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Mickey's rose-colored glasses

September 26th, 2002

Poverty is rising in the US, but the news is all good according to Mickey Kaus who seizes on estimates of a decline in the poverty rate for black children in 2001, despite a general rise in poverty and a decline in median incomes, and castigates the NYT for not mentioning it. Of course, welfare reform gets the credit. In Mickey’s world, welfare reform would get the credit if Saddam Hussein decided to resign. (I’m only half-joking. Mickey has, at least semi-seriously, tried to blame the S11 terrorists on European welfare states).
Mickey cops a hiding from Brad DeLong, who calls his attack sleazy and notes that the number of black children in the survey on which the estimates are based is too small to allow a statistically significant finding.
I got in touch with the top US expert on poverty data, Tim Smeeding of Syracuse University. He tells me that the data are collected in March of each year and cover the entire preceding year. This means that the current survey doesn’t really capture the impact of the recession and things will almost certainly be worse when the 2002 data come out.
I’d add one more point. Particularly in 2001, the recession was concentrated in manufacturing and had a disproportionate effect on men. Service industries, where most women, including supporting mothers, are employed, continued to grow, and have only recently started to slow. This can be seen from the fact that median income for women rose while median income for men fell (note to Kaus fans: since very few former welfare recipients get anywhere near the median income, so no credit can be claimed for welfare reform here). This reinforces the point that it’s the 2002 data that really matter.

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