Hate Crimes In America

In the wake of the mass shooting in Orlando, the NY Times pulled together data about hate crimes in America. Click Here.

The articles leads: “Even before the shooting rampage at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people were already the most likely targets of hate crimes in America, according to an analysis of data collected by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” Continue reading »

The Shrinking Middle Class

PEW posted a report on the shrinking middle-class. See link: PEW Report. The bottom line is:  “The national trend is clear—the middle class is losing ground as a share of the population, and its share of aggregate U.S. household income is also declining.”

The first question: how do they define middle-class? It is complicated. They start by basing the calculations on household income and family size. They state: In this report, “middle-income” Americans are defined as adults whose annual household income is two-thirds to double the national median, after incomes have been adjusted for household size. In 2014, the national middle-income range was about $42,000 to $125,000 annually for a household of three. Lower-income households have incomes less than 67% of the median and upper-income households have incomes that are more than double the median.”

According to PEW, a family of 4 is middle-class if their income is between $48,083 and $144,250.

Who is 'middle income' and 'upper income' in 2014?

Continue reading »

Child Poverty Rates Decline When Government Programs are Measured

The Annie Casey Foundation in a report “Measuring Access to Opportunity in the United States” released a report using the latest data about child poverty in the U.S. In this report, they estimated the impacts of several key federal government anti-poverty programs. They conclude that the percent of children living in poverty declined from 33% to 18% when government programs are included. They state:

“The federal government’s official poverty measure, created in the 1960s, fails to illustrate the impact of programs designed to help families succeed. This KIDS COUNT data snapshot highlights the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which captures the effect of safety-net programs and tax policies on families. By using the SPM, researchers have determined that the child poverty rate has declined from 33% to 18% as a result of these programs and policies.”
casey poverty chart

See Report: Click Here

Continue reading »

Body Mass Index: How Good a Measure

bmi-comparisonMother Jones posted an article questioning whether the body mass index is “a big fat scam.” It raises questions about the measure itself, the extent to which it is a predictor of health, and the politics.
See article: Click Here
In brief, the authors write:

“Doctors typically use BMI to advise their patients: If you’re below 18.5, you’re underweight; 18.5-24.9 is normal; 25-29.9 is overweight; and 30-plus is obese.

There’s just one problem: A higher BMI doesn’t necessarily mean you’re less healthy. In fact, patients with heart disease and metabolic disorders whose BMIs classify them as overweight or mildly obese survive longer than their normal and underweight peers. A 2013 meta-analysis by the National Center for Health Statistics looked at 97 studies covering nearly 3 million people and concluded that those with overweight BMIs were 6 percent less likely to die in a given year than those in the normal range. These results were even more pronounced for middle-aged and elderly people. This is known as the obesity paradox. “The World Health Organization calls BMIs of 25 to 29.9 overweight,” says Paul McAuley, an exercise researcher at Winston-Salem State University. “That is actually what is healthiest for middle-aged Americans.”

“And get this: While epidemiologists use BMI to calculate national obesity rates (nearly 35 percent for adults and 18 percent for kids), the distinctions can be arbitrary. In 1998, the National Institutes of Health lowered the overweight threshold from 27.8 to 25—branding roughly 29 million Americans as fat overnight—to match international guidelines. But critics noted that those guidelines were drafted in part by the International Obesity Task Force, whose two principal funders were companies making weight loss drugs. In his recent book Fat Politics: The Real Story Behind America’s Obesity Epidemic, political scientist Eric Oliver reports that the chairman of the NIH committee that made the decision, Columbia University professor of medicine Xavier Pi-Sunyer, was consulting for several diet drug manufacturers and Weight Watchers International.”

The measure itself is problematical. People with muscle will likely have higher BMI, but the BMI does not account for that differential.
Sometimes simple measures are not as accurate as we would like, making prediction about causality problematical. This is a great topic for those looking to explore the nexus of science, the media, public policy, and politics.

links: Washington Post article: change to BMI standard: Click here

Link to obesity meta analysis study:Click here

What I learned about measuring obesity

The starting point is defining obesity. What is normal weight, overweight and obese and how are they defined and measured?

Obesity is measured by Body Mass Index (BMI), which attempts to make an estimate about body fat based on a person’s weight and height.
The Formula: BMI = Weight (lb) / (Height (in) x Height (in)) x 703

This means: Weight is divided by Height squared; that result is then multiplied by 703.

For example: someone 6 feet tall (72 inches) and weighing 200 pounds will have a BMI of 27.1 based on the formula:

  1. First square height.  72*72 = 5,184
  2.  Divide by weight by height squared: 200/5,184 = .0385
  3. Then multiple by 703. = 27.
  4. Continue reading »

What’s in a Name?

This Q and A from PEW:
PEW Ask the Expert
Q. I am always frustrated by polls asking whether one is a liberal, moderate or conservative. My feeling is that about two thirds of Americans are liberal on social issues and conservative on economic issues. (In other words they are actually Libertarians) Can’t you ask this question better? Even laying out “litmus test” questions on gun control, abortion, the effect of more or less taxes and deficits, gay marriage, national defense (foreign adventures), space exploration, size of government, global warming (and what to do about it, assuming it exists), etc. I fear that many people answer “moderate” because they are taking an average, so to speak, while having very strong but inconsistent and diverging opinions — anything but moderate.

Answer: The summary measure of political ideology you refer to has been in use — in one form or another — since the 1930s. It is useful to us for summarizing trends in ideology, and when used in conjunction with party affiliation provides a powerful way of segmenting the public. We certainly find that self-labeled conservatives tend to take conservative positions on issues, while self-described liberals tend to take liberal positions. Moderates, as you suggest, often express a mix of views. Continue reading »

Is It Government’s Job to Make Us Happy?

I came across Arthur C. Brooks’ book : Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters For America—And How We Can Get More Of It, published in 2008

From a research perspective, we have to first ask what is happiness, whether it can be measured and if so, how. “Happiness is measurable,” Brooks states. (p.9).  Really?  In my world, I operate with a general guiding principle that says concepts like happiness do not lend themselves to objective measurement. He uses surveys that have asked  people to report their perceptions about their happiness. This is self-reported data and it is as good as it is going to get.  Surveys are a valid methodology and we can track people’s self-reports over time. We tend to assume that any problems with the self-reported data will balance out over time.

One premise of his research is that is a connection between large governmental policies and people’s perceptions about their happiness. Do you think that is the case?

Looking at 30 years of data, the self-reported levels of happiness do not vary much over time. Analysis of the General Social Survey (a very large national survey) found that in 1972, 30% reported being “very happy” and 53% reported being “pretty happy.” In 2002, 30% reported being “very happy” and 57% reported being “pretty happy.” (See table 1, p. 213). It is worth noting that even a national tragedy like 9/11 did not appear to impact self-reported levels of happiness. Continue reading »

Federal Expenditures on Elementary-Age Children in 2008

The Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute just released its study on Federal Expenditures on Elementary-Age Children in 2008 (Ages 6–11). (download at: http://www.brookings.edu/reports/2010/0415_public_investment_isaacs.aspx

The researchers report they are providing “first-ever estimates of federal expenditures” for this age group, and conclude that “the federal government spent $113 billion in outlays and on reductions in taxes on elementary-age children in 2008.”

It is no easy task to locate all possible federal dollars that are spent on children aged 6-11. Often times, this information may not captured.  Medicaid and welfare, for example, do not break down its expenditures based on ages of these children. The researchers acknowledge that they made estimates.

They added up outlays along with what I would call tax expenditures (the taxes that would have been collected if federal tax law did not grant exemptions, tax credits and deductions) to get to their total.

I was surprised to see tax expenditures included here–the $23 billion in reductions in taxes and another $23 billion in refundable portions of tax credits. I have a hard time seeing this as a federal expenditure–there is no clear program or intended purpose specific to these children. The purpose of these tax expenditures is to ease the tax burdens of families. Continue reading »

Where Does Income Tax Money Really Go?

A handout, prepared by the War Resisters League, had the pie chart shown below. As I looked at, it seemed different from the budget figures I had seen. I am used to seeing $3.8 trillion as the spending budget for Fiscal Year 2011 and a smaller percent spent on Defense.  I was confused initially, then I remembered:  look at what is counted and what is not.

The War Resisters leave out the $726 billion to be spent for Social Security, arguing that that is covered by social security taxes rather than income taxes.  It is therefore misleading, in their view, to include social security in calculating the spending distribution of income tax revenues.  As a result, the proportion spent on Defense is higher (48%) as compared to the proportion (24%) shown on the offical pie chart.

Does the logic make sense? Or does this fit a politial agenda?

Here is the budget chart:

See the fine print chart at: http://www.warresisters.org/files/FY2011piechart.pdf