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Monday, June 20, 2016

America’s Poverty Problem Hasn’t Changed and Likely Will Not Change in the Future


The Atlantic



America’s Poverty Problem Hasn’t Changed


The only thing that has is one of the ways the Census Bureau chooses to measure it.








When the Census Bureau released its latest data on income and poverty for the country, and despite a falling unemployment rate and a rising GDP—two promising macroeconomic signs—things haven’t improved all that much for American families in the past year.

n 2014, median household income was reported as $53,657—statistically the same as it was in 2013. The same stagnation held when it came to the poverty rate, with about 14.9 percent of Americans, or almost 47 million people, falling below the poverty threshold of about $24,000 for the year.

The news was, of course, worse for minorities and women. The rate of poverty among blacks and Hispanics was well over 20 percent. Women, too, remained more likely to struggle to make ends meet, especially elderly women, whose poverty rate was nearly double that of men in the 75 and older age group. And though more women than ever are participating in the workforce, with 61 percent of women employed full time in 2014, their earnings remained about 79 percent of their male colleagues.

Poverty Rate by Race




None of this is especially revelatory—America’s poverty problem is basically the same. So the biggest news in the data dump was the shifting methodology behind it all. For years, critics have said that the means of measuring poverty in the U.S. is overly simplistic. It includes forms of income such as social security and unemployment, but excludes other things that shape families’ finances, such as food stamps and tax credits. It also ignores that the price of some services, such as health care, have escalated more quickly than inflation has, and that the costs of childcare matters more to families than it did 50 years ago, when fewer women were working.

That’s why for the first time, the bureau released a supplemental poverty measure along with its official figures. According to the supplemental data, the poverty rate in the U.S. was about 15.3 percent—0.4 percentage points higher than the report’s official rate. But the additional measure shows differences in age groups. For instance, those under the age of 18 have a poverty rate of 16.7 percent—quite a bit lower than the 21.5 percent reported in the main findings. For older Americans, the tweaked metrics paint a grimmer picture, with the share of seniors living in poverty reported as nearly 5 percentage points higher than the official measure.

Poverty Rates: Official Versus Supplemental




The more inclusive measures might  help monitor the effectiveness of programs meant to increase the well-being of specific populations, such as  children or the elderly. Still, the use of an official, blanket income level remains a crude means of identifying families that are having a difficult time putting roofs over their heads or food on the table, especially considering the vast differences in cost of living around the country. To better understand the persistent poverty problem requires greater attention to nuanced and localized data that can better illustrate areas where the cost of essentials are outstripping income and benefits, and where families continue to suffer.

Who is poor in the United States? 14.8% of the Population, for starters...



The Hamilton Project

Who is poor in the United States?

Understanding the characteristics of the poor is crucial for crafting effective anti-poverty policies. In this Economic Analysis, we document characteristics of the 46.7 million Americans—14.8 percent of the population—who lived in poverty in 2014. Using the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement (CPS ASEC) collected in March 2015, the source of official poverty statistics, we describe who lives in poverty as well as the characteristics of the working-age poor and those working-age poor who were employed less than full-time year-round.
Characteristics of Individuals Living Below Poverty, 2014
Consider the following sobering statistics, illustrated in the figure above:
  • More than a third of those who live in poverty are children. More than 15.5 million children lived in poverty in 2014.

  • About 13 percent of those living in poverty are senior citizens or retired.

  • A quarter of those who live in poverty are in the labor force—that is, working or seeking employment.

  • A tenth of those in poverty are disabled.

  • Eight percent of those living in poverty are caregivers, meaning that they report caring for children or family.

  • Students, either full- or part-time, make up another seven percent of those living in poverty.

  • Just three percent of those living in poverty are working-age adults who do not fall into one of these categories—that is, they are not in the labor force, not disabled, and not a student, caregiver, or retired.
Characteristics of Working-Age Adults Living Below Poverty, 2014
Just over half of those who live in poverty are of working-age, defined as between the ages of 18 and 64. Figure 2 categorizes working-age adults living below the poverty line in 2014. Among working-age adults living in poverty, 45% are in the labor force:
  • 13 percent are full-time, year-round workers, meaning that they usually worked 35 hours or more per week for at least 50 weeks during 2014.
  • Just over one quarter of poor working-age adults work less than full-time year-round, meaning that they worked during the previous year, but not on a full-time, full-year schedule.
  • 5 percent report that they are seeking employment – a classification that means that these adults were in the labor force – throughout the year.
The remaining 55 percent of working-age adults are not in the labor force. Additional data from the CPS ASEC, which asks respondents why they are not in the labor force, allows us to further describe who these non-workers are. As a share of the total working-age adult living in poverty population:
  • 18 percent —a third of the non-workers living in poverty—are disabled.
  • 26 percent—just under half of non-workers—are caregivers or students.
  • 6 percent are retired, though it is important to note that only the working-age population is considered here, so this constitutes early retirement.
  • 5 percent of the total population of working-age adults in poverty are not in the labor force and are neither disabled, a caregiver, a student, nor retired.
Certainly some share of those who are disabled, a caregiver, a student, or retired—as well as the remaining small fraction outside those groups—are people who are capable of employment. As Figure 3 illustrates, a portion of those living in poverty who are disabled, a caregiver, a student, or retired are indeed in the labor force.
Though 13 percent of working-age adults living in poverty are working full-time year-round, about twice as many were employed less than full-time year-round in 2014. Figure 3 further investigates the composition of working-age adults living in poverty that reported usually working part-time and who were working part-time in March 2015.
Characteristics of Working-Age Adults Living in Poverty and Working Part-Time, March 2015
About 40 percent of those working part-time during the year are involuntarily part-time – meaning that they would like to work full time but cannot due to an economic reason such as inability to find a full-time job, employer reduction of hours, or slack work. Just under half of part-time workers were students, caregivers, or disabled. Only about 1 in 6 of these part-time workers worked fewer than 35 hours a week or less than 50 weeks a year for some other reason.
In order to address poverty, we must first know who is poor. Using the most recently available data on poverty, we describe the population living in poverty as well as the working-age poor. This analysis suggests that most deviations from full-time, full-year employment are readily explicable in terms of factors like disability, education, or caregiving.








Monday, May 9, 2016

Another Goodbye to Democracy if Transatlantic Partnership is Passed







Another Goodbye to Democracy if Transatlantic Partnership is Passed



shutterstock_248451325
Corporate control on both sides of the Atlantic will be solidified should the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership be passed. Any doubt about that was removed when Greenpeace Netherlands released 13 chapters of the TTIP text, although the secrecy of the text and that only corporate representatives have regular access to negotiators had already made intentions clear.
Health, safety, environmental and food laws will all be at risk, with United States negotiators continuing to seek the elimination of European safeguards against genetically modified organisms. But European Union negotiators, although as yet unable to find sufficient common ground with their U.S. counterparts on some issues, are offering plenty of dubious language at the behest of European multi-national corporations.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is very much similar to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and although negotiations over it are apparently far from complete it is firmly in the TPP’s anti-democratic spirit. The Transatlantic Partnership, just like other “free trade” agreements, has little to do with trade and much to do with granting the wish lists of corporate executives and financiers, complete with secret tribunals that can overturn legislation without appeal.
As is customary with “free trade” agreements, the devil is in the details. What really lies within the dry, bureaucratic language is text that leaves little, if any, room for democratic control over a wide range of legislative oversight. In part this is because the text uses words like “must” and “shall” for what signatory governments are expected to do on behalf of multi-national corporations but words like “may” and “can” when it comes to the very brief mentions of health, safety, environmental and labor concerns, and in part because of who will be interpret the text, and how.
Under existing “free trade” agreements, the countries with stronger regulations, such as Canada under the North American Free Trade Agreement, are routinely ordered to overturn them as “barriers” to trade. Smaller countries are routinely sued by multi-national corporations for attempting to safeguard sensitive environments or regulate tobacco, such as El Salvador’s attempt to protect its largest remaining water source from a gold mine. These suits are not heard in ordinary courts, but rather in secret tribunals in which corporate lawyers who specialize in representing multi-national capital in international disputes switch hats and sit in judgment of similar cases as judges.
Governments must meet corporate expectations
Such one-sided rules are imbedded in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership text. The leaked chapter on dispute settlement contains unmistakeable language. Multi-national corporations will be eligible to sueon the basis that “a benefit the Party could reasonably have expected to accrue to under this Agreement is being nullified or impaired.” A series of rulings handed down by the secret tribunals in similar cases have established that an “investor” is eligible to sue for any potential profits it asserts it would have earned had not a regulation it dislikes been in place.
The chapter goes on to set out the necessary qualifications of arbitrators, stating that they must have “expertise” in the field. These “experts” will almost inevitably be corporate lawyers as they fill the rosters of the secret tribunals. The clause that the judges “shall be independent and serve in their individual capacities” is a joke — these are people who have spent decades serving corporate clients and thoroughly absorb their clients’ perspective. That they have “officially” switched hats is meaningless.
That there will be no appeal against judgements handed down is exemplified three pages later. It is EU negotiators who propose these two sentences: “The ruling/report of the panel shall be unconditionally accepted by the Parties” and “The Party complained against shall take any measure necessary to comply promptly and in good faith with the panel ruling.” What these mean is that there can be no appeal against what tribunal panels consisting of three corporate lawyers decree and that laws must be changed immediately based on the secret tribunal’s ruling.
There is much more there. A reading of the chapter on sanitary and phytosanitary measures, which, inter alia, covers regulations on agriculture, can easily be interpreted to overturn bans on genetically modified organisms. Here is the chapter’s Article 11 as proposed by EU negotiators:
“1. Sanitary and phytosanitary procedures shall be established with the objective of minimizing negative trade effects and simplifying and expediting the approval and clearance process while ensuring the fulfillment of the importing Party’s requirements. 2. The Parties shall ensure that all sanitary and phytosanitary procedures affecting trade between the parties are undertaken and completed without undue delay and that they are not applied in a manner which would constitute an arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination against the other Party.”
Corporations would get last word on regulation
Despite the European Commission’s attempts to paint itself as heroically standing against U.S. insistence on forcing GMOs on European consumers, this EU language could be interpreted to overturn bans on GMOs. That is especially so in the wake of the already agreed-upon language of Article 5, where we read:
“When issuing or submitting any final administrative decision for an SPS regulation, the Party shall make publicly available on the Internet an explanation of: … any alternative identified through public comments, including by a Party, as significantly less restrictive to trade.”
Under this clause, governments must make the case on behalf of complaining corporations that want to eliminate a protective regulation! There is further language demanding that any new regulation be justified, including a requirement that a government explain why it did not adopt any alternatives that would be “less restrictive to trade.” There is precedent here under the North American Free Trade Agreement, in which a tribunal, in ordering that Canada reverse a ban against PCBs, a carcinogen banned under two Canadian treaties, ruled that, when formulating an environmental rule, a government “is obliged to adopt the alternative that is most consistent with open trade.” So much for democracy!
There is also an agriculture chapter, which contains this sentence: “The Parties shall work together to facilitate the successful conclusion of agriculture negotiations in the WTO that substantially improves market access for agricultural goods.” All the activist work that prevented the conclusion of World Trade Organization talks over the past decade would be undone, and provide an additional opening for GMOs and the elimination of other safety rules.
Thus we should take with mounds of salt this public statement by European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, issued on May 2:
“Any EU trade deal can only change regulation by making it stronger. … No trade deal will limit our ability to make new rules to protect our citizens or environment in the future. I am simply not in the business of lowering standards.”
Commissioner Malmström further asserts that “no, the EU industry does not have greater access to EU negotiating positions than other stakeholders.” That statement is on par with someone offering to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge and the Eiffel Tower. The public-interest group Corporate Europe Observatory, upon successfully petitioning to receive documents from the European Commission, found that that of 127 closed meetings preparing for the Transatlantic Partnership talks, at least 119 were with large corporationsand their lobbyists. Although it is true that EU negotiators are sometimes at odds with their U.S. counterparts, the EU has offered its share of anti-democratic measures, not inconsistent with the lack of accountability Europeans have come to expect from EU institutions.
Watchdog groups sound multiple alarms
In its latest assessment of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, Corporate Europe Observatory said the TTIP will negatively impact laws on both sides of the Atlantic, noting that “the new EU proposal on regulatory cooperation in TTIP does nothing, not even little, to address the upcoming democratic threats.” The Observatory says:
“Regulatory cooperation, on the surface a way to ‘harmonise’ rules across the Atlantic, could in practice weaken rules on protecting us against everything from toxic chemicals and unhealthy food, to wild speculation by banks. The European Commission recently published its new positions on this cooperation. The two chapters they released reveal the Commission is willing to change how it makes laws to favour trade and multinationals over all public interest considerations. Under regulatory cooperation trade officials will continue to negotiate our future and existing laws. This pushes contentious issues farther away from public scrutiny to be brokered over the coming years after TTIP is passed, giving big business lobby groups ample opportunities to influence the result of the decision-making.”
Other watchdog groups sound similar warnings. The Sierra Club, noting the words “climate change” never appear in the TTIP text, points out some of its environmentally destructive measures:
“Under the National Treatment terms of the leaked text, the U.S. Department of Energy would be required to automatically approve the export of liquefied natural gas to the EU. … Both the U.S. and the EU have proposed “regulatory cooperation” rules that would undermine climate and environmental protections if they are deemed harmful to trans-Atlantic trade or investment. The U.S. has proposed that governments on both sides of the Atlantic should be required to review proposed regulations before enactment to pursue compliance with ‘international trade and investment obligations.’ The EU has proposed similar language.”
Compliance with “international trade and investment obligations” would mean conforming to the types of secret-tribunal decisions mentioned above.
Friends of the Earth, in its review of the leaked text, provides this warning:
“Sensible regulatory safeguards, such as those related to food safety and toxic chemicals, among many others, would also be stymied. Industry-friendly, cost-benefit analysis would hamstring new environmental initiatives. For example, insecticide safety standards would be lowered if the undervalued ‘benefit’ of new regulations protecting the bees is outweighed by the ‘cost’ to corporate profits, thus threatening the pollinators necessary for our food system.”
Yep, it’s as bad as we thought it would be
The senior policy analyst for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Steve Suppan, in noting that predictions about the TTIP’s impact on agriculture “have been sadly confirmed,” wrote:
“The text shows the U.S. Trade Representative protecting corporate interests by shielding environmental, health and safety data used in TTIP risk assessment as confidential business information, preventing peer scientific review. The end result of the U.S. proposal would be increasing the burden on governments to justify food safety rules while placing no burden on industry to demonstrate that its products—including new kinds of GMOs, food or agri-nanotechnology products—are safe.”
What we have here is the ordinarily and normal course of capitalist logic. There is no real point to seeing something inherently evil in U.S. or EU officials or their having some particular moral failing. These governments reflect the dominant interests within their countries, as is the case in all capitalist countries. Large industrialists and financiers dominate their societies through control of the mass media and a range of other institutions to the point that their preferred policies become, through heavy repetition, the dominant ideas across society and the ideas adopted by political leaders intellectually and financially dependent on them.
Thus the recent revelations of NSA spying in Europe have had no effect on the Transatlantic Partnership negotiations. The talks began, on schedule, with embarrassing discussions of spying relegated to a “parallel” track, separate from what really counts, the main negotiations to dismantle regulations. The TTIP is quite consistent with the project of the EU: European capitalists’ desire to possess the ability to challenge the United States for economic supremacy, but who cannot do so without the combined clout of a united continent.
Working people on both sides of the Atlantic will be the losers if the TTIP passes, and that is underscored by the secrecy surrounding it. Capitalists, despite the competition among them, are united in their drive for complete domination and profits above all other human considerations. We had better be united across borders in the necessary fight to first stop TTIP and other agreements under consideration, and then roll back those already in place.
Pete Dolack writes the Systemic Disorder blog and has been an activist with several groups. His book, It’s Not Over: Learning From the Socialist Experiment, is available from Zero Books.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The rich simply can’t lose in our rigged economy


Salon




Robert Reich: The rich simply can’t lose in our rigged economy


Yahoo's Marisa Mayer nets $50 million even if she's canned. Why must the stakes be so high for the rest of us?




TOPICS: BERNIE SANDERSCAPITALISMDONALD TRUMPMARISA MAYERROBERTREICH.ORGYAHOO

Robert Reich: The rich simply can't lose in our rigged economy



This originally appeared on Robert Reich's blog.
Marissa Mayer tells us a lot about why Americans are so angry, and why anti-establishment fury has become the biggest single force in American politics today.

Mayer is CEO of Yahoo. Yahoo’s stock lost about a third of its value last year, as the company went from making $7.5 billion in 2014 to losing $4.4 billion in 2015. Yet Mayer raked in $36 million in compensation.

Even if Yahoo’s board fires her, her contract stipulates she gets $54.9 million in severance. The severance package was disclosed in a regulatory filing last Friday with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In other words, Mayer can’t lose.

It’s another example of no-lose socialism for the rich – winning big regardless of what you do.

Why do Yahoo’s shareholders put up with it? Mostly because they don’t know about it.

Most of their shares are held by big pension funds, mutual funds, and insurance funds whose managers don’t want to rock the boat because they skim the cream regardless of what happens to Yahoo.

In other words, more no-lose socialism for the rich.

I don’t want to pick on Ms. Mayer or the managers of the funds that invest in Yahoo. They’re typical of the no-lose system in which America’s corporate and financial elite now operate.

But the rest of America works in a different system.

Theirs is cutthroat hyper-capitalism – in which wages are shrinking, median household income continues to drop, workers are fired without warning, two-thirds are living paycheck to paycheck, and employees are being classified as “independent contractors” without any labor protections at all.

Why is there no-lose socialism for the rich and cutthroat hyper-capitalism for everyone else?

Because the rules of the game – including labor laws, pension laws, corporate laws, and tax laws – have been crafted by those at the top, and the lawyers and lobbyists who work for them.

Does that mean we have to await Bernie Sanders’s “political revolution” (or, perish the thought, Donald Trump’s authoritarian populism) before any of this is likely to change?

Before we go to the barricades, you should know about another CEO named Hamdi Ulukaya, who’s developing a third model – neither no-lose socialism for the rich nor hyper-capitalism for everyone else.

Ulukaya is the Turkish-born founder and CEO of Chobani, the upstart Greek yogurt maker recently valued at as much as $5 billion.

Last Tuesday Ulukaya announced he’s giving all his 2,000 full-time workers shares of stock worth up to 10 percent of the privately held company’s value when it’s sold or goes public, based on each employee’s tenure and role at the company.

If the company ends up being valued at $3 billion, for example, the average employee payout could be $150,000. Some long-tenured employees will get more than $1 million.

Ulukaya’s announcement raised eyebrows all over corporate America. Many are viewing it an act of charity (Forbes Magazine calls it one of “the most selfless corporate acts of the year”).

In reality, Mr. Ulukaya’s decision is just good business. Employees who are partners become even more dedicated to increasing a company’s value.

Which is why research shows that employee-owned companies – even those with workers holding only a minority stake – tend to out-perform the competition.

Mr. Ulukaya just increased the odds that Chobani will be valued at more than $5 billion when it’s sold or its shares of stock are available to the public. Which will make him, as well as his employees, far wealthier.

As Ulukaya wrote to his workers, the award isn’t a gift but “a mutual promise to work together with a shared purpose and responsibility.”

A handful of other companies are inching their way in a similar direction.

Apple decided last October it would award shares not just to executives or engineers but to hourly paid workers as well. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is giving a third of his Twitter stock (about 1 percent of the company) ”to our employee equity pool to reinvest directly in our people.
Employee stock ownership plans, which have been around for years, are lately seeing a bit of a comeback.

But the vast majority of American companies are still locked in the old hyper-capitalist model that views workers as costs to be cut rather than as partners to share in success.

That’s largely because Wall Street still looks unfavorably on such collaboration (remember, Chobani is still privately held).

The Street remains obsessed with short-term stock performance, and its analysts don’t believe hourly workers have much to contribute to the bottom line.

But they’re prepared to lavish unprecedented rewards on CEOs who don’t deserve squat.

Let them compare Yahoo with Chobani in a few years, and see which model works best.

If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on Greek yoghurt.

And I’d bet on a model of capitalism that’s neither no-lose socialism for the rich nor cruel hyper-capitalism for the rest, but share-the-gains capitalism for everyone.
Robert Reich, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written 13 books, including his latest best-seller, “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future;” “The Work of Nations,” which has been translated into 22 languages; and his newest, an e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His new movie "Inequality for All" is in Theaters. His widely-read blog can be found atwww.robertreich.org.