SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The California State Assembly Committee on Accountability and Administrative Review held hearings in December 2011 on the problem of inequality and the potential role of state government. Center for Poverty Research Director Ann Huff Stevens testified, along with researchers from a variety of universities and institutes throughout the state.
American income inequality may be more severe today than it was way back in 1774 — even if you factor in slavery. That stat’s not actually as crazy (or demoralizing) as it sounds, but it might upend some of the old wisdom about our country’s economic heritage. The conclusion comes to us from an newly updated study by professors Peter Lindert of the University of California – Davis and Jeffrey Williamson of Harvard. Scraping together data from an array of historical resources, the duo have written a fascinating exploration of early American incomes, arguing that, on the eve of the Revolutionary War, wealth was distributed more evenly across the 13 colonies than anywhere else in the world that we have record of.
The share of Americans in poverty in 2011 remained unchanged for the first time in four years, the Census Bureau reported on Wednesday, surprising economists who had expected the rate to rise yet again. Still, the report showed a decline in the incomes of middle-class Americans, offering a reminder that many American families have yet to experience gains from the weak economic recovery. Median household income, adjusted for inflation, was $50,054 last year, officials said, a decrease of 1.5 percent from 2010. The level was about 8 percent lower than in 2007, the year before the recession began. The measure peaked in 1999, when the median income for American households reached $53,252.
With Google’s promise last year to wire homes, schools, libraries and other public institutions in this city with the nation’s fastest Internet connection, community leaders on the long forlorn, predominantly black east side were excited, seeing a potentially uplifting force. They anticipated new educational opportunities for their children and an incentive for developers to build in their communities. But in July, Google announced a process in which only those areas where enough residents preregistered and paid a $10 deposit would get the service, Google Fiber. While nearly all of the affluent, mostly white neighborhoods here quickly got enough registrants, a broad swath of black communities lagged.
“This is just one more example of people that are lower income, sometimes not higher educated people, being left behind,” said Margaret May, the executive director of the neighborhood council in Ivanhoe, where the poverty rate was more than 46 percent in 2009. “It makes me very sad.”
A record number of Americans—46.7 million, or nearly 1 in 7–now uses the food stamp program, according to the Department of Agriculture. The annual cost of SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as the food stamp program is officially known) hit $72 billion last year, up from $30 billion four years earlier. SNAP’s swelling size and cost have earned it fresh scrutiny from critics, who say SNAP is making two different constituencies fat—big corporations and the poor—the first, figuratively; the second, literally. Many health advocates, concerned by Americans’ increasing obesity, argue that food stamp purchases should be disallowed for items high in salt or fat or sugar—candy, say, or fatty meats, potato chips and soda.
Poverty takes many tolls, but in the United States, one of the most tragic has been its tight link with a group of infections known as the neglected tropical diseases, which we ordinarily think of as confined to developing countries.
The neglected tropical diseases thrive in the poorer South’s warm climate, especially in areas where people live in dilapidated housing or can’t afford air-conditioning and sleep with the windows open to disease-transmitting insects. They thrive wherever there is poor street drainage, plumbing, sanitation and garbage collection, and in areas with neglected swimming pools. They can even increase the levels of poverty in these areas by slowing the growth and intellectual development of children and impeding productivity in the work force. They are the forgotten diseases of forgotten people, and Texas is emerging as an epicenter.
Hardship has built a stronghold in the American suburbs. Whatever image they had as places of affluence and stability was badly shaken last year, when reports analyzing the 2010 census made it clear that the suburbs were getting poorer. While the overall suburban population grew slightly during the previous decade, the number of people living below the poverty line in the suburbs grew by 66 percent, compared with 47 percent in cities. The trend quickened when the Great Recession hit, as home foreclosures and unemployment surged. In 2010, 18.9 million suburban Americans were living below the poverty line, up from 11.3 million in 2000.
Three years ago, Gina Ray, who is now 31 and unemployed, was fined $179 for speeding. She failed to show up at court (she says the ticket bore the wrong date), so her license was revoked.
When she was next pulled over, she was, of course, driving without a license. By then her fees added up to more than $1,500. Unable to pay, she was handed over to a private probation company and jailed — charged an additional fee for each day behind bars.
It took 14 years of patience, determination and self-confidence — along with a key measure of local support — for a former foster child from the streets of Oakland to graduate from UC Davis. Joe Jackson, 34, earned his bachelor’s degree last week in women and gender studies, completing a college odyssey that began nearly a decade and a half earlier at Laney Community College in Oakland.
Some may say it’s a miracle that Jackson even got into college to begin with. Few former foster kids make the same journey. A study by Annie E. Casey Foundation found that only 15 percent of youths in foster care were enrolled in college preparatory classes, versus 32 percent of students not in foster care. Fewer than 15 percent of foster children begin college while fewer than 2 percent go on to get a four-year degree.
Most of those who do graduate from college do so with the help of some type of assistance. In Jackson’s case, that was the Guardian Scholar program at UCD, which helped him with tuition, housing and counseling.
These are anxious days for American workers. Many, like Ms. Woods, are underemployed. Others find pay that is simply not keeping up with their expenses: adjusted for inflation, the median hourly wage was lower in 2011 than it was a decade earlier, according to data from a forthcoming book by the Economic Policy Institute, “The State of Working America, 12th Edition.”
Household wealth is dropping. The Federal Reserve reported last week that the economic crisis left the median American family in 2010 with no more wealth than in the early 1990s, wiping away two decades of gains.
Poor, urban, and minority residents are most at risk for health problems linked to climate change, according to a California Department of Public Health analysis of Los Angeles and Fresno counties. The department examined social and environmental factors ranging from the rising sea level to public transportation access and found that African Americans and Latinos living in these counties are more likely to be exposed to health and safety risks related to poor air quality, heat waves, flooding, and wildfires stemming from climate change.
The study also found that there was a notable economic disparity between families living in the areas most vulnerable to climate change and those who didn’t — the more at-risk families earned between 40 and 55 percent less each year than the least vulnerable families. Residents living downtown or in urban areas were also more vulnerable, the study said. A western portion of Fresno County near Mendota also was found to be especially susceptible to climate change-related safety and health problems.
For this generation of young people, the future looks bleak. Only one in six is working full time. Three out of five live with their parents or other relatives. A large majority — 73 percent — think they need more education to find a successful career, but only half of those say they will definitely enroll in the next few years.
No, they are not the idle youth of Greece or Spain or Egypt. They are the youth of America, the world’s richest country, who do not have college degrees and aren’t getting them anytime soon.
Legislation to provide nearly a billion dollars in middle-class college and university scholarships passed the Assembly on Wednesday, but lawmakers have not yet taken up a companion bill to provide funding. The funding measure, Assembly Bill 1500, is fiercely opposed by most Republicans, branded a tax hike by business opponents, and faces far tougher sledding getting the required two-thirds super-majority vote in the Legislature. Middle-class scholarships will not be provided unless both bills pass the Legislature and are signed into law.
In the 1990s, the term “digital divide” emerged to describe technology’s haves and have-nots. It inspired many efforts to get the latest computing tools into the hands of all Americans, particularly low-income families.
Those efforts have indeed shrunk the divide. But they have created an unintended side effect, one that is surprising and troubling to researchers and policy makers and that the government now wants to fix.
Research Affiliate Giovanni Peri has proposed a new immigration permit system that would replace the current waiting list and lottery with a work permit auction. The new approach is based on Peri’s economic research that found that immigration often helps native-born workers in the U.S. by raising overall productivity.
Unemployed workers in rural California are bracing for next Saturday: the day the state’s chronically unemployed will be cut off from the nation’s jobless benefits. A drop in California’s unemployment rate to 11 percent – its lowest mark in three years – is triggering the federal cutoff of emergency long-term unemployment pay to at least 93,000 Californians.
Parents hoping to enroll their children in the best public schools have long known that where you live matters and that housing prices can be dictated by the quality of the nearby schools. A new study from the Brookings Institution quantifies that price gap, and the differences between the cost of living near a high-scoring public school and a low-performing one are striking.
It is tax time, the season when the country’s largest antipoverty program, the earned income tax credit, plows billions of dollars into mailboxes and bank accounts of low-income working Americans like Ms. Spain. It is the most important financial moment of the year for many people in the bottom half of the wage bracket, a time to pay off old bills, make car repairs, buy children clothes and maybe make a big purchase like a refrigerator or a TV.
As incomes among the country’s lowest wage earners continue to stagnate, the credit has played a critical role in smoothing the hard edges of an unforgiving labor market for the country’s most vulnerable workers and helping stem the tide of income inequality that has been rising among Americans in recent decades.
Advocates and state officials have recently taken steps to encourage enrollment, saying that the benefits bring money to California. In January, the state eliminated a requirement that CalFresh participants provide a photo and fingerprints. Still, many who are eligible for CalFresh don’t apply; the state has historically had one of the lowest participation rates in the country. This chart shows food stamp enrollment over time in the Sacramento region.
A new study by the Agriculture Department has found that food stamps, one of the country’s largest social safety net programs, reduced the poverty rate substantially during the recent recession. The food stamp program, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, reduced the poverty rate by nearly 8 percent in 2009, the most recent year included in the study, a significant impact for a social program whose effects often go unnoticed by policy makers.
Federal money for the primary training program for dislocated workers is 18 percent lower in today’s dollars than it was in 2006, even though there are six million more people looking for work now. Funds used to provide basic job search services, like guidance on résumés and coaching for interviews, have fallen by 13 percent.
Perhaps no law in the past generation has drawn more praise than the drive to “end welfare as we know it,” which joined the late-’90s economic boom to send caseloads plunging, employment rates rising and officials of both parties hailing the virtues of tough love. But the distress of the last four years has added a cautionary postscript: much as overlooked critics of the restrictions once warned, a program that built its reputation when times were good offered little help when jobs disappeared. Despite the worst economy in decades, the cash welfare rolls have barely budged.
Some may be surprised to know that even in California, “poor, dense communities on unincorporated land – which uniformly lack some combination of sewer systems, clean drinking water, sidewalks, streetlights and storm drains – have been the victim of years of neglect. Statewide, PolicyLink, an Oakland-based public policy research and advocacy institute, estimates that 1.8 million low-income and often Spanish-speaking Californians live in such communities, many without the infrastructure that would curb gastrointestinal illnesses, respiratory disease symptoms, and other public health and safety risks. In Parklawn and similar unincorporated communities, language barriers, legal status and a lack of political know-how have made it difficult for residents to navigate the governmental process.”
Researchers have long tried to untangle the complicated mix of economics, culture, education and contraception (or lack thereof) that leads to teenage pregnancy. Despite a decline in births to American teenage mothers over the past two decades, the United States stands out among developed nations in that its teenagers are much more likely to give birth than their peers in Canada, Germany, Norway, Russia (a country that is still advancing on the spectrum of development) or Switzerland. A new study by Melissa S. Kearney, an economist at the University of Maryland, and Phillip B. Levine, an economist at Wellesley College, builds on their previous research looking at the link between income inequality and rates of teenage childbirth.
From 1993 to 2010, the incomes of the richest 1 percent of Americans grew 58 percent while the rest had a 6.4 percent bump. The income gap narrowed briefly during the Great Recession, as plummeting stock prices shrunk the portfolios of the rich. But in 2010, the first year of recovery, the top 1 percent of Americans captured 93 percent of the income gains.
This Data Snapshot highlights newly available national, state, and city data in the KIDS COUNT Data Center that shows a 25 percent increase in the number of children residing in areas of concentrated poverty since 2000. The snapshot indicates how high-poverty communities are harmful to children, outlines regions in which concentrated poverty has grown the most, and offers recommendations to address these issues.
Browse population growth and decline, changes in racial and ethnic concentrations and patterns of housing development. Data is derived from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, based on samples from 2005 to 2009. Because these figures are based on samples, they are subject to a margin of error, particularly in places with a low population, and are best regarded as estimates.
This map shows the dependence on government benefits by state. The article maintains that the share of Americans’ income that comes from government benefit programs, like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, has more than doubled over the last four decades, rising from 8 percent in 1969 to 18 percent in 2009.
CBPP analysis of budget and Census data shows that more than 90 percent of the benefit dollars that entitlement and other mandatory programs spend go to assist people who are elderly, seriously disabled, or members of working households — not to able-bodied, working-age Americans who choose not to work.
Education has historically been considered a great equalizer in American society, capable of lifting less advantaged children and improving their chances for success as adults. But this article maintains that a body of recently published scholarship is suggesting that the achievement gap between rich and poor children is widening.