Saturday, November 3, 2007

Would Malcolm buy a second-hand policy from this man?

... because Diddy Dave Cameron is obviously in lurve with the great State of Wisconsin.

Back in May of this year, he was lauding their schools:
He pointed to the charter schools of Wisconsin and other US states and education reform in Sweden, where more schools are receiving public funds but being freed to operate independently of municipal control...
The trust schools of Wisconsin were particularly singled out for praise by David Cameron this week. He claimed that in areas of the state where charter schools had been established, fourth-grade science scores had risen 20% in three years.
For the record, Wisconsin's educational record is ranked eighth in the Nation, on a par with its neighbour Iowa, and a long way behind the North-east States like Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Furthermore, it is difficult to make precise comparisons between Wisconsin and the rest of the US on straight socio-economic comparisons. In Wisconsin just 29.3% of students are classed as "economically disadvantaged": across the nation it is 40.9%. There are just 3.4% of students identified as "English language learners": across the whole country it is 8.5%.

Going nowhere fast?

Then, when Malcolm looks at the attainment figures, he finds something quite disturbing.

The eighth-grade scores, according to the State test, show quite remarkable improvements: reading is "at or above proficient": for 84.5% of students in 2005, up from 80% the previous year. So, well done, everybody! For Math, the improvement is even more spectacular: 73.6% "at or above proficient" in 2005, compared to a measly 65.9% in 2004. Whew!

So why does the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a branch of the US Department of Education, come up with such a different picture? According to the NAEP, Wisconsin reading "at or above proficient" eighth-grade level was just 35% in 2005, down from 37% in 2003. The Math figure was 36%, up 1% on the earlier figure. Hmmm...

Always use a good speech at least twice

His closing speech to the Tory Conference (3rd October) promised:
In states like Wisconsin in America where they've cut benefit roles by 80 per cent, and the changes we will make are these: we will say to people that if you are offered a job and it's a fair job and one that you can do and you refuse it you shouldn't get any welfare.
This was recycled in a speech on 16th October 2007, when he was saying:
In states like Wisconsin in America they've cut benefit rolls by 80 per cent. We will follow their lead, and help people out of long-term poverty and into long-term employment.
The Nelsonian blind eye?

Now Fraser Nelson, in the current issue of The Spectator, has heard His Master's Voice, so we have again:
The invocation of Wisconsin — a state in America’s upper Midwest — would have passed over the head of most people in the Winter Gardens, let alone in the country. The word triggers few images, if any: snowploughs, badgers and perhaps bicycle lanes. But to policy wonks, it is the home of the most aggressive and successful welfare reform programme the world has ever seen — which became the template for Bill Clinton’s federal reform. And this was what Mr Cameron seemed, quite explicitly, to sign up to.
An important article, well worth more study.

Poverty knocks, or knocking poverty?

The crux of Nelson's piece is that "poverty lost in Wisconsin".

Well, that’s not quite what it says here (for 2005):
U.S. Census Bureau statistics ... found Wisconsin poverty rates rising faster than any other state – nearly two percentage points over the past couple of years. Wisconsin’s poverty rate is now 11 percent – the state’s highest poverty rate in more than a decade...
Real (adjusted for inflation) median household income has fallen by more than $4,000 since 1999. And after nine years of steady growth, Wisconsin’s median wage actually fell over 2003-04. The longer term picture is even darker. Median wages today are only 5 percent (68¢) above their level of a quarter century ago, despite the fact that worker productivity is up 70 percent. New data also show a serious decline in employer-provided health insurance.
Or here (for 2007):
From 1994 to 2003,Wisconsin’s poverty rate remained consistently below 10 percent, while the national rate ranged from 11 percent to nearly 15 percent and the Midwest as a whole had poverty rates as high as 13 percent. In 2004 Wisconsin’s poverty rate jumped to 12.4%, surpassing the average Midwest poverty rate for the first time since 1984 (though still not exceeding the national rate)...
The poverty rate in Wisconsin has stabilized again since the 2004 jump, hovering at just above 10 percent. ... one out of every ten Wisconsinites, and more than one out of every six children, lived in poverty in 2006. Moreover, one-quarter of Wisconsinites and one-third of Wisconsin’s children lived below 200% of the poverty threshold in the same year.
Now, as a life-long Labour voter, Malcolm would be more than happy to see a Conservative manifesto going the Wisconsin route:
Despite improvements in workforce education and productivity since 1979, the current median wage exceeds the 1979 value by just 49 cents per hour. And wages fell substantially in the last year, from $15.10 in 2005 to $14.69 in 2006.
  • Where one child in 20 has no health cover (though that’s considerably better than the US as a whole),
  • Where employer-provided health insurance is plummeting: from nearly three-quarters of employees in 1975 to just over half today;
  • Where over a third of Black Wisconsins are below the poverty line;
  • Where employment is growing at just 0.2% a year (2000-2006), less than the other Midwest States of Minnesota and Iowa.
Incidentally, the “poverty line” for a family of four is $20,615, below which 591,850 Wisconsiners (and a total of 38,757,253 Americans) manage to subsist.

Now, to the crunch

Wisconsin is not the UK.

In Wisconsin, the urban/rural split of population is roughly in terms of 2:1. The rural is very rural: there are fewer than a dozen centres with more than 50,000 populations. This means that poverty (and the African-American population) concentrates into a few areas, but especially Milwaukee. So, if Cameron's Wisconsin recipe works, it is proven in Milwaukee.
  • Milwaukee has had unemployment and poverty increasing progressively since the 1970s, because there has not been investment in high, knowledge-based technology.
  • The city has been unable to sustain and develop jobs which pay a living wage.
  • Wage rates have stagnated over four decades.
  • Poverty is concentrated in the ethnic minorities.
  • Well over a third of the "poor" are children.
So, here is Tom Held in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Poverty in Wisconsin increased faster than in any other state in 2003 and 2004, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Tuesday, and Milwaukee climbed last year into the top 10 of the nation's poorest cities, reaching seventh.

More than 571,000 people in the state and 143,000 in the city were living without enough money to ensure they had adequate food, housing and other necessities, according to estimates based on Census Bureau surveys.

In Milwaukee, more than 62,000 of those living in poverty were children - 41.3% of all the children in the city. That poverty rate for children ranks the city fourth in the nation, tied with Miami.
So, Malcolm opines (derivatively, and without apology):
If Dave Cameron ever becomes PM , I warn you.
I warn you that you will have pain: when healing and relief depend upon payment.
I warn you that you will have ignorance: when talents are untended and wits are wasted, when learning is a privilege and not a right.
I warn you that you will have poverty: when pensions slip and benefits are whittled away by a government that won’t pay in an economy that can't pay.
I warn you that you will be cold: when fuel charges are used as a tax system that the rich don't notice and the poor can't afford.
I warn you that you must not expect work: when many cannot spend, more will not be able to earn. When they don't earn, they don't spend. When they don't spend, work dies.
I warn you not to go into the streets alone after dark or into the streets in large crowds of protest in the light.
I warn you that you will be quiet: when the curfew of fear and the gibbet of unemployment make you obedient.
I warn you that you will have defence of a sort: with a risk and at a price that passes all understanding.
I warn you that you will be home-bound: when fares and transport bills kill leisure and lock you up.
I warn you that you will borrow less: when credit, loans, mortgages and easy payments are refused to people on your melting income.
I warn you not to be ordinary. I warn you not to be young. I warn you not to fall ill. I warn you not to get old.
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