Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Have The Engines Of Upward Mobility Stalled in the U.S.?

Although the American Dream still exerts a strong hold on our collective imagination, there is mounting evidence that the United States actually has low rates of relative income mobility compared to other countries.  In a paper presented at the 2014 Federal Reserve Bank of Boston conference, Richard Reeves and Isabel Sawhill examine the gap between children born into disadvantaged and advantaged circumstances, some of the factors that may affect each group's pathways, and the impact of targeted policy interventions on closing the gap between them.

As Reeves and Sawhill note, there are many ways to measure mobility: should we focus on equality of opportunity or outcomes? "Is the main concern with absolute mobility (how people fare compared to their parents)--or with relative mobility (how people fare with regard to their peers)? Is the right metric for mobility earnings, income, education, or wellbeing, or some other yardstick?  Is the primary concern with upward mobility from the bottom or with mobility across the spectrum?"  For the purpose of this paper, Reeves and Sawhill are primarily interested in relative intergenerational income mobility (RIIM).

Evidence from the research literature indicates that the U.S. has fairly low rates of RIIM, and that there are strong geographical, racial, educational, and to a lesser extent, gender, patterns to RIIM.  Reeves and Sawhill's findings confirm these results.  The social mobility transition matrices they constructed based on their data show that "the U.S. suffers from a high degree of intergenerational income 'stickiness,' especially at the top and bottom of the income distribution."

Ideally, in a society with "perfect" mobility, children born to disadvantaged parents (in the lowest quintile of the parent income distribution) would be as likely to end up in the lowest quintile of the child income distribution as they are to end up in any other quintile.  In reality, Reeves and Sawhill show:

  • "children born to families at the bottom of the income distribution (i.e. whose parents' income falls in the bottom quintile) have a 36 percent probability of remaining stuck there in adulthood [...] and children on the opposite end of the spectrum have a 30 percent chance of remaining in the highest income quintile."
  • "Black children face pervasive downward pressure towards the bottom of the income distribution, regardless of parent income [...] Half the black children born into the bottom quintile remain there in adulthood [...] Only 3 percent join the top income quintile. Moreover black children with middle-class roots are more likely to fall than to rise."
  • All children receive a boost in RIIM from getting a college degree, even top income children.  The reverse is not true, however, of failing to receive a high school diploma: dropping out damages mobility rates for bottom- and middle-income quintiles, but not for children born to top-income quintile parents.  In this group, almost as many remain on the top rung as fall to the bottom.  In other words, as Matt O'Brien of the Washington Post's Wonkblog put it: "poor kids who do everything right don't do much better than rich kids who do everything wrong."
  • Success begets further success: the "head start" that children get from being born advantaged propulses them through all stages of life.

These patterns, Reeves and Sawhill argue, are alarming in light of the fact that income inequality has been rising in recent decades: "when the rungs of the ladder are far apart, it becomes more difficult to climb the ladder ... Inequality in one generation may mean less opportunity for the next generation to get ahead and thus still more inequality in the future."  They continue: "There is a moral justification for a society with high inequality offset by high mobility, grounded in liberal ideas of freedom and fairness, and a moral justification for a society with low mobility, softened by low inequality, based on left-of-center egalitarian ideals.  But there is little justification for a society with a large gap between rich and poor, and little movement between the two."

More encouraging findings from their analyses suggest that targeted interventions, such as preschool programs, could do a great deal to close the gap in the lifetime incomes between children born into lower and higher income families.

Read more:

TeachingwithData.org resources:
Income Inequality in the US (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3182)
An Analysis of Earnings (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3159)
NYT Interactive: What Percent Are You? (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3913)
Social Class and Attitudes about Inequality: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3459)
Income Differences (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3113)

Monday, October 20, 2014

New Survey Shows Concerns Over Spread of Ebola in the U.S. But Also Widespread Trust In Health Authorities

A new survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation examines Americans' attention to the Ebola crisis in Africa, the Ebola cases in the U.S., and people's views of the U.S. role in addressing Ebola in Africa and at home. The survey, fielded October 8-14, 2014, is based on a nationally representative sample of 1,503 adults.

The KFF survey found that:

  • A majority of respondents say they have followed news about the diagnosis of the first Ebola case in the U.S. and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa closely.
  • Nearly all those surveyed know that direct contact with the blood or body fluids of a person who is sick with Ebola and showing symptoms is a major infection vector, but a substantial proportion (1 in 4 and 1 in 3) believe, inaccurately, that a person could become infected through the air or by shaking hands with someone who has been exposed to Ebola but does not have symptoms.  Most (6 in 10) are unaware that a person with Ebola can only transmit the disease after symptoms begin.
  • Those with lower levels of education appear less likely to have an accurate understanding of the methods of Ebola transmission.
  • A majority of the public says they are at least “somewhat” worried that the U.S. will see a large number of Ebola cases in the next 12 months (63 percent), and a robust, albeit smaller, share is worried that they or someone in their family will get sick from Ebola (45 percent). Personal worry about oneself or a family member becoming infected is higher among women (50 percent), African Americans (56 percent), Hispanics (65 percent), and those with a high school education or less (57 percent).
  • However, only 22 percent of respondents believe that there will be a widespread Ebola outbreak in the U.S.
  • Overall, a large majority of the American public trusts local, state, and federal health authorities to contain any potential Ebola cases. About three-quarters (73 percent) say that if there were an Ebola case in their area, they would have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of confidence in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to contain Ebola and prevent it from spreading. Somewhat smaller shares – but still over six in ten  – say they have at least a fair amount of confidence in their local hospitals (64 percent) and in their state or local health department (62 percent) to prevent the spread of Ebola.
  • Confidence in health authorities is similar across Republicans, Democrats, and independents.
  • A majority of Americans think that the Ebola outbreak in Africa in not under control, and that the U.S. should play a large or leading role in addressing it, by providing medical supplies, investing money in Ebola research, sending medical personnel to train and assist doctors, and providing financial assistance.  Opinion that the U.S. should take a leading or  major role in addressing the outbreak in Africa is similar across Republicans (67 percent), independents (63 percent), and Democrats (71 percent) alike.
  • However, the public is divided on whether the U.S. government is doing enough to fight Ebola abroad and at home. Republicans (56 percent), women (49 percent), and those with less than a college degree (47 percent) are more likely to say that the U.S. government is NOT doing enough to protect Americans from Ebola.

Read more:

TeachingwithData.org resources:
Geographic Diffusion of Disease: The Flu Pandemic of 1918-19 (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3306)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Proceed With Caution: An Analysis Of Killings By Police Shows Outsize Risk For Young Black Males But Also Highlights The Limitations Of Official Statistics

In their article "Deadly Force, In Black And White," ProPublica's Ryan Gabrielson, Ryann Grochowski Jones, and Eric Sagara examine federally collected data on fatal police shootings.  Their analysis focuses on the more than 12,000 police homicides stretching from 1980 to 2012 contained in the FBI's Supplementary Homicide Reports.  Within this time frame, Gabrielson, Grochowski, and Sagara paid particular attention to reports filed for the years 2010 to 2012, the three most recent years for which FBI numbers are available.

The Supplementary Homicide Reports indicate that there were 1,217 deadly police shootings between 2010 and 2012, and that young black males (ages 15-19) "were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police."  These figures were obtained by "dividing the number of people of each race killed by police by the number of people of that race living in the country at the time, to produce two different rates: the risk of getting killed by police if you are white and if you are black."

They also found that:

  • 44 percent of all those killed by police across the 33 years (1980-2012) were white, suggesting that a disproportionately high percentage of deadly police shootings victims were minorities: in 2012, Whites made up about 72.5 percent of the U.S. population; Blacks, 12.5 percent.
  • The average age of Blacks killed by police was 30. The average age of Whites was 35.
  • Black officers account for a little more than 10 percent of all fatal police shootings. Of those they killed, though, 78 percent were Black.
  • White officers killed 91 percent of the Whites who died at the hands of police and were responsible for 68 percent of the people of color killed. Those people of color represented 46 percent of all those killed by White officers.
  • There were 151 instances in which police noted that teens they had shot dead had been fleeing or resisting arrest at the time of the encounter. 67 percent of those killed in such circumstances were Black. That disparity was even starker in the last couple of years: of the 15 teens shot fleeing arrest from 2010 to 2012, 14 were Black.
  • From 1980 to 1984, "officer under attack" was listed as the cause for 33 percent of the deadly shootings. Twenty years later, looking at data from 2005 to 2009, "officer under attack" was cited in 62 percent of police killings.

"No question, there are all kinds of racial disparities across our criminal justice system," Colin Loftin, University at Albany professor and co-director of the Violence Research Group, said. "This is one example."

These statistics points to important trends, but they should be used with great caution.  As Gabrielson, Grochowski, and Sagara explain in the article, the FBI's reports suffer from serious shortcomings.

  1.  They provide only a minimum count of homicides by police because large numbers of police departments don't file fatal police shooting reports at all, or do so inconsistently (Florida departments haven't filed reports since 1997 and New York City last reported in 2007), yielding a high likelihood of measurement error and making any attempt to generalize findings or analyze trends problematic.  
  2. In addition, police do not always provide information about the circumstances of the shootings when they do report them to the FBI.  This makes it difficult to measure precisely what puts people at risk of homicide by police.  
  3. Another potential issue is that the quality of self-reported data, such as these, is dependent on the honesty of the respondents and we know that respondents are less likely to be honest about sensitive issues (such as measures relating to sexual behavior or drug use), than they are about something more benign like caffeine consumption.  In the particular case of police shootings, police departments may have little incentive to bring attention to themselves by reporting detailed information about the killings, or any information at all.

The authors conclude that "there is value in what the data can show while accepting, and accounting for, its limitations. Indeed, while the absolute numbers are problematic, a comparison between white and black victims shows important trends. [The data] confirms some assumptions, runs counter to others, and adds nuance to a wide range of questions about the use of deadly police force."

Read more:

TeachingwithData.org resources:
Gun Violence in America (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3864)
Fear of Crime (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3155)
Crime Victimization in the US: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3437)
Generational Trends in Attitudes about Gun Ownership: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3448)
Crime and Victims Statistics (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3261)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Domestic Violence in the U.S.

Using data from the Violence Policy Center, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, and the Center for American Progress, Melissa Jeltsen and Alissa Shlesser of the Huffington Post compiled some facts about domestic violence in the U.S. in their article "At Least A Third Of All Women Murdered in the U.S. Are Killed By Male Partners."

The data show that, between 2003 and 2012, one third (34 percent) of female homicide victims were killed by intimate male partners.  In contrast, only 2.5 percent of male homicide victims were killed by an intimate female partner.  The data also show that women are more likely to experience intimate partner violence, but it's important to note that men are less likely to report being victims of domestic violence, so official figures may underestimate the extent of male domestic violence victimization.

Over 50 percent of the women who were killed by male intimate partners were shot.  Rates of domestic homicide are highest in Nevada, Alaska, and in Southern states.

For more information about domestic violence, check out the slide presentation from Michael Planty's (chief of Victimization Statistics with the Bureau of Justice Statistics) appearance on C-SPAN's America by the Numbers segment of “Washington Journal,” a television interview program that allows the public to call in or email their views. The program highlighted trends in domestic violence in America from 1994 to 2013, including data on who commits domestic violence, characteristics of the victims, why victims do not report domestic violence to police, the offender's use of a weapon, who receives assistance from victim services organizations, and who sought medical treatment. For comparison, the show included estimates of violence committed by strangers or known acquaintances of the victims.

The BJS slide presentation is available at http://www.bjs.gov, where you can also access full BJS reports on domestic violence, such as:

  • Nonfatal Domestic Violence, 2003–2012 (NCJ 244697, April 2014)
  • Intimate Partner Violence: Attributes of Victimization, 1993–2011 (NCJ 243300, November 2013)
  • Intimate Partner Violence, 1993–2010(NCJ 239203, November 2012). 

These, and other crime and justice data, are available from the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data (http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/icpsrweb/NACJD/).

Read more:

TeachingwithData.org resources:
Gun Violence in America (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3864)
Intimate Partner Violence in the U.S. (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3317)
Fear of Crime (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3155)
Crime Victimization in the US: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3437)
Generational Trends in Attitudes about Gun Ownership: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3448)
Crime and Victims Statistics (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3261)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

60 Percent Of Americans Will Soon Live In States With Marriage Equality

As the Huffington Post recently reported, with the US Supreme Court's decision not to hear appeals from five states that were challenging lower-court rulings legalizing same-sex marriage, 60 percent of Americans will soon live in states with marriage equality: same-sex marriage will be legal in 30 states and the District of Columbia.

This latest decision by the Supreme Court reflects the country's changing attitude on gay marriage.  As Pew Research polls have shown, whereas Americans opposed same-sex marriage by a 57 percent to 35 percent margin in 2001, a majority (52%) now supports it.  Support for gay marriage has grown, albeit unevenly, across all socio-demographic groups.

Read more:

TeachingwithData.org resources:
Age and Attitudes about the Rights of Homosexuals: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3237)
Trends in Marriage Behavior (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3130)
Family Change 1950-1990 (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3112)
Marital Trends (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3116)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Are You Thriving, Struggling, Or Surviving?

A recent article in The Economist discussed the Global Well-Being Index by Gallup and Healthways.  This study of 134,000 people in 135 countries investigated whether people are thriving, struggling and suffering in five areas: purpose (liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals), social (having supportive relationships and love in your life), financial (managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security), physical (having good health and enough energy to get things done daily), and community (liking where you live, feeling safe, and having pride in your community).

Whereas measures of well-being have typically focused on economic indicators such as income, Gallup and Healthways argue for a richer conceptualization of well-being:
"Income is not worth much without health to enjoy it, and good health is a blessing in and of itself, allowing people to live a full and worthwhile life. A good education is not only a vital requirement to do well in life, but it brings its own joys and a richer life in many dimensions. People enjoy contributing meaningfully to the betterment of civil society. The absence of the fear of war and violence, something that was rarely enjoyed by people’s ancestors, also contributes to high well-being."
Gallup-Healthways define thriving as well-being that is strong and consistent in a particular element. Struggling is defined as well-being that is moderate or inconsistent in a particular element. Suffering is defined as well-being that is low and inconsistent in a particular element.

Selected results of the survey show that:
  • Globally, only 17 percent of of the population are thriving in three or more elements. The highest percentage of thriving is found in community well-being, with 26 percent of survey respondents falling into this category. Survey respondents are least likely to be thriving in purpose well-being, at 18 percent.
  • Respondents in the wealthiest quartile, those who have completed at least four years of education beyond high school, and those who are married or in a domestic partnership are most likely to be thriving in three or more elements of well-being.
  • The Americas have the highest levels of well-being in three or more elements and in purpose, social, community, and physical well-being. 
  • In socially and family-oriented Latin America, social well-being is the best-performing element, with 43% of the population thriving. Latin Americans generally report higher levels of well-being than any other regional group. That so many people are reporting positive emotions and higher well-being in Latin America at least partly reflects the cultural tendency in the region to focus on the positives in life.
  • Asian respondents generally have lower levels of well-being compared with global percentages. In purpose well-being (13%) and social well-being (19%), Asians are four or five percentage points below the global percentages in thriving. This may partly result from cultural norms as well as from lower development, work environment, and economic issues that affect the well-being of respondents in Asia.
  • Well-being in Europe varies considerably by country. Twenty-two percent of Europeans overall are thriving in purpose well-being. However, in southern and Eastern European countries such as Albania, Croatia, and Greece, where unemployment remains in the double digits, residents are much less likely to be thriving in this element (7% to 8%) than those in Western European nations such as Denmark (45%), Austria (36%), and Sweden (33%), where unemployment rates are much lower. As a whole, Europeans are most likely to be thriving in financial well-being, at 37%, although there is a broad range among individual countries, from 11% in Greece to 72% in Sweden.
  • Despite relatively strong economic growth in many sub-Saharan African countries in recent years, more than half of the region’s population (56%) are not thriving in any of the five well-being elements. Only 9% of sub-Saharan Africans are thriving in three or more elements, the lowest for any region worldwide. Sub-Saharan Africans are far more likely to be suffering than thriving in financial well-being (51% vs. 9%, respectively), purpose well-being (38% vs. 15%), and social well-being (37% vs. 16%). Physical well-being is the only element in which the region’s residents are as likely to be thriving (20%) as suffering (16%) — though most (64%) are struggling in this element.
Read more:

TeachingwithData.org resources:
Child Well-Being and Equity in the US: Online Data and Analysis Tool (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3925)
Gallup Interactives: City Wellbeing Tracking (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3897)
Aging and Caregiving: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3840)
Mapping the Measure of America (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3050)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"Active Shooter" Incidents On The Rise, According To New FBI Study

As reported on NPR, the Federal Bureau of Investigation recently released the results of a study it conducted on "active shooter" incidents in the U.S. between 2000 and 2013.

U.S. government agencies (including the White House and law enforcement agencies) define an active shooter as an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.  The FBI notes that "implicit in this definition is that the subject’s criminal actions involve the use of firearms."  Because some incidents involved two or more shooters, and some took place outside, for the purpose of this study the FBI expanded the definition of active shooter incidents to include incidents with more than one shooter and incidents that occurred outside of a building.  The report further notes that
"This is not a study of mass killings or mass shootings, but rather a study of a specific type of shooting situation law enforcement and the public may face. Incidents identified in this study do not encompass all gun-related situations; therefore caution should be taken when using this information without placing it in context. Specifically, shootings that resulted from gang or drug violence [...] were not included in this study. In addition, other gun-related shootings were not included when those incidents appeared generally not to have put others in peril (e.g., the accidental discharge of a firearm in a school building or a person who chose to publicly commit suicide in a parking lot). The study does not encompass all mass killings or shootings in public places and therefore is limited in its scope."

Working with data from official police records, FBI records, and open sources, the FBI identified 160 active shooter incidents between 2000-2013.

  • The 160 incidents produced 1,043 casualties (not including the shooters): 486 people were killed, and 557 were wounded.
  • The average number of incidents more than doubled over the period: an average of 6.4 incidents occurred in the first 7 years studied, and an average of 16.4 occurred in the last 7 years.
  • 70 percent of the incidents occurred in either a commerce/business or educational environment.
  • Shootings occurred in 40 of 50 states and the District of Columbia.
  • 67 percent of the incidents ended before police arrived.
  • In 64 incidents (40 percent), the crime would have fallen within the federal definition of "mass killing" (defined as "three or more" killed). 
  • 6 of the shooters were female.
  • In 64 incidents (40 percent), the shooters committed suicide; 54 shooters did so at the scene of the crime. 
  •  In 64 incidents where the duration of the incident could be ascertained, 44 (69 percent) of 64 incidents ended in 5 minutes or less, with 23 ending in 2 minutes or less.
  • The majority of the 160 incidents (56.3 percent) ended on the shooter's initiative—sometimes when the shooter committed suicide or stopped shooting, and other times when the shooter fled the scene. 
  • The study identified 21 (13.1 percent) of 160 incidents where unarmed citizens made the selfless and deeply personal choices to face the danger of an active shooter. In those instances, the citizens safely and successfully disrupted the shootings. In 11 of those 21 incidents, unarmed principals, teachers, other school staff and students confronted the shooters to end the threat. In 10 incidents, citizens, working or shopping when the shootings began, successfully restrained shooters until police could arrive. And in 6 other incidents, armed off-duty police officers, citizens, and security guards risked their lives to successfully end the threat. 

Read more:

TeachingwithData.org resources:
Generational Trends in Attitudes about Gun Ownership: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3448)
Pew Interactive Tools: Gun Rights versus Gun Control (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3888)
Gun Violence in America (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3864)
Crime Victimization in the US: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3437)
Indicators of School Crime And Safety (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3878)
CrimeStat III (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3055)
Federal Law Enforcement Statistics (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3263)
Crime and Victims Statistics (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3261)
Fear of Crime (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3155)