Poverty & Wealth

How Sandy Saved Occupy

The protest movement's disaster-relief efforts have helped it connect with the “99 percent” it had trouble reaching in its Zuccotti Park days.

(Flickr/Michael Fleshman)

How did we get here? This is the question occupying “occupiers,” as they call themselves, at their first post-Sandy community-wide meeting. On this cold November night just before Thanksgiving, “here” is the St. Jacobi Lutheran church in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, where at least 300 Occupy Sandy volunteers have crammed into the pews. But “here” is also the uneasy juncture of political protest and disaster relief where this newly formed organization finds itself.

Why You Shouldn't Shop at Wal-Mart on Friday

(Flickr/Laurie O'Findy)

A half century ago America’s largest private-sector employer was General Motors, whose full-time workers earned an average hourly wage of around $50, in today’s dollars, including health and pension benefits.

Today, America’s largest employer is Wal-Mart, whose average employee earns $8.81 an hour. A third of Wal-Mart’s employees work less than 28 hours per week and don’t qualify for benefits.

There are many reasons for the difference—including globalization and technological changes that have shrunk employment in American manufacturing while enlarging it in sectors involving personal services, such as retail.

The Collapse of Black Wealth

Prince George’s County was a symbol of African American prosperity. Then came the housing crisis.

(Jesse Lenz)

When Joe Parker was a young, newly married public-school administrator who wanted to buy a home in 1974, he didn’t even think about leaving Prince George’s County, Maryland. It was where he and his parents had grown up. But when Parker first tried to bid on a house in a new development in Mitchellville, a small farming community that was sprouting ranch and split-level homes on old plantation lands, the real-estate agent demurred, claiming there were other buyers. In truth, the development had been built to lure white, middle-class families to the county, which sits just east of Washington, D.C. Parker never told the agent that he served on a new county commission to enforce laws forbidding housing discrimination. He just persisted, he says, until he and his wife were able to bid. “My wife kept saying, ‘Why don’t you tell him?’” Parker recalls, but he refused to pull rank. “I said no, because what does the next black man do?”

Art for Hire

When will people making a living in the arts fight for their right to be compensated fairly for their contributions to culture?

(Photo by Scott Gries/PictureGroup)

The annual, indie-heavy CMJ Music Marathon—sponsored by the weekly trade magazine that was once called College Music Journal—brought more than a thousand acts to New York City last month, for gigs stretching late into the night. When not playing, black-clad rockers wielded badges and tote bags around the West Village. There, the festival convened such panels as "Copyright Enforcement on the Edge," "A Day in the Life of a Successful Career DJ," and "Fan-durance: Sourcing Funding from Fandom."

The Great Society's Next Frontier

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

As The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein declared shortly after voters re-elected President Barack Obama, one of the major winners last week was health-care reform. With Democrats holding on to the Senate and the White House, Republicans will be unable to repeal the law before all of its provisions go into effect in 2014—after which, the theory goes, the public will come to accept that government has the responsibility to ensure health care is available for all. 

This is the end of a long battle for progressives: Health care has been the major missing piece of our welfare state for nearly a century, and for decades making it a part of our system of social insurance has been a primary goal of politicians, think tanks, and activists. With this piece of the progressive puzzle in place, the natural question to ask is, What’s next for the welfare state?

One useful way of thinking broadly about what the welfare state should provide comes from Lane Kenworthy, a sociologist and political scientist at Arizona State University. According to Kenworthy, the welfare state should accomplish three things: It should act as a safety net, providing a basic level of security for the poor and protecting citizens from sharp declines in income or unanticipated expenses; like a springboard, it should create opportunities for upward mobility; and, like an escalator, it should ensure that living standards rise across the board as the economy grows. Below are ways that liberals could fix the holes in the current safety net, expand opportunity, and make sure a growing economy benefits everyone.

Fiscal Cliff: The End Game

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

President Barack Obama continued to display a new toughness about the debt negotiation at his first post-election press conference yesterday. He confirmed publicly what he has been telling progressive leaders privately. He will not give on the principle that taxes—rates as well as loophole closings—must be raised on people earning over $250,000 a year.

“We should not hold the middle class hostage while we debate tax cuts for the wealthy,” he declared. Obama has also told progressive leaders that he is looking for $600 billion more in other tax increases on the well-to-do, in order to reduce the pressure for spending cuts.

Romney and the 0 Percent

AP Photo

My favorite exit-poll factoid this year comes near the end of the quadrennial Edison-Mitofsky questionnaire, as reported on the NBC News web site. The pollsters asked people leaving their voting places whether Barack Obama’s policies, and Mitt Romney’s policies, “generally favor[ed]” the rich, the middle class, or the poor—and respondents could give more than one answer. Among Obama supporters, 86 percent said that Obama’s policies favored the middle class, with another 25 percent saying that they favored the poor. Only 12 percent of Romney’s supporters, by contrast, believed that Obama’s policies favored the middle class while a whopping 74 percent said that they favored the poor—not a good thing in Romneyworld.  

The Dangers of Our Budget-Deficit Minuet

(Flickr/Austen Hufford)

 

The day after Barack Obama was re-elected, the Dow Jones lost 312.96 points. It wasn’t just that investors were hoping for the lower taxes and further deregulation that would have come with a Romney win. The news from Europe was bad, and pundits were obsessively focused on the “fiscal cliff” of mandatory budget cuts that will drive the economy into a new recession unless Congress jumps off its own budgetary cliff first.

For once, the markets are right. But the news from Europe entirely contradicts conventional assumptions about the fiscal cliff.

Anti-Obamacare Ballot Measures: Purely Symbolic, Sometimes Ironic

(Flickr/Fibonacci Blue)

This is the seventh in the Prospect's series on the 174 measures on state ballots this year.

Ever since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed, Republicans have been desperate for ways to gut it. They hoped the Supreme Court might do the dirty work, but the Court ruled this summer that the law was constitutional. They hoped to pass new legislation, but as long as Democrats have the White House and the Senate, that's a non-starter. So instead, for the time being, they are turning to purely symbolic acts of defiance.

Fix the Debt, Destroy the Recovery

(AP Photo/Jim Cole)

David Walker announced his endorsement of Mitt Romney this week. The name might not ring a bell, but Walker was head of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the number one funder of deficit-hawkery in the United States. Walker, a former Comptroller General, has described himself and his crusade as bipartisan, and it is actually helpful that he has come out of the closet as a Republican.

Turning the Cliff into a Launch Pad

One part of the dreaded fiscal cliff actually presents an opportunity that could be good politics and good economics. The temporary two-point cut in the payroll tax expires January 1 (along with the Bush tax cuts). The $1.2 billion sequester also kicks in.

Deficit hawks of both parties have been saying that it’s irresponsible to extend the payroll tax cut, while defenders of Social Security such as the AARP are opposed to an extension for fear of diverting revenue from the Social Security trust funds and adding ammo to the crusade for cutting back the system’s benefits.

In Michigan, a High-Stakes Game for Labor

(Flickr/CedarBendDrive)

Sixth in a series on the 174 ballot measures going before voters on November 6.

George McGovern: America's Critic and Champion

The former presidential candidate challenged the country he loved while firmly embracing its people.

(AP Photo/Cliff Owen, Pool, File)

George McGovern, the former Senator from South Dakota and 1972 Democratic candidate for president who died Sunday at the age of 90, was perhaps the greatest exponent of an alternative American patriotism of the end of the 20th century. In this respect, McGovern’s predecessors were men and women like Jane Addams, W.E.B. Dubois, and William James. Historian Jonathan Hansen has described this critical patriotism well as the “claim that critical engagement with one’s country constitutes the highest form of love.” The critical patriot rejects the conventional patriot’s belief that loyalty to the state and, especially, to its military aims should be reflexive and unconditional. Critical patriotism fears that the patriotism of flag pins and yellow ribbons is, as Todd Gitlin has written, “affirmed too easily.”

Making Prisoners Count

For legislative districts, inmates are considered part of communities where they’ll likely never live as free citizens.

(Flickr/AJstream)

Add these two facts together: (1) To the United States Census Bureau, where prisoners have their “usual residence” is the prison in which they’re incarcerated and (2) The findings of the decennial census are used to draw political boundaries. The sum of those parts does strange things to the notion of how Americans elect people to represent us in state and local governments. “Our system for making political decisions in this country,” says Peter Wagner of the Prison Policy Initiative, “is being distorted by the miscounting of two million people.” In an era obsessed with political data—Microtargeting! Swing-state polling! Data.gov!—and in a country where we incarcerate people at a higher rate than anywhere else in the world, thinking through the political counting of prisoners calls for the same enthusiasm, because the way we do it now corrupts the very equations upon which representative democracy is built.

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