Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Poverty. The word for 2012.

Had enough of it yet? Take a deep breath because the word 'poverty' is going to sound like a stuck record this year.

I respect David Fergusson and the research he does but today's report from the NZ Herald made me baulk at a couple of comments:
"It could be that competent, bright families transmit their skills to their children and also earn higher incomes.

"It could also be that being bred in a high-income family provides children with role models and resources for both educational achievement and career success."

Is there any need for the "could" in either of those sentences? I know that academics have to split hairs and become almost paralysed by preciseness but the results sound antithetical to common sense.

Professor Fergusson said children being born in poor families today might face even worse outcomes than their parents born in the 1970s and 80s because of the greater disparity in earnings.
I agree with the first part. Children born today are more likely to be born to an unpartnered mother, more likely to lack a working role model, more likely to have a parent affected by drugs and alcohol and more likely to spend a longer time on welfare than if they had been born in the 1970s and 80s. But I wouldn't prioritise disparity in incomes (let's not call them "earnings" when many are not) .

 The study results are reported in a newsletter published by Children's Commissioner Dr Russell Wills, who has said that attacking child poverty should be the first of seven goals in an "action plan" arising out of a Government paper on vulnerable children.
There they go again. Come back to the fact that plenty of children in 'poor' families do well, especially those from Asian and Pacific families. Stop focusing on poverty per se but the differences between various poor families and the source of their incomes. You already know that when incomes are low and similar, the children from benefit-dependent homes have worse outcomes.

But let's finish on a positive note:
Professor Fergusson said the study showed that income inequality and behavioural issues, such as parents' addictions, both had to be tackled to fix social problems. "For example, increasing the income of substance-using parents may be counter-productive since it will give them more access to purchasing alcohol or drugs," he said.
Which is a perfect example of why simply lifting the benefits of parents is no panacea. There is no guarantee the extra income will be used on the children. But that was the policy of The Maori Party, The Greens and belatedly, Labour. Thank goodness they lost.


JC said...

What these people will not do is look squarely at one single fact..

Up to sometime in the 60s/ 70s, the children of the poor could look forward to leaving school at age 15, be employed in a relatively low skilled occupation and eventually earn as much or more than a teacher.

But sometime in the 70s it became quite obvious that NZ was falling in international competitiveness, industries could no longer be propped up with subsidies and that the jobs of the future required a much higher level of education.

Suddenly, the years of 5-18 were no longer a schooling interlude before going off to the freezing works.. but the key factor in determining future prospects.

Its this point that gets glossed over.. children and their parents are not told in the starkest terms what will happen to 90% of those who leave school functionally illiterate and innumerate.. and we do not have the tools to ensure that this does not happen.

It no longer matters whether a child comes from a poor or rich family.. there is only the absolute necessity that they learn enough at school to break through an earning ceiling of about $40,000 in the workplace.


unsolicitedious said...

Happy New Year Lindsay!

Yes child poverty and/or child abuse seem to be the sound bites for 2012.

I wonder if it will result in less child poverty & abuse? Doubtful, especially since the overall message in that Herald article is rather dubious (i.e. tends to think welfare helps these kids).

Re increasing benefits & no guarantee they will spend extra on the children....more like we can absolutely certain they wont.

Where child poverty (but not family poverty is concerned), I'm more inclined to get the State to assume complete financial responsibility for the child/ren (but they still live with their parents) & reduce the parent's benefits & put it onto a payment card so they have no autonomy, so they can't make the choice to get drunk or gamble over giving their children food.

Anonymous said...

Competent bright families don't let 4 year olds roam free, climb on cars and just tell them to 'be home before dark'.

That's the difference.

Kiwiguy said...

***There is no guarantee the extra income will be used on the children. ***

Indeed. These people should read Charles Murray's 'Losing Ground' on how social welfare can make matters worse for people.

There is also a discussion here of his ideas concerning the British underclass.

Lindsay Mitchell said...

Thanks Kiwiguy, I have copies of Losing Ground and the Civitas PDF.

But I was disappointed with Murray when he went the way of a Universal Minimum Income, the likes of which Gareth Morgan is now promoting.

Anonymous said...

the jobs of the future required a much higher level of education.

yep and guess what: those jobs are in New York, Texas (not so much California any more!), London, Singapore, Hong Kong, Beijing. Perhaps some in Sydney and Melbourne --- BUT NOT IN NZ

The problem with NZ's education system is a simple one: hardworking Kiwis are brutally taxed --- the highest effective rates in the OECD to pay for leftwing middle class kids to do high school and uni here then they piss off to earn salaries honest Kiwis couldn't dream of!

The problem with NZ's job market isn't that there aren't enough "high tech jobs" is that most Kiwis aren't even worth $12/hr min wage and or even the $6/hr dole rate!

Solution: chop the benefits, cut the taxes, and let Kiwis get paid what they're really worth --- not very fucking much.