Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
MarekNYC, I don't want to contradict you, but I'm going to have to contradict you.  The census tract in that housing project means that everyone in that project is being taken care of by what remains of the safety net.  There are many millions of others living below the safety net.  In other words, housing projects such as this are the example of how the system does work if you can get it to work.  

Having spent some time living under the safety net in Los Angeles, I can assure you that the third-world comparisons are not out of line.  How many homeless do we have in this country?  Are they even counted in the census?

I would also question how the census in the project and the finances were counted -- how many people were perhaps living in households, but unreported because they didn't want to violate the rules?  Also, often our government counts amounts equal to "rent," foodstamps, utilities (that may or may not be functioning), and various other dollar amounts attached to entitlements and count all that as your income.

We also have a huge illegal population that is completely out of the system.  All this to say, that when I read stuff like the one you quote, I know from both research and experience that that is just the tip of the iceberg of a huge underclass that is out of the system entirely.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Sep 8th, 2005 at 05:07:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But I still don't think that the third world is an appropriate comparison. There's poverty and there's third world poverty. I think Americans often forget just how much poorer most of the world is.

I have no idea how the census functioned in LA but in NYC the authorities pulled out the stops to maximize participation. They did not want a repeat of the massive undercount of 1990 since population determines both funding and political power.  

But the point really isn't whether or not our poor are living better than in poor or middle income countries. The US is a very wealthy nation and should easily be able to minimize abject poverty. Its failure has been dramatically illustrated in New Orleans.

Finally just a quick illustration of what upper middle class life is like in Poland, based on some relatives of mine in Krakow who earn about 25,000-30,000 per year pre-tax:
Two parents, two children, modern three bedroom apartment, two cars. TV, computer, regular vacations, good education. So far so good. But... that three bedroom apartment is seventy square meters meaning that the bedrooms are about the size of a full sized bed. The cars are both bottom end sub-compacts, one a few years old, the other ancient. Vacations are to relatives who happen to live in a nice rural lake district. The kids occasionally get a trip abroad for language learning. The parents never vacation abroad (remember that in Europe a vacation abroad is a much more normal thing than in the US).  Going out is a rare luxury.  And these are people whose standard of living is well above the average for Poland where the average gross salary is, IIRC, about 600/month.

by MarekNYC on Fri Sep 9th, 2005 at 12:15:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, unless there's something I'm just not understanding, I fail to see the distinction.  If you cannot eat, find clothes or shelter or medical care, and you have to perform all of your bodily functions outside and die of starvation or exposure, that seems pretty third world to me.

And we do indeed have a significant population living this way.  It's hard to admit when it's here in the richest nation on earth, but it is true.  Go to any major city to the bad parts of town and look under the bridges and overpasses -- you'll find camps and whole families.  Barefoot children and malnourished babies.  

Look inside the condemned buildings and you'll find the packs of feral teenagers.  Look at the faces of the boys and girls selling their bodies on the streets, if they still look presentable enough.  This all seems very third world to me, even though the backdrop is different.

But maybe there's a component of this discussion I'm missing.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Sep 9th, 2005 at 12:47:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I live in a rapidly gentrifying but still primarily black working class neighbourhood right next to one of the poorer parts of Bed Stuy (a huge black neighbourhood in Brooklyn primarily made up of a mix of solid working class and the very poor with an increasing but still small number of well off people running from escalating housing prices.) I used to live right next to Harlem before it began to gentrify. I see US urban poverty constantly.

I think we seem to be talking about two different things. If what you're saying is that the bottom one or two percent of Americans live at the level of the bottom half of a rich third world country like Brazil or bottom four fifths of a poor one like India - ok. What I was talking about was the people in the tenth or twentieth percentile - and their lives, while very bad by rich country standards, are quite different. And with the important exception of health care access the lives of the bottom one or two percent are pretty miserable in most European countries as well.

by MarekNYC on Fri Sep 9th, 2005 at 04:49:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]


Occasional Series