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BUREAU IS POOR JUDGE OF POVERTY

Every year about this time the Census Bureau produces its report on "poverty in America." Every year about this time I write a column saying the report is Phonus Bolonus, which is Latin for "horse-feathers." Here we go again.

If you would believe this unbelievable report, at the end of 1991 the United States had 35.7 million people "living in poverty." Don't believe it. This reportedly was an increase of 2.1 million people in 12 months. Don't believe that, either. Most of the time when we say something is incredible, we mean only that something is amazing. In this instance the census report really is incredible. It is not to be believed.For this reason: In building its false and deceptive picture of a family "living in poverty," the Census Bureau counts cash income only.

Have you ever heard of food stamps? Everybody has heard of food stamps - everybody, that is, but the Bureau of the Census. The bureau never heard of food stamps.

Have you ever heard of Medicaid? It is the federal program by which medical care is provided to the poor. You would think that a program that costs $84 billion a year would be hard to miss, but the Census Bureau has missed it.

How about public housing? The bureau never heard of public housing either. Out of $184 billion in annual outlays for public welfare, the bureau regards only $32 billion as "income" for purposes of the Phonus Bolonus.

Talk about a blind eye! The statisticians who put together these bogus books cannot see personal property. They cannot see automobiles, television sets, radios, household furniture.

The Heritage Foundation, using the Census Bureau's own data, observes that 40 percent of the statistically "poor" households own their own homes. Common sense should tell us that any person who owns his own home is not exactly "living in poverty," but when God was passing out common sense, these bureaucrats were not in line.

Of course there are poor families in America -families that are not just statistically poor but truly poor. Painfully poor. You will find such families in rural areas and in city slums. To the extent that their poverty is a consequence of misfortune, one's heart goes out to them.

When we speak of a family "living in poverty," the mind calls up an image of a family in Somalia, Ethiopia or Kenya. We imagine the gaunt bodies, the hollow eyes, the desperation that accompanies starvation. But this is not the kind of "poverty" the Census Bureau reports. Compared to poverty around the world, America's poverty is a condition of glorious well-being.

So long as some bottom fraction of the populace may be statistically defined as poor, the poor will be always with us.

Politics is in part the art of the Phonus Bolonus, and the heart of the Phonus Bolonus beats to the pace of phony figures. Before this campaign ends, we will see them by the ton.