Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

By all accounts, Jason Riley's op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about how wrong it is to compare Ferguson to Selma is the same old tripe conservatives usually fall back on to blame African Americans (and government anti-discrimination policies) for the current disparities between blacks and whites in this country.
The socioeconomic problems that blacks face today have nothing to do with civil-rights barriers and nearly everything to do with a black subculture that rejects certain attitudes and behaviors that are conducive to upward mobility.
We've been through this one before. To accept that statement is to dismiss the systemic bias that exists in our employment practices, educational system, criminal justice system, health care system, etc. It is the way white people reinforce their denial about reality.

But Riley threw a new one into this article that I hadn't seen before. On the one hand, he praises the "brave souls" who marched 50 years ago and won the battles of the civil rights era. And on the other hand, he suggests that perhaps those battles weren't necessary.
Liberalism, moreover, tends to ignore or play down the black advancement that took place prior to the major civil-rights triumphs of the 1960s and instead credits government interventions that at best continued trends already in place. Black poverty fell 40 percentage points between 1940 and 1960—a drop that no Great Society antipoverty program has ever come close to matching.
Got me! That one made me look. But it didn't take long to figure out the slight of hand Riley was pulling with those statistics.

First of all, you only have to imagine what else was happening in America from 1940-1960. We were coming out of the Great Depression where - in 1933 - estimates are that 60% of Americans were living in poverty. During the time Riley is referencing, poverty rates plummeted across the board (thanks to the New Deal and WWII). Even so, by 1960, census data shows that 58% of African Americans were still living in poverty (compared to a national average of 25%, with 20% for white people).

That, my friends, is how you tell lies with statistics - especially if you want to plant the seed in people's mind that government intervention in protecting civil rights was no more of an issue back then than it is today.

1 comment:

  1. So he didn't lie. An improving economy for all Americans helped blacks more than all the government transfers of the next 50 years. You're the one trying to confuse people.

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