Is a worm eating our brains: We hadn’t planned to conduct a daily discussion of the poverty rate.
But yesterday, it happened again! In the Washington Post, Michael Chandler reported a study about the disadvantages faced by kids from low-income homes.
Those disadvantages are very real, and they’re well worth studying. That’s why it’s maddening when journalists produce chaos like this:
CHANDLER (11/4/13): Nearly half of children 8 years old and younger are living in low-income households, according to the report. The poverty marker is defined as those with incomes below 200 percent of the 2012 federal poverty threshold, or $46,566 for a family of two adults and two children.Say what? According to Chandler, the study defined “the poverty marker” as “those with incomes below 200 percent of the 2012 federal poverty threshold.”
That includes 42 percent of children in the District, 34 percent of those in Maryland and 38 percent in Virginia.
Mississippi has the highest proportion of children 8 and younger considered low-income—63 percent.
The poverty marker was defined as two times the poverty threshold? A lot of people simply stop reading when they meet chaos like that.
We decided to look at the study, which was conducted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Which groups of kids was the study comparing? We began to feel Chandler’s pain when we read this horrible explanation in the study’s Table 1:
NOTE Low-income households reflect those with incomes below 200 percent of the 2012 federal poverty threshold ($46,566 for a family of two adults and two children) and only include children who live in families for whom poverty status was determined, therefore it is not possible to replicate the low-income rate using the population estimate shown here as the denominator.You’re right—that’s a “run-on sentence” or some such beast. Let’s tidy a bit, then proceed:
SAME NOTE, AFTER BEING TIDIED Low-income households reflect those with incomes below 200 percent of the 2012 federal poverty threshold ($46,566 for a family of two adults and two children) and only include children who live in families for whom poverty status was determined. Therefore, it is not possible to replicate the low-income rate using the population estimate shown here as the denominator.We have no idea what that means. Tell the truth. Do you?
At first, that passage seems to say that the study concerns “low-income households,” defined as households with incomes below double the poverty rate.
That would be perfectly reasonable. We’d be comparing kids from those “low-income households” with kids from higher-income households—households earning more than double the poverty rate.
But alas! The passage then says that low-income households “only include children who live in families for whom poverty status was determined.” We have no idea what that means. And the last sentence in that NOTE seems wholly indecipherable.
This study examines important questions. What kinds of disadvantages face kids who come from low-income homes?
The study presents important information. All in all, it seems fairly clear that the study divided kids into two groups: 1) Kids from homes earning less than two times the poverty rate, and 2) kids from homes earning more than two times the poverty rate.
That makes perfect sense. But by the time the material reached the Post, the presentation was incoherent.
Here’s a dirty little secret: A lot of voters don’t believe official poverty figures. Their skepticism isn’t wholly unwarranted. The measure of poverty is a complex conceptual matter.
It doesn’t help when the liberal world and the mainstream press can’t even speak coherently about this topic. In just the last week, this is the third time we’ve encountered work in major publications in which the poverty rate 1) gets absurdly inflated or 2) is rendered incoherent.
For our first post, just click here. For our second such post, just click this.
Is a worm eating American brains? Is doesn’t seem hard to explain who that study actually studied, but the Washington Post couldn’t do it. In fairness, we began to feel Chandler’s pain after reading that chunk from the study.
Like Education Week and the New York Times, the Post wasn’t up to the simplest tasks involved in discussing low income and poverty. As with the Education Week mess, the problem began with bungled work inside a major study.
That study discusses important topics. Is a worm eating our brains?