Amanda Teuscher

Amanda Teuscher is The American Prospect's managing editor.

Recent Articles

What the Federal Poverty Line Leaves Out

The federal poverty line was first developed in 1963, and since then has been updated for inflation. Beyond the fact that it does not vary by geography (it’s a lot more expensive to live in New York City than in Tennessee), there are a number of flaws in the measurement. For instance, it was calculated by multiplying the cost of groceries by three (which consumed a larger portion of a family’s budget in the 1960s), while neglecting to factor in exact costs like housing, health care, child care, and transportation. But the costs of necessities like these have changed significantly in the past five decades.

In 2011, the Census Bureau released the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which was meant to improve our understanding of the state of U.S. poverty by accounting for regional variances as well as other costs such as child care. It also factors in assistance programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is important for demonstrating how federal policy can play a role in alleviating poverty.

But an even more nuanced measurement of economic well-being is the Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budget Calculator, which was updated yesterday to include 2014 numbers. The EPI calculator estimates how much it costs to “attain a secure yet modest living standard,” and provides data on ten different family sizes (one or two parents, with zero to five children) across 618 distinct geographic areas and cities. The new tool factors in community-specific expenses for housing, food, child care, transportation, health care, other necessities, and taxes, and the numbers it yields are startling.

For instance, in Morristown, Tennessee, which has the lowest cost of living, a two-parent, two-child family has a budget of $49,114—more than twice the 2014 poverty threshold of $24,008 for that size family. And forget economic security if you’re making the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour in Morristown, even if you’re single with no children: Your monthly budget of $23,458, according to the calculator, is still well above the $15,080 in wages you’d take home in one year.

(Courtesy of the Economic Policy Institute)

 

One of the key findings of the updated calculator is the wide range of child-care costs across different regions, highlighting a limitation of the SPM, which applies geographic variability only to housing. According to the EPI calculator, a family of four in 500 of the 618 areas can expect to pay more for child care than for housing.

(Courtesy of the Economic Policy Institute)

 

Perhaps surprising to only a few, Washington, D.C., had the highest cost of living, according to the EPI calculator. That same family of four would need an annual budget of $106,493, which even the city’s higher minimum wage (set to increase to $11.50 an hour in 2016) would fall far short of. Another prominent calculator of living wages, that of MIT, finds similar discrepancies between actual costs of living and federal poverty thresholds, which can determine eligibility for certain assistance programs and provide a picture of how many Americans live with severe economic instability.

Even still, these calculations do not include such middle-class luxuries as saving for retirement or job loss, or paying for summer camp or sports programs for children—or even saving for college. It’s a more secure standard of living than our current poverty levels, but the emphasis is still on “modest.”

Conan O'Brien Wants to Help Lincoln Chafee's Campaign

Here at the Prospect, we had intended to be your No. 1 place for Lincoln Chafee news. You know, Lincoln Chafee, the former Rhode Island governor (and former Republican) who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination?

If we’ve been neglecting our duties, it’s only because, well, it wasn’t clear anyone actually wanted to read Lincoln Chafee news. In a 1,001-person poll last month, Chafee received absolutely zero votes, and his perhaps most well-publicized social media incident happened when his wife posted to his campaign’s Facebook page, asking if anyone on staff knew the password. He’s still polling at 0.0 on Real Clear Politics.

In answer to the glee many are feeling regarding Chafee’s long-shot campaign, comedian Conan O’Brien is making it his mission to get Chafee from 0 percent to 1 percent, at least in polling results. “Let’s be honest, I’m not trying to get him elected,” he said on his late-night show on Wednesday.

O’Brien offered his audience some facts about Chafee, including the candidate’s support for affirmative action, same-sex marriage, legalizing marijuana, and adopting the metric system. “So that should easily win over African American lesbian stoners who are also CEOs of companies that manufacture measuring cups,” O’Brien joked before noting that Chafee is also a professional ferrier (which is a bit reminiscent of Mitt and Ann Romney’s Olympic dressage horse ownership).

The O’Brien effort to get Chafee at least on the board also includes a campaign song, performed by Aimee Mann and Ted Leo to the tune of Fine Young Cannibals’ “She Drives Me Crazy.” Here’s the video of the Chafee-devoted Conan segment, and the lyrics to the song:

Used to be Republican

Switched to Dem in 2010

The pride of Rhode Island

His horse’s hooves were stylin’

Wants the metric system for the U.S.

A plan with zero gram’s chance of success

He’s Lincoln Chafee

For president

You don’t have to vote for him

Just get him to 1 percent

He’s only got 12 Facebook friends

He looks like Chris Matthews on a juice cleanse

He’s Lincoln Chafee

Let’s get him 1 percent

He’ll never be president

Just get him 1 percent

Chafee showed himself to be a good sport in responding to the segment, thanking O’Brien for the attention, and offering to “come on the show to help his ratings.”

I’d say stay tuned for more Lincoln Chafee news, but unless O’Brien’s plan is more effective than the “Colbert Bump,” it might be a while before we have more to write about.

From #BlackLivesMatter to the Bureau of Land Management, Oath Keepers Aim to Intimidate

In the early morning on Tuesday, about half a dozen men armed with assault rifles began walking the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, which was under a state of emergency following protests on the August 9 anniversary of the killing of Michael Brown.

They were members of Oath Keepers, described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “fiercely antigovernment, militaristic group,” and they said they were there to “keep the peace”—as if their presence was meant to be anything other than intimidating. St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said their arrival was “both unnecessary and inflammatory,” but apparently no police officers confronted the group. The men were all white, of course—as if they could have possibly been met with the same response if they were black or brown.

(Photo: AP/Jeff Roberson)

Heavily armed members of the Oath Keepers arrive in Ferguson early on Tuesday, August 11, to "protect people and property."

 

CNN was gracious enough to grant one member, John Karriman, the chance to explain his organization’s mission in Ferguson. “We had a calming presence on the crowd because they remember us from last year,” he said. “We were here for them, protecting people and property.” In the interview, Karriman said the Oath Keepers made their presence known to police, who simply asked that they not get in the way. Before the militiamen arrived, the police had told protesters to disperse, arresting those who did not comply.

Oath Keepers interpret political reality through the same prism as the tinfoil-hat-wearing, black-helicopter crowd, except with a special emphasis on using their weapons to disobey and resist unconstitutional government overreach and the imminent and tyrannical imposition of martial law.

They’ve also been freelancing their paramilitary and weapon-wielding skills to mining companies in the West. Just last week, Intermountain Mining requested the group come to the White Hope Mine in Lincoln, Montana, to stage a “security operation” and protect the mine from “unlawful action by the United States Forest Service.” The Forest Service and the mine owners are in a dispute over who controls the surface rights to the mine, with Intermountain Mining claiming ownership under the original 1872 General Mining Law and the Forest Service citing noncompliance regarding a structure built on the property.

It’s worth talking a bit about this 1872 law, which is, incredibly, still on the books: Passed by President Ulysses S. Grant—yes, Grant—to encourage western development, the law lets mining companies buy land (at 1872 prices) and extract valuable minerals from public lands without paying any royalties (an estimated $100 million a year, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts). The taxpayers are left with the bill for environmental damage and abandoned mine cleanup, which is considerable. Last week’s dam breach in Colorado that leaked millions of gallons—and counting—of contaminated wastewater into the Animas River happened when the EPA was performing a cleanup of the Gold King Mine, abandoned since 1923.

It is this industry Oath Keepers are defending in Montana, just as they defended rancher Cliven Bundy’s refusal to recognize the federal government or pay years’ worth of fees for having allowed his cattle to graze on public land. A report released on Tuesday by the Center for Western Priorities, which describes itself as a nonpartisan conservation group, linked the efforts of extremist groups like Oath Keepers to Western state lawmakers who use anti-government rhetoric in their efforts to transfer ownership of federal lands—and the minerals underneath them—to state and local government.

But rhetoric is one thing, and assault weapons are another. The founder of Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, wrote on the group’s website after the shooting in Chattanooga that Oath Keepers should “Go armed, at all times, as free men and women, and be ready to do sudden battle, anywhere, anytime, and with utter recklessness.” The group has denied that its mine protection in Montana is a “standoff,” though if I were a Forest Service employee, I would be a bit reluctant to approach armed men who not only believe my agency is unconstitutional, but also are prepared to “do sudden battle” with supposed agents of tyranny.

And if I were a protester in Ferguson, or one of the countless unarmed victims of police violence, I would also be more than reluctant to believe this country has an accurate idea of what constitutes a threat, or of who or what needs protecting.

A Toast to John Kasich, the GOP Debate's Token "Moderate"

Tonight, 17 Republican presidential candidates will take the stage in Cleveland in an attempt to differentiate themselves from the competition, or, if all else fails, offer entertainment during a highly anticipated primetime event. Public health officials are even warning viewers of the danger of playing drinking games while watching such predictably unpredictable candidates as front-runner (!) Donald Trump.

The decision to host the GOP debates and convention in the blue, working-class, and majority–African American city may be jarring to some liberals, though the swing-state location makes perfect sense. So goes Ohio, so goes the nation, as the saying goes. But as noted in a well-timed report released Wednesday by the Center for American Progress, so goes the state’s middle class.

According to the CAP report, titled “Ohio’s Struggling Middle Class,” the state’s median household income in 2013 is lower than it was in 1984, and below the national average. At the same time, income inequality has widened between the top 20 percent of earners and the bottom 20 percent.

I doubt bringing up the report will be one of the “doozies” moderator Chris Wallace has planned for tonight, though it would be a particularly good question for Ohio Governor John Kasich, who was recently excused from the 5 p.m. debate and offered a place at the big-kids’ 9 p.m. table with the other nine highest-polling candidates (replacing Rick Perry).

While Kasich has a sort-of home-field advantage at this debate, he’ll have his work cut out for him in increasing his name recognition and convincing primary voters that he’s not as moderate as everyone says. He supports Common Core, oversaw the state’s acceptance of Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, and once said, quite radically, that he believed that helping the poor was a Christian virtue.

Of course, most of those stories about his moderate policies generously leave out Kasich’s devastating support for anti-abortion legislation, from 20-week abortion bans to restrictions on providers. And as the CAP report lays out, the governor’s recent budget slashes, including cuts to education, earn his moderate label the modifier of “relatively.” The Ohio tax system under Kasich has seen a decrease in income tax and increase in sales tax, which effectively means that low-income residents pay a higher share of their income in taxes than the wealthy. And in 2011, Kasich championed a restrictive law that curtailed public-sector workers’ collective-bargaining rights. Later that year, Ohioans overwhelmingly voted to repeal the law, but the decline in union membership in Ohio mirrors the decline in middle-class household income, as it does in the rest of the country.

But with nine other candidates, and one of them being the scene-stealing Donald Trump, it’s unlikely Kasich will have much time to justify those policy decisions at length. Still, get out the whiskey and pour yourself a shot every time he proudly says the word “budget,” “abortion,” or “Ohio.” Just be careful.

The Inclusive Strength of #BlackLivesMatter

Why the fast-growing movement has been intertwined with labor, economic justice, immigration, and LGBT rights from the beginning.

(Photo: AP/Seth Wenig)
(Photo: Amanda Teuscher) Attendees to the Movement for Black Lives Convening that took place in Cleveland July 24-26 gather for a group photo on the final day of the conference. An estimated 1,200 organizers and activists participated in the meeting. I t would be tempting to say the timing was surreal, if it didn’t happen so often. Less than an hour after the close of last weekend’s conference of Black Lives Matter activists, attendees were pepper-sprayed by a Cleveland transit police officer while they were protesting the arrest of a 14-year-old boy. The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) Convening at Cleveland State University brought together more than 1,000 activists and organizers from across the U.S., and even from other countries. Nearly one year after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, the goal of the convening was to provide a space for the activists to mourn the loss of those killed by police, to show support for one another, to demonstrate pride in their community , and...

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