Posts Tagged ‘Poverty’
Thursday, June 16th, 2016
Years ago a political scientist said that the mass media can’t influence what people think, but it can influence what people think about. Today it does both. If you’re a billionaire who wants to manipulate public opinion, that means you’ll keep feeding it stories that serve your ideology and self-interest.
Hedge fund billionaire Peter G. “Pete” Peterson is a master of the art. At a time when 47 million Americans (including one child in five) live in poverty, when our national infrastructure is collapsing and the middle class dream is dying before our eyes, he’s managed to convince a few voters, a lot of politicians, and far too many major-media journalists that our most urgent problem is … federal deficit spending.
They don’t just want you to be concerned about it. They want you to be afraid.
The front for this effort (one of many assembled by the Peterson Foundation) is called “The Coalition for Fiscal and National Security,” and they’ve assembled a list of prominent figures to promote it. Let us consider the message, and the messengers.
The group’s mantra is a statement that retired Admiral Mike Mullen first made when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
“The single biggest threat to our national security is our debt.”
That’s a surprisingly bold and naive proclamation, especially from someone of Mullen’s stature. It takes a lot of imagination, and some highly implausible assumptions, to believe that our national security is really endangered by federal deficits.
The Peterson Foundation provides both, of course. Unfortunately its manipulated facts and figures fail to make their case, even when taken at face value.
What would a rational list of nonmilitary risks look like? Climate change would almost certainly top the list. Many military experts already consider it a grave national security threat. A bipartisan group of 48 defense leaders and experts – including, perhaps paradoxically, some of the Peterson group’s signatories – signed a full-page ad let year entitled “Republicans and Democrats Agree: U.S. Security Demands Global Climate Action.”
One defense expert called climate change “the mother of all risks.”
It’s easy to see why. Rising sea levels threaten many of our coastal towns and cities, including most of lower Manhattan. Millions of Americans are likely to become internal refugees in their own country, posing the risk of widespread lawlessness and instability.
Climate change is expected to trigger a number of future conflicts around the globe, as nations and peoples compete for increasingly scarce resources. Some scientists believe that climate change contributed to the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Wealth inequality also belongs near the top of the list. Extreme inequality makes a society unstable. Today millions are trapped in poverty while the20 richest Americans own more wealth than half the entire nation – some 150 million people in 57 million households.
Persistent poverty plagues minority communities, while the 400 richest Americans own more than the nation’s entire African-American population (plus one-third of this nation’s Latinos). There are growing rates of suicide, opioid overdose, and deaths from alcoholism among lower-income whites. Economist Anne Case calls them “deaths of despair.”
What will happen if the middle class continues to collapse, if poverty remains inescapable for generation after generation, if most people face working years filled with dashed hopes and retirements plagued by penury?
Despair can turn to rage, sometimes without warning.
That’s one reason why it’s especially imprudent for the corporate-friendly “Coalition” to target Social Security, along with the rest of the social safety net. Sure, they try to sound reasonable. They even mention cutting the military budget (although they tip their hand by emphasizing military health care and payroll expenses, rather than cost overruns or expensive weapons systems.)
But they always turn to social programs, sometimes with not-so-subtle transitions like this: “Defense spending is the largest single category of discretionary spending… In 2015, it was second only to Social Security spending.”
See what they did there?
There’s little chance of getting tax increases or cuts in military spending through this Congress or the next, and they know it. The drumbeat for lower deficits only serves to undermine the social safety net – when we should be spending more to rebuild our economy.
When a group uses prominent people to promote its arguments, it’s prudent to ask: Who are these people? Can we trust them? Are they wise and just?
Well, there’s former Michael Hayden, who headed both the NSA and the CIA. History will remember Hayden for giving sworn testimony to Congress that contained numerous falsehoods, as documented by the Senate Subcommittee on Intelligence. (Experts say it’s very difficult to convict someone for lying to Congress, but it’s still wrong — and illegal.)
Hayden signed off on detainee abuses that he argues were not technically“torture.” He insists other torturers have done much worse, in case that’s your moral standard.
Madeleine Albright’s on the list too. She was widely criticized for answering “we think the price is worth it” when asked about the Iraqi children who died as the result of sanctions against Iraq.
But the most prominent name on the list is Henry Kissinger’s. Is Kissinger credible? It’s true that he’s popular among media and political elites, but that sad fact only serves to remind us that some memories are short – and that, for some people, the ties of social status outweigh those of morality and decency.
It was Kissinger who reportedly fed confidential information to then-candidate Richard Nixon – information that was used to sabotage the Vietnam peace talks, extracting a massive toll in human lives just to boost Nixon’s election chances.
It was Kissinger who delivered the illegal order to bomb Cambodia and Laos. More bomb material rained down on these tiny nations than was used in all of World War II. His actions cost countless lives and gave rise to the mad, massacring Pol Pot regime.
It was Kissinger who ignored the pleadings of a US diplomat and gave the green light to Pakistani atrocities in what is now Bangladesh, praisingPakistan’s dictator for his “delicacy and tact” while ridiculing those who “bleed” for “the dying Bengalis.”
“Yahya hasn’t had so much fun since the last Hindu massacre!” Kissinger said of Pakistani dictator Yahya Khan. (The government of Bangladesh reported that 3,000,000 people died in the “fun.”)
Kissinger supported the violent overthrow of the Chilean government by a right-wing dictator. Kissinger gave the go-ahead to the Indonesian government’s massacre of from 100,000 to 230,000 people in East Timor. (Estimates vary.) Kissinger’s other offenses and blunders are too numerous to list here.
His intellect is overrated, too. Princeton professor Gary Bass writes that “Kissinger’s policies were not only morally flawed but also disastrous as Cold War strategy.”
Would you trust this man with your Social Security? Do you think he’d make wise and humane decisions about our society’s priorities?
Sure, there are some decent people on the Coalition list. But they’ve been misled by tricksters and lulled by the groupthink that comes from decades inside a bubble of insular privilege.
And what a bubble it is. It’s a glassy gold bubble that filters out every color of the rainbow except its own, bathing its occupants in a warm autumn-colored glow as strangers shiver in the cold blue daylight outside. The bubble speaks with the voice of false authority. It’s a floating oracle with the soul of a confidence man.
But the crowd is thinning out. There are real threats to face outside the bubble: poverty, inequality, a crumbling infrastructure, a dying planet. It’s time for the bubble to disappear, as all bubbles eventually do, by blowing away on the wind or vanishing with a soft pop in the light of the midday sun.
This blog originally appeared in ourfuture.org on June 16, 2016. Reprinted with permission.
Richard Eskow is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future and the host of The Zero Hour, a weekly program of news, interviews, and commentary on We Act Radio The Zero Hour is syndicated nationally and is available as a podcast on iTunes. Richard has been a consultant, public policy advisor, and health executive in health financing and social insurance. He was cited as one of “fifty of the world’s leading futurologists” in “The Rough Guide to the Future,” which highlighted his long-range forecasts on health care, evolution, technology, and economic equality. Richard’s writing has been published in print and online. He has also been anthologized three times in book form for “Best Buddhist Writing of the Year.”
Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014
Anti-poverty aid programs are nothing more than a bribe to keep low-income people from getting married or going to work, according to a new U.S. Congressman from Wisconsin.
“When you look at that amount of money, which is in essence a bribe not to work that hard or a bribe not to marry someone with a full-time job, people immediately realize you have a problem,” Rep.-elect Glenn Grothman (R) said on a statewide television show aired Sunday evening.
When the show’s host gave him a chance to walk back the bribery line, Grothman instead doubled down. “Well, if you tell somebody you’re going to get $35,000 if you don’t get married and you’re not going to get anything if you marry somebody making 50 grand a year, it’s certainly a strong incentive not to raise children in wedlock,” he said.
That $35,000 figure is seemingly plucked from a Cato Institute study that was discredited more than a year ago by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). As the CBPP explained last August, the Cato study describes theoretical totals that a person could extract from a combination of anti-poverty programs without bothering to link that theoretical figure back to practical reality. The study’s assumptions about how bureaucratic rules and real-world experience interact produce “a misleading portrayal of the trade-off between work and welfare.” In the real world, CBPP wrote, the vast majority of public assistance program beneficiaries are working families rather than jobless ones, and very few families that receive public benefits tap into every available system in the way Grothman’s $35,000 figure implies.
While Grothman’s use of the word “bribe” caught his interviewer’s attention, a different, less-inflammatory phrase in his remarks is concealing an even larger deception. In portraying public assistance programs as an incentive “not to work that hard,” Grothman insinuates that people who work part-time or earn so low a wage that they qualify for housing aid and food stamps aren’t doing hard work, or that they are settling for poorly compensated positions rather than chasing better jobs. The comment simultaneously ignores the reality of the modern American labor market — where there are two job applicants for every opening and most hiring comes from service industry jobs that pay poverty wages — and hints that people who skull pots and fry potatoes for $8 an hour are lazy.
For most of the people Grothman is talking about, working full-time hours in a physically or emotionally demanding service job doesn’t provide enough income to survive. Six out of seven children who get health insurance from the federal government have parents who work. Six out of seven able-bodied food stamps recipients had a job within a year of their enrollment date, and more than half work while on food stamps. The work requirements that conservatives like Grothman enshrined during the Clinton-era welfare reform push have made the safety net less effective during recessions when jobs are scarce, but they mean that very few families are getting the sort of free ride the Wisconsin Republican imagines.
The social contract whereby a person’s willingness to work hard assured them of basic economic security has frayed. Progressives see that as a reason to raise the minimum wage to restore buying power low-income workers have lost to inflation. But Grothman and several of his fellow anti-safety net conservatives say the solution is instead to spend less money helping poor people (despite the fact that leaving them to fend for themselves is more expensive for the economy as a whole) and more money encouraging them to get married (even though that does nothing to cure poverty).
This blog originally appeared in Thinkprogress.org on December 2, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/12/02/3598130/welfare-bribe-grothman/
About the Author: Alan Pyke is the Deputy Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org. Before coming to ThinkProgress, he was a blogger and researcher with a focus on economic policy and political advertising at Media Matters for America, American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, and PoliticalCorrection.org. He previously worked as an organizer on various political campaigns from New Hampshire to Georgia to Missouri. His writing on music and film has appeared on TinyMixTapes, IndieWire’s Press Play, and TheGrio, among other sites.
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.
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.
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.
Monday, August 20th, 2012
What 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)”
Tuesday, June 26th, 2012
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.
Monday, June 25th, 2012
Current 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
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
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.
Tuesday, June 19th, 2012
Two 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.
Thursday, March 15th, 2012
One 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 Times, Colorlines.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.