasy where 'poverty' is rampant in America. This is just another example of the media and politicians creating public hysteria about a nonexistent problem so the public will view this as a 'crisis' and allow the government to take more of our money and more control over our lives.

Thats one giant nit
Tim Worstall's post is a giant nitpick about what he sees as a mistake on the part of John Edwards. Now, I haven't read the Edwards speeches Worstall is complaining about, but the quotes in his post don't exactly back him up. Edwards is correct about a million new people being below the poverty line. Then he says the earned income credit lifted people out of poverty. Edwards did not say that it lifted them above the poverty line as Worstall accuses him of having done.

This admittedly is a minor issue of semantics, but it is the same size as the issues that prompted Worstall's post in the first place. He doesn't really disagree with the Edwards proposals, only his use of the word "poverty" sometimes to refer to the poverty line and sometimes to refer to the condition of living poorly.

I suspect that Worstall's nit on steroids really is an attempt to dampen the actual Edwards message, which is true. Under Bush, the poor, actually the bottom half of Americanl, have become poorer as the rich (top 30%?) became richer. Poverty, measured however you like, have become more of a problem. Clinton programs improved the lives of the poor and Bush policies have made them worse.

more than mere semantics
It clearly shows that Edwards doesn't have a clue regarding what he's talking about.

As Worstall has pointed out, the solutions Edward's proposes, will not solve the problem he outlines.

That's more than a little nit.

BTW, the claim that the poor are getting poorer is nothing more than left wing ranting. It has no basis in fact.

Oh I am sure that Edwards knows exactly what he is saying and doing...
... he is trying to fool some voters. It is not that politicians are not smart, they are smart alright (even GW Bush) it is just that the problem that they are attempting to solve is how to get votes not how to fro example combat poverty.

Questions about poverty definitions
Some scenarios I've often wondered about in poverty definitions:

o If you have a significant net worth but take a year off and have little taxable income, are you considered to be "in poverty"? The measures discussed in these writeups seem to be focused on cashflow, not net worth.

o If you live overseas but file a US tax return with little income, are you counted in poverty stats?

o Are you "in poverty" while being an adult full-time student?

I ask this because I've been all of the above at various points in my life, and when it happened, I got lots of odd government mail and such informing me that I qualified for food stamps and other sorts of government assistance.

Full-time student poverty
Back in college (mid 90s) as we'd drink beer after beer, smoke joint after joint, my friends and I used to joke that technically we're all living in poverty given our "income" from summer and/or part time jobs and man if this is living in poverty, I never want to get out.

This 37 million number is like the 45 million who don't have health care...a lie that has been repeated so often, it's the truth among the left and MSM (no need to repeat myself there of course).

poverty
I'm not sure about the second, but the first and the third are definitely included in the poverty count.

You can also include retired people who are living investment income.

Question
What US war was declared more than 40 years ago, has continued since with prescious little success, has produced millions of civilian "casualties" and still lacks a credible exit strategy?

The War on Poverty.

poor getting poorer
What I think they mean is not that the poor are getting poorer, but that the poor are getting richer at a SLOWER rate than the rich are getting richer. Most of the countries in the world wish they had america's poverty 'problem'. It's just another phoney issue by the left, who just feel guilty because the situation is not what they consider 'fair'. When I ask liberals what's stopping them from contibuting more to help alevate poverty, like having only one car instead of three, or giving over one or two of their three empty bedrooms to homeless people; they say that they just want the govn't to force guys like me to do it instead of themselves.

poverty definitions and why the "poor" are not
Here are two quick links to what you need to discuss this topic.


[1] link: http://www.heritage.org/Research/Welfare/bg1713.cfm
also download the PDF file there


Relevant paragraph: "the word "poverty" suggests destitution...only a small number of the 35 million persons classified as "poor" by the Census Bureau fit that description."


[2] link: http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/papers/hptgssiv.htm


Relevant paragraph: "The poverty thresholds were originally developed in 1963-1964 by Mollie Orshansky of the Social Security Administration. She published an analysis of the poverty population using ... thresholds in a January 1965 Social Security Bulletin article."


My thoughts: "Poverty", "poor", "unfortunate", and all the other related emotion-evoking words and phrases cloud the issue. Most of the so-called poor in America today are enjoying a much higher standard of living than even a Billionaire could afford 100 years ago. Additionally, America's poor are also much better off than most of the enlightened EU.

TS

poor indeed poorer
The median income went down last year. This is not a few poor people, but (by definition) half of America. It's not that they grew more slowly than someone else, they actually went down.

even assuming your bogus statistic was correct,
it is not proof that poverty is going up.

for example
creating a bunch of new jobs, slightly under the old median wage, will reduce the median wage, but it would not put a single new person under the poverty line.

(This is in fact, what happened.)

to put it in plainer language
It doesn't matter whether a new data point is 1% below the median, 10%, or 50%. The new data point will move the median by the same amount.

A creating large number of new jobs, that are 2 or three times the poverty level, but still below the old median point, will cause the median point to drop.

Mark, poverty is relative
To understand what being poor is, you have to define it. Certainly, having the finances to live in a hovel with no power, little food and little clothing is poverty. No, not many Americans (I would say none except those who choose to) live in these conditions.

How about living in a run-down apartment where the heat doesn't through half the winter, there is no air conditioning and the windows don't open in the summer. You barely have enough food and little for clothes, but you do have a T.V. and you can afford the power bill most months but little else? A number of Americans do live in these conditions.

How about you own a home in a rural area (might have a market price of $50,000 if you are lucky), work every day and make enough to pay the basic bills, put food on the table and afford Wal-Mart special shoes and clothes. No cell phone and nothing extra for little extras like health insurance, but you make too much for any public assistance. You do have cable though!! A pretty large number of Americans live like this their whole lives.

So, are any of those listed above "living in poverty" or "Poor"? What is your standard?

(BTW for a family of four to live a "middle-class" lifestyle in any big city in America requires an income of approximately $60,000 a year. The average wage right now is something just under $40,000. That $60,000 means public schools for the kids, no major day-care expenses and renting a moderate sized house or appartment in a fairly nice neighborhood. it does include owning two cars, having health, homeowners/renters insurance, a good life insurance policy and auto insurance. It probably doesn't include a major vacation. Insurance alone costs the family around $7,000 to $10,000 depending on the type and cost of the health and auto insurnace. Rent alone eats up $15,000-$28,000 depending or the city and the neighborhood)

Of course, this is correct...
Those who supposedly live in poverty here in America have apartments, cheap public transportation, County Hospitals, good running shoes and (probably) too much food.

Of course, they might also be voters. People from all over the world work very hard to get here so that they can work very hard when they arrive. People who are born here and who depend on the government to take care of them may be indigent or irresponsible. But they are not particularly poor.

averages
The average wage that you mention also includes people who don't live in major cities, so their needs can be met with a lot less income.

Secondly, if you can't afford two kids, don't have two kids. It's not my responsibility to pay for your irresponsibility.

Thirdly, your point had nothing to do with my point.

As I said, relative, even amongst my relatives
A family of four making $30,000 a year is in pretty good shape in my neck of the woods; but it is pretty poor in Los Angles. That is why average wage comparisons are pretty bogus. On that point we agree.

But poverty is relative on another level. I could live very well on $12,000 a year in Mexico, even better in Paraguay. There isn't any place in the U.S. where that isn't nearly abject poverty.

At present minimum wage you make less than that. In my opinion, minimum wage should be the poverty line for an individual and that is why the poverty line (and/or minimum wage) should not be a federal mandate but a guideline. Minimum wage should be the minimum pay needed to provide food, clothing, shelter (in a decent lower-scale neighborhood), utilities,minimum basic transportation and basic health insurance and/or healthcare costs.

Present minimum wage just makes it here (without the helath insurance) but it takes nearly double that in most larger cities (probably close to $20,000 a year if my experiences in L.A. and San Diego are any indication).

It is my contention that we have so many youth problems in the U.S. because both parents must work. (we solve that delimma in my family by working opposing shifts so someone is always home) This is another reason I'm a big proponent of higher wages vs. higher profit margins for investors. If I could make $35-$40K a year my wife could stay home more. If there were more jobs in NYC paying $50-$70K a year we would have fewer two-parent working families.

Look mark, I'm a moderate conservative. Or, in 1930s vernacular, a neo-con. I believe in the majority of conservative stands, but I'm against the "traditional" conservatives (paleo-cons) on a few socio-economic issues.

I don't believe that unbridled greed is the best economic force, tempered greed is. I don't believe big corporations are in our best interests; I think small business, moderate sized coporations and and true competition is. I don't think unfettered unions are in anyone's best interests, but I think properly regulated labor unions are a necessary check and balance.

I believe government is the only powerful enough entity to be able to oversee big corperations; but government is inherently poor at doing this job and blows it more often than they get it right.

I'm curious mark, what do you make a year and where do you live? The only people I know who speak like you have either never spent much time on the lower end of the socio-economic ladder or made it pretty big on their own coming from a less affluent background.

After reading so many of your posts on this issue I'm guessing you grew up in a fairly stable, middle-class family and then made out fairly well on your own. I take it you have a significant "nest egg" in investment, I would also guess it is mostly in the stock market.

I have real life experience in this. I'll trade you tit-for-tat and give you my background first.

I'm the oldest, and the black sheep of the family (financially speaking). I grew up in a financially unstable, but generally middle-class to lower middle-class household. We had some pretty rough times during my childhood, but we never went without the necessities (flower and water pancakes fill you up well and aren't too bad with home-made syrup).

I graduate high school and went to college for a year. I found school was too expensive and I wasn't dedicated enough to "find a way" so I joined the Navy at 19. After six years of Military service, I came home and worked a variety of jobs. I did pretty well then landed in my present profession, started a family and there have been a lot of ups and downs. I've made as much as $32,000 a year (as I noted, that is pretty good in this neck of the woods; teachers average wage at that time here was about that as an example) and as little as $10K over the past 15 years. That wouldn't be too bad if it was a case of constantly moving up; it hasn't been. We are doing decent right now (closer to the top of that than the bottom), but I have faced (and avoided thank god) abject poverty a couple of times. I am working hard to avoid ever even getting a glimpse of it again.

My brother D (the middle son) has a total gross worth of around 1.2 million. He has over $500,000 in liquidable assets. I won't go into the details, but he got there through more than a little luck and a he ll of a lot of hard work and sacrifice. Without either the work or the luck (i.e. it took both) he wouldn't be trying to put away his second million. But, thanks to the luck part in some ways, he has never spent a year of his working life below the solid middle class level. Don't get me wrong, I don't envy him and wouldn't choose his path; he deserves everything he has (and a he ll of a lot more in my opinion). He also echos you completely, however. It is a verbal battle we often wage.

My other brother M is a school teacher and coach. While he has also never known a day of having to live below the middle-class level as an adult, he also has little extra (thanks, in part, to a less than frugal and hard to control wife, but that is his problem). M has also worked his butt off, worked his way through college and done pretty well. He is a religious conservative but, surprisingly, he is closer to me on these issues than to D. When the three of us get together, he is the middle guy between me and D.

M is much younger than myself (15 years difference) and D(10 years difference). From the time M was 4 and up he lived in a very stable, very middle-class household. He doesn't remember any of the less fortunate times. D and I do!

Now, taking all of that into account, I can only draw one conclusion. People who make it on their own regardless of background, especially those who never faced poverty as an adult, simply do not understand why everyone can't or doesn't do what they did. They blame the persons who aren't in their position for all their own ills and tend to resent anything (like taxes) that interfere with their rise to wealth. This is all well and good, but the biggest thing they forget is their fortunate break.

When we discuss this D acknowledges he got a break, but insists it wasn't a big deal and he would be in his present position without it. Any fool who looks at his starting point and the break(s) he got has to acknowledge that the road would have been much tougher, if even possible. Beyond that (there were actually two or three things that happened all close together, during the first five or six years of his adult working life) he has saved, taken some risks and made the right moves. That is all on him and he does deserve the lion's share of the credit for getting where he is.

I will close with one strange point. In actual wages, M will probably make more than D over his working life; possibly significantly more. Unless he changes things drastically, he will never be in D's position. But D will retire relatively you and fairly wealthy. That is why I give D all the credit in the world for making the committments, taking the risks and sacrifices and putting himself in the position he is in.

Govt can't increase wages
When govt raises the minimum wage, all that happens is those that used to make less than the minimum wage get fired.

When govt tries to force companies to reduce their profits, the companies leave.

I know you want to do good. But the methods you have selected do bad.

If people can't afford to have kids, they shouldn't have them. For the majority of familes with two incomes, perhaps even the vast majority of these families, they would have more money, if the lower incomed spouse stayed home. When you add in the cost of taxes, transportation, care for the kid, clothes, etc.

We've been over this many times, and I don't care to go over it again.

Your fear of big companies is unfounded. Big companies are incapable of forcing their competitors out of business. Don't believe me, just check out any economics text.

Microsoft isn't a monopoly. Standard Oil was not a monopoly. The robber barons were hobgoblins made up by political activists. Just check some real history.

If you want to better yourself. Study and work hard.
If you are going to wait on someone else, you will always be waiting.

I figured you would resort to this
I notice you did give any of the information I asked for? Ah well, I don't blame you. This is an area where you resemble fortunato, no experience, right-wing only information, so you tout the party line.

Look mark, I hate arguing with you because we agree on almost everything else. Oh, well here goes.

1. Bull, no evidence in the last two major minimum wage raises, and little in any others as well.

2. Duh, but there are ways and there are ways. You view yourself the economist so you figure it out! (BTW companies and businesses used to thrive on much lower profit margins than they do now, look it up!)

3. What a bunch of crap. I've seen this "can't afford 'em shouldn't have 'em" arguement in action. Taken to it's ultimate conclusion, no one should have children, they are too expensive. Way too many people work hard to get "stable" before they have children, then they find they are too old (especially women) or can't for a variety of reasons. This is one part of the reason for the financial success of fertility clinics.
The vast majority of those who do have them, find a way to afford them and do it without public assistance. With that in mind, get off your high horse on the low road. Not everyone who disagrees with you is a welfare baby.

As for the lower income worker staying home, sounds good but it doesn't exactly work that way (my wife and I tried it), I guess it just depends on what percentage of the total the lower incomed spouse actually makes and how you do it. We work it maximize in every way we can, but that means less time together and a butt load of give and take.

"If you want to better yourself. Study and work hard. If you are going to wait on someone else, you will always be waiting."

Great advice, for a teenager. You need to spend some time in the real work world mark. I know several hard-working, well educated people who don't do as well as you think they all should. There are many factors involved, until you understand a few of them I suggest you refrain from commenting on something you know nothing about.

I don't complain that anyone owes me a thing; I realize that some of my financial situation is because of decisions I've made, some of them are decisions I would make again and others aren't; there is also a smidge of "not-so-good" luck thrown in (let's just say losing my "upward mobile" status due to corporate buy-out and management change had something to do with one of them, combined with helping further sour me on big companies). I've survived and rebuilt with hardly a missed beat. I've worked since I was 11 and I've been out of work for no longer than 3 months since I was 19. I've never waited for anything from anyone and don't plan on it.

Read a little from the government statistics, a little from the other side of the equation and try listening to those with a little experience in this area.

the truth is something I often resort to
I've pointed out to you why your personal experiences with Washington's rate hikes do not mean what you want to believe that they mean.

If you want to believe that businessmen are out there sitting on a pile of cash, that they can easily pass out to their workers, just by passing a law. There's nothing I can do to stop you from believing that.

If you can find a single economist who believes as you do. Please list him. (Note, Krugman stopped being an economist years ago.)

If you drive the profit margin of businesses below that of the alternative investments, then people stop investing in businesses. That's an economic fact of life. Just like the one that states that when an object costs more than it is worth, it won't be bought. This is as true for labor, as it is true for any other commodity.

Wishfull thinking doesn't change reality.

Are you arguing that there is nobody who can afford children? Yes children are expensive, that's why you should wait until your financial situation is sound enough to handle the cost. Few people are willing to do that. Then they want someone else to bail them out of their mistakes.

Bettering yourself is great advice for everyone. There's night school, there's self study, many employers have programs for people who want to get ahead. Even when I worked in a woodshop, there was always ways to learn to operate new machines. You can do it if you want to. Of course it's easier to sit back and pretend that "The Man" is keeping you down, and only govt fiat can save you.

All of your financial situation is because of decisions that you have made. The only one responsible for how you turned out, is you.

No, the truth would set you free, if you would allow it
Your version of ecno 101 would bankrupt this country, and many of the folks in it, if take to it's ultimate conclusion. I.E. everything companies do and want to do is good, all attempts to keep them in check is bad. You say all government oversight and regulation is bad and should be done away with, all taxes are bad and should be doen away with, all unions are bad and should be done away with. Workers should have to fend for themselves, according to you, and deal with the consequences of what a company want to pay.

In fact, that was pretty much the way it was at the beginning of the industrial revolution. But companies got too greedy and the government decided to step in, workers united and unions were formed. Every time corporations find a loophole to run through, they create havok and have to be reigned in, or bailed out, to save a lot of people from being completely wiped out so a select few could make a killing.

"Bettering yourself is great advice for everyone. There's night school, there's self study, many employers have programs for people who want to get ahead. Even when I worked in a woodshop, there was always ways to learn to operate new machines. You can do it if you want to. Of course it's easier to sit back and pretend that "The Man" is keeping you down, and only govt fiat can save you."

I have plenty of formal education. Since I'm pretty anonymous I could say I have three or four degrees. Actually I do have and AS and a BA, big a ss deal and who cares. I have plenty of OJT and professional training (approximately 300 hours of formal training in three different fields), again big deal. Education is a good thing, but it isn't a guarantee of anything nor a remedy for poverty in and of itself.

I will agree with your final sentence, and the ideal that there is always a chance to change.

Pauled, don't let your anger take fortunato's way
I never said that everything companies want to do is good.
If companies want to steal your land, or force you into slavery, that is bad, and should not be permitted. However, the job belongs to the employer, the decision as to what price an employer should be paid, is between the company and the worker, no one else has a right to interfere. Similarly, the price a company charges for it's products is between the company and it's customers, nobody else has any right to interfere.

You are right that govt regulation is almost always bad. The problem is that it is almost impossible to figure out what 5% of regulations is good, from the 95% that is bad, ahead of time.

While I have stated that all taxes are theft, I have also stated that there are limited functions that govt can legitimately perform, and taxes are the best method for paying for these functions.

I have never said that all unions are bad. I have stated that they are unneccessary, but people have the right to free association. What's bad is forcing people to join unions.

If a worker doesn't like his wage he can quit. That's what freedom is all about. An employer who pays to little, will either have trouble hiring workers, or he will have to select from sub-standard workers. A worker who demands too much, will have trouble finding a job.
That's life. You can't demand that somebody else pay you what you feel you are worth. Just as an employer can't enslave you, you can't make the employer your slave.

You really need to read some real history, not the phony, socialist history that passes for it these days.
The situation was much more complicated than you seem to believe.

Depends on what your degree is in. If you wasted your time in the social sciences, there is no reason to expect a company to pay you for that trouble. Companies pay you based on what they think you can do for them. How hard you worked to earn that degree is of no relevance. Nor should it be.

the final test of poverty
I'll only believe that the US is getting poorer when I see that more refugees are FLEEING the place, rather than steaming in by their millions. In fact, do we ever hear of maericans (even blacks) going to other countries because they're better off there? The only examples I can think of are the criminals who go to places like Amsterdam to sell drugs, etc.

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