- The Washington Times - Monday, September 27, 2010

The annual poverty numbers came out recently, and with them the annual onslaught of explanations and political posturing.

The facts are these: In 2009, the first full year of the “Great Recession,” the poverty rate rose from 13.2 percent to 14.3 percent. This means a record 43.6 million people lived in poverty, defined as less than $10,830 a year for one person, $14,570 for two people, $18,310 for three, etc.

Frankly, like others, I was heartened that the poverty rate wasn’t higher. America’s median annual income also was good — it stayed stable at just under $50,000 per year.

I’d like to take a look at poverty in a way that no one else does, at least in big media. We all know who’s in poverty. But who isn’t? And why aren’t they? There are two categories of people highly unlikely to live in poverty: Asian-Americans and married couples. And yes, there clearly is some overlap.

When it comes to poverty, Asian-Americans are less than half as likely to be poor as other minorities: In 2009, about 12.5 percent of Asian-Americans lived in poverty, compared to 29 percent of blacks and 28 percent of Hispanics. (Whites were least likely to be in poverty, at 9.4 percent.)

When we look at the income side of the ledger, though, Asian-Americans are far more prosperous than other racial groups. Their median household income was a whopping $65,469. In comparison, white households were just under $55,000, Hispanics had $38,039 and blacks had $32,584.

What distinguishes Asian households from, say, black households? Frankly, we don’t know as much as we should, as many federal surveys do not break out “Asian” as an ethnicity. But we do know that:

• Asian children are the most likely of any racial group to grow up with two parents. (It’s 82 percent, compared with 76 percent of white children, 65 percent of Hispanic children and 36 percent of black children.)

• Asian girls are the least likely of the racial groups to have babies before age 20. (It’s 7 percent of Asian girls, compared with 11 percent of white girls, 25 percent of black girls and 33 percent of Hispanic girls.)

• Asian children are highly likely to graduate high school (88 percent), go to college (67 percent) and get a bachelor’s degree (nearly 50 percent).

• Asian women tend to bear their children in their late 20s and early 30s. This presumably is when they are married, as Asians have the highest marriage rate (65 percent marriage rate, compared with 61 percent for whites).

• Asian families have low divorce rates (4 percent, compared to 11 percent for whites) and low use of public assistance (2.2 percent of Asian families use welfare programs.)

One might think this “model minority” might be studied for its antipoverty solutions, but I haven’t heard of such a study yet. In the meantime, readers can count on the Heritage Foundation to hammer home the theme that marriage is “Americas greatest weapon” against child poverty.

The principal cause of child poverty (now at 20.7 percent) is “the absence of married fathers in the home,” Heritage analyst Robert Rector said in his Sept. 16 brief on this subject. His solutions include stepping up public education about the benefits of marriage, especially in low-income neighborhoods; removing “marriage penalties” in welfare programs so low-income parents who want to marry can do so without losing benefits; and teaching the wisdom of finishing school first, then getting married and then having children as the best path for prosperity.

Census data clearly back this up: Of America’s married-couple families, just 5.8 percent lived in poverty in 2009. Of mother-headed homes, nearly 30 percent lived in poverty, as did nearly 17 percent of father-headed homes. America has spent trillions of dollars on services and benefits to end poverty but not achieved much. Isn’t it clear it’s time to invest in rebuilding “couples” and family relationships in poor communities?

Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.