Poverty & Wealth

"One Thing I've Learned: We're All Vulnerable."

You want another reason I hate presidential campaign season? It obscures real problems, the very problems the election is about. Okay, so that’s the same gripe I had yesterday. So let me introduce you to someone who's not just griping, but is doing something about it. 

Richie Rich Aces the SAT

(Flickr/sacmclubs)

The College Board released its data on 2012 SAT scores on Monday, and beneath the headlines (which tallied how much SAT scores have slipped as more and more students take the test) was a revealing picture of the influence of students’ household income on their performance.

The influence couldn’t be more decisive. The board measured household income in increments of $20,000 – starting with students from households making $0 to $20,000 annually, then $20,000 to $40,000, all the way up to $160,000 – then an increment of $40,000 ($160,000 to $200,000) and then a final category of more than $200,000. And SAT scores rose considerably at every step in the income scale. The poorest students, from households making less than $20,000 had a mean combined score of 1322 out of 2400; the next highest, 1397; then 1458, then 1497 – all the way to a score of 1722 for students from households making more than $200,000. That’s a 400-point difference between our richest and poorest students.

Puncturing Myths about the White Working Class

A new survey and report from the Public Religion and Research Institute—entitled “Beyond God and Guns”—is a valuable corrective to so many stereotypes of the white working class.  Particularly noteworthy in this report are the large and important differences within the white working class—by age, region, gender, and party, to name a few. For example, consider this:

Romney’s Bigger Lie

 

Lots of Republican conservatives, Paul Ryan and Bill O’Reilly among them, have taken the position that even if Mitt Romney’s rhetoric was clumsy, his point was basically right. Some Americans pay taxes; others collect benefits.

But his basic claim was total baloney. When you count income taxes, payroll taxes, excise taxes, and highly regressive state and local taxes, the typical lower income working American pays about one-fifth of his or her income in taxes—more than Mitt Romney!

According to a study by Citizens for Tax Justice, the bottom fifth of the income distribution paid 17.4 percent of their income in state and local taxes. The second-poorest fifth paid 21.2 percent.

In Pennsylvania, a Victory for Voting Rights—Sorta

(Flickr/whiteafrican)

It's a lot easier to talk about a law—and pass one—than to implement it. Just ask Pennsylvania lawmakers—and Pennsylvania citizens, and judges, and voting-rights activists. 

The state's voter ID law, passed by Republican lawmakers in March, is best known for threatening to disenfranchise more voters than laws in any other stae. But in mid-August, Pennsylvania Judge Robert Simpson refused to grant an injunction to stop the state from implementing the law in November. The judge said that he believed state officials' assurances that they had plans in place (though some were still not in action) to prevent widespread disenfranchisement. 

#OWS Is Not the Liberal Tea Party

The progressive movement is the real counterpoint to the Tea Party, and it was made much stronger by the 99 percent's successful attempt to change the conversation on inequality.

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

At an event this weekend marking the one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, I was reminded why the success of these protests was so improbable in the first place. It wasn’t just that we’d tried this sort of thing before and it had never worked. It wasn’t the predominance of anarchists, whom we were all accustomed to dismissing as the irrelevant fringe at progressive protests. It was also the smell. New York City smells bad enough on its own. But put populists in a public encampment for a few days, and it stinks. After months, it’s repulsive.

How We Should (Voter) Roll

(Flickr/crownjewel82)

David Becker is unusual in national politics. He talks about inaccuracies in voting rolls, dead people still registered, and the like. He says the bad information is a big problem. But he's not on the far right talking about voter fraud or the need for major purges to the states' rolls before an election. Instead, he's the director of election initiatives for the non-partisan Pew Center on the States. And his research tells him that better data would actually help more people vote—and make elections a smoother, more efficient process that should please folks on both sides of the political divide. 

In Pennsylvania, Voting Rights on Trial—Again

(Flickr/loop_oh)

Hey—remember Pennsylvania's voter-ID law? The really strict one that could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters? The controversy over the law died down in mid-August, when a commonwealth court ruled the law would stand. Since then, however, the voting rights advocates who'd filed suit appealed to the state's Supreme Court. There, on Thursday, justices heard the case. But it garnered little in the way of headlines.

What Does Labor Need to Do to Survive?

In reporting my piece on labor’s future ("If Labor Dies, What's Next?"), I talked with a number of labor leaders and activists about their ideas for what unions need to do differently to survive—and make a difference—in today’s political economy. Here are my edited versions of four such discussions:

 

Randi Weingarten

Randi Weingarten is president of the American Federation of Teachers

If Labor Dies, What's Next?

(Western Reserve Historical Society)

Imagine America without unions. This shouldn’t be hard. In much of America unions have already disappeared. In the rest of America they’re battling for their lives.

Unions have been declining for decades. In the early 1950s, one out of three American workers belonged to them, four out of ten in the private sector. Today, only 11.8 percent of American workers are union members; in the private sector, just 6.9 percent. The vanishing act varies by region—in the South, it’s almost total—but proceeds relentlessly everywhere. Since 1983, the number of states in which at least 10 percent of private-sector workers have union contracts has shrunk from 42 to 8.

Following the 2010 elections, a number of newly elected Republican governors and legislatures in the industrial Midwest, long a union stronghold, moved to reduce labor’s numbers to the trace-element levels that exist in the South. A cold political logic spurred their attacks: Labor was the chief source of funding and volunteers for their Democratic opponents, and working-class whites, who still constitute a sizable share of the electorate in their states, were far more likely to vote Democratic if they belonged to a union. The fiscal crisis of the states provided the pretext for Republicans to try to take out their foremost adversaries, public-employee unions.

Poverty Stays Static, But Income Inequality Widens

As economists keep telling us, the Great Recession is officially over. The U.S. gross domestic product grew by a sad 1.8 percent last year. Here's why you probably don't know it: Just about every ounce of economic gain went to the top.

Rahm's Wedge

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

Put aside for a moment the particulars of the Chicago teachers’ strike and look at the broader picture. Rahm Emanuel is only one of a number of Democratic mayors and governors who are going after public-employee unions. In Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is also at loggerheads with the city’s teacher union. In San Jose, a Democratic mayor and city council scaled back the city employees’ pensions (and so did city voters when they were asked to ratify that decision). In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo has tangled with a number of public-sector unions. The battle between management and labor seems to have spread to the very center of the Democratic Party.

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.

As Common As Dirt

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

(Photography by David Bacon)

One 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 was working. Villalobos estimated that a pair of decent used boots would run him $30, almost half a day’s wages; the bags were free.

Pages