Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Economic Hardship Reporting Project Clips

Clips from my time working at the Economic Hardship Reporting Project below the fold:

"Poor is a Four-Letter Word"

David Byrne: Income Inequality Could Stifle NYC’s Creativity

Quote of the Day, October 17, 2013, excerpted from "If the 1% stifles New York's creative talent, I'm out of here" by musician David Byrne in The Guardian:
I didn't move to New York to make a fortune. Survival, at that time, and at my age then, was enough. Hardship was the price one paid for being in the thick of it. 
As one gets a little older, those hardships aren't so romantic – they're just hard. The trade-off begins to look like a real pain in the ass if one has been here for years and years and is barely eking out a living. The idea of making an ongoing creative life – whether as a writer, an artist, a filmmaker or a musician – is difficult unless one gets a foothold on the ladder, as I was lucky enough to do. I say "lucky" because I have no illusions that talent is enough; there are plenty of talented folks out there who never get the break they deserve. 
Some folks believe that hardship breeds artistic creativity. I don't buy it. One can put up with poverty for a while when one is young, but it will inevitably wear a person down. I don't romanticize the bad old days. I find the drop in crime over the last couple of decades refreshing. Manhattan and Brooklyn, those vibrant playgrounds, are way less scary than they were when I moved here. I have no illusions that there was a connection between that city on its knees and a flourishing of creativity; I don't believe that crime, danger and poverty make for good art. That's bullshit. But I also don't believe that the drop in crime means the city has to be more exclusively for those who have money. Increases in the quality of life should be for all, not just a few.
Byrne's comments echo some of the themes in Joshua Freeman's April article in The Nation about the rise of low-wage jobs in New York at the expense of working class jobs in the recovery. Once a symbol for the American working class, the city is now wrestling with the issue of income inequality.

Quote of the Day, October 15, 2013, excerpted from “Arizona ban on panhandling found unconstitutional in Flagstaff case” by Cindy Carcamo in the Los Angeles Times:
Flagstaff police had arrested an estimated 135 people on suspicion of loitering to beg during one year. In some cases, those people were jailed, said Mik Jordahl, a Flagstaff attorney who served as ACLU co-counsel in the lawsuit. “Many of the people arrested under the begging law simply needed a little assistance — not a jail cell,” Jordahl said in a statement released by the ACLU after Friday’s court ruling. “Law enforcement must stand up for the constitutional rights of peaceful beggars and not just respond to complaints from powerful downtown business interests who would take those rights away and sweep homelessness and poverty out of sight.”
Since the 2008 crisis, cities and states across the country have passed laws banning panhandling and “loitering to beg” while poverty and homelessness have increased.

The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty found, in a study of 188 U.S. cities, that from 2008 to 2011 laws banning panhandling increased by 7 percent and laws banning loitering have increased by 10 percent.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors observed in their 2010 homelessness report that 52 percent of cities have seen an increase in overall homelessness, while 58 percent have seen an increase in family homelessness. Further, across the surveyed cities, an average of 27 percent of homeless people were turned away from emergency shelter due to lack of space.

“I definitely think that a cost-share of this amount, which might seem low for folks who have a steady income, would definitely be a barrier for low-income individuals,” said Shannon Mace Heller, a Philadelphia-based public health attorney, in an interview with ThinkProgress. “Any cost-share would definitely be a deterrent on seeking medical care.”
While the showdown over funding the Affordable Care Act (ACA) focuses attention to Congress, governors are negotiating the implementation of the Medicaid expansion designed for the working poor.

Last week, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett became the 10th Republican governor to back the expansion of Medicaid under the ACA.

Corbett’s plan, Healthy Pennsylvania, was unveiled September 16 in Harrisburg. His administration is seeking to alter Medicaid by charging co-pays and requiring proof of employment. The plan also changes eligibility for Medicaid by requiring jobless recipients to seek employment on “work searches.

The Philadelphia Inquirer editorialized Monday that the work search requirement is duplicative of requirements for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and that the barrier “ignores that some applicants may be working, but not making enough to support their families.”

The Medicaid expansion in the Affordable Care Act provides coverage to people who previously earned too much money to qualify for Medicaid. Jeffrey Youngexplained in The Huffington Post that the ACA asks states to expand Medicaid to families who earn 133 percent of the federal poverty level or over $15,282 for an individual.

Pennsylvania’s current Medicaid requirements cover individuals who make $7,080 or less a year and couples who make $10,620 or less a year. In 2012, 29% of Pennsylvania workers earning between $5,000 and $14,999 were uninsured. The state’s Medicaid expansion would ensure over 500,000 uninsured residents to become eligible for Medicaid.

Medicaid currently provides health care to 60 million Americans and the ACA would expand the program to an additional 13 million Americans.

Dole, Daschle to Congress: Snap Out of Playing Politics with Hunger

Quote of the Day, September 18, 2013, excerpted from “Stop playing politics with hunger” by Bob Dole and Tom Daschle in the Los Angeles Times:
Tackling our nation’s hunger issues has always resulted in a win-win situation for farmers, low-income families and our economy. The latest proposal from the House is an about-face on our progress fighting hunger. It would eliminate food assistance for 4 million to 6 million Americans.
Bob Dole and Tom Daschle urged Congress to maintain the historical Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as part of the annual Farm Bill. The former Senators said that SNAP lifted 47 million people out of poverty in 2011.

The House plans to vote Thursday on a plan to cut $40 billion from the program over the next decade. This June, the White House threatened a veto of a bill that would cut $20 billion to the program.

The Center for American Progress just released an infographic on how much SNAP contributes to relieving economic hardship for children, seniors and stimulating economic growth.

SNAP is not included in the poverty estimates of the Current Population Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics released yesterday.

Despite Economic Gains, Poverty Rate Remains the Same

Quote of the Day, September 17, 2013, excerpted from “First Impressions of the 2012 Poverty, Income, and Health Insurance Data (with updates)” by Jared Bernstein in On The Economy:
GDP grew almost 3% last year, yet today’s report shows that the economic recovery has yet to lift the living standards of middle and low income families. Certainly, arresting the drop in middle-incomes and the rise in poverty that had been the pattern since the downturn took hold in 2008 is a plus and the first step to reversing those unfavorable trends.

But the lack of income gains in the middle and bottom of the scale amidst an economic expansion that’s three years old is an important and notable finding from the report. Surely, many American households can reasonably ask, “what recovery?”
The U.S. Census released its Current Population Survey today. One of the most stunning facts is that the poverty rate remains largely unchanged since the 2008 Recession with 46.5 million Americans, 15% of the population, still living poverty. The Huffington Post has an informative post on how the report’s numbers compare historically to past U.S. Census reports.

However, Jared Bernstein warned last week that there are limitations to the Census measurements of poverty, household income, and health insurance coverage.
The key point is this: the official poverty rate does not count the impact of the anti-poverty programs that have become increasingly effective over the past few decades. Conversely, it includes others that have become increasingly ineffective. So, over time, the official rate has become biased away from actually showing the impact of policy measures designed to reduce poverty.
The report released today includes Social Security, which has dramatically reduced the poverty rate for seniors since its creation, and Unemployment Insurance, which lifted 1.7 million people out of poverty. However, it does not include non-cash benefits like food stamps, rent subsidies, and refundable tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit, which Bernstein notes have lifted millions of people out of poverty in previous Census reports.

Additionally, the 2012 report does not measure the effect of the sequester, implemented on March 1, 2013 or the Affordable Care Act, which will begin to be implemented on October 1, 2013.

Once Upon a Time, There was a Mayor Who Supported a Living Wage

Quote of the Day, September 12, 2013, excerpted from “Gray’s stance on Wal-Mart not as straightforward as 3 years ago” by Andrew Mollenbach on WTOP:
“I’m not ambiguous about the fact that they need to pay competitive wages,” [Mayor Vincent Gray] said, speaking specifically about Wal-Mart. “We don’t want low-quality jobs here.”
He said the retailer should make clear that it would pay competitive wages and benefits before opening in the District.

“Frankly, they’ve been able to keep their prices low because they did it on the backs of the workers,” Gray said at the time.

“We think (stores should) start with $12 and up — and benefits associated with that,” he said on The Politics Program on WTOP.

Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray vetoed the Large Retailer’s Accountability Act today. The bill, approved by the D.C. Council in July, would have raised minimum wage in Washington to $12.50 an hour for retailers earning more than $1 billion in revenue.

Least Fortunate Left With Nothing After Tax Liens, Foreclosures

Quote of the Day, September 10, 2013, excerpted from “Left with Nothing,” Part 1 of “Liens, Loss, and Profiteers” by Michael Sallah, Debbie Cenziper, and Steven Rich of the Washington Post:
Under the watch of local leaders, the [lien] program has morphed into a predatory system of debt collection for well-financed, out-of-town companies that turned $500 delinquencies into $5,000 debts — then foreclosed on homes when families couldn’t pay, a Washington Post investigation found.
Coleman, struggling with dementia, was among those who lost a home. His debt had snowballed to $4,999 — 37 times the original tax bill. Not only did he lose his $197,000 house, but he also was stripped of the equity because tax lien purchasers are entitled to everything, trumping even mortgage companies.

The Washington Post article above reports that one in three Washington-area homeowners who have lost their property had tax liens of less than $1,000. Also, more than half of the foreclosures were in the city’s two poorest wards, 7 and 8.

The tax lien story emerges as the mortgage crisis disappears from the headlines, while families are still fighting to keep their homes. The Washington metropolitan area still has 6.5 percent of first mortgages in the process of foreclosure or at least 90 days delinquent, compared with 8.4 percent at the height of the foreclosure crisis in December 2009 or the national average of 2.5 percent before the crisis.