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July 09, 2002

A reader, (a reader ,

A reader, (a reader , we have a reader!), Don Wolff, has posted a pretty cogent critique of the Top 15 Welfare Queens post. Thanks Don! My reply appears below it.

Your analysis is fascinating but fundamentally flawed. I live in one your welfare queen states, New Mexico. When you find out why money is spent rather than just spent, something
else comes out. The rich don't build garbage pits in their own neighborhoods, they zone the poorer parts of town for that opportunity.

The federal flow of dollars here are for many NIMBY activities. The Waste Isolation Pilot Project which now receives the low level radiation waste from all over the country, Los Alamos National
Laboratory [which also storages the high level materials], White Sands Missile Range and McGregor Missile Range where anti-ballistic missile and Patriot firing and training take place, and several major Air Force Bases which enable the service to conduct all levels of training. Not too many states let alone communities welcome the AF flying high speed low level attack patterns over large distances as here. In fact it is so advantageous to training, that the German Luftwaffe has fixed facilities and personnel at Holloman AFB to get in training which would never be available anywhere in Europe for the same NIMBY reasons.

Another big federal tit out here has not so much to do with the state per se rather than the nation. New Mexico has one of the highest ratios of native Americans and their land. The native lands are under federal authority not state. Regardless, of maps or imposed borders, this would still be a federal responsibility. New Mexico as with a couple of the other queens is a convenient point of
reference when calculating where the money flows to, but is not ,as an entity or object, the recipient of such largess. Much of the funding stays on the reservations. Since the nation has
determined to make this compensation for taking the natives' land and resources regardless of locale, it is a bit disingenuous to play a game of tacking such flow of funding to a state entity.
BTW, the native population does great things in driving the per capita income levels right down the rank order. Again this is on federal territory which the state has no actual influence. The issue
of poverty there can only be answered through federal actions. However, bean counters have no problem with simply wrapping the natives' poverty into the state's per capita.

I’d say there are two distinct arguments here. Number one is that New Mexico gets an abnormally large amount of federal money due to the regrettable American predilection for forcing projects we don’t want anywhere near us onto the poor. Yucca Mountain is a pretty good example of this. I think the problem with this is that as far as money is concerned, one federal project is much like another, even the ones that deal with waste. Sure, New Mexico has some large federal installations, but so do many states. North Carolina has Fort Bragg, Cherry Point, and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, as well as a huge EPA footprint in the Research Triangle Park. In any case, federal funds spent on projects like the above tend to act as pump primers for the local and state economies. If New Mexico was putting up Alaska-type numbers in the “dollars per person (dpp)” category, I’d see this as a more valid point. As it is, Alaska, Virginia and Maryland get more dpp than New Mexico.

The other argument is a pretty good one. Native Americans are a higher percentage of the total population in New Mexico than any other mainland state, standing at 9.5% of the whole in 1999. The unemployment level on reservations is sky high, so it’s going to drive the state per capita level down. The problem here is Alaska, where 16.4% of the total population is classified as Native American. (The actual classification used by the census bureau is “American Indian and Alaska Native”, but it is used for all states). Alaska is the hands down winner for dpp at $6436 per person over the surveyed period, but is saved from the Welfare Queen list due to a really high per capita income. Only 5 states had a higher per capita income over the 12 year period I looked at than Alaska; Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York and Maryland. I figure it’s the oil money that saves Alaska, but that still leaves the problem of where to draw the line on the native population argument. 4 of the top fifteen Welfare Queens have a native American population percentage of over 6.5%; New Mexico, South Dakota, Oklahoma and Montana. 5.5% of Arizona’s population is Indian, but it sits solidly in the middle of all the rankings. If you draw the line at 6% then, it only excuses 4 states. North Dakota and West Virginia still top the rankings. So there's now 11 Welfare Queens, and four guys who say "It's not us, it's them damn lazy Injuns!".

Unfair? Yes, probably. I don't intend to tar Don with the "lazy Injuns" brush here, nothing in his post leads me to believe that's what he thinks. I just couldn't resist closing with it.

Posted by Bigwig at July 9, 2002 12:33 PM | TrackBack
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