The point being, the amenities generally considered basics of life change over time. In 2011, it's not reasonable to speak in shocked tones of someone having cable, as if it's the rough equivalent of a yacht.
Let's look at poverty, for real. There are multiple ways of measuring the poverty line or threshold, but basically it's around $11,000 for an individual or $22,000 for a family of four. In 2009, 14.3 percent of Americans were living in poverty, and 6.3 percent were living in "deep poverty," below half the poverty line. In 2009, 14.7 percent of households experienced food insecurity for at least part of the year. According to Raj Patel, food insecurity is the difference between spending $200 per person per month on food and spending $55 less and means failing to meet basic nutrition needs.
Meanwhile, multifamily households are becoming more and more common as people struggle to get by.
Poverty is real and it's really no fun. If you, like the Heritage Foundation staff currently assailing poor people for having cable, are not poor, it can seem like an easy intellectual exercise to live below the poverty line. I'll just get a cheap apartment, you think, looking on Craigslist and not realizing that the apartments you're pointing to as options are either scams or virtually unlivable. I'll eat cheap, you think; I know a lot of ways to cook dried beans. But Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) could tell you that's harder than you might think, having accepted a challenge to eat for a week on a food stamp budget. No cable for me, I'll expand my horizons by reading for free—but what if you don't live near a library, or your kids come home from school every damn day sad because they're left out of the conversations their classmates are having about television shows and video games? Even the computer game version of the intellectual exercise turns out not to be so easy.
Poverty is awful. Trying to downplay it in order to justify cuts to the fragile safety net in place for poor people is worse.