From Common Dreams: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/12/27-0
Published on Tuesday, December 27, 2011 by CommonDreams.org
Recent reports suggest that almost 50% of Americans are in poverty or at a "low income" level. The claim is based on a new supplemental measure by the Census Bureau that includes health care, transportation, and other essential living expenses in the poverty calculation.
The concept of "low income" is controversial. It has been defined as earnings between 100 and 199 percent of the poverty level, a claim which, if true, would place every American family making $50,000 or less at a near-poverty level.
Conservative organizations believe the whole 'poverty' issue is overblown. The Cato Institute blames LBJ and Obama for reversing a declining poverty rate. Forbes blames the calculations. The Heritage Foundation argues, "The average poor person, as defined by the government, has a living standard far higher than the public imagines...In the kitchen, the household had a refrigerator, an oven and stove, and a microwave." The case for a growing "consumption equality" is alternately defended and denied.
With emotions running high on both sides, we need to take a balanced look at the available data to determine how well the highest-earning family of the poorest 50% -- a family with a $50,000 income -- can survive. (The maximum individual income for the poorest 50% is about $30,000.)
Start with taxes. It is frequently noted by conservatives that the richest 1% pay most of the federal income taxes, and indeed they paid about 37 percent in 2009, more than the poorest 90% of Americans. But only the richest 5% of Americans have experienced income growth since 1980. And during that time, their tax rate has dropped from 34% to 23%. As for the 3 percent rate paid by the poorest 50%, the Tax Policy Center sums it up nicely: "The basic structure of the income tax simply exempts subsistence levels of income from tax."
Continue reading at: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/12/27-0