Poverty & Wealth

Cuomo's Wedge

AP Images, Mike Groll

On Monday, Mary Fallin, Oklahoma’s Republican governor, signed legislation forbidding her state’s cities from enacting ordinances that set their own minimum wage standards or that entitle workers to paid sick days. Even in hard-right Oklahoma, citizens were collecting signatures to put initiatives raising the minimum wage and mandating sick-day on the Oklahoma City ballot. Fallin has now put an unceremonious end to such egalitarian frippery.

Three Cheers for Taxes

Flickr/Tobias Scheck

Tomorrow is tax day, when millions upon millions of Americans find themselves saying, "Grumble grumble govmint taxes grumble grumble" as they stand in a slow-moving line at the post office to mail their returns off to the tyrants in Washington. Every year at this time, I feel it's my duty to remind everyone of a few important facts about taxes, the most important of which comes at the end, so you'll have to wait for the payoff. But here we go:

Yes, Being a Woman Makes You Poorer

AP Images/Susan Walsh

Senate Republicans blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act yesterday, a bill that would make it illegal for employers to punish workers for discussing wages and would require them to share pay information with the Employment Opportunity Commission. President Barack Obama has already signed an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from punishing employees who talk about their pay. These two actions were pegged to the somewhat made up holiday called “Equal Pay Day” celebrated Tuesday, and were discussed by many in Washington in merely political terms: evidence of attempts by Democrats to woo women voters and a continuing sign of Republicans “difficulties” with them.

Beyond Corruption

AP Images/Mark Lennihan

There was a time in our history, thankfully long past now, when bribery was common and money's slithery movement through the passages of American government was all but invisible, save for the occasional scandal that would burst forth into public consciousness. Today, we know much more about who's getting what from whom. Members of Congress have to declare their assets, lobbyists have to register and disclose their activities, and contributions are reported and tracked. Whatever you think about the current campaign finance system, it's much more transparent than it once was.

Soldiering on an Empty Stomach

AP Images/Keith Srakocic

Since the start of the Recession, the dollar amount of food stamps used at military commissaries, special stores that can be used by active-duty, retired, and some veterans of the armed forces has quadrupled, hitting $103 million last year. Food banks around the country have also reported a rise in the number of military families they serve, numbers that swelled during the Recession and haven’t, or have barely, abated.

More Than Corruption Threatens the Integrity of Our Democracy

AP Images/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

What does it mean to corrupt an elected official?

A coal executive walks into a member of Congress’s office with a $100,000 check in hand and says, “I will hand you this check if, and only if, you vote against any fracking permits on federal land—it’s bad for the local water supply, and besides I don’t need the competition.” The Representative accepts the check and then votes “nay” when the time comes. Is that corrupt? Most people would say yes—it’s a paradigm case. After all, there is a quid pro quo exchange—you do this, I give you that.

The Conversation: Joshua Steckel and Andrew Delbanco

AP Images/Mel Evans

In the fall of 2006, Joshua Steckel left his job as a college counselor at an elite private school in Manhattan for a public high school in Brooklyn. His new work, guiding low-income students, put him on the front lines in the effort to bring more socioeconomic diversity to the nation’s selective four-year campuses. Far from assuming that college was a choice, many of the students who entered Steckel’s cubicle had internalized the message that higher education was a world from which they were excluded.

America's Class System Across The Life Cycle

I am not usually one for a long charticle, but occasionally it's worthwhile to step back and summarize what we know. Here, I tackle America's class system, across the life cycle.

The GOP's Racial Dog Whistling and the Social Safety Net

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite

You've no doubt heard the famous quote about race in politics spoken by the late Lee Atwater, the most skilled Republican strategist of his generation. Liberals have cited it for years, seeing in it an explanation, right from the horse's mouth, of how contemporary Republicans use "issues" like welfare to activate racial animus among white voters, particularly in the South. Race may be an eternal force in American politics, but its meaning and operation change as the years pass. It's time we took another look at Atwater's analysis and see how it is relevant to today, because it doesn't mean what it once did. Atwater may have been extraordinarily prescient, though not in the way most people think.

The Missing White Poor

A famous white poor person. (photo by Dorothea Lange)

You may have heard about how last week, Paul Ryan made some unfortunate remarks about poverty, blaming it at least partly on, well, lazy black people: "We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular," Ryan said, "of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with." The reason many people got angry about this is that when we talk about poor white people, nobody suggests that it's a product of a pathology that lies within those particular people. Republicans may think persistent poverty in rural areas is a regrettable thing, but they aren't delivering lectures to those people about their "culture." It's kind of a generalized version of the fundamental attribution error—people like me are poor because of conditions outside themselves, while people unlike me are poor because of their inherent nature.

Ryan's words set off a predictable round of "Is Paul Ryan racist?" contemplation (see here, for example), and in response to that we have to remind ourselves that that is always the wrong question. It's impossible to know with certainty whether anyone is racist, because that requires looking into their heart. But much more importantly, it doesn't matter. What matters is what people say and do, not what lurks within their souls. You can say to Paul Ryan, "Here's what's wrong with what you said" without shouting "You're racist!" which not only doesn't convince anyone of anything, it only leads everyone who doesn't already agree with you to shut down and refuse to listen to anything else you have to say. Before we get to today's chart about race and poverty (oh yes, I do have a chart), you should play this classic from Jay Smooth every time you're tempted to call a politician a racist:

What Is Left?

A response to Harold Meyerson

I was not surprised by the substance of Harold Meyerson’s criticisms of my recent Harper’s essay (“Nothing Left: The Long, Slow Surrender of American Liberals,” March 2014). I have known for some time that he and I disagree fundamentally on the reasonable scope of a political left in the United States and, correspondingly, whether one actually exists and/or how to go about building one as an effective social and political force. I was somewhat disappointed, however, at the tired hook to which he tethered his criticism.

Greyhound Therapy

In many of South Jersey's counties, homeless people seeking services are offered a one-way ticket to Trenton or Atlantic City.

Flickr/Germeister

When Thomas Jones, a native of Asbury Park on the Jersey Shore, wanted to get clean and straighten out his life, service providers in his county gave him a one-way ticket to Trenton, 60 miles away. “In Asbury Park they didn’t have assistance—no shelter, no soup kitchen,” he said. “They just push you out to Trenton or Atlantic City.” Other homeless men recounted similar stories. When they got out of prison or lost their jobs and couldn’t keep up with the bills, they sought assistance. Instead, they were offered one-way bus rides to the Trenton or Atlantic City, home to the Trenton and Atlantic City Rescue Missions, the only two comprehensive shelters for adults without children in the southern half of the state.

Paul Ryan: A Poor Man's Savior of the Poor

AP Images/Charlie Neibergall

Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan, chair of the House of Representatives Budget Committee, spent the fall touring poor neighborhoods in an effort to rebrand the GOP as the true saviors of the poor. It was both an effort to mark the 50th anniversary of Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, and to salve the wounds his party felt after its 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney put on a monocle and proclaimed the nation to be full of moochers while giggling maniacally over vichyssoise at a fancy dinner party. (Ok, he didn’t do that, but he did do this.)

The ACA Can't Fix Our Mental Health Crisis

AP Images/Bob Wands

As more people sign up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, the next few months will usher in a fundamental change in mental health care. Under the ACA, insurers are for the first time required to cover mental health and substance abuse treatment as one of ten “essential benefits.” This is good news for the millions of Americans who suffer from some form of mental illness but don’t seek treatment. The question now is whether the country’s mental health infrastructure is equipped to deal with an avalanche of new patients. The answer? Probably not.

Arkansas's Medicaid Folly

AP Images/Brian Chilson

On Tuesday, the Arkansas state legislature failed to renew a bill authorizing its expanded-Medicaid plan, an innovative approach to Obamacare that allowed the state to use federal funds to purchase private insurance for the state's low-income residents. Arkansas's unique plan was a compromise between the state's Democratic governor, Mike Beebe, and the Republican-led legislature, and made the state one of the few ultra-conservative ones to bother expanding Medicaid. In the 25 states that didn't expand, many of the poor are still doing without insurance, because the federal subsidies weren't designed to kick in until people made above a certain threshold. If Arkansas doesn't renew its Medicaid program, 85,000 people who've gotten insurance this year will suddenly lose it again.

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