Tag Archives: poverty

Race, Poverty, and Stereotypes

The Census Bureau compiles statistics on poverty and the poverty rate in the United States. Their chart for 1959 to 2015 shows 13.5% of Americans living in what is officially designated as poverty, which translates to approximately 43.1 million Americans. [Census pdf]  Poverty in this country is measured as a function of the number of members in a household with a range of $12,082 for a single person to $49,177 for a family of nine or more people as of 2015.  [Link to Chart]

The Numbers

The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that 9% of white families are “in poverty,” 24% of African American families, 21% of Hispanic American families and 14% of ethnic groups categorized as “other.”    Other numbers to keep in mind: As of this morning we have 325,178,412 people living in this country, and 82,184,000 households.  [Census dwnld]  77.1% of our population as of July 2015 was white (61.6% not Hispanic or Latino); 13.3% African American; 1.2% Native American; 17.6% Hispanic or Latino; and, 5.6% Asian American. [Census]  Thus, “yes,” the percentage of the total African American and Hispanic American families in poverty is higher than the percentage of white families in poverty – but to get a more accurate picture of the “face of poverty” it should be noted:

76% of African American families are NOT living in poverty; 79% of our Hispanic or Latino families are NOT living in poverty… so when the reporter on the television starts droning on about  income, poverty, and other statistics and the film rolls on with the stereotyped footage of the “inner city,” we need to recall that we’re looking at what mostly white media producers think poverty looks like.

The Persistence of Prejudice

The reality is that if a person is single, living in a central city, female, member of an ethnic minority group,  and southern, then there’s the likelihood that cuts in social safety net programs will be the most damaging.  [IRPHowever, the point needs to be made yet again: “Social scientists and others have long made the observation that the media over-emphasizes people of color in coverage of poverty and government benefits.”  [Root]  Not certain about this? Start with the Luther, Kennedy, Combs-Ormes study for the University of Tennessee, of media coverage from 1993 to 2000.  Add the American Progress report on stereotypes in poverty policy published in 2012.   It isn’t too difficult to surmise how we’ve moved from poverty policy based on the needs of the ‘deserving white widow’ to the African American welfare queen (who never existed) in modern political discussions.

The media attention has a history:

“…starting around 1965, the discourse about the War on Poverty became much more negative, and that was for a few reasons, one of them being that programs that the administration had been promoting were now out in the field, and people, especially conservatives, were starting to take aim at them. And the media started to portray those programs much more negatively as being abused by people who didn’t really need them, as being inefficient and so on. And it’s really right at that time — and it’s a very dramatic shift in the media portrayal — that the imagery shifts from poor white people, positively portrayed, to poor black people, negatively portrayed.” [Moyers/Gilens]

This stereotyping plays into a narrative among a decreasing number of whites about the motivations of African Americans.  While support for overt discrimination has declined, some of the underlying attitudes may not have diminished as much as might be desirable.   There appears to be a gulf between the theoretical and the practical among white Americans about the role of government in promoting equality: “In general, though, apart from these nuanced differences across types of implementation, this set of questions makes it clear that whites are more willing to support the principles of equality than commit resources to its implementation.” [Illinois Edu

In terms of racial stereotyping there’s good and bad news, the good news first:

“The overall patterns for stereotypes show that between 1990 and 2004, there was a striking decline in the percentage of whites who report negative stereotypes of blacks. But after that point, the levels have remained constant (see Figure 9 (W) above). For example, in 1990, two out of three whites rated whites as harder-working than blacks; a percentage that declined steadily until 2004, when the figure was just about half that level (37 percent). From 2004 to 2014, though, the percentage of whites endorsing the stereotype ranged from a high of 42 percent in 2006 to a low of 34 percent in 2014. The belief that blacks are less intelligent than whites similarly declined from 57 percent in 1990 to just over one in four in 2004 and since then endorsement has stabilized at 23 to 27 percent.” [ Illinois Edu]

And, now the bad news:

“On the one hand, these results about the declining use of stereotypes may provide some reason for optimism. Whites are less willing (in a survey interview) to draw sharp distinctions between racial groups on the traits of intelligence and laziness. However, caution is advised against making too much of these findings. First, social desirability pressures may be particularly at work on these kinds of items. It has become increasingly socially unacceptable to admit to believing in racial differences of this type, and thus surveys may under-estimate levels of stereotype endorsement. Indeed, evidence from laboratory studies of “unconscious” stereotyping suggest that stereotypes continue to shape how whites think about race and racial groups (Fazio et al., 1995; McConnell and Leibold, 2001).”  [ Illinois Edu]

Therefore, when that tape depicting “inner city life” rolls behind the reporter commenting on recent statistical releases on income inequality, social safety net programs, or economic opportunity it rolls before a white audience ready to accept the theoretical desirability of equality, but not so anxious to implement policies designed to assist people who are still held to be “lazier.”

Thus the White Face of Poverty, obscured by the Black image of inner city disadvantage, perhaps allows some voters to continue their illogical dependence on the idea that one can be theoretically pure while being a rugged individual, and demanding others be the same: “Presumably, then, voters imagine that pledges to slash government spending mean cutting programs for the idle poor, not things they themselves count on. And this is a confusion politicians deliberately encourage.” [Krugman]

Meanwhile, there’s Owsley County, Kentucky, home to about 4,461 people, of whom 98.3% are white, with a median household income of $20,985 per year, and 42.4% of its population living in poverty. [Census]

Comments Off on Race, Poverty, and Stereotypes

Filed under Economy, Politics, poverty, racism

Happy Fourth of July: A More Perfect Union

Flag July 4th

It’s a good 4th of July weekend.  The benefits of citizenship have been affirmed for members of the LGBT community, but as the founders told us we’re on a path to create “a more perfect union.”  Therefore, there’s more work to be done to insure that housing, employment, and other areas of American life aren’t stumbling blocks of discrimination. We will have to keep up efforts toward building that “more perfect” union.

Ravenal Bridge

There may be some dead-enders, some battle flag flying remnants of blatant racism, but no matter how hard the Klan and their allies try, their proposed demonstration will be nothing compared to the thousands who walked along the Ravenal Bridge in Charleston, South Carolina.  We’re closer to being a nation of people who are taking Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message to heart:

“When evil men plot, good men must plan.  When evil men burn and bomb, good men must build and bind.  When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love. “

At least two churches in the south have been the target of recent arson attacks, so in order to form that more perfect union it’s time for people of good will to build and bind.   It’s been a long walk from the bridge in Selma to the bridge in Charleston, but we’re getting there.  We still have to acknowledge the often painful accuracy of Winston Churchill’s backhanded compliment, “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they’ve tried everything else.”  

In a more perfect union, we’d not have maps showing that a person earning minimum wages cannot achieve a point at which only 30% of his income can pay for a one bedroom apartment.

Rent map

The darker the blue the worse the problem.  We’ll have a more perfect union when we address the complications of living on inadequate wages.  It does no good to march behind banners proclaiming that hard working Americans should “save for the future,” – when simply meeting basic needs for food, housing, and adequate clothing consume all the family’s income. It takes us no closer to a more perfect union to proclaim, “if the poor would just work harder they’d get ahead,” when elements of our judicial system, parts of our educational system, and the myopia of commerce combine to force workers into multiple jobs at minimal wages.  We are no closer to forming a more perfect union when we reward those who prosper at the expense of those who produce.

Unassisted graph

In a more perfect union this graph would be significantly lower.  How do we care for the least able among us? The learning disabled young man with nerve damage, but not quite enough to meet disability standards?  Unmarried, with no dependent children, unemployed except for odd jobs paying about $10 per hour?  A victim of child abuse, and now a victim of a system in which he doesn’t qualify for benefits because he’s never been able to find employment which sustains them. [Reuters]

We’ll be a more perfect union when we are more aware that the able-bodied are not necessarily able to fully function in our modern economy.  In a more perfect union there is more educational, job, housing, and food support for those who live on the margins of despair.

I look to the diffusion of light and education as the resource most to be relied on for ameliorating the condition, promoting the virtue and advancing the happiness of man.” Thomas Jefferson to Cornelius Blatchly, October 1822

And yet:

“About seven in 10 (69%) college seniors who graduated from public and private nonprofit colleges in 2013 had student loan debt. These borrowers owed an average of $28,400, up two percent compared to $27,850 for public and nonprofit graduates in 2012.   About one-fifth (19%) of the  Class of 2013’s debt was comprised of private loans, which are typically more costly and provide fewer consumer protections and repayment options than safer federal loans.”  [TICAS]

In a more perfect union, education advances the “happiness of man,” not merely the bottom line of banking institutions, and certainly not the unrestrained avarice of some for-profit operations who once having the federal funds in hand look to more recruitment without much concern for those already recruited.

And, then – predictably – there’s the Wall Street Casino, which has created SLABS (Student Loan Asset Based Securities).  While certainly not in the mortgage meltdown class, these are problematic because:

“What I find most disturbing about SLABS is that they create a system where an increase in tuition (and the debt-burden on the borrower) equals an increased profit for the investor. When you consider the role that unscrupulous speculators played in the mortgage crisis, one can’t help but wonder if a similar over-valuation of college tuition is taking place for the benefit of SLABS investors. With the cost of attending college increasing nearly 80% between 2003-2013 while wages have decreased, it’s no wonder that so many people are having difficulty paying off their student loans.” [MDA]

This situation is NOT the way to “diffuse light and education.”

There are countless other topics and issues on which we might dwell, assistance for the elderly, transportation, trade, economic security, police and community relations, infrastructure issues, voting rights,  domestic terrorism, domestic violence, gun violence, climate change … the list is  as long as the population rolls, as we try to create that more perfect union of imperfect human beings.

What we need is Churchill’s optimism – that eventually, after avoiding problems, exacerbating problems, tinkering with problems – we’ll do the right thing.

Comments Off on Happy Fourth of July: A More Perfect Union

Filed under banking, civil liberties, education, financial regulation, Global warming, homelessness, income inequality, Minimum Wage, poverty, racism

Questioning, Questionable, Values

** Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) would like to do something about the backlog of paperwork stalling veterans’ benefits, and has signed onto the 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act (S.2091) also sponsored by Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), David Vitter (R-LA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Jerry Moran (R-KS).  Details of the bill can be found at Senator Casey’s web page.   Just a thought — but before we send “boots on the ground” into another armed conflict it might be advisable to consider the requirements necessary to provide services to the veterans of that conflict BEFORE leaping into the fray?  Do we really value the service of our members of the Armed Forces?

** Oh, spare me the rhetorical flourishes!  “Cliven Bundy’s standoff with the Bureau of Land Management over the agency’s roundup of his cattle will go down in history as a high-profile clash of Old West values with today’s federal regulations on the use of public lands and natural resources.” [LVRJ]  Or, might we opine that the squabble will be added to the list of Cranky Old Welfare Queens who want to graze their privately owned cattle on public land — at public expense?  And, what, pray tell, is an “Old West value?”  Before contributing a Hollywood stereotypical opinion on the matter — please note that the original ‘cowboys’ were vaqueros, Mexican, Spanish speaking cattle hands.  As for land use issues — the introduction of barbed wire restricting open range was a particular sore point [LIOW] exacerbating the trouble between farming and ranching interests.  Or, is Bundy harkening back to the Good Old Days when his hands could apply wire cutters to fencing around crop lands, decimating the neighbor’s alfalfa crops?  Was THAT an old west value?

**  The real face of poverty in America?  Recommended reading: Clarence Page’s contribution on the subject, reprinted in the Las Vegas Sun.  While the Republicans may be using “Urban” as a code word for African American, and “welfare” takes on a darker hue, the numbers are revealing —  of those participating in the WIC nutrition program 10.3% are Native American, 2.72% are Asian, 19.3% are African American, and 60.94% are White. [USDA]

Families receiving TANF aid are 31.8% White, 31.9% African American, and 30% Hispanic ethnicity. [HHS]

Do we value the lives of our neighbors — or just a little more or less so depending on the pigmentation?

Comments Off on Questioning, Questionable, Values

Filed under Heller, Politics

Bon Fire of the Inanities: Nevada Welfare and the Cato Study

Welfare spending NevadaThings we should probably fix — the fact that Nevada is one of 20 states in the union which allow private interest lobbyists to participate in the state pension system. [RGJ]  The fact that Nevada ranks last in per capita spending on welfare and human services.

On one hand we’re subsidizing the retirement of some individuals who have spent long hours in the Legislative Building arguing against spending “precious taxpayer dollars” on services to taxpayers — as in every Nevada resident who pays sales taxes, and on the other we have members of our communities who are struggling financially, and who are definitely not feeling “entitled” as described by the most recent faulty pseudo-study of welfare spending in America from the folks at the Cato HQ. [Moyers]

Talking about what constitutes welfare all too often provides an object lesson in how apples, oranges, nectarines, grapefruit, and bananas can be combined and compared.   Taken to the ultra-right extreme, “welfare” incorporates educational benefits to veterans, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public schools, public libraries, public parks and recreation, medical services, in short anything not spent on the military, the promotion of private business, and the judiciary and police.   The consequences of this distorted political philosophy are visible in our under-investment in infrastructure and the disconnect between the elitist entitlement of the 1% and the reality of the 99%. [Burnett]

So, Nevada spends $855.13 per capita on social welfare services, compared to $1021.89 in Georgia, and $1190.11 in Texas.  No doubt there are those who find this a cheerful note.   We spend $55,228,000 on income assistance, $1,654,577,000 on payments to vendors, and “other assistance” amounts to $636,316,000 from state and local sources. [Census, xl download]  One particularly parsimonious perspective delights in these statistics, pointing out that if Nevada payments are low then potential welfare recipients won’t come to the Silver State.  The fact that this keeps those receiving income assistance who are already living here in dire straits is, evidently, of little consequence.

The other distortion of income and living assistance expenditures comes when right wing think tanks like the Heritage Foundation or the Cato Institute remind us that “welfare is better than working.”  There’s nothing really new here, the same type of report came out in 1995 — with essentially the same errors.  CBPP summarizes:

“The claim behind these critiques is clear: federal spending on entitlements and other mandatory programs through which individuals receive benefits is promoting laziness, creating a dependent class of Americans who are losing the desire to work and would rather collect government benefits than find a job.”

The basis for the right wing analysis assumes that every welfare recipient receives every form of assistance available — even those to which they are not eligible.

“Federal budget and Census data show that, in 2010, 91 percent of the benefit dollars from entitlement and other mandatory programs went to the elderly (people 65 and over), the seriously disabled, and members of working households.  People who are neither elderly nor disabled — and do not live in a working household — received only 9 percent of the benefits.”

In short, most support programs are provided to individuals who are either not in the workforce (elderly/disabled) or to people who are in the workforce but are not earning a living wage.  Thus much for the “too smart to work” argument advanced by the right.   That “typical welfare family” cited in the recent Cato publication is anything but typical.  One of the best breakdowns of Cato’s flawed analysis of TANF and Medicaid assistance comes from Scientopia.Org:

“Nationwide, in Fiscal Year 2010, there were a total of 1,847,155 households with active TANF cases. In the same fiscal year, 18,618,436 households received SNAP (food stamp) benefits, and another 65,989,147 individuals (~25,577,188 households based on the census 2.58 individuals/household) received medicaid benefits. According to the Cato report’s own definitions, households on both of those programs should be “welfare families.” With less than 10% of SNAP households also receiving TANF, and less than 3% of Medicaid households receiving SNAP, it’s easy to see that Cato’s “typical welfare family” is actually based on an extreme case, not on anything that any of us would consider to be an “average.” [Scientopia.Org]*

If the same scrutiny is applied to housing assistance, the results are the same — a really “typical” family is worse off financially on public assistance than when at least one member is earning the minimum wage.  Not in Nevada, not in California, not in Washington, D.C. Not anywhere in this country.   Unfortunately, no recitation of statistics from the Reality Sphere will offset the conservative narrative which clings to their imaginary welfare queens and stoop sitting guzzlers who exist solely to reinforce the notion that the rich should be able to retain all their riches –and accumulate ever more, that markets are self correcting — 2008 anyone (?), and “government is the problem.”

So, if not the poor, who does feel entitled?  Not surprisingly, it’s the top 1% of American income earners.   There’s a study on this too:

“According to a new study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin this month, wealth tends to increase a person’s sense of entitlement, which in turn can lead to narcissistic behaviors.

Paul Piff of the University of California at Berkeley told PsyPost “there is something about wealth that gives rise to a sense of entitlement, a sense that one deserves more good things in life than others, which in turn gives rise to an increased or inflated sense of self-importance, vanity, grandiosity, and omnipotence (narcissism).”

Not to put too fine a point to it, but the more one has the more one feels he or she is entitled to have.  Tom Wolfe summed up the type in The Bon Fire of the Vanities:

“He lived on Park Avenue, the street of dreams! He worked on Wall Street, fifty floors up, for the legendary Pierce & Pierce, overlooking the world! He was at the wheel of a $48,000 roadster with one of the most beautiful women in New York—no Comp. Lit. scholar, perhaps, but gorgeous—beside him! A frisky young animal! He was of that breed whose natural destiny it was…to have what they wanted!”

It is all well and good to aspire to having what one wants, it becomes problematic when those with a well developed sense of entitlement pursue politics which yield fewer and fewer prospects and opportunities for the remainder of the population. Yet more dispiriting for our society and its political institutions when they issue “reports” purporting to substantiate the fantasies they harbor about the entitlement of others to secure basic needs — food, shelter, and medical care.

*There are several informative rejoinders to the Heritage/Cato narrative on the relative merits of public assistance and working wages.  See Dunford at Scientopia,  Moyers and Company on the Think Tank Report,  Brad DeLong on Josh Barro’s analysis.  Slate analysis of the MacDougal WSJ misleading OP-Ed.  CBPP “Cato’s fundamentally flawed analysis.”

 

 

 

Comments Off on Bon Fire of the Inanities: Nevada Welfare and the Cato Study

Filed under Nevada politics