Beginning three years ago, the Annie E. Casey Foundation compiled a report on the future prospects for children. The leftist organization advocates for government policies to benefit children, principally through expanding government and redistributing wealth.
The 2017 edition highlights disparity in financial resources enjoyed by the typical child among regions, races, and the intersection of both. It creates the index by combining a dozen indicators, some measuring context like whether parents have a high school diploma and others measuring achievement like proficiency in school, to come up with a score.
It turns out that Asian/Pacific Islander and white children separate themselves with significantly higher scores from those of black, Hispanic, and American Indian families. Louisiana follows the pattern, although among the states its categories ranked from fair to close to the bottom, meaning overall the state ended up near the bottom. That comes from relatively low scores in educational achievement and attainment and in poverty measures.
The authors demonstrate they have some clue as to what factors can cause gaps. They state, “[w]e know what children need: strong families; environments that support healthy early brain development; and the opportunity to develop social and emotional skills …. [a]nd financial stability.” They also note “obstacles” to “opportunity” in an unbiased fashion. But then they absolutely founder when they conclude, “Our country’s history contains numerous examples of mistreatment of people of color that helped form the roots of the deep differences in opportunity among children today.”
That statement’s validity would increase through greater nuance by recognizing certain white ethnicities historically also faced “mistreatment,” such as the Irish. At the same time, its incompleteness sends its analysis off track, because it fails to account for mistreatment of Asians yet they overcame that to produce the most hospitable environment for children’s chances, according to the researchers.
Accordingly, real world conditions simply cannot sustain the assumption that past actions necessarily must shape ineluctably today’s environment. That would make sense only if policy today explicitly discriminated against certain groups, such as in access to jobs and education. In fact, much of the opposite exists: policy and government bureaucracies today rigorously demand and enforce equal opportunity for all.
Note that those shilling for greater government intervention into people’s lives and for redistributive government – as one Casey functionary put it, the differences caused by “decisions we make on things like corporate taxes, things like wages, healthcare” that call for statist approaches – must make this assumption in order to justify more activist government. Unless deeming the differences out of the control of individuals, the whole argument for collectivist policy collapses.
Yet, since the evidence shows that “deep differences in opportunity” do not come from systemic forces, then these must stem from individual choices by the families involved – choices influenced by policies congruent with bigger government. For example, the two starkest differences on the indicators between the higher and lower scoring groups appear in married households and head of household educational attainment.
Lower proportions by race in both areas don’t come from lack of opportunity; forcible segregation into inferior schooling by law in fact disappeared decades ago and, if anything, marriage opportunities provided by government have gone overboard. Rather, orientations to pursue both of these among individuals appear differentially, best understood in that some people have future orientations – willing to delay gratification and invest in education, careers, spouses, and children – while others exhibit present orientations that want to experience rewards now, regardless of how that attitude may squander resources and opportunity to build for the future.
If anything, activist government encourages the latter rather than the former. By creating such a generous welfare state (in Louisiana, the most commonly-used programs for a single-parent family pay an equivalent of $10.70 an hour normalized to the standard work week), policy creates disincentives to adopt character traits congruent with a future orientation and to achieve to improve a family’s financial standing. Yet the Casey folks seem to endorse making the problem worse by having government pursue policy options that reduce opportunities for jobs and increase benefits for the able-bodied who don’t work.
Trapped by ideology, the Casey organization ends up taking some good information and turning it into poor policy recommendations. Louisiana can move forward on this issue by accepting the former and doing the reverse of the latter, such as by instituting work requirements for reception of welfare benefits.