Cartoon: Is Marriage A Magic Wand?

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TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON

Panel 1
This panel shows a reporter standing in a back yard, taking notes in a little pad, as a woman in a lawn chair speaks to him.

WOMAN: Marriage wasn’t a magic wand that got me out of poverty. I worked really hard, and I lucked into a good job. I didn’t get married until after all that.

Panel 2
The same reporter, now standing in an academic office (we can tell it’s academic because there’s a bookcase in the background). A woman wearing glasses and holding up some papers is talking to him.

WOMAN 2: As a social scientist, I know marriage isn’t a magic wand. Evidence shows that what matters most is having a full-time job, and that’s not always under people’s control.

Panel 3
The same reporter is talking to a man wearing a suit and tie; they’re standing in front of an office building in a city.
MAN: At our think tank, we don’t have real-world experience, or the best evidence. But we do have a simple narrative that blames poverty on single mothers.

Panel 4
This panel only shows a newspaper’s front page. The newspaper, which is called “Daily Opiate,” has a big headline, a sub headline, and a photo of the man from panel 3, with a pull-quote next to the photo.
BIG HEADLINE: RESEARCH: MARRIAGE IS A MAGIC WAND!
SUB HEADLINE: SINGLE MOTHERS ARE POOR BECAUSE THEY’RE FLOOZIES!
PHOTO PULL-QUOTE: “It’s just common sense!”

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40 Responses to Cartoon: Is Marriage A Magic Wand?

  1. 1
    Decnavda says:

    I know this is completely besides the point, but I want to complement you on showing the flipped pages in the reporter’s notebook. I do not why, but I really like that detail.

  2. 2
    Kevin Carson says:

    I would note that whatever actual anti-poverty benefits are associated with marriage are not really benefits of marriage as such so much as the income-pooling and cost- and risk-reduction benefits of multi-adult households in general. And the fact that alternative forms of multi-adult household have been atomized out of existence, and the 20th century-style “nuclear family” is the only option remaining for pooling incomes, risks and costs, is largely a result of capitalism. The nuclear family is a creation of capitalism, not — as social conservatives think — some “natural” phenomenon going back to Fred and Wilma Flintstone living in their rock bungalow.

  3. 3
    desipis says:

    Wait, media reports on science are inaccurate and sensationalist in a way that appeals to the bias of their audience? Quelle surprise!

  4. 4
    Saurs says:

    And the fact that alternative forms of multi-adult household have been atomized out of existence, and the 20th century-style “nuclear family” is the only option remaining for pooling incomes, risks and costs, is largely a result of capitalism

    More Americans (almost one in five) currently live in adult multigenerational households than in the past three decades, the most common of which is three generations. Around 30 percent of Americans in the millennial cohort residing in the country’s most expensive housing and rental markets live with one or more of their parents and/or grandparents. What you’re describing as a nuclear family hasn’t existed, for a plurality of Americans, since the late 70s and early 80s.

  5. 5
    RonF says:

    In reading the flow of this comic, there seems to be a disconnect. Are we supposed to presume that the woman in the first panel is a single mother?

  6. 6
    RonF says:

    I got married between my junior and senior year in undergraduate school; I obviously didn’t have a full-time job. But my wife was working (as a substitute teacher), I was getting a little support from my parents to cover our rent (which was low, we lived in a basement apartment where I had to duck under the sewer pipes running through the ceiling) and her parents gave us a 6-year old car. Given where I went to school it was reasonable to assume I’d get a job soon after I graduated, and I did. Driving a cab. I got a professional job after we moved from Boston to Chicago 3 months later. We held off on kids for years after that.

    It’s not that marriage is a magic wand so much as it’s part of a progression. Get an education, get a job, get married, then have kids in that order and you’ll be more likely to not be poor. This is no secret; society has been teaching this for a very long time, both through religion and through other means. And it has done so for one simple reason; it has been proven to work. Now, I scrambled the first 3 a bit, but my wife didn’t. And I did in fact do all 3, and I waited until the first 3 were done before #4. Sometimes you have to wait. In fact, we waited 9 years after we were married to have our first child and 13 years after we were married to buy our house (and have our 2nd child). But if you put #4 at #1 and never do #3 and you’re going to have a hard time. The question then comes whether or not the people who did do these in order and have reaped the rewards thereby should be obligated to support someone else’s erroneous choices.

  7. 7
    Jeremy Redlien says:

    Just going to say that I’m inclined to agree with Kevin Carson.

    Also, income and marriage are most likely correlated because (legal) marriage provides overall, more benefits to people who are wealthier and fewer benefits (if any) to those who are poorer. In other words wealthy people are more likely to get married because they receive more benefits (typically through taxes) and poorer people don’t, quite often because they lose benefits (in the form of income assistance like SSI or college tuition aid). I’ve seen a few disability activists claiming that disabled people will typically lose a lot of their benefits (medicare, etc.) when (if) they get married, thus effectively preventing a lot of disabled folks from ever getting married.

  8. 8
    Ampersand says:

    Are we supposed to presume that the woman in the first panel is a single mother?

    Nope, she says that she’s married.

  9. 9
    Kate says:

    The question then comes whether or not the people who did do these in order and have reaped the rewards thereby should be obligated to support someone else’s erroneous choices.

    Yes, stupid children making the bad choice to be born to single mothers. What were they thinking? Let them starve. They won’t do that again!

  10. 10
    RonF says:

    She got married, but I don’t know if she IS married. And kids aren’t mentioned either by her or in the 2nd panel. Unless the disconnect regarding kids between the first two panels and the last two is part of the point you’re trying to make.

  11. 11
    zinterman-34 says:

    Jobs for people is not a choice. You say so.

    Marriage is a choice.
    Children is a choice.

    Why should we talk about people not working? It is not a choice.

    We should talk about the choice. Good choice or bad choice. If you have no job and no marriage and you are poor and you have children, it is a bad choice.

  12. 12
    Kate says:

    If you have no job and no marriage and you are poor and you have children, it is a bad choice.

    This is a really problematic view, given how poverty is racialized, both in the U.S., and globally. Really think about what the implications would be for African Americans and indigenous populations the world over, for starters. The economic violence done to these communities (still ongoing in some cases, like Flint, Michigan) is going to take generations to heal. Communities don’t get generations to heal if they don’t have children.
    Jobs, marriages and children area all choices for some people, but not for others. Most people want all three. Punishing people for not doing things that they would do if they could doesn’t work. It just adds extra burdens that makes reaching those goals even more difficult.

    Let’s talk about what we, as a society can control.

    For starters, we can make sure that everyone has access to nutritious food, through SNAPP; healthcare, through Medicare for all; and good education, by adequately funding our public schools. We can work on removing environmental toxins which lead to reduced intellectual capacity, starting with lead, from our environment. This will give people the foundation they need to make better decisions. It will also create good, satisfying jobs for thousands of people.

  13. 13
    Harlequin says:

    If you have no job and no marriage and you are poor and you have children, it is a bad choice.

    Is it?

    As Jeremy says above, and Amp alludes to in the cartoon, it’s not nearly this simple. For example, if you look at teen moms, they have a very high poverty rate later in life– but that is largely because they were already poor; teen moms have about the same poverty level as their sisters without teenage births. Those kinds of choices only make a difference when getting a good job is a possibility, and for a lot of people, it isn’t. And even then, as stated above, is the ability to get a good job that is the dominant factor in outcomes.

    Most people would like to be married. Generally, it is poverty that stops them, not poverty that results from marriage’s absence.

  14. 14
    RonF says:

    zinterman-34:

    Jobs for people is not a choice. You say so.

    I’m not sure I understand this statement. Are you saying that there are no people who choose to be jobless? Are you saying that I’ve claimed that some people have no choice but to get a job?

    Kate:

    For example, if you look at teen moms, they have a very high poverty rate later in life– but that is largely because they were already poor; teen moms have about the same poverty level as their sisters without teenage births.

    But does it stay that way? How do the teen moms compare to their non-teen mom sisters 10 years later?

    Those kinds of choices only make a difference when getting a good job is a possibility, and for a lot of people, it isn’t.

    Would it be a possibility if they had made better choices earlier in life?

    It’s a mess. Kids who are born to single teen mothers who themselves have no education and no job start out in a hole that’s very hard to climb out of. And their mothers are unlikely to be of much help. I just don’t think that government can solve this. It can help, certainly. There are lots of government programs to help already and we spend massive amounts of money on them. But at the end of the day there’s a cultural component as well, and if that doesn’t change no amount of money that’s ever likely to be spent will work.

    The economic violence done to these communities (still ongoing in some cases, like Flint, Michigan) is going to take generations to heal. Communities don’t get generations to heal if they don’t have children.

    You make it sound as if I’m recommending that blacks should not have children. I have not.

    Jobs, marriages and children area all choices for some people, but not for others. Most people want all three.

    They can be choices for all people. But there are other choices that lead to them that have to be made first.

    Punishing people for not doing things that they would do if they could doesn’t work.

    I’m not saying we should punish people for not doing these things. I’m not saying we should lock them up or fine them.

    For starters, we can make sure that everyone has access to nutritious food, through SNAPP; healthcare, through Medicare for all; and good education, by adequately funding our public schools. We can work on removing environmental toxins which lead to reduced intellectual capacity, starting with lead, from our environment.

    This begs the chicken/egg question. Why can’t people afford nutritious food? Why can’t they provide their own healthcare? A woman who has 3 children by 3 different men by the time she’s 20 or so is going to be way behind the 8 ball in trying to do those things.

    Education is central to all this – it’s undeniable as far as I’m concerned. But putting more money into the system isn’t magic. Washington D.C. spends about as much as Lake Forest, Ill. on their students, but the outcomes are vastly different. It’s doesn’t matter how much you spend in a school if the kids show up hungry with inadequate clothing, without having done their homework (and without having parents who can help them with it and don’t make sure they do it rather than playing video or athletic games or watching TV), without glasses if they need them, etc. Kids who come to school unprepared to learn won’t learn.

    They also can’t learn if they’re not safe. There’s plenty of schools in Chicago where kids in some areas of a school’s district can’t get to that school safely because of gang activity. Once in school there’s still gang activity, or just bullies and out-of-control kids. This is a factor out of the parent’s control, and is one reason why Chicago is the only big city of the nation’s 5 largest that lost population last year. People – even poor people – are moving out because it’s not safe to raise kids in many neighborhoods. I still think that putting cops in the schools (as well as flooding the area around the schools) is the way to go.

    Incredibly, Chicago mandated use of lead pipes from water mains to homes until Congress forced them to stop in 1986. The failure to change to iron piping is generally laid at the feet of the plumber’s union, who lobbied the city government to keep them from updating the building codes because of the more specialized knowledge and techniques it took to use lead pipes. Understand that this is something that is all over the city, not just in poor neighborhoods; the estimate is 80% of all homes are serviced by lead pipes. So far the homeowner, not the city, is responsible for paying for replacing that pipe. Based on my own experience (I have a well, I priced out connecting to the water main in front of my house) you’re talking about thousands of dollars for each one, if not > $10,000 (I’m over 100 feet from the main, it would cost me around $14,000 when you throw in the hookup fee to the village).

  15. 15
    RonF says:

    I found out about the latest school shooting when my niece posted about it on Facebook. One of her sons (my grandnephew) was a few classrooms away.

    Some kid asked to be excused from class. He left, and them came back with two handguns. Two students and one teacher injured, shooter in custody, no one dead yet (one student is in critical condition). One of the injured students was not shot, he apparently got a cracked ankle while fleeing. The kids were evacuated to the nearby high school (where my grandnephew’s brother was) and the whole thing was cordoned off all day. The locals are calling for metal detectors at all entrances.

  16. 16
    Kate says:

    Hi Ron, it sounds like we’re on the same page when it comes to lead.
    A full intitiative to remove lead from housing would create thousands of good-paying jobs that the people doing them can feel really good about. It’s the sort of initiative that it would even make sense to pay for with borrowing, because we know that it will pay for itself in lower rates of mental disability and crime in the future.

    For example, if you look at teen moms, they have a very high poverty rate later in life– but that is largely because they were already poor; teen moms have about the same poverty level as their sisters without teenage births (my emphasis).
    But does it stay that way? How do the teen moms compare to their non-teen mom sisters 10 years later?

    This was from Harlequin. But, I think this is the study she’s referring to. The point was that most teen moms are in poverty for a few years, when their children are babies, but middle class moms bounce back, and wind up in comparable positions to women of their class who had miscarriages and their own sisters. Poor teen moms are actually not significantly less likely to claw their way out of poverty than women in comparable circumstances who had miscarriages, or their sisters.

    I just don’t think that government can solve this.

    Well, disciminatory government policies are what created high density poverty. So, we don’t have the right to just give up and blame the victims.

    It can help, certainly.

    Yes, so we should do it.

    There are lots of government programs to help already and we spend massive amounts of money on them.

    No we don’t. Not really. Not compared to other 1st world countries.

    You make it sound as if I’m recommending that blacks should not have children. I have not.

    I don’t think you intend to. But, if African Americans made the choices you’re advocating for, there would be a lot fewer African American children being born.

    This begs the chicken/egg question. Why can’t people afford nutritious food?

    Because they were born into poverty and have never had the support they needed to get out.

    Why can’t they provide their own healthcare?

    Because it is terribly expensive, even for middle class people and just when you need it most you are likely to lose the job that provides it to you because you’re too sick to work.

    Washington D.C. spends about as much as Lake Forest, Ill. on their students, but the outcomes are vastly different. It’s doesn’t matter how much you spend in a school if the kids show up hungry with inadequate clothing, without having done their homework

    Yes, schools in economically troubled districts are going to need more funding to get the same results. They’re going to need free breakfasts and lunches. They’re going to need tutors to help the kids do their homework after school.

    (and without having parents who can help them with it and don’t make sure they do it rather than playing video or athletic games or watching TV),

    Or working two minimum wage jobs to try to make ends meet. Higher minimum wages could some families here.

    without glasses if they need them, etc.

    Again, with the need for universal healthcare.

    They also can’t learn if they’re not safe.

    The community needs to be able to trust the police not to come in shooting and ask questions later. That’s the first step to safer poor neighborhoods.

    I still think that putting cops in the schools (as well as flooding the area around the schools) is the way to go.

    Not if the police act like they’re in a war zone surrounded by criminals. We need massive reeducation of police forces before that will do less harm than good.

  17. 17
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    I live in DC, and the problems here WRT public schools go way beyond poverty. My neighbor was an employee of Michelle Rhee (of waiting for superman), and her job was to sit in on classes and observe the teachers, and her stories are horrifying. I would have guessed she was making much of it up, but I’ve heard teachers tell similar stories. Much of what she had to say was critical of the very worst teachers (showing up late/drunk/high, doing nothing, losing control of class, etc), but the stories she shared about student behavior were the most troubling. It’s really no wonder the district has such a hard time hiring and keeping talented teachers. Frequent disruptions, insults and profanity directed at teachers, bullying among students, and fighting. This neighbor was asian, and everyone knew she worked for Rhee, and she herself was bombarded with anti-asian racism. She was also constantly sexually harassed by students. Kids would just get up and leave class after a few minutes with no repercussions (and counted as present). Teachers are severely limited when it comes to disciplining unruly students, so not much is done about it. On top of all this, truancy in DC is an epidemic (as reported by NPR: https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2017/12/17/570255742/teachers-around-the-country-react-to-investigation-into-ballou-high-school ) When 37% of the students are missing more than 21 days of school a year, teachers will struggle to keep students caught up with the material, add to this the fact that many “present kids” aren’t actual in class. I can’t imagine what it’s like trying to learn in one of these classrooms.

    I could post 20 links about this crisis, but WAMU, the local NPR station, has done a great job reporting on this, so anyone interested can just google to learn more. The most troubling accounts have come from ex-teachers and anonymous current teachers calling into local radio shows, venting about their treatment by students and administration.

    There may be ways to fix some of this with more money, but the solutions will require some creativity. I know some studies have shown that students can be motivated to attend class, behave, and complete assignments by rewarding them with small payments. Maybe this should be experimented with. I also think that DC needs to stop limiting the power of teachers to punish unruly students with detentions and suspensions. It is unfair to the kids that are trying to learn.

    I went to a really nice public school in Worthington Ohio. The per-pupil spending there was relatively high, but lower than DC’s. The difference was the culture and expectations. Students themselves enforced good behavior by shunning misbehaving students. There were groups of low status “bad kids,” who skipped class from time to time, but if I had skipped a day of class, I would have lost respect among my friends. I would have been kicked off the track team for a single day of truancy, and no one would have felt bad for me. So I was never truant. I never skipped a single class, and I wasn’t alone- most of us didn’t. I was scared of punishment from a teacher or the scary ex-marine dean that roamed the halls, but more than that, it was my peers who kept me focused on being there and learning. It sounds like this kind of culture is missing from DC schools, and I imagine it will take some time to create it.

    There’s this crappy thing that happens whenever DC schools is discussed. If any person says anything critical of the students, the person is accused of assigning blame/responsibility to kids who are actually innocent victims. This is unfair. It’s possible that a harmful learning environment is being perpetuated by students and needs to be addressed, while it’s also true that no single student is at fault for creating it. These kids really are victims.

    To tie this comment back to the cartoon, I think it’s worth mentioning that at my high school, the most low-status thing a kid could do was get pregnant or get someone else pregnant. It almost never happened (that we knew about, I’m sure plenty of students had abortions and kept it secret). This was drilled into all of us. The most terrifying moment of my high school years involved a broken condom and a sobbing girlfriend- more terrifying than the time I totaled my mom’s car. I think there are pros and cons to such a culture, but it may be the case that these norms do more good than harm. The older I get, the more importance I place on these kinds of cultural norms and the trade-offs of seeing them enforced.

  18. 18
    RonF says:

    I should respond to all your points Kate, but this one jumps out at me:

    I don’t think you intend to [say that blacks shouldn’t have children}. But, if African Americans made the choices you’re advocating for, there would be a lot fewer African American children being born.

    Yeah, but I’ll bet a lot more of those that were born would survive to adulthood, get decent jobs, get married and have kids of their own.

  19. 19
    Kate says:

    Yeah, but I’ll bet a lot more of those that were born would survive to adulthood, get decent jobs, get married and have kids of their own.

    I linked to a study @16 which strongly indicates that that is not the case – that poor women who choose to have children young actually do no worse than other women born into those conditions who have similar sex lives (women who became pregnant but had miscarriages) and similar family lives (sisters who did not become single mothers). Social mobility in the U.S. has declined dramatically since the 1980’s.
    Do you have any systemic studies to point to which suggest my data is flawed?

  20. 20
    Kate says:

    I live in DC, and the problems here WRT public schools go way beyond poverty.

    I went to a really nice public school in Worthington Ohio. The per-pupil spending there was relatively high, but lower than DC’s. The difference was the culture and expectations.

    Everyone agrees that schools in D.C. have enormous problems that require more than just money to fix. But, you really can’t think of any other differences between Worthington OH and Washington D.C. that might account for that?
    Poverty may not be the whole story, but it is a huge piece of the plot. The poverty rate is just 3.75% in Worthington vs. 18.6% in D.C..
    Income inequality – The GINI index for Worthington is hovering around 0.425, below the national average of 0.485. In contrast, with a GINI index of about 5.3, Washington D.C. has the highest rate of income inequality in the U.S. https://www.dcfpi.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/12.15.17-Income-Inequality-in-DC.pdf
    Median household incomes are about $15,000 higher in your hometown than in D.C., but the cost of living in D.C. is much, much higher. Houses cost more than twice as much. This means it would cost much more to retain good teachers in D.C., even if teaching conditions were comparable (which, as you so clearly lay out, they are not).

    There may be ways to fix some of this with more money, but the solutions will require some creativity. I know some studies have shown that students can be motivated to attend class, behave, and complete assignments by rewarding them with small payments. Maybe this should be experimented with.

    This, I think, is a great idea. Even more, I’d like to see the best students being trained and paid to tutor and mentor younger students. However, laws about what students in families on public assistance can make would need to change. Right now, there are serious restriction on that, which vary from state to state.

    I also think that DC needs to stop limiting the power of teachers to punish unruly students with detentions and suspensions. It is unfair to the kids that are trying to learn.

    Detention – in areas with gang problems, preventing students from travelling home with their friends can be really dangerous.
    Suspensions – missing more school, unsupervised will only make matters worse
    I think students who act out would benefit more from in-school suspension, involving being temporarily removed from class to receive mental healthcare, intensive tutoring and help developing a plan to go back into the classroom.

  21. 21
    lurker says:

    the #16 study says ‘poor moms have such a bad life on average that teenage birth won’t make the mom’s life any worse than the alternative.’ and this may be true. but the point is that this decision also affects the kids. and so does the decision to have one kid, two kids, four kids.

    The #16 study does not address the question of whether it is better for the kids. i am pretty sure it is not. it is bad for kids to have a mother who is not only poor but also uneducated and inexperienced, even if it is ‘no worse than the alternative’ for the mother in the end.

    The #16 study also does not address the question of government and community support which is a limited resource. it is easier and cheaper to house/educate/help X people than 2X people, which hopefully is not a huge debate issue.

    the plan of ‘set yourself up first before you have kids’ encourages people to make sure that they have access to community and support resources like housing and funding and food and school, so that it will be less likely that they will then complain about NOT having housing/funding/food/school for their kids. adults understand this better than kids, i think.

    also i am not concerned about black, white, brown, or other birth rates. there are plenty of people on the planet and we do not seem likely to run out of them. i am not concerned that we will lose a lot of poor irish babies now that moms can abort, it’s up to them.

    so i do not think it’s a bad thing if rates drop. and i doubt they do either. in fact poor women are often very interested in contraception and family planning, because they are smart, and they know kids are very expensive and time consuming. that concern can be shared by non poor people too.
    https://www.statista.com/statistics/562541/birth-rate-by-poverty-status-in-the-us/
    i do not worry about poor black/white/brown birth rates dropping any more than i worry about rich educated black/white/brown birth rates being too low.

  22. 22
    Ben Lehman says:

    Just as a note: It’s not GINI index, it’s Gini coefficient. It’s not an acronym and it’s not an index. It’s named after Corrado Gini, the fascist economist who developed it, and it’s just a ratio of wealth distribution, not an index like poverty line, CPI, DJIA, etc.

    It’s a common mistake, it’s not a huge deal, and I realize it has nothing to do with your point. Thanks.

  23. 23
    Kate says:

    Sorry Ben.

  24. 24
    Ben Lehman says:

    It’s fine, sorry to jump in, just saw the error and wanted to correct.

  25. 25
    Kate says:

    The high density poverty found in communities of color in the U.S. today was created by centuries of de jure discrimation by governments largely dominated by white people, which only ended in living memory. We as a nation have a responsibility to help those communities heal from a history of discrimination and outright abuse. No, it is not easy. It is really, really complicated. It will require serious investment, and rooting out of corruption in local governments as well. But it is our responsibility.

  26. 26
    Harlequin says:

    lurker:

    The #16 study does not address the question of whether it is better for the kids. i am pretty sure it is not. it is bad for kids to have a mother who is not only poor but also uneducated and inexperienced, even if it is ‘no worse than the alternative’ for the mother in the end.

    RonF:

    Yeah, but I’ll bet a lot more of those that were born would survive to adulthood, get decent jobs, get married and have kids of their own.

    Poverty is bad. I think we all agree that poverty is bad. But encouraging people to get married won’t end poverty, and encouraging people to wait to have kids till they’re married won’t end poverty either. Most people already want to be married–if they can get a reliable life partner as well as sex and romance out of it. When people don’t get married it’s often (not universally) because they can’t find, or can’t be, a suitable partner; if you live in a high-poverty and high-unemployment community, then even if your partner has a job now, they might lose it and not be able to find another, and then you’ll have another dependent instead of a person to pool resources with. If you have a kid when you’re young, your mom’s probably around to help raise the child; if you wait till you’re older, there’s a greater chance you’ll lack that extended family support. Etc. If you’re poor, those downsides to the “better” choices are much more likely, so the risk is higher: statistically it might still be better (or it might not matter), but your range of likely outcomes is much broader with more risk of the downsides. Admonishing people to get married doesn’t remove that risk.

    You’re both tacitly admitting our utter failure as a society to provide opportunities for poor children to succeed. If having poor parents is a guarantee of being poor as an adult (and it’s much closer to that than it should be), then that is a tremendous indictment of our society. Are we so happy with a permanent underclass, and one based primarily on race or geography at that? Apparently we are, based on how we treat the poor. The solution isn’t to fix poverty by telling poor women to get married or stop/delay having children: those things are indeed anticorrelated with poverty, but the causation is mostly the other way. A more effective way to reduce poverty is to just give poor people more resources. And if you want people to be married for social structure rather than economic reasons–well, with less of a risk, they’re more likely to choose to get married, too.

  27. 27
    Kate says:

    Well said Harlequin. At root, the problem is lack of social mobility (currently at lows not seen since the 1920’s) which is down to how we as a society choose to structure our economy. If we had a society with more social mobiliy, looking at individual behavior might start to make sense. But as it stands, berating people for not getting educations/jobs/partners/etc. which, for the most part, they want desperately but genuinely don’t have access to is just cruel.

  28. 28
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    So most here seems to agree on the most important points. Poverty is bad, increased social mobility is good.

    I assume most everyone here is familiar with Raj Chetty’s work on mobility, and I’m wondering what the readers here think of it? I see his work as challenging the assumption that single-parenthood is downstream of social mobility, simply because he was so thorough in his controls. I also thought his inter-generational and geographical approach was the right one. Communities matter in this discussion, and the benefits/disadvatages of growing up in certain neighborhoods will show up over generations.

    My only quibble is that it’s easy for me to believe that single-parenthood is correlated with some third thing that also reduces social mobility, possibly something cultural that is hard to measure. This problem is ever-present, and there’s really nothing Chetty can do about it, but worth keeping in mind.

  29. 29
    RonF says:

    No, it is not easy. It is really, really complicated. It will require serious investment, and rooting out of corruption in local governments as well.

    Rooting out local corruption would certainly help all the residents of Illinois, not just the poor ones. But I figure it would help the poor ones much more, since a lot of the money that is ripped off due to corruption is money that is supposed to help poor people in one way or another (direct aid, jobs programs, etc.).

    But I swear that at this point I cannot think of a way to achieve that end in less than a few years. The corruption in Illinois is so deep that the only way to get rid of it is to throw a whole bunch of people in jail. It’s not going to happen at the State level, it needs the intervention of the Feds to do it. We had a U.S. Attorney of Northern Illinois who put 60 politicians, lobbyists, etc. in jail – even two Governors – and it barely made a dent.

    If Trump pardons ex-Gov. Blagojevich (a.k.a. “Blago”) or even commutes his sentence to time served I will be deeply disappointed. He’s been quoted as saying “He didn’t do anything that other politicians haven’t done.” Trump’s right, but he needs to understand that that is supposed to be a bug, not a feature. Politicians are selling offices and shaking down people and institutions that are trying to get government services and contracts constantly and it needs to stop. That’s why the jury sent Blago to jail. He and his predecessor in office, George Ryan both used “That’s how politics works” as a defense and the jury said “But that’s not how it’s supposed to work.” The government’s job is to govern in the interests of the people, not rule in the interests of the ruling class. So huge amounts of money that could go to fixing the infrastructure, promoting healthcare, aiding social programs, etc. gets stuffed in pockets to buy votes and offices.

    I wonder what Senator Durbin’s position is on pardoning or commuting his fellow Democrat’s sentence? It might be nice if he would call up Trump on this one – and make public what his position is.

  30. 30
    RonF says:

    JHFTDC, four of our last nine governors have done/are doing time on felony convictions. I can’t imagine any other State comes close. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Is it any wonder that I have a somewhat jaundiced viewpoint when it comes to looking to government to solve problems?

  31. 31
    Kate says:

    I can’t imagine any other State comes close.

    Nine governors, I think is unparalleled. But,this article, which measures corruption three different ways suggests that Illinois is among the most corrupt, but not uniquely so.
    I’m trying to suss out what might make states less corrupt. A lot of them (not all) have a balance between strong, influential liberal urban areas and conservatives who tend to be more libertarian.

  32. 32
    lurker says:

    i have figured out quotes so this is better now i think.

    Harlequin says:
    But encouraging people to get married won’t end poverty, and encouraging people to wait to have kids till they’re married won’t end poverty either.

    it will not end poverty. but ending poverty is much harder than making less poverty. i am talking about making it better by a little bit, and that is not the same as ending. if you have one kid instead of three kids, you will be better off.

    i think you are making a funny choice here, like it only matters if you are no longer poor. but if you ask poor people whether they think there is a difference between poor and really really poor of course they say yes. and if you are only a little but poor it is much easier to become not poor.

    Most people already want to be married–if they can get a reliable life partner as well as sex and romance out of it. When people don’t get married it’s often (not universally) because they can’t find, or can’t be, a suitable partner; if you live in a high-poverty and high-unemployment community, then even if your partner has a job now, they might lose it and not be able to find another, and then you’ll have another dependent instead of a person to pool resources with.

    i do not know how much of this is fact and how much is guess? also i think you are saying that this is almost not choice and is all a situation of where you are. but of course this is also a choice.

    If you have a kid when you’re young, your mom’s probably around to help raise the child; if you wait till you’re older, there’s a greater chance you’ll lack that extended family support. Etc.

    but you just choose things that match what you want! you say there are no good husbands and the good husbands will lose jobs. you say the mother is around to help child but not later on, and no support when you are older. that does not seem fair, why should all those things be true? i could say that they would find a husband if they look hard. i could say that the husband can probably find a job if he looks hard. i can say that 16 year old to 26 year old is only 10 years, and the mother will not die in 10 years. also the mother is probably not old.

    If you’re poor, those downsides to the “better” choices are much more likely, so the risk is higher: statistically it might still be better (or it might not matter), but your range of likely outcomes is much broader with more risk of the downsides. Admonishing people to get married doesn’t remove that risk.

    i do not understand this part.

    You’re both tacitly admitting our utter failure as a society to provide opportunities for poor children to succeed. If having poor parents is a guarantee of being poor as an adult (and it’s much closer to that than it should be), then that is a tremendous indictment of our society.

    i do not know. i think that most countries do not do a very good job of helping people who are very poor and not educated and also who have parents that are very poor and not educated. i do not think usa society is really much worse than anyone else. and the different societies have a lot of very different cultures as well.

  33. 33
    Ampersand says:

    i do not know how much of this is fact and how much is guess?

    There’s some very good research supporting what Harlequin said. This book is particularly good and relevant: Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage.

  34. 34
    Kate says:

    it will not end poverty. but ending poverty is much harder than making less poverty. i am talking about making it better by a little bit, and that is not the same as ending. if you have one kid instead of three kids, you will be better off.

    Again, the study I linked to @16 indicates that this is not the case. As things are now in the U.S., these choices about childbearing seem to be the result of poverty, not its cause. People who make different decisions regarding motherhood are not more likely to work their way out of poverty. I understand that this seems counterintuitive to you. For years we didn’t require car seats for infants because the fact that children are safer in car seats than in their mother’s arms seem counterintiutive to people.

    i think that most countries do not do a very good job of helping people who are very poor and not educated and also who have parents that are very poor and not educated. i do not think usa society is really much worse than anyone else.

    I linked to data @19 showing that social mobility in the U.S. has been declining for nearly 40 years. Our social mobility is considerably less than most other industrialized nations.

  35. 35
    lurker says:

    i think we are talking about things that are not the same here. i read that paper. it took a while.

    that paper has to do with teens motherhood. it does not have to do tiwh teen marriage and it does not have to do with marriage generally or with poor people marriage. in fact it even talks about this:

    ‘the mainstream climb toward economic and social prosperity—the path of completing school, investing in human capital, and putting marriage before motherhood.’

    do you think that is wrong? the paper you cite does not say that is wrong, at all. there is nothing in that paper which suggests marriage is a bad idea. the very last sentence of the paper is:

    ‘It is a separate, complex issue to determine how much better off women and children would be if policies could successfully increase rates of two-parent biological families among economically disadvantaged populations. ‘

    the paper says that some teen mothers are not any worse off than mothers who are over 19. it does not say they are not any worse off than mothers who are married.

    and also those teen mothers actually are worse off than other people! because they do not count any of the people who have better lives, the teen mothers are only not worse off than people who are specially chosen to have the same shitty lives.

    so it is still true that in generally we should be telling people that having kids is bad, because we are talking to everyone and not just the few people who have lives so shitty that it will make no difference at all if they have as many kids as they want.

    of course we should also try to make poor people less poor anyway. but that is not the same thing. and it is not a choice, we can do both, which is smart.

  36. 36
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    Maybe I shouldn’t have assumed everyone was familiar with Chetty’s study.

    Here’s a slate piece with a link to the relevant paper:

    http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2014/01/new_harvard_study_where_is_the_land_of_opportunity_finds_broken_families.html

    It’s all the more interesting combined with these maps:

    https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brookings-now/2015/06/02/these-maps-from-raj-chetty-show-that-where-children-grow-up-has-a-major-impact-on-their-lifetime-earnings/

    It’s just one study, and shouldn’t on it’s own be persuasive, but neither should other single studies, especially ones less rigorous than this one.

    (one thing I love about chetty is that much of his raw data is available if you want to play around with it. Download it at: http://www.equality-of-opportunity.org/data/ )

  37. 37
    Kate says:

    The headline of that first study grossly misrepresents Chetty’s work. If you live in a neighborhood with a lot of single parent families, your social mobility is impaired even if your parents are married. From the lecture embedded at your second link:
    family stability – @46:30 “If you look at the subset of kids whose own parents are married when they move to areas with more single parents their own outcomes look worse. So this is not just literally about whether your own parents are married or not. Its again something about community characteristics that’s being picked up.”
    I was also amazed by the gender difference in social mobility in poor communities:
    starting @37 min. in – place seems to matter more for boys than for girls
    Baltimore (which had the least social mobility in this study) -17%, but break it down by gender and you get girls -8% and boys -27.9%.

  38. 38
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    The thing I love about Chetty is that he examined this issue at the community level. I think that’s important because I suspect culture plays a role in discussions like this. As I’ve said before, I feel like I was shaped less by my family and circumstances of my home, and more by my peers and the culture of where I’m from- specifically my community (had I been raised 8 miles away downtown, I’d be different), and I suspect this is common for most people.

    I like the 2nd link because it’s so striking, and goes against what I would have predicted before I encountered it. I never would have guessed that our Nation’s social mobility is best around the mountain westand great plains, centered on Utah (and why is WV doing better than its surroundings? My whole extended family is there, places in WV are named for us. I know the state really well, and I never would have expected that!). Looking at this, one may want to explore the degree to which differences in mobility are regional and perhaps cultural. Obviously, “region” is going to correlate with all kinds of other stuff- by no means does this map provide anything like strong evidence, but I find it intriguing and worth studing.

  39. 39
    Kate says:

    …I suspect culture plays a role in discussions like this.

    Of course culture plays a role. Racism is cultural. But, I don’t think that’s what you’re interested in.
    By the way, in the video at the Brookings institute page you link to @36, Chetty specifically says that he only claims to have demonstrated correlation between single parenthood and neighborhoods with low social mobility – not causation, as you implied @28.

  40. 40
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    By the way, in the video at the Brookings institute page you link to @36, Chetty specifically says that he only claims to have demonstrated correlation between single parenthood and neighborhoods with low social mobility – not causation, as you implied @28.

    I implied nothing of the sort, I specifically said that “I see his work as challenging…” Multiple times in this thread I’ve made it clear that studies like his are necessarily limited to proving correlation (I even made this point in comment 28 in the very next paragraph. C’mon Kate, be charitable). I’ve listened to almost every podcast/video in which Chetty speaks, I’m aware of his conclusions and impressed with his humility. What I think Chetty’s work can do is cast doubt on (or challenge, if you will) certain narratives surrounding mobility, specifically which variables are most strongly correlated with lower socio-economic mobility. His work shows us where to look next.

    You should reconsider the degree to which one’s culture has an effect on one’s mobility. I see our culture as evolved norms- invaluable gifts that your and my well-being depend on. It’s possible to imagine worse norms for certain outcomes (for instance, take “rape culture,” and imagine an even worse rape culture. you don’t have to try hard because these cultures exist now in some places and existed in the past). It’s safe to say that you wouldn’t want to live in a world where everyone decided to adopt the cultural norms of America’s first European settlers, right? Speaking for myself, I wouldn’t even want to live in a place that practices the same cultural norms as the small West Virginia town where my extended family is from. As my wife and I consider moving out of the city and into the country, we take the culture into consideration in a big way. It will shape our whole experience, including our ability to make and spend money. Right now we live among several DC cultures and we experience the good and the bad daily. To me it’s really obvious that culture matters, but what isn’t obvious is how to predict which cultures will flourish in which environments- but this flourishing varies in ways that can’t be explained by racism or bigotry alone. I mean, how do you explain the mobility of Caribbean and Nigerian immigrants in the USA without pointing to culture? How do you explain Mormon mobility and that of Han Chinese immigrants? Does anyone think that the rise of the Chinese economy can be understood without understanding Chinese culture?

    I used to work with a Jamaican pipe-fitter. We worked together 3 days a week. He was easily my favorite work-mate because he loved engaging in deep conversation while we walked through boiler rooms and pipe-chases. I quit, so now he’s a friend. We talked all day long, mostly about Jamaica and his experiences growing up there, but also politics and a little philosophy. He spoke of his home and family life as well as his schooling, and how different it was from what we do in the US- both in DC, and where I’m from. He talked about track and field all the time, and how it defined his social life. We talked about how he met his wife and how they courted, and how supporting her played a big role in his life choices. We talked about the choices that lead to him apprenticing as a pipefitter, and how they differed from mine.
    He would laugh in your face if you told him his culture wasn’t key to his success here. He was so proud to be Jamaican it actually made me uncomfortable at times. This isn’t unusual. As a DC blue-collar pipe-fitter, I worked with many immigrants- mostly African, but some from Latin America too. I worked in a huge department, and with one exception, every supervisor, workleader, and coworker I had was a POC, and most of those were immigrants. Back in Ohio, I also worked around tons of white guys from Southern Ohio, and their southerness was obvious to me, just as my “soft” suburban upbringing was obvious to them (I got made fun of constantly). We all brought parts of our cultures to work with us every day, for better or worse. And it’s when we start talking about “worse,” that the trouble begins and people get uncomfortable. No one wants see their culture in a negative light.

    I’m not advocating that people prejudge anyone based on cultural considerations. That’s dumb. I am saying that I believe culture will shape aggregate data, and we really suck at measuring that. I’m not saying that I know how it is that some cultures foster better social mobility than others. I have no idea why Nigerian immigrants do so well here in the USA, I just know that they do. I’m not even saying anyone’s cultures should change. Obviously, social mobility isn’t everything. I’m just saying that culture’s effects on mobility seem like they’d be obvious, but looking into them is somewhat tabooed (though Chetty is taking a step in that direction). I think that’s a mistake, especially when overt racism, as in “the Han/Jews/whatever are just genetically superior,” is the obvious and ugly alternative to looking at culture.

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