Income inequality isn’t the only gap the U.S. needs to mind these days; the country is amassing a sad and expensive discrepancy between what its poor and rich eat. America’s wealthiest people are eating better, while its poorest are eating worse, concludes a new study published this week in The Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine, which measured the quality of diets among American adults between 1999 and 2010. “Socioeconomic status was associated strongly with dietary quality, and the gaps in dietary quality between higher and lower SES [socioeconomic status] widened over time.” the study said. On the one hand, the analysis found that the American diet, on the whole, improved during the observed period. “Our study suggests that the overall dietary quality of the U.S. population steadily improved from 1999 through 2010,” the study said, suggesting that Americans are likely responding to recent nutrition education efforts. That’s consistent with a number of macroeconomic food trends, including America’s shift away from soda.
In Orange County, Calif., the probation department’s “supervised electronic confinement program,” which monitors the movements of low-risk offenders, has been outsourced to a private company, Sentinel Offender Services. The company, by its own account, oversees case management, including breath alcohol and drug-testing services, “all at no cost to county taxpayers.” Sentinel makes its money by getting the offenders on probation to pay for the company’s services. Charges can range from $35 to $100 a month. The company boasts of having contracts with more than 200 government agencies, and it takes pride in the “development of offender funded programs where any of our services can be provided at no cost to the agency.” Sentinel is a part of the expanding universe of poverty capitalism. In this unique sector of the economy, costs of essential government services are shifted to the poor.
Traditional public housing is out of favor and substantially out of funds. It’s bureaucratic, concentrates the very poor, and is literally crumbling due to a huge backlog of deferred maintenance. Yet despite real catastrophes—such as Chicago’s bleak, crime-ridden Robert Taylor Homes, dynamited over a decade ago—public housing provides low-rent apartments to some 2.2 million people, and much of it is reasonably well run by local authorities. For half a century, presidents, legislators and housing developers have sought alternatives, involving supposedly more efficient private market incentives. However, these alternatives, too, have been far from scandal-free. The Johnson-era Section 236 program (named for part of the housing code) gave private developers tax benefits and direct payments to build low-rent housing, underwritten by subsidized thirty-year mortgages. But then, as the mortgages started being paid off in the 1990s, many developers kicked out poor tenants and converted the buildings to middle-class and even luxury apartments—taking low-rent units that had been built and maintained with taxpayer money and removing them from the pool of affordable housing.
Many of us who work in the criminal justice system have come to understand the profound connection between poverty and mass incarceration. Put simply, individuals with criminal histories – even minor ones – find it exceedingly difficult to enter the workforce and provide for their families. One pragmatic response to this problem is to incarcerate fewer people, particularly in local jails. While much of the public debate and academic discourse focuses on the challenges of reducing federal and state prison enrollments, mass incarceration is a problem with a significant local dimension too. As of June 30, 2013, an estimated 731,208 persons in the U.S. were confined in local jails; a much larger total of 11.7 million persons were imprisoned in local jails at some point over the preceding year. More than 6 out of 10 of those jailed in the U.S. have yet to be convicted of any crime. Indeed, many of those held in pretrial detention are actually eligible for release yet they cannot afford to post bail – often nominal amounts of money. And contrary to popular thinking, the overwhelming majority of criminal prosecutions concern relatively minor offenses. In New York City, three out of four cases that make it to criminal court are misdemeanors – a total of more than 235,000 cases in 2012.
On the surface, the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., was about local police using deadly force on an unarmed young man. But on a deeper level, it reflected the increasing poverty and economic decline that affects ethnic communities all over America. Despite rosy reports in the media about the end of the national foreclosure crisis and the recession that followed, all is not well in our inner cities and suburbs with largely minority populations, like Ferguson. The foreclosure crisis was hard on many Americans, but it was a disaster for communities of color, including the citizens of Ferguson. Half of Ferguson Homes Underwater In the zip code that encompasses Ferguson, half (49 percent) of homes were underwater in 2013, meaning the home’s market value was below the mortgage’s outstanding balance. This condition (also called “negative equity”) is often a first step toward loan default or foreclosure, according to the recent report, “Underwater America,” from the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at the University of California, Berkeley.
Today, a coalition of over fifty social justice organizations including Food & Water Watch urged President Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell to declare the ongoing water crisis in Detroit a public health emergency. The groups have asked the Obama administration to make money available from the Public Health Emergency Fund to restore water service to residents affected by the shutoffs. “Thousands of Detroit families do not have running water in their homes for drinking, hygiene and sanitation,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “This is a growing public health crisis that the Obama administration has the power to stop. It is completely unconscionable that anyone would be forced to endure these conditions.” In March, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, under the direction of state-appointed Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, announced an aggressive campaign to disconnect the water service of thousands of households that are either $150 or 60 days behind on their water bills. In Detroit, 38.1 percent of residents, including more than half of children there, live in poverty. Over the last decade, residential water charges have more than doubled.
Before Zaida Ramos joined Cooperative Home Care Associates, she was raising her daughter on public assistance, shuttling between dead-end office jobs, and not making ends meet. “I earned in a week what my family spent in a day,” she recalled. After 17 years as a home health aide at Cooperative Home Care Associates (CHCA), the largest worker-owned co-op in the United States, Ramos recently celebrated her daughter’s college graduation. She’s paying half of her son’s tuition at a Catholic school, and she’s a worker-owner in a business where she enjoys flexible hours, steady earnings, health and dental insurance, plus an annual share in the profits. She’s not rich, she says, “but I’m financially independent. I belong to a union, and I have a chance to make a difference.” Can worker-owned businesses lift families out of poverty? “They did mine,” Ramos said. Should other low-income New Yorkers get involved in co-ops? She says, “Go for it.” New York City is going—in a big way—for worker-owned cooperatives. Inspired by the model of CHCA and prodded by a new network of co-op members and enthusiasts, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Council allocated $1.2 million to support worker cooperatives in 2015’s budget. According to the Democracy at Work Institute, New York’s investment in co-ops is the largest by any U.S. city government to date.
Campaign Nonviolence is a new movement building a culture of peace by mainstreaming active nonviolence and by connecting the long-term nonviolent global struggles to abolish war, end poverty, reverse climate change, and challenge all violence. Campaign Nonviolence will launch this long-term movement September 21-27, 2014 by taking nonviolent action in hundreds of local cities across the United States and beyond. At a moment when the horror of war is palpably clear—and the ongoing violence of poverty and climate change wreaks havoc across our planet—we have a chance to say with one voice that we are ready to join together for a better way. This is the vision and foundation of Campaign Nonviolence. Campaign Nonviolence is now organizing in 50 states and the District of Columbia with 115 nonviolent actions planned for September 21-27 in every part of the country, and new ones are being posted every day. Campaign Nonviolence actions include marches, rallies, vigils, nonviolent direct action or other forms of public witness.
That was before Operation Protective Edges. On August 2, The National reported: “Soros Fund Management, the family office of the billionaire investor George Soros, has sold its stake in SodaStream, the soda making appliance producer that profits from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and was made popular by actress Scarlett Johansson’s endorsement. The decision comes as a number of big international investors, including the fund linked to the Microsoft founder Bill Gates, join in a burgeoning financial boycott of Israel amid a push by the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and other groups seeking more rights for Palestinians. SodaStream, headquartered in the Israeli city of Lod, has its main factory in the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.
Steven Rosenfeld: Your book starts with a very sober assessment of the American middle-class. It’s shrinking. It’s disappearing in our lifetime. And the reason is that most work-related income is not enough. It’s insufficient and that’s getting worse. Tell me about that. Peter Barnes: One can throw out all the numbers, but rather than do that, just think back. Some of us, like myself, are old enough to remember when there were lots of good-paying steady jobs, both in the private sector and public sector. They had benefits, covered health insurance, and provided pensions. That was what the middle-class was built on when I was growing up. Now, for a variety of reasons, including globalization, and automation, and the decline of labor unions, that is no longer the case. And most of the younger people who are entering the labor market today don’t get jobs like that. It’s kind of a “you’re on your own economy.” Everybody temps. They have more than one job. They’re always marketing themselves on LinkedIn or something like that to get the next job. They don’t get health coverage. They have to pay for their own pensions and so forth. On top of which, education costs are way up. Students have debts they have to pay. All these things are different and they are not changing. They are going down, not up, as far as the middle-class goes.
It’s been nearly 40 years since the discovery of Ebola, yet we’re dealing with its deadliest outbreak in history and one that is four times larger the first. Back then, in 1976, the scientific community knew nothing about the hemorrhagic fever. Blood containing the mystery virus was innocently sent in a blue thermos to Belgium, where Flemish scientists figured out they were unwittingly handling a violently lethal pathogen, and named it after a river in what was then Zaire. Since then, we’ve learned a lot about Ebola: that it’s spread through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, that we can stop it by using simple precautionary measures and basic hygiene practices. But every once in a while, these nightmarish outbreaks pop up and capture the international imagination. Worries about global spread are worsened by the fact that Ebola has no vaccine and no cure. Here’s what’s surprising and interesting about this state of affairs: it is not caused by a lack of human ingenuity or scientific capacity to come up with Ebola remedies. It’s because this is an African disease, and our global innovation system largely ignores the health problems of the poor.
Economic inequality in the United States has been receiving a lot of attention. But it’s not merely an issue of the rich getting richer. The typical American household has been getting poorer, too. The inflation-adjusted net worth for the typical household was $87,992 in 2003. Ten years later, it was only $56,335, or a 36 percent decline, according to a study financed by the Russell Sage Foundation. Those are the figures for a household at the median point in the wealth distribution — the level at which there are an equal number of households whose worth is higher and lower. But during the same period, the net worth of wealthy households increased substantially. The Russell Sage study also examined net worth at the 95th percentile. (For households at that level, 95 percent of the population had less wealth.) It found that for this well-do-do slice of the population, household net worth increased 14 percent over the same 10 years. Other research, by economists like Edward Wolff at New York University, has shown even greater gains in wealth for the richest 1 percent of households. For households at the median level of net worth, much of the damage has occurred since the start of the last recession in 2007. Until then, net worth had been rising for the typical household, although at a slower pace than for households in higher wealth brackets.
Fast-food workers say they’re prepared to escalate their campaign for higher wages and union representation, starting with a national convention in suburban Chicago where more than 1,000 workers will discuss the future of the effort that has spread to dozens of cities in less than two years. About 1,300 workers are scheduled to attend sessions Friday and Saturday at an expo center in Villa Park, Ill., where they’ll be asked to do “whatever it takes” to win $15-an-hour wages and a union, said Kendall Fells, organizing director of the national effort and a representative of the Service Employees International Union. The union has been providing financial and organizational support to the fast-food protests that began in late 2012 in New York City and have included daylong strikes and a protest outside this year’s McDonald’s shareholder meeting that resulted in more than 130 arrests. “We want to talk about building leadership, power and doing whatever it takes depending on what city they’re in and what the moment calls for,” said Fells, adding that the ramped-up actions will be “more high-profile” and could include everything from civil disobedience to intensified efforts to organize workers. “I personally think we need to get more workers involved and shut these businesses down until they listen to us,” perhaps even by occupying the restaurants, said Cherri Delisline, a 27-year-old single mother from Charleston, S.C., who has worked at McDonald’s for 10 years and makes $7.35 an hour.
The latest report from the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty reveals that most municipalities believe in criminalizing, not helping, the down and out. For the report, the organization studied laws in 187 cities. Seventy-six percent of towns prohibit begging in specific public places, a 20 percent increase since 2011. However, the most dramatic uptick, the authors write, “has been in city-wide bans on fundamental human activities” such as sleeping in your car. A full 43 percent of cities prohibit people from sleeping in vehicles, an increase of a shocking 119 percent since 2011. And 53 percent of cities prohibit people from parking themselves on a curb or against a building. That’s down 3 percent since 2011, but at a time when the number of homeless people is expected to rise in 2014 and affordable housing is in short supply, these ordinances and laws come off as draconian.
Most Americans probably think a major goal of philanthropy is to fight poverty. But a closer look reveals that giving by foundations and philanthropists exacerbates wealth inequality in the United States. Look at some of the trends: Thousands of local fundraising groups have been created to raise private money for public schools–and almost all of them channel resources primarily to schools attended by the children of people who live in affluent neighborhoods. Elite colleges and universities are the major beneficiaries of multimillion-dollar gifts, and its those kinds of donations that are a key reason giving to higher education grew 9 percent last year. Yet these institutions are so high-priced, few low-income and working-class students can afford to attend. Arts institutions saw donations soar in the past year, according to “Giving USA,” also because of donations by the wealthy. Most of the institutions that benefit from the bulk of private donations are established institutions that cater to the upper and middle classes. Meanwhile, “Giving USA” showed much smaller gains for social-service groups and other kinds of organizations that raise money primarily from people who aren’t multibillionaires.