We know that poverty has both absolute and relative aspects. The data on absolute poverty is clear and beyond contention….. the human condition has been improving dramatically on almost every measure since the beginning of the industrial revolution. We simply live longer and the quality of that living is better. Possibly inconvenient in the eyes of some but there you are… indisputable.
Relative poverty is a different matter. There is no end to the number of studies showing that how “poor” we feel or believe ourselves to be frequently depends on how poor we think others are. There are numerous versions of the “Shoebox? That were luxury. In ma day we had it tough” story. Relative poverty over time. Equally stories appeared in the New York Times last year claiming that child poverty included not having a cell phone. Keeping up with those Jones’s is popular and many stories about poverty fail to acknowledge this.
The numerous calls for “fairness” typically equate to equal incomes for all as remedies… and that idea is based on the largely meaningless and downright dangerous notion that fairness is a world of “equal” incomes. The danger comes in numerous forms – one especially pernicious version is that if we lower incomes enough we will be equal – as we have been in the past. Another is that with this kind of “fairness” you can largely forget “acknowledging differences, celebrating diversity, being tolerant, encouraging everyone’s legitimate uniqueness” and a variety of other fashionable objectives of the “fairness” advocates.
That is not necessarily to say that relative poverty is not somehow “real” or that it is acceptable (hence numerous references to “in this day and age”). It is to say that it is relative… and that it makes sense to know “relative to what”.
The following table enlightens in this respect:
After-Tax Value of Unemployment Benefits as a percentage of average workers wage: 2011