Saturday, June 04, 2016

Report summarized in NBR

The NBR has kindly run an op-ed summarizing my report as 'free' content over the long weekend:

"On the back of last week's budget, opposition politicians, academics and other advocates again expressed outrage at the incidence of child poverty. The culprits routinely blamed are unemployment, high housing costs and insufficient benefit payments.
But there is another factor – probably the most important – that is constantly overlooked. That is the rapid change in family structure.
In 1961, New Zealand experienced peak fertility. The average number of births per woman was 4.3. There were more babies born that year than ever before or ever since."


Thursday, June 02, 2016

The inconsistency of the Left - featured comment

From Jim Rose:

"One of the oddities of the 21st-century left is if you are gay, your life is incomplete unless you can marry and have children. If you suggest others, in particular parents, have an incomplete life if they do not marry, you are some sort of throwback."
I did not oppose same-sex marriage. I think marriage is a great institution. But it is odd how hard the left fought for gay inclusion and yet, when you put up data that shows de facto relationships are far less stable than marriages and therefore contribute more to child poverty, their defence of cohabiting as equal to marriage is strident.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Responding to criticism that goes beyond mere dismissal - there's not much of it

On the back of the release of Child Poverty and Family Structure on Monday, I had a busy day talking to media, dealing with e-mails, etc.

The attacks started around midday from the likes of Nigel Latta, Max Rashbrooke, Susan St John, Marama Davidson  and Janet Wilson. In a nutshell, after much uncomplimentary preamble, Latta said "... correlation does not equal causation". Rashbrooke said my stats were high school level. Green MP, Marama Davidson said I had misinterpreted  the statistics and NewstalkZB panelist Janet Wilson said Bob McCoskrie had made me write stuff I didn't believe.

Susan St John is the only one who has chosen to actually argue against elements of the report.

So I am going to respectfully address her objections.

"To say that parental breakup is the prime cause of child poverty is a bit like saying spots are the prime cause of measles."

The report says that sole parent families are the poorest in NZ (quoting MSD). It identifies the various pathways into sole parenthood, with especial attention given to those females who are single parents from the time of their child's birth (sole parents from the get-go as Larry Williams puts it). 2015 birth registration data showed 5% of babies had no father details recorded, and a further 15% had fathers with different residential addresses to the mothers. This is further reflected in 17.5% of babies born last year being reliant on welfare by the end of the year. At no point in the report did I say "parental breakup is the prime cause of child poverty."

"We can agree with her that sole parents and their children have higher rates of child poverty compared to married or defacto couples with children.  But around 50% of poor children come from two parent households."

Again I address this in the report saying,

While child poverty also occurs among two parent families, its severity and longevity tend to differ, primarily because two parent families generally derive their income from the market which is subject to fluctuations; single parents are more likely to derive their income from a benefit which is reasonably static and not subject to market fluctuations. Ironically, while benefit income is more secure, market income is more likely to improve over time. Sometimes a reported low annual income can mask a family’s financially stronger position when home ownership and savings are accounted for. But home ownership rates are also low among single parents. In 2001 only 9.7%
of single parent householders owned their own home. The largest group of homeowners was couple-with-children at 42%.
When debt ratios – dollars of debt versus every $100 dollars of assets – are measured, single parents have $56 for three or more children whereas couples have $18 for three or more children. 18
 St John continues:
It is deeply offensive to read this:
“It is not the intention of this paper to explore at length why marriage has fallen out of favour with most social science academics and policy-makers. The aim has been to show that marriage provides the best economic environment for raising children. The evidence is overwhelming and incontrovertible.“
Apart from the blanket statement that marriage is best when often it clearly is not, her snipe at left wing academics is misplaced.
Marriage does provide the best economic environment. I demonstrate it with the statistics extracted from customised Census 2013 data. I couldn't doctor that data. St John continues,
"Thinkers on the left favour strong, caring, mature relationships of equals. The left reject the limitations of traditional marriages where the woman is assumed to be dependent on the man. Parents who are respectful and caring of each other do provide a good environment for children- this can often be found in ‘unwed’ groups,  but is too often not found in those who are traditionally  ‘wed’. "

All the paper differentiates between is sole parent families, cohabiting families and legally married families; their incomes and, in the case of two parent relationships, propensity to separate over time (though I do briefly comment on the increasing incidence of dual earner families with children, adding to household income inequality - these are hardly 'woman dependent on man' families.)

"Lindsay Mitchell wants to claim child poverty is caused by marriage dissolution at the same time as she claims policy encourages that dissolution because separated couples are better off on welfare."

It took me a while to sort this one out. What the report says is that benefit settings incentivised separations if a mother preferred to get an income in her own name because 1/ it would match her partner's unemployment benefit and 2/ she won't have to share it. But it'll still be a low welfare income leaving her and the children around or below the poverty threshold.

"What exactly does Lindsay Mitchell want here? Less welfare? Policy implications of this report might be taken that she intends a reduction in the safety net yet further to limit ‘incentive to separate’ and to further stigmatize the unwed. These moves would be extremely dangerous. It is best to accept the world the way it is, rather than make policy for the world the way family values ideologues think it ought to be."

The report did not suggest any policy solutions. The only suggestions are St John's.

(On this post I won't publish any borderline comments.)

Monday, May 30, 2016

Family Structure and Child Poverty: What is the evidence telling us?

Very busy with media this morning.

Read the report, commissioned by Family First, here.

On with Leighton Smith at 9.30am.

Executive Summary

Despite families being much smaller, parents being older, mothers being better educated and having much higher employment rates, child poverty has risen significantly since the 1960s.

In 1961, 95 percent of children were born to married couples; by 2015 the proportion had fallen to 53 percent.

For Maori, 72 percent of births were to married parents in 1968; by 2015 the proportion had fallen to just 21 percent.

In 2015, 27 percent of registered births were to cohabiting parents. The risk of parental separation by the time the child is aged five is, however, 4-6 times greater than for married parents.

Cohabiting relationships are becoming less stable over time.

Cohabiting parents are financially poorer than married parents. They form an interim group between married and single parent families.

Single parent families make up 28 percent of all families with dependent children. These families are the poorest in New Zealand.

51% of children in poverty live in single parent families.

Single parents have the lowest home ownership rates and the highest debt ratios.

Children in sole parent families are often exposed to persistent poverty and constrained upward mobility.

Of registered births in 2015, 5% had no recorded father details and a further 15% had fathers living at a different home address to the mother.

Of all babies born in 2015, 17.5% (10,697) were reliant on a main benefit by the end of their birth year, over two thirds on a single parent benefit. Over half had Maori parents/caregivers.

The higher poverty rates for Maori and Pasifika children are reflected in the greater number of sole parent and cohabiting families.

Rapidly changing family structure has contributed significantly to increasing income inequality.

Child poverty is consistently blamed on unemployment, low wages, high housing costs and inadequate social security benefits. Little attention has been given to family structure.

Despite marriage being the best protector against child poverty it has become politically unfashionable – some argue insensitive – to express such a view.

But if there is to be any political will to solve child poverty the issue has to be confronted.