Cosby Mysteries Revealed

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As film buffs the world over live in fear that Leonard Part 7 is in pre-production, Bill Cosby has been getting some mad props for his recent comments about what he called black America's "dirty laundry."

The Village Voice has a piece worth reading about Cosby's comments. Citing the work of the always interesting Mike Males, the Voice's Ta-Nehisi Coates notes that by many, though not all, of the metrics mentioned by Cos are much better than they used to be:

After hearing Cosby grumble that the young were trampling over the work of the old, [Males] went and crunched some numbers and came up with some shockers:

In 1970, among black females between 15 and 17 years old, there were 72 pregnancies per 1000. In 2002, there were 30.9 per 1000.

In 1970, the dropout rate was 28 percent among African Americans. In 2001, it was 11 percent.

In 1970, 15 percent of African Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 went to college. Today, that number stands at 31 percent.

Coates emphasizes that "the black community is no field of lilies," but the article is an provocative counterpoint to much of what's been said about Cosby's comments. Perhaps most interesting is the Voice's implicit endorsement of a pre-Bell Curve Charles Murray-type argument that "the culture" of individuals is less important than the incentive system in which they find themselves. In Losing Ground, Murray famously argued that many welfare recipients were essentially responding rationally in choosing relief over work; the only way to change behavior was by changing the incentive system built into welfare. In a similar vein, Coates quotes employment researcher Mark Levitan:

"The interesting thing is that people were saying [similar things as Cosby] about African American women 10 years ago. In a certain way, I think welfare reform put the lie to that," says Levitan. "We had a change in policy and the blessing of a strong labor market. There were sticks but also some carrots?…Changing the law in a good labor market showed that if people get a little help, they will respond.

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  1. “In 1970, among black females between 15 and 17 years old, there were 72 pregnancies per 1000. In 2002, there were 30.9 per 1000.”

    I’m just curious. Does this number refer to pregnancies that are carried to term or all pregnancies? If it means the latter, I wonder how many of those were aborted. If the entire difference (or even a significant part of it) is due to abortion, then this isn’t exactly an improvement.

  2. Up to date information is always good to have. Those statistics are much better than the impression I had. It is hard to think straight about race issues in part because I only have experience as a white guy and in part because reports of the minority experience emphasize politically motivated points.

    When I was in high school, I thought the country would fall apart along race lines. That seems silly and alarmist to me now, and it is good to know that my sense these days isn’t totally divorced from reality.

  3. It may be true that the metrics are not as awful as before, but that’s really beside the point. It’s as though a restaurant were claiming that it had only 30 cases of food poisoning, vs. the 60 last year. It may be a move in the right direction, but it still indicates a substantial problem. The Voice article’s argument is somewhat of a non sequitur.
    I just wish the Cos had taken on the role of the welfare state in creating the culture he (rightly) condems.

  4. That’s “mad propz“.

  5. Every conservative tool in America will jump up and down claiming that the “welfare state” created the problems of black america. Racist policies thoughout government and industry never ever play a role. It’s just the damned welfare state.

  6. I think that Bill’s comments were fed, in part, by a little “battle fatigue”. As Mark indicated, the numbers are better, but for all the struggles through all the years many are seemingly still acting in the same destructive manner.

  7. I’m just curious. Does this number refer to pregnancies that are carried to term or all pregnancies? If it means the latter, I wonder how many of those were aborted. If the entire difference (or even a significant part of it) is due to abortion, then this isn’t exactly an improvement.

    Good Lord. Just how high do you think abortion rates are? Do you honestly think that there are more black babies aborted than are carried to term (which would have to be true for the whole difference to be due to abortion)? I’d have to look up the rates, but I’d be surprised if more than a tenth of the decline is due to abortion.

  8. I’m not sure about the nation at large, but there are more abortions than live births in some large cities, notably Washington DC.

  9. According to
    http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/pressroom/04facts/pregestimates.htm

    “An estimated 6,401,000 pregnancies ended in 2000, about 6 percent fewer than the 1990 peak (6,778,000) for the period 1976-2000.

    “The 2000 total included 4.06 million live births, 1.31 million induced abortions, and 1.03 million fetal losses.”

    So there was, on average, one abortion for every 3 live births. It looks like a quarter of potentially full-term pregnancies are ended by abortion, a good deal more than a tenth. If that rate held for 15 – 17 year olds, the birth rate would go down from 72 to 56, a significant decrease but still a lot higher than 30. Of course, 15 – 17 year olds might get proportionally more abortions than older women.

  10. That last paragraph should read:

    So there was, on average, one abortion for every 3 live births. It looks like a quarter of potentially full-term pregnancies are ended by abortion, a good deal more than a tenth. If that rate held for black 15 – 17 year olds, the birth rate would go down from 72 to 56, a significant decrease but still a lot higher than 30. Of course, black 15 – 17 year olds might get proportionally more abortions than older or non-black women.

  11. The Latino birthrate is twice that of whites and blacks but there’s no Spanish Bill Cosby out there decrying it. And when I hear booming cars pull up next to me with the occupants doing that three fingered gang thing with their ho wrapped around their neck, chances are they’re white burb kids.

    Bigots, get a life.

  12. I am pretty sure that the numbers for high
    school completion include GEDs, which the
    research literature suggests the labor market
    does not value in the same way as regular
    high school diplomas.

    Also, the numbers for the fraction of black
    kids (and white kids) born out of wedlock are
    much worse than in 1970.

    So things are mixed. Lots remains to be done.

    Jeff

  13. Enough of this birth rate statistical shit.
    Cos doesn’t get it, and neither, more sadly to say, does Walter Williams:
    Blacks have been hit and runned by successive government wars.
    War on poverty.
    War on drugs.
    War on racism.

    Government is not formed to help a little here and a little there. No, it cannot even begin without declaring a war.

    Cos would be the last to agree that the only way government can help is by getting out of the way.

    First remove government obstacles, then stand back.

    As it stands now, your tax dollar is doing nothing but providing a big incentive for young black men to lead a life of crime.

  14. I find myself at least partly agreeing with some of the Cosby refuters, although I don’t regard them as any kind of fellow-travelers…because next week, they’ll be back to doing their own wailing about how terrible the state of Black America is. After all, if they really stuck to this “hey, things aren’t so bad” line, they’d have more trouble guilt-tripping the rest of America, demanding more tax dollars, etc.

  15. Ruthless,

    Government didn’t impregnate all those unwed mothers.

  16. I think Cosby is right on the mark, and not just a crotchety old man like that like the idiot Coates suggests. Are black people disadvantaged as a whole? Probably. Are poor black people? Definitely. Yes, the government is more part of the problem than the solution. And there is still a lot of racism towards blacks (not to talk about other kinds). And the hip-hop culture perpetuates a lot of the problems, yes. There is no simple answer, but the fact is that blacks need to take personal responsibility TO THE EXTENT THAT THEY CAN. Can they do it alone, I don’t think so, but I also think they have a lot more to do with it that they admit.

  17. Ruthless,

    Government did not create the 70% (90% in some areas) illegitimacy rate that exists among the black community.

  18. I Blame,

    Illegitimacy, like gay marriage, is of no concern to me.
    Are we supposed to be anxious for government blessings?
    That said, are you sure of what you just said?

  19. Ruthless,

    Kids from fatherless homes are more likley to get into trouble than those who are not. That has been borne out by numerous studies. We all pay by having to subsidize their daycare, their reform schools, and so on.

    My uncle worked in the prison system in NYC. He told me that about 70% of the inmates came from fatherless homes.

    If you think high rates of illegitimacy are not something to be concerned about, think again. It’s your tax dollars that have to pay for its effects.

    (And no, government can’t solve it)

  20. I Blame,
    Fatherless homes and illegitimacy are different plus I still think government is causing what you’re alarmed about.

  21. Blame,

    Suddenly pervese incentives are inapplicable to discussions of welfare policy?

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