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Opening Arguments

Skewing the poor

I trust all of you understand some of the reasons reports of the "poverty" rate must be viewed with skepticism. For one thing, they reflect only income; things like food stamps and other government benefits aren't counted -- neither are stock dividends, for that matter. For another, those classified as poor in this country today have material comforts the rich in our past didn't have and the relatively well-off in other countries still don't. And the biggest problem of all is that those in the poverty lobby insist on spreading the lie that poverty is a permanent condition instead of a fluid one. The reason that "the poor are always with us" is not that the same people are always poor but that there will always be a bottom quintile, no matter how great overall wealth is, and that quintile will be "poor" relative to the other four.

Even taking all that into account, however, this still seems like an outrageous abuse of government statistics: 

College students driving luxury cars down W. University Avenue may not seem impoverished, but they likely are being counted as part of Gainesville's poverty rate, which is more than triple the national average, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures released Tuesday.

Though statistics show that 32.3 percent of Gainesville residents were below the poverty line in 2006, an increase of more than 5 percentage points since the 2000 census, economists and even officials with the Census Bureau caution that the figures may only reflect part of the story.

The 66,000 students at the University of Florida and Santa Fe Community College - many of whom report little or no income because they are full-time students - may skew poverty figures for Alachua County, with a population of about 215,700 people. In addition, the relatively small population of the county may add to uncertainty about the actual rate