We've heard a great deal in recent years about the growth in income disparity in this country. But while the rich may be getting richer, as Steve Horwitz argues, so are the poor. The poor (defined as those in the bottom fifth percentile of income) are, first of all, better off in absolute terms than their counterparts ten, twenty, or fifty years ago. Not only are they wealthier (the poorest fifth make, on average, $28,000 more per year than they did in 1991, adjusted for inflation), but have access to amenities that even the middle class did not have ten years ago (i.e., cell phones and internet service).
Moreover, the vast majority (86 percent) of yesterday's poor are part of today's middle class. This shouldn't be terribly surprising, because demographically the largest portion of the poor are the young, who tend to work in relatively low-paying jobs. But, of course, as young people acquire more experience their income rises.
Finally, although it is true that there is currently a higher than normal percentage of the population below the poverty line (not particularly surprising given the underperformance of the economy in recent years), the percentage of the population in extreme poverty--that is, with an income less than half the poverty line--has remained stable at between 5 and 6 percent since 1980.
As an aside that speaks to the issue of civility in politics, Horwitz received a slew of nasty e-mails over this, including one that accused him of being a "house kike for the neo-cons."