Are You Poor If You Have a Flat-Screen TV?

At first glance, it may seem like a family with a computer, smartphones and a flat-screen TV is doing fairly well for itself.

But don’t be so quick to judge. According to Annie Lowrey with The New York Times, it’s not that easy to recognize the face of the poor in America.

Yes, the material well-being that some of the poor enjoy today was unimaginable to even the wealthy in years past. But the prices of consumer goods like TVs, phones, clothing, and small appliances have plummeted in the last 10 years, so it’s hardly a basis for defining the modern poor, Lowrey writes.

“If you handpick services and goods where there has been dramatic technological progress, then the fact that poor people can consume these items in 2014 and even rich people couldn’t consume them in 1954 is hardly a meaningful distinction,” said Gary Burtless, an economist at the Brookings Institution.

“That’s not telling you who is rich and who is poor.”

Although consumer goods are relatively cheap these days, some essential services that could make strides in lifting families out of poverty – like health care, child care and college tuition and fees – are out of reach for America’s poor.

So, the plight of the poor still looks pretty bleak, regardless of any perceived material wealth. The Times said:

“Without a doubt, the poor are far better off than they were at the dawn of the War on Poverty,” said James Ziliak, director of the University of Kentucky’s Center for Poverty Research. “But they have also drifted further away.”

Slate columnist Jordan Weissman wrote that if you want to get a broad picture of the troubles facing the poor, forget about the “stuff.”

Nobody is suggesting that the main problem the poor face today is a lack of stuff. It’s a lack of security, an inability to cover basic recurring expenses, like utilities and rent, as well as major unexpected costs like medical care.

An effort to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour has stalled in the Senate. Democrats failed Wednesday to rally the super-majority of 60 votes needed to defeat a Republican filibuster of the wage raise proposal.

Sign up for our free newsletter

Like this article? Sign up for our newsletter and we'll send you a regular digest of our newest stories, full of money saving tips and advice, free! We'll also email you a PDF of Stacy Johnson's "205 Ways to Save Money" as soon as you've subscribed. It's full of great tips that'll help you save a ton of extra cash. It doesn't cost a dime, so why wait? Click here to sign up now.

Check out our hottest deals!

We're always adding new deals and coupons that'll save you big bucks. See the deals to the right and hundreds more in our Deals section.

Click here to explore 1,173 more deals!

Comments & discussion

We welcome your opinions, but let’s keep it civil. Like many businesses, we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. In our case, that means those who communicate by name-calling, racism, using words designed to hurt others or generally acting like an uninformed bully. Also, comments that include links to email addresses or commercial websites typically aren't posted. This isn't a place to advertise your business.

  • nitemare2

    The use of healthcare and college tuition and fees is an unreal test of the poor also, today healthcare is available to everyone according to the Obama administration. The truly poor are eligible for Medicaid, the premiums for coverage through the Govt subsidized plans are “as low as a cell phone plan”. If you are complaining about the fact deductibles and copays are high then complain to the media why healthcare is unaffordable for the poor. College tuition is available to anyone through loans and scholarships if you really want a college education you can get one starting with community colleges. My daughters both went to college without any help from me. They both worked got loans and applied for 100s of scholarships. My youngest applied for and got excepted into the early college system that Bill and Linda Gates fund meaning she combined high school and community college and in a 5 year school she got her Associates Degree which got her into a college to finish for her BA. Liberals like to whine about the “poor” not having the opportunities of the “rich”, that is a falsehood. If they are willing to work hard they can have the same opportunities, but the liberals want everything handed to them instead of working for it. Liberals want free college, housing, medical coverage, phones, and will continue to do so as long as there are people like Krystal, Annie Lowrey, Jordan Weissman and liberals everywhere. The effort to raise minimum wage is just such a liberal hand out. To raise the wage for flipping burgers is not the problem the liberal stance of regulating new and better paying jobs is. You need better paying jobs like those in ND not better pay for entry level and part-time jobs. You want to keep the poor where they are not create a better place for them!

    • D Lowrey

      Too bad you really have no idea about what you just wrote. When you actually meet those who are poor and then attempt to understand what you don’t…then come back and write something meaningful when you turn off Faux Lies and actually meet those who you criticize. Too bad fundamentalists like yourself aren’t poor or can become poor.

      • nitemare2

        Really you have no idea who I am. I am a disabled Vet who lives on less then $3000 per month to put a roof over my kids head and food on their table. To bad liberals like you make assumptions about something you know nothing about. #1 there are 100s of thousands of scholarship’s out there just for the asking. # 2 No one is denied college loans and grants like the Pell grants are given to those who qualify. Again the first thing you bring up is FOX and how they lie. Show me one lie they have told! You want me to name the ones told by MSNBC or the false statements made by the writers on this site? Tell me which of my statements you can refute. Is the thought of working and paying for something you want so distasteful to the Liberal/progressive ideologues like you?

        • Patrick

          “Show me one lie they have told” That Cliven Bundy is a patriot… for starters. Or that there were WMD’s in Iraq (there were not and even Bush has admitted it).

          “but the liberals want everything handed to them instead of working for it” Another incorrect statement… then millions of liberals like me wouldn’t be working in jobs right now. Also liberal states wouldn’t be some of the richest most educated states in the union.
          Take a look at map… ever notice that alot of red states are those extremely poor… low education states in the south and the states with virtually no population in them?

          Yes please do list MSNBC lies… I can probably refute and provide actually evidence proving they are incorrect.

          • nitemare2

            Typical liberal statement, Do you remember Bill and Hillary both saying there were WMDs in Iraq? How do we know because the US helped them acquire them. Because Hussies used them on his own people, do some research and you will find out. Did you forget that the majority of the Democrats voted for the Iraq war. Or are you that clueless. And FOX did not call Bundy a Patriot they all said he was breaking the law but that the BLM were using extreme methods to collect fees for grazing on the taxpayers grass. They said many of those who went to protest that extremism of the BLM were called Patriots. You want a rancher to be what shot and illegals to have free everything? Liberals like you want unions to do your bidding or you want free education and healthcare, housing and handouts. But they are not free this year you worked 117 days to pay for those free things and according to the CBO 2015 will add another 4 days to pay for the ACA. Liberals are against drilling, fracking, coal and everything oil based. But they forget solar panels are made with oil based plastic, wind turbines are made with carbon based products. They are against the Keystone pipe line and don’t understand the oil that would flow safely through the pipe is instead carried by truck and rail everyday that it is delayed which creates pollution many times higher and is not as safe. Your richest and poorest state means little or nothing to the true growth of the US NJ #2 It is a suburb of NYC its property tax rates are extreme $150K home will cost you about 10 to 12K a year in taxes. Maryland is a suburb of DC so most of the people either work for the govt or for contractors for the govt and again high taxes, matter of fact if you look it up all of your “richest liberal” controlled states are also the states with the highest taxes and highest cost of living. But many of them also are proud enough to have high unemployed numbers also. As far as education goes you may have been right 20 years ago but some of your better schools are now located in the south, more and more Red states are doing vouchers for school which means better education opportunities. As I said my youngest daughter got excepted in a early college curriculum and because it was all honors classes she did high school and community college in just 5 years and got her AS. So you elitist views on education is just that elitist.

            Rachel Maddow “Would it surprise you to learn that President Bush never did one interview with the New York Times during his entire presidency? Not one in eight years?” Oct 2009. A lie he did several
            David Shuster MSNBC said Limbaugh should be denied the privilege of owning an NFL franchise for comments like ‘slavery had its merits.’ which he never made but Shuster never apologized.
            Ed Schultz said about Scott Walker budget “People who earn $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 a year will have 20 percent of their income just disappear overnight.”. Didn’t happen in fact they have all gotten increases.
            Schultz again, “This was a stupid move by McChrystal. So, once again, here’s President Obama. He has to fix yet another problem he inherited from the Bush administration. On May 11, 2009 — less than four months after being sworn in — Obama ousted Gen. David D. McKiernan, the top American commander in Afghanistan, and installed McChrystal.
            And on May 11, 2010, Schultz said, “We should point out that Senator Landrieu has taken $1.8 million from BP over the last 10 years,” BP employees and the company’s political action committee have given her a total of $28,200.

            Rachel Maddow stated that Koch Industries, Charles Koch, and David Koch were involved in the Florida law concerning drug testing for welfare recipients. She had to retract her statement several days later when the NYT called her out after finding no link.

            The Last Word host Lawrence O’Donnell. On an April 3 segment, O’Donnell characterized the Church of Latter Day Saints as an “invented religion” and said that Mormonism was started by “a guy in upstate New York” who “got caught having sex with the maid and explained to his wife that God
            told him to do it.”

            NBC News itself admitted to an “error” in their broadcast of a misleadingly edited 911 call made by George Zimmerman on the night he allegedly murdered Trayvon Martin. That call, which also aired on MSNBC, was edited to show Zimmerman offering the skin color of Martin unsolicited when in fact the dispatcher had asked for that information. While this admission does not necessarily constitute apology, the concession of an “error” will have to do.

            In December, 2011, MSNBC ran multiple reports based on a bloggers assertion that Mitt Romney‘s presidential campaign had adopted a slogan, “Keep America American” that was originally used by the Klu Klux Klan in the 1920s. He nor any of his staff ever said it.

            In May, 2011, Schultz was suspended briefly and forced to apologize to conservative radio host Laura Ingraham for calling her a “rightwing slut” on the air. He later called his own comments “vile” and offered Ingraham an apology which she accepted.

            On August 15, 2011 Shultz aired an out-of-context clip of Texas Gov. Rick Perry describing the state of the nation as being darkened by “a black cloud.” Perry was referring to the economy but Schultz did not air the original context of the clip and presented it as Perry talking about President Barack Obama – Obama, of course, being the black cloud. Schultz attempt to imply Perry was voicing a racist sentiment

            There are plenty of apparent offenses for which Schultz has never apologized. He never apologized for calling Sen. Marco Rubio “not a true American,” or saying the “Republican party stands for racism,” or saying conservative commentators want “Obama to get shot,” or for wondering aloud when discussing Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (I-CT) lobbyist wife if “the word whore applies.”

            I could keep on as a couple of hosts on MSNBC were forced out recently for “fudging the truth” but I won’t I will leave you with this though A full 85% of the Comcast-owned network’s coverage can be classified as opinion or commentary rather than straight news, according to the authors of the Pew Research Center’s annual State of the News Media report. While FOX and CNN are at 50%

  • Whitey

    The “rich” people I know don’t waste money on giant TV screens; 250 channels to chose from; they drive domestic sedans and look pretty much like what middle class used to look like. Except the “old money” folks who still wear fur coats and live in the estate that has been in the family for decades.

    • Michael Smiley Gawthrop

      My mom’s boyfriend is a millionaire (and no she isn’t a gold digger, all of his money is kept in a trust fund for his adult son who is special needs and will always need care that she couldn’t touch if she wanted to) and he lives in a 1400 square foot house on a quarter acre of land in just another nameless subdivision, he drives a 5 year old Toyota Highlander (and not even the highest trim at that), he does have a flat screen HD TV, all of 32 inches, has basic cable, and a lot of fans to save on having to use his A/C. You don’t become a millionaire by spending money.

  • Quinn

    What a tasteless article to have on this website.

  • Jcatz4

    I don’t think that you can buy a CRT (tube) TV anymore so you would have to buy a flat screen TV.

  • JMudder

    “Stuff” does matter. Incredible amounts of tax monies are spent on “stuff”. Once basic living, food, medical care, utilities, are paid for, all there is left to buy is “stuff”. You can spend $1200 per year for cable, or you can do without and buy a $20 antenna. You can spend $300 for a 4GL cell phone, to use with your free “life line” service. You can pay $200 for sneakers, and $75 for a sweat shirt, you can have your nails done each week for $30, or you can buy no-name $10 sneakers, a 2 @ $10 sweat shirt, and clip and file your nails yourself. Flat screen availability or not, you have a choice of screen size, and a 20″ screen is a lot less expensive than a 52″.