There's a bias in these ratios depending on how large a percentage blacks make up of the whole state. For example, if Mississippi is, say, 40% black, then the maximum possible ratio for Mississippi would be 2.50 (100%/40%), while if Idaho is 1% black, then the mathematically maximum possible ratio would be 100.00. (Indeed, the ratio in Mississippi is only 2.22.)That's a great point. The problem is even greater when attempting comparisons of white TANF utilization rates to the extent that it is almost impossible to do meaningfully, which is why it was not attempted in the original post.
I think it's better to compare blacks to whites than blacks to the entire population, even though there's still the problem of whites differing between states (e.g., CN v. WV).
There's a way around this, though, by calculating utilization rates for blacks and comparing them to utilization rates for whites in the same state. So if in Mississippi for example, blacks represent 95% of total TANF usage (2.38 in the table), and the remaining 60% of the population that is white (for argument's sake--those aren't exact figures) contributes the remaining 5% of TANF usage for a value of .08 in the original table. Dividing the black by the white figures yields 29.8, a figure for which a higher value indicates relatively higher black TANF utilization while 'adjusting' for the absolute sizes of each state's black and white populations.
Why I didn't think of this before is unimportant. Go brush up a little on your vocabulary, and it'll make more sense.
Anyway, the following table ranks states by the level of black representation among TANF beneficiaries relative to the percentage of the total population that is black (black TANF % / black population %) divided by the level of white representation among TANF beneficiaries relative to the percentage of the total population that is white (white TANF % / white population %), expressed as an index in which 1.00 would represent exactly equal utilization rates by race, while index scores higher than that indicate what might be thought of loosely as the slavery tax multiple:
|2. North Dakota||23.40|
|4. New Jersey||17.97|
|5. South Dakota||16.50|
|21. New York||8.13|
|33. North Carolina||6.48|
|38. South Carolina||5.88|
|42. Rhode Island||4.93|
|45. New Hampshire||4.41|
|46. New Mexico||4.15|
|48. West Virginia||3.45|
Black Mississippians looked pretty good in the original table, but as Steve noted, it was more of a statistical artifact of the useful but limiting method I originally employed. This method turns out similar results (the two correlate at .68), but they are more useful, and a few states where the black population is particularly large, like Mississippi and Louisiana, shift upwards quite a bit.
An accompanying visualization is available here (Adobe/Java required).
Several years ago, Steve wrote an article entitled "Mapping the Unmentionable: Race and Crime", where he looked at the ratio of black and white imprisonment rates by state based on data from 1997. Surprisingly, moderately liberal states like Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa, were where the black-white imprisonment gap was the widest, while being narrowest in the South.
If the purported racism of conservative whites manifested itself in incarceration patterns, we'd expect the black-white ratios to be the largest in the South and the smallest in the Northeast and Upper Midwest, almost exactly the opposite of what Steve found to actually be the case.
A more plausible explanation might be that softer sentencing standards in blue states (Steve found a correlation of .62 between Kerry's share of the 2004 vote and the size of the black-white imprisonment ratio) leads to a greater black-white incarceration ratio than stricter sentencing standards in red states do. To comprehend why, imagine a 'draconian' state in which the slightest legal infraction lands a person in the slammer. A full 90% of blacks might spend time behind bars in a state like this, but so would half of that state's whites, producing a ratio of only 1.8. On the other end of the extreme, imagine a do-as-you-please state where the only thing that carries a jail sentence is murder. Blacks are seven times more likely to commit murder than whites are, so in this state, the ratio is 7.0. [Addition: A commenter mentions La Griffe du Lion's 2006 discussion and explanation for why this occurs, more-or-less validating what I was getting at in a much fuller and more convincing way.]
Comparing the table above with the maps in Steve's article, the two seemed to me to trend in a similar direction--states where blacks milk the welfare system a lot more than whites do also appear to be states where blacks get thrown in jail a lot more than whites do, while in states where black and white welfare use is more equitable, the incarceration rates are similarly more equitable.
Fortunately, I was able to track down fresher data from 2005 on state level imprisonment rates by race. The correlation between the black-white TANF utilization ratio and the black-white incarceration rate ratio is .46 (p = .00). That's a reasonably strong relationship for seemingly unrelated social science data sets.
The motto for Wisconsin's blacks: On the dole or in the cell. If you're looking for a more positive example of black behavior, check out the great state of Hawaii. That shouldn't be too surprising. After all, the tropical paradise has become known for producing brothas of presidential timber! Halfrican and from one of the most racially equitable states in the country--no wonder he's forever insecure in his blackness!
For those interested in the material covered in Steve's article, here's an updated visualization of the black-white imprisonment ratio by state.
Also, if you haven't already, check out Steve's reflections on the material at hand.
* There are no data available for Wyoming and New Mexico in the 2005 data, so for those states I substituted 1997 figures, adjusted for the nationwide increase in the incarceration rate over the eight year period.