Monday, December 5, 2011

Some horrifying statistics on children living in poverty,

in two senses of the word.

Charles Blow's column in Saturday's NY Times contains a scathing deconstruction of Newt Gingrich's statements about poor children, in which Gingrich said that poor children do not have people around them who work so they don't develop work habits. Blow's take:
This statement isn’t only cruel and, broadly speaking, incorrect, it’s mind-numbingly tone-deaf at a time when poverty is rising in this country. He comes across as a callous Dickensian character in his attitude toward America’s most vulnerable — our poor children. This is the kind of statement that shines light on the soul of a man and shows how dark it is.
Gingrich wants to start with the facts? O.K.
First, as I’ve pointed out before, three out of four poor working-aged adults — ages 18 to 64 — work. Half of them have full-time jobs and a quarter work part time.
Furthermore, according to an analysis of census data by Andrew A. Beveridge, a sociologist at Queens College, most poor children live in a household where at least one parent is employed. And even among children who live in extreme poverty — defined here as a household with income less than 50 percent of the poverty level — a third have at least one working parent. And even among extremely poor children who live in extremely poor areas — those in which 30 percent or more of the population is poor — nearly a third live with at least one working parent.
So far so good. It's clear that Blow is mad that Gingrich is ignoring a lot of readily available facts. And that the facts are so damning.

But here's a screenshot of (part of) the accompanying graphic. (The link takes you to the full graphic.)

(Source: NYTimes.com)

Can you figure out what is going on with these numbers? Neither could I. The colors distinguish whether there are working parents in the household, I get that. And the relative size of the squares tells you how many people are considered "poor" or "extremely poor." But what's with the detailed numbers? Rounding them to the nearest 10 thousand or even 100 thousand would be clearer. And the numbers running down the middle between the two sets of boxes? Notice that they overlap, so that areas with 10% poor households show up twice. I think the Times is trying to show that even in poor neighborhoods, there are lots of working parents. Right, there it is, buried in the text:
And even among children who live in extreme poverty — defined here as a household with income less than 50 percent of the poverty level — a third have at least one working parent. And even among extremely poor children who live in extremely poor areas — those in which 30 percent or more of the population is poor — nearly a third live with at least one working parent.
 These are important data. There's got to be a better way to show them graphically.

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