The Phantom Poverty Menace?

This is my apprentice, Darth Baloney…

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I was intrigued by President Obama’s claim that when one includes transfers that the poverty rate has declined substantially from the 1960s. This would seem to represent a considerable problem for those attempting to waive off the poor performance of American public education based upon a poverty mantra. Spending up and poverty down makes for a tough sell.

Well sure enough, the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has a handy-dandy blow-by-blow on how the official poverty rate masks progress on poverty. It has charts like:

Hmm, that looks like 11% when it used to be 22.5% or so. An addition illuminating chart:

If you are squinting at that last one, it basically shows that the inflation adjusted (in constant 2011 dollars) income of the poorest fifth of Americans almost doubled between 1964 and 2011 once various transfers (food stamps, EITC etc.) have been taken into account.

Before you ask, childhood poverty is also down (see Figure 5a on page 23). So basically you have a very hard time blaming increasing poverty for this:



4 Responses to The Phantom Poverty Menace?

  1. Greg Forster says:

    Jay and I did a study on this back in 2004, looking at the decline not only in poverty but in all the other blob excuses – lack of preschool, crime, mobility, ill health, broken homes, etc. The combined impact of all these barriers to school success declining over time should have produced dramatically better educational results. Yet somehow the blob never asks why it hasn’t.

  2. matthewladner says:

    Look over there- squirrel !!

  3. pdexiii says:

    I shared this on Facebook, and the responses from people were revealing. No one countered with alternative data; their responses were emotional and anecdotal, but no counter-references to what you presented. No one dealt with the chart showing spending growth vs. academic achievement. Intriguing that these were teachers or former teachers, when it’s the folks above their pay grade making these ineffective decisions.
    “..the blob never asks why it hasn’t.”
    Mr. Forster, if you ask that question you pull the curtains away from what happens to all that gubb’ment cheese. From my vantage point there’s a lot of money spent on people and things that have little or no impact in the classroom. My local school district built what must be the most architecturally stunning K-8 school in Los Angeles, but they can’t convince people to attend it because of the district’s reputation (fueled partly by folks coming to our charter school instead). If you found out where all that money went there wouldn’t be any lighter fluid left for backyard barbecues at Home Depot from folks lighting their torches and storming the state houses.

    • matthewladner says:

      Perhaps the school district industrial complex will reply if we give them another decade or two…

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