Greg Kaufmann | The Nation


Greg Kaufmann

Poverty in America: people, politics and policy.

[UPDATED] From #Nerdland to Congress?

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan speaks about his budget plan, Tuesday, March 20, 2012, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

UPDATE: House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has informed Congresswoman Barbara Lee's office that Ms. Gaines-Turner will not be permited to appear as a witness tomorrow, but she can submit written testimony.  So silly that the Minority only gets one witness--although she's a great one, Sister Simone Campbell--and the Majority gets three witnesses.  And I would say that no matter who were in the Majority.

Kudos to Melissa Harris-Perry for having Tianna Gaines-Turner, a Witness to Hunger, on her show once again to talk about her experiences with hunger and poverty; also to Congresswoman Barbara Lee who, after listening to Gaines-Turner, is now pushing for House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan to allow her to testify at tomorrow’s hearing on the War on Poverty.

Harris-Perry played a clip from Representative Ryan’s interview with NBC News’s In Plain Sight poverty project, in which the congressman argues that the solution to poverty is “reviving” churches and community groups, and that federal programs like food stamps and Medicaid have failed and should be cut.

“People themselves need to get involved in their community to help people. That’s what solidarity is,” said Representative Ryan. “That act of involvement, of human beings coming together to help one another—that’s so much better than some cold government program.”

In response, Gaines-Turner said that Representative Ryan and those who share his point of view “have no clue.”

“Everyone has something to say about someone who lives in hunger and poverty,” she said. “They’re making decisions which affect our lives without even having conversations with us. They think they have the answers.”

Harris-Perry asked Gaines-Turner what she would like to say to Representative Lee—“one of the most important members of the Progressive Caucus” (and truly committed to fighting poverty)—who was also a guest on the panel.

“Have more people who are going through these programs at the table,” said Gaines-Turner. “Not after both [chambers] have already voted. Invite us to the table, have us sit there, and you hear my story, and you understand. Walk in my shoes. It’s easy for people to sit back and judge me, without even asking me.”

Representative Lee shared that she was on food stamps in the early 1970s when she was raising her two children and that “it was really hard.” She agreed that Congress needs to hear more from people who are struggling. She said that she would ask Representative Ryan to allow Gaines-Turner to testify as a witness tomorrow.

Yesterday, the congresswoman indeed sent a letter to Chairman Ryan requesting that Gaines-Turner be included on the witness list.

This is an excellent opportunity for the chairman, since he told NBC News, “We need to do more listening to people who are in the trenches fighting poverty.”

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That’s exactly what Gaines-Turner and the other Witnesses to Hunger have been doing since 2008.

Now is the chairman’s chance.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


Republicans want to ban abortions after twenty weeks, but they don’t realize that their restrictive policies are why many women need late abortions.

This Week in Poverty: Food Policy, EITC Expansion and Financial Security for All

Four-year-old Nathan Hobbs, who lives in a homeless shelter with his mother, sits in a stroller with one-dollar bills he received for his birthday pinned to his chest in Los Angeles, Wednesday, September 14, 2011. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

This is what a real food policy conversation looks like: In contrast to the rubbish that passes for a conversation about food and hunger in Congress, last week’s Forum on the Future of Food in New York City offered substantive talk from six mayoral candidates about how to create a healthier, fairer, more sustainable and economically stronger food system. Bill de Blasio, Christine Quinn, John Liu, Sal Albanese, Anthony Weiner and John Catsimatidis all participated; William Thompson was a late cancellation due to an unspecified emergency.

The forum was moderated by Marion Nestle, an award-winning author and the Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. Over 730 people packed the auditorium and two overflow rooms, 1,300 people watched the live webcast and #nycfoodforum trended nationally.

The candidates discussed a range of issues and ideas, including: utilizing 5,000 acres of unused land within the city limits for urban farming; ensuring living wages for food workers—14 percent are currently on food stamps, and 90 percent earn below a living wage; boosting school meals—including universal breakfast in the classroom, and grab-and-go carts—to reduce child hunger; revamping city procurement to promote local and regional agriculture; incentivizing green markets to operate in more low-income neighborhoods and establishing transparent benchmarks on SNAP participation, free school meals, urban farming etc. to measure concrete progress in the effort to improve the food system.

“The food movement here is strong enough to have gotten six candidates to show up, take it seriously and answer questions,” said Nestle. “Don’t lose the momentum. This is just the beginning.”

“The massive turn out and heavy media coverage for this event should be a wake-up call to our national leaders,” said Joel Berg, executive director of New York City Coalition Against Hunger, one of twelve organizations that co-hosted the forum. “The reality is that the food and hunger movements are growing in political power and will hold politicians accountable for their actions on these issues.”

ACLU v. Morgan Stanley, on behalf of black homeowners in Detroit: A judge ruled that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) can move forward with its case alleging that Morgan Stanley discriminated against black homeowners in Detroit, financing high-risk, predatory loans in economically vulnerable neighborhoods. The lawsuit is the first to connect racial discrimination to the securitization of mortgage-backed securities. The ACLU is also calling on the Department of Justice to investigate whether other Fair Housing Act claims are available to hold other Wall Street banks accountable.

‘Where You Grow Up Matters’: (via Theresa Riley at BillMoyers.com) “A new study shows that your potential for climbing the income ladder in the United States is largely dependent on your hometown. ‘Where you grow up matters,’ Harvard economist and study author Nathaniel Hendren told The New York Times. ‘There is tremendous variation across the US in the extent to which kids can rise out of poverty.’

“Geography matters much less for the children of well-off parents—who tend to do well across the board—but for those at the bottom of the ladder, growing up in poor neighborhoods in Atlanta or Chicago often means that the chances of achieving higher incomes later in life are significantly lessened.” Read more here.

ACCESS to Financial Security for All: Launched by PolicyLink, a national research and action institute advancing economic and social equity, ACCESS to Financial Security for All is designed to help advocates, policymakers and organizations share information, learn about promising policies, connect with allies and advance progressive policies to close the racial wealth gap and promote financial security for all. The site provides information on the latest research, recent media coverage and blog posts, and events from the asset-building field—all with the goal of promoting solutions to the racial wealth gap.

Dual tracking in Minnesota: “Dual tracking” occurs when a homeowner is foreclosed on while still negotiating with a bank for a mortgage modification. This practice and other mortgage servicing abuses were supposed to be brought under control by the National Mortgage Settlement, but—shocker—the Settlement Monitor gave the big banks failing grades for compliance with basic standards.

In Minneapolis, Jonathan Ceballos reports that he and his family went to their local JPMorgan Chase Home Mortgage Center on Tuesday with revised loan modification documents that the bank had requested. But the next day, thirty sheriffs’ deputies attempted to evict the family from their home—breaking down the door, arresting two people and boarding up the house. But seventy-five community members—organized by Occupy Homes MN, and including members of Ceballos’ union, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota—gathered and protested during the eviction. As soon as the deputies left—to chants of “don’t come back”—the Ceballos’s supporters pulled the boards off and reclaimed the house.

When the Minnesota Homeowner Bill of Rights goes into effect in October, borrowers who are victims of dual tracking will have legal recourse. But until then, you can support the Ceballos’s effort to remain in their home of twelve years here.

Coalition of Immokalee Workers: has redesigned its website. The Take Action page is especially convenient—an easy way to get involved with the most amazingly effective, creative and courageous organization I’ve ever covered.

Over the past twenty years the CIW has worked from within its own community of Immokalee to end longstanding human rights abuses and twenty years of declining wages in the tomato industry; organized (and won) the first-of-its-kind Taco Bell Boycott; signed agreements with fast food giants McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway and Chipotle, supermarkets Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods and four of the country’s leading food service providers; and reached a groundbreaking agreement with the Florida Tomato Grower’s Exchange that paved the way for the implementation of the Fair Food Program in over 90 percent of the Florida tomato industry.

If you don’t know the CIW, you are missing out. Check ‘em out and sign up for their newsletter today.

Federal Investments in Children Down Three Years in a Row: First Focus, a child advocacy group dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy, released “Children’s Budget 2013,” a detailed analysis of the more than 180 federal investments in children.

The analysis finds that total spending on children has declined for three consecutive years. Since its peak in 2010, total spending on children has dropped by nearly $55 billion, or 16 percent after adjusting for inflation. The share of the federal budget invested in children is also down 8 percent from 2010, and children have suffered a disproportionate share of cuts under austerity policies like sequestration.

“America can’t afford to overlook children as we make the budget and policy decisions that will shape their lives,” said former Republican Congressman Michael Castle.

Expanding EITC for childless workers: The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is one of the most successful antipoverty programs in the United States. It supplements the earnings of low-income families by as much as $6,000 a year, and lifted 6.6 million people out of poverty in 2011.

But childless workers barely benefit from the EITC, if they benefit at all. For example, a childless adult working a full-time, minimum-wage job wouldn’t qualify for the EITC because his or her earnings would exceed the income limit established for workers without children.

“As a result, childless workers are the sole group that the federal tax system taxes deeper into poverty,” writes the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

So it’s important that New York City is launching an $11-million, four-year pilot program that will offer up to $2,000 a year over a three-year period to participants with earnings up to $26,800 per year. The pilot will include 6,000 participants—3,000 eligible to receive the expanded EITC and 3,000 forming a control group. It will be implemented and evaluated by MDRC, an education and social policy research organization that examines policies and programs affecting low-income people.

Massachusetts campaign for paid sick days and raised minimum wage: Nearly 1 million workers in Massachusetts—almost one-third of the state’s employees—are at risk of losing their wages and/or jobs if they have to stay home to care for themselves or a sick relative. On Wednesday, Raise Up Massachusetts, a statewide coalition working for earned sick time and an increase in the minimum wage, officially launched efforts to bring these two issues to the November 2014 ballot.

The ballot initiatives would raise the minimum wage from $8 to $11 an hour, and offer minimum wage workers forty hours of earned sick leave. It would be the first time that paid sick days would appear on the ballot as a statewide initiative.

Food Policy Action: I didn’t know about this group/resource, and I like it. From Food Policy Action: “Our mission is to highlight the importance of food policy and to promote policies that support healthy diets, reduce hunger at home and abroad, improve food access and affordability, uphold the rights and dignity of food and farm workers, increase transparency, improve public health, reduce the risk of food-borne illness, support local and regional food systems, treat farm animals humanely and reduce the environmental impact of farming and food production.”

Thank you: RESULTS, for honoring me this past weekend with the Cameron Duncan Media Award. It’s especially appreciated given your great history and track record of effectiveness—including, most recently, a terrific twenty-eight op-eds or letters to the editor regarding SNAP placed in local media by your volunteers—in just over a month!

Web Action

Tell your Senators: Ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Clips (compiled with Samantha Lachman)

African Americans are still concentrated in neighborhoods with high poverty and still lack full access to decent housing,” Algernon Austin

Ohio Diverts TANF Dollars to Crisis Pregnancy Centers…” Sheila Bapat

Inequality, Mobility and the Policy Agenda They Imply,” Jared Bernstein

Thoughts on the War on Poverty,” Jared Bernstein

Implementation Strategies: Riding the Wave of Sick Days Laws,” Liz Ben Ishal

$10.20 Per Hour Needed to Survive Even in America’s Cheapest County,” Jillian Berman

Responses to ‘Congressional Hunger Games’,” Mariana Chilton, Peter Edelman, Billy Shore, Jim Weill, Deborah Weinstein

Job Gains for Women in Recovery Are Mostly From Low-Wage Work,” Bryce Covert

Food stamps are vital to lifting people out of poverty,” Sharon Davies

To Rescue Local Economies, Cities Seize Underwater Mortgages Through Eminent Domain,” Peter Dreier

On Paying for College, Family Income ‘Not Keeping up,’” Philip Elliott

The Importance of Strengthening our Country’s Safety Net for Our Children,” Emily Firgens

Fast-food workers planning to expand protests in 7 cities,” Michael A. Fletcher

McDonald’s and Visa Conjure Fantasy Budget for Low-Wage Employees,” Daniel Gross

Poverty rate still high among U.S. children,” HealthDay News

For Five Mayoral Candidates, a Sleepover in City Housing,” Javier C. Hernández

On Strange Bedfellows: Coathangers, Gridlock and Redistricting,” Lisalyn Jacobs

In Climbing Income Ladder, Location Matters,” David Leonhardt

The Minimum Wage Doesn’t Apply to Everyone,” John Light

EITC Could Be a Pathway to Opportunity for Young Men,” Chuck Marr

The president’s speech shows he’s better at the ‘whereas’ than the ‘therefore’ part of the resolution,” Lawrence Mishel

Mr. President, Have Pity on the Working Man,” Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

60 Percent of Women’s Job Gains in the Recovery Are in 10 Largest Low-Wage Jobs,” National Women’s Law Center

Impact of Sequestration Cuts on Head Start, Child Care and Early Education,” National Women’s Law Center

227,000 Names on List Vie for Rare Vacancies in City’s Public Housing,” Mireya Navarro

Abandoned in Indian Country,” The New York Times

When the Right to Shelter Isn’t Quite Right,” Ralph da Costa Nunez

Senate Approves College Student Loan Plan Tying Rates to Markets,” Jeremy Peters

Pro-Baby, but Stingy With Money to Support Them,” Eduardo Porter

Senate HUD Funding Bill Reverses Harmful Sequestration Cuts in Housing Assistance,” Douglas Rice

Is Dying by Hunger Better Than Years of Humiliation?” Michael Seifert

Get Ready for Unfounded Attacks on the War on Poverty,” Arloc Sherman

Uncensored: The Historical Perspective,” Ethan Sribnick and Sara Johnsen

Early education: money well spent,” StarTribune editorial

House legislation would slash education funding,” Valerie Strauss

Indy janitors want living wage jobs,” Fran Quigley

America’s One-Child Policy,” Brandy Zadrozny

New moms in Britain get royal treatment,” Jeanne Zaino

Studies/Briefs (by Aviva Stahl and Samantha Lachman)

Wanting More but Working Less: Involuntary Part-Time Employment and Economic Vulnerability,” Rebecca Glauber, Carsey Institute. Although the overall unemployment rate has fallen from its 2010 peak, involuntary part-time employment has not similarly improved. This report examines the “economic hardship and vulnerability” correlated with involuntary part-time work. About 25 percent of involuntary part-time workers live in poverty, as compared to about 5 percent of those employed full-time. Individuals in part-time employment tend to receive lower wages, fewer benefits and be less job-secure; for example in 2012, involuntary part-time workers were five times more likely than full-time workers to have faced significant periods of unemployment (three-plus months) in the past year. The study concludes by recommending “policies that improve the quality of part-time positions and lower the number of Americans in involuntary part-time employment.” (Summary by Aviva Stahl)

Diverse Children: Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration in America’s New Non-Majority Generation,” Donald J. Hernandez & Jeffrey S. Napierala, Foundation for Child Development. By 2018, more than half of American children will be of color, and already 25 percent of children come from immigrant families. This report draws from nineteen indicators of child wellbeing to compare outcomes across white, Hispanic, black and Asian race-ethnic groups, and examines disparities within groups between children whose parents are and are not immigrants. It also makes policy recommendations to remedy these inequalities. All children with US-born parents—regardless of race—were more likely than those with immigrant parents to be born at a low birthweight or die as an infant. Revealing the depth of structural discrimination in this country, Black children with US-born parents fared the worst across the board, followed by Hispanic children with immigrant parents. (Summary by Aviva Stahl)

Serving Maryland’s Children: The Afterschool Meal Program,” Valerie Zeender and Clarissa Hayes, Maryland Hunger Solutions. This report explores the impact of Maryland’s federally funded Afterschool Meal Program, launched three years ago. Maryland is one of only thirteen states (and the District of Columbia) to receive federal funding to provide after-school meals. The report shows that the program’s reach has expanded—during the 2011–12 school year, an average of 11,433 children received meals throughout the state. Though participation has increased, there remains much room for growth. The program plays an important role in combating hunger and keeping children safe and supervised, and the meals can help combat both obesity and poor nutrition. The report details the various strategies a coalition of organizations are engaged in to increase participation and help end childhood hunger, and found that the most effective expansion strategy was targeting sites already serving snacks and encouraging them to also serve supper. (Summary by Samantha Lachman)

Vital Statistics

US poverty (less than $17,916 for a family of three): 46.2 million people, 15.1 percent. (US Census Bureau 2012)

People who would have been in poverty if not for Social Security, 2011: 67.6 million

Children in poverty: 16.4 million, 23 percent of all children, including 39 percent of African-American children, 37 percent of American Indian children, 34 percent of Hispanic children, and 14 percent of both Asian and Pacific Islander and non-Hispanic white children.

Deep poverty (below half the poverty line, less than $11,510 for a family of four): 20.4 million people, one in fifteen Americans, including more than 15 million women and children. Up from 12.6 million in 2000, an increase of 59 percent.

African-American poverty rate: 27.6 percent.

White poverty rate: 9.8 percent.

Ratio of black unemployment to white unemployment, 1963-2012: 2 to 2.5 times higher every year.

Twice the poverty level (less than $46,042 for a family of four): 106 million people, more than one in three Americans.

Children below twice the poverty level: 45 percent, 32.7 million children.

People in the United States experiencing poverty by age 65: Roughly half.

Gender gap, 2011: Women 34 percent more likely to be poor than men.

Gender gap, 2010: Women 29 percent more likely to be poor than men.

Jobs in the United States paying less than $34,000 a year: 50 percent.

Jobs in the United States paying below the poverty line for a family of four, less than $23,000 annually: 25 percent.

Poverty-level wages, 2011: 28 percent of workers.

Hourly wage needed to lift a family of four above poverty line, 2011: $11.06.

Federal minimum wage: $7.25 ($2.13 for tipped workers)

Federal minimum wage if indexed to inflation since 1968: $10.59.

Federal minimum wage if it kept pace with productivity gains: $18.72.

Families receiving cash assistance, 1996 (pre-welfare reform): sixty-eight for every 100 families living in poverty.

Families receiving cash assistance, 2010: twenty-seven for every 100 families living in poverty.

Impact of public policy, 2011: without government assistance, poverty would have been twice as high—nearly 30 percent of population.

Impact of public policy, 1964–1973: poverty rate fell by 43 percent.      

Number of homeless children in US public schools: 1,065,794.

Federal expenditures on home ownership mortgage deductions, 2012: $131 billion.

Federal funding for low-income housing assistance programs, 2012: less than $50 billion.

Average SNAP benefit, individual: $4.45 per day.

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Quote of the Week

“We’re not getting behind each other’s agendas enough. The work that we need to do is to accept that power has the potential to be on our side. But whether or not we are able to utilize it requires us to come together. To let a few things go, and pick a few things that we’re actually going to move on, to do that systematically.”
   —Angela Glover Blackwell, at the Economic Policy Institute’s Unfinished March Symposium.

Samantha Lachman co-wrote the “Clips and other resources” section. She and Aviva Stahl also wrote the “Studies/Briefs” summaries.

This Week in Poverty posts here on Friday mornings, and again at Moyers & Company and AlterNet. You can e-mail me at WeekInPoverty@me.com and follow me on Twitter.

House Republicans are trying to destroy the US Postal Service. Can the American Postal Workers Union successfully reform it before that happens?

Responses to 'Congressional Hunger Games'

In this photo taken Saturday, February 6, 2010, a sign announcing the acceptance of electronic Benefit Transfer cards is seen at a farmers market in Roseville, California. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Last week I posted about “Congressional Hunger Games”—the games both parties are currently playing with the lives of the one in seven Americans who currently receive food assistance. While House Republicans are clearly the most reckless with their attacks on SNAP (food stamps), most Democrats have also failed to speak out to protect the program, and worse, have helped pave the way for cuts.

Because I feel somewhat at a loss as to how to turn this tide—what we should be doing to ensure that our elected representatives aren’t so cavalier in their disregard for the experiences of so many Americans—I decided to check in with some people who have devoted their lives to fighting hunger and poverty. I asked them for some perspective on where we are, and ideas for what we need to be doing right now as the SNAP debate continues.

Here are some responses from national leaders in the fight against hunger and poverty:

‘Send your legislators an exam’

Dear Greg,

With one in seven people on SNAP (food stamps) in this country, and 80 percent of SNAP families working, the recent debacle of passing a farm bill without a provision for SNAP shows that House leaders and their cheering squad are completely out of touch with the reality of Americans.

If you or someone you know have received SNAP benefits, please call your senators and representative and tell them how important the program is to you and your family’s health, sanity and sense of peace in the world. Say it loudly, clearly and briefly, and, if your children are whining and crying in the background—that’s fine too—maybe it will remind our legislators that 50 percent of the people receiving SNAP assistance are children.

Also, those who care about this program need to know that it will take about 100 SNAP participants in a single district to counteract the voice of one corporate lobby. Shame them and embarrass them into better action, right decision making and tell them to stop wasting away your tax dollars on subsidies for wealthy agribusiness interests rather than investing in the health and well-being of America’s children.

Finally, send your legislators an exam about the facts of the Farm Bill and SNAP. Ask questions about the economic impact of cutting the program—how much economic activity is created by every $5 in SNAP spending? (Answer: $9). Ask simple, elementary questions about the characteristics of SNAP recipients. Ask questions such as, How many people in your district receive SNAP? How much in SNAP benefits is spent in grocery stores in your district? Score your legislators on the test and publish the results. Remember, they seem to think that passing a Farm Bill with only 20 percent of its content—leaving out 80 percent which includes the nutrition provision—is satisfactory. Remind them that answering only 20 percent of the questions is a failing grade, not a pass.

Thus far, the debate surrounding SNAP in Congress has shut out the voices of people who participate in the program, and has been lacking attention to the facts about SNAP and hunger.

It’s time to change that.

Director, Center for Hunger-Free Communities
Co-principal investigator, Children’s HealthWatch

We don’t have Calcutta-like malnutrition any more…because of food stamps’

Dear Greg,

Why are there 47 million people receiving food stamps today? You’d think the answer is simple. No matter what the economists say, the recession is still all too real for millions of people who are still unemployed or can only find part-time work or have found a low-paying job to replace the higher-paid job they had before. From the 6 million people at the bottom whose only income is from food stamps on up to the far larger number whose income is not enough to live on, food stamps make an indispensable difference. But, not so fast. That answer only works if you’re interested in the facts, which the Republicans are not. They did it again for the umpteenth time with their farm bill trick the other day.

Another fact. Before the recession there were 26 million people receiving food stamps. Now there are 47 million. Did 21 million people decide to become moochers? Again, you’d think the answer is simple. The answer is simple in Tea Party–land too. It’s just totally wrong.

I went to Mississippi with Robert Kennedy in 1967 and saw children so malnourished they had swollen bellies and running sores on their arms and legs. We went to Eastern Kentucky in March 1968 and again saw visible evidence of serious malnutrition. Senators Ernest Hollings and Herman Talmadge then went on their own in their home states of South Carolina and Georgia and were shocked by what they saw.

We’ve come a long way. We have way too much poverty and plenty of food insecurity but we don’t have Calcutta-like malnutrition any more. That’s because of food stamps. And food stamps are the powerful program they are because there was a bipartisan coalition that supported the program. Richard Nixon was the first president to send a presidential message to Congress about hunger in America. Bob Dole was a champion of food stamps. George W. Bush asked Congress for and got Congress to enact a reauthorization of food stamps that expanded the program.

Until now. Now we have a Republican party that wants to destroy the program if it can. For shame!

So listen up. All we have on our side is people power and that’s what’s needed now. This is a dangerous time. The most vulnerable people in our nation are in serious jeopardy. All of us who care about preventing hunger in the United States need to act now and tell our senators and members of the House that we need to save food stamps and keep it intact.

Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center

‘We all need to do some soul searching’

Dear Greg,

The House’s action in passing a Farm Bill that includes massive corporate subsidies but not SNAP benefits (formerly known as food stamps) for the first time since 1973, was labeled “one of the most brutal” of recent congressional sessions by The New York Times editorial page. While responsibility belongs with the House leadership, we have sadly created a national climate and culture that for too long has tolerated if not acquiesced in gross negligence towards children, especially those most vulnerable and voiceless. And for that, responsibility is more widespread.

For years child poverty has increased. With few exceptions there has been little more than lip service, on the part of elected officials and our national leaders.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s just-released Kids Count report shows that the US child poverty rate is 23 percent with 16.4 million children below the poverty line, up from 22 percent in 2010 and from 19 percent in 2005. The poverty rate for children under 3 is even higher: 26 percent. The number of children in poverty increased even as the unemployment rate gradually declined. From 2007 through 2011, 12 percent of children lived in high-poverty areas nationwide, a total of 8.6 million, up 2.3 million children since 2000, when the rate was 9 percent.

It’s not enough to wait and then decry the egregious actions of a House majority setting up the SNAP program for savage cuts. They are simply exploiting an opportunity that both parties have allowed to ripen.

But the silence and inaction is less a reflection of the strengths and weaknesses of any particular political leaders, and more an indictment of the now pervasive political culture both major parties have conspired to create. It’s a culture that regards advocating for those outside the politically sacred middle class to be a sign of naiveté and weakness. It shuns even a whisper of sacrifice for others, with no appetite for giving voice to the marginalized or voiceless.

Let’s hope the silver lining in the House’s extremism will be to spark the national courage and commitment needed to finally stand up for kids—not just for the nutritional assistance they desperately need, but for concerted effort necessary to end child poverty.

Elie Wiesel once wrote that “what hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor, but the silence of the bystander.” In that sense responsibility for the plight of America’s poorest children goes beyond political extremists in one wing of one party.

We all need to do some soul-searching.

Founder and CEO, Share Our Strength

‘Our job is to channel the outrage’

Dear Greg,

The terrible House action on SNAP has led to widespread outrage from the public and the media, but we need to grow that outrage.

We have to keep a clear message opposing all SNAP cuts. We need to keep telling the story of how important SNAP is, and to whom.

That is more complicated since too much of the SNAP debate has been based on misstatements about the program and its participants—sometimes the misstatements are deliberate, sometimes they are just based on outdated conventional wisdom. They come not just from politicians and media openly hostile to SNAP but also, too often, from the mainstream media.

One good example of this is the standard line in press reports that the Farm Bill helps rural congressional districts through its agriculture programs, while it helps urban congressional districts through SNAP. But rural poverty is just as high as urban poverty, hunger is just as prevalent in rural communities—and congressional districts—as in urban areas and districts and SNAP participation is as high in rural areas as in urban areas, as you have noted in “This Week in Poverty.”

Indeed, as one example, Tennessee Representative Stephen Fincher, one of the most outspoken anti-SNAP members on the House Agriculture Committee, lives in a very rural county where 22 percent of the people receive SNAP.

The failure of the media and members of Congress to articulate this reality and make it part of the narrative of why SNAP is crucial in every congressional district leaves too many rural legislators and opinion leaders feeling free to ignore the needs of their low-income constituents and neighbors.

Here’s another place the debate has gone off the rails: claims that the rapid growth of the number of SNAP participants means that the program is “out of control.” The evidence is overwhelming that the caseload growth has simply tracked the economy. The government’s U-6 unemployment rate is a better measure of economic pain than the official “unemployment rate.” It includes people who want full-time work but are only able to find part-time work, and those who aren’t looking for work because they are so discouraged. In June, the official unemployment rate was 7.6 percent, but the U-6 rate was 14.3 percent.

The SNAP participation growth and U-6 growth graphs of the last few years look very much alike. And every indication is that, even as the economy slowly recovers from the recession, tens of millions of workers still will be struggling with low wages, involuntary part-time work and general job insecurity. A strong SNAP program is a crucial support.

Paul Krugman wrote last month about the attacks on unemployment insurance, “The war on the unemployed has been making so much progress in part because it has been flying under the radar, with too many people unaware of what’s going on. Well, now you know. And you should be angry.”

Our job is to make more people know about the attacks on SNAP, and the importance of SNAP to America’s children, seniors and working families. Seven out of ten voters oppose cutting SNAP. They need to know who SNAP’s opponents are and what they want to do. And our job is to channel the outrage into more and louder voices to Congress and the media about the real facts about SNAP and the harm that SNAP cuts will do.

President, Food Research and Action Center

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‘Advocates have leverage’

Dear Greg,

Okay—time to get mad.

As your post points out, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a k a SNAP or food stamps, is one of our most successful anti-poverty initiatives. It helps babies and toddlers grow and learn; it help families to be less dependent on public benefits later on; it helps the economy by increasing spending in food stores across the nation. And yet, both the Senate and House have been willing to cut SNAP.

The Senate, led by Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), has been willing to reduce benefits by $90 a month for households, cutting SNAP spending by more than $4 billion over ten years. The House has been willing to cut SNAP far more deeply. Their original farm bill cut SNAP by $20 billion over ten years, and the proposed House budget cut $130 billion over ten years, by turning SNAP into a fixed amount granted to states, with no flexibility to rise when the economy tanks.

These cuts, which would deny some or all benefits to millions of people, allow us to see congressional hypocrisy on parade. Case in point: Representative Stephen Fincher (R-TN), speaking in Memphis after the vote, said, “The role of citizens, of Christians, of humanity is to take care of each other, but not for Washington to steal from those in the country and give to others in the country.” The Environmental Working Group, however, has identified Representative Fincher as receiving more than $70,000 in direct farm subsidy payments in 2012, and $3.48 million from 1999 to 2012.

So get mad—but don’t lose hope.

When the House split off the nutrition provision—including food stamps—from the farm supports (and made the largesse to agribusiness bigger and permanent), it wasn’t because the House majority wants to end SNAP. It was because they didn’t have the votes to pass the farm bill with the SNAP proposal they had developed. True—some wanted to cut more; others wanted to cut it less. And now that the nutrition provisions are out, the House leadership is in a jam. Some who care about continued farm subsidies do not want to pass a separate nutrition bill with very deep SNAP cuts, because they fear they will then be unable to put together the votes needed to pass a farm bill. Right now it is unclear whether the House leadership will be able to come up with a separate nutrition bill that won’t blow up agricultural interests’ hope of getting a farm supports law passed.

With the president and the Senate leadership firm in rejecting a bill without a nutrition provision, advocates have leverage. In part, that leverage comes from the all-important legal status of SNAP: it is a permanently authorized program, which means it will continue to operate as is if Congress doesn’t pass legislation to change it. That is not true of the farm support programs—they revert to old and far-less generous subsidies if Congress doesn’t pass a new farm bill by September 30 or temporarily extend current law.

That makes it possible—and necessary—to say NO: cuts to SNAP are unacceptable and wrong-headed and must be rejected. It may mean they can’t pass a farm bill. Well—if Congress wants a farm bill, they’ll have to reach out to members of Congress who are strong supporters of SNAP, and win them over by leaving SNAP alone.

For this to work, we have to open our mouths. The nation’s most vital nutrition program is too important to be quiet about, or to think other people will speak up loudly enough without your voice joining in. Congressional supporters of SNAP have to hear from us, so they’ll have the oomph to fight harder. Opponents of SNAP have to be held accountable, to see there is a cost to making vulnerable people hungrier. You can find background info at the Food Research and Action Center.

But say something.          

Executive Director, Coalition on Human Needs

What impact has the sequester had on low-income housing?

Mapping the Sequester's Impact on Low-Income Housing

David Row, second from left, helps his 8-year-old son, Lestat, learn to ride a bicycle as a homeless man reads his book outside a homeless shelter in Los Angeles, Wednesday, September 14, 2011. Row was recently reunited with his son after getting a job at the shelter. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Cross-posted from my column at BillMoyers.com on the impact of sequestration.

In April, Doug Rice, senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, released a paper that described some of the ways people would be affected by sequestration cuts to local housing agency budgets, including: up to 140,000 fewer low-income families receiving rental assistance vouchers, higher rent for people who can’t afford it and a rise in homelessness.

“These kinds of cuts are really unprecedented,” said Rice, noting that this was just the third time in thirty-nine years that Congress failed to sufficiently fund housing agencies so that they could renew all current vouchers. “Here we are in 2013 looking at severe cuts in the number of families that receive assistance, even at a time when the number of families in need has been rising sharply.”

Rice said that most local housing agencies would likely “shelve” Section 8 rental assistance vouchers, meaning vouchers would no longer be reissued to families on waiting lists when current recipients leave the program. He said that many people receiving new vouchers would have them rescinded as they searched for apartments. Maintenance and inspection of units would be deferred, and affordable housing stock would be jeopardized.

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All of this would occur despite the fact that there are waiting lists for vouchers in almost every community; half of the current households in the program include seniors or people with disabilities; and the average household income of a voucher recipient is just $12,500. On top of that, only one in four eligible households actually receives a voucher or some other form of federal rental assistance.

A look at over sixty stories from across the country in the past few months reveals that Rice’s analysis was spot-on. Mouse over each location to read the headlines.

Congress is taking on sexual assault in the military, but does it have the ability to enforce civilian control?

This Week in Poverty: Confronting Congressional Hunger Games

Volunteers fill bags with food for part of their backpack school lunch program at the Cleveland Foodbank in Cleveland on Tuesday, November 22, 2011. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

The congressional hunger games began when Senate Democrats voted to cut $4.1 billion from food stamps, or SNAP. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow said it was a matter of slicing “waste, fraud and abuse” from the program.

Except that’s not what they were doing.

They were cutting about $90 a month in benefits for 500,000 households—more than a week’s worth of assistance for a typical family, at a time when an individual’s average benefit is about $4.45 per day. (It’s worth noting too that just one cent on every dollar of SNAP spending is lost to fraud.)

House Republicans then tried to up the ante and slash $20 billion from the program—to reduce both the deficit and welfare dependence, they claimed.

Except that’s not what they were doing.

Food stamp spending is projected by the Congressional Budget Office to amount to just 1.7 percent of federal spending over the next ten years—and people with access to food stamps when they are young have better health outcomes and less dependence on welfare assistance over the long-term. In fact, what the Republicans were attempting to do was toss 2 million people off of SNAP and prevent 210,000 low-income children from receiving free school meals. The bill failed because many Republicans wanted even deeper cuts.

Finally, on Thursday, House Republicans took these hunger games to a new level of violence: they passed a farm bill stripped of any food stamp provision.

There were appropriate expressions of outrage that this occurred at a moment when nearly 50 million Americans aren’t sure, at times, where their next meal is coming from. But beyond the outrage is a key question: why is it so easy for both parties to play games with the lives of the one in seven Americans—including nearly one in three children—who are in need of food assistance? And what can be done to change this dynamic?

A friend of mine suggested that a representative group of food stamp recipients storm the House floor.

“So about half of them would be children, and about 10 percent elderly, and a lot in wheelchairs, with oxygen tanks, crutches, etc.,” she said. “It would make the fools in the House look even more trivial and foolish than they already look.”

My friend wasn’t being literal, but she makes an important point—we shouldn’t permit our legislators to continue making these decisions in a vacuum, isolated from the very people whose lives they are toying with.

In a recent interview with Bill Moyers, Dr. Mariana Chilton, director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities and co-principal investigator at Children’s HealthWatch, said, “There’s just not enough people who are poor who have an opportunity to speak out…to really engage in our democracy. I think that they’re actively shut out.”

At the very least, during the umpteen farm bill hearings, Democrats—and there are still many on the right side of this fight—should noisily work to ensure that we hear from real people about their real experiences. Make those who would malign the poor tell them to their faces that they are lazy for working a low-wage job or two, trying to take care of their kids and needing SNAP’s $1.50 per person, per meal to help them make ends meet. Senators and Congressmen can also try to explain to people how taking their food away—while also opposing a raise in the minimum wage—is somehow going to reduce their poverty and hunger.

And for those who can’t make it to Washington to confront their legislators, we should be pressing for town meetings on hunger in every congressional district, according to Joel Berg, exectuve director of New York City Coalition Against Hunger (NYCCAH). There is hunger everywhere: the proportion of rural households that participate in SNAP is about equal to urban households—14.6 percent and 14.8 percent, respectively, in 2010—and the fastest growing poor population is in the suburbs. It’s time to reduce the shame and stigma, step forward with our neighbors and share our experiences.

The coalition fighting for sound food policy needs to change too.

“There are all of these strands of movements that have been talking past each other,” said Berg. “There’s the small farm people, nutrition people, sustainable agriculture people, and the anti-hunger folks. The only way we can win this is if we’re all in this together.”

Berg and NYCCAH hope to build the kind of diverse coalition in New York City that can serve as a national model. The Food Secure NYC 2018 initiative aims to end hunger in the city by the end of the next mayor’s first term and inject food and hunger issues into the upcoming mayoral campaign. Currently more than 1.4 million New Yorkers—including one in four children—live in households that are struggling with hunger.

Berg said there is plenty of “low-hanging fruit,” such as ensuring that every school provides universal, in-classroom breakfast. New York City ranks last among twenty-six large urban school districts in breakfast participation, with only 35 percent of students who receive free or reduced-price lunches also eating free breakfasts.

A food jobs proposal focuses on the $30 billion that New York City residents spend on food annually, much of which is grown, processed and manufactured outside of the city and region. The plan calls for expanding city and rooftop gardens; urban farms; food co-ops; community-supported agriculture projects; farmers’ markets; community kitchens and projects that hire unemployed youth to grow, market, sell and deliver nutritious foods. It would also bolster year-round neighborhood plants that process, freeze and can foods.

The initiative would create “food and nutrition zones” modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone. Berg said the idea is “to saturate targeted neighborhoods with every possible food access, anti-hunger, nutrition, and obesity-reduction strategy.”

“We’ll be able to measure results and create a national model for what works,” he said.

People of faith, nutritionists and low-income people are already involved in this effort, and Berg hopes to bring in farmers, unions and other NYC-based antipoverty groups over the next few months.

It’s good to see these advocates trying to change the politics of hunger. If their strategy works, maybe it will indeed end up serving as a national model.

But in the meantime, Congress continues to pummel low-income people with increasing ferocity. I would like to know what you think can be done to confront and change this kind of cruelty and shortsightedness.

Frankly, I’m somewhat at a loss.

Get Involved

Sequestration Endangers Women—2013

Book from Nation contributor Sasha Abramsky

The American Way of Poverty­ received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly and was its “pick of the week.” PW describes the book as a “searing exposé” and “a challenging indictment of an economy in which poverty and inequality at the bottom seem like the foundation for prosperity at the top.” The book will be released on September 10.


Saving Financial Aid (Today, 9:30 am–11 am, New America Foundation, 1899 L St. NW, Washington, DC.) A new report, “Building Expectations, Delivering Results,” from the Assets and Education Initiative (AEDI) at the University of Kansas suggests that investing in policies that build children’s savings could revolutionize the way that financial assistance is conceived and delivered and improve educational outcomes along the way. A distinguished panel of experts explores how our financial aid system could be remade to promote savings and opportunity. You can watch online here.

Unfinished March Symposium (Monday, July 22, 4:30 pm‐7 pm, AFL-CIO, 815 16th Street, NW, Samuel Gompers Room, Washington, DC.) August 28 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, and the goals of the march remain largely unfinished. The Economic Policy Institute convenes this symposium to examine America’s civil rights successes, as well as the significant amount of civil rights work that remains to be done.

Start Planning

Beyond Housing: A National Conversation on Child Homelessness and Poverty (Wednesday, January 15, 2014, 3 pm–Friday, January 17, 2:45 pm, Crowne Plaza Times Square, New York, NY). The Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness (ICPH) is working to reduce the impact of poverty and homelessness on children and families. ICPH invites service providers, advocates, practitioners, policymakers, homeless and formerly homeless individuals, researchers and members of the media to its 2014 national conference to begin a dynamic discussion of ideas, programs, solutions, policies and strategies that will improve the lives of poor families across the nation. Author, Tulane University professor, Nation columnist and MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry will deliver a keynote speech. Register here.

Clips and other resources (compiled with Samantha Lachman)

How Can a ‘Pro-Life’ Legislator Fight to Gut SNAP?” Sheila Bapat

The Farm Bill’s Auspicious Death,” Joel Berg

Served Up: The Child Care Challenges of Restaurant Workers,” Liz Ben-Ishai, Christine Johnson-Staub, Jodie Levin-Epstein and Hannah Matthews

To reduce child hunger, Indy needs better-paying jobs,” Author Campbell

Sequestration impact: July 7-12,” Coalition on Human Needs

’I never thought it would be like this when I got let go’: sequester cuts start hitting jobless,” Jeff Cox

Wal-Mart’s threatening to pull out of D.C. if it has to pay a higher minimum wage. So what?” Lydia DePillis

Broken Promises,” Byron Dorgan

Rate of Poor Asian Pacific Islanders Soars by 38%” Equal Voice News

As Detroit teeters on bankruptcy, creditors are left holding the bag,” Michael A. Fletcher

Pa. Welfare Dept. to change name to Human Services, but slowly,” Kate Giammarise

Breadwinner Moms on the Rise—But Are They Really Winning?” Tamara Winfrey Harris

The Safety Net: An Investment in Kids,” Hilary W. Hoynes and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach

Low-wage food workers stage one-day strike at Smithsonian museums,” Kate Irby

Short-Term Help, Lasting Payoff,” Lauren Ingeno

What Separates Welfare from Work,” Tammy Kim

Medi-Cal dental coverage to be partially restored, but not until May,” Sandy Kleffman

State By State Map—Pregnancy Discrimination Laws, Breastfeeding and Leave Rights,” Legal Momentum

What’s Wrong With Milwaukee in Seven Charts,” John Light

California Prisons Illegally Sterilizing Female Inmates as Recently as 2010,” Amanda Marcotte

The American economy is eroding the American job,” Harold Meyerson

Kristi Jacobson and Mariana Chilton on How Hunger Hurts Everyone,” Moyers and Company [VIDEO]

Modernizing Asset Limits,” New America Foundation [WEBSITE]

Welfare Reform’s No Model for SNAP,” LaDonna Pavetti

LA Community Wins New Rail Stop to Catalyze Local Economy,” PolicyLink

How inequality was created,” Theresa Riley

Latest Piece on Disability Insurance Doesn’t Tell the Full Story,” Kathy Ruffing

The Rural Monitor: Rural Hunger,” Rural Assistance Center

In rural Tennessee, a new way to help hungry children: A bus turned bread truck,” Eli Saslow

Working-Family Tax Credits Make a Big Difference for Military Families,” Arloc Sherman

Lagging minimum wage is one reason why most Americans’ wages have fallen behind productivity,” Heidi Shierholz

An Oregon Trail to End Student Debt,” Katrina vanden Heuvel

My climb out of poverty wouldn’t be possible today,” Bernadine Watson

North Carolina Slashes Aid to Job Seekers,” Rachel West

Studies/Briefs (summaries co-written by Samantha Lachman)

Has Education Paid Off for Black Workers?” Janelle Jones and John Schmitt, Center for Economic and Policy Research. “A good job is hard to find,” finds the CEPR in this new study examining the deterioration in job quality for black workers. Factors such as discrimination and an overall decline in bargaining power for workers have disproportionately affected black workers, as the share of black workers in a “good job”—one that pays at least $19 an hour with employer-provided health insurance and an employer-sponsored retirement plan—has declined. However, not all of the news from the study is negative. In 2011, one in four black workers was a college graduate, compared to one in ten in 1979. The share of black workers without a high school degree was over 31 percent in 1979 and is now just over 5 percent. The black workforce is also older and more experienced, with a median age of 39. This paper looks at these trends and policies that would have a large, positive impact on the quality of jobs for black workers.

What Families Need to Get By,” Elise Gould et al., Economic Policy Institute. The EPI’s updated Family Budget Calculator offers a broader and more comprehensive measure of economic security than the official poverty thresholds. For example, the calculator accounts for geographical location and estimates community-specific costs for items such as housing, food, childcare, transportation, taxes, healthcare and other necessities. It can also be customized for specific family types. It finds, for instance, that a full-time minimum wage worker in a one-parent, one-child family doesn’t earn enough to meet basic necessities even in the least expensive family budget areas.

Pre-K For Every Child: A Matter of Fairness,” by Kevin Lindsey, First Focus. This report consolidates research to demonstrate how cuts to pre-K funding negatively impact quality of care, to the point that quality improvement is slowing or even reversing in a number of states. “The tradeoff between quality and access is unnecessary,” the report states, and it demonstrates that states which invest in providing broad access see major gains in school readiness and achievement. The report also addresses pre-K in the private sector, arguing that affording private pre-K is challenging even for middle-class families. It finds that families who can’t afford private pre-K or can’t access public pre-K are shut out of the system, and concludes that we need a more equitable and just system that every family can access.

The Inequality of Declining Wages During the Recovery,” National Employment Law Project (NELP). NELP found that from 2009‐12 across all occupations, hourly wages declined by 2.8 percent—but lower-wage occupations saw significantly bigger declines. Real median wages fell by 5 percent or more for restaurant cooks, food preparation workers, home and personal care aids and maids and housekeepers. The decline in wages is striking given that productivity increased by 4.5 percent over the same time period. NELP’s analysis drew on Occupational and Employment Statistics for 785 occupations.

The Third Shift: Child Care Needs and Access for Working Mothers in Restaurants,” Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, Center for Law and Social Policy and other national organizations. This report focuses on mothers who work in restaurants and how they access childcare, asking what strategies could be implemented to help them address their childcare challenges. Using data sets, surveys and focus groups, the authors found that mothers struggle with affordability, accessibility and career mobility, compounded by a lack of benefits (like paid sick days). Among the report’s recommendations: raising the minimum wage (which is $2.13 an hour for tipped workers), expanding access to childcare assistance, establishing a minimum standard for earned sick days and supporting collective organizing for workers.

Vital Statistics

US poverty (less than $17,916 for a family of three): 46.2 million people, 15.1 percent. (US Census Bureau 2012)

Children in poverty: 16.4 million, 23 percent of all children, including 39 percent of African-American children and 34 percent of Latino children.

Deep poverty (less than $11,510 for a family of four): 20.4 million people, one in fifteen Americans, including more than 15 million women and children.

African-American poverty rate: 27.6 percent.

White poverty rate: 9.8 percent.

Ratio of black unemployment to white unemployment, 1963-2012: 2 to 2.5 times higher every year.

Twice the poverty level (less than $46,042 for a family of four): 106 million people, more than one in three Americans.

People in the US experiencing poverty by age 65: Roughly half.

Gender gap, 2011: Women 34 percent more likely to be poor than men.

Gender gap, 2010: Women 29 percent more likely to be poor than men.

Jobs in the US paying less than $34,000 a year: 50 percent.

Jobs in the US paying below the poverty line for a family of four, less than $23,000 annually: 25 percent.

Poverty-level wages, 2011: 28 percent of workers.

Hourly wage needed to lift a family of four above poverty line, 2011: $11.06.

Federal minimum wage: $7.25 ($2.13 for tipped workers)

Federal minimum wage if indexed to inflation since 1968: $10.59.

Federal minimum wage if it kept pace with productivity gains: $18.72.

Families receiving cash assistance, 1996 (pre–welfare reform): sixty-eight for every 100 families living in poverty.

Families receiving cash assistance, 2010: twenty-seven for every 100 families living in poverty.

Impact of public policy, 2010: without government assistance, poverty would have been twice as high—nearly 30 percent of population.

Impact of public policy, 1964–1973: poverty rate fell by 43 percent.  

Number of homeless children in US public schools: 1,065,794.

Federal expenditures on home ownership mortgage deductions, 2012: $131 billion.

Federal funding for low-income housing assistance programs, 2012: less than $50 billion.

Average SNAP benefit, individual: $4.45 per day.

Quotes of the week

“Our results suggest rather than the Food Stamp program creating an inter-generational ‘welfare trap,’ the reverse is more likely true. Providing benefits to children at important stages of their development allows them to grow in ways that may help enable them to escape poverty when they reach adulthood.”
   —Hilary Hoynes, University of California-Davis,
    and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, Northwestern University, via Spotlight on Poverty

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“After repeatedly voting to deny health insurance to kids, the Republicans overwhelmingly turned their backs on hungry kids and voted to increase unlimited insurance subsidies for the most profitable farmers. The ‘farm only’ farm bill passed today by House Republicans—over the objections of everyone from the American Farm Bureau to the Heritage Foundation—is, simply put, the most fiscally irresponsible piece of farm legislation in history.”
   — Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs, Environmental Working Group

“Let us continue to refuse to be silent until all the George Zimmermans of this world are deterred and held accountable for vigilante justice against Black males. Let us refuse to be silent until the killing of Black mothers’ sons is as important as the killing of White mothers’ sons. Only then will we have a post-racial America.”
   —Marian Wright Edelman, from “Justice Denied

Samantha Lachman co-wrote the “Clips and other resources” and “Studies/Briefs” sections in this blog.

This Week in Poverty posts here on Friday mornings, and again at Moyers & Company and AlterNet. You can e-mail me at WeekInPoverty@me.com and follow me on Twitter.

Bill Moyers’s new documentary follows two American families struggling to make ends meet for over twenty years. It’s not a pretty picture—but it’s a necessary film.

Watch This: Two American Families

Bill Moyers (AP Photo/Ric Francis)

Before there was the Great Recession, the foreclosure crisis and the obscene economic divide that we see today, there was a gathering storm.

Bill Moyers began to capture it in 1991, documenting two families in Milwaukee—the Neumans and the Stanleys—as they strived to attain the American Dream: a measure of economic security and a better life for their kids.

Moyers followed their stories for the next twenty-two years, and tonight on Frontline, viewers will see just how the two families fared through today.

Produced by filmmakers Tom Casciato and Kathleen Hughes, Two American Families is the third must-see documentary in the past year—along with American Winter and A Place at the Table— about how “regular folks” are surviving in today’s economy. Watch it, and if your blood isn’t boiling by the end, check your pulse.

As Moyers narrates, the Neumans and Stanleys are what his grandmother would have called “the salt of the earth.” They are churchgoers, extremely hard workers and devoted parents, who struggle every day to “secure a foothold in the middle class.”

These are Americans who clearly play by the proverbial rules, and we see just as clearly that the rules don’t count for much if the game is rigged.

The struggles for both families begin in the early 1990s when good jobs are being shipped overseas or lost to non-union towns where wages are low. Tony Neuman loses his job with engine maker Briggs and Stratton where he was earning $18 an hour and good benefits. He searches for new work—restaurants, grocery stores, big box stores, hardware stores—they all pay less than $6 an hour.

“Little do they know that I need to live also,” says Tony.

He accepts a job at a non-union factory making engine parts on the night shift. He earns $8.25 an hour, no benefits. He lacks sleep and is irritable, and barely sees his wife, Terry, or their three children. Terry is forced to give up her work as a stay-at-home mother, taking a series of low-wage, part-time jobs. The Neumans struggle to pay the mortgage, one of their sons begins having trouble in school and all of the children miss the presence of their father.

“Our marriage is really on the rocks,” Tony reveals.

While the Stanleys’s marriage seems to be holding up—“We look on each other for our strength. Some days she has bad days, some days I have bad days,” Claude says—they are in a similar boat to the Neumans. Jackie also loses her job on the motor line with Briggs and Stratton, and Claude loses his assembly line job with the manufacturer AO Smith. Jackie goes into real estate and Claude takes a job waterproofing basements for $7 an hour—they bring home half of the pay they used to. Jackie tries to hide the hardship from their five children, living by the motto “fake it ‘til you make it.”

But you can’t hide a formerly secure, professional neighborhood that begins to come apart at the seams: gang violence, threats, an uncle murdered by an intruder just blocks away, abandoned homes. As their eldest son, Keith, excels in high school, earning a 3.5, he asks his Mom, “What’s the use? What does it matter?”

The question seems prescient when, in 1995, Keith is the first male on either side of his family to graduate high school. He wants to attend Alabama State University. The only way he is able to do so is by Jackie closing two real estate deals the day before he leaves, Keith working two jobs and receiving financial aid, and incurring major credit card debt.

“God came through,” says Jackie.

“Most people, when they pray, expect God to give them a miracle,” says Moyers. “What you got was a thousand-dollar credit with an 18 percent interest rate.”

“But it’ll tide me over until I can get the miracle,” says Jackie.

Moyers notes that in the 1990s credit card debt for the average family increased by 53 percent; 184 percent for low-income families. There was no miracle for the Stanleys, just ever-increasing credit card debt for Keith.

Meanwhile, Terry’s part-time work proves insufficient so she takes on full-time work as “a driver and a guard [and] a messenger” for $7.25 an hour. But Terry and Tony worry that their children are now unsupervised like most kids in the neighborhood. They see an increase in violence and reckless behavior and worry that their own children will get caught up in it.

“I’ve tried to teach them right from wrong,” says Terry. “And I’m just hoping that they will carry these values through all of this. I hope they’ve learned…how difficult it is and how everybody needs to make sacrifices—including them.”

Terry’s shifts are unpredictable—she is on call to report to work on two hours notice. She and Tony barely see each other and the family enters therapy.

Meanwhile, the Stanleys discover that the health benefits Claude had weren’t so beneficial—a serious lung infection results in $30,000 in unpaid medical bills. College is no longer an option for their other children.

As the 1990s come to a close, Moyers notes that “despite all the hard work, these two American families had barely survived one of the most prosperous decades in our history.”

When he returns to them in 2013, Moyers finds that three of the four adults feel like failures, including Tony, who declines to be interviewed. He and Terry eventually lost their home—JPMorgan Chase demanded $124,000, foreclosed and then sold it for $38,000. Terry, now 49, lost a warehouse job, retrained to become a home health care aide and nurse’s assistant, and is now working part-time as a caregiver for a poverty wage. Claude is nearly 60 and works two jobs—collecting garbage and also maintaining the grounds along boulevards. He is a member of a public union and earns $26,000 and benefits.

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Claude doesn’t feel like a failure, but even as he maintains his bedrock faith and is a minister at a church—“Still praise the lord, I still believe there’s something for us”—he’s also angry.

“You can’t stay on a job long enough to retire,” he says. “You know every job I have I work seven years, the place close down, you work somewhere else for another five years, they lay you off, they shut down. All the years I’ve been working, I could’ve retired. Right now.”

Keith marvels at his father’s work ethic and the values his parents instilled in him and his siblings. He has a good job at City Hall and also works nights and weekends as a videographer. But he is delaying marriage and a family.

“There’s been too many struggles I saw,” he says. “And for me, it’s like, ‘Can I make that sacrifice?’”

The prospects for the other Stanley and Neuman children, now grown, are decidedly more mixed.

“The way the economy is going now, I don’t think anybody is going to be financially secure,” says Terry. “And we’ll just work until we collapse and keel over and die.”

It would be great if this were simply hyperbole. But for too many Americans it is now the cold, hard truth—economic security isn’t an attainable dream, it’s a tantalizing fantasy forever out of reach.

For more on poverty in America, read Greg Kaufmann’s This Week in Poverty.

This July 4 Weekend in Poverty: Get Involved in the Fight Against Poverty

Regular readers of this blog know the statistics: more than 46 million Americans living below the poverty line on less than $18,000 annually for a family of three. More than 1 in 3 of us—106 million Americans—living on less than $36,000 a year, struggling to afford the basics like food, housing, healthcare, and education.

Meanwhile, food stamps are under attack by both Republicans and Democrats despite the fact that 50 million Americans are struggling with hunger; cash assistance (TANF) reaches only 27 of every 100 families living in poverty; the minimum wage is a poverty wage, and there is a proliferation of low-wage work.

Our nation could reverse these trends if we wanted to—that’s one of the key motivations for The Nation in creating this blog—that it’s simply not true that “we don’t know what to do about poverty.”

Below are just some of the good groups that can help you get informed and get involved in the fight against poverty. If you were to regularly follow even a half dozen of them, you would probably know more about poverty than most Members of Congress.

Check them out, sign up for their e-mails, and get involved:

Alliance for a Just Society
The Arc
Broader, Bolder Approach to Education
Caring Across Generations
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
Center for Community Change
Center for Court Innovation
Center for Economic and Policy Research
Center for Hunger-Free Communities/Witnesses to Hunger
Center for Law and Social Policy
Children’s Defense Fund
Children’s HealthWatch
Coalition on Human Needs

Coalition of Immokalee Workers
Community Action Partnership
Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Social Security Task Force
Economic Policy Institute
First Focus
Food Research and Action Center
Family Independence Initiative
Half In Ten
Home Defenders League
Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness
Interfaith Worker Justice
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Jobs with Justice
Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Legal Momentum
National Council on Aging
National Council of La Raza
National Employment Law Project
National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty
National Low Income Housing Coalition
National Partnership for Women and Families
National Women’s Law Center
New York City Coalition Against Hunger
Occupy Our Homes
Poverty & Race Research Action Council
Progressive States Network
Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United
The Rural Assistance Center
Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law
Share Our Strength
Spotlight on Poverty
Urban Institute: MetroTrends

Western Center on Law & Poverty

This Week in Poverty posts here on Friday mornings, and again at Moyers & Company and AlterNet. You can e-mail me at WeekInPoverty@me.com and follow me on Twitter.

Sequestration Watch: Hunger by the Numbers

Cross-posted from my column on the impact of sequestration at BillMoyers.com

Sequestration cuts will total $1.2 trillion through fiscal year 2021. This year there is a 5.3 percent cut, totaling $85 billion. The cuts are indiscriminate and will impact nearly every federal program.* Here are some of the ways this year’s cut is affecting food and hunger programs, in America and abroad.

Domestic Programs
Meals for needy seniors lost in programs like Meals on Wheels (MOW): 4 million
Savings from cut of 4 million meals: $10 million
Rise in Medicaid costs due to cut of 4 million meals: $489 million
Net cost to U.S. federal budget due to cut of 4 million meals: $479 million

Meals on Wheels Association of America

Loss of senior meals, California: 750,000
Loss of senior breakfasts, Palm Beach County, Fla.: 240 daily
Loss of senior meals in group dining facilities, Detroit suburbs and several counties: 86,000
Loss of home-delivered and group dining senior meals, La Crosse County, Wis.: 6,000

International Programs
Cuts to global poverty-focused development assistance (PFDA) programs: $1.1 billion
People who will experience reduced or denied access to lifesaving food: 2.1 million
Children who will experience reduced or denied access to school feeding programs: 234,000
Children who will be unable to receive nutritional interventions that save lives and prevent irreversible damage caused by malnutrition: 605,625
Farmers and small businesses in poor countries that won’t receive support from Feed the Future, a program to help them lift themselves and their communities out of poverty: 1.17 million
stats from Bread for the World


Ellie Hollander, president and CEO of the Meals on Wheels Association of America: “The real impact of sequester is that our programs don’t have the ability to expand to meet the growing need. We should be investing in these programs to ensure our seniors have the nutritious meals they need to remain healthy and independent.”

Patricia Hoeft, director of senior center nutrition, the Mid-East Area Agency on Aging (Missouri): “How do I decide which 300 seniors aren’t going to eat that day?”

Meals on Wheels recipient, home delivery program, La Crosse County, Wis.: “These meals are sometimes the only meal that I have a day. I don’t drive, so I have to rely on others to get around to doctors’ appointments. I only get $16 a month for food.”

* Some low-income programs are exempt from cuts, including Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), the refundable tax credits and some child nutrition programs.

This Week in Poverty: The Unfinished March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

Representative John Lewis speaks at a rally for immigration reform on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

“[African-Americans] must march from the rat-infested, overcrowded ghettos to decent, wholesome, unrestricted residential areas disbursed throughout our cities…. They must march from the play areas in crowded and unsafe streets to the newly opened areas in the parks and recreational centers,” said Whitney Young Jr., executive director of the National Urban League.

When I read those words this week, I thought it sounded like a good recommendation for residents of my hometown, Washington, DC, which has in essence been two separate and unequal cities since my great grandparents came here in the 1920s—and it remains so today.

But Young said this at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, exactly fifty years ago on August 28. A new report from the Economic Policy Institute, “The Unfinished March—An Overview,” offers a compelling look at the economic vision that was laid out on that day and has since been forgotten. It also examines the continuing struggle to achieve that vision.

Most Americans associate the March with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a Dream” speech and celebrate the victories of the civil rights movement that followed. But report author Algernon Austin, director of EPI’s Program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy (PREE), writes that there were “nine other speeches that day” and that the march organizers called for “decent housing, adequate and integrated education, a federal jobs program for full employment, and a national minimum wage of over $13.00 an hour in today’s dollars.”

Where do we stand today in meeting those goals?

There are still ghettos of poverty that lack decent housing—where poor minority children don’t have the same access to resource-rich, middle-class communities as poor white children do. Nearly half of poor African-American children live in neighborhoods with concentrated poverty, defined as areas where 30 percent of the census tract population lives below the federal poverty threshold (on less than $18,000 for a family of three). In contrast, only 12 percent of poor white children live in neighborhoods with concentrated poverty. (Thirty-nine percent of poor American Indian children live in areas of concentrated poverty, as do 35 percent of poor Hispanic children and 21 percent of poor Asian and Pacific Islander children.)

Austin describes how concentrated poverty is correlated “with a host of social and economic challenges,” including: higher crime rates, higher exposure to lead, higher prevalence of alcohol and fast food outlets and fewer opportunities to be physically active due to crime and limited green space. All of these factors make the struggle to rise from poverty significantly harder.

Relatedly, Austin points to the call by speakers at the March “for black children to gain access to adequate and integrated education.”

“[We] must march from the congested ill-equipped schools, which breed dropouts, and which smother motivation, to the well-equipped integrated facilities throughout the cities,” argued Young at the March.

But today we have public schools that are essentially separate and unequal. 74 percent of African-Americans still attend majority nonwhite schools, compared to just over 76 percent in the late 1960s. That number had dropped down to 63 percent by the early 1980s, but Austin suggests that progress reversed due to a “lack of commitment by the federal government and multiple decisions by the Supreme Court.” The share of black children in schools that are 90 to 100 percent nonwhite has also stagnated at around 38 percent since the early 2000s.

Why are these numbers so significant?

“Now as a half century ago—segregated schools are unequal schools,” writes Austin. A 10 percent increase in a school’s nonwhite students is associated with a $75 decrease in per student spending. Furthermore, “the average school with 90 percent or more non-white students has $443,000 less to spend on students during the school year.” (Italics added.)

With this kind of stark difference in educational opportunities and resources, it’s hardly a surprise that—absent a full employment program that the March speakers called for—we have seen the black unemployment rate remain two to two and a half times higher than the white unemployment rate from 1963 to 2012.

“Indeed, black America is nearly always facing an employment situation that would be labeled a particularly severe recession if it characterized the entire labor force,” notes Austin.

When the economy was booming in 2000, and the white unemployment rate was 3.1 percent, the black unemployment rate was still a recession-like 7.6 percent. In the aftermath of the recent Great Recession, when white unemployment peaked at 8 percent, black unemployment stood at a Depression-like 15.9 percent. (The average national unemployment rate from 1929 to 1939 was 13.1 percent.)

“If we can have full employment and full production for the negative ends of war then why can’t we have a job for every American in the pursuit of peace?” asked Walter Reuther, president of the United Automobile Workers of America, speaking at the March in 1963.

Austin asserts that unless we commit to a full employment policy that brings down the minority unemployment rates, “it will be impossible for blacks to have low poverty rates.” Indeed in 2011, the back poverty rate was 27.6 percent—nearly three times the white poverty rate of 9.8 percent that year, according to the most recent US Census Bureau figures.

For African-Americans who do find work, a disproportionate number are paid low wages. In 2006, 36 percent didn’t earn hourly wages sufficient to lift a family of four out of poverty (above approximately $23,000 annually); the same holds true for more than 43 percent of Hispanics, and nearly 25 percent of whites. In 2011, a worker needed to earn $11.06 an hour to lift a family of four out of poverty.

“We march today for jobs and freedom, but we have nothing to be proud of, for hundreds and thousands of our brothers are not here—for they are receiving starvation wages or no wages at all,” said John Lewis in 1963, then the national chairman for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and now a US Congressman.

The marchers wanted the minimum wage to be lifted from $1.15 to $2 an hour—the equivalent of more than $13 an hour today. But it now stands at $7.25, and its inflation-adjusted value is about $2 less than it was in 1968. (The tipped minimum wage has been stuck at $2.13 an hour since 1991.) If it had kept pace with inflation, the minimum wage would be $10.59 today—$18.72 if it had kept pace with productivity gains. But Congress has raised the minimum wage just three times in the past thirty years.

“Because too many Americans’ expectations about what the US economy can deliver to them have been battered in recent decades, many would see this [$13] minimum-wage demand as unrealistically high,” writes Austin. “But [it] is still lower than what the minimum wage would be if it had merely risen in step with gains in economy-wide productivity—a reasonable benchmark for wage increases.”

In these times, when so many dismiss institutional discrimination against people of color by simply pointing to President Obama and saying, “End of discussion,” Austin has done a real service with his examination of the data that reveals the unfinished—and widely forgotten—business of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

But what also excites me about the Unfinished March project are EPI’s plans for next steps. I spoke with Christian Dorsey, EPI’s director of external and governmental affairs, who has a strong background in community organizing for children’s literacy, prejudice reduction and affordable housing.

Dorsey said that a symposium in August will explore “history, current policy options, and our prospects for actually achieving what needs to be done,” including through nonviolent, direct action.

“That’s one of the great successes we can learn from the civil rights movement,” said Dorsey. “Nonviolent active resistance forced people to confront these issues very visibly, demonstrably, and not necessarily always politely. It forced people who would otherwise want to pretend these issues don’t exist to acknowledge what’s going on.”

Dorsey said that EPI will offer more resources and opportunities in the fall to inspire and support this kind of action. Stay tuned and get involved—help finish the March.

Moyers & Company: The Faces of America’s Hungry

On the next Moyers & Company, I’m honored to join Bill Moyers along with Kristi Jacobson, director and producer of A Place at the Table, and Dr. Mariana Chilton, director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities, to discuss food insecurity in America and the recent Farm Bill. It will air starting today and throughout next week—check your local listings. Here’s a preview:

PBS’s Frontline: A Voice for Workers

Frontline looks at the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’s Fair Food Program and its transformational impact on the lives of women in the fields.

Watch A Voice for Workers on PBS. See more from Frontline.

Get involved

Tell President Obama: Homecare workers deserve basic rights
Chase: Stop the Eviction of Sergio and Jonathan Ceballos
Rally4Babies with ZERO TO THREE

Clips and other resources (compiled with Samantha Lachman)

What the Supreme Court Doesn’t Understand About the Voting Rights Act,” Ari Berman

Return of Jim Crow,” Ari Berman

Lessons of the Great Recession: How the Safety Net Performed,” Jared Bernstein

Stephen Colbert Interviews Bill Moyers,” BillMoyers.com Staff

Education Law Prof Blog,” Derek Black (via PRRAC)

School dismissed for a beloved security guard,” Steve Bogira

New York Now Largest City With Paid Sick Days,” Bryce Covert

The solution to US public schools is not corporate America,” Daniel Denvir

Dispatch From Academia: Equity in the Archives,” Eve Dunbar (via the Roosevelt Institute)

Soon We Will Visit the Museum to See Poverty,” Marian Wright Edelman

Average pay of restaurant CEOs was 788 times higher than minimum wage workers’ pay in 2012,” Ross Eisenbrey

Transforming States’ Health and Human Services Programs While Implementing the ACA,” Anthony Eleftherion

Gail Smith, Legal Advocate, Receives White House Honor,” Equal Voice

The Nuns on the Bus Hit the Road for Immigration Reform,” Lauren Feeney

The Struggle for Voting Rights Continues,” Melissa Harris-Perry

Child Poverty Still on the Rise—Early Childhood Investments Can Help!” Christine Johnson-Staub and Stephanie Schmitt

What the DOMA Ruling Means for LGBT Families of Color,” Imara Jones

South remains the epicenter of US child poverty crisis,” Institute for Southern Studies.

The Class-Based Future of Affirmative Action,” Richard Kahlenberg (via the Roosevelt Institute)

You Can Have Your Own Community Radio Station—Here’s Where to Start,” Jamilah King

Who Frets Most About Student Debt,” Annie Lowrey (via Roosevelt Institute)

Poverty, race and place: Map your metro,” Graham MacDonald and Margery Turner (via PRRAC)

Working Poor Losing Obamacare as States Resist Medicaid,” David Mildenberg and Alex Wayne

Supreme Court Guts Voting Rights Act,” Brentin Mock      

SCOTUS Voting Rights Act Decision Means We Need ‘Right to Vote’ Amendment,” John Nichols

’Distrust is really yet another form of inequality.’ When poor moms don’t trust anybody,” Barbara Raab

Where You Live Matters: Addressing Concentrated Poverty Neighborhoods,” Spotlight on Poverty [AUDIO]

Health care, education key to combating rising poverty rates among children, say experts,” Nina Terrero

Kids Count?” P.L. Thomas

Kids [Still Don’t] Count,” P.L. Thomas

Progress for Kids Made—More Needed,” Linda Tilly (via Equal Voice)

Studies/Briefs (summaries written by Samantha Lachman)

Data Book: State Trends in Child Well-Being,” the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
This report provides information and highlights data trends concerning the conditions of America’s children and families, by ranking states and using indicators such as economic well-being, education, health and family. The foundation found that the child poverty rate stood at 23 percent (16.4 million children) in 2011. However, both the teen birth rate and the rate of high school students not graduating in four years, as well as the child and teen death rate, have all declined. The report also focuses on early childhood, showing that the lingering effects of the recession and continued high unemployment have disproportionately affected the country’s youngest children—for instance, 54 percent of the nation’s 3- and 4-year-olds are not enrolled in preschool.

The Adolescent Diversion Program,” Center for Court Innovation.
New York is one of only two states in the country that treats 16- and 17-year-old defendants like criminally responsible adults—nearly 50,000 of these teenagers are annually prosecuted in the state’s adult criminal justice system. This report evaluates the Adolescent Diversion Program that aims to foster a more developmentally appropriate approach to the age group, by enabling some to avoid formal prosecution, and linking them to services. The program also established special courts and encouraged rehabilitative approaches. Participants in the program were less likely than comparison cases to be re-arrested on felony charges. Consistent with other research, high-risk young people fared better in the program than low-risk youth.

2013 Report on Child Care in Cook County,” Illinois Action for Children.
This report examines childcare trends, and in particular, the high cost and difficulty finding care, in the Chicago area. Approximately 900,000 children under the age of 13 live in Cook County, and a large proportion (if not a majority) receive care from someone other than their parents or guardians. The report shows how geographic differences can affect parents’ success in finding care, and also found that most types of care in the region has risen faster than inflation, as family incomes decline.

A Theory of Poverty Destabilization: Why Low-income Families Become Homeless in New York City,” Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness.
The rate of families with children entering homeless shelters in New York City rose 17 percent from 2008 to 2011. The first report in this series uses data on the demographics of the city and focuses on neighborhoods to examine the destabilizing factors affecting at-risk families, in an effort to better understand the relationship between stable poverty and rising homelessness.

State of the Nation’s Housing 2013,” Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard.
Though a national housing recovery is underway, millions of homeowners are still struggling to pay their mortgages or are in debt, and housing cost burdens are reaching record levels. The national home ownership rate fell in 2012 (for the eighth straight year), and to compound such challenges, sequestration will reduce the number of households receiving rental housing assistance. This report further addresses the need for more affordable housing nationwide. The number of Americans spending half or more of their incomes on housing is at an all-time high, with 20.6 million households shouldering such a burden.

2013–2014 American Human Development Index,” Measure of America.
This report uses alternative data points to “tell the story of how people—not just the economy—are doing.” It analyzes well-being in three areas—health, education and earnings—to understand how Americans invest in their families and live to their full potential. It ranks the states, large metropolitan areas and racial/ethnic groups within those areas. Among their most interesting findings were changes over time—for instance, Michigan saw the greatest decline in human development over the past decade, and African-Americans saw the greatest increase in life expectancy (as compared to other racial/ethnic groups).

Vital Statistics

US poverty (less than $17,916 for a family of three): 46.2 million people, 15.1 percent. (US Census Bureau 2012)

Children in poverty: 16.4 million, 23 percent of all children, including 39 percent of African-American children and 34 percent of Latino children.

Deep poverty (less than $11,510 for a family of four): 20.4 million people, 1 in 15 Americans, including more than 15 million women and children.

African-American poverty rate: 27.6 percent.

White poverty rate: 9.8 percent.

Ratio of black unemployment to white unemployment, 1963-2012: 2 to 2.5 times higher, nearly every year.

Twice the poverty level (less than $46,042 for a family of four): 106 million people, more than 1 in 3 Americans.

People in the US experiencing poverty by age 65: Roughly half.

Gender gap, 2011: Women 34 percent more likely to be poor than men.

Gender gap, 2010: Women 29 percent more likely to be poor than men.

Jobs in the US paying less than $34,000 a year: 50 percent.

Jobs in the US paying below the poverty line for a family of four, less than $23,000 annually: 25 percent.

Poverty-level wages, 2011: 28 percent of workers.

Hourly wage needed to lift a family of four above poverty line, 2011: $11.06.

Federal minimum wage: $7.25 ($2.13 for tipped workers)

Federal minimum wage if indexed to inflation since 1968: $10.59.

Federal minimum wage if it kept pace with productivity gains: $18.72.

Families receiving cash assistance, 1996 (pre-welfare reform): sixty-eight for every 100 families living in poverty.

Families receiving cash assistance, 2010: twenty-seven for every 100 families living in poverty.

Impact of public policy, 2010: without government assistance, poverty would have been twice as high—nearly 30 percent of population.

Impact of public policy, 1964–1973: poverty rate fell by 43 percent.      

Number of homeless children in US public schools: 1,065,794.

Federal expenditures on home ownership mortgage deductions, 2012: $131 billion.

Federal funding for low-income housing assistance programs, 2012: less than $50 billion.

Percentage of US population that is African-American: 13 percent.

Percentage of homeless shelter population that is African-American: nearly 40 percent.

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Quotes of the week

“When that decision came down yesterday you know who I was thinking of? John Lewis, who was beaten almost to death in 1961 on the Freedom Rides—who was almost beaten to death on the Pettus Bridge between Selma and Montgomery when they were fighting for voting rights. I thought of all of those now forgotten martyrs—young black men and women—who died fighting for voting rights. I thought of Bernard Lafayette who was beaten two or three times. I thought of all of those guys who stood up so that everyone in this country irrespective of race, religion, creed, income—were all equal in that voting booth. I thought of them. And it was a betrayal of their martyrdom that this court said, ‘It’s gonna be okay for you to go back and try to put discriminatory laws against voting in different places’.”
   —Bill Moyers, on Supreme Court ruling against Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act

“Indeed, black America is nearly always facing an employment situation that would be labeled a particularly severe recession if it characterized the entire labor force.”
   —Algernon Austin, The Unfinished March—An Overview

Samantha Lachman wrote the “Studies/Briefs” and co-wrote the “Clips and other resources” sections in this blog.

This Week in Poverty posts here on Friday mornings, and again at Moyers & Company and AlterNet. You can e-mail me at WeekInPoverty@me.com and follow me on Twitter.

While the goals set out at the March on Washington have yet to be completed, major victories for the LGBT movement this week now have experts pondering what the movement’s next steps should be.

This Week in Poverty: The Older Americans Act and US Seniors

A social worker speaks with seniors at a community center in Philadelphia, Wednesday, August 12, 2009. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Honoring our grandparents, our elders—in these divisive times, at least we hold this value in common, right?

As children, we dutifully sat through long visits or lectures from older relatives, teachers, neighbors or family friends; and then wised up to learn that some of these relationships would prove to be our most enduring.

It’s enough to make you think that maybe—just maybe—this shared experience would lead to a steadfast commitment from policymakers to ensure that those who cared for us, fought for us, and raised us, are able to meet their basic needs.

But if you attended Senator Bernie Sanders’s hearing on reducing senior poverty and hunger through the Older Americans Act (OAA) on Wednesday, you were in for a rude awakening.

Signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965 at the same time as Medicare and Medicaid, the OAA provides federal funding for essential senior services like job training, caregiver support, transportation, preventative healthcare, meals and protection from abuse and financial exploitation. Funding for the legislation has failed to keep pace with inflation and population growth for decades. Under sequestration, an additional $40 million will be cut from senior meal programs alone, which means that as many as 19 million fewer meals will be available to seniors who need them.

Sanders, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, noted in his opening remarks that OAA “programs not only work to ease isolation, hunger and suffering, they also save taxpayers substantial sums of money.”

“It doesn’t take a genius to figure it out,” said Sanders, with characteristic bluntness. “If you’re malnourished, you’re going to get sick more often. You may end up in the emergency room at great expense to Medicaid…If you’re weak and you fall and break your hip, you end up in the hospital, at an expense of tens and tens of thousands of dollars…We can feed a senior for an entire year for the cost of one day in a hospital.”

It emerged as the central theme of the hearing—that shortchanging OAA programs isn’t simply a failure on moral grounds, it’s bad economic policy.

Ellie Hollander is president and CEO of the Meals On Wheels Association of America, a nonprofit organization representing local senior nutrition programs in all fifty states. She noted a recent study by the Center for Effective Government, which found that for every $1 in federal spending on Meals on Wheels, there is as much as a $50 return in Medicaid savings alone.

“There is an unrecognized but substantial return on investment,” said Hollander. “[OAA] programs enable seniors to continue living at home, averting far more costly healthcare alternatives such as hospitals and nursing homes. This reduces Medicare and Medicaid expenses, potentially saving billions of dollars.”

But these meals—delivered directly to an individual’s home or to groups at places such as senior centers—currently reach only 2.5 million of the 8.3 million elderly who struggle with hunger.

“The resources fall substantially short,” said Hollander, noting that demand is increasing and that the senior population will double to more than 70 million people by 2030. She said that real funding levels (adjusted for inflation) for OAA nutrition programs have decreased 18 percent since 1992, while the population of those age 60 and older has increased 34 percent over that same period.

Howard Bedlin, vice president of public policy at the National Council of Aging—a nonprofit service and advocacy organization focusing on economically disadvantaged seniors—testified that there are now more than 23 million economically insecure Americans over 60. They struggle with rising energy and healthcare bills, diminished savings and job loss. The recession caused median wealth for people between ages 55 and 74 to decline by approximately 15 percent, and for those over 65—many of whom now need to continue working or go back to work just to stay afloat—unemployment is at its highest rate since the Great Depression.

The OAA’s Senior Community Service Employment Program is “the nation’s only workforce program designed exclusively [for] vulnerable seniors,” said Bedlin. Nearly 90 percent of participants live in poverty (on less than $11,000 annually), and one-third of them are homeless or at risk of homelessness. While these seniors receive job training that in some cases prevents homelessness, they also perform millions of hours of community service for local organizations struggling with their own budget cuts—“with a value to states and communities estimated at over $1 billion.” Due to a lack of resources, the number of seniors served by the program has declined by 34 percent since FY 2010, and the program now has waiting lists in many cities.

Bedlin also addressed the fact that nursing home costs are now $84,000 annually so “it doesn’t take long to essentially go bankrupt” due to long-term care. But the OAA’s Home and Community-Based Supportive Services help people avoid this situation and remain in their homes, by providing for needs such as transportation, case management, adult daycare and chore assistance.

Bedlin also singled out OAA’s cost-saving role in funding evidence-based “fall prevention programs.” One in three seniors falls every year, and falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries for people ages 65 and older. The resulting injuries are projected to cost the nation $60 billion in 2020.  Research has shown that several local, OAA-supported programs have reduced falls by 30 to 55 percent—which saves money and lives.

Senator Elizabeth Warren pointed to the Pension Counseling and Information Program—which helps seniors recover lost pensions—as one that could be reaching many more seniors with a modest investment. As companies merge, move or change names, people are sometimes unable to obtain the benefits that they worked for, and can’t afford legal assistance to help them recover what they’ve earned. This OAA program funds six regional counseling projects that help individuals in 29 states.

Nancy Altman, co-director of Social Security Works, testified that the counseling program has recovered more than $175 million in pension benefits for 50,000 clients since 1993—a return of $8 dollars for every federal dollar spent on the program. The current federal cost is $1.6 million, and those monies are used to leverage private and foundation resources, as they are with all OAA programs.

Altman said that some of the states not covered by the six regional projects have a high senior population, such as Florida. If all fifty states were served, Altman believes pension benefits recovered for seniors would likely double.

For Warren, the need to support OAA programs is clear.

“What is our measurement of who we are as a people other than how we treat those who are more vulnerable?” she said. “This is a place where good economics merges with the decisions that are right for us as a country.”

Sanders and seventeen cosponsors have introduced a bill to reauthorize the OAA with a funding increase of 12 percent over FY2010 levels, the amount required to begin to catch up with population growth and inflation over the past decade. (The funding that year was approximately $2.3 billion, accounting for just 0.06 percent of the federal budget; with the proposed increase it would be about 0.07 percent.) He said that “level funding just continues the downward spiral.”

“I happen to believe that if 100 million people were watching this panel today, there would be overwhelming support for this program and significantly increasing funding,” said Sanders. “So I urge and ask people all over this country to stand up for seniors right now, stand up for cost-effective government.”

Online Actions

Sign the Education Declaration to Rebuild America
Food Secure NYC 2018
Tell Nintendo: Slavery is not a Game
Take Action on Sequestration

Economic Policy Institute’s new Inequality Website

EPI believes that income inequality is one of the most pressing economic challenges America faces today. On Monday, it will launch inequality.is, a new interactive site that explains the effects of income inequality and what we can do about it. In the launch video below, Robert Reich explains why inequality is “real, personal, expensive and was created.”

More from EPI: The Unfinished Business of the 1963 March on Washington

Fifty years after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, most of its goals have not been accomplished. In The Unfinished March: An Overview, Algernon Austin, director of EPI’s Program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy, explains that while the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom led to legislative victories, the hard economic tasks of the march remain a distant dream. The remaining goals of the march include the demand for decent housing, adequate and integrated education, full employment and a national minimum wage that can lift a family out of poverty. These goals are all crucial to transforming the life opportunities of African-Americans and people of all races and ethnicities. Visit The Unfinished March and sign up for updates.

E-mail Response to What Congress and the Media Are Missing in the Food Stamp Debate

Dear Greg:

Your piece on the adequacy of the food stamp program raised an important point that is largely missing from the debate. Unfortunately the question of adequacy is largely absent from most discussions of anti-poverty programs. There seems little interest in adequacy in large part because many people think that a sizable portion of the budget is devoted to these programs. Certainly this is the case with food stamps where Republicans have sought to make a huge issue out of program that accounts for a bit more than 1.7 percent of the budget.

The media deserve much of the blame for this since they routinely report on programs in dollar amounts that are essentially meaningless to the vast majority of their readers. For example, telling people that the food stamp program costs $76 billion in 2013 conveys almost no information. It would mean the same thing to the vast majority of their readers if they said $7.6 billion or $760 billion as the NYT mistakenly did in a recent article.

It would be the easiest thing in the world for reporters to express items as a share of the budget in addition to or in place of the dollar amount. And, it is the sort of thing that progressives could reasonably push the media on. I have discussed this with several budget reporters and not one has ever tried to argue with me that the “$17 billion” expenditure on TANF means anything to the vast majority of their readers. It’s just a ritual—that is how you report the budget.

If anyone other than me ever harassed the media on this we could get them to change and it would matter—it would be a bit hard for John McCain to run around the country complaining about the Woodstock Museum that cost 0.00003 percent of the budget. In other words, if people were better informed about the budget, we would have a much more serious debate about poor people’s program.

But it’s hard when the guiding philosophy among progressives down here is, “We’ve been losing for over 30 years, why change now?”


Center for Economic and Policy Research


Advocate’s Training: Demystifying the Federal Budget, Sequestration & their Impact on Virginia (Tuesday, June 25, 3:30 pm–5 pm, University of Richmond Downtown Campus, 626 E. Broad Street, Richmond, VA.) Hosted by the Virginia Interfaith Center, the Coalition on Human Needs and the Half in Ten Campaign, this educational program is designed for professionals whose work may be impacted by sequestration in Virginia. Register here.

Community Forum: The Federal Budget, Sequestration, and their Impact on Virginia (Tuesday, June 25, 6 pm–7:30 pm, University of Richmond Downtown Campus, 626 E. Broad Street, Richmond, VA.) Join the Virginia Interfaith Center, the Coalition on Human Needs and the Half in Ten Campaign for this interactive and educational program. A light dinner will be served. Register here.

Clips and other resources (compiled with Samantha Lachman)

Bad teeth, broken dreams: Lack of dental care keeps many out of jobs,” JoNel Aleccia

Human Service Summit focuses on the roots of poverty,” Jonathan Bender

Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools Launch Across California,” Children’s Defense Fund

Life better for 300,000 kids of immigrants,” Christine Armario

How Immigration Reform Could Help Improve Women’s Economic Security,” Sheila Bapat

Students push to limit school police after Newtown,” James Cersonsky

Chicago to Shutter 50 Public Schools: Is Historic Mass Closure an Experiment in Privatization?” Democracy Now!

Whose Walmart?: Workers Crash Walmart’s Party,” Josh Eidelson

Former Bank of America Employees Report Widespread Abuses Throughout Loan Modification Process,” Hannah Emple

School Concerns Flare, as 48 Chicago Campuses Close,” Keith Griffith

Helping families thrive: Lessons from Chicago’s public housing transformation,” Chantal Hailey

The Capitalist’s Case for a $15 Minimum Wage,” Nick Hanauer

White House: Protect Food Stamps in Farm Bill,” Mary Clare Jalonic

Help yourself and our state—help poor kids,” Lois Kazakoff

LIFTing the Bronx,” LIFT and Single Stop USA [VIDEO]

Hunger: Our leaders need to feel the pain,” Harold J. Kravitz and Colleen Moriary

Worried about NSA snooping? Try getting bent over the hood of your car by police,” Courtland Milloy

How Obamacare is Trying to Make it Easier for Poor Americans to Pay For Their Health Insurance,” Sy Mukherjee

RIP, American Dream?” Matthew O’Brien

Childhood Programs Need State Support,” Ann O’Leary

A Critical Tool for Families in Poverty: Supplemental Security Income,” James Perrin and Ellen Perrin

The truth about gays and money,” Barbara Raab

Hunger strike against school closures begins in Philadelphia,” Ned Resnikoff

U.S. wages fall amid overseas pressure,” John Schmid

Home Visiting with Unlikely Suspects,” Stephanie Schmit

Review: TFA and the Struggle for Urban School Reform,” P.L. Thomas

New Research Shows SNAP, Facing Big Cuts in the House, Reduces Extreme Poverty,” Danilo Trisi

United Methodists Call on Publix to Act Justly,” United Methodists from Middle Tennessee

Caregiving Should be Middle Class Work,” Deborah Weinstein

How Fast Food Companies Steal Workers’ Pay,” Seth Freed Wessler

"Lawsuit: Domestic Violence Survivor Killed by Ex-Boyfriend After Deportation to Mexico," Brad Wong

Pelosi Blasts Proposed Food Stamp Cuts,” George Zornick

Studies/Briefs (compiled and written by Samantha Lachman)

Keeping Up with the Times: Supporting Family Caregivers with Workplace Leave Policies,” AARP Public Policy Institute. The only piece of federal legislation that addresses the need to take time off work to care for family is the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, which remains woefully inadequate because it only guarantees up to twelve weeks of job-protected leave to care for one’s own health needs or that of a family member. Not all workers are covered by the Act, and it only guarantees unpaid leave—and might not cover care for someone other than a parent, spouse or child (such as a grandparent). This report focuses on workers with responsibilities to seniors and highlights public policy solutions to extend protections for working caregivers and better support them.

Who Would be Affected By a New Minimum Wage Policy?” Carsey Institute. Two legislative proposals before Congress propose to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. This brief explores the characteristics of the earners who would be affected by a new minimum wage policy by comparing them with the hourly workforce in the status quo and examining the differences between rural and urban workers in particular. Two key findings are that proposed minimum wage increases would disproportionately affect less-educated workers and women.

Making Medicaid Work for Children in Child Welfare: Examples from the Field,” Center for Health Care Strategies. This report explores the strategies used in four states to enhance the effectiveness of their Medicaid programs and improve responsive care for children and families, outlining best practices in multiple areas to inform other states efforts to better serve children with physical, dental and behavioral health needs.

A Broken Bargain: Discrimination, Fewer Benefits and More Taxes for LGBT Workers,” Movement Advancement Project, Center for American Progress, Human Rights Campaign. This report looks at the ways in which legal discrimination imposes challenges upon the approximately 5.4 million LGBT workers in the US workforce. No federal law provides explicit nondiscrimination protections for LGBT workers, and workers can also be denied equal access to benefits and family tax relief. Such discrimination without legal protection makes it harder to find and retain a job, so workers and their families find themselves vulnerable and at risk. LGBT people are at higher risk of poverty than non-LGBT people, and married or partnered LGBT individuals raising children are twice as likely to have household incomes near the poverty line compared to married or partnered non-LGBT parents. The study offers a number of recommendations for action by all levels of government, as well as for employers, including reducing barriers to finding jobs and providing equal access to benefits.

The Intersection of Welfare and Disability,” MDRC. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Supplementary Security Income (SSI) programs pose challenges to coordination even though both have the goal of serving low-income individuals and families. The hope is that the TANF/SSSI Disability Transition Project will find ways to best serve low-income families in which one parent (or both) has a disability. This report describes how the two programs interact, based on field assessments from four states. One key finding is that the population served by both programs is not large—less than 10 percent of TANF recipients had an open SSI application, and just 6 percent of adults applying for SSI received TANF benefits within a year of their application.

It shouldn’t be a heavy lift: fair treatment for pregnant workers,” National Women’s Law Center. This study finds that women still face discrimination at work when they become pregnant—for example, when they ask for temporary modifications of job duties (avoiding heavy lifting, being permitted to sit down, etc). Such job adjustments would be allowed for those with a disability, but since pregnancy is not a disability, pregnant workers’ requests are often denied and they are at risk of being fired or pushed onto unpaid leave. Since many of the women who need workplace accommodations are low-wage workers, women of color and immigrants are disproportionately represented. The report calls for laws and enforcement efforts to mitigate abuses of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

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Vital Statistics

US poverty (less than $17,916 for a family of three): 46.2 million people, 15.1 percent.

Children in poverty: 16.1 million, 22 percent of all children, including 39 percent of African-American children and 34 percent of Latino children. Poorest age group in country.

Deep poverty (less than $11,510 for a family of four): 20.4 million people, 1 in 15 Americans, including more than 15 million women and children.

People who would have been in poverty if not for Social Security, 2011: 67.6 million (program kept 21.4 million people out of poverty).

People in the US experiencing poverty by age 65: Roughly half.

Gender gap, 2011: Women 34 percent more likely to be poor than men.

Gender gap, 2010: Women 29 percent more likely to be poor than men.

Twice the poverty level (less than $46,042 for a family of four): 106 million people, more than 1 in 3 Americans.

Jobs in the US paying less than $34,000 a year: 50 percent.

Jobs in the US paying below the poverty line for a family of four, less than $23,000 annually: 25 percent.

Poverty-level wages, 2011: 28 percent of workers.

Percentage of individuals and family members in poverty who either worked or lived with a working family member, 2011: 57 percent.

Young men (ages 25–34) working full time today: earning 10 percent less than their fathers did thirty years ago. (via Sen. Jeff Merkley)

Families receiving cash assistance, 1996 (pre-welfare reform): 68 for every 100 families living in poverty.

Families receiving cash assistance, 2010: 27 for every 100 families living in poverty.

Impact of public policy, 2010: without government assistance, poverty would have been twice as high—nearly 30 percent of population.

Percentage of entitlement benefits going to elderly, disabled, or working households: over 90 percent.

Number of homeless children in US public schools: 1,065,794.

Annual cost of child poverty nationwide: $550 billion.

Federal expenditures on home ownership mortgage deductions, 2012: $131 billion.

Federal funding for low-income housing assistance programs, 2012: less than $50 billion.

Quote of the Week

“This Farm Bill added insult to injury for the nation’s poor. It was heartless, it was reckless, and now, I’m proud to say, it has failed. The Republicans’ proposed $20 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) were unconscionable and short sighted, and beating the Farm Bill today is an incredible victory for the nation’s poor and vulnerable.”
      —Congresswoman Barbara Lee

Samantha Lachman wrote the “Studies/Briefs” and co-wrote the “Clips and other resources” sections in this blog.

This Week in Poverty posts here on Friday mornings, and again at Moyers & Company and AlterNet. You can e-mail me at WeekInPoverty@me.com and follow me on Twitter.

What are Congress and the media missing in the food stamp debate?

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