Last year, voters in the city of Albuquerque voted overwhelmingly – 66 percent – to raise the minimum wage by a dollar from $7.50 to $8.50.
This year, a majority of the New Mexico House and Senate voted to expand that policy to the entire state, a much needed boost to an economy with high poverty and the highest percentage of low-income families in the country.
Then, on Good Friday, while many New Mexicans were making plans for the long weekend or were otherwise occupied, Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed the minimum wage increase, effectively blocking a raise for over 84,000 New Mexico workers. She then scrubbed all mention of the veto of her website, and has hardly brought it up since.
Unfortunately for Gov. Martinez, New Mexico workers aren’t taking no for a final answer.
Bernalillo County, where Albuquerque is located, is by far the most populous county in the state (the second biggest, Dona Ana County, has a third of Bernalillo’s population). While Gov. Martinez was busy blocking our raise and hiding the evidence, New Mexico workers were already lobbying the County Commissioners to expand the Albuquerque policy to the rest of the county.
Tomorrow, the five commissioners will vote on the minimum wage increase. A victory here won’t only show that New Mexico workers want fair wages, it will also show that Gov. Martinez alone can’t stop the march of progress in the Land of Enchantment.
Send a message now: Tell the Bernalillo County Commisioners to raise the minimum wage.
Want to do more? Call the commissioners themselves using the numbers listed above.
Tags: Jobs, minimum wage, New Mexico, poverty, Susana Martinez
A look at how state budget cuts will affect California’s Central Valley. From the LA Times:
The vast fruit fields, picturesque farmhouses and rolling foothills of Tulare County mask an ugly reality: Nearly a quarter of the population in this Central Valley agricultural hub lives in poverty, and one in three residents receives state aid — the largest proportion in California.
With the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown slashing billions of dollars in government services to help balance the state budget, few places will feel the effects more deeply. Local officials fear that when roughly $8 billion in budget cuts take effect, some as early as July 1, the poorest residents will tumble into homelessness.
The federal budget cuts impact the states, creating more budget cuts – and those whose lives are most precarious will have the safety net kicked out from under them. Expect a return of the tent cities we saw in 2009.
Local leaders say they are already struggling to meet the demand for social services, public safety and higher education after years of cutbacks in rural communities plagued with chronic unemployment. Much of the work here — harvesting oranges, packing boxes — is seasonal and low-wage. Among the largest private employers is Wal-Mart.
Chronic unemployment. Have you noticed that we never hear about jobs any more? Jobs, jobs, jobs were all we heard about during the elections last year. Now there’s no more talk of jobs – just deficits and spending cuts.
For those who live in poverty, education is the way out – but the local college is being forced to make cuts:
To offset $400 million in reductions to the state’s community college system, the campus has cut 10% of its classes and is giving admission preference to those who are closest to finishing degrees. That keeps out new high school graduates and the unemployed seeking job training.
It’s hard to view this as the “shared pain” we keep hearing about. Just as the US has an unequal distribution of wealth, we also have an unequal distribution of pain. The pain is reserved for the least wealthy among us.
Tags: poverty, unemployment
Last week, Tea Party Nation chairman Judson Phillips expressed his thoughts on who should be able to vote. From ThinkProgress:
PHILLIPS: The Founding Fathers originally said, they put certain restrictions on who gets the right to vote. It wasn’t you were just a citizen and you got to vote. Some of the restrictions, you know, you obviously would not think about today. But one of those was you had to be a property owner. And that makes a lot of sense, because if you’re a property owner you actually have a vested stake in the community. If you’re not a property owner, you know, I’m sorry but property owners have a little bit more of a vested interest in the community than non-property owners.
This must be a popular topic in conservative circles right now, because Rush Limbaugh made a similar point, only less diplomatically:
On a day when the US unemployment rate rose to 9.8%, Rush Limbaugh used his radio show to argue that poor people should not be allowed to vote. While commenting about a piece in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about people lining up for housing assistance, Limbaugh asked, “ If people can’t even feed and clothe themselves should they be allowed to vote? Should they be voting?”
In the face of millions losing unemployment benefits (just before Christmas) Glenn Beck dismissed poverty on his radio show. From Politicususa:
Then Beck attacked the poor, “We’re often told about the plight of the poor in America, and there is poverty in America, but let’s put it into perspective here. The poor in America 97% of them have television sets, 25% of those television sets are big screens. That’s poverty? 89% have a microwave. 80% have an air conditioning unit. 73% of the poor in America have a car. 64% have a washer. 57% of have a dryer. We have been sold a lie that that’s not enough. How much is enough? What is economic justice? Do I need to remind Americans what poor really looks like? I got news for you in other countries they’re not washing their clothes and sitting in air conditioning watching their big screen TV’s. They’re dying. That is poor.”
Does any of this sound familiar? It should:
Notice how Beck didn’t present any actual statistics about hunger and poverty? In the 1980s and 1990s the myth used to demonize the poor was that of welfare recipients driving Cadillacs. In 2010, the big screen TV has replaced the Caddy in the attack on the poor. The reality for the poor is something that Glenn Beck and Republicans don’t want to discuss. The poor in this country face a daily struggle for food and shelter. If they are lucky enough to have a job, it is probably at somewhere like Wal-Mart where pay is low, overtime is often not compensated, and benefits are non-existent.
So, only property owners should have the right to vote, poor people should not only be disenfranchised, they should be dying.
That’s the view from the right. Merry Christmas!
Tags: poverty, unemployment
The increasing numbers of children living in poverty and the corresponding rise in the number of homeless families with children in our country is one of the dirty secrets left undiscussed in this ugly election season.
Homeless in Utah:
The lingering recession has taken a toll on Utah’s youngest residents, leading to a 48 percent increase in the number of homeless school-age children since 2008, according to state data released Wednesday.
That’s pretty dramatic. The number of school aged homeless children has nearly doubled in 2 years. It’s not a campaign issue. No one is talking about it. There’s more outrage being expressed about Juan Williams getting fired by NPR.
The number of homeless students in Nebraska public schools increased 26 percent in the past school year as the limping economy forced more parents into shelters or other temporary living arrangements.
Schools reported 2,210 homeless students last school year, or 458 more than the year before, according to the Nebraska Department of Education.
The Omaha Public Schools reported 661 homeless students last year, an increase of more than 20 percent.
School District 51 identified 500 homeless children last year, and already 275 students have been identified the first quarter — “substantially higher than it’s ever been at this time of year,” said prevention services coordinator Cathy Haller.
“We estimate (based on national statistics) at any given time there’s another 20 percent (100 kids) not enrolled who should be,” Haller said.
Worst of all is this report on homeless children from the group First Focus (PDF):
Analysis of recently released federal data shows that the number of homeless children and youth identified in public schools has increased for the second year in a row, and by 41% over the past two school years.
You’d think this would make headlines.
You’d be wrong.
Seven states saw a decrease in the number of homeless school-aged children. The remaining 43 states saw increases. In some cases the increases were huge. Iowa saw a 136 % increase.
Finally, there’s this PBS story about homeless children. It will make you weep.
It’s shameful that this isn’t even a topic in our upcoming elections. It’s shameful that we aren’t ashamed.
Tags: children, homelessness, poverty
Two reports published by NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reveal a rising trend of patently unconstitutional practices in cash-strapped states, where a growing number of impoverished people are jailed for being unable to pay their legal fees – including charges for use of public defenders, a guaranteed right in the United States. The resurgence of these draconian “debtors’ prisons” has been documented in at least 13 of the 15 states with the largest prison populations in the country, including California, Arizona, Michigan and Alabama.
“Incarcerating people simply because they cannot afford to pay their legal debts is not only unconstitutional but also has a devastating impact upon men and women whose only crime is that they are poor,” said ACLU senior staff attorney Eric Balaban.
Increasingly, being poor is treated as a crime:
Kawana Young, a 25-year-old single mother in Michigan, was told after the fact that her community service hours would not satisfy her debts because she had volunteered with a nonprofit organization. Young has since been jailed five times for being unable to pay her fees.
How does that help pay the fines? Am I missing something here?
Nope, I guess not:
Judge Calvin Johnson, who served for 17 years in the Criminal District Court or Orleans Parish, said that regularly sentencing defendants in a “fine or time” method could have cost the city more than it collected. “30 days or $100 – that was something I heard every day,” said Johnson in the ACLU report. “Now, how can you describe a system where the city pays $23 a day to the Sheriff to house someone in jail for 30 days to collect $100 as anything other than crazy?”
These are undoubtedly some of the same states that are hurting for revenue. As I’ve said before – I did fail remedial math in high school – but as bad as I am at math, even I can see that increasing the number of people in prison is not a way to save on the state budget.
The devastating impact of Wall Street’s Great Recession was all too evident in the record surge in poverty reported recently by the Census Bureau for 2009.
From Elise Gould and Heidi Shierholz at EPI:
The poverty rate increased from 13.2% to 14.3% between 2008 and 2009, representing an additional 3.7 million people living in poverty for a total of 43.6 million in poverty in 2009. The poverty rate for children was 20.7% in 2009, representing 15.5 million kids living in poverty. In 2009, over one-third (35.5%) of all people living in poverty were children.
The poverty rate for working-age people (18-64 years old) hit 12.9% in 2009, the highest rate in nearly 50 years.
The official poverty threshold is defined as an annual income of $21,954 for a family of four (that’s $422 per week), or $11,161 for an individual. But, as Gould reports, the poor are getting poorer.
While 14.3% of all Americans were living in poverty last year, a record 6.3% were in so-called deep poverty, earning less than half the official poverty threshold, or subsistence rate, according to the new data on poverty released last week by the Census Bureau.
This sizable share of the American population falling below half the poverty line is particularly notable given that even the official poverty threshold – an annual income of $21,954 for a family of four – is widely considered insufficient to pay for life’s most basic essentials like food and housing. To fall below half the poverty line, a family of four would have an annual income of less than about $11,000.
How much worse would the poverty rates have been in 2009 without the expanded state and federal unemployment insurance programs? According to a report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) (pdf):
The U.S. Census Bureau announced yesterday that during 2009, 3.3 million people, including 1 million children, were kept out of poverty with income support provided through unemployment insurance (UI). (emphasis added)
source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP)
In a related study, CBPP reports that a total of 6 million Americans were kept out of poverty by just seven of the provisions in the 2009 Recovery Act stimulus, including expanded unemployment insurance programs.
This analysis, which comes one day before the Census Bureau will release updated poverty figures (for 2008), examines seven of the recovery act’s provisions — two improvements in unemployment insurance, three tax credits for working families, an increase in food stamps, and a one-time payment for retirees, veterans, and people with disabilities — and finds that they alone are preventing more than 6 million Americans from falling below the poverty line and are reducing the severity of poverty for 33 million more. Those 6 million people include more than 2 million children and over 500,000 seniors.
Those numbers are conservative, says CBPP, and don’t include the impact of other Recovery Act programs such as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) emergency jobs programs, which employ 250,000 otherwise unemployed parents and youth. Those TANF programs are set to expire this week unless Congress acts to extend them.
Without the expanded state and federal unemployment insurance benefits, the number of Americans living in poverty in 2009 would have increased by 7 million — nearly twice the actual increase. And without other key provisions in the Recovery Act, that number would have been nearly 10 million. Yet, all of those programs are under assault, threatened by legislative expiration unless they are extended.
As the report from NELP concludes:
Given the important role of unemployment benefits in keeping working families out of poverty during the recession, it’s crucial that Congress keep the Recovery Act’s remaining measures in place. The current federal extensions are set to expire on November 30, 2010, ending income support for millions unless they are reauthorized. If we allow these programs to expire, millions will be subjected to preventable poverty—hardships that will have immediate and lasting impacts for families and children.
Yesterday’s bleak release, showing a rise in poverty over the course of the past year, is yet another piece of evidence pointing to the need for Congress to take action on expanded unemployment benefits as well as focused measures to create and grow jobs.
Tags: jobless benefits extentsion, Jobs, poverty, unemployment insurance
Census figures from 2009 are due to be released this week. The expectations of what the report will show are grim:
Interviews with six demographers who closely track poverty trends found wide consensus that 2009 figures are likely to show a significant rate increase to the range of 14.7 percent to 15 percent.
Should those estimates hold true, some 45 million people in this country, or more than 1 in 7, were poor last year. It would be the highest single-year increase since the government began calculating poverty figures in 1959. The previous high was in 1980 when the rate jumped 1.3 percentage points to 13 percent during the energy crisis.
Among the 18-64 working-age population, the demographers expect a rise beyond 12.4 percent, up from 11.7 percent. That would make it the highest since at least 1965, when another Democratic president, Lyndon B. Johnson, launched the war on poverty that expanded the federal government’s role in social welfare programs from education to health care.
This is chilling:
Lawrence M. Mead, a New York University political science professor who is a conservative and wrote “The New Politics of Poverty: The Nonworking Poor in America,” argued that the figures will have a minimal impact in November.
“Poverty is not as big an issue right now as middle-class unemployment. That’s a lot more salient politically right now,” he said.
Apparently it hasn’t occurred to Lawrence Mead that the long-term, middle-class unemployed ARE the new poor.
I already know that I’ll be yelling at the TV early next week when C-SPAN2 carries the Senate debate on the unemployment extension bill, and on an amendment to restore COBRA health insurance aid for jobless workers. That’s because I’m certain that Republican multi-millionaire Senators such as Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) and John McCain (R-Ariz), he of
seven eight houses, will be whining about how we can’t afford to help the families of America’s unemployed millions because of the “burdens” it will place on Alexander’s and McCain’s “children and grandchildren.”
You can bet that their children and grandchildren are all pretty well set with nice trust funds and whatnot, thank you very much. How nice it must be for the upper crust to be so insulated from the impact of the Great Recession.
But what about the rest of us? What about our children and grandchildren?
From The Hechinger Report:
More children will live in poverty this year. More will have two parents who are unemployed. Fewer children will enroll in pre-kindergarten programs, and fewer teenagers will find jobs. More children are likely to commit suicide, be overweight and be victimized by crime. This is all according to a report released today by the Foundation for Child Development that measures the impact of the recession on the current generation.
These are the children of the Great Recession, a cohort that will experience a decline in fortunes that erases 30 years of social progress. The report – known as the Child and Youth Well-Being Index – predicts that in the next few years, the economy may recover and the unemployment rate may drop, but the generation growing up now could feel the harsh impact of the recession for years to come.
“These are the lasting impacts of extreme recessions,” said Kenneth Land, a professor of sociology and demography at Duke University and author of the report.
The current report predicts that the number of children living in poverty will rise to 15.6 million in 2010, an increase of more than 3 million children in four years. More than a quarter of American children will live in families where both parents don’t have full-time jobs, up from 22 percent in 2006. As many as half a million children could become homeless, up from 330,000 in 2007.
The decline in overall child well-being in the U.S. comes after several years of improvement driven largely by declining rates of crime, drinking and drug use, according to the report, which includes data from the U.S. Census, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Center for Education Statistics. The percentage of children living in poverty had also been dropping relatively steadily until 2000, when it began ticking upward.
That’s when the Republicans gained control of the White House and Congress.
Already, U.S. students trail their peers in many developed countries on most measures of child well-being. American children were last or close to last in terms of poverty, parental employment, safety, health and family relationships compared to 20 other developed nations, according to a 2007 UNICEF report. They were also close to the bottom in educational achievement.
And then came the Great Recession. Right now, school districts across the country are cutting back, and perhaps the programs hardest-hit are in early childhood education.
Schools will be hit particularly hard by the aftershocks, said Land. As more families enter the ranks of the poor, more children will arrive at school behind their wealthier peers, yet fewer will have the benefit of quality early education to help them catch up. The children who miss out on pre-kindergarten now will likely have lower reading and math scores in five years, when they enter fourth grade. In another decade, they’ll be more likely to drop out of high school.
“If you trace out those cohort effects, kids who don’t get good schooling early in life, typically score less well on standardized tests later. They have a more difficult time staying attached to school,” Land said.
Curtis Skinner, the director of family economic security at the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University, said he’s seen similar trends in his own research.
“It means a lot of long-term bad effects,” he said. “We can expect more of these problems down the road.”
The recent extension of unemployment benefits has also reinforced the safety net for poor families, which could mitigate the experience of severe poverty, according to Sanders Korenman, a professor in Baruch College’s School of Public Affairs and a senior economist for labor, welfare, and education under President Clinton.
Korenman, along with other researchers, agrees that the recession has yet to unleash its full force on most families, leaving uncertainty about how children will ultimately fare. The federal bailout delayed the fiscal crisis in most states, but now, huge cuts in education, public safety, and Medicaid are imminent in many states.
“The strongest evidence for adverse impacts is long-term, severe poverty,” Korenman said. “Certainly a recession like this raises the risk for that.”
Tags: children, Education, poverty, recession, unemployment
Something to think about:
Nearly half of all U.S. children and 90 percent of black youngsters will be on food stamps at some point during childhood, and fallout from the current recession could push those numbers even higher, researchers say.
The estimate comes from an analysis of 30 years of national data, and it bolsters other recent evidence on the pervasiveness of youngsters at economic risk. It suggests that almost everyone knows a family who has received food stamps, or will in the future, said lead author Mark Rank, a sociologist at Washington University in St. Louis.
People in this country are generally agreed (not entirely, but mostly) that it’s a bad thing for kids to live in poverty or go hungry, so this study should give at least a few people some pause.
I had a moment a couple years ago that was something like being hit over the head—I read something about free and reduced-price school lunches, which was not a topic I’d given much thought to in recent years. I don’t remember what I read, but this is the basic information that stunned me:
Today, the United States Department of Agriculture spends $8.3 billion a year to provide free and reduced-priced lunches for 30.6 million children whose families are at or below 130 percent of the national poverty level, about $26,845 for a family of four. The program also provides reduced-priced meals for students who are between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level, or $38,203 for a family of four.
Because I knew quite a few kids in grade school who received free or reduced-price meals, even though I spent kindergarten through third grade in a neighborhood school that drew from a small area of mostly one- or two-family homes…a “good neighborhood,” you know? More to the point from how I saw things as a kid—because it’s not like I thought “oh, I live in a good neighborhood”—I largely missed the class distinctions between families. Everyone felt pretty much the same to me. In fifth and sixth grade, when we were transferred to a larger school, I could have pointed out the poor kids. But it turns out that even in my little neighborhood school, I had classmates whose families were seriously struggling. And in my childhood obliviousness I really gave no thought to what it meant that they paid less than the 90 cents or so that was full price at the time.
Since the free lunch article I excerpt from above is about high school students not taking their free lunches because of the stigma attached, I guess my obliviousness was a good thing at the time. But it goes to show that when we think about poverty and hunger and how the economy is organized to address those things, we have to shake off our obliviousness to realize that these things are more widespread than perhaps we realize.
Tags: food stamps, poverty, school lunch
Ronald Brownstein has a wrap-up on the Bush administration’s economic record and how it affected working families. When we consider where we are now, economically speaking, let’s be sure to consider how we got here.
On every major measurement, the Census Bureau report shows that the country lost ground during Bush’s two terms. While Bush was in office, the median household income declined, poverty increased, childhood poverty increased even more, and the number of Americans without health insurance spiked. By contrast, the country’s condition improved on each of those measures during Bill Clinton’s two terms, often substantially.
Consider first the median income. When Bill Clinton left office after 2000, the median income-the income line around which half of households come in above, and half fall below-stood at $52,500 (measured in inflation-adjusted 2008 dollars). When Bush left office after 2008, the median income had fallen to $50,303. That’s a decline of 4.2 per cent.
When Clinton left office in 2000 13.7 per cent of Americans were uninsured; when Bush left that number stood at 15.4 per cent. (Under Bush, the share of Americans who received health insurance through their employer declined every year of his presidency-from 64.2 per cent in 2000 to 58.5 per cent in 2008.)
When Clinton left the number of Americans in poverty stood at 11.3 per cent; when Bush left that had increased to 13.2 per cent. The poverty rate for children jumped from 16.2 per cent when Clinton left office to 19 per cent when Bush stepped down.
We got to this economic moment not because of gremlins in the finance industry’s computers, but because of a set of policies that didn’t work for working families. We get out of it by thinking about people before profit, through health care reform, by regulating the finance industry, by making it easier for working people to join unions and bargain for better wages and working conditions. We don’t get out of it by pretending that people are not struggling:
Consider this: Some 9.4 million new jobs would have to be created to get us back to the level of employment at the time that the recession began in December 2007. But last month, we lost 216,000 jobs. If the recession technically ends soon and we get to a point where some modest number of jobs are created — say, 100,000 or 150,000 a month — the politicians and the business commentators will celebrate like it’s New Year’s.
But think about how puny that level of job creation really is in an environment that needs nearly 10 million jobs just to get us back to the lean years of the George W. Bush administration.
No celebrating the recovery of “the economy” until the people who live in it are employed and have health care and aren’t being foreclosed on. Working people are the most important part of the economy, and must be treated as such.
Tags: economy, poverty, unemployment