President Reagan hasn't been in office for two months and he's already created a new class of people. Before Reagan we had the rich, the middle class and the poor. The new class is now called the "near poor."
The president and his advisers decided they needed another class because the government was putting too many people in the poverty class. Instead of dealing with poverty as previous administrations had, the Reagan people made the decision to eliminate a percentage of the poor people by promoting them to "near poor." In order to do this they raised the requirements for what it took to be declared "poor."
I know a struggling mother who used to think of herself as poor since she had to work and raise her children without the help of her husband. I thought she would be delighted with the news that she was no longer a poverty case and was now considered by the government as a "near poor" person who did not require federal assistance.
But it turned out she wasn't too thrilled that she has achieved upward mobility through an OMB directive.
"I'd rather be poor than 'near poor,'" she told me. "At least when you're poor you know where your next meal is coming from. Now I'm on the razor's edge. I'm just over the new poverty line, so I'm in worse shape that I was before."
"But," I said, "just think of your social status. Now your friends will respect you because you're no longer in the lowest class of our society. You can look at the poor people with scorn."
"I know it sounds good on paper," she said, "but the 'near poor' are the ones who really have to take it on the chin under Reagan's economic plan. We have all the problems of the poor but none of the benefits. I'm not entitled to food stamps or rent subsidies, day care or even a tax cut, because in my bracket there is nothing to cut."
"Ah, but you forget the trickle-down effect of supply economics. When the rich get their tax cuts they will use their money to invest in the country and that will trickle down to the poor and 'near poor.' I wouldn't be surprised in a year or two if the Reagan people promote you to the middle class, and then you'll be in really great shape."
"How do I keep my kids in shoes until then?" she wanted to know.
"You tighten your belt. That's what the middle class and rich people have to do."
"If I tighten my belt any more I won't be able to breathe. I've talked it over with my social worker and she doesn't think I can make it as a 'near poor' person."
"What did she suggest?"
"Her only solution was to quit my job and go on welfare."
"You mean you're willing to take a demotion from being 'near poor' to poor, just to feed your family?" I asked in astonishment.
"I'm not thrilled with the idea, but I'm discovering there really isn't that much advantage to being 'near poor.'"
"I hate to say this, but it's people like you who are going to make it very difficult for Reagan to turn this country around. He raised you above the poverty level by declaring that you were no longer poor, and all you talk about is going back on welfare."
"I guess," she said, I don't have what it takes to appreciate 'near poverty,' though God knows I've tried."
"Would it help if the Reagan people changed your category from 'near poor' to 'lower-lower middle class?'"
"Do you think they would?"
"I'm sure of it. They'll call you anything you want as long as they don't have to help you out."