I'm fortunate to be working with a terrific editor, Elizabeth Langosy, as I prepare a number of my social justice essays for publication. (Elizabeth is Executive Editor at www.talkingwriting.com, among the very best e-magazines for readers and writers.) Among the tasks that terrific editors do is to check and triple check (and get a writer's collaboration as she checks) statistics writers, and the press, can so easily throw about. I'm grateful that great editors are tenacious sticklers.
In an essay about poverty a few years back, I wrote that Americans often conflate what they imagine to be
. the percentage of American children living in poverty with
. the percentage of our children in welfare-receiving families,
thinking that there's something close to a one-to-one correspondence.
In my original essay, When She Was a Filthy Turn of Phrase: On the Dole, I said that the percentage of poor children living in welfare-receiving families here was roughly 12%. I had used a secondary source for that, a source in the popular press, and, in any case, no longer up-to-date. Elizabeth thought, and I agreed, that we should get a newer and more rigorous source. I was surprised to learn from the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University's School of Public Health -- a lead researcher there was kind enough to look through his data over several days -- that the percentage of American children in poverty who live in welfare-receiving families was, in 2011 (the latest data he had) 4.4%. This is to say that not only was my original source in the popular press pretty off-base, but that we really need to alter our understanding of what poverty is if we're interested in making a positive diference.
This is also to say that whether or not one subscribes to government definitions of a poverty-line, of what constitutes families-living-in-poverty, we must realize that the great majority of adults who are poor do not qualify for welfare because they are the working-poor and, ironically, earn too much to receive welfare...and so their kids do not benefit from welfare at all.
It's a hell of a bind our poorer kids are in.