Friday, July 24, 2015

Conservatives Love This Deeply Misleading Factoid About Poverty in America

Dylan Matthews at Vox writes about how Conservatives love this deeply misleading factoid about poverty in America.

The factoid is:

It’s closer to the truth that they, like all Americans, are in a much better position to succeed if they honor certain basic norms: graduate from high school; get a full-time job; don’t have a child before age 21 and get married before childbearing. Among the people who do these things, according to the research of Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution, about 75 percent attain the middle class, broadly defined.

Matthews goes to the 2009 source and while the data is right, the interpretation is off, and explains why.

  • Very few obey none of the norms. More poor people obey all three than none.
  • It's wrong to list full-time work as a norm, particularly in a recession. Many can't find work. "Shockingly, earning a steady income is a good way to not be in poverty."
  • When you're poor, access to birth control is more limited
  • "Poverty brings with it hunger and food insecurity, neighborhood violence, periodic homelessness, and poor health, all of which are stressors that conspire to keep kids from poor backgrounds from making it out of high school."

"The truth is that low high school graduation rates in poor black communities are in part a legacy of systemic racism. Joblessness in poor black communities is in part a legacy of systemic racism. Single parenthood and family instability in poor black communities is in part a legacy of systemic racism. To say this isn't to reject the idea of free will. It's to acknowledge that if you're actually serious about solving these problems rather than waving them away, you need to tackle structural causes. Reasonable people can disagree about how best to deal with those causes, but just running around telling people to work hard and get married isn't a serious proposal."

Then there's this, How school district boundaries are gerrymandered to keep poor kids segregated and this, The remarkably high odds you’ll be poor at some point in your life.

Then there's James Ferguson's book Give a Man a Fish which apparently, This book will change the way you think about cash transfers for the poor. I haven't read it but I've seen a few articles over the years about this and the evidence that it works better (that is cheaper) than other things to bring the poor out of poverty.

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