In Case You Missed It: When It's All About Poverty

In Case You Missed It

In this issue, a TED talk on false poverty narratives, the dust-up over New York's homeless, the Fed's work on unemployment, and Pope Francis' tax statement.


'Your Huddled Masses Yearning to Breathe Free'

Mia Birdsong, formerly of Heron investee the Family Independence Initiative, recently gave a powerful TED talk that pushes back against the false poverty narrative that pervades the country:

I am the exception, not because I'm more talented than Baakir or my mother worked any harder than Jobana, Sintia or Bertha, or cared any more than Theresa. Marginalized communities are full of smart, talented people, hustling and working and innovating, just like our most revered and most rewarded CEOs. They are full of people tapping into their resilience to get up every day, get the kids off to school and go to jobs that don't pay enough, or get educations that are putting them in debt. They are full of people applying their savvy intelligence to stretch a minimum wage paycheck, or balance a job and a side hustle to make ends meet. They are full of people doing for themselves and for others, whether it's picking up medication for an elderly neighbor, or letting a sibling borrow some money to pay the phone bill, or just watching out for the neighborhood kids from the front stoop.

I am the exception because of luck and privilege, not hard work. And I'm not being modest or self-deprecating -- I am amazing.

But most people work hard. Hard work is the common denominator in this equation, and I'm tired of the story we tell that hard work leads to success, because that story allows those of us who make it to believe we deserve it, and by implication, those who don't make it don't deserve it. We tell ourselves, in the back of our minds, and sometimes in the front of our mouths, "There must be something a little wrong with those poor people." We have a wide range of beliefs about what that something wrong is. Some people tell the story that poor folks are lazy freeloaders who would cheat and lie to get out of an honest day's work. Others prefer the story that poor people are helpless and probably had neglectful parents that didn't read to them enough, and if they were just told what to do and shown the right path, they could make it.

Sadly, reports that the poverty rate went down a half percentage may have been premature. The U.S. Census Bureau reported last week that the 2014 poverty rate "was not statistically different" from 2013:

Melissa Boteach from Center for American Progress provides a larger context of the data:

When it comes to cutting poverty and inequality, policy matters. Policies that reduce wage inequality and income inequality—such as raising the minimum wage and enacting the president’s overtime rule—will go a long way toward ensuring that low- and middle-income families are sharing in the nation’s economic growth. And social insurance and assistance policies are important tools to reduce poverty and inequality for all of us. They must not only be protected but also strengthened. After all, four in five Americans will experience economic insecurity during their working years. These policies are solutions for all of us, not only the 14.8 percent of Americans who were in poverty last year.

Children, as always, suffer the most. Caroline Ratcliffe from the Urban Institute highlighted that children are disproportionately poor with one in five living in poverty compared with one in eight adults. Black children have fared worse than others with a full 75.4 percent being poor during their childhood:

These ever-poor children are less successful than their never-poor counterparts in their educational achievement and employment, and they are more likely to have a nonmarital teenage birth and some involvement with the criminal justice system. Children who spend half their childhood living in poverty fall even further behind.


'Send These, The Homeless, Tempest-Tost to Me'...Or Not

Let's have a cartoon from Ben Sargent:

You might have seen the Bill de Blasio and Rudy Giuliani exchange other over the issue of homelessness New York City.  In a NY Post piece, former New York Mayor Giuliani blamed the incumbent mayor and his “progressive ideas” for creating the homeless crisis. The city's current Mayor De Blasio responded by calling him “delusional” and said homelessness went up about 40 percent during Giuliani’s watch. Guiliani had these words in defense:

People who are in shelters, I would like to inform the Mayor, are not homeless. Of course there were more people in shelters, because [Former Mayor] Mike Bloomberg and I got them off the streets.

All you had to do was live in this city and you know that when I was mayor, there was very little homelessness in this city. They were in shelters.

Um well most advocates will tell you homeless shelters are named so because the people living in them are homeless. Let's turn to this August NYTimes story from Ginia Bellafonte on the unfolding anti-homeless sentiment among some folks living in NYC:

In recent weeks, an unsettling narrative has unfolded in New York, promoted in large part but by no means exclusively in the tabloid press, demonizing the homeless as a growing presence and a threat to bourgeois life. “Going to the Park? Don’t Trip on a Bum,” read a headline in The New York Post.

Over the summer, pictures of people sleeping on the streets have been posted on social media with insinuations that their presence is proof that the city is returning to the mayhem of the 1970s. This would suggest that we knew something definitive about the propensity of homeless people to commit serious crimes. We don’t. Years ago, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University looked at arrest records in Baltimore for 1983 and found that although homeless people were more likely to commit nonviolent offenses like camping without a permit and indecent exposure, they were less likely to commit crimes against people or property. Homeless people themselves are considerably imperiled; last year, a report from the National Coalition for the Homeless revealed that from 1999 to 2013 there had been 1,437 documented acts of violence in 47 states perpetrated against homeless people by those who were not homeless.

Perhaps Giuliani would like to read these basic facts about homelessness in New York City as prepared by the Coalition for the Homeless. There is also this 2012 NPR story on why homeless people dislike going to shelters even on the coldest nights of the year. The NY Times ran an article documenting life on the street for the homeless.

Poverty also often translates into homelessness for children (and even if they live in shelters). The Washington Post crunched numbers from a new federal report and found that there are twice as many homeless children in public schools nationwide since before the recession. It reached record national total of 1.36 million in the 2013-2014 school year:

Nationwide, student homelessness has increased steadily since 2009, continuing to rise even after the U.S. unemployment rate began falling and much of the country began recovering from the recession and the housing crash that helped cause it. Now, nearly 3 percent of the nation’s public school students are homeless, the data show.


'Lifting the Lamplight Beside the Golden Door' of Taxes

In an interview with a Portuguese radio station, Pope Francis recently weighed on tax policies and called for churches and religious bodies to pay taxes on income from regular business activity.

A religious school is tax-exempt because it is religious, but if it is functioning as a hotel, then it should pay taxes just like its neighbor. Otherwise it is not fair business.

This created quite a stir, with some claiming that Pope called for ending the tax-exempt status of churches that don’t help the needy. However, as Scott Greenberg from the Tax Foundation explains, the pope simply said that all businesses should have a level-playing field when it comes to taxes. This is the second time the pope has exhorted his followers to pay taxes, previously calling it a “grave sin.”

Guess what else happened in the world of taxes? The IRS recently ruled that mission-related investments do not necessarily jeopardize a foundation’s financial future or lead to excise tax:

When exercising ordinary business care and prudence in deciding whether to make an investment, foundation managers may consider all relevant facts and circumstances, including the relationship between a particular investment and the foundation’s charitable purposes. Foundation managers are not required to select only investments that offer the highest rates of return, the lowest risks, or the greatest liquidity so long as the foundation managers exercise the requisite ordinary business care and prudence under the facts and circumstances prevailing at the time of the investment in making investment decisions that support, and do not jeopardize, the furtherance of the private foundation’s charitable purposes.

David Wood, director of the Initiative for Responsible Investment at Harvard University, told the Chronicle of Philanthropy that this was a "big deal," as "it acknowledges that an endowment is a tool to achieve a mission and not just a financial engine that propels a foundation’s programs."

In more good news, online crowdfunding website Kickstarter announced that it is reincorporating as a public benefit corporation. The NY Times called the company’s move as choosing altruism over profits:

For other companies, some of the stipulations Kickstarter put into its charter as a public benefit corporation would be anathema. Kickstarter is exceptionally charitable, for instance, donating 5 percent of after-tax profits to causes that support the arts and combat inequality. Kickstarter has also agreed to “not use loopholes or other esoteric but legal tax management strategies to reduce its tax burden.

Kickstarter decided to become a public benefit corporation because “there’s a huge difference between a values document and the legal foundation of your company,” said Mr. Chen, who serves as chairman but focuses on making art.

Meanwhile, Felix Salmon at Fusion argued the company's decision not to ever go public could be the future of capitalism:

After all, going public sucks, especially for founders. Strickler and Chen have a clear vision for what Kickstarter should be, and if they took their company public, their company would be partially owned by thousands of investors who did not share that vision and who might even be utterly opposed to it. Much better to keep Kickstarter closely-held, by a group of investors and employees who all believe in the long-term mission of the company, and who aren’t trying to flip their shares for a quick profit...

The world’s oldest companies are invariably family-owned. If you want your company to exist for centuries, like say Antinori wine (founded in 1385), or Zildjian Cymbal (founded in 1623), or Kikkoman soy sauce (founded in 1630), then it’s best to tightly control the ownership. A good company with a sensible, sustainable business model will support many more generations of your heirs than any amount of cash, as well as giving them a real purpose in life.

Wonderfully, a Benefit Corporation manages to combine the profit motive with more philanthropic goals in a single entity which can last more or less in perpetuity. In that sense, it’s much more attractive than, say, a for-profit organization which first spins out part of its business as a non-profit, and then gets acquired.

In its official statement, the company said it will deliver a benefit statement annually, beginning early 2017, to measure the results of its efforts. 


'Your Teeming Shore' of Jobs?

The Labor Department's Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey showed that even though job openings soared to an all-time high in July, actual hires fell 4 percent to 5 million — 770,000 lower than openings.

In not raising the much-feared interest rates, John Cassidy from New Yorker says Yellen and the Fed did the right thing:

The Fed’s decision was perfectly justified. As it interprets its legal mandate, its job is to maximize employment growth in a manner consistent with an inflation target of two per cent. Despite the fact that job growth has been steady and the unemployment rate has fallen to 5.1 per cent, which is close to the level at which the Fed believes inflation starts to accelerate, there is absolutely no sign yet of inflation picking up.

Yellen’s former aide, Andrew Levin, also backed her decision citing slack left in the labor market.

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