Wednesday, September 07, 2005

There He Goes Again

Back from his long vacation, Op-Ed Columnist Nick Kristof joins the post-Hurricane Bash Bush Brigade at the New York Times with his latest column emphasizing President Bush's alleged neglect of the poor and increasing US infant mortality rates. These are topics that Kristof has already covered in previous columns, and not surprisingly, he rehashes some misleading statistics from his earlier work on infant mortality.

His first point, that President Bush is responsible for increasing poverty in the US, is based on recently released US Census Bureau statistics:

The wretchedness coming across our television screens from Louisiana has illuminated the way children sometimes pay with their lives, even in America, for being born to poor families. It has also underscored the Bush administration's ongoing reluctance or ineptitude in helping the poorest Americans. The scenes in New Orleans reminded me of the suffering I saw after a similar storm killed 130,000 people in Bangladesh in 1991 - except that Bangladesh's government showed more urgency in trying to save its most vulnerable citizens.

But Hurricane Katrina also underscores a much larger problem: the growing number of Americans trapped in a never-ending cyclone of poverty. And while it may be too early to apportion blame definitively for the mishandling of the hurricane, even President Bush's own administration acknowledges that America's poverty is worsening on his watch. The U.S. Census Bureau reported a few days ago that the poverty rate rose again last year, with 1.1 million more Americans living in poverty in 2004 than a year earlier. After declining sharply under Bill Clinton, the number of poor people has now risen 17 percent under Mr. Bush.
To drive the point home, Kristof notes that the US infant mortality rate for blacks in Washington, D.C. is higher than in Beijing or parts of India (Kerela, to be specific).

Indeed, according to the United Nations Development Program, an African-American baby in Washington has less chance of surviving its first year than a baby born in urban parts of the state of Kerala in India.
The Beijing comparison is merely repeats a theme of his January 12, 2005 column criticizing President Bush for not reducing infant deaths on his watch. But by citing two predominantly African-American cities--New Orleans and Washington, D.C.--as examples of Bush neglect (along with high rates of black infant mortality), Kristof subtlely plays the race card that has loomed large in the media's recent coverage of Hurricane Katrina. In several major American newspapers, including the New York Times, opinion writers have all but accused President Bush of racism in their belief that the Federal Government's response to the disaster was deliberately downplayed because its victims were primarily African-American.

Although he doesn't go as far as accusing President Bush of murdering blacks, as fellow Times columnists Maureen Dowd, Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert have already done, Kristof basically accuses President Bush of abandoning poor black Americans, with hurricane death toll in New Orleans being the end result of his negligence.

A quick check of the US Census Bureau data on poverty reveals an interesting fact, something that even Reuters noticed in a pre-Hurricane report filed on August 30:

The U.S. poverty rate rose in 2004 for the fourth year in a row, driven by an increase in poor whites, the government said on Tuesday in a report that White House critics called proof the economic recovery has bypassed most Americans. Non-Hispanic whites were the only group that saw its poverty rate rise, hitting 8.6 percent for 2004 compared with 8.2 percent in 2003. The poverty rate declined for Asians and held steady for blacks and Hispanics, the report showed.
In other words, the data shows that if President Bush is guilty of anything, it is of neglecting poor whites, not blacks as Kristof states. Curiously, the poverty rate for Asians actually decreased, a fact that should please Kristof, since he himself is married to a Chinese-American (Sheryl Wu-Dunn).

To Kristof's other point about increasing US infant mortality, his conclusion has already been debunked by studies that show the rise is due to the increase in low birth-weight babies from older mothers, not poverty. Last year, AP reported on this topic:

U.S. infant mortality has climbed for the first time in more than four decades, mainly because of complications associated with older women putting off motherhood and then having multiple babies via fertility drugs, the government said Wednesday. The rise in infant mortality may reflect the long trend among American women toward delaying motherhood, said Joyce Martin, Lead Statistian at the Center for Disease Control. Women who put off motherhood until their 30s or 40s are more likely to have babies with birth defects or other potentially deadly complications.
As for the unfavorable comparison to Beijing infant mortality statistics, blogger Ed Morrissey earlier this year accused Kristof of "cherry-picking" Chinese data. The CIA World Factbook reports that China's nationwide rate is 24.18 deaths per thousand live births. "Perhaps the rate is better in Beijing, but it hardly matters if the rest of the country has that [higher death] rate," Morrissey writes.

Given Kristof's past behavior, we can safely assume that Kristof has done similar "cherry-picking" this time by citing the name of some obscure, tiny Indian state (Kerala) with the lowest infant mortality rate in India. For India as a whole, this rate is 56.29 deaths per 1,000 live births.

While it is far from clear why thousands of African-American residents of New Orleans failed to heed the pre-hurricane evacuation warnings, there is little doubt that the New York Times and Nick Kristof will continue to blame President Bush for the damage to the city and its citizens. Along with their shameful attempts to brand the President as a racist, their accusatory cries of Bush neglect have seemingly failed to resonate with the public as recent polls have shown.


At 12:47 PM, Anonymous Rob said...

African-American, gosh how I hate that word. There is no such thing.

At 12:49 PM, Anonymous Rob said...

Same goes with any other hyphenated American. Either you're an American or not. I don't mean to be nasty here at all...just venting in a respectful manner. Hope you see it that way.

At 11:47 PM, Blogger Da Man said...

I see your point. Sometimes, you have to speak the language of the other side to get your point across.

At 5:54 PM, Anonymous Richardson said...

On poverty rates. Something that struck me in a sociology class year ago is that class structure (upper, middle, lower classes) as a percentage of the U.S. population has stayed roughly the same over the past few decades, although exact percentages I don’t recall.

I am talking about the traditional social class definitions (from Weber?) related to job, education, and income, which defines lower class as blue collar, HS or less, manual, etc., maybe 60-65 percent of the population. Middle class towards white collar, four year degree or more, and so on, around 30-35 percent. Upper classes mostly defined by wealth1 percent, maybe 2. Each class has is stratified as well (upper-upper, middle-upper, lower-upper, etc. – a lot of people that consider themselves middle class are really upper-lower class). Note that there are other more PC class definitions, which I reject – PC, but not really useful or relevant.

At any rate, the point I’m trying to make is that the overall percentages are more or less static, which is surprising since the lower classes, generally speaking, have FAR higher birth rates than the people of the middle and upper classes (upper classes are really irrelevant as far as numbers are concerned ~1 percent of the population, or so). Don’t forget that most immigrants are also lower class upon coming to America.

What does that mean? Where do those people go? They go to the middle class – they are upwardly mobile. That the middle class has been absorbing a large percentage of the lower class for decades. Otherwise the lower classes would have become a much larger percentage of the population by now – it would only take a few years, in fact. A typical example is the worker that moves into lower/middle management after years on the job (lower-middle class depending on edu), or the child of a lower-class family that goes to college and gets a white collar job.

For Kristof; A poverty rate going from 8.2 to 8.6 is virtually meaningless.

More on him;

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At 3:40 PM, Anonymous terry said...

What conservatives don't volunteer is that there is also a lot of downward mobility these days. The twentysomething son of an autoworker not only didn't get a job in the plant, he's probably not making half as much as his dad is, and there's a good chance he's even living with his parents in order to just get by.

I work in a c-store earning minimum wage and we have three college graduates (out of about 20 total employees) working here earning minimum wage. About a dozen of our employees are men and none of the men are married or have any realistic prospect of getting married. As far as I am aware only one of our employees - one of the managers - has a car. If there's a lot of upward mobility in this country I'm definitely not seeing it.

At 3:48 PM, Anonymous terry said...

The government definition of poverty - created in the 1960s using the government-defined "economy food budget" as a base - is so flawed it is effectively useless as a measure of poverty. The only thing it is good for is to provide historical comparisons over time, and it doesn't even do a good job of that because of changes in demographics and family composition.

Under the government standard, a retiree who owns his home free-and-clear (no mortgage to pay) with $9,000 income is poor, while a hamburger flipper working full time for minimum wage ($10,300) and paying half his income on rent is not poor. Can you guess which one is actually better off financially?


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