Archive for the ‘Poverty’ Category

A culture of honor, violence and poverty

April 5, 2017

Ex-Senator James Webb wrote a book, Born Fighting, (which I haven’t read) about the Scots-Irish settlers of the Appalachia plateau.  If it hadn’t been taken, it would have made a good title for C.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy: a Memoir of a Family and Culture in Trouble.

Appalachian mountaineers were the product of a culture of honor which also was a culture of violence.   They believed in standing by their word and by family friends and family; they believed in never showing fear, never backing down and always avenging in any insult or injury.

These values enabled them to survive in the lawless Kentucky wilderness frontier.   Vance in his book argues that this same heritage is inadequate to help them survive in a declining industrial America.

The book is worth reading because his experiences and family history show how patterns of behavior that can trap people in poverty and misery, and also ways of breaking out of of those patterns.

He grew up in Middletown, Ohio, but his family roots are in Jackson, Kentucky—in “bloody Breathitt” county, known for its feuds.  His maternal grandparents, Jim Vance, then aged 16, and Bonnie Blanton, then 13 and pregnant, fled Kentucky for Ohio in 1950, and eventually settled down in Middletown.

At the age of 12, his grandmother shot a cattle thief and would have finished him off if somebody hadn’t stopped her.

Once she told C.D.’s grandfather that if he ever came home drunk again, she’d kill him.  He did come home drunk once again, and, a woman of her word, she doused him with gasoline and set him on fire.  Remarkably he escaped with only minor injuries and this did not destroy their relationship.

She once warned C.D. that if he continued to hang out with a classmate who smoked marijuana, she would run over the classmate with her car.  He found that a credible threat.

His grandmother and her husband, who never went anywhere without loaded guns in their pockets or under their car seats, flouted conventions of middle-class behavior.  But they were honest, hard-working and self-reliant; they were able to look out for themselves and their loved ones.

Not so C.D.’s drug-addicted mother.  His life with her and a succession of men in her life was one of unremitting emotional violence.  Here’s what he said he learned at home about marital relationships:

Never speak in a reasonable volume when screaming will do.  If the fight gets a little too intense, it’s okay to slap and punch, so long as the man doesn’t hit first.  Always express your feelings in a way that’s insulting and hurtful to your partner.  If all else fails, take the kids and the dog to a motel, and don’t tell your spouse where to find you.

His childhood left him with permanent scars.  He said he still has to struggle to escape the conditioning to immediately retaliate for any affront, no matter what the consequences.   He reminds me of the black writer, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and his accounts of growing up in violent inner-city Baltimore.

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Poverty is hazardous to your health

April 5, 2017

Click to enlarge.

Mortality rate change, 1992-2006.  Click to enlarge.  Source: Daily Mail

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400 years of poor white people in America

January 17, 2017

When I was a boy in western Maryland in the 1940s, I sometimes heard people say things like, “The Negroes aren’t so bad, compared to the poor white trash.”

The underlying meaning was that it was part of the nature of things for black people to be poor and marginalized, but there was something deeply wrong with white people who let themselves sink to the same status.

9whitetrash-iisenberg780670785971I just finished reading a book, WHITE TRASH: the untold 400-year history of class in America by Nancy Isenberg (2016), that tells how these attitudes go back literally to the first settlements at Plymouth Rock, Jamestown and before, and persist today.

Today’s poor rural Southern white people of today may literally be lineal descendants of the convicts, debtors, beggars, orphans, homeless vagrants and unemployed vagrants who were shipped to England’s North American colonies in the 17th century.

Many were victims of the enclosure movement, in which wealthy landowners privatized common lands formerly used by small or tenant farmers, leaving them without an obvious means of livelihood.  These displaced poor people were regarded as useless—much as workers replaced by automation are regarded by economists and corporate executives today.

The prevailing attitude then was that families were “the better sort” or “the meaner sort,” that they were “well-bred” or “ill-bred”.   Today we think of “good breeding” as applied to individual persons as meaning the person has been taught the proper way to behave.   Back then, roughneck poor people were regarded as inherently inferior.

Our American tradition is that the seeds of our nation were planted by freedom-seeking New England Puritans and adventurous Virginia Cavaliers.  This is true, but only a half-truth.    The ships that brought them to the New World also brought penniless, landless English poor people, who were regarded as surplus population.

What set the English poor white colonists apart was that they were not given land.  They were intended to be servants and field workers.  When black African slaves turned out to be more efficient and exploitable workers than indentured English servants, they lost even this role.

Even so some of the poor whites acquired property and a measure of social status.   White Trash is about the descendants of the ones that didn’t.

They fled to the western frontier of settlement.   But the wealthy and well-connected had already obtained title to most of the frontier land.  Poor whites became squatters.  They contended that clearing, improving and planting land gave them the right to have it; title-holders disagreed.  This was the source of much conflict both in the colonies and the newly-independent United States.

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The hidden rules of social class

October 27, 2016

Could you survive in poverty?  A checklist

_____1. I know which churches and sections of town have the best rummage sales.

_____2. I know where the nearest food bank is and when it is open.

_____3. I know which grocery stores & garbage bins can be accessed for thrown-away food.

_____4. I know how to get someone out of jail.

_____5. I know how to physically fight and can defend myself if necessary.

_____6. I know how a person can get a gun even if they have a police record.

_____7. I know how to keep my clothes from being stolen at the Laundromat.

_____8. I know what problems to look for in a used car.

_____9. I know how to live without a checking account.

_____10. I know how to get by without electricity and without a phone.

_____11. I know how to use a knife as scissors.

_____12. I can entertain a group of friends with my personality and my stories.

_____13. I know what to do when I don’t have the money to pay my bills.

_____14. I know how to move my residence in less than a day.

_____15. I know how to feed 8 people for 5 days on $100.

_____16. I know how to get and use food stamps.

_____17. I know where the free medical clinics are and when they are open.

_____18. I am very good at trading and bartering.

_____19. I know how to get around without a car.

_____20. I know what day of the month welfare and social security checks arrive.

Source: Knowledge of the Hidden Rules of Social Class: A Questionnaire

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The fruits of Reagan’s attacks on the poor

August 19, 2015

Ronald Reagan’s attacks on the minimum wage, families being helped by welfare, those receiving unemployment insurance when the economy failed, became racialized attacks, and not viewed as attacks on the foundation of worker survival.

So in the 1980s, the real value of minimum wage drifted to unprecedented lows, states rolled back eligibility to, and benefit levels for, unemployment insurance and the foundation was laid to attack women who needed help in raising their children to force them into low-wage work.

Without providing any gains to American workers, Reagan mastered the appearance of worker advancement by succeeding not by having wages rise with productivity, as had been the case, but by having wages rise relative to the poor who could not find jobs, or could only find minimum wage jobs.

The silence of the labor movement in the sinking fortunes of the poor meant there was political space, for the first time since the 1930s, to have the economy improve and expand while the poverty rate increased.

==From A Future for Workers: A Contribution From Black Labor(Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Room at the bottom

August 12, 2015

imrs

Large numbers of Americans—especially those of us born into poor, black families—experience poverty at some point in our lives.  It is also true that large numbers—especially those of us born into affluent, white families—experience wealth at some point in our lives.

If somebody starts out in life poor and winds up making a middle-class income or at least a living wage, that is  not a bad thing.  It’s different if somebody starts out in life poor, attains a middle-class income or living wage and then is laid off at age 55 and never again gets a full-time job, no matter how hard they try.  I know people in both categories.

Similarly if people rise or fall in income due to their work ethic and competence, or lack of it, that is not a bad thing.  If they are economically insecure due to trends in the economic or corporate policies beyond their control, that is another thing.  Among the people I know, the latter is much more common than the former.

LINKS

The remarkably high odds you’ll be poor at some point in your life by Emily Badger and Christopher Ingraham for The Washington Post.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Three in Five Americans Have Experienced Poverty-Level Incomes by Nathan Collins for Pacific Standard.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Minimum wage workers and apartment rent

May 29, 2015

RentNotAffordable

 A survey by the National Low Income Housing Coalition shows that if you work full-time for minimum wage, 40 hours a week and 52 weeks a year, and set aside 30 percent of your income for housing, you can’t afford to rent a moderately priced standard one-room apartment in any state in the USA.  And that goes for states with minimum wages higher than the federal minimum wage.

That doesn’t mean that minimum wage workers have to be homeless.  But they do have to work more than 40 hours a week, or devote more than 30 percent of their incomes to apartment rent, or settle for cheap substandard quarters, or all three.  Most Americans are struggling these days, but some of us are struggling harder than others.

LINKS

Out of Reach 2015: Low Wages and High Rents Lock Renters Out by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

In No State Can A Minimum Wage Worker Afford a One-Bedroom Apartment by Tyler Durden for Zero Hedge.

In These 21 Countries, a 40-Hour Work Week Still Keeps Families in Poverty by Flavia Krause-Jackson for Bloomberg News.

‘Nobody ever handed me anything’

May 26, 2015

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51% of public school students are low-income

May 19, 2015

Percent-of-Low-Income-Students-in-PS-2015-01More than half of students attending public schools in 2013 were low-income, the first time they were in the majority since these figures were tracked.

That is, they are not necessarily poor (according to the federal definition), but they are eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches.

Students can get free lunches if their parents’ incomes are 135 percent of the federal poverty threshold or less, and reduced price lunches if their parents’ incomes are 185 percent or less.

A child of a single parent could get a free lunch if the parent’s income was $19,669 or less.  The child could get a reduced-price lunch if the single parent’s income was $27,991 or less.   The reduced-price limit is $43,568 for a family of four.

Low-income students were fewer than 32 percent of students in U.S. public schools in 1989 and only 38 percent in 2000, the Southern Education Foundation reported.   Reed Jordan of the Urban Institute said the 51 percent figure reflects rising child poverty, increasing economic instability and possibly increasing number of poor immigrants.   About one in four American public school students are the children of immigrants.

Changes in eligibility rules also could affect the number.  Schools in which a majority of students are low-income now offer reduced-price lunches to all.

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Police killings and no-account black people

May 8, 2015

Conservatives such as David Brooks claim that the real problem of poor black people in cities such as Baltimore is not poverty, unemployment or police abuse, but bad moral character.

Freddie Gray

Freddie Gray

It is too bad that Freddie Gray died in custody of Baltimore police, but he would have been a loser no matter what, Brooks argued in a recent New York Times column.

Now it is true that there are Americans who are so completely demoralized that they couldn’t thrive even in a high-wage, full-employment economy.  I don’t know how many such people there are.  The way to find out is to create a high-wage, full-employment economy and see what happens.

My concern is with the obstacles faced by poor people who are doing everything humanly possible to get out of poverty.

I’m thinking of people who work full-time at minimum wage, some at multiple jobs, and still are in poverty.  I’m thinking of working people who don’t get paid sick days, can’t afford child care and have no transportation to work.

Not all are black and not all are in big cities, although black people in poor city neighborhoods are targets of abuse by virtue of living where they do.

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President Obama on the Baltimore riots

April 29, 2015

President Obama was asked about the Baltimore riots in a press conference yesterday.  Here’s part of what he said.

If you have impoverished communities that have been stripped away of opportunity, where children are born into abject poverty; they’ve got parents — often because of substance-abuse problems or incarceration or lack of education themselves — can’t do right by their kids; if it’s more likely that those kids end up in jail or dead, than they go to college.

Photo by CNN

Baltimore 2015 (CNN)

In communities where there are no fathers who can provide guidance to young men; communities where there’s no investment, and manufacturing has been stripped away; and drugs have flooded the community, and the drug industry ends up being the primary employer for a whole lot of folks — in those environments, if we think that we’re just going to send the police to do the dirty work of containing the problems that arise there without as a nation and as a society saying what can we do to change those communities, to help lift up those communities and give those kids opportunity, then we’re not going to solve this problem.

And we’ll go through the same cycles of periodic conflicts between the police and communities and the occasional riots in the streets, and everybody will feign concern until it goes away, and then we go about our business as usual.

If we are serious about solving this problem, then we’re going to not only have to help the police, we’re going to have to think about what can we do — the rest of us — to make sure that we’re providing early education to these kids; to make sure that we’re reforming our criminal justice system so it’s not just a pipeline from schools to prisons; so that we’re not rendering men in these communities unemployable because of a felony record for a nonviolent drug offense; that we’re making investments so that they can get the training they need to find jobs. That’s hard.

via Colorlines.

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How to feed a U.S. family on $30 a week

April 20, 2015

groceriesCould you feed an American family of three, plus a dog, on $30 a week?  I couldn’t.  Joseph Cannon could, and did, but it took effort and ingenuity.  He told how on a post on his web log.

One tip: Hispanic groceries (in California).  Another: Food in bins, not in bags.  A third: Whole chickens on sale.  But read the whole thing.

LINK

The SNAP Challenge: Here’s the Real Way by Joseph Cannon for Cannonfire.

The ‘irresponsibility’ of the poor

March 23, 2015

Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed and well-fed.
                ==Herman Melville (1819-1892)

My circle of friends are mostly white, college-educated, middle-class people who call ourselves liberals.

Liberals are supposed to be the ones who make excuses for the short-comings of minorities and poor people, but this isn’t true of my friends.

poverty-and-marriage-650Instead, whenever the conversation gets around to social problems, the consensus is that poverty is bad and racial discrimination is bad, but “lack of personal responsibility” is a big thing, too.  Bill Cosby’s name comes up a lot.

I’m uncomfortable with these conversations because, on the one hand, there’s a certain amount of truth in what’s being said, and, on the other hand, I don’t think I have standing to make harsh moral judgments about people who face difficulties so much worse than anything I ever did.

There are people who are completely messed up—unable to hold a steady job, uninterested in marriage and family responsibilities—who wouldn’t be able to make it in the best of societies.

On the other hand, the few poor people I know aren’t like that.  They are people who are struggling bravely against great odds.

There’s one young black man I know.  He was convicted as a teenager for robbing a drug dealer.  For that one mistake, he basically has no future, even though he is hard-working, intelligent and well-mannered.

On the other hand, I have a distant relative by marriage, a middle-aged white man who was in trouble all through his teenage years, smoking dope and getting into trouble, and constantly being bailed out by his father.  He turned himself around, and is now a responsible adult with a good job.

It is fine with me that he got all these second chances.  But if his father had been poor, or black, or both, he wouldn’t have gotten them.

And then there are the young black men who, after each big snowstorm, come walking down the middle of my street with snow shovels across their shoulders, asking if I need my driveway shoveled out.  I usually hire them even when I don’t strictly need it.

They’re all polite and hard-working.  Maybe these qualities will be enough to raise themselves into the middle class.  But if the number of people with middle class incomes continues to shrink, the only way they’ll be able to do it is by bumping somebody else out of the middle class.

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GOP turns against No Child Left Behind

January 4, 2015

Republicans in Congress want to repeal high-stakes testing provisions in the No Child Left Behind program.  I think this is a good thing overall, not a bad thing.

MISC_high-stakes-testingProposed by the George W. Bush administration and enacted with bipartisan support, the NCLB program measured teacher and school performance by means of achievement tests.  The idea supposedly was to highlight how schools are failing poor and minority students, but the only remedy is punishment of teachers and schools for low test scores.

The result was to scapegoat teachers, schools and, by implication, public education itself.   All this was called school “reform,” although to reform something means to correct its defects and make it better, which is exactly the point at issue.

testing&teaching642_nI think we the people should watch the details of what is being proposed—specifically in regard to provisions regarding charter schools and privatization of public schools.  But in general I think the push-back against NCLB reflects the experience and justified opposition of parents and teachers.

My e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey, who sent me a link to a Politico article reporting the Republican plan to overhaul NCLB, also sent me a link to a Truthout review of Educating for Insurgency: The Roles of Young People in Schools of Poverty by Jay Gillen, a Baltimore public school teacher and mentor for the Baltimore Algebra Project, which began as an after-school mathematics tutoring program, but evolved into something much more powerful.

If somebody in authority wanted to improve education, especially for poor and minority students, they would talk to people such as Gillen and the other teachers who’ve risked their careers to resist meaningless tests.

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The plot to overhaul No Child Left Behind by Maggie Severn for Politico.  [Bill Harvey]

Flipping the Script: Pedagogy, Theater and Radical Organizing in Schools of Poverty by John Duda for Truthout.  [Bill Harvey]

Top Ten Acts of Test Resistance in 2014: the greatest year of revolt against high-stakes testing in U.S. history by Jesse Hagopian for I Am An Educator. [Bill Harvey]

The passing scene: January 3, 2015

January 3, 2015

Social Programs That Work by Ron Haskins in The New York Times.

Many social welfare programs fail.  The Obama administration has identified some that succeed.   While this does not change my unfavorable opinion of the President’s policies overall, I think he is entitled to credit for having this research done.

This City Eliminated Poverty and Nearly Everybody Forgot About It by Zi-Ann Lum for Huffington Post.

Between 1974 and 1979, the small city of Dauphin, Manitoba, guaranteed all residents a basic income—employed or not, able to work or not.  What was the ultimate outcome of this radical experiment?  Nobody ever bothered to check and find out.

What’s Wrong With Georgia? by Alana Semuels for The Atlantic.

Scott Walker has failed Wisconsin and Minnesota is the proof by Jimmy Anderson for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Georgia and Wisconsin are the latest American states to discover that a Third World economic strategy—low wages, low taxes, low services and low regulation—is not a successful formula for creating jobs and promoting economic growth.

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The passing scene: Links & comments 10/13/14

October 13, 2014

White poverty exists, ignored by Leonard Pitts Jr. for the Miami Herald.

There are more poor, unemployed white people in the USA than there are poor, unemployed black people, and poor whites, too, are targets of prejudice.

I remember being told as a boy that “white trash” were a lower class than “Negroes”.

But the basic cause of poverty is the same in the slums of Detroit or small towns in Kentucky: Employers shutting down and moving out.

Aggressive police take hundreds of millions of dollars from motorists not charged with crimes by Michael Samish, Robert O’Harrow Jr. or Steve Rich for the Washington Post.

Since 9/11, police have seized more than $2.5 billion from 61,998 motorists without search warrants or indictments.  At what point to the police stop being protectors and start being predators?

Tom Cotton and the era of post-truth politics by Steve Benen for MSNBC.

The GOP candidate for Senate for Arkansas tells blatant lies and gets away with it.

The postmodernist philosophy is that there is no such thing as objective truth, only different ways of looking at things.  This philosophy seems to have taken hold in American politics.

Andrew Cuomo Is a Very Flawed Concept by Charles P. Pierce for Esquire.

Given a choice between a right-wing Democratic candidate and an extreme right-wing Republican candidate, This is why I plan to vote for the Green Party candidate for governor of New York.

 

Fed official says low unemployment is dangerous

September 29, 2014

Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, said it may be necessary to raise interest rates if the unemployment rate falls below 6.1 percent because low unemployment could lead to higher wages.

Crowded Michigan Unemployment OfficeFisher pointed out that in Texas, wages are rising faster than the rate of inflation.

To me, that is a good thing, not a bad thing.  Why interfere with the law of supply and demand?  The only reason that I can think of is that it might decrease the market value of financial assets.

I am reminded of Karl Marx’s claim that “a reserve army of the unemployed” is necessary to the functioning of capitalism.

I believe in the value of self-discipline, education and the willingness to work.  But anybody who preaches these values ought to be able to show that there is a payoff, and that the payoff is available to everyone, not just the exceptionally talented and the exceptionally lucky.

If the economic system is set up so that at least 6.1 percent of the work force is unemployed at all times, then there is no way to rise out of that 6.1 percent without knocking somebody else down into it.

LINKS

Fed’s Fisher: wages rise when joblessness falls below 6.1 percent by Reuters (via Tom the Dancing Bug).

‘Poor people don’t plan long term.  We’ll just get our hearts broken’ by Linda Tirado for The Guardian.  Somewhat long, but well worth reading.

Obama’s Long Battle to Cut Social Security Benefits by Eric Zuesse for Washington’s Blog (via Mike the Mad Biologist).  The President’s goals are not what his supporters think they are.

The new normal: Links & comments 7/29/14

July 29, 2014

Soak the Rich: An exchange on capital, debt and the future by David Graeber and Thomas Piketty, translated and reprinted by The Baffler.

David Graeber is an anthropologist and radical anarchist known for his book, Debt: the First 5,000 Years, which looks at the origins of money, taxes and debt.   Thomas Piketty is a politically moderate economist known for his book, Capital in the 21st Century, which looks at the persistence of gross inequality during the past few centuries.

I admire them for their opposite virtues—Graeber for his bold and original speculation, Piketty for his research and his refusal to assert anything that can’t be backed up by data.

Graeber believes the capitalist system is doomed.  Once it goes away, people will have a chance to create a new system without fear of bosses or police, and Graber does not see any point in trying to describe the specifics of what that new system will be.

Piketty says history indicates that capitalism has proved amazingly resilient in the face of change, and that there is no reason to think this time is different.  Furthermore, he said, any society has a need for capital, the means to invest accumulated wealth into the means of creating new wealth.  (This is a different definition of capital from the one in his book).  His attitude toward capitalism is: Mend it, don’t end it.

One thing they do agree on is the centuries-old tendency for wealth to be concentrated in a few hands, and the danger this poses to a democratic society.

On the Causes of Investment Decline in the U.S. Economy by Dr. Jack Rasmus, the Green Party’s shadow Federal Reserve chair.  Hat tip to Bill Harvey.

I have long thought that increasing the earning power of average Americans would make many things fall into place.  If people had more money to buy stuff, merchants would sell more stuff and manufacturers would make more stuff, and this would be to everybody’s benefit.

Jack Rasmus suggests that maybe this isn’t so.  Maybe getting people into debt and putting the squeeze on them is more profitable that creating useful goods and services.  If that’s so, we can’t look to private enterprise to recreate a high-wage, full-employment economy.

His solution is a massive public works program, which I agree is needed, but doesn’t address the problem he describes.

Defending Trade Unions While the Justices Are Away by David Coates.  Hat tip to Labor News in Rochester, NY.

Labor unions helped maintain American prosperity in the mid-20th century by fighting for good wages and job security.  But the union movement is handicapped by laws and court decisions that increasingly restrict unions while freeing corporations of responsibility.

In Harris v. Quinn, the Supreme Court ruled that home health-care workers in Illinois could not be required to pay dues the Service Employees International Union, but they were still entitled the benefits of the SEIU contract and to SEIU representation.  It is as if the Supreme Court ruled that I could not be required to pay my Rochester Gas and Electric bill, but RG&E is still obligated to supply me with gas and electricity.

Chris Dodd Warns of Coalition Between Populist Democrats and Republicans by Zach Carter for the Huffington Post.

Ex-Senator Chris Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, gave a speech warning against trying to strengthen the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill.   He said in a speech to the Bipartisan Policy Center that opening up the bill to amendments would open a “Pandora’s box” that would be dangerous the financial services industry.

He said warned against right-wing Republicans and left-wing Democrats teaming up against Wall Street.   He probably was thinking of a bill co-sponsored by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and David Vitter (R-Louisiana) to break up the “too big to fail” banks, an unacceptable type of bipartisanship.  Dodd said breaking up big banks is unnecessary.

As Court Fees Rise, The Poor Are Paying the Price by Joseph Shapiro for National Public Radio.

The criminalization of poverty by Radley Balko for the Washington Post.

A majority of U.S. states have recreated the equivalent of debtors’ prisons.  They are trying to make their criminal justice system self-financing by charging fees for public defenders, the cost of a jury trial, room and board for jail and prison time, and parole and probation costs.   Poor people who can’t pay these fees go to jail, even though this has been ruled unconstitutional.

 

The passing scene: Links & comments 6/30/14

June 30, 2014

What If Banks, Not Abortion Clinics, Needed Buffer Zones? by Barbara O’Brien for Open Salon.

What if people doing business with the “too big to fail” banks had to run a gantlet of yelling protestors just to enter the bank.  Suppose the banks were vandalized, and their employees subject to harassing and threatening telephone calls.  Suppose bankers had actually been murdered.  Is there any doubt that the bank protestors would be classified as terrorists?  Yet all these things have happened with abortion clinics, and it is accepted as normal.

The Unkindest Cut by Elias Vlanton for The Washington Monthly.

Joshua Steckel, a high school guidance counselor, worked hard with students from poor families to convince them it was both possible and worthwhile to qualify for college by studying hard.   But at the end of the road, his students found that college was unaffordable.   Financial aid packages only covered part of the cost of college, and what was left was more than poor families can pay.

Antibiotic scientist must push discovery to market by Kelly Crowe for CBC News.

The emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a big threat to public health.  Yet few if any drug companies are interested in developing new antibiotics.  Profits on new antibiotics are small and risky because developing new antibiotics is difficult and expensive, regulatory approvals take time and money and antibiotics soon become obsolete as bacteria develop new resistance.

Peru now has a ‘license to kill’ environmental protestors by David Hill for The Guardian.

Under a new law, Peruvian police can escape criminal responsibility for killing civilians while on duty without having to show they are acting according to police regulations.

Big business loves desperate, overqualified, underpaid workers by David Atkins for The Washington Monthly.

Today’s South is boldly moving backwards by labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein for Reuters.

Historically Southern business leaders have sought to compete with the North by means of cheap labor.  This is still true.

Obama Admin’s TPP Trade Officials Received Hefty Bonuses From Big Banks by Lee Fang for Republic Report.

 

Gadgets getting cheaper, necessities more costly

May 5, 2014

essentialsvstoys

I’m old enough to remember when a personal computer or even a television set were so expensive than an average person couldn’t afford it.  But nowadays second-hand television sets and electronic gadgets are so cheap that hardly anybody does without them.

The things that are increasingly out of reach are child care, health care and education — the things you need to rise in the world.   The things that are affordable are the games, toys and entertainment that distract you from your condition and reconcile you to the limited life that you have.

Click on  Why America’s Essentials Are Getting More Expensive While Its Toys Are Getting Cheaper for more by Derek Thompson for The Atlantic.

Click on How the Middle Class Lifestyle Become Unaffordable for thoughts of Charles Hugh Smith.  One factor I failed to note in my original post is Baumol’s Disease, which is that as technology makes manufactured goods cheaper, the costs of human services become relatively more expensive.  [Added 5/7/14]

The inner city culture of dependence

March 24, 2014

bolling-24-03

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/03/the-secret-lives-of-inner-city-black-males/284454/

http://www.thenation.com/article/178918/what-paul-ryan-and-obama-have-common

Hat tip for the cartoon to http://anticap.wordpress.com/.

Supply, demand and minimum wage

February 24, 2014

One of the big arguments against raising the minimum wage is based on an over-simple understanding of the law of supply and demand  — that if employers have to pay higher wages, they’ll hire fewer workers.

If that were true, then the long-term decline in the minimum wage and in median workers’ wages (adjusted for inflation, which you should always do) would have resulted in full employment.  Obviously this hasn’t happened.

A rational employer will hire as many workers as necessary for the profitable operation of the business, and no more.  The law of supply and demand sets limits.  The employer will not pay so much that he can’t operate profitably, nor so little that nobody will work for him.  But, as is shown by the difference between Costco and Walmart, there is a broad range between those two limits.

Suppose I have a franchise to operate a McDonald’s restaurant.  I would not raise wages to the point where higher costs forced me to charge more for a hamburger than the Burger King restaurant across the street.  But if the minimum wage was raised for both of us, we could pay higher wages and still be on a level playing field.

In theory, minimum wage could be raised to the point where I charged more for hamburger than people were willing to pay.  But there is no evidence that this has ever happened with minimum wage in the United States.

One economist, for example, compared employment in adjoining counties of adjoining states with different state minimum wages.  There was no evidence of any difference in unemployment rates or job availability.

A higher minimum wage could have a positive effect on employment.  If low-wage workers have more money to spend, there is a greater demand for goods and services, and could result in new hiring.

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Jenn’s Words: “Living in poverty is like being punched in the face over and over and over on a daily basis. “

February 24, 2014

Poor as Folk

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Thank you to Jenn for sharing her personal story of living in poverty right now….

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Today, I did something I never thought I’d do. I yelled at my son for being hungry. Oh sure, there are many parents nodding in agreement because they’ve done the same thing. Many have yelled at their kids for asking for one more snack right before dinner was served or for wanting to eat junk food out of boredom. That’s not why I yelled. I yelled because I didn’t have extra food to give him and I was taking my frustration out on him. He wasn’t doing anything wrong. He’s just a kid, a 7 year old who is full of energy and constantly growing. Of course he’s hungry often. That’s what kids do. However, I didn’t have enough food for anyone to have extras. Everything has to be rationed out over a week…

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Walmart store asks food for its own employees

November 20, 2013

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A Wal-mart store in the Canton, Ohio, area conducted a food drive on behalf of its own employees so they can afford a Christmas dinner.

WALMART-FOOD-BANKThis is terrible public relations for Wal-mart, but I actually think that the store manager who allowed this deserves credit for a kind heart.  The manager did not determine the level of Wal-mart wages, and did what could be done to help out.  But I am sure his superiors will blame him and not the company’s low wages for the unfavorable news coverage.

Sam Walton’s original idea of Wal-mart was to create a store chain with prices that working people and even poor people can afford.   It is a real irony, or paradox, or whatever you want to call it, that store employees can’t afford Thanksgiving dinner, even at Walmart’s everyday low prices.

Wal-mart CEO Bill Simon was quoted as saying the average Wal-mart employee earns just under $25,000 a year.  That’s only slightly better than the U.S. government’s poverty line of $23,550 for a family of four.

It’s unlikely the company will change any time soon and, with unemployment as high as it is, it’s unlikely anybody will be in a position any time soon to pressure the company to change.  Wal-mart got 23,000 applications for 600 job openings at stores the company plans to open in Washington, D.C.  That’s 38 applications for every job, making the odds greater than for applicants to Harvard.

Earlier this year the district’s City Council passed a law setting the minimum wage at $12.50 an hour, which is 50 percent higher than the current $8.25, for big-box retailers such as Walmart.  Corporate executives demanded Mayor Vincent Grey veto the law, and he did.

The great economist John Maynard Keynes said it is possible for a nation’s economy to get stuck in high unemployment and no wages, because nobody has enough spending power to create a good market for goods and services.  I think that’s where we Americans are now.  I think the only way to get out of it is to put people to work filling unmet needs for public services and public works.

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Why the rage against food stamps?

November 8, 2013

Why the rage against people who use food stamps?

I read an article on-line in the Chronicle of Higher Education about a women who had been struggling for 10 years as an adjunct college professor teaching history and most of the comments condemned her because at times she had signed up for food stamps to get by.

Image: Bloomberg Asks Fed Gov't For Permission To Ban Food Stamp Purchases Of Sugary DrinksThis woman was not the stereotypical “welfare queen.”  She was devoted to her vocation as a teacher, and made sacrifices to pursue it.  Yet the comments said she and her daughter deserved to suffer for not having chosen a more lucrative profession.

I think the reason for the rage is that there are a lot of people who want to believe that they are in control of their lives, and nothing bad will happen to them if they never make an incorrect choice.

I remember the part of Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff in which he tells how fighter pilots, whenever one of them died in a crash, would sit around and discuss the crash, until they had determined to their own satisfaction that it was due to a mistake in judgment or execution.  The fact was that nobody exercises 100 percent correct judgment and that even pilots with the right stuff can die in crashes.

In the U.S. economy, people with a good work ethic can crash.  I have a friend, also an adjunct college teacher, who has had to apply for food stamps and unemployment insurance to get by, even though he never thought he would.   I’ve been told that volunteers at community food banks here in Rochester report the same thing.  Most of us are on thinner ice than we like to think about.

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