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Post Poverty in America Interactive Map
Created by John Eipper on 01/06/14 4:19 AM

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Poverty in America Interactive Map (Randy Black, USA, 01/06/14 4:19 am)

Mike Bonnie's comments (5 January) about county-by-county and neighborhood-by-neighborhood poverty levels per The New York Times' interpretation of a census map are provocative. It's so provocative that I took a closer look at the Dallas neighborhoods that my parents and siblings have lived in over the past 50+ years.

Surprisingly, I find the census map a fictional portrayal as it relates to one wealthy inner-city township--University Park (UP) in Dallas. UP is about four square miles and has about 23,000 residents more or less. Its sister city, Highland Park, is even wealthier. Yet, HP has a neighborhood that according to the Times' map shows a poverty rate of 4.4%! My brother owns a tiny condo in that light blue neighborhood that is valued at $250,000 on the tax rolls. I guarantee that his tiny 450-square-foot, 40-year-old apartment is among the very least expensive properties among the few dozen in the light blue area that the Census labels as poverty level. It isn't, nor are his neighbors. Houses in his neighborhood run up to an above $30 million for one house (on Turtle Creek, overlooking Dallas Country Club, and on about five acres).

There were other neighborhoods on the map that don't look quite right, but I can easily drive any one among us around two neighborhoods within UP in an hour and you too will deduce that our federal government and The New York Times combined to perpetrate a gigantic fraud on the gullible readers.

I blew the map up to show streets, major and minor in UP along with The Times' light blue to dark blue overlay map of poverty in UP. The map is fiction.

For instance, the map indicates that the poverty level of two neighborhoods among several others in UP is between 14.1% and 17.8% according to The Times.

The concept is astoundingly wrong. The NY Times alleged that about 1051 "poor families and individuals" live in the two neighborhoods that are made up exclusively of multi-million dollar homes and a few hundred expensive apartments, condos, and multi-million dollar fraternity and sorority houses bordering Southern Methodist University.

SMU year-over-year enrolls some of the wealthiest students in the nation, and others who may be less well-off but who manage to nevertheless live in the few expensive apartments near the university.

Remember, the stats involve individuals and families who replied that they lived in University Park, not those who commuted from a poor neighborhood elsewhere over to SMU.

Virtually no one in UP is African-American or Hispanic, and certainly not poor. The absolutely lowest property values in the noted neighborhoods are above $1,098,500.

Many homes in UP range above $2-$10 million. In fact, the property taxes on the least expensive homes are well above the poverty threshold $23,000+ for a family of four.

One of my clients lives in one a very nice UP home near SMU and which is valued at $4.1 million. His property taxes per the taxing district public records are above $82,000 annually--hardly within the poverty guidelines. He would be surprised to learn that the NY Times thinks his little corner of Heaven is in a poor neighborhood with a medium blue shade of poorness.

The University Park part of the NY Times map limits its medium blue section to a smaller portion of streets in that area known for the highest-quality public schools in Texas, the Highland Park Independent School District.

Statistically, there is absolutely no residence within that block of homes within The Times' map where anyone qualifies for free lunches at school, or anyone who could possible support their property taxes on income that falls within the federal poverty limitations.

If the NY Times got it so wrong, how can we give credence to any part of the rest of their article and map?

By the way, my family lived in a number of homes in those light blue areas of The Times' map dating from 1960. I threw the morning and evening newspapers on many of the streets and always marveled at the wealth.

JE comments:  What about The (live-in) Help?  Indigent uncles living over the garage?  Poor people, somehow, do manage to reside in some of the most exclusive neighborhoods.  Take, for example, Aspen, Colorado, where housing is preternaturally expensive.  The NY Times map reports a poverty level there of 4.5%, which is only slightly lower than the reported figure for my middle-class neighborhood in Royal Oak (4.9%).  Is this another fraud or fiction?  It's a truism that the more you already know about a particular news story, the less accurate the report seems to be.  Still, the NYT map is based on census figures, which are the best demographic statistics available.

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  • Defining Poverty in the US (Mike Bonnie, USA 01/08/14 3:31 AM)
    In response to Randy Black's post questioning the number of poor people in wealthy Dallas suburbs (6 January), JE wrote: "What about The (live-in) Help? Indigent uncles living over the garage?" Good questions, however after conducting a bit of research, I'm going to redirect JE's questions slightly and address them near the end.

    The interactive map I sent on January 5 was produced by staff of the New York Times (using Census Bureau data) and added to an article posted January 4, 2014, "50 Years Later, War on Poverty Is a Mixed Bag." The article discusses the direction the poverty rate in the US has taken and how government intervention, from the time of Lyndon Johnson's State of the Union Address (Jan 1964), has succeeded in addressing the problems.


    I searched several authoritative websites and blogs and came up with some interesting perspectives. In discussing the NYT map it's important to remember we're discussing one aspect of poverty, before-tax income, which has many definitions.

    First of all, a clarification. As one blogger states, "It's not poverty [sic] in America, but in the United States. I live in Canada, and just came back from Peru. Both are in America!" supercorm (Jan 6, 2014). Another contributor from the same web blog states, "This demographic map is distorted in at least one respect; neighborhoods surrounding major universities, such as the University of Oregon in Eugene, can have a designated poverty rate close to double that of the Rose Bud tribal lands in South Dakota or inner-city Detroit, because most single college students living on and near campus have less than $11,945 of personal "income" per year. Yet their lifestyles and certainly their realistic aspirations are not that of peoples living in poverty for generations." Nordheim (Jan 6, 2014). The Big Picture:


    Thresholds to determine poverty level by the Census Bureau vary dependent on family size, number of related children and the age of the householder. Poverty level thresholds were originally derived in 1963-1964 (President Johnson's State of the Union Address) by the US Department of Agriculture using household food budgets and updated for inflation using the Consumer Price Index (CPI-U). The same thresholds are used across the US regardless of demographics. There are 48 thresholds. The 2012 threshold for a single adult is $11,720 before taxes. For people not living in families, poverty status is determined by comparing the individual's income to the threshold for one adult. In an example given on the Census Bureau website, a family with five members: two children, their mother, father, and great-aunt lives under an income threshold (one of the 48 thresholds) of $28,087 during one year. Breaking down and tallying the income for each individual (none of which exceed $10,000--below the threshold for an individual), the total before-tax income for all five individuals comes to $29,000. This is an example of a family not living in poverty. "Non-relatives, such as housemates, do not count." Persons 15 years old or younger (homeless, living in shelters), not living in families, are not included in the data. http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/methods/measure.html Important to note, the previous information is from the US Census Bureau. The 2012 poverty level guidelines used by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to determine need of services for individuals and families are different (lower). See: http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/12poverty.shtml

    The question of income in Census Bureau data does not include government assistance including food stamps, public housing and Medicaid assistance, subsidized day care, and reduced cost school lunches (all determined by HHS). From my view, accumulated wealth including home value, art and other collectibles, are not considered in Census data to determine poverty; it stands to reason that a retired individual living in an expensive paid-for home with plenty of non-liquid assets, on a small income, yet capital gains (not included in determining Census Bureau poverty threshold), would qualify as living in poverty.

    In reading though Johnson's State of the Union Address, it seems plain that the War on Poverty is just one challenge to the administration in establishing a Great Society, sincere in meaning, but also perhaps to aggregate or distract from concerns with missiles in Cuba, nuclear proliferation, a war in Vietnam, war protests at home, civil rights and immigration, urban riots, international trade agreements, and a nation grieving over the loss of President Kennedy. I have to ask, as the NYT and many other sources on the subject ask, has the War on Poverty met the challenges?

    LB Johnson's first State of the Union Address:


    JE comments:  I especially recommend the NYT article (first link).  Since the mid-1960s, poverty rates in the US have declined only slightly.  There are marked improvements, such as a vast decrease in malnutrition, as well as the electrification of remote areas of Appalachia.  And poor people today have the toys and gadgets that were unobtainable in Johnson's day.

    Fifty years after LBJ's Great Society, it's a good time to revisit the topic of poverty in the US.   I look forward to WAISer thoughts.

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    • Defining Poverty in the US (Henry Levin, USA 01/08/14 8:01 AM)
      To follow up on Mike Bonnie's post of 8 January, the overall poverty rate has mainly fallen for senior citizens. It has risen for children under eighteen, and this is wreaking havoc on schools because they have to compensate for experiences that are normally provided in homes. Poor nutrition, health care, shelter, and income in conjunction with a single parent with low education (the usual profile) do not provide the conditions for learning development in schools. There is considerable documentation on how poor socio-economic conditions affect learning, and our very high proportion of children in these categories explains a considerable amount of the mediocre performance of US students on international comparisons of tests.


      See the data of the National Center on Child Poverty for more of the demographic information.

      JE comments:  Not that I'm advocating any specific policy shift, but wouldn't a nation's resources be better spent on the young (Head Start, prenatal care, etc.) than on the old (Social Security, Medicare)?  Just to goad the conversation along...
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      • Poverty, Old vs. Young (John Heelan, UK 01/09/14 7:46 AM)
        When commenting on Henry Levin's post of 8 January, JE wrote: "Not that I'm advocating any specific policy shift, but wouldn't a nation's resources be better spent on the young (Head Start, prenatal care, etc.) than on the old (Social Security, Medicare)?"

        In a civilised society, the nation's resources should be spent on both cohorts of the population and not subject to an "either/or" decision.

        JE comments: I was just trying to "goad the conversation along," and it's been duly goaded! A political reality, however, is that in the old vs. young showdown over finite resources, the former will always triumph. Why? The very young cannot vote, and the barely old-enough-to-vote demographic usually doesn't.

        My above remarks notwithstanding, I'm all in favor of a civilized society.

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        • Poverty, Old vs. Young (David Gress, Denmark 01/10/14 4:50 PM)

          For what it's worth, I'm with our host on this topic. JE is right. (See his comments to John Heelan's post of 9 January.) For several decades now, the effect of US fiscal policy has been to benefit the old over the young. Not all the old, of course; there are still many who only have their Social Security checks to live on. But I recall that demographers even back in the 1980s pointed out that the weight of fiscal policy had long been to benefit those who, by definition, were no longer contributing to the national economy, but rather living off it, and to make it harder for the young to establish themselves. I am not talking here of schools or of prenatal care, so JE must forgive me for expanding the argument, but of the young who might wish to establish families, reproduce, and thereby contribute to the future of the national economy.

          An economy has only the material resources it itself produces. As many WAISers have pointed out, the US economy wastes several percentage points on non-productive activity; codeword lawyering and all that the burden of laws and regulations entails.

          A fair society, if one were ever to exist on this earth, which is perhaps a Utopian notion, would make it easy, not hard, to form families, and would encourage it. In most states of the US, this is not the case. Take the example of the cost of housing. Having been young, and a father of three, in California in the 1980s, I could sing a long song about that and about the greed, not to put too fine a point on it, of the already established who wanted to protect their property values, which would perhaps have been degraded if the authorities had permitted more housing to be built.

          The old vote; the children do not. That simple fact explains a great deal, especially in California.

          JE comments:  As a corollary to David Gress's points, look at rent control in some cities, and (for California) the legacy of Proposition 13 (1978).  Both policies add immeasurably to housing costs for recent arrivals and those seeking to establish families.

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          • Poverty, Old vs. Young (Bienvenido Macario, USA 01/11/14 8:25 AM)
            I was wondering if we could look at poverty in the US from a global perspective, since immigration is still an issue today. There are millions of people all over the world who believe the US is still the land of opportunity. They are literally dying to relocate here. Just look at the border in the south.

            With globalization, I look differently at providing temporary government assistance to the needy, especially those who lost their jobs or those who would soon be back on their feet. These handouts are limited to necessities, often locally made products and are supposed to be for a specific period of time. Now let's compare handouts with the spending habits of a successful business executive who would most likely buy a genuine import and not the Japanese-brand cars made in the USA. Who is really helping the US economy?

            In the meantime, the World Bank announced the successful program of lifting 600 million Chinese out of poverty. Maybe it's time for the IMF, World Bank and the UN to train their sights on America only. After all we are in the hole for more than $17 trillion.

            As far as the old vs. young debate, I think the young need a good dose from simulated or actual Great Depression living. This will teach them to value hard work and the produce thereof. Man will not value something that comes so easily. It's human nature.

            JE comments: A new Great Depression to teach hard work and appreciation--Dr. Macario, you prescribe a harsh medicine!  Many young Americans are "soft" and with an overly developed sense of entitlement, but I also have students who work 40 hours per week while studying full-time...and piling up mountains of student debt.

            Is it a universal truth of the ages that the old see the young as having it too easy?

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