Cato Went Bogus

At some point in the past 30 years I signed up for a $50 sample membership in the Cato Institute, a residue of my libertarian proto-objectivist streak. Originally they tried to be an honest purveyor of political analysis: they had a strong bias but they backed up their conclusions with factual arguments.

Today I received one of their occasional junk mail pieces, “Cato’s Letter.” As I often do, I read the first few lines before tossing it into recycling. But this time I couldn’t just throw it away. The second sentence sounded wrong (highlighted).

There are a lot of bad things to say about California, but they don’t have the nation’s highest poverty rate. Such honors usually fall to southern states. I did a web search and found US Census statistics (https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2019/demo/p60-266.html).

The latest full-year statistics are from 2018. Towards the bottom of their list of spreadsheets I found “state.xls” which lists poverty rates by state as 2-year and 3-year averages from 2016 to 2018.

The highest poverty rate is, of course, in Mississippi at 19.8%, tied with neighboring Louisiana (the two trade the top spot over the years).

California, at 12.5% is in the highest third of poverty rates. It is by no means the highest.

I skimmed the rest of the article. None of it alluded to other states, so the author didn’t instantly embarrass himself by touting a state with a higher poverty rate. The only other statistics involved California’s homelessness, and those seemed to match others I saw online.

From an investment standpoint, I have probably received enough free gifts from Cato Institute to cover my single expenditure. They have sent me at least a dozen small, bound copies of the US Constitution, probably many more. These are really useful when working with Scouts on the Citizenship in the Nation merit badge. Cato also sent me a few worthless facsimile coins alleged to be from the Revolutionary era. And all those recyclable newsletters.

3 thoughts on “Cato Went Bogus”

    1. I would expect a state’s ‘rate’ to be normalized to allow comparison between large and small states. I would also expect a strong argument to use precise language.

  1. Yes. I was pointing out what I thought was the likely cause of the article’s error: seeing that California had the highest number and wrongly calling it the highest rate.

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