You may be surprised to learn that Jeb Bush is Roman Catholic. What’s even more surprising is that the media calls him devout, considering his enthusiastic support for capital punishment, preemptive war, and screwing over poor people.
Odds are, you are poor. Or you’ve been poor.
Conventional wisdom — i.e., what the media says, not what most people think — repeatedly implies that poverty is a permanent state that chronically afflicts a relatively small number of Americans, while the rest of us thrive in a vast, if besieged, middle class. In fact, most Americans between age 25 and 75 have spent at least one year living under the poverty line.
“One of the biggest myths about poverty in the United States is that a relatively small segment of the population is poor, and that this represents a more or less permanent underclass,” Columbia University economist and social work professor Irwin Garfinkel tells Columbia magazine. “But poverty is quite dynamic. Lots of people move in and out of poverty over the course of their lives. And it doesn’t take much for people at the edge to lose their footing: a reduction in work hours, an inability to find affordable day care, a family breakup, or an illness — any of these can be disastrous.”
Even if you bounce back, the effects of these financial setbacks linger. For young adults, attending cheaper colleges or passing up higher education — or being unable to afford to take a low-paid internship — burdens them with opportunity costs that hobble them the remainder of their lives (which will likelier end sooner). Debts accrue with compound interest and must be repaid; damaged credit ratings block qualified buyers from purchasing homes. Diseases go undetected and untreated during periods without healthcare. Gaps on resumes are a red flag for employers.
Americans pay a price for the boom-and-bust cycle of capitalism. To find out exactly how high the cost is, Professor Garfinkel and his colleagues at Columbia have created the Poverty Tracker, dubbed “one of the most richly detailed studies of poverty ever undertaken in the United States.” The Poverty Tracker is “a meticulous long-term survey of 2,300 New York households across all income levels…for at least two years” that aims “to create a much more intimate and precise portrait of economic distress than has ever been conducted in any US city.”
Initial findings were distressing: “While the city’s official poverty rate is 21%, the Columbia researchers found that 37% of New Yorkers, or about 3 million people, went through an extended period in 2012 when money was so tight that they lost their home, had their utilities shut off, neglected to seek medical treatment for an illness, went hungry, or experienced another ‘severe material hardship,’ as the researchers define such extreme consequences.”
Wait, it’s even worse than that:
“Even the 37% figure understates the number of New Yorkers who endured tough times in 2012. The researchers estimate that two million more endured what they call ‘moderate material hardship,’ which, as opposed to, say, losing one’s home or having the lights shut off, might involve merely falling behind on the rent or utility bills for a couple of months. Many others were in poor health. Indeed, the researchers found that if you add together all of those who were in poverty, suffered severe material hardship, or had a serious health problem, this represented more than half of all New Yorkers [emphasis is mine].”
The researchers hope that “they will have enough data to begin helping public authorities, legislators, foundations, nonprofits, philanthropists, and private charities address the underlying problems that affect the city’s poor” by the end of 2014.
What can be done?
Under this system? Not much. Democrats, who haven’t even proposed a major anti-poverty program since the 1960s, aren’t meaningfully better on poverty than Republicans.
As things stand, the best we can hope for from the political classes are crumbs: a few teeny-weeny proposals for wee reforms.
Like expanding day-care programs. More school lunches. Housing subsidies. “Additional investments in food programs.”
A drop in the bucket in an ocean of misery.
The Poverty Tracker shows that poverty is a huge problem in the United States. Unfortunately its authors, who draw their salaries from an institution intimately intertwined with monied elites, dare not openly suggest what they know to be true, that the key to eliminating poverty is to get rid of its root cause: capitalism.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out Sept. 2. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
Republican Congressman and former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, infamous for budget proposals that denigrate and starve the downtrodden, has changed tack with an anti-poverty proposal that actually includes safety-net items like expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit. Still, the Republican Party remains in thrall to trickle-down economic theories that, if they worked, would take years to help poor people who need money now.
President Obama and the Democrats have finally decided, five years after his election, to begin talking about the issue of income inequality, which has been increasing since the early 1970s. But their rhetoric makes it sound like inequality is a weird byproduct of capitalism when, in fact, it is a key feature of an economic system that relies on poverty and exploitation. This is the best system ever conceived?
I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).
This week: Voters see modest improvements in California’s economy.
Why Both Democrats and Republicans Miss the Big Picture
Public education is mirroring American society overall: a tiny island of haves surrounded by a vast ocean of have-nots.
For worried parents and students, the good news is that spending on public education has become a campaign issue. Mitt Romney is pushing a warmed-over version of the old GOP school voucher scheme, “school choice.” The trouble with vouchers, experts say (and common sense supports), is that allowing parents to vote with their feet by withdrawing their kids from “failing schools” deprives cash-starved schools of more funds, leading to a death cycle—a “winner takes all” sweepstakes that widens the gap between the best and worst schools. Critics—liberals and libertarians—also dislike vouchers because they allow the transfer of public tax dollars into the coffers of private schools, many of which have religious, non-secular curricula unaccountable to regulators.
Romney recently attacked President Obama: “He says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers. Did he not get the message of [the failed recall of the union-busting governor of] Wisconsin?”
“I would suggest [Romney is] living on a different planet if he thinks that’s a prescription for a better planet,” shot back Obama strategist David Axelrod.
Both parties are missing the mark, the Republicans more than the Democrats. Republicans want to gut public schools by slashing budgets that will lead to bigger class sizes, which will reduce the individual attention dedicated to teaching each student. Democrats rightly oppose educational austerity, but are running a lame defense rather than aggressively promoting positive ideas to improve the system. Both parties are too interested in weakening unions and grading teacher performance with endless tests, and not enough in raising salaries so teaching attracts the brightest college graduates. Not even the Democrats are calling for big spending increases on education.
Is the system really in crisis? Yes, said respondents to a 2011 Gallup-Phi Delta Kappa poll, which found that only 22 percent approved of the state of public education in the U.S. The number one problem? Not enough funding, say voters.
Millions of parents whose opinion of their local public system is so dim that they spend tens of thousands of dollars a year on private school tuition and—in competitive cities like New York City, force their kids to endure a grueling application process.
According to one of the world’s leading experts on comparing public school systems, Andreas Schleicher of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. is falling rapidly behind other countries. In Canada, he told a 2010 Congressional inquiry, an average 15-year-old ahead is a full year ahead his or her American counterpart. The U.S. high-school completion rate is ranked 25th out of the 30 OECD countries.
The elephant in the room, the idea neither party is willing to consider, is to replace localized control of education—funding, administration and curricula—with centralized federal control, as is common in Europe and around the world.
“America’s system of standards, curriculums and testing controlled by states and local districts with a heavy overlay of federal rules is a ‘quite unique’ mix of decentralization and central control,” The New York Times paraphrased Schleicher’s testimony. “More successful nations, he said, maintain central control over standards and curriculum, but give local schools more freedom from regulation, he said.”
Why run public schools out of Washington? The advantages are obvious. When schools in rich districts get the same resource allocation per student as those in poor ones, influential voters among the upper and middle classes tend to push for increased spending of education. Centralized control also eliminates embarrassing situations like when the Kansas School Board eliminated teaching evolution in its schools, effectively reducing standards.
A streamlined curriculum creates smarter students. It’s easier for Americans, who live in a highly mobile society, to transfer their children midyear from school to school, when a school in Peoria teaches the same math lesson the same week as one in Honolulu. Many students, especially among the working poor, suffer lower grades due to transiency.
Of course, true education reform would need to abolish the ability of wealthier parents to opt out of the public school system. That means banning private education and the “separate but equal” class segregation we see today, particularly in big cities, and integrating the 5.3 million kids (just under 10 percent of the total) in private primary and secondary schools into their local public systems. Decades after forced bussing, many students attend schools as racially separated as those of the Jim Crow era. The New York Times found that 650 out of New York’s 1700 public schools have student bodies composed at least 70 percent of one race—this in a city with extremely diverse demographics.
If we’re to live in a true democracy, all of our kids have to attend the same schools.
(Ted Rall’s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at MSNBC.com)
(C) 2012 TED RALL, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Jobless? Face It: Obama’s Not That Into You
Forget Herman Cain’s 9-9-9. The battle cry for every American ought to be 7-7-7.
7-7-7: for the $7.7 trillion the Bush and Obama Administrations secretly funneled to the banksters.
Remember the $700 billion bailout that prompted rage from right to left? Which inspired millions to join the Tea Party and the Occupy movements? Turns out that that was a mere drop in the bucket, less than a tenth of what the Federal Reserve Bank doled out to the big banks.
Bloomberg Markets Magazine reports a shocking story that emerged from tens of thousands of documents released under the Freedom of Information Act: by March 2009, the Fed shelled out $7.77 trillion “to rescuing the financial system, more than half the value of everything produced in the U.S. that year.”
The U.S. national debt is currently a record $14 trillion.
We knew that the Fed and the White House were pawns of Wall Street. What’s new is the scale of the conspiracy.
Even the most jaded financial reporters were stunned at the extent of collusion: “The Fed didn’t tell anyone which banks were in trouble so deep they required a combined $1.2 trillion on Dec. 5, 2008, their single neediest day. Bankers didn’t mention that they took tens of billions of dollars in emergency loans at the same time they were assuring investors their firms were healthy. And no one calculated until now that banks reaped an estimated $13 billion of income by taking advantage of the Fed’s below-market rates.”
Citigroup earned an extra $1.8 billion by reinvesting the Fed’s below-market loans. Bank of America made $1.5 billion.
Bear in mind, that’s only through March 2009.
“Many Americans are struggling to understand why banks deserve such preferential treatment while millions of homeowners are being denied assistance and are at increasing risk of foreclosure,” wrote Representative Elijah Cummings, a ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform who is demanding an investigation.
Indeed we are.
This stinks. It’s terrible economics. And it’s unbelievably cruel.
First the economics. The bank bailouts were supposed to loosen credit in order to encourage lending, investment, job creation and ultimately consumer spending. It didn’t work. Banks and corporations alike are hoarding cash. President Obama, who promised 4 million net new jobs by earlier this year, has been reduced to claiming that unemployment would have been even higher without the bailouts.
Ask any business executive why nobody is hiring and they’ll blame the lack of consumer demand. If the ultimate goal is to put more money into people’s pockets, why not just, you know, put more money into people’s pockets?
Bank executives used federal taxdollars to pay themselves tens of billions in bonuses and renovate their corporate headquarters. We the people got 0-0-0. What if we’d gotten 7-7-7 instead?
Every man, woman in child in the United States would have received $24,000.
A family of four would have gotten $96,000.
And that’s without an income test.
New data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that 100 million American citizens—one of out of three—subsists below or just above the official poverty line. Demographers, statisticians and economists were stunned. “These numbers are higher than we anticipated,” Trudi J. Renwick, the bureau’s chief poverty statistician, told The New York Times. “There are more people struggling than the official numbers show.”
For four decades progressive economists have warned that the middle-class was being eroded, that the United States would become a Third World country if income inequality continued to expand. They can stop. We’re there.
These poor and “near poor” Americans comprise the vast majority of the uninsured, un- and underemployed, and foreclosure victims. If Bush-Obama’s 7-7-7 Plan had gone to each one of these 100 million misérables instead of Citigroup and Bank of America, the IRS would have mailed out 100 million checks for $77,700 each.
This would have paid off a lot of credit cards. Kept millions in their homes, protecting neighborhood property values. Allowed millions to see a doctor. Paid for food.
A lot of the money would have been “wasted” on new cars, Xboxes—maybe even a renovation or two. All of which would have created a buttload of consumer demand.
If you’re a “99er”—one of millions who have run out of unemployment benefits—Obama’s plan for you is 0-0-0.
If you’re one of the roughly 20 million homeowners who have lost or are about to lose your house to foreclosure—most likely to a bank using fraudulent loan documents—you get 0-0-0.
If you’re a teacher asking for a raise, or a parent caring for a sick child or parent, or just an ordinary worker hobbling to work on an old car that needs to be replaced, all you’ll get is 0-0-0.
There isn’t any money to help you.
We don’t have the budget.
You can’t get the bank to call you back about refinancing, much less the attention of your Congressman.
But not if you’re a banker.
Bankers get their calls returned. They get anything they want.
There’s always a budget for them.
They get 7-7-7.
COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL