A few months ago the Heritage Foundation published a new analysis of "poverty" in America that once again illustrates that there is essentially no poverty among the able-bodied in our country.

To understand poverty in America, it is important to look behind these numbers—to look at the actual living conditions of the individuals the government deems to be poor. For most Americans, the word "poverty" suggests destitution: an inability to provide a family with nutritious food, clothing, and reasonable shelter. But only a small number of the 37 million per­sons classified as "poor" by the Census Bureau fit that description. While real material hardship certainly does occur, it is limited in scope and severity. Most of America's "poor" live in material conditions that would be judged as comfortable or well-off just a few generations ago. Today, the expenditures per person of the lowest-income one-fifth (or quintile) of house­holds equal those of the median American household in the early 1970s, after adjusting for inflation.[6]

The following are facts about persons defined as "poor" by the Census Bureau, taken from various gov­ernment reports:

* Forty-three percent of all poor households actu­ally own their own homes. The average home owned by persons classified as poor by the Census Bureau is a three-bedroom house with one-and-a-half baths, a garage, and a porch or patio.

* Eighty percent of poor households have air conditioning. By contrast, in 1970, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.

* Only 6 percent of poor households are over­crowded. More than two-thirds have more than two rooms per person.

* The average poor American has more living space than the average individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens, and other cities throughout Europe. (These comparisons are to the average citizens in foreign countries, not to those classified as poor.)

* Nearly three-quarters of poor households own a car; 31 percent own two or more cars.

* Ninety-seven percent of poor households have a color television; over half own two or more color televisions.

* Seventy-eight percent have a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception.

* Eighty-nine percent own microwave ovens, more than half have a stereo, and more than a third have an automatic dishwasher. ...

Overall, the typical American defined as poor by the government has a car, air conditioning, a refrig­erator, a stove, a clothes washer and dryer, and a microwave. He has two color televisions, cable or satellite TV reception, a VCR or DVD player, and a stereo. He is able to obtain medical care. His home is in good repair and is not overcrowded. By his own report, his family is not hungry and he had suf­ficient funds in the past year to meet his family's essential needs. While this individual's life is not opulent, it is equally far from the popular images of dire poverty conveyed by the press, liberal activists, and politicians.

And the left wants to tax me to buy the impoverished a third color TV?

These sorts of statistics greatly diminish my inclination towards traditional charitable giving. Almost all of my giving now is focused on meeting spiritual needs in America, and meeting physical and spiritual needs in places of the world that are truly destitute. World Vision is a tremendous ministry that not only feeds, clothes, and educates some of the poorest people on the planet, but also introduces them to Christ. (Needs are met without any sort of religious obligation on the part of the recipient, of course.) My wife and I are sponsoring two little girls: Seema in India and Isata in Sierra Leon, who both live in mud huts on dirt floors. Because of our tiny donations these girls are going to school, sleeping with blankets, getting vitamins, and so forth.

Even more directly spiritual, check out Voice of the Martyrs. There are millions of Christians around the world being persecuted right now for their faith and they need our prayers more than they need our money. Sending cards and letters to these imprisoned Christians will also encourage them greatly and has led to reduced sentences when their persecutors become aware of the international scrutiny.

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