Poverty & Wealth

The Six Months That Made the Sixties

The March on Washington marked the beginning of a tumultuous half-year whose events would shape the decade's legacy. 

AP Images/Anonymous

Unless you’re tyrannized by the laws of calendars and clocks, the “Sixties” (as opposed to the 1960s) were born not on a day or at a given hour. Rather they emerged from the six months between August 28, 1963, and February 23, 1964, the midway locus falling on November 22—three dates marking episodes as irrevocable as they were momentous.

Prison Reform: No Longer Politically Toxic?

AP Images/Rich Pedroncelli

In the two weeks since Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department would no longer charge low-level drug offenders with crimes that carry mandatory minimum sentences—and would consider releasing some elderly, nonviolent prisoners early—something remarkable has happened. There’s been no major outcry from the right. While the attorney general certainly has no shortage of outspoken detractors in the Republican ranks, the initiative hasn’t prompted any major voices to decry him as “soft on crime.” In fact, in plenty of conservative circles, he’s earned praise—or something close to it. “Eric Holder gets something marginally right,” wrote the Daily Caller.

One Way to End the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Since the Great Recession began in 2007, no one’s had more trouble finding work than low-income Asian, black, and Hispanic male teenagers. That’s the main idea in two recent articles in The Wall Street Journal (available here and here) that rely on research from Andrew Sum, a professor who produces a remarkable number of papers for Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies (CLMS).

Dangerous Deportations

AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini

The Mexican state of Tamaulipas sits across the border from Texas, and it can be a scary place. With one of the largest ports of entry to the United States, Tamaulipas is a coveted drug-trafficking corridor disputed by the Gulf Cartel, the Zetas, and an outside gang called Sinaloa. The spiral into violence began in 2006 when the Mexican government started an all-out-war against these criminal organizations. At the height of conflict, newsrooms got attacked, battles would often involve grenades, and gruesome mass killings rose, even as the military patrolled the streets. Drug-trafficking organizations are not only into smuggling these days; they engage in theft, piracy, extortion, and, more recently, kidnapping.

When I'm Old and Gay

The American Prospect/Steve Moors

When Marcia Hickman and Sue Spirit first started talking retirement 20 years ago, they mostly worried about the location and the weather. In Ohio, where they met and ran a women’s retreat together, Marcia missed the mountains of her upstate New York youth. Sue wanted a place “with seasons.” The pair, who will celebrate 30 years together in August, describe themselves as “mostly out”—Marcia hasn’t told her three children she and Sue are a couple, but she figures they’ve put it together by now. She and Sue hadn’t thought about settling down with other gay people until they learned about Carefree Cove. “Around 2000 we heard about ‘lesbian land’ being started in North Carolina,” Sue says. A planned residential community for older gay men, lesbians, and transgendered people, “the Cove” was then an empty 165-acre plot 20 miles outside of Boone, a small university town in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The backers had an opening bargain: For $2,000, you could come down and pick your lot. “We put down the money, and six months later we were building,” Sue says.

The High Probability of Being Poor

Late last month, the Associated Press ran a report about economic insecurity that managed to gain some traction in certain parts of the political internet, and since then, again and again in certain relevant debates. The statistical bomb dropped in the first sentence of the report really says it all:

Four out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream.

The Ex-Con Factor

Mercedies Harris was 27 in 1990, when he was arrested for drug possession and distribution in Fairfax, Virginia. Harris had served in the Marines, but the death of his brother in 1986—killed by a hit-and-run driver—sent him down a familiar path. “I was angry and I couldn’t find the guy who did it,” Harris says. “I got into drugs to find a way to medicate myself.”

Upon his release in 2003, Harris, who had earned his GED in prison, found a job and began to rebuild his life. He faced the usual practical challenges: “I couldn’t get on a lease, I had no insurance, I had no medical coverage, my driver’s license was expired.” But he found one obstacle that was especially difficult to overcome: He couldn’t vote. Virginia is one of four states—along with Florida, Iowa, and Kentucky—that strip voting rights from felons for life. The U.S. is the world’s only democracy that permits permanent disenfranchisement. While most states have some restrictions on felons voting, it takes a decree from the governor or a clemency board to restore voting rights in the four states with lifetime bans. In Virginia alone, 450,000 residents are disenfranchised. In Florida, the total is an astonishing 1.5 million.

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.

Ezra Klein's Blind Spot

(Flickr/Son of Broccoli)

On Monday, Ezra Klein argued that “conventional wisdom on Washington is that corporations win every fight and everyone else — particularly the poor — get shafted" is, wait for it, "wrong, or at least incomplete."

Six Charts that Explain Why Our Prison System Is So Insane

flickr/wwarby

When Attorney General Eric Holder announced last week that he would be issuing instructions to federal prosecutors that could result in fewer mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders, it wasn't the risky policy change it would have been only a few years ago. With crime on a two-decade-long downward arc, politicians and policymakers don't have to worry as much as they used to about being tagged as "soft on crime." In fact, there's so much toughness already built into our criminal-justice system that unless we start lopping off thieves' hands, it couldn't get much tougher. Though the change Holder announced would affect only those convicted of federal crimes, it has brought renewed attention to our enormous prison population.

And just how enormous is it? What follows are the details.

Fashioning Justice for Bangladesh

AP Images/Ismail Ferdous

After two major strikes, in 1909 and 1910, and the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in 1911, organizers rode the wave of worker militancy and public outrage to increase union membership of New York’s garment factories. With the period of full employment during World War I, unionization in the garment trades peaked at 129,000, despite having little protection from government. But in the 1920s, the industry managed to weaken the unions with a technique identical to the one used by the big fashion brands today. Instead of producing in their own factories, they contracted with “jobbers” and subcontractors, both to disperse the workforce and to diffuse responsibility for the appalling conditions. The economic collapse of the Great Depression reduced union membership even further.

L.A. Story

The Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy: a new model for American liberalism?

flickr/AlphaProject

Take a left as you exit the Long Beach Airport, and you’ll pass three acres of greenery named “Rosie the Riveter Park.” The park stands at the southeast corner of what had once been the mammoth Douglas Aircraft factory, where DC-3s, -4s, -5s, all the way up to -10s, were once manufactured, and where, during World War II, 43,000 workers, half of them women, built the B-17 bombers and C-47 transports that flew missions over Europe and the Pacific.

World War II and then the Cold War remade Long Beach. Federal dollars funded the Douglas factory, a new naval shipyard, and numerous defense firms. An entire city—the working-class community of Lakewood, which borders Long Beach on the north—was built to house the sudden influx of defense workers. Long Beach became and remains the second-largest city in Los Angeles County.

The new jobs paid well; powerful unions represented the workers in the factories and on the docks. Military spending, though, began to decline after the Vietnam War, and when the Cold War ended, Long Beach and the broader Los Angeles economy took a hit from which neither has recovered. The naval shipyard closed in 1997. Douglas, Lockheed, and North American Aviation—the aircraft manufacturers that had been the region’s largest private-sector employers—downsized and eventually shuttered almost all their Southern California plants.

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.

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