Op-Ed

What are we, stupid? No, but we can do more to fight effects of poverty on education.

Roger Guffey
Roger Guffey

Two things should be kept out of the hands of idiots: dynamite and statistics. We live in a world where we are inundated by reams of data analysis. Public access to pre-canned statistical programs can make data spew out any conclusions we want them to say. The reason is that many of the users of these programs do not understand the underlying assumptions and bias of statistical models.

I recently ran across some statistics that caught my attention. One study claimed that the IQ of red states is lower than that of blue states by almost 2 points.

Another study found that the IQ of rural people is measurably lower than that of those from urban areas.

When we compare the mean ACT scores of states, we find that 20 of the bottom 25 states are red states.

As someone from rural Kentucky, I would be offended by these claims if I did not look at them more closely to identify sources of their bias. How can we account for these pejorative statements?

The underlying cause for these differences is simple: poverty. Red states are largely more rural than blue states and have economies rooted in energy extraction and agriculture where wages and educational levels are lower.

Blue states have more urban, culturally-diverse populations with economies based on finance, trade and knowledge that require higher levels of educational achievement.

Red states have lower population densities so their residents have fewer opportunities for the flow of divergent ideas and cultures.

Twenty-two of the poorest 25 states are red states below the national mean poverty level. Eighteen states, including Kentucky, have child poverty rates at or above the national average of 18%. The red states account for the bottom 50% of states ranked by income per capita.

These facts are directly correlated with educational systems in the states.

High school graduation rates that account for 18 of the bottom 25 are red states. If we look at the educational spending per student we see that 18 of the bottom 25 states are red states.

The 18 states with the lowest average teacher salaries are red states. The percent of population with college degrees is 5% lower in red states than in blue states.

Sociological and economics factors affect these data. The percentage of single parent homes is higher in red states than in blue states.

Seventeen red states use the federal minimum wage of $7.25 as their standard minimum wage.

Twenty-three of the twenty-six right to work are red states that pay lower wages with fewer benefits such as employer based health insurance. On average, red states get twice as much federal aid as blue states. In other words, red states benefit from the socialist programs of the federal government even though the people in the red states are rabidly anti-socialist. The data show that the conservative argument that federal assistance reduces the incentive to work is simply not true.

The situation will just get worse as this administration’s tariffs will hurt the economies of red states much worse than those of blue states. Poverty has severe long term detrimental effects such as increased rates of teen pregnancy, drug abuse, malnutrition, illiteracy, domestic violence, and premature death that will perpetuate the cycle of poverty and weaken the nation overall.

The one inescapable fact is that improving educational systems and levels of achievement reduces poverty. But here in Kentucky, Gov. Bevin has proposed historically draconian cuts to education at all levels.

Merely being born in Kentucky may disadvantage you in some ways, but it does not in and of itself make you stupid. Being elected to public office does that.

Roger Guffey of Lexington is a math professor.

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