Those following the presidential debates may have noted Bernie Sanders' discussion on whether Nordic countries really do have lower poverty rates. In Vox, Dylan Matthews examines the numbers and says yes they do: (The chart below is available in interactive format on their website.)
Most poverty experts, Smeeding and Gornick included, prefer to do cross-country comparisons using "relative" poverty measures — e.g., the share of a country's population living on less than half of its median income — rather than "absolute" measures that look at the percentage of the population living under a given dollar amount.
That's because poverty, in developed nations, is an essentially comparative notion. In rich countries it doesn't make much sense to define poverty as "not having enough to meet basic material needs." Almost no one is that poor in America — not even those earning less than $2 a day. What rich countries mean by poverty is something more like "having enough to have the bare minimum life necessary to be a part of your society."
… But because relative poverty is also, by necessity, a measure of inequality, conservatives like Petrilli and Wright tend not to like it. It implies that lowering inequality and lowering poverty aren't two different goals, as laissez-faire types like to insist, but in fact are inextricably linked.
Belhaven University students in Mississippi had a taste of poverty through a simulation run by the university's social work department:
Gaddis runs the poverty simulation — an exercise in which students are split into families, given identities and a low wage and asked to act out a month in the lives of those in poverty. Professors and seniors facilitate the experiment by acting as service people — social service workers, employers, mortgage bankers and even police.
...Riggs worked hard to do the right thing in this fictional life: he went to work and tried to manage bills, but in the end he was evicted and his kids sent to jail.
“Money was coming in but it was going out quicker than it was coming in,” Riggs said. “Seeing my kids in jail and then looking at my watch and realizing I have to go to work — that was the most heartbreaking of the whole project,” Riggs said.
Apparently British Prime Minister David Cameron seems confused about how major budget cuts work and who pays in the end as evidenced by a correspondence with a local official, reports George Monbiot in the Guardian:
Cameron complains that he is “disappointed” by the council’s proposals “to make significant cuts to frontline services – from elderly day centres, to libraries, to museums. This is in addition to the unwelcome and counter-productive proposals to close children’s centres across the county.” Why, he asks, has Oxfordshire not focused instead on “making back-office savings”? Why hasn’t it sold off its surplus property? After all, there has been only “a slight fall in government grants in cash terms”. Couldn’t the county “generate savings in a more creative manner”?
Explaining the issue gently, as if to a slow learner, the council leader, Ian Hudspeth, points out that the council has already culled its back-office functions, slashing 40% of its most senior staff and 2,800 jobs in total, with the result that it now spends less on these roles than most other counties. He explains that he has already flogged all the property he can lay hands on, but would like to remind the prime minister that using the income from these sales to pay for the council’s running costs “is neither legal, nor sustainable in the long-term since they are one-off receipts”.
And now a cartoon from Steve Greenburg:
As Thanksgiving approaches, we have hunger on our minds. Lifestyle e-magazine Refinery29 looks at a food-insecure mother’s struggle to feed her family a healthy diet and is surprised to find a culprit:
Why are cans of Chef Boyardee a fraction of the cost of organic pasta and tomato sauce? Why does the juice in Lillian’s fridge — with one serving boasting 32 grams of sugar, exceeding an entire day’s worth of recommended sugar intake — cost a fraction of an organic smoothie? It all comes down to the Farm Bill: the laws that dictate what kind of farm products the government subsidizes. …It may not be the sexiest or most obvious voter issue for 2016, but spending time with Lillian drove home the idea the Farm Bill should be a key voting issue.
Are food deserts to blame for America's unhealthy eating habits? Joe Cortright in the Atlantic says that addressing the problem of getting healthy, inexpensive food to the poor requires a more nuanced look:
But combining neighborhood income and physical proximity muddles the definition of food access. First, and most important, it acknowledges that income, not physical distance, is the big factor in nutrition. Both of these methods imply that having wealthy neighbors or living in the countryside means that physical access to food is not a barrier. Second, it is an individual’s household income, not her neighbor’s income, that determines whether she can buy food. Third, these methods implicitly treat low-income families differently depending on where they live. For example, PolicyMap excludes middle-income and higher-income neighborhoods from its definition of “limited supermarket access” areas—and therefore doesn’t count lower-income families living in these areas as having poor food access...
When it comes to food access, the focus should be on poverty, not grocery store location. The argument here parallels that of the Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen, who pointed out that the cause of starvation and death in famines is seldom a physical lack of sufficient food, but is instead the collapse of the incomes of the poor. Sen’s conclusion was that governments should focus on raising incomes if they wanted to stave off hunger, rather than stockpiling or distributing nutritious food.
Recently the American Academy of Pediatrics asked doctors to screen child patients for hunger or food insecurity and help parents feed their kids, writes Olga Khazan in The Atlantic:
The majority of food-insecure households do manage to get enough to eat, but not without sacrificing the quality or variety of their meals. In one-third of food-insecure families, someone—usually an adult—actually goes hungry because there is not enough food to eat.
The academy also said pediatricians should familiarize themselves with local food banks, food-stamp programs, and free-lunch programs in order to help families who report not being able to afford enough food.
You may also be interested in the story of this Colorado physician who launched a hunger awareness photography project after her own medical crisis threw her family into a bout of poverty.
Last year, the White House’s “My Brother's Keeper” initiative to help boys and young men of color was criticized for failing to include women. So this year Obama administration has launched an initiative aimed at exploring ways to improve their lives:
Girls from marginalized communities are suspended from school at disproportionate rates—and suspended students risk falling behind or dropping out, and are more likely to enter the juvenile justice system. Although the U.S. teen birth rate has declined to a record low, Black and Latina teen girls, for example, remain more than twice as likely as white girls to become pregnant. Women and girls of color are underrepresented throughout the STEM ecosystem but over-represented in the foster care, juvenile and criminal justice systems, which for some may include a pathway that often begins with girls experiencing sexual abuse and trauma. Overall, women from marginalized communities experience higher levels of unemployment, are more concentrated in low-wage sectors and consistently earn less for doing the same work, undermining long-term economic stability. Overt and subtle forms of bias can affect girls and women over their lifetimes—from hiring and promotion, to quality health care.
And to put money where the words are, the White House has promised financial investments of $100 million over five years and 24 academic institutions have pledged $18 million to research on this nearly invisible demographic of young women.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case against the contentious Texas law that may close three-quarters of the state’s abortion clinics. Meaghan Winter writes in NYTimes about the rise of crisis pregnancy centers run by religious nonprofits that provide free services to poor women but also misinform them about abortion:
When a woman is coerced to continue an unwanted pregnancy through misinformation or lack of access, she loses control of her body, education, finances — her future. The struggle for reproductive rights is inextricable from other movements for racial and economic justice. We will not achieve equal opportunity until a poor woman has the same sovereignty over her body and her future as a wealthy man.
The U.S. PayScale Inc, an online salary and compensation information company, reveals that women in the United States are paid less for equal work than men in all industries and at every level:
Meanwhile a recent study has found that CEOs with at least one daughter ran more socially responsible firms. In an interview with Harvard Business Review, Henrik Cronqvist of the University of Miami who conducted the study said:
Controlling for other factors, companies run by executives with female children rated higher on the measures of diversity, employee relations, and environmental stewardship tracked by the CSR research and analytics group KLD from 1992 to 2012. We also saw a smaller but still meaningful link with the provision of products and services that are more socially responsible. And having daughters coincided with spending significantly more net income on CSR than the median. That female influence does appear to affect the decisions these executives make, which translates into shifted priorities for their organizations.
Income inequality is on the top of many American’s minds, placing it above nuclear weapons or climate change as the greatest threat to the world and Max Nesterak of PBS explains how perceptions about inequality can influence consumer’s purchasing decisions:
[I]n one experiment, they told people about a set of high-quality, 100 percent Turkish cotton towels. They told one group that the CEO of the company makes $24 million and the average worker makes $24,000 — a 1,000 to 1 ratio like Walmart is estimated to have. The other group was told that the CEO makes 60 times more than the average worker (as is the case at Costco) — in this case, $1,344,000 to the average workers’ $24,000. Then they asked them how fair they thought the company’s wages were and how willing they were to buy the towels. People said they were much more willing to buy from the Costco-type store than the Walmart one.
The researchers ran the experiment again, using different products — batteries, vacuum cleaners, restaurant gift cards — and varying CEO pay ratios — 1,000 to 1, 60 to 1 or 5 to 1. In all their experiments, people said they were much more willing to buy from companies with lower pay ratios...
“We were surprised by how much it took to get a similar willingness to buy,” Mohan told me. “The high pay ratio really affected their perception of the company and their product.”
Quartz's Elizabeth Winkler reports that U.S. bank tellers are protesting since 74 percent of them make less than $15 an hour, and have inadequate healthcare and opportunity leaving them without financial security or dignity despite their employers making millions:
But money is only the tip of the iceberg. Workers also complain of a high-stress environment stemming from predatory banking practices that CEOs had vowed to discontinue in the post-crisis era. Members of the Committee for Better Banks claim that existing sales models pressure them to push predatory financial products on customers, often in communities that are still struggling to recover from the financial crisis. If they fail to meet sales quotas, they risk losing their jobs. The coalition’s petition makes the case that financial institutions cheat both sides of the industry—workers and consumers.
Reuben Traite, spokesperson for the Committee on Better Banks, tells Quartz, “Workers and community members will not stop until Wells changes its excessive sales goals and pressure on employees to meet extremely high sales quotas.
Earlier this year, the city of Los Angeles sued Wells Fargo for alleged rigid sales quotas that drive workers to engage in “unfair, unlawful and fraudulent conduct.” Meanwhile, bank workers at Wells Fargo and US Bank in St. Paul, Minnesota, launched their own protest in September, backed by local labor leaders, alleging low wages and discriminatory hiring practices.
Over at Medium, a second generation Starbucks barista remembers the struggles of his mother, and explains how the efficiency policies from those at the top wreak havoc on the lives of employees who have to abide by them:
Starbucks expects us to find staff coverage when we call in sick. You are expected to show up for work if your son has been missing for 24 hours or your grandfather has died. If you are so sick that it hurts to speak, you are expected to call and text and beg every available person and ask them to sacrifice their day off, their precious hours before work or after school to help you solve a problem neither of you had any control over.
It’s a strange practice, one that breeds the mindset that being sick is your fault. When this outlook is coupled with incredibly lean staffing, there’s an enormous amount of guilt that comes with calling in sick. When losing just one person means disaster, calling in sick feels like abandoning your friends and peers. The bottom line is that no one chooses to be sick, but Starbucks seems to punish partners for calling out.
Editor's Note: Shravya Jain, Anthony Tagliente and Deirdre Hess contributed to this report.