Bernie Sanders Misspeaks On The Doubling Of $2 A Day Extreme Poverty

The US poverty statistics are rather confusing as I never tire of pointing out. They’re measured to a different standard, in a different manner, from those of every other rich country. And thus the result we get is not comparable to any other rich country at all. Not only that, given the way that poverty is measured in the US the poverty rate isn’t even comparable over time. That doesn’t stop people throwing around numbers though, as we’ve just seen from Bernie Sanders. He’s claiming that the number of people in extreme poverty has doubled since the Clinton welfare reforms of the 1990s. And this is true, if we look only at one very specific definition of that extreme poverty and the number in it. And it’s also not true if we look at the larger picture in the round. Not that I’m trying to support Hillary in this, the person Bernie is using this number to attack. Supporting Hillary isn’t going to be one of the things I do in this or any other electoral cycle. However, while we’re going to talk about economic numbers I do think it’s important that we get those numbers right.

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Sanders Brings Clinton’s Record On Welfare Into The Democratic Primary

Sanders Brings Clinton’s Record On Welfare Into The Democratic Primary

At a campaign event in South Carolina on Wednesday, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders criticized rival Hillary Clinton for her support of a bill that had serious ramifications for the poorest in the country who rely on welfare cash assistance.

Sanders pointed out that Clinton helped round up votes for welfare reform passed in 1996, which was signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton. “What welfare reform did, in my view, was to go after some of the weakest and most vulnerable people in this country,” he said. “And, during that period, I spoke out against so-called welfare reform 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.”

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Bernie Sanders Ties Hillary Clinton to Poverty Caused by Welfare Reform

Bernie Sanders Ties Hillary Clinton to Poverty Caused by Welfare Reform

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont began his day of campaigning Wednesday by criticizing Hillary Clinton’s support of welfare reform in 1996, accusing her of backing legislation that ultimately increased poverty levels and led more Americans to face economic anxiety.

Mr. Sanders said Mrs. Clinton helped round up votes to pass the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, the welfare reform legislation that President Bill Clinton signed into law. The senator said the bill hurt Americans by punishing poor people rather than helping them. He added that if elected he would work especially hard to lower the poverty rate of the United States, increase wages, and provide health care for all people.

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Announcing the 2016 J. Anthony Lukas Prize Project Awards Shortlist

J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize ($10,000)

The J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize recognizes superb examples of nonfiction writing that exemplify the literary grace, the commitment to serious research, and the social concern that characterized the distinguished work of the award’s namesake, J. Anthony Lukas.  Books must be on a topic of American political or social concern and must have been published between January 1, 2015, and December 31, 2015.

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The Crisis of Minority Unemployment

The Crisis of Minority Unemployment

The staggering problem of chronic unemployment among minority men was starkly presented in a report from the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago. It found that in Los Angeles and New York City about 30 percent of 20- to 24-year-old black men were out of work and out of school in 2014. The situation is even more extreme in Chicago, where nearly half of black men in this age group were neither working nor in school; the rate was 20 percent for Hispanic men and 10 percent for white men in the same age group.

In Chicago, as elsewhere, the crisis of permanent joblessness is concentrated in minority neighborhoods where it feeds street violence, despondency, health problems and a socially corrosive brand of hopelessness among the young. The problem extracts a heavy social cost in those neighborhoods and threatens the viability of entire cities.

The outrage is that there are strategies, which Congress has rejected, that could help rescue a generation of young men from failure and oblivion. Among these is the employment subsidy program that was passed as part of the Recovery Act in 2009. It created more than 260,000 temporary jobs for young people and adults. Governors and employers were ecstatic. But Republicans in Congress denounced the program as useless a year later and blocked proposals that would have extended it.

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Entrepreneurial Spirit?: Behind the Sale of Food Stamps

Entrepreneurial Spirit?: Behind the Sale of Food Stamps

In American culture, there is a deeply ingrained moral value placed on work. On having an “entrepreneurial spirit” and a strong work ethic. It is part of what makes America a great country. “Greed is good” may be the slogan we use to describe capitalism, but for those of us who get up in the morning to go to work, it isn’t greed that motivates us. It is the sense of purpose and dignity that we get from our jobs and from doing those jobs well. And, from needing to eat.

Most Americans agree that there is a standard of living that we should not allow our citizens to fall below, even if it means that we use some of our resources to help them. We don’t think it is morally right for fellow citizens to starve, especially children. Our policies on public assistance reflect that belief and try to provide the very basics of life to everyone.

These policies also reflect a tension between American generosity and the American ideal of the entrepreneurial spirit. In an effort to both prevent hunger and to protect the American work ethic we reformed assistance programs to eliminate cash benefits and to tie receiving benefits to work or the search for work. It has led many recipients of SNAP assistance, more commonly referred to as food stamps, to sell their benefits for cash rather than using them for food. This is a crime and may carry fines, jail time, and a loss of benefits. One that we spend a lot of time and effort trying to eradicate. But should we? Or should we be turning a blind eye to, or maybe even encouraging, the sale of food stamps for cash?

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It’s Time for Welfare Reform Again

It’s Time for Welfare Reform Again

In 1992, Bill Clinton ran for president promising to “end welfare as we know it.” In 2016, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders should promise to bring welfare back.

Thus far, they are doing no such thing. Neither Clinton nor Sanders has a welfare-reform proposal, despite the raft of options they have floated for helping lower-income families. Neither Clinton nor Sanders brings up welfare when discussing what good they would do for the poor. Neither campaign even bothered to get back to me when I requested comment for this piece. But our broken welfare program has left hundreds of thousands of people in extreme poverty, living on less than $2 a day per person. A battle between a fiercely progressive presidential candidate and an only slightly less fiercely progressive presidential candidate has somehow managed to overlook and avoid confronting the ragged hole at the very bottom of our safety net. This is a policy outrage and a moral blight.

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SHARON, TAMARA, AND LIVING ON $2 A DAY

Back in December we hosted a webinar featuring Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Schaefer, the authors of $2 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, as well as a panel of experts on poverty: Sharon and Tamara, who have experienced abject poverty first-hand and survived to share their tale; and Kate Scully, policy director for the Center for Hunger Free Communities.

The webinar was co-sponsored by our allies Children’s Leadership Council, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), National Women’s Law Center and MomsRising.

Although approximately 1,000 human needs advocates signed up for the webinar (despite it being three days before Christmas!) we still believe that the stories it covered deserve further amplification and distribution – particularly the stories shared by Sharon and Tamara. So, today we’re going to amplify and distribute!

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Marco Rubio's Debate Answer on Poverty Made No Sense

During Saturday's Republican presidential debate in South Carolina, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) seemed to regain his stride. After a catastrophic performance in New Hampshire last week, Rubio looked comfortable in his own skin again and provided more substantive, less-scripted responses to questions on the economy, foreign policy and immigration. But that doesn't mean they were any less misguided, and his bizarre remarks on poverty were a prime example of that.

"Today, we have antipoverty programs that don't cure poverty  ... our anti-poverty programs have become in some instances a way of life, a lifestyle," Rubio said. "I have a very specific proposal  ... but it basically turns the program over to states, it allows states to design innovative programs that cure poverty."

Rubio's comments were short and sweet, and composed entirely of conservative myths about the way anti-poverty programs function in the U.S. So what exactly was Rubio wrong about?

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Weekend Follow-Up #1: Welfare Reform and Deep Poverty

In this case, deep poverty is defined as households with income under 50 percent of the poverty line (about $10,000 for a family of three). The calculation is based on more accurate measures of poverty that have since been endorsed by the Census Bureau.

Now, this is a different measure of poverty than the one used by Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer that I noted yesterday. Their measure is both tighter (looking at even lower poverty rates) and looser (it counts households that are in extreme poverty even for short times). So it's not entirely an apples-to-apples comparison. Still, once you look at the historical numbers, it doesn't look like the 1996 welfare reform act slowed down the growth of welfare spending, nor did it have more than a very small effect on deep poverty.

None of this is especially meant to defend welfare reform. But 20 years later, it doesn't look like it really had quite the catastrophic impact that a lot of people were afraid of at the time.

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John Kasich and the Clintons Collaborated on Law That Helped Double Extreme Poverty

Republican presidential candidate John Kasich has promoted himself both as a friend of the working poor and as a foe of Hillary Clinton, but as House Budget Committee chairman in the 1990s, he worked with the Clintons to roll back welfare programs, helping double extreme poverty in America.

In 1996, the Clinton administration and congressional Republicans worked hand in hand to pass what they called the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, colloquially known as “welfare reform.”

The legislation famously “ended welfare as we know it,” replacing Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The newly created TANF placed a time limit on how long the federal government would extend financial assistance to poor families.

Kasich was one of the legislation’s prime movers. After clashes between Clinton and the Republicans over earlier versions of the bill, Kasich introduced what went on to become the final legislation in June 1996. By late July, the administration and the Republicans had solved their disagreements, and a conference bill coasted to passage by a 328-101 vote (Bernie Sanders, another presidential contender, opposed it).

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Take 2: Another Look at Bernie Sanders, Welfare Reform, and Deep Poverty

A couple of days ago, in a post showing the growth of social welfare spending over the past few decades, I noted that the passage of the 1996 welfare reform act didn't even show up as a blip. In terms of money spent, it's turned out to be a non-issue.

This was not meant to be a defense of welfare reform. Believe it or not, I really do try not to write authoritatively about subjects I know little about, and welfare reform is a complicated topic that I'm only glancingly familiar with. I don't really have either the chops or the desire to relitigate it right now.

However, that post prompted a response that's probably worth dealing with at least briefly: namely that even if the dollar amount was relatively small, welfare reform did hurt the very poorest. This is a live topic right now because of the recent publication of $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, by Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer. Among other things, Edin and Shaefer focus on the effects of cash, and they note that welfare reform eliminated cash payments to the very poorest, who generally don't have jobs. This was deliberate: the whole point of welfare reform was to link public assistance to jobs as a way of motivating the poor to find work.

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President’s Budget Boosts Funding to Fight Deep Poverty

Recognizing the long-term consequences that children face when they live in deep poverty — as researchers Kathy Edin and Luke Shaefer detailed in their book, $2 a Day:  Living on Almost Nothing in America — the President’s budget includes new initiatives to help deeply poor families improve their circumstances and prevent other families from falling into such poverty.  

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$2.00 a Day author stunned by United Way poverty study

In 2015, Houghton Mifflin published a groundbreaking expose of poverty in America by authors Kathryn Edin and H. Luke Shaefer. $2.00 a Day revealed more than 1.5 million American households — including about 3 million children — live on less than two dollars of cash income every day.

Edin, the Bloomberg Distinguished Professor in the Department of Sociology at the Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, was stunned to learn more than 40 percent of individuals in Louisiana can't afford the basic necessities of life.

"Those numbers are stunning," Edin said. "If 40 percent can't make ends meet, we have a serious problem as a nation."

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Expand tax credits for those who need it most

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is one of the most effective anti-poverty programs currently in place in the United States. Maryland's General Assemblyshould act during this legislative session to expand the credit's proven benefits.

Throughout 2015, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and I worked on an initiative we called the "Middle Class Prosperity Project" to examine issues of concern to the middle class and those who aspire to it.

In December, as part of this project, we convened a forum with expert panelists including Kathryn Edin, a Johns Hopkins professor and co-author of "$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America," and Robert Greenstein, the head of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities think tank (CBPP), to examine the EITC. These experts detailed how the EITC is now one of the most critical lifelines for Americans living in or at the edge of poverty.

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Researcher talks about people trying to live on $2 a day

Researcher talks about people trying to live on $2 a day

Kathryn J. Edin, who has found what she calls “hidden poverty” all over the United States, put a face on those statistics. She said the common denominator between all the people she met was their fervent desire to work.

Sixty-four percent of Cape families earn less than the $73,332 needed for a family of four to live on the peninsula, while the median income has decreased five percent in the last decade, according to census figures used by Falmouth Service Center staff in a recent grant application. Reading from notes on a recent grant application, Falmouth Service Center director Brenda Swain quoted those numbers to put the Cape into context as she introduced researcher Kathryn J. Edin, author of “$2.00 a Day, Living on Almost Nothing in America.” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, September 2015.)

Edin, who has found what she calls “hidden poverty” all over the United States, put a face on those statistics. She said the common denominator between all the people she met was their fervent desire to work.

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Precarious Work and the Employment-based Safety Net

Welfare reform to encourage work doesn’t take into account how unstable jobs have become, especially for the poorest.

The phone call with a job offer from Chicago City Custodial Services came just days before the La Casa family homeless shelter was going to evict Jennifer Hernandez for failure to find work. For 10 months, she and her two kids had been living on cash income below $2 per person, per day, moving from one shelter to the next across the city. Luckily, Chicago City didn’t care that her address marked her as homeless or that her broken glasses sat askew on her face. All this position required was a desire to work hard for little pay.

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For City of Milwaukee, Today’s Temp Job Is Tomorrow’s Career

For City of Milwaukee, Today’s Temp Job Is Tomorrow’s Career

Joe enrolled in Transform Milwaukee Jobs in April 2015. A continuation of a statewide initiative launched in 2009 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Milwaukee program was one of many “demonstration projects” the stimulus bill funded that are considered transitional jobs programs.

Transitional jobs programs arrange temporary jobs for people who aren’t able to find their own, while also fully or partly subsidizing the wages for that worker. The aim is to make sure everyone who wants a job gets a fair shot at one. It’s not uncommon for employers to hire workers permanently once a program period ends, or for workers to find a permanent job during or shortly after, thanks to experience and often a reference from their transitional worksite. Advocates of transitional jobs programs include the co-author of $2 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America.

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Precarious Work and the Employment-based Safety Net

Welfare reform to encourage work doesn’t take into account how unstable jobs have become, especially for the poorest.

the phone call with a job offer from Chicago City Custodial Services came just days before the La Casa family homeless shelter was going to evict Jennifer Hernandez for failure to find work. For 10 months, she and her two kids had been living on cash income below $2 per person, per day, moving from one shelter to the next across the city. Luckily, Chicago City didn’t care that her address marked her as homeless or that her broken glasses sat askew on her face. All this position required was a desire to work hard for little pay.

“I’m proud, I like to do my work,” Hernandez says. Her views are right in line with the work-based transformation of the US government safety net that started in the 1990s. Today, the government offers more aid to low-income, working families than ever before. Poor parents who can maintain full-time work get a big boost at tax time, often lifting them out of poverty and providing aid in a way that makes them feel incorporated into society, rather than isolated from it. This is a triumph of social policy.

Yet this new safety net is built on a decidedly shaky foundation. Beyond low wages, few jobs available to someone like Hernandez offer benefits such as paid time off. Labor law violations such as failure to pay overtime or forcing people to work off the clock are all too common. Getting enough hours is a core dilemma. Many service sector employers use “just-in-time” scheduling practices to peg labor costs to fluctuations in demand, causing changes in a worker’s schedule from week to week. A recent nationally representative survey of early career workers found that nearly half of part-time hourly workers got one week or less advance warning of their work schedules. Nearly half of all black, non-Hispanic hourly workers of any age got advance notice of their schedule of a week or less, and fluctuating work hours are quite common.

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Book Reveals Hidden Lives of Americans in Deep Poverty

After two decades of groundbreaking research on American poverty, Kathryn Edin noticed something she hadn’t seen before; households surviving on virtually no cash income. Edin teamed up with Luke Shaefer, an expert on surveys of the incomes of the poor. The two made a surprising discovery: the number of American families living on $2.00 per person, per day, has skyrocketed to one and a half million American households, including about three million children. Edin and Shaefer traveled across the country to speak with families living in this extreme poverty. Through the book’s many profiles of people, startling answers emerge: a low-wage labor market that increasingly fails to deliver a living wage, and a growing but hidden landscape of survival strategies among America’s extreme poor. The  book $2 A Day, Living on Almost Nothing in America delivers new evidence and new ideas to our national debate on income inequality. Mindy Todd hosts this interview on The Point. Click here for information on a talk by Edin that takes place at Falmouth Academy on January 20th.   

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