Blame or Shame? When It Comes to America’s Kids, Where Do We Stand?

Don’t know about you but to me the blame game has hit the hyper-drive button.  Whether it be Fundamentalists claiming that the country’s economic difficulties are God’s payback for licentious living or Herman Cain pointing to the unemployed as being responsible for their own unemployed status, the mounting accusations are deafening and ultimately unproductive.  The Right blames the Left; the Left blames the Right.  Libertarians blame anything that smacks of cooperative, interdependent governance, yearning for circa 1900, a Paradise Lost.  And the Anarchists?  They blame the world.

The one segment of the population that has virtually no voice over the current US economic tailspin are the children.  But like any vulnerable, powerless group, they are caught in the crosshairs.  

A recent headline not only caught my attention but stunned me by its implications.  One in four American children are now categorized as “food insecure.”  I initially misread this label as ‘hungry, absolutely food deprived.’ 

Not necessarily true. 

According to a report sponsored by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) food insecurity is defined as follows:

Limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways (Anderson, 1990).

The IOM points out that this ‘insecurity’ can be cyclical in nature.  Mom and/or Dad have work one month with adequate hours and money to buy food for the family and the next month their hours are cut. Less hours, less money, less food. Or, as is the case for many middle-class families, the jobs they once depended on simply vanish and nutrition suffers.  Or a family is living on a meager monthly wage that runs out before the month is over; so food is available at the beginning of the month and in short supply as the month goes on. Walmart has confirmed this cyclical nature, reporting that their customers, many of whom are low-wage or government-assisted households, are running out of funds before the end of each month.  The company has spotted the pattern in their sales records—thin at the end of the month, a big spike at the start. The rising cost of food has only complicated matters.

But wait!  Haven’t we been awash in data warning about the growing problem with childhood obesity?  Michelle Obama has used her office as First Lady to address not only the problem but accompanying health concerns–diabetes, for instance, a silent killer and a condition that’s expensive to treat. How can we have food insecurity and obesity at the same time?  A paradox, for sure.

Again, not necessarily.

A study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Drewnowski A, Specter SE. Poverty and obesity) indicates that meager incomes will affect a family’s behavior when it comes to food.  When faced with bills to pay—rent, utilities, expenses to get to and from work, etc.—a family head will limit funds to those needs where the cost is not fixed.  This behavior directly impacts the purchase and selection of food.  When purchases are made, low-income families will steer towards calorie-dense foods, selections high in sugar and fat but low in cost.

You gotta do what you gotta do, as my Mama once said.

Though there is contradictory data for the effects of calorie-dense food on children, particularly young children, we do have data indicating the link between food selection and obesity in low-income women.  This from the IMO:

Researchers and the public increasingly are recognizing that obesity and food insecurity co-exist in the same families, communities, and even the same individuals. For example, recent research suggests that household food insecurity may be related to increased weight in women.

The paradox is explained, at least in part: food insecurity is linked to poverty and particular food selection, which can play havoc on weight. This makes sense to any of us who have had weight problems [Peggy Sue raises her hand because of a childhood weight problem].  Genetics, metabolism, emotional factors, physical activity are certainly factors, too. But food selection plays an important role.  Nutritional experts are now seriously questioning the sort of foods we’re feeding our kids in school programs and other government-assisted nutritional outreaches.

Finally, symbolizing the growing number of American kids in poverty and those tumbling into the ‘food insecurity’ category, Sesame Street has added a new, cameo-appearing Muppet—Lily, the hungry kid.  This move has already come under attack by PBS critics, who claim that this is simply another ploy to reinforce the Nanny State, a pulling of heart strings by left-of-center activists.

But here’s what we know: 25% of American children are now categorized as ‘food insecure.’  That represents 17 million children, a number which spikes during the summer when school is in recess. Food insecurity can result in cyclical, end-of-the-month nutritional deficits and/or possible obesity because of calorie-dense food selection.  Our children, all our children, represent the future.

Who do we blame?  It’s easy, even tempting to point fingers or take self-righteous, politically-charged stands. 

But if we continue the blame game, point fingers without pushing to alleviate our rising poverty rates and the subsequent food insecurity of our children?  Then shame on us.

Additional information can be found at Feeding America:

http://feedingamerica.org/

The stats on rising poverty and food insecurity in the US are nothing short of . . . staggering.

And check out Map the Meal Gap, where you can see how your state, your region measures up in food security/insecurity statistics:

http://feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/hunger-studies/map-the-meal-gap.aspx

A final note: I am very happy to be joining the fine staff of Sky Dancing. Everyone has been kind, encouraging and helpful as I put my toe in the water.  This is a new venture for me, a different sort of writing than I normally do. But I’m looking forward to join the discussion and analyses from a different vantage point. And learn as I go.


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!!

By the time you start reading this, I’ll be headed back down to Grand Isle to check on the new ‘old’ oil that just surfaced and hit Grand Isle and Elmer’s Island.  The Federal Government and BP are about to leave us since they consider the beaches clean.  Too bad they’re not cleaning up the marshes and the bottom of the Gulf too. I thought I’d start with some of the latest Gulf Gusher news this morning.  This one is from the BBC.  It’s on the impact on animals living at the bottom of the Gulf.

In places the layer of oil and dead animals is 10cm thick

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill “devastated” life on and near the seafloor, a marine scientist has said.

Studies using a submersible found a layer, as much as 10cm thick in places, of dead animals and oil, said Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia.

Knocking these animals out of the food chain will, in time, affect species relevant to fisheries.

She disputed an assessment by BP’s compensation fund that the Gulf of Mexico will recover by the end of 2012.

Millions of barrels of oil spewed into the sea after a BP deepwater well ruptured in April 2010.

Professor Joye told the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Washington that it may be a decade before the full effects on the Gulf are apparent.

She said they concluded the layers had been deposited between June and September 2010 after it was discovered that no sign of sealife from samples taken in May remained.

Professor Joye and her colleagues used the Alvin submersible to explore the bottom-most layer of the water around the well head, known as the benthos.

“The impact on the benthos was devastating,” she told BBC News.

Meanwhile, the BP oil spill claim process has been nearly as devastating to people whose livelihoods depend on the Gulf.  The number of complaints has been tremendous. Another set of ‘final rules’ for damage reimbursement has come out.   Head of the process, Obama appointee Kenneth Feinberg, asked for input from every one for the final criteria.

The final rules also promise to give claimants more data about the status of their claims, including how any payments were calculated and why.

They’ll be bad news to local boat operators who helped with clean-up efforts, though; the final rules say boats used as part of a “Vessels of Opportunity” program can’t get paid for any resulting property damage via the claims facility.

Under the new rules, oyster processors will now be eligible for four times their 2010 documented losses as a lump-sum payment. In earlier versions, only oyster harvesters could get that much.

Although the Facility’s experts predict that the region will fully recover from the spill in 2012 (so claimants in most other fields are being offered a one-time check for double their documented 2010 losses), they estimate it will take oyster beds longer to return to normal.

The final methodology also offers to pay “reasonable costs” of claimants who work with an independent accountant on their claims, and to treat them as part of their losses. That offer should help claimants submit proper documentation to back up their claims; less than 17% had submitted completed 2010 documentation as of Friday, the GCCF said.

BP, for one, submitted a 24-page letter saying that the proposed methodology overstates the region’s losses and that payments were too generous.

More and more information is coming to the surface about the connections between Tea Party politicians, organizers and the John Birch Society.  I’m not sure how many people were aware of  their new governors’ associations and campaign contributors when they voted for him but they should have some awareness now.  You always have to follow the money. No where is this more true than in Wisconsin.

Much of Walker’s critical political support can be credited to a network of right-wing fronts and astroturf groups in Wisconsin supported largely by a single foundation in Milwaukee: the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, a $460 million conservative honey pot dedicated to crushing the labor movement.

Walker has deeply entwined his administration with the Bradley Foundation. The Bradley Foundation’s CEO, former state GOP chairman Michele Grebe, chaired Walker’s campaign and headed his transition. But more importantly, the organizations lining up to support Walker are financed by Bradley cash:

The MacIver Institute is a conservative nonprofit that has provided rapid-response attacks on those opposed to Walker’s power grab. MacIver staffers produced a series of videos attacking anti-Walker protesters, including one mocking children. Naturally, the videos have become grist for Fox News and conservative bloggers. In addition, MacIver created studies claiming that Wisconsin teachers and nurses are paid too “generously” and other reports claiming that collective bargaining rights hurt taxpayers. The Bradley Foundation has supported MacIver with over $300,000 in grantsover the last three years alone.

– The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute is a major conservative think tank helping Walker win support from the media. The Institute has funded polls to bolster Walker’s position, and like MacIver, produced a flurry of attack videos against Walker’s political adversaries and a series of pieces supporting his drive against the state’s labor movement. Over the weekend, the Institute secured a pro-Walker item in the New York Times. The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute is supported with over $10 million in grantsfrom the Bradley Foundation.

– As ThinkProgress has reported, the powerful astroturf group Americans for Prosperity not only helped to elect Walker, but bused in Tea Party supporters to hold a pro-Walker demonstration on Saturday. In 2005, the Bradley Foundation earmarked funds to help Koch Industries establish the Americans for Prosperity office in Wisconsin. From 2005-2009, the Bradley Foundation has givenabout$300,000 to Americans for Prosperity Wisconsin (also called Fight Back Wisconsin).

It should be no surprise that Walker’s radicalism is boosted by Bradley money. Today, the Bradley Foundation is controlled by a group of establishment Republicans, along with Washington Post columnist George Will.

I’m not sure if you’ve gotten a chance to check out Yves’ excellent analysis of public vs. private pay scales in Wisconsin from Sunday, but if you haven’t,  you’ll see that the private sector clearly pays more.  One thing that the right wing frequently does when it explores this issue is to throw all public sector and all private sector employees into an average.  This is comparing apples to oranges because public sector jobs frequently take higher levels of education than the overall economy.  Think scientists, teachers, engineers, etc.  Yve’s also point out the roll of the Koch brothers PAC in Walker’s campaign.

First, let’s debunk a couple of issues thrown out by Wisconsin governor Walker’s camp before turning to the real culprit in state budget’s supposed tsuris. The state budget is not in any kind of real peril. The Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimated that the state would end fiscal year 2011 with a gross positive balance of $121. 4 million and a net balance (after mandated reserves) of $56.4 million. Walker asserts there is actually a $137 million deficit. But where did that change come from? Lee Sheppard of Forbes estimated that Walker’s tax cuts for businesses would cost at the bare minimum $100 million over the state’s biennial budget cycle. Other sources put a firmer stake in the ground and estimate the costs at at $140 million. Viola! Being nice to your best buddies means you need to go after someone else.

The second major canard is that Wisconsin state employees are overpaid. If any are, it sure isn’t the teachers, nurses, or white collar worker.

There’s a nifty chart there via Menzie Chin at Econbrowser that breaks it down nicely.I’m really getting tired of hearing distorted stories from the right wing on this.  Wisconsin right winger Congressman Paul Ryan is among the seriously confused.  He’s supposed to be the Republican bright bulb on economics too.  You can also add an article at the rather conservative The Economist to those with data showing how public sector employees do not receive better than private sector wages and benefits with an article called  ‘Don’t join the government to get rich’.

But  the Economic Policy Institute tells us that, in Wisconsin, public-sector workers are not in fact paid more than their private-sector counterparts. They’re paid less. You can only make it appear that public-sector workers earn more by ignoring the fact that “both nationally and within Wisconsin, public sector workers are significantly more educated than their private sector counterparts.”

Nationally, 54% of full-time state and local public sector workers hold at least a four-year college degree, compared with 35% of full-time private sector workers. In Wisconsin, the difference is even greater: 59% of full-time Wisconsin public sector workers hold at least a four-year college degree, compared with 30% of full-time private sector workers.

…Public employees receive substantially lower wages, but much better benefits than their private sector counterparts. Wisconsin state and local governments pay public employees 14.2% lower annual wages than comparable private sector employees. On an hourly basis, they earn 10.7% less in wages. College-educated employees earn on average 28% less in wages and 25% less in total compensation in the public sector than in the private sector.

The EPI study does find there’s a class of public-sector workers who earn a bit more than their private-sector counterparts: those without high-school degrees. In other words, district attorneys earn less than corporate lawyers, but janitors at the district attorney’s office may earn more than janitors at a corporate law office—provided the government hasn’t outsourced its facilities staff to the same private company the law office uses, which it may have, since governments have been targeting low-skilled workers for outsourcing precisely because that’s how they can save money.

The article also talks about Republican efforts to let state’s escape their pension obligations through bankruptcy.  I can only imagine how many elderly workers would be impacted by this.  Interestingly enough, Wall Street is against this too since many firms make money managing huge state pension plans and any state bankruptcy would impact bonds issued by states.  It’ll be interesting to see how this unfolds.

It turns out, however, that state governments won’t have the money to pay a lot of those pensions. They’re likely to renege on their promises, and Republicans in Congress want to allow them to declare bankruptcy in order to do so. (Funnily enough, this may be the one area in which labour unions and Wall Street are in alliance: neither one wants states to be allowed to declare bankruptcy.) In other words, as Ezra Klein points out, the public-sector employees got rooked: they accepted lower pay in exchange for retirement benefits, and now the retirement benefits look unlikely to come through.

Pascal Lamy, Director-General of the World Trade Organization has written an article at Project Syndicate indicating that high food prices might be due to protectionist trade policies and a relative small amount of global trade in wheat and other grains. Can the world work together to stop food insecurity?

Export restrictions, for example, play a direct role in aggravating food crises. Indeed, some analysts believe that such restrictions were a principal cause of food-price rises in 2008. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, they were the single most important reason behind the skyrocketing price of rice in 2008, when international trade in rice declined by about 7% (to two million tons) from its record 2007. Similarly, the 2010-2011 price rise for cereals is closely linked to the export restrictions imposed by Russia and Ukraine after both countries were hit by severe drought.

Most people are surprised to learn how shallow international grain markets truly are. Only 7% of global rice production is traded internationally, while only 18% of wheat production and 13% of maize is exported. Additional restraints on trade are a serious threat to net-food-importing countries, where governments worry that such measures could lead to starvation.

Those who impose these restrictions follow a shared logic: they do not wish to see their own populations starve. So the question is: which alternative policies could allow them to meet this goal? The answer to that question consists in more food production globally, more and stronger social safety nets, more food aid, and, possibly, larger food reserves.

A conclusion to the Doha Round of global trade negotiations could constitute part of the medium- to long-term response to food-price crises, by removing many of the restrictions and distortions that have muddied the supply-side picture. A Doha agreement would greatly reduce rich-world subsidies, which have stymied the developing world’s production capacity, and have pushed developing-country producers completely out of the market for certain commodities. The worst kind of subsidies – export subsidies – would be eliminated.

I didn’t cover any of the major international news items today since we’ve been trying to keep live blogs of the global protest contagion.   I’ll try to come back with some pictures and information on the oil in the marshes here in Louisiana so you can see exactly what our government is letting BP get away with.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Normalizing Poverty

A very disturbing article from The Economist caught my eyes over the weekend.  It seems like about as good of a time as any to share this with you.  It’s one of those articles you probably won’t see in the US media because it basically decries the notion that we’re the exceptional nation of opportunity and chance and that all that politically motivated and packaged hope and change has really brought neither to most of us.

It’s about Sarasota, Florida which has the been named meanest city in America by the National Coalition for the Homeless.  There are some amazing trends that we don’t hear too much about here.  For example, do you know that “Arizona now has the second highest poverty rate in the nation, after Mississippi”?  How about this?  Poverty is growing fastest in suburbs and especially sunbelt suburbs.   A third of America’s poor now live in suburban areas according to the article that cites Elizabeth Kneebone of the Brookings Institution.

Here are the poverty statistics for Sarasota which joins Bakersfield, California; Boise, Idaho; Greenville, South Carolina; Lakeland, Florida and Tucson, Arizona as having the fastest climbing poverty in the country.

THE statistics are worthy of Detroit or Newark: almost half the children in the local schools are from families poor enough to be eligible for free or cut-price lunches; a tenth of households qualify for food stamps; one in eight residents gets free meals from soup kitchens or food banks; perhaps one in 12 has suffered a recent spell of homelessness. Yet the spot in question is not a benighted rust-belt city, but Sarasota, Florida—a balmy, palm-studded resort town on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico.

The Sarasota-Bradenton metropolitan area, a two-county sprawl of condominiums, marinas and retirement homes, saw the proportion of people living below the poverty line rise by more between 2007 and 2009 than any other big city in America, from 9.2% to 13.7%, according to the Census Bureau.

The story is filled with tales of citizens surviving in a tent and shed city run by the Catholic Church called Pinellas Hope. The picture you see above shows one of the sheds and a resident.  A small tent city that was supposed to be a six month temporary situation is booming.

Between 200 and 300 people live there at a time, large by shelter standards, but they are just a slice of Pinellas County’s overall homeless population, estimated at nearly 7,000.

Thousands of potential candidates are disqualified by a no-booze, no- drugs policy. Families with children aren’t allowed. Background checks seek to weed out sex offenders and those with violent pasts.

Even among those who do get in, dysfunction can run high.

Before background and sobriety checks improved, Tent City managers twice asked sheriff’s deputies to pose as residents to investigate drug dealing. Dozens were arrested.

Through April, deputies have been called to Tent City 102 times, though serious crimes like assault, drug dealing and grand theft have diminished noticeably over the past year.

Four out of 10 residents get kicked out, land in jail, or simply leave.

Who are American’s poor?  What will happen as the US austerity program pushes more and more people over the edge?  The official poverty rate in the US for 2009 was 14.5% .   You can compare our country with other countries at the CIA World Factbook. The countries with the worst poverty statistics are on the Continent of  Africa. For example, Cameroon has a 48% poverty level.  Canada’s poverty rate is just under 11% as is the poverty rate in Germany.

More information on poverty can be found at the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan. The 2009 poverty threshold for a family of four was $ 21,756. For a single person under 65 it was $ 11,161.

The poverty rate for all persons masks considerable variation between racial/ethnic subgroups. Poverty rates for blacks and Hispanics greatly exceed the national average. In 2009, 25.8 percent of blacks and 25.3 percent of Hispanics were poor, compared to 9.4 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 12.5 percent of Asians.

Poverty rates are highest for families headed by single women, particularly if they are black or Hispanic. In 2009, 29.9 percent of households headed by single women were poor, while 16.9 percent of households headed by single men and 5.8 percent of married-couple households lived in poverty.

There are also differences between native-born and foreign-born residents. In 2009, 19.0 percent of foreign-born residents lived in poverty, compared to 13.7 percent of residents born in the United States. Foreign-born, non-citizens had an even higher incidence of poverty, at a rate of 25.1 percent.

I think that it’s important we put these numbers out there. The President and Congress are clearly putting ‘entitlements’ on the table.  Any changes will effect these numbers.  There is also a link between unemployment and Poverty.  There is no indication that there are any programs or there is a will in this country to deal with the high unemployment rate that we are now experiencing.  Forecasted GDP growth is not high enough to bring it down any time soon. This article is actually a year old.  See much difference now?

The response of state and local governments to this social catastrophe is drastic reductions in social services and job cuts, under conditions where the Obama administration refuses to provide emergency aid to help cover budget deficits.

The total deficit of the states from 2009 to 2012 is now estimated at $460 billion, a figure that is likely to grow as more state capitals adjust estimates for rapidly declining tax revenue.

”Anything and everything’s on the table,” said Todd Haggerty, a policy associate with the National Conference of State Legislators. States have “cut the fat, cut the muscle and are now cutting bone. The easy decisions have already been made.”

The fiscal situation confronting the states is expected to deteriorate sharply next year when funds from the federal economic stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, are exhausted.

Like the states, the federal government faces a fiscal catastrophe, with cumulative US budget deficits expected to top $10 trillion by the end of the new decade, according to the Obama administration’s rather optimistic forecast. Cuts in spending must be put in place, in part, to convince creditors, especially China, that the US “can get its finances back in order,” the Wall Street Journal wrote Monday in a feature on the annual gathering of the American Economic Association.

The response of the Obama administration is to call for an unprecedented program of fiscal austerity and sharp cuts in social spending, to be announced in his State of the Union address early next month and outlined in the new federal budget proposal shortly thereafter. Obama’s repeated insistence on the need for Americans to reduce their consumption—even as trillions more are allocated for the banks and for ever-expanding wars in Central Asia and the Middle East—is code language for a deepening of the assault on the working class.

The discussion of possible deficit reduction measures includes regressive taxes such as a national sales tax and sweeping cuts in entitlement programs on which millions of people rely, such as Medicare and Social Security.

If this continues, we will see civil unrest.  I am reminded of the tweet from Robert Reich posted by Zaladonis yesterday and another one that I had read earlier.

30 Jan
Robert Reich
RBReich Robert Reich 3.5% ec growth pitiful. We’re in so deep a hole that we need twice that to get jobs back. Don’t believe the Wall St cheerleaders.
30 Jan

RBReich Robert Reich

If you think revolts in Tunis, Egypt, and Yemen are big, wait for coming food and energy shortages around world. US shld take lead now.