Walter E. Williams

It might have been Ross Perot who first used the expression that America is turning into a nation of "hamburger flippers," in reference to the decline in good paying manufacturing jobs replaced by low-pay service sector jobs.

Here's my question: If millions of high-paying jobs are leaving the country only to be replaced by millions of low-paying jobs, what prediction would you make about the trend in our standard of living? It would have to be in steep decline, but the facts don't square with that. Per capita GDP, the population divided into the value of goods and services produced, is one of the methods used to gauge the standard of living. The historical trend, including today, is a rising American standard of living. In fact, our per capita GDP in 1980 was $21,500 and, as of 2002, it was $36,000 -- a 59 percent increase. So how can it be that we're becoming a nation of low-pay hamburger flippers?

How about this pronouncement: The rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer? The Census Bureau just came out with a report saying that 35 million Americans are living in poverty. Robert Rector and Kirk A. Johnson addressed this figure in their recent publication "Understanding Poverty in America," produced by the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.

From various government reports they find that: 46 percent of poor households actually own their homes; 76 percent have air conditioning; the typical poor American has more living space than the average non-poor individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens and other cities in Europe; nearly 75 percent of poor households own one car, and 30 percent own two or more cars; 97 percent have at least one color television; 62 percent have cable or satellite reception; and 25 percent have cell phones.

While "poor" Americans don't live in opulence, they are surely not poor either by international or historical standards in our own country. I'm betting if God condemned an unborn spirit to a lifetime of poverty but He left him free to choose the country in which to be poor, he'd choose United States.

How many times have we heard that the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer? Contrary to that nonsense, the fact of the matter is that some of the rich are getting poorer, and many of the poorer are getting richer.

Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
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