Progressive Pulse has another "children" post that, I suppose, is designed to divine more crocodile tears for North Carolinia’s poor population. Gregg Flynn concludes – based on the recent poverty stats taken by the Census Bureau (see our statewide map here) – that:
Statistics can be obfuscating but what is clear is that in North Carolina at least 287,894 school age children plus 138,820 children under 5 live in poverty and that the distribution of these children and the resources to meet their needs are uneven across the state.
Hmmm. Statistics aren’t the only thing that can be obfuscating, apparently.
And how about the fact that poverty statistics don’t really determine the "distribution…[of] resources to meet their needs" at all. In other words, you may live below the poverty line – which means your income is low enough to meet the poverty criterion – but that is not indicative of how much you may or may not be receiving in non-monetary government benefits including food stamps, subsidized housing, Medicare, Medicaid, free or reduced lunch, etc. etc. (all that stuff that helps children "meet their needs"). These data do not include localized cost-of-living adjustments, either. For all we know, total benefits per capita could be higher for these counties than in years past.
Indeed, after the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, the poverty rate went down (again, measured mostly by income) — because more people had incentives to work rather than stay on government benefits. According to the Manhattan Institute:
Child poverty showed a rapid decline in the late 1990s. The decline was especially dramatic for black and Hispanic children, among whom the poverty rate dropped by close to one-third between 1993 and 2002, and did not increase significantly during the recession years of 2001–2002.
The fact that the decline in child poverty overlapped large national economic gains in the mid- to late 1990s has been used by welfare reform critics to bolster the argument that declines in child poverty after 1996 were due to broader economic factors and not welfare reform. However, this criticism does not explain why child poverty declined in such a sustained and dramatic fashion, since it had been impervious to improvements in the economy for more than the two decades prior to the mid-1990s.
What’s worse about this latest "children" post is that Flynn doesn’t address the very grave possibility that those government benefits that meet the needs of the poor could be the very perverse incentives dragging down the poverty averages. As entitlements creep upward, people have less incentive to earn more — i.e. to get more income (which is how poverty is measured) — because they’ll lose those overall benefits. This is called a wage trap. And believe me, benefits for the poor have been creeping back up since 1996 — particularly in N.C. So we should expect the poverty rate also to go up, too, due to the wage trap. It’s a vicious circle.
(I don’t suppose that Flynn would like to hear that poverty is also calculated not only by income, but by the number of people per family household — a factor that would change rapidly due to the continued influx of illegal immigrants, who tend to live many to a family and who tend also to be poor.)
I don’t expect the people over at the Pulse to burden themselves with tough, counterintuitive economic concepts like wage traps. I expect them to emote, to demand radical redistributions of wealth, and to put up sad, grainy, black-and-white pics of children from the dustbowl era. But I do expect RCC readers to know better when they run across such fallacies ad misericordiam and uncontextualized numbers.