May 30, 2007

Useful corrective... the rubbish one hears about the rich getting richer, etc. (That can happen too, but that story is never accompanied by the fact that it is usually a correlative of strong economic growth. And that those happy places with less income disparity usually suffer from economic stagnation.)

The Rise Of the Bottom Fifth, How to Build on the Gains Of Welfare Reform
By Ron Haskins, WaPo

Imagine a line composed of every household with children in the United States, arranged from lowest to highest income. Now, divide the line into five equal parts. Which of the groups do you think enjoyed big increases in income since 1991? If you read the papers, you probably would assume that the bottom fifth did the worst. After all, income inequality in America is increasing, right?

Wrong. According to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study released this month, the bottom fifth of families with children, whose average income in 2005 was $16,800, enjoyed a larger percentage increase in income from 1991 to 2005 than all other groups except the top fifth. Despite the recession of 2001, the bottom fifth had a 35 percent increase in income (adjusted for inflation), compared with around 20 percent for the second, third and fourth fifths. (The top fifth had about a 50 percent increase.)

Even more impressive, the CBO found that households in the bottom fifth increased their incomes so much because they worked longer and earned more money in 2005 than in 1991 -- not because they received higher welfare payments. In fact, their earnings increased more in percentage terms than incomes of any of the other groups: The bottom fifth increased its earnings by 80 percent, compared with around 50 percent for the highest-income group and around 20 percent for each of the other three groups...(Thanks to Jimmy).

I don't mean to wave away the difficulties of those people in the bottom fifth. Their lives are very hard. But unlike any time in history before the 20th Century, the poor in places like America are not doomed to poverty. Actually, as has been said before, if you do three things, you won't be poor. Period. Those are: finish high school, delay having children until age 25, and be willing to work.

( Also, one should keep in mind that the statistics are deceiving, since we have a constant influx of new immigrants, and new young people, many of whom start out poor and gradually move up. The statistics might show the "bottom fifth" stuck where it was decades ago, but many of the individuals will have risen into another level.)

As a Christian, I must care about the poor. (And I do, more than most people seem to, although I'm not sure caring for them as a category counts!) But I have to say that I feel somewhat out of step with Christian thinking. To me it looks like we are "fighting the last war." We know how to defeat poverty, and, globally, poverty has been steadily decreasing. There is a bigger problem that's hardly on the radar.

I think that prosperity is killing far more people than poverty, and is creating far worse problems. If you think this is a kooky thing to say, you haven't looked at the demography of Europe, or Japan, or Canada. Or the church-attendance statistics. Prosperity has created two evil "Siamese-twins, the Culture of Death, and an insidious nihilism that seeps into everything. (And no, I am not saying we would be better off poor. Prosperity is our fate, and the only path we can take is straight on through.)

I could go on about all this, but it's time for me to get to work....

Posted by John Weidner at May 30, 2007 6:43 AM
Weblog by John Weidner