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How State Welfare Rules Affect Low-Income Single Mothers Without Cash Incomes


As the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunities Reconciliation Act marks its twentieth anniversary, researchers are still exploring the impact of this law, called “welfare reform.”  Although this law’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program helps some groups of poor people, it leaves others without any stable cash support. One group seriously at risk consists of low-income single mothers with children who end up with no incomes from either welfare or paid jobs. Researchers call them “economically disconnected.”

Why Should We Care?

Low-income mothers and children who have have no documented cash income of their own may be eligible for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, yet many do not get those benefits. This is a cause concern, because families suffer when they have no cash at all. And we can also ask whether these programs are sufficiently accessible to those in most need. Available data show that “take-up rates,” that is, use of benefits, fell to about 30 percent in 2009 for eligible families. In 1990, moreover, studies found that about ten percent of low-income women subsisted without any cash; but the proportion rose to more than 20 percent by 2010.

Such “disconnected mothers” with little or no income are among America’s most economically vulnerable people. They are more likely than other low-income single mothers to live in public housing as opposed to apartments, and they experience severe hardships, sometimes even going without food. Prior studies have identified a number of reasons why certain poor women become so cut off from both work and public cash assistance. Many find it hard to get or keep jobs, because they lack childcare or transportation, or because they have to care for an ill family member. Many of these women also suffer physical and mental health problems that prevent them from working; or they have few opportunities due to limited work experience, learning disabilities, and low levels of educational attainment.

Do State Welfare Push Women to the Margins?

Many, if not all, of these families appear to qualify financially for public benefits that could reduce their hardship, yet are not receiving any cash assistance. Why?  Although some very needy women may simply decide not to apply for benefits, many may make choices influenced by program rules that make them ineligible despite severe financial need. The 1996 welfare law prompted major changes in the delivery of welfare benefits across all U.S. states. All states must deal with fixed federal grants and are required to institute time limits for people to get cash benefits. Nevertheless, states have some flexibility in how they define welfare rules and allocate the funds. Consequently, variations in state rules and procedures can affect decisions by poor mothers about applying for and using temporary assistance benefits.

Very low benefit rates in certain states may discourage women from applying – and some states actively try to divert poor women into programs other than Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. State rules about time limits, sanctions, and exceptions can also influence how long women receive cash assistance. Some may leave or get pushed out of programs before they have jobs. Although shorter time limits for welfare are meant to prod women into jobs, in practice positive employment outcomes do not happen for many of these mothers.

Research by my associates and I focuses on how state welfare rules relate to the likelihood of poor women ending up without any income from work or welfare. We explored these issues using data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation and the Welfare Rules Database covering the period from April 1996 to January 2007 – a decade of great change and variation in state welfare rules. In a way that protected personal information, the data analysis was conducted at the New York Census Research Data Center at Baruch College, a secure laboratory operated in partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau’s Center for Economic Studies.

Time Limits, Benefit Levels, and Diversion Programs

Our findings indicate that state Temporary Assistance rules do matter, helping to explain why very needy women do – or do not – end up severely marginalized, without any cash income.

Our strongest finding is that poor women who live in state with lower time limits for cash welfare assistance are more likely to end up disconnected, trying to survive without any cashincome. Because time limits are visible and easily understood, this is not surprising. Some poor women in these states may have collected welfare benefits for a period and simply reached the lifetime limit, losing eligibility. But others who could apply may be discouraged by the strict limit. Extending limits in states where they are very strict would not only allow very needy recipients to remain in the Temporary Assistance program longer; such a step might also encourage very needy women to apply when they actually are eligible. They might become less worried about losing eligibility for a time of future need. It is also possible that very strict limits signal a harsh administrative process, in which caseworkers tend to discourage needy mothers.

Two additional program rules also have a significant impact. States with more generous benefits tend to put poor women less at risk for becoming disconnected – and the higher benefit levels do not discourage employment.

On the other hand, states that try to divert needy women into programs that provide just short-term cash help rather than longer-term benefits tend to end up with more disconnected needy women trying to get by without any cash income. Furthermore, short-term diversion programs do not seem to help women find work. These programs may not function as intended.

For the foreseeable future, U.S. welfare programs are likely to remain in the hands of the states. Our research shows that specific state rules matter – and states that want to prevent the neediest women from falling into severe economic distress without any cash income, should start by reconsidering overly strict time limits for Temporary Assistance. Such limits can end up sending overly discouraging messages to women truly in need and potentially eligible for public help.

Read more in Andrea Hetling, Jinwoo Kwon, Correne Saunders, “The Relationship between State Welfare Rules and Economic Disconnection among Low-Income Single Mothers” Social Service Review 89, No. 14 (2015) 653-685. 


By            :               Andrea Hetling (Rutgers University)

Date         :               April 2016

Source     :               Scholars Strategy Network


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Today’s Inequality Could Easily Become Tomorrow’s Catastrophe


Economic inequality is already a concern, but it could become a nightmare in the decades ahead, and I fear that we are not well equipped to deal with it.

Truly extreme gaps in income and wealth could arise from many causes. Consider just a few: Innovations in robotics and artificial intelligence, which are already making many jobs uncompetitive, could lead us into a world in which basic work with decent pay becomes impossible to find. An environmental disaster like global warming, pollution or disease could sharply reduce the ability of people of ordinary means to live in specific regions or entire countries.

Future wars using ever more highly destructive technology, including chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons, could devastate vast populations. And it’s not out of the question that dire political changes, like the rise of racist or otherwise exclusionary social structures, could have terribly damaging consequences for less privileged people.

Of course, I dearly hope none of these things ever happen. But even if they are unlikely, as part of our progress to a better world, we should be thinking now of how we might address them.

The current presidential campaigns in the United States have not really touched on long-range issues like these. The campaigns have instead been focused primarily on short-term concerns, and on issues facing people of middle income instead of those in extreme poverty.

The private sector isn’t helping much, either. It has not gone very far in developing insurance or hedging markets to protect against these risks. That raises an important question: Can we depend on the benevolence of society to compensate and care for those who would lose out if dire events actually happened?

One way to judge the likely outcome is to look at what has happened in the past. In their new book “Taxing the Rich: A History of Fiscal Fairness in the United States and Europe” (Princeton 2016), Kenneth Scheve of Stanford and David Stasavage of New York University looked at 20 countries over two centuries to see how societies have responded to the less fortunate. Their primary finding may seem disheartening: Taxes on the rich generally have not gone up when inequality and economic hardship have increased.

Instead, they found that taxes tend to rise when warfare increases, largely “because war mobilization changed beliefs about tax fairness.” These tax changes were generally aimed at ensuring national survival, not correcting economic inequalities.

Professor Scheve and Professor Stasavage found that democratic countries have not consistently embraced more redistributive tax policies, and most people do not vote strictly in their narrow self-interest. As the right to vote broadened through the centuries, for example, and people without property began to vote, they did not consistently act to tax the rich. These findings run counter to a popular narrative. Recall that in 2012, Mitt Romney said that in a democracy, a candidate who offers tax breaks to the less well-off at the expense of the rich will win mass support “no matter what.” That claim does not appear to be supported by the historical record.

Instead, it appears that, for better or for worse, the majority of people share simple notions of entitlement and fairness. Professor Scheve, Professor Stasavage and their colleagues found that in 2014, when people in the United States were asked what marginal tax rates they would “most like to see” on family incomes of $375,000, the median answer was 30 percent, with the bulk of answers ranging from 20 percent to 40 percent. (The federal marginal tax rate for that income is 33 percent.)

This is consistent with my own survey results, which focused on inheritance taxes. In 1990, Maxim Boycko, then with a Moscow think tank, the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, and I asked both New Yorkers and Muscovites: “In your opinion, what inheritance tax rate for really wealthy people do you think we should have?” The average answers in the two cities were virtually identical: 37 percent in New York, 39 percent in Moscow. Taxing around a third of wealth, more or less, seemed fair to people. And perhaps it is reasonable, in the abstract, yet what will we do in the future if this degree of taxation won’t produce enough revenue to meaningfully help the very poor as well as the sagging middle class?

Along with nine other economists, I contributed to a project that engaged in really long-term forecasting. The results appeared in a book edited by Ignacio Palacios-Huerta of the London School of Economics: “In 100 Years: Leading Economists Predict the Future,” (M.I.T., 2013). None of us expressed optimism that inequality would be corrected in the future, and none of us ventured that any major economic policy was likely to counteract recent trends.

For example, Angus Deaton of Princeton, commenting on what he called the “grotesque expansions in inequality of the past 30 years,” gave a pessimistic prediction: “Those who are doing well will organize to protect what they have, including in ways that benefit them at the expense of the majority. ” And Robert M. Solow of M.I.T. said, “We are not good at large-scale redistribution of income.” Both Professor Deaton and Professor Solow are fellow Nobel laureates.

No one seems to have an effective plan to deal with the possibility of much more severe inequality, should it develop. In the disturbing book “Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation,” (Oxford, 1983) Amartya Sen, a Harvard professor, documented an extraordinary thing: In each of four devastating famines in different parts of the world, there was enough food to keep everyone alive. The problem in each case was that the food was not shared adequately. Systems of privilege and entitlement permitted hoarding of food by people of status whose lives went on much as usual, except that they had to brush off starving beggars and would occasionally see dead bodies on the street.

Satyajit Ray’s 1973 movie “Distant Thunder” depicted one of those terrible episodes, the Bengal famine of 1942-43. Millions died, almost all from the lower echelons of society. Among the privileged classes, only the most moral seemed to find the situation troubling enough to help in a significant way.

Despite past failures, we should not lose hope in our ability to improve the world. In a recent column, I described ways in which society might change a deep-rooted sense of entitlement by radically broadening wage and job insurance. Such a program would be a start in getting us prepared to deal with some of the immense challenges that may lie ahead.


Robert J. Shiller is Sterling Professor of Economics at Yale.


By           :              Robert J. Shiller

Date       :               August 26, 2016

Source    :              http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/28/upshot/todays-inequality-could-easily-become-tomorrows-catastrophe.html?_r=0

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For More Economic Diversity, Fix Income Inequality


The share of income claimed by the top 1, 5, and 10 percent of Americans has increased significantly since the 1970s. In addition, the United States has less upward mobility from one generation to the next than many European countries do, raising concerns about the nation’s commitment to equal opportunity. Access to higher education can play a role in countering these trends, and many colleges and universities are committed to access — but increasing income inequality is itself creating significant challenges for higher education.

A variety of factors have been blamed for the increasing income inequality. Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz, economists at Harvard, argue that there is a shortage of the skills needed as a result of technological change, and so skilled workers are in high demand and earn more money, thereby increasing the income divide between those with and without skills.

Others suggest that income inequality has more to do with the power and ability of those with money to influence the political process for their own economic benefit. Government clearly plays a role, with decisions about monetary and fiscal policy — including federal and state tax and expenditure policies, responses to recession and unemployment, and policies toward unions and minimum-wage rates — all affecting the distribution of income.

Whatever the causes, access to higher education can contribute to reducing income inequality and to improving socioeconomic mobility from generation to generation. Current research suggests that having a four-year college degree increases lifetime earnings by about 65 percent over having only a high-school degree. And a greater supply of those with college degrees in the labor market would put downward pressure on the skills premium. Earning a college degree also makes it much more likely that someone born into the bottom income quintile will move into higher quintiles.

Yet educational attainment appears to be stalling, and college attendance is still determined too much by income and race. While 44 percent of whites and 59 percent of Asian-Americans ages 25 to 64 have a higher-education credential, only 28 percent of blacks, 20 percent of Hispanics, and 23 percent of Native Americans do. And 82 percent of students in the top third of the income distribution go to college, versus 54 percent in the bottom third. College completion has increased across all income levels since the 1960s, but the gap between those in the lowest quintile and the highest quintile has also grown.

Colleges can play a role in countering these trends by increasing the socioeconomic diversity of their student bodies, educating more students from low- and middle-income families. This includes the selective, private nonprofit colleges and universities, most of which have equal opportunity as part of their missions. Yet the trend of increasing income inequality is exacerbating the challenges facing these institutions, making it more difficult for them to recruit a more socioeconomically diverse student body.

This is because higher-income families have done quite well over the last three to four decades and are willing and able to pay a higher price for the type of education they desire for their children. Colleges compete for these students, responding to their demands for a variety of services, from small classes with talented faculty to turf fields, which pushes up costs. These students have also had significant resources invested in them from birth through high school, so they are attractive admissions candidates.

We know that many low- and middle-income students do get through high school with the skills and education needed to be admitted and do well at selective colleges. Talented low- and middle-income students are out there, but research has shown that too few are applying to and matriculating at top institutions.

While many colleges would like to attract and admit those students, their families’ incomes have lagged behind the top groups because of increased income inequality. That means that colleges committed to recruiting and educating a socioeconomically diverse student body have to find additional financial-aid resources to make it possible for these students to attend.

What if income inequality in the United States had remained at levels from the 1970s rather than increasing as it did over the following four decades? Using data for a group of very selective colleges and universities, I attempted to figure it out. My findings, which will be published in the forthcoming issue of Education Finance and Policy, suggest that if income inequality had not increased over the last four decades, there would have been significantly less pressure on institutions to increase spending to attract students from high-income families since their incomes would have increased by much less.

Because disadvantaged families’ incomes would have been higher, they would have needed significantly less financial aid to attend these colleges. Greater income equality over the last four decades would have resulted in lower increases in tuition, lower increases in costs, and lower increases in the need for financial aid. My research shows that tuition, costs, and financial aid all would have been lower by about 10 to 20 percent. While these estimates are rough, they suggest that rising income inequality has not been inconsequential in the challenges that we see facing many institutions and low- and middle-income families.

Colleges have been criticized for rising costs and rising tuition, and many experts believe these trends, along with the subsequent rise in financial aid, are unsustainable. But these are in part a result of increasing income inequality in America. The government is in the best position to directly address these trends, through macroeconomic, tax, and expenditure policies. Changes in minimum-wage policies and greater support for unions on the part of the government could also play a role.

At the same time, the government allocates significant resources to higher education, and those subsidies, grants, and special tax treatments should be more focused. Colleges would do more to improve low- and middle-income access if doing so was required to get government money.

Absent changes in policies, income inequality is likely to continue to increase in America. This will create additional challenges for institutions of higher education as we try to attract students from all family-income levels and contribute to economic opportunity under increasingly difficult circumstances.

Catharine Hill is the president of Vassar College.


By           :               Catherine Hill

Date       :               April 24, 2016

Source    :               http://www.chronicle.com/article/For-More-Economic-Diversity/236203?cid=rc_right

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Multidimensional Inequality


Economic orthodoxy over the last six decades thought that the market mechanism would in time reduce economic inequality. This view was based on the 1955 paper by Simon Kuznets who argued that income inequality would first increase, then flatten out and in time decline through the process of market driven economic growth.

Now Thomas Piketty in his landmark study has provided new evidence to show that inequality of both wealth and income has been continuously increasing over the last three centuries.

Subsequently, the Oxfam Institute have come up with the famous estimate that the top one percent of the world’s population owns 50 percent of the world’s wealth while 99 percent of the world’s population owns the remaining 50 percent.

Income inequality in Pakistan has also been increasing sharply. My estimate, based on World Bank data adjusted for tax evasion, is that the richest 0.1 percent of Pakistan’s population (20,000 persons) has a monthly income of over Rs8,000,000 per person while the per person income of the poorest 60 percent of the population is about Rs6000 per month. Thus the income per month of the richest is 1300 times that of the poorest.

Piketty explains the increasing inequality in terms of his evidence that the rate of return on capital has been consistently much higher than the GDP growth rate so that over time the share of national income of the owners of capital assets continues to increase.

This is a plausible but only a proximate explanation of the inequality phenomenon. He has not explored the underlying factors rooted in the structure of capitalism. The fundamental design feature of this system is that some people own productive assets while others do not.

A related feature is that wages are usually less than the value of the products of labour and the capitalist can not only appropriate the difference in the form of profit but is impelled by competition to expand profits through reinvestment and technological change. Thus capital is essentially a social relation that is shaped by unequal power between the capitalist and the labourer.

Such a system of power would, therefore, have a structural tendency for increasing inequality between those who own productive assets and those who don’t, between those who have skills and those who don’t, between the powerful and the powerless.

In Pakistan the tendency of income inequality is based on a highly unequal distribution of productive assets. This is accentuated by a social structure and a form of governance that enlarges the power and income of the rich at the expense of the poor. There are five dimensions of this inequality.

First is the social, political and economic discrimination against women. This gives women relatively less access than men over productive assets, employment, education, judicial and police services.

The second dimension that reinforces inequality is that sections of society with religious identities different from those of the dominant sections are discriminated against in terms of employment, finance, upward social mobility, protection from violence against their persons and access over justice.

The third factor that exacerbates inequality is the system of public finance. In Western countries the tax system is progressive whereby a relatively high tax burden is placed on the rich and with the revenues so obtained the government undertakes public expenditure to provide services for the poor such as public education, health, transport and social protection.

In Pakistan by contrast due to the predominance of indirect rather than direct taxes, the poor bear a higher tax burden than the rich. Public expenditure is also loaded in favour of the rich: intra-city high speed corridors enable an increase in the speed of private vehicles but do little for those who walk to work; in public hospitals the poor patients are lying unattended in corridors while the influential patients get 5 star treatment in luxurious VIP rooms; and public sector educational institutions are concentrated in terms of both number and quality in the affluent areas.

The fourth is the spatial dimension. Those who live in remote areas have poorer access over markets, public services and infrastructure. This is a key factor in regional disparities in Pakistan. The latest UNDP study has shown that some districts in terms of per capita income are as affluent as developed countries while the backward districts fester at the level of Sub Saharan Africa.

I have argued elsewhere that regional disparities within the market system occur because regions with better infrastructure attract private investment and pull savings, educated and young persons from the backward areas, thereby making the developed regions even more attractive for future investment. This was called the process of Cumulative Circular Causation by Gunnar Myrdal.

Finally, markets in the rural areas are asymmetric with respect to the rich and poor. My research for the UNDP has shown that many rural markets are mediated by power. So that small farmers have to pay a higher price on their inputs and get a lower price on their output compared to large farmers. The evidence shows that the small farmers lose almost one third of their potential income to such asymmetric markets.

It is clear that the essential basis of high and growing inequality is the unequal distribution of productive assets. However, in Pakistan this process has been exacerbated by a configuration of social, cultural, power structures and associated government policy that has reinforced the market mechanism in accentuating income, gender and regional inequalities. New research, contrary to orthodox economics has shown that economic inequalities restrain economic growth itself.

In my humble opinion, what can be termed multidimensional inequalities also constrain the human potential of society, undermine democracy and create the possibility of violence. Time for a new economics and a new approach to public policy.


Dr. Akmal Hussain is a distinguished professor and dean, School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Information Technology, University Lahore.


By           :               Dr. Akmal Hussain

Date       :               August 25, 2016

Source    :               https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/144998-Multidimensional-inequality

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Why Tackling Socioeconomic Inequality is Key to Solving Mental Health Crisis


The evidence suggests that the U.K., among other high-income countries, is in the midst of a mental health crisis. A recent report by the Mental Health Network, found that 19 percent of adults had been diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives, while as many as one in four people experience a mental health problem in any given year. Even more worryingly, mental illness is high among the young, suggesting that the burden on the NHS and other social services will grow in the years to come.

It is commonly thought that depression and mental illness are “middle class problems”, yet this idea is not supported by evidence. Although mental health issues have risen among affluent social groups, studies have repeatedly shown that mental health remains inversely associated with social class. The risk of developing a mental disorder rises alongside socioeconomic disadvantage and the odds of reporting depression are almost twice as high among those in the lowest socioeconomic groups, compared with the highest.

Reviews also find that socioeconomically disadvantaged children are at greater risk of mental illness than those from more privileged backgrounds, suggesting that inequalities are intergenerational and start early in life.

Can policy make a difference?

The causes of these inequalities in mental health are thought to be the same as those that affect other aspects of the social distribution of health: poverty, unemployment, unhealthy lifestyles, poor working conditions, poor housing. Importantly, the negative impact of these “social determinants of health” can be reduced through well-designed social and labor market policies, as I discovered while researching my thesis on this topic.

The evidence to date reveals only broad links between social and labor market policies and inequalities in mental health. A number of studies have looked at variations and inequalities in mental health across “welfare regimes”. These are clusters of countries ranked according to their generosity of social protection, levels of social investment, and quality of working conditions. Those that are more generous and with better labor market conditions, are expected to have narrower inequalities in mental health as they will reduce the negative impact of poverty, unemployment and other “social determinants of health”.

One such study examined rates of depression across European welfare regimes. They found that on average depression was highest in liberal (U.K.) and southern (Italy, Spain, Greece) welfare states and lowest in Scandinavian (Sweden and Denmark) and conservative (Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Switzerland and Austria) regimes. This they linked to the weaker social protection and poorer quality of work in the liberal and southern welfare states, compared with Scandinavian and conservative ones.

Another study that focused more directly on inequalities examined how links between depression and education varied across European welfare regimes. They also found that the southern (Italy, Spain, Greece) welfare state, with its poorly developed systems of social protection and high poverty rates, was less successful at reducing the link between education and depression, particularly when compared with the northern (Sweden and Denmark) welfare state. This, they suggested, may be partly explained by the generosity of the Nordic welfare regime.

Other studies reach similar conclusions and overall the evidence suggests that countries with generous social protection, low unemployment, high levels of social investment (education and training/support for the unemployed) and a well-regulated labour market, perform better in terms of inequalities in mental health.

Despite this, there is still a lack of convincing evidence about exactly how welfare states reduce (or widen) inequalities in mental health. In my thesis, I began to explore these questions and examine if and how policies to reduce unemployment (public employment services, training, employment incentives), might also reduce inequalities in mental health.

Building on the approach of Carter and Whitworth, I suggest this might happen through two mechanisms. First, participation in well-resourced training programs might reduce inequalities in mental health by improving the experience of unemployment. The negative effects on mental health linked to unemployment are believed to be partly related to the damage to self-esteem and sense of purpose, which training programs could reduce. And second, better employment outcomes might reduce inequalities in mental health, particularly among socially disadvantaged groups as good quality work is beneficial to mental health.

Policy Implications

 There would certainly be broader benefits to using policies to reduce inequalities in mental health. Most recipients of incapacity benefit, one of the most widely claimed benefits, are from lower socioeconomic groups and claim it for mental health reasons. Social inequalities in mental health may therefore contribute to incapacity benefit claims, suggesting that social and labour market policies that reduce inequalities in mental health will (paradoxically) reduce costs to the welfare system.

Similarly, inequalities in mental health increase demands on NHS services in disadvantaged areas, where budgets are often already overstretched. Reducing these inequalities through social policies that target the social determinants of mental health may relieve strains on health care services in deprived areas and also contribute to wider health equity.

There are also moral arguments for tackling the social determinants of mental health. It is unfair that those who experience a poor quality of life are also more likely to suffer from debilitating mental illness. Moreover, inequalities in mental health may matter for the social gap in life expectancy, too, as mental illness is a strong predictor of mortality. Therefore, if we are interested in reducing inequalities in mortality (as Theresa May recently pledged in her first statement as U.K. Prime Minister) then we must also consider reducing inequalities in mental illness. Well-funded and appropriately designed social and labour market policies may help to do just that.


Owen Davis is a PhD candidate in Social Policy at University of Kent.


By           :               Owen Davis

Date       :               August 4, 2016

Source    :               http://www.newsweek.com/what-governments-can-do-help-mental-health-487144

Posted in Health, Latest Post, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment

Sociology professor on racism, inequality: ‘We get better’


The recent shootings of African-American men by police in Louisiana and in Minnesota, followed by the shootings of five police officers in Dallas, have once again sparked protests across the country and debate over racial bias and disparities in the criminal justice system.

Tressie McMillan Cottom, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology in the College of Humanities and Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University and a faculty associate at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, has been a prominent voice nationally in the debate.

She recently spoke with VCU News about Black Lives Matter, the roles of implicit and explicit bias, and why she has hope for better things ahead.

In the wake of the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, the shootings of five police officers in Dallas, and protests across the country, do you feel that we’re at a pivotal moment for race relations in the U.S.? Do you foresee positive changes ahead? What are the keys to making real progress?

I am not sure if this is a pivotal moment for race relations. It is shaping up to be a pivotal moment for social movements in the U.S. and abroad. The banner of Black Lives Matter has become a global phenomena. Sociologists aren’t good at predicting the future—there are just too many variables in the social world.

I don’t know that I foresee positive changes but I am very encouraged by young people finding their political voice, groups forming coalitions across race, class, gender and identity, and the impact this has had on the election season. I am hopeful because those are the keys to making real progress—political organizing, multigenerational social movements, coalition building and political change.

You and many others have discussed how implicit bias plays a crucial role in police interactions with African-Americans. How can that bias be successfully addressed?

First, let me be clear that implicit bias is part of a larger apparatus of explicit bias, state-sanctioned bias, and accumulated systemic disadvantage. Each of these must be addressed for any one of them to be addressed.

The first step is acknowledging that good intent does not necessarily make for good actions or good politics. It is hard to accept our inherent biases and unearned privileges. But, if we are committed to justice, each of us must do this personal work of accepting that we do not always live up to our ideal selves. I know many of my colleagues accept the challenge of education as critical to this process. For example, many of us use the implicit bias association test from Harvard University to explore these issues in the classroom. That’s part of addressing bias: acknowledging it, labeling it and becoming conversant in its history and context.

More broadly, as citizens we can demand that our public services also do this hard work so that we are better stewards of the public’s faith in our police, emergency services, political bodies and civic institutions.

As a sociologist who studies issues of race and class, what have been your big takeaways from the last couple weeks? Has the discussion been missing anything important that you’d want to highlight?

My takeaway is that sociology is still very much necessary. There is a reason that we see more sociologists in the news and in the public sphere. We are trained to think about how history and the circumstances of our biography shape and are shaped by each other. We are trained to understand complex social processes like the macro conditions that produce racially segregated neighborhoods where micro processes like interpersonal discrimination and implicit bias result in violence and broken public trust.

Often, when I teach my undergraduate sociology of race and ethnicity course, the students say they’re so discouraged by the historical trajectory of race and racism, class and inequality. I tell them the other big lesson from sociology: We get better. We really do. We long have. Our social organisms get healthier. Our humanness becomes more expansive. We make a difference and we change things for the better.

And that’s my takeaway over a few weeks that have been part of a brutal few years in a history of dark moments: We get better. It is hard to see it in the short term but it is true in the long term if we work towards it.

So, I am cheered when young people want to organize, when older people share their wisdom with a new generation of scholars and activists, and when we keep showing up to practice democracy in difficult, dangerous conditions. If anything is missing from the national conversation it is that practicing democracy is messy—and that is what we’re seeing, democracy in action—and that, if history proves right, those who are practicing that democracy right now do so for the benefit of us all.


By          :               Brian Mcneill

Date       :               July 15, 2016

Source    :               Phys.org


Posted in Latest Post, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment

Poverty and inequality after reforms


Creating productive employment and providing quality education are two of the most important measures

India embarked on big-bang economic reforms 25 years back in 1991. It is well-known that GDP growth has been much higher in the post-reform period. However, GDP is only one metric. Ultimately, the success of reforms depends on whether the well-being of people, particularly that of poor, increased over time. In this context, let’s examine the impact of economic reforms on poverty and inequality.

There are two conclusions on trends in poverty. The first one, shown in a World Bank study by Gaurav Datt and others, is that poverty declined by 1.36 percentage points per annum after 1991, compared to that of 0.44 percentage points per annum prior to 1991. Their study shows that among other things, urban growth is the most important contributor to the rapid reduction in poverty even though rural areas showed growth in the post-reform period.

The second conclusion is that in the post-reform period, poverty declined faster in the 2000s than in the 1990s. The official estimates based on Tendulkar committee’s poverty lines shows that poverty declined only 0.74 percentage points per annum during 1993-94 to 2004-05. But poverty declined by 2.2 percentage points per annum during 2004-05 to 2011-12. Around 138 million people were lifted above the poverty line during this period. This indicates the success of reforms in reducing poverty. The poverty of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes also declined faster in the 2000s. The Rangarajan committee report also showed faster reduction in poverty during 2009-10 to 2011-12. Higher economic growth, agriculture growth, rural non-farm employment, increase in real wages for rural labourers, employment in construction and programmes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) contributed to higher poverty reduction in the 2000s compared to the 1990s.

Another issue discussed all over the world, whether it is the Arab Spring or Brexit, is rising inequality. According to a Credit Suisse report, the richest 1% owns half of all the wealth in the world. What happened to inequality in post-reform period India? The evidence shows that inequality increased in this period. The Gini coefficient measured in terms of consumption for rural India increased marginally from 0.29 in 1993-94 to 0.31 in 2011-12. There was a significant rise in the Gini coefficient for urban areas from 0.34 to 0.39 during the same period. However, consumption-based Gini underestimates inequality. If we use income data from the National Council of Applied Economic Research’s India Human Development Survey, the Gini coefficient in income (rural+urban) was 0.52 in 2004-05 and increased to 0.55 in 2011-12. In other words, inequality is much higher in India if we use income rather than consumption. If we consider non-income indicators like health and education, inequalities between the poor and rich are much higher.

What is the way forward? The conclusion is that poverty declined faster but inequality increased in the post-reform period. However, India still has 300 million people below the poverty line. What should be done to reduce poverty and inequality?

Policymakers must continue to follow the two-fold strategy of achieving high economic growth and direct measures through social protection programmes. The focus should also be on increase in urban growth and income as the share of urban poverty will rise with urbanization.

There can be several solutions, but let’s focus here on the two important measures: creating productive employment and providing quality education for reduction in poverty and inequality. There is a feeling that we should have some flagship programmes like MGNREGA to reduce poverty. No doubt these programmes are important for protecting the poor. But equitable growth is much broader than this and productive inclusion in terms of generating quality employment should be the focus of any inclusive approach. Employment focus is the major part of equity approach. Studies have shown that agricultural growth leads to reduction in poverty twice as that of non-agriculture. We need more diversified agriculture for raising the income of farmers. However, future employment has to be created in manufacturing and service. In this context, the Make in India initiative, focus on start-ups, Mudra, financial inclusion, etc., are steps in the right direction. Equally, service sector employment has to be promoted. Over time, the share of the organized sector has to be raised while simultaneously improving productivity in the unorganized sector. Youth unemployment is high. This is one reason for unrest and social tensions. The need for skill development and productive jobs to reap the demographic dividend is obvious.

For reducing inequality, some advocate measures such as redistribution of assets and wealth in favour of the poor via higher taxes for the rich. However, these may not be pragmatic solutions. The tax/GDP ratio has to be raised with a wider tax base. Fiscal instruments like public investment in physical and social infrastructure can be used to reduce inequality. The new generation wants equality of opportunity rather than redistributive measures. Everyone irrespective of caste, class and gender should have equal opportunities in education, health, employment and entrepreneurship. Economic and employment opportunities improve with education and skills. The new generation wants better quality in schools and higher education.

Finally, economic reforms should focus more on efficient delivery systems of public services. Many reckon that poor governance is the biggest constraint in achieving the aspirations of a new generation and reduction in poverty and inequality. A major institutional challenge is the accountability of service providers, particularly the public sector. Recent literature also focused on eradication of corruption for reduction in inequalities. Issues like electoral reforms, crony capitalism, election funding and corruption should be part of the reform agenda to reduce inequalities.


S. Mahendra Dev is director and vice-chancellor, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai.


By           :               S. Mahendra Dev

Date       :               July 26, 2016

Source    :               http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/Mr2DS2Qv4ika8zEuScxN1L/Poverty-and-inequality-after-reforms.html

Posted in Latest Post, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment

Book Review: Kicked Out in America!


Book Title        :           Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

Author             :           Matthew Desmond

Publisher         :           The Crown Publishing Group

Date                :           March 2016


Seeking distraction one winter afternoon, a Milwaukee boy takes to some old-fashioned mischief and hurls snowballs at passing cars. A driver gives chase and kicks in the door of the house where the boy lives with his mother and younger brother. The landlord puts the family out. Thus begins an odyssey that in Matthew Desmond’s gripping and important book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, exposes the harrowing world of the ten million or so low-income households that pay half or more of their income for rent and utilities, a long-overlooked population whose numbers have recently soared.

The mother, Arleen, finds a house she likes, and it consumes only 84 percent of her cash income. But the city condemns it. So she moves the teen, Jori, and his brother, Jafiris, to a place she calls “Crack Head City” and then to a duplex where the rent, $550 a month, requires 88 percent of her income. She falls behind and gets evicted two days before Christmas, but the new tenant lets her stay until she finds a place. Living with a stranger causes friction, and Arleen calls ninety landlords before finding a place, from which she is again evicted. The situation worsens. She and the boys double up with a neighbor who is turning tricks. They rent a place where they are robbed at gunpoint. When Arleen’s next apartment takes 96 percent of her welfare check, she can’t keep the lights on. Her worst fear comes to pass: child welfare takes the kids.

Evicted tells this and other disturbing stories in spellbinding detail in service of two main points. One is that growing numbers of low-income households pay crushing shares of their incomes for shelter—50 percent, 60 percent, 70 percent, and more—leaving inadequate sums for items as basic as medicine and food. Their numbers were rising for decades but soared to record levels during the Great Recession. The book’s second point is that the evictions aren’t just a consequence of poverty but also a cause. Evictions make kids change schools and cost adults their jobs. They undermine neighborhoods, force desperate families into worse housing, and leave lasting emotional scars. Yet they have been an afterthought, if that, in discussions of poverty.

Desmond, a Harvard sociologist, cites plenty of statistics but it’s his ethnographic gift that lends the work such force. He’s one of a rare academic breed: a poverty expert who engages with the poor. His portraits are vivid and unsettling. Crystal, who takes in Arleen, had parents on crack and got passed around to two dozen foster homes. She ends up homeless and prostituting herself, but never misses church. Pam has “a midwestern twang and a face cut from a high school yearbook photo.” But she is so desperate for housing that she tolerates a racist boyfriend who makes her biracial daughters chant “White power!” It’s not easy to show desperate people using drugs or selling sex and still convey their courage and dignity. Evicted pulls it off.

It is odd that the shortage of low-income housing gets little attention, even among experts on the left. Decent affordable shelter is a primal human need, and its disappearance is one of the most troubling results of growing inequality. Housing patterns shape more visible issues like schools, jobs, and crime. What’s more, the affordability crisis, though worst at the bottom, is creeping well into the lower middle class. Perhaps the democratizing of shelter poverty will broaden public concern.

A major point to keep in mind is that the US spends huge sums to subsidize housing for people who are well-off (through the mortgage interest deduction and other tax breaks) while most poor renters get nothing: only one of four low-income households that qualify for assistance gets it. Desmond’s solution—give all eligible households a voucher, creating a right to housing—has little active support, even from liberals. But a major study released last summer showed that vouchers, under the right circumstances, can dramatically improve children’s prospects of breaking out of poverty. Evicted doesn’t cinch the case for a universal voucher; it does capture the perversity of the status quo and invite alternate proposals.


Desmond launched his research in 2008, as a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, when he moved into a trailer park on Milwaukee’s south side, looking for people with eviction notices. The park was in the news because an alderman, incensed at crime and code violations, was threatening to have it closed. Raw sewage bubbled up beneath some of the trailers, and Desmond rarely had hot water despite identifying himself as a writer studying the park’s condition. The landlord, Tobin Charney, “a hard man with squinting eyes,” won a reprieve in part by having sympathetic tenants tell TVcrews that closing the park would leave them homeless. Then he evicted some of them.

Desmond, who is white, moved across the residentially segregated city to the black ghetto on the near north side. His landlord, Sherrena Tarver (all the names are pseudonyms), was a hard-charging woman who once taught fourth grade. She was eager to show him “what landlords had to go through” and complained about “these low-quality people.” Desmond tracked eight families from both sides of town, and conducted two surveys, of 1,100 Milwaukee tenants and 250 people summoned to housing court. With visits to landlord meetings and rides with eviction crews, the book captures what could be called the Eviction Industrial Complex.

Part of the message is that evictions are much more common than previously thought. Desmond’s survey found that more than one in eight Milwaukee renters faced a forced move in the course of three years. That includes all involuntary moves, such as those resulting from building condemnations, and is roughly three times the comparable estimate found in census data. Desmond says that the official data undercount the large volume of informal evictions that occur outside of court.

The numbers sound extraordinary but not in light of the shelter burdens that low-income households carry. The government says that rent and utilities are affordable if they consume no more than 30 percent of a household’s income. Analyzing census data, Desmond finds that the majority of poor households pay over 50 percent of their income for shelter and more than a quarter pay over 70 percent. Among the tenants in housing court, a third spend at least 80 percent. Evicted’s families double up with strangers, sell food stamps, and pirate electricity but inevitably fall behind.

Evictions are brutal. Desmond watches as an armed deputy knocks and a mother pleads vainly for time. The mover says she can pay to store her possessions or have them left on the street. She can’t afford storage. “Curbside service, baby!” the mover tells the crew. Three children watch their mother pace. “Her face had that look,” Desmond writes. “The movers and the deputies knew it well. It was the look of someone realizing that her family would be homeless in a matter of hours.” One woman from the trailer park spent $1,000 on the storage bills but fell behind and lost her belongings anyway. About 70 percent of evicted tenants who opt for storage do. A week earlier, a man asked the deputy for a private moment, then shot himself in the head.

Evictions destabilize neighborhoods. The more people come and go, the less chance there is for cohesion. A case in point is the Hinkston family—Doreen, four kids, and three grandkids—who were neighborhood fixtures on a block where they lived for seven years. Doreen was a porch sitter who knew everyone and kept her eyes on the street. When an eviction notice forced them to move in a hurry, they quickly settled for a run-down house on a block where they knew no one and kept inside. “With Doreen’s eviction, Thirty-Second Street lost a steadying presence,” Desmond writes, “but Wright Street didn’t gain one.” Evictions often generate two moves—a rush that often ends in a hellhole and an effort to climb out of it.

Worse, evictions destabilize people. Jori, the snowball thrower, went to five different schools in seventh and eighth grades, “when he went at all.” He once missed seventeen consecutive days. The disruptions cause workers to get fired. Letters sent to wrong addresses cause people to miss appointments and lose public aid. Evictions mar the tenants’ records, making it harder to get housing assistance or rent private apartments. The effects are enduring, as measured by incidents like hunger or lost utilities. “The year after eviction, families experience 20 percent higher levels of material hardships than similar families who were not evicted,” Desmond writes. He continues:

Then there is the toll eviction takes on a person’s spirit…. One in two recently evicted mothers reports multiple symptoms of clinical depression, double the rates of similar mothers who were not forced from their homes. Even after years pass, evicted mothers are less happy, energetic, and optimistic than their peers.

Eviction isn’t just another hardship, Desmond argues, but a detour onto a much harder path—“a cause, not just a condition, of poverty.”

The landlords in Evicted hold all the cards. Technically, they can’t retaliate against tenants who complain of stopped-up toilets or broken windows. But they can evict anyone who fails to pay the rent, regardless of the housing conditions. The result is a kind of devil’s pact. “Tenants who fell behind either had to accept unpleasant, degrading, and sometimes dangerous housing conditions or be evicted,” Desmond writes. When cases go to court, tenants rarely win. About 70 percent of them don’t even appear. They can’t miss work or find child care or stomach the humiliation. The sound of eviction court is the call of a name, “a pause, and three loud thumps of the stamp.”

When one of Sherrena Tarver’s houses catches fire, a baby dies. There were supposed to be smoke detectors in the bedroom, but the firemen didn’t hear them. Sherrena fears she’s at risk. “I thought we had put some smoke detectors up there,” she says. “I can’t remember right now.” The baby’s mother, Kamala, is one of her former students. When the fire inspector calls the next day and tells Sherrena she’s off the hook, she has one question: Does she have to return Kamala’s rent?

The answer is no. And she doesn’t.


The struggle to pay the rent may sound like a problem the poor have always faced. It’s not. Into the 1970s, low-income housing, though often squalid, generally didn’t squeeze budgets. The wind whipped through the tar-paper shacks, but the shacks were abundant and cheap. Demolition and gentrification claimed the cheap units, and sputtering incomes swelled the number of needy renters. In 1970, the US had nearly a million more affordable units than poor households, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Two decades later, the situation had reversed: there were five million more poor households than affordable units. Housing was better but cost a lot more.

The severe recession that began in December 2007 delivered a double whammy. Foreclosures turned millions of homeowners into renters, which kept rents rising even as incomes fell. Between 2001 and 2014, real rents rose 7 percent, according to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, while renters’ incomes fell 9 percent. As a result, the number of households paying more than 30 percent of their income for shelter rose to a record 21.3 million—about one in six nationwide. And the number paying more than half their income rose even faster, to 11.4 million, from 7.5 million. Among them, 30 percent had a full-time worker.

For the poorest families, the chances of finding affordable shelter are virtually nil. But the squeeze is on higher up. Even among households earning between $30,000 and $45,000 a year—clerks, cooks, or low-level medical technicians, for example—nearly half pay more than the 30 percent the government says they can afford. Of them, 10 percent devote at least half their income to shelter. This may seem like a problem mostly confined to big cities. But places with cheaper housing generally pay lower wages, which offsets the benefits. High-cost New York City and low-cost McAllen, Texas, are two places the Harvard center identifies as especially hard to afford. To pay for what the federal government says a modest two-bedroom apartment should cost in a mid-priced state like Florida, a full-time worker has to earn $19.47 an hour. As the National Low Income Housing Coalition notes, that’s more than twice the minimum wage.

Belts can tighten only so far. A household with an income of $15,000 that pays 70 percent for shelter has about $12.50 a day left over for everything else—food, health care, clothing, furniture, transportation, and the like. Even if you assume that poor people underreport their income, as they generally do, something’s got to give. Often it’s food, since unlike rent, meals can be skipped without the sheriff being summoned. The Harvard center found that low-income households with severe rent burdens spent 38 percent less on food than similar households with affordable shelter, 55 percent less on health care, and 60 percent less on transportation.

Why are rents so high? Desmond points to exploitative landlords and their ability to “charge as much as they want.” But owners don’t charge what they want. They charge what the market will bear. The big problem is that it costs more to build even modest housing than millions of households can pay, whether the builder is greedy or not. That’s partly because restrictive zoning and overzealous building codes drive up the price. But it’s mostly because of the inherent cost of the basics: land, interest, materials, utilities. As a rule of thumb nationwide, even an efficient nonprofit developer can’t build an apartment affordable to a household making less than about $32,000 a year. That leaves out nearly a third of American households.

Housing aid helps fill the gap. If tenants are lucky enough to receive it, they pay 30 percent of their income for shelter, and the government pays the rest up to a modest local cap. But only a quarter of the households that are poor enough to qualify get it. The rest face long waits and many never get help. Desmond would expand the program so that everyone who qualifies gets it—making housing aid an entitlement instead of a lottery.

Leave aside the question of what this would cost. A more interesting question is how much would the needy benefit and in what way: would affordable housing simply make life more humane or would it lead to more upward mobility? Desmond argues the latter. “A universal voucher program would change the face of poverty in this country,” he writes.

Evictions would plummet and become rare occurrences. Homelessness would almost disappear. Families would immediately feel the income gains and be able to buy enough food, invest in themselves and their children through schooling or job training, and start modest savings.

Unfortunately, there’s room for doubt about this mobility thesis, even in the stories Desmond tells. Rent burdens compound his characters’ problems, but the issues run much deeper. A number are addicted to drugs. Others are mentally or physically impaired. Many failed to finish high school. One got pregnant at fourteen. It’s reasonable to hope that helping adults get a place to stay will at least help their children advance, but the evidence is thin.

A study last year by Brian A. Jacob of the University of Michigan, Jens Ludwig of the University of Chicago, and Max Kapustin examined precisely that question. In 1997, the Chicago Housing Authority held a lottery; 18,000 households got vouchers and tens of thousands of virtually identical households did not. The study found that vouchers “had little if any impact on the education, crime, or health outcomes” of children. (Vouchers also reduced the amount their parents worked.) That still leaves a case for vouchers, but it’s a simpler case than promoting upward mobility: poor adults and their children should suffer less. There’s a floor beneath which no one should fall. A safety net that lets three quarters of the needy slip through simply isn’t a safety net.

At the same time, we may not yet know how much vouchers can achieve. Evictedseems to have been completed before a major study last August bolstered the case for improved mobility. It involved Moving to Opportunity, a famous housing experiment from the 1990s, which gave vouchers to several thousand families on the condition that they use them to move from high-poverty neighborhoods to areas less poor, presumably with more jobs and better schools. Hopes ran high, but for years the results were disappointing. The adults’ mental health and safety improved, but their earnings and employment didn’t, and their children fared no better in school. The teenage boys who moved had more delinquency problems than those who stayed behind.

The new study (by Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, and Lawrence F. Katz, all of Harvard) examined the long-term outcomes for younger kids, who had more time to benefit from the new neighborhood.1 On average, they were eight when they moved. By their twenties, they earned about a third more than those who stayed behind, and they were a third more likely to attend college. Over their lifetime, they stood to earn an additional $300,000. The girls’ chances of becoming single mothers fell by 26 percent.

These are huge gains by the standards of experimental programs—the social policy equivalent of a moonshot. The researchers don’t know why, especially since in the medium term the kids did no better in school. One theory for the gains generally is that better neighborhoods offer more second chances. But the crucial change was getting away from very poor neighborhoods.

If the results can be replicated, the issue becomes scale. It’s not clear how many poor people are willing to move to an unfamiliar place—about half of those offered the vouchers didn’t go—or how the new areas would react. In Baltimore, one of the five Moving to Opportunity sites, even a small-scale effort ignited a huge backlash. The potential for demagoguery is great, especially in a demagogic age. Then again, suburbs are more diverse now. Katz argues that the requisite amount of income-mixing would take America back to the patterns of the 1970s, a significant change but not wild-eyed social engineering. Even getting halfway there might dramatically improve millions of lives.


Poor people can be remarkably generous. The evicted in Evicted turn to half-strangers, and the strangers take them in. A neighbor houses Pam in the trailer park; Crystal shelters Arleen in the ghetto. When Crystal and a friend spy a boy eating table scraps at McDonald’s they pool coins to buy him a meal, even though they are homeless themselves.

In the 1970s, the anthropologist Carol Stack famously described the inner city as a giant favor bank. Poor women formed networks of real and fictive kin and dispensed aid—cigarettes, babysitting, a spare room—knowing they could later claim help in return. They formed their own safety net. Desmond argues that deepening destitution has made those networks harder to sustain. With family less willing or able to help, the destitute turn to strangers and a succession of “disposable ties.” They turn to each other and on each other.

When Arleen gets evicted before Christmas, she doesn’t even ask her siblings for help. They are too poor. An aunt could step in, but Arleen is saving that call for a worse emergency. So when the new tenant offers to let Arleen stay, Arleen hugs her and accepts before learning her name. Crystal has motives for keeping Arleen around. She needs furniture, and having just aged out of foster care she wants a mother figure.

Instant intimacy yields to screaming matches. During their first fight—after Arleen’s son Jori calls Crystal a “bitch”—Crystal, who speaks in tongues, says that the Holy Ghost has told her to relent and not put the family out. During the second fight Arleen comes unglued and resists Crystal’s efforts to calm her.

“You don’t know what it’s like to have your father molest you and your mother not care about it!” Arleen screams.

“Yes I do!” Crystal says. “I know exactly what that’s like ’cause my stepfather molested me when I was just a little girl, and that’s why they sent me to the foster care…. You’ve been molested? I’ve been molested too.”

The exchange ends with another hug, which becomes a prelude to another fight. When Arleen finally leaves, she tells Jori to grab the cheap adapter she bought for the gas line. This would disable the stove. Crystal becomes furious, and they go from confidantes to combatants with startling ferocity. “Stankin’ ass bitch!” Arleen screams. Crystal throws their stuff all over the yard, Jori smashes Crystal’s TV, and his little brother hits her with a shower rod. Crystal takes up with other strangers and the pattern repeats: “Make a friend, use a friend, lose a friend,” often violently.

Evicted doesn’t dwell on it, but the talk of molestation is revealing. No fewer than four characters disclose that they were victims of childhood sexual abuse. The issue doesn’t get much attention in discussions of chronic poverty. But in my own interviews with women on welfare, I’ve found that they mention it with dismaying frequency.2Women who were raped or molested as children are more likely to suffer from depression, drug addiction, or domestic violence—all of which interfere with education and employment and drive up poverty rates. It is to Desmond’s credit that he highlights the trauma; it also shows that the problems he’s conveying go well beyond housing costs.

The children in Evicted have hellish lives. “Tell us about the time that Dad hit you with a bottle and blood was coming out of your head,” a six-year-old girl asks her mother. Even at four, one of the chronically homeless boys seems “finished with childhood.” He refuses to hold his mother’s hand or sing in preschool. When she faces possible jail time for committing armed robbery, she brings him to court with orders to be stoic “if they give Momma the punishment.” The mother cries over her fifteen-month sentence, but the boy “stared back stone-faced, strong, just like his momma had taught him.”

Desmond notes only in passing that Milwaukee, the city he concentrates on, has been widely celebrated for “ending welfare”—slashing the rolls with time limits and work requirements—a strategy that some officials would apply to the rest of the safety net. That he finds so much misery suggests the verdict of success needs revisiting.

One especially haunting moment involves Jori, Arleen’s fourteen-year-old, who is less a child than his mother’s would-be protector. “If Arleen needed to smile, Jori would steal for her,” Desmond writes. “If she was disrespected, he would fight for her.” But he can’t protect her, and she can’t protect him, which leaves them bottled up with anger. The one source of innocence in Jori’s life is a kitten, named Little, who pounces on shoelaces and slurps ramen noodles and makes him laugh. When Jori is evicted, he entrusts the kitten to a neighbor and returns to find him crushed by a car. There happens to be a mannequin lying around, and Jori kneels over it. “He hit the face with a closed fist. He kept hitting it. Soon he was grunting, and his punches flew faster and harder and louder.” Arlene, shaken, screams at him to stop.

In an afterword, Desmond explains that his own family lost his childhood home to foreclosure about the time he left for college. He says that researching the book “left me depressed for years.” But Evicted isn’t a depressing book. It is also a stirring reminder that the US accepts as ordinary a depth of poverty that is extraordinary and cruel. At its heart is a simple message: “No moral code or ethical principle, no piece of scripture or holy teaching, can be summoned to defend what we have allowed our country to become.”


By           :               Jason De Parle

Source    :               The New York Review of Books

Kicked Out in America!

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After Attacks on Muslims, Many Ask: Where Is the Outpouring?


PARIS — In recent days, jihadists killed 41 people at Istanbul’s bustling, shiny airport; 22 at a cafe in Bangladesh; and at least 250 celebrating the final days of Ramadan in Baghdad. Then the Islamic State attacked, again, with bombings in three cities in Saudi Arabia.

By Tuesday, Michel Kilo, a Syrian dissident, was leaning wearily over his coffee at a Left Bank cafe, wondering: Where was the global outrage? Where was the outpouring that came after the same terrorist groups unleashed horror in Brussels and here in Paris? In a supposedly globalized world, do nonwhites, non-Christians and non-Westerners count as fully human?

“All this crazy violence has a goal,” Mr. Kilo, who is Christian, said: to create a backlash against Muslims, divide societies and “make Sunnis feel that no matter what happens, they don’t have any other option.”

This is not the first time that the West seems to have shrugged off massacres in predominantly Muslim countries. But the relative indifference after so many deaths caused by the very groups that have plagued the West is more than a matter of hurt feelings.

One of the primary goals of the Islamic State and other radical Islamist groups is to drive a wedge between Sunni Muslims and the wider world, to fuel alienation as a recruiting tool. And when that world appears to show less empathy for the victims of attacks in Muslim nations, who have borne the brunt of the Islamic State’s massacres and predatory rule, it seems to prove their point.

“Why isn’t #PrayForIraq trending?” Razan Hasan of Baghdad posted on Twitter. “Oh yeah no one cares about us.”

Hira Saeed of Ottawa asked on Twitter why Facebook had not activated itsSafety Check feature after recent attacks as it did for Brussels, Paris andOrlando, Fla., and why social media had not been similarly filled with the flags of Turkey, Bangladesh and Iraq. “The hypocrisy is the western world is strong,” she wrote.

The global mood increasingly feels like one of atavism, of retreat into narrower identities of nation, politics or sect, with Britain voting to leave the European Union and many Americans supporting the nativist presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump.

The violence feeds a growing impulse among many in the West to fear Muslims and Arabs, which has already prompted a political crisis over immigration that, in turn, has buttressed extremists’ goals. Europe is convulsing over a movement to reject refugees from Syria and Iraq, who are themselves fleeing violence by jihadists and their own governments.

It is in Syria and Iraq that the Islamic State has established its so-called caliphate, ruling overwhelmingly Muslim populations with the threat of gruesome violence. The group has killed Muslims in those countries by the thousands, by far the largest share of its victims.

When Islamic State militants mowed down cafegoers in Paris in November, people across the world adorned public landmarks and their private Facebook pages with the French flag — not just in Europe and the United States, but also, with an empathy born of experience, in Syria and Iraq.

But over the past week, Facebook activated its Safety Check feature, which allows people in the vicinity of a disaster to mark themselves safe, only after the attack on the Istanbul airport.

The flags of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Bangladesh have not been widely projected on landmarks or adopted as profile pictures. (Photographs on social media showed that in Bosnia and Herzegovina, one of Europe’s two majority-Muslim countries, the Turkish flag was beamed onto a bridge in Mostar, the scene of sectarian killings in the 1990s.) Some wonder if part of the reason is that three of those flags bear Islamic symbols or slogans.

“More deaths in Iraq in the last week than Paris and Orlando combined but nobody is changing their profile pics, building colours, etc.,” Kareem Rahaman wrote on Twitter.

There are some understandable reasons for the differing reactions. People typically identify more closely with places and cultures that are familiar to them. With Iraq, there is also a degree of fatigue, and a feeling that a bombing there is less surprising than one in Europe.

Deadly attacks have been a constant in Iraq after years of American occupation, followed by a sectarian war in which Sunni and Shiite militias slaughtered civilians of the opposite sect. Still, while terrorist attacks in Europe may feel more surprising to the West — though they have become all too common there, too — that does not explain the relative indifference to attacks in Istanbul, Saudi Arabia or Bangladesh.

“That’s what happens in Iraq,” Sajad Jiyad, a researcher in Iraq who rushed to the scene of the Baghdad bombing and found that one of his friends had died there, wrote on his own blog. “Deaths become just statistics, and the frequency of attacks means the shock doesn’t register as it would elsewhere, or that you have enough time to feel sad or grieve.”

In the Muslim world, the partly sectarian nature of some conflicts shades people’s reactions, producing a kind of internal sympathy gap. People from one sect or political group often discount or excuse casualties from another.

In Iraq, the Islamic State took root within an insurgency against the country’s Shiite-led government, and Shiite militias fighting it have been accused of brutality as well. In Syria, it is just one menace; many more Syrians have been killed by the government’s attacks on areas held by Sunni insurgents, including rebel groups opposed to the Islamic State.

Mr. Jiyad added that the Islamic State was “hoping to incite a reaction and a spiral into endless violence,” and that Iraqis played into that when they mourned more for their own sect than for others.

In the West, though, there is a tendency in certain quarters, legitimized by some politicians, to conflate extremist Islamist militants with the Muslim societies that are often their primary victims, or to dismiss Muslim countries as inherently violent.

“Either Iraqi blood is too cheap or murder is normalized,” Sayed Saleh Qazwini, an Islamic educator in Michigan, wrote on Twitter.

In Paris, a rainbow flag hangs on the Hotel de Ville, memorializing the 49 people gunned down at a gay nightclub in Orlando last month. But in a corner shop on Monday, the woman who served me had no such sympathy for the Middle East.

When she asked where I lived, and I told her Beirut, Lebanon, she exclaimed about the violence in the region. Struggling to explain that there is a lot more than just violence happening there, I said: “Yes, there are a lot of problems. What can one do?”

“Exterminer les islamistes,” she said grimly. Exterminate: a strong word. Islamists: a broad category of people.

Mr. Kilo, who spent years in the prisons of the Syrian government and opposes both it and the Islamic State, said his life in Paris had changed since November. Speaking Arabic is now suspect. He sees fear in French people’s eyes when they see Syrians.

“I’m afraid, too,” he said. “Someone could blow himself up anytime.”

He has written an article that will be published in the newspaper Al Araby Al Jadeed, titled “The Curse of Syria.”

The failure of empathy is broader than the Islamic State, he said; it extends to the international community’s unwillingness or inability to stop the slaughter of the Syrian civil war, which began with protests for political change.

“If we lose all humanity,” Mr. Kilo said, “if you allow the slaughter of a nation for five and a half years, after all the leaders of the international community declared the right of these people to revolt against their government, then expect Islamic State — and many other Islamic States in other forms and shapes.”


By            :               Anne Barnard

Date         :               July 5, 2016

Source     :               The New York Times


Posted in Latest Post, Religion, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment

The worst ISIS attack in days is the one the world probably cares least about


First, they came for Istanbul. On Tuesday night, three suspected Islamic State militants launched a brazen assault on Turkey’s main airport, exploding their suicide vests after gunning down numerous passengers and airport staff. At least 45 people were killed. The world panicked; Istanbul Ataturk Airport isone of the busiest hubs in Europe and the Middle East, and it is among the most fortified. Are our airports safe, wondered American TV anchors. Could this happen here on the Fourth of July?

Next, they came for Dhaka. Gunmen whom many have linked to the Islamic State raided a popular cafe in an upscale neighborhood in Bangladesh’s teeming capital. After a 10-hour standoff, authorities stormed the establishment; at least 20 hostages, mostly Italian and Japanese nationals, died at the militants’ hands. U.S. college students also were among the dead. The Islamic State’s reach is growing far from the Middle East, security experts fretted. Foreigners are at risk all over the Muslim world.

Then, they attacked Baghdad. In the early hours of Sunday morning, as hundreds of Iraqis gathered during the holy month of Ramadan, a car bombexploded in the crowded Karrada shopping district. The blast killed a staggering number of people — the latest death toll is at least 187 — including many children. The area is predominantly Shiite, making it a choice target for the Sunni extremist group.

It’s unlikely that this attack, just the latest in an unending stream of tragedy to envelop the Iraqi capital, will generate the same panic in the West as the earlier two incidents. For years now, we have become almost numb to the violence in Baghdad: Deadly car bombings there conjure up no hashtags, no Facebook profile pictures with the Iraqi flag, and no Western newspaper front pages of the victims’ names and life stories, and they attract only muted global sympathy.

The BBC has a timeline of the recent attacks linked to the Islamic State in the city and elsewhere in Iraq, including a hideous week of bombings in Baghdad in mid-May:

 9 June 2016: At least 30 people killed in and around Baghdad in two suicide attacks claimed by IS

17 May 2016: Four bomb blasts kill 69 people in Baghdad; three of the targets were Shia areas

11 May 2016: Car bombs in Baghdad kill 93 people, including 64 in market in Shia district of Sadr City

1 May 2016: Two car bombs kill at least 33 people in southern city of Samawa

26 March 2016: Suicide attack targets football match in central city of Iskandariya, killing at least 32

6 March 2016: Fuel tanker blown up at checkpoint near central city of Hilla, killing 47

28 February 2016: Twin suicide bomb attacks hit market in Sadr City, killing 70

And all of this is only from this year. Since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and the bungled occupation that followed, Baghdad has been the site of numerous rounds of sectarian bloodletting, al-Qaeda attacks and now the ravages of the Islamic State. Despite suffering significant defeats at the hands of the Iraqi army, including the loss of the city of Fallujah, the militant group has shown its willingness and capacity to brutalize the country’s population.

Public anger in the Iraqi capital, as my colleague Loveday Morris reports, is not being directed at foreign conspirators or even — first and foremost — at the militants, but at a much-maligned government that is failing to keep the country safe.

“The street was full of life last night,” one Karrada resident told The Washington Post, “and now the smell of death is all over the place.”


By            :               Ishaan Tharoor

Date         :               July 4, 2016

Source     :               The Washington Post


Posted in Latest Post, Religion, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment
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