Friday, January 30, 2015

Signs the Economy is Bad: January 30, 2015 edition

Welcome to another edition of "Signs the Economy is Bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. This is the semi-regular (as in when I have time and/or feel like doing it) feature where I scour the Internet in search of the oh so subtle hints that the economy is bad. Sure, pundits may say things are getting better, but what do they know? And to show not all is bad, once in a while we look at how good the uber rich have it.  

Welcome then to the first edition of 2015. As we end January of 2015, we see that it really sucks to be poor, especially if you like in the United States where, to be perfectly honest, anyone not poor does not really give a shit about the less fortunate. So let's get started.

  • The big headline this week, heck, I would say this month, is that "1 in 5 kids are using food stamps." People receiving food stamps, better known as the SNAP program, have gone up. However, government spending on the program has gone down. Can't imagine why. I mean, there is clearly more need. People clearly need help to put some food on the table. Naturally, Congress is on the case: "The spike in food stamp spending has caught the attention of Congress, and House Republicans tried to cut the program by around $4 billion a year in 2013." Because, hey, what's a few starving children? (Story via Equal Voice.)
  • By the way, the story above is based of a U.S. Census Bureau report. If you are interested, the actual report is here.
  • By the way, keeping up with the Joneses keeps getting more and more difficult. Turns out that "poverty is rising much faster in suburbs than cities" (story via Bill Moyers). According to the article, "Suburban communities are not equipped to deal with their rapidly rising poverty rates. As Elizabeth Kneebone, co-author of the Brookings report, told The Atlantic, 'Many of these communities lack the infrastructure, safety-net supports, and resources to address the needs of a growing poor population, which can make it that much harder for poor residents to connect to the kinds of opportunities that can help them get out of poverty in the long run.' Suburbs generally have poorer access to public transit and fewer social services than neighboring cities." That would not have anything to do with the fact those people chose to move out of cities to get away from city "blight" and now that distance (pardon, exclusivity) is now biting them in the ass, would it? But the reality is these folks were just as vulnerable, if not more so, as anybody else. Often, all it took was for a household member to lose a high paying job, and suddenly the poverty spiral happens. Once more the old adage seems to apply here: there but for the deity of choice, go I. 
  • A couple of additional items of interest via Bill Moyers' site: 
    • "5 Charts That Show How the Middle Class is Disappearing." And after a lot of them decided to vote GOP recently, they've just enabled that their disappearance could get here a lot faster.
    • If you are a kid in a public school, odds are decent you are poor since "over half of public school students are from low income families." And let's not even get started on things like white flight and the rich doing their best not only to send their kids to private schools but also make sure to not pay their fair shares to support public education. After all, as long as their kids are taken care of, who cares about the rest? And by the way, that is not the full story. Keep reading the article. You'll learn, for instance, that the U.S. is not doing so hot on things like child mortality rates neither. From the article: "The child mortality rate in the United States, seven of every 100,000 live births, is roughly double the average of Belgium, France and the Netherlands. Our rate is in line with the Balkan states of Macedonia and Serbia/Herzegovina, poorer countries with less-developed health care systems."
  • One of the major problems for the poor is that they also get the shaft at tax time. The one-percenters barely pay taxes, if they even pay their fair share at all, while the poor get stuck with the big tax bills (story via In These Times).  And it is not just when you file your tax forms. According to the article, "researchers say the incongruity derives from state and local governments’ reliance on sales, excise and property taxes rather than on more progressively structured income taxes that increase rates on higher earnings." However, I am sure the more comfortable are reading this and say to themselves, so what? Here is the so what: "In September, Standard & Poor’s released a study showing that increasing economic inequality hurts economic growth and subsequently reduces public revenue." 
  • At the end of the day, it seems politicians and their rich donors see the poor and the middle class as pretty much interchangeable (story via FAIR blog). It is not just rhetoric. This does make a difference in policy and how politicians see working people, if they see them at all.
  • Let's keep bottom lining it. Income inequality in the U.S. has been getting worse. A recent "analysis finds that all 50 states have experienced widening income inequality in recent decades." You can read the full report on "The Increasingly Unequal States of America" now via the Economic Policy Institute.  
  • However, we all know the "real" problem with the poor is they keep wanting stuff. Why the hell do working people want to have stuff in life? Damn selfish bastards. So says U.S. billionaire Jeff Greene: "People need to have less things in life" (story via Addicting Info). Mr. Greene took time off his very busy schedule to make that comment as he was landing on his private jet in Switzerland. Now for you peons, allow me to translate. What Mr. Greene really means is that you and I need to starve so he can afford his private jet and the other "things in life." By the way, how did this pompous airbag make his money? He "made much of his fortune after betting against all those sub-prime mortgage loans, then cashing in back in 2008 when the economy tanked and millions of Americans lost their homes to foreclosures." Yea, he was a garden variety capitalist vulture making money off the misery of others. 
  • Now some people are indeed doing with less stuff. Many kids are certainly doing with less Barbies since Mattel just fired their CEO after the company sales of the doll have been going down. Story via The Week.
  • Now some folks may say that education is a way out of poverty. One would think then that perhaps societies and governments would want to invest in education. Well, not happening. In the U.S., at least 16 states invest more in prisons than than college housing (story via Addicting Info).  Yes, the U.S. prefers to house prisoners than college students. 
  • In the end, it's not all bad, or is it? Mobile home sales seem to be going up. However, the reality is the way they are sold and financed, in very exploitative and somewhat shady ways, are pretty much making prey out of the poor, especially in rural areas. Story via The Daily Yonder

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