On July 26, 2012, the national news media regurgitated a press release from the left-liberal Annie E. Casey Foundation. Their “news” stories were virtually identical across all media, whether liberal or conservative.
This was also the case in Arizona, where all the major media copycats had opening sentences almost identical to the following ones from the Associated Press.
Arizona has fallen nine spots in an annual ranking of child welfare, putting the state in the bottom five nationwide.
The 2012 Kids Count Data Book was released Wednesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The report shows Arizona ranks 46th overall.
Not surprisingly, the stories continued with the Foundation’s contention that more government spending is the solution, including spending on early education programs of dubious value.
To write a different lead and story, journalists would have needed the intellectual curiosity to think beyond the Casey Foundation press release, to actually read and analyze the full report, to have the gumption to break from the media herd, and to not be trapped in one ideology. Apparently, intellectual curiosity, gumption and philosophical diversity are not taught at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University. It is difficult to discern what is taught beyond the ability to think and write at a sixth-grade level and to regurgitate press releases.
Given the complexity of the subject of child welfare, given the questionable measurements of child welfare in the Casey Foundation’s Data Book, and given the extensive statistics in the Book, a reasonable expectation would be that each news outlet would have had its own take on the issue instead of all media having the same take.
To demonstrate how easy it is to write a different story based on facts in the Data Book and elsewhere, I wrote the following in about 10 minutes.
Arizona ranks 46th in child welfare due to demographics outside its control
Arizona has dropped to 46th place nationwide in child welfare, due to having a high proportion of Native Americans and immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries.
This is one of the findings of the 2012 Kids Count Data Book, released Wednesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Arizona ranks third of all states in the number of Native Americans living within its borders. Because Native Americans have above-average poverty levels and associated social and health problems, they have a negative effect on Arizona’s ranking in child welfare.
Ariz. can do little about this, because the well being of Native Americans is largely a shared responsibility between Indian nations and the federal government.
Ariz. also ranks high in the number of legal and illegal immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries. Again, this is largely an issue of federal immigration policies and thus beyond the control of state government.
While recent immigrants are wealthy relative to their meager earnings in their home countries, they are poor compared to white Americans whose families have been in the United States for generations and who have better education and job skills. The recent immigrants also have much higher rates of out-of-wedlock births and single-parent families, which are the primary determinants of how children fare.
Ariz. also attracts a large but indeterminable number of homeless and unemployed people from the Frost Belt who move here without job prospects to get away from winter weather.
It is no surprise, then, that the top five states in child welfare, as measured by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, are the following Frost Belt states:
1. New Hampshire
4. New Jersey
Unlike Ariz., these older states are either predominately white (non-Hispanic), or are blessed with a deep industrial base, rich resources, and old money. As a result, they tend to rank higher than Ariz. in per-capita income. This allows them to spend more on child welfare.
For Ariz. to overcome the demographic and historical hand it has been dealt, it would have to dramatically increase taxes on a relatively small percentage of high wage earners in order to achieve the same child welfare ranking as the top five. But that would be self-defeating, because it would make the state less attractive to wealthier people and to industry. In turn, this would result in the state being poorer and less able to fund programs for children, assuming that such programs as early childhood education actually make a difference in child welfare.
A similar point was made by a writer from Scottsdale who goes by his penname of Mencken’s Ghost. “My wife and I moved to Ariz. from New Jersey to escape the Garden State’s high taxes,” he said. “Our real estate taxes alone were over $12,000 per year in New Jersey, versus the $3,500 that we pay here for a house of the same value. The savings enabled us to afford care for our son that we couldn’t have afforded in New Jersey.”
In closing, let me apologize to journalists for thinking and writing like an educated adult instead of a brainless copier of press releases.
Mencken’s Ghost can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.