Besides the disappointing poverty data, the Census release included a very important piece of good news: the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is working really well. The percentage of residents in Connecticut without health insurance dropped from 9.4 to 6.9%. The decrease is statistically significant - close to 90,000 people that did not have insurance last year have it now.
For children the drop is smaller, and not statistically significant, although the starting point was already low: only 3.7% of Connecticut children remain uninsured, down from 4.3% in 2013. Full coverage is within grasp.
The ACA is not just having positive effects in our small, progressive state in the northeast. Nationwide, the uninsured rate has dropped from 14.5% to 11.7% in one year. The decrease will be even steeper with wider Medicaid adoption, but the trend is in the right direction.
As usual, CT Voices have a policy brief covering this issue as well. You can find it here.
Have you ever wondered why CAHS´Kids Count Data Book includes information on low birth weight babies? As you probably know, this is an indicator of the health of the mother during pregnancy, and has a strong effect on child development.
How strong? The New York Times published on Sunday a review of a new study linking birth weight and school achievement, and the results are striking. On average a 10 pound baby will score 80 points higher on the 1,600 point SAT than a 6 pound one. This is the difference between being quite a bit below the median (6-pound babies score in the 43rd percentile) or above it (10-pound babies score on average in the 57th).
Poor neonatal health, then, is crucial not just during pregnancy, but has long term cognitive effects. You can find the full study here.
Inequality, both regarding income and wealth, is slowly getting back to our national debate. The benefits of economic growth in the past three decades have increasingly been going to those at the top of the income distribution, while wages remain flat for the middle class or even slowly decline for the poor.
Although inequality has been trending up in most developed nations, the United States is an outlier on the magnitude of this shift. Consider this, using data from Atkinson, Piketty and Saez (original graph):
In this graph there are two outliers with growing inequality in the past two or three decades: Sweden (that goes from being extraordinarily equal to just very egalitarian) and US. In our case, the US goes from having more or less average levels of inequality to being far and beyond any other developed nation.
Today at the CLASS conference we gave a presentation on the rise of inequality both in the US and in Connecticut, offering a lot more data and graphs showing how things have changed in the country in the last 30 years, and offering some policy ideas on the effects of these growing disparities and how we can address them. You can download the Powerpoint from our presentation here (PDF) o you can have a look at the slides after the jump.
Inequality in Connecticut:
Via Kevin Drum, a quick look at the share of national wealth in the hands of the top 3% of Americans, as compared to the bottom 90%:
The data comes from the Federal Reserve´s 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances. In 1989 the top 3% were already ahead by 11 points. 24 years later, the distance has climbed to 30.
It is important to stress that this is something fairly new. The United States was in 1970 one of the most egalitarian societies in the developed world, with an income distribution not that different from what we could see in Germany or Sweden. Starting in the early eighties things suddenly changed, and the US became a remarkable outlier in this regard, with only the UK coming even close. The rise of inequality in the United States was certainly not inevitable, by any means.
CAHS has published some very interesting research in the past on this subject:
- For information town by town in our state a great starting point is Connecticut´s Kids Count Data Book.
- The Kids Count Data Center has all the data sets available in electronic form, and enables you to play with the data right there. You can plot, for instance, the differences between Hartford and its suburbs.
- Pulling Apart: Connecticut Inequality from 1977 to Present (with CT Voices for Children): on how Connecticut went from being one of the most egalitarian places in the world to one of the most unequal states in the country.
- Opportunity in Connecticut: The Impact of Poverty, Race and Education on Family Economic Success (PowerPoint here): a good overview on how race and poverty impact income mobility in the state.
- Less about poverty, but a stark picture of disparities: The Geography of Gun Violence in Connecticut.
A new report, released this morning by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, finds that while overall Connecticut's children are doing well compared to national standards, the state's black and Hispanic children remain far behind in important development measures. CAHS is the Casey Foundation's KIDS COUNT grantee for Connecticut.
The KIDS COUNT® policy report, Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children, ranked Connecticut ninth, using a first-of-its-kind index measuring child progress.
The report, which can be viewed here, contains both national and state-level data, and the new Race for Results index has been designed to see how children are progressing on key milestones across racial and ethnic groups. The indicators for the index were chosen based on the goal that all children should grow up in economically successful families, live in supportive communities and meet developmental, health and educational milestones. Examples of the indicators, reported by race, include the percent of babies born at normal birth-weight, the percent of young children enrolled in an early learning program, and the percent of high school students graduating on time. Each state is ranked, from 1 to 50, based on a combined "Race for Results" index score.
Overall, Connecticut ranks 9th in the nation. This high-rank masks the persistent and large disparities between races here in the state. Connecticut's white children ranked third compared to their peers across the 50 states, just behind New Jersey and Massachusetts. Black children ranked 16 out of 46 states in the index, and Connecticut's Hispanic children ranked 24 out of 47 states (in some states the population of black and Hispanic children was too small to provide enough data for comparison).
So while the main driver behind our high ranking is from white children doing very well, black and Hispanic children contribute by doing better than one-half to two-thirds of the rest of the country. The good news, however, is tempered when we look internally and compare the scores between white and minority children, to reveal a stark inequality in Connecticut. The differences in scores places Connecticut 39th (out of 46) when comparing white children to black children , and nearly last (46 out of 47) in the difference between white and Hispanic children.
We believe that the findings of this report highlights a troubling reality in the state -- that children of color are not receiving the same opportunities as their white peers. We also believe that the findings are a call to action, and that the index underscores the need to invest in high quality early childhood education, workforce development programs, and wrap-around supports for low-income and vulnerable parents.
We have prepared a short document that uses the report's indicators to compare Connecticut's children with children nationwide - the chart can be viewed here.
CAHS officially presented the 2013 Kids Count Data Book at the Legislative Office Building in the Capitol. You can find the whole book here in PDF form with detailed town by town information in more of a dozen indicators.
The really important part, however, goes beyond the PDF; you can also download the raw data at the newly revamped Kids Count Data Center. Here you can map trends, compare towns and regions and get a more detailed look at the information on the data book. You can generate reports by county, town, school or even Congressional district. You can also check the CT Kids Count score, and see how each region in Connecticut compares to the state and national average.
In a state where data is sometimes hard to find, the data center is a great resource for advocates and policy makers. Make sure to check it out.
The New York Times had a very interesting article yesterday talking about something that looks fairly irrelevant: are health care benefits income?
In July, the Congressional Budget Office — the nonpartisan arbiter of the costs and consequences of government spending — decided that we had not been valuing these benefits enough. In a report on how income and taxes are distributedacross the population, it decided, for the first time, to value health benefits provided by the government at every penny they cost.
The decision stoked a long-simmering debate about how much health care is really worth to poor families who may not have enough to eat. The reclassification of health benefits added $4,600 a year to households in the bottom fifth of income. It shrank the nation’s yawning income gap and muted the increase of inequality over the last three decades. And it changed the picture of what the government does for Americans.
The article has a good discussion on this specific debate, and how it affects official poverty numbers in the US. For instance, many seniors and very low income families now considered poor would move out of these categories, while working families would actually move much closer to the bottom of the income scale.
I largely agree with the CBO with this new calculation – both from a statistical point of view and a political point of view.
For statistics, one very simple reason: that’s how it is usually counted elsewhere in the world. OECD numbers count health care as a fiscal transfer, and it makes sense for the CBO to do the same. After all, it is real money that the government is spending in a real good; if instead of SNAP we had government run soup kitchens it would still be seen as an almost-cash transfer, and this works the same way.
From a political point of view, this change makes clear that the government is very effective getting people out of deep poverty. It really is! There are many, many people in the US and elsewhere that would be much worse off if the Federal government was not around. Medicare has been extremely effective keeping seniors out of poverty, but the numbers barely reflect that.
The new calculation method also makes more clear a big issue with the US safety net and its over-reliance in means tested programs: the huge, crippling fiscal cliff that poor families face when their income starts to slowly creep up towards the middle class. We wrote about this with some detail a few weeks ago, but it is important to keep this in mind. The marginal tax rate of a family moving from 100-125% Federal Poverty Level (FPL) to 185-200% FPL is absurdly high if we take into account benefits loss. "Earning yourself out" of Medicaid / Husky is often a huge blow for a family that lacks health insurance and now has to pay full price for it.
Leaving that aside, the big problem, and something that the revised numbers make more clear, is that right now the US welfare system is pretty terrible moving people from not-so-terrible poverty to self sufficiency. But income mobility and pathways to success deserve their own blog post.