Greg Kaufmann | The Nation


Greg Kaufmann

Poverty in America: people, politics and policy.

This Week in Poverty: Ignoring Homeless Families

A homeless family at the DC Village shelter. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

More than one-third of Americans who use shelters annually are parents and their children. In 2011, that added up to more than 500,000 people.

According to Joe Volk, CEO of Community Advocates in Milwaukee, prevalent family homelessness is no accident.

“In 2000, we as a nation—and the Department of Housing and Urban Development—made the terrible decision to abandon homeless children and their families,” said Volk, speaking at a Congressional briefing on The American Almanac of Family Homelessness, authored by the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness. “Families for a decade have been ignored.”

As the Almanac makes clear, federal attention and resources have focused instead on chronically homeless single adults—usually the most visible homeless people in communities across the country, most of whom have severe intellectual or physical disabilities. There was a recognition that it is far less expensive to place these men and women in their own apartments with access to social services—called the “Housing First” model—than to continue paying the long-term costs associated with jail time, and recurring treatment at emergency rooms and hospitals.

The federal government’s plan was to use the savings gained by reducing homelessness among single adults to fight family homelessness. But that hasn’t happened.

Since 2007, there has been a 19 percent decline in chronically homeless single adultsIn contrast, family homelessness has increased by more than 13 percent over the same period. Matthew Adams, principal policy analyst for ICPH, noted that the number of homeless school-aged children surpassed 1 million for the first time during the 2011-12 school year—a 57 percent increase since 2006-07.

“This is basically all a result of focusing our fiscal and human capital solely on single adults,” said Adams. Despite a rise in extreme poverty, a decline in affordable housing, a shortage of rental subsidies, high unemployment and a foreclosure crisis, this strategy hasn’t changed—with the exception of provisions in the Recovery Act that are now expired.

While the long-term costs of family homelessness are more difficult to quantify than are those costs associated with single adult homelessness, they are nevertheless significant and real (costs to the nation’s character aside).

The Almanac explores the toll that housing instability, poor nutrition and lack of quality health care takes on homeless children: they experience twice the rate of chronic illnesses; twice the rate of learning disabilities; and three times the rate of emotional or behavioral problems as their peers who have stable housing. Homeless children have less than half the rate of proficiency in math and reading as their housed classmates. It’s not surprising that less than one in four homeless children graduates from high school—what’s surprising is that that one child manages to graduate at all.

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Improvements Act is supposed to ensure that all homeless students have equal access to education. But despite the dramatic rise in homeless students since 2006, only one in five school districts receives education assistance grants to help them.

To the extent that family homelessness is on the federal government’s agenda at all—and there is a federal goal to end family homelessness by 2020 (the goal for ending single adult and veteran homelessness is 2015)—there is real concern among many advocates that HUD is attempting to use the “Housing First” approach to help homeless families. Although they agree that it has shown success with single adults, these advocates argue that it simply isn’t the right solution for many—or even most—homeless families.

“It’s a whole different dynamic for families,” said Volk, who operates shelters and permanent housing for both single adults and families.

Volk said that an intellectually or physically disabled homeless single adult is usually able to qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which is $770 per month in Wisconsin. That stable income is sufficient to rent a fully furnished apartment with utilities paid in his state. 

In contrast, a single mother must apply for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which in Wisconsin is $653 per month no matter the size of the family. She then must meet a work requirement, arrange for child care, buy furniture and pay for utilities, among other challenges. If her child is sick and she stays home from work, she is sanctioned by the TANF program. She might lose her $653 assistance, consequently fall behind on rent and begin her slide towards homelessness again.

Dona Anderson, director of ICHP, said there is way too much emphasis on getting families out of shelters quickly, rather than making sure they don’t return to the shelter again.

“What could we do if we could serve families in a dedicated, serious fashion for 12 to 24 months? And really address those education barriers, employment barriers, really get these families stabilized so that once they leave a shelter we don’t see them coming back?” said Anderson. “Can we address those deeper-seeded needs rather than just the initial crisis that brought them to the shelter?”

Volk agreed.

“We’re moving people out of shelters too fast and then we wonder why they don’t succeed,” he said. “They don’t succeed because we didn’t give them enough time and enough support before they moved out. We need to rethink how we work with homeless families.”

Anderson spoke of a 16-year-old in New York City who was homeless in junior high school. He lived in a shelter “targeted for him” and was able to participate in a high quality after-school program, residential summer camp, and a youth employment program. He’s now a successful student who is looking at colleges. In contrast, she met a 4-year-old homeless child in Las Vegas who has no access to a shelter, and is bouncing between motels and hotels with his father, getting by on a fast food diet. He lacks the stable environment “that kids that age especially need in order to develop and grow and be ready for school.”

“I tell these stories to illustrate the differences in how children are served, and how they aren’t served, when they are experiencing homelessness,” said Anderson.

The Almanac includes recommendations for what the 113th Congress can do for homeless families now, including: converting the mortgage interest deduction into a tax credit—as proposed under the Common Sense Housing Investment Act—in order to permanently fund The National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF) and support Section 8 rental assistance. (The NHTF was enacted by Congress in 2008 to increase the supply of affordable housing units, but it has never been funded.) There are now just 3.7 million housing units for every 10 million extremely low-income renters. Another key recommendation is to implement the reforms laid out in the Improving Access to Child Care for Homeless Families Act—pretty fundamental for homeless parents to have access to child care if they are going to find stable housing and jobs.

But the first step—the big step—seems to be this: see the problem of family homelessness, admit it and commit to doing something about it. And don’t for a second believe that working with a single adult is the same thing as working with a family with so many moving parts. 

“We can solve the problem of people living on the street for both singles and families at the same time,” said Volk. “It doesn’t have to be an either/or, and it can’t be—as long as we have children that have to live out on the streets.”

TANF: A Good News Story From the States

Guest post by Elizabeth Lower-Basch

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)—the program created by welfare reform in 1996—is a flexible block grant, meaning that while the federal government sets some general rules, states have been given an enormous amount of control, both over the ways that they spend the federal funds they receive and over the rules that they set for families receiving TANF cash assistance. This flexibility results in an enormous amount of variation from state to state.

Most of the time, when I see an article about a state legislative proposal that affects TANF cash assistance, it’s about something bad that is happening. Outrage drives people to forward the article to their friends, to press the share button or to retweet. This is helpful—for example, the public outrage over the Tennessee proposal to punish families for children’s failure at school by cutting benefits led to the sponsor withdrawing the bill. But the good things that some state legislators are trying to do in TANF don’t always get as much attention. So, this week, I’m highlighting some of the positive developments in the states.

Asset limits: Many states have rules denying cash assistance to families who have modest levels of savings. These rules are outdated, as the low benefit levels, stringent work requirements, and time limits on benefits are sufficient to ensure that families won’t apply for TANF unless they really need the help. Moreover, these rules add to administrative costs and discourage low-income families from developing the habit of saving. In recognition of this fact, Hawaii acted this legislative session to eliminate the TANF asset limit. A California bill to exclude the value of a car from the asset limit has cleared the Assembly Human Services committee.

Family caps: Early in welfare reform history, a number of states adopted “family cap” policies, under which children who are presumed to have been conceived while the parents were receiving cash assistance are denied benefits. These caps were created to eliminate the presumed “incentive” that some felt was driving families to have more children so their cash benefits would increase. This policy has never been shown to reduce family size, but does increase child poverty and hardship among some of the most vulnerable families. The California Assembly Human Services committee has cleared a bill to repeal the family cap (known as the “maximum family grant” in California) and provide benefits to currently excluded children. This legislation is supported by a partnership of anti-poverty organizations and groups that oppose abortions.

Employment and training: The most reliable way to help families escape poverty is through employment in good jobs. However, many states spend only a small fraction of their TANF funds on employment and training programs. Massachusetts is considering amendments to the budget bill that would create and provide $2 million in funding for a “Pathways to Family Economic Self-Sufficiency” Pilot program to support a range of education and training activities related to gainful employment, including paid work-study positions, plus supportive services such as case management, job placement assistance, career counseling and funding to help with emergency needs. The Nebraska legislature is considering a bill that would use existing TANF funds to create a subsidized employment program, modeled after those created under the TANF Emergency Fund that infused federal stimulus funds into TANF during the depths of the Great Recession. This would give employers opportunities to bring on additional employees to help their businesses grow, using wage subsidies that would phase out over time, following the model that Mississippi’s STEPS program used under the Emergency Fund. Low-income workers would earn wages while acquiring valuable real work experience.

We know that when negative bills related to TANF are passed in one state, the next year there are sure to be copycat bills in other states. Hopefully, there will be a new crop of positive bills springing up this year and next, and that many of them will become law and lead to cross-pollenization of similar positive bills in other states.

Elizabeth Lower-Basch is the Policy Coordinator at CLASP, the Center for Law and Social Policy. CLASP seeks to improve the lives of low-income people by developing and advocating for federal, state and local policies to strengthen families and create pathways to education and work.

Banks Got Nowhere to Run to, Baby: From Boise to Salt Lake City

You can’t really talk about poverty and rebuilding wealth without talking about the practices of the big banks—from predatory payday lending, to unnecessary or even illegal foreclosures, to borrowing money at zero percent interest from the Federal Reserve and then lending it to state and local governments at much higher rates, all while lobbying to avoid paying taxes.

That’s why I thought the alliance between activists from Idaho, Minnesota and Oregonall coming together to challenge US Bank at its shareholder meeting in Boise this week—was so important. On Tuesday, they called on US Bank to pay its fair share in taxes; write-down mortgages to help stem the foreclosure and underwater mortgage crisis; and end payday loans with exorbitant interest rates. 

“We’re standing with the people of Idaho and folks across America who want US Bank to do the right thing,” said Rob Sisk, president of SEIU 503 and a groundskeeper at the Oregon State Capitol. “We want US Bank to stop predatory lending, whether it be to individuals or our state and local governments. US Bank needs to pay its fair share in taxes to fund critical services.”

Some of the activists who came from Oregon, Minnesota and Idaho to take action at the US Bank Shareholders Meeting in Boise. (Credit: SEIU 503)

Inside the shareholders meeting, a case was made for comprehensive foreclosure legislation that would: require banks to assign struggling homeowners a single point of contact; ban the practice of “dual tracking” where the bank is working with the homeowner on a solution while also pursuing a foreclosure; and create a mediation program to bring banks and homeowners together to discuss alternatives to foreclosure.

“A US Bank customer shouldn’t have to buy a share and drop everything to go to a shareholders meeting and demand to be treated fairly,” said Eric Fought, communications director of Minnesotans for a Fair Economy. “These banks hope that no one will fight back and for too long that was the case. In Minnesota and throughout the country, we’re making sure those days are over.”

US Bank had moved its shareholders meeting from Minneapolis—home of its corporate headquarters—to Boise, because activists dominated the meeting in Minnesota last year, too. This Tuesday, Wells Fargo will attempt to hide out in Salt Lake City after thousands of protesters descended upon its shareholders meeting in San Francisco last year.

The courageous people participating in these actions aren’t waiting on change to come from Washington—they're leading change and calling on us to join them.

How Does Congress Vote on Poverty?

Yesterday, the Sargent Shriver National Center of Poverty Law released its sixth annual Poverty Scorecard for the year 2012, grading every Member of Congress on his or her voting record in fighting poverty.

“Congress made few strides in reducing poverty last year,” said Dan Lesser, Director of Economic Justice at the Shriver Center. “It’s our hope that by sharing these grades and holding lawmakers accountable, the Shriver Center will help to spark a legislative environment that has low-income families’ best interests in mind.”

The Poverty Scorecard evaluates votes on legislation that would have had a strong impact on the US poverty level—which now stands at more than 46 million people living on less than about $18,000 for a family of three.

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According to the Shriver Center, in 2012 the only significant legislation from an anti-poverty perspective that was passed by Congress and signed into law were the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act and the American Taxpayer Relief Act. All other legislation that would have made a significant contribution in the fight against poverty was killed.

It is worth noting that members with worse grades in the fight against poverty tend to come from states with higher levels of poverty; members with good grades tend to come from states with lower levels of poverty.

700 Disability Advocates on the Hill

On Wednesday, nearly 700 disability advocates—including individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities—fanned out across Capitol Hill to meet with members of their congressional delegations. They spoke about issues that are vital to their security and well-being, and ability to participate in our economy and society, including: Medicaid and Community Living, Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, employment and education, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the ABLE Act.

“As we continue our efforts to protect Medicaid, Social Security and other important programs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, nothing is more powerful than the personal stories shared by our advocates on the Hill,” Marty Ford, director of The Arc’s Public Policy Office, told me. “They make a huge impact on their Members of Congress, and their efforts over the last two years have helped us save these lifeline programs.”

You can get involved helping to promote and protect the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities here.

Featured Campaign: Tell Wendy’s to Stop Profiting From Farmworker Poverty

Wendy’s seems content to continue profiting from farmworker poverty.

While five of the biggest fast food companies have signed onto the Coalition of Immokalee Worker’s (CIW) Fair Food Program—a historic partnership among farmworkers, tomato growers and eleven leading food corporations to advance the human rights and dignity of farmworkers—Wendy’s continues to refuse.

By adding a penny-per-pound to the price of tomatoes that they buy from Florida, participating companies have paid over $10 million since January of 2011 to help increase farmworkers’ incomes, and their commitment to buy Florida tomatoes only from growers who participate in the Fair Food Program has turned their immense purchasing power into a tool to eliminate human rights abuses in the fields.

Of the five largest fast-food corporations in the country—McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King, Taco Bell (Yum Brands) and Wendy’s—Wendy’s is the only one refusing to participate in the program.

The fast food chain claims that it doesn’t need to sign onto the Fair Food Program because it is part of an “independent non-profit purchasing cooperative.” Unfortunately, the corporation has run up against the investigative prowess of CIW—which has helped the US Department of Justice successfully prosecute six cases of farm labor servitude in Florida over the past 15 years. It’s clear that Wendy’s purchasing entity is neither “independent,” in any real sense of the word, nor even remotely adequate as an alternative to CIW’s Fair Food Program—which just last week was recognized by the White House as “one of the most successful and innovative programs” in the world to prevent and uncover modern-day slavery.

Tell Wendy’s that dealing squarely with farmworkers is far more important to you than eating square hamburgers—get involved here.

Get Involved

Demand a Higher Minimum Wage Now

New Revenues, Not Cuts, for Economic Growth

Week of Action: Confront the Corporate 1 Percent

#TalkPoverty & Take Action on Sequestration


Ending Hunger Through Citizen Service: Free Training Conference (Saturday, April 20, 9:00 AM–1:30 PM, Barnard College, New York, NY). The New York City Coalition Against Hunger is working to fundamentally change the way people think about volunteering to fight hunger from once a year food drives around the holidays to long-term, skills-based, high-impact work. As part of that effort, it is co-sponsoring this conference with Community Impact at Columbia University to offer training to area nonprofits, businesses, civic groups, senior citizen groups, religious congregations, government agencies, student and youth groups and concerned individuals on how to implement structured high impact volunteer activities to better meet the long-term food needs of low-income people. Register here, free and open to the public.

Market-Oriented Education Reforms’ Rhetoric Trumps Reality (Wednesday, April 24, 9:00–10:30 AM, Economic Policy Institute, 1333 H St NW, Washington, DC). A new report from the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education employs comparable, reliable data across three high-profile “reform” districts to gauge the impacts of these policies and compare them with other large urban districts. Overall, the results are not promising. A distinguished panel of education experts will discuss the report findings and their policy implications at the district, state and federal levels. RSVP here.

Leaning In With Child Care: A Discussion On Childcare Jobs And The Need For Quality, Affordable Care (Thursday, May 9, 12:00–1:30 PM, The Aspen Institute, One Dupont Circle, NW, Suite 700, Washington, DC). The next discussion in The Aspen Institute’s Working in America series, it will cover the challenges facing working parents in need of child care as well as ideas and policies for improving the quality of jobs in the early care and education industry. Moderated by New York Times economics reporter Catherine Rampell. RSVP here.

Featured Poverty Coverage: Yesterday’s Dropouts—Adult Education in DC

This five-part series by WAMU education reporter Kavitha Cardoza examines the struggles adults face long after they leave school without a diploma. Many This Week in Poverty readers might be particularly interested in the “Changes Coming To The GED Program” story, but all are worth taking the time to check out.

Clips and other resources (compiled with James Cersonsky)

Resurrecting Brownsville,” Ginia Bellafante

Questions and Concerns Over SEPTA’s Fare Hikes and New Payment Systems,” Jake Blumgart

Working Across the Aisle to Make Affordable Housing a Reality,” Christopher “Kit” Bond and Nan Roman

Bloomberg by the Numbers,” Alleen Brown

Hundreds of Working Families Converge on Capitol,” California Labor Federation 

Sequester Impact: April 10th-17th,” Coalition on Human Needs

Poverty Drove Women Into Kermit Gosnell’s Clinic,” Bryce Covert

Poll: Voters Back Paid Sick Days, Distrust Lawmakers,” David Damron

U.S. Near Bottom of List for Child Well-Being,” Economic Hardship Reporting Project

AFL-CIO’s Non-Union Worker Group Headed Into Workplaces in Fifty States,” Josh Eidelson

Raising San Jose’s Minimum Wage: A Q&A With Marisela Castro,” Equal Voice News

Pittsburgh nonprofits work to remove stigma attached to state ‘welfare’ agency,” Kate Giammarise

Chicago student: ‘Violence will never cease until we find a way to make money out of peace', Melissa Harris-Perry [VIDEO]

Reduce poverty to improve overall health,” Carly Hood

The United States of Inequality,” Moyers & Company [VIDEO]

The Gilded City: Struggling to Survive in Mayor Bloomberg’s New York,” The Nation

Collaborating to Improve TANF Resources for Families Experiencing Homelessness,” The National Center on Family Homelessness

VITA = tax simplicity = tax reform,” National Community Tax Coalition

Sequestration Effects: Cuts Sting Communities Nationwide,” Sam Stein and Amanda Terkel

Responsible Redevelopment: Protecting Renters in Changing Neighborhoods,” Margery Turner

Market-Oriented Reforms' Rhetoric Trumps Reality,” Elaine Weiss and Don Long

State employees say LePage pressured them to deny jobless benefits,” Christopher Williams

Sequester Stalemate Cuts Legal Aid, Child Care, Housing,” Brian Wong

Studies/Briefs (summaries written by James Cersonsky)

Depression in Low-Income Mothers of Young Children: Are They Getting the Treatment They Need?” Marla McDaniel and Christopher Lowenstein, Urban Institute. Maternal depression is linked to a host of children’s developmental issues. This report parses the relationship between depression and income. In the past year, 8.8 percent of low-income mothers with children ages 0 to 5 had a major depressive episode, compared to 6.8 percent of higher income mothers. Among those affected, 69.7 percent of low-income mothers experienced severe interference with their daily life, compared to 53.5 percent for their higher income counterparts. Disparities in treatment make matters worse: 37.3 percent of low-income mothers reported no treatment, compared to 25.3 percent of higher income mothers. Among low-income mothers, insurance status widened the gap further: 49.4 percent of uninsured mothers received no treatment, compared to 33.1 percent of those with insurance. Finally, even those who do receive treatment face a variety of barriers that could make the treatment less effective. Medicaid expansion and streamlining stipulated by the Affordable Care Act, the report argues, offer some hope.

2013 Fair Housing Trends Report: Modernizing the Fair Housing Act for the 21st Century,” National Fair Housing Alliance. This report explores the scope of ongoing housing discrimination. Forty-five years after the passage of the Fair Housing Act, landlords can’t legally discriminate on the basis of race or sex, or against people with disabilities and families with children. Nonetheless, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is still legal in 29 states, and on gender identity in 34. Only 12 states have protections against discrimination on the basis of tenants’ source of income. In 2012, a total of 28,519 complaints were investigated by HUD, the Department of Justice, state and local government agencies or—in 69 percent of these cases—private, nonprofit fair housing organizations. The data reveal the need for a stronger, more inclusive Fair Housing Act: complaints on the basis of source of income went up 38 percent since 2011; sexual orientation, 43 percent; marital status, 63 percent; and gender identity and expression for the first time.

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.

Low-income families that were working in 2011: More than 70 percent.

Families receiving cash assistance, 1996: 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.

Food stamp recipients with no other cash income: 6.5 million people.

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

Annual cost of child poverty nationwide: $550 billion.

Mothers who are homeless as a direct result of domestic violence: 1 in 4.

Homeless mothers who will experience domestic violence at some point: over 90 percent.

Quote of the week

“In Columbia, [South Carolina] many of our shelters won’t accept males over age 13. So if a family has an older, male child, than shelter may not be an option. So maybe a mother decides to stay in the home and put up with the physical and emotional abuse a little bit longer until she can figure out some other strategy.”
—Deborah Boone, McKinney-Vento Coordinator, Richland County School District One, Parents and Students Succeed Project. 

James Cersonsky 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 on Sundays at Moyers & Company. You can e-mail me at WeekInPoverty@me.com and follow me on Twitter.

This Week in Poverty: Banks Got Nowhere to Run To, Baby

A protest outside the New York Stock Exchange. (Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)

Last year, US Bank held its annual shareholders meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota, home of its corporate headquarters. The event was dominated by shareholders and proxies who are members of Minnesotans for a Fair Economy, an alliance of community, faith and labor organizations working for a more equitable economy.

“Our members asked CEO Richard Davis direct questions about issues like principal reductions and foreclosures, and payday lending,” said Eric Fought, communications director of the organization. “We were really effective in holding them accountable, so this year they looked for another solution—to hide from us.”

On Tuesday, April 16, US Bank officers will jet from their hometown to hold this year’s meeting in Boise, Idaho. If the bankers are hoping for a better reception in this reddest of states, or that activists will take a pass on the long distance travel required to get there, then Martha and the Vandellas have a word of advice: Got nowhere to run to, baby. Nowhere to hide.

More than 100 members of the Idaho Community Action Network (ICAN)—who are mostly rural, working poor and seniors—will travel to take direct, non-violent action both inside and outside of the meeting. More than half of these individuals will be driving 3 to 7 hours to reach the venue. Their allies from Minnesotans for a Fair Economy will be there to greet them, along with workers from SEIU Local 503—the largest union in Oregon with 54,000 members.

“People are so excited that Minneapolis and Oregon are coming to support this effort,” said ICAN executive director Terri Sterling. “It helps our membership, it helps motivate them.”

Among the issues on the agenda: a call for US Bank to pay its fair share in taxes; write-down mortgages to help stem the foreclosure and underwater mortgage crisis; and end payday loans with exorbitant interest rates. These issues are of concern, of course, not only to the activists from these three states, but also to people across the country.

“Almost anywhere the banks go in the country—they will find out as they try to hide away at their meetings—there will be a set of groups agreeing that the role of banks in the economy and politics of the country is damaging,” said labor organizer Stephen Lerner, who created the Justice for Janitors campaign and is now working on Wall Street accountability campaigns.

Sterling says that even in a state like Idaho she hasn’t “found one person—red, blue, or tea party—that likes big banks.”

Idaho has the highest share of minimum wage workers in the country, and for every job opening that pays a living wage for a family of three, there are 32 job seekers. According to LeeAnn Hall, executive director of the Alliance for a Just Society, a national coalition of eight state-based community organizations (including ICAN), 4,400 families lost their homes to foreclosure in 2012. Today, 22 percent of all mortgage holders in the state are “underwater,” owning more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. In Canyon County, where approximately 12 percent of Idaho’s population resides, 66 percent of homeowners are underwater—one of the highest rates in the nation.

“Our members are doing multiple jobs to make ends meet, and often times not making ends meet,” said Hall. “As a result they are losing their homes, or using payday loans to stretch and meet their family obligations—to their detriment.”

US Bank calls its payday loan product a “checking account advance,” and it has an annual percentage rate (APR) of up to 365 percent. It also helps finance some of the largest payday loan companies in the country, including Advance America, Cash America and EZ Corp. These “easy money” businesses cluster around low-income communities and communities of color.

Sterling spoke about ICAN member Miranda Davis who was disabled at 19 but as a single mother of two kids still “works to make ends meet.” When her car broke down, she used her utility money to repair it so she could commute to work—and then she took out a $300 payday loan to cover her utility bill. She was only able to pay back the $75 per month interest, and eventually needed another $300 loan. 

“She’s now paying nearly $200 per month in interest alone,” said Sterling. “She can work as hard as she can and she won’t ever make enough money to pay off those loans.”

ICAN and Minnesotans for a Fair Economy have been pushing for a 36 percent cap in their states—the same one mandated by the federal government for members of the military and their families. Arizona, Montana and Oregon have also adopted a 36 percent cap on all payday loans.

“If they’re gonna set up a bank in my community, then by golly they should provide me with a short-term, fair lending product that’s less than 36 percent,” said Sterling.

While payday loans and overdraft fees are trapping low-income people in cycles of debt, foreclosures are draining wealth from entire communities. 

Activists will speak at the US Bank shareholders meeting about their own experiences with unnecessary, unfair and too often illegal foreclosures. Fought said that last year there was a “success” when homeowner Monique White approached CEO Davis after the shareholders meeting, told him her story, and was then able to get a modification to remain in her home.

But with more than 141,000 foreclosures in the state since 2008, 100,000 homeowners still underwater, lost home value of over $20 billion, and a cost to local governments of $1.5 billion to maintain vacant, bank-owned properties—Fought says these individual successes are hardly enough.

“We want broad solutions,” said Fought. “We know principal reductions to fair market value can solve this. We want to continue to dialogue with US Bank, but it’s been two years now—it’s time to make the solutions a reality.”

Hall said that reducing mortgages to fair market value would save Idaho families over $290 million annually in mortgage payments—money that would be spent in the community and create jobs.

“US Bank is draining resources out of families’ pockets and Idaho’s economy as a whole,” said Hall.

SEIU Local 503 is currently at the bargaining table trying to bring some of those lost resources back to Oregon. Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber is pressing for cuts in the pension fund to make up for resources that vanished in the economic meltdown. But the union estimates that Wall Street lost as much as $300 million through fraud and unethical behavior, and that they should be targeted for investigation and repayment, rather than retirees paying for Wall Street’s misdeeds. The state has $150 million to $180 million in pending lawsuits against some of these firms but the union says “that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

Fought said that it is critical that US Bank paying its fair share of revenues in Minnesota as well—that a decade of “cuts only” budgets under former Governor Tim Pawlenty (current CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable) was “devastating for people.” He noted, for example, that the state has been forced to borrow money from school funding to pay for other bills. Meanwhile, US Bank actively lobbies for tax breaks and loopholes through the Minnesota Business Partnership.

“We need to ensure that we have adequate funding for education, health care and other human services, and because US Bank is based here, they have a unique responsibility,” said Fought. “The fact is if we want to be effective in our work for a better economy we have to look at the larger problem here—these banks are really destroying communities.”

The action in Boise is part of a broader and diverse movement that is renewing the focus on big banks and irresponsible corporate neighbors that prevent a more equitable economy. A week later, activists will be in Salt Lake City, where Wells Fargo will do its best to hide after holding its shareholder meeting last year in San Francisco. Bank of America and JPMorgan shareholder meetings are just around the corner, too. You can get involved here.

“There is a wonderful alignment developing between unions, community groups and groups focused on Wall Street accountability,” said Lerner. “Instead of having many separate fights on issues—on how to fund local government and public services, how to keep people in their homes, how to address money in politics—people are seeing that they are all connected because it’s the same giant banks at the center of so many crises.”

The President’s Budget: Important Poverty Initiatives Face Uphill Battle
Guest post by Deborah Weinstein

There are certain facts of life reflected by the FY 2014 Obama budget proposal: first, anything really worth having is going to be hard to get; and, the regrettable corollary—some things you don’t want are a lot closer to reality.

There are new and even historic anti-poverty proposals in this budget. But the better they are, the more they fall into the “hard to get” category. On the other hand, Social Security cuts in the form of smaller cost-of-living adjustments could far more easily become real. 

Still, it is a President’s duty to incorporate proposals in his budget that would increase shared prosperity, even if some may take years to achieve. President Obama includes thoughtful plans to reduce poverty: targeting job development in the poorest communities; preserving tax credits and food assistance for low-income families; carrying forward health insurance expansions, and promoting the healthy development of children from infancy on.

What’s historic in the President’s budget plan? His commitment to improving education for children from birth to five. “Preschool for All”—a $75 billion, 10-year proposal—would ensure that every low- and moderate-income four-year-old has access to a pre-kindergarten education. The money would come from an increase in the tobacco tax. The budget also allocates $1.4 billion next year for Early Head Start and child care partnerships that would increase high-quality early learning programs for infants and toddlers through age three.

The President’s budget attempts a comprehensive approach—using resources from multiple government agencies—to attack both the causes and toxic by-products of poverty. It would create 20 Promise Zones, coordinating housing, education, anti-violence and other economic development initiatives. It would more than triple funds for The Choice Neighborhoods Initiative to improve distressed HUD-assisted housing in very poor communities. It increases Homelessness Assistance Grants by about $350 million, not counting the extra across-the-board cuts now being made. The current sequestration cuts that could end rental housing vouchers for 140,000 low-income families would be reversed.

The President’s $12.5 billion Pathways Back to Work proposal would provide summer and year-round jobs and training for low-income youth and subsidized jobs and training for the long-term unemployed. There are initiatives to improve high schools and to invest in community colleges. The budget would stop cuts in food stamps scheduled to start in November.

While the last deficit reduction deal made the Bush tax cuts permanent for all but the richest 1 percent, improvements in the low-income tax credits enacted in 2009 were only extended for five years. The Obama budget makes the current levels permanent for the Child Tax Credit, Earned Income Tax Credit and the American Opportunity Tax Credit—lifting more than 9 million low-wage workers and their children above the poverty line and creating greater opportunity for low- and middle-income students to attend college.

Then there’s the bad news.

The budget slashes the Community Services Block Grant to $350 million (down from $682 million this year). These funds support community action agencies nationwide, which administer Head Start, home energy assistance, emergency food and local economic development and other anti-poverty initiatives. These agencies leverage private dollars and coordinate services—exactly the kind of efficiencies the Administration is counting on. The budget also cuts the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) by more than $500 million. And by shrinking the annual inflation adjustment (the “chained-CPI” proposal), the Administration reduces not only Social Security benefits but also over time the value of the Earned Income Tax Credit. 

The President’s budget does include protections to reduce the impact of this lower adjustment for inflation. Social Security beneficiaries over age 76 and people receiving disability benefits for long periods will eventually receive an increase in their benefits to mitigate their loss. While the lowest-income people may in the end receive higher benefits than under current law, they will experience years of losses before their benefits catch up. (And some won’t live to see those gains.) The Administration’s proposal exempts low-income programs like food stamps/SNAP, Supplemental Security Income and Pell Grants from the “chained CPI” reductions, although there is concern that if cuts can be applied to a popular program like Social Security, these low-income programs will remain vulnerable.

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While the job creation and economic development proposals are well designed, the scope is not adequate to meet the needs of the current weak economy. The President stated that his budget shows it is possible to reduce the deficit and invest in economic growth at the same time. But the Senate budget, with more revenue and more Pentagon savings, demonstrates this possibility more clearly. 

What can make the anti-poverty and job creation provisions less of a long shot? Those who care about making investments in our people have to speak out loudly about the damage from the budget cuts now in effect, and vigorously support the expansions. A groundswell of public support is now pressing Congress to pass immigration reform and prevent gun violence. We need to see that same kind of tenacity, determination and outcry for shared prosperity, too.

Deborah Weinstein is the executive director of the Coalition for Human Needs, a Washington, DC–based alliance of national organizations working together to promote public policies that address the needs of low-income people and other vulnerable populations.

Get involved

99% Power Week of Action, April 22-28


Congressional Briefing: Exploring Child and Family Homelessness Across 50 States: The American Almanac of Family Homelessness (Tuesday, April 16, 9:30-10:30 AM, 2168 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC). Over one-third of people who use shelters annually are families with children. In 2011, more than 500,000 parents and their children turned to shelters.While federal funding for programs targeting chronically homeless single adults has increased over the past decade—and the results have been positive—families haven’t received a similar commitment and family homelessness has increased. The Almanac—written by the Institute for Children, Poverty, & Homelessness (ICPH)—provides a comprehensive state-by-state analysis on family homelessness statistics, policies and programming. ICPH will offer this briefing and talk about proven programs and investments that can help family homelessness. RSVP here.

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter David Cay Johnston on Income Growth, 1966-2011

"In 2011, the average income of the bottom 90 percent was just $59 more than in 1966 in real terms, depicted here as one inch. This graphic shows the comparable income growth of those within the top 10 percent."

Clips and other resources (compiled with James Cersonsky)

Working Families Flexibility Act undermines 40-hour workweek,” Eileen Appelbaum

Charles Lane Beats Up on the Disabled, Again,” Dean Baker

WSJ Finds the Real Cause of Weak Recovery: Disabled Workers,” Dean Baker

California’s Retirement Program: Imperfect, But a Potential Boon for Women and Low-Income Workers,” Sheila Bapat

Fifty years ago: A basketball title and a school boycott for Chicago,” Steve Bogira

Melissa Harris-Perry’s ‘Uncontroversial Comment’ About Children,” KJ Dell’Antonia

Even with Exemptions, Chained CPI Proposal Will End Up Hurting Low-Income People,” Shawn Fremstad

Why caring for children is not just a parent’s job,” Melissa Harris-Perry

Reduce Poverty to Improve Overall Health,” Carly Hood

 “Family Complexity and Poverty,” Institute for Research on Poverty

As Boston Ends Desegregation Busing, Students Face New Inequities,” Allison Kilkenny

Two Americas, Then and Now,” John Light

Earned Income Tax Credit Promotes Work, Encourages Children’s Success at School, Research Finds,” Chuck Marr, Jimmy Charite and Chye-Ching Huang

Poverty in Today’s America,” [SLIDESHOW] Moyers & Company

Homeless in High Tech’s Shadow,” [VIDEO] Moyers & Company

The Absence of Native American Power,” [VIDEO] Moyers & Company

Speak Your Piece: Hospital Death Rates,” Wayne Myers

The State of Homelessness in America 2013,” National Alliance to End Homelessness

Appeal for common sense in paid-prep ruling,” National Community Tax Coalition

Paid-prep rules encounter a bump in the road,” National Community Tax Coalition

Closing the Wage Gap is Crucial for Women of Color and Their Families,” National Women’s Law Center

How the Wage Gap Hurts Women and Families,” National Women’s Law Center

The Wage Gap, State by State,” National Women’s Law Center

Going to Bed Hungry,” Theresa Riley

States at Work: Progressive State Policies to Rebuild the Middle Class,” Karla Walter, Tom Hucker, and David Madland, with Nick Bunker and David Sanchez

Top 5 Myths About Chained-CPI, Debunked,” George Zornick

Studies/Briefs (summaries written by James Cersonsky)

Encouraging Savings for Low- and Moderate-Income Individuals,” Gilda Azurdia, Stephen Freedman, Gayle Hamilton and Caroline Schultz, MDRC. The goal of SaveUSA is for lower-income tax filers to deposit a portion of their tax refunds, from the Earned Income Tax Credit and other sources, into savings accounts that can later be used for unexpected expenses—and take the place of high-interest credit lines like payday loans and credit cards. Through the program, participants have at least $200 of their tax refund put into a special savings account, and keep a certain amount of that deposit in the account for a year. Those who follow through receive a 50 percent savings match, up to $500. Can a program like SaveUSA encourage longer-term saving habits and ultimately improve people’s financial health? While the evidence is still unfolding, there are glimpses of success. In a randomized trial across 17 sites offering SaveUSA, those who were placed in a non-SaveUSA control group were far less likely to deposit tax refunds into savings products. Moreover, among those in the SaveUSA group who did open an account, nearly three-quarters qualified for the savings match.

Taking Aim at Gun Violence,” Rhonda Bryant, CLASP. Between 2000 and 2010, 53,850 black men were shot to death across the country. This report maps patterns of violence onto what is too often dissociated from it: poverty, and specifically, concentrated poverty. Though most poor people in the US are white, whites are far less likely to live in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty than blacks. The lack of accessible employment for blacks living in these conditions tightens the knot: only 12 percent of black male teens are employed, less than half the rate of while male teens. How to think about tackling poverty—and violence? The report fleshes out a number of ideas: targeting investment in areas of concentrated poverty; strengthening social welfare service delivery in these neighborhoods; creating better pathways to employment; reengaging young people who have dropped out of school; and providing resources for healing from trauma and adversity.

A TANF Misery Index,” Legal Momentum. Only a fraction of families at or below poverty receive assistance from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The “misery index” calculates how well—or poorly—TANF is doing at reducing poverty. The index is calculated as the sum of (a) the percent of poor families not receiving TANF and (b) the percent gap between received benefits and the poverty level. The totals run from 0 (all poor families receive benefits and benefits are equal to, or exceed, the poverty line) to 200 (no poor families receive benefits). The numbers aren’t pretty: since 1996, when TANF replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program, the national index has gone up every year (with the exception of 2011, when it was the same as 2010). In 1996, it was 93; in 2011, 145. The numbers have varied widely by state, with California at the lowest (109) and Arkansas at highest (180).

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.

Low-income families that were working in 2011: More than 70 percent.

Families receiving cash assistance, 1996: 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.

Food stamp recipients with no other cash income: 6.5 million people.

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

Annual cost of child poverty nationwide: $550 billion.

Quote of the week

"If you want to move anything in Washington, DC, you first have to create an excitement and a level of energy anywhere but Washington DC. Then maybe Washington will follow, but it will never happen because you started in DC."
—Stephen Lerner, Wall Street accountability organizer and longtime DC resident 

James Cersonsky 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 on Sundays at Moyers & Company. You can e-mail me at WeekInPoverty@me.com and follow me on Twitter.

This Week in Poverty: Sequestration, Housing, Homelessness

A homeless man in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Nadel)

Sequestration can seem a little vague, abstract, difficult to wrap your head around.

But here’s what it means when it comes to housing: up to 140,000 fewer low-income families receiving housing vouchers, more children exposed to lead paint, higher rent for people who can’t afford it and a rise in homelessness.

These are among the human costs of sequestration noted in a new paper by Doug Rice, senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, who has worked on housing policy for ten years.

“These kinds of cuts are really unprecedented,” Rice told me. “The Section 8 voucher program has been around for nearly 40 years—it was created during the Nixon Administration and has had strong, bipartisan support for its entire history. Part of that support has consisted of Congress providing adequate money to ensure that the vouchers currently used by families are renewed from year to year.”

But for just the third time in 39 years, Congress will not fund local housing agencies so that they can renew all current vouchers. A $938 million cut in the voucher program translates to a 6 percent shortfall below what is needed to maintain assistance to the same number of families in 2013 as last year.

“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,” said Rice.

Indeed, as the report notes, there are currently “waiting lists for vouchers in almost every community,” and only 1 in 4 eligible households receives a voucher or some other form of federal rental assistance. Half of the current households in the voucher program include seniors or people with disabilities, and the rest are mostly families with children. The average household income is just $12,500—well below the poverty line of about $18,000 for a family of three. 

Currently, Rice writes, about 1.5 million Americans spend some time in emergency or temporary shelters every year. Since 2007, the number of families with children living in shelters and other emergency housing has increased by approximately 32 percent.

This bleak picture is about to get worse. 

While 140,000 fewer low-income families will receive vouchers by early 2014—increasing the risk of homelessness for many families already deemed at-risk—there will simultaneously be cuts in federal funding that enables communities to assist homeless people. Emergency Solutions Grants (ESGs) are used by local communities for emergency shelters, temporary rental assistance and other services that help families avoid homelessness; these grants face up to a 34 percent cut.

“Communities will be forced to either close down shelters or cut back efforts to prevent homelessness or re-house homeless families,” writes Rice.

At the same time, Continuum of Care (CoC) grants targeting “chronic homelessness” prevention—assisting homeless individuals with mental or physical disabilities who live on the streets for extended periods—will likely be reduced by at least $180 million. (More if HUD decides to reallocate a greater proportion of these funds towards ESGs.)

“There has been a 10-year effort at the federal level to reduce chronic homelessness among individuals with significant mental health or other kinds of disabilities,” said Rice. “It is a lot cheaper to help them afford stable housing with the services they need than to allow them to languish on the streets, which costs the government more money in health care costs, trips to emergency rooms—not to mention jail.”

Some of the effects of sequestration aren’t coming down the pike—they are already here. 

Local agencies are already “shelving” vouchers, which means that they aren’t reissuing them to families on the waiting lists when other families leave the program. Agencies are withdrawing vouchers from families who recently received them but are still searching for an apartment. They are alerting current families that their assistance may be terminated later this year. They are considering raising rents on current tenants (which requires permission from the Department of Housing and Urban Development), charging fees for parking and other services or requiring tenants to pay more for utilities. The report notes that these policies “are likely to steer families into neighborhoods with more crime, lower-performing schools, and less access to jobs.”

Sequestration will also result in housing agencies receiving “only about 70 percent of the administrative funds for which they are eligible this year,” according to the report. That means less ability to perform property inspections and address “potentially serious problems” in apartments.

Due to cuts in other HUD programs, there will be reduced efforts to minimize children’s exposure to lead in older units, and decreased production of new affordable housing for low-income seniors and people with disabilities. Further, local agencies will receive only about half of the monies needed to cover new repairs and renovations this year—never mind the $26 billion backlog of capital repairs in public housing developments.

“When agencies don’t receive enough monies to operate and maintain their properties, they delay and forgo maintenance and basic repairs, and these kinds of delays can increase costs in the long-term by causing more costly structural damage,” said Rice.

At best, it means deteriorating living conditions for too many families. At worst, it means more affordable units lost to disrepair. The report notes that more than 260,000 public housing units have been demolished or removed from stock since the mid-1990s. 

Not to be lost in all of this is the effect these policies have on children over the long-term. 

“Children who experience repeated or extended periods of homelessness—especially when they are very young or in teenage years—tend to do much less well at school, [their] graduation rates are lower, and they are more likely to have certain health problems,” said Rice. “They are much less likely to be productive economically if they live in deep poverty as young kids, and part of this is a housing situation. For kids that do well in school, stable housing in a decent, safe home is a pretty important component.”

In a country where 82 percent of voters want Congress and the White House to deliver a plan to cut child poverty in half within 10 years, this is clearly not the direction in which we want to be moving.

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“What we should be looking at is reducing homelessness and reducing the number of low-income families who have what HUD calls ‘worst case housing needs’—which are all households with very low incomes, paying housing costs that exceed half of their income, or they live in substandard housing,” said Rice.

Rice has done a real service with this report. The question is the same one that seems to come up again and again when it comes to issues that are important to low-income people—is anyone listening, and does anyone give a damn?


Juicy Couture: Take Care of Your Workers

Stand with the fast food workers of New York City

Allow Advanced Practice Registered Nurses to Help Fill Primary Care Shortage


TODAY at 12:15, livestreamed: “The New (Suburban) Homeless: How Foreclosures and the Great Recession Have Impacted American Families,” New American Foundation. American Prospect senior writer Monica Potts will discuss her new piece, “The Weeklies,” about suburban homelessness outside of Denver. Janis Bowdler, economic policy director of the National Council of La Raza, will participate as well. #TheWeeklies

Tuesday, April 9: NC Women’s Advocacy Day, at the state legislature in Raleigh, with NC Women United (NCWU), a coalition of organizations and individuals working to achieve the full political, social and economic equality of all women. NCWU will bring activists from across the state to urge their legislators to support issues related to the advancement of women and families, including economic self-sufficiency, access to health care, civic participation and ending violence against women. NCWU is particularly interested in maintaining the EITC and work supports for struggling families in North Carolina. Register for Advocacy Day here.

Wednesday, April 10: LIHEAP Action Day, US Congress. Supporters of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program from across the country will meet with members of Congress to urge them to restore funding for the federal energy assistance program. You can register here. If you can’t attend, show your support on April 10 by posting the following message on your Facebook status and in messages to your representatives: “The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program helps millions of Americans keep their lights on and their homes livable in winter and summer. Congress, please restore funding for LIHEAP to at least $4.7 billion for FY 2014.” You can also tweet using #LIHEAPAction.

The Sequester and Seniors

Cuts to programs like home-delivered meals, senior housing and energy assistance are starting to impact seniors in need. The National Council on Aging wants to hear what’s happening in your community, and take those accounts to legislators. Share your story here

Clips on Disability

There were many inaccuracies and distortions about federal disability programs in a recent series on NPR, “Unfit for Work: The Startling Rise of Disability in America.” Below are some of the smart responses to it. You can hear more good commentary on the subject tonight at 8 PM on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes. Disability is going to continue to come under attack. I’ll definitely be doing my best to stay on top of this, and I would also recommend that you follow the work of Rebecca Vallas (Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities), Shawn Fremstad (CEPR) and Kathy Ruffing (CBPP).

Disability Insurance: The Problem of Contagion in the Media,” Dean Baker

How ‘This American Life’ Got Disability Wrong,” Michelle Chen 

‘Unfit’ for NPR—Let’s Get the Facts Straight on Disability,” Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities

Supplemental Security and Temporary Assistance: How ‘This American Life’ Got the Story Wrong,” Shawn Fremstad

 “Why the disability insurance system may soon be on disability,” Melissa Harris-Perry [VIDEO]

‘There’s no such thing as a neutral story. But there is such a thing as an honest story’,” Jennifer Kates

The simple, boring reason why disability insurance has exploded,” Brad Plumer

Misleading ‘Trends with Benefits’,” Harold Pollack

The State of Disability,” Kathy Ruffing

Clips and other resources (compiled with James Cersonsky)

Setting fair wages in fast food,” All In with Chris Hayes [VIDEO]

Paid Sick Leave in San Francisco, Before and After the Fight to Pass It,” Sheila Bapat

House Republican Budget Cuts to Nutrition Assistance Are Bad for the Economy,” Melissa Boteach

Program Helps Students Talk Their Way Out of Trouble,” Patricia Leigh Brown

Sequester Impact: March 27-April 3rd,” Coalition on Human Needs

Fast food workers plan surprise strike,” Josh Eidelson 

Community fights ruin from foreclosures,” Tom Foreman/CNN [VIDEO] 

Media Coverage of Poverty: Quality, Not Just Quantity, Matters,” Shawn Fremstad

Focus, Institute for Research on Poverty

An Early Assessment of Off-Site Replacement Housing, Relocation Planning and Housing Mobility Counseling in HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods Initiative,” Martha Galvez

While corporations benefited from bailouts, employees did not,” Melissa Harris-Perry [VIDEO]

Unions call for state to sue banks and recover PERS funds,” Hannah Hoffman

The McJobs Strike Back: Will Fast-Food Workers Ever Get a Living Wage?” Sarah Jaffe 

Re: Investing in Innovation Fund Priorities,” letter to the U.S. Department of Education

Supporting School Success for Children Receiving TANF,” Elizabeth Lower-Basch

Voices of Hunger and Hope: Baltimore Witness to Hunger,” Maryland Hunger Solutions 

Promoting Employment Stability and Advancement Among Low-Income Adults,” MDRC

New conservative state policies are falling hard on women,” Tazra Mitchell

Communities Move the Minimum Wage: Will the Federal Government?” Kathy Mulady

HUD Enforcement of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Requirement,” Poverty & Race Research Action Council 

Grassroots Corner interview with Jessica Bartholow,” Ernie Powell [AUDIO]

Historic fast food strike draws lessons from MLK’s last campaign,” Ned Resnikoff

Carry On, Wayward Sons,” John Schmitt 

Penalties will hurt students, families,” Joe Soss

Minimum Wage: Not Just for the Poor,” Robin Templeton

Just Say No to Just Read, Florida, South Carolina,” P.L. Thomas

A Long Way From Home: Housing, Asset Policy and the Racial Wealth Divide,” United for a Fair Economy

Lack of paid sick leave is unhealthy for America,” Katrina vanden Heuvel

Studies/Briefs (summaries written by James Cersonsky)

A Real Fix: A Gun-Free to School Safety,” Advancement Project. Not only does increased police presence in schools have a consistent track record of making students less safe, it also draws resources from more holistic approaches that have been shown to benefit students—especially low-income students of color. This brief proposes the creation of school safety plans by teams comprising a range of school stakeholders, including parents and students. The plans should focus on three components: crisis prevention—through restorative justice practices, conflict resolution programs, mental health resources and school-family communication; school security measures involving all members of the school community; and school crisis plans in preparation for emergency.

Scarring Effects: Demographics of the Long-Term Unemployed and the Danger of Ignoring the Jobs Deficit,” National Employment Law Project. The US labor force counts 27 million unemployed or underemployed workers, and 40 percent of jobless workers have been out of work for 27 weeks or longer. This report exposes the demographics of the crisis. Those suffering the greatest are the oldest: more than half of unemployed workers at least 45 years old have been out for longer than 27 weeks. Public sector cuts have come down particularly hard on women and people of color. Black workers, for example, account for twenty percent of state and local job losses; Latino youth account for 30 percent of enrollment in federal job training programs, which have also been hit heavily. For workers across the board, the recovery has been a regressive one: low-wage job growth has been 2.8 times greater than mid- and high-wage job growth.

Hard Choices: Navigating the Economic Shock of Unemployment,” The Pew Charitable Trusts. Drawing on a mix of quantitative and qualitative data, this report breaks down the influence of unemployment on short-term economic stability—and long-term mobility and wealth. Families that experienced unemployment between 1999 and 2009 were 1.3 times more likely to lose wealth during that decade than other families (even when controlling for a variety of factors). When hit with unemployment, families tap into a variety of resources—first, assets like personal savings and home equity. But if those resources are lacking, they use monies saved for their children’s education, high-interest loans, even their own retirement funds. The report proposes a slate of remedies, including low-cost loan options for families in times of need, stronger unemployment insurance and revised tax-incentive structures to encourage emergency saving.

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.

Low-income families that were working in 2011: More than 70 percent.

Families receiving cash assistance, 1996: 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.

Food stamp recipients with no other cash income: 6.5 million people.

Children living on streets or in homeless shelters, US: 1.6 million, 42 percent under age six.

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

Annual cost of child poverty nationwide: $550 billion.

Quote of the Week

“Over the past few decades, politicians have made an art form out of pledging to get tough with welfare recipients. These days, hardly a week goes by without a new call to impose ‘real consequences’ on aid recipients if they don’t shape up, accept personal responsibility and change their behavior. But here’s what you should know: Social policies that focus on penalties inflict real hardships on poor families but rarely produce the promised results.”
—Joe Soss, on Tennessee bill which would cut low-income parents’ cash assistance if their children falter in school.

James Cersonsky 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 on Sundays at Moyers & Company. You can e-mail me at WeekInPoverty@me.com and follow me on Twitter.

This Week in Poverty: SEIU Hospital Workers Strike for Affordable Healthcare

Healthcare workers on strike. (Credit: SEIU1199 NW)

“Providence Health & Services is a not-for-profit Catholic healthcare ministry committed to providing for the needs of the communities it serves—especially for those who are poor and vulnerable.”

So reads the Providence website. But ask the members of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW what they think of the five-state healthcare giant’s commitment to vulnerable workers, and they paint a very different picture. 

More than 700 union workers went on strike in Olympia, Washington, to protest the nonprofit’s unilateral decision while at the bargaining table to switch employees from an affordable healthcare plan to a high-deductible plan. These workers at Providence St. Peter Hospital—which include everyone but the doctors, registered nurses and social workers—and the Providence SoundHomeCare and Hospice earn an average of $31,000 annually. 

SEIU says the deductibles increased on January 1 from $750 to $3,000 for family coverage, and the workers face higher co-pays as well. The Segal Company, a benefits and human resources consulting firm, estimates that the workers will pay a total of $75,000 more in premiums under the new plan while Providence will pay $437,000 less. The lower a worker is on the wage scale, the more regressive the new healthcare plan is. 

The problem isn’t that Providence is lacking in resources: the company reported $286 million in profits in 2011, and the CEO’s compensation rose from $3.1 million in 2010 to $6.4 million in 2011; the senior VP and chief administration officer’s pay rose from $1.5 million to $3.3 million; and the executive VP, western Washington region, saw his pay increase from $2.4 million to $3.5 million.

“The major healthcare provider in Thurston County is going in the wrong direction for our community,” said Thurston County Commissioner Karen Valenzuela. “[Providence] is increasing costs on workers who are least able to afford it. It’s not a good thing for our community to have workers choosing between their healthcare and other basic needs.”

Providence claims that the high deductibles will largely be offset by payments to workers for participating in a wellness plan, resulting in net deductible increases of roughly $250 for individuals and $150 for families.

But an SEIU source close to the negotiations says that the documents Providence is sharing with the union “show very different things than what they are saying in public.” Further, the wellness initiative was in place last year and only half of the eligible union members were able to meet the requirements—partly because the requirements kept changing, and partly because it was difficult for employees with irregular work schedules to meet with specific providers at prescribed times.

“I now work a second a job just to be able to afford my family’s healthcare,” said Abbey Bruce, a certified nursing assistant at Providence St. Peter Hospital. “My husband has cystic fibrosis and needs to take enzymes to absorb his food. This used to be covered, but now it costs our family $300 a month. We work in a hospital, it’s outrageous that any of us have to work a second job or worry about how we’ll afford our care.”

This dispute is one that should be of concern not only to the SEIU workers in Olympia—and 6,000 SEIU hospital workers in Seattle with a contract that expires in 2015—but any employee who isn’t well off and in optimal health. 

High-deductible “catastrophic” or “consumer directed health plans” shift the cost of healthcare from employers to employees and are a permitted form of coverage under the Affordable Care Act. According to SEIU, companies that have moved all or most of their workers to these plans include: JPMorgan, Wells Fargo, American Express, Whole Foods and General Electric. According to Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health, nearly one-fifth of large companies said that catastrophic, high-deductible coverage will be the only kind of plan they offer in 2013.

Studies show that lower-wage workers in these high-deductible plans often skip necessary treatment in order to avoid high out-of-pocket expenses. A 2011 Rand study found a marked decrease in preventive care such as childhood vaccinations, cervical and colorectal cancer screening, and routine blood tests for people with diabetes. Even when catastrophic plans waived the deductible for preventive services, people in these plans still cut back on such care, fearing that a diagnosis would result in further expenses that they wouldn’t be able to afford. In fact, a Kaiser Family Foundation study found that people covered by catastrophic plans were twice as likely to report going without needed medical care as those in other health plans. 

It’s not only the patients who suffer under this approach, providers also often take a hit. Ellis Medicine is the largest provider of hospital services to General Electric workers and retirees in the country. As of June 30 of last year it had reported $7.8 million in bad debt, up $1 million from the year before.

“My guess is that we are seeing more bad debt coming through our ER because of high deductibles,” Ellis Medicine CEO James Connolly told The Business Review.

SEIU says that there is a much better alternative for workers and providers. The union also represents registered nurses at Group Health, a local HMO that has come out against high-deductible plans. When Group Health needed to reduce employee healthcare costs, it joined SEIU in developing a wellness initiative to focus on smoking cessation, weight management and chronic disease management. The result is that healthcare inflation was held to a total of 4 percent over four years, and last year healthcare costs actually went down. 

“We want to do this with Providence but they won’t come to the table and work with us,” said Bob Wilson, a surgical technologist at Providence St. Peter Hospital. “They prefer to slash and burn.”

Note and Question

I won’t be posting the next two weeks because I’m taking time off to hang with my 1-month-old daughter, #BabyGracieRocks. 

It’s been over a year since The Nation launched “This Week in Poverty.” I’m interested in your thoughts on how the blog has been valuable, what you think we could do better, and what we need to do to together—as my friend Dr. Mariana Chilton from The Center for Hunger-Free Communities says—“to knock down the six-foot cement wall between the people in Congress making the major policy decisions, and the rest of low-income America.”

Please comment below or email me at WeekInPoverty@me.com. I hope to post some of your responses in a future blog.

Online Petitions

Oppose Cuts to SNAP
Tell Congress to Support Earned Paid Sick Days
President Obama: Extend Labor Protections to Homecare Workers
Tell Congress: Protect Federal Nutrition Programs That Feed Our Nation’s Children
Tell Your Representative: Vote NO on the House Republican budget

New Resource on Sequestration

The Coalition on Human Needs (CHN) now offers a weekly summary of the effect of sequestration on vital programs that many of you care about—from education and family services, to housing and senior services, and more. The first report includes an item on Head Start in Columbus and Franklin, Indiana, where 36 kids weren’t allowed to return to the classroom after March 15. The cities used lotteries to choose which children were permitted to remain in the program.

“Welfare Reform”: No Model to Build On for Disability Benefits

Guest post by Rebecca Vallas

Some Republicans in Congress, including House Budget Chair Paul Ryan in the budget proposal his committee released this past week, have called for radically restructuring federal assistance programs that they term "welfare"—including Food Stamps (SNAP), Medicaid, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). They propose building on the so-called "success" of "welfare reform," which in 1996 converted Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) into Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), a block grant program with strict time limits and work requirements that today serves a minuscule share of families in need.

TANF has proven to be significantly less responsive as an anti-poverty program than its predecessor. For every 100 poor families with children, today just 27 are helped by TANF—down from 68 in 1996. The number of poor families with children helped by TANF actually declined during the recent economic downturn, which saw a huge increase in deep poverty. For those lucky enough to receive TANF, grant amounts are equal to just 30 percent of the federal poverty level (less than $5,500 per year for a family of three) in most states.

The claim that the decline in TANF enrollment is due to an upsurge in work among single mothers is flatly contradicted by the data. While the booming economy of the 1990s and early 2000s led to low unemployment and a decline in poverty, those gains have since vanished, and the share of single mothers with a high school diploma or less who are working is now back to where it was in 1996, at about 62 percent.

But facts haven't kept Republicans and even some Democrats from declaring welfare reform a "success" worthy of building on. Those who call for this sort of overhaul of SSDI and SSI say they believe that most working age people who receive disability benefits could and would work if faced with the "right" incentives. The truth is SSDI and SSI beneficiaries have severe impairments and health conditions that keep them from being able to work enough to support themselves. Many are terminally ill: one in five male beneficiaries, and one in seven female beneficiaries, die within five years of receiving benefits. Most applications for benefits are denied and less than 40 percent are approved under the strict disability standard.

Benefits, while inadequate for many, are vital. The average SSI benefit was just $520 per month in 2012—about half the federal poverty level for a single person, and just $17.33 per day. The average monthly SSDI benefit was about $1,100 in 2012, just over the federal poverty line for a single person—but a full quarter of SSDI beneficiaries live in poverty and the majority are low-income (below twice the federal poverty level). For most adult disability beneficiaries their SSI and SSDI benefits make up all or most of their income. These benefits keep millions of people with disabilities out of deep poverty and homelessness.

As with the adult disability programs, most children who apply are denied SSI, and only the most severely impaired qualify for benefits. Just 1.6 percent of US children receive SSI—compared with the estimated 9 percent who have severe disabilities. Benefits are modest (on average $619 per month for 2012) but together with Medicaid make it possible for many children to remain at home with their families instead of in an institution. Nearly half of children receiving SSI live with a working parent, yet many parents of children with disabilities are unable to work full-time due to caregiving responsibilities. SSI replaces some of the income lost when a parent cuts their hours or loses a job after one too many missed work days to care for a sick child. It also covers some of the family's out of pocket medical and disability-related expenses, many of which are not covered by Medicaid.

Unfortunately, research on the work capacity of adult disability beneficiaries is often mischaracterized. Studies are frequently described as finding that some current beneficiaries "could work," though a closer look reveals that the earning potential of that subset of beneficiaries who "could" or "should" be working is a few thousand dollars per year—hardly enough to support oneself.

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Proposals to "reform" SSI and SSDI in the same way that "welfare reform" created TANF would be nothing short of devastating to children and adults with disabilities. Work requirements have no place in programs that—by definition—serve people with disabilities so severe that that they are unable to work enough to support themselves. They also have no place in the SSI children's program, whose purpose is to supplement family income when caregiving responsibilities prevent parents from full-time work. Moreover, the TANF experiment has shown what block-granting does—it weakens vital programs and makes them far less effective at increasing economic security for the people they’re intended to help.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from welfare reform, it’s that we can’t afford to make the same mistake again with other vital programs.

Rebecca Vallas is a staff attorney and policy advocate at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia. She is a co-chair of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) Social Security Task Force and co-leads the SSI Coalition for Children and Families, a group of over 100 organizations working to preserve and strengthen SSI for children with severe disabilities.

March for Rights, Respect and Fair Food

On Sunday, March 17, hundreds of farmworkers from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and their consumer allies from across Florida rallied outside Publix corporate headquarters in Lakeland. The event marked the completion of a two-week, 200-mile trek during which marchers called on the Florida-based grocery giant to honor the breakthrough social responsibility partnership for farm labor reform known as the Fair Food Program (FFP). I wouldn’t bet against the CIW—check out their track record. Photos here, video here:

News from the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED)

Asset Limits: Many public benefit programs—like TANF, Medicaid and food assistance—limit eligibility to those with few or no assets. Nine states introduced legislation to eliminate asset tests (Hawaii and Illinois, for example) or exclude certain kinds of assets such as automobiles from being counted (California and Massachusetts, for example). Minnesota’s Department of Human Services offered the state legislature policy options for simplifying or eliminating asset limits across economic assistance programs. For more information, read this blog post.

Payday and Auto Title Lending: Texas, Alabama, New Hampshire and New York introduced legislation to regulate payday and auto-title lending. Unfortunately, North Carolina is considering reversing a 2001 ban on payday lending, which would allow short-term, high-interest lenders to return to the state.

Earned Income Tax Credit: North Carolina’s Senate voted to eliminate the state’s EITC and Connecticut’s governor proposed a budget reducing the credit from 30 percent to 25 percent of the federal credit. In better news, New Jersey’s General Assembly voted to fully restore the EITC and the Michigan Senate introduced legislation to restore the credit to 20 percent of the federal credit.

Individual Retirement Accounts: Illinois lawmakers introduced legislation to create retirement savings accounts for workers. Sign on to support the bill here.

Individual Development Accounts: IDA programs consist of matched savings accounts that enable low-income families to save, gain assets and enter the financial mainstream. Indiana’s proposed state budget would cut IDA funding in half from $1 million to $500,000. Indiana Institute for Working Families is pushing the Senate Appropriations Committee to restore funding.

Event: Ending Hunger Through Citizen Service
The New York City Coalition Against Hunger is spearheading a new long-term, nationwide initiative to redefine the way people think and act when it comes to volunteering to fight hunger. As part of that effort, the organization will co-sponsor a conference in Dallas, Texas, with the North Texas Food Bank, Texas Hunger Initiative and USDA Food and Nutrition Service: Friday, March 22, 9 am–4 pm (Wilshire Baptist Church, 4316 Abrams Rd, Dallas, TX 75214). More information here.

HBO’s American Winter Premiers Tonight

This documentary about eight families in Portland struggling through the recession is a must-see, and it premiers tonight on HBO. Thanks to host Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and cosponsor The Nation for last week’s screening and terrific panel discussion that included filmmakers Joe and Harry Gantz, two families in the film—Diedre and Jalean, and Brandon, Pam and Jude—and policy experts Elaine Weiss, Algernon Austin and Mariana Chilton.

Clips and other resources (compiled with James Cersonsky)

Infrastructure investments and Latino and African American job creation,” Algernon Austin

The City On Baltimore’s Homelessness Problem Following Camp 83,” The Anthony McCarthy Show [AUDIO]

In City Terms, What the Sequester Means,” Jake Blumgart 

Right to Lawyer Can Be Empty Promise for Poor,” Ethan Bronner

Raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 would give working families, and the overall economy, a much-needed boost,” David Cooper and Doug Hall

What Paul Ryan’s Budget Means for Women,” Bryce Covert

Activists target Comcast over paid-sick leave lobbying,” Daniel Denvir

In Virginia, child care doesn’t command the attention it deserves,” Petula Dvorak

Top Democrats Differ on Ending Subminimum Wage for Workers with Disabilities,” Mike Elk 

Sandberg left single mothers behind,” Susan Faludi

Haunted by Julio’s Injustices, and Our Responsibility for Them,” Steven Farr

Health Problems Compound For Aging Homeless,” Pam Fessler

We Shouldn’t Have To Live Like This,” Pam Fessler

Research ties economic inequality to gap in life expectancy,” Michael A. Fletcher

State budget testimony discusses ways to improve Ohio’s public assistance programs,” Jack Frech, Athens County Job & Family Services

New CBO Estimates Show How Shifting to Chained CPI Would Harm Poorly Compensated Workers and Others Struggling to Afford the Basics,” Shawn Fremstad

Relative Poverty Measures Can Help Paint a More Accurate picture of Poverty in America,” Shawn Fremstad

Why is there so little coverage of Americans who are struggling with poverty?” Dan Froomkin

Big win for workers in Portland and (hopefully) Philadelphia,” Elise Gould

Chairman Ryan Gets 66 Percent of His Budget Cuts from Programs for People With Low or Moderate Incomes,” Richard Kogan and Kelsey Merrick

Better Colleges Failing to Lure Talented Poor,” David Leonhardt

AP: Lawyers say thousands wrongly lost Medicaid,” Marc Levy

Let the Borrower Beware: Facing the Facts about Payday Loans and Pawnshops,” Gregory Mills 

In the South and West, a Tax on Being Poor,” Katherine S. Newman

Unfair Punishments,” New York Times

City Council Approval of Paid Sick Days Standard Puts ‘A Healthier, More Economically Secure Portland on the Horizon,’” Debra L. Ness

TANF Emerging from the Downturn a Weaker Safety Net,” LaDonna Pavetti, Ife Finch and Liz Schott

Ryan Budget Includes Medicaid Block Grant That Would Add Millions to Ranks of Uninsured and Underinsured,” Edwin Park

Southeast Kansas Winter Homeless Count,” Jennifer Penate

25 Years of Working with Chicago Public Housing: Personal Stories,” Susan Popkin

Ryan Budget Would Slash SNAP Funding By $135 Billion Over Ten Years,” Dottie Rosenbaum

Minnesota minimum wage hike cheered by workers; employers critical,” Matt Sepic

Sequester set to sock it to D.C.’s poorest,” Michael Shank

One Economy, Two Americas,” Hedrick Smith

Poor people in Ohio don’t get a lot of help,” Thomas Suddes 

Raising Minnesota,” Gabriel Thompson

City clears homeless camp, residents in temporary housing,” Yvonne Wenger 

The Paid Sick Leave Battle Widens in the States,” George Zornick

Some Notable Studies and Reports (summaries written by James Cersonsky)

Out of Reach 2013,” Elina Bravve, Megan Bolton, Sheila Crowley, National Low Income Housing Coalition. The number of households that rent instead of own their homes rose by one million in 2011—the single largest one-year increase since the early 1980s. Though renting can be cheaper than buying, renters are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. This report estimates a 2013 “housing wage”—that is, what a household would have to bring in to afford a decent apartment at HUD’s Fair Market Rent, while spending no more than 30 percent of income on housing—of $18.79. The average hourly wage of renters, though, sits at $14.32. Why the gap? The report cites a number of factors: rising rents, stagnating wages and a shortage of affordable housing units. The biggest solution, it says, is to expand the supply of these units—on the order of 4.5 million—to meet the demand from extremely low-income households with incomes at or below the regional median.

Family Independence Initiative: The Role of Control, Options, and Social Connectedness in Economic Mobility for Families,” Melanie Moore Kubo, PhD and Suki McCoy, See Change. Through the Family Independence Initiative (FII), families meet regularly for mutual support and have access to a resource bank for various financial and social tools—creating what FII calls “environments of opportunity.” This independent study looks at Boston families who worked with FII over the course of two years. The study shows a slate of positive results, including: half of families who lived below the federal poverty line had risen above it in two years; earnings rose 27 percent; savings rose 187 percent; and 91 percent of families (compared to 27 percent at the outset) reported that they could count on others in their community for support.

Putting Sustainability on the Table: Airport Workers’ Vision for $3 Billion of Food and Drink at O’Hare,” UNITE HERE! At O’Hare International Airport, the second biggest airport in the country, the City of Chicago is set to give away $3 billion in contracts to food concession companies. For this report, UNITE HERE—which represents workers in the hotel, gaming, food service, manufacturing, textile, distribution, laundry and airport industries—surveyed workers and customers on the guidelines that they’d like to see the city set for the food and work that is on its way to the airport. Among other things, surveys reveal that 78 percent of passengers and 89 percent of workers would like to see food cooked from fresh ingredients, and 89 percent of workers think there should be more food service training opportunities to step up the job ladder. The report offers a variety of recommendations for O’Hare moving forward: requiring bidders to provide plans for fresh cooking, local produce purchasing and disposal management; ensuring every outlet includes healthy options for a variety of diets; requiring job stability for existing airport workers; and investing in a worker training program. 

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).

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.

Households with children in large cities that are food-insecure: 25 percent.

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

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.

Low-income families that were working in 2011: More than 70 percent.

Families receiving cash assistance, 1996: 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.

Food stamp recipients with no other cash income: 6.5 million people.

People experiencing homelessness on any given night, US: 643,067.

Children living on streets or in homeless shelters, US: 1.6 million, 42 percent under age six.

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

Annual cost of child poverty nationwide: $550 billion.

Quote of the Week

“There’s a 6-foot cement wall between people in Congress making the major policy decisions, and the rest of low-income America. Low-income Americans have practically no way to penetrate the workings of Congress, to express their opinions and to be taken seriously. In addition, people in Congress cannot and do not seem to try to understand what’s really happening on the ground with their policies.

"What we need is a creative revolution to break down the walls that separate us from Congress. The wisdom and the ideas of the families who are struggling in this country must be heard if we are going to succeed at changing things for the majority of America.”

     —Dr. Mariana Chilton, Center for Hunger-Free Communities, at EPI/Nation screening of American Winter.

James Cersonsky wrote the “Notable studies” summaries and co-wrote the “Clips” section in this blog.

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

This Week in Poverty: 'A Place at the Table' and 'American Winter'

City Harvest Mobile Market food distribution site, New York. (Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)

A Patriotic Fix for America’s Hunger Epidemic

Guest post by Michael Shank

One nation, underfed.

That’s the tagline for the new film out by Participant Productions, entitled A Place at the Table, which looks at America’s growing hunger epidemic. Participant Media, which produced Lincoln, The Help and Food Inc., does not disappoint with its latest take on what America must tackle. And in light of the March 1 sequester cuts to social programs, the film’s timing couldn’t be more appropriate.

Table’s statistics are overwhelming, but they are intended to overwhelm. Whether it’s the 50 million Americans who are living in food-insecure households (which means they are struggling with hunger), or the fact that 1-out-of-2 kids in America will, at some time in their childhood, have to rely on federal assistance for food. This is happening in the richest country in the world, and the problem is only getting worse. Under President Reagan there were 20 million Americans living with food insecurity. We’re well over double that figure now.

Table’s stories will overwhelm too. Whether it’s the fifth grader who is so hungry that she envisions her teacher as a banana and her fellow students as apples, or the single mother of two who finally gets a fulltime job only to realize that she is no longer food stamp eligible, a loss of $3-per-day that puts her family into serious food insecurity. That means her kids no longer have breakfast or lunch at daycare, and her youngest is already developmentally disabled due to improper nutrition. Lest we think she’s living large off her new job, food stamp eligibility ended once her salary passed $23,000, a figure hardly sufficient to pay for rent, utilities, insurance and transport, let alone food. (Most Americans are surprised to learn that the parents of hungry children typically have fulltime jobs.) Those who think food stamps breed dependency are wrong. As a child, raised singly by my mom after my dad died early, I too depended on food stamps. For many of us, they are critical lifelines of support while we get back on our feet.

Actor-director Jeff Bridges, who is featured in the film for his fight against chronic hunger, says we’re in denial about malnutrition in America, a country that maintains the highest rates of food insecurity in the International Monetary Fund’s ranking of advanced economies. The fix could be so patriotic; what could be more patriotic than caring for the nation’s children? But Bridges goes further: We would go to war with any country that did this to our kids. How true.

So what’s the hang-up? Why is it so difficult to feed America’s future properly? When all expenses are accounted for, we spend roughly $1 per child per school meal. One wonders why President Barack Obama couldn’t get the $10 billion over ten years that he wanted to improve childhood nutrition in schools. (Contrast this with the $10 billion we spend monthly on our military in Afghanistan.) In fact, Obama was only able to get $4.5 billion allocated—improving by .06 cents what we spend on children’s lunches—and much of that was paid for by siphoning money from the food stamp program. The irony.

The film’s producers hold lobbyists particularly culpable here. Congress, for example, had no problem doling out hundreds of billions to bail out big banks, expending hundreds of billions on tax cuts for the wealthy, or even subsidizing tens of billions to big corporate agribusinesses, which is what farms America’s soil these days (not the small farms that relied on federal assistance after the Depression destroyed America’s crops). And yet Congress claims to have insufficient funds—not even $10 billion over ten years—to bail out the millions of kids in this country who go malnourished every day.

It’s shocking and deplorable. In 1980, we had 200 food banks. Now we have over 40,000 food banks, soup kitchens and pantries, and yet the problem persists. Our government thought charities could pick up the tab. While they’re certainly helping with critical lifeline support, they don’t have the kinds of resources necessary to take on a crisis of this magnitude—only the federal government does.

Here’s a big part of the problem: Fresh fruits and vegetables—largely unsubsidized in comparison to the heavily subsidized corn, wheat, soy, and rice crops—remain out of reach for much of America’s poor, both rural and urban. Since 1980, costs for fruits and vegetables increased by roughly 40 percent leaving financially struggling families with little choice when it comes to cheapest calories at the local mini-mart. Junk food is often all that’s affordable and accessible, with fresh food markets located many miles away.

But beyond reforming the formidable lobby that prevents Congress from fixing kids’ nutrition in America, the film hints at what else is needed. At the end of the day, even if we’re funding healthy meals for all Americans and feeding our kids properly, we haven’t fixed the root problem of poverty. While we’ve cut down on long-term healthcare costs—because a better fed population means lower rates of heart disease, diabetes and blood pressure, all of which will lower the taxpayer burden—a systemic flaw remains: if working American families aren’t afforded a livable wage, then we will forever be reacting to hunger, not preventing it.

The first step is to ensure all Americans have access to affordable and healthy food, but the second and simultaneous step is to lift the 50 million Americans out of poverty and the 106 million Americans who live on less than twice the poverty line (less than $36,000 for a family of three). We can start by reversing trade trends, which undermined America’s working class through the outsourcing and offshoring of US manufacturing and the erosion of labor protections. We can also reinvigorate US labor policies, which failed to increase minimum wages for the majority of America. The minimum wage is worth less now—adjusted for inflation—than it was in 1968.

The president’s State of the Union promises to raise the minimum wage and rebuild American manufacturing is a start, but more is needed. If we want to reserve “a place at the table” for everyone in America, we must first start by making sure that everyone has access to that table.

Michael Shank is a senior aide to a Democratic member of Congress and a professor at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.

American Winter Screening and Discussion

Since the beginning of the Great Recession, I’ve been waiting for a documentary to make the case that low-income people and the middle class are now in the same boat—that old distinctions people created to divide them are obsolete, with so many people living near poverty, or an illness, lost job, or disaster away from poverty.

A hundred and six million Americans, or more than one in three, now live below twice the poverty line—on less than $36,000 for a family of three, forced to make choices between basic necessities like food, housing, healthcare and education, and with little to no savings to help through tough times; wealth is increasingly concentrated, with the richest 1 percent now possessing 40 percent of the nation’s wealth. Certainly the numbers suggest a convergence of interests among the poor and non-rich.

Now, finally, a movie has arrived that shows the precariousness of the US economy for the majority of Americans, refusing to distinguish between a deserving and non-deserving poor: American Winter.

Filmed over the winter of 2011–12 in Portland, Oregon, the documentary tells the stories of eight families, showing the human costs of a frayed safety net and a proliferation of low-wage work. Emmy Award–winning filmmakers Joe and Harry Gantz, creators of HBO’s Taxicab Confessions, worked with the nonprofit organization 211info in Portland, monitoring calls from distressed families who were turning to the emergency hotline in search of help. They then followed the stories of some of these callers over many months.

Most of these families never imagined they would be in the situation they suddenly find themselves in, needing support to get through a tough time, and finding that that support just isn’t there: a husband loses his job, he and his wife try to support their three kids on her minimum-wage work, losing heat and electricity in the dead of winter in order to pay the mortgage; a 50-year-old accountant is laid off and struggling to care for his 10-year-old son who has Down Syndrome, now faces the loss of his ranch and sole asset to provide for his son’s future; a husband loses his $22-per-hour job, and his wife and their two sons turn to a women’s shelter for assistance; a college-educated woman is laid off and so she sells scrap metal and donates plasma to help support her family of five—even after she finds minimum-wage work; a woman’s husband dies, and she and her 11-year-old son can’t keep their home—they sleep in a garage and in their car before ending up in a shelter; another mother has to take three months off of work to care for her daughter who is hospitalized with a stomach condition—she’s stuck with a $49,000 bill that insurance won’t cover.

“Forget the dreams, how do we make it to tomorrow?” says a father. Laid off from the credit branch of a car company, he and his wife lose their home to foreclosure and now struggle to provide their kids with the basics. “Tomorrow’s the dream. This dinner is the dream. You can turn the water on, turn the lights on—that’s a dream.”

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Woven into the film are interviews with local economic experts, policy analysts, religious leaders and social workers, all of whom provide context for the families’ stories.

“If capitalism is not regulated or checked, there is a harsh logic and it will always seek out the lowest costs, highest return, which is why we have historically viewed government as a check and a balance on that,” says Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish. “Over the last quarter century, we have reduced regulations, degraded wages, cut back on health care, we’ve reduced taxes, and now people are more vulnerable…. We have a “one strike, and you’re out’ economy.”

As we now begin sequester cuts that will further strain supports to working families and families that are unable to work, this is a timely movie, to say the least.

I’m very pleased to be moderating a great panel following a screening of the film at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) next Thursday. The panel will include filmmakers Joe and Harry Gantz; Diedre and Jalean, a family featured in the film; Elaine Weiss, national coordinator of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education; Algernon Austin, director of the Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy at EPI; and Mariana Chilton, director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities at Drexel University School of Public Health. Senators Sherrod Brown and Jeff Merkley have also been invited.

You can find the details and RSVP for the event here.

“Tax loopholes for corporate Jets or Investments in Jobs and Education?”

That’s the question posed in a terrific infographic by Melissa Boteach, director of the Half in Ten Campaign and the Poverty and Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress. Boteach has a real knack for showing the values behind Congressional budget decisions. Check this out:

Read more at the Center for American Progress

Recognized: Hunger Free Vermont

The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) has awarded the Dr. Raymond Wheeler/ Senator Paul Wellstone Anti-Hunger Advocacy Leadership Award to Hunger Free Vermont. FRAC presents the award annually to an advocate who has demonstrated outstanding leadership in the fight against hunger.

Hunger Free Vermont has made key contributions toward ending food insecurity among children, adults, and seniors in their state. Thanks in part to the work of this organization, Vermont is in the top ten states for participation among low-income children in school breakfast and summer meal programs, and is one of the best states for enrolling eligible citizens in the SNAP program.

Hunger Free Vermont has also launched creative new initiatives such as an accredited online course for physicians, nurses and clinical staff to learn patient screening techniques for hunger and malnutrition.

“Not only does Hunger Free Vermont work effectively within the state to create change, but the organization also has made it a priority to mentor other anti-hunger organizations in New England and across the country,” said Jim Weill, president of FRAC

Hunger Free Vermont is now working with the Vermont legislature and Governor Peter Shumlin to make the state the first in the nation to offer free school meals to all low-income children.

Women and the Minimum Wage

This week, Senator Tom Harkin and Representative George Miller introduced The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 that would raise the federal minimum wage from the current rate of $7.25 to $10.10 per hour by 2015, and index it to keep pace with inflation. The bill would also raise the minimum wage for tipped workers from $2.13 per hour, where it has been frozen since 1991, to 70 percent of the full minimum wage.

The National Women’s Law Center notes that two-thirds of adult minimum wage workers are women, and women are the majority of workers in the ten largest occupations paying less than $10.10 an hour:

Read more at the National Women’s Law Center


Tell Congress: Don’t Let Food Workers Go Hungry

Tell Mayor Bloomberg it’s time for a better approach to homelessness

Clips and other resources (compiled with James Cersonsky)

You’ll Never Live Like Common People,” Alex Andreou

Mother who stole son’s education gets 12 years in prison,” Associated Press

A New Direction for Restaurant Workers? Zingerman’s and the ‘Thrivable Wage,’” Sheila Bapat

Jeff Sessions Isn’t a Wonk McCarthyite, or a Wonk Anything,” Jonathan Chait

INFOGRAPHIC: How Universal Preschool Is an Economic Boon to Working Mothers,” Bryce Covert

McDonald’s Guest Workers Stage Surprise Strike,” Josh Eidelson


‘Harlem Shake’ craze needs historical, cultural context,” Melissa Harris-Perry

Strike Debt Declares Healthcare Emergency: It’s a Matter of ‘Life or Debt,’” Allison Kilkenny

Mooching Off Medicaid,” Paul Krugman

SNAP: Just What the Doctor Ordered,” Helly Lee

Income Inequality Goes Viral,” John Light

Five Bills That Would Have Been Game Changers for Women,” John Light and Theresa Riley

Waiving Work Requirements in the TANF Program,” Elizabeth Lower-Basch

Drug Testing of Safety-Net Applicants Stigmatizes Poor Families,” Elizabeth Lower-Basch and Lavanya Mohan

As Automatic Budget Cuts Go Into Effect, Poor May Be Hit Particularly Hard,” Annie Lowrey

Improving College Readiness in the Age of the Common Core,” MDRC

The Role of Risk: Mentoring Experiences and Outcomes for Youth with Varying Risk Profiles,” MDRC

Steering America toward a more secure retirement,” Harold Meyerson

When Jobs are Needed, Grassroots Groups Spring to Action,” Kathy Mulady

Fair Pay for Women Requires Increasing the Minimum Wage and Tipped Minimum Wage,” National Women’s Law Center

The 10 Largest Jobs Paying Under $10.10/Hour Are Majority Women,” National Women’s Law Center

It Is Too Hard for Students to Access Financial Assistance,” Abigail Newcomer and Lavanya Mohan

Sequestration Could Deny Nutrition Support to Up to 750,000 At-Risk Low-Income Women and Children,” Zoë Neuberger

Rick Snyder’s Detroit Takeover Plan Is Not What Democracy Looks Like,” John Nichols

50k homeless in NYC shelters nightly, report says,” Jennifer Peltz

Worker-Owned Cooperatives—A Resilient Model for Grassroots Economic Development,” Meche Sansores

How to Craft an After-School Program That Doesn’t Suck,” Dylan Scott

Where Are the Women in the Sequestration Debate?” Katrina vanden Heuvel

Notable Studies and Reports (summaries written by James Cersonsky)

Stacked Deck: How the Dominance of Politics by the Affluent & Business Undermines Economic Mobility in America,” Dēmos. As this report argues, economic equality faces an uphill battle: “Over recent decades, the wealthy have translated their wealth into political clout, and used that clout to increase their wealth—which in turn has further increased their ability to secure yet more special treatment through public policy.” The influence of the wealthy ranges from political contributions slanted toward regressive ends to higher voting rates and contact with elected representatives. Turning the tide, the report says, will take the kitchen sink: limiting, and making more transparent, money in politics; making voting easier and stamping out voter suppression; redefining corporate personhood; enacting a more progressive tax code; and strengthening workers’ power in the workplace.

Consider the Source: 100 Years of Broken-Record Opposition to the Minimum Wage,” National Employment Law Project & Cry Wolf Project. Opposition to the minimum wage is nothing new. This study, the first of its kind, charts the trajectory of anti-minimum wage arguments over time. What it reveals is a patently broken record: despite significant economic and political change over the past century, objections to the minimum wage have changed little in substance. Three themes stand out: raising the wage would hurt the economy; it would hurt the workers it is intended to help; and it violates American standards of “freedom” and “liberty.”

Real People, Real Solutions in North Carolina,” NC Community Action Association. At 17.9 percent, North Carolina’s poverty rate sits two points above the national average. This report gives a textured profile of poverty across the state. The numbers paint a grim picture: 16 percent of the state lacks health insurance, 27 percent earns less than $25,000 and 21 percent of households are food insecure. Over half of households living in poverty are led by single women. In addition to providing comprehensive recommendations for different sectors—healthcare, employment, education, transportation and housing—the report proposes a number of state initiatives to mitigate the crisis: a bipartisan Poverty Eradication Council in the state legislature to ensure strategic and collaborative use of state funds; a Public Benefit Fund to relieve high energy costs; centralized management of funding from Community Service Block Grants and the Weatherization Assistance Program; and inclusion of the state’s 36 community action agencies in the state’s general fund, with anticipated returns of $16.90 on the dollar.

Occupational Projections for Direct-Care Workers, 2010-2020,” PHI. In an analysis of data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this report projects an increase of 1.6 million new jobs in the direct-care workforce—that is, nursing aides, home health aides, and personal care aides—by 2020. This increase, hovering around 70 percent, would make it the largest job sector in the country. The rise in demand for home and community-based care is responsible for a large chunk of the overall projection: between 2010 and 2020, workers in these settings are expected to increase their share, vis-à-vis those in facility settings, from 61 to 68 percent. Over the same period, however, the main demographic of direct-care workers, women between the ages of 35-54, are only projected to enter the workforce at a 1 percent increase. How to close the gap? For one, increase the quality—and attractiveness—of these jobs through federal and state spending on decent wages, benefits and training.

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).

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.

Households with children in large cities that are food-insecure: 25 percent.

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

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.

Low-income families that were working in 2011: More than 70 percent.

Families receiving cash assistance, 1996: 68 for every 100 families living in poverty.

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

Food stamp recipients with no other cash income: 6.5 million people.

People experiencing homelessness on any given night, US: 643,067.

Children living on streets or in homeless shelters, US: 1.6 million, 42 percent under age 6.

Annual cost of child poverty nationwide: $550 billion.

Quote of the Week: “For the middle-class in this country we have a ‘one strike, and you’re out’ economy. The system that was once in place to cushion those crises has been frayed. The most endangered species in America is the middle-class family. I think we have to be alarmed by that and ask whether that is good policy.”
      —Nick Fish, Portland City Commissioner, in American Winter

James Cersonsky wrote the “Notable studies” summaries and co-wrote the “Clips” section in this blog.

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

School Breakfasts and Ending Child Hunger

(Reuters/Mario Anzuoni)

Five years ago, Share Our Strength CEO Billy Shore began to wonder why the number of hungry kids in the US hadn’t declined significantly since 1984, when he and his sister founded the anti-hunger organization.

“We knew that it wasn’t because we lack food as a nation—we obviously enjoy an abundance,” said Shore, speaking with reporters in New York City at the release of a new report from Share Our Strength and Deloitte, “Ending Childhood Hunger: A Social Impact Analysis.” He was joined by US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, actor and longtime anti-hunger activist Jeff Bridges and others. “And it wasn’t because we lack food or nutrition programs—we have school lunch and school breakfast, SNAP, WIC and others. So we felt it had to be because children weren’t accessing those programs.”

Shore said the extent to which children don’t access food nutrition programs is best described by “the big gap” between the 21 million low-income students who receive a free school lunch—all of whom are eligible for free breakfast—and the 11 million who eat school breakfast.

“So just a little over 50 percent of the kids who are eligible actually get the breakfast that they really need to perform well in school and be healthy kids,” said Shore.

Shore and Bridges began traveling across the country as part of Share Our Strength’s “No Kid Hungry” campaign to speak with governors about “how to knock down the barriers in their states to get more kids enrolled.”

“Both Democrats and Republicans want to do the right thing when they hear of the problem, the solution and that the resources are there to implement the solution,” said Shore, noting that the funding comes largely from the federal government.

They new report shows the dramatic effect that the School Breakfast Program can have on children’s academic, health and economic futures. It notes that in 2011, nearly 15 percent of US households were “food insecure,” or at-risk of hunger. Households with children were nearly twice as likely to be food insecure as households without children. As a result, more than one out of five kids struggled with hunger. When Share Our Strength surveyed 1,000 K-through-8 teachers—evenly divided between rural, urban and suburban schools—three out of five said they have students in their classrooms that regularly come to school hungry.

The study makes the costs of food insecurity clear: In early childhood, it’s associated with impaired brain development and more frequent hospitalizations. Across children of all ages, it’s linked with lower academic achievement. Hungry children are 31 percent more likely to be hospitalized, at a cost of $12,000 per pediatric hospitalization.

In contrast, the new research demonstrates that students who participate in the School Breakfast Program attend 1.5 more days of school annually, score 17.5 percent higher on math tests, and are less likely to have disciplinary issues. The study concludes that if just 70 percent of kids eating a free- or reduced-price lunch were also eating school breakfast, the potential national impact would be 3.2 million more students per year achieving better scores on standardized math tests; 4.8 million fewer school absences a year; and, as a result of greater attendance and higher achievement, 807,000 more students graduating from high school.

According to the study, high school graduates typically earn $10,090 more annually and are half as likely to experience poverty and hunger as an adult than non-high school graduates.

“Just when everyone thinks that we can’t afford to invest in programs like these, the report shows that we can’t afford not to,” said Shore. “Because the long-term benefits are so strong, so compelling, so good for kids, so good for the economy and schools, it enables us to look at this issue through a different lens.”

The No Kid Hungry campaign is now working directly with schools to increase breakfast participation. The traditional school breakfast is served in the cafeteria before school begins. It’s often difficult for low-income students—particularly those who rely on public transportation—to arrive early enough to eat. Additionally, there is a social stigma associated with being “one of the poor kids” eating breakfast in the cafeteria. So, the campaign provides technical assistance and small grants to help schools work on alternative models that make breakfast part of the school day, including in the classroom.

Lesley-Anne Jones, a fifth grade teacher at PS 158 in Brooklyn, said that her school has a breakfast program from 7:30-8:00, and that too many students are unable to arrive in time to take advantage of it. With the help of Share Our Strength, the school implemented a breakfast in the classroom program for kindergarten and first grades. When her fifth grade students come to school hungry, Jones tells them to go to the younger classrooms and grab “a bag of breakfast.”

“Before the program, kids would come in hungry and some would be a little sluggish and say that their stomach hurts—they didn’t realize their stomach hurt because they were hungry,” said Jones. “Now, they get their breakfast, they’re good to go: it helps with discipline problems, focusing, state exams.”

She noted that prior to this program, teachers would bring in breakfast for the students on the day of state exams, knowing that a meal would help their performance. She would like to see the program expanded to include every grade at her pre-K through fifth grade school.

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The collaboration between Share Our Strength and Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley perhaps presents the clearest case of what can be achieved by increasing school breakfast participation. Since 2011, more than 130 Maryland schools are in the process of moving breakfast from the cafeteria into the classroom. Student participation in the program increased from 46 percent of eligible students in September 2010 to 56 percent in September 2012.

“So the state has added 33,000 kids in the last two years, and has 57,000 to go to get to where we should be. The governor is absolutely confident we’re going to get there,” said Shore.

The study suggests that the program can have the greatest impact on students in high-poverty schools who are at the greatest risk of food insecurity. In Maryland, students in schools with 80 percent low-income students that moved breakfast into the classroom were 6 percent less likely to be chronically absent than similar schools with a traditional school breakfast model; and there were nearly 10 percent more students in these schools achieving math proficiency than in similar schools with traditional breakfast models.

The report indeed offers a clear and compelling vision of what can be achieved by making the most of one tool to fight hunger. It caused me to reflect on then-candidate Barack Obama’s pledge in 2008 to end childhood hunger by 2015. Since that time, many anti-hunger advocates have been left wondering: Where exactly is that comprehensive plan?

I posed that question to Secretary Vilsack, and he suggested that “the plan is already in action” at the USDA, citing expansion and improvement of the WIC program; an expanded SNAP program; education initiatives to help families “stretch SNAP dollars” expansion of summer food programs; and food desert reductions through the Healthy Food Financing Initiative.

“From the earliest moment of a child’s life, we’ve made a concerted effort to expand and improve nutrition programs,” said Vilsack.

I pressed the secretary that there is nevertheless no identifiable administration plan people can look to and recognize as the way to end childhood hunger by 2015—an outline of the tools, the costs, the benefits—a clear vision that people can rally around.

“Part of the challenge—the fact that nobody knows about all of this [that we are doing]—unless Jeff Bridges is sitting at the table, if instead I showed up alone here—you all wouldn’t be here,” said Vilsack. “The Agricultural Department is not able to access the mainstream media the way an Oscar-winning entertainer can.”

But I’m going to hazard a guess that if President Obama held a press conference to lay out his plan on how we could end childhood hunger—or even cut it in half—the media would show up and the nation would pay attention.

Kudos to Share Our Strength for demonstrating the importance of one of the nation’s best tools. The campaign is now building a network of advocates around the country that is contacting schools to ask if and how they are serving breakfast. You can get information about your own community here.

“I like to think there’s a larger potential significance with this campaign, too,” Shore told me. “In this era of such deep polarization, a little bit of progress could inspire more in the larger field of poverty where so many are skeptical that results are possible. Governor O’Malley said to me that ‘small things done well make large things possible.’”

President Obama isn’t the only one who could do more on poverty. Read Greg Kaufmann’s takedown of Jeff Sessions.

This Week in Poverty: Gangnam-Style Counting With Senator Jeff Sessions

Senator Jeff Sessions speaks at the Values Voter Summit, October 7, 2011. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

An excellent new report from Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama proves that we spend more than $60,000 on every poor household in the United States every year, thereby raising the typical poor household’s standard of living above that of the typical middle-income household.

That’s right, I said “excellent” and “proves.” Why? Well, just take a look at this analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP)—an economic think tank that a bunch of muckety-mucks in Washington, DC, think is so “renowned” at knowing numbers.

According to this CBPP outfit, the senator arrives at the $68,000 figure by simply “adding up the cost of a large number of programs that are targeted on low- and moderate-income households—or on schools and communities with large numbers of low- and moderate-income students or residents—and dividing the total cost of these programs by the number of households below the official poverty line…. It treats all the benefits that go to households with annual incomes above the poverty line as though they were expenditures made on behalf of households with incomes below the poverty line.”

So what’s the problem? If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a DC native, it’s this: My town has got to leave more room for creativity and imagination, because sticking to so-called “facts” and “logic” is both “limiting” and “boring.”

In his report, Senator Sessions has counted things like payments to hospitals, doctors and nursing homes—including for elderly end-of-life care and people with serious disabilities who are institutionalized—“as though these payments are akin to cash income that is going to poor families to live on,” says the CBPP. In fact, close to half of all the spending that Sessions counts as income to poor households “consists of payments to hospitals, doctors and other providers”; and the majority of that spending is for “the elderly or people with disabilities.” The people living in nursing homes and other long-care facilities aren’t actually counted by the US Census Bureau as members of poor households—and many of them were middle-income until their health expenses exhausted their savings—but for the purposes of the Sessions report, these expenditures are counted as tens of billions of dollars going to households below the poverty line.

It’s a burst of creativity that is downright inspiring—I like to close my eyes and imagine Sessions and his staff achieving it while blasting “The Ride of the Valkyries.”

You can also see Dumbledore-like wizardry with the senator’s assessment of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). In 2011, 65 percent of the households receiving the EITC were above the poverty line. But Sessions “takes all means-tested assistance that goes to households above the poverty line and includes it in the spending total that it divides by the number of people below the poverty line,” according to the CBPP.

Sessions uses his Gangnam Style counting to draw the stop-the-presses, pitchfork-provoking conclusion that the benefits received by households below the poverty line—whether those households actually receive those benefits or not—raises their standard of living above that of the typical middle-income household.

The Old Guard CBPP—with all its dogmatic-about-data ways—insists that US Census Bureau data refutes the senator’s conclusion: “In 2011, the typical person in a family whose income was below the poverty line before means-tested benefits are counted remained 12 percent below the poverty line after the means-tested benefits are counted…[and] even with these benefits, the typical poor person’s standard of living is 57 percent below that of the typical middle-income American.”

Sure, if you want to be all autocratic and technocratic about it. But in the new DC—led by bon vivants like Sessions—limits and artificial walls fall by the wayside, new horizons are revealed, and—poof!—there actually is no poverty anymore.

I just wish Sessions had gone further: For example, what is the share of welfare payments to the poor in the form of monies received by defense contractors to build weapons systems designed to protect Americans—including poor Americans? If you think about it creatively, poor Americans are our least mobile and therefore most vulnerable citizens, so they actually consume a disproportionate amount of the defense budget. Same goes for Homeland Security, medical research, food inspection, wind energy, space exploration—because who wants to find another planet we could potentially inhabit more than poor people do?

Now, I do have one minor beef with the Sessions report and it’s this: I’m fairly certain that the only way they could pierce the steel-like matrix of so-called facts in order to discover this real reality that the rest of us have been missing is by being high. Sure, in this case, the getting-high cloud has a silver lining. But in my playbook, it’s a no-no even for purposes of groundbreaking creativity of Sessions-like proportions.

Let me be clear, I’m not judging the senator or his staff. They are victims of what I call the decay of the institution of integrity that began long before they arrived in Congress. What is needed at this moment in our history is a Temporary Assistance to Integrity-challenged Legislators (TAIL) program—modeled after the hugely-successful-until-Obama-meddled-with-it Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program.

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There will obviously need to be testing for Senator Sessions, his staff and other participants in the program in order to ensure that they are clean—otherwise, we can’t have our tax dollars going to support their salaries. And, of course, the senator and his staff will receive their salaries on debit cards—and they won’t be able to make withdrawals anywhere that sells liquor, or use the cards in restaurants that sell sugary drinks. But these are all no-brainers.

The real long-term challenge is how to repair the institution of integrity.

To do that, these people need to learn the value of integrity, which can’t be accomplished through their daily legislative work—that culture has the propensity to reinforce undesirable behaviors. Instead, they will need to perform thirty hours per week of Integrity Training. Allowable activities will include: reading and re-reading All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten, taking an integrity training course offered by an accredited for-profit entity and reading the Sessions report aloud at community meetings in impoverished neighborhoods.

Sessions and his staff needn’t worry—the program will be as easy as one, two, three, or the equivalent mix-and-match of numbers that they use for counting Gangnam-Style.


Note: a previous version of this post incorrectly reported that Sen. Sessions asserts that we spend the equivalent of $68,000 per poor household annually.  It should have read that the Senator says we spend more than $60,000 per poor household annually--a figure, by the way, that is still completely absurd.

A Demos/The Nation Production

Thank you, Demos, for collaborating with The Nation and using my post on TANF to create another one of your stellar infographics. Please share this—people just don’t know enough about this program. (And for some deep reading on TANF, check out this Congressional testimony yesterday by CLASP’s Elizabeth Lower-Basch.)

Click to enlarge

Screening and Discussion of American Winter

I’m looking forward to attending a screening of a great documentary in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, and moderating the panel discussion afterwards.

American Winter follows the personal stories of families struggling over the winter of 2011–12, presenting an intimate portrait of how the nation’s economy is impacting the lives of low-income and middle-income families. It reveals the human costs of cuts to social services, the decline of the middle class and an American Dream that seems increasingly out of reach.

Following the film, there will be a panel discussion with policy experts and one of the film’s two producer/directors, Joe Gantz, as well as an audience Q&A. Additionally, we will be collecting nonperishable canned goods at the registration table, which will be donated to DC Central Kitchen.

The event is sponsored by Center for American Progress, The Nation, and the National Association of Social Workers. Here are the details—hope you can make it!

March 6, 2013, 6:30 pm–9 pm
Landmark E Street Cinema:
E Street between 10th and 11th Streets, NW, DC.
This screening is free and open to the public.
Space is extremely limited. RSVP required. 
Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis and not guaranteed.
RSVP to attend this event.


Get involved

Ask President Obama and Congress to Implement a Plan to End Child Hunger by 2015

Tell Congress We Aren’t “Done With Revenue”

Tell Congress to Prevent Harmful Cuts Due to Start in March

Congress, What’s Your Plan to Protect Kids?


March for Rights, Respect and Fair Food: On Sunday, March 3, hundreds of farmworkers from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and their consumer allies from across the state and country will gather at Jesus Obrero Catholic Church in Ft. Myers, Florida, to begin a two-week, 200-mile march to Publix corporate headquarters in Lakeland, Florida. Marchers will be calling on the Florida-based grocery giant to honor the breakthrough social responsibility partnership for farm labor reform known as the Fair Food Program (FFP).

A Place at the Table

The acclaimed new documentary that shines a light on America’s hidden hunger crisis opens in theaters and becomes available for download today.

NYC Restaurant Workers Dance & Sing for a Wage Hike

Clips and other resources (compiled with James Cersonsky)

A ‘Go Local’ Focus Is Used to Resolve Unpaid Wages,” Lizette Alvarez

Unemployment rates are projected to remain high for whites, Latinos, and African Americans throughout 2013,” Algernon Austin

How Should Louisville Engage Its Low-Income Residents in the Civic Process?” Matt Bevilacqua

National surveys ignore the incarcerated, and thus understate our racial inequality,” Steve Bogira

Trauma Sets Female Veterans Adrift Back Home,” Patricia Leigh Brown

Investing in Boys and Young Men of Color,” Center for Law and Social Policy

Locked Out of Jobs, Formerly Incarcerated Struggle to Reintegrate,” Michelle Chen

Poverty’s Prominent Role in Absenteeism,” Marc Cutillo

Study ties black-white wealth gap to stubborn disparities in real estate,” Michael Fletcher

More than One in Six Americans Report Inability to Afford Enough Food,” Food Research and Action Center

Florida’s Welfare Drug Testing Law Struck Down by Federal Appeals Court,” Seth Freed Wessler

Temporary Assistance for Families Should Empower Working-Class Parents, Not Serve as a Slush Fund for States,” Shawn Fremstad

What’s ‘Sequestration’ Mean in Real Life?” Imara Jones

Making the Whole City Your Bargaining Committee,” Barb Kucera

Testimony on Waiving Work Requirements in the TANF Program,” Elizabeth Lower-Basch

Child Care Advocates Question Finger Scans for Poor Parents Receiving Subsidies,” Kathy Mulady

The Politics of Wage Suppression: Inside ALEC’s Legislative Campaign Against Low-Paid Workers,” National Employment Law Project

Instead of Gray’s Raise D.C., Michelle Rhee’s book: Let’s take a truly radical approach to school reform,” Michael Shank

Searching for affordable housing in Anacostia: For some, that’s asking too much,” Michael Shank

Low-Income Victims of Domestic Violence Facing a Political Super Storm,” Erik Stegman and Katie Wright

Immigration Reform and the American Worker,” James Surowiecki

The Human Costs of Sequester,” Katrina vanden Heuvel

The Wage Theft Epidemic,” Spencer Woodman

Take Three: Raising the Minimum Wage Myths,” United States Department of Labor

Some Notable Studies (summaries written by James Cersonsky)

Reducing Youth Incarceration in the United States,” Kids Count. Since 1995, the number of incarcerated youth has plummeted from 107,637 to 70,792. Still, the United States has a larger share of incarcerated youth than any other industrialized country—and only 25 percent are locked up for violent offenses. The report offers a variety of proposals to reform youth incarceration: limiting eligibility for getting locked up; investing in youth development as an alternative to incarceration; changing perverse financial incentives that encourage incarceration; and making youth detention facilities more humane.

Shuttered Public Schools: The Struggle to Bring Old Buildings New Life,” The Pew Charitable Trusts. School closings can pose grave social and economic hardship for students, teachers and communities. As this report shows, closings aren’t even as financially beneficial as districts often make them out to be. Districts have to pay for maintenance, security and insurance while they search for new tenants, keeping net operating savings below $1 million. They also face varied laws and regulations that complicate property sales. All told, sale prices for most shuttered schools fall between $200,000 and $1 million, often well below initial projections. The most frequent buyers? Charter schools, at 42 percent, which threaten to even further divert needed funding from school districts.

Creating Balance in the Locations of LIHTC Developments: The Role of Qualified Allocation Plans,” Poverty & Race Research Action Council. The Low Income Housing Tax Credit, or LIHTC, is a federal program that subsidizes housing projects for low-income households. This report asks: in deciding where to build new housing projects, how can policy-makers achieve balance between “high-opportunity” areas and places where the people who would live in the projects currently live? The authors offer a slate of proposals including: limit LIHTC developments to neighborhoods with more sustained revitalization efforts in place; limit incentives to fund preservation of existing affordable housing; and create incentives and rules to locate projects in “high-opportunity.”

The Roots of the Widening Racial Wealth Gap: Explaining the Black-White Economic Divide,” Thomas Shapiro, Tatjana Meschede and Sam Osoro. Over the past twenty-five years, the “wealth gap” between white and black families has risen astronomically—from $85,000 in 1984 to $236,500 in 2009 (all measured in 2009 dollars). In this analysis using longitudinal data, the authors zero in on five major drivers of the gap: years of homeownership; household income; unemployment; educational attainment; and inheritance, financial support from family or friends and preexisting wealth. “It is time for a portfolio shift in public investment to grow wealth for all, not just a tiny minority,” they argue. “A healthy, fair, and equitable society cannot continue to follow such an economically unsustainable trajectory.”

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, one in fifteen 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).

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.

Households with children in large cities that are food-insecure: 25 percent.

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

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.

Low-income families that were working in 2011: More than 70 percent.

Families receiving cash assistance, 1996: 68 for every 100 families living in poverty.

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

Food stamp recipients with no other cash income: 6.5 million people.

People experiencing homelessness on any given night, US: 643,067.

Children living on streets or in homeless shelters, US: 1.6 million, 42 percent under age six.

Annual cost of child poverty nationwide: $550 billion.

Quote of the Week:

“My personal take is that it’s about creating the political will—the politicians are our representatives, so it finally gets down to your personal will: what are you willing to do when you’re made aware of the problem? Look into your own souls and ask what can I lend to this? What’s something I can do and sustain until the job gets done?”
      —Actor Jeff Bridges on ending child hunger

James Cersonsky wrote the “Notable studies” summaries and co-wrote the “Clips” section in this blog.

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

This Week in Poverty: How Obama Can Fight Hunger Now

Volunteers fill bags at a food bank in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

In his State of the Union address, President Obama offered the kind of concrete proposals that anti-poverty advocates have long been waiting for: raising the minimum wage, expanding high-quality early childhood education and creating new “ladders of opportunity” in twenty of the poorest communities in the country.

All of these policies would help reverse the spread of hunger, which now affects more than 50 million Americans, including more than one in five children—an increase of 37 percent in childhood hunger since 1999. However, these promising proposals aren’t nearly enough, especially since the country is poised to move in the wrong direction in the fight against hunger.

If the sequester cuts takes effect, 600,000 low-income pregnant women and children up to age 5 will be cut from the Women, Infants & Children (WIC) program, which currently provides them with a monthly package of nutritious food. SNAP (food stamp) benefits are also scheduled to be cut in order to pay for—if you can believe it—a 2010 deal that improved the nutritional quality of school lunches. After November 1, SNAP benefits will average approximately $1.30 per person per meal. Finally, during the last Congress, both the House Agricultural Committee and the full Senate voted to cut the SNAP program—by $16 billion and $4.5 billion, respectively—so more cuts might be on the horizon.

That’s why a new report from Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger (NYCCAH) and a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, is so timely. How President Obama Can Reverse America’s Worsening Hunger Metrics is a practical guide to executive actions Obama can take now “to significantly reduce child hunger, as well as US hunger in general,” according to Berg. In 2008, then-candidate Obama pledged to end childhood hunger by 2015. This report offers ways he can move in that direction without relying on Congress.

Berg is a man who knows this subject. He has served as executive director of NYCCAH since 2001, helping it grow into one of the leading direct service and advocacy organizations on hunger and poverty in the nation, and was a political appointee in the US Department of Agriculture during the Clinton administration. Berg helped start AmeriCorps, and ran a program that mobilized 1,200 people to do anti-hunger work, rural economic development, and environmental work. He created the first-ever federal initiative to help faith-based and other nonprofit groups fight hunger and help low-income Americans move out of poverty. He also coordinated the USDA’s effort to help community groups increase the amount of food they recovered, gleaned, and distributed to hungry Americans.

“My biggest regret when I left the government was that I had finally figured out how the place worked after eight years,” Berg jokes.  

Indeed, two of his key recommendations to Obama involve executive orders that would direct federal agencies to work together to create “food jobs” such as food-processing businesses; and for the agencies to work with the USDA to increase the participation of eligible children, seniors, people with disabilities, veterans and working families in nutrition programs like SNAP, WIC, home-delivered meals for seniors, and school breakfasts and summer meals.

While directing agencies to work together seems pretty straightforward, Berg notes that “it’s fairly rare for federal agencies to work together in this way—even within a department.” For example, he describes his effort at the USDA to coordinate its work with farmers markets: one division allotted resources to WIC and the senior farmers market programs; another gave money for the creation of new farmers markets; another researched farmers markets; and others dealt directly with the farmers who sold produce at the farmers markets.

“Some of the people who worked on these issues had never met each other, much less worked with each other,” he says. “So you can imagine the challenge of trying to work with the rest of the federal government. But that’s the job of a White House—getting agencies to focus on presidential initiatives.”

Berg notes throughout the report that ultimately the solution to poverty and hunger is a Congress and president pursuing a full employment economy with jobs that pay a living wage. But that’s clearly not going to happen in this political environment.

“My top ideology is effectiveness—getting something done we couldn’t ordinarily get done because we are pushing for it,” says Berg.

So his recommendation to create food jobs is key in that regard: Berg urges Obama to sign an executive order directing the USDA, Small Business Administration, Department of Commerce, Department of Labor, Department of the Interior and Corporation for National and Community Service to work together to create food-related jobs and provide the job training and placement services necessary to ensure that low-income Americans obtain and keep those jobs.

He says there have been community food projects at the local level for decades—but they are “very, very small—[involving] hundreds or maybe thousands of people.”

The challenge is figuring out how to scale these businesses up and make them attractive to private investment. For example, New York City public schools serve 4.5 million meals per week. There is significant summer vegetable production in New Jersey and some in the Hudson River Valley. This produce is sometimes shipped across the country for processing and then sold back to New York City public schools.

“Why not instead have a local facility for cleaning, washing, and packaging vegetables for New York City public schools? There could be similar efforts to can, freeze, and process foods in urban centers throughout America,” says Berg. He cites Detroit, San Francisco, Los Angeles and cities in Texas and Florida as other places with proximity to major agricultural production where these kinds of facilities would make sense. Other food jobs could be created through businesses that turn raw produce into ready-to-eat salads, salad dressings, sandwiches and other products; or companies that sell healthy food and beverage vending-machines; as well as restaurants and catering businesses that offer affordable and nutritious food.

“There are huge tracts of federal land available out there. But I doubt, for example, that the Department of Transportation left to its own devices would really think about food production possibilities on highway right of ways, or commuter railroad right of ways,” says Berg. “They need a push from the White House. This effort could turn food deserts—where there is little or no access to the food necessary for a healthy diet—into jobs oases.”

Berg also calls for a bipartisan White House Conference on Hunger, either as a stand-alone event or as part of a broader summit on poverty, to launch new effective anti-hunger efforts.

“I make it very clear in the paper, it cannot be merely symbolic—it can’t just be a cattle call of people making speeches,” says Berg. “But if the president uses it to galvanize serious commitments and announces specific initiatives that the administration is doing, then it’s very significant.”

Berg says the kinds of commitments that could be elicited include: corporations increasing food donations and helping with outreach to people who are eligible for SNAP, summer meals and other federal nutrition programs; corporations working with organized labor to increase wages and the availability of healthier foods; employees doing skills-based service—for example, an accounting firm offering its services pro bono to food pantries and soup kitchens; and supermarket chains locating new stores in low-income neighborhoods.

“There are many mainstream corporations that progressives don’t agree with on most issues, but they would agree with them on this, and it’s important to bring them to the table,” says Berg. He believes that organizing people together to fight hunger is an effective way to begin to address broader poverty-related issues.

“I’ve always seen fighting hunger as a way of fighting poverty—an entrée into the poverty debate,” says Berg.

One of the great disappointments for anti-hunger and anti-poverty advocates during President Obama’s first term was that he never produced a plan to end childhood hunger as he had promised to do as a candidate. But it’s not too late. Whether Congress would go along with such a plan isn’t the point. Showing the American people how we could get this done if we wanted to is the point. In his report, Berg offers the president actions he could take—with or without Congress—to demonstrate a real commitment to ending hunger in America.

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Reader comment on “Ten Things You Should Know About #TheRealTANF


TANF is such a lousy program, why not just end it and replace it by offering the unemployed a wage-paying [subsidized] Transitional Job (TJ)? The overwhelming majority of TANF recipients are unemployed adults. If, instead of receiving small dollops of cash, they had the opportunity to work in a Transitional Job (TJ) at the minimum wage—up to forty hours per week if they are totally unemployed, or a smaller number of hours per week if they have part-time employment so that their total work week is 40 hours—it would be a vast improvement.

[Participants] would make more money. Their wages would also help them qualify for Social Security and Medicare. More important, their earnings would also help them qualify (if they have children) for the federal EITC, any state EITC, and the federal Child Tax Credit. As a result of their combined earnings and these tax credits, they’d be more likely to get out of poverty.

It is true that some TANF recipients have such a serious disability that—though they may not qualify for SSI—they will have trouble working or working enough hours in a typical job. Also, some TANF recipients will have just had babies, or have young children to care for, making typical work a challenge. The solution is to replace TANF with a Transitional Jobs program that is sensitive to the limitations faced by persons with a disability, a new baby, or the responsibility of raising pre-school children, and enables them, too, to perform enough TJ work to earn wages [that] lift them out of poverty.

TANF has proven a failure. We should replace it by offering the unemployed poor what they really want, and what makes most sense for them and society: the opportunity to work in an accessible, wage-paying Transitional Job until they can find regular, unsubsidized employment.

Senior Fellow

Community Advocates Public Policy Institute

Maria Gomez Awarded 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal

Maria Gomez, president and CEO of Mary’s Center and friend of This Week in Poverty, was awarded the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation’s second-highest civilian honor.

In 1988, Gomez founded Mary’s Center in Washington, DC, as a clinic to provide prenatal and postpartum care to Latino women in an impoverished neighborhood. There are now seven sites, a federally qualified health center (FQHC) that reaches 24,000 individuals, including mental health and dental services; a senior center; two mobile units providing dental, maternal and pediatric healthcare; home visiting, early intervention for special needs kids and WIC; literacy, computer and language classes; tutoring, afterschool and mentorship programs on site; and a summer employment program in which teens work in Mary’s Center or local businesses.

Congrats, Maria. And thank you and Mary’s Center for your incredible work.

Clips and other resources (compiled with James Cersonsky)

Wealth vs. Poverty: The NYT’s Underreporting of Poverty-related Issues,” Joel Berg

"Bad news and good news about racial prejudice," Steve Bogira

The Woman Who’s Changing the Definition of ‘Foodie,’” Michelle Chen

Changing neighborhoods can change your life,” Krissy Clark

Yes, Mayor Gray, It’s Time for a Prosperity Dividend for the District,” Mary Cunningham

600 homeless children in DC, and no one seems to care,” Petula Dvorak

Child Poverty for Minorities is Highest in Small, Majority-White Metros,” Sara Edelstein

Immigration Reform Prevents Employer Abuse,” Leo Gerard

Money Matters, but So Does Avoiding Red Tape,” Sara Goldrick-Rab

D.C., advocates at odds over homeless families; 900 people still in shelter,” Annie Gowen

Rural teens at high risk for pregnancy, analysis finds,” Michelle Healy

Report: To close achievement gap, fund schools by need, not ZIP code,” Sally Holland

Is fighting poverty ‘clearly a second-agenda item’ for Obama?” Kailani Koenig-Muenster, Melissa Harris-Perry/#Nerdland

Mass Incarceration and the New Jim Crow,” John Light

Goals for TANF Reauthorization,” Elizabeth Lower-Basch

Building Better Programs for Disconnected Youth,” MDRC

The economic costs of violence in Chicago,” Sylvester Monroe

Expanding Choice: Practical Strategies for Building a Successful Housing Mobility Program,” Poverty & Race Research Action Council

Equal Opportunity, Our National Myth,” Joseph Stiglitz

Promising future is sidelined by burdens of single motherhood,” David Templeton

Single moms can find little relief from chronic stress,” David Templeton

Current Education Reform Perpetuating, Not Curbing, Inequity,” P.L. Thomas

Prison and the Poverty Trap,” John Tierney

Minimum Wage: Presidential Words and Media Reports,” Topos

Parents Sue NY State for Withholding $250M in Big Apple Aid,” Andrew Ujlfusa

Scabs Recruited as 40,000 New England Grocery Workers Prepare to Strike,” Bruce Vail

Some Notable Studies (summaries written by James Cersonsky)

To Thrive, Minneapolis Children Need a Place to Call Home,” Children’s HealthWatch. As home prices in the Twin Cities rebound and foreclosures roll on, an increasing number of families are housing insecure—that is, forced to move frequently, living in overcrowded units, or behind on rent. This study finds that two-thirds of low-income children live in families experiencing housing insecurity, putting them at greater risk for developmental delays and other health issues. Compared to securely housed children, their families find themselves at more of a crossroads with energy security, household food security, child food security and quality healthcare. What can policy-makers do? For one, expand access to quality affordable housing.

Investing in Our Children: A Plan to Expand Access to Preschool and Child Care,” Cynthia G. Brown et al., Center for American Progress. Despite an uptick in preschool enrollment nationwide, the most disadvantaged children are the least likely to enroll. Meanwhile, only 22 percent of low-income families have access to federally subsidized childcare. Researchers offer a variety of proposals to fill the gap. First, the federal government should match state preschool expenditures up to $10,000 per child per year. Preschool would be free for children with family incomes below 200 percent of the poverty line (about $36,000 for a family of three), and would range from 30 to 95 percent of the cost for those above that threshold, on a sliding scale. Second, the government should increase access to child care, raise the federal childcare subsidy and require states to adopt standards of care.

TANF Child-Only Cases: Who Are They? What Policies Affect Them? What Is Being Done?” Jane Mauldon, Richard Speiglman, Christina Sogar and Matt Stagner. While the majority of funding from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program, goes to families, some goes solely to children. This report parses out the challenges that different categories of needy children face in obtaining federal benefits: children living in the homes of relatives (or non-parent caregiver cases); children whose parents receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI); and US-born children whose parents are undocumented immigrants. The report argues that federal and state governments do a poor job at tracking these cases, disaggregating data, and providing necessary information and services to qualified children. One suggested reform is that the federal government track each of these categories separately.

Developmental Education: A Barrier to a Postsecondary Credential for Millions of Americans,” MDRC. With a 40 percent share of all college students, community colleges are vital for preparing a huge population of Americans for the workforce. At least two-thirds of these students, however, don’t earn a certificate or degree within five years of enrollment. Resolving the crisis in part involves improving developmental (or remedial) education. There are a variety of promising avenues for doing so: investing resources in comprehensive programs and away from unproven short-term reforms like single-semester learning communities; moving students through remedial education at a faster rate; and improving remedial education instruction.

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).

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.

Households with children in large cities that are food-insecure: 25 percent.

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

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.

Low-income families that were working in 2011: More than 70 percent.

Families receiving cash assistance, 1996: 68 for every 100 families living in poverty.

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

Food stamp recipients with no other cash income: 6.5 million people.

People experiencing homelessness on any given night, US: 643,067.

Children living on streets or in homeless shelters, US: 1.6 million, 42 percent under age 6.

Annual cost of child poverty nationwide: $550 billion.

Quote of the Week

“Education is the origin of opportunity in our cities and towns, and it is the engine of exceptionalism on the world stage. Now, more than ever before, the attainability of the American dream is imperiled by an opportunity gap in public education—a gap exacerbated by wealth disparities at the local level. Our nation’s global leadership is also threatened by widening disparities between American children and students from other developed nations, as our children and families fall further below the poverty line.”
—Representative Mike Honda, excerpted from For Each And Every Child, a report by the Equity and Excellence Commission to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

James Cersonsky wrote the “Notable studies” summaries and co-wrote the “Clips” section in this blog.

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

Ten Things You Should Know About #TheRealTANF

Reuters/Molly Riley

The Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program was created by what is commonly referred to as “welfare reform” in 1996. It replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) as the program through which some low-income families are able to receive cash assistance.

With TANF authorization expiring at the end of March and needing to be renewed (and hopefully improved)—and over 46 million people still living below the poverty line of $23,021 for a family of four—here are ten things you should know about the program:

1) There is no cash entitlement program for people living in poverty in the United States. States (including Washington, DC), the tribes and the territories have wide discretion, so there are more than fifty different TANF systems in the country.

2) Most people in poverty do not receive cash assistance. In 1996, for every 100 families with children in poverty, there were 68 families who accessed cash assistance. In 2011, for every 100 families with children in poverty, 27 accessed cash assistance.

3) Over the last sixteen years, the number of people receiving TANF cash assistance has declined by 60 percent, even as poverty and deep poverty—people living below half the poverty line—have increased.

4) TANF is reaching fewer children. In 1995, AFDC kept more than 2.2 million poor children—over 62 percent of all poor children—out of deep poverty. In 2005, TANF lifted just 21 percent of children who would otherwise be in deep poverty, or just 650,000 kids.

5) The cash benefit is less than 50 percent of the poverty line in every state—so less than $9,000 for a family of three—and less than 30 percent of the poverty line in most states, or less than $5,500 annually for a family of three.

6) The TANF block grant has been frozen since 1996 so its value in real terms has declined by over 30 percent. Congress also recently failed to fund the Supplemental Grants for seventeen poorer states that had received them since 1996, reducing the overall funding of these high-poverty states by as much as 10 percent.

7) The “work participation rate” is a failed measure that stifles effective career pathways. The federal government rewards or penalizes states based on whether TANF recipients are doing “countable activities,” with no assessment as to whether those activities lead to employment entry, job retention, advancement or poverty reduction. So sweeping a county garage might be an approved activity, while post-secondary education leading to a wage that supports a family may not be permitted at all, or only for a limited number of recipients.

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8) The work participation rate discourages states from serving the most “needy” families that have multiple barriers to employment—such as physical or mental health limitations, a child with a health problem or an experience with domestic violence—even though these are the people with the most to gain from employment assistance. The priority is serving people who are able to meet the work requirements with little or no assistance.

9) The TANF Emergency Fund placed more than 260,000 low-income adults and youth in paid jobs at the height of the recession. Thirty-seven states participated in this public-private partnership, and it earned bipartisan support from governors. But Congress allowed it to expire in September 2010.

10) A weak TANF has contributed to a rise in deep poverty. The number of people living in deep poverty has risen from 12.6 million in 2000 to 20.4 million people today. This includes over 15 million women and children—9.8 percent of all children.

Read more and share at #TheRealTANF.

As federal funding for needy families shrinks, Congress considers further austerity. Read John Nichols’s analysis.

This Week in Poverty: Revealing the Real TANF


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again: the American people have been sold a bill of goods when it comes to the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program created in 1996. Both parties tout it as a “success,” but if you look at the numbers—and at the real lives of people who turn to the program for assistance when they are out of work—the picture is bleak, to say the least.

This March, TANF is set to expire and will need to be renewed. It will mark yet another opportunity to have an honest, fact-based discussion about the program. So it was good to see a top-notch panel of experts at the Center for American Progress (CAP) yesterday talking about TANF—“Learning from the Past, Planning for the Future.”

The speakers included Witnesses to Hunger member Shearine Mcghee, a former participant in the successful TANF subsidized jobs program that was created through the Recovery Act but allowed to expire in 2010. Kudos to CAP for having as one of the experts on poverty someone who has actually lived in poverty—it’s way too rare in this town, especially in Congress where public policy decisions are made without testimony from the people who are most affected.

Dr. LaDonna Pavetti, vice president for family income support policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), opened the discussion with an overview of how the program has performed as a safety net and in boosting employment—since the promise of TANF was that it would serve both purposes and thereby create pathways to self-sufficiency. 

Her top line statistic in assessing TANF as a safety net—a statistic that I wish every member of Congress and every progressive activist had on his or her bulletin board, and that the mainstream press would deign to report every now and then—is this: Before welfare reform, for every 100 families with children in poverty in the US, 68 were able to access cash assistance; now that number has fallen to just 27 (and Pavetti thinks it will be even lower when the 2012 data comes in). The benefit for those lucky twenty-seven families who are able to access it is less than 30 percent of the poverty line in most states—so less than $5,400 annually for a family of three.

“TANF does provide an important safety net for unemployed or underemployed families, but it reaches very few families in need, and when it does reach families they get a very small amount of cash,” said Pavetti. 

Pavetti also pointed out that in 1995—the year before TANF replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC)—AFDC kept over 2.2 million poor children from falling into deep poverty (defined as below half the poverty line, or less than $11,500 for a family of four today). This means that AFDC successfully lifted over 62 percent of poor children out of deep poverty. But in 2005, TANF lifted just 21 percent of children who would otherwise be in deep poverty, or just 650,000 kids. TANF has directly contributed to the number of people living in deep poverty rising from 12.6 million in 2000, to 20.4 million people today. This includes over 15 million women and children (and nearly 10 percent of all children). 

“So we have a lot less effect [today] on families and [are not] helping them deal with very, very deep poverty,” said Pavetti.

But it was her report on TANF as an employment program that I found most striking. She demonstrated that the (mostly) conservative claim that the TANF work requirement led to huge employment gains for single mothers is bogus. It’s true that in the late ’90s there was a significant increase in employment, but that’s largely because there was a booming economy. Those gains began to decline in 2000 and have vanished today.

“[By] 2011, we basically had lost all of what we had gained,” said Pavetti. “We’re back to where we were in 1996—actually a little bit below it.” Indeed in 1996, 64 percent of single mothers with a high school education or less were working, and in 2011 it was 62 percent. 

Pavetti said that the “more compelling story” is told by comparing the employment of single mothers with and without a high school degree, to single women with similar educational backgrounds and no children. In the early 1990s, there was a significant gap between the two groups. But since 2000, the likelihood of employment for a single mother with kids is almost exactly the same as it is for a single woman without kids. The more significant determining factor for earned income is level of education. 

“This is not a story about parent responsibility,” said Pavetti.“It’s really about what are the labor market opportunities for individuals who have a high school or less than high school [education].”

Pavetti suggested that TANF needs to be reformed to allow parents more educational opportunities so that they can advance in the labor market. Currently, the federal statute is very rigid about which kinds of education and training activities can be counted towards work requirements for TANF participants. She also suggested a renewed focus on a subsidized jobs program—like the one that placed 260,000 unemployed low-income parents and young adults in jobs during the recession. The program enjoyed bipartisan support from governors before House Republicans allowed it to expire. (Many people waged a strong fight to save the program, including Pavetti, who maintained a sort of vigil through her blog, counting down the days until it was scheduled to “die.”)

Mcghee talked about the powerful role that the subsidized jobs program played in her life. She said she was “thankful” for a medical assistance/medical billing work-training program that she enrolled in through TANF.  But when she graduated, prospective employers wanted her to have at least one year of experience in her field. So she found herself instead applying for fast food and other low-wage jobs for which she was then overqualified—what witnesses call “graduation to the same poor wages.”

The federally subsidized Way to Work program allowed her to work for the Coalition Against Hunger doing SNAP outreach, and educating other mothers and families about nutrition. With that work experience, Mcghee was able to obtain a job as a nutrition assistant for the Philadelphia WIC program, where she has been employed for two years.

“The Way to Work program gave us the job readiness that we needed to further our employment,” she said.

Witnesses to Hunger founder Dr. Mariana Chilton—an associate professor at Drexel University School of Public Health and co-principal investigator for Children’s HealthWatch—talked about the tension between education and work for mothers in poverty.

“It’s a real struggle,” she said. “It’s what the women in Witnesses to Hunger call ‘the monster under the bed.’  Because they know they need to improve their education in order to make a better wage. But as [one] Witness said, ‘What am I supposed to do? Tell my kids I can’t feed you for two years—just wait while I go to school and then I’ll feed you?’ So there’s a real Catch-22 between advancing education to get the better job, or going into work and getting stuck in this dead-end job. We need to find some better ways to work with this system.”

Dr. Kristin Seefeldt, assistant professor of social work at the University of Michigan and author of Working After Welfare, has been interviewing women in poverty and deep poverty for decades. She also talked about the difficulties women participating in TANF encounter as they try to further their education. In the late 1990s, she said these women were able to find stable jobs with decent wages—enough to get by—and could plan on waiting until their children were a little older before they returned to school.

“Now it’s different,” said Seefeldt. “That sort of choice is no longer there—the jobs aren’t giving that many hours, the wages aren’t enough to support [a family]. So either women get trapped [in low-wage work].”

Because they can’t obtain the education they need through TANF, many end up taking on huge debt while working multiple jobs. Seefeldt described a woman determined to get her Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN) degree who now works two jobs—because the hours of her “main job” were cut back.

“So she sits beside rehab patients in the middle of the night and tries to do her homework then, and she has another job during the day,” said Seefeldt. “And her kids are either in the car with her—driving from one place to the next—or they’re at a relative’s house. All of them are almost never home. That’s going to go on for another couple years, and I don’t think that’s a situation anyone wants to be in.”

Georgetown University law professor Peter Edelman—director of the Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy—moderated the discussion and noted that some of the program’s resistance to education is found in TANF’s original underpinnings.

“At the very beginning, the philosophy of TANF was work first,” he said. “The premise was that job training doesn’t work, and that letting somebody get educated first before they go to work is wrong—they should get experience and that’s the path to later success. That’s an over-simplification, but there are many states out there that still buy into that attitude.”

Deborah Schlick, project manager of Transitions to Economic Stability at the Minnesota Department of Human Services, said that the “assumption that we need to push people into work” is unfounded. She reported that 80 percent of the parents in Minnesota who turn to TANF for assistance have been in the state’s labor market, and 50 percent are “coming straight out of a job.” She also noted that only 40 percent of the state’s workers are able to collect unemployment insurance, so very low-wage workers with children are forced to turn to TANF. Schlick suggested that to improve TANF she would “start with an assumption that poverty is a measure of circumstances, it’s not a measure of the person. I think misunderstanding that has gotten us in a lot of trouble.”

You go to a discussion like this and you get a sense of just how deep the knowledge is—sixteen years after TANF was created—about why the program doesn’t work and how it could easily be improved. And yet, Republicans and some Democrats continue to get away with pushing the notion that it is a success. 

I’m not sure what it will take to reveal the truth to Americans about how this program is failing low-wage working families and families that are unable to work. But I sure hope I won’t be writing another version of this article six months from now. Instead, I’d like to write about a creative, coordinated campaign by advocates and families across the country that is focused on revealing the real TANF, and that refuses to be distracted by the same old lies told by the same old people. 

A Reader’s Comment on “Time to Take on Concentrated Poverty and Education

Missing from This Week in Poverty’s list of projects designed to alleviate the effects of concentrated poverty are projects aimed at providing more access to books. There is very consistent evidence showing that:

1. children of poverty living in high-poverty areas have little access to books at home, at school, or in their communities

2. more access to interesting, comprehensible reading material means better development of literacy

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3. providing access to books increases literacy development

The major source of books for children of poverty is the library. Studies done in the US and internationally show that library quality (more books, more staffing, presence of a credentialed librarian) is associated with reading proficiency.

Recent research suggests that the presence of a library can cancel the negative effect of poverty on reading achievement.

Improving school and public libraries and supporting librarians, in high poverty areas, is a quick and easy way to improve the quality of life and school performance. For a fraction of what we are paying for tougher standards and massive testing, every child in the US could have access to an excellent supply of books and other reading material.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

Get Involved

VAWA: Everything you need to know and take action
#TalkPoverty: State of the Union
Tell Congress: Don't Let Food Workers Go Hungry

New book
Behind the Kitchen Door, by Saru Jayaraman

Clips and other resources (compiled with James Cersonsky)

Old, Female and Homeless,” Rose Aguilar

American Winter: a documentary about a country in search of its promise,” [TRAILER]

Aspen Institute Holds Discussion on Domestic Workers,” Aspen Institute [VIDEO]

Policy Wonks Push for Investment in ‘Advanced’ Manufacturing,” Jake Blumgart 

Murder and segregation: till death do they part,” Steve Bogira

Pushing Arne Duncan to Fast-Forward,” James Cersonsky

Meeting the Challenge: The Dynamics of Poverty in Connecticut,” Connecticut Association for Community Action et al.

Twenty Years after the FMLA, Our Family Leave Policies Are Dragging Us Down,” Bryce Covert

High Rates of Child Poverty Hidden in Smaller Metro Areas,” Sara Edelstein

The Hidden Prosperity of the Poor,” Thomas B. Edsall

How earnings for Latino immigrants vary in the top 100 US metros,” Maria Enchautegui

Advancing Healthy Housing: A Strategy for Action,” Federal Healthy Homes Work Group

How Effective Is the Safety Net?” Robert Greenstein

Jessica Bartholow and anonymous Calworks recipient discuss Calworks,” The Michelle Jackson Show

Eric Cantor wants to make your life work. Here’s how.” Ezra Klein

Lost Votes, Problem Ballots, Long Waits? Flaws are Widespread, Study Finds,” Adam Liptak

US Rep. Jim McGovern kicks off ‘End Hunger Now’ Speech Series,” Rep. McGovern [SPEECH]

School-Based Health Centers Redefine Health for Kids and Teens,” National Assembly on School-Based Healthcare

A Look at the U.S. Department of Labor’s 2012 Family and Medical Leave Act Employee and Worksite Surveys,” National Partnership for Women & Families 

What Federal Budget Sequestration Will Mean for Child Care and Head Start,” NWLC & CLASP

Abercrombie’s State-of-the-State agenda includes plans for minimum wage hike,” Pacific Business News

As Corbett balks at expanding Medicaid, millions suffer,” Philadelphia Daily News

Equity and the Future of the American Economy,” PolicyLink and SEIU [VIDEO]

In Hard Economy for All Ages, Older Isn’t Better… It’s Brutal,” Catherine Rampell

Memo to Congress: To bring down the deficit, focus on jobs,” Greg Sargent

Missing the mark on Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy at MLK Avenue,” Michael Shank

Searching for affordable housing in Anacostia: For some, that’s asking too much,” Michael Shank 

Schools Can't Do It Alone: Why 'Doubly Disadvantaged' Kids Continue to Struggle Academically,” Paul Thomas

Jews fight for food stamps,” Ryan Torok

America’s Tomorrow: Equity is the Superior Growth Model,” Sarah Treuhaft, Angela Glover Blackwell, Manuel Pastor

Low-income Pregnant Women in Rural Areas Experience High Levels of Stress; Mothers’ and Babies’ Health at Risk,” University of Missouri researchers 

The ‘painfully undiscussed’ problem of poverty in America,” Alex Wagner [VIDEO]

Should DC Residents Need a Lawyer to Access Emergency Shelter?” Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless

More states consider welfare drug testing bills,” Morgan Whitaker

Some Notable Studies (summaries written by James Cersonsky)

Choice in the Real World: The use of family, friend and neighbor child care by single Chicago mothers working nontraditional schedules,” Illinois Action for Children. With limited access to childcare and nontraditional or erratic work hours, many mothers rely on Family, Friend or Neighbor childcare, or FFN. This report interviews fifty single mothers in Chicago about work-life balance and patterns in childcare. The authors find that 58 percent of mothers rely on a single FFN, while the remainder use multiple FFNs or a combination of FFNs and childcare centers or home care. While most mothers preferred to keep their current arrangement, some wanted changes—most commonly, more affordable care, other children for their kids to socialize with and settings with longer hours. The authors propose a variety of policies: increased child care options, government support for FFN care, support for emergency care, support for kids’ homework needs and parent-friendly employer practices.

Community Action Agencies: Strengthening Ohio’s Communities,” Ohio University and the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies. Community action agencies (CAAs) aim to alleviate poverty while empowering low-income families. This report, co-produced by Ohio’s consortium of CAAs, summarizes the benefits of CAAs for Ohio residents. Among the findings, Ohio CAAs invest nearly 40 percent of their federal funding toward community economic development projects like workforce training; in 2010, 94 percent of this portion was geared toward job development; 34 percent of CAA funds go toward programs designed to maintain workforce productivity; and 50 percent goes to infrastructure-related projects.

Citizen Gain: The Economic Benefits of Naturalization for Immigrants and the Economy,” Manuel Pastor and Justin Scoggins, Center for the Study of Immigration Integration. Immigrant naturalization is—or should be—based on basic justice for immigrants. As this study shows, naturalization also has measurable economic benefits for immigrants. Using data from the 2010 American Community Survey, the authors estimate an 8 to 11 percent gain in individual earnings for naturalized immigrants—and, over the next decade, an aggregate wage boost of $40 billion. The impact of naturalized status cross-cuts educational attainment: naturalized immigrants earn more than non-naturalized immigrants at every education level. Some of these gains might not be seen right away; earned income returns tend to rise the longer someone has been naturalized. So why, the authors ask, does this “citizen gain” go unrealized? Part of it has to do with financial barriers that immigrants face like required medical screenings. Fortunately, there’s a lot of work that groups and government agencies can do—and have done—to ease these barriers.

Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing at HUD: A First Term Report Card,” Poverty & Race Research Action Council. In this report on Department of Housing and Urban Development activity over the last four years, the authors review HUD’s racial integration efforts in nine programs, ranging from its strategic plan to specific initiatives like the Moving to Work program. It concludes, “A flurry of positive activity inside the agency during the first term has not yet been reflected in final program regulations or guidance, even though some of this work has been underway for years.”

Among the report’s findings: HUD hasn’t taken significant action to remove barriers to fair (i.e., non-discriminatory) housing choice under Section 8, despite finally examining these barriers; it has treated fair housing as a policy goal rather than a legal obligation; it has delayed release of “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” rules, despite significant public engagement; it hasn’t come through with clear enough implementation for the Sustainable Communities Initiative; and its support for housing mobility programs has been limited to three cities. 

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).

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.

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

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.

Low-income families that were working in 2011: More than 70 percent.

Families receiving cash assistance, 1996: 68 for every 100 families living in poverty.

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

Food stamp recipients with no other cash income: 6.5 million people.

People experiencing homelessness on any given night, US: 643,067.

Children living on streets or in homeless shelters, US: 1.6 million, 42 percent under age 6.

Annual cost of child poverty nationwide: $550 billion.

Quote of the week

“The good news story is that when you get low unemployment it disproportionately benefits people at the bottom—African-American unemployment and African-American teens. African-American unemployment tends to be roughly twice the overall avergage. African-American teen unemployment tends to be around six times the overall average. In 2000, we got the unemployment level down to 4 percent—the unemployment rate for African Americans was about 6.7 percent. Last year we were over 13 percent for the African American unemployment rate…. and for African American teens we were somewhere around 37 percent—a real disaster story. Now no one’s going to celebrate that it was 23 percent in 2000, but that’s a huge, huge difference. The percentage of each group that has poverty level wages [also] hugely changes when you get to a situation of low unemployment. The bad news: this is not on the political agenda in Washington. The political agenda in Washington is cutting the budget deficit.”
                                                         —Dean Baker, co-director, Center for Economic and Policy Research,
                                                                     at Equity and the Future of the American Economy conference.

James Cersonsky wrote the “Notable studies” summaries and co-wrote the “Clips” section in this blog.

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

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