Poverty & Wealth

Rhode Island’s Small Victory

AP Photo/Susan E. Bouchard, File
AP Photo/Mel Evans W hen Governor Lincoln Chaffee signed the Temporary Care Giver’s Insurance law last week, Rhode Island became the third state—along with California and New Jersey—to grant paid time off to care for a sick loved one or a new baby. Rhode Island’s law, which goes into effect in 2014, will not only provide most workers with up to four weeks off with about two-thirds of their salaries (up to $752 a week), it will protect employees from being fired and losing their health insurance while they’re out. Workers will be able to use the time to care for a broad range of people, including children, spouses, domestic partners, parents, parent-in-laws, grandparents, and foster children. And, though the maximum single leave is four weeks, each parent can take four weeks off to bond with a new baby. A mother recovering from birth could combine that with an additional six weeks paid through an existing state program, bringing her total paid time off to ten weeks. An entire family...

The Food Stamp-Out

House Republicans’ newest tactic to dilute one of the most successful social welfare programs in the country’s history. 

AP Images/Michael Stravato
Yesterday, the House of Representatives voted to pass a farm bill—a bill that influences everything from your lovely weekend farmers market to the subsidies that have led every food in America to be made from corn—without what is normally its biggest component: nutrition programs, including food stamps. It introduces a new wrinkle into a two-year fight over the farm bill, a sleepy piece of legislation that must be passed every five years and is normally uncontroversial. Senate leadership, which passed a farm bill earlier in June, has said it won’t pass one without the food stamp portion. Senator Debbie Stabenow, the chair of the Senate agricultural committee, released a statement with a reminder of that yesterday: “The bill passed by the House today is not a real Farm Bill and is an insult to rural America, which is why it’s strongly opposed by more than 500 farm, food and conservation groups.” The split came after a bit of a ruckus: Last month, House leadership brought the farm bill...

Affirmative Action's Ominous Future

AP Photo/Paul Sakuma
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak O ne thing the three most anticipated cases of the recently completed Supreme Court had in common: They left the big questions unanswered. Hollingsworth v. Perry , by ducking the question on jurisdictional grounds, left the constitutional status of state bans on same-sex marriage unresolved. Shelby County v. Holder theoretically permitted Congress to update the preclearance formula to put the teeth back into the Voting Rights Act. However, the Court gave lower courts and future Supreme Courts no useful guideline for how Congress could proceed. (Admittedly, the answer for how Congress can constitutionally proceed, at least for the Roberts Court, is almost certainly "it can't.") The term's clearest passing of the buck was the decision in the affirmative-action case, Fisher v. University of Texas . While many people (including me) expected the Court to use the case as a vehicle to declare virtually all affirmative action in public higher education...

The Part-Timer Problem

The Obama Administration’s decision to delay for a year the penalty that employers (in firms of 50 or more employees) must pay if they don’t provide health insurance to their workers shines a light on a problem that may be even more profound than getting health coverage for every American: that is, the decline of the American job. The employer mandate was designed for an economy in which American workers were employed in what had been normal jobs. In firms of 50 or more, all workers who put in at least 30 hours a week were either to receive coverage from the firm or else the firm would have to pay the government a $2,000 yearly penalty. Problem is, fewer and fewer workers are putting in 30 hours a week. To begin with, labor-force participation is at its lowest level since women increased their work-force participation in the 1970s. It has declined even during the past four years of so-called recovery. The past four years have also seen a rise in the percentage of workers who are part-...

Murky Language Puts Homes Underwater

Banks around the country are exploiting a loophole to foreclose on homes that shouldn't be in the crosshairs. 

AP Images/Don Ryan
AP Images/Don Ryan Revelations from Bank of America whistleblowers show widespread and ongoing abuse of homeowners seeking loan modifications to avoid foreclosure. Customer service representatives were told to lie about pending modifications and were given bonuses for pushing homeowners into default. The allegations mirror continued complaints about “dual tracking,” a practice where mortgage servicers pursue foreclosure while deciding whether or not to grant a loan modification. Servicers at the five biggest banks were required to pay $25 billion in fines and agree to dozens of new guidelines to curb these abuses as part of last year’s National Mortgage Settlement. While the banks argue that they have fixed any outstanding problems, a recent report from the settlement’s oversight monitor, Joseph Smith, showed continuing violations in several key areas, though not to the degree that housing advocates claim . This discrepancy between homeowner complaints and bank pleas of innocence can...

Class-Based Affirmative Action Is Not the Answer

Economic diversity is just as irrelevant to actual equality as racial diversity has been.

 

AP Images/Charles Rex Arbogast
AP Images/Charles Rex Arbogast T he reason affirmative action matters is not because of the possible educational benefits of diversity but because it raises a more fundamental question: do race-conscious admissions policies amount to unjustifiable discrimination against white people or are they an appropriate response to both past and present discrimination against black people? But even though racism against blacks and Latinos remains a real issue in American society (the idea that whites are also its victims is a joke the Supreme Court has never gotten), the fundamental inequalities in American life today—the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer—are not produced by discrimination and cannot be resolved by anti-discrimination. And affirmative action—whether class-based or race-based—is only a way of buttressing those inequalities. As is, indeed, the entire emphasis on education as the key to a more economically just society. In other words, the reason both affirmative action...

Kansas Bleeds the Middle Class

Are we on our way to becoming a low-wage nation? Recent trends in suburban poverty indicate that Americans are facing an uphill battle to secure well-paying jobs.

AP Images/Don Ryan
AP Images/Don Ryan K ansas City is a little bit plainsy, and a little bit Southern, straddling the Missouri-Kansas border. It is an old city, especially compared to others west of the Mississippi, fueled in its early years by farming money and trade from settlers heading west. Kansas City proper is on the Missouri side, and Kansas City, Kansas, or KCK, sits like a stepchild on the other side, absorbing most of the urban core’s poverty and crime. The cities themselves have some of the fastest-growing poverty rates in the country, but in the suburbs, the number of low-income families has more than doubled since before the Great Recession. Suburban poverty has been exploding for a decade, and that growth accelerated so much during the Great Recession that the Brookings Institution devoted a special research project to the trend, and released their report a few weeks ago. It has continued to grow: Overall, poverty in suburbs rose by 64 percent, increasing at a rate that was twice as fast...

Charting a Moral Monday, from the Capitol to the Prison Bus

Jenny Warburg
Jenny Warburg Thousands of people have been taking part in the weekly rallies. At the one on June 10, there were over 1,400 protesters swarming the Capitol building. Thousands of demonstrators have been congregating at the North Carolina State Capitol for weeks to protest the increasingly tone-deaf policies being trotted out by the General Assembly. As Chris Kromm and Sue Sturgis put it in our May/June issue , There is growing anger over the GOP agenda. In April, the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP began organizing what it calls “Moral Monday” protests at the General Assembly in response to the Republican assault on programs serving the state’s poorest and most vulnerable residents, timed to coincide with the opening of the session each week, the protests have drawn thousands of people to the legislature from throughout the state, a diverse crowd that has included young and old, black and white, students, working people, professionals, and retirees. Some protesters have engaged in...

Pacifiers and Pink Slips

AP Images/Joel Ryan
Would you lose your job if, for a few months, you had to run to the bathroom more often than your coworkers? Or your doctor told you to carry a water bottle and drink as often as possible? Or if you were told you couldn’t lift more than twenty pounds for a few months? Probably not, if you’re a white-collar worker. And probably not, if you’re a blue- or pink-collar worker—a janitor, factory worker, health aide, retail clerk—who’s strained your back or has some other condition covered as a temporary disability by the Americans with Disabilities Act’s Amendments Act (ADAAA, or “AD triple A,” as the insiders say it) of 2008. But yes, you might well lose your job for that if you’re pregnant. Pregnancy doesn’t qualify as a disability. So if you’re a pregnant low-wage worker, your boss could very well tell you that if you can’t follow the workplace’s standard rules—about bathroom breaks, water bottles, standing all day, or carrying trash bags weighing up to 30 pounds—you have to stay home...

Agee, Before He Was Famous

Can a rediscovered first draft of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men speak more directly to our time than the finished masterpiece? 

Library of Congress
B y age 26, James Agee had spent four years at Fortune , the glossy magazine created by Henry Luce to celebrate the American business class, filing un-bylined reportage on topics like orchid cultivation and cockfighting and the occasional skeptical item on how the new Tennessee Valley Authority was playing out. Most writers would consider it a plum job, especially in the early 1930s. But Agee, politically progressive and instinctively adversarial, was uneasy over the magazine’s thrall to the lavish life. He had ambitions worthy of a Blake or a Dostoevsky: highly personal, mythic literature meant to get “as near truth and whole truth as is humanly possible,” as he put it in a letter in early 1936. A few months later, Agee got an assignment that spoke to his ideals. As part of Fortune ’s “Life and Circumstances” series, he was to travel to Southern cotton country and live among poor working families. Agee had grown up in Knoxville, Tennessee, and he descended from Southern Appalachian...

The End of the Austerity Crusade?

Rex Features via AP Images
I s President Obama planning to reverse course on deficit reduction? You will recall that the president joined the deficit-hawk crowd in calling for more than $4 trillion of deficit reduction over the next decade; that he has offered to cut Social Security and Medicare as part of a grand bargain (that the Republicans mercifully rejected); that it was Obama who appointed the Bowles-Simpson Commission; and that his own budget for FY 2014 includes substantial spending cuts. But, with the 2014 midterm election looming and the recovery stuck in second gear with mediocre job creation, there is zero chance of a grand-budget bargain that includes tax increases, and interest rates are creeping up (which will slow the recovery further). Europe demonstrates that austerity economics are a proven failure. Even the International Monetary Fund says so . So let us read the tea leaves. First, the president has just named Jason Furman to chair the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA). Furman was a...

I Would Desire That You Pay the Ladies

AP Images/Susan Walsh
AP Images/Susan Walsh Fifty years ago today, in 1963, Congress passed the Equal Pay Act. The idea was simple: Men and women doing the same work should earn the same pay. Straightforward enough, right? Change the law, change the world, be home by lunchtime. Well, maybe not by lunchtime . After all, back then the law still accepted the idea that men and women were born for different jobs. Newspapers like The Washington Post still had separate classified ad sections for “men’s” jobs and “women’s” jobs. Female law school graduates had trouble even getting interviews. The pre-1963 world being what it was–sexist, in a word—you’d figure activists might well have estimated that the culture would need at least a decade to catch up and treat women fairly on the job. “When I first came to the Women’s Legal Defense Fund, which is now the National Partnership for Women & Families (NPWF), in 1974, it was very fashionable to walk around with those big buttons that had “59¢” with the...

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...

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