Category: poverty

Will the talking heads please shut up so we can have a real poverty debate?

By Alan Bean

January 8, 2014 marked the fiftieth anniversary of president Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty and Democrats and Republicans used the occasion to tout their very different descriptions of and proscriptions for the poverty problem.

If this low-key exchange were scored like a fight, the Republicans would win by TKO.

This article in The Hill, a generally non-partisan news source, quoted representatives from both major parties; but the red team dominated the story.

The Democrats were championed by president Obama and Senate majority leader, Harry Reid.  In a speech tailor made for the occasion, the President opined that “If we hadn’t declared ‘unconditional war on poverty in America,’ millions more Americans would be living in poverty today.”  Reid, for his part, thinks the Republicans are “cold-hearted” for refusing to extend unemployment benefits.  That’s it for the Democrats.

Then the Republicans took control of the story.   (more…)

Being compassionate when compassion ain’t cool

 By Alan Bean

Charles Blow says America has become a heartless nation (see his column below).  Ask the person on the street for the primary reason for poverty in America and 24% will tell you it’s because welfare prevents initiative.  Another 18% will blame crummy schools.  Then its family breakdown (13%), and lack of a work ethic (also 13%).  These are all explanations endorsed by the conservative movement.

You won’t hear any of the issues favored by progressive Americans until you work much further down the list.  Lack of government programs checks in at 10%, and persistent racism polls at a dismal 2%.  Unless people of color were excluded from the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll (an unlikely prospect), the liberal diagnosis of society’s ills doesn’t even appear to be playing well in the minority community.

It’s not enough to lament that America has become “a town without pity” (for younger readers, that’s an allusion to an old Gene Pitney song inspired by a 1961 movie).  In the 1960s, an American president could launch a war on poverty without worrying too much about the political fallout.  Then America’s glory years were overtaken by an era of economic anxiety.  When people worry about money, they turn inward and politicians follow suit. (more…)

Low student performance is all about poverty

Diane Ravitch

By Alan Bean

The pioneer and perfecter of the current passion for evaluating teachers on the basis of student performance on standardized tests can be laid at the feet of Eric Hanushek, a Stanford professor.  Hanushek believes that bad teachers beget bad students.  Ergo, if you want successful students, fire bad teachers.

No one questions that good teachers are better than bad teachers; but is testing an effective way to tell the difference.  As Diane Ravitch explains below, good teachers who work in poor schools test badly.  Since schools in affluent areas have fewer disciplinary problems and higher rates of student achievement, teachers find them desirable.  Poor schools get teachers with an unusually keen sense of mission or, more often, teachers who were passed over by principals in more affluent schools.

Hanushek is celebrated because he ignores poverty.  You can’t improve public education by throwing money at the problem, he believes.  Students don’t do badly because they come from poor neighborhoods; they perform badly because they have bad teachers.  Fire the worst 10% of any given faculty and the achievement gap between poor and affluent kids disappears. (more…)

Stupid things we still believe about poverty

By Alan Bean

Emily Badger clearly doesn’t live in Texas.  Her take on “stupid things we used to believe about poverty” are still going strong in the Lone Star State and in the great American heartland generally.  While the charts below indicate that progress has been made in the last couple of centuries, the last three decades have seen the creation of a dramatic wealth gap that is commonly presented as a necessary condition of economic health.  Get too concerned about the guy at McDonald’s toiling for minimum wage and the big boys would be out of business.  Then where would we be?

Meanwhile, poor people are still demonized as a matter of course.  Any suggestion that poverty is “constructed” or that a link exists between unemployment and crime is rejected out of hand (in places like Texas, at least).  We commonly face the myth of false alternatives: either criminals bear the full responsibility for their choices or society is to blame.  The idea that social pressures and bad decisions might be mutually reinforcing never comes up for discussion. (more…)

What the Bible really says about helping the poor

By Alan Bean

Jesus’ observation that the poor will be with us always may be the most abused passage in the Bible.  Fred Clark, the Slacktivist, thinks so anyway.

It always struck me as ironic that farmers in the Texas panhandle were death on welfare while feeling perfectly entitled to the farm subsidies that kept them afloat once farming was no longer a viable livelihood.  The biblical teaching on poverty is simple, straightforward, consistent, and invisible.  If you wonder what I mean by that, read on.

Dives will always be with us — and so will selfish rich jackwagons who misquote the Bible

May 30, 2013 By  

Southern Beale is not impressed with the exegetical skills of kleptocratic Tennessee Republican Stephen Fincher:

Rep. Stephen Fincher, you are a horrible person who uses the Bible to selectively justify your greedy, selfish ways. Woe unto you.

Repent, asshole.

This is not Sunday school language, and the Civility Police will no doubt be horrified that Southern Beale is stating truth so directly and so accurately. (When someone like Fincher extravagantly flaunts his bad faith arguments, the Civility Police always insist we must pretend he hasn’t done so. Pretending, euphemistic inaccuracy, and never, ever calling out self-serving liars are the hallmarks of their idea of “civility.”)

But those who fret about such blunt honesty should note that Southern Beale’s condemnation isn’t nearly half as harsh as the rebuke Jesus himself delivers in the Bible passage the congressman misquotes. Nor is it anywhere near as stiletto-sharp as the rebuke that Moses delivers in the passage from the Bible that Jesus is reciting there.

Fincher, you see, does not like Food Stamps. He wants to cut $21 billion from food aid for poor people. (more…)

Our fraudulent “debt crisis” debate

By Alan Bean

We have been hearing a lot of wailing and teeth gnashing about the federal debt.  If we keep spending our grandchildren’s money, the logic goes, the future will be bleak.

But how bad is the debt crisis, really, and how did it get that bad?  Where has the tax money gone, and why isn’t there enough of it?

You will notice that the debt Cassandras rarely talk about the balanced budgets of the late Clinton era.  Nor do they have much to say about the scandalous cost of fighting futile wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Nor do they want to discuss the unbridled profligacy that defined the financial and real estate sectors until the great collapse of 2008.

Instead, they focus on the temporary spike in government expenditure sparked by the Obama administration’s stimulus spending.

The debt Cassandras want us to believe that nothing can be done about poverty and that well-intentioned attempts to make life easier for poor people just make things worse.  They further suggest that “entitlement” programs like Social Security and Medicaid are the primary contributors to the debt problem.  In other words, nothing can be done to help old people and sick people and any attempt to do so will drive the nation straight into the poorhouse.

And then we read that the rich people of the world have collectively stashed an estimated $32 trillion in offshore tax havens.  I can’t wrap my head around a figure that big, but I suspect that if this money had been taxed at conventional levels, the European debt crisis would dissolve and America’s “debt problem” would evaporate.

Of course that would leave the rich folks a bit poorer.  Forbes magazine argues that if we don’t like the idea of rich people stashing their money in offshore accounts we should lower their tax burden.  That’s a lot like arguing that if you tax us at reasonable rates we will intentionally drive the nation into debt (and there’s nothing you can do about it because wealthy people live above the law).

Unfortunately, there is a lot of money to be made telling wealthy folks what they want to hear, and not much left over for those who value the truth.  In fact, considering the incentives wealthy people have at their disposal, it is amazing that we ever hear the unvarnished truth about anything.  But we do.  Sometimes even wealthy people come clean (I’m thinking in particular of Warren Buffet).

But most of the time the media are handsomely paid to prevaricate and dissemble, about money and practically everything else.  These dismal facts don’t preclude truth-telling altogether, but it is wise, nonetheless, to view the evening news as primarily an entertainment medium, a vehicle for well-heeled advertisers to maximize profit.  Most of what we hear on the news is true, so far as it goes.  Its what we don’t hear that is killing us.

And we aren’t hearing much about the $32 trillion.  And we aren’t hearing much about the obscene cost of fighting wars.  Nor are we hearing much about how the financial sector brought us to the brink of chaos.  Which explains why so few banking executives  currently reside in prison, why life for poor folk just keeps on getting harder and why the debt crisis debate focuses on 23% of the vital facts.

Where are the grocery stores in black neighborhoods?

Posted by Pierre Berastain

A good article on the racial politics of grocery stores.  Not mentioned in the article, though still relevant, is the fact that one finds alcohol more readily available in poor black neighborhoods.  Discrimination, favoritism, and privilege bleed into too often imperceptible spheres of people’s lives.

Commentary: Where Are the Grocery Stores in Black Neighborhoods?

By Kellee Terrell

When we talk about obesity in America, especially in low income, Black and Latino areas, it’s impossible to have this conversation without acknowledging the fact that mounds of studies have shown us that there is a serious lack of access to healthy whole foods, fruits, vegetables and lean meats. (more…)

What churches can do about poverty

Larry James directs City Square, one of the best anti-poverty, direct services organizations in these United States.  He wonders why most churches aren’t seriously engaged with the poverty issue.  (I am pleased to report that my church, Broadway Baptist in Fort Worth, is a blessed exception.)  As Larry explains below, his comments prompted a natural rejoinder: “Okay, so what should we be doing?”

His response to this question should be required reading for every pastor in America.

 Churches and Poverty

So, I “popped off” on Twitter the other day, making some statement like, “Churches could take a huge bite out of poverty, but most are too busy with religion to even notice the poor–most, thankfully not all.” (more…)

A review of Charles Murray’s ‘Coming Apart’: do the poor suffer because they are bad or because they are dumb?

By Alan Bean

Charles Murray took so much flak for controversial The Bell Curve that he decided to write a book about white people rooted in much the same argument. 

Coming Apart, a book about the diverging fortunes of upper and lower class white Americans, begins where The Bell Curve ended.  The big factor driving the growing gap between the educated and the uneducated, Murray suggests, is “cognitive homogamy”, the fact that individuals with similar cognitive ability are having children.

In the old world, Murray says, most people lived and died in rural communities and small towns.  The smartest males might have left home for a few years of college, but they generally returned to marry the prettiest (not necessarily the smartest) girl in town.  The result, kids of normal cognitive ability.  Wealth was distributed largely on the basis of inheritance, not ability and the kids at Harvard weren’t much smarter than the kids at a good state school.

Since the early 1960s, however, smart people have been marrying other smart people and having smart kids.  The sons and daughters of these blessed unions have increasingly clustered in segregated neighborhoods in which “everybody has a bachelor’s or graduate degree and works in high-prestige professions or management or is married to such a person.”  Among this new elite, wealth is distributed on the basis of merit, the elite colleges compete for the brightest and the best and lesser institutions make do with students who will never be ready for prime time. (more…)

Money, morals, and mass incarceration

by Dr. Charles Kiker

This post is in affirmation of and response to Dr. Alan Bean’s blog on the Friends of Justice site, “‘The Power to Make Us One’: Heather McGhee’s One-People America.” In that post Dr. Bean acknowledges that racially charged language only serves to make white people defensive regarding the plight of black people in America, and thus is counterproductive in bringing about either racial reconciliation or the end to mass incarceration.

In the February 10th edition of The New York Times two entries caught my attention. One was an article by Sabrina Tavernise, “Education Gap Grows Between Rich and Poor, Studies Say.” The finding of those studies, in a nutshell, is that the education gap between the children of well-off families, regardless of race, and poor families, regardless of race, is widening, while the education gap between the children of white families and black families is narrowing.

And it is well known that the level of education is a reliable predictor of income success or lack thereof.

The other was an op-ed piece by Paul Krugman, “Money and Morals.” Not surprisingly, Krugman argues that the big problem for working class families is not moral decay, but “A drastic reduction in the work opportunities available to less-educated men.” Krugman states that “entry-level wages of male high school graduates have fallen 23% since 1970” when adjusted for inflation. To make matters worse, benefits have been drastically reduced. (more…)