The 15% number is not the number living in poverty. It is the number who would be living in poverty if it weren’t for all the money n’stuff we give to the poor [Tim Worstall, "It Is Not True That 15% of Americans Live in Poverty," Forbes.com, 2013.10.06].
Woodring responds with this unexpected blast:
Words. Just words. Poverty is not something which can be defined by, by numbers. Rather, poverty is shown in the human spirit crushed by the juggernaut of capitalism and the bloody bullion of the moneylenders [Michael Woodring, "Poverty of Meaning," Constant Conservative, 2013.10.07].
At least we agree on the deleterious effects of capitalism and moneylenders (Pastor Hickey! Don't let the usurers trick you!).
As for the word poverty... I'm having trouble seeing Worstall's or Woodring's point, unless it is simply to toss some swill to the hogs. Of course we define poverty as a number, just like tax brackets and other categories essential to carrying out government policy. Of course we calculate poverty prior to receipt of government assistance: it would make no sense to say, "Gee, if we include the value of food stamps and Medicaid for which you qualify based on your earned income, your total income would be higher than the poverty line... so we're not going to give you food stamps and Medicaid."
And of course we are all richer as a nation if we can use our vast wealth to ensure that no one ends up living in poverty. If our community efforts render the phrase "living in poverty" inaccurate and obsolete, then we should celebrate. We should take pride in keeping our neighbors from being crushed in the wheels of capitalism. And we should thank Democrats and elect more of them, since Republicans evidently think it's more important to keep sculptures and parks open than to feed the poor.
Contrary to Worstall's assertion, none of this means we should stop saying that people are living in poverty. We can understand the term to mean that we are helping feed and clothe millions of people whose employers don't pay them enough to feed their kids breakfast. We can use that term to remind employers that they are hoarding wealth that belongs to the workers whom they exploit, and that we as a community have cause to ask them pay society back, through taxes and higher wages.
Worstall and Woodring's word game is trivial compared to the reality of poverty in America. Poverty is real. Capitalism leaves millions of its workers in poverty. Instead of denying or, worse, punishing poverty, Americans should continue to give money 'n' stuff, through good government policy, to alleviate poverty.