Poverty & Wealth

Ghosts of the Rio Grande

Every year hundreds of immigrants die along the U.S.-Mexico border. Too many are never identified. 

AP Images
AP Images T he path across the border is littered with bodies. Bodies old and bodies young. Bodies known and bodies unknown. Bodies hidden, bodies buried, bodies lost, and bodies found. The stories of the dead haunt the frontier towns from Nuevo Laredo to Nogales, and even deep within the interior of Mexico down to Honduras, someone always knows someone who has vanished—one of los desaparecidos— during their journey north. Many of those missing end up in the South Texas soil. Out on the Glass Ranch, a man named Wayne Johnson stumbles upon a skull, some bones, and a pair of dentures scattered near a dry pond. During a bass fishing tournament at La Amistad Lake, anglers come upon a decomposing corpse near the water’s edge. Late one summer night, a train rumbles down the Union Pacific Line, but it fails to rouse a father and son slumbering on the tracks. For 2012, Brooks County, with a population of just 7,223, reported 129 deaths from immigrants trying to evade the Border Patrol...

The Ugly Side of D.C.'s Corporate Bipartisanship

AP Images
AP Images/Ashraful Alam Tito Over the past month, an oceanic divide has opened between European and American retailers on the question of how to respond to the manmade epidemic of deadly disasters in the garment industry of Bangladesh, the world’s second largest clothing exporter. In the aftermath of the Rana Plaza fire on April 24, which killed at least 1,127 workers, a group of roughly 40 European retailers—including H&M, Carrefour, Bennetton, Tesco, and Marks & Spencer— signed on to a plan binding them to fund both a regimen of independent factory inspections and the improvements required to make those factories safe. But only three U.S.-based fashion companies and retailers —Abercrombie & Fitch, PVH (which includes the Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, and Izod labels), and Sean John (Sean Combs’s company)—have become party to the compact, despite the repeated urgings of anti-sweatshop and workers' rights organizations. Wal-Mart, Gap, Target, Sears, JCPenney, and other...

Children of Color in the Persistent Downturn

At the peak of economic boom times in 2000, the U.S. child-poverty rate reached a historic low of 16.2 percent. Even then, UNICEF ranked the United States as having the second highest child-poverty rate out of 26 rich countries. The United States had a child-poverty rate twice Germany’s, five times Sweden’s, and nearly ten times Denmark’s. The only country scoring worse than the United States was Mexico. The picture is substantially bleaker today. The child-poverty rate reached 21.9 percent in 2011. For many children of color and for immigrant children, poverty rates are typically higher than the overall average, and they have worsened over the prolonged downturn. In the “good” economic times of 2000, the official Latino child-poverty rate was 28.4 percent. By 2011, that rate had jumped to 34.1 percent. For African American children, the child-poverty rate went from 31.2 percent in 2000 to 38.8 percent in 2011. Poverty is also extreme among immigrant children. In 2011, one out of two...

A Shredded Safety Net

“I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there.” —Mitt Romney, February 1, 2012 I n 1996, the year that Congress passed and Bill Clinton signed welfare reform, fulfilling his campaign pledge to “end welfare as we know it,” there were 14.5 million poor children in the United States; 8.5 million children were in families that received cash assistance from Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), or welfare. Even then, nearly half of poor children were not in families that received welfare. Following welfare reform, the number of families receiving assistance declined dramatically. Buoyed by the strong economy and the expansion of other key work supports, including child-care subsidies, public health insurance under Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and the Earned Income Tax Credit, the number of single mothers in the workforce increased and child poverty declined. However, starting in the early 2000s, progress stalled and poverty rates...

The Millennial Squeeze

It's not Social Security deficits that are destroying the life chances of the young but a prolonged slump confounded by bad policies. 

AP Images/Jacquelyn Martin
AP Images/Jacquelyn Martin Generational fairness has been a big theme of the austerity crusaders, whose most strident advocates tend to be financiers and business titans of substantial net worth. Yet their calls to radically reduce social investment out of a sense of generational equity diminishes the prospects of young people. The true generational injustice has little to do with the projected public debt and everything to do with the real crisis going on right now. Today’s young adults—especially 20- and 30-somethings with young children—face shrinking opportunity and growing insecurity. The fate of today’s infants and toddlers is inextricably connected to that of their millennial--generation parents. Two-thirds of children under the age of 5 are raised by parents younger than 34. The true generational injustice is a threadbare to nonexistent social contract that has made it harder than ever before for the young to either work or educate their way into the middle class—and stay...

Children of the Great Collapse

AP Photo/Bloomsburg Press Enterprise, Bill Hughes
AP Photo/Kin Cheung Here’s a piece of good news of which you might not be aware: The U.S. safety net performed a lot better than you thought during the recent downturn, which was the deepest since the Depression. Thanks to expansions to the Child Tax Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, and unemployment insurance—all beefed up by the $840 billion Recovery Act—the safety net almost wholly mitigated the rise in child poverty. Even middle-income households saw most of their income losses substantially offset by tax and transfer policies that sharply ramped up to help them. That’s the good news. The bad news is that most of the Recovery Act’s outlays have now been spent, and pressure to reduce deficits leaves other spending on children and families under assault. While the safety net performed well during the worst phase of the downturn, other trends have been troubling. Families lost trillions of dollars in home equity, the largest source of wealth for working- and middle-...

The Wealthy Kids Are All Right

In a tough economy with dwindling social supports, children of privilege have a bigger head start than ever.

AP Photo/Luigi Costantini
T wo 21-year-old college students sit down in a coffee shop to study for an upcoming test. Behind the counter, a barista whips up their double-shot lattes. In the back kitchen, another young adult washes the dishes and empties the trash. These four young adults have a lot in common. They are the same age and race, each has two parents, and all grew up in the same metropolitan area. They were all strong students in their respective high schools. But as they enter their third decade, their work futures and life trajectories are radically different—and largely determined at this point. The culprit is the growing role of inherited advantage, as affluent families make investments that give their children a leg up. Combined with the 2008 economic meltdown and budget cuts in public investments that foster opportunity, we are witnessing accelerating advantages for the wealthy and compounding disadvantages for everyone else. One of the college students, Miranda, will graduate without any...

Promoting Human Rights versus Promoting Prostitution

PEPFAR’s anti-prostitution “loyalty oath” is hindering aid groups’ efforts to help sex workers.

flickr/Wahid Adnan
PRNewsFoto/George W. Bush Institute P eople have always bought and sold sex, sometimes risking shame or punishment. But these days, simply helping a sex worker can have costly legal and financial consequences. Under the U.S.’s flagship international aid program on HIV and AIDS, an organization that gives out free condoms at a brothel, for example, might be deemed in violation of the program’s anti-prostitution policy, and, as a result, risk losing public funding. Public-health groups see this not only as an impediment on reaching the people most in need but as a threat to their freedom of speech. After several years of legal battles, the fight against the policy has now reached the Supreme Court, which is set to rule in late June on whether Washington can financially penalize organizations that defy its official stance against the sex trade. The rule, known as the anti-prostitution “loyalty oath,” was enacted in 2003 as part of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR),...

The New New Haven

Jesse Lenz
Major Ruth became a civic leader because he made a promise to his neighbor, Brian Wingate. Both had moved to the Beaver Hills section of New Haven, Connecticut, in 2003. A neighborhood of aging single--family homes that had seen better days, Beaver Hills had been targeted by the city for a housing--rehabilitation program, and, with the zeal of new arrivals, Ruth, a manager at the local utility company, and Wingate, a custodian and union steward at nearby Yale University, sought to involve themselves in neighborhood--improvement ventures. That proved harder than they had anticipated. Although New Haven aldermanic districts are tiny, encompassing no more than 4,300 residents, Ruth and Wingate couldn’t find anyone who could identify, much less locate, their alderman. “We joked that one of us would run for alderman and the other would have to run his campaign,” Ruth says. In 2010, Wingate told Ruth he was running and a deal was a deal. “It started out as a simple promise,” Ruth says, “but...

Food Stamps Get Licked by Cuts

AP Images/Carolyn Caster
This week, the Senate and House agriculture committees sent bills that would guide farming policy for the next five years to both legislative chambers for a vote. The vast majority of the legislation's outlined spending goes to a program that has proven a rich target for a Washington drunk on spending cuts—the food stamp program. The House bill would cut $20 billion over five years from the program’s $80 billion-a-year budget . The Senate's version would trim $4.4 billion from food stamps. The House bill gets most of its cuts by getting rid of program that allowed states to streamline the ways they provide assistance to the poor; the Senate bill would make changes to the program that would cut some people off food stamps.* In true bureaucratic fashion, the program has an unwieldy name: “Categorical Eligibility.” Conservative lawmakers call it “automatic eligibility” to make it sound as though people who aren’t poor are finding food stamp cards in their mailboxes. In reality, the...

The Upside Down Economy

AP Images/Scott Sady
AP Photo/Richard Drew O ne aspect that defines our current economy is that things are happening that shouldn’t be happening. I don’t mean that things are happening that are illegal or immoral. (Well, some of them are immoral, but that’s not what I mean.) Rather, things are happening that defy economic logic—a slippery term that really means, the economic patterns of roughly the past half-century. The first such logic-defying thing is that corporate profits are soaring even as corporate revenues limp along. The quarterly reports of S&P 500 corporations for the first three months of 2013 are almost entirely in now, and they show profits rising by more than 5 percent even while revenues have risen by less than 1 percent. Seventy percent of these companies—the largest publicly traded U.S. firms—exceeded the analysts’ profit projections. On the other hand, 60 percent came in under the projections for their sales. Were this disjuncture just a one-time epiphenomenon, we could pass it off...

Schneiderman Strikes Back

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who headed a group of state attorneys general that won homeowners and former homeowners a $26 billion settlement from five mega-banks over their foreclosure abuses, announced yesterday that he’d sue two of the banks—Wells Fargo and Bank of America—for allegedly violating the terms of the settlement. The February 2012 settlement with those two banks, as well as JP Morgan Chase, Citibank, and Ally Financial (formerly GMAC), had required the banks to adhere to a set of standards that would end the kind of abuses that had led to wholesale foreclosures of homes when they could have worked out alternative arrangements with the homeowners. Some of those standards—such as requiring the banks to notify struggling homeowners within five days that they had received the documents required to modify mortgages—sound so obvious they shouldn’t have needed to be codified, yet it was precisely such practices that the banks had repeatedly shunned. Homeowner...

Why Kids Still Can't Have It All

AP Photo/The Hutchinson News, Travis Morisse
AP Photo/The Star, Bill Wilson W hen Anne Marie Slaughter launched the latest battle in the Mommy Wars with her Atlantic cover story “ Why Women Still Can’t Have It All ,” which inspired a barrage of features about retro wives—young, high-achieving professionals leaving their careers to take care of children at home—the subtext was that work often isn’t worth it for women. Not only do women face real barriers to advancement, but their paychecks barely cover the cost of child care. Quality child care costs more in most states than tuition at public universities. In 22 states and D.C., the average cost of infant care in a center was more than the median rent in 2012. For low-income families, the costs are extreme, and the quality of providers is effectively unregulated. In a recent cover story for The New Republic , Jonathan Cohn wrote about an extreme case in which the proprietor of a daycare center in Houston left children at home while food was cooking on the stove; four children...

How Unions Are Getting Their Groove Back

flickr/ Chris Dilts
Yesterday—April 24th — was a red-letter day in the annals of worker mobilization in post-collective-bargaining America. In Chicago, hundreds of fast-food and retail employees who work in the Loop and along the Magnificent Mile called a one-day strike and demonstrated for a raise to $15-an-hour and the right to form a union. At more than 150 Wal-Mart stores across the nation, workers and community activists called on the chain to regularize employees’ work schedules. And under pressure from an AFL-CIO-backed campaign of working-class voters who primarily aren’t union members, the county supervisors of New Mexico’s Bernalillo County voted to raise the local minimum wage. The Chicago demonstration, which began in the dawn’s early light of 5:30 a.m., included workers at McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Subway, as well as Macy’s, Sears, and Victoria’s Secret, all of whom make the state minimum wage ($8.25) or just slightly more. Roughly one-third of the jobs in Chicago are low-wage, and...

The Fed’s Foreclosure-Relief Fail

AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File
AP Photo/Don Ryan L ike far too many Americans, Debbie Marler of South Point, Ohio has her own foreclosure horror story. It involves one house, seven fraudulent mortgage assignments, three foreclosures, as many states, and five years. It ruined her career prospects, threatened her retirement security, and turned her life into what she calls “a living nightmare.” This week, Debbie walked to her mailbox and found what the federal government considers appropriate compensation for this odyssey of suffering at the hands of JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s largest bank. A check for $800. “I was speechless, just a complete shock,” Debbie said. “That doesn’t even pay for the damn U-Haul from when I moved out of the house in the first place.” The money is a product of the Independent Foreclosure Reviews, part of an enforcement action against 14 banks for crimes committed in the foreclosure process. The IFRs, shepherded by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and the Federal Reserve...

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