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Poor figuring.

ITEM: The August 28 Chicago Tribune reported: "The political responses were just what you'd expect in the heat of a presidential campaign. They started within minutes of ... Census Bureau reports showing that the number of Americans living in poverty and the ranks of the uninsured rose in 2003. Democratic nominee John Kerry pounced, saying the figures show how the policies of President Bush have failed to support everyday Americans. 'Under George Bush's watch,' he intoned, 'America 's families are falling further be hind.' Bush supporters noted [the] report reflected none of the economy's progress in 2004. Any blame for the health-insurance crisis, they said, should fall mostly on Congress for resisting some of the president's legislative agenda."

BETWEEN THE LINES: This finger-pointing exchange ignores, among other points, historical context and how poverty is measured. Its premises are also flawed: Where is the constitutional authorization for Washington to dictate levels of income or insurance participation? Yet, both major parties and the mass media still contend that the government can spend everyone out of poverty, despite expenditures of almost $9 trillion (in 2003 dollars) during the last 40 years.

Meanwhile, government poverty statistics ignore non-monetary benefits, including food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Medicaid, Medicare and housing subsidies. Yet about seven in every 10 dollars of assistance to the poor comes via non-cash aid. Nutrition programs cost an all-time record of $41.6 billion in 2003, and the most recent annual EITC transfers hit $38.2 billion. This is not reflected in the Census numbers.

How about some perspective? The poverty rate from 1980 to 1998 averaged 13.9 percent. Although the media went ballistic over the recent uptick from 12.1 to 12.5 percent, this latest figure is lower than any year in that entire period. And the Census just reported that poverty rates "remained unchanged for Hispanics ... and blacks"; these were lower than during President Clinton's first term.

On the heath-care front, doomsayers emphasize those who do not have insurance. On the other hand, the number of Americans who do have insurance rose by a million. The percentage of uninsured, as noted by the National Center for Policy Analysis, has remained in the range of 15 percent for a decade.

There are 18.8 million uninsured between ages 18 and 34, comments the Wall Street Journal, "and many of them voluntarily (if unwisely) forgo coverage. Their gamble is actually encouraged by 'guaranteed issue' laws in many states that reassure the irresponsible that they can avoid buying insurance until they get sick."
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Title Annotation:Between The Lines
Author:Hoar, William P.
Publication:The New American
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 4, 2004
Previous Article:And not a shot was fired.
Next Article:Argentina's beef with IMF.

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