This article is intended to suggest that Americans in poverty don’t have it that bad because of the items they have in their home. I would argue for a different interpretation: this shows how common and relatively cheap these consumer goods are.
American poverty just ain’t what it used to be. A new report from the Census Bureau found that 80.9% of households considered poverty stricken have cell phones along with their landline phones, and 58.2% have computers. 96.1% of those in “poverty” have televisions, and 83% have some sort of DVR.
The percentage owning refrigerators? 97.8%
Gas or electric stoves? 96.6%.
Air conditioning? Over 83%.
Having these items is simply part of modern living. The adoption rate for new devices rises much more quickly today than it did a century ago. Take cell phones as an example. Here is one description about how quickly they spread in the United States:
Just a quick note for your next PowerPoint deck on megatrends: more than 90 percent of adults now have a cell phone, according to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. For people under the age of 44, that number is closer to 97 percent.
Pew calls the cell phone the fastest-adopted device in history. These things are subject to some variability because of when we start the clock, but the cellphone adoption rate is certainly up there with the radio and color TV, and far faster than computers or landline telephones.
Additionally, there is an important difference between absolute poverty and relative poverty. Sure, poverty in the United States doesn’t look like the most desperate poverty in the world but that doesn’t mean there aren’t clear differences and disadvantages between those with lower incomes and wealth than those with more.