Three Demographic Findings on the White Working Class

So much has been made about white working class voters since the last election, but some of the common notions about that group are wrong. Three quick points are worth making:

1. Most members of the white working class live in cities & suburbs, not rural areas. Max Ehrenfreund and Jeff Guo explain that

While it is true that the white working class outnumbers white [college] graduates in rural America — and the election did highlight a huge urban-versus-rural divide — many of them also live in and around cities.

A Post analysis of Census data shows that there are 62 million working-class white adults living in the metropolitan footprint of a large city with a population of over 250,000. There are just 37 million white adults with bachelor’s degrees living in these metropolitan areas.

Many working-class whites might live in outlying counties, but their neighborhoods are still intimately connected with the economic and social life of the nearby city. Metropolitan areas are defined as regions in which at least a quarter of a county’s population commutes to the city or elsewhere in the metropolitan area for work.

Via If you’ve ever described people as ‘white working class,’ read this. (Underlying data from U.S. Census.)

A small town like Whitewater may have many white working class residents, but most members of the white working class don’t live in small towns like Whitewater. (The largest group of residents in Whitewater, of any demographic, would be students at our local university. Non-student residents aged 25-65, for example – working class or otherwise – are a smaller population.

2.  Working class whites (nationally) have lower church-attendance rates than other white Americans. Peter Beinart explains that

Since the early 1970s, according to W. Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia, rates of religious attendance have fallen more than twice as much among whites without a college degree as among those who graduated college. And even within the white working class, those who don’t regularly attend church are more likely to suffer from divorce, addiction, and financial distress. As Wilcox explains, “Many conservative, Protestant white men who are only nominally attached to a church struggle in today’s world. They have traditional aspirations but often have difficulty holding down a job, getting and staying married, and otherwise forging real and abiding ties in their community. The culture and economy have shifted in ways that have marooned them with traditional aspirations unrealized in their real-world lives.”

Via America’s Empty-Church Problem @ The Atlantic. (Underlying data from Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and W. Bradford Wilcox, Andrew J. Cherlin, Jeremy E. Uecker, & Matthew Messel, No Money, No Honey, No Church: The Deinstitutionalization of Religious Life Among the White Working Class.)

Sound demographics contradict the assumptions of both secular progressives and religious conservatives that secularization produces, necessarily, a more liberal population. Not at all: many supporters from this key, right-leaning Trump constituency have relatively weaker ties to religious institutions.

(This reminds of a key observation of Yair Rosenberg concerning online trolls backing Trump: they’re often nihilists.)

3.  The greatest beneficiaries of a government safety net are working class whites. Tracy Jan explains that

Working-class whites are the biggest beneficiaries of federal poverty-reduction programs, even though blacks and Hispanics have substantially higher rates of poverty, according to a new study to be released Thursday by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Government assistance and tax credits lifted 6.2 million working-class whites out of poverty in 2014, more than any other racial or ethnic demographic. Half of all working-age adults without college degrees lifted out of poverty by safety-net programs are white; nearly a quarter are black and a fifth are Hispanic.

The result does not simply reflect the fact that there are more white people in the country. The percentage of otherwise poor whites lifted from poverty by government safety-net programs is higher, at 44 percent, compared to 35 percent of otherwise poor minorities, the study concluded.

Via The biggest beneficiaries of the government safety net: Working-class whites @ Washington Post. (Underlyling data from Isaac Shapiro, Danilo Trisi &  Raheem Chadury, Poverty Reduction Programs Help Adults Lacking College Degrees the Most, Center on Budget and Priorities.)

Millions of working-class whites rely on public assistance programs for their well-being. There’s much to consider about how and when government should provide assistance, but it’s simply false to contend that working-class whites don’t rely on these programs.

Local discussions in Whitewater about the supposed economic cost of diversity are grounded in error: in Whitewater, significant numbers of white working-class residents certainly use these programs to their benefit. (The false local assumption: “The feedback indicated while the community valued a diverse population, there also was a recognition that there is a funding cost associated with a diverse environment, often associated with socio-economic status or a lack of educational opportunities prior to arriving in the district”.)

A policy discussion founded on this supposed ‘recognition’ is a discussion founded on an incorrect foundation (although a false foundation that may be satisfying, perhaps, to a few among the community’s majority).

Ineffectual, Wasteful Infrastructure Ambitions

Randal O’Toole takes a look at a key part of the incoming administration’s economic policy, and sees the Trouble with Trump’s Infrastructure Ambitions.  There are, simply expressed, four problems:

  1. Not all spending of this kind is equally valuable: “Many advocates of infrastructure spending assume that all infrastructure contributes equally to economic vitality, but this is far from true. Digging a hole and filling it up may create a few jobs but no long-term economic growth. Transportation projects, for example, produce growth only if they generate new passenger and freight movement that would not have taken place without them.”
  2. New transportation infrastructure is less useful than properly-repaired, existing infrastructure: “Today, few areas need new transportation infrastructure. The nation has 2.7 million miles of paved roads, 140,000 miles of railroads, and more than 5,000 airports with paved runways…We have crumbling infrastructure because politicians would rather fund new projects than maintain existing ones. We build projects that fail to contribute to the economy because those same politicians follow fads rather than make sure taxpayers’ money is well spent.”
  3. Project spending often produces little additional revenue: “Traditionally, when a state or local government builds new infrastructure, it sells bonds, uses the revenues to pay for the infrastructure, then repays the bonds with local tax revenues. Since local tax revenues will be about the same whether the infrastructure is productive or a white elephant, officials have little reason to discriminate between good and bad projects.”
  4. The Trump plan cleverly circumvents existing, democratically-enacted debt limits to allow big spending: “Trump’s method of tax credits gets around these debt limits. Private contractors borrow money and build the infrastructure, and state or local governments would contract to pay the contractors, sometimes millions of dollars per month. Since the contractors, not the government agencies, borrowed the money, it doesn’t count against the democratically set debt limits, but local taxpayers are obligated to repay the debt anyway.”

Schemes like these don’t #DraintheSwamp; they breed stronger, and more numerous, crocodiles.

(In a small rural town like Whitewater, a full generation’s worth of big projects has not improved the community’s economic well being.  The percentage of all residents in poverty in 1999 was 27.4%, and of families was 10.6%. The percentage of all residents in poverty in 2014 was 36.7% and of families was 15.2%.)

Inequality in the ‘Whitewater-Elkhorn’ Area

Over at the Economic Policy Institute, there’s a newly-published study of income inequality in America, and it ranks Walworth County as one of the most income-unequal places in the nation.  The study refers to the ‘Whitewater-Elkhorn’ metropolitan area, but with a population of 102,000, it’s clear that the reference is to Walworth County, using the 2010 Census population count.

(The methodology is that of Piketty and Saez, used years earlier to study income inequality across America.  Their method is not without critics, to be sure.  I find many of those critics compelling.)

Apart from this or other studies, however, it is still evident to anyone visiting Whitewater or Walworth County that pockets of significant poverty are all around.  This poverty surely  produces wide gaps with economically-successful residents.

Accentuating the positive in Whitewater has come at the price of ignoring actual conditions.

A few policymakers in Whitewater are versions of Japanese businessmen in the late ’80s, men who were so proud to proclaim that they had rebounded from the misery of war and thus had then arrived at the pinnacle of world achievement. (They were to find that arrival disappointing, as they’d overlooked actual economic conditions, and arrived only to years of stagnation.)

We would do far better to describe ourselves as we truly are, and invite others to join us not in an imaginary, perfect place, but in this real, beautiful, but work-yet-to-be-done place.

Whitewater’s True and Worthy Success

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33cscreenshotPost 6 in a weekly series.

I posted last week about a State of the Schools presentation, and planned to follow this week with an assessment of that presentation, but there’s a more recent development that should – and so does – take precedence.

On February 10th, one of Whitewater’s schools, Washington School, was named a Title I School of Recognition for significant academic achievement as a high-progress school even in conditions of meaningful child poverty. The award acknowledges what a true optimist knows: that Whitewater’s schools can succeed, regardless of present circumstances, through the work of smart and dedicated people.

Here are the criteria from the Department of Public Instruction:

Wisconsin Title I School of Recognition Criteria
All schools receive federal Title I aid because they have
significant numbers of students from low-income families.
They also meet the state’s test-participation, attendance,
and dropout goals as well as additional award criteria:
High-Achieving Schools
• meet all Annual Measurable Objectives for achievement
and graduation
• have achievement gaps that are less than 3 points
between student groups or show evidence of reducing gaps
• demonstrate high achievement at the school level
High-Progress Schools
• fall within the top 10 percent of schools experiencing
growth in reading and mathematics for elementary and
middle school students or the top 10 percent of schools with
the greatest improvement in high school graduation rates
• have achievement gaps that are less than 3 points
between student groups or show evidence of reducing gaps
Beating-the-Odds Schools
• are in the top 25 percent of high-poverty schools in
the state
• have above-average student achievement in reading
and mathematics when compared to schools from
similarly sized districts, schools, grade configurations, and
poverty levels

The grandiose, the sketchy, the slick: they’re useless, and in fact detrimental, to actual success. Old Whitewater – a state of mind, not a person or chronological age – has run (and now staggers) on a commitment to presentations of that ilk. Real success, however, comes not from a presentation, but from daily hard work that is too seldom mentioned.

It’s all to the good that the genuine success at one of our schools received statewide recognition.

What one school has done, other schools can do also. There’s not the slightest doubt of this, if only we would try.

On our school district’s website this morning, there’s a link to a glossy ‘annual report,’ including some dodgy data and grandiose claims. There’s no link on that main page to this Wisconsin Title I School of Recognition award. Our district might have embedded this file on its website easily, confidently, and boldly, but they’ve not.  Whitewater YES for Education might have mentioned it, but they’ve not.

One can guess why they didn’t – the award rests on the plain truth that many of our children come from impoverished families. Acknowledging that on the district’s website may seem, well, a bit too much for local officials.

It’s astonishing how confused they must be about what truly impresses families thinking of staying in our district, or impresses talented families thinking of coming here.

Truly talented and capable men and women – inside and outside Whitewater – will always prefer direct, honest gains over slick presentations. They can see what the town is really like; sugary language deceives no one.

This recognition shouldn’t be ignored, or simply linked somewhere to be forgotten in a week or two – it should be embedded on the main page of this district’s website, and passed out to every inquiring family. It should be embedded proudly on other websites for others to see.

And so I have done exactly that, on this website.

Well done, to all who achieved this recognition – so very well done.


Theranos as a Cautionary Tale

Theranos is a much-hyped biomedical start-up that’s fallen in valuation and reputation (not always the same thing) following published doubts (e.g., @ Wall Street Journal, Fortune) about its supposedly revolutionary technology.

Here’s the meaning of this story for Whitewater: Theranos had the participation (and attention) of some of the most gifted men and women in America, yet its (likely exaggerated) claims escaped serious scrutiny for years.

When Whitewater’s city government, Community Development Authority, and local university administration receive fawning stories from the Daily Union, Gazette, Register, Banner, or whatever, does anyone believe that those economic development gurus are receiving anything like the scrutiny Theranos or any American project should receive?

Theranos’s problems have not been for lack of talent (CEO Elizabeth Holmes, is undeniably intelligent, persuasive).

And yet, and yet, intelligent and persuasive do not assure successful new technologies. Doubt not how very much I and others would wish the Theranos story to have a successful outcome: a new & powerful blood-test technology, that would save lives, time, and money from a compelling American entrepreneur would be to humanity’s benefit.

Prof. of Finance Aswath Damodaran of NYU’s Stern School writes about the problems of Theranos – in part problems that are ours for believing so much in the company’s tales – in a post entitled, Runaway Stories and Fairy Tale Endings: The Cautionary Tale of Theranos @ his Musings on Markets Blog.

Here’s Prof. Damodaran:

I can offer three possible reasons that should operate as red flags on future young company narratives:
  1. The Runaway Story: If Aaron Sorkin were writing a movie about a young start up, it would be almost impossible for him to come up with one as gripping as the Theranos story: a nineteen-year old woman (that already makes it different from the typical start up founder), drops out of Stanford (the new Harvard) and disrupts a business that makes us go through a health ritual that we all dislike. Who amongst us has not sat for hours at a lab for a blood test, subjected ourselves to multiple syringe shots as the technician draw large vials of blood, waited for days to get the test back and then blanched at the bill for $1,500 for the tests? To add to its allure, the story had a missionary component to it, of a product that would change health care around the world by bringing cheap and speedy blood testing to the vast multitudes that cannot afford the status quo….
  2. The Black Turtleneck: I must confess that the one aspect of this story that has always bothered me (and I am probably being petty) is the black turtleneck that has become Ms. Holmes’s uniform. She has boasted of having dozens of black turtlenecks in her closet and while there is mention that her original model for the outfit was Sharon Stone, and that Ms. Holmes does this because it saves her time, she has never tamped down the predictable comparisons that people made to Steve Jobs. If a central ingredient of a credible narrative is authenticity, and I think it is, trying to dress like someone else (Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett or the Dalai Lama) undercuts that quality.
  3. Governance matters (even at private businesses):… Theranos illustrates the limitations of these built in governance mechanisms [that is, the desire of founders and venture capitalists to protect their investment in a way managers might not], with a board of directors in August 2015 had twelve members:
Board Member Designation Age
Henry Kissinger Former Secretary of State 92
Bill Perry Former Secretary of Defense 88
George Schultz Former Secretary of State 94
Bill Frist Former Senate Majority Leader 63
Sam Nunn Former Senator 77
Gary Roughead Former Navy Admiral 64
James Mattis Former Marine Corps General 65
Dick Kovocovich Former CEO of Wells Fargo 72
Riley Bechtel Former CEO of Bechtel 63
William Foege Epidemologist 79
Elizabeth Holmes Founder & CEO, Theranos 31
Sunny Balwani President & COO, Theranos NA
I apologize if I am hurting anyone’s feelings, but my first reaction as I was reading through the list was “Really? He is still alive?”, followed by the suspicion that Theranos was in the process of developing a biological weapon of some sort. This is a board that may have made sense (twenty years ago) for a defense contractor, but not for a company whose primary task is working through the FDA approval process and getting customers in the health care business….

So-called ‘Whitewater Advocacy’ has done a huge disservice to Whitewater by flacking wasteful ideas that have only diverted time and money from higher priorities.

It can’t last, of course, just as the outcomes of similar schemes elsewhere show.

The real question for Whitewater is who runs dry first: public schemes that divert resources to cronies’ projects or the local press that touts these projects?

They’re both destined for the ash can, but I’m not sure which one will arrive first.  As it is, I’d say it’s likely to be a close race between the two.

Wisconsin on Pace for Most Layoff Notifications Since WEDC Created

WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Now I thought, as it’s what I have heard again, again, and again, that the WEDC was the Laser-Focused Semi-Private Job Creator of Wisconsin™. 

How odd, then, to read that since the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s inception, Wisconsin is on pace for more job layoffs than ever. 

What a shock: who would have imagined that the grand claims of cronyism would meet their refutation in actual human experience?

When the first round of WEDC funding hit Whitewater (it’s been many trips to the trough since), one heard how this was to be a grand and astonishing triumph for the city.

It was, instead, what anyone might have guessed: water on sand, negligible and of no benefit to the many thousands of this city. 

The P.R. men, 501(c)(6) big-business lobby, and sycophantic officials who peddle these shoddy goods will keep trying.

It is impossible, nonetheless, that dollops of money preferentially allocated will produce a meaningful, lasting result for Whitewater. 

That’s why I have described these white-collar welfare schemes as an expression of a gutter ideology – they are such, as they are both intellectually, ethically, and in practice inferior to alternative methods of allocation.  (See, along these lines, Local Crony Capitalism via the WEDC (and similar schemes).)

I have every confidence in allocation of capital, goods and labor through free markets. 

However, to be clear, almost any allocation to the poor would be vastly better on moral and practical grounds than a compulsory allocation through taxes to well-fed, avaricious, big-business leaders and their unctuous flacks.

Jobs, jobs, jobs?  Not through the WEDC.

Three Motivations for Local Government Intervention (and One That’s Sadly Missing)

In Whitewater, we’ve had any number of local projects, some involving millions, in a town of only thousands.  

Broadly, one may assume three motivations for local intervention: (1) genuine if mistaken efforts at community betterment, (2) the vanity or economic interest of parties to a project, or (3) a desire to prevent demographic and cultural change within the community through regulation.

Of the first, a genuine desire for community betterment, one may say that often the benefits are over-stated, and the costs scarcely stated at all.  Still, the motivation is good-hearted if otherwise ill-considered.

Of the second, motivations from vanity or manipulation of government for the economic gain of only few, we have had too many projects.  These vanity pieces are without legitimate justification, but instead cloaked in sophistry, relying on flawed or deceptive claims. Here lies crony capitalism wearing the garb of ‘progress,’ ‘development,’ and public-private ‘partnerships.’

The third, regulatory attempts to forestall cultural and demographic change, have been around for a while, but now have greater intensity as a few seek to prevent a new, emerging culture for the city.

One sees it, for example, in the strident and reactionary attacks on an emerging, new restaurant scene.  

Sensing that the community wants new opportunities, a few who cannot appreciate culinary diversity seek to ban, or regulate to infirmity, any new proposal.  An Old Guard, mostly without desire or appreciation of new choices, now sees claims of fear, uncertainty, and doubt as its remaining means to assure an unchanging, city-in-amber culture.  

Having lost in the marketplace – because after all a whole class of sharp and smart patrons seeks new possibilities – the Old Guard seeks regulatory obstructionism to stifle the free choices of others.

This is, of course, a sign of their weakness: they’ve nowhere to go except through scheming. They can cause a great amount of short-term damage, but still – for them – the demographic dustbin awaits.     

One can expect the third motivation to grow ever greater as Whitewater’s culture shifts.  

Finally, there’s one motivation of local government action that’s mostly missing: toward the poor and vulnerable.  If we are to have government intervention, here’s a place of legitimate emphasis: it costs less than grand construction schemes, and does more than those schemes ever could.  

We have, if anything, too little of legitimate anti-poverty plans. Contending that crony capitalist projects (e.g., Generac’s bus) are anti-poverty programs is a stretch at best, and unconvincing.  

We’ve three main motivations for government invention that we often don’t need, and not enough motivation for the one kind of intervention of which we could use, candidly, much more.

Assessing the Poverty Data for Our Area

On Friday, I posted on child poverty in our area.  The Great Recession took a toll on many cities, but undeniably so in ours: from 2007 to 2011, the number of children aged 5 to 17 in families in poverty rose from 9.89 to 17.9%. 
The number nearly doubled.  Beyond that group, state measures classify an astounding 44% of all school-age children in our area (the city and other towns in our school district) as economically disadvantaged. 
A few remarks on the data.
1.  These numbers involve only school-age children; they do not include non-working college students. 
2.  Of nearby communities, the Whitewater area has the second-highest level of child poverty, and the second-highest rate of increase, from 2007-2011 (81%).  She’s also the only community whose poverty rate does not abate as the Great Recession ends.  Instead, it rises year over year.
3.  I’ve picked 2007-2011 for a reason – all communities during this time felt the impact of recession, but in these years Whitewater was also a place of grandiose claims of innovation, development, the exceptional, the unrivaled, etc.
And yet, and yet, for all these many headlines and pronouncements about progress, groundbreaking accomplishments, and world-class achievements, the actual material condition of children in the city grew worse, year over year. 
4.  Not a single project during these years, not a single government-funded ‘partnership’ with the university or major corporations stopped the rise in our area’s child poverty – the rate rose anyway.
5.  ‘Poverty alleviated or prevented.’ As with much spending, one is sure to hear that the situation would have been worse had we not spent on buildings for white-collar projects, or extended tax-breaks and public money to thriving corporations.  
There’s neither evidence nor even any compelling analysis for such claims – it’s just airy speculation.  The only concrete result of which one can be confident is that Whitewater spent public money for big development projects but the material condition of many residents grew worse. 
6.  Optimism, in spite of these last several years.  For it all, I’m convinced that Whitewater can and will do far better, and that greater prosperity for greater numbers lies ahead.  It’s going to take a rejection of ‘if-you-build-it-they-will-come’ thinking and a refocus on projects that make small gains, including for small businesses over corporate and white-collar welfare projects that haven’t produced results for those most in need.
7.  Solutions.  I’ll write at length In November about solutions that have worked elsewhere, to turn other towns around.  (There’s still more to consider before then about Whitewater’s long-term fiscal account, and about particular budget items for the coming fiscal year.)    
It won’t be easy, but I believe we’ll make the transition away from big-but-empty in the coming decade.  In part, we’ll do so because we’ll embrace new ideas, and in part because we’ll have reached the end of the pretend, with tired, flamboyant claims no longer able to convince anyone.        
For tomorrow, though, a story about how desperation (something we certainly needn’t feel about our own situation) clouds judgment. 
Tomorrow:  What a Film About Janesville Really Says.

Poverty in Our Area

Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates, for children aged 5 to 17 in families in poverty, rate as a percentage of all children that age:

Delavan-Darien Edgerton Elkhorn Area Fort Atkinson Jefferson Milton Whitewater Area
2007 10.98 7.10 11.60 7.01 8.05 5.4 9.89
2008 11.90 8.22 15.28 8.78 8.62 5.71 10.54
2009 15.43 9.29 15.21 11.39 10.1 6.65 14.22
2010 22.17 9.62 9.71 13.79 12.28 8.94 16.29
2011 19.46 9.33 10.80 13.52 12.13 7.83 17.9
Change +77.2% +31.4% -9.31% +92.8% +50.7% +45% +81%

Quick Notes:

  1. Communities measured are school districts.
  2. Same standard is applied to each community, for each year.
  3. 2011 is latest year available.
  4. Date range immediately precedes and follows the Great Recession.
  5. All communities but two see a rate decline from 2010 to 2011 (even if slight) in child poverty after the recession ends.  Only Elkhorn and Whitewater do not see a lessening in the rate; of those two cities,  Whitewater is higher in 2011 over 2007 while Elkhorn’s 2011 rate is lower than her 2007 rate.  Only Whitewater increases each year.
  6. The data above are poverty data (that is, a dire category of deprivation). The same Whitewater area also suffers, among children aged 5 to 17, economic disadvantage amounting to 44% of all such school-age children.

Monday: Assessing the Poverty Data for Our Area.

A City’s Most Important Economic Measure

Yesteday, I asked, “What’s Whitewater’s Economy?” If it should be true – and it is – that a genuine economic discussion is more than a budgetary one, then what economic measures should matter most? 
There’s no single measurement that explains it all, but what would one say about an economy if one were compelled to pick just one measurement of performance?    
I’ll suggest that one begins by asking a simple question: what’s the poverty rate?  It begins with asking how many poor people there are in a community. 
One confirms a community’s fundamental economic success when one discovers that there are few who are poor; one finds a community’s fundamental economic failure when one discovers a high poverty rate. 
I’ll contend that there is no escape from seeing things this way, except the immoral utilitarianism of choosing a society of few with vast wealth over many, many more with nothing.  A well-functioning market economy brings opportunity and success to many, not merely a few. 
An evaluation would proceed this way: is poverty uncommon (as one hopes it would be)?  If so, then one goes on to look at other economic criteria by which to assess the community’s performance.  These would include conventional measurements of employment, inflation, per capita income, trends among these, etc. 
But if poverty should be high, absolutely or relatively to other places, one already has one’s initial and disappointing answer – a community with a high poverty rate is, by this definition, struggling and failing.
There may be a tendency to blame people for their own condition, but I find this claim unpersuasive: in a society like America with free flows of capital, goods, and labor, communities have ample access to talent and resources.  American communities’ economic failures are more likely to be leadership failures, of establishing a well-ordered and competitive marketplace. 
That a tiny number of people might possibly be poor by choice or by unchosen disability hardly explains widespread poverty.  It’s more excuse than explanation for a high poverty rate.
Quick notes:
1.  I’m well aware that poverty in America means something quite different from poverty in the Third World.  The measures about which I am discussing are city-to-city within America. 
2.  The definition of poverty in America has changed, over time, and is subject to debate.  No matter: for this discussion, the comparisons that matter to me are those that apply the same criteria, for the same time periods, between American places.  (An example would be comparisons for a common year, using the same criteria, between cities and towns.)    
Tomorrow:  Poverty in Our Area.

Sunday, 10.7.12: Whitewater CROP Hunger Walk 2012


Location Begins at Fairhaven Retirement Home (435 W. Starin Road, Whitewater) and ends at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church (46 S. Church St., Whitewater).

Registration – 12:30 p.m., Walk: 1:00 p.m.

See, for additional details or donation link, Whitewater CROP Hunger Walk 2012 – CROP Hunger Walk.

How Selfish Politicians Use the Poor or Children to Protect Wasteful Programs that Have Nothing to Do with the Poor or Children

It’s a cruel game to defend government spending on the well-fed with the lament that spending cuts must be stopped, lest the poor and vulnerable suffer.

The poor and vulnerable will not suffer in a society that reduces spending on corporate welfare, sham job-creation programs, so-called business-development grants, and spending on weapons so expensive and impractical that the military can afford to build only a few (and dare not risk a one).

These are not programs for the poor — they’re programs for well-connected friends, favored businesses, and influential military contractors.

The politicians who feed friends on the slop of Big Government care about the vulnerable simply as a talking point, a defense of other business as usual.

The national Libertarian Party highlights this selfish tactic in this week’s message (“Libertarians propose rolling back the most-needed services last – after getting government out of the way so that voluntary solutions can take their place.”)

(For more about how libertarians will support transitional spending for the vulnerable and destitute, see On Poverty Spending)

Whitewater’s Decade of Child Poverty

The only way to make an ill person truly and permanently better is to see her condition for what it is; genuine recovery requires an honest diagnosis. Despite my doubts about their program, I respect Roosevelt’s New Dealers’ for their willingness to call a problem a problem. If they had lived to see contemporary Whitewater, they would have been shocked and furious. (See, along these lines, On the Upcoming 2011 Whitewater, Wisconsin Municipal Budget.)

From 2003 to 2010, the Whitewater area has grown poorer, a decline in economic health that threatens personal health, and brings us yet closer to a permanent underclass.

This truth is inescapable, and has hit already-vulnerable residents hardest. In 2003, 9.2% of the children in the Whitewater area lived in poverty. In 2007, that number was 9.9%, and in 2010, the number of impoverished children had soared to 16.6%. (See, data in spreadsheet format.)

These are children, aged five to seventeen, who face hardship each day. One of every six children in the Whitewater area lives this way. This proportion might be even worse if one were to add children under five.

Far from economic gains, the actual circumstances of young residents in our community are worse than earlier in the decade.

Hundreds of Wisconsin communities are doing better than we are.

In fact, local child poverty increased even from 2003 to 2007, a time of economic growth for America. While America was gaining, long before the Great Recession, Whitewater was already slipping behind.

There’s a way to reverse this dark trend, one that will produce greater opportunity for all our residents.

Drastically cut or eliminate restrictions and fees on businesses, cut sharply from so-called leadership posts, and return the money to taxpayers or as services in emergency poverty assistance. At a minimum, hundreds of thousands should be cut or transferred this way, each year, until government is properly limited and responsible to actual needs.

We will not be made prosperous — and for some, the problem isn’t unrealized prosperity but actual hunger — in the myriad empty ways Whitewater’s bureaucrats have tried repetitively.

We’ve grown poorer despite (often because of) big-ticket federal grants, Tech Parks, government-run renewal schemes, ersatz national and international awards, showy celebrations, dishonest and dodgy community surveys, the slanted use of statistics, special breaks and exceptions for insiders, rights violations against workers new to the community, and frequent bumbling through silly project after project.

These problems are not the fault of the many thousands of common people of the area; a few selfish and self-promoting municipal bureaucrats and their apologists have held Whitewater back, and have made her poorer than she would have otherwise been.

Yet, for it all, they will have a legacy, those who strutted about so proudly during these recent years. Prosperity will remember them as the feckless and fumbling clique that presided over a seventy-seven percent increase in child poverty — to one-in-six Whitewater-area children — in just seven years.

More Americans in Dire Poverty, But There’s a Way Out

Disconcerting economic data have this advantage: they’re a useful reminder of work ahead, and a spur to greater zeal.

Best fiscal choices in times of poverty: spending cuts (beginning with elimination of leadership posts) to fund a reduction in taxes, return of most tax money to taxpayers and businesses, with second source of expense savings going to temporary assistance to the poor. It’s cut, return, support.

America will bounce back, but changing course will help us bounce back more quickly.

Anyone contending it’s business as usual in cities and towns across America is either confused or deceptive.

New census data paint a stark portrait of the nation’s haves and have-nots at a time when unemployment remains persistently high. It comes a week before the government releases first-ever economic data that will show more Hispanics, elderly and working-age poor have fallen into poverty.

See, full story from the Associated Press.

On Poverty Spending

Libertarians believe in ‘limited government, individual liberty, free markets, and peace.” Limited government means less spending (and so fewer taxes, and a lower public debt). That doesn’t mean there should be no spending. People have a right to defend themselves (defense, policing) even if we may spend too much in those areas (influential defense contractors or equipment vendors being among the causes of over-spending).

There’s a second area – beyond personal safety – that’s worthy of consideration: limited, necessary aid to the poor and disabled. The best way to alleviate poverty is to unleash the power of free markets to improve everyone’s standard of living. Still, not everyone feels that uplifting power (in part because the state wrongly restrains and restricts markets).

Although one would prefer private charitable solutions for those mired in poverty, traditionally libertarians are not opposed to this kind of public spending. That may seem contrary to what many have heard about libertarians, but that’s because they haven’t heard the straight story about libertarians.

Over a year ago, Edward Glasser, at the New York Times’s Economix Blog, correctly noted the libertarian willingness to consider public aid to the poor:

Libertarianism rests on two bedrock beliefs: human freedom is a great good and the public sector tends to screw things up. The first belief is based more on faith than empirical result; the second derives from millennia of human experience. The increased appeal of libertarianism today reflects a nonpartisan view that the public sector has been deeply problematic under either party. It is a backlash against President Bush as well as President Obama. (Ron Paul was, after all, the only Republican to vote against the 2002 Iraq war resolution). Libertarians tend to think that the Bush years taught that all governments were flawed, not that everything would be better with a new leader who would expand the public sector….

Libertarians are rarely anarchists. Almost all of them believe in some form of state power, at the very least the protection of private property and the enforcement of contracts. Many of them, including Milton Friedman, are quite comfortable with larger exercises of state power, including the redistribution of resources to those who have less. Professor [Jeffrey] Miron writes that “antipoverty spending is the most defensible kind of redistribution,” because “the goal of this redistribution – helping the poor – is reasonable and the costs of a well-designed limited antipoverty program (e.g., a negative income tax set on a state-by-state basis) are modest.”


That’s a fair assessment, all around. Of all the kinds of objectionable public spending — and that’s most public spending — spending on the poor remains an exception: it’s not objectionable. By contrast, spending is worst when it benefits established people, who use the state to tax others to divert others’ earnings toward themselves. For successful people, government acts as a shakedown artist, or a reverse Robin Hood, taking from common people to feed the appetites and egos of established ones.

Philosopher Matt Zwolinski on ‘Bleeding-Heart Libertarians,’ The Poor, and Social Justice

I’ve posted before on libertarian professor Matt Zwolinski’s left-of-center libertarianism (see, from the Daily Caller, Seven reasons progressives should be more libertarian).

Here’s a video where he discusses so-called ‘bleeding heart’ libertarianism. Although I don’t think of myself as more of a left or more of a right-of-center libertarian, there’s nothing in Zwolinski’s emphasis on social justice that I wouldn’t support. (I think he’s surely mistaken to deprecate natural-law libertarianism, but that’s a different matter.)

In any variety, libertarianism offers genuine hope to the poor and distressed, free from the self-interested schemes and machinations of government officials, each successive scheme only increasing the misery and reducing the liberty of our fellow citizens.

Most libertarians naturally care about social justice, beginning in their steadfast support of the rights and equal opportunities of each and every person. From our concern for individuals comes also our concern for society.

We are not – and we should never be – reticent about our concerns for the poor or disadvantaged.

Whitewater Among Top Six Walworth County Communities for Foreclosures

Although Whitewater is a larger city than some others in the county, nothing about her presence on a foreclosure list is auspicious.

If there’s even the slightest doubt that these last several years have been unfavorable for countless thousands in the county, perhaps another disappointing statistic will overturn years of empty boosterism.

See, Top Six Walworth County Communities for Foreclosures.

Whatever their errors (and they made many), at least the New Dealers cared about ordinary people, and described conditions honestly and starkly, to convey the seriousness of the problems ordinary people faced.

Better to see conditions as they are, so as to spur effective solutions, than to pretend all is well, while people languish unnoticed.