Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The United States as a Large Poor Country

With most people’s incomes falling and poverty expanding, it is no longer so hard to view the United States as a third world country. That is what you see if you focus your attention on the Americans living in poverty.

This group, nearly 50 million people, could form one of the larger countries in the world, roughly comparable to Colombia or South Africa — but with only half the income of either of those countries.

You could form a much larger country if you added in the Americans who are above the poverty line only because of assistance from family members, such as parents, children, or siblings. That imaginary country would be comparable in population and income to Vietnam or the Philippines.

There are limitations in this kind of mental exercise, but it does help to demonstrate how easy it is to exaggerate the economic differences between one country and another. The problem of poverty in the United States is not so different from what you find in most of the countries of the world.