Allegheny County #1

So just an update on the latest data from the Census Bureau’s Small Area Health Insurance Estimates program which put out 2010 data last month.  noted last year was that for 2009 the estimated health insurance coverage for children (under age 18) population was higher than any county in Pennsylvania.

So with 2010 data that is still the case.  At 3.7% of children uninsured by my quick scan it looks to me to be one of the lowest uninsured rate for large county in the US.  Honolulu, Hawaii,  DuPage county in Illinois, Hartford and New Haven in CT and Middlesex County, MA are all a bit lower, but that is it.

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Health Insurance

Some new data out on Small Area Health Insurance Estimates from the census folks.

They have a tool there you can use to look this up yourself, but what I get is that for children (age 18 and under) in Pennsylania, Allegheny County is tied with Montgomery for the lowest percentage without health insurance at 3.9%.  The highest: 10% in Lancaster County.  Data is for 2009.

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Does the importance of values encouraged in children vary with size of government?

If big government is taking us towards a brave new world we might expect this to show up in differences in values held by people in countries with big and small governments. As discussed in my last post there seems to be some evidence that people in high-income countries with big governments tend to hold more secular-rational values than those in high-income countries with small governments. In this post I explore this further by looking particularly at differences in the values that children are encouraged to learn at home.

World Values Surveys ask a directly relevant question about what qualities it is especially important for children to be encouraged to learn at home. Respondents are asked to choose from the following list: good manners, independence, hard work, feeling of responsibility, imagination, tolerance and respect for other people, thrift (saving money and things), determination/ perseverance, religious faith, unselfishness and obedience.

I have focused on the 14 high-income countries with protestant or catholic heritage for which data is available from the most recent World Values Survey (WVS 2005 – 2008). These countries have been ranked by size of government, using government spending as a percentage of GDP as an indicator of size of government (OECD Economic Outlook data on general government outlays as a percentage of nominal GDP, averaged over the three years 2005–08).

Child qualities which apparently differ in importance between the countries with big and relatively small governments were identified by looking at the differences between the averages for the four countries with largest and smallest size of government. The differences were greatest (relative to the mean) in the case of hard work, thrift, religious faith and unselfishness.

The results are shown in the following table in which countries are ranked by size of government. For each variable the five highest numbers are shown against a red background and the five lowest ratings are shown against a blue background.

The results suggest that hard work tends to be more strongly encouraged in the countries with relatively small governments, while thrift tends to be more strongly encouraged in countries with big governments. (I find that result surprising because hard work and thrift often tend to be linked together as traditional virtues.) The results for religious faith and unselfishness do not appear to be consistently related to size of government.

It will be interesting to see whether any consistent patterns emerge from an examination of other values that apparently differ according to size of government.

Inequality at Birth

Emmanuel Saez’s work on income inequality has been getting a lot of attention recently, for good reason. He has shown the extent to which inequality has grown rapidly in recent years. The benefit of economic growth this decade has gone almost exclusively to the extremely rich. The top 1% of the population now earn 25% of all income.

Yet I fear that this work may underestimate the true nature of inequality in our society. One of the flaw of much of the work on income and wealth distribution is that it fails to account for age. For example, my income is currently below the median household income; yet as a 23 year old with no dependents I am financially better off than the average American. The way that income and wealth distribution vary throughout the lifecycle of an age cohort is an important area where further research is needed.

In a perfect world everyone would start at the same place, as time passed differences would emerge due to talent, hard work and other elements of the meritocracy. Of course, that is not the world that we live in. Children born in wealthier families start life with a huge head start.

Marion Nestle recently noted that half of the children in America are currently eligible for government food aid. It is no secret that fertility rates in America are negatively correlated with income and education. Given the stark level of inequality present in America today, it stands to reason that inequality is even greater among newborns and young children than among the population at large.

This reality could have severe consequences for the future of the American economy and society. Numerous studies have shown how growing up in poverty can adversely affect a persons prospects for life. Is the future generation of Americans going to disproportionately suffer these consequences. Will the relative scarcity of Children from affluent backgrounds give those fortunate few an even larger advantage than the well off currently enjoy. Or will new opportunities open up to the children of the poor.

More research needs to be done to uncover the rates of inequality among households with young children, and to see how this rate has changed over time. A cohort based approach to income and inequality studies would provide a better understanding of how our society and economy is likely to evolve.

While more research is needed, I think it is clear that a significant commitment needs to be made to ensure that our future generation does not disproportionately grow up in poverty.