No, A Majority of US Public School Students are Not In Poverty

by on January 17, 2015 at 10:49 am in Economics, Education | Permalink

In widely reported article the Washington Post says a Majority of U.S. public school students are in poverty. The article cites the Southern Education Foundation:

The Southern Education Foundation reports that 51 percent of students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the 2012-2013 school year were eligible for the federal program that provides free and reduced-price lunches.

Eligibility for free and reduced-price lunches, however, depends on eligibility rules and not just income levels let alone poverty rates. The New York Times article on the study is much better:

Children who are eligible for such lunches do not necessarily live in poverty. Subsidized lunches are available to children from families that earn up to $43,568, for a family of four, which is about 185 percent of the federal poverty level.

The number of children eligible for subsidized lunches has probably increased in part because the federal Agriculture Department now allows schools with a majority of low-income students to offer free lunches to all students, regardless of whether they qualify on an individual basis or not.

Frankly I suspect that this study was intended to confuse the media by conflating “low-income” with “below the poverty line”. Indeed, why did this study grab headlines except for the greater than 50% statistic? It is very easy to find official numbers of the number of students in poverty according to the federal poverty standard. Here is what the National Center for Education Statistics says about school-age children and poverty (most recent data):

In 2012, approximately 21 percent of school-age children in the United States were in families living in poverty.

The number of school-age children living in poverty today is relatively high and not surprisingly did increase with the 2008 recession and its aftermath (green line in figure below – the numbers here differ slightly from NCES but the time line is longer). But recent numbers do not look like especially remarkable compared to the history.

04_fig1
It’s certainly worthwhile discussing why poverty has increased. The economy is one possible reason as are issues to do with family formation and marriage rates. Another possibility is immigration. A higher poverty rate caused by the immigration of more low-income children is compatible with everyone becoming better off over time and not necessarily a bad thing. Those are just a few possible topics worthy of investigation. I don’t claim that any of them are correct.

I do claim, however, that we won’t get very far understanding the issue by shifting definitions and muddying the waters with misleading but attention grabbing statistics.

1 Statistics January 17, 2015 at 11:09 am

Also sounds like an example of Simpson’s paradox

2 So Much for Subtlety January 17, 2015 at 3:37 pm

I do claim, however, that we won’t get very far understanding the issue by shifting definitions and muddying the waters with misleading but attention grabbing statistics.

Sounds like AT hasn’t noticed the purpose is not to understand the issue but to gin up the Base for higher taxes.

3 Scoop January 17, 2015 at 11:18 am

The real issue here is child abuse.

If you function so poorly that you have no reasonable certainty of being able to provide food and shelter for your kids without subsidy, then you are committing child abuse simply by having and keeping children.

That’s not to say functional people never suffer unexpected hardships and need temporary help. But a huge chunk of kids who receive free lunches live with people who have yet to learn to care for themselves let alone perform an enormously difficult task like rearing children.

Society’s main effort to reduce these numbers should involve convincing people to put off having kids until they have developed the skills that give them some chance of caring for those kids.

4 chuck martel January 17, 2015 at 11:37 am

What did the human race do before schlemiels like you showed up? The “enormously difficult task like rearing children” is a biological phenomenon common to all animals that has cultural differences among human groups. Naturally, not all parents within a specific culture are as adept as others, since all humans are individuals. You’re equating “poverty”, defined as a certain level of income, to an individual’s ability to raise their children, ergo poor people aren’t likely to be good parents merely because they’re poor. In those terms, wealthy parents must be good parents almost by definition.

You follow the next logical step, “convincing” the poor not to have children as if by doing so poverty as defined by government statistics and economists would eventually be bred out of existence. Actually, throughout human history girls and boys have learned parenthood through the experience of family life, which the government has done everything in its power to eliminate through welfare programs that encourage single-parent families, if one can call them that. You’d probably like a community course for young adults that would teach them parenthood before issuing them a marriage license. You’ve been reading too much Cass Sunstein.

5 Scoop January 17, 2015 at 12:30 pm

The “biological phenomenon common to all animals” has resulted in untold misery and astonishingly high mortality rates for children “throughout human history.” So I’m not sure a return to tradition is a great option here.

I would indeed say that inability to make enough income to survive without handouts makes it relatively unlikely that you will be able to be good parents. And so would you — and everyone else who reads this and pretends to disagree. You cannot teach your kids the skills to be self sufficient if you lack them.

As for the rest, you’re attacking straw men.

Many wealthy people make lousy parents because self-sufficiency, quite obviously, is only one of many qualities that good parents have.

No one gets “bred out of existence.” Most chronically poor parents have one thing in common: they had their first kid very young. Most of them could have escaped the trap, not by foreswearing kids, but simply by waiting until they had real job skills and (in many cases) got married. (Yes, some people probably lack the wherewithal to ever become functional adults, and no child should ever have to rely on such a person, but most people would just need to put in some time and effort to get themselves in the right position.)

No mandatory anything. Just social pressure. We’ve seen, just in recent years, that it can dramatically reduce the rate of teenage pregnancy and, of course, it made the rate of out-of-wedlock births close to zero for centuries. No storm troopers. Just social norms that protect kids.

6 chuck martel January 17, 2015 at 1:11 pm

“The “biological phenomenon common to all animals” has resulted in untold misery and astonishingly high mortality rates for children “throughout human history.”

Where’s the misery index on which that silly statement is based? How can you tell how miserable a fourteenth-century Florentine teen-age girl might have been? By reading Shakespeare, apparently. Were the “astonishingly high mortality rates for children” because of faulty parenting practices caused by a lack of government programs or perhaps diseases for which no treatment or cure existed?

The new rebuttal in ineffective debate is the “strawman” accusation, regardless if it relates to the argument involved.

7 Ray Lopez January 17, 2015 at 1:58 pm

I have to side with chuck martel here. Poverty is rife in the Philippines, as are children, which sometimes run in the street naked, begging for coins, and I don’t see it as a big problem. The main thing is if they get enough protein and vitamins while they are young so they don’t end up retarded and working in some rice field doing the work that some tractor can do cheaper and better. Other than that, poverty is cool.

8 scoop January 17, 2015 at 2:33 pm

If want to argue that — even ignoring disease — it wasn’t almost certainly worse to be a kid back when the lucky boys got apprenticed into a trade at 7, the lucky girls got sold into marriage, severe beatings were considered vital to character formation and kids regularly starved and died of exposure, then great. Have fun.

As for strawmen in your first post, I listed them. And here’s another: In what part of my writings do you see any call, of any kind, for more government programs?

I’d actually say we’re more in agreement than you think. Welfare programs can nearly eliminate the threat that kids will starve or live outside, but poverty often indicates problems far greater than simple lack of income. Society should thus pressure people to overcome these problems (among others) before they have kids. This means it should pressure people to wait until they develop both life skills and job skills and (in most but not all cases) to wait until they get married.

This is one of the truly good things (among other not so good things) that society did for kids in the days you pine for.

9 The Anti-Gnostic January 17, 2015 at 3:53 pm

Poverty is rife in the Philippines, as are children, which sometimes run in the street naked, begging for coins, and I don’t see it as a big problem.

The Phillipines are a disaster. YOU are a disaster. Please just stay in that r-selected shithole. Some of us measure quality of life in terms other than ease of access to cheap tranny prostitutes.

10 Al January 17, 2015 at 6:27 pm

One of the things that’s not cool about poverty is that life expectancy is lower

11 dixie January 17, 2015 at 8:53 pm
12 JonFraz January 18, 2015 at 5:36 pm

High childhood mortality rates were common to all families before the late 19th century. Even royal houses saw huge numbers of their offspring perish.

13 chuck martel January 18, 2015 at 8:10 pm

Queen Anne, the last of the Stuarts, was pregnant seventeen times but never had a child live to the age of two.

14 Brandon Berg January 17, 2015 at 2:20 pm

“What did the human race do before schlemiels like you showed up?”

Give Malthus bragging rights, mostly.

15 msgkings January 17, 2015 at 9:00 pm

Zing! Well played.

16 Marie January 17, 2015 at 6:35 pm

Please pick a term other than self-sufficiency.

The folks in our old school on lunch subsidies were the folks in our community who towed cars in the snow, dug and pumped septic tanks, worked as nurses in ICU units, worked construction, worked the oil and gas fields, worked the school cafeteria or managed restaurants.

The principle of the school was certainly not in a position to use subsidies, even if she’d had children. She spent her day putting kids on Ritalin, making teachers cry, and pushing for bond issues.

Under your scenario, if a 22 year old is working all day putting food on the Chipotle tables for folks — feeding people — and his wife is working all day taking care of her toddler or cleaning office buildings — cleaning for people — and they use school lunch subsidies for their kindergarten kid, they should not have had the kid. But Arne Duncan has figured out how to parasite $200,000 a year from the federal government so he is “self-sufficient” enough to have as many kids as he wants.

Fix the U.S. so that it’s the simple meritocracy you theorize it as being before you make these assertions. Consider the real world — does the CEO of GM give his children better values than your average plumber does, or was Paris Hilton was well parented while Abraham Lincoln was abused?

17 Boonton January 18, 2015 at 7:26 am

If you function so poorly that you have no reasonable certainty of being able to provide food and shelter for your kids without subsidy, then you are committing child abuse simply by having and keeping children.

How exactly are the children abused? I could see how you can say taxpayers are abused but if the child is fed, clothed and cared for then what exactly makes him a victim of abuse?

And if your proposal was taken seriously, almost no children would even be born. So if I was an unborn or potential child, I’d find it hard to view you as a friend of my interests.

Consider:

Cost of paying for private school from kindergarten to high school (no no no, public school is really subsidized!)

Tax credits/reductions one gets for having kids.

The homemaker subsidy. (Imagine you make $75K a year but hire a woman for $30K to clean your house, cook your meals and be on call 24-7. You’d pay thru the nose for her payroll taxes, social security, workman’s comp. etc. But suppose instead you just got married and let your wife manage about $30K of the household budget. that’s a huge subsidy which would destroy most middle-class families if it was abolished).

The moment your ideas are adopted 90% of people stop having children and in less than a generation all developed nations are on a path towards ‘demographic suicide’ as the population collapses faster than it did during Europe’s Black Death.

A more nuanced view recognizes that couples who have children are not just benefiting themselves and their children but the rest of society. Sensible and reasonable subsidies are actually pretty fair all things considered.

18 Floccina January 19, 2015 at 9:11 am

It is not child abuse because the could easily care for the children without the subsidy needed to. The subsidy just improves their lives and the lives of their children (it BTW also makes becoming single parents or dumping a bad or abusive husband easier).
If even today’s poor lived like their grandparents they would have growing savings accounts. I lived and worked in Honduras for 6 months, there people eat mostly corn tortillas, beans and rice. One of the agriculture scientist that I worked with at the technical mission of Kansas State University once said of one of the basic grains charts that beans should not be on the chart because the poor people could not afford beans.

19 Floccina January 19, 2015 at 9:28 am

And BTW the poorest country in the USA is Kiryas Joe. Se here: A Village With the Numbers, Not the Image, of the Poorest Place

20 Floccina January 19, 2015 at 9:50 am

Another BTW none of the poor people are fat.

21 jeff bezos January 17, 2015 at 11:54 am

sorry, folks, i bought the washington post as a profit-maximizing businessman and i don’t really care if the articles are true or not.

people don’t buy newspapers because they want the truth, they buy newspapers because they seek evidence to support their preexisting conceptions about the world. that’s what i provide and it makes me boatloads of $$

22 Curt F. January 17, 2015 at 12:36 pm

haha, especially the part about the boatloads of $$

23 Mike W January 17, 2015 at 3:33 pm

Actually, owning a newspaper is a terrible route to “profit-maximizing”. People buy newspaper businesses for the same reason people buy newspapers…to support their preexisting conceptions about the world.

24 JWatts January 17, 2015 at 7:26 pm

Rich people buy newspapers for the same reason they buy sports franchises and named buildings on Universities. Because they want to show the world how awesome they are. But your initial point is correct, they don’t care if they make money off from the purchase.

25 Ryan January 17, 2015 at 11:54 am

the headline is misleading, but the question wasn’t what proportion of american students are low income (or poor), but what proportion of public school students. Don’t know how to estimate that but must be higher than 21%. That question has policy implications, I would think.

26 Brandon Berg January 17, 2015 at 2:27 pm

88% attend public school, so if none of those 12% are below the poverty line (some homeschoolers might be, and certainly a significant percentage of dropouts are), that would make 21/88 = 24% of public school children in poverty.

27 Boonton January 18, 2015 at 7:29 am

On the flip side I’m sure there are some children in poverty who nonetheless got to private schools or are home schooled (perhaps Catholic schools have figures on that).

28 TC January 20, 2015 at 2:27 am

What is interesting about that 24% is that 21-22% of public school students are immigrants or children of immigrants. They tend to be significantly poorer than non-immigrants. I would be curious to see the numbers with immigrants and children of immigrants compared with longer-term residents. That could help us diagnose to what extent immigrant status feeds this poverty number.

29 The Engineer January 17, 2015 at 12:03 pm

There is no auditing of the kids in this program. Nobody checks if they are actually eligible or not. If you say you are, you are, and many administrators push the program, because there are other benefits to them.

30 Marie January 17, 2015 at 12:12 pm

When my kids were in school they pushed hard to get us to sign up, and then they moved to the system where every single kid in the school got “free” breakfast — because, you know, we needed to take school time to feed them generic Lucky Charms or they’d be too hungry to learn (this in a community where tons of folks kept chickens for the eggs).

Other grants are tied to the number of kids on federal lunch subsidies.

31 Tarrou January 17, 2015 at 12:24 pm

I’ll be the first to say it. 0% of children are living in real poverty in the US.

If $45k a year is poverty, first off, I must be starving, secondly, how are people surviving in other nations on less than $.3k a year?

32 NJR January 17, 2015 at 2:56 pm

Are you a family of four?

33 The Anti-Gnostic January 17, 2015 at 3:58 pm

Can’t feed ’em, don’t breed ’em.

Seriously, I would condition welfare benefits to men and fertile women on a vasectomy or tubal ligation.

34 msgkings January 17, 2015 at 9:04 pm

The A-G’s plan gets approved, TFR drops below 1 in the US. Not saying that’s a bad thing but that is a guaranteed thing.

35 Tarrou January 17, 2015 at 5:58 pm

I am as soon as these bigots in government recognize my tripartite quadracial double secret inverse pansexual marriage.

36 The Anti-Gnostic January 17, 2015 at 3:55 pm

No kidding. Millions of people are borrowing, begging and stealing everything they can for the opportunity of being poor in the US.

37 JWatts January 17, 2015 at 7:29 pm

“I’ll be the first to say it. 0% of children are living in real poverty in the US.”

0% an exaggeration. But the rate of children who live in an environment similar to what a third world country would consider poverty is probably well under 1%.

38 carlolspln January 17, 2015 at 8:08 pm
39 JWatts January 17, 2015 at 9:31 pm

“Faced with an emergency, they say they would raise the money by reducing spending elsewhere (26%), borrowing from family and/or friends (16%) or using credit cards (12%).”

Yes, as I said, most Americans are no where close to a third world definition of poverty.

40 Calvin K January 18, 2015 at 10:29 am

I’m sorry I missed the part where we lived in a third world country…

41 dead serious January 18, 2015 at 2:19 pm

Republicans are nothing if not aspirational. Give them some time, man.

42 Shari January 20, 2015 at 11:08 pm

This below poverty level family of 5 makes 20,000 per year. My oldest child was born when I was 22. Due to an illness that began AFTER my youngest child was born, I am fully disabled. The extras I am contemplating dropping are Cable and Internet. We don’t do steak dinners more than two or three times a year anymore, food is kept simple if not always nutritious (lots of pasta, it’s cheap and filling), and my entertainment budget is coincidentally the size of my cable bill. I have my car, my rent, my utilities, and insurance as well as a few credit cards that ended up ran up soon after I was diagnosed. NONE of my family or friends could help, even if we asked. But we don’t. I school clothes shop at GoodWill on $.99 days. Clothes are Christmas gifts, and almost everything I own came to me second or third hand. My children are grateful for anything received, not whining for the latest trend. Considering the youngest is 13, smack dab in the middle of peer-pressure hades, I feel that this is an accomplishment in and of itself.
My kids are not abused. They lack neither for food, clothing, shelter, or discipline (though I rarely raise my voice or spank – Mama counts and kids obey). My children are the ones that get invited back over by protective parents, because they are polite and well-spoken individuals. Yet I also ensure that their curiosity, individuality and creativity are not ignored either. I’m not a perfect parent by any means… but saying that the pervasively poor are abusing their children is a stereotype I object to.

43 Komori January 18, 2015 at 12:22 pm

I know people with six figure incomes that are one paycheck away from the street, because they spend every penny they get as soon as they get it. Doesn’t make them poor. One of my co-workers just graduated college and immediately bought a Lexus IS F (over $60k) even though he still had college debt. Recently, the same guy bought two high-end superbikes. He has zero savings by choice and has never put a penny into his 401(k). Given all the shit he buys on credit, his net worth is firmly negative, despite his good high-tech job.

This is a not-unpopular lifestyle in this country.

44 Floccina January 19, 2015 at 9:45 am

+1 and conversely it is amazing how low income be for some and yet they manage to save a little each week.

45 Floccina January 19, 2015 at 9:53 am

If $45k a year is poverty, first off, I must be starving,

I make a lot of money but my family of 4 typically spends about $5ok a year. (I am working to get to where my dividends from dividend growth stocks exceeds my spending.)

46 Benny Lava January 17, 2015 at 12:34 pm

I could tell this is an Alex post because he cannot format images to fit the page.

47 honkie please January 17, 2015 at 12:47 pm

Po folks breed faster. That isn’t news to an economist, is it?

48 BC January 17, 2015 at 1:02 pm

“But recent numbers do not look like especially remarkable compared to the history.”

What I always find remarkable about these poverty rates, whether childhood or overall poverty, is that the rate was declining before the War on Poverty began (1964) and flatlined afterwards. Yet, there seems to be no accountability of those executing the War. In fact, if someone’s profession is helping the poor, e.g., a social worker, it’s automatically assumed that they are doing noble work. Similarly, those that advocate allocating even more funding to the War never seem to be held accountable for the underperformance.

On the original topic though, if 51% of public school children receive subsidized lunches, while 21% of children live in poverty, then one headline that would have been more accurate is that the majority of subsidized lunches don’t even go to children in poverty*. I’m not saying that children above the poverty line shouldn’t receive lunch subsidies — all public school children receive an education subsidy, after all — just pointing out that it seems unlikely that this headline would be used, even if more accurate than the erroneous one that actually was used, i.e., “headline errors” seem to have some sort of bias.

*Understood that there is a difference between public school children and all children, but private school attendance rate is only about 10% [http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cgc.asp]. Thus, even if no private school kids received subsidized lunches, then about 45% or all children would receive subsidized lunch, still more than double the poverty rate.

49 J January 17, 2015 at 1:06 pm

My goodness the extent to which that article borders on fraudulently misleading astounds me.

The US is the richest country in the richest period in the history of mankind, or just about. To insist that a majority of its children lives in poverty is astoundingly obtuse and lacking in perspective, or requires belief in a level of income inequality that is unrealistic by orders of magnitude.

50 TallDave January 17, 2015 at 1:34 pm

At some point it was decided “poverty” was a wonderful euphemism for income inequality.

To understand the problem with this, ask if a country where even the poorest people lived on $100K (in real 2015 US dollars) could have poverty under this definition. The answer is yes.

51 Tom West January 17, 2015 at 2:13 pm

I would consider that answer obvious. Go back far enough, and we’re all rich by those standards.

But we live *now*, and how we fare in society is determined in very large part by those around us.

We could define poverty absolutely, but then it would essentially be meaningless for any social use, although this might please a number of MR readers.

52 So Much for Subtlety January 17, 2015 at 3:59 pm

Tom West January 17, 2015 at 2:13 pm

But we live *now*, and how we fare in society is determined in very large part by those around us.

That is true. Those who are lucky enough to live near rich people, especially upper middle class people, benefit enormously from their activism and hard work to create a decent society.

We could define poverty absolutely, but then it would essentially be meaningless for any social use, although this might please a number of MR readers.

Only if you define “social use” as “supporting a massive army of useless drones in government employ and the higher taxes needed to support them”. Which most of us don’t. If, on the other hand, you want to define “social use” as “being able to identify, alleviate and prevent poverty” then an actual definition of poverty is a good start.

But, of course, the Left has long since stopped caring about the poor so much as the middle class bureaucrats that make so much work for their fellow bureaucrats.

53 Sam Brown January 17, 2015 at 4:58 pm

This is complete sophistry. When initiated the war on poverty was sold as a war on want not on a ever moving relative standard of living. Want in the US has been defeated. America is free from want in a way Roosevelt would never have been able to believe.

Concealed within this tut tuting is a tacit admission that for Tom West the war on poverty can never be over. And this is natural–fifty percent of his political tribe’s support is derived from the war on poverty. I’d honestly respect the left more if they just came out and said “we were completely blindsided by the speed and efficiency by which the Republican Party scooped up the white vote and if we are going to have any chance of winning elections we need to pump money into the black community to get them to the polls. In effect the two party system depends on it.” But they never do. Moving the goal posts is easier than honesty.

54 J January 17, 2015 at 7:12 pm

I do think you are on to something here. Your ability to provide opportunity for your child (as well as your child’s success in the marriage market) are very much relative to those around you. “Good” school districts, “good” colleges, and so on, are very much relative concepts. And no doubt these are tied to income inequality (as well as other factors such as crime, culture, etc.) at some level. And an unfortunate side effect is the ever-escalating arms race in which parents try to outspend each other for little Billy’s Mandarin immersion program or whatever.

I just feel, let’s not get income inequality and poverty mixed up, because then you wind up saying ridiculous things like 51% of American children live in poverty. Lacking basic material needs like food and shelter is not the same thing as having a beat up old textbook and an incompetent teacher. They’re different problems requiring different solutions.

55 So Much for Subtlety January 17, 2015 at 9:00 pm

J January 17, 2015 at 7:12 pm

Your ability to provide opportunity for your child (as well as your child’s success in the marriage market) are very much relative to those around you.

I agree. The more rich people you are around, the more opportunities your child has. The more opportunities other people are creating, the more opportunities come your way. As for the marriage market, it has been shown divorce is catching. You are more likely to get a divorce if your friends have been divorced. So again, the more successful families you live around, the better.

“Good” school districts, “good” colleges, and so on, are very much relative concepts. And no doubt these are tied to income inequality (as well as other factors such as crime, culture, etc.) at some level.

Again, this is easily proven – the more rich people live near you, the better the schools and colleges. We see this most obviously with school districts that have a very rapid turn over of population. A good example would be Atlanta’s Clayton county. A very good school district in the 1980s. The first in the country to be de-accredited (in 2008) since the 1960s. The schools were the same, the teachers were mostly the same, the libraries and other facilities were mostly the same. The students were not. Schools benefit from parents who volunteer time and money for things like the PTA. When they leave, the schools suffer.

There is a good article on the Kansas City desegregation debacle here:

http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-298.html

Shorter version – no, spending vast sums of money does not help.

And an unfortunate side effect is the ever-escalating arms race in which parents try to outspend each other for little Billy’s Mandarin immersion program or whatever.

Which is more often seen in East Asia – to the point South Korea is now trying to enforce a curfew on school children. However the problem is not the arms-race but what they spend money on.

56 TallDave January 18, 2015 at 10:07 pm

We could define poverty absolutely, but then it would essentially be meaningless for any social use

The starving might disagree on whether absolute living standards have meaning. But substitute “propaganda utility” for “social use” and the statement is accurate.

how we fare in society is determined in very large part by those around us.

If that’s true, it would be more cost-effective to use marginal welfare dollars to adjust the context of the poor, rather than their actual living conditions: giant public screens with live video feeds from very poor countries, or sending our poor to live there for a couple months. I suspect we’ll choose absolute living standards instead.

57 Paul January 17, 2015 at 1:15 pm

Case in point: us. Our children qualify for free lunch (and breakfast) at her local school. My wife and I make in excess of $140K/year.

We live in a high-immigration neighborhood in San Diego (particularly immigrants from countries in the Middle East) where there are a lot of people who need financial assistance. I’m glad programs like this exist to help the children of these families and can understand the justification that they don’t want to stigmatize the kids who depend on the lunches but it wounded my sense of self-sufficiency to accept the handout. I’d much rather the money have been spent on kids who actually needed it than my own.

So, yeah, we make a decent living but we’re now classed as poor due to this shoddy methodology.

58 Roger January 18, 2015 at 10:24 am

“but it wounded my sense of self-sufficiency to accept the handout”

It’s not a handout, though — you are paying for it through your taxes, same as public school itself. It should not harm people’s self-image to get value in return for their tax dollars.

59 TallDave January 17, 2015 at 1:29 pm

I guess alternate, more accurate headline of “a majority of public school students receive public assistance” doesn’t fit the narrative as well.

The consumption floor in the United States is pretty considerable even by First World standards, which is somewhat ironically mostly a result of the fact Americans work more and therefore have more to redistribute.

We’re probably going to get more of this rather than less, for two reasons: one, there’s relatively high utility to society in raising the living standards of the poorest; two, the distribution of value production is getting less flat; three, leisure is a normal good with increasing value, and people respond to those incentives.

I think conservatives worry too much about the social consequences of leisure, and leftwingers don’t worry enough about killing the golden goose that funds the great socialist success.

60 Short Ed January 17, 2015 at 3:29 pm

“I think conservatives worry too much about the social consequences of leisure, and leftwingers don’t worry enough about killing the golden goose that funds the great socialist success.”

Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner!

61 JWatts January 17, 2015 at 7:36 pm

“I think conservatives worry too much about the social consequences of leisure, and leftwingers don’t worry enough about killing the golden goose that funds the great socialist success.”

Yes, but perhaps it’s that balance in tension that makes the system work.

62 Tarrou January 18, 2015 at 8:44 am

“I think conservatives worry too much about the social consequences of leisure, and leftwingers don’t worry enough about killing the golden goose that funds the great socialist success.”

Bang on mate. I may reuse this in the future.

63 Roger January 18, 2015 at 10:28 am

As public school is publicly-funded, by definition all public school students receive public assistance, no? Or is it only “public assistance” if it is means-tested?

64 Anthony January 19, 2015 at 9:02 pm

Most people who actually read newspapers still think that “free” school lunches are reserved for low-income families, and thus that it’s a means-tested program, unlike public schools themselves. So making the claim that over half of all students get subsidized lunches is supposed to make us think that we have a problem with poverty, rather than with too-generous welfare programs.

65 educationrealist January 17, 2015 at 1:35 pm

A year ago I got distracted over Christmas break and tried to find the actual poverty numbers for districts–not FERP, but poverty–sorted by race. Then I tried to compensate for the fact that many low performing public school districts have their least poor kids skimmed off by charters, which was just a guesstimate. Then I tried to find any correlation between NAEP TUDA scores, race AND poverty rates for the district. It’s a non-trivial task, and I didn’t come close to closing the book on it.

Obviously, it’s well established that race and academic achievement are correlated, just as poverty and academic achievement are. However, people who analyze NAEP scores do *either* race or FERP (not poverty), not both. And so you see someone blaming Detroit for horrible test scores, pointing out that Boston’s black students are doing *much* better. Well, Detroit isn’t Boston.

The point of this effort wasn’t to prove anything, but just to show how hard it is–the data isn’t out there.
https://educationrealist.wordpress.com/2013/12/31/naep-tuda-scores-detroit-isnt-boston/
https://educationrealist.wordpress.com/2013/12/31/naep-tuda-does-black-poverty-matter/

I keep thinking I’ll go back and use California’s old CST data, which is very thorough, against district poverty numbers from ACS. Never seem to have time.

66 j. parker January 17, 2015 at 1:45 pm

So surprising to see market fundamentalist fanatics go into deep denial when reality starts intruding on their alternative universe.

Quick turn on Hate Radio before they start thinking.

67 Careless January 17, 2015 at 10:05 pm

That’s your strategy? Head in the sand working well for you?

68 Cole January 17, 2015 at 1:46 pm

Yes–what we really need to attack are the inaccurate news stories that build sympathy for children in poverty! Small steps toward a much better world.

69 Marie January 17, 2015 at 2:29 pm

I have a lot of sympathy for poor kids who have to eat school lunches. And not poor kids who have to eat school lunches.

70 Sam Brown January 17, 2015 at 5:01 pm

So the truth has no inherent value to you? Man that’s revealing.

71 Harun January 17, 2015 at 6:13 pm

Man, you are such a Care Bear.

Here, have a little heart sticker. You can put it on your binder and feel so good about yourself, because, well, you care so much.

72 JWatts January 17, 2015 at 7:39 pm
73 Jay January 17, 2015 at 11:13 pm

If there is a liberal bias to facts why do the liberals have to fail miserably at using statistics and revert to lying*?

*Lying may be harsh as most of them are too stupid/ignorant to realize the statements they make are not true. The only thing more dangerous than (insert crazy dictator) with a WMD is a liberal with MiniTab.

74 8 January 17, 2015 at 1:57 pm

Public schools are where we send the poor children. If you live someplace where you can’t afford private school, like NYC, you get the city to create “magnet” schools that remove most of the poor children from your child’s school.

75 Marie January 17, 2015 at 2:30 pm

Magnet schools are still public schools.

76 Al January 17, 2015 at 2:06 pm

Re: “A higher poverty rate caused by the immigration of more low-income children is compatible with everyone becoming better off over time …”

Given the increased immigration of more low-income children, it’s at least possible that absolutely everyone is eventually better off over time. No one is worse off, not a single person or group. Only winners. No losers.

Ok.

77 The Anti-Gnostic January 17, 2015 at 4:00 pm

How does this magic math work? It doesn’t seem to be working in any of the high TFR places these people are coming from.

78 Al January 17, 2015 at 5:24 pm

Oh yeah. That’s right. I forgot to ask Alex which countries this applies to.

If it applies to all countries, then I guess country A could exchange poor children with country B, and that would also be compatible with everyone eventually becoming better off.

I wonder if Tabarrok thinks that anyone (say, an existing elementary school student in the US whose school is about to experience a big increase in the number of poor immigrant students) might be _worse off_ during the time interval between now and that point in the future when everyone is better off. I also wonder how long that time interval is. What if it spans an existing US student’s entire elementary school experience?

79 JWatts January 17, 2015 at 7:41 pm

I’d also ask how that idea correlates with Tyler’s “Average is Over” thesis? Which implies that the under educated and low skilled will not have the opportunities that they’ve had in the past.

80 Al January 17, 2015 at 9:06 pm

Makes sense to me.

Another thing this concept seems to make possible is an unconventional kind of foreign aid program. For example, the US could offer to facilitate, encourage and subsidize the voluntary emigration of poor US residents of every social, ethnic and racial background to foreign countries which need a boost but where “everyone becoming better off over time” is not in the economic forecast. Given Mr. Obama’s recent foreign policy adjustment, we could make such an offer to Cuba.

81 Rick January 17, 2015 at 7:08 pm

A majority of US public school students are in intellectual poverty.

82 Bill January 17, 2015 at 8:49 pm

Alex would be ashamed to admit it,

But

The lunches at GMU are government supported in some way

And he eats the food.

83 N P January 17, 2015 at 9:46 pm

When in doubt, attack the author!

84 Paul January 18, 2015 at 12:32 am

If true, then can we include the faculty of GMU among the poor?

Because, that’s what’s being disputed: that accepting food subsidies is a valid metric for measuring poverty.

85 anony p January 17, 2015 at 10:10 pm

My sister works as a lunch lady (cash register clerk) at a public middle school in northern Delaware. She says that 80%-90% of the students receive free-lunch and the stress of her job is solely about issuing cheese sandwiches to white children whose payments are in arrears to the amount of $50.00 and over.

She says that if a child and the parent request free lunch, it is automatically granted. No background check is done to verify if parents/guardians earned income is greater than allowed for the benefit. The white kids whose parents fail to pay for their children’s lunch are issued a cheese sandwich, a piece of fruit, and a milk carton. My sister says that most of the children are embarrassed for receiving this ration and immediately throw it in trash.

She also says that most of the children receiving the free lunch are residents of nearby Chester, PA and recent immigrants from the Indian subcontinent and Latin America.

86 dead serious January 18, 2015 at 2:28 pm

So kids in PA are allowed to attend a public school in DE?

That doesn’t sound right.

87 Marie January 18, 2015 at 6:26 pm

The cost of checking periodically is probably much higher than the cost of the folks taking the food fraudulently. Doesn’t change that they are committing fraud, but catching them is probably too expensive.

88 Steve Sailer January 17, 2015 at 10:46 pm

Not making much progress, are we?

89 Tarrou January 18, 2015 at 8:49 am

We’ve made huge progress, but in order to curry votes and maintain a sense of urgency, the goalposts are being constantly moved. I fucking guarantee there will be a massive new push for more healthcare coverage by the Dems in the next ten years. And we will be told of the millions of Americans underserved by the current system. Same thing with poverty. Now that poverty means near fifty thousand a year, a large house, two cars, ten TVs, gaming systems, health care, refrigeration, heating, air conditioning, computers, cell phones for every member of the household, wifi, vacations etc. etc. etc., we can foresee the future in which everyone without a sixth solid gold toilet will be considered impoverished.

90 Eric H January 18, 2015 at 11:43 am

Most measures of poverty and income distribution were falling from as early as we had metrics until about 1968-1972 when they all flatlined. Gini, poverty rates, etc. I have yet to see a thoroughly convincing explanation: unionization, environmental regulations, manufacturing, marginal tax rates, Viet Nam, etc. Since then, the perennial explanation has been Reagan, W, the Kochs, Citizen United, Mexicans, NAFTA, and so on (but not Carter, Clinton, Obama, Soros, …). None of those make sense because the shift preceded them and nothing has changed significantly since.

Did we simply hit a threshold in 1970 and we can go no further? Or were there structural changes in the early and mid 60s that either cemented the status quo or killed the Golden Goose?

91 JonFraz January 18, 2015 at 5:45 pm

The boomers began to move into the job market around that time: a large numbers of young adults who could only command entry-level wages (and whose arrival also increased the supply of labor enough to have an effect on wages).

92 dead serious January 18, 2015 at 2:37 pm

I agree that using misleading statistics doesn’t help the conversation.

That said, this is one of those conservative machinations a la “X is not the time do have a conversation about Y,” where X = just post-another school shooting and Y = gun control.

Only X in reality means “never,” much like this “discussion about poverty” conservatives are eager to have. Yes, the warped stats don’t help an honest dialog, but conservatives aren’t ever going to have an honest dialog regardless.

93 Gordon Smalls January 19, 2015 at 9:15 am

We can’t have an “honest” discussion about poverty or such because we simply are not allowed to “offend” anyone or worse yet – hurt someone’s feelings. Public schools are failing because of the lack of parenting at home. Period. Period. Period. Whether that is due to single parents, generational welfare , race, etc is not allowed to be discussed. Instead “society”blames it on the lack of money in public schools, lack of opportunity, or lack of programs. We systematically and steadfastly refuse to call a spade a spade and say it is due to ridiculously poor parenting and even poorer choices being made EVERY SINGLE DAY by this group.

SNAP cards allow users to buy lottery tickets, alcohol, tobacco, and a myriad of processed foods with little to no nutritional value. However, if we tell this group we dont want them spending OUR money on these non-necessities – we our tild we our demeaning them. That is pure BS. How many “poor” kids do you see with Air Jordan’s, game systems, and smart phones? Why is that money NOT being used instead for necessities and getting off the government teet?

These systematic poor choices and not understanding the difference between “need” and “want” and our abject refusal to be allowed to have an “honest” conversation is what keeps us movng forward. My parents qualified for welfare/government assistance 50+ years ago and refused it because they would be ashamed. Now recipients openly joke about how they game the system. And the government refuses to crack down because it would be “cruel” to the self identities of those that are committing fraud and stealing from the rest of us.

When this is one’s way of life – is there any doubt that they would devalue education and ensure their kids are applying themselves in school and doing what it takes to succeed…? The answer is obviously no. But we simply arent allowed to discuss it. Period.

94 jerseycityjoan January 21, 2015 at 6:19 pm

Gordon Smalls, we also can’t have an “honest” discussion if we do not stick to facts.

As I am sure you know, it is not legal to use Food Stamps cards to buy lottery tickets and booze.

Are there some little delis that allow collude with customers to cheat the Food Stamps system? Sure.

Why focus the cheats instead of the many millions who are still miserable and needy even though they get government benefits, or who don’t qualify but need help?

95 Graham Peterson January 18, 2015 at 3:38 pm

Nice point about immigration, Alex.

96 ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© January 18, 2015 at 8:44 pm

“A higher poverty rate caused by the immigration of more low-income children is compatible with everyone becoming better off over time and not necessarily a bad thing. Those are just a few possible topics worthy of investigation. I don’t claim that any of them are correct.”

The dramatic increase in the share of GDP taken by the financial sector might have had something to do with it. Not to mention an economic bust caused by their greed, followed by a “banksters first” recovery…because they bought the politicians.

But let us not talk about class warfare, because “both sides do it.” And we don’t want the sensible centrists calling for their smelling salts and fainting couches yet again, now do we?
~

97 Floccina January 19, 2015 at 9:55 am

Yes let’s borrow a lot less and for investments just buy and hold. That will push those banksters down.

98 Richard Belzer January 19, 2015 at 9:45 am

The federal school lunch program also suffers from substantial participant fraud that USDA program rules encourage, if not explicitly mandate. See http://neutralsource.org/archives/2793#more-2793

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