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Income Mobility

community, crime, divorce, economic well-being, environment, family structure, income, Income mobility 1 comment

Income mobility has been in the public discourse of late and is informed by some of the best scholarship ever done.  However, even the best sometimes need a bit more: this time, attention to self-sacrificing love and dedication.

Income mobility, the movement of an individual or family into a different income quintile, is not always upwards.  For every new entrant “from below” into any of the upper quintiles, another who used to occupy that slot is bumped down.  There will always be equal proportions of people in each quintile and there will always be a bottom quintile.

The best recent work on income mobility has been done by Raj Chetty, formerly of Harvard and now at Stanford, and his formidable intervarsity team of analysts. They report that, on average, about 10% of the bottom quintile (about 1/50th of our population) move up into the top quintile by age 26.  For them, this is a phenomenal achievement.

Chetty finds, when looking at 26 year-olds, that about 26% of the top quintile is made up of young folk from the bottom two quintiles.  Interestingly, when looking at 30-year-olds, that proportion from the bottom quintile shrinks to about 22% as those who studied longer for graduate degrees or advanced skills enter the top quintile.  (Those pushed out would end up in the fourth quintile — still quite desirable.)

Our real concern is not who gets displaced from the top, or even what happens in the middle, but what happens at the bottom, especially what happens to children at the bottom of the bottom:  the bottom 2 percent.  This bottom fiftieth is  defined by the neighborhood they are condemned, by budget, to live in.  From many studies we know they likely live in a disordered neighborhood with frequent crime, violence, abuse and low-quality schools.  The family structure that yields the disorder of the neighborhood  is the absence of marriage: the unmarried single mother, the absent father and the live-in boyfriend, who is often not the first, nor the last  The social disorder characteristic of these neighborhoods has its deepest roots in the multigenerational disorder of the mother/father relationship, leading to early out of wedlock births as teens imitate what they see.

Chetty et al., based on the evidence, recommend voucher assistance to help those who want to move to better neighborhoods to avoid the bad example around them.  But from among families who stay stuck, it is the children with imagination and grit who make it out.  Their ambition is likely kindled by a parent, relative, teacher, coach,  pastor, a volunteer from  Big Brothers or Big Sisters, but almost always by someone who sacrifices, if not their whole life (as many poor parents do) at least a portion of their time to help that child make it to the next step.  Their gift of time and attention enables motivates the effort to move. This form of love makes the difference: not the puppy love of romance but the tough love of sacrifice.  This is essential to Christianity. Though this self-sacrificing love is not confined to Christians, it has shined there the most.

Dagger John” Hughes, an Irish immigrant who started off as a garden-laborer in Pennsylvania and ended up as Archbishop of New York in the 1850’s, was dedicated to the lowest of the low at that time: the Irish poor who inhabited Lower Manhattan.  By the 1880’s the New York Times would refer to them as the “straight-laced” Irish.  They had become the policemen, teachers, and nurses of New York City.  Hughes pulled off this mobility miracle by attracting hundreds of celibate helpers (religious orders) who gave their lives to helping these poor Irish.  In modern history many Christian leaders have inspired thousands to dedicate  themselves to the poor of big cities:  Catherine and William Booth (Salvation Army, London); Frederic Ozanam (Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Paris) and of course, Mother Theresa of Calcutta.

While Raj Chetty’s work shows that helping the poor move to better neighborhoods helps them climb upwards, those stuck at the bottom of the bottom will need something more: the sort of help that demands sacrifice and committed relationship, the kind that Booth, Ozanam, and Mother Theresa all gave.

This form of love is beyond policy.  For income and vouchers, one can go to government, but not for self-sacrificing love.

We need this “idea correction” — better labeled an “idea addition” — to help those at the very bottom.  They need one-on-one self-sacrificing dedication from those prepared to give it.   Without that the bottom of the bottom will stay stuck, but with it we have a very different America, one we all will like a lot more.

 

With an eye to the child, the future of America,

Pat Fagan, Ph.D.
Director of the MARRI Project
Catholic University of America

Demographics

Census data, education, family structure, income, MARRI, poverty, sexuality, single parents, social science, welfare No comments

Over the next few weeks we will introduce you to different tools and resources in the MARRI website.  Today we introduce you to a tool that permits you to pick out the charts you want to see at the national or state level (your own state for instance) on a number of outcomes such as poverty and welfare.

These graphs chart the changes in the American family from 1940, just before entry into World War II,  to 2013.  This is a charting of the change in American culture over time, from one of significant belonging within the family to a culture of significant levels of rejection within the family.

You can analyze these trends by
•    The nation or by any particular state;
•    By total population or broken down by ethnic group;
•    By male or female or both combined;
•    By adult or children or both combined;
•    By outcome: family structure; education (but this not for children), poverty and welfare.

There are a total of 500 charts in the tool. All the data is from the Office of the Census, drawing on decennial census data and annual survey data.

To pull up the charts that are of interest, you click on the appropriate tabs on the dashboard.  When you click on a button it will turn either blue or gold.  Gold indicates the variable you are picking.  Blue indicates a tab is turned off.  Gold is on; blue is off. Thus if I wanted education outcomes for all adult males (only) in the state of Utah, the tabs for Utah, adults, males and education would be in gold, everything else would be in blue.

By playing around with the dashboard and you will quickly see how it works.  It may take a second or two to function as the tool is “in the cloud” not in your computer.

Occasionally you will find blanks where we do not have data for a cluster of variables, e.g. on education attained for children.

Enjoy the tool, and spread the word, particularly to students!

Marriage and Women’s Health

income, marriage, Urban Institute, women's health No comments

Adding to the discussion on women’s health, a recent survey reported that 40.2 percent of women – compared to 29.5 percent of men – reported an unmet medical need due to costs within the last year (*note, however, this is a biased figure and the disparity is actually lower). There is much speculation on the causes for this disproportionate need of women, but identifying a driver is quite simple: the deterioration of marriage. Marriage lifts women out of poverty. Divorce and cohabitation keep women in poverty.

Marriage provides a number of (intuitive) economic benefits to women. Married women share income with their husbands, and are able to optimize the division of labor for a household. Married couples enjoy, on average, larger incomes, greater net worth, and greater year-to-year net worth growth. Not surprisingly, marriage raises the long-run family income of children born to single parents by 45 percent.

Divorce does the opposite. Divorce causes women to disproportionately bear the brunt of poverty. Family income falls by 41 percent and family food consumption falls by 18 percent in the year following a divorce. Divorce is the main factor in determining the length of “poverty spells,” particularly for women whose pre-divorce family income was in the bottom half of the income distribution.

Although it might seem that cohabitation can provide the same economic benefits as marriage, it in fact cannot truly alleviate the feminization of poverty.  Cohabitation is temporary (with a roughly 50% failure rate), and the men in cohabitation are less attached to the labor market than married men. Cohabiters share fewer resources, since their bonds are less assured. Cohabitation, therefore, lacks all the natural gains of marriage (security, labor market benefits such as insurance, and the pooling of resources). Preferring cohabitation over marriage in our policies means preferring a modality of life that cannot deliver the benefits to women’s health coverage that marriage can.

If we want to promote women’s health, we really must discourage divorce and cohabitation. and encourage marriage.  Studies have already shown that married women rate their health better than divorced, separated, widowed, and never-married women do. Married women’s ability to cover their medical costs is one of the many reasons why. 

*According to the Urban Institute: “Questions on unmet need for contraceptive prescriptions or other family planning services were only asked of female respondents. Respondents may report an unmet need because of cost for more than one type of service, so sums may exceed the share reporting any unmet need because of cost.”