Poverty & Wealth

The Geography of Getting By

Vendors in Los Angeles' MacArthur Park fight for their right to sell.

(AP Photo)
A mile west of the polished-granite and tinted-glass towers of the Los Angeles skyline, in the dense Central American hub of MacArthur Park, there is a street called Little. It is exactly that, a one-block nub, sandwiched between Wilshire on the north and Seventh on the south, bookended by stop signs, leading to nowhere. Iron bars run down the east side of the sidewalk, shielding an elementary school from intruders; on the west side, more bars, these topped by diamond-shaped barbs, guard the rear of an apartment complex. You could drive past Little Street a thousand times and never notice it, much less have reason to turn here. Every weekend since last December the city has sealed off Little with plastic Department of Public Works sawhorses. A vinyl banner, designed with clip art of a rainbow-swaddled cornucopia, stretches across each set of barricades. “ArtGricultural Open Air Market,” the sign says, a portmanteau of artesenía and agricultura that, in any language, requires some...

Post-New Deal America Needs Unions

(Flickr/Kheel Center, Cornell University)
One of the unfortunate consequences of the still more unfortunate failure of the unions’ effort to recall Wisconsin governor Scott Walker earlier this month is the gloating and schadenfreude that’s come forth from labor’s enemies. Some comes straight up, as in this column from Charles Krauthammer. Some comes with the caveat that private sector unions are fine in their place, but public sector unions have no place at all, an opinion expressed in this blog post from Chuck Lane. (I confine myself here to offerings from my Washington Post colleagues, but they’re representative of the breed.) As I noted in my response to Lane, it would be nice if these defenders of private-sector unions had bestirred themselves to join the battle for labor law reform in 2010, since under the current labor law, workers effectively have no protection from being fired when they seek to join a union. As it is, Lane, Mickey Kaus and their fellow union critics endorse private-sector unions in the abstract, but...

How Should Voter Purges Work?

(Flickr / dailyfortnight)
The mess that is Florida's voter-purge effort keeps growing by the day. Both the ACLU and the Department of Justice are suing the state, which in turn is suing the federal government. After the state's Division of Elections declared it had found around 182,000 noncitizens on voter rolls, the state sent letters to 2,600 people of them asking if they were citizens. Those who failed to respond risk being removed from the lists. The trouble, of course, is that 500 of them proved to be citizens . Less than 100 have so far been proved ineligible to vote. Because the list examines citizenship, Hatians and Latinos are disproportionately targeted. In the meantime, the 182,000-list looms in the background, though it has not been publicly released. As legal tensions boil over, the effort has been put on hold in just about every county . But with less than 90 days until the state's primaries, many worry there will be complications when people go to vote. The debacle, however, brings to mind a...

Pressing On the Upward Way

A profile of life in one of the country's poorest counties

(Chris Wilson)
This piece from our July/August Poverty issue won the July Sidney award from the Sidney Hillman Foundation. Read an interview with the author about her piece here . Chris Wilson B y her second semester of college, in the spring of 2008, Sue Christian was about as tired as she’d ever been in her 40 years. It wasn’t that her studies kept her working hard; she was used to long hours. It wasn’t that she was missing her salary; she was already good at fretting over bills. It wasn’t that the daily trip from her home in Booneville, Kentucky, was more than an hour long, a drive that, when rains washed out a one-lane bridge, took her over the nauseating Hatton Holler Mountain. It was more that, listening to lecture after lecture in crowded classrooms with people half her age, Sue felt her brain was stretched as far as it would go. “I thought, ‘I’m so dumb, I’m not good at college,’” she says. “Professors seemed to be more focused toward that age group fresh out of high school. So, if you’re...

Wisconsin Recall: A Conservative Case for Election Day Registration

(Flickr/Katri Niemi)
As the nation waited for the Wisconsin recall results to come in, Twitter began to light up with conservative claims of voter fraud. "Please @ me with any stories of #WI #WIrecall voter fraud," tweeted conservative radio host and pundit Dana Loesch around 11 a.m . She noted stories on busing voters in across state lines and on supposedly suspicious high turn-out rates. "It's not 'fraud' if you didn't cheat enough to rob voters of the lawmakers they choose," she wrote. Others joined in. "@GovWalker needs to make sure he wins by an amount greater than the margin of fraud," tweeted @RickMoore. "Early results show #TomBarrett leading #ScottWalker amongst dead voters, illegal aliens and cartoon characters," tweeted @rovibe71. "Dems really need to embrace honesty for 'change' and rename themselves 'The Vote Fraud Party". [sic] Disgusting" wrote @Furrystoat. These tweets all arrived as news was breaking of huge turnouts around the state and pundits were speculating about a close finish. When...

The Sixties at 50

Half a century later, the battles of the 1960s--and the effects of one great wrong turn by liberals of that time--are still with us.

(AP Photo)
The following column accompanies a special report in the July-August issue, taking stock of America's progress in fighting poverty on the 50th anniversary of Michael Harrington's The Other America."Ever since the 1960s, many of us have measured progress by how far America has gone in fulfilling the ideals of that era: guaranteeing equal rights, preventing unjust wars, safeguarding the earth, ending poverty. In today’s harsh political climate, the hopes of the ’60s may seem unrealistic, even grandiose, but they remain central to liberal politics. For better or worse, we’re still embroiled in the struggles that exploded in that decade. What is the campaign for same-sex marriage or the recent controversy over women’s reproductive rights if not a continuation of both the civil-rights movement and the sexual revolution of the ’60s? And what is today’s social conservatism if not a backlash against the changes unleashed in that era? The 1960s are a reference point for another reason. The...

A Wisconsin Domino Effect?

(AP/Wisconsin State Journal, John Hart)
(AP/Wisconsin State Journal, John Hart) Supporters of a recall effort against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker continue to sing a union solidarity song outside the State Capitol Building after polling results begin show a victory for Walker in statewide recall elections Tuesday, June 5, 2012. Wisconsin residents have been casting votes in recall elections against Walker, his lieutenant governor and several state senators. While hardly surprising to anyone who read the polls, yesterday’s victory by Republican Governor Scott Walker was a body blow to Wisconsin unions and to American workers. Within Wisconsin, Walker’s victory ensures that his law repealing collective-bargaining rights for public employees will stay on the books, and if Republicans maintain their hold on the state senate—four of their senators faced recall elections, and as I write this at least three have survived—they will, at least in theory, be able to go forward on other parts of their Social Darwinist agenda...

Is it Austerity or Is It Theft?

In today’s New York Times , David Brooks has an extended meditation on debt that relies on one giant omission: Recently, life has become better and more secure. But the aversion to debt has diminished amid the progress. Credit card companies seduced people into borrowing more. Politicians found that they could buy votes with borrowed money. People became more comfortable with red ink. Today we are living in an era of indebtedness. Over the past several years, society has oscillated ever more wildly though three debt-fueled bubbles. First, there was the dot-com bubble. Then, in 2008, the mortgage-finance bubble. Now, we are living in the fiscal bubble. Missing from this narrative is a few big things. Over the last thirty years, incomes have for ordinary people have stagnated at the same time that housing, health care, and education costs have gone up. Contrary to Brooks, Americans didn’t suddenly become, en mass, a group of irresponsible spendthrifts; by and large, Americans went into...

No Slam Dunk in Wisconsin

We don’t know the outcome of Tuesday’s gubernatorial election in Wisconsin, of course, but we do know this: Even if labor somehow manages to oust Republican Governor Scott Walker, the result will be nothing like the resounding repudiation that Ohio voters delivered last year in repealing that state’s anti-collective bargaining law pushed by an equally controversial GOP governor, John Kasich. Why the difference? Kasich’s bill went beyond Walker’s in banning collective bargaining for cops and fire fighters, which proved a decidedly unpopular position, but that can hardly account for more than a fraction of the difference. Moreover, Wisconsin is generally regarded as a more liberal state than Ohio. Democrats have carried it in every presidential election for the past two decades, while Ohio went Republican as recently as 2004. Wisconsin has a storied progressive history; Ohio has nothing of the kind. Walker’s bill which, like Kasich’s, repealed collective bargaining rights for public...

Unorthodoxies

Could Israel's new coalition get the ultra-Orthodox to go to work? Not by Netanyahu's methods.

(AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
In our last episode , dear viewers, we watched as Israel's main opposition party, Kadima, sold out its centrist voters and joined Benjamin Netanyahu's government—thereby providing the prime minister a reprieve of over a year before he must face the voters. This allows Bibi more time to raise regressive taxes, evade negotiations with the Palestinians, and deride diplomatic efforts to solve the Iranian nuclear issue. But perhaps there's a bright spot in this dark plot line. To paraphrase a question I've heard repeatedly over the last couple of weeks: Since the new coalition is broad enough to maintain its majority in parliament even if clerical parties walk out, can it finally end one of the strangest and best-known aberrations of Israeli life? Can it end the bizarre pork-barreling that allows most ultra-Orthodox men to spend their life in religious studies rather than working? After all, isn't the Israeli economy slowly sinking as the ultra-Orthodox community grows and the financial...

Who Will Save the Middle Class?

Liberals must face the stark truth: Both parties have agreed to sacrifice the middle.

(Tim Bower)
I n the eyes of most of the world and in our own, to be an American is to be an optimist—entrepreneurial, positive-thinking, and future-oriented. It is not surprising, then, that our politics has not come to grips with the question of national decline. Yes, our governing elites have long debated America’s power in the world and whether it’s eroding. But about the future of Americans , as opposed to the future of the geopolitical hegemon, America, our most important politicians and pundits have much less to say. Despite the bitter public arguments over tax and budget policies, they share the implicit assumption that even harder times are ahead for the majority of Americans—if not 99 percent then at least 75 percent to 80 percent. But doom and gloom does not play well in American politics. So, whenever our policymakers cannot avoid the word “sacrifice,” it is gingerly presented as a temporary inconvenience, to someone other than the listener, necessary to rebalance the government’s...

A Plan to Privatize a State's Entire Male Prison System

(Flickr/Tim Pearce, Los Gatos)
It's been tough times for the prison privatization industry. The two biggest companies both have extra space thanks to a recent drop in the number of people sent to private prisons. The companies just can't seem to expand their share of the market. The poor guys really lost out when the Florida Senate killed a bill that would have privatized 27 prisons and displaced more than 3,500 workers. The lobbying was so aggressive, one senator with health problems actually had to get protection from her colleagues. Then there's the not-so-great press—a two-part series from NPR last year included particularly horrifying tales . All told, these poor private prison company execs have not had much to smile about. So imagine what joy they must have had when New Hampshire put out an RFP to privatize the state's entire prison system. That's right—the entire system. According to the New Hampshire Business Review , previous state debate on privatization didn't exactly win anyone's affection, and the...

Calling for a Kinder Capitalism

Is the change that Occupy Wall Street and other groups have been fighting for finally on its way?

(Flickr / Atomische • Tom Giebel)
In a 2009 poll conducted by the BBC, only one out of every four Americans thought that capitalism in its current form was working well . Then came Occupy Wall Street (OWS), a physical manifestation of the anger of millions of Americans at an economic system in which big banks are bailed out by taxpayers only to turn around and pay billions in bonuses while filing record home foreclosures. Between the second quarter of 2009 and the fourth quarter of 2010, our nation's total income rose by $528 billion, but of that economic growth, 88 percent went to corporate profits and just 1 percent—that's right, 1 percent— went to workers . A popular sense of injustice appeared to be America’s leading growth industry as we embarked on the 21st century. But just as pressure builds between tectonic plates and eventually leads to massive earthquakes, so too can the slow grind of protests eventually change the political landscape. In 2011, grassroots economic-justice organizations mobilized protests at...

Meet Tom Barrett

(Flickr/barret4wi)
Last night, Wisconsin Democrats chose Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett as their candidate to go up against Governor Scott Walker. Barrett's pretty well known to Wisconsinites, both as a U.S. congressman and as a previous gubernatorial candidate. But most of us weren't all that interested in Wisconsin until Walker passed his anti-union laws and the widespread protestss began last year. Since then, the race has developed a national following—and some say, has national implications . With only a few weeks until the recall, meet the man Democrats are hoping will beat Scott Walker: 1. Irony of ironies, he's hardly a union favorite. Even though the recall has largely been painted as a fight between pro-labor and anti-labor groups, Barrett was hardly the first pick for Wisconsin unions. Rather, former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk had the bulk of union support early on. From the state AFL-CIO, the the Wisconsin Education Association Council to AFSCME, almost all the major unions backed Falk...

Richard Lugar, the Tea Party's Sacrificial Lamb

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
When he was the young mayor of Indianapolis in the late Sixties and early Seventies, Richard Lugar was acclaimed by Richard Nixon as his favorite mayor. An orthodox Main Street Republican, stiff despite his years, Lugar was competent, conventional and Nixonian in a good way (studious, intellectually ambitious) without any of Big Dick’s phobias. He brought those attributes to the Senate, where in recent decades he took on the challenge of ridding the world of loose nukes. It was a task that required him to work alongside his Democratic colleagues, which was never a problem for Lugar in any case. Yesterday, the Republican Jacobins dispatched Dick Lugar to history’s dustbin. He was a creature of the Republican past—a contemporary of Bob Dole and Howard Baker and a generation of not-excessively partisan and certainly not all that ideological Republicans who used to dominate their party. Indiana Republicans, who’d sent him to the Senate for six successive terms, now found him wanting: He...

Pages