Saturday, August 7, 2010

Poverty's Endless Consequences

Slate's Explainer addresses the question of why so many Americans cannot swim.  Between 37% to 54%, depending on the study.  Yow!  That is simply stunning.  I knew the percentage would be significant but between one third and a half?  It turns out that these numbers are highly correlated with ethnicity and income.  African-Americans have the lowest percentage of swimmers, and, not coincidentally, "Black children between 5 and 14 years old are more than three times as likely to drown as their white peers."  Kids who get the reduced-cost lunches (a way to measure who is poor) feel twice as uncomfortable in the shallow end. 

So, this reminds me that poverty's impact is more complex and less visible than we might ordinarily consider.  Poor people drown.  They not only have health problems, nutrition issues, live in areas with more crime, but they drown.  And of course, no irony intended, this drowning problem is merely the tip of the iceberg.  There are probably lots of other kinds of outcomes that we would ordinarily not connect with poverty but are related.

Inequality will always exist, and I actually do not have a huge problem with the fact of inequality as I think capitalism is better than alternative economic systems (just as democracy can suck at times but is better than the alternatives).  It is not the fact of inequality but the depths/heights/skewness of it.  Being at the bottom end does not have to be so nasty.  And yet we are cutting pre-K education programs to cut the deficit.  Of course, that cuts one kind of deficit perhaps (very marginally so) while deepening a more substantial deficit--the human capital deficit.  We owe a great deal more to the folks at the bottom end, and, with less education at the beginning, we will owe even more. 


Erin Jenne said...

Great post, Steve! I would have reposted this on my fb page, but you don't have that widget enabled.
P.S. I can swim :)

Erin Jenne said...

never mind...I just found it.