D. Dowd Muska


Starving for Progress on a Real Problem

March 28, 2013

This is the story of two problems -- one genuine, one imaginary.

First, the phantom menace. Feeding America, “the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief charity,” claims that “for 1 in 6 people in the United States, hunger is a reality.”

Are 16.7 percent of our countrymen afflicted with chronically growling bellies? Evidence for the allegation is pathetically flimsy.

In a 2011 paper, the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector pored over the federal government’s voluminous numbers on diet and nutrition. Citing U.S. Department of Agriculture findings, the scholar wrote that “during the recession in 2009, 95 percent of all … households report[ed] that they had ‘enough food to eat,’ although not always the kinds of food that they would have preferred.” Just 3.9 percent of households reported that “they ‘sometimes’ did not have enough food to eat, while 1 percent said they ‘often’ did not have enough food.”

In 2008, the USDA analyzed the quality of the chow we choose, using “the department’s Healthy Eating Index-2005 (HEI-2005), a tool designed to measure diet quality in terms of compliance with the key, diet-related recommendations of the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.” There were startlingly few differences between low- and high-income populations -- HEI-2005 marks were essentially the same in the categories of total fruit, meat and beans, total grains, whole grains, and milk.

And kids? The USDA found “no significant difference in total HEI-2005 scores for children ages 2 to 18 years old by family income level (56.4 for children in low-income families; 55.4 for children in higher income families).”

In Rector’s words, “Most poor children today are, in fact, super-nourished, growing up to be, on average, one inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than the GIs who stormed the beaches of Normandy in World War II.”

Hunger-crisis fabulists don’t appear to be interested, but many low-income folks eat too much. A 2010 brief by the National Center for Health Statistics found that males in the underclass are about as excessively fat as their affluent counterparts, while “29 percent of women who live in households with income at or above 350 percent of the poverty level are obese and 42 percent of those with income below 130 percent of the poverty level are obese.”

Isn’t it time to stop wasting resources on a problem that does not exist, and turn toward one that does?

The Land of the Free’s illegitimacy rate tops 40 percent. It’s an inexcusably atrocious figure -- higher than the average for the 28 member countries recently studied by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. (The out-of-wedlock-birth rates for Japan and the Republic of Korea are in the single digits. Many places in “decadent” Europe -- e.g., Germany, Poland, Greece, Switzerland, and Italy -- have shares that are well below America’s.)

Afraid of being labeled “judgmental,” for far too long, individuals and institutions haven’t had the gumption to speak plain truths about illegitimacy. After all, reprisals can be fierce. In 2011, the president of the National Organization for Women shrieked to the Associated Press: “Single moms do a brilliant and amazing job raising their children. It is also true that single moms in this country are systemically underpaid, and systematically under-resourced and systemically unrespected. It’s not the fact they are single moms that makes things difficult.”

That kind of cretinous balderdash should elicit laughter. It also deserves refutation from data-driven sound bites. Now, thanks to Michael Bloomberg, millions of New Yorkers are getting the message.

On March 3rd, the Big Apple’s nannying mayor, taking a break from regulating soda, assaulting the Second Amendment, and fearmongering about “global warming,” launched a “new and dynamic public information campaign to promote the difficulties of teen pregnancy, and why it is better to wait until you are a financially stable adult in a committed relationship to have children.”

In one advertisement, a crying tyke informs his mother that he is “twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen.” In another, a pensive girl asks, “Honestly, Mom, chances are he won’t stay with you. What happens to me?”

The focus Bloomberg’s Human Resources Administration puts on teens is somewhat simplistic -- plenty of unprepared and unmarried women in their twenties and thirties give birth out of wedlock. And private entities, not the government, should fund the campaign.

But when a media-savvy pol who’s a maestro of political correctness is willing to risk elite opprobrium, notice must be taken. Michael Bloomberg grasps the gravity of the illegitimacy catastrophe. Do you?

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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