Posts Tagged ‘poverty’

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161923_600 Poverty-Wages

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The United States does not collect health data by class.*

However, the recently released report from the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps project (which for the first time this year include a measure of county-level inequality, depicted in the map above), conducted by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, does give us some sense of the relationship between class and health outcomes in the United States.

Here are some of the key findings:

  • Rates of children in poverty are more than twice as high in the unhealthiest counties in each state as they are in the healthiest counties. (The top performing counties in the United States, the 10 percent with the lowest rates of child poverty, have child poverty rates of less than 13 percent. The worst performing counties, the 10 percent with the highest rates of child poverty, have child poverty rates of at least 38 percent.)
  • Across the nation, rates of unemployment are 1.5 times as high in the least healthy counties of each state as they are in the healthiest counties. (The top performing counties in the United States have unemployment rates of 4.1 percent or lower. The worst performing counties for unemployment have unemployment rates of 10.7 percent or higher.)
  • The top performing counties in the United States have income inequality ratios of less than 3.7, while the worst performing counties have income inequality ratios of 5.4 or higher. (Within counties in the United States, the average—median—income inequality ratio of the 80th to the 20th percentile is 4.4. The income-inequality ratio in U.S. counties ranges from 2.6 to 9.6.)

Thus, as Margot Sanger-Katz explains,

The researchers measured inequality by comparing the number of people in a given place who earned above the 80th percentile in the county with the number of people earning less than the 20th percentile. Then they measured life expectancy using a custom measurement they developed — it counts the “potential life years lost” in each community by measuring all those who died before the age of 75, and the age at which they died. So someone who died at age 70 would have five years of potential life lost. Then they adjusted the numbers according to how old people were in the county, so counties with more old people wouldn’t look sicker than counties that were younger. The study looked at only the average life span and not that of higher-income versus lower-income residents.

For every one-point increase in the ratio between high and low earners in a county, there were about five years lost for every 1,000 people. That’s about the same difference they observed when a community’s smoking rate increased by 4 percent or its obesity rate rose by 3 percent. Researchers said that inequality effect persisted even when they compared communities of similar average income and racial composition.

The question we all need to ask then is, how many potential life years have been lost to the grotesque levels of inequality (and the conditions and consequences of growing inequality, such as poverty and unemployment) we have seen emerging in recent decades in the United States?

 

*In contrast to other countries, such as the United Kingdom (which has issued a series of reports over the years on the relationship between health and class, including the Acheson Report, fully titled the Independent Inquiry into Inequalities in Health Report, in 1998).

thebottom30

According to the Century Foundation’s analysis of the latest Occupational Employment Statistics report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about a quarter of U.S. workers are working full-time, year-round in occupations where they cannot expect to earn enough to keep a family of four above poverty.

The chart above shows median wages for the 30 lowest-paying occupations with over 250,000 employees, which collectively employ 31 million people nationally. All the occupations on the list have annual median wages that fall at or below the poverty level for a family of four ($24,250). At the very bottom are America’s 3.1 million food preparation workers, who earn just $18,410 annually. That’s $8.85 an hour.

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The occupations with the largest employment in May 2014 were retail salespersons and cashiers. These two occupations combined made up nearly 6 percent of total U.S. employment, with employment levels of 4.6 million and 3.4 million, respectively. Of the 10 largest occupations (which accounted for 21 percent of total employment in May 2014), only registered nurses, with an annual median wage of $66,640, had an average wage above the U.S. all-occupations median of $34,540.

As the Century Foundation reminds us,

Many of these jobs are simple, but that doesn’t mean they are easy. Many are commonplace, but that doesn’t make them dispensable. Rather, in our haste to dismiss basic as beneath us, we lose sight of the fact that what is basic is also fundamental, what is mundane is also essential. These jobs matter—they are the substance of simple pleasures, the foundation of daily joys—and they mean more to our interpersonal well-being than any amount of high-flying CEOs ever will. But by labeling its practitioners as “low skill,” we rationalize relegating them to near-poverty wages.

The stark facts collected by the BLS also remind us that, when large numbers of people are forced to have the freedom to sell their ability to work, the wages many U.S. workers receive force them and their families to live in or within striking distance of destitution.

Wimer

There are two different ways of reading the information in the chart above.*

One way is that the various programs associated with the War on Poverty have succeeded, at least to some extent. That success can be seen in the difference between the “market poverty” rate (technically, the pretax/pretransfer anchored supplemental poverty rate) of 28.7 percent in 2012 and the “poverty rate with government programs” (technically, the anchored supplemental poverty rate) of 16 percent. Many fewer people are living at or below the poverty line with government transfers and tax credits than if those programs had not existed.

But there’s a second way of reading the chart: capitalism in the United States produces poverty at just about the same rate today (at 28.7 percent) as it did back in 1967 (when 27 percent of the U.S. population lived at or below the market poverty rate)—which makes it all that much more difficult for government transfers and credits to “solve” the problem of poverty. Thus, the War on Poverty still leaves 16 percent of Americans in poverty.

The conclusion, if we combine the two readings, is that the publicly provided social safety net (which lowered the poverty rate by some 40 percent in 2012) is actually a subsidy to large corporations, which continue to pay very low wages to millions of American workers and thus to generate enormous profits they alone appropriate and decide how to use.

The real War on Poverty will only begin when we decide to change how the economy itself is organized.

*The chart is from a column by Thomas B. Edsall, based on data presented in a paper by Christopher Wimer et al. (pdf).

7

Yesterday during my office hours, on the eve of the 2015 NCAA tournaments, I spent some time with a student discussing the “unmistakable whiff of the plantation” associated with major-college athletic programs. I then sent them to read Taylor Branch’s 2011 article in The Atlantic.

It just happens that, today, George Yancy published his conversation with Noam Chomsky about the unmistakable legacy of slavery and “slavery by another name” in the United States. I reproduce the first part of that conversation below.

Here are a few charts to put the current situation (with respect to racial disparities in poverty, unemployment, wealth, and incarceration) in perspective:

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George Yancy: When I think about the title of your book “On Western Terrorism,” I’m reminded of the fact that many black people in the United States have had a long history of being terrorized by white racism, from random beatings to the lynching of more than 3,000 black people (including women) between 1882 and 1968. This is why in 2003, when I read about the dehumanizing acts committed at Abu Ghraib prison, I wasn’t surprised. I recall that after the photos appeared President George W. Bush said that “This is not the America I know.” But isn’t this the America black people have always known?

Noam Chomsky: The America that “black people have always known” is not an attractive one. The first black slaves were brought to the colonies 400 years ago. We cannot allow ourselves to forget that during this long period there have been only a few decades when African-Americans, apart from a few, had some limited possibilities for entering the mainstream of American society.

We also cannot allow ourselves to forget that the hideous slave labor camps of the new “empire of liberty” were a primary source for the wealth and privilege of American society, as well as England and the continent. The industrial revolution was based on cotton, produced primarily in the slave labor camps of the United States.

As is now known, they were highly efficient. Productivity increased even faster than in industry, thanks to the technology of the bullwhip and pistol, and the efficient practice of brutal torture, as Edward E. Baptist demonstrates in his recent study, “The Half Has Never Been Told.” The achievement includes not only the great wealth of the planter aristocracy but also American and British manufacturing, commerce and the financial institutions of modern state capitalism.

It is, or should be, well-known that the United States developed by flatly rejecting the principles of “sound economics” preached to it by the leading economists of the day, and familiar in today’s sober instructions to latecomers in development. Instead, the newly liberated colonies followed the model of England with radical state intervention in the economy, including high tariffs to protect infant industry, first textiles, later steel and others.

There was also another “virtual tariff.” In 1807, President Jefferson signed a bill banning the importation of slaves from abroad. His state of Virginia was the richest and most powerful of the states, and had exhausted its need for slaves. Rather, it was beginning to produce this valuable commodity for the expanding slave territories of the South. Banning import of these cotton-picking machines was thus a considerable boost to the Virginia economy. That was understood. Speaking for the slave importers, Charles Pinckney charged that “Virginia will gain by stopping the importations. Her slaves will rise in value, and she has more than she wants.” And Virginia indeed became a major exporter of slaves to the expanding slave society.

Some of the slave-owners, like Jefferson, appreciated the moral turpitude on which the economy relied. But he feared the liberation of slaves, who have “ten thousand recollections” of the crimes to which they were subjected. Fears that the victims might rise up and take revenge are deeply rooted in American culture, with reverberations to the present.

The Thirteenth Amendment formally ended slavery, but a decade later “slavery by another name” (also the title of an important study by Douglas A. Blackmon) was introduced. Black life was criminalized by overly harsh codes that targeted black people. Soon an even more valuable form of slavery was available for agribusiness, mining, steel — more valuable because the state, not the capitalist, was responsible for sustaining the enslaved labor force, meaning that blacks were arrested without real cause and prisoners were put to work for these business interests. The system provided a major contribution to the rapid industrial development from the late 19th century.

That system remained pretty much in place until World War II led to a need for free labor for the war industry. Then followed a few decades of rapid and relatively egalitarian growth, with the state playing an even more critical role in economic development than before. A black man might get a decent job in a unionized factory, buy a house, send his children to college, along with other opportunities. The civil rights movement opened other doors, though in limited ways. One illustration was the fate of Martin Luther King’s efforts to confront northern racism and develop a movement of the poor, which was effectively blocked.

The neoliberal reaction that set in from the late ‘70s, escalating under Reagan and his successors, hit the poorest and most oppressed sectors of society even more than the large majority, who have suffered relative stagnation or decline while wealth accumulates in very few hands. Reagan’s drug war, deeply racist in conception and execution, initiated a new Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander’s apt term for the revived criminalization of black life, evident in the shocking incarceration rates and the devastating impact on black society.

Reality is of course more complex than any simple recapitulation, but this is, unfortunately, a reasonably accurate first approximation to one of the two founding crimes of American society, alongside of the expulsion or extermination of the indigenous nations and destruction of their complex and rich civilizations.

polyp_cartoon_Corporate_Think_Tank

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March 7, 2015

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