New research identifies a ‘sea of despair’ among white, working-class Americans

Sickness and early death in the white working class could be rooted in poor job prospects for less-educated young people as they first enter the labor market, a situation that compounds over time through family dysfunction, social isolation, addiction, obesity and other pathologies, according to a study published Thursday by two prominent economists.

Anne Case and Angus Deaton garnered national headlines in 2015 when they reported that the death rate of midlife non-Hispanic white Americans had risen steadily since 1999 in contrast with the death rates of blacks, Hispanics and Europeans. Their new study extends the data by two years and shows that whatever is driving the mortality spike is not easing up.

The two Princeton professors say the trend affects whites of both sexes and is happening nearly everywhere in the country. Education level is significant: People with a college degree report better health and happiness than those with only some college, who in turn are doing much better than those who never went.

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Why Thousands of Low-Income Americans "Donate" Their Blood Plasma: Part 5

This is a transaction for money. There are 500 plasma centers in the U.S. And almost all are foreign owned. They extract plasma from this blood to make drugs that help treat leukemia, and for transplant patients. And these companies have turned the United States into what has been called the OPEC of plasma, American donors providing 94% of the paid plasma used around the world. They are a kind of branded army, not of addicts, but people, including full-time workers who are just unable to make ends meet. I donate specifically for the money because I work a minimum wage job. As a cashier and a stocker. Basically it's for bills, make ends meet.

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Nobel Laureate in Economics Cites $2.00 a Day

Is It Better to Be Poor in Bangladesh or the Mississippi Delta?

The Nobel laureate Angus Deaton discusses extreme poverty, opioid addiction, Trump voters, robots, and rent-seeking.

Angus Deaton studies the grand questions not just of economics but of life. What makes people happy? How should we measure well-being? Should countries give foreign aid? What can and should experiments do? Is inequality increasing or decreasing? Is the world getting better or worse?

Better, he believes, truly better. But not everywhere or for everyone. This week, in a speech at a conference held by the National Association for Business Economics, Deaton, the Nobel laureate and emeritus Princeton economist, pointed out that inequality among countries is decreasing, while inequality within countries is increasing. China and India are making dramatic economic improvements, while parts of sub-Saharan Africa are seeing much more modest gains. In developed countries, the rich have gotten much richer while the middle class has shriveled. A study he coauthored with the famed Princeton economist Anne Case highlights one particularly dire outcome: Mortality is actually increasing for middle-aged white Americans, due in no small part to overdoses and suicides—so-called “deaths of despair.” (Case also happens to be Deaton’s wife. More on that later.)

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Giving Every Child a Monthly Check for an Even Start

Giving Every Child a Monthly Check for an Even Start

How can it be that the United States spends so much money fighting poverty and still suffers one of the highest child poverty rates among advanced nations?

One in five American children is poor by the count of LIS, a data archive tracking well-being and deprivation around the world. By international standards that set the poverty line at one-half the income of families on the middle rung of the income ladder, the United States tolerated more child poverty in 2012 than 30 of the 35 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a grouping of advanced industrialized nations.

The percentage of children who are poor is more than three times as high in the United States as it is in Norway or the Netherlands. America has a larger proportion of poor children than Russia.

So what’s going on? We may spend a lot of money, but we don’t spend it well. It turns out that the most generous federal programs for families with children barely help the nation’s unluckiest children. Rather, they generally push money to their counterparts higher up the ladder of well-being.

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Hillary Clinton is proposing a policy to tackle deep poverty

Hillary Clinton is proposing a policy to tackle deep poverty

On Tuesday, Hillary Clinton unveiled what is arguably among the most important policies she’s announced during her entire presidential campaign. It is an ambitious but politically attainable plan that will lift huge numbers of families with children out of poverty. It is targeted exclusively at the poor, and the extreme poor in particular, with no money spent on the middle class or rich.

Specifically, Clinton is calling for a change in the refundability threshold of the child tax credit. That sounds like a technical change, but it has tremendous ramifications. Currently, the poorest American families can’t claim the credit, which is a mainstay of the tax returns of most middle-class families. That’s because households that make less than $3,000 a year — the truly, desperately poor — are excluded entirely, and households making under $9,666.67 can’t get the full credit.

Clinton would change the law so that families start getting the credit with the first dollar they earn. That would effectively increase the tax refunds of the poorest families with children. In addition, Clinton would double the credit for children 4 and under, something that helps both poor and middle-class families with young kids, and she’d make the credit phase in much faster for families with kids in that age range.

An analysis by Chuck Marr and Chloe Cho of the Center on Budget and Policy Prioritiesestimates that Clinton's plan will lift 1.5 million people above the poverty line, and bring another 9.4 million closer to the poverty line. It would increase the incomes of 5.2 million people living in deep poverty.

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How Michigan families get welfare for private colleges

MICHIGAN REDIRECTS ABOUT $100 MILLION ANNUALLY IN FEDERAL WELFARE MONEY TO COLLEGE AID.

Albion College is one of the most expensive private schools in Michigan and many of its students come from families of means.

On the surface, it would appear the liberal arts students at Albion would have little in common with those living in the poor neighborhood that surrounds the school, where a third of residents live in poverty.

Yet they do, and most students are likely unaware of this stunning fact: A greater percentage of Albion students are receiving federal welfare money than those in the neighborhood surrounding the campus.

At Albion, 63% of in-state students receive a Michigan Competitive Scholarship or a Michigan Tuition Grant, college aid the students themselves might be surprised to learn is funded almost entirely with federal anti-poverty money. This at a college in which the median family income of students receiving financial aid is nearly $76,000.

That rate is also more than double the percentage of Albion students who were awarded a Pell Grant in the 2013-14 school year, Those grants go to U.S. college students coming from the poorest of family backgrounds.

The use of federal welfare money to help more financially comfortable Michigan students attend pricey private schools is hardly confined to Albion.

Two-thirds of Michigan students at Calvin College benefit from welfare funds, even though the median family income of Calvin students getting financial aid is $85,000. Similar numbers emerge at Alma, Kettering, Hope, Olivet and other expensive schools.

In all, Michigan spends about $100 million annually in welfare money from Washington on college aid, including millions that benefit families earning more than $100,000. This in a state in which only 18 of every 100 families living in poverty is receiving cash assistance.

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In a wealthy Virginia suburb, their cars are their beds

In a wealthy Virginia suburb, their cars are their beds

It’s almost bedtime. John Baird Jr., 47, smokes on the hood of his 2004 Mercury Grand Marquis sedan, his plaid sleeping bag neatly tucked in the trunk.

Kathleen McDermott, 81, slouches in the driver’s seat of her 2002 Ford Focus station wagon. Two angel statuettes stare from her dashboard into clothes and clutter behind her.

Scott Downey, 52, works a crossword puzzle on his phone inside a 2006 Chrysler Town & Country van that smells faintly like cats. Clothes hang on hooks in the back, and emergency supplies of ramen noodles and Vienna sausages sit out of plain view.

They are in a Home Depot parking lot, largely invisible among the subdivisions and sprawl of Northern Virginia’s Fairfax County, the nation’s second-wealthiest community.

Sleeping in their cars, they are homeless but sort of not, a subset of a population officially classified as “unsheltered” and slowly shrinking in these suburbs of Washington, even as the number of people living in poverty continues to grow.

Each member of the trio spent decades living a more stable existence before family trauma or economic hardship led them to the streets.

Here, they help one another with errands and auto repairs, carpool to work or church, and check in on one another at night.

Just like their neighbors in the subdivisions around them.

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‘This is a Low-level Health Crisis’: Families Struggle to Buy Diapers in Cincinnati and Beyond

Megan Fischer was 8-months pregnant with her second child when she scrolled upon an article posted by a friend on Facebook about diaper need.

Out of curiosity, Fischer clicked the link. She quickly learned that diapers are not covered under two government programs that provide nutritional and health assistance to women and families living in poverty.

She burst into tears.

“I said, ‘How could this be?’ What if I was trying my best and it still wasn’t enough? You can’t explain that to a baby,” Fischer said.

Seven months later, in October, Fisher founded the first diaper bank that serves the whole Greater Cincinnati region. The nonprofit aims to serve roughly 16,000 children under the age of 3 who live below the federal poverty level, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

The agency has grown exponentially. In April, its first month of distribution, it handed out 5,000 diapers. In August, the nonprofit believes it will disperse over 20,000.

But still, Fisher imagines she’s only providing diapers for small portion of needy children, 400 out of 16,000.

“We are growing so fast that we immediately give away diapers as soon as we receive them,” she said. “We have no surplus.”

Diaper need is an issue nationwide, according to The National Diaper Bank Network, a nonprofit based in New Haven, Connecticut that supports local diaper networks and advocates for policy solutions.

There are roughly 5.3 million children nationwide under the age of 3 who live in low-income families, meaning their parents may not have access to a regular, clean supply of diapers.

That’s because two federal programs that provide assistance to low-income families – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC – do not cover diapers.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, does provide financial assistance for diapers. However, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that only 23 percent of families living in poverty received TANF in 2014.

Plus, TANF is used to cover many expenses, including rent, clothing, transportation and heat, electric and water bills, leaving very little money for diapers, which can cost up to $100 a month.

The consequences are dire. When mothers don’t have access to diapers, they leave their children in dirty, wet diapers for too long, potentially exposing the children to urinary tract infections, rashes and painful chafing, according to a study in Pediatrics magazine.

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Greenstein: Health Coverage, Income, and Poverty All Move Decisively in Right Direction for First Time Since 1999

Increase in Typical Family’s Income Largest On Record

The three key indicators of well-being in today’s Census data all moved decisively in the right direction in 2015 — the first time that has occurred in nearly two decades.  The number of uninsured Americans fell by 4 million from 2014 to 2015, on top of a nearly 9 million drop the year before, with the share of Americans without insurance falling to an all-time low of­­­­ 9.1 percent.  After adjusting for inflation, the typical household’s income rose by a stunning 5.2 percent, or $2,798, the largest increase in median income in both percentage and dollar terms ever recorded, with data back to 1967.  The poverty rate fell from 14.8 percent to 13.5 percent, tying the record for the largest improvement since 1968.

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Why food stamp fraud is 'fairly rampant' at corner stores in some Chicago neighborhoods

Food stamp trafficking often begins with an innocuous question.

"Can I talk to you?"

Sami Deffala, who's managed a corner store in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood for 13 years, said he hears that every day from customers vying for a private moment in hopes of using their Link cards to exchange SNAP benefits, the modern-day version of food stamps, for cash — an illegal practice called trafficking by federal regulators. And every day, Deffala said, he hears them out but refuses to take part in the scheme.

"I have people young and old doing this, from an 18 year-old-woman to a 67-year-old man," said Deffala, manager of Morgan Mini Mart. "It's a big problem."

The temptation proves too great for some retailers. Since October 2014, more than 140 stores in Chicago and another 34 in suburban Cook County have been permanently disqualified from the $75 billion federal food stamps program, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. All but one of them were kicked out for trafficking, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Nationally, food stamp trafficking is on the decline, amounting to only 1.3 percent of SNAP spending, compared with 4 percent in the 1990s. And the vast majority of SNAP benefits — 82 percent — are redeemed at supermarkets and merchants like Costco.

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No Money No Love

No Money No Love

A row over Bill Clinton’s landmark welfare reform highlights how much deprivation survived it

DANIELLE HUGHES wanted to graduate from high school. But after gangsters shot up her family home in New York, her mother ordered her to grab her baby son and flee. Now living with relatives in Baltimore, the 21-year-old single mother has no qualifications, no stable job and, having unsuccessfully sought government aid while interning as a receptionist, no prospect of a steady income. “I feel like I have lived through so much already,” she says. She has applied for a job as a cashier, but, in a city where the unemployment rate among blacks is twice that among whites, is not optimistic. “Sometimes you feel like giving up.”

A dismal feature of this year’s election season is how little either of the main candidates has raised the endemic poverty that underlies such tough stories. Almost 15% of Americans are poor, including one in five children, and almost one in three households headed by a woman. That represents a level of deprivation, which rises and falls with the economy but has never dipped into single figures, higher than that of almost any other developed country.

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The Millions of Americans Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton Barely Mention: The Poor

The Millions of Americans Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton Barely Mention: The Poor

The United States, the wealthiest nation on earth, also abides the deepest poverty of any developed nation, but you would not know it by listening to Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee.

Mrs. Clinton, who spoke about her economic plans on Thursday near Detroit, is campaigning as an advocate for middle-class families whose fortunes have flagged. She has said much less about helping the millions of Americans who yearn to reach the middle class.

Her Republican rival, Donald J. Trumpspoke in Detroit on his economic proposals three days ago, and while their platforms are markedly different in details and emphasis, the candidates have this in common: Both promise to help Americans find jobs; neither has said much about helping people while they are not working.

“We don’t have a full-voiced condemnation of the level or extent of poverty in America today,” said Matthew Desmond, a Harvard professor of sociology. “We aren’t having in our presidential debate right now a serious conversation about the fact that we are the richest democracy in the world, with the most poverty. It should be at the very top of the agenda.”

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Incomes Fell for Poorest Children of Single Mothers in Welfare Law’s First Decade

Average incomes fell significantly among the poorest children in single-mother families in the first decade after enactment of the 1996 welfare law, reflecting a large drop in cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant.  These findings provide further evidence that supports the growing agreement among researchers that TANF’s record has been mixed.  Since the welfare law’s enactment, the overall poverty rate for single-parent families has fallen — though many other factors besides TANF influenced this trend — but the poorest families and children have become worse off.  Previous analyses have found that the share of children in “deep poverty,” with incomes below half of the poverty line, climbed during the welfare law's first decade.

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Why the Very Poor Have Become Poorer

Why the Very Poor Have Become Poorer

According to the Census Bureau, the percentage of Americans living in poverty is higher today than it was in the late 1960s. Last year I argued in these pages that these “official” poverty statistics are extremely misleading.1 When the United States first explicitly defined an official poverty line in 1969, it was supposed to be adjusted every year to ensure that it represented a constant standard of living. However, two problems arose and were never fixed.

First, the Consumer Price Index, which was supposed to be used to adjust the poverty line for inflation, turned out to have flaws that made it rise faster than the cost of living. Second, the official measure uses pretax money income to measure families’ economic resources; but anti-poverty measures enacted since then, such as the expansion of food stamps and then the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), made low-income families’ total economic resources increase faster than their pretax money income. As a result of these problems, roughly half the families now counted as officially poor have a higher standard of living than families with incomes at the poverty line had in 1969.

In $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer argue that what they call “extreme” poverty roughly doubled between 1996 and 2012. If they are right—and I think they are—the reader might wonder how I can still claim that poor families’ living standards have risen. The answer is that inequality has risen even among the poor. Half of today’s officially poor families are doing better than those we counted as poor in the 1960s, but as I learned from reading $2.00 a Day (and have spent many hours verifying), the poorest of the poor are also worse off today than they were in 1969. $2.00 a Day is a vivid account of how such families live. It also makes a strong case for blaming their misery on deliberate political choices at both the federal and state levels.

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“I Agreed That He Should Sign It”

“I Agreed That He Should Sign It”

In the left-wing case against Hillary Clinton for president, a central plank is her support for the 1996 welfare reform bill, passed by a Republican Congress and signed by Bill Clinton. “I spoke out against so-called welfare reform,” Bernie Sanders said while campaigning in South Carolina earlier this year, “because I thought it was scapegoating people who were helpless, people who were very, very vulnerable. Secretary Clinton at that time had a very different position on welfare reform—strongly supported it and worked hard to round up votes for its passage.” In her influential essay “Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote,” Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, writes of how Hillary Clinton “ardently supported” welfare reform. In the new anti-Hillary feminist anthology False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton, contributors Frances Fox Piven and Fred Block write that Bill Clinton “took Hillary’s advice” to sign welfare reform, as if he might not have otherwise. 

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The Disconnected

The Disconnected

 met Laura Grennan on a cold morning this past winter in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In a gray sweatshirt, her dark hair pulled back in a ponytail, Grennan was pushing her daughters in a double stroller. Angel is her 2-year-old, and her 3-year old is named Isis—like the Egyptian goddess, Grennan is quick to explain. “I love Egyptian mythology,” she says, “so I just picked the name out of a hat, and I thought it was beautiful—until, of course, all the news of the terrorist group came out.” She sighs. “But we work around it.”

“Working around it” is something Grennan, 30, has had to become very good at in her life. Grennan grew up in foster care. Moved around a lot. Dropped out of high school. By her mid-20s, she had found some degree of stability—gotten her GED, held a series of jobs she liked. “I’m kind of a Jill-of-all-trades,” she says. She’s worked in an eyeglasses lab, done retail, and most recently, taken tickets at a “witchy tour” in her hometown of Salem, Massachusetts. She had been bringing in a steady, if modest, paycheck for several years by the time she and her husband were expecting their first child.

Then came what Grennan calls “the downward spiral.” “It’s one thing and then you lose another thing and then you lose another and it just keeps going.”

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“Oh My God—We’re on Welfare?!”

“Oh My God—We’re on Welfare?!”

“All right, so we’re gonna talk about love styles!”

On a Thursday night in Oklahoma City this winter, Scott Roby— white goatee, polo shirt, and slacks—stood at the front of a crowded conference room, next to an image of a big colorful heart projected on a PowerPoint screen. The heart was divided into six different sections representing different “love styles.”

“There’s DoBeGiveEncourageTalk, and Touch. Those are the six different dimensions,” Roby, an instructor for a program called “Forever. For Real,” told his audience. “We all have all of these within us.”

As he talked, the 50 or so people in the room nudged their partners, exchanging knowing looks when their preferred love style came up. “Now, sensual touch—if it’s really gonna feed the love style and feed the relationship, it’s not always about ‘landing the plane,’ if you know what I mean,” Roby said with a wink.

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The Failure of Welfare Reform

The Failure of Welfare Reform

How Bill Clinton’s signature legislative achievement tore America’s safety net.

If you want a sense of how thoroughly America’s welfare system has decayed thanks to the reforms Bill Clinton signed into law two decades ago, consider Arizona.

Despite being home to one of the nation’s most crushing child poverty rates, the state has all but stopped giving cash assistance to its needy. During 2014, for every 100 poor families with children in Arizona, just 8 families received aid. And even that tiny fraction is likely to shrink. Last year, while trying to chip away at a $1 billion budget deficit, lawmakers lowered the maximum amount of time Arizonans could receive welfare payments before being kicked off the rolls permanently—it’s now just 12 months.

This was a first. Most states enforce a five-year time limit. Some, including Arizona, have gone as low as two years. None had tried the one-year-and-you’re-out approach.
The move was expected to save up to $9 million—for perspective, the state’s board of tourism spends about three times that much annually—while cutting off aid to some 2,700 children. Nonetheless, Republican state Sen. Kelli Ward, who is now challenging John McCain for his U.S. Senate seat, said that the 12-month cutoff would “encourage the able-bodied to treat welfare like a safety net rather than a hammock.” The line might have been more convincing if benefits for a family of three in Arizona didn’t already max out at a miniscule $278 per month. Some hammock.

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On Welfare Reform, Moynihan Was Right

On Welfare Reform, Moynihan Was Right

Twenty years ago, to acclamation in some quarters and disdain in others, Daniel Patrick Moynihan predicted devastation would trail in the wake of welfare reform, especially for children, whom he anticipated would be “put to the sword” and collected “sleeping on grates.” Sometimes decades are required to prove visionaries right.

While I was writing a book on Moynihan’s political thought, even admirers of the late statesman often asked: “What are you going to do with welfare reform?” The implication was a widespread assumption that the prophet who had called so many future events correctly had missed his mark on this one. The correct answer: With respect to the worst poverty, Moynihan was right.

Welfare reform appears to have made several salutary gains, many of which would have pleased Moynihan, including some that might have surprised him. But when it comes to the most vulnerable, about whom Moynihan was most concerned, time is tragically revealing his foresight. They have been left without a lifeline in a society saturated with plenty.

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