Heritage hack job

Blogging has definite advantages over peer review. Like publishing whatever you want, instantly, under the institutional legitimacy conferred by the brand of the institution you work for. Unfortunately, those benefits can be used for ill as well as for good.

This guy at the Heritage Foundation, who claims a master’s degree in political science, is advertised as the “intellectual godfather” of welfare reform. Their blog has a breathless post about the new poverty announcement, which manages to blame both Obama and the “collapse of marriage” for the spike in poverty reported by the Census Bureau.

The recession is irrelevant to the post (in which — after a token link to the Census report — every single link, 5 in a row, is to the same report, published on the same day). A cyclical spike in poverty of course undermines the premise and conclusion: “Child poverty is an ongoing national concern, but few are aware of its principal cause: the absence of married fathers in the home.” Somehow, neither “recession” nor “unemployment” appear in either the blog post or the “full paper.”

Anyway, the reason for this post is this: I’m no statistician, but I think that if p is the proportion of something, then 1-p is the inverse of the proportion. Let’s go to the evidence.

The Heritage report tell us that “throughout most of the 20th century, marital childbearing was the overwhelming norm in the United States.” And gives us this graph:

That is pretty compelling (made all the more dramatic by a y-axis that starts at 50%, giving the appearance of married childbearing careening toward zero). But wait:

I recommend a careful study of the graphs. Since bandwidth isn’t yet completely free, there must be a reason to include both of them, besides the need to justify the salary of a “senior research fellow.”

He writes:

“The flip side of the decline in marriage is the growth in the out-of-wedlock childbearing birth rate, meaning the percentage of births that occur to women who are not married when the child is born. As Chart 3 shows, throughout most of U.S. history, out-of-wedlock childbearing was rare.”

Whew. To help you sort through all this evidence, there is also a clarifying footnote: “In each year, the marital birth rate in Chart 1 and the out-of-wedlock birth rate in Chart 2 will sum together to equal 100 percent of all births.”

Peer review or not, on that I think I can agree* (that is, my preconceptions are confirmed).

And, hopefully we can all agree that filling up a report with graphs and footnotes and links is an important part of seeming like an expert.


* Except for the references to “Chart 1” and “Chart 2,” which should be “Chart 2” and “Chart 3.”

10 thoughts on “Heritage hack job

  1. I don’t see that you refuted the information in any way. Made some remarks, and commented on unemployment and the recession; but in no way dis-proved the data. Of course unemployment and the recession have added to these details. A single parent has a difficult task during good economic times. Therefore the recession and unemployment would naturally be more difficult during poor economic times. That’s all pretty obvious (as was the information that single parents are more likely to suffer poverty). I don’t see that either of you has made any groundmaking news.


  2. Redundant charts aside, this is a huge problem in America and the left should stop ignoring it.

    Men no longer feel responsible for their children. That’s a problem. I applaud the creepy mustache guy for creating redundant charts if it finally gets the left to notice.


  3. Jay: Right, child poverty does not track unmarried parenting well. The former has gone up and down while unmarried parenting keeps going up.
    Wanda: Right, not much news here. It’s old now, but the book _Still Keeping Women and Children Last_ by Ruth Sidel had a good discussion of the politics and facts on this question (circa mid-90s).
    Dirk: I think the association between single motherhood and child poverty is clear and well-known. The differences have more to do with what causes the whole set of conditions, and what the right response is. That’s for another day…


  4. Despite the collapse of Heterosexual Marriages, the focus, the public debate, the M-Oh-N-EE-Why is not spent on this issue, instead it is almost completely funded and directed at STOPPING the Gays from getting Civilly Married. Sexual Minorities do not have unplanned pregnancies within that relationship.


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