The News Story – U-turn by government over changes to measurements of child poverty
“The government has been forced into retreat after agreeing that it should continue to report lack of money as a measure of child poverty,” snipped the UK-based Guardian last week. At issue was ministers’ desire to cease publishing an annual report that gave the number of children in low-income homes. Child-poverty reform advocates praised the move, arguing that it “will at the very least stop child poverty from being hidden from view.”
Said a spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions, “This government is dedicated to eradicating child poverty and improving children’s life chances and we strongly believe that we must tackle the root causes of poverty, rather than just the symptoms.”
But research suggests that addressing “the root causes of poverty” may take something much more substantial and much less popular than publishing income levels—something like government policies that would encourage families to stay together.
The New Research – Pushing children into poverty
The empirical evidence implicating family disintegration as a cause of child poverty continues to grow, regardless of whether progressives wish to acknowledge it. The latest such evidence appears in a study of child poverty recently completed by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
To identify the social and economic predictors of child poverty, the North Carolina scholars examine a county-level data set, drawn from census reports extending from 1990 to 2010.
Quite predictably, the researchers find that “on average, the unemployment rate in a county is a very strong predictor of [child] poverty.”
But no one should conclude that unemployment alone determines rates for child poverty. After statistical analysis of their data, the researchers conclude that “alongside unemployment, high proportions of female-headed households with children and lower aggregate educational achievement levels are also significant predictors of child poverty.” Indeed, the researchers stress that in their final and most sophisticated treatment of their data, “these two variables have predictive power similar to the unemployment rate.” (Emphasis added.)
In their interpretive conclusion, the researchers acknowledge that “the highly time-resistant strong spatial clustering of [child] poverty and its related predictors in this country suggest the United States is making little progress over time in addressing this persistent social and ethical issue.” They understandably believe that as the nation goes forward, “job creation and amelioration of high unemployment must remain part of the policy mix.” Their findings would seem to justify strong efforts to enhance education as well.
However, only the ideologically blind will fail to see the policy implications of a study in which family structure rivals unemployment as a statistical predictor of child poverty. Anyone who genuinely wishes to reduce the number of children mired in poverty must begin to talk seriously about ways to foster enduring parental marriages.
(Source: Bryce J. Christensen, forthcoming in “New Research,” The Family in America. Study: Maria A. Call and Paul R. Voss, “Spatio-Temporal Dimensions of Child Poverty in America, 1990-2010,” Environment and Planning A 48.1 : 172-191.)
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