Poverty & Wealth

Ezra Klein's Blind Spot

(Flickr/Son of Broccoli)
On Monday, Ezra Klein argued that “conventional wisdom on Washington is that corporations win every fight and everyone else—particularly the poor—get shafted" is, wait for it, "wrong, or at least incomplete." He posits that advocates for the poor have increased their influence during the Obama era, pointing to rising food stamp rolls and Obamacare as evidence. His central thesis attacks a straw man: Corporate America and the poor can both wield a lot of power at the same time, as they’re not typically locked in a zero-sum struggle with each other. If anything, it’s the middle class, or perhaps the upper-middle class, that’s been left out. Lo and behold, none other than Larry Bartels, author of the definitive Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age, took to the Monkey Cage to rebut Klein , citing this chart: Bartels sees what Klein does not: there’s a larger economic context. Redistributing income, via food stamps or an Obamacare tax increase is not only...

Six Charts that Explain Why Our Prison System Is So Insane

flickr/wwarby
When Attorney General Eric Holder announced last week that he would be issuing instructions to federal prosecutors that could result in fewer mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders, it wasn't the risky policy change it would have been only a few years ago. With crime on a two-decade-long downward arc, politicians and policymakers don't have to worry as much as they used to about being tagged as "soft on crime." In fact, there's so much toughness already built into our criminal-justice system that unless we start lopping off thieves' hands, it couldn't get much tougher. Though the change Holder announced would affect only those convicted of federal crimes, it has brought renewed attention to our enormous prison population. And just how enormous is it? What follows are the details. In 1992, there were 1.3 million inmates in America's prisons and jails; by two decades later, a million more had been added (the data in this article are taken from the Bureau of Justice...

Paying It Forward on Student Debt

Chris Ison/PA Wire
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File N ext month, lawmakers will return to state capitals around the country, and as many as a dozen legislatures could consider a new proposal to tackle the growing student-debt crisis. The plan, dubbed " Pay-it-Forward " by its creator, would allow students to enter college without having to pay tuition upfront: In exchange, they would agree to pay a small and set percentage of their income after college into a public fund allowing the next generation to do the same. Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, released a plan Friday that would help provide seed money for pilot programs across the country using this model. Almost all of the new initiatives were inspired by Oregon, where the state legislature passed a bill introducing a Pay-it-Forward scheme unanimously on July 1. Barbara Dudley, an adjunct professor at Portland State University who in 2005 helped co-found the Oregon Working Families Party—a third party that has also been influential in...

Fashioning Justice for Bangladesh

AP Images/Ismail Ferdous
AP Images/Ismail Ferdous O n April 24, the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing 1,129 workers and injuring at least 1,500 more. Most were young women earning about $37 a month, or a bit more than a dollar a day. The collapse was the worst disaster in the history of the global garment industry, evoking the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York City. The Rana Plaza factory made apparel for more than a dozen major international fashion brands, including Benetton, J.C. Penney, and Wal-Mart. This was the third major industrial accident in Bangladesh since November, when 112 people were killed in a fire at a garment factory producing mainly for Wal-Mart. At Rana Plaza, cracks appeared in the eight-story building the day before it collapsed. Police ordered an evacuation of the building. But survivors say they were told that their pay would be docked if they did not return to the factory floor, and most did. Bangladesh, a nation of more than 160 million, has...

L.A. Story

The Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy: a new model for American liberalism?

flickr/AlphaProject
AP Photo/E.J. Flynn T ake a left as you exit the Long Beach Airport, and you’ll pass three acres of greenery named “Rosie the Riveter Park.” The park stands at the southeast corner of what had once been the mammoth Douglas Aircraft factory, where DC-3s, -4s, -5s, all the way up to -10s, were once manufactured, and where, during World War II, 43,000 workers, half of them women, built the B-17 bombers and C-47 transports that flew missions over Europe and the Pacific. World War II and then the Cold War remade Long Beach. Federal dollars funded the Douglas factory, a new naval shipyard, and numerous defense firms. An entire city—the working-class community of Lakewood, which borders Long Beach on the north—was built to house the sudden influx of defense workers. Long Beach became and remains the second-largest city in Los Angeles County. The new jobs paid well; powerful unions represented the workers in the factories and on the docks. Military spending, though, began to decline after the...

False Concerns for the Poor

(Flickr/Mark Sedella)
Fast food workers have been organizing across the country for months now, and last week a series of spectacular coordinated strikes generated a deluge of media coverage . As you'd expect, the right-wing media and pundit class came out swinging against the workers with their usual mix of hateful trashing and concern trolling. The hateful trashing mantle was best carried by talking heads at FOX News who slammed fast food workers as mediocre ingrates who should be happy to have a job at all. Comments like these remind us that the right-wing does not merely hate welfare programs due to some anti-spending, anti-government ethos. They just hate the poor in general. Even poor people who, by their very description, are in jobs working hard and seeking to negotiate up their wages with their own employer receive the same vicious treatment the right-wing pretends to reserve only for "lazy welfare cheats." For those of us who don't think the working poor are subhuman garbage, this attack strategy...

Part-Time America

AP Images/Matt Slocum
Of the 963,000 jobs created in the past six months, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Household Surveys, 936,000 of them are part-time. That doesn’t mean that just 27,000 of the people hired on to new jobs got full-time work. The total for part-time jobs includes both newly created jobs and formerly full-time gigs that were cut-back to part-time, and the BLS doesn’t pose the questions that would enable it to quantify these two kinds of new part-time jobs. But factoring in both kinds, we do know that the net number of full-time jobs in America has risen by just 27,000 since the end of January. One reason that the number of full-time jobs is so abysmally low is Obamacare’s employee mandate, which stipulated that employers with 50 or more workers either had to provide all such workers who put in at least 30 hours a week with health insurance, or pay a penalty that would help defray the government’s costs for providing subsidized benefits. The administration announced...

The Long Road to a Decent Economy

AP Images/Carolyn Kaster
To underscore a weeklong initiative by President Obama on behalf of rebuilding the middle class, the latest figures on GDP growth, released Thursday, and on job growth, made public Friday, show just how far from a healthy middle class economy we are. Revised figures show that GDP growth fell to a rate of just 1.4 percent in the first six months of 2013, even less than last year’s dismal rate of 2.2 percent. These numbers are not enough to create an adequate supply of jobs, much less good jobs, much less wage growth. And sure enough, when the employment numbers for July were released on Friday, the grim trend was confirmed. Just 162,000 jobs were added in July, and most of them were relatively low-wage jobs. Average earnings actually fell. At this rate it will take another six years to get unemployment back to pre-2008 levels according to the Economic Policy Institute, and more than a decade according to the Hamilton Project. The official unemployment rate dropped slightly, from 7.6 to...

The Least We Could Pay

AP Photo/Jim Mone, File
AP Photo/John Minchillo I n his campaign to drum up public support for a post-recess budget deal with Congress, President Barack Obama has repeated a call he first made in his 2013 State of the Union speech: an increase in the federal minimum wage. This past January, he called for a $9 minimum wage, up from the $7.25 rate that has remained unchanged the past four years. This week, at an Amazon packaging facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee, he said : “[B]ecause no one who works full-time in America should have to live in poverty, I will keep making the case that we need to raise a minimum wage that in real terms is lower than it was when Ronald Reagan took office. That means more money in consumers’ pockets, and more business for companies like Amazon.” A $9 federal minimum wage is higher than any current state’s minimum wage except Washington’s. When Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan and other Republicans dismissed the President’s call to raise the minimum wage and index it to inflation...

Strikes, Alliances, and Survival

Flikr
Fast-food workers in seven cities are set to walk off their jobs today in one-day actions, escalating what is quickly becoming a nationwide effort to win pay hikes in one of America’s premier poverty-wage industries. Backed by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the campaign is succeeding in publicizing the plight of low-wage workers in a growing number of states and cities. How it goes about actually winning higher wages, however, remains unclear. For its part, the AFL-CIO is preparing for its biennial convention this September, at which it will begin to hammer out some kind of formal affiliation or partnership with other, nonunion progressive organizations such as the NAACP and the Sierra Club. There are changes afoot within the union’s Working America affiliate—a Federation-run and –funded neighborhood canvass that has expanded from a purely (and brilliantly successful) electoral operation, building support for progressive Democrats among white working-class swing-...

The Depressing Picture of Economic Mobility in America

Today's New York Times has a big article by David Leonhardt on a new study of income mobility with a bunch of interesting findings, the core of which is that, especially for middle-class and poor people, where you live matters tremendously to your chances of improving your economic station. Here's an excerpt: But the researchers identified four broad factors that appeared to affect income mobility, including the size and dispersion of the local middle class. All else being equal, upward mobility tended to be higher in metropolitan areas where poor families were more dispersed among mixed-income neighborhoods. Income mobility was also higher in areas with more two-parent households, better elementary schools and high schools, and more civic engagement, including membership in religious and community groups. Regions with larger black populations had lower upward-mobility rates. But the researchers' analysis suggested that this was not primarily because of their race. Both white and...

What Tom Friedman Doesn’t Understand About the Economy, Part 72

AP Images/Charles Dharapak
“Average is over,” New York Times columnist Tom Friedman likes to proclaim, and in at least one particular, he’s right. Friedman no longer writes average columns. With each passing week, his efforts become steadily more moronic. His latest , in Sunday’s paper, is entitled “Welcome to the Sharing Economy,” and in it, Friedman mistakes economic marginality and desperation for innovation and opportunity. The subject of this particular essay is Airbnb, a website where travelers go to rent bedrooms in other people’s homes. “There’s an innkeeper residing in all of us!” Friedman effuses, as he recounts how Airbnb may have as many as 200,000 people per night this summer plopping down in some stranger’s kid’s bedroom. Enthralled by the sheer techno-innovation of it all, Friedman doesn’t pause to ponder just what would impel a parent to turn over junior’s room for a few bucks. Could it be that the factory closed? That Wal-Mart pays so little? No matter: “Ordinary people can now be micro-...

The Great Detroit Betrayal

AP Photo/Paul Sancya
AP Photo/Duane Burleson D etroit has filed for bankruptcy. Most of the spot-news coverage has focused on the immediate fiscal crisis of the city, but the immediate fiscal crisis really isn’t what got the city into such deep trouble. Certainly, Detroit’s contracts with its employees and its debts to its retirees don’t explain anything about how and why this once-great city has come to such grief. Those contracts and retirement benefits are par for the course for major American cities—certainly, no more generous than those in cities of comparable size. Any remotely accurate autopsy of the city will find the cancer that killed Detroit was the decline of the American auto industry. The failure of U.S. automakers in the '70s, '80s and '90s to make better cars at a time when foreign-made autos were beginning to enter the U.S. market was surely one factor. Another was the trade deals that made it easy for Detroit automakers to relocate to cheaper climes—most particularly, NAFTA, which...

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...

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