Archive for the ‘Poverty’ Category

Sex, Class, and Occupy Wall Street   19 comments

I’ve been following the Occupy movement with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s the first thing in a very long time that’s given me any hope for this country. It’s high time that we start focusing on economic injustice and the damage done by the greed of the mega rich and the corruption of those who do their bidding. The system is badly broken, as evidenced by the fact that politicians of both major parties are talking austerity and cuts to safety net programs at a time of record unemployment, growing poverty, and economic inequality comparable to the developing world. Clearly there’s a desperate need for a movement that raises awareness of the class war the wealthy have been waging on the rest of us.

Which brings me to my first issue with Occupy Wall Street. Who exactly are “the rest of us”? From a branding perspective, the 99% versus the 1% is very appealing. But is it accurate? Clearly not. If your household income is half a million a year, I’d say the system has been working very well for you. You may even be part of the problem if you outsource jobs or pay workers less than a living wage. But you’re still part of the 99%.

At the same time, “the 99%” has become synonymous with the downtrodden, debt-ridden, and dispossessed. I remember a Tumblr entry written from the perspective of a small child who’d witnessed her mom cry because she was unable to buy her kid a birthday present. It ended with the words, “My mom doesn’t know that I know we’re part of the 99%.” Huh? The mom doesn’t realize her kid knows she makes less than $590,000 a year? No wonder people are confused. I’ve seen numerous blog posts and comments by individuals with low six-figure incomes stating that they “stand with the 99%.” No, actually, if you have a low six-figure income, you are the 99%. In fact, if your household income totals $190,000, it could triple and you would still be part of the 99%.

So. Not very useful, is it? The bottom 90%, on the other hand, have an average household income of $31,244, which is probably more like what people have in mind when discussing the economic difficulties experienced by “the 99%.”
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Poor Woman Gets Three Year Prison Sentence for Lying to Feed Children   Leave a comment

File this one under the “war on poor women” AND the “war on (certain people who use certain) drugs.”

Anita McLemore has been trying to beat her drug addiction for over fifteen years. It’s been a struggle, not made any easier by the four felony convictions she has amassed during that time. After all, finding a job that pays a living wage and escaping poverty is an enormous challenge even if you’re not a convicted felon.

Hungry and desperate, the Mississippi mother of two turned to the food stamp program for help. There was just one problem. The application included a question about prior felony drug convictions and a statement indicating that convicted drug felons are not eligible for food assistance and deserve to starve to death (okay, it didn’t really say that last part but it might as well have). So McLemore did what just about any mom with hungry kids and no other options would do in this situation. She lied.

For this lie, she has now been sentenced to three years in federal prison (via TGW), followed by three years of supervised release and a $250 fine. Desperate to stay out of prison and remain with her children, McLemore had managed to pay back every penny of the government benefits she received. It made no difference. In fact, U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate went out of his way to impose a sentence much harsher than the 2-8 months of incarceration followed by probation called for by federal guidelines.

The reason? Judge Wingate was disgusted by McLemore’s multiple drug convictions and outraged that the state courts had mostly allowed her to remain out of prison to take care of her children and seek treatment instead of locking her up like the hardened criminal she clearly is.
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Dear Dick   Leave a comment

As if you needed any more evidence that congressional Democrats are completely out of touch with the needs of the people they are supposed to represent, Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who is close to Obama and frequently thought to be signaling the President’s positions on issues, announced yesterday that massive deficit reduction is “the challenge of our generation,” urging fellow Democrats as well as Republicans to “seize [the] moment” by supporting a truly “historic” package that would, without question, include deep cuts to social safety net programs. Because what we really need in this country is even more desperate people who are unable to make ends meet.

If Dick Durbin thinks debt reduction is the preeminent challenge we’re facing, all I can figure is that he must be living in some alternate universe. Which I guess he is. Durbin and the rest of the millionaires’ club in the Senate are so far removed from the lives of the people they were elected to represent that they might as well be from another dimension. The deficit that so concerns Durbin and the DC establishment barely even registers as a concern for the people in my community. Indeed, the only reason it registers at all is the ruling class’ relentless propaganda campaign.

Let me tell you, Dick, what people in my California community are concerned about. Our county’s official unemployment rate is 14.7%, but the real unemployment rate in our neck of the woods is at least 10-12 percentage points higher. Sometimes a whole week goes by without a single “help wanted” ad appearing in the local paper (not counting “make thousands stuffing envelopes from home” schemes and the like). Jobs are so scarce and people are so desperate for work that a supermarket putting up a Help Wanted sign for three no-benefits, minimum wage positions received hundreds of applications in a matter of hours.

While at least one in four are unemployed, many more are underemployed or stuck in low wage jobs that don’t pay enough to cover the basics. The lack of discretionary income in the area has devastated small businesses. The barbershop that used to cut my partner’s hair, the Mexican restaurant we occasionally stopped by for takeout before our car broke down and we couldn’t afford to get it fixed, the two Internet cafés we visited a couple of times per month to escape the unbearable slowness of our dialup connection–they’ve all closed their doors. So have countless other businesses during the last few years. You can’t run a business without customers, and most people in our area have no money to spend.
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Uber-Privileged Feminists Say “F*ck You!” to Low Income Women   4 comments

And to lesbians and to immigrant women and really to anyone who isn’t wealthy, straight, white, and preferably male and Christian. Because that’s what you’re doing when you’re supporting the presidential aspirations of anti-feminist wingnut Michele “Kill the Poor” Bachmann. And yes, The New Agenda, a nonpartisan women’s activist group, is actually urging women to vote for Bachmann, or Palin, should she throw her hat in the ring.

For those not familiar with this organization’s history, The New Agenda was founded by former Wall Street executive Amy Siskind in the aftermath of the 2008 election. Siskind, a longtime Democrat, supported Hillary Clinton during the Democratic Primary and, like many of us, was appalled by the sexist treatment of first Clinton, then Palin. And so The New Agenda was created to combat sexism and elect more women to political office. Laudable objectives to be sure, except for one thing: The politics of the women they champion appear to be irrelevant; simply being equipped with a vagina is all it takes to win the support of The New Agenda.

As a result, Siskind’s organization routinely supports conservative candidates whose policies do enormous harm to huge segments of the female population. Such as South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley who championed the nation’s toughest photo ID law in an effort to disenfranchise low income voters (who tend to vote Democratic). Cheering on Bachmann, however, is a little surprising, even for The New Agenda.

For one, Bachmann is an outspoken anti-feminist who believes wives must obey their husbands. But no worries! Siskind explains that while Bachmann may not be a feminist, she’s definitely “pro-woman”! In fact, feminism is kinda passé; the new “pro-woman” movement is where it’s at!
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Jobs Aren’t Enough   5 comments

Every time I hear that the administration needs to focus on job creation or that X number of jobs have been created last month, I can’t help but wonder what kind of jobs people are talking about. Because it’s not just jobs we need. America desperately needs well-paying jobs. The type of jobs that will allow workers to buy more than the bare necessities. The type of jobs that make home ownership possible. The type of jobs that do not leave workers dependent on government assistance. The type of jobs that produce substantial tax revenue. The type of jobs that have been eliminated in droves to be replaced–in so far as they are replaced at all–by ever lower paying jobs.

The reason the economy–and with it the country–is going down the tubes can be summed up as too much wealth in too few hands. For a while, rising property values and easy availability of consumer credit shielded most people (and the economy as a whole) from feeling the pain associated with stagnant middle and working class wages, but the massive income inequality at the root of our problems has been in the making for at least thirty years. And it has finally caught up with us. The growing number of people at the bottom of the income pyramid are going without because they can’t afford to buy much-needed products and services, while those at the top horde much of their income because they already have far more than they will ever need. Unfortunately their greed knows no bounds, so we’re seeing 25% pay increases for senior executives, while low income workers in the same company must subsist on minimum wage.

Speaking of which, what’s the point of having a minimum wage that doesn’t pay enough to live on? At $8/hr, California’s minimum wage is higher than the federal minimum wage, but it’s still grossly inadequate. According to the California Budget Project, a single adult with no kids needs to earn twice the minimum wage just to make ends meet. Note that this budget does not allow for any vacation time ever (unthinkable in the rest of the developed world), nor does it include saving money for retirement or a down payment on a house. Also not included are dental/vision coverage/care, Internet access, cable or satellite TV, costs of having a pet, travel, entertainment (e.g., movies, concerts, video games, music), or saving for emergencies (such as car repairs or the included health care plan’s $500 deductible). And, of course, the cost of having and raising kids isn’t included. Families with children need to earn three to four times the minimum wage to get by.
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Sign of the (Economic) Times   1 comment

My partner got a ride into town yesterday to do some grocery shopping, and when he got to the store, he saw a long line of people leading into the store from almost halfway down the block. Turns out the store had advertised three minimum wage positions, and word got around quickly. They didn’t even have to put an ad in the paper; a sign outside the store was all it took for hundreds of people to show up!

People around here are so desperate for work that even bagging groceries or stocking shelves for minimum wage is looking real good. Given California’s high cost of living and out-of-control rents (which, btw, have only gotten worse because the foreclosure crisis increased demand for rentals), these jobs don’t even pay enough to cover the most basic necessities. But job openings have become so rare in recent years that any time a position becomes available, the response is huge.

My partner put in an application too. Getting a regular paycheck every two weeks would be enormously comforting. It’s incredibly stressful and frightening to barely scrape by as a freelancer. Every month we’re terrified that we won’t make enough money to cover our basic expenses. While it’s usually possible to delay a past-due bill for a month, doing so makes things even tougher the following month when there’s an extra bill to pay. We’re constantly teetering on the brink of total disaster, while necessary medical and dental care is put off indefinitely. We just can’t afford it. This job won’t change that, but it would provide some security and remove some of the stress that is taking a toll on our relationship.

Unfortunately my partner has little hope of being hired due to a lack of extensive retail experience. Being overqualified won’t help either. There were literally hundreds of applications for those three positions, and there are bound to be some applicants with grocery store experience.
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Walking or Waiting While Poor   6 comments

So we’re sitting at the bus stop, waiting for the bus and minding our own business. Cop car rolls up and cop gets out. Walks over to us and the two other guys waiting at the bus stop and asks all of us for ID. Demands to know where we’re going and whether there are any warrants out for our arrest. Turns out none of us are wanted for anything, so after calling in our information, he gets back into his car and drives off. Business as usual.

We live in an area with virtually nonexistent public transportation–buses run just a few times a day–so only the poorest of the poor are without a vehicle of some sort around here. If you see someone walking by the side of the road (no sidewalks here either) or waiting for the bus, you pretty much know at least one of the following must be true:

  1. They are too old to drive.
  2. They have a disability that precludes driving a vehicle.
  3. They had their license suspended or revoked.
  4. They are very poor.

Since we do not appear to be #1 or #2, we must be #3 or #4, and you know what that means: likely CRIMINALS!
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