120.8 million American adults

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“The Middle Class Is No Longer America’s Economic Majority” – HuffPost Business:

There are now more low-income and high-income Americans combined than there are people in the middle class, a study released Wednesday found.

According to a Pew Research Center report, there were 120.8 million adults living in middle-income households and 121.3 million in lower- and upper-income households combined in early 2015, marking the first time in the center’s four decades of tracking this data that the size of the latter groups has transcended that of the first.

The study defines middle income as adults earning two-thirds to double the national median, which translates today to somewhere between $42,000 and $126,000 a year for a three-person household.

 
One caveat to the narrative is that while the low-income grew 4 points since 1971, the high income share grew by 7. So off the 11 points lost from the middle class, a majority actually exited the top (oddly enough), rather than sinking below:

Since 1971, the percentage of adults living in the low income bracket has increased from 25 percent to 29 percent, and the percentage of adults living in the highest income bracket has shot up from 14 percent to 21 percent. The middle class, meanwhile, has shrunk from 61 percent to about 50.

 
Of course, mostly the story is that the existing rich just got way richer, very fast.

Proposed: A Constitutional Right to Food Access

In this Arsenal For Democracy mini-series, we propose new, progressive Constitutional rights. Part II: A right to food access, by De Ana.

In the United States, food – and access to it – is a highly political subject. Dietary fads of more affluent citizens can greatly affect the access poorer citizens have to staples. Food deserts can cause financial or other burdens, as well. The largest Federal program to help address some of these challenges for the neediest citizens, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), has struggled to keep pace with various developments.

There needs to be an overhaul on how Americans access food. It is a universal human right that every person should be guaranteed the right to obtain nutritious food, regardless of means or geographic location. How do we secure this right?

Combating food deserts

Food deserts – concentrated areas without nutritious fresh foods widely and affordably available – are becoming more and more common in poorer areas. People who are stuck in these deserts are forced to buy mostly processed foods that contain preservatives that can be bad for your health. Access to fresh fruits and vegetables comes at a price in a food desert. The tradeoff is either the cost of traveling to a grocery store outside of their neighborhood or the cost of paying hiked-up prices for fruits and vegetables at non-grocery stores, such as corner stores or bodegas. Things like grocery stores, Farmer’s Markets, and neighborhood gardens need to be brought back to these neighborhoods to cut down on that cost.

Helping to pay the grocery bill

But what good is having access to food if you can’t afford it. The SNAP program, formerly known as food stamps, is supposed to be a supplemental program that helps needy people pay for groceries. Eligibility for the program, however, is based on the Federal Poverty Limit. This hasn’t been revamped in over 50 years. Worse, in its inception, it was only really a loose guideline for what should be considered the poverty line in the United States. Back when the FPL was officially introduced, many households only had one source of income, and it was assumed that each household would have two parents. Nowadays you’re more likely than a half century ago to have either single-parent households or two parent households where both adults are working. In either case, there are now added expenses for things like childcare which an outdated FPL does not reflect.

In some states, there are even limitations to what kind of food people can buy with SNAP benefits. Some states don’t allow those receiving SNAP to buy hot meals. Other states are considering banning people from getting things like seafood or even hot pre-made foods with their benefits. This creates a problem, because many people receiving SNAP benefits are homeless and don’t have a place to cook or store meals that aren’t already prepared.

Managing food trends

Banning certain types of food because of the belief that those foods are “too good” for SNAP recipients is also unethical – and not just because denying people the right to buy food is cruel itself. Due to “food gentrification” and food trends, foods that were once inexpensive can become suddenly very expensive. Seafood like lobster, for example, was once a cheap maritime staple food for the poor, but it transitioned into being a luxury food. More recently, if you look at how the rise of quinoa in the United States has caused it to become increasingly less affordable in places where it’s a staple food like Bolivia, you can see how food gentrification and SNAP limits on “luxury” foods can cause folks to suddenly lose affordable access to core components of their diets.

The right of the people

To fix all of this, the United States and state governments must constitutionally guarantee the people the right to food regardless of means or location. It might read:

“Every person has the right to access nutritious and sufficient food regardless of his or her means or geographic location. The legislature [or Congress] shall make such laws as are necessary to secure this right to all residents.”

To secure that right, governments should enact various measures to:
– Bring Farmer’s Markets and grocery stores back to food deserts
– Expand both who qualifies and what can be received on SNAP benefits.

In a country like the United States, which touts itself as being “well-developed” and “first world,” food should not be a luxury that only a few can afford, but a right for all of us.

Tax avoidance is a corruption that impoverishes

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.

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Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank, gave a speech in which he argued that corporate tax avoidance schemes are a type of corruption:

“Some companies use elaborate strategies to not pay taxes in countries in which they work, a form of corruption that hurts the poor,” Kim said in a speech ahead of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund annual meetings next week in Lima, Peru. According to a recent United Nations report, tax evasion is costing an estimated $100 billion in lost public revenues in poor countries.

 
I’m pretty concerned about the lost revenues in rich countries too, which could also be used to help the poor.

If you said it, then you meant it, Oklahoma GOP chairman

The AP reports that the Oklahoma Republican Party chairman is in hot water over a Facebook post comparing SNAP (food stamps) recipients to wild animals that you shouldn’t feed:

The original message, posted Monday, said 46 million Americans participate in the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program, or SNAP, commonly referred to as food stamps. The post then said the National Park Service encourages people not to feed wild animals because they ‘‘will grow dependent on handouts and will not learn to take care of themselves.’’

As is usually the case with other like-minded posters in such situations, he thinks everyone just didn’t get it and it’s all a big misunderstanding:

Party chairman Randy Brogdon said on Facebook that the post was intended to illustrate the cycle of government dependency. He apologized ‘‘for any misconceptions that were created.’’

 
Worth noting:

About 604,000 people receive SNAP benefits in Oklahoma, mostly the elderly, disabled, and children.

That’s almost 7% of the Republican-dominated state’s entire population — which is a pretty comparable figure to a Democratic-dominated state like Massachusetts, but not a glowing testament to the dependency-ending benefits of conservative governance.

In predictable fashion, fellow Republicans objected more on the optics than the substance:

‘‘It is not a representation of the party as a whole and it makes the party look uncaring,’’ said state Senator Stephanie Bice, a Republican.

(My bolding.)

However he may have phrased it, that vehement opposition to and dismissive view of food stamps is the mainstream position of the Republican Party. Hard not to “look uncaring” when you are uncaring. Dressing it up rhetorically in a nicer outfit doesn’t fix the underlying problem.

In the immortal words of one Christopher Brian “Ludacris” Bridges in his 2008 commentary, “Politics As Usual”:

Talkin’ slick and apologizin’ for what?
If you said it, then you meant it.
How you want it: Head or gut?

 


Previously from Bill on Similar Topics:

“How the South Really Operates”
“The American South: Take the Money and Run”

United States Census Southern Region

United States Census Southern Region

The malnutrition paradox: Obesity and hunger crises

In China, in 2009, nearly 100 million people were obese, but around the same time (in 2008), more than 200 million were suffering from undernourishment. While the latter figure has declined since then, this data highlights a seeming paradox of modern life. Hunger and obesity can now exist in the same countries side by side – and both reach a large scale.

Today, in Nigeria, to give another example, 37% of children under 5 are stunted from undernutrition, even as 25% of women age 15-49 are overweight or obese.

In advanced economies, side-by-side obesity and undernutrition generally reflects income inequality, weak social safety nets, and poor access to high-quality nutrition instead of junk food.

In many low-income and middle-income developing nations, however, this apparent contradiction – where a country’s malnutrition challenges simultaneously include both extremes of chronic hunger and obesity – is usually experienced as part of a “nutrition transition.”

In that transition, a combination of urbanization, changes in dietary intake and a growing middle class combines to produce this phenomenon. It becomes easier for many people to obtain unhealthy foods (or suppliers find it easier to reach them), even as some areas of the country or some economic strata of the population continue struggling to access any food at all.

Eventually, this crossover phase ends, as famines become infrequent, agriculture becomes more efficient and more people cross into a stable middle class.

Non-violence has cost at least 2.7 million Black US lives

Imagine if health and mortality outcomes for Black Americans were identical to White Americans. How many Black Americans’s lives would have been saved? According to a new study, it’s at least 2.7 million from just 1970 to 2004:

Overall, in the US, the mortality rate for blacks, across age and gender, is almost 18 per cent higher than the rate for whites.

But while Gray’s and other high-profile killings make the headlines, the far greater cause of premature death in African Americans is stress-related disease, says Arline Geronimus of the Stanford University Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Palo Alto, California. For example, the diabetes rate for black people is almost twice as high as for whites, and blacks have higher rates of cancer and heart disease.
[…]
Using cause of death data from the US Centers for Disease Control, Geronimus and colleagues calculated that if blacks died at the same rate as whites, 5.8 million African Americans would have died between 1970 and 2004. The actual number of black deaths over that timespan was 8.5 million, meaning that African Americans had 2.7 million “excess deaths”, compared with whites.
[…]
Geronimus says she and her colleagues likely underestimated the number of excess African American deaths. For one, they accounted for only 35 years, which means they missed all excess deaths prior to 1970, the year in which good-quality comparable data first became available.
[…]
Journal reference: Social Science and Medicine, DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2015.04.014

 
The U.S. Civil Rights Movement lost a lot of momentum after the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Many of the younger leaders who tried to pick up the pieces in the 1970s and 1980s sort of gave up and decided to accept the partial gains of the 1960s and leave things at that for the indefinite future. White American society then mythologized Dr. King — who had been hated pretty roundly when he was alive — and put his non-violence doctrines on a pedestal as the only right, true, and acceptable path to progress.

He believed that violent uprisings, while understandable, were not acceptable under his religious faith and wouldn’t “solve” anything. However, his movement also benefited from the more violent riots and “scarier” rival groups whose visible discontent with the status quo shocked many White Americans (or at least their policymakers) into action because they realized that the Black population wasn’t actually happy with their lot in life.

But the study discussed above also reveals another truth about the realities of strict adherence to non-violence. Yes, violent revolution results in needless deaths, but so does no revolution at all. Those who die needlessly in the latter case just die quietly and poor, instead of on the scaffold or in front of a firing squad.

In other words, as demonstrated in this study, people do die as a result of non-violent gradualist/incrementalist strategies. It’s just a different set of people. When you demand all resistance to fatal oppression be non-violent, you tell the oppressed to accept the interim cost instead of returning it. Hardline pacifism essentially externalizes the human costs that would be experienced in a violent social revolution or uprising back onto the oppressed people, all in the hope of a peaceful rectification of the situation. Which I bring up not necessarily to suggest that the other way is better than non-violence but rather to force acknowledgment of what strict non-violence really means.

Put yet another way: Since 1970, at least 2.7 million additional Black people have literally died quietly from poor health and mortality outcomes, relative to White people, just so we didn’t have to experience a violent social revolution to give everyone justice. And talk about “justice too long delayed is justice denied”

To make my point yet starker, let’s do some actual comparisons to some famous, semi-politically-motivated major revolutionary purges, genocides, and mass killings:

– French Reign of Terror: Less than 42,000 executed
– Russian Red Terror and Civil War purges: 50,000-2 million killed
– Rwandan Genocide: 500,000-1 million murdered
– Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge: 1-3 million executed, starved, or worked to death
– Armenian Genocide: 1.5 million death-marched or executed
– Soviet Ukrainian Holodomor: 2.4-7.5 million intentionally starved

So, perhaps it still pales in comparison with events on the level of the Holocaust (11 million murdered), but this point remains: Poor health outcomes have resulted in genocide-level “excess” death figures for Black America since 1970. Actual revolutionary terror waves intentionally ordered by radical governments have killed fewer people than the number of Black Americans that racist neglect and traumatic poverty have killed.

But yes, please, let’s discuss broken business windows and smashed police cars some more…


Previously from AFD:
“After Baltimore: In defense of riots” by De Ana
“After Ferguson: In defense of non-peaceful resistance” by Bill

The hip new screw-you to America’s poor: Subprime phones

NPR has been investigating the scammy world of subprime lease-to-own smartphone contracts targeted at low-income markets. Here’s an excerpt:

NPR visited six MetroPCS locations that offer SmartPay and called a dozen more, and their representatives made the same 90-day pitch — even though many customers don’t qualify for it.

Atchley doesn’t have a lot of spare cash, and he wanted out. He couldn’t return the phone for a refund to MetroPCS because, he says, he had already talked on it for over an hour. And when he called a Better Finance, their rep didn’t help either, he says.
[…]
Atchley and 231 other SmartPay customers have filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau and five have filed with federal regulators, consistently saying they were misled.

 
Update at 3:44 PM ET: Dave Weigel has also just published a piece on a related topic: abusive subprime auto lenders and their political influence. There is a much more detailed report in yesterday’s New York Times Dealbook on the dangerous world of car title loans to low-income folks.

A review by The New York Times of more than three dozen loan agreements found that after factoring in various fees, the effective interest rates ranged from nearly 80 percent to over 500 percent. While some loans come with terms of 30 days, many borrowers, unable to pay the full loan and interest payments, say that they are forced to renew the loans at the end of each month, incurring a new round of fees.

Customers of TitleMax, for example, typically renewed their loans eight times, a former president of the company disclosed in a 2009 deposition.

[…] roughly one in every six title-loan borrowers will have the car repossessed, according to an analysis of 561 title loans by the Center for Responsible Lending, a nonprofit in Durham, N.C.

 
As a side note, I’ve also just blocked 19 categories of credit & lending advertising on this site because I noticed predatory ads showing up next to this post unfortunately. Hopefully those go away quickly.