According to Slate.com, “That’s the position of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, who in his new anti-poverty plan wants poor families to work with government agencies or charitable nonprofits to craft “life plans” as a condition of receiving federal assistance under his proposed “opportunity grants.” “In the envisioned scenario providers would work with families to design a customized life plan to provide a structured roadmap out of poverty,” Ryan writes. At a minimum, these life plans would include “a contract outlining specific and measurable benchmarks for success,” a “timeline” for meeting them, “sanctions” for breaking them, “incentives for exceeding the terms of the contract,” and “time limits”—presumably independent of actual program limits—for “remaining on cash assistance.”
Is a family with a car in the driveway, a flat-screen television and a computer with an Internet connection poor?
As the New York times reports, “Americans — even many of the poorest — enjoy a level of material abundance unthinkable just a generation or two ago. That indisputable economic fact has become a subject of bitter political debate this year, half a century after President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a war on poverty.
“Starkly different views on poverty and inequality rose to the fore again on Wednesday as Democrats in the Senate were unable to muster the supermajority of 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster of a proposal to raise the incomes of the working poor by lifting the national minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
“Indeed, despite improved living standards, the poor have fallen further behind the middle class and the affluent in both income and consumption. The same global economic trends that have helped drive down the price of most goods also have limited the well-paying industrial jobs once available to a huge swath of working Americans. And the cost of many services crucial to escaping poverty — including education, health care and child care — has soared.
“Without a doubt, the poor are far better off than they were at the dawn of the War on Poverty,” said James Ziliak, director of the University of Kentucky’s Center for Poverty Research. “But they have also drifted further away.”Democrats have generally argued that addressing this disjunction requires providing more support for the poor, raising the minimum wage, extending unemployment insurance benefits and making health care more affordable by expanding the reach of Medicaid and subsidizing private insurance for those who lack employer coverage. Continue reading “What poverty is like today”
But on Wednesday, during spring break, she was using stencils and ink and abbreviated English to write her current message — “Homeless Prof.” — on a white ski vest she planned to wear on a solo trip to Albany two days later to protest working conditions for adjunct college professors.
Ms. Cerasoli has been an adjunct for several years at Mercy College in Westchester and several other places in and around New York City.She says she uses film, music, culture and food to shape her lessons and to tell students, “Worlds open up to you when you learn a foreign language.”But while encouraging students to major in foreign languages, she does not encourage them to follow her path into adjunct college teaching. The work is rewarding, she said, but not the pay: several thousand dollars per course, with no benefits.Ms. Cerasoli, a former New York City schoolteacher, currently teaches two Italian classes at Mercy, splitting time between its Westchester and Midtown Manhattan campuses. For her, the professorial lifestyle has meant spending some nights sleeping in her car, showering at college athletic centers and applying for food stamps and other government benefits.After being unable to keep several apartments, Ms. Cerasoli began couch-surfing a year ago, relying on friends. There was the unheated basement in Bronxville, and the room in the Bronx with no hot water. She is currently living in a small room in a Co-Op City apartment, also in the Bronx, courtesy of a friend — who is about to be evicted.
“We’re basically squatting here,” she said, while preparing for a trip to Albany for her one-woman demonstration in front of the state’s Education Department building. She planned to urge officials to improve conditions for adjuncts at public colleges as more universities save money by reducing their full-time teaching staffs.Until recently, Ms. Cerasoli taught at Nassau Community College on Long Island, but lacking seniority, she was not assigned any classes this year, she said.“They call us professors, but they’re paying us at poverty levels,” she said. “I just want to make a living from a skill I’ve spent 30 years developing.”Ms. Cerasoli cuts a cheerful figure riding her bicycle to class, and otherwise scraping by. Last year, a used-car dealer in Westchester who pitied her gave her a car and allowed her to keep her library of foreign language books in his office.Ms. Cerasoli regales people with stories from her years living in Rome, when she worked as a tour manager and interpreter for Bob Dylan and Stevie Wonder and other stars performing in Italy. Continue reading “Adjunct and homeless”
Although a notorious recipient of “corporate welfare,” Walmart has now admitted that their massive profits also depend on the funding of food stamps and other public assistance programs.
Common Dreams reports that in it’s statement to stockholders, “filed with the Security and Exchange Commission last week, the retail giant lists factors that could potentially harm future profitability. Listed among items such as “economic conditions” and “consumer confidence,” the
company writes that changes in taxpayer-funded public assistance programs are also a major threat to their bottom line.
“The company writes:Our business operations are subject to numerous risks, factors and uncertainties, domestically and internationally, which are outside our control … These factors include … changes in the amount of payments made under the Supplement[al] Nutrition Assistance Plan and other public assistance plans, changes in the eligibility requirements of public assistance plans …
“Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, is notorious for paying poverty wages and coaching employees to take advantage of social programs. In many states, Walmart employees are the largest group of Medicaid recipients.However, this report is the first public acknowledgement of the chain’s reliance on the funding of these programs to sustain a profit.According to Stacy Mitchell, senior researcher with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the irony of their admission is that Walmart “is the company that has done, perhaps, more than any other corporation to push people into poverty.” Continue reading “Walmart says it gains from worker poverty”
Despite a commonly held belief that LGBT Americans tend to live it up in classy urban neighborhoods, they struggle with disproportionately high levels of poverty compared to straight people.Excerpted below, Nathan McDermott writes in today’s issue of The Atlantic about misperceptions of LGBT wealth and poverty:
“Who are America’s gays? To hear it as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia would have it, gays are a privileged set, living it up in cities across the country. As the justice wrote in his dissent to Romer v. Evans—a landmark 1996 case that overturned a Colorado state constitutional amendment prohibiting legal protections for gays and lesbians—“Those who engage in homosexual conduct tend to reside in disproportionate numbers in certain communities.” Even more ominously, to Scalia, they have “high disposable income,” which gives them “disproportionate political power… to [achieve] not merely a grudging social toleration, but full social acceptance, of homosexuality.”
“The pernicious insinuation—that gays and lesbians are one the wealthiest demographics in the country—isn’t a new cliché. Some of the most ingrained public images of LGBT people are their cosmopolitan, highfalutin lifestyle; gays, so the story goes, live in gentrified urban neighborhoods like The Castro in San Francisco or Chelsea in New York, eat artisanal cheese, and drink $12 cocktails.
“But like most stereotypes, the myth of gay affluence is greatly exaggerated.
“In reality, gay Americans face disproportionately greater economic challenges than their straight counterparts. A new report released by UCLA’s Williams Institute found that 29 percent of LGBT adults, approximately 2.4 million people, experienced food insecurity—a time when they did not have enough money to feed themselves or their family—in the past year. In contrast, 16 percent of Americans nationwide reported being food insecure in 2012. One in 5 gays and lesbians aged 18-44 received food stamps in the last year, compared with just over 1 in 4 same sex couples raising children. The LGBT community has made huge political strides over the past decade, but in economic matters they still lag far behind the rest of the country. Continue reading “Stereotypes of LGBT affluence”
Last week, billionaire investor Tom Perkins of the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers sent a letter to the editor of The Wall Street Journal likening criticism of the 1 percent to Nazi attacks on the Jews. As Mother Jones puts it:
“He’s not an outlier. As Paul Krugman pointed out on Sunday, the rich have been lamenting the “demonizing” and “vilifying” of the 1 percent for years. “I…suspect that today’s Masters of the Universe are insecure about the nature of their success,” Krugman wrote. But the wealthy are not just afraid of losing their money to an angry middle class. Class warfare also makes the rich uncomfortable because they worry the non-rich are judging their character and personality by how much money they have, according to therapists who counsel the rich.
“I think that with Occupy Wall Street there was a sense of the heat getting turned up and a feeling of vilification and potential danger,” Jamie Traeger-Muney, a psychologist who counsels people who earn tens of millions of dollars a year, told Politico on Thursday. “There is a worry among our clients that they are being judged and people are making assumptions about who they are based on their wealth.”
“In 2012, Mother Jones reported on how banks, including Wells Fargo and Morgan Stanley, are increasingly hiring psychotherapists like Traeger-Muney to help their extremely wealthy clients deal with the complications that come with being extremely wealthy.Here’s a bit more of what wealth therapists can tell us about how the rich may be feeling right now:
‘Although wealth counseling has existed for years, the 2008 financial crisis really sent the aristocracy sprinting for the therapist’s chair. The 2010 Capgemini/Merrill Lynch World Wealth Report, a survey that takes the pulse of zillionaires around the world, found that after the crisis, spooked clients were demanding “specialized advice.” Financial advisers must “truly understand the emotional aspects of client behavior,” the report warned… Continue reading “The stresses of being rich”
The rich have never been richer and the poor keep getting poorer. The financial Masters of the Universe enjoy indefinite taxpayer-funded bailouts, while the social safety net for the poor is gutted. The ruling class that engineers crushing economic inequality gathers at the World Economic Forum in Davos to pretend to care about said inequality, and then promises no concrete actions to combat the crisis. Many high-income earners pay a lower effective tax rate than low-income earners, and IRS data show that in the last few years the rich have seen a steep decline in the share of taxes they pay.
And if you think there’s a problem with any of this, you’re a Nazi. At least according to the poor, put-upon oligarchs.
The latest fat cat to compare critiques of inequality to violent National Socialism is venture capitalist Tom Perkins—he of the $150 million yacht and the 5,500-square-foot San Francisco penthouse. In a letter to the Wall Street Journal editor, this Silicon Valley billionaire last week bewailed supposed “parallels” between Nazi Germany’s “war on its ‘1 percent,’ namely its Jews” and “the progressive war on the American 1 percent, namely the ‘rich.’” Citing rising angst over inequality, he insisted: “This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?”
From this skewed perspective, the 85 people who now own as much wealth as 3.5 billion people aren’t the big winners. They are instead a persecuted diaspora being exterminated by Hitler.
If that sounds absurd, that’s because it is. However, what was missed in much of the media outrage over Perkins’ letter is the fact that his sentiment isn’t new. In fact, it is altogether mundane. Indeed, as predicted by Godwin’s Law, the phenomenon known as Reductio ad Hitlerum has become the aristocracy’s standard rejoinder to both critiques of economic inequality and policy proposals that might reduce such inequality.
Back in 2010, for instance, billionaire Stephen Schwarzman said this about a proposal to tax his private equity income at the same rate as everyone else’s income: “It’s a war. It’s like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.”
Likewise, supermarket mogul John Catsimatidis in 2012 said of tax increase proposals: “Hitler punished the Jews. We can’t have punishing the ‘2% group’ right now.”
Meanwhile, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist insists “the Nazis were for high marginal tax rates.”
You can find lots more of this Third Reich-flavored tripe by just Googling “Obama” and “Hitler.” If you broaden out your search beyond National Socialism to include all forms of violent white supremacy, you’ll find even more, including AIG CEO Robert Benmosche declaring that anger over his bailed-out company’s bonuses was “just as bad” as lynchings of African Americans in the Jim Crow South. And if you go one step further and look for all the claims that the rich are oppressed, you will find a seemingly endless supply of statements to that effect.
The point here—beyond simply deploring plutocrats for their gross insensitivity—is to understand all these outbursts not as anomalies, but as statements that are part of a larger narrative. As author Thomas Frank says, that narrative is designed to make us “pity the billionaire.”
The objective of this sleight of hand should be obvious. Rather than permit any honest discussion about the serious problems that accompany rampant economic inequality, the winners of this economic system aim to manufacture story lines that depict themselves—not the poor—as victims on par with history’s most persecuted peoples.
It is, as Frank says, the great “hard-times swindle” of the modern era. Recognizing it as such is the first step toward a more rational conversation about fixing an obviously broken economy.
Only a few miles separate the Baltimore neighborhoods of Roland Park and Upton Druid Heights. But residents of the two areas can measure the distance between them in years—twenty years, to be exact. Today’s edition of The Nation explains:
“That’s the difference in life expectancy between Roland Park, where people live to be 83 on average, and Upton Druid Heights, where they can expect to die at 63.
“Underlying these gaps in life expectancy are vast economic disparities. Roland Park is an affluent neighborhood with an unemployment rate of 3.4 percent, and a median household income above $90,000. More than 17 percent of people in Upton Druid Heights are unemployed, and the median household income is just $13,388.
“It’s no secret that this sort of economic inequality is increasing nationwide; the disparity between America’s richest and poorest is the widest it’s been since the Roaring Twenties. Less discussed are the gaps in life expectancy that have widened over the past twenty-five years between America’s counties, cities and neighborhoods. While the country as a whole has gotten richer and healthier, the poor have gotten poorer, the middle class has shrunk and Americans without high school diplomas have seen their life expectancy slide back to what it was in the 1950s. Economic inequalities manifest not in numbers, but in sick and dying bodies.
“On Wednesday, Senator Bernie Sanders convened a hearing before the Primary Health and Aging subcommittee to examine the connections between material and physiological well-being, and the policy implications. With Congress fixed on historic reforms to the healthcare delivery system, the doctors and public health professionals who testified this morning made it clear that policies outside of the healthcare domain are equally vital for keeping people healthy—namely, those that target poverty and inequality. Continue reading “How income inequality kills”
Personal income in the world went down in the last year, as reported today from Gallup.
“Twenty-six percent of the world’s adult population was employed full time for an employer in 2012, down slightly from 27% a year ago. This decline reverses the upward trend in Gallup’s Payroll to Population (P2P) measure since the height of the global recession in 2009.
“Gallup’s P2P metric estimates the percentage of the adult population aged 15 and older — not just those currently in the workforce — who are employed full time for an employer for at least 30 hours per week. Gallup does not seasonally adjust its P2P metric. Gallup does not count adults who are self-employed, working part time, unemployed, or out of the workforce as payroll-employed in the P2P metric.
“The percentage of people working full time for themselves was 18% in 2012, a slight decline over 2011 (19%). Thirty-eight percent were out of the workforce (38%), up slightly over 37% in 2011.
“On a regional basis, Northern America, made up of the U.S. and Canada, has the highest P2P rate (42%) of all regions in 2012, followed the group of European countries and areas not in the European Union (40%), which includes Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and North Cyprus. In both regions, 5% of the population is self-employed, while approximately one-third is not actively participating in the workforce.”
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 29 percent of students nationwide have household incomes below $20,000, 79 percent work full or part time in addition to taking classes, and 35 percent are parents or have dependents (17 percent are single parents). ThinkProgress reports that “These financial burdens can constrain college students’ potential. Many are forced to drop out of school, creating a vicious cycle of poverty because without education, it is increasingly difficult to emerge out of poverty and enter the middle class.
“Overall, more college students are having to work long hours to finance their educations. The American Community Survey found that in 2011, 19.6 of undergraduates nationwide worked a full-time, year-round job. By contrast, in 2005, just under 10 percent of college students were working full time.
“The Census paper also notes that 63.3 percent of college students live with their parents or relatives, suggesting that the sluggish economy is making it difficult for students to attend college further from home and live on their ownPoverty rates in many areas of the country decline significantly when they exclude off-campus college students living on their own, a new Census Bureau working paper finds.The Census Bureau calculated that 15.2 percent of the population officially lives in poverty. But for college students living off-campus and not living with relatives, the poverty rate is 51.8 percent. When eliminating them from the official poverty rate calculation, only 14.5 percent of Americans live below the poverty level.College students who live in dorms are automatically eliminated from calculations of the poverty rate, but students living off-campus are not, so the Census Bureau isolated data for these students recorded by the American Community Survey from 2009 to 2011. Continue reading “College student poverty”
A new study from the Brookings Institution shows that poverty in American suburbs increased by 64 percent over the last decade, more than twice the rate of poverty growth in cities, reports the Village Voice. ” In the New York/tristate metro area alone, the number of suburban poor grew 28 percent since 2000, while the number of poor in the city grew 2 percent.
“Alan Berube, one of the authors of the report, says that while the city becomes more expensive and popular, low wage economies are increasingly found outside them. The recession coupled with population growth in the suburbs contributed to the explosion of poverty there. “And in the end,” ze adds, “Where poverty is–is where affordable housing is.”
“Still, the study doesn’t really support the conclusion that gentrification is ruining everything, that “reverse white flight” is displacing low-income communities and exporting them to places like Ossining or New Rochelle. The report looked at Census data across the last decade, but Berube says that the study didn’t examine who was displacing whom–and much of the population growth in the suburbs came from new immigrants, from those who didn’t stop in the city first.
“Poverty is a structural feature of the American economy today,” Berube says, while noting that the disparity between rich and poor in the city is as stark as ever. But if disasters likeSandy are an example, the Brookings data could also support the idea that cities are awful at fostering opportunities for low-income communities to find affordable housing–which is why it may be easier for those living under the federal poverty line to survive in the ‘burbs after all.”
A new Pew Research report on emerging economies finds that almost a quarter of Americans have trouble affording food. “This reported level of deprivation is closer to that in Indonesia or Greece rather than Britain or Canada,” the report says.
Why is this the case?
Quartz reports that “according to numbers from the USDA, the moderate costs to healthfully feed a family of four a week costs $191, including meals and snacks, up 38% from 10 years ago. Food inflation was about 5% last year after a drought led to an increase in corn, wheat, and soybean prices, which in turned raised the price of chicken, pork, and beef. With continued unpredictability in weather affecting crops and higher demand from a growing population, it’s likely that food prices will only continue to rise.
“But the US has the worst income inequality among developed economies; 15% of the population uses food stamps. As economist, Joseph Stiglitz has argued, the income inequality in the US is not only holding back a recovery but also setting up the nation for future economic instability.
“The technorati is busy brewing up a single-source omnifood, the FAO has been urging people for years to eat insects, and NASA wants astronauts to eat 3D-printed food. But here on earth, an estimated 40% of the food produced in the US is wasted.”
The number of anti-government “patriot” groups, including paramilitary hate organizations, reached an all-time high in 2012, fanned by President Barack Obama’s reelection and talk of gun control following the Newtown, Conn., elementary school massacre, according to a report issued Tuesday by the Southern Poverty Law Center amd reported upon by Huffington Post: Continue reading “Hate groups on the rise”
Contemporary American politics cannot be understood apart from the North-South divide in the U.S., as I and others have argued, writes Michael Lind in today’s Salon Magazine. “Neither can contemporary American economic debates. The real choice facing America in the 21st century is the same one that faced it in the 19th and 20th centuries — Northernomics or Southernomics?
“Northernomics is the high-road strategy of building a flourishing national economy by means of government-business cooperation and government investment in R&D, infrastructure and education. Continue reading “The other sin of the American South”
We don’t think 2102 was the best year for Pope Benedict, what with his relentless rants against marriage equality and his silly foray onto Twitter. For a guy supposed to have a direct line to God, the Pope seems to be a bit out-of-touch.
“Pope Benedict XVI has condemned ‘unregulated capitalism’ for contributing to world tension, in a new year address to worshippers.”
Hang on, there is more: The Pope also decried ‘the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism’, as well as ‘various forms of terrorism and crime.’
“The Roman Catholic Church leader spoke at a Mass in the Vatican, then greeted a crowd outside St Peter’s Basilica. He deplored ‘hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor’. Continue reading “Now Benedict hates capitalism”
The U.S. has the highest child poverty rate of any country in the developed world. That means right now, not some abstract national deficit future. Right now millions of kids are hungry, sick, living in economically stressed homes, attending rotten schools –– and not getting talked about because they fall outside the noble “middle class.” According to a recent article in the New York Times, “federal expenditures on children — including everything from their share of Medicaid and the earned-income tax credit to targeted efforts like child nutrition and education programs — fell one percent last year and will fall an additional four percent this year, to $428 billion, according to estimates by the Urban Institute based on the Congressional Budget Office’s projections.” Yet aside from advocacy from few groups like Nuns of the Bus, the actual plight of children is getting short shrift in the current election cycle. The Times’ “Cutbacks and the Fate of the Young” contrasts Romney’s assertions of a “moral responsibility” to protect the inheritance of the nation’s kids from debt with his winner-take-all approach to economics more generally, especially in light of his running-mate’s famously draconian budget. Continue reading “What will we tell the children?”