Acton Institute Powerblog

The flawed statistic that lets AOC inflate the number of poor Americans

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The United States has experienced years of record-breaking stock markets and unmatched levels of employment. Yet Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez presents her country as a dystopia in equal parts Dickensian and Hobbesian, where the wealthy few ground the poor masses into the dust. Meanwhile, an existential environmental catastrophe leaves decent people wondering, “Is it OK to still have children?” Most recently, she took her prosperity-as-affliction message to television, asserting that the wealthy somehow caused 40 million Americans to “live in destitute [sic].”

In a new essay for the Acton Institute’s Religion & Liberty Transatlantic website, James D. Agresti, president of the indispensable Just Facts, sorts through AOC’s claims and finds a common thread: They ignore the way poor Americans actually live.

Poverty statistics make two major errors. First, they ignore government programs, such as food stamps and Section 8 housing vouchers, that supplement poor Americans’ earnings. Second, poverty statistics track income, not consumption. Measuring the actual quality of life would rank the “the poorest fifth of Americans richer than the combined averages of all people in most developed nations of the world,” he writes. Agresti continues:

[T]he poorest 20 percent of U.S. households consumed an average of $57,049 of goods and services per household in 2010, while they reported an average of $11,034 in pre-tax money income to the Census Bureau. This means that widely reported federal poverty stats exclude about 80 percent of the material resources of low-income households. Put simply, the poorest fifth of U.S. households consume five times more goods and services than the poverty stats reveal.

Of course, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s errors are not localized to her home country. However, as a rising legislator, she has the ability to affect U.S. policy, for good or ill. Those who profess to walk in the Truth should not support economic policies built on errors.

Read James Agresti’s fact-filled article here.

(Photo credit: nrkbeta. CC BY-SA 2.0.)

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Rev. Ben Johnson Rev. Ben Johnson is Managing Editor of the Acton Institute's flagship journal Religion & Liberty and edits its transatlantic website.