Same data, different conclusions about poverty in “Rick Perry’s Texas”

With the increased national exposure of Texas Governor Rick Perry comes more people picking apart his political career. While Perry has been quick to tout Texas’ economic progress during his tenure, the same data regarding the state’s poverty rate can be used to reach different conclusions.

A CNN article titled “Poverty grows in Rick Perry’s Texas” has this to say:

While it’s true that Texas is responsible for 40% of the jobs added in the U.S. over the past two years, its poverty rate also grew faster than the national average in 2010.

Texas ranks 6th in terms of people living in poverty. Some 18.4% of Texans were impoverished in 2010, up from 17.3% a year earlier, according to Census Bureau data released this week. The national average is 15.1%.

And being poor in Texas isn’t easy. The state has one of the lowest rates of spending on its citizens per capita and the highest share of those lacking health insurance. It doesn’t provide a lot of support services to those in need: Relatively few collect food stamps and qualifying for cash assistance is particularly tough.

“There are two tiers in Texas,” said Miguel Ferguson, associate professor of social work at University of Texas at Austin. “There are parts of Texas that are doing well. And there is a tremendous number of Texans, more than Perry has ever wanted to acknowledge, that are doing very, very poorly.”

This is the more negative interpretation of this data that highlights a growing underclass in Texas. Perry may talk about job growth but there is a growing segment of the population that isn’t participating in this growth.

On the other side of the spectrum, a “Democrat and urbanist” (Instapundit’s description) suggests “The Texas Story Is Real“:

Lastly, the poverty rate is higher in Texas than in the US as a whole – 17.2% vs. 14.3%, not a small difference. However, the gap actually narrowed between the two during the 2000s, as the chart below in the percentage point change in the poverty rate illustrates.

[The graph shows the “Change in % of Population For Whom Poverty Status Is Determined (2000-2009).” Texas is at roughly 1.8%, the United States as a whole at roughly 1.95%.]

While every statistic isn’t a winner for Texas, most of them are, notably on the jobs front. And if nothing else, it does not appear that Texas purchased job growth at the expense of job quality, at least not at the aggregate level.  There are certainly deeper places one might drill into and find areas of concern or underperformance, but that’s true of everywhere.  And these top line statistics are commonly used to compare cities and states. Unless Texas critics are ready to retire these measures from their own arsenal, it seems clear that Texas is a winner.  The Texas story is real.

While acknowledging that Texas has a higher poverty rate (and this doesn’t include 2010 data), this commentator suggests that Texas had a smaller increase in this population compared to the United States.

This is a classic example of how two sides that are looking at the same data can come to two very different conclusions. For one, the poverty data indicates that Rick Perry is allowing some of Texas’ population to fall behind while the other suggests the poverty data isn’t so bad since the poverty rate grew less than that of the United States as a whole. In this case, I suspect the data itself won’t win over either side since ideology trumps the data.

More broadly, will most Americans consider these fine-tuned arguments when considering Rick Perry as a candidate? Probably not. Quoting a sociologist in a post yesterday, “Questioning someone’s religious sincerity is totally a factor of whether you already like that person.” This may also apply to their supposed economic impact.

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