Poverty in New Mexico – Why NBC Should Fire Tim Russert

Tim Russert is getting a lot of credit for his “hard hitting interview” with Bill Richardson. Governor Richardson is said to have done poorly, which surprised me as I watched this interview, including this part:

MR. RUSSERT: But let’s go through the resume a little bit. First, there’s governor of New Mexico. As you well know, they rank states in a whole variety of categories from one being the best, 50th being the worst. This is New Mexico’s scorecard, and you are the governor. Percent of people living below the poverty line, you’re 48. Percent of children below, 48. Median family income, 47. People without health insurance, 49. Children without health insurance, 46. Teen high school dropouts, 47. Death rate due to firearms, 48. Violent crime rate, 46. You’re the very bottom of all those statistics of all 50 states, and you’re the governor for five years.

While the governor tried to explain that New Mexico has seen improvement in these areas, Russert fired back:

MR. RUSSERT: But these rankings are troubling.

As I watched this exchange, I thought to myself that for the executives of NBC to let Russert get away with such dishonesty is the troubling part. Let me explain by pointing to a comparison of the poverty statistics over time. Russert’s staff was likely looking at this Census table that does indeed show that two other states and the District of Columbia has higher poverty rates than New Mexico’s 17.9% rate. But couldn’t that staff find this report?

An all-too-familiar refrain in public discourse is that New Mexico is a poor state. Public recognition of New Mexico’s poverty in part comes from the state’s perennial ranking as one of the poorest states in the nation. Comparing state averages from 1998 to 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau lists New Mexico as No. 1 – with the highest percent of people in poverty in the nation (Dalaker, 2001). The 2000 census (which shows poverty rates for 1999) indicates that 18.4% of New Mexico’s population lives below the poverty level. The 2003 Kids Count report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation singled out New Mexico, Mississippi, and Louisiana with the highest child poverty rates in the nation – with 26% of children in each of these states living in poverty (Bryan, 2003).

This source shows median income in 2005 was only $39,916 but it was only $37,509 in 2002 (both figures in real 2005$). In other words, real median income rose by 6.4% over this three-year period and poverty has declined. Russert’s focus on levels rather than changes had to be so transparent in its dishonesty, the executives at NBC had to know this. So why does this hack still have a job? At one time, Meet the Press was a very good show. But it has gone steadily downhill under the watch of Tim Russert. Why NBC hasn’t fired him yet is beyond me.