30 March 2008

Thoughts on Poverty

I wonder if the two following “number crunches” are related in any way.

From The Sun (New York):

Nearly 40% of students who enter New York City public schools in the first grade are gone by the eighth grade, a new study by New York University researchers concludes. Those who leave tend to be academically weaker than those who stay.

“The evidence does not support the hypothesis that the ‘best’ students leave,” the study concluded.

Meaning that some students are more mobile, and I mean mobile in a negative sense. They pick up and more – or more to the point, are picked up and moved – more often than other students.

And this, from City Journal:
…the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of the Census remind us that the breakdown of the traditional two-parent, married family is a far greater contributor to poverty in America than many of the supposed shortcomings of our economy.

It would be interesting to know how much mobility is created by parents breaking up, getting new jobs, moving to new places, has to do with kids bouncing from school to school. The article continues:

After peaking in the 1950s—when about 87 percent of all children lived with two parents—the traditional family went through a rapid decline beginning in the 1970s and has continued to shrink over the last three decades, though the rate of decline has slowed somewhat. As part of this sweeping change, the percentage of children living with married parents has fallen more rapidly, down more than two full percentage points, to 66.6 percent of all kids, in the last 10 years alone. Consistent with these decreases has been a sharp rise in the number of children living with single parents and with unmarried parents.

The economic impact of this breakdown has been profound. Researchers estimate that the entire rise in poverty in America since the late 1970s can be attributed to “changes in family formation,” a euphemism for the decline of families headed by two married parents. The latest Census data illustrate the problem. Only one out of ten American kids living in two-married-parent families is in poverty—and about one-third of these families are recent immigrants whose poverty is temporary. By
contrast, 37 percent of children living with single mothers are impoverished.

Perhaps this doesn’t really mean anything. But perhaps it is reasonable to conclude that, if a child living with a just his or her mother is nearly four times as likely to live in poverty, then that same child – if he or she lives in New York – may very well be one of the 40% who don’t complete the journey from first to eighth grade locally. What might be more insightful is to find out what the effect trends are for the third generation, the children of these children. As generations pass on, is the trend of poverty more pronounced?

The City Journal article (which is actually a critique of social programs of presidential candidates) concludes that “[i]gnoring the obvious stress that family breakdown has inflicted on children” means that whatever is done through economic or social programs is destined to be a band-aid. But while I think the government is able to help (through largely economic incentives) families stay together, it cannot solve broken families. This issue has deeper, cultural roots that simply can’t be legislated away.

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