Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Poverty’

Federal Unemployment Benefits Expire Due To Congressional Inaction

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) urged lawmakers to embrace a package that could avert the so-called fiscal cliff, noting that 2.1 million Americans have already lost federal unemployment benefits as a result of Congressional inaction. “From this point on, it is lose-lose,” Feinstein explained, during an appearance on Fox News Sunday. “My big worry, is, a contraction of the economy. The loss of jobs, which could be well over 2 million in addition to the people already on unemployment.”

Indeed, the National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group, projects that “more than 2 million Americans will stop receiving benefits after Dec. 29, when the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program will cease to exist.” The benefits have kept 2.3 million out of poverty last year alone, and the Congressional Budget Office projects that a full, year-long extension would lead to the creation of 300,000 new jobs.

The initiative requires recipients to search for a job while receiving payments, and one study found that unemployment recipients search harder for jobs than those who are not receiving money from the program.

Earlier this week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) demanded spending cuts to pay for the program, which would cost $30 billion. Democrats have been pushing for a full extension of benefits.

This post was originally posted on Think Progress on December 30, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Igor Volsky is the Deputy Editor of ThinkProgress.org. Igor is co-author of Howard Dean’s Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform and has appeared on MSNBC, CNN, Fox Business, Fox News, and CNBC television, and has been a guest on many radio shows. In 2011, Forbes named Igor one of their top 30 under 30 in Law & Policy. Igor grew up in Russia, Israel and New Jersey and graduated from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. He was previously the Health and LGBT editor at ThinkProgress.

The Price of Cheap: Slave Labor, No Jobs

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

Cheap. Low prices. Bargains. It’s the American way of recent decades–a promise we’ve been given by everyone from politicians to corporate marketing campaigns. And most people find it hard to see the devastating cost to us as a society. But, sometimes things happen at once that can give a very clear picture, if you look. For your consideration.

First, a now well-known episode:

While Twinkies have a reputation for an unlimited shelf life, the company that makes the junk food may not.Hostess Brands, the bankrupt maker of cream-filled pastries like Twinkies and Ho Hos, said on Friday that it planned to wind down its operations. The decision comes a week after one of the company’s biggest unions went on strike to protest a labor contract.

Richard Trumka has it exactly right:

“What’s happening with Hostess Brands is a microcosm of what’s wrong with America, as Bain-style Wall Street vultures make themselves rich by making America poor,” Trumka said in a public statement. “Crony capitalism and consistently poor management drove Hostess into the ground, but its workers are paying the price.”…“These workers, who consistently make great products Americans love and have offered multiple concessions, want their company to succeed,” Trumka said in the statement. “They have bravely taken a stand against the corporate race-to-the-bottom. And now they and their communities are suffering the tragedy of a needless layoff. This is wrong. It has to stop. It’s wrecking America.”

Second, some of those cheap goods people snap up at Ikea were made by slave labor:

Ikea has long been famous for its inexpensive, some-assembly-required furniture. On Friday the company admitted that political prisoners in the former East Germany provided some of the labor that helped it keep its prices so low.A report by auditors at Ernst & Young concluded that Ikea, a Swedish company, knowingly benefited from forced labor in the former East Germany to manufacture some of its products in the 1980s. Ikea had commissioned the report in May as a result of accusations that both political and criminal prisoners were involved in making components of Ikea furniture and that some Ikea employees knew about it.

And, lastly, Black Friday is approaching–and Wal-Mart workers are asking for people to assist in their fight back against the Beast of Bentonville, the paragon of low-cost.

So, the lesson:

If we pull all those strands together–the destruction of the lives of thousands of workers who made Twinkies; the sweat that brought people the couch or bed they picked up in their car at Ikea; and the hard times hundreds of thousands of people have to endure to eke out a tiny paycheck from Wal-Mart–it tells the tale of America.

Cheap means the end of the middle-class, not to mention the mythical American Dream because cheap means minimum wage jobs, no health care, no pensions.

Low-cost means paychecks that don’t make it possible for a worker to get through the end of the month without seeing her or his financial debt grow larger.

Bargains are only beneficial to the fat-cat CEOs who pocket obscene paychecks because hidden behind that “bargain” price is an endless cycle of poverty and despair: to give millions of people “bargains”, CEOs manufacture products in low-wage countries or low-wage factories, and, the, they pay–or fire, in the case of Twinkies–workers every declining wages…and, then, those same workers don’t have enough money to buy much–so they are forced to, then, shop at the very low-wage stores–Wal-Mart being the prime example–that are the engine for the destructive cycle.

Just something to think about everytime we are assaulted by a TV ad, or coupon or billboard promising a bargain.

It isn’t more than a bargain with the devil of the bankrupt so-called free market.

This article was originally posted on Working Life on November 16, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Jonathan Tasini is is a strategist, organizer, activist, commentator and writer, primarily focusing his energies on the topics of work, labor, and economy. In 2006, he unsuccessfully challenged incumbent U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primary.

Australia Seeks to ‘Manage’ the Poor While Making Them Poorer

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

When Mitt Romney derides the legions of Americans who are supposedly utterly dependent on government and are ruining the country’s entrepreneurial spirit, we should remember that while this disdain for the poor may have a uniquely American inflection, the greed-is-good ethos flourishes in other rich nations. In the land down under, we see a mirror image of the political establishment’s frontal assault on poor communities, with welfare policy acting as a cudgel for blaming the epidemic of poverty on the poor themselves.

The Australian government has been tightening its grip on welfare benefits through the Income Management program, which essentially dictates how the poor should spend their benefits. Participants may have about 50 to 70 percent of their money placed under state control, reserved for essential items like food.
Like welfare reform in the United States, this is retrofitted paternalism: participants must spend the “quarantined” money using a “Basics Card” at government-approved outlets. The rationale is that too many poor people would squander money on gambling, drinking, pornography and other unproductive things when given a chance.

The program was first piloted in destitute aboriginal communities that had become notorious for cases of family crisis and child abuse. Income Management is now spreading to several new areas, according to the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS), with enrollment based on “referral from child protection authorities” and referrals from social workers “on the grounds of ‘vulnerability.’ ” The targeting of these already stigmatized groups–indigenous people, parents in troubled homes, and others deemed financially incompetent–reflects the myth that poverty is cultural and not the result of oppressive structures.

A recent announcement on the introduction of Income Management in Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) lands in southern Australia suggests that some communities are eager to comply: “APY Lands residents told us income management would help them better manage their money and help stop humbugging, ensuring there is enough money for life essentials, such as food, housing and clothing.”

To opponents of the program, the main problem facing poor people isn’t their bad self-management, but the faillure of the social service system to provide adequate economic supports for “life essentials.” Adding to the attack on vulnerable families, Income Management has been rolled out with another strict “intervention”: the threat of suspending certain welfare benefits for parents “whose children are not enrolled or regularly attending school,” thus further punishing poor parents and their children.

A coalition of community-based service providers and advocacy organizations has dismissed Income Management as both discriminatory and needlessly punitive. To progressive anti-poverty advocates, Income Management threatens to infantilize people who want self-sufficiency but are hindered by structural economic hardships. Pam Batkin, head of Woodville Community Services, tells Working In These Times via email that the program:

is a simplistic response to very, very complex social problems. People may be unemployed due to lack of education and skills or they may have a disability. Quarantining their welfare payments if they are behind in their rent will not assist them to find a job. Indeed it may make life more difficult for people. Addictions to alcohol, illegal drugs or gambling are complex social issues which cannot be addressed by simply quarantining a person’s welfare payments.

In a statement of opposition issued last fall, Paddy Gibson of Sydney’s Stop the Intervention Collective said the program was “built on racist assumptions that Aboriginal people are incapable of managing their lives; it imposes harsh control measures rather than creating opportunities.”

A policy analysis by ACOSS points to “a lack of evidence that the groups targeted were unable to manage their financial affairs.” Even Parliament’s own assessment admits this in part.

Activists in indigenous communities have condemned recent welfare legislation as an affront to community sovereignty and economic rights. Following the passage of the so-called “Stronger Futures” bill in July, Dr. Djiniyini Gondarra, Yolngu Nations Assembly spokesperson, said in a statement, “By overruling the wishes of the people, the Government has declared a war on democracy.”

And now that the draconian model has been tested on indigenous people, the government is expanding it to new communities, though these “trials” will purportedly be made more palatable by encouraging voluntary, in addition to state-mandated, participation.

Randa Kattan of the Arab Council Australia, located in Bankstown, where the program has just been launched, likened Income Management to the harsh welfare reforms imposed in the United States during the 1990s, which were also designed to punitively push people off of benefits.

Australia, Kattan said, might “eventually… go down the road of the United States. The government wants to push people off the books, blame them for their situation, for things that are beyond their control.” For service providers, Income Management would damage community relations. “This is a system that will change our relationship and how we work with people. This system is about punishment and control. It’s very nasty.”

Another issue with the government’s scorched-earth welfare reform is the potential for waste. ACOSS argued that while “the program increases the cost to Government of social security payments for those assisted by one third to one half,” in the long-run, “the funds being invested in these programs could be more efficiently invested in initiatives to improve income support, employment assistance, housing, health, education and family services in poor communities.”

The neoliberal arithmetic of Income Management can only be understood in terms of a one-percent political calculus. In both the United States and Australia, privilege is faithfully served at the expense of the poor. Leaders of prosperous Western democracies might be expected to invest public resources more wisely, but then again, they refuse to take orders from anyone on how to spend their money.

This blog originally appeared in Working In These Times on September 21, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Michelle Chen work has appeared in AirAmerica, Extra!, Colorlines and Alternet, along with her self-published zine, cain. She is a regular contributor to In These Times’ workers’ rights blog, Working In These Times, and is a member of the In These Times Board of Editors. She also blogs at Colorlines.com. She can be reached at michellechen @ inthesetimes.com.

What is poverty?

Monday, August 20th, 2012

Mark E. AndersonWhat is poverty? According to the federal government poverty for a family of four is $23,050 a year. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, which, if you work a 40-hour week, 52 weeks a year, you would earn $15,080 a year. The average rent cost in the United States is $808 (PDF) a month or $9,696 a year. If you use the thriftiest numbers provided by the USDA (I am assuming this is not a healthy diet) groceries for a family of four averages between $507 and $582 (PDF) a month depending on the age of the children. That is $6,084 to $6,984 a year. Food and lodging for this family of four costs between $15,780 and $16,680 a year. I have not even gotten to childcare costs yet, which for a child who is around four years old ranges $3,900 to $15,540 a year (PDF) a year. There is help for this family of four though, the average amount of SNAP benefits available to a family of four? $496 a month, not enough to pay for all of their groceries, however, it is enough to prevent starvation. Even with SNAP benefits it is obvious that in the family of four only one of the adults can work, as the other has to stay home with the children. I cannot imagine how a single parent at this level of income could keep it together let alone get out of poverty.

Federal Poverty Levels 2012

Those are the numbers that define poverty in America; however, the definition of poverty goes much further than those numbers. The American Heritage dictionary defines poverty as, “the state of being poor; lack of the means of providing material needs or comforts.”

Let that soak in for a minute, “lack of the means of providing material needs or comforts.” Things like food, shelter, and stability. You cannot get sick, you cannot take a day off to go to the doctor, you cannot afford to go to the doctor at all. If the price of food goes up you have to take away from some other part of your budget. But what takes the hit? Is your landlord going to allow you to pay less rent? How do you buy school supplies? How do you get to and from work? None of the figures above include transportation.

Imagine living in a world where you don’t know if you have enough money for your next meal, going without food so that your children may eat. Worrying about scraping together enough money to take your child to the doctor for things that most of us take for granted like immunizations. The feelings of inadequacy when your child wants nothing more than a candy bar and you cannot afford it. How grateful you feel when a stranger hands you a dollar bill to buy that candy bar and how miserable it makes you feel inside that you must depend on the kindness of strangers for such small pleasures in life. How hard birthdays and Christmases are when you cannot afford to purchase even the smallest of gifts (especially in our consumer-driven society).

According to conservative mouthpieces if you have a color TV and a refrigerator you are not poor, and several of the memes that exist today say that if you have a newer car and a cell phone you are not poor, discounting that you may have purchased that newer car or cell phone before you lost your job and lost your home. That you need to be drug tested before you can receive any kind of benefits. The poor are second-class citizens who cannot be trusted with the meager benefits that are provided to them. They should, “just get a job,” and “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” Great advice; however, if you are making minimum wage, you don’t have bootstraps to pull up.

The same people who refuse to help the poor because they are, “lazy and shiftless,” have no problem giving a tax break, that is larger than what someone making minimum wage earns in a year, to someone who makes their money through investments, in other words, a tax break to someone who has never worked a day in their lives. Only because they have a higher social status they deserve what amounts to a government handout in the form of a tax break, while someone working for minimum wage every single day does not deserve a hand up.

While I am not a religious man I find it hypocritical that the people who claim to follow Christianity do not follow some of its core teachings. When my mom forced me to go to confirmation classes at Bashford United Methodist Church in my youth I primarily went through the motions just to make her happy; however, one quote that Rev. Rick Pearson taught me has stuck with me all these years, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth – 1 John 3:17-18.”

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on August 19, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mark Anderson, a Daily Kos Labor contributor, describes himself as a 44 year-old veteran, lifelong Progressive Democrat, Rabid Packer fan, Single Dad, Part-time Grad Student, and Full-time IS worker. You can learn more about him on his Facebook, “Kodiak54 (Mark Andersen)”

Most Minimum Wage Earners Are Women

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012
Credit: Joe Kekeris

Credit: Joe Kekeris

One of the stats that always amazes is this: If the federal minimum wage had kept pace with the rising cost of living over the past 40 years, it would be $10.52 per hour today.

Instead, the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. That translates to $15,080 per year, below the poverty line for a family of three—if the work is full-time.

Stunning as that is, it gets even worse when you realize that the majority of those paid the minimum wage are women: In 2011, more than 62 percent of minimum wage workers were women, compared with only 38 percent of male minimum wage workers, according to a new report by the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

It’s especially bad that women make up the majority of minimum wage earners because women are paid 77 cents for every dollar a typical man earns. Women of color are far more likely to hold low-wage jobs than men, and two-thirds of mothers now are either the breadwinners or co-breadwinners for their families. Their lower wages mean they will receive less from Social Security, their primary source of retirement income.

Slightly more than 2.5 million women earn the minimum wage or less, while about 1.5 million men do.

Pointedly, the report notes:

From 1968 to 2010, incomes for the top 1 percent of earners increased by 110 percent, but the inflation-adjusted value of the minimum wage has fallen by 31 percent. If the federal minimum wage had kept pace with the rising cost of living over the past 40 years, it would be $10.52 per hour today.

But these same 1 percenters are some of those who block efforts at the local and national levels to raise the minimum wage. In fact, research has shown no job loss results from reasonable minimum wage increases, even when the economy is struggling.

On the contrary, a minimum wage increase boosts consumer spending and can improve the nation’s weak economy by growing demand through increased purchasing power.

This blog originally appeared in ALC-CIO on June 21, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Tula Connell got her first union card while she worked her way through college as a banquet bartender for the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee they were represented by a hotel and restaurant local union (the names of the national unions were different then than they are now). With a background in journalism (covering bull roping in Texas and school boards in Virginia) she started working in the labor movement in 1991. Beginning as a writer for SEIU (and OPEIU member), she now blogs under the title of AFL-CIO managing editor.

So Rich, So Poor: What to make of America's poverty problem

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Eric MogelCurrent Georgetown University Law Center Professor Peter Edelman knows a thing or
two about poverty. While serving in the Health and Human Services Department under
the Clinton administration, Peter famously resigned in protest to Clinton’s signing of the
1996 Welfare Reform Act. He believed that the move from federal control of welfare
grants to a system in which individual states were able to control these funds themselves
would result in an increase in the poverty rate and the disappearance of a safety net for
America’s poorest citizens. Sixteen years later, Peter Edelman’s new book So Rich, So
Poor
paints a portrait of the effects of welfare reform on Americans in the lower and
middle classes and makes a compelling argument for an increase in government aid and
intervention.

So Rich, So Poor details some of the troubling facts about just how much income
disparity has affected the poorest and wealthiest citizens. In 1979 the top one percent of
America’s wealthiest citizens earned nine percent of all personal income. However, in
2007 the same top one percent pulled in over twenty three percent of all personal income.
On the other end of the spectrum, twenty million Americans are living in a state of deep
poverty. According to Peter Edelman, deep poverty is a state in which a family of three
is earning below nine thousand dollars per year. While the twenty million Americans in
deep poverty come from all backgrounds and states, some groups are disproportionately
overrepresented. Single mothers and minority groups make up a large percent of the
people living in deep poverty. As So Rich, So Poor notes however, it is not only single
mothers that suffer when they are living in deep poverty. The children being raised by
these single mothers are also living in a state of deep poverty, with untold consequences
on these children’s abilities to grow up and reach their full potential.

So Rich, So Poor looks at the policy decisions that are increasingly driving America’s
lower class into a state of deep poverty. Peter Edelman traces some of the blame all
the way back to 1996, and the decision to allow states to decide for themselves how to
distribute welfare funds. Peter notes that states have the option of not distributing any
cash assistance to low income citizens, and that the lack of federal cash assistance to
low income families has removed a safety net for America’s poorest citizens. The effect
of allowing states to decide how to distribute welfare funds has resulted in six million
Americans whose only source of income is food stamps. Clearly it is impossible to live,
let alone raise a family, when the only government support is food stamps and no cash
assistance.

While the situation for America’s poorest citizens might be dire, Peter Edelman does not
believe that those living in deep poverty are beyond saving. Peter has suggested that the
federal government should increase the amount of aid given to the poorest citizens, as
well as using federal legislation to create a living wage for all Americans. As noted in So
Rich, So Poor
much of America’s economic growth over the past forty years has gone
straight to America’s richest citizens. If America wants to alleviate its poverty problem,
economic growth has to support all Americans, especially the poorest citizens.

Peter Edelman interview for Democracy Now!

Purchase So Rich, So Poor

About the Author: Eric Mogel is an intern at Workplace Fairness. Eric grew up in
Manhattan Beach, California and holds a BA in history from the University of Michigan.
He is currently a second year student pursuing his JD at The George Washington
University Law School.

Two Worlds: Waiters Who Starve, And Those Who Don't

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

jonathan-tasiniTwo sides of the planet. Two different systems. Two different realities for workers–and, therein, lies the lesson: economies are about power, and values.

Over in the U.S., if you are a waiter in the food industry, you are screwed, as Mark Bittman outlined in his column a few days ago, on the backs of a searing indictment called “The Hands That Feed Us”. Bittman writes:

Help wanted: Salary: $19,000 (some may be withheld or stolen). No health insurance, paid sick days or paid vacation. Opportunity for advancement: nearly nil.

This job, or something much like it, is held by nearly 20 million people, 10 million of whom work in restaurants. They are the workers employed in producing, processing and delivering our food, who have been portrayed in vivid and often dispiriting detail in a new report called The Hands That Feed Us. Written by the Food Chain Workers Alliance, the report surveyed nearly 700 workers employed in five major sectors: production, processing, distribution, retail and service.

The upshot: Our food comes at great expense to the workers who provide it. “The biggest workforce in America can’t put food on the table except when they go to work,” says Saru Jayaraman, Co-Founder of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-U).[emphasis added]

All this comes because of the pathetic “special minimum wage”–$2.13 an hour–paid to restaurant workers:

Take that $2.13 figure, the federal minimum wage for tipped workers. Legally, tips should cover the difference between that and the federal minimum wage, now a whopping $7.25. If they don’t, employers are obligated to make up the difference. But that doesn’t always happen, leaving millions of servers — 70 percent of whom are women — taking home far less than the minimum wage.

Which brings us to the happily almost-forgotten Herman Cain. What’s called the “tipped minimum wage” — that $2.13 — once increased in proportion to the regular minimum wage. But in 1996, the year Cain took over as head of the National Restaurant Association (NRA), he struck a deal with President Bill Clinton and his fellow Democrats. In exchange for an increase in the regular minimum wage, the tipped minimum wage was de-coupled. The result: despite regular increases in the regular minimum wage, the tipped minimum wage hasn’t changed since 1991.

Other disheartening facts: Around one in eight jobs in the food industry provides a wage greater than 150 percent of the regional poverty level. More than three-quarters of the workers surveyed don’t receive health insurance from their employers. (Fifty-eight percent don’t have it at all; national health care, anyone?) More than half have worked while sick or suffered injuries or health problems on the job, and more than a third reported some form of wage theft in the previous week. Not year: week.

And, as a reminder, even the $7.25-an-hour minimum wage, as

I’ve pointed out for a number of years

, is far below what it should be. It should be at least $20-an-hour, if you take into account how much productivity has risen over the past 30 years.

But, now, let’s take a trip half a planet away–to Australia where I have the pleasure of hanging my hat for a bit. The national minimum wage will go up to about $16-an-hour on July 1st. Waiters make that–and usually as much as $20-an-hour. Oh, and don’t forget they also are covered by the national health care plan (called “Medicare” here).

And, so, my Aussie friends are usually mildly annoyed when I add a tip to everything I eat–including coffee. It’s not that Aussies don’t tip–they do. But, it’s seen as an extra, a little more for particularly good service or when it seems appropriate. But, no one tipping a waiter here thinks that, in doing so, they are making a difference between a waiter making the rent or going broke. It’s not that waiters are rich. It is simply that they can do their job and earn a fair wage.

That’s the difference: exploitation U.S.-style versus a fair wage Aussie-style.

That is about basic values, morality and, ultimately, power.

This post originally appeared in Working Life on June 18, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jonathan Tasini is the executive director of Labor Research Association. Tasini ran for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in New York. For the past 25 years, Jonathan has been a union leader and organizer, a social activist, and a commentator and writer on work, labor and the economy. From 1990 to April 2003, he served as president of the National Writers Union (United Auto Workers Local 1981). He was the lead plaintiff in Tasini vs. The New York Times, the landmark electronic rights case that took on the corporate media’s assault on the rights of thousands of freelance authors.

Makers, Takers and $2-A-Dayers

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Michelle ChenOne official measure of poverty around the world is surviving on $2 per day or less. It’s a condition many Americans could barely imagine living in. And yet the official data suggests that while politicians insist the U.S. is insulated from such deprivation, a large share of the country is feeling a cold draft from the “Third World.”

A set of new analyses from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), drawing from a study of income data by the University of Michigan’s National Poverty Center, shows that for well over a million households, many of them with children, are besieged by hardship of an epic magnitude:

The number of U.S. households living on less than $2 per person per day — which the study terms “extreme poverty” — more than doubled between 1996 and 2011, from 636,000 to 1.46 million, the study finds… The number of children in extremely poor households also doubled, from 1.4 million to 2.8 million.

The World Bank’s $2-per-day metric derives from widespread cliche in humanitarian circles, generally used to describe poor countries in the Global South. But while some question the usefulness of such simplistic measures, the phrase has a unique application in a country that’s historically represented the top of the human development scale. And one reason why the U.S. has so many people stuck at the bottom is because in many communities, this inequality is practically written into the law, with public assistance programs virtually enforcing the extreme poverty line.

Since bipartisan welfare “reform” under the Clinton administration, which precipitated the gutting of programs and erosion of benefit levels over time, the poorest households have become mired in outmoded welfare systems that don’t correspond to real social needs:

Benefits are below half of the poverty line in every state.  For a family of three, benefits are only about $2 per person per day in Mississippi and Tennessee and only slightly more than $2 per person per day in Alabama and South Carolina, for example.

It’s basic math: Add the recent recession to years of wealth-hoarding by the richest Americans, factor in endemic socioeconomic, racial and gender inequality, and you get polarization that’s global in scale and intensity. This is reflected in each individual whose daily standard of living is worth the cost of a Wall Street financier’s morning coffee.

Although the stimulus package enacted by the Obama administration gave a temporary boost to welfare programs, those dollars have dried up. The safety net is further unraveled, according to the CBPP, by a block-grant funding system in which the benefit “does not increase in response to increased need.” Meanwhile, recently proposed budget cuts to federal housing assistance (from both the White House and Congress) would raise the cost of rent for hundreds of thousands of struggling families. In other words, the “ownership society” is effectively disowning its neediest members.

Extreme poverty is acutely painful for already vulnerable demographics. The largest jump in $2-a-day poverty—a stunning three-fold increase since 1996—hit female-headed households. Children in poverty, who face long-term barriers to education and healthcare, and are disproportionately black and Latino(but including many whites as well), tend to carry these hardships into adulthood.

According to CBPP researcher Arloc Sherman, these trends affirm other research suggesting that “it has become harder to access welfare.” Since the reforms of the 1990s, which instituted onerous work requirements and other restrictions, the percentage of very poor families covered by TANF has tumbled.

On the other hand, what’s left of the safety net continues to play a critical role in preventing total devastation for many.  “I suspect for those who lost jobs in the recession, Unemployment Insurance—thanks in part to [The Recovery Act]—played a big role in keeping people’s cash incomes above $2 per person per day,” Sherman told In These Times.

While the presidential hopefuls race to outdo each other in gratuitously denigrating the poor (along with people of color, single women and other time-honored scapegoats), it’s important to keep in mind that these populations don’t fit the standard caricatures of welfare queens and freeloaders.

The CBPP’s research also reveals that the population that uses public assistance–those conservatives demonizeas the “entitlement society”--primarily consists of old folks, people with disabilities–oh, and people with jobs. In fact, “People who are neither elderly nor disabled — and do not live in a working household — received only 9 percent of the benefits.” So in a labor market offering about one slot for every four job-seekers, a good chunk of those  “entitlements” go to the very same “hardworking Americans” that right-wing rhetoric contrasts with the supposedly undeserving poor.

The right pushes a delusional narrative of country divided between “makers and takers”—the productive go-getters versus the welfare-hungry sloths.  But when you crunch the numbers, it becomes all too clear who the real takers are: the ones who make it harder for everyone else to make a living.

This blog originally appeared in Working in These Times on March 15, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Michelle Chen is a contributing editor at In These Times. She is a regular contributor to the labor rights blog Working In These TimesColorlines.com, and Pacifica’s WBAI. Her work has also appeared in The Nation, Alternet, Ms. Magazine, Newsday, and her old zine, cain. Follow her on Twitter at @meeshellchen or reach her at michellechen @ inthesetimes,com.

The Other Occupation: How Wall Street Occupies Washington

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

jilani_zaid_bioAs ThinkProgress has previously noted, the 99 Percent Movement has been set off thanks to long-standing economic inequities and and a recession caused primarily by Wall Street’s misdeeds.

But Wall Street did not engage in reckless financial behavior — which plunged 64 million people worldwide into extreme poverty — in a vacuum.

In order to engage in these practices that brought the world’s economy to its knees, Wall Street had to make sure that the federal government based in Washington, DC would both de-regulate the financial industry (and provide lax oversight) and that Congress and the Federal Reserve would bail out banks with few strings attached if they were in danger of failing. The way the financial industry and big banks won this kid glove treatment from the federal government is by occupying Washington — flooding it with campaign contributions, lobbyists, and its own staffers and executives to occupy key positions of power. ThinkProgress has assembled a rundown of three ways Wall Street has occupied Washington:

1. Wall Street Occupies Washington With Massive Campaign Contributions: On Nov. 12, 1999 President Bill Clinton signed into law the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, a Depression-era law that created a firewall between commercial and investment banking. Repealing this law was one of the top legislative goals of the financial industry. In the 1998 election cycle, commercial banks spent $18 million on congressional campaign contributions, with 65 percent going to Republicans and 35 percent going to Democrats. Securities and investment firms donated over $40 million. The mega-bank Citibank spent $1,954,191 during that cycle, and it was soon able to merge with Travelers Group as a result of the repeal of banking regulations. Between 2008 and 2010, when new financial regulations were being written following the financial crisis, the finance, insurance, and real estate industries spent $317 million in federal campaign contributions, with $73 million of that coming from Political Action Committees (PACs). The hold of campaign contributions is starkly bipartisan. As Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) explained to Real Clear Politics in an interview last year, he couldn’t get a vote on a windfall profits tax on bonuses at bailed out banks due to campaign contributors. “I couldn’t even get a vote,” Webb explained. “And it wasn’t because of the Republicans. I mean they obviously weren’t going to vote for it. But I got so much froth from Democrats saying that any vote like that was going to screw up fundraising.”

2. Wall Street Occupies Washington With Its Lobbyists: One way to control what Washington lawmakers do is to give them access to exclusive funding streams that allow them to finance their campaigns. But yet another is to control the stream of information. From the deregulatory period of 1998 to 2009, the financial sector spent $3.3 billion on lobbyists. In 2007, the financial industry employed 2,996 separate lobbyists, five for every member of Congress. During the debate over financial reform last year, the industry flooded the nation’s capital with its own lobbyists. On just one issue — regulating derivatives — financial industry lobbyists outnumbered consumer group lobbyists and other pro-reform advocates by 11 to 1. In fact, by 2010, the industry had hired awhopping 1,600 former federal employees as lobbyists. Included among these lobbyists were high-ranking former public leaders like former Democratic House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt (MO) and Kenneth Duberstein, Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff. Much of this lobbying is done through elite K Street firms that specialize in hiring government insiders. Yet there are also bank-funded front groups like the Chamber of Commerce that deploy lobbyists on behalf of the big banks.

3. Wall Street Literally Occupies Washington By Placing Its Staff In Government Positions: Shortly after Clinton signed into law the repeal of the firewall between commercial and investment banking, his Treasury Secretary and Goldman Sachs alumni Robert Rubin left the government to work for newly-formed Citigroup — whose merger was only possible thanks to the policies Rubin championed and enacted. His compensation at Citigroup topped $15 million, not including stock options. Goldman’s alumni are found across the government, including bailout architect and former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, Paulson’s bailout chiefNeil Kashkari, and Commodity Futures Trading Commission chairman Gary Gensler. The revolving door, of course, works both ways. Obama budget director Peter Orszag joined Citigroup shortly after leaving the government. This is just a small sampling of Wall Street’s staffers who found their way into government.

These three facets of lobbying do not include how these financial interests fan their funding out among nonprofits and think tanks, and how they fund media campaigns and public relations efforts within the parameters of the geographic territory of the District of Columbia. The amount of money spent on these tasks is likely formidable but is difficult to track.

There are reforms that can be enacted to combat this Wall Street infiltration of Washington. Ranging from public financing of federal campaigns to new disclosure laws to placing restrictionson lobbying from federal public officials, these reforms would blunt the impact of big money on federal policymaking. Yet only vigilance from the American public can get such reforms enacted.

This blog originally appeared in Think Progress on October 12, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Zaid Jilani is a Senior Reporter/Blogger for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Zaid grew up in Kennesaw, GA, and holds a B.A. in International Affairs with a minor in Arabic from the University of Georgia. Prior to joining ThinkProgress, Zaid interned for Just Foreign Policy and was a weekly columnist at The Red & Black, the University of Georgia’s official student newspaper. He is a co-editor at the Georgia-based blog Georgia Liberal and a regular on RT America’s The Alyona Show and The Thom Hartmann Show and has been a guest host on Al Jazeera English’s The Stream. He is also an occassional contributor to the op-ed pages of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. His Twitter handle is @zaidjilani.

Studies Show Growing Depravity for Women in this Economy

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

n6234374_38932211_9560_reasonably_smallNo American has been immune to the challenges caused by the less-than-thrilling state of our economy. However, new statistics show that half of our population may be struggling a bit more than the other, more specifically the female half. The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), in a new compilation of statistics, reports that a record number of women are living in poverty.In 2010, the poverty rate among women climbed from 13.9 percent in 2009 to an astonishing 14.5 percent, the highest rate reported in over seventeen years. In addition, the percentage of women living in extreme poverty climbed from 2009’s 5.9 percent to 6.3 percent in 2010.

If those statements alone haven’t shocked you enough, the following ratio is even more daunting:

Over 17 million women lived in poverty in 2010, including more than 7.5 million who are living in extreme poverty.

Americans are witnessing a startling and rapid growth in the depravity of a major class of individuals in our nation. This has a large effect on the status of American children as well. Although men and women both play integral roles in the success and survival of a child, child welfare has long been attached to that of their mothers. When the mother suffers, so does the child- or so the numbers show. The NWLC reports that black women, who serve as the heads of black households with children, are continuing to lose jobs while black men are adding jobs during recovery. With fewer jobs, women are unable to provide for their children. The growing number of women in poverty is in turn increasing the number of children in poverty. A survey of child welfare released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation reports that in 2009, 14.7 million children were living in poverty.

The Guttmacher Institute reports that the rate of unintended pregnancies among women who fall below the federal poverty line has risen. With more women in poverty bearing children who will be born into poverty, the problems continue to grow. That’s the sad part-a child doesn’t get to choose what kind of life it is born into.

In an upcoming study in Psychological Science,  a journal published by The Association for Psychological Science reports “the stresses disadvantaged children undergo affect their physiological development, making them permanently vulnerable to infection and disease. One common outcome in adulthood is metabolic syndrome, a cluster of signs, including high blood pressure, impaired regulation of blood sugar and fats, and fat around the waist, that can precede chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.” However, the study posits that the presence of a “good mom” can radically change the fate of these children. We can hope that these women are committing to the job of motherhood, but it can only be expected that the pressures of poverty may prevent them from providing the best for their child.

The poor status of our economy continues to raise unemployment figures, lower the number of jobs available, and eliminate funding for welfare, health care, and other aid organizations. Women may not be climbing out of poverty anytime soon – Neither will their children. With that in mind, it seems apparent that some Americans are in the midst of a very vicious cycle.

About this Author: Maria Saab is a law student intern at Workplace Fairness. Her Bachelor of Arts in International Studies combined with her career experiences working on Capitol Hill and with then-Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 encouraged her to pursue law school. As a hopeful lawyer, she plans on specializing in regulatory law and hopes to one day concentrate her work efforts towards policy development.

Your Rights Job Survival The Issues Features Resources About This Blog