Matt Bruenig

Matt Bruenig is a blogger at PolicyShop. Follow him on Twitter

Recent Articles

Stop Worrying about Food Stamp "Fraud"

Over at the Weekly Standard blog, Jeryl Bier raised an alarm on Friday about the rise of food stamp (aka SNAP) fraud. The howler in the piece is that although the headline says food stamp fraud is up 30 percent, you soon realize that the fraud rate only rose from 1.0 percent to 1.3 percent. Bier rightly deserves a ding for a ridiculously misleading use of statistics. In response to Bier, Jonathan Cohn points out the misuse of statistics and makes the straightforward case for food stamps . That case is old but worth repeating here: food stamps stabilize households and the economy in bad economic times, pull millions out of poverty, and have very low overhead. Also, the program runs quite well! Beyond Cohn’s takedown, I think we should point out that the kind of food stamp “fraud” Bier is complaining about is not even a problem. The USDA calls the type of fraud in question “trafficking,” and it basically amounts to individually swapping out food stamp dollars for actual dollars. Despite...

False Concerns for the Poor

(Flickr/Mark Sedella)
Fast food workers have been organizing across the country for months now, and last week a series of spectacular coordinated strikes generated a deluge of media coverage . As you'd expect, the right-wing media and pundit class came out swinging against the workers with their usual mix of hateful trashing and concern trolling. The hateful trashing mantle was best carried by talking heads at FOX News who slammed fast food workers as mediocre ingrates who should be happy to have a job at all. Comments like these remind us that the right-wing does not merely hate welfare programs due to some anti-spending, anti-government ethos. They just hate the poor in general. Even poor people who, by their very description, are in jobs working hard and seeking to negotiate up their wages with their own employer receive the same vicious treatment the right-wing pretends to reserve only for "lazy welfare cheats." For those of us who don't think the working poor are subhuman garbage, this attack strategy...

Why Small Fixes for High-Poverty Schools Aren't Good Enough

I recently read The Future of School Integration: Socioeconomic Diversity as an Education Reform Strategy , the latest in a long line of Century Foundation books on similar topics. The authors of the book argue that placing poor kids in lower-poverty schools substantially improves their educational outcomes. More provocatively, the authors argue that these socioeconomic composition effects improve outcomes at even higher rates than traditional strategies like introducing additional funding, training, teaching strategies, and other special programs into high-poverty schools. The evidence in the book is surprisingly sparse, consisting primarily of two studies. In the first study , Heather Schwartz takes advantage of an anomaly created by the public housing system in Montgomery County, Maryland, that had the effect of randomly assigning poor public housing recipients to the county's schools. Schwartz found that the poor public housing recipients that attended lower-poverty schools...

Oregon Is Doing Free Higher Education the Right Way

On Monday, the Oregon Senate unanimously passed a bill already passed by the Oregon House that creates a study committee to develop a pilot program for making Oregon public higher education tuition-free ( I , II ). From The Wall Street Journal : Oregon's legislature is moving ahead with a plan to enable students to attend state schools with no money down. In return, under one proposal, the students would agree to pay into a special fund 3% of their salaries annually for 24 years. The plan, called "Pay it Forward, Pay it Back," would create a fund that students would draw from and eventually pay into—potentially bypassing traditional education lenders and the interest rates they charge. The state would likely borrow for the fund's seed money, which could exceed $9 billion, but the program's designers intend it to become self-sustaining. [...] Under the Oregon plan, students who don't graduate would still pay a fraction of their incomes into the fund; the amount would depend on how long...

The Most Viable Way to Give a Boost to Low-Income Workers

Flickr/Erin Johnson
In 2011, Jacob Hacker wrote a ground-breaking paper in which he coined the phrase predistribution . Under Hacker's definition, predistribution refers to measures governments take to reduce or eliminate inequality in market incomes. This differs from redistribution, which Hacker uses to mean measures states take to reduce or eliminate inequality after market incomes have been distributed, for instance through taxes and government benefit programs. As far I am concerned, there is no moral or political difference between the two. Predistributive institutions and redistributive institutions are both just institutions. What matters is achieving greater economic equality, not so much the precise institutional regime that we use to get there. If anything, I tend to find so-called redistributive institutions more attractive because they are easier to fine tune and strike me as more liberating. But, as Hacker correctly points out, my view is almost certainly an outlying one. For cultural or...