Posts Tagged ‘food stamps’

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Back in 2010, I warned about the widening and deepening of capitalist poverty in the United States.

The fact is (pdf), more poor people now live in the suburbs than in America’s big cities or rural areas. Suburbia is home to almost 16.4 million poor people, compared to 13.4 million in big cities and 7.3 million in rural areas.

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Lake County, IL, one of the wealthiest counties in the United States, is a case in point. Median household income in 2015 was $82,106, 45 percent higher than the national average.

At the same time, 9.6 percent of the Lake County population lived below the poverty line—more than 20 thousand of them children under the age of 17—and about 60 thousand people were forced to rely on food stamp benefits.

As Scott Allard explains,

Set beside Lake Michigan north of the city of Chicago, Lake County abounds with large single-family homes built mostly since 1970. Parks, swimming pools and recreational spaces dot the landscape. Commuter trains and toll roads ferry workers into Chicago, and back again. . .

Poverty problems in Lake County can be hidden from plain view. Many low-income families live in homes and neighbourhoods that appear very “middle class” on the surface – single-family homes with garages and cars in the driveway.

Closer inspection, however, reveals signs of poverty in all corners of the county. Many Lake County communities from all racial and ethnic groups are in need, and poverty rates in the older communities along Lake Michigan, such as Zion or Waukegan, more closely resemble those in the central city.

Pockets of concentrated poverty can be found in subdivisions of single-family homes, isolated apartment complexes and mobile home parks across the county. It also appears at the outer edges of Lake County in areas that might have been described as rural or recreational 30 or 40 years ago, before suburban sprawl brought in new residents and job-seekers. Several once-bustling strip malls are home to discount retailers and empty storefronts. It is not uncommon to see families at local grocery stores and supermarkets using food stamps or electronic benefit transfer cards to pay for part of their bill.

Rising suburban poverty is, of course, not confined to Lake County or the Chicago area. It can be found across the country, from Atlanta to San Francisco.

Back in the 1990s, researchers began to chronicle the diversity that exists across American suburbs, paying particular attention to older, declining suburbs—manufacturing-based, older industrial areas struggling with structural shifts and economic decline.

Now, however, in the wake of the Second Great Depression, the poverty landscape has broadened even further, encompassing all kinds of communities around the country. We’ve now moved well beyond the declining and at-risk suburbs chronicled in earlier research and are forced to confront the geographical widening of poverty, which continues to blight the nation’s cities and rural areas and is increasingly hidden in plain view in its suburbs.

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What is it poor working Americans need?

According to Jeb Bush, channeling Mitt Romney, they need “hope and aspiration,” not promises of “free stuff.”

“Our message is one of hope and aspiration,” he said at the East Cooper Republican Women’s Club annual Shrimp Dinner. “It isn’t one of division and get in line and we’ll take care of you with free stuff. Our message is one that is uplifting — that says you can achieve earned success.”

And then there’s Robert Macdonald, mayor of Lewiston, Maine, who supports a bill “asking that a Web site be created containing the names, addresses, length of time on assistance and the benefits being collected by every individual on the dole.”

Of people receiving benefits, he said: “Go into the grocery store. They flaunt it.” Publicly posting personal information, he said, could encourage people to go after those “gaming the system.”

He added he doesn’t care whether some people who rightly receive benefits could be hurt, saying: “Some people are going to get harmed but if it’s for the good of everybody, that’s the way it is.”

What’s next, requiring welfare recipients to submit to drug testing or screening?

Oh, that’s right, at least thirteen states have already passed legislation regarding drug testing or screening for public assistance applicants or recipients (Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah). And, as of July 2015, another 18 states have proposed legislation requiring some form of drug testing or screening for public assistance recipients this year (Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia).

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As it turns out, people on food stamps eat pretty much the same way as everyone else—both poor people who don’t get SNAP benefits and richer people.

In other words, SNAP recipients’ diets are marginally worse than everyone else’s diets, which are terrible to begin with. When researchers controlled for demographic differences between beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries, the differences in diet quality disappeared.

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Back in 1939, John Steibeck wrote (in chapter 14 of The Grapes of Wrath):

One man, one family driven from the land; this rusty car creaking along the highway to the west. I lost my land, a single tractor took my land. I am alone and I am bewildered. And in the night one family camps in a ditch and another family pulls in and the tents come out. The two men squat on their hams and the women and children listen. Here is the node, you who hate change and fear revolution. Keep these two squatting men apart; make them hate, fear, suspect each other. Here is the anlage of the thing you fear. This is the zygote. For here “I lost my land” is changed; a cell is split and from its splitting grows the thing you hate—”We lost our land.” The danger is here, for two men are not as lonely and perplexed as one. And from this first “we” there grows a still more dangerous thing: “I have a little food” plus “I have none.” If from this problem the sum is “We have a little food,” the thing is on its way, the movement has direction. Only a little multiplication now, and this land, this tractor are ours. The two men squatting in a ditch, the little fire, the side-meat stewing in a single pot, the silent, stone-eyed women; behind, the children listening with their souls to words their minds do not understand. The night draws down. The baby has a cold. Here, take this blanket. It’s wool. It was my mother’s blanket—take it for the baby. This is the thing to bomb. This is the beginning—from “I” to “we.”

If you who own the things people must have could understand this, you might preserve yourself. If you could separate causes from results, if you could know that Paine, Marx, Jefferson, Lenin, were results, not causes, you might survive. But that you cannot know. For the quality of owning freezes you forever into “I,” and cuts you off forever from the “we.”

Today, we have the spectacle of a major U.S. political party that puts forward a series of budgetary proposals that couldn’t be more obvious in attempting to freeze the “I” and cut themselves (and, if the proposals pass, the rest of us) off from the “we.”

As Teresa Tritch explains,

This week, House and Senate Republicans will be working on a final budget plan. They are operating from templates that call for cuts of about 40 percent on average by 2025 in programs for low and moderate income households — things like food assistance, college aid and tax credits for the working poor.

The damage would be severe. For starters, sixteen million people would be pushed into poverty, or deeper into poverty, after 2017.

At the same time, the Republican plans leave untouched nearly $1 trillion worth of annual tax breaks that overwhelmingly benefit the top 20 percent of households.

If that’s not flabbergasting enough, there’s this:

Separate from the budget plans, nearly all House Republicans and seven Democrats passed a bill last week to repeal the federal estate tax on inherited wealth. Repeal would benefit the 5,500 wealthiest families in America each year and would do nothing for everyone else, because the estate tax applies only to those at the very top of the wealth ladder. For estates valued at $50 million and up, for example, repeal would save the heirs about $20 million per estate, on average, in 2016.

Update

For more on the estate tax, see this piece by Edward Rodrigue and Isabel V. Sawhill, in which they take up and challenge the usual claims for repeal. Their conclusion (against the “I” and in favor of the “we”):

The estate tax is one of the most progressive aspects of our tax system. In a time of increasing inequality, it provides a way to counteract the formation of a “permanent ownership class.” If anything, we should consider raising the rate and lowering the exemption to pay down debt and invest in opportunities for the unlucky children at the bottom of the wealth ladder.