Poor People and Cell Phones

Conservatives, in their drive to deny services to leeches low-income people, are overly fond of this formulation, "Poor people aren't really poor, because they own cell phones and big-screen TVs." Ignoring, for a moment, the fact that TV/cell phone ownership isn't particularly indicative of wealth or income, it's also true that for a lower-income household, cell phones are probably cheaper than the alternative, a landline. To wit, in two of the nation's poorest states -- Arkansas and Mississippi -- 35 percent of adults depend solely on cell phones for voice communication:

About 35 percent of adults in Arkansas and Mississippi have cellphones and lack traditional wired telephones, according to estimates released Wednesday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In New Jersey and Rhode Island, that figure is only 13 percent.

"The answer's obvious. No one has money here," said John N. Daigle, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Mississippi who has had broad experience in the telecommunications industry. "If they can do without a landline, they'll do it to save money."

This is exactly right. Basic cell-phone plans are incredibly cheap: On Verizon (the nation's largest network©), $49.99 a month nets you 450 minutes, 500 text messages and a free phone. What's more, prepaid phones are cheaper still. By contrast, a basic phone plan costs $47.99, and lacks texting or, you know, portability. If I were a poor person, a cell phone would be an absolute no-brainer. That conservatives fail to understand this is, I think, revealing.

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