"Things are Getting Better" II
A week or so ago, I started a series of posts about the ways in which life for average Americans continues to get better, at least economically. Today's entry concerns, actually, the lives of the poorest Americans. This piece from The Christian Science Monitor/MSNBC provides some data on the consumer items owned by the poorest of Americans.
Two-thirds of those in poverty had air conditioners in 1998, up from 50% in 1992. Personal computers have grown increasingly ubiquitous. Where fewer than 20% of homes had them in 1992, nearly 60% did in 2002 (more than own dishwashers).
Still, by almost all measures, the data show rising well-being for all of society. And while the wealth gap may not be narrowing, the rich-poor gap in lifestyles has narrowed substantially since 1992 when measured in many of these tangible items.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Expenditure Survey Interview Data, 1992 and 2002; Rich Clabaugh, Christian Science Monitor
Census survey: percentage of items owned
Item 1992 2002 Item 1992 2002 Refrigerator 98.7% 99.2% Dryer 68.5% 77.1% Stove 98.0% 98.3% Stereo system 57.3% 72.55 Color TV 94.7% 98.2% Computer 18.6% 59.3% Auto, truck, van 85.1% 85.7% Dishwasher 48.7% 58.1% Microwave 76.8% 93.2% Garbage disposal 37.3% 47.0% VCR 68.1% 86.9% Freezer 32.8% 30.8% Washer 75.0% 80.0%
See the original piece for more data.
If, at the end of the day, how we "rank" the desirability of a society can be proxied by how well its poorest members are doing, then the US is doing pretty well, and continues to do better. Whatever noise is made about widening income and wealth gaps (which may or may not be what they appear to be), we are doing well by our poorest citizens.
A large hat tip to Will Wilkinson and I commend his discussion of the wealth-happiness angle in the original story.