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Entries tagged "poverty"

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If You Can 'Speak' with Your Money, Then Why Is Asking For Money Illegal?

November 18, 2013 ·

(Flickr/Gamma Man)Money may be protected speech but apparently, speech that asks for money is not.

Two recent legal cases about money and free speech unveil a contradiction in our application of the First Amendment. One deals with the right of the rich to influence politics with a lot of money, the other deals with the right of the poor to ask for a little to buy a meal or bus ticket.

On October 8, the Supreme Court heard arguments in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) that could open the floodgates on unlimited campaign contributions. If McCutcheon succeeds, the case could lift limits on how much money an individual can spend in an election cycle.

If the Court sides with McCutcheon, it could strike down aggregate limits on campaign contributions in the name of free speech. Currently, the donation limit is $48,000 per cycle, which enables giving the maximum amount of money to 18 national candidates per election. Even if the FEC could still limit donations to a single campaign, rich donors would see a new rush of power, gaining influence in more elections. Every politician in the country would basically need to beg this small group to finance their next job interview with the American people.

If the court overturns years of campaign finance reform, it will take a constitutional amendment to distinguish unlimited campaign money from protected speech.

Meanwhile, the homeless and unemployed are experiencing the right to express their need for money taken away.

In Arizona, a 77-year-old woman was arrested for asking an undercover cop for a bus fare under a state law that forbade panhandling. This law was subsequently challenged in federal court and overruled, but other similar laws exist nationwide.

Since the recession, the U.S. has passed a litany of laws making it illegal to ask for even a small amount of cash. Cities and states across the country have banned panhandling and "loitering to beg" in response to increased poverty.

The state of Michigan faces a similar challenge to its panhandling law. Even some more liberal cities have proposed or implemented panhandling bans, like Baltimore, MD, Bennington, VT, and Worcester, MA.

We are becoming a nation where free speech is granted only to the rich and powerful while the rest of us are increasingly rendered utterly voiceless.

Andrew Small is an intern of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

Record Poverty Persists While Gap Between Rich and Rest of Us Increases

September 12, 2012 ·

We can’t seem to stop having record numbers of people living in poverty in the United States. The richest continue to get richer and the rest of us continue to see our incomes get lower and lower.

New census figures show more than 15 percent of Americans live in poverty. Photo by US Census / Flickr.New Census Bureau figures released today, show that 15 percent of the U.S. population lived in poverty in 2011. Over 46 million Americans lived at or below the poverty threshold of a household income of $23,201 per year for a family of four. One in five of our children live in poverty and over one-third of black and Latino children are struggling through impoverishment.

In 2011, we saw the first one-year increase in income inequality since 1993. The top 5 percent gained 5.3 percent in income in 2011 over 2010. The lowest quintile saw little change, but the second-lowest, middle, and fourth-lowest quintiles all experienced a decline in income over the year. Sadly, those who “occupied” Wall Street and city squares across the country in 2011, were right: All of the income gains have concentrated at the top, while the rest of us saw a deterioration or stagnation in our wages and income.

This data also confirms that safety programs work. According to the Census Bureau, unemployment benefits kept 2.3 million of us out of poverty in 2011, Social Security benefits kept over 21 million people out of poverty and, if we count the nutrition aid of the Food Stamps program as income, it would show that 3.9 million people were lifted above the poverty line in 2011.

Increasingly, all of the boost in wealth is concentrated at the top and record numbers of poverty persist, while the middle and lower-economic classes are losing ground. Now is not the time to lower taxes on the wealthiest by cutting proven, effective anti-poverty measures such as Unemployment Insurance, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, the Earned Income Tax Credit, Social Security, and new coverage benefits gained from the health care reform law.

The rich shouldn't be rewarded while the rest of struggle.

What Do The New World Bank Statistics Really Tell Us?

March 15, 2012 ·

Now here is what sounds like a New York Times headline to celebrate: “Dire Poverty Falls Despite Global Slump, Report Finds.” That report would be a 6-page World Bank briefing note, the press release for which is titled: “New Estimates Reveal Drop in Extreme Poverty 2005-2010.” Echoes The Economist: “For the first time ever, the number of poor people is declining everywhere.

If it were only that easy. Let us dig into what the World Bank’s new briefing note really tells us and ask two questions: Do the statistics really show a fall in extreme poverty across the world? And, what policies lie behind the changing poverty figures?

What the figures tell us and do not tell us:

  1. The figures do not tell us anything about the impact of the recession: The actual data cover 1981-2008; figures ending in 2008 cannot possibly tell us anything about the impact of a recession that started in the United States in late 2008. The briefing note alludes to “preliminary estimates” for 2010; based on these, the Bank makes the bold assertion that the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty (defined as $1.25/day) from its 1990 level was achieved in 2010. But, preliminary estimates are, well, just preliminary estimates. These are extrapolated from significantly smaller samples. Hence, the data cannot back up the Bank’s confident claim because, again, the real data end in 2008. We have been following World Bank projections and estimates for decades now and have found them highly unreliable – and typically over-optimistic.
  2. If one sticks to the 1981-2008 period, China is the key: Between 1981 and 2008, the entire drop in the number of people living in “extreme poverty,” that is those who live below $1.25 a day, is accounted for by China — where the number of extreme poor fell by 662 million. Over this period, the number of people living below $1.25 a day outside China actually rose by 13 million, and hovered around 1.1 billion people throughout this period. More people fell into poverty in South Asia over this period (interesting, given India’s rapid growth over the past decade) and in sub-Saharan Africa. Hence, a more accurate headline would have read: “Numbers in poverty plunge in China over past three decades from 1981-2008, while rising marginally in the rest of the world.”
  3. To extend this last point: As we have argued elsewhere (pdf), in countries such as South Africa, where government services are generous, $1.25 a day goes further than, say, in Haiti. Furthermore, as nations grow rapidly, as have China and India over the past decade and a half, the amount of money needed for people in the cash economy to maintain a decent standard of living also rises. As for those who subsist in rural areas on less than $1.25 a day, many consume much of what they produce. Many live in self-built homes and depend on traditional medicines. While their poverty may be “extreme” by the Bank’s monetary measure, their quality of life may be much better than that of their urban counterparts, even though their incomes are often smaller.

Related to this, our experience living with poor families in rural areas suggests that it has been the opening of their natural resources to global agribusiness, factory fishing fleets, and corporate interests that often leads to real poverty. Millions have been pushed off their land over the past few generations into urban slums where they live in squalor, although they may bring home a few dollars a day. In sum, the statistics upon which most poverty elimination strategies are based are extremely misleading, and often steer experts toward the wrong solutions.

This raises the other question of what policies are behind the figures:

  1. Neoliberalism and poverty: What is behind the data that shows those in poverty outside China increasing in most regions from 1981 to 2005? This period coincided with the heyday of corporate-friendly neoliberal policies in most countries. So the data could be read as a confirmation of what critics of neoliberalism have been saying: the wave of market fundamentalism contributed to increases in the numbers of people in poverty. That data also reveals that in one region, sub-Saharan Africa, the percent of people living below the poverty threshold also rose over this period. We hardly need to point out that in the one country where poverty plunged – China – leaders did not pursue blind neoliberalism, but instead combined state direction of much of the economy with market-openings in selected sectors.
  2. How about the subsequent period from 2005 to 2008, a time range during which the data reveal poverty numbers and rates falling in all regions of the world? As opposed to 1981-2005, this was a period of spreading cracks in the neoliberal Washington Consensus. It was also a period of rising of commodity prices and rising of balance of payments surpluses in many Southern countries. As a result, many Southern countries were able to repay the IMF and World Bank and wean themselves from World Bank and IMF loans and neoliberal conditionality.

Hence, the new World Bank poverty figures may tell a very different story from what has been suggested elsewhere: The numbers in poverty outside China rose during the heyday of neoliberal policies, and began to fall as the grip of those policies was loosened after 2005.

Robin Broad is Professor of International Development, School of International Service, American University. John Cavanagh is director of the Institute for Policy Studies. They are authors of Development Redefined: How the Market Met Its Match. This post originally appeared in the Triple Crisis blog.

America's Real Poverty Rate

November 14, 2011 ·

The Census Bureau recently released a highly-anticipated report suggesting ways to improve the measurement of poverty in America. It found that adjusting for medical expenses, the value of benefits payments, regional differences in the cost of living, and other technical factors raised the poverty rate to 16 percent, up from the official count of 15.1 percent.

Family in PovertyNeedless to say, the new numbers are controversial. Advocacy groups tend to push for measurement changes that make more families eligible for benefits, while conservative organizations like the Heritage Foundation argue aggressively that the poverty line is already set too high.

The truth is that even the 16 percent revised figure is way too low.

The poverty line we use today — official or recently revised — was fixed in 1969. Economists and social statisticians can debate whether or not it is a good measure of poverty, but good or bad it represents more or less what people in 1969 considered the minimum decent standard of living. Since 1969, the poverty line has been updated every year for changes in the cost of living (inflation).

It has not been updated for changes in the standard of living.

As a result, when we say that a family lives in poverty today, what we really mean is that that family lives in what was considered to be poverty in 1969. The standard of living represented by the poverty line hasn't changed. According to the Census Bureau, 46.2 million (official definition) or 49.1 million (revised definition) Americans live in what was considered poverty in 1969.

The official poverty line for a family of four is $22,350. Updating that figure for growth in U.S. national income per capita since 1969 would yield a 2011 poverty line of $46,651. By that standard, about 28 percent of American families of four are now living in poverty, almost twice the official poverty rate. If that sounds high, it's only because we are much more stingy today than our grandparents were in 1969.

This year is 2011, not 1969. The tortured technical debate over poverty measurement misses the point. However we measure it, our standard of what constitutes a decent standard of income should be higher in 2011 than it was in 1969. Our accepted poverty line is now 42 years out of date.

How long will it take before we accept that a 1969 poverty standard is just too old? It's already too old. Human dignity requires that people today live better than people lived in 1969. Even poor people.

Salvatore Babones, an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow, is a senior lecturer in Sociology & Social Policy at the University of Sydney.

Obama: Selectively Honoring MLK

October 21, 2011 ·

At the end of August, I headed over to the opening of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial right before the hurricane. I returned this past weekend for the official dedication, which brought more than 10,000 people to what now is sacred ground.

Obama connected with MLK's domestic agenda against poverty and disenfranchisement, but ignored MLK's stance against increased militarim. CC photo by absentmindedprof.During the ceremony, President Obama drew several parallels between the obstacles that King and the nation faced 50 years ago and our current economic challenges. Sounding again like a proponent of real change, Obama said, "If he were alive today, I believe he would remind us that the unemployed worker can rightly challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing all who work there; that the businessman can enter tough negotiations with his company's union without vilifying the right to collectively bargain."

But while Obama was quick to pay lip service to King's work for civil rights and economic justice and play to the popular sentiments of those "Occupying Everywhere," Obama didn't mention King's equally important efforts to stop the Vietnam War and end U.S. militarism.

This omission probably wasn't a mistake. Obama sent 100 U.S. troops to Uganda on Friday and over the weekend he encouraged the incursion of Kenyan military troops into Somalia, a continuing target for U.S. aerial drone strikes.

Noting the U.S. interest in securing oil in Uganda, and viewing Somalia as part of the "global war on terrorism," IPS Africa expert Emira Woods says that Obama, dubbed the "Son of Africa" by many in the region, is betraying many of the core values his fellow Nobel Peace Laureate Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for.

Also, as the weekend set upon us, two women who are longtime peace advocates on the African content joined King and Obama as Nobel Peace Prize winners: Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, along with Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman.

Appearing on PBS News Hour, Democracy Now and other outlets, Woods was quick to acknowledge the similarities between these awardees and Obama. Gbowee was a tireless community organizer. Johnson-Sirleaf was the first woman in Africa to serve as a democratically elected president. Unfortunately, Johnson-Sirleaf also shares Obama's agenda of establishing a permanent U.S. military command, AFRICOM, showing that the Peace Prize isn't always about peace.

It was wonderful to see so many of you at our Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards reception and ceremony last week. That night, the Wisconsin Progressive Movement and Bethlehem, The Migrant's Shelter (Mexico) showed what can be possible with faith, love, and determination.  

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