The Truth? About the "Working Poor"

Thomas Sowell thinks the working poor were misreprented by the Businessweek article I linked to earlier.

BusinessWeek magazine has joined the chorus of misleading rhetoric about "the working poor." Why is this misleading? Let me count the ways.

First of all, Census data show that most people who are working are not poor and most people who are poor are not working. The front-page headline on the May 31st issue of BusinessWeek says: "One in four workers earns $18,800 a year or less, with few if any benefits. What can be done?"

Buried inside is an admission that about a third of these are part-time workers and another third are no more than 25 years old. So we are really talking about one-third of one fourth — or fewer than 10 percent of the workers — who are "working poor" in any full-time, long-run sense.

Nevertheless, the personal human interest stories and the photographs in the article are about people in this one-twelfth, even though the statistics are about the one-fourth.

As for "What can be done?" that is a misleading question because the article is about what other people can do for the "working poor," not what they can do for themselves, much less what they did in the past — or failed to do — that led to their having such low earning capacity.

Ouch. The truth hurts. Sowell makes some good points. The poor in this country aren't as big of a problem as the media likes to claim, but it is something to be addressed. The answer though, is how to help them to help themselves, not how to give them more money by taxing the rest of us. This debate reminds me of Kevin Brancato's great post on income inequality. It is a must read.