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David Brooks is not on a Path of Upward Intellectual Mobility



One could probably observe the fact that David “vast, lavishly taxpayer-subsidized spaces for entertaining” Brooks’s scorching Burke-abject-morons hot take on the killing of Freddie Gray cites Robert “alas, not Paul” Samuelson favorably and drop the mic. But it’s probably worth explaining in some detail why Brooks and Samuelson’s vaguely fact-resembling assertion that $14,000 per year is spent on poor people in the U.S. is abject nonsense, and Annie Lowrey does the job very effectively:

First of all, Samuelson is citing Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution, who calculated that in 2011, spending dedicated to the poor averaged out to $13,000 per person below the federal poverty line — I’m not sure where the $14,000 and the 2013 are coming from. What counts as “spending dedicated to the poor” for the purposes of his tally? Any means-tested program, meaning Medicaid, food stamps, the earned-income tax credit, the child tax credit, the Supplemental Security Income program, welfare, housing assistance, Medicare Part D, grants for school districts serving low-income children, and Pell Grants.

But many of those programs aren’t just for families below the poverty line. Medicaid helps the disabled as well, for instance, and a huge chunk of its spending goes to doctors, hospitals, and administrators. Those school grants go to schools, not families. The earned-income tax credit goes to hundreds of thousands of families that are not below the poverty line. You don’t need to be below the poverty line to get food stamps, either. Dividing spending on all those programs by the number of people in poverty, then, is a daft way to measure public spending on anti-poverty programs.


One last point. Brooks uses some very tricksy, misleading math to show that the federal government has spent more and more on poor families in the past 30 years, to no avail. But over that time, government spending has actually drifted away from the families that need it the most. Robert A. Moffitt of Baltimore’s own Johns Hopkins University has found that aid to profoundly poor single-parent families dropped 35 percent between 1983 and 2004, while it rose 74 percent for those earning a bit more more. “You would think that the government would offer the most support to those who have the lowest incomes and provide less help to those with higher incomes,” he said, releasing his findings. “But that is not the case.”

Much more at the link, which will definitely repay your time. And when you’re done, more from Dean Baker.

…for whatever reason, Paul Krugman has decided to weigh in:


Last year was the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, and the date provoked a flurry of studies correcting some widespread myths; perhaps most notable was an enlightening report from the Council of Economic Advisers.

What needed correcting? Basically, the “nation of takers” narrative, according to which we have been pouring ever-growing sums into helping the poor while making no dent in the poverty rate.

The reality is that spending on “income security” — which includes virtually everything except Medicaid that you could construe as aid to people with low incomes — has basically been flat for decades, with a temporary (and appropriate) spurt due to unemployment benefits and food stamps during the Great Recession…


So it is somewhat disheartening to see the thoroughly debunked narrative still emerging in some of the Baltimore-inspired discussion.

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