Thomas Sowell

 BusinessWeek magazine has joined the chorus of misleading rhetoric about "the working poor." Why is this misleading? Let me count the ways.
First of all, Census data show that most people who are working are not poor and most people who are poor are not working. The front-page headline on the May 31st issue of BusinessWeek says: "One in four workers earns $18,800 a year or less, with few if any benefits. What can be done?"

 Buried inside is an admission that about a third of these are part-time workers and another third are no more than 25 years old. So we are really talking about one-third of one fourth -- or fewer than 10 percent of the workers -- who are "working poor" in any full-time, long-run sense.

 Nevertheless, the personal human interest stories and the photographs in the article are about people in this one-twelfth, even though the statistics are about the one-fourth.

 As for "What can be done?" that is a misleading question because the article is about what other people can do for the "working poor," not what they can do for themselves, much less what they did in the past -- or failed to do -- that led to their having such low earning capacity.

 The theme is that these are people trapped by external circumstances, and words like "moxie" and "gumption" are mentioned only sarcastically to be dismissed, along with "Horatio Alger." But the cold fact is that what the intelligentsia call the American Dream is no dream.

 An absolute majority of the people who were in the bottom 20 percent in income in 1975 have since then also been in the top 20 percent. This inconvenient fact has been out there for years -- and has been ignored for years by those who want more government programs to relieve individuals from responsibility for making themselves more productive and therefore higher income earners.

 While the economy is "rewarding the growing ranks of educated knowledge workers," BusinessWeek says, this is not so for "workers who lack skills and training." In a country with free education available through high school and heavily subsidized state colleges and universities, why do some people lack skills and training?

 More important, what is likely to cause them to get skills and training -- pay differentials or largess in money or in kind from the taxpayers as "entitlements"?

 This is an agenda article and facts that get in the way of the welfare state agenda get little attention, if any. Meanwhile, notions that have no factual basis are asserted boldly.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate

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