Poverty & Wealth

Moving Down

The number of Americans who say they are in a lower economic class is going up.

(AP Photo/Rothstein)
Last week, during the Democratic National Convention, in a rare display of party message discipline, viewers heard Bill Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, and a raft of other speakers talk about the best way to “grow” the economy—“from the middle-class out and from the bottom up.” They were careful, though, to avoid certain phrases to describe that bottom—including “lower class” and “lower middle class”—and for good reason. Most people don’t like to identify themselves as low-income, even when they are. That’s changing, though, according to a report out yesterday from the Pew Research Center. The percentage of American adults who say they are lower-middle- or lower-class has risen to 32 percent, up from just 25 percent of adults in 2008. People younger than 30 are more likely to put themselves on the economic bottom rung, and the number of whites who identify as lower-middle or lower-class has grown faster than the number of blacks or Latinos who identify that way. These people are also more...

As Common As Dirt

In the fields of California, wage theft is how agribusiness is done.

(Photography by David Bacon)
Photography by David Bacon "As Common as Dirt" has won the 2013 James Beard Award in the Politics/Policy/Environment category. The award is the highest honor for food journalism. This article was produced in collaboration with the Food & Environment Reporting Network , an independent, nonprofit news organization producing investigative reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health. O ne morning earlier this year, in the borderland town of Brawley, California, 75-year-old Ignacio Villalobos perched on a chair in his trailer, removed a plastic bag from the well of a rubber boot, and finished dressing for work. Dawn was still an hour away, and in the wan light of the kitchen, Villalobos took off his house sandals and pulled the bag over his right foot. He bunched it at the ankle, then slipped his foot into his boot. “These shoes aren’t made for water,” he said, adding that morning dew and irrigation keep farm fields damp—even in the desert of the Imperial Valley where he...

GM's Hunger Games

The hunger strike is just the latest in a long history of labor tensions in Colombia.

(GDA via AP Images)
H asta la muerte ! “To the death,” chanted 12 hunger strikers outside the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia. General Motors subsidiary Colmotores had fired the workers a year ago, claiming they were dismissed because of declining productivity. In truth, they were injured on the job and deemed no longer useful. On August 1, they sewed their mouths shut in protest. On August 6, Colmotores briefly sat down to negotiations with the workers, who formed the Association of Injured Workers and Ex-Workers of General Motors Colombia (ASOTRECOL), but ended up walking out later the same day. Protests in the United States and Colombia soon sprouted— Martin Sheen and Noam Chomsky have been among the more well-known public defenders of the GM workers. Under mounting public pressure, Colmotores agreed to negotiations facilitated by the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service on August 23. The talks, however, did not result in GM rehiring the workers or compensating them for lost wages. After...

Why Partisans and Election Law Shouldn't Mix: See Ohio

(AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Last June, Ohio’s Republican state legislators sought to pass an extremely strict voter ID law, with deeply disturbing implications for minority voters. It would have been among the strictest in the nation, requiring voters to show a government-issued ID with virtually no recourse for those lacking the necessary documents. But the opposition came from an unexpected place—Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted. "I want to be perfectly clear, when I began working with the General Assembly to improve Ohio’s elections system it was never my intent to reject valid votes," he said. "I would rather have no bill than one with a rigid photo identification provision that does little to protect against fraud and excludes legally registered voters' ballots from counting." Husted's opposition played a big role in killing the bill. It was an exciting moment. The secretary had positioned himself as a new kind of Ohio elections official; in a state with a history of messy and unfair...

Holy Rollers

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(Jesse Lenz) T he Sisters of Saint Joseph are waiting for a bus, glistening ever so slightly as they stand in the near-100-degree heat of a late June afternoon, huddled under a couple of pine trees that border an asphalt parking lot in Langhorne, Pennsylvania. The blocky, charmless building the lot services is home to the district office of Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick, a Tea Party Republican, and the bus the sisters are waiting for isn’t any old municipal four-wheeler. The Nuns on the Bus are coming to town. Spotlight: Nuns on the Bus Clare Malone on liberal American Catholics. Earlier in the month, a rotating cast of nuns led by Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of a social-justice lobbying group called Network, set out on a two-week, nine-state tour of the country to protest the radical cuts to social services included in Republican Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget, approved by the GOP-led House and supported by his soon-to-be running mate, Mitt Romney. The tour is something...

First Night of the DNC: A TV & Twitter Review

Did you watch it last night? It was an amazing night of TV, of Twitter (that instant snark convo), and of politics. My twitter feed was full of journos saying to each other: Wow, there’s a lot of energy here! Don’t you feel more buzz than in Tampa? I thought this was supposed to be the dispirited convention, but these folks are excited. You could see that in every breakaway shot of the convention floor: Folks were cheering, nodding, yelling back in witness. Over and over again, the Dems boasted proudly about standing up for health care, equal pay, LGBT rights (including the freedom to marry), and yes, reproductive rights, without apology. (CNN political commentator Erick Erickson got roundly swatted for tweeting, "First night of the Vagina Monologues in Charlotte going as expected.") Whoa. Way to respect your lady viewers! But he was right about this: The Dems were indeed standing up for the ladies’ power over their own bodies and paychecks. Up on stage, the speeches were just on fire...

Pennsylvania Has a New Voter ID Option—But Serious Burdens Remain

(Flickr/amslerPIX)
There's a lot not to like about Pennsylvania's voter ID law, which requires voters show a government-issued photo ID at the polls. Only a few types of IDs are acceptable, like driver's licenses and passports, and even public-university student IDs must have an expiration date on them. Ever since Republicans passed the law in March, critics have worried that without a comprehensive education plan, hundreds of thousands of voters would not even know about the law—those Pennsylvanians, disproportionately nonwhite and low-income, who lack the necessary ID. Most urgently, they pointed to the people could't get an ID under Pennsylvania's unusually restrictive rules, because they didn't have a birth certificate or social security card or their married name was different than the names on some documents. In a lawsuit aimed at blocking the law, plaintiff Vivienne Applewhite exemplified the problem—a longtime voter, born in South Carolina, whose Social Security card had been stolen and whose...

Did Hubris Kill Texas's Photo ID Law?

(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
In a unanimous decision on Thursday, a panel of three federal judges knocked down the Texas voter-ID law, which would have required voters to show a form of government-issued photo identification. The state will undoubtedly appeal the decision, but the news is yet another blow to the law, which the Justice Department already determined would disproportionately affect nonwhite voters. The Department of Justice estimated that between 600,000 and 800,000 registered voters would be affected. Those with Hispanic surnames were far more likely than whites to not have the requisite identification. While it's yet another rebuke to strict voter-ID laws, the court's decision also illustrates just how much the specifics of this law, and its particularly scary effects, were brought on by the arrogance of state lawmakers and (Republican) officials. Like right-wing Republicans in the many states that went whole-hog GOP in 2009 and 2010—Wisconsin, Michigan, Maine, Alabama, Virginia, and Louisiana...

Foreclosure Free-For-All

The CFPB is getting resistance from its allies on proposed mortgage policies. 

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)
It's almost four years since the economy cratered, yet 11 million homes—accounting for 23 percent of all outstanding mortgages— remain underwater. The Obama administration's efforts to shore up the housing market by offering incentives for refinancing, rather than the government directly purchasing loans, has been an utter failure ; countless homeowners have been left desperately negotiating with their lenders to modify the terms of their loan and more often than not, being tossed onto the street by mortgage servicers. Servicers are the companies that process mortgage payments; they're also the point of contact should something go amiss, resolving a defaulted mortgage by either restructuring the loan or beginning foreclosure proceedings. During normal times, servicers could better handle the requests of an occasional delinquent borrower. When the avalanche fell in 2009 and a massive pool of customers could no longer make the monthly payments, the incentives shifted, often pushing...

Ann Romney Loves Women!

Last night, I realized that God invented Twitter specifically so that political conventions would be entertaining to watch. Listening to the speeches last night while watching my Twitter feed was like watching it with a ballroom full of snarky friends, all rolling their eyes and emitting their one-liners. For instance, how very inspiring it was last night to hear that Ann Romney loves women! My corner of the Twitterverse was waiting for her to announce that everyone should look under their seats—everyone was going to get a Cadillac! Tweeters exploded yet again when she noted that she and Mitt started their married lives in a basement apartment—which, she didn’t mention, just happened to be paid for by the sale of stock options. (Even Juan Williams didn’t buy her tale of hardship, saying on Fox News that she looked “like a corporate wife.”) But seriously, folks, my favorite part of her talk was when she explained that she and Mitt didn’t have a storybook marriage—they have a “real...

Seriously, There's Good News For Ohio Voters

(AP Photo/ Dayton Daily News, Bill Reinke)
For voting rights activists, the news coming out of Ohio hasn't been promising—the secretary of state has limited early voting hours and a state law stopped all voting the three days before Election Day. Both decisions have a disproportionate impact on poor and nonwhite voters, who vote in particularly heavy numbers during the early period. But Monday brought some good news for vote defenders in the Buckeye State. In 2008, around 14,000 voters had their ballots thrown out because they cast provisional ballots in the wrong precinct. Often, it was a poll worker who had made the error, but it was the voter who was punished. But thanks to an injunction granted by a U.S. district judge Monday, that measure will not be in effect in the 2012 elections. The Service Employees International Union brought the suit, represented by lawyers from the Advancement Project, a voting rights group that’s been involved in several of the voter ID challenges around the country. The plaintiffs argued the...

Voter-ID Fight Gets Down to the Wire in Wisconsin

(Flickr/Bethany Weeks)
We may be months away from Election Day, but in states fighting legal battles over newly minted voter-ID laws, time is short. These laws, which require residents to show government-issued identification to vote, have been shown to disenfranchise poor and minority voters in the first place. But as I've written before, the timeframe for implementing them poses another major problem; just look at Pennsylvania, where volunteers and activists are rushing to inform residents about a voter-ID law passed in March. The fact is, comprehensive voter-education efforts can hardly be conducted in two months. It is this basic issue—whether there is enough time to properly implement voter-ID laws before November 6—that has kept voter-ID from going into effect in many states. But in Wisconsin, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is hoping there's still time for one last full-court press to rescue the state's strict voter-ID law. State courts in two different cases—one brought by the League of Women...

Lifestyles of the Rich and Nutty

This is long overdue.
Like every American (I assume) I've occasionally wondered what I would do if I had enormous wealth. And my thoughts always run to remaking the world, or at least our country, to be more in line with my own values. In other words, if I were a billionaire I'd be like Charles and David Koch. According to Forbes, they each have $25 billion, and although I'm sure they have really nice houses and who knows what else, they seem mostly concerned with turning this country into the kind of place they'd like it to be. Now you and I might find their vision of America horrifying, but in their own way their activities are quite civic-minded. Their brother Bill, however, has other things to do with his money: KEBLER PASS —There's a new town in Colorado. It has about 50 buildings, including a saloon, a church, a jail, a firehouse, a livery and a train station. Soon, it will have a mansion on a hill so the town's founder can look down on his creation. But don't expect to move here — or even to visit...

“Fewer, Poorer, Gloomier”

Another day, another survey charting the decline of the American middle class. Yesterday, the Pew Research Center weighed in with “The Lost Decade of the Middle Class,” to which they appended the kicker, “Fewer, Poorer, Gloomier.” The median net worth of the middle-tier households (Pew defines “middle-tier” as households whose income is between two-thirds and twice the national median) declined from $152,950 in 2007 to $93,150 in 2010, reflecting the sharp loss in home value. Taking the longer view, people in the middle tier made 62 percent of all the household income in the United States in 1970, but just 45 percent in 2010. Middle tiersters didn’t lose to the lower tier, whose share of the national income also declined, from 10 percent to 9 percent. They lost it to the upper tier (who else?), whose share of national income rose from 29 percent to 46 percent. It’s not so much the bottom but the middle that’s fallen out of the economy. But be of good cheer. On Wednesday, the same day...

Texas Says "No Thanks" to Women's Health Care

(AP Photo/San Angelo Standard-Times, Patrick Dove)
If you haven't been worn down reading about Todd Akin's bizarre and ignorant views about the female reproductive system, now turn to Texas, where women's uteruses may soon have to move out of state to find health care. Late Tuesday night, a federal court of appeals ruled that Texas can exclude Planned Parenthood from the Women's Health Program, which provides basic preventative care—like birth control and cancer screenings—for low-income women. The decision has terrifying implications in a state where women's access to health care is already poor. One in four women in Texas is uninsured, and the state also has the third-highest rate of cervical cancer in the country. In Texas, women's health-care clinics serving low-income populations rely on two sources of funding: the Women's Health Program and general state family-planning dollars. Lawmakers have attacked both streams. In 2011, the state legislature slashed state funding for family planning—you know, the thing that prevents...

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