A few weeks ago I posted an article on the Rebel Yid Facebook Page by local columnist Charles Richardson, Tripping Over Stereotypes. It addressed a comment from Rick Santorum that assumed that most welfare recipients were black, even in Iowa with a small black population. It did not brand Santorum as a racist, but addressed some common stereotypes that we often innocently stumble on.
The post received several strong comments. One reader went on a bit of a racist rant and was blocked, but others made remarks that also caused me some concern. One reader noted that while minorities were only 3% of the population in Iowa they comprised 15% of the welfare recipients and were thus 5 times more likely to be on welfare.
Some readers stopped following me, claiming I was too liberal. I have certainly lost followers before but never for that reason. They may have lent some small credibility to my often challenged claim to be beyond left and right.
In an effort to address the other comments, there are two common fallacies on such statistics. The first is the fallacy of reversal. If 30% percent of welfare recipients are minority that does not mean that 30% of minorities are on welfare. ( the numbers are simply to illustrate the point and are not real.) In Poland just before WW II, 20% of the small Polish Communist Party was Jewish, but this represented less than 1% of the large Jewish population of Poland- 10% of the population before the holocaust).
These fallacies have enormous implications. Many American leaders feared opening up the immigration before the war, believing that Jews were largely communist.
This fallacy is common. We have been told that marijuana is a gateway drug to harder drugs because a large percent of heroin users had previously smoked marijuana. But just because 90% of heroin addicts had previously used pot does not mean that 90% of pot smokers will become heroin addicts. This same logic could be used to make beer and cigarettes a gateway drug.
The second most common statistical fallacy is that correlation is equivalent to causation. The correlation of minority status to welfare recipients does not mean that the cause of dependency is the fact of being in a minority. Whether the assumption is genetic inferiority or social discrimination, the proper research will address the significant number of other factors that would explain this correlation.
You are more likely to be in poverty if you have dropped out of high school, had a child out of wedlock as a teenager, have been convicted of a crime, use recreational drugs regularly, or are unaffiliated with a church.
If I was to describe two different people: one was a high school drop out single mother with her first child at 17, and the other was only described as a minority, and you had to guess which one was more likely to be on welfare, you would quickly realize that factors other than minority status may be involved in poverty.
Charles Murray’s new book, Coming Apart, focuses on the white community only to illustrate that the loss of common values is more critical to understanding these social problems than minority profiling. Bradford Wilcox reviewed the book in the Wall Street Journal in Values Inequality, 1/31/12.
Focusing on whites to avoid conflating race with class, Mr. Murray contends instead that a large swath of white America—poor and working-class whites, who make up approximately 30% of the white population—is turning away from the core values that have sustained the American experiment. At the same time, the top 20% of the white population has quietly been recovering its cultural moorings after a flirtation with the counterculture in the 1960s and 1970s. Thus, argues Mr. Murray in his elegiac book, the greatest source of inequality in America now is not economic; it is cultural.
Since the 1980s, divorce rates have risen, marital quality has fallen and nonmarital childbearing is skyrocketing among the white lower class. Less than 5% of white college-educated women have children outside of marriage, compared with approximately 40% of white women with just a high-school diploma. The bottom line is that a growing marriage divide now runs through the heart of white America.
Mr. Murray tells similar stories about crime, religion and work. Who would have guessed, for instance, that the white upper class is now much more likely to be found in church on any given Sunday than the white working class? Or that, just before the recession struck, white men in the 30-49 age bracket with a high-school diploma were about four times more likely to have simply stopped looking for work, compared with their college-educated peers? By Mr. Murray’s account, faith and industriousness are in increasingly short supply among working-class whites.
We have a political system that is addicted to race to explain our social problems. This may be as much of an obstacle to understanding our problem as the stereotypes that remain in our discourse.