Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

March 6, 2016

Op-Ed by Author of New Book on Housing and Poverty in Milwaukee

Filed under: Poverty — millerlf @ 8:25 am

The Eviction Economy

By MATTHEW DESMOND MARCH 5, 2016 NyTimes (Author of “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.”)

I FIRST met Larraine when we both lived in a trailer park on the far South Side of Milwaukee. Fifty-four, with silvering brown hair, Larraine loved mystery novels, “So You Think You Can Dance” and doting on her grandson. Even though she lived in a mobile home park with so many code violations that city inspectors called it an “environmental biohazard,” she kept a tidy trailer and used a hand steamer on the curtains. But Larraine spent more than 70 percent of her income on housing — just as one in four of all renting families who live below the poverty line do. After paying the rent, she was left with $5 a day.

Under conditions like these, evictions have become routine. Larraine (whose name has been changed to protect her privacy) was evicted after she borrowed from her rent money to cover part of her gas bill. The eviction movers took her stuff to their storage unit; after Larraine was unable to make payments, they took it to the dump.

Those of us who don’t live in trailer parks or inner cities might think low-income families typically benefit from public housing or some other kind of government assistance. But the opposite is true. Three-quarters of families who qualify for housing assistance don’t get it because there simply isn’t enough to go around. This arrangement would be unthinkable with other social services that cover basic needs. What if food stamps only covered one in four families?

America stands alone among wealthy democracies in the depth and expanse of its poverty. Ask most politicians what we should do about this, and they will answer by calling for more and better jobs. Paul Ryan, the Republican speaker of the House, thinks we need to do more to “incentivize work.” Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, thinks we should raise the minimum wage. But jobs are only part of the solution because poverty is not just a product of joblessness and low wages. It is also a product of exploitation.

Throughout our history, wage gains won by workers through organized protest were quickly absorbed by rising rents. As industrial capitalists tried to put down the strikes, landlords cheered workers on. It is no different today. When incomes rise, the housing market takes its cut, which is why a two-bedroom apartment in the oil boomtown Williston, N.D., was going last year for $2,800 a month and why entire capital-rich cities like San Francisco are becoming unaffordable to the middle class. If rents rise alongside incomes, what progress is made?

Poverty is no accident, an unintended consequence from which no one benefits. Larraine’s rent money went to Tobin (also a pseudonym). A second-generation landlord, Tobin was 71, unsmiling and fit. His tenants waited tables at diners or worked as nursing assistants. Some received disability like Larraine or other forms of welfare, sometimes supplementing their checks by collecting aluminum cans.

(more…)

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February 25, 2016

Walker’s Wisconsin: Poverty across Wisconsin reaches highest level in 30 years

Filed under: Poverty — millerlf @ 3:09 pm

Poverty in Wisconsin hit its highest level in 30 years during the five-year period ending in 2014, even as the nation’s economy was recovering from the Great Recession, according to a trend analysis of U.S. Census data just released by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers.

The number of Wisconsin residents living in poverty averaged 13% across that post-recession time frame — the highest since 1984, according to the analysis by UW-Madison’s Applied Population Laboratory. In mid-1984, the nation’s stubborn unemployment rate stabilized following a double-dip recession.

The analysis dovetails with an unrelated study that identified pockets of the country faring worse as the economic recovery gains some traction, released Thursday by a national nonprofit research group in Washington, D.C.

That study, by the Economic Innovation Group, found the gap between the richest and poorest American communities widening, and ranked Milwaukee the seventh most distressed city in America, with 52% of the population considered economically distressed.

Poverty increased more dramatically across Wisconsin than in many other states, though 46 of the 50 states saw a significant increase in total population living in poverty between the 5-year periods ending in 2009 and 2014, according to the UW-Madison analysis.

A five-year estimate is considered more reliable and precise than a year-to-year data comparison. Five-year estimates also are the only census data available at the county and neighborhood level; one-year estimates are available for the state as a whole and the city of Milwaukee.

Using the five-year measure, poverty went up in both urban and rural parts of Wisconsin. It went up at every level of educational achievement, and across the employment spectrum.

Perhaps most significant, the poverty gap between blacks and whites grew here as the average gap was flat across the nation. The state’s child poverty rate also went up significantly, fueling concerns about the future for many of the state’s youngest residents.

“There is some good evidence that living in poverty and experiencing issues like food and housing insecurity can cause changes in the brain that can lead to behavioral issues and low performance in school, as well as chronic disease later in life,” said Malia Jones, an assistant scientist and social epidemiologist at UW-Madison’s Applied Population Laboratory.

It’s no coincidence that two-thirds of students who cannot read above a fourth-grade level end up either in prison or on welfare, several literacy studies have shown.

Question on data

A UW-Milwaukee associate professor of economics contacted by the Journal Sentinel questioned the accuracy of the analysis because he believes the 2014 poverty rate used by UW-Madison researchers was incorrect, and skewed the results higher.

“The 2014 rate is 10.9% (not nearly 14%), so I am not sure what to make of anything in this report, frankly,” said associate professor Scott Adams, who also is chair of UWM’s economics department.

The years leading up to a recession and recession recovery naturally look different, Adams said. “But the subsequent poverty after the recession in the early 1980s was much worse” than poverty post-Great Recession, he said.

Adams served as a senior economist for labor, welfare and education on the president’s Council of Economic Advisers the last six months of the George W. Bush administration in 2008, and the first six months of Barack Obama’s first term in 2009.

While Adams questioned the 2014 poverty number the UW-Madison analysis used, he acknowledged that the growing poverty gap between blacks and whites in Wisconsin caught his eye.

“What it reflects is the black population in Wisconsin was left completely out of the recovery,” he said.

That finding, coupled with Milwaukee’s high ranking among the most distressed American cities, “signals we have tremendous concerns,” Adams said.

Statewide issue

“Poverty’s not a Milwaukee issue; it’s a Wisconsin issue,” said Charles McLimans, president and CEO of Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, which works with a network of pantries, soup kitchens, meal programs and homeless shelters to distribute food in 36 counties in eastern Wisconsin.

“Because Milwaukee is such a segregated city and problems are concentrated in southeastern Wisconsin, people outside (the area) don’t see and fully understand the issue,” McLimans said. “This certainly helps to shine a light on it.”

The Applied Population Laboratory analysis found:

■ Poverty went up significantly in 31 of 72 Wisconsin counties, including 11 of the 15 most populous counties, during the most recent five-year span. Estimates show about 738,000 Wisconsin residents were living in poverty during the 2010-’14 period, compared to 605,000 in the 2005-’09 time frame.

■ Nearly one in five Wisconsin children were living in poverty during the 2010-’14 time frame — 239,000 children in all, or 18.5% of all children. That’s up dramatically from 14.6% in 2005-’09, and represents another 50,000 children.

Only 10 states had faster rates of increase in child poverty than Wisconsin.

■ Twenty-five of Wisconsin’s 72 counties had a significant increase in child poverty. No county had a significant decrease. The highest childhood poverty county remains Menominee, which went up from 35.1% to 44.8% of residents under age 18 living in poverty.

Milwaukee County, the state’s largest urban center, went from 26.4% to 33% child poverty and is now tied for second highest with Sawyer County in northern Wisconsin, where Hayward is located.

Other Wisconsin counties with child poverty rates above the national average (21.9%) for 2010-’14 included: Kenosha, Rock, Vilas, Forest, Adams, Clark, Vernon, Monroe, Burnett, Ashland, Rusk, and Jackson.

■ Racial disparities in poverty are bigger here than in the U.S. as a whole, and are growing faster. The poverty gap between African-Americans and whites grew 4% in Wisconsin, while the national average did not grow, Jones said.

Wisconsin’s poverty rate was 39% for blacks and 28% for Latinos, compared with 11% for whites — significantly wider gaps than in the rest of the country. Nationally, the analysis reported the gap between blacks and whites was 16 percentage points, and for Latinos and whites, 13 percentage points.

■ Significant changes in poverty occurred among adults at every level of educational achievement in Wisconsin.

For those with less than a high school education, poverty rose from 20.5% to 24.5%. The impact was mitigated by a decrease in total population with low educational attainment, which dropped from 380,000 to 337,000.

For those with a high school education, poverty rose from 8.9% to 11%. It increased from 6.6% to 8.9% among those with some college. Poverty also touched those with bachelor’s degrees or more, rising from 3% in 2005-’09 to 3.6% in 2010-’14.

■ Poverty cut across various levels of employment in Wisconsin.

Among the unemployed, poverty increased from 27% to 31.6%. The number of unemployed adults grew by about 35,000 people between the five-year periods ending in 2009 and 2014.

Increases were also seen among the working poor. Among employed adults, poverty rose from 6% to 7%. It increased among those employed full-time from 2% to 2.4%.

UW-Madison’s Applied Population Lab is housed in the Department of Community and Environmental Sociology in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

UW-Madison’s Institute for Research on Poverty each year produces a single-year census data comparison called the Wisconsin Poverty Report. That report is due later this spring.

January 19, 2015

Percentage of Poor Students in Public Schools Rising: Majority of Public School Students From Low Income Families

Filed under: Poverty — millerlf @ 12:48 pm

By MOTOKO RICH JAN. 16, 2015 NYTimes

Just over half of all students attending public schools in the United States are now eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, according to a new analysis of federal data.

In a report released Friday by the Southern Education Foundation, researchers found that 51 percent of children in public schools qualified for the lunches in 2013, which means that most of them come from low-income families. By comparison, 38 percent of public school students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches in 2000.

According to the report, which analyzed data from the National Center for Education Statistics, a majority of students in 21 states are poor. Close to two-thirds of those states are in the South, which has long had a high concentration of poor students. In Mississippi, for example, close to three-fourths of all public school students come from low-income families.

But the West also has a large and growing proportion of low-income students. Arizona, California, Hawaii and Nevada have high rates of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.

Children who are eligible for such lunches do not necessarily live in poverty. Subsidized lunches are available to children from families that earn up to $43,568, for a family of four, which is about 185 percent of the federal poverty level.

The number of children eligible for subsidized lunches has probably increased in part because the federal Agriculture Department now allows schools with a majority of low-income students to offer free lunches to all students, regardless of whether they qualify on an individual basis or not.

Still, it is clear that public schools are educating higher numbers of low-income children, and the trend has been going on for much longer than the period that started with the most recent recession.

Steve Suitts, vice president of the Southern Education Foundation, which is based in Atlanta, noted that an increasing number of low-income immigrant families were moving to regions where they had not gone before.

Students from such families tend to arrive at school with different needs from those from middle-class and affluent families. They may have more medical problems or behavioral issues and need extra academic help. Unlike their wealthier peers, they do not have the benefit of music lessons, private sports leagues, tutoring or trips to cultural events, and their schools are left to fill in the gaps.

“We in no way are providing schools and teachers in schools with what it takes to educate low-income students today, as they continue to become a huge part of the school population,” Mr. Suitts said.

The Obama administration has indicated that it plans to request an additional $1 billion in 2016 for the program that funnels money to schools with high percentages of poor students.

“Now more than ever, it is critical that we as a country ensure schools have the resources and support necessary to prepare every student — no matter his or her ZIP code — for college, careers and life,” said Dorie Nolt, a spokeswoman for the federal Education Department. Critics of federal education policy say that there is too narrow a focus on academic standards and testing as the way of measuring whether poorer students are getting equal opportunities. Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, suggested that policymakers look at schools in the wealthiest communities as models of what all schools should offer.

“Just tell me what you provided for those kids, that those parents said was absolutely crucial for my kids to succeed in life,” Ms. Eskelsen García said. “That includes good athletics and arts departments, too, I’ll bet you. So make that school the benchmark.”

Recognizing the increase in low-income students in California, Gov. Jerry Brown instituted a new funding formula two years ago for state dollars directed to public schools. Now, schools get a much higher proportion of per-pupil funding for students who are from low-income families, in foster care or learning English.

School administrators in districts that already have a high proportion of poor students say they have to think of many services that educators in wealthier districts do not.

An increasing number of school districts now also serve dinner to students. In Cleveland, where the vast majority of the school district’s 39,000 students are poor, Eric Gordon, chief executive of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, said that most schools there have regular programs to send food home with students and that the district has staff members who help homeless families find places to stay.

When he was a principal in a much wealthier district, Mr. Gordon said, he never had to worry about any of these issues. Now, he said, as more districts have to serve poor students, he worries there will not be enough taxpayer money to help everybody.

“The first-ring suburban communities around us are facing the impacts of poverty,” Mr. Gordon said. Now federal funding “has to be spread over more communities with more poverty.”

May 20, 2014

Here’s The Painful Truth About What It Means To Be ‘Working Poor’ In America

Filed under: Poverty — millerlf @ 7:42 am
Posted: 05/19/2014 Huffington Post
In a nation that has long operated on the principle that an “American Dream” is available to anyone willing to try hard enough, the term “working poor” may seem to have a bright side. Sure, these individuals struggle financially, but they have jobs — the first and most essential step toward lifting oneself out of poverty, right?

If only it were that simple.

According to 2012 Census data, more than 7 percent of American workers fell below the federal poverty line, making less than $11,170 for a single person and $15,130 for a couple. By some estimates, one in four private-sector jobs in the U.S. pays under $10 an hour. Last month, Senate Republicans blocked a bill that would have raised the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour, despite overwhelming public support for the measure.

And these numbers don’t say anything about the many Americans who earn well above the official poverty line and still barely stay afloat. In HuffPost’s “All Work, No Pay” series, the working poor told their own stories, painting a devastating portrait of their day-to-day struggles.

They’re a diverse range of people: single parents, couples with and without children, young women with graduate degrees, business owners, seniors and everyone in between. Their financial situations, however, show many similarities. Jobs generally provide them with the means to barely scrape by, treading paycheck-to-paycheck, earning just enough to keep from going under, swallowing their pride sometimes to take food stamps or visit food banks. Others are entirely out of work, tirelessly seeking employment and relying on other means to survive.

Through their words, we see what it’s really like to be “working poor” in America — and just how much more it looks like rock bottom than most would imagine.

Being working poor means toiling through “pure hell” for next to nothing.

Earlier this year, 55-year-old Glenn Johnson was making about $14,000 a year — or $7.93 an hour — at a Miami-area Burger King. He’d been in and out of the fast food industry for more than 30 years. Recently he watched as his employer reported a 37 percent increase in its quarterly profit, while continuing to resist a minimum wage increase that workers like Johnson have been fighting for.

Johnson described his daily routine as “pure hell.” It’s a nonstop effort to keep the store clean and the customers and his managers — most of whom are less than half his age — happy. “Sometimes, I get home and I’m so tired, I eat dinner, take a shower, lay down to watch TV, and I’m going to sleep,” he said. “Next morning comes. I’m tired, but I’m trying to make it.”

fast food employee

And yet still wishing you could work more.

While Johnson was far from enthusiastic about his work at Burger King, with no computer and few immediate prospects of another job, he still wished he could clock more hours. He said he worked about 35 hours a week, but wanted anywhere from 40 to 50, which would make it easier to pay for his $765-a-month rent, gas and any of the things he can’t currently afford. Since Johnson first told his story, his corporate-owned Burger King made him full-time and gave him a raise.

Deangelo Belk, a 21-year-old Wendy’s employee making $7.50 an hour, also knows the pain of not getting enough hours to pay for the things he wants or to help him save enough to move out of his mother’s house. He works around 10 hours a week and said that he’s regularly ignored when he asks for more time.

Because you know you’re lucky to have a job, no matter how awful it is.

Vanessa Powell, 29, works full time in a Goodwill warehouse in Seattle for $9.25 an hour. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s in business administration. But with her fiancé out of work, she’s just grateful to have a job, even though she occasionally feels it’s “beneath” her. Even with the job, however, it’s sometimes hard for them to get enough to eat.

“I mean, yeah, it’s dirty work and often demeaning work, but at least it’s work,” she said. “Even though [my fiancé] only worked part time, it was still something. I make enough to cover rent and electric, but we share a cell phone, which is why it’s kind of hard for both of us to search for jobs.”

But finding employment can also risk the crucial aid that helps you get by.

Helen Bechtol, 23, is a mother of two and a community college student with dreams of graduating from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. To help pay for child care, she took a second job, which made her ineligible for day care assistance.

Ashley Schmidtbauer said her family is “not destitute, but we barely make it month to month.” She stays at home to raise her kids and has found there aren’t any easy alternatives. Her husband’s income alone makes the family ineligible for day care assistance. “To be honest, we make roughly $35,000 a year. Somehow, we make over $10,000 more than their limits allow,” she said. “We are the in-betweeners. Not making enough to live ‘comfortably’ — but not ‘poor’ enough to get any assistance either. We don’t expect handouts. We just want what is best for our family.”

Being working poor means knowing it can be expensive just to keep your job.

Joanne Van Vranken, 50, was laid off in 2011. After nearly two years of unemployment, she landed a temporary administrative assistant position, which requires a 60-mile round-trip commute every day. Van Vranken’s car is in desperate need of repair, but she hasn’t had the money to fix it in years. She’s worried her car will die, which could put her back in dire financial straits. “And I don’t have the money to buy a new one,” she said. “But I have to do it, because we need to pay the bills.”

Janet Weatherly, 43, has almost completed her doctoral degree but can’t find employment in her field. Instead, she’s making $11 an hour as a sales associate for a major retailer. Her job is a 45-minute drive from her house, and a significant chunk of her paycheck goes toward gas money. Weatherly’s parents put her car repairs on their credit cards. She’d like to finish her dissertation, but currently can’t afford to get her documents out of a storage unit halfway across the country, much less invest more time in her education.

job fair unemployed

Or lowering your standards for employment and often still not finding work.

Craig Gieseke is unemployed. At nearly 60, he spent 32 years in journalism, but most of the past decade he was self-employed, so he doesn’t qualify for unemployment benefits. Gieseke doesn’t want assistance. He wants a job, and he’d take pretty much any at this point. Would-be employers tell him that he is “overqualified” — a term he calls a euphemism for “too old” — or that he’d be “bored” doing the required work. “‘Bored’ is hanging around the house all day because you don’t have money to do anything else,” he said.

It means making shortsighted decisions because long-term plans seem doomed.

Linda Tirado knows what it’s like to be desperately poor. She understands firsthand the mentality that leads many people in similar situations to spend money on things like cigarettes and fast food.

“It is not worth it to me to live a bleak life devoid of small pleasures so that one day I can make a single large purchase. I will never have large pleasures to hold on to,” Tirado said. “There’s a certain pull to live what bits of life you can while there’s money in your pocket, because no matter how responsible you are, you will be broke in three days anyway. When you never have enough money, it ceases to have meaning.”

And living in constant fear of losing what little you do have in an instant.

When Alicia Payton, a 31-year-old mother of two, received a promotion at her job, she thought the increased pay would make the nearly 100-mile round-trip commute worth it. But hope quickly turned to panic when she had a car accident, doing $4,000 worth of damage to her vehicle. Unable to afford immediate repairs or a rental, Payton couldn’t get to work, which she thought would result in her firing. “I’ve worked so hard to get where I’m at, and one simple thing and I’m afraid I’m going to lose everything,” she said. Payton later learned that she had not been fired and had more time to find another way to get to work.

Karen Wall, 38, works as a teacher, cheerleading coach and weekend bartender. Yet money is tight, and all of it goes to keeping her family afloat and paying off her student loan debt. Both of her boys have special needs, so even with the multiple income sources, Wall knows she’s only one disaster away from losing it all. “If I got in a car accident, I’d be homeless,” she said. “If I get laid off from any of my jobs, my kids will end up going hungry.”

food stamps

Even if things seem manageable now, you could be just a few setbacks away from collapse.

Not so long ago, Kathleen Ann had a house, vacation time, spending money and everything else available to someone with a high-paying corporate job. Then she was discarded in a layoff, cast into a world where she could only find occasional part-time work. Ann now makes less than $20,000 a year, lives in an apartment and has been forced to accept that she is poor — a “Used-to-Have,” as she described it. “As a ‘Used-to-Have,’ I know exactly what Corporate America, lobbyists and politicians have taken away from me,” she said.

Being working poor means learning the hard way that investing in your future can actually make things tougher.

Weatherly, who has a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in public health, is still paying off her six-digit student loan debt. “Things are so bad that I can’t even afford to file for bankruptcy,” she said. “I have applied for hundreds of jobs over the past six years.”

DJ Cook, 36, a teacher who has a master’s degree and lives in a converted garage, described himself as “suffocated by student debt.” “I’ve done everything that I was told to do in order to be successful,” he said. “I’m in a lifetime of debt with no foreseeable answers.”

Carla Shutak thought buying a house with her husband, who was gainfully employed as a civil engineer, would be a wise investment. When he was laid off in 2009, they couldn’t keep up with the mortgage payments and their home was foreclosed on. “My American Dream died,” she said. “Despite doing what we were taught was right by putting 20 percent down and asking for a fixed 30-year mortgage, we were now in our 40s and starting over with nothing.”

And can put you at a disadvantage even as you’re just starting your adult life.

Monica Simon, 24, works full time at an online advertising firm, earning $23,000 a year after taxes. She’s still paying off her student loans and often relies on credit cards to cover basic costs. “Sometimes I get paid and then I have, maybe, $150 left over for the two weeks,” she said. “I just feel I’m getting way behind where I want to be for my age. I feel I’m just starting my life and I’m already miles and miles behind.”

college students debt

Even if you saved for retirement, being working poor means using up those funds long before you get there.

Van Vranken spent 16 months unemployed before landing her current temp job. During that time, she used her retirement savings to cover expenses. “I’ve decimated my 401(k),” she said. “Without a permanent job, I don’t know if I’ll be able to rebuild it. I worry I’m going to be one of those senior citizens whose only meal each day is from Meals on Wheels.”

It means facing the harsh reality that while money can’t buy happiness, it’s hard to be happy without any.

Bechtol is consumed with constant anxiety over having enough money to support her two young children. “I go to school and am only paying my parents $250 a month to live in their house and can still barely do it,” she said. “I get so overwhelmed sometimes that I think it affects my parenting, and that’s what I hate the most. I don’t need money to be happy, but I do need money to pay for the resources I need for happiness.”

And realizing that without money, it’s difficult to meet fundamental human needs.

Jason Derr, 37, who earns $10.75 an hour and supports his wife and baby, wishes he and his wife could socialize with the few friends they have. But the lack of money stops them. “We can’t afford to do anything,” he said. “I feel like we are unable to participate in humanity, that being alive has a buy-in cost.”

Similarly, Simon will spend full weekends at home without social interaction. “There will be weekends when I’ll just have to sit home because if there’s a priority between food and going out, it’s going to be food.” Powell added that she hasn’t seen her friends in “six months because I can’t afford to go out with them, and they all want to go out.”

minimum wage protest

For the working poor, basic medical care is a luxury that’s often sacrificed.

Carol Sarao, 57, a formerly successful musician who now brings in roughly $240 a week writing web content, saves money by avoiding routine medical care and hoping her health remains relatively stable. When she does get sick, she tries to fix the problem herself. “I try to research it on the Internet or I try to find a friend who has antibiotics or something,” she said. “I haven’t had any sort of exam in years. I don’t know how much longer it can go on.”

Sarao described a time she suffered an allergic reaction and desperately needed a hospital visit, but ultimately decided the financial burden wasn’t worth it. “I remember sitting outside of the emergency room and thinking, ‘If I can’t breathe, I’ll go in and get the shot. But if I can breathe, I won’t go in and I’ll save the money,'” she recalled. “I’ve had different cuts that got infected and I just used a hot compress.”

Or a necessity that leads to taking risky chances.

Bernadette Feazell, 65, who makes $8 an hour at a pawn shop in Texas, takes a four-hour bus trip to a dangerous area of Mexico when she has medical needs. She contends the trips save her thousands of dollars. “I need a cavity filled,” she said. “My last Mexican filling fell out, from two years ago. I went down to Nuevo Laredo. It’s very violent.”

Feazell also buys antidepressants across the border. “I buy my Prozac over the line. I speak Spanish,” she said. “Without antidepressants, I don’t think — it would take a toll on me.”

Because not having the money to seek medical treatment doesn’t mean you don’t need medical treatment.

Beverly Hill, 60, was laid off from her full-time job more than six years ago and has been actively seeking employment ever since. She avoids routine check-ups because she can’t afford them. But the last time she visited the doctor, for what she described as excruciating abdominal pain, he found something more worrisome.

“He wasn’t so concerned about my guts as he was about an irregular heartbeat,” she said. “I was hospitalized. Two and a half days in the hospital came to over $40,000. After pleading poverty and asking to be considered a charity case, the hospital relented and lowered my bill to $12,000. I still can’t afford to pay this. I’m eking it out a little at a time.”

Being working poor means coming up with creative solutions in order to eat.

Larry Silveira, 60, who earns $9.25 an hour at his part-time retail job, was raised on a farm and learned how to can vegetables at a young age. He now uses the same strategies to maximize his family’s limited food supply. “You buy certain vegetables when they’re in season, when they’re cheap. You put them in the freezer and have them in the winter when they’re expensive,” he said. “If you find chicken breast for 99 cents a pound, buy $3 worth and put it in the freezer.”

Derr and his wife keep a “food safety box” in the pantry. “Every time we go grocery shopping, we buy a $1 item — pasta, canned veggies, etc.,” he explained. “At the end of October, we had to live off that box for two weeks.”

food pantry

And sometimes accepting you’ll just have to go hungry.

Cory Brooks, a senior at George Washington University, works more than full time in addition to her studies and barely makes enough money to eat. “My friends always ask how I stay in such good shape, how I never gained the ‘Freshman 15,'” she said. “I smile and shrug, but what I really want to tell them is that being too poor to buy food is great for keeping the weight off.”

It means sacrificing your own basic needs for those of your children.

Trisha Lovetrove, a wife and mother of two, said that despite her husband’s full-time job, some weeks she can’t afford to buy enough food for the whole family — so she’s the one who suffers. “I feed my children and my spouse, and find an excuse not to be hungry because there’s nothing left,” she said. “Those weeks suck your will to live.”

Kelly Lingo, 22, a stay-at-home mom raising her infant son with her boyfriend, who works full time for $10 an hour, described a similar struggle. “If we do have extra money, it usually goes to diapers or formula,” she said. “Feeding my son, that’s my biggest concern. As much as I don’t like to skip meals, I can do it — I can go without eating if it means feeding my son.”

Or coming to terms with the fact that you may never be able to afford parenthood at all.

At 36, Cook would like to have children someday. But his financial situation makes that seem impossible. “[I]t’s slowly starting to dawn on me that I will most likely never have children, as I would never intentionally bring another child into the world of poverty,” he said. “A house and/or a family is a laughable proposition at this point.”

For the 29-year-old Powell and her fiancé, poverty has also affected discussions about having kids. “My fiancé and I have kicked around the idea of having kids for almost as long as we’ve been together, but we don’t make enough, in all sanity, to allow a child in our care,” she said. “About eight months ago, we just stopped talking about it entirely.”

And if you have children, being working poor means worrying that their lives will ultimately be harder than yours.

Jennifer Blankenship, a 39-year-old mother of four whose family lives on her husband’s $11-an-hour job, has been able to send one daughter to college with the help of financial aid. Still, she, along with a growing number of both middle-class and poorer Americans, takes a bleak view of her children’s future.

“I think that our kids are going to have a lot harder time than we’ve had,” she said. “And that’s scary, because we’ve had a really hard time.”

These stories are part of a Huffington Post series profiling Americans who work hard and yet still struggle to make ends meet. Learn more about other individuals’ experiences here.Have a similar story you’d like to share? Email us at workingpoor@huffingtonpost.com or give us a call at (408) 508-4833, and you can record your story in your own words. Please be sure to include your name and phone number.


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10. Taxi driver

January 12, 2014

Walker Opposes Raising the Minimum Wage

Filed under: Economy,Poverty,Scott Walker — millerlf @ 12:15 pm

In a year-end interview on national television Scott Walker was asked if he supports raising the minimum wage. He answered a definitive No! He responded saying that the nation should instead follow his Wisconsin footsteps in job creation. What alternate universe does the Governor live in?

Quarterly data rank Wisconsin 37th in private-sector job growth

By John Schmid and Kevin Crowe of the Journal Sentinel 12/18/13


The nation’s most recent employment report, which examines job creation in all 50 states, raises a familiar question with renewed urgency: Why is Wisconsin a chronic laggard?

According to Wednesday’s report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Wisconsin gained 23,963 private-sector jobs in the 12 months from June 2012 through June 2013, a 1.0% increase that ranks the state 37th among the 50 states in the pace of job creation during that period.

The state’s ranking slid from a revised rank of 32nd three months earlier, which covered the 12 months through March 2012.

Wisconsin continued to trail the national rate of job creation, as it has since July 2011. The United States created private-sector jobs at a rate of 1.9% in the latest 12-month period, nearly double Wisconsin’s 1.0% rate, the data show.

“It’s like déjà vu all over again,” said Dale Knapp, director of research at the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, a nonpartisan pubic policy group in Madison.

While management of the economy and job creation are politically charged issues in Wisconsin, not least ahead of next year’s governor’s race, Knapp and others were quick to point out that Wisconsin’s subpar performance is hardly a new phenomenon.

“These are persistent patterns we’ve seen over a long period of time,” said Charles Franklin, a social scientist and data specialist at Marquette University.

Since the turn of the century, Wisconsin appears to have a natural “speed limit” in its private-sector job creation that is capped at about 35,000 jobs per year, regardless of political leadership, Franklin said. That compares to many years in the 1990s when the state’s annual job-creation number was closer to 60,000, Franklin said.

According to Knapp, hiring in the state under Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who took office in January 2011, has shown a virtually identical pattern to 2004-’07 — the non-recession period that fell during the two terms of his Democratic predecessor, Jim Doyle.

Separately, last month the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance published a long-term study, which examined a 13-year period from 2000 to 2012, showing that sluggish job creation has characterized the state since the start of the millennium.

Most credible figures

Economists consider Wednesday’s job creation figures, known as the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, to be the most credible and comprehensive available. The report breaks out data for the nation as a whole as well as each of the 50 states. It tracks the economy in rolling 12-month increments, measured every three months.

The quarterly data are based on a census of 96% of the nation’s employers in the public and private sectors. That makes the figures far more reliable than monthly jobs data, which are based on a sample of only about 3% of employers, leaving monthly estimates prone to large margins of error.

Because the quarterly data are comprehensive and time-consuming to compile, they are released with a half-year time lag. In the past, the lagging schedule meant the quarterly data got less attention than monthly numbers.

However, job creation has emerged as a politically potent issue in Wisconsin. And ever since the special gubernatorial recall election in June 2012, when economic management emerged as a central political issue, the quarterly report has been closely watched by the state’s politicians and economic policy strategists.

When he ran for office, Walker framed his economic program around a vow that Wisconsin would add 250,000 private-sector jobs by the end of his four-year term.

Under the pace of job creation since he took office, Wisconsin is unlikely to achieve Walker’s job creation goals during his first term, Franklin and others pointed out.

Walker’s target would be ambitious under almost any circumstances. To hit it, the state would need to sustain a pace of job creation for four years similar to the best years of the 1990s — prior to the bursting of the dot-com bubble, China’s 2001 membership in the World Trade Organization, and the insecurities that accompanied the post-9-11 era of security jitters, Franklin said. Even in the 1990s, however, the state didn’t consistently spawn the 62,500 private-sector jobs per year that would be needed to create a quarter million new jobs in a single four-year period, Franklin said.

“It’s worth noting that the state shows stable job growth,” nothing spectacular but also not a reverse into job losses, Franklin said.

Franklin analyzes Wisconsin’s long-term employment and demographic data to complement the statewide public opinion polls that he routinely conducts for the Marquette Law School.

Reading data differently

In a news release Wednesday, Walker’s office focused on the absolute number of jobs created, which would place Wisconsin 25th out of the 50 states. Wisconsin ranks 20th in population, however, so its job-creation ranking didn’t quite match its size. And even under that ranking, Wisconsin slid from its non-population-adjusted job-creation ranking of 22nd in the previous quarterly report.

“Our economic and fiscal reforms are working and Wisconsin continues to move forward in the right direction with a growing economy and more jobs,” Walker said in the statement.

Democrats jumped on the quarterly report. “Again today, Wisconsin received bad news on job creation,” said Peter Barca (D-Kenosha), Democratic leader in the state Assembly. Barca emphasized that Wisconsin’s ranking of 37th compared to 15th for neighboring Minnesota, and that “Minnesota has created more than twice as many private sector jobs as Wisconsin.”

For short-term political purposes, both parties routinely “cherry pick” the numbers that suit their needs, Franklin said. But neither party appears to deal honestly with Wisconsin’s persistent underperformance in job creation compared to the 1990s, Franklin said.

Apart from partisanship, economists have cataloged the non-political reasons why the state is a chronic laggard in job creation — reasons that have little or nothing to do with whatever party controls the Statehouse and governor’s mansion.

Those observers point out that the state is saddled with some aging industries such as paper mills, printing plants and metal foundries that often date back more than a century; neither entrepreneurship nor venture capital funding is as abundant in Wisconsin as in many other states; and Wisconsin’s schools don’t generate as many college-educated residents as other states.

“The structure of this economy is playing a role, regardless of partisan control,” Franklin said.

Also read PolitiFact’s rebuke of Walker’s claim that “minimum wage jobs are overwhelmingly for young people” at:

http://www.jsonline.com/news/politifact-testing-scott-walker-claim-minimum-wage-jobs-overwhelmingly-for-young-people-b99181803z1-239685231.html

December 31, 2013

Yes Magazine:10 Hopeful Things That Happened in 2013 to Get You Inspired for What’s to Come

Beyond the headlines of conflict and catastrophe, this year’s top stories offered us some powerful proof that the world can still change—for the better.

There was something almost apocalyptic about 2013. Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippines, the strongest storm ever recorded on land. It killed more than 6,000 people and affected millions. But it was just one of the 39 weather-related disasters costing $1 billion or more in 2013.

 

In Australia, record high temperatures forced mapmakers to create a new color on the weather map. Massive wildfires swept through California, historic flooding took out bridges and roadways in Colorado, and tornadoes swept through the Midwest, destroying towns like Moore, Okla. Millions of people are on the move, seeking to escape the effects of climate-related disasters.

 

CO2 concentrations passed 400 parts per million for the first time this year, and yet governments have done little to curb emissions. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of dollars—much of it from secret sources—flow to climate-denier think tanks and advocacy groups.

 

Pop culture often explores a change before politicians do, and 2013 saw a rash of post-apocalyptic movies—from World War Z to Oblivion—and zombie apocalypse role-playing games.

 

Much happened that was hopeful this year—a new pope focused on inequality, successful minimum wage campaigns spread across the country, and the number of states allowing gay marriage doubled.

 

But responses to the threat of the climate crisis lead off this year’s top stories as we look at seeds sown this year that could make 2014 transformational.

 

1. We saw surprising new leadership on the climate issue

 

In northeast Nebraska, Native Americans and local ranchers formed a new alliance to resist the Keystone XL pipeline. Seven thousand activists gathered in Pittsburgh to press for action on a wide range of environmental justice issues. Students across North America persuaded nine colleges and universities to divest from fossil fuel companies. Hundreds of climate activists walked out of the COP19 climate talks in Poland to hold their own climate talks.

 

The governors of California, Oregon, Washington, and the Canadian province of British Columbia have committed to taking action on the climate crisis. But Congress remains deadlocked and in denial, and climate scientists—when they let down their careful professional demeanor—express astonishment that world governments have failed to act on what is fast becoming a global emergency.

 

A new potential ally is coming from an unexpected source. Some investors are beginning to worry that fossil fuel companies may not be a good bet. Investors worry about a “carbon bubble.”

 

The reserves of oil, gas, and coal counted as assets by the big energy corporations would be enormously destructive to life on Earth if they were allowed to burn. Many believe that new regulation or pricing will keep a large portion of those reserves safely in the ground.

 

If that happens, the companies’ reserves, and thus their stock, may be worth far less than believed. Savvy investors are placing their bets elsewhere: Warren Buffett, for example, is investing $1 billion in wind energy, which, along with solar energy, is looking better all the time.

 

2. Native peoples took the lead in the fossil fuel fight

 

In response to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s attempt to ramp up fossil fuel extraction on Native lands, Idle No More blossomed across Canada this year. First Nations people held flash mob round dances, blockaded roads, and appealed to government at all levels to protect land and water.

 

And it’s not just Canada. In Washington state, the Lummi Tribe is among those resisting massive new coal transport infrastructure, which would make exported coal cheap to burn in Asia.

 

In Nebraska, the Ponca Tribe is teaming up with local ranchers to resist construction of the Keystone tar sands pipeline. Indigenous peoples in the Amazon, the Andes, Malaysia, the Niger Delta, and elsewhere are also at the front lines of resistance to yet more dangerous fossil fuel extraction. Many are turning to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples and the new Rights of Nature movement for support.

 

Indigenous peoples developed ways of life that could sustain human life and the natural environment over thousands of years. The rest of the world is starting to recognize the critical importance of these perspectives, and there is growing willingness to listen to the perspectives of indigenous peoples.

 

3. The middle and lower classes fought for economic justice

 

Income inequality is reaching levels not seen since the Roaring Twenties. People stuck in long-term unemployment are running out of options, and those who do find work often can’t cover basic living expenses. The issue is now getting attention from mainstream media, becoming one of the defining issues of our time, as President Obama said.

 

Now a movement is building to create a new economy that can work for all. Voters this year passed minimum wage laws in SeaTac, Wash., ($15 an hour) and the state of New Jersey. An overwhelming majority favors raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour. Domestic workers won the right to a minimum wage after years of organizing.

 

The message was also clear in the election of Bill de Blasio, a founder of the Working Families Party, as mayor of New York City. Inequality is a top plank of his platform and his public record. At the national level, Senator Elizabeth Warren’s defense of the rights of student borrowers and her proposal to strengthen Social Security (instead of weaken it, as leaders in both party are discussing) is winning widespread support. There is even talk of drafting Warren to run for president.

 

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4. A new economy is in the making

 

At the grassroots, National People’s Action and the New Economy Institute are leading new conversations about what it takes to build an economy that works for all and can function in harmony with the environment. Thousands of people are taking part.

 

And a growing cooperatives movement is linking up with unions and social movements. Some are working with large “anchor” institutions, like hospitals and universities, that can provide a steady market for their products and services. Credit unions, too, are proving their value as they keep lending to local businesses and homeowners as Wall Street-owned banks pulled back.

 

And a new DIY sharing economy is taking off, as people do peer-to-peer car-sharing, fundraising, and skill-sharing, and bring open-source technology to new levels.

 

5. U.S. military strikes didn’t happen

 

The big news of the year may be the two wars the United States refused to instigate.

 

The United States did continue its drone strikes, and the civilian casualties are causing an international uproar, with some calling for an outright ban on drones. And military spending continues to devastate the country’s budget. (The United States spent more on the military in 2013 than China, Russia, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Italy, and Brazil combined.) Few dared to call for the same fiscal discipline from the military and its many contractors as they expect from schools and services for the poor.

 

On the other hand, the United States stepped back from the brink of military strikes against Syria and Iran—a step in the right direction.

 

6. Pope Francis called for care and justice for the poor …

 

…and for an end to the idolatry of money and consumerism. He also criticized “ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation.”

 

In his “Evangelii Gaudium” he says: “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.”

 

This call is provoking outrage from Rush Limbaugh and Fox News commentators, but elsewhere, it’s leading to a new questioning of the moral foundation for a system that concentrates wealth and power while causing widespread poverty.

 

7. Gays and lesbians got some respect

 

On June 26, the Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. Today, married gay couples are entitled to federal benefits once reserved for straight couples. The year saw a doubling of the number of states allowing gay marriages, and a third of all Americans now live in such states.

 

Support for gay marriage has flipped from a slight majority opposing it to a majority now supporting the rights of gay and lesbian couples to marry. As a wider range of gender identities has become acceptable, men and women, gay and straight, are freer to shed gender stereotypes without fear of bullying and humiliation.

 

8. There were new openings for a third party

 

Just 26 percent of Americans believe the Democratic and Republican parties are doing “an adequate job,” according to an October Gallup poll; 60 percent say a third party is needed. Eighty-five percent disapprove of the job Congress is doing. Even cockroaches (along with zombies, hemorrhoids, and Wall Street) have a higher approval rating according to a recent poll by Public Policy Polling.

 

But it’s not the Tea Party that Americans are looking to as the alternative. Support for the Tea Party has fallen: In an October NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, only 21 percent of respondents had a favorable view of the party.

 

New space has opened for independent political work. The Working Family Party (see #3 above) is an especially interesting model.

 

9. Alternatives to Obamacare are in the works

 

Democratic leadership believed that the big profits the Affordable Care Act guaranteed to private insurance companies would make the act popular with conservatives.

 

But the resulting system, with all its complications and expenses—and requirements—is frustrating millions. There are features that benefit ordinary people, but it compares poorly to the simpler and more cost-effective systems that exists in most of the developed world. Canadian-style single-payer health care, for example, had the support of a majority of Americans. Some jurisdictions are still looking for alternatives. Cooperative health insurance is available in some states and others are working to establish statewide single-payer healthcare.

 

10. An education uprising began

 

The momentum behind the education reform agendas of Presidents Bush (No Child Left Behind) and Obama (Race to the Top) is stalling. The combination of austerity budgets, an ethic of blame directed at teachers, high-stakes testing, and private charter schools has stressed teachers and students—but it has not resulted in improved performance.

 

Peaceful Uprising photo by David Newkirk
Get Apocalyptic: Why Radical Is the New Normal

 

Seattle’s Garfield High School teachers, students, and parents launched an open rebellion last spring, joining a handful of others in refusing to administer required standardized tests. The movement is spreading around the country, with more rebellions expected in the spring of 2014 (stay tuned for an in-depth report in the Spring issue of YES!)

 

We live in interesting times, indeed. The growing climate emergency could eclipse all the other issues, and the sooner we get on it, the more we can use the transition for innovations that have other positive spin-offs.

 

There’s not a moment to lose.

November 26, 2013

Pope Francis calls unfettered capitalism “a new tyranny”

Filed under: Poverty — millerlf @ 2:00 pm

Pope Francis ‘Evangelii Gaudium’ Calls For Renewal Of Roman Catholic Church, Attacks ‘Idolatry Of Money’

Reuters  |  By Naomi O’Leary Posted: 11/26/2013

(Reuters) – Pope Francis called for renewal of the Roman Catholic Church and attacked unfettered capitalism as “a new tyranny”, urging global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality in the first major work he has authored alone as pontiff.

The 84-page document, known as an apostolic exhortation, amounted to an official platform for his papacy, building on views he has aired in sermons and remarks since he became the first non-European pontiff in 1,300 years in March.

In it, Francis went further than previous comments criticizing the global economic system, attacking the “idolatry of money” and beseeching politicians to guarantee all citizens “dignified work, education and healthcare”.

He also called on rich people to share their wealth. “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills,” Francis wrote in the document issued on Tuesday.

“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses 2 points?”

The pope said renewal of the Church could not be put off and said the Vatican and its entrenched hierarchy “also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion”.

“I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security,” he wrote.

In July, Francis finished an encyclical begun by Pope Benedict but he made clear that it was largely the work of his predecessor, who resigned in February.

Called “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), the exhortation is presented in Francis’ simple and warm preaching style, distinct from the more academic writings of former popes, and stresses the Church’s central mission of preaching “the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ”.

In it, he reiterated earlier statements that the Church cannot ordain women or accept abortion. The male-only priesthood, he said, “is not a question open to discussion” but women must have more influence in Church leadership.

POVERTY

A meditation on how to revitalize a Church suffering from encroaching secularization in Western countries, the exhortation echoed the missionary zeal more often heard from the evangelical Protestants who have won over many disaffected Catholics in the pope’s native Latin America.

In it, economic inequality features as one of the issues Francis is most concerned about, and the 76-year-old pontiff calls for an overhaul of the financial system and warns that unequal distribution of wealth inevitably leads to violence.

“As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems,” he wrote.

Denying this was simple populism, he called for action “beyond a simple welfare mentality” and added: “I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor.”

Since his election, Francis has set an example for austerity in the Church, living in a Vatican guest house rather than the ornate Apostolic Palace, traveling in a Ford Focus, and last month suspending a bishop who spent millions of euros on his luxurious residence.

He chose to be called “Francis” after the medieval Italian saint of the same name famed for choosing a life of poverty.

Stressing cooperation among religions, Francis quoted the late Pope John Paul II’s idea that the papacy might be reshaped to promote closer ties with other Christian churches and noted lessons Rome could learn from the Orthodox such as “synodality” or decentralized leadership.

He praised cooperation with Jews and Muslims and urged Islamic countries to guarantee their Christian minorities the same religious freedom as Muslims enjoy in the West.

(Editing by Tom Heneghan and Alison Williams)

October 24, 2013

Study: Poor children are now the majority in American public schools in South, West

Filed under: Poverty — millerlf @ 4:51 pm

By Lyndsey Layton, October 16 Washington Post

A majority of students in public schools throughout the American South and West are low-income for the first time in at least four decades, according to a new study that details a demographic shift with broad implications for the country.

The analysis by the Southern Education Foundation, the nation’s oldest education philanthropy, is based on the number of students from preschool through 12th grade who were eligible for the federal free and reduced-price meals program in the 2010-11 school year.

(more…)

May 15, 2013

Wisconsin Budget Policy and Poverty in Education

Filed under: Poverty — millerlf @ 4:59 pm

Posted on May 15, 2013 Forward Institute

Forward Institute has released its new study at a press conference in Milwaukee’s City Hall. The following remarks were made by Chair Scott Wittkopf, highlighting the most important findings of the comprehensive study.

Wisconsin has always been a leader in K-12 public education because we have long valued the right of every child to receive a quality public education. The fundamental nature of our values is reflected in the State Constitution, which guarantees all children equal access to educational opportunity in our public schools. That constitutional right is now being systematically eroded and defunded. The research presented in this report shows that current fiscal policy and education funding are depriving our poorest students access to a sound public education. Public schools are not failing our children, Wisconsin legislators and policymakers are failing the public schools that serve our children.

Our comprehensive report documents in detail that the resources being afforded schools and students of poverty are insufficient, and facing further reduction. Moreover, the resources being diverted from schools of poverty into non-traditional alternative education programs are producing questionable results with little to no accountability for the state funding they receive.

The following seven points highlight critical findings of our study:

1. The number of students in poverty has nearly doubled since 1997, increasing from 24% of all students to 42% (Reference Poster Figure 1). At the same time, inflation-adjusted state funding of public education has fallen to its lowest level in over 17 years. On average, schools with higher poverty enrollment levels have experienced per-pupil funding cuts over 2 times the cuts in the most affluent districts.

2. Analyzing state testing data revealed a paradox within economically disadvantaged (ED) students scoring proficient or advanced. As ED enrollment increased, the percentage of ED students scoring proficient or advanced also increased. Our analysis discovered that as more children dropped into ED due to economic circumstances, they brought their typically higher test scores into the ED group. This has resulted in the false perception that poorer students’ test proficiency rates have been rising. Further, as ED enrollment approaches 50%, we are seeing a plateau and beginning of a downward trend in ED scores. A student who begins in poverty does not have previously higher scores to bring into a cohort, as we observed over the past decade. Therefore, we can expect to see a growing achievement gap between ED and non-ED test scores in the coming decade. 

3. If the Walker proposal to increase voucher school funding is adopted, over $2,000 more will go to a K-8 voucher student than a public school student. A voucher high school student will receive nearly $3000 more in state aid than a public school student (Reference Poster Figure #2). When controlling for inflation, K-8 voucher schools will have seen a $400 increase, and voucher high schools a $1000 increase in per student funding from the 1999 school year. In comparison, public schools will have seen a $1000 per student decrease from the 1999 level. The economic disparities in state funding between voucher and public schools are important in the education funding debate. As we will demonstrate, there is evidence that voucher schools have no positive effect on student graduation/attainment levels or test scores. This raises the question, is there sufficient evidence to support the claim of voucher advocates that voucher schools afford a better educational opportunity to students? Based on the data, we conclude the evidence does not support this claim.

4. The new School Report Card scores released by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) have a strong correlation to the level of poverty in any given school and school district (reference poster figure #3). Nearly half of the school-to-school difference in Report Card Scores can be explained by the difference in poverty level from school to school. When compared to other factors at the school district level such as teacher experience, racial demographics, and per pupil revenue limits, poverty still accounts for 44% of the school district difference in Report Card scores. This fact makes any use of the DPI School Report Cards for significant funding or incentive decisions poor public policy.

5. The Walker budget proposes to expand voucher schools into districts where School Report Card scores “fail to meet expectations.”  This proposal will assure that more schools and school districts of high poverty will lose resources. As we have shown, School Report Card scores are directly correlated to level of poverty, and districts with underperforming schools are therefore districts with schools of higher poverty. Funding to operate the voucher school expansion will come directly out of those public schools of highest poverty. 

6. Milwaukee voucher program students underperform Milwaukee Public School (MPS) students on statewide tests, with a lower percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced. In the Milwaukee voucher program (based on two years’ (2010-2012) data) over 20 children graduate for every child testing proficient in 10th grade reading. The statewide ratio is about 1:1. The MPS ratio is about 2:1. In mathematics, the statewide ratio is about 1:1, MPS ratio is about 3:1, and the voucher student ratio is over 50:1.That means over 20 voucher students graduate for every voucher student proficient in 10th grade reading, and over 50 voucher students graduate for every voucher student proficient in 10th grade mathematics. This translates into a much higher cost in state aid for a voucher student to become proficient or advanced than an MPS or high poverty statewide student to become proficient or advanced (reference poster figure #4).  This provides a stark illustration of the high cost to taxpayers for low student proficiency in the voucher program, and raises a significant question of educational adequacy for voucher schools, as the expectation should be for a high school graduate to be proficient in reading and math.

7. As a result of recent budget decisions resulting in education austerity, there is strong evidence that the current public education funding and delivery system in Wisconsin is unconstitutional. When compared to their more affluent peers, students of poverty are not receiving an adequate public education as defined by State Supreme Court precedent, statutes, and the State Constitution. Further, the system has created two distinct classes of students, those of poverty and non-poverty. Both groups have predictable outcomes based on level of poverty. Recent budgeting decisions are exacerbating this dichotomy.

Based on our conclusions, we present the following 5 policy recommendations:

1. Fair Funding – The Legislature should approve, and the Governor should sign, Dr. Tony Evers’ “Fair Funding” formula into law. This would be a first step toward addressing the increasing needs of rural and urban districts most affected by poverty.

2. Address Issues of Poverty and Education – The two greatest challenges to ensuring a prosperous and vibrant Wisconsin for future generations are poverty and education. The Governor should join with non-partisan, bi-partisan, broad-based constituent groups to appoint a “Blue Ribbon Commission.” This commission should be charged with a one-year mission to develop a statewide plan bringing parents and communities (rural and urban) impacted by poverty together for the purpose of implementing an intervention plan to address poverty and education issues. There are already successful models in communities that address the external poverty issues that have negative effects on education. Achievement gaps are largely attributable to factors outside of school walls. If Wisconsin is to substantially narrow these gaps, education policy must incorporate health and nutrition supports and after-school enrichment to address barriers to learning that are driven by child poverty.

3. Voucher Program Sunset – The twenty-year Milwaukee and one-year Racine private school voucher experiment should be sunsetted by the Legislature in 2024. The voucher experiment can show no positive voucher school effects on student outcomes and attainment, beyond what already can be attributed to the voucher schools’ select student demographic and parental factors. Taxpayers should not be forced to fund a second statewide school district, nor an expensive entitlement program, when the public schools are not failing. It is, in fact, the state of Wisconsin that is failing public schools and the children they serve. Dividing resources between two statewide school districts exacerbates this growing problem in the face of increasing poverty rates.

4. Charter Schools – Charter schools eligible for state aid should be allowed only under the auspices and as an instrumentality of an existing public school district to ensure public accountability in fiscal, academic, staff, and student functions.

5. School Report Cards – School Report Cards issued by DPI should be used as part of the big picture to measure overall school and student performance along with other standards and measures, balancing “input” (educational access, quality, services, resources, etc.) and “output” (student results). It should be acknowledged that the use of School Report Cards exclusively for reward, incentive, funding, penalty, or other fiscal consequence is improper, poor public policy, and would further erode access to educational opportunity.

This report demonstrates in detail that the resources being afforded schools and students of poverty are insufficient, and indeed are facing further reduction. Moreover, the resources being diverted from schools of poverty into non-traditional alternative education programs are producing questionable results with little to no accountability for the funding they receive. The failure of Wisconsin policy makers to acknowledge and address these issues is creating a generation of economically disadvantaged students that will lag far behind their more fortunate peers.

Public schools are not failing Wisconsin’s students, the state of Wisconsin is failing the public schools which serve these students.

The full report can be accessed here:

Wisconsin Budget Policy and Poverty in Education 2013

April 28, 2013

No Rich Child Left Behind

Filed under: Poverty — millerlf @ 4:00 pm

April 27, 2013, NYTimes By SEAN F. REARDON

Here’s a fact that may not surprise you: the children of the rich perform better in school, on average, than children from middle-class or poor families. Students growing up in richer families have better grades and higher standardized test scores, on average, than poorer students; they also have higher rates of participation in extracurricular activities and school leadership positions, higher graduation rates and higher rates of college enrollment and completion.

Whether you think it deeply unjust, lamentable but inevitable, or obvious and unproblematic, this is hardly news. It is true in most societies and has been true in the United States for at least as long as we have thought to ask the question and had sufficient data to verify the answer.

What is news is that in the United States over the last few decades these differences in educational success between high- and lower-income students have grown substantially.

One way to see this is to look at the scores of rich and poor students on standardized math and reading tests over the last 50 years. When I did this using information from a dozen large national studies conducted between 1960 and 2010, I found that the rich-poor gap in test scores is about 40 percent larger now than it was 30 years ago.

To make this trend concrete, consider two children, one from a family with income of $165,000 and one from a family with income of $15,000. These incomes are at the 90th and 10th percentiles of the income distribution nationally, meaning that 10 percent of children today grow up in families with incomes below $15,000 and 10 percent grow up in families with incomes above $165,000.

In the 1980s, on an 800-point SAT-type test scale, the average difference in test scores between two such children would have been about 90 points; today it is 125 points. This is almost twice as large as the 70-point test score gap between white and black children. Family income is now a better predictor of children’s success in school than race.

The same pattern is evident in other, more tangible, measures of educational success, like college completion. In a study similar to mine, Martha J. Bailey and Susan M. Dynarski, economists at the University of Michigan, found that the proportion of students from upper-income families who earn a bachelor’s degree has increased by 18 percentage points over a 20-year period, while the completion rate of poor students has grown by only 4 points.

In a more recent study, my graduate students and I found that 15 percent of high-income students from the high school class of 2004 enrolled in a highly selective college or university, while fewer than 5 percent of middle-income and 2 percent of low-income students did.

These widening disparities are not confined to academic outcomes: new research by the Harvard political scientist Robert D. Putnam and his colleagues shows that the rich-poor gaps in student participation in sports, extracurricular activities, volunteer work and church attendance have grown sharply as well.

In San Francisco this week, more than 14,000 educators and education scholars have gathered for the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. The theme this year is familiar: Can schools provide children a way out of poverty?

We are still talking about this despite decades of clucking about the crisis in American education and wave after wave of school reform.Whatever we’ve been doing in our schools, it hasn’t reduced educational inequality between children from upper- and lower-income families.

Part of knowing what we should do about this is understanding how and why these educational disparities are growing. For the past few years, alongside other scholars, I have been digging into historical data to understand just that. The results of this research don’t always match received wisdom or playground folklore.

The most potent development over the past three decades is that the test scores of children from high-income families have increased very rapidly. Before 1980, affluent students had little advantage over middle-class students in academic performance; most of the socioeconomic disparity in academics was between the middle class and the poor. But the rich now outperform the middle class by as much as the middle class outperform the poor. Just as the incomes of the affluent have grown much more rapidly than those of the middle class over the last few decades, so, too, have most of the gains in educational success accrued to the children of the rich.

Before we can figure out what’s happening here, let’s dispel a few myths.

The income gap in academic achievement is not growing because the test scores of poor students are dropping or because our schools are in decline. In fact, average test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the so-called Nation’s Report Card, have been rising — substantially in math and very slowly in reading — since the 1970s. The average 9-year-old today has math skills equal to those her parents had at age 11, a two-year improvement in a single generation. The gains are not as large in reading and they are not as large for older students, but there is no evidence that average test scores have declined over the last three decades for any age or economic group.

The widening income disparity in academic achievement is not a result of widening racial gaps in achievement, either. The achievement gaps between blacks and whites, and Hispanic and non-Hispanic whites have been narrowing slowly over the last two decades, trends that actually keep the yawning gap between higher- and lower-income students from getting even wider. If we look at the test scores of white students only, we find the same growing gap between high- and low-income children as we see in the population as a whole.

It may seem counterintuitive, but schools don’t seem to produce much of the disparity in test scores between high- and low-income students. We know this because children from rich and poor families score very differently on school readiness tests when they enter kindergarten, and this gap grows by less than 10 percent between kindergarten and high school. There is some evidence that achievement gaps between high- and low-income students actually narrow during the nine-month school year, but they widen again in the summer months.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t important differences in quality between schools serving low- and high-income students — there certainly are — but they appear to do less to reinforce the trends than conventional wisdom would have us believe.

If not the usual suspects, what’s going on? It boils down to this: The academic gap is widening because rich students are increasingly entering kindergarten much better prepared to succeed in school than middle-class students. This difference in preparation persists through elementary and high school.

My research suggests that one part of the explanation for this is rising income inequality. As you may have heard, the incomes of the rich have grown faster over the last 30 years than the incomes of the middle class and the poor. Money helps families provide cognitively stimulating experiences for their young children because it provides more stable home environments, more time for parents to read to their children, access to higher-quality child care and preschool and — in places like New York City, where 4-year-old children take tests to determine entry into gifted and talented programs — access to preschool test preparation tutors or the time to serve as tutors themselves.

But rising income inequality explains, at best, half of the increase in the rich-poor academic achievement gap. It’s not just that the rich have more money than they used to, it’s that they are using it differently. This is where things get really interesting.

High-income families are increasingly focusing their resources — their money, time and knowledge of what it takes to be successful in school — on their children’s cognitive development and educational success. They are doing this because educational success is much more important than it used to be, even for the rich.

With a college degree insufficient to ensure a high-income job, or even a job as a barista, parents are now investing more time and money in their children’s cognitive development from the earliest ages. It may seem self-evident that parents with more resources are able to invest more — more of both money and of what Mr. Putnam calls “‘Goodnight Moon’ time” — in their children’s development. But even though middle-class and poor families are also increasing the time and money they invest in their children, they are not doing so as quickly or as deeply as the rich.

The economists Richard J. Murnane and Greg J. Duncan report that from 1972 to 2006 high-income families increased the amount they spent on enrichment activities for their children by 150 percent, while the spending of low-income families grew by 57 percent over the same time period. Likewise, the amount of time parents spend with their children has grown twice as fast since 1975 among college-educated parents as it has among less-educated parents. The economists Garey Ramey and Valerie A. Ramey of the University of California, San Diego, call this escalation of early childhood investment “the rug rat race,” a phrase that nicely captures the growing perception that early childhood experiences are central to winning a lifelong educational and economic competition.

It’s not clear what we should do about all this. Partly that’s because much of our public conversation about education is focused on the wrong culprits: we blame failing schools and the behavior of the poor for trends that are really the result of deepening income inequality and the behavior of the rich.

We’re also slow to understand what’s happening, I think, because the nature of the problem — a growing educational gap between the rich and the middle class — is unfamiliar. After all, for much of the last 50 years our national conversation about educational inequality has focused almost exclusively on strategies for reducing inequalities between the educational successes of the poor and the middle class, and it has relied on programs aimed at the poor, like Head Start and Title I.

We’ve barely given a thought to what the rich were doing. With the exception of our continuing discussion about whether the rising costs of higher education are pricing the middle class out of college, we don’t have much practice talking about what economists call “upper-tail inequality” in education, much less success at reducing it.

Meanwhile, not only are the children of the rich doing better in school than even the children of the middle class, but the changing economy means that school success is increasingly necessary to future economic success, a worrisome mutual reinforcement of trends that is making our society more socially and economically immobile.

We need to start talking about this. Strangely, the rapid growth in the rich-poor educational gap provides a ray of hope: if the relationship between family income and educational success can change this rapidly, then it is not an immutable, inevitable pattern. What changed once can change again. Policy choices matter more than we have recently been taught to think.

So how can we move toward a society in which educational success is not so strongly linked to family background? Maybe we should take a lesson from the rich and invest much more heavily as a society in our children’s educational opportunities from the day they are born. Investments in early-childhood education pay very high societal dividends. That means investing in developing high-quality child care and preschool that is available to poor and middle-class children. It also means recruiting and training a cadre of skilled preschool teachers and child care providers. These are not new ideas, but we have to stop talking about how expensive and difficult they are to implement and just get on with it.

But we need to do much more than expand and improve preschool and child care. There is a lot of discussion these days about investing in teachers and “improving teacher quality,” but improving the quality of our parenting and of our children’s earliest environments may be even more important. Let’s invest in parents so they can better invest in their children.

This means finding ways of helping parents become better teachers themselves. This might include strategies to support working families so that they can read to their children more often.. It also means expanding programs like the Nurse-Family Partnership that have proved to be effective at helping single parents educate their children; but we also need to pay for research to develop new resources for single parents.

It might also mean greater business and government support for maternity and paternity leave and day care so that the middle class and the poor can get some of the educational benefits that the early academic intervention of the rich provides their children. Fundamentally, it means rethinking our still-persistent notion that educational problems should be solved by schools alone.

The more we do to ensure that all children have similar cognitively stimulating early childhood experiences, the less we will have to worry about failing schools. This in turn will enable us to let our schools focus on teaching the skills — how to solve complex problems, how to think critically and how to collaborate — essential to a growing economy and a lively democracy.

Sean F. Reardon is a professor of education and sociology at Stanford.

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