Quantcast

Greg Kaufmann | The Nation

  •  

Greg Kaufmann

Poverty in America: people, politics and policy.

This Week in Poverty: Ms. Vasquez Goes to Washington

On Tuesday, Adriana Vasquez sat to the left of the table where JPMorgan Chase Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon testified before the House Financial Services Committee for two hours. A 37-year-old janitor and a single mother of three, she had traveled from her home in Houston to Washington, DC, to ask Dimon one simple question.

When the hearing adjourned, she crossed to talk to him.

Vasquez is accustomed to speaking to executives at the JPMorgan Chase Tower where she works, so she wasn’t intimidated. But she says she “felt strange” as she approached the table.

“I’m not used to being in that environment—surrounded by cameras and journalists,” Vasquez tells me through an interpreter. “It’s chaotic. But when it came time to ask the question I didn’t feel strange at all. He’s a person, just like me—the only difference is he has money, and I don’t.”

She stood before Dimon and asked: “Despite making billions last year, why do you deny the people cleaning your buildings a living wage?”

Vasquez says Dimon’s entourage reacted “as if I had a weapon on me,” quickly surrounding him.

“Call my office,” Dimon replied, before being ushered toward the exit.

Vasquez had wanted to add “walk a day in my shoes,” but didn’t get a chance. That’s exactly what Vasquez and over 3,000 of her colleagues in Houston are asking building owners and cleaning contractors to do as they consider the janitor’s demand for a raise to $10 an hour over the next three years.

The janitors are currently paid an hourly wage of $8.35 and earn an average of $8,684 annually, despite cleaning the offices of some of the largest and most powerful corporations in the world—Chevron, ExxonMobil, Wells Fargo, Shell, JPMorgan Chase and others in the “City of Millionaires.” The cleaning contractors have countered with an offer of a $0.50 pay raise phased in over five years.

Vasquez says she doesn’t think people realize just how hard their work is. She cleans twenty-four bathrooms on eleven floors, from 5:30 to 11:30 pm, five evenings a week. She describes the work this way: before clocking in, she makes sure her cart is stocked with chemicals and supplies. After clocking in, she literally runs up to the floor if the tenants aren’t around.

“It’s like a marathon, and there just isn’t enough time,” she says. “Once I go in I have only five hours to clean eleven floors of bathrooms. That’s one male and one female bathroom on each floor, four toilets in each bathroom, and then two private bathrooms.”

Vasquez says one floor receives “detail work” every night.

“That means really getting in there—scrubbing all the dirt and grime from the toilets. You need to leave it spotless, you need to leave it white,” she says. “You have to dust every [inch] of those bathrooms, make sure everything is shining—no dust underneath the toilets, no dust anywhere. The place where people grab the paper towels has to shine too.”

There are a number of women over age 60 who work as janitors in her building. She worries about them, especially the ones who vacuum and clean the offices as Vasquez did before she was assigned to clean bathrooms.

“They carry excessive loads—literally two garbage carts at a time because there isn’t enough time to do the work,” Vasquez says. “And the vacuums that we use—we have to put them on our backs. They get so hot, it’s dangerous. I’m 37 and it’s hard for me, so I know that these older women are having an even harder time but they have to work.”

Vazquez says that some of the janitors develop a rapport with the people whose offices they have cleaned for years. Occasionally, the employees will give janitors a gift or a gratuity. But even that’s getting more difficult now.

“To protect themselves from theft accusations, the building owners and cleaning contractors have created a weird buffer between people,” she says. “So if a tenant wants to give a flower arrangement left over in the office, or leftover food, or just a bottle of water—anything—we have to go to our bosses and get it approved and do paperwork. So now, when tenants offer, we often just say, ‘Don’t bother.’ They make it almost impossible for people who work in the same building to interact like human beings.”

But with the janitors now asking for a wage that would help them and their families escape poverty, tenants and building owners have a chance to do far more than offer a kind Christmas gift—which brings us back to Dimon and JPMorgan Chase.

The company is the third-largest building owner among all the owners that the 3,200 SEIU janitors clean for in Houston. The fact is that the cleaning contractors are going to do whatever the owners tell them to do, so in short—What Will Jamie Do?

“If the big shots don’t want to pay attention to us, well, they better get on notice because we’re going to make them pay attention to us,” says Vasquez. “We will let them see how important we are to their buildings—those buildings do not clean themselves. I’m feeling optimistic that we janitors can win this.”

Democratic Senate Farm Bill Cuts Food Stamps

Tuesday was an even worse day than usual to be poor in America.

Why? Because an amendment to the Farm Bill that would have reversed a $4.5 billion cut over ten years to the food stamp program (SNAP) was overwhelmingly defeated. That’s a cut that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says will reduce benefits by $90 per month for an estimated 500,000 households. Since the average SNAP household receives $284 per month ($4.46 per person, per day), the proposed cut is deep and significant. (Click on the graphic at right, courtesy of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign, for more on the importance of SNAP).

The importance of food stamps as an anti-poverty measure can’t be overstated. The program lifted 3.9 million Americans above the poverty line in 2010, including 1.7 million children and 280,000 seniors. The average beneficiary household has an income of only 57 percent of the federal poverty line (about $9,900 for a family of three), and 84 percent of all benefits go to households with a child, senior or disabled person.

Certainly New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand did her best to communicate the stakes when she introduced the amendment to restore funding: “We all here in this chamber take the ability to feed our children for granted. That is not the case for too many families in America. Put yourselves for just a moment in their shoes. Imagine being a parent who cannot feed your children the food they need to grow. It’s beneath this body to cut food assistance for those who are struggling the most among us.”

But unfortunately it wasn’t beneath that body one bit. In fact, sources say that lead Democratic negotiators exerted a lot of pressure on their colleagues to vote against the Gillibrand amendment because they feared passing it would kill the bill. (Next time you think bipartisanship is dead, consider how readily both parties are willing to sacrifice the poorest and least powerful among us.)

What about the novel idea of fighting for what you believe in and then compromising, if necessary? A determined Democratic Party could have let the American people know the many ways that $4.5 billion over ten years could be paid for, including: eliminating $4.1 billion per year in special tax breaks for the oil and gas industry; or—here’s a really easy way—$4.6 billion would be generated over ten years if there weren’t special rules that permit owners of corporate jets to avoid paying taxes on these expensive toys; or, how about cutting back on the $110 billion in subsidies the oil, gas and coal industries will receive over the next ten years?

The final Senate farm bill that passed wasn’t all bad news. As the Food Research and Action Center noted in an e-mail, the Senate rejected “amendments that would have crippled the program and left poorer, hungrier, and unhealthier millions of people who rely on the program for basic food”; most notably, an amendment that would have block-granted SNAP, Paul Ryan–style. That’s probably due in no small measure to the organizing and activism of countless citizens and anti-hunger advocates.

Next up is the House Farm Bill, and considering that the House-passed Ryan Budget cuts $133 billion over ten years from SNAP, expect it to be a lot worse. It’s important that people stay engaged and keep fighting hard for people who are hungry—especially because too many Democrats aren’t.

Soul Sisters on the Bus

I’ll tell you who has Congressman Paul Ryan’s number—the nuns on the bus. Do you know these Soul Sisters? If you don’t, start following them.

From June 18 to July 2, NETWORK—a national social justice lobby led by Catholic Sisters—is going on a nine-state, twenty-eight-city bus tour to call attention to the House Republican–passed Ryan budget and the damaging effects it would have on poor, vulnerable, and struggling people throughout America. They are also meeting with Congressional offices to advocate for a fair budget.

The tour began in Des Moines, Iowa; stopped at Representative Ryan’s office in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin; was in Chicago yesterday to meet with the Sun Times editorial board and visit Mercy Housing, which provides affordable housing for families, seniors and people with special needs; and now is heading onto Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC.

In Des Moines, Sister Simone Campbell—a Roman Catholic nun and the executive director of Network—took issue with Representative Ryan’s assertion that “his Catholic social teaching” informed his budget proposal.

“His Catholic social teaching?” she said. “If he had never uttered those words I don’t think we’d have a bus trip.”

In contrast to Representative Ryan, Sister Simone believes that “in our culture of individualism the role of Catholic social teaching is to counter that individualism with a keen knowledge of solidarity.”

“We each need to exercise responsibility,” she said, “But responsibility only works when we’re in solidarity and community.”

I’ll continue to provide updates about this tour. You can also stay informed via Bill Moyers.

Get Involved
Co-Sponsor the Equal Employment Opportunity Restoration Act
Introducing the Robin Hood Tax
Violence Against Women Act, National Rally, June 26, US Capitol

Notable Study

Guilty until Proven Innocent: Sanctions, Agency Error and Financial Punishment within NY State’s Welfare System,” Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies. This report shows the Herculean task that New Yorkers face in connecting with and maintaining welfare assistance. The state’s poorest residents face an obstacle course of program requirements that are exceedingly difficult to fulfill and often results in the loss of welfare assistance through arbitrary case sanctions.

As of March 2012, three in ten people participating in work requirements were sanctioned or in the sanction process. The city has a dismal record of defending its actions—the agency is found lacking in over 75 percent of state-administered fairness hearings.

Even when a family receives a full welfare grant, it is still living in “deep poverty”—below half the poverty line (less than about $8600 annually for a family of three). A case sanction results in the monthly cash income for a family of three being cut from $753 to $502.

“Sanctions come at a great cost to struggling households, and city and state budgets alike, since sanctions lead to a need for emergency shelters when housing is lost; domestic violence survivors are stuck in shelters or are forced to return to their abusers due to lack of resources; and parents come under the scrutiny of the child welfare agency because they lack essential income to meet their children’s needs,” said Liz Accles, senior policy analyst at the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies.

Articles & Other Resources

We Still Have a Long Way to Go to Achieve Racial Equity,” Algernon Austin
Planting Fresh Produce in DC’s Food Deserts,” Tim Carman
Lost in Recession, Toll on Underemployed and Underpaid,” Michael Cooper
Low-Wage Nation: Poverty & Inequality Threatening Democracy,” Peter Edelman
Mapping Food Insecurity: A Step Towards Ending Childhood Hunger,” Vicki Escarra
Chicago Workers’ Economic Plan: Go Co-Operative!” Laura Flanders
Children in Immigrant Families,” Foundation for Child Development
Progressive Action Can Move the Candidates,” Katrina vanden Heuvel
The Case for Wage Led Growth,” Jeff Madrick
SNAP Cuts Could Hit Military Members, Veterans,” Michael McAuliff
In Need, In New York,” Alex Miller
Young Families Fall Even Farther Behind in Saving,” Monique Morrissey
GOP Senate Candidate: Press Should Stop Writing Sob Stories About Poor,” Amanda Terkel

Vital Statistics

US poverty (less than $22,314 for a family of four): 46 million people, 15.1 percent of population.

Children in poverty: 16.4 million, 22 percent of all children, including 39 percent of African-American children and 35 percent of Latino children.

Number of poor children receiving cash aid: one in five.

Poverty rate for people in female-headed families: 42 percent.

Single mothers with incomes under $25,000: 50 percent.

Single mothers working: 67 percent.

Deep poverty (less than $11,157 for a family of four): 20.5 million people, 6.7 percent of population. Up from 12.6 million in 2000.

Increase in deep poverty, 1976–2010: doubled—3.3 percent of population to 6.7 percent.

Americans with no income other than food stamps: 6 million, 2 percent of population.

Twice the poverty level (less than $44,628 for a family of four): 103 million people, roughly 1 in 3 Americans.

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.

Quote of the Week

“It’s beneath this body to cut food assistance for those who are struggling the most among us.”
—Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, wishful thinking on the US Senate

This Week in Poverty posts every Friday morning. Please comment below. You can also e-mail me at WeekInPoverty@me.com and follow me on Twitter.

This Week in Poverty: Disposable Families in Ohio

Since January 2011, Ohio has thrown nearly 70,000 people—including 40,000 children—off of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance program, called Ohio Works First (OWF). That’s nearly 25 percent of the state’s TANF caseload. The reason? The state faces up to $130 million in federal penalties if 50 percent of the adults receiving assistance don’t meet the federal work participation requirement by September 30.

“Seventy thousand people is more than the entire TANF roll in thirty-nine states,” says Jack Frech, director of the Athens County Department of Job and Family Services in Appalachian Ohio, where he has worked with poor people for over thirty years. “You can imagine if someone announced they were going to throw all the children in Virginia off of cash assistance it would be national news. But that many get thrown off in Ohio and it’s barely even local news.”

Like Ohio, four other states face similar penalties for achieving low work-participation rates among TANF recipients in 2007. Advocates assert that forcing states to maintain those rates during a recession runs counter to the program’s goal of providing basic assistance to children in poverty.

Last year Ohio applied for relief from its penalty. But according to Liz Schott, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), the state’s circumstances didn’t meet the “limited bases for relief” under federal statute, so the Obama administration denied its request.

“Ohio’s response has been to reduce the rolls as quickly as possible, by any means possible,” says Frech, adding that the people who are now getting kicked off of the program are the very people who have the greatest barriers to work. A recent report from the Urban Institute identifies many of those barriers, including: mental and physical health challenges; lack of a high school diploma; caring for a child with special needs or another family member with a disability; and living with domestic violence. The authors conclude that the “one-size-fits all work approach” doesn’t work for parents who face significant barriers to employment.

“More than 50 percent of OWF recipients went to work in prior years and some managed to get off the rolls,” says Frech. “Many of the people who are left now are the folks who have the greatest barriers. So now we start over and say, OK, now 50 percent of the remaining people still have to work. That’s unfair on the face of it. The logical question we should be asking is this: Should we be denying families with children any cash whatsoever to live on—just because we’re not able to get their parents to go to a thirty-hour work assignment somewhere?”

Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks in Columbus, has worked on poverty-related issues for twenty-five years. She agrees with Frech, adding, “Welfare policy has been completely disconnected from the realities that states and communities and families are facing every day.”

Indeed, when families are cut off from TANF cash assistance, many are left to survive on food stamps (SNAP) alone, with no other cash income. In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that in 2010 nearly 20 percent of SNAP households fit that description.

“And Ohio is busy adding to that total by throwing tens of thousands of families off OWF every year,” says Frech.

Ohio is hardly alone in this post–welfare reform phenomenon in which families are left to fend for themselves. The welfare reform law in 1996 created the TANF block grant, replacing Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), which had guaranteed cash assistance to eligible families since 1935. States were given wide discretion to determine eligibility, benefit levels and time limits, and the block grant was also frozen at the 1996 level without being indexed to inflation; so the scarce dollars that families do get don’t stretch as far as they did in 1996.

Prior to welfare reform, for every 100 families living in poverty, there were sixty-eight families receiving cash assistance through AFDC. By 2010, just twenty-seven received cash assistance for every 100 families in poverty. A majority of states now provide benefits at less than 30 percent of the poverty line (about $5,200 annually for a family of three), and benefits are below half the poverty line in every state. In Ohio, the maximum benefit for a family of three is about $450 per month.

In his new book, So Rich, So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in America, Georgetown University Law Center professor Peter Edelman notes that the difficulty in obtaining cash assistance along with the proliferation of low-wage work has led to a dramatic rise in the number of people living in “deep poverty”—below half the poverty line (less than $8,700 annually for a family of three). That number skyrocketed from 12.6 million people in 2000 to 20.5 million people in 2010, an increase of over 60 percent.

Frech says Ohio’s caseload reduction has resulted in the state’s distributing $10 million less per month in cash assistance. Additionally, when a person is thrown off cash assistance due to a sanction—like a missed work assignment—he or she can be removed from the food stamp program as well. The state also has the option to throw the individual off of Medicaid. So a single mother with two kids, for example, suddenly finds herself with no cash assistance, one-third less food stamps and no Medicaid.

“The punishment is just brutal,” says Frech. “And essentially what we are doing is sanctioning the poorest, most vulnerable families in the state by [more than] $120 million a year to avoid the $130 million penalty.”

Schott says that Ohio likely could reach its work-participation rate target largely through its new Ohio Works Now (OWN) program, which pays employed low-income families that receive SNAP a $10 per month TANF benefit, and in that way raising the percentage of TANF recipients who are working. Oregon is in a similar position to Ohio, and has relied heavily on its version of an OWN-like program in order to raise the state’s work participation rate. This approach has allowed Oregon to avoid aggressive sanctioning and also the burdensome application process that keeps many Ohioans from even getting through the “front door” of the cash assistance program in the first place.

“The fact is the work participation rate [rule] is so broken it interferes with states’ efforts to connect families to work, and it drives states to use harsh policies to not serve families, by keeping people off or kicking them off,” says Schott.

But Frech says he has been a lonely voice in protesting Ohio’s aggressive approach to throwing people off of the rolls. He says the County Welfare Directors Association “is wholeheartedly embracing and supporting this,” and the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services “is basically taking the position that these folks are just lazy, they don’t want to work, and we have no choice but to sanction them off—they are choosing to sanction themselves off by not showing up for work. Never mind that 78 percent of OWF participants don’t even own a vehicle—who can afford a car if you’re living off $400 a month?—and travel allowances average just $25 to $50 per month. Pretty tough to get to the thirty-hours-per-week work assignment—especially for people in rural areas like Athens County.”

Frech also says there is way too much silence from people in Ohio advocacy groups whom he has considered friends and allies for decades.

“They’re all scared to death of the governor,” he says. “They’ve all basically been told if the state has to pay this $130 million penalty it’s going to come out of your budgets.”

Hamler-Fugitt has a different take.

“We’ve been consumed with fighting off legislative efforts to drug test cash assistance applicants and a total war on all fronts on SNAP benefits,” she says. “We may not be blasting [politicians] in the media, but we’re attempting to have meaningful conversations and bring folks to understand the broader issue.”

She is hopeful that Governor John Kasich is hearing the advocacy community and that he will “carry our message back to Congress and the Obama Administration.”

“We’ve got to sit down and negotiate a better deal on welfare,” she says. “We’ve got to index the block grant to keep pace with inflation, fix these work participation rates and put a moratorium on these penalties. The biggest increases in demand for emergency food we are now seeing is coming from what could formerly be described as solidly middle-income or upper-income communities. And when poverty hits the ’burbs like this, you know we got serious problems in this country.”

So far, the Obama administration has remained silent on the Ohio approach to caseload reductions—an approach similar to that taken by many states across the nation.

“There is no acknowledgment from the administration that this policy leads to children living on food stamps with no cash income whatsoever,” says Frech. “It goes unacknowledged because no one likes to point the finger at Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich and John Kasich—and everyone else who keeps saying welfare reform worked—and say honestly, ‘Your welfare reform plan stinks. It doesn’t work. It increases deep poverty and hardship for children.’ Whom do you report child neglect to when the greatest perpetrator is the state?”

Houston Janitors Strike, Continued


Courtesy: SEIU

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that janitors in Houston are on strike, seeking a raise to $10 an hour over the next three years. They are currently paid an hourly wage of $8.35 and earn an average of $8,684 annually, despite cleaning the offices of some of the largest and most powerful corporations in the world—Chevron, ExxonMobil, Wells Fargo, Shell, JPMorgan Chase, and others.

Yesterday, more than 450 people gathered in the city’s Skyline District at a peaceful demonstration calling for the end of poverty-wage jobs in Houston. They were outside JP Morgan Chase when police horses trampled some protesters, including janitor Hernan Trujillo (whom I interviewed here). A woman who attempted to assist Trujillo after he fell was arrested.

 

“There’s a great deal at stake for all of Houston. We are not going to be intimidated by the Houston Police Department and we are not going to be intimidated by the building owners like Shell, Exxon, or JP Morgan Chase,” Tom Balanoff, president of SEIU Local 1, told me. “We will be in the streets now and in the coming days until we win justice for Houston’s janitors.”

The Farm Bill, Continued

The Senate continued consideration of the Farm Bill, which currently includes a $4.5 billion cut to SNAP over ten years, reducing benefits by $90 per month for an estimated 500,000 households. Since the average SNAP household receives $284 per month ($4.46 per person, per day), the proposed cut is deep and significant.

Fortunately Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has introduced an amendment that restores the $4.5 billion cut to SNAP over ten years and invests $500 million in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack program, which provides healthy produce to more than 3 million children through their local schools. The Gillibrand amendment seems to be gaining momentum, with more senators singing on as cosponsors. You can reach your senators and tell them to cosponsor through the Senate switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

“Nearly half of every SNAP dollar goes to feed children, and with one in five children already affected by hunger, Senator Gillibrand’s amendment comes at a critical moment for America’s kids,” said Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus Campaign for Children.

The importance of food stamps as an anti-poverty measure can’t be overstated. The program lifted 3.9 million Americans above the poverty line in 2010, including 1.7 million children and 280,000 seniors. The average beneficiary household has an income of only 57 percent of the federal poverty line (about $9,900 for a family of three), and 84 percent of all benefits go to households with a child, senior or disabled person. It’s also worth noting that USDA research indicates that every dollar of SNAP benefits generates $1.79 in economic activity.

A good way to stay informed about this bill is to sign up for the Food Research and Action Center’s email alerts and bookmark its Farm Bill 2012 page.

Get Involved

Jubilee at Walmart: For Living Wages and Better Treatment of Workers
Raise New York’s Minimum Wage
Two Million Jobs and Quality In-Home Care

Notable Studies & Other Resources

Safe, Affordable Housing Supports Young Children’s Health in Philadelphia,” Children’s HealthWatch. CHW analyzed surveys from 4,500 young Philadelphia children and their caregivers collected between 2005–11, finding that approximately 56 percent of families were housing insecure. This brief is the first in a series of five city-specific analyses about housing and young children.

What Can a Multifaceted Program Do For Community College Students?” MDRC. Encouraging early findings from a rigorous evaluation of CUNY’s ambitious three-year intervention to help community college students attend school full time and graduate. After only one semester, CUNY’s ASAP program has increased the proportion of students who have completed their remedial education courses by 15 percentage points—meaning fifteen more students out of every hundred are ready to take college-level courses. At community colleges across the country students are placed into remedial courses where they stagnate, attend only part-time (because of work or other responsibilities), and never complete a credential, graduate or transfer to a four-year institution, so this kind of program is significant and much needed.

Dads Expect Better: Top States for New Dads,” National Partnership for Women & Families. An analysis of state laws and regulations governing paid leave and workplace rights for new fathers in the US finds that only fourteen states and the District of Columbia do anything at all to help new dads who work in the private sector.

National Center for Children in Poverty: Cool tools, including demographic profiles by age of children in poor and low-income families; early childhood profiles highlighting states’ policy choices that promote health, education, and strong families; demographics wizard to create custom tables of national- and state-level statistics about low-income or poor children; young child risk calculator to better understand state-specific outcomes in health, school, and development of young children.

Ohio Poverty Law Journal has launched a new blog focused on policy and legal issues affecting low-income Ohioans and the Ohio legal aid community. In addition to original commentary, posts will include position papers, legal analysis, research on poverty issues, legislative testimony, press releases, op-eds, letters to the editor and other materials.

Events

Nuns on the Bus, June 18–July 2. NETWORK, a national social justice lobby led by Catholic Sisters, is going on a nine state, twenty-eight city bus tour to call attention to the proposed severe federal budgets cuts contemplated by Congress. Specifically, the Sisters take issue with the House Republican-passed Ryan budget and the damaging effects it would have on poor, vulnerable, and struggling people throughout America. The bus tour will begin in Des Moines, Iowa, and make stops in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and end in DC on July 2nd.

Take Back the American Dream Conference, June 18-20, Washington Hilton Hotel, DC. Don’t miss Van Jones, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Paul Krugman, Senator Bernie Sanders, Ai-jen Poo, Sandra Fluke, Gov. Howard Dean, Melissa Harris-Perry, Chris Hayes, and other notable speakers. I’ll be there too—just saying because I know that might get at least two readers to come, counting my mom and wife.

Reading by Peter Edelman, June 21, 6:30-8 at Busboys and Poets, 14th & V St. NW, DC.

Articles & Video

The 20 Million,” Mark Bittman
Welfare to Work Debate Takes Center Stage in California,” Steven Harmon
Will Philadelphia’s Experiment in Eradicating Food Deserts Work?” Ezra Klein
Home Care Workers Deserve Protections,” Catherine Ruckelshaus
SNAP: A Critical Lifeline for Families and Children,” Billy Shore
Florida Flunks Wage Theft Test—S. Florida Leads the Class,” Jeanette Smith and Christina Francisco-McGuire
Immigrant Rights, Gay Rights, and President Obama,” Peter Wallsten
Housing Project for Hard Core Homeless Pays Off,” Alexandra Zavis
What SNAP is For,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (VIDEO)

Vital Statistics

US poverty (less than $22,314 for a family of four): 46 million people, 15.1 percent of population.

Children in poverty: 16.4 million, 22 percent of all children, including 39 percent of African-American children and 35 percent of Latino children.

Number of poor children receiving cash aid: one in five.

Poverty rate for people in female-headed families: 42 percent.

Single mothers with incomes under $25,000: 50 percent.

Single mothers working: 67 percent.

Deep poverty (less than $11,157 for a family of four): 20.5 million people, 6.7 percent of population. Up from 12.6 million in 2000.

Increase in deep poverty, 1976–2010: doubled—3.3 percent of population to 6.7 percent.

Americans with no income other than food stamps: 6 million, 2 percent of population.

Twice the poverty level (less than $44,628 for a family of four): 103 million people, roughly 1 in 3 Americans.

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.

Quote of the Week

“Whom do you report child neglect to when the greatest perpetrator is the state?”
                                                                                            —Jack Frech, director

This Week in Poverty: Justice for Janitors and Low-Wage Workers

Last week I reported that janitors in Houston reached an impasse in their month-long effort to renegotiate their expiring contract with cleaning contractors. The janitors are currently paid an hourly wage of $8.35 and earn an average of $8,684 annually. They seek a raise to $10 an hour over the next three years, but the contractors offered just a $0.50 pay raise phased in over five years.

In response, the janitors began asking building owners and tenants to intervene on their behalf—especially since the cleaning contractors claimed that those corporations were unwilling to cover higher wages, so their hands were tied.

Indeed 3,200 janitors in the city clean the offices of some of the largest and most powerful corporations in the world. Surely these powerbrokers could influence the outcome of any negotiations? Yet despite janitors sharing their personal stories of struggling in poverty and asking for help from the likes of Chevron, ExxonMobil, Wells Fargo, Shell, JPMorgan Chase and real estate giants like Crescent Real Estate Equities (a subsidiary of Barclay’s) and Hines Real Estate, no party stepped forward as hoped.

“I went to speak to the owner of my building, Crescent, and the only response we got was the chief of security saying ‘I don’t care,’ ” said janitor Maria Teresa Lopez. “We know we are not important to these cleaning companies. They know we live paycheck to paycheck, yet our paychecks are often late by days.”

Additionally, janitors began reporting threats and harassment at the workplace as organizing efforts ramped up. So on Tuesday the janitors called a strike at the nine office buildings at Greenway Plaza. Charges of unfair labor practices were filed with the National Labor Relations Board. At another site, eleven janitors who work for New York–based cleaning contractor Pritchard also went on strike to protest unfair labor practices and were notified that they wouldn’t be allowed to return to work—in apparent violation of federal law. As of yesterday evening, the strike was scheduled to expand to two more buildings, including Wells Fargo Tower, where janitors report that the cleaning contractors are interfering with their right to engage in union activity. SEIU Local 1 spokesperson Paloma Martinez told me that the strike could now “move to any part of town, to several buildings or a whole section of town.”

“It was the threats that pushed the janitors over the edge,” says Martinez. “Not only are you trying to survive day-to-day, trying to just put food on the table, but then you go into a caustic environment at work just because you’re trying to make your workplace better.”

In contrast to the building owners and tenants, the faith community in Houston has taken a strong stand to support the workers. It began on Sunday with an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle by Joseph Fiorenza, archbishop-emeritus of the Galveston-Houston Diocese.

“Critics of the requested meager increase seem to be either oblivious to a janitor’s struggle to live on $9,000 a year, or they are callous to the devastating effects of poverty on human life,” writes Fiorenza.

On Wednesday leaders from the Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities held a press conference to support the janitors and other low-wage workers, and talk about the importance of “family-sustaining wages” in a town where more than 825,000 people live in poverty. In 2006 too, faith leaders were instrumental in the janitors’ successful fight for union representation.

“The faith community really is the backbone for the janitors’ fight and for all working people in Houston,” says Martinez. “They provide a moral compass that business leaders in this town can’t turn their backs on.”

Although the moral case is clear and should be sufficient for people of conscience, the janitors and advocates are also making the case that raising sub-poverty wages is the best way to ensure Houston’s long-term economic viability. Latinos now represent 40 percent of the city’s population, and half of Latinos age 25 and older don’t have a high school degree. The business community has made it clear that the city needs to reverse its skyrocketing dropout rates.

“Those rates are a direct result of these poverty jobs and how pervasive they are in this city. It’s about parents not being able to be present at home,” argues Martinez. “They are working two to three jobs just to feed their families and put a roof over their heads. So you have kids who don’t see their parents, and parents who are exhausted all of the time. It’s difficult to give kids the guidance they need under those circumstances.”

“The youth of our community doesn’t [finish] high school because they are concerned with helping their parents survive day-to-day,” says Lopez. “I don’t want my daughter to fall into this trap, so I am fighting for her.”

The janitors are making it clear that they see their fight for decent wages as one for low-wage workers throughout the city. Despite the fact that Houston leads the nation in creating new millionaires, one in five people working in the city makes less than $10 an hour, and Texas is tied with Mississippi for the highest proportion of minimum-wage jobs in the nation.

“We are directly calling on other workers to come out with us. This momentum can be used to help all workers in Houston,” says Martinez. “This is about bringing energy, motivation and inspiration to other low-wage workers—restaurant workers, hotel workers and others—saying we can unite and organize. We can do something great together if we help each other.”

The Minimum Wage: 100 Years Later

June 4 marked 100 years since the first minimum wage law in the United States was passed by Massachusetts. It wasn’t until 1938 that a federal minimum wage was established, and Jack Temple, policy analyst for the National Employment Law Project, says that the case made for it in an essay by then Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins “could have been written today.”

Perkins feared “fly by night” sweatshop operators profiting from rock-bottom labor costs, describing them as “men of inferior business caliber who probably could not survive at all if it were not for their willingness to be entirely ruthless in exploiting labor.”

That kind of exploitation is alive and well today.

“The fact is low wages are still a key growth strategy for many employers,” says Temple. “Low-wage industries and jobs are among the economy’s fastest-growing, and last year no fewer than thirty-five of the nation’s fifty largest low-wage businesses posted gains that exceeded their pre-recession levels, even after adjusting for inflation.”

Those gains for employers are helped by a federal minimum wage that is stuck in reverse.

For most of the 1960s and ’70s, a worker with a full-time minimum-wage job could lift a family of three above the poverty line, about $17,300 today. The real value of the minimum wage peaked in 1968 and would be over $10 per hour today if it had kept pace with inflation. But the wage has been raised only three times in the past thirty years and now stands at $7.25 per hour, which results in sub-poverty earnings of $15,080 for a year-round, full-time employee. The minimum wage for tipped workers is a stunning $2.13 per hour and it’s been locked there since 1991. As a result, food industry servers in the United States are three times more likely than the general workforce to be paid sub-poverty wages and twice as likely to need food stamps.

“Making matters worse, we’re now three years out from the official end of the recession, and workers’ real average hourly earnings are declining rather than rebounding,” says Temple.

Many Americans recognize the injustice in the plight of a worker who diligently performs his or her duties only to remain mired in poverty, forced to make choices between food, rent and medicine. Today, more than two-thirds of Americans support raising the minimum wage to over $10 per hour, including a majority of Republicans and 64 percent of Independents.

A bill proposed by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) would raise the wage to $9.80 an hour, set the tipped wage at 70 percent of the minimum wage and index both to inflation. In the House, Representative Donna Edwards (D-MD) introduced a bill increasing the tipped wage to 70 percent of the minimum wage too. Finally, on Wednesday, Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) introduced the “Catching up to 1968 Act of 2012,” raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour and also setting the tipped wage to 70 percent of the federal standard. If the Harkin bill were passed, for example, an estimated 28 million workers would receive a raise—54 percent of those who would benefit are women and 54 percent work full-time. Contrary to prevalent myths, only 12 percent of those who would see their incomes rise are teenagers and only 15 percent work fewer than twenty hours per week.

While there is little hope that any of these bills would pass a Republican House or overcome a Senate filibuster, Democrats should work to force a vote.

“Everyone in the House and Senate should have to take a stand on this issue,” Temple says. “It’s just an overwhelmingly popular issue.”

In the meantime, there is real action at the state level. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have raised their minimum wages above the federal level, and ten automatically increase it to keep pace with inflation. Seven states have a higher minimum wage for tipped workers than the federal standard, and the poverty rate for servers in those states is 30 percent lower (13.6 percent compared to 19.4 percent).

The New York Assembly passed a bill to raise the minimum wage to $8.50, but it’s stuck in the Republican-controlled Senate despite polls showing overwhelming bipartisan support. Governor Andrew Cuomo has said that he supports the increase in principle but doubts it can clear the Senate. But the fact is that according to New York State labor law, Governor Cuomo actually has the authority to raise the minimum wage on his own by issuing a “wage order”—no further action by the state legislature would be required.

“This is shaping up to be a real showdown between a popular mandate and the role of money in politics—a popular mandate versus lobbyists from the retail industry, the Chamber of Commerce and the restaurant industry,” says Temple. “But at the end of the day, if the Senate won’t step up, Governor Cuomo could deliver if he wants to. This is his issue to win.”

Raising the minimum wage is a key part of any serious strategy to reduce poverty in America. In fact, all the way back in 2007 the Urban Institute found that raising the minimum wage, along with improvements to the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit and childcare assistance could reduce poverty by 26 percent. A commitment to creating opportunities for poor families means a commitment to raising sub-poverty wages.

“There is nothing inevitable about today’s low-wage economy,” says Temple. “But if we don’t maintain the value of the minimum wage, we shouldn’t expect anything different in the century ahead.”

Follow the Farm Bill

This week, the Senate began consideration of the Farm Bill, and the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) reports that it could be on the Senate floor for the next two to three weeks. This bill will play a major role in determining funding and rules for the food stamp program (SNAP), and it currently includes a $4.5 billion cut to SNAP over ten years, reducing benefits by $90 per month for an estimated 500,000 households. Since the average SNAP household receives $284 per month ($4.46 per person, per day), the proposed cut is deep and significant.

Fortunately Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has introduced an amendment to remove those proposed cuts. To support that effort, you can contact your senators and tell them you want them to cosponsor Senator Gillibrand’s amendment. You can reach them through the Senate switchboard at 202-224-3121.

The importance of food stamps as an anti-poverty measure can’t be overstated. The program lifted 3.9 million Americans above the poverty line in 2010, including 1.7 million children and 280,000 seniors. The average beneficiary household has an income of only 57 percent of the federal poverty line (so about $9,900 for a family of three), and 84 percent of all benefits go to households with a child, senior or disabled person. It’s also worth noting that USDA research indicates that every dollar of SNAP benefits generates $1.79 in economic activity.

California’s Democratic State Senators have written to their state’s Congressional delegation, to Senate majority leader Harry Reid and to House Speaker John Boehner, urging them “to strengthen, not weaken, our nation’s nutrition safety net.”

“SNAP helps prevent hunger in nearly 4 million people in our state and California Senators couldn’t just stay silent as the US Congress considers making cuts,” California Senate majority leader Ellen Corbett told me.

I’ll be reporting on how this bill moves over the next weeks. You can also sign up for FRAC’s action alerts here, and bookmark its Farm Bill 2012 page to check in periodically too.

Sanders and Cummings Legislation Confronts Dental Crisis

Earlier this year I interviewed Senator Bernie Sanders about the dental care crisis in America—one in which 47 million people live in areas where it’s difficult to access care, 17 million low-income children are not seeing a dentist every year and one-fourth of US adults over age 65 are missing all of their teeth. At the time of our interview, Senator Sanders promised bold legislation to confront that crisis, and yesterday he and Maryland Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings made good on that pledge.

The legislation in the Senate and House would expand comprehensive dental coverage through Medicare, Medicaid and the Department of Veterans Affairs, and it would increase access to dental services at community health centers and boost support for mobile clinics and dental clinics in schools. It would address the shortage of providers by expanding the National Health Services Corps scholarship program and also train “dental therapists” who can perform some routine procedures that are currently offered only by dentists.

From a poverty perspective, lack of dental care can impede a person’s ability to obtain a good job as well as a child’s attendance and performance in school. From an economic perspective, preventative care is far cheaper than eventual treatment in the ER.

Expect stiff opposition from the American Dental Association. This is a good one to tell your senators and representative to cosponsor.

Get Involved

The Philadelphia School has proposed laying off almost 30 percent of school staff from 2011 levels—including 2,700 service workers, almost 1,500 teachers and 1,600 support staff that include nurses, secretaries and counselors. Help Protect those Jobs.

The North Carolina Community Action Association invites you to take the Face to Face With Poverty Challenge and join them for a Poverty Simulation exercise on Thursday, June 14, from 1 pm to 5 pm. This training event provides a window into the lives of North Carolina’s low-income families and the struggles they face to overcome barriers of joblessness, homelessness, crime, illiteracy and the lack of quality childcare.

Stop Excluding Home Care Aides from Minimum Wage & Overtime

Articles, Studies and Other Resources

…Keep the Focus on Disconnected Youth,” Center for Law and Social Policy
As Unions Decline, Inequality Rises,” Economic Policy Institute
Map the Meal Gap,” Feeding America
Do We Need a Poor People’s Coming-Out Movement?” Laura Flanders
The Hands That Feed Us,” Food Chain Workers Alliance
Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation,” Food Research and Action Center
US Nuns Bus Tour to Spotlight Social Justice,” Laurie Goodstein
Bob Herbert and Melissa Harris-Perry Talk Poverty in America
A Consumer’s Guide to Interpreting Various US Poverty Measures,” Institute for Research on Poverty
The Fortunate 400,” David Cay Johnston
Teen Pregnancy and High School Dropout,” National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
        and America’s Promise Alliance
The Case for Extending Financial Inclusion to All Children,” New America Foundation
Study: Grandparents Need More State Help to Raise Kids,” Pamela Prah
Where Theft is Legal,” Progressive States Network
Fighting for Domestic Workers in California,” Peter Rothberg
Net Income Change Calculator,” Urban Institute

Vital Statistics

US poverty (less than $22,314 for a family of four): 46 million people, 15.1 percent of population.

Children in poverty: 16.4 million, 22 percent of all children, including 39 percent of African-American children and 35 percent of Latino children.

Number of poor children receiving cash aid: one in five.

Poverty rate for people in female-headed families: 42 percent.

Single mothers with incomes under $25,000: 50 percent.

Single mothers working: 67 percent.

Deep poverty (less than $11,157 for a family of four): 20.5 million people, 6.7 percent of population. Up from 12.6 million in 2000.

Increase in deep poverty, 1976-2010: doubled—3.3 percent of population to 6.7 percent.

Americans with no income other than food stamps: 6 million, 2 percent of population.

Twice the poverty level (less than $44,628 for a family of four): 103 million people, roughly 1 in 3 Americans.

Families receiving cash assistance, 1996: 68 of every 100 families with children living in poverty.

Families receiving cash assistance, 2010: 27 of every 100 families with children living in poverty.

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

Quote of the Week

“I am paid so little that I have to work two jobs just to make sure my family has what they need. I’m only able to see my two kids about an hour a day. We spoke up for a better life and now they’re violating our rights.”
                              — Cirilo Solo, janitor in Houston who works for Pritchard

This Week in Poverty posts every Friday morning. Please comment below. You can also e-mail me at WeekInPoverty@me.com and follow me on Twitter.

This Week in Poverty: Will Janitors Strike in Houston?

In Houston, more than 3,200 janitors clean the offices of some of the largest and most powerful corporations in the world: JP Morgan Chase, Shell, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Wells Fargo, KBR and Marathon Oil, to name a few. For their labor, they are paid an hourly wage of $8.35 and earn an average of $8,684 annually. Two janitors together would earn about $17,300 a year—still well below the poverty line of $22,314 for a family of four.

Yesterday, the contract between the janitors and the cleaning contractors expired. SEIU Local 1 spent the past month trying to reach an agreement to raise the janitors’ hourly wage to $10 over the next three years. But the contractors countered with an offer of a $0.50 pay raise phased in over five years and—according to SEIU spokesperson Paloma Martinez—said that they “wouldn’t budge.” The contractors claimed that the building owners and tenants—the aforementioned corporations—aren’t willing to pay anything close to a living wage.

In response the janitors voted to authorize their bargaining committee to call a strike. For workers already struggling on sub-poverty wages, this was no easy decision.

“The workers were really insulted by the offer,” said Martinez. “The contractors said they weren’t going to move and they blamed it on the building owners, but we all know the state of the real estate market here.”

With the city enjoying the fruits of the energy industry, Houston’s commercial real estate market is indeed the best performing market in the United States in terms of demand. It has the highest number of new corporate real estate projects in the nation, vacancy rates below the national average and rising rental rates.

Nevertheless, the city’s janitors are among the lowest paid in the nation, with workers in cities with far weaker real estate markets earning a significantly higher hourly wage: Cincinnati ($9.80), Cleveland ($10.30), Detroit ($10.97) and Chicago ($15.45) are a few examples.

“While many of us do all that we can to provide a decent living for our families, we are paid poverty wages and are full of despair not knowing how are we going to get to the end of the month,” said Hernan Trujillo, who cleans offices in downtown Houston and has been active in organizing his colleagues. “We can’t provide education for our children or buy medicine when we get sick.”

The janitors are now reaching out directly to the building owners and tenants and asking for their help. Martinez says that even though these parties aren’t directly involved in the negotiations, an ExxonMobil or a Wells Fargo could easily influence any outcome.

“This is a good opportunity for them to say, ‘We’re going to do right by Houstonians. We’re going to do right by working people,’ ” said Martinez. “But so far there really hasn’t been much of a response.”

In a city that has a poverty rate which has risen steadily over the last four years and is higher than the national average, and a cost of living estimated at approximately $47,200 annually for a family of four, the significance of these negotiations extends beyond the lives of the janitors and their families.

“People who have never worked poverty jobs in their lives suggest that the solution is to find another job,” said Trujillo. “[But] these jobs will always exist. Housekeeping jobs are going to be needed. Instead of ignoring the problem, we need to improve these jobs. All hard work should be respected with living wages.”

Martinez notes that opponents of living wages often argue that low-wage workers simply need to better educate themselves so that they can qualify for higher-paying jobs.

“People can’t get other jobs because they have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet,” she says. “They want to get new skills, to get educated, but how are they going to do that if they literally have to figure out every single day how to put food on the table? We need to move towards making these positions full time-family sustaining jobs, emulating the standard of many other cities.”

One can imagine an executive at Wells or Chevron or Shell who might develop a rapport with a worker cleaning his or her office—ask about the family, their other jobs, that sort of thing. Maybe when Christmas rolls around there is a cash gift. But when push comes to shove, and the stakes are high as they are at this moment, how many people will actually step forward for the workers who sanitize their bathrooms and workspace, empty the trash, vacuum the floors—do the hard work they depend on every day?

“We are always perceived as a low category of people. People assume because we are janitors we must be uneducated, rude or thieves,” says Trujillo. “For years we’ve been ignored and when we try to improve our lives many laugh at us. But despite the obstacles, we’re going to do whatever it takes to make it happen, which includes going on strike. Everyone who works hard deserves a good life. We want to make Houston a city that works for workers.”

Conversation with Tianna Gaines: Holidays, Hunger and Poverty

In recent months, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know many participants in Witnesses to Hunger—a project in which people living in poverty use photographs and testimonials to advocate for change at the local, state and national levels. Tianna Gaines-Turner is a Witness living in Philadelphia with her husband and children. She works at Drexel University’s School of Public Health and as a homecare worker for an elderly person. I spoke with Tianna this week about her Memorial Day weekend and she had a lot on her mind. Here are excerpts from our conversation:

Holiday weekends always put a stir on things and make people feel a little more pressure than normal. I think a lot of times people forget what the holidays are for—this holiday was to remember the troops, those who do the great work to keep our nation safe. It wasn’t really about barbecues and pool parties and things like that….

Unfortunately, a lot of people who live in impoverished neighborhoods—especially children—they look forward to holidays because it’s the only day they know for sure they’re going to get a good meal. To me it’s sad, it’s sickening, that you have people who have to wait for a barbecue or an event to know they don’t have to worry about scrambling up food because, for example, they’re going to Auntie’s house and there’s going to be a cookout; or the kids know they can go outside and someone on the block is going to be having a cookout and they can just pretty much eat all day….

I feel like the city wastes a lot of money on nonsense, but then we criticize a person who’s on public assistance or cash assistance. Don’t point a finger at a person who is needing these benefits, but at the people making decisions that are taking away from programs which low-income people rely on….

I understand that the mayor is working really hard at bringing new programs—like healthy eating programs—to the city. But we’re also building an ice skating rink in the heart of center city while just last week we had unions—teachers, janitorial staffs—in front of the school board talking about getting laid off and [city] budget cuts. And right now the city of Philadelphia is sponsoring a Jay-Z concert. People make a big deal out of little things and don’t pay attention to the big things: you have food pantries not being able to feed people because there’s more demand; senior citizens who have nothing to eat; people getting foreclosure notices on their homes and people left to live in squalor in abandoned buildings; people lying out on the streets, panhandling.

So where is city money going? Is it going to a school district to make sure kids can learn? Is it going to go into reopening a homeless shelter? Who is paying attention to where the money is going…?

At the end of the day, it’s about children that are going hungry; it’s about the mother worrying about her house being foreclosed on and where is my family going to sleep—the shelters are over filled, and I can’t stay at Auntie or Uncle’s house because there are already family members there. But people think about these problems as, “It isn’t me that’s losing my house, it isn’t my child that’s going to sleep hungry.” And then they say mean things like, “Why do they keep having children they can’t take care of?”—once again, pointing the finger. The end result is no one is really looking at the big picture.

There should be no person that has to go to sleep hungry in the United States, period. It should not be accepted anymore. It should not be something where people have to feel ashamed to say, “I’m hungry.” Because there’s no shame in hunger. The shame is for those who continue to be pointing a finger at those who are hungry.

We’re people. You can’t continuously try to separate us as if people who live in low-income families are not people. We are people. And we’re getting sick and tired of being sick and tired of people just mistreating us—talking about us as if we don’t exist. We’re not standing down anymore. We’re speaking out, and we’re going to continue to speak out wherever we need to speak—for people to understand that hunger and poverty are real. It’s not a black thing, it’s not a white thing, it’s a people thing. Hunger has no color.

Next Week on the Hill

The Senate is expected to take up the farm bill on Tuesday. Although it will be weeks before a final vote, this is a process to stay on top of, especially because this bill will play a major role in determining funding for the food stamp (SNAP) program.

The importance of food stamps as an anti-poverty measure can’t be overstated. The program lifted 3.9 million Americans above the poverty line in 2010, including 1.7 million children and 280,000 seniors. The average beneficiary household has an income of only 57 percent of the federal poverty line (so about $9,900 for a family of three), and 84 percent of all benefits go to households with a child, senior or disabled person.

While the Senate bill is far better than the draconian House bill—which would cut $36 billion from SNAP and throw 2 million low-income people off of the program—it nevertheless would cut an estimated $4.49 billion, reducing benefits for 500,000 households by $90 per month. Since the average SNAP recipient receives just $133 per month ($4.46 per day), the cut is deep and significant.

I’ll write an update on the bill next week. In the meantime, readers can contact their Senators and let them know that at this time of record poverty, we need to strengthen—or at the very least protect—the SNAP program.

Guest Post: Deborah Weinstein on Poverty, Children, and Diabetes

A few years ago, I attended a community forum on poverty in Utica, New York. There was a sense of urgency at the meeting because poverty in the region had been persistently and extremely high: in 2010, nearly 43 percent of children in Utica were poor, compared to 20 percent of all US children. At one point in the meeting, a presenter talked about going to a fifth grade class and asking how many children knew someone with diabetes. Many hands went up.

I was reminded of this last week when stunning new findings about diabetes in teenagers were reported in the New York Times. A little more than a decade ago, about one in ten 12- to 19-year-olds were at risk of—or already had—Type 2 diabetes. By 2007-2008, that number had jumped to 23 percent. High rates of obesity and low levels of physical activity are said to contribute to this dramatic rise. These are factors associated with poverty.

These findings were immensely troubling: when Type 2 diabetes occurs in children, it is more resistant to treatment than it is in adults. Diabetes that is not adequately controlled by medication, diet or physical activity increases the likelihood of heart disease, kidney failure, amputations and other serious conditions, so children with the disease are at risk of having a lifetime of health problems.

As an editorial in The New England Journal of Medicine points out, it is easy to see why poor children find it difficult to change their eating patterns and increase their levels of physical activity. Empty calories are cheaper and more readily available, playing video games indoors is safer than playing outside in bad neighborhoods, public schools have cut back on recess and gym and parents may not be able to afford paying for their kids to participate in afterschool sports.

Type 2 diabetes is hard to control even under the best circumstances. A teenager who might be inclined to reject adult advice and who is in an environment filled with the wrong choices is not going to be fighting the disease in optimal conditions. A large body of research over the past few decades has documented that poor children are also already at a greater risk of chronic health problems, hospitalizations and developmental problems. These difficulties are all associated with falling behind at school, dropping out and reduced earnings in adulthood.

Many poor children do beat these odds; children are miraculously resilient. But the extreme risk of diabetes that we are now seeing—with more serious health complications likely for children than for adults who get the disease—makes the hurdles in front of them even harder to clear. What kind of future do these kids look forward to?

One thing is certain: young people entering adulthood with diabetes urgently need the new healthcare law, so their pre-existing conditions will not place health insurance out of reach. To help defend the new law, sign up for Families USA’s Health Action Network. Or to fight those in Congress whose budget proposals deepen poverty and compound its consequences, sign up for alerts from the Coalition on Human Needs.

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

The Alliance for Appalachia’s End Mountaintop Removal Week in Washington
Stop Elimination of Commission Jobs at JC Penney
Home Defenders League
Support Paid Leave

Articles

Why Your Grocery Store Makes Farmworkers Poor,” Greg Asbed and Lucas Benitez
Plantations, Prisons, and Profits,” Charles Blow
Study Ranks US Second-Highest in Child Poverty,” Center for Community Change
Raising Threshold for Bush Tax Cuts… Would Lose $366 Billion,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
Peter Edelman on ‘Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in America’,” Karen Dolan
…Threat to Working Families in Louisiana…” Melissa Flournoy and Vicki Shabo
Time to Fight For a Minimum Wage Increase,” Katrina vanden Heuvel
America’s Families Speak Out,” Kathy Mulady
Why the Unemployed Are the ‘Forgotten Man’ of 2012,” Tim Price
Wasting Time is New Divide in Digital Era,” Matt Richtel
… Obama Rejected Bush Administration Concession to Write Down Mortgages,” Matt Stoller

Other Resources
Arsenal of Exclusion and Inclusion” blog
Asthma’s Impact on the Nation—Infographic,” Centers for Disease Control
New Educational Materials on Trends in Inequality,” Stanford Center on Poverty & Inequality
What Works in Reentry Clearinghouse,” Urban Institute & Council of State Governments

Studies

Uninsured Veterans and Family Members: Who Are They and Where Do They Live?”
Jennifer Haley and Genevieve Kenney. Ten percent—or 1.3 million—nonelderly veterans don’t have health insurance coverage or use VA care. Nearly 950,000 adults and children in veterans’ families are uninsured. 41 percent of uninsured veterans have unmet medical needs, while nearly 34 percent report having delayed care due to cost. The Affordable Care Act could increase uninsured veterans’ coverage: nearly half would qualify for expanded Medicaid, and up to 40 percent could qualify for subsidized health insurance exchange coverage if they lack access to employer coverage.

Diverse Charter Schools: Can Racial and Socioeconomic Integration Promote Better Outcomes for Students?” Richard Kahlenberg and Halley Potter. This paper examines the causes of the current trend of charter school funders and government program guidelines to develop racially isolated high poverty schools in urban locations (as well as segregated white schools in some other locations) and suggests a series of policy changes and incentives that could increase racial and economic diversity in charters.

Vital Statistics

US poverty (less than $22,314 for a family of four): 46 million people, 15.1 percent of population.

Children in poverty: 16.4 million, 22 percent of all children, including 40 percent of African-American children and 37 percent of Latino children.

Number of poor children receiving cash aid: one in five.

Poverty rate for people in female-headed families: 42 percent.

Single mothers with incomes under $25,000: 50 percent.

Single mothers working: 67 percent.

Deep poverty (less than $11,157 for a family of four): 20.5 million people, 6.7 percent of population. Up from 12.6 million in 2000.

Increase in deep poverty, 1976–2010: doubled—3.3 percent of population to 6.7 percent.

Americans with no income other than food stamps: 6 million, 2 percent of population.

Twice the poverty level (less than $44,628 for a family of four): 103 million people, roughly 1 in 3 Americans.

Families receiving cash assistance, 1996: 68 of every 100 families with children living in poverty.

Families receiving cash assistance, 2010: 27 of every 100 families with children living in poverty.

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

Quote of the Week

“People assume because we are janitors we must be uneducated, rude or thieves.”
                                           —Hernan Trujillo, janitor in Houston

This Week in Poverty posts every Friday morning. Please comment below. You can also e-mail me at WeekInPoverty@me.com and follow me on Twitter.

This Week in Poverty: Wage Theft in the City of Millionaires

For two years running Houston has added more millionaires to its population than any other city in the United States. Near-millionaires are enjoying some nice upward mobility, especially those involved in the oil and gas industry.

Low-wage workers, on the other hand, aren’t faring too well in the city. In fact, a recent report from Houston Interfaith Worker Justice (HIWJ) estimates that low-wage workers lose $753.2 million annually due to wage theft. Wage theft can occur in many ways, including: workers being denied the minimum wage or overtime pay; stolen tips; illegal deductions from paychecks; people being forced to work off the clock; or workers getting misclassified as independent contractors so they aren’t entitled to overtime or benefits.

“We’re not talking about a worker here or a worker there, it’s something that has a lot of ripple effects,” says José Eduardo Sanchez, campaign organizer with HIWJ. “It impacts families, communities and local economies.”

Although there are laws on the books against wage theft, there are problems with understaffing, enforcement, and jurisdiction disputes in institutions like the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, the Texas Workforce Commission, and the courts.

HIWJ—a nonprofit organization helping low-wage workers learn about their workplace rights and organizing to improve working conditions—recently took decisive action. The group drafted an ordinance that would protect workers from retaliation for reporting violations; allow workers who file a complaint to receive a fair hearing; and require employers to pay back not only the stolen wages but also damages, in order to create a real disincentive for repeat offenses. Currently, an employer in Houston only needs to pay the wages owed and then can move on. Why wouldn’t a bad actor simply repeat the behavior and hope to get away with it next time?

The city’s Legal Department initially analyzed the proposal and said that wage theft is addressed by state statute. But Mayor Annise Parker’s office contacted HIWJ to express her interest. HIWJ is now working with her administration on policy proposals that would create a process for a fair hearing and link wage theft violations to the suspension and revocation of city licenses, permits and contracts. Other options to collect additional damages from employers are being explored as well.

Sanchez says the mayor’s action was “surprising” given the initial response from the city.

“But now it’s a matter of holding the politicians accountable and really pushing for enforceable aspects of this legislation,” says Sanchez. “Because there’s an easy way for this to become one of those good policies on paper—nice sentiment, nice words—but not enforceable.”

Part of that accountability involves bringing the issue to the forefront of the public’s attention. As Kim Bobo, executive director of the national IWJ has written, “This is the crime that no one talks about.” Sanchez says the campaign has been very successful in getting a broad range of print media and Spanish-language broadcast media to cover the issue and, more recently, mainstream television is reporting on it too.

HIWJ is also working with neighborhoods hit especially hard by wage theft—predominately low-wage and immigrant communities—“to build worker power, build community power, and be able to show that to the mayor,” says Sanchez.

“We need to make it clear that this is not just a bunch of community organizations that think this should happen, but real Houstonians dealing with this, real community businesses dealing with it,” says Sanchez. “We’re also creating an environment where a worker can feel safe in reporting a violation. Because if there’s not a community there for support and to help uphold these rights, then workers will just stay silent.”

Immigrant workers are particularly susceptible to threats by employers. Although immigration status isn’t asked in the process of a wage theft investigation, workers are still often reluctant to come forward.

“We tell workers that regardless of immigration status, everyone has the same right to be paid for their work,” says Sanchez. “We’re working to build trust between workers and enforcement agencies, but in the meantime, we like to serve as mediator between them. So the workers know they have the whole organization, the whole coalition, backing them up.”

Sanchez notes that wage theft in Houston—the nation’s fourth-largest city—“is part of a trend that’s growing in this economy and we need to look at it in the context of the bigger picture.”

Indeed, a 2009 study concluded that in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles alone workers lost $56.4 million per week due to wage theft, a cool $2.5 billion annually. National Interfaith Worker Justice is currently working with local affiliates that are leading campaigns for statewide wage theft ordinances in Iowa and New Jersey, and for local ordinances in Memphis and Grand Rapids. Legislation is also being considered in Arkansas, Denver and a number of counties in Florida. South Florida IWJ led a coalition that helped pass model legislation in Miami-Dade County too.

“We are really building momentum in areas that are not typically considered places where you would think progressive worker legislation would be happening,” says Dianne Enriquez, coordinator of IWJ’s network of twenty-seven worker centers and lead coordinator of the wage theft campaign.

Enriquez notes that the business community is particularly catching on to the importance of cracking down on wage theft. In fact, the Grand Rapids bill was co-authored by a former president of the city’s Chamber of Commerce.

“This is an issue that affects the broader community and it’s rampant across all industries, and different kinds of sectors and workers,” says Enriquez. “It makes sense to level the playing field. It’s good for the community, it’s good for the business community.”

Every day, Enriquez hears about a new campaign that is pushing for local wage theft legislation. She’s confident that these local actions are creating momentum for a push for national legislation in the near future.

“People are tired of waiting for the federal government to put resources into enforcing laws that are on the books,” says Enriquez. “People aren’t getting paid the minimum wage, or any wages in many cases, they’re not getting paid overtime. So it’s exciting to see that this is something that’s really building right now.”

You can get involved here.

Paul Ryan’s Tuchus

I can’t tell you how tired I am of writing about this guy, but the dude is out there lying his tuchus off—as my grandparents would say—about poverty, so what choice does a guy on the poverty beat really have?

Here’s his latest—at the Reagan Library this week: “We’re not measuring outcomes. Are these programs working? Are people getting out of poverty? Shouldn’t that be our goal? Look at the results of the government-centered approach to the war on poverty. One in six Americans are [sic] in poverty today—the highest rate in a generation. In this war on poverty, poverty is winning…. Our budget builds on the historic welfare reforms of the 1990s—reforms proven to work. We aim to empower state and local governments, communities, and individuals—those closest to the problem.”

People kept above the poverty line by benefits

Let’s take the first part, first: uh… we are measuring outcomes. Here are some examples of policy outcomes, based on Census data: in 2010 alone, Social Security kept 20.3 million people above the poverty line ($22,314 for a family of four) and unemployment benefits kept 4.6 million people out of poverty. Food stamps aren’t counted in the official poverty measure, but they helped 4.4 million people stay above the poverty line. The Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit aren’t officially counted either, but they kept 9.3 million people out of poverty. In all, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has demonstrated that without the safety net, poverty would have been almost twice as high in 2010—nearly 30 percent of the population! An additional 40 million people would be in poverty if not for these critical “government-centered” approaches.

But Ryan points to the existence of poverty as proof that antipoverty programs aren’t working. It’s like saying clean air and clean water laws aren’t working because there is still pollution… so we should get rid of them?

Secondly, Ryan asserts that his budget builds on 1996 welfare reform—“reforms proven to work.” He’s hardly alone in this rose-colored take on the Clinton-Gingrich deal, and it’s actually totally legit—provided that one remains completely oblivious to the facts.

Prior to welfare reform, cash assistance helped 68 of every 100 families with children in poverty through the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. The legislation replaced AFDC with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program which now reaches just 27 of every 100 families with children in poverty. Why? Because welfare reform “empowered states” to decide whether to give cash assistance to people or spend the money elsewhere, and also froze the TANF block grant at the 1996 level without indexing it to inflation so the dollars don’t go nearly as far now. In fact, its value has eroded by more than 30 percent since the block grant was created.

Additionally, welfare reform has led to an increase in the number of people living in deep poverty—living on less than about $11,000 for a family of four—as more families are forced to go without any cash assistance at all. The number of people in deep poverty climbed from 12.6 million people in 2000 to an astonishing 20.5 million people, or 6.7 percent of the population, in 2010. An estimated 6 million people—2 percent of the population—have no income other than food stamps.

Ryan is now attempting to whitewash history as he propose to once again “empower state and local governments” by block granting Medicaid and food stamps and gutting other federal programs targeting low-income people. It’s important to remember exactly how well that approach worked out for poor people the last time around.

This Week in Poverty/Witnesses to Hunger

I am very pleased to announce a new collaboration between Witnesses to Hunger—a project in which people living in poverty use photographs and testimonials to advocate for change at the local, state and national levels—and This Week in Poverty.

“This is a picture of some of us Witnesses to Hunger showing the world our sisterly love.” Photo and caption by Imani S., Philadelphia

Witness photographers who grant TheNation.com permission will occasionally have their photographs featured on this blog. Besides the fact that the photos will be visually stimulating and relevant, their use will hopefully bring some more deserved attention to the Witnesses good work.

So far, Witnesses Tianna G., Sherita P., Whitney H., Imani S., and Bonita C. have all agreed to participate in this effort.

In Illinois, Poor Are Screwed One Way or Another

Last month I wrote about Illinois having insufficient funds to meet its Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)—or cash assistance—obligations through the fiscal year ending in June. This was particularly disturbing since the state provides benefits to just 13 of every 100 families with children in poverty, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Governor Pat Quinn asked the legislature for a $73 million supplemental appropriation to pay for the shortfall. In the event the General Assembly didn’t approve it, the state planned to pay for TANF by diverting money that the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) had intended to use to fund the childcare assistance program.

Dan Lesser, director of economic justice at the Shriver Center in Chicago, told me such a maneuver would mean “a real possibility of crashing the state’s childcare system.” He noted that the facilities weren’t well capitalized and most of them don’t have access to credit.

“We’re definitely looking at missed payrolls, facility closings and thousands of families without access to childcare in the very communities that are the most vulnerable to further economic hits,” said Lesser.

Turns out, he was right.

The week after the post, IDHS sent a notice to the 35,000 homes and centers participating in the child care assistance program informing them that unless a supplemental appropriation was approved, they would receive no payments until July for services rendered in April, May and June.

The notice created an uproar among parents and childcare providers, and there were large rallies at the State Capitol organized by SEIU Healthcare Illinois and Illinois Action for Children. The issue also received wide media coverage.

The legislators felt sufficient pressure to approve the $73 million childcare supplemental appropriation last week and Governor Quinn signed it into law last Friday.

Unfortunately, the Governor also signed a companion bill that delays and reduces the assistance provided to TANF recipients. The bill reinstates the pre-Recession policy of taking up to forty-five days to process new TANF applications and then paying assistance retroactively to the thirtieth day after the application date. TANF reform legislation had previously required applications to be processed within thirty days, with assistance paid retroactively to the date the application was filed. Governor Quinn had proposed a return to the old system in his Fiscal Year 2013 budget and the Republicans insisted on it in exchange for their vote for the supplemental appropriation.

“What this means is the poorest and most vulnerable families in our state will again have to wait up to forty-five days to receive any assistance and such assistance will cover one month less than it did previously,” says Lesser. “This will impose a significant hardship on poor families. Most people don’t apply for TANF until they have exhausted their other financial and family resources so this change in program rules will affect families precisely when they are at their most vulnerable.”

California: Dazed and Confused by Drug Stigma

In California, people with convictions for non-violent drug-related offenses are banned for life from receiving TANF cash assistance (called “CalWORKs”), as they are in twelve other states. It doesn’t matter how long ago an individual was convicted, whether someone has gone through treatment, or if a person is a parent... Convicted of a drug-related offense? No TANF for you.

The Western Center on Law and Poverty sponsored a bill that would have ended this practice in the state, allowing people completing drug treatment to be eligible for assistance, including employment services, childcare and transportation assistance, and small basic needs grants as long as they met TANF’s mandatory work requirement.

It was a timely proposal, considering that last year the state decided to release people with nonviolent drug convictions from overcrowded state prisons. The policy forced counties to think anew about ways to ensure successful re-entry for an increasing number of formerly incarcerated people, including many more who are returning home to children than ever before.

The County Welfare Directors Association was a co-sponsor of the legislation, arguing that lifting lifetime bans to CalWORKs and food stamps would result in the state’s spending a little more in case management and basic needs assistance in the short-run, but far less in the long-run as more people successfully reenter their communities. Providing basic needs support to people leaving prison is widely believed to be a key strategy in reducing recidivism—people have greater access to housing (rather than crashing with others who might have drug issues), more access to work opportunities and a greater ability to feed their families.

Unfortunately, the Senate Appropriations Committee didn’t agree with the counties, demonstrating once again that no logic is strong enough to counter the drug stigma.

“A lifetime of hunger and poverty is not a fair punishment for a nonviolent drug offense and certainly unwarranted for children of people with prior drug convictions,” said Jessica Bartholow, legislative advocate with the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “Everyone makes mistakes and should get a chance to start over. CalWORKs support services and case management could really benefit families as they take those important first steps toward a new life.”

This summer, a similar bill will be taken up to address lifetime bans on receiving food stamps. Stay tuned.

Notable Studies/Reports

Stepping Up for Kids: What Government and Communities Should Do to Support Kinship Families,” Annie E. Casey Foundation. Recent data show that extended family members and close family friends care for more than 2.7 million children in the US, an increase of almost 18 percent over the past decade. An estimated 9 percent of youth will live with extended family for at least three consecutive months at some point before age 18. Read this report to learn about the challenges faced by these families and what government and communities can do to provide support

Increasing Employment Stability and Earnings for Low-Wage Workers,” MDRC. The Employment Retention and Advancement (ERA) project was launched in 1999 to determine the effectiveness of different program strategies designed to promote employment stability and earnings growth among current or former welfare recipients and other low-income individuals. This report focuses on twelve programs aimed at improving job retention and advancement. This study suggests that three programs seemed to make a difference but the other nine did not, and “the improvements were not transformational…. most sample members remained poor or near-poor at the end of the study.”

Strengthening Higher Education Access & Affordability,” National Community Tax Coalition (NCTC). The Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) remains a substantial barrier to accessing financial aid for low-income students. New research shows that assisting these students in the FAFSA application process at tax time—which NCTC’s Financial Aid U program has done since 2008—substantially increases their likelihood of college enrollment. This policy brief outlines the various financial barriers that low-income and first-generation students face when trying to fund their higher education. It also highlights successful programs that have been able to increase access to much-needed financial aid, grants, scholarships and other tuition support.

Upcoming Events

National Energy and Utility Affordability Conference, June 11-13, New Orleans. The largest gathering of people building awareness about energy poverty and working on energy-related issues that affect low-income households. This year’s conference will explore energy availability and sustainability, weatherization and energy efficiency, energy assistance and education and much more.

Mike Elk’s Birthday Bash, June 2, Washington DC. Great dude, awesome labor reporter. Come to DC—you’ll find it.

Articles and Other Resources

Democracy Now! Interview with Peter Edelman
Athens County Town a Symbol of Aching Need in Appalachia,” Ignazio Messina
Poverty Increasing Among Retirees,” Emily Brandon
Rural Poor Face Unique Challenges,” Ignazio Messina
Payday Loan Bill Invites Greed,” Philadelphia Inquirer
Poverty & Politics: Southern Ohio Part 1, Part 2Toledo Blade
2011: Food Stamp Participation Increased 7.2%; TANF Participation Fell 3.6%” Tim Casey
How Zero Weeks of Paid Maternity Leave in US Compares Globally,” Amanda Peterson Beadle

Vital Statistics

US poverty (less than $22,314 for a family of four): 46 million people, 15.1 percent of population.

Children in poverty: 16.4 million, 22 percent of all children, including 40 percent of African-American children and 37 percent of Latino children.

Number of poor children receiving cash aid: one in five.

Poverty rate for people in female-headed families: 42 percent.

Poverty rate for children under age 5 in female-headed families: 59 percent.

Single mothers with incomes under $25,000: 50 percent.

Single mothers working: 67 percent.

Deep poverty (less than $11,157 for a family of four): 20.5 million people, 6.7 percent of population. Up from 12.6 million in 2000.

Increase in deep poverty, 1976-2010: doubled—3.3 percent of population to 6.7 percent.

Americans with no income other than food stamps: 6 million, 2 percent of population.

Twice the poverty level (less than $44,628 for a family of four): 103 million people, roughly 1 in 3 Americans.

Families receiving cash assistance, 1996: 68 of every 100 families with children living in poverty.

Families receiving cash assistance, 2010: 27 of every 100 families with children living in poverty.

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

Quote of the Week

“It’s just not sufficiently in our conversation that there are 103 million people who have incomes below twice the poverty line, below $36,000 for a family of three. And those are people who are struggling every day. They’re not poor. They don’t think of themselves as poor. But they are definitely having a huge difficulty in making ends meet every month.”
                                    —Peter Edelman on Democracy Now!

This Week in Poverty posts every Friday morning. Please comment below. You can also e-mail me at WeekInPoverty@me.com and follow me on Twitter.

This Week in Poverty: A Little Help for the Long-Term Unemployed?

There are 12.5 million unemployed people still seeking work in the United States, and over 5 million of them have been looking for work for twenty-seven weeks or longer.

These are “the long-term unemployed,” and their prospects for finding employment or getting assistance are rapidly diminishing.

The long-term unemployed now make up over 40 percent of all unemployed workers, and 3.3 percent of the labor force. In the past six decades, the previous highs for these figures were 26 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively, in June 1983.

Instead of helping these folks weather the storm and find ways to re-enter the workforce, our nation is moving in the opposite direction. In fact, this past Sunday, 230,000 people who have been looking for work for over a year lost their unemployment benefits. More than 400,000 people have now lost unemployment insurance (UI) since the beginning of the year as twenty-five high-unemployment states have ended their Extended Benefits (EB) program.

What makes the denial of this lifeline all the more absurd is the reason for it. As Hannah Shaw, research associate at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), writes, “Benefits have ended not because economic conditions have improved, but because they have not significantly deteriorated in the past three years.”

It’s all about an obscure rule called “the three-year lookback.”

Under federal guidelines, for a state to offer additional weeks of benefits it must have an unemployment rate of at least 6.5 percent, and—according to the lookback rule—the rate must be “at least 10 percent higher than it was any of the three prior years.”

“Unemployment rates have remained so elevated for so long that most states no longer meet this latter criterion,” writes Shaw. She points to California as a prime example. For more than three years, its unemployment rate has remained above 10 percent, but it fails the three-year lookback test because the rate didn’t rise sufficiently. As a result, over 90,000 Californians lost their benefits on Sunday.

Prior to Congress reducing the maximum number of weeks of unemployment benefits earlier this year, there was some discussion of changing the lookback rule to four years, or even suspending it. But in the end there wasn’t the political will to do it and there certainly isn’t now.

Shaw wants people to understand the real impact that these cuts have on the long-term unemployed.

“Many of these people have been looking for work for well over a year and now their UI benefits have ended sooner than expected,” she says. “Many families rely on these benefits to make ends meet [and now] many are left with little else.”

Indeed in 2010, unemployment benefits kept 3.2 million people above the poverty line—which is roughly $17, 300 for a family of three. A report from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) gives some indication of what might lie ahead for people who exhaust their benefits.

Of the 15.4 million workers who lost jobs from 2007 to 2009, half received unemployment benefits, half didn’t, and about 2 million who did receive benefits exhausted them by early 2010. Those who exhausted benefits had a poverty rate of 18 percent, compared to 13 percent among working-age adults; more than 40 percent had incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty line (below about $35,000 for a family of three), which is the level where many economists believe people start really struggling to pay for the basics.

While one might expect to see budgetary savings from reduced unemployment insurance payments, anti-poverty advocates say a shift in demand is more likely, as more people—especially families with children—turn to other safety net programs like food stamps, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Assistance will be much harder to come by for individuals or couples without children, especially since state General Assistance programs have been decimated.

It is all the more alarming—as National Employment Law Project executive director Christine Owens testified in Congress this week—that older workers ages 50 and up are disproportionately represented in the ranks of the long-term unemployed. They made up over 29 percent of long-term unemployed workers in 2011, compared to just 26 percent in 2007. In 2011, more than 54 percent of older jobless workers were out of work for at least six months, and those high rates have continued into 2012. Owens noted that prolonged periods of unemployment can have a severe impact on older workers’ retirement prospects and later-life well-being.

In addition to legislation protecting older workers from discrimination, Owens urged Congress to invest in subsidized employment and workforce development and job training programs—vital to unemployed workers of all ages.

According to the Center for Law and Social Policy, a 2005 study of seven states found that adults and dislocated workers receiving Workforce Investment Act (WIA) services—including job training—were 10 percentage points more likely to be employed and to have higher earnings (about $800 per quarter in 2000 dollars) than those who hadn’t received services. They were also less likely to need public assistance. A 2011 study by Washington State found that WIA services boost employment and earnings for adults, dislocated workers and youth.

House Republicans are attempting to “reform” federal workforce programs through the positively Orwellian-named “Workforce Investment Improvement Act.” When they say reform, they mean pulling out their handy-dandy, favorite tool: the block grant.

“Basically, the legislation would throw funding that currently is used for specialized training programs into one big pot—and reduce the amount of money in that pot,” says Shaw.

It’s true that job-training programs need improvement but simply cutting funding and eliminating programs won’t do a thing to help anyone. What is needed is a serious effort along the lines of what economists Dean Baker of the progressive Center for Economic and Policy Research, and Kevin Hassett of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, describe in a New York Times op-ed:

Policy makers must come together and recognize that this is an emergency, and fashion a comprehensive re-employment policy that addresses the specific needs of the long-term unemployed. A policy package…should spend money to help expand public and private training programs with proven track records; expand entrepreneurial opportunities by increasing access to small-business financing; reduce government hurdles to the formation of new businesses; and explore subsidies for private employers who hire the long-term unemployed.… Managers who are filling open [government] positions should be given explicit incentives to reconnect these lost workers.

If there isn’t enough urgency for legislators and their constituents already, people should consider this: things are about to get worse. Not only did Congress fail to address the lookback earlier this year, it also made changes that will shorten the number of weeks people can receive temporary, federally funded benefits after exhausting their state-run programs. Those reductions will begin at the end of this month.

“It’s not going to be as dramatic as the end of the Extended Benefits program—there won’t be hundreds of thousands of people losing their benefits all at once,” says Shaw. “But the changes are coming down the pipeline and will affect people in every state. The UI program will look very different in a few months than it does today.”

So Rich, So Poor by Peter Edelman

When it comes to public policy and poverty in the United States, few people know more about it than Georgetown University law professor Peter Edelman. He has battled poverty for nearly fifty years, most notably as a legislative assistant to Senator Robert Kennedy and as an assistant secretary of health and human services in the Clinton administration—a post he resigned in protest over the 1996 welfare reform bill. He’s taught and written extensively on the subject, too, including his new book, So Rich, So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in America.

Full disclosure: Edelman is a friend of mine and a mentor when it comes to anti-poverty work. I also had the opportunity to advise him on this book. Still, I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t value the book, nor would he want me to.

So Rich, So Poor is a sweeping historical account and analysis of anti-poverty policy that will give readers a sense of where this nation has been—and where it’s headed—with regard to confronting (or failing to confront) poverty. Edelman examines the challenges of concentrated and intergenerational poverty, the safety net, the plight of those in deep poverty, disconnected youth, low-wage work, race and gender issues, housing policy and much, much more.

If you are a layperson, the book is a chance to absorb more than you probably ever realized is at the heart of the fight against poverty; if you are someone who has long been involved in the fight against poverty, I have little doubt you will find new ideas, angles or inspiration in these pages.

This is a man who has devoted a lifetime to fighting poverty and is passing along what he’s learned. It’s a gift, frankly.

I had an opportunity to speak with him about the book and his perspective on poverty. This is what he had to say:

Greg Kaufmann: What do you hope readers get out of your book?

Peter Edelman: I hope to reach a broad audience of people who don’t know a lot about why so many people are poor in this country. I want people to understand that we’ve done a lot of things that have worked in reducing poverty, but also to understand why we still have so much poverty.

What do you say to people who respond that the reason we have so much poverty is that these programs don’t work and they are a waste of money?

The programs do work, and about 40 million more people would be poor if we didn’t have them. The problem is that we have so much low-wage work and too many people who are coping as single parents trying to live on income from one low-paying job. A second problem is that we have so many people who have incomes below half the poverty line—who are in deep poverty—and we are doing very little to help them. Since 2000 we’ve seen a rise in the number of people living in deep poverty from 12.6 million people to 20.5 million—they are living on incomes of less than about $11,000 annually for a family of four. And then we have the even more challenging problem of persistent and intergenerational poverty.

Can you say a little more about how that’s a different kind of problem to address?

Most people who are in poverty or deep poverty go in and out of those categories. But among those who are very poor, and others who remain poor for long periods of time—especially people who live in places where there is a lot of concentrated poverty—many of them have personal problems, and there’s a lot more of the consequences of inadequate education and a lack of jobs. So that whether it’s in an inner-city, or Appalachia, or on Indian reservations, or in the Mississippi Delta, we have places of poverty in this country that are even more challenging in terms of what we need to do.

What are some of the least talked-about aspects of poverty today?

The poverty problem in this country is, on the one hand, more a problem for white people than any other group; and on the other hand, it’s a problem that’s very much connected to race, and we need people to understand both sides of that.

The largest number of people in this country who are poor are white—they are the largest group. It’s also true that African-Americans, Latinos and Native Americans are poor at a rate that’s nearly three times the rate of poverty among whites. Why is that? It reflects continuing issues of race and gender. There’s disproportionate poverty among people of color because of history, continuing discrimination, structural racism in the way that our schooling is arranged for children, and the way our criminal justice system operates, and in residential patterns.

The American reaction to poverty tends to be a reflexive image of a person of color, and that in turn—because of the way our politics are structured—hurts the case for taking action. So we need to put race and gender on the table as part of the discussion.

Looking at the breadth and depth of the challenges involved in the fight against poverty, do you feel hopeful that we can rise and respond to them?

We know much more than we did at the time of the Great Society about what works, so that’s a good thing. But we do need much more political will, and we need more public understanding that these are problems that can be solved. We can help people get more income from work, we can have a better safety net, we can do a much better job of educating our children.

Some of the problems are very difficult, that’s for sure, but I think the biggest issue is for people to understand that it’s in our self-interest as a country to act. Not just because it’s morally right—although it is—but because an economy that includes everybody is going to be a better economy for everybody. It pays off economically for the whole country, not just for the people whose personal quality of life is improved. It costs us a huge amount of money in terms of lost productivity, crime-related costs and increased costs of healthcare not to act. One estimate is that we are losing at least $500 billion per year just due to the costs of child poverty.

What is the importance of the book coming out at this particular moment?

I hope that the book does some good in the context of the current election campaign—that people will want to discuss the question of inequality not just at the top, not just the 1 percent, but also the 99 percent all the way down to the bottom. The table has been set by the Occupy Movement for a national discussion of inequality that includes the reasons why people are hurting so much at the bottom as well as why some people have so much at the top. We need to talk about poverty. The p-word needs to be in the discussion.

The Economic Hardship Reporting Project

Best-selling investigative journalist Barbara Ehrenreich and the Institute for Policy Studies have launched the Economic Hardship Reporting Project to help move the crisis of poverty and economic insecurity to the center of the national conversation.

The Project aims to let unemployed, underemployed and those whose employment situations are tenuous know that they are not alone, that the current economic crisis is not their fault and that they are not always getting the information they need to find solutions. Through innovative journalism on poverty and economic hardship, reporters will tell compelling stories of individuals and families that are linked to the bigger picture—exploring extreme inequality and the decline of the middle class.

Significantly, the Project is inspired in part by the Depression-era Federal Writers Project and is collaborating with several unemployed or underemployed journalists. Freelancing is a tough road, especially right now. In recent months I’ve heard from talented reporters who have had to turn to the safety net themselves. I’ve spoken with highly accomplished journalists—whose names many of you would know—who have been asked by major media outlets to write for free just to keep their names out there (and because the outlets know they can get away with it).

“I am impatient with the standard liberal discourse on poverty,” said Ehrenreich. “We can’t go on talking about poverty without talking about how it’s being manufactured and intensified all the time.”

Ehrenreich launched the Project this week with her article, “Preying on the Poor.” I’m proud to be one of a number of advisers involved with this important effort and I hope you will follow and support it.

Video: “Still Face Experiment”

Much has been written in recent years about the link between “toxic stress” in young children and their educational, health and social outcomes later in life, as well as the public policy implications when it comes to addressing poverty. The brain is extremely pliable in the prenatal and early years, and brain architecture can be changed for the better or worse during this window. It then becomes increasingly difficult to modify over time.

For an incredible demonstration of the impact of stress on a baby—and this stress isn’t even all that toxic and lasts less than a minute—check out this video from ZERO TO THREE, a nonprofit organization working to improve the lives of infants and toddlers.

 

Jodie Levin-Epstein, deputy director of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), reacted to the video this way: “From CLASP’s perspective, this video shows the fall-out from the time-poverty of parents. Fully 40 percent of working low-income parents (below 200 percent of the poverty line) have no paid time off of any kind—no parental leave, no vacation, no sick days. This is a no-brainer to fix. The US should join virtually every other nation on the globe and provide paid leave for parents. So far, the presidential candidates have not addressed this issue head-on. It’s time. And then we need to ensure good early child care.”

Get Involved

Put Childcare on the Map. Currently only about one in six children that qualify for federal child care assistance actually receives it, and it’s not on the minds of too many members of Congress. Make sure they understand just how urgent quality, affordable child care is for working families. RESULTS, the National Women’s Law Center and the Early Care and Education Consortium have launched this new long-term campaign to put child care on the map.

Raise New York’s Minimum Wage. Good news for New Yorkers: the Assembly has voted to raise the state’s minimum wage to $8.50 and index it to inflation. But Governor Andrew Cuomo has not committed to the bill, nor has he urged the Senate to pass it. The National Employment Law Project notes that the wage would be over $10.50 today if it had maintained its value since 1970. The current wage is $7.25 an hour so a full-time worker earns $15,080 annually.

“Poverty wages are good for Walmart and McDonald’s, but they’re not good for New York,” said Dan Cantor, executive director of the Working Families Party. New Yorkers can urge Governor Cuomo and Albany to take action here.

Hold the House Accountable. Last week I wrote about the cuts to “lower-priority spending” that House Republicans voted for in order to protect defense spending and tax cuts for the wealthy. The bill would slash food stamps, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act, the Child Tax Credit, the Social Services Block Grant and other programs poor people rely on at a time of record poverty. In an email, the Coalition on Human Needs (CHN) writes, “The people who want to protect or increase military spending and tax breaks at the top are making their views known, day after day. We cannot be silent.” CHN is giving you the opportunity to express your displeasure or approval with your Representative’s vote here. The only way they will know we care about poverty is if we start telling them we care about poverty.

Save the American Community Survey. The House voted last week to eliminate funding for the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. It’s the only source of objective and comprehensive information about the nation’s social, economic, and demographic characteristics down to the neighborhood level. The information is used by the public, private and nonprofit sectors for everything from funding programs and assessing their effectiveness to enforcing the Voting Rights Act to delivering goods and services. You can find your Senator and tell him or her to save the American Community Survey here.

Notable Studies

Welfare Reform: What Have We Learned in Fifteen Years?” Urban Institute & MDRC. Fifteen years after the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program replaced America’s longstanding cash-assistance entitlement, eight briefs by the Urban Institute and MDRC assess how well TANF works within the larger social safety net and to what extent it helps families receiving aid toward self-sufficiency.

Policy Matters: Public Policy, Paid Leave for New Parents, and Economic Security for US Workers,” the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey and the National Partnership for Women & Families. The report shows how paid leave policies can be viewed as proactive public investments in the health and well-being of children and families in the United States. Also, public assistance and food stamp receipt are lower for new mothers who live in states with paid leave policies.

Further Reading

A Mom Struggles as Budget Crisis Deepens,” Dan Morain
WPB Neighborhood Concerned About Trash and Transients,” Dan Corcoran
The Human Disaster of Unemployment,” Dean Baker and Kevin Hassett
Social Justice Movements in a Liminal Age,” Deepak Bhargava
The Outlook is Still Grim for Women in the Job Market,” Bryce Covert
For Mother’s Day: A Present that Values Families,” Hannah Matthews & Jodie Levin-Epstein
An Alarming Number of Americans Think Poor People Are Simply Lazy,” Mandi Woodruff
Community Struggles With Poverty Rate Twice National Average,” Spencer Platt
Hunger Among Senior Citizens Continues to Rise,” Alfred Lubrano
Recession Added Debt, Drained Families’ Savings,” Christine Dugas

Vital Statistics

US poverty (less than $22,314 for a family of four): 46 million people, 15.1 percent of population.

Children in poverty: 16.4 million, 22 percent of all children, including 40 percent of African-American children and 37 percent of Latino children.

Number of poor children receiving cash aid: one in five.

Poverty rate for people in female-headed families: 42 percent.

Poverty rate for children under age 5 in female-headed families: 59 percent.

Single mothers with incomes under $25,000: 50 percent.

Single mothers working: 67 percent.

Deep poverty (less than $11,157 for a family of four): 20.5 million people, 6.7 percent of population. Up from 12.6 million in 2000.

Increase in deep poverty, 1976–2010: doubled—3.3 percent of population to 6.7 percent.

Twice the poverty level (less than $44,628 for a family of four): 103 million people, roughly 1 in 3 Americans.

Families receiving cash assistance, 1996: 68 of every 100 families with children living in poverty.

Families receiving cash assistance, 2010: 27 of every 100 families with children living in poverty.

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

Quote of the Week

“People want to say people on welfare are sitting around. I’ve been hustling. I’ve been begging. I’m on my knees. I cry every day. My daughter doesn’t deserve this.”
                                        —Jonetta Hall, single mother of 4-year-old Kayla

This Week in Poverty posts every Friday morning. Please comment below. You can also e-mail me at WeekInPoverty@me.com and follow me on Twitter.

This Week in Poverty: Republicans Define 'Lower-Priority Spending'

When Republican Congressman Paul Ryan released his budget, he charged six House committees with finding $309 billion in spending cuts over ten years in order to avert $55 billion in military cuts scheduled for January 2013 under a bipartisan agreement. He wrote that these cuts would be found in “lower-priority spending.”

On Thursday, House Republicans approved the cuts along a party-line vote, revealing exactly what they consider to be “lower-priority spending.”

These cuts should be viewed in the context of sparing a defense budget that conservative columnist George Will observes is “about 43 percent of the world’s total military spending” and “more than the combined defense spending of the next 17 nations, many of which are US allies.” Even with the $55 billion in cuts that would start in January, the defense budget would still be $472 billion (not including war costs)—three times more than China spends.

But for House Republicans, their preferred alternative of cutting lower-priority spending means… a $36 billion cut in food stamps (SNAP), which largely helps the elderly, disabled people, children and the working poor. Two million people would lose their benefits entirely and 44 million would have their benefits reduced—the current average benefit is $4 per person per day. Two hundred and eighty thousand low-income children would also lose automatic access to free school breakfast and lunch. The bill also cuts the SNAP employment and training program by 72 percent, making it more difficult for jobless recipients to find work. It’s important to note that SNAP kept 5 million people from poverty in 2010 and reduced poverty rates by 8 percent in 2009.

Cuts to lower-priority spending means… denying the Child Tax Credit to 5.5 million children—that’s an average of $1,800 out of the pockets of working families earning sub-poverty wages. The Child Tax Credit lifted 1.3 million children out of poverty in 2009.

Cuts to lower-priority spending means… eliminating the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG), which 11 million children rely on—including 4 million children who receive child care assistance, 1.7 million receiving protective services and 451,000 children in foster care. It also funds meals on wheels programs, services that help protect over a half-million seniors from abuse, and community-based care that allows elderly and disabled people to remain in their homes rather than be placed in expensive institutions. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, roughly 23 million people receive services funded in whole or part by the SSBG.

“When one in five US kids live in poverty, it is not the time to slash investments in their healthcare, nutrition, economic stability, childcare and safety,” said Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus, a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families a priority in federal policy and budget decisions.

“There are a lot of other ways Republicans could have found their savings,” said Melissa Boteach, director of the Half in Ten campaign to cut poverty by 50 percent over ten years. “For example, one year of tax breaks for millionaires could pay for ten years of nutrition assistance. But they didn’t consider closing a single tax loophole, or look at subsidies to agribusiness, or the oil and gas industries. In the end, House Republicans are essentially saying that low-income school children, seniors struggling with hunger, foster kids, people with disabilities—that these people are lower priorities than preserving obsolete weapons systems or protecting tax breaks for the very richest among us.”

This budget won’t pass the Senate, and it wouldn’t be signed by President Obama if it did. But it does tell Americans exactly where House Republicans stand and it makes for a heck of a GOP fundraising/love letter to wealthy donors: “Please remember us generously this campaign season so that we can keep remembering you.”

Half in Ten and others will follow up with opportunities for you to let your representatives know how you feel about their vote. At a moment when 46 million people live in poverty (less than $22,314 for a family of four), and 105 million Americans—over one in three—live on less than $45,000 for a family of four, this budget deserves and needs a loud response; especially since the Democrats haven’t exactly offered a dogged fight to protect their least powerful and most vulnerable constituents either.

An Equal Voice

With House Republicans having no intention to listen to the voices of people living in poverty, and even Senate Democrats in the Agriculture Committee voting to cut SNAP by $4.5 billion over ten years, thousands of low-income people are determined to organize and be heard on May 20 in their own communities.

That’s the day of the Equal Voice Online National Convention. Tens of thousands of low-income families from across the country are expected to turn out to create a national platform that reflects their views. In 2008, a similar effort was undertaken and 15,000 families participated in Los Angeles, Chicago and Birmingham. In the run-up to that event, sixty-five town hall–style meetings were held in twelve states and eleven languages. Not only did the 2008 convention successfully create the first Equal Voice National Family Platform but afterwards participating groups formed networks in their own communities.

“In south Texas, for example, these community-based organizations found that when they joined forces legislators listened to them,” says Kathleen Baca, communications director at the Marguerite Casey Foundation, which sponsors the convention. “They took the original platform that was developed at the convention and created their own for their region, and used it to organize. As a result, they were able to beat back nearly 100 anti-immigration bills.”

Baca says similar networks are now established in Chicago, Los Angeles and Alabama.

With the recession, and poor families once again being largely ignored by both parties, families felt an urgency to hold another convention now—this time online in order to make it easier for people to participate. But they still want to gather in-person, too, and Baca says that there are thirty confirmed events with anywhere from ten to 500 people expected at a venue. Sites include churches, community and convention centers, homes, restaurants and coffee houses.

Equal Voice 2012 will use a Livestream application that allows anyone to view the convention live; chat; and vote on platform issues online or by SMS text, Twitter or smartphone. The event will be live-streamed from Birmingham; McAllen, Texas; and Seattle. No candidates, no keynotes, no celebrities—just families speaking up and organizing.

“So many families again will be speaking out. The question is: Will people listen to them?” says Baca.

National Community Action MonthGet Involved

Community Action Agencies (CAAs) are nonprofit private and public organizations with their fingers on the pulse of poverty. They provide direct support for more than 34.5 million of the 46 million people living in poverty in the United States today.

Each CAA is governed locally and offers a different mix of programs and services, including: emergency aid like food pantries and domestic violence counseling, education programs like Head Start and youth mentoring, day care and job training programs, income management and housing assistance, healthcare clinics, WIC and more.

This month, CAAs across the country are celebrating National Community Action Month by hosting poverty symposia, town-hall meetings and other events to raise awareness about poverty and how CAAs respond to it. This is particularly important right now because these agencies face significant budget cuts at the local, state and federal levels and the public needs to understand the vital role they play in struggling communities.

If you want to get involved in a very direct way—helping people who are living in poverty—there are a lot of opportunities right now to learn about CAAs and take action.

For example, in a four-county area around Dayton, Ohio, CAAs are currently looking for volunteers to deliver meals or assist in a Head Start classroom. Preble County will have an open house on May 15 and Greene County has a Community Action Day on May 25.

John Bennett, communications director for the Community Action Partnership of the Greater Dayton Area, says there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer with programs or advocate on issues affecting people living in poverty.

The Southeast Kansas Community Action Program (SEK-CAP) will hold an Open House on May 12. It has opportunities for volunteers to assist with housing, transportation, early childhood education, community development, family supports and emergency shelter.

“We can also design activities around a volunteer’s specific skills,” says Becky Gray, SEK-CAP’s director of research, planning and grants development. Gray suggests that people who want to get involved email her here.

The Green Hills Community Action Agency in rural Missouri serves nine counties. The agency is currently focused on many green projects, including educating children about recycling, gardening, nutrition and alternative energy sources; working with communities on energy conservation; and community gardening to benefit local families, a food pantry and a senior center.

Finally, the Cayuga/Seneca Community Action Agency in Auburn, New York, might be having the coolest event—an eighty-mile Motorcycle Run on May 20 to raise donations for its food pantries. There are plenty of ways for volunteers to get involved with this agency and many were recently honored at a Volunteer Recognition event.

The range of services CAAs provide and the number of people they reach is pretty stunning. You can find one in your area and start directly helping people who are living in poverty today.

Notable Studies

WIC Participation and Attenuation of Stress-Related Child Health Risks,” Dr. Maureen Black et al., Children’s HealthWatch. Examines how family stressors (household food insecurity and/or caregiver depressive symptoms) relate to child health and whether participation in the Women Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program lessens stress-related child health risks.

Expecting Better: A State-by-State Analysis of Laws that Help New Parents,” National Partnership for Women and Families. Previous research shows that paid leave promotes the health and economic security of families, reduces reliance on public assistance, and benefits businesses. But this new report finds that no state has done all it could to provide paid family and medical leave and other supportive policies for new parents. In fact, thirty-two states receive a grade of “D” or “F.”

Slower Wage Growth, Declining Real Wages,” National Employment Law Project. Hourly wages are growing slower than they did before the recession, the real value of wages has fallen over the past year, new job creation has skewed to lower-paying jobs, and wages for new and returning entrants in the workforce are declining.

What Strategies Work for the Hard-to-Employ?” MDRC. A ten-year study of programs that serve hard-to-employ populations. Promising findings include: a program that provided unpaid work experience, job placement and education services to welfare recipients with health conditions—it increased employment and reduced the need for assistance; a transitional jobs program for ex-offenders that reduced recidivism; and an early-childhood development program that was combined with services to boost parents’ self-sufficiency—it increased employment and earnings.

Further Reading

Family Homelessness Reaching ‘Crisis’ Point,” Annie Gowen
No Education Reform Without Tackling Poverty,” Robert McNeely
Health Centers for Poor, Uninsured See Ranks Swell,” David Morgan
The Real Hunger Games,” Melissa Boteach and Katie Wright (w/ Think Progress video)
400K to Lose Unemployment Insurance by Saturday,” National Employment Law Project
Picking on the Poor,” Chattanooga Times Free Press, editorial
…How Cutting the Pentagon’s Budget Could Boost the Economy,” Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier

Vital Statistics

US poverty (less than $22,314 for a family of four): 46 million people, 15.1 percent of population.

Children in poverty: 16.4 million, 22 percent of all children.

Number of poor children receiving cash aid: one in five.

Poverty rate for people in female-headed families: 42 percent.

Poverty rate for children under age 5 in female-headed families: 59 percent.

Single mothers with incomes under $25,000: 50 percent.

Single mothers working: 67 percent.

Deep poverty (less than $11,157 for a family of four): 20.5 million people, 6.7 percent of population. Up from 12.6 million in 2000.

Increase in deep poverty, 1976-2010: doubled—3.3 percent of population to 6.7 percent.

Families receiving cash assistance, 1996: 68 of every 100 families with children living in poverty.

Families receiving cash assistance, 2010: 27 of every 100 families with children living in poverty.

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

Quotes of the Week

“It’s time to stop arguing whether schools prepare students for the future and launch a full scale attack on poverty.”
                     —Peter Edelman, Center on Poverty, Inequality, and Public Policy.

“You think poverty doesn’t have anything to do with you? Well, that can all change in a blink of an eye.”
                     —Myeisha Hutchinson, patient advocate, UAB Hospital.

This Week in Poverty posts every Friday morning. Please comment below. You can also e-mail me at WeekInPoverty@me.com and follow me on Twitter.

The Philly Alliance, Part II: A New Antipoverty Model

To understand how 350 people—including more than 100 people from across the country who are experiencing poverty and hunger firsthand—arrived in Philadelphia last week for a conference that culminated in a call to action, you have to go back to 2008.

Dr. Mariana Chilton of Drexel University was doing cutting-edge research on the relationship between poverty and child nutrition—and the trauma of living in poverty—and testifying about her findings at the national, state and local levels.

But the hearings never included any witnesses whose very lives were the topics of discussion. Chilton also didn’t feel like her words sufficiently described the hardships that families in poverty were enduring and revealing to her in interviews.

So she gave forty-four women cameras and told them to document their experiences as “Witnesses to Hunger.” They began taking pictures—a child with an outstretched hand asking a caseworker for food; puddles of blood on the sidewalk at a bus stop; a child treated for asthma being cared for by his father who was missing work; drug paraphernalia next to a slide on the playground….

Thousands of photographs documented the experiences of families with food and health, banking and finance, work and opportunity, education, housing and energy, and access to technology. The photos were turned into an exhibit, and the women also learned to advocate for themselves at the local and state levels, and then at the federal level, too, when Pennsylvania Senator Robert Casey Jr. invited them to Capitol Hill to testify and speak with members of Congress. The women testified on issues like housing, WIC, the Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, child nutrition and more.

The Witnesses also began to form their own informal groups in their neighborhoods to support and counsel one another—talking together about issues ranging from food and nutrition to confronting domestic violence and past trauma; from fighting back against the stigma of being poor to navigating a welfare system that seems like a labyrinth designed to deny services; from providing childcare for one another to pooling resources to help make ends meet.

Word spread about this project that was putting the voices and experiences of people living in poverty front and center, and empowering women to overcome their despair and social isolation. Witnesses expanded to Boston, Providence and Baltimore (where one Witness is a single father). There are now seventy-three Witnesses and they have taken over 10,000 photographs and shot over 200 videos. There have been twelve formal exhibitions and many smaller showings. Currently, there is interest in starting new groups in California, Camden, Omaha, Pittsburgh and New Orleans.

With this kind of track record, it was somewhat natural for these women—and the advocates they work with at Drexel University’s Center for Hunger Free Communities, where Chilton serves as director—to break the conference mold and bring people together to pursue a new model of antipoverty work, one that builds a bridge between the advocacy community and people on the ground in low-income neighborhoods.

For three days philanthropists, advocates, researchers, journalists and government officials shared panels with Witnesses and other people living in poverty who came to the conference from as far away as San Diego and Sacramento, Denver, Oklahoma, New Orleans, Minneapolis, Nebraska, Texas, up and down the East Coast—and India.

Screenwriter Antwone Fisher was a keynote speaker. He described his experiences with trauma, homelessness and hunger, and turning his life around through telling his story.

“If you can do it, tell your story. It will be cathartic and healing,” said Fisher. “So many of us here—we could learn from one another. Some people don’t even know the kind of pain that exists…but it goes on. So if you’re in a position to tell it, just knowing that people are hungry or kids are hungry—you can do something about it.”

Gwen Ifill of Washington Week and PBS Newshour also grew up poor and said that we don’t talk about poverty “because we don’t like to talk about race.” But in her view now “race has the power to bring us together for a change, instead of driving us apart.”

She praised Witnesses for Hunger for doing its part to help people understand what is happening with poverty in America.

“The fact that you’re willing to step up and speak—and witness, I love that title, witnessing, because I think that speaks more to what we’re talking about here than almost anything else,” said Ifill. “If you don’t see it, if you’re invisible, nobody’s witnessing their misery, their need, their demands…. We don’t like ‘the other’ so much—something that seems different or alien to us. And once that’s stripped away, people begin to listen, people begin to hear, and then you can speak.”

Ifill viewed Witnesses and the people attending the conference as creating an opening for effective mobilization and political action.

“In the end it comes back to what the abolitionist Frederick Douglass said, ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand,’ ” said Ifill. “And I might add it has to be informed demand. Rosa Parks didn’t just sit on that bus, she didn’t happen to be there that day—she signed up for civil rights training first.”

In that spirit, the conference ended with a call to action. The organizers had planned to focus on one clear action—such as protecting food stamps (SNAP)—but that plan changed. Instead, people wanted a working group to devise strategies to pursue multiple goals—as well as ways for the conference-goers to stay connected with one another.

In addition to protecting SNAP, the group wants to promote and support the voices and experiences of those who know hunger and poverty firsthand; simplify the eligibility criteria across safety net programs; demand a changed culture in the human services sector so that people are treated with respect and dignity, and case workers are trained to address trauma; push for an expanded understanding of poverty that includes access to food, energy, housing, health and education; and create a national plan to end hunger in the United States.

The working group will issue a report in the coming months that will detail next steps, and I’ll certainly let readers know about that and ways to get involved. In my opinion, only through action undertaken jointly by those in poverty and those who want to eradicate poverty will a broad, bold antipoverty movement emerge.

Finally, something else very important and unique came out of this gathering. The participants from India were part of the Society for the Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) in Andhra Pradesh, Hyderbad, India. Chilton went to India last summer to see the organization’s work and explore whether its approach could work in the United States as well.

SERP supports over 900,000 village-based, self-help groups that provide employment to more than 11 million rural poor women. The women all save money as a group, and leverage those assets for larger loans from banks. Some of the self-help groups have now started feeding centers where any mother who’s very poor can come and receive three meals a day, seven days a week. They are also providing day care centers, early childhood education centers, HIV and STD education, preventative healthcare centers and many other entrepreneurial activities that are lifting people out of poverty. Whatever projects a self-help group undertakes, they continue to meet and contribute to group savings on a weekly basis, so savings becomes the constant thread for continuity through the years.

Lakshmi Durga Chava, director of Community Managed Health and Nutrition for SERP, attended the conference and visited some of the neighborhoods and homes of Witnesses, too. She had little doubt that through the structures already in place—the groups of women meeting and supporting one another through Witnesses to Hunger—SERP-like activities and group savings could be undertaken by women within their own neighborhoods. (Chava estimates that a two- to three-block radius in Philadelphia is the equivalent of a SERP-participating village.)

One Witness has already stepped forward and is forming the first group of ten women to try out this model. The women will develop their rules for saving together and lending to one another, and determine which three or four issues they want to focus on to help their community. (Those issues could be anything—from taking on slumlords to addressing special education in schools, or working on health education, for example.)

“There is hope,” Philadelphia Witness Tianna Gaines told me. “As long as we keep having this conversation, and keep having people who really want to come into the neighborhoods and find out what they are about and talk about them—we can change things. Unfortunately we have so many kids that can’t wait—so many families that can’t wait and are being lost to the system.”

Images credit: Greg Kaufmann

This Week in Poverty: The Philly Alliance

Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane is devoting a full hour to poverty this morning at 10 am, and I have the pleasure of being one of her three guests. So just a quick post on the excellent conference I’m attending this week in Philadelphia—I’ll write more about it over the weekend or early next week.

The promise of Beyond Hunger: Real People, Real Solutions was that it wouldn’t be a gathering of just the usual suspects—academics, advocates, government people, journalists, etc. Sure, that crowd would be there with very important contributions, but really this conference would include and largely be led by “the true experts—those who know hunger and poverty first hand.”

It has lived up to that billing.

Out of 350 participants, one-third are people for whom poverty and hunger are not abstract; it’s their struggle. They have traveled here from as far as San Diego and Sacramento, Denver, Oklahoma, New Orleans, Minneapolis, Nebraska, Texas and from up and down the East Coast. They were able to do that because people who could afford it paid just a little more than one might typically pay to attend a conference—so that scholarships could be provided. (A novel idea these days—those who can afford it paying a little more so that others might have better opportunities.)

Dr. Mariana Chilton, director of Center for Hunger Free Communities at Drexel University, which hosted the event, set a high bar for the gathering: “We aspire to create strong friendships, alliances and collaborations that break down the usual boundaries between us.”

In my opinion, this conference is giving people a glimpse of what a strong, diverse and united antipoverty movement would look like—and that’s exactly what’s needed at a moment when both parties avoid the p-word, both parties peddle the myth that welfare reform was a success, and Republicans are trying to dismantle programs that help low-income people in order to provide more tax cuts for the wealthy. 

A real antipoverty movement would be loud, inclusive, visible, and—most importantly—those who live in poverty would be front and center. 

Part of breaking down “the usual boundaries” has meant hearing the humiliation people confront constantly in the welfare system: a woman being told by a caseworker that she must not need food stamps since she purchased an item from a vending machine for her diabetic son; another with a strong work history being told that she needed to come in and do her job search if she wanted benefits—even though both of her hands had just been injured in a domestic violence incident (no guidance towards help on the domestic violence situation); another told she needed to quit pursuing her four-year degree and go into an “approved job-training program” that may or may not lead to a job which would pay her $8.50 per hour; a mother wanting to work but being told to stay home with her disabled son; a single mother with three severely disabled children, each requiring multiple surgeries, being told she needed to work thirty-two hours per week to get cash assistance. 

“I never experienced the indignity of poverty until I went and asked for help,” said a woman from Lubbock, Texas.

“These are complicated, uncoordinated, and contradictory systems, and they don’t all come together,” said Estelle Richman, former Pennsylvania Secretary of Public Welfare and currently the Senior Advisor to the Deputy Secretary at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. “It’s very easy to see why folks get so frustrated.”

There was also discussion of the links between past trauma and the cycle of poverty. Many of the organizers and presenters in the conference are in the Witness to Hunger project in which women (and now one man in the Baltimore chapter) take photographs and offer testimonials to advocate for change at the local, state and national levels.

Forty of the forty-four Witnesses in Philadelphia have experienced sexual violence, intimate partner violence, child abuse or neglect, or murder of family or friends.

“A person who has not walked a mile in our shoes or not helped anybody who’s been through these things can’t help us in the way we need to be helped,” said Witness to Hunger participant Pauline Simmons.

Chilton says in addressing poverty and hunger we need to “think beyond food and include the experience of the whole human being.”

“The relationship between food insecurity and hunger and the experience of trauma is undeniable and central,” said Chilton. “We’re still learning and recognizing. We talk a lot about the strong relationship between maternal depression and food insecurity, but there’s not enough discussion about why women are depressed.”

This gathering will end with a call to action that will test whether a real and lasting alliance is being forged here. In a couple of days I’ll write more about that, how you can get involved and some of the other ideas that are being pushed by people here in Philly—especially by people who most need us to listen and pay attention.

This Week in Poverty posts every Friday morning. Please comment below. You can also e-mail me at WeekInPoverty@me.com and follow me on Twitter.

This Week in Poverty: Will the Poor Get Poorer in the Land of Lincoln?

At an Appropriations hearing in the Illinois State House last week, the Department of Human Services (DHS) informed the legislature that it has insufficient funds to meet its Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) obligations through the fiscal year ending in June.

This is particularly disturbing since Illinois provides TANF benefits—which is cash assistance—to just 13 of every 100 families with children in poverty, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). Prior to welfare reform in 1996 the state helped nearly 87 of every 100 families with children in poverty. Further, the benefit level is only 28 percent of the federal poverty line, or roughly $4,800 annually for a family of three, similar to that in a majority of states.

According to Dan Lesser, director of economic justice at the Shriver Center in Chicago, Illinois will find the funds to pay the TANF benefits one way or another—but just how the state will do it is a significant question.

“The governor has asked the legislature for a $73 million supplemental appropriation to pay for it,” says Lesser. “Historically, supplementals are approved here when they are needed. But nowadays nothing is assured. If it’s not approved, we face a real possibility of crashing the state’s child care system.”

That’s because without the supplemental, Illinois will pay cash assistance by diverting money DHS had intended to use to fund the state’s childcare assistance program.

Under welfare reform, a state can use its federal TANF block grant in a variety of ways, including cash assistance, childcare, education and job training, transportation, aid to children at risk of abuse and neglect, and other services to help low-income families. Since the block grant was set in 1996 and isn’t indexed for inflation, those dollars don’t go nearly as far—in fact, the block grant has lost nearly 30 percent of its value since that time. Also, because it’s locked in at the 1996 funding level, the program has proven unable to respond to greater need during the recession.


Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

This inability to expand during an economic downturn came into play in Illinois, when unprecedented long-term joblessness and an increase in the number of people exhausting their unemployment benefits resulted in a greater need for TANF assistance than the state anticipated.

“Unlike many states, Illinois did not actively discourage families who were eligible for TANF during the recession from receiving it, so caseloads grew,” says Lesser.

Currently, 165,000 low-income children are in the Illinois childcare assistance program, making it possible for their parents to go to work or school. Lesser says if the supplemental appropriation isn’t approved, and funds intended for childcare are therefore diverted to meet TANF cash assistance obligations, payments to childcare providers will perpetually run one month behind schedule.

“Childcare centers aren’t very well capitalized,” says Lesser. “They don’t have access to credit, by and large. And particularly in lower-income neighborhoods this is a major source of income—there aren’t too many ‘private-pay’ children. So we’re definitely looking at missed payrolls, facility closings and thousands of families without access to childcare in the very communities that are the most vulnerable to further economic hits.”

While Democratic Governor Pat Quinn has done the right thing in requesting the supplemental appropriation, his plans for the poor aren’t all good news. Next fiscal year—which begins in July—he proposes raising parent co-payments for child care by an average of 52 percent.

“That raises $36 million all on the backs of low-income people,” says Lesser. “It will drive people out of the system, threaten providers and make it more difficult for low-income people to work.”

The governor also wants to reduce the maximum TANF eligibility from five to three years.

“Shortening time limits retroactively is bad policy in any environment, but it is really bad policy when unemployment is high,” says Dr. LaDonna Pavetti, vice president of the family income support division at the CBPP. “The people most likely to be cut off are the people least likely to find employment.”

In addition to the Shriver Center, another group pushing back on Governor Quinn’s proposal to reduce TANF eligibility is the Illinois Commission on the Elimination of Poverty. Comprised of legislators, advocates, agency representatives and individuals with particular areas of expertise, the commission was established by statute in 2008 to develop a plan to cut extreme poverty in Illinois in half by 2015. There are currently over 1.7 million state residents in poverty and close to 765,000 in extreme poverty—living below half the federal poverty line, or less than about $11,000 annually for a family of four.

It’s clear from the post–welfare reform experience that making it more difficult to access cash assistance results in an increase in deep poverty. In factf, according to the New York Times, roughly 4 million women and children are now jobless and without cash aid. Research also shows that for children in low-income families, a modest “$3,000 annual boost to family income is associated with a 17 percent increase in adult earnings” and “135 additional work hours per year after age 25.” To make that income boost harder to obtain is—at best—shortsighted.

“We need policies that help lift Illinoisans out of poverty, not push them deeper into it,” says Kimberly Drew, a Poverty Commission staffer and a policy associate with Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights. “Reducing the lifetime limit for TANF will have a devastating effect on many of our most vulnerable children and families.”

“The situation Illinois is facing is exactly what people feared would happen with a block grant,” says Pavetti. “When you have limited funds that don’t increase with need, helping poor families becomes a zero sum game and some families inevitably lose. With a fixed block grant, the only way you can provide cash assistance to more poor families is to take the money from somewhere else. In the case of Illinois, that happens to be child care. TANF is a broken system that desperately needs to be fixed.”

Finally, another piece of legislation in Illinois that would make a real difference in the lives of low-income people: a proposal to increase the minimum wage from $8.25 to $10.65 per hour over four years, and then index it to inflation. Tipped workers—currently paid only $4.95 per hour—would also be paid the new, full minimum wage. Currently, 100,000 state residents work full time, year-round, and still live below the poverty line, earning about $16,500 per year. The bill is expected to be voted on in committee next week.

This is a critical moment for people living in poverty in Illinois—hard times could get a lot harder in the coming months. If you’re a state resident, contact your representatives—tell them to oppose reducing TANF eligibility to three years; oppose raising child care co-payments; support the supplemental appropriation to pay for TANF benefits; and support raising the minimum wage.

Greenstein: Countering Safety Net Myths with Facts

At a hearing before the House Budget Committee last week, Robert Greenstein, president of the CBPP, testified on the need to strengthen the safety net. While his testimony fell on deaf ears with regard to House Republicans, that doesn’t mean his insights aren’t invaluable to the rest of us.

You can read Greenstein’s entire testimony here, but here’s a summary of some of the main points made by a guy who has been working on budget issues since 1972, and runs an outfit that knows the intricacies of policy and data as much as anyone in this town.

Greenstein cites a statistic that is a good one to remember when you hear the myths “we don’t know what to do about poverty” or “we waged a war on poverty and poverty won”: without the safety net in 2010, the poverty rate would have been 29 percent, nearly double what it is today. The Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit alone lifted 9 million people in low-income working families above the poverty line, including 5 million children. Food stamps (SNAP) lifted another 4 million people out of poverty.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan would have you believe that the safety net is in danger of becoming a “hammock,” lulling otherwise able-bodied workers to sleep and creating a culture of dependency.

But Greenstein notes that 91 percent of all spending in 2010 on federal entitlement benefits went to people who either are not expected to work because they are 65 or older or disabled, or were members of working households. Another 7 percent went “for unemployment insurance, Social Security survivor benefits for widows and orphans of deceased workers, Social Security benefits for retirees aged 62-64, or medical care.” If you add major non-entitlements—low-income housing assistance, WIC and low-income energy assistance—90 percent of benefits still go to people who are elderly, disabled or in working households.

Greenstein explores the increase in deep poverty—people living below 50 percent of the federal poverty line, or less than roughly $11,000 for a family of four—that resulted from welfare reform in 1996. Single mothers “with less education and skills and more physical, mental health, or other problems,” and children in particular took a hit as they faced deep cuts in benefits and other obstacles to getting assistance. In 1995, cash assistance under the old AFDC program lifted 2.2 million children out of deep poverty. By 2005 the TANF block grant lifted only 650,000 above that level.

One positive aspect of the safety net is SNAP (food stamps), which in 2011 cut nearly in half the number of children living below the World Bank poverty standard—less than $2 per day, per person. Without SNAP, 1.46 million households with 2.8 million children lived below the standard; but when SNAP is taken into account 800,000 households with 1.4 million children lived in these extreme conditions. (Still far more people than this country should stomach.)

“The importance of retaining the SNAP program structure alongside the TANF block grant cannot be overstated,” Greenstein writes. He also reminds that before there were national eligibility and benefit standards for the food stamp program—under President Richard Nixon—we had childhood malnutrition and related diseases in some poor areas “that were akin to those in some third-world countries”; kids with open sores that wouldn’t heal, distended bellies, complete lethargy. The House proposal to block grant SNAP—and Medicaid too—as we have done with TANF, would be tremendously regressive, resulting in the kind of inability to respond to need that we see with TANF.

Finally, Greenstein cites research showing the tremendous “beneficial effects on young children in low-income families” that result from a $3,000 increase in a family’s income, “whether the increase comes from earnings or other sources such as government assistance. These findings underscore the importance of programs such as SNAP, the EITC, and the Child Tax Credit as work supports.”

After reading Greenstein’s testimony—which I recommend reading in its entirety, since it goes into far more detail than I go into here, and it’s a great tutorial on the safety net—the actions taken by House Republicans this week on the budget were all the more striking.

Melissa Boteach, director of Half in Ten, reveals some of the choices the GOP made in an effort to avert military cuts scheduled for January 2013 under a bipartisan agreement reached last summer. These include: at least $33 billion in cuts from the SNAP program (it’s worth noting that nearly half of the program’s 46 million participants are children, and subsidies to corporate agriculture were left untouched); the elimination of the Social Services Block Grant, which helps over 11 million kids through funding for child abuse prevention and intervention, foster care and child protective services; and eliminating the Child Tax Credit for parents who pay federal income taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number instead of a Social Security number. That mainly hurts American children whose parents are low-income working immigrants.

“The $1,800 the families will lose, on average, could otherwise go toward decent nutrition and stable housing—all associated with better development and school performance,” says Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs.

“That’s $1,800 less per year for the families of 5.5 million children—working families with incomes below the poverty level,” adds Boteach. “This at a moment when more than 1 in 5 kids are living in poverty.”

E-mails from Readers

Dear Greg,

Over the almost sixty years I have been on this earth, I have straddled social movements and seen change come about. It began with racism, moved on to include sexism, then to discrimination of disabilities and then to gay rights, not necessarily in that order. Poverty is on the horizon awaiting the chance to be the next movement. Poverty is ready to raise its voice and some of us who are living in it are prepared to speak.

You will see something quite remarkable happening with the This Week in Poverty discussion on poverty—something that seldom happens with the major media: actual poor people are being given a voice too. Readers might consider that while we poor aren’t polished academics, we are indeed experts in poverty because we live it every day. We have some know-how and may also have some ideas that could make life better for every class if we work together.

All we ask is that you respectfully listen, not “troll.” Webster’s defines trolling as posting “deliberately inflammatory articles on an internet discussion board.” Is simply disagreeing with someone “deliberately posting something inflammatory”? No. But we all know the difference between disagreeing and being inflammatory, and we should pay attention to that line.

Cat Sullivan, board member of POWER

* * *

Greg,

I just read your article, “This Week in Poverty: Will Pennsylvania Rip Another Hole in the Safety Net?” and wanted to say thanks for bringing this issue to the forefront.

As one of America’s ‘long term unemployed’ and a single ‘Adult without Dependent Children’ (AwDC), I have been stunned and saddened by the lack of resources and/or compassion for people that fall into this category, and have been writing about this for quite some time. My most recent post was published just yesterday:

“Millions of the long term unemployed are classified as ‘Adults without Dependent Children’—which simply means that they do not qualify for any assistance other than food stamps once their unemployment benefits are exhausted….

“Along with skyrocketing gas prices, food prices have also soared, leaving many with the absolute inability to feed, clothe and house themselves and/or their families without some level of assistance. The plight for those ‘AwDCs’ continues to be grim, and will only get worse if the SNAP program is cut even further while, at the same time, millions remain without meaningful work they can rely on to sustain their own existence financially.”

This is a horrifying and unbelievably humiliating situation to be in. I never in my life thought I’d find myself in circumstances such as this. I continue to be amazed at the indifference of so many in our society—as well as lawmakers at all levels—regarding the plight of so many AwDCs who now find themselves among the ranks of the homeless and very poor as a result of long term (and potentially permanent) unemployment.

Kelly Wiedemer, Denver Unemployment Examiner

Articles

Philadelphia School District Announces its Dissolution,” Daniel Denvir
The Fight Over Inequality,” Thomas B. Edsall
Local Families Struggle Under Welfare Rules,” Kate Giammarise
Hundreds March in ACT UP, Occupy Rally,” Allison Kilkenny
Family Resource Centers, Child Abuse Prevention, Facing Cuts” Lindsey Tugman
Where Will Homeless Go in Wake of Yuba City Park Project?” Ashley Gebb
Big Agriculture Lobbies for Child Labor,” Anna Pycior

Other Resources

Tavis Smiley and Cornel West,” The Colbert Report
Protecting the Safety Net in Tough Times,” National Center for Children in Poverty
Wage Gap: Women of Color in Difficult Times,” National Women’s Law Center
The False Choice of National Defense Versus Helping the Poor,” CBPP
After Foster Care and Juvenile Justice,” MDRC
Fair Pay for Women: Increase Minimum Wage and Tipped Minimum Wage,” NWLC
2012 United States Peace Index,” Institute for Economics and Peace
Cracking Down on Wage Theft,” Progressive States Network

Vital Statistics

US poverty (less than $22,314 for a family of four): 46 million people, 15.1 percent of population.

Children in poverty: 16.4 million, 22 percent of all children.

Number of poor children receiving cash aid: one in five.

Poverty rate for people in female-headed families: 42 percent.

Single mothers with incomes under $25,000: 50 percent.

Single mothers working: 67 percent.

Deep poverty (less than $11,157 for a family of four): 20.5 million people, 6.7 percent of population.

Increase in deep poverty, 1976–2010: doubled—3.3 percent of population to 6.7 percent.

Families receiving cash assistance, 1996: 68 of every 100 families with children living in poverty.

Families receiving cash assistance, 2010: 27 of every 100 families with children living in poverty.

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

Quote of the Week

Submitted by “Bobbolink,” a homeless person who reads this blog regularly:

“In the research of Fisk and her colleagues, people were asked how different social groups are viewed by their society. When asked a series of questions about social warmth and the competency of different social and ethnic groups, the answers clustered around four emotional responses: pity, envy, pride, and disgust. For example, people routinely react to the homeless with disgust. This is puzzling enough. You might have thought people would pity the homeless, empathize with their position, and feel sorry for them. Not at all. And in a functional MRI study, when study participants were presented with pictures of members from each social and ethnic group, the medial prefrontal cortex—the site that registers the potential for an object’s social action—popped for all but one group: the homeless. The homeless maybe seen as human, but not fully so, not as social actors.”
                  —from The Empathy Gap by J.D. Trout

This Week in Poverty posts every Friday morning. Please comment below. You can also e-mail me at WeekInPoverty@me.com and follow me on Twitter.

Syndicate content