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US: Undoing poverty’s negative effect on brain development with cash transfers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 15/04/2017 - 4:30pm in

Kimberly G. Noble, associate professor of neuroscience and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, has published an article in Nature which summarizes her research background and an upcoming experiment into brain development and poverty. Noble asks whether poverty may affect the development, “the size, shape, and functioning,” of a child’s brain, and whether “a cash stipend to parents” would prevent

The post US: Undoing poverty’s negative effect on brain development with cash transfers appeared first on BIEN.

The False Promise of Universal Basic Income

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 10/04/2017 - 11:00pm in

Long dismissed as utopian, proposals for a universal basic income are now gaining traction on both the right and the left. But UBI’s supporters on the left should proceed with caution.

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A Cruel New Bill Is About to Become Law in Mississippi

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 04/04/2017 - 2:08am in

This post originally appeared at The Nation.

Had the Ryan-Trump health care bill been signed into law, 24 million people could have lost their health care — and Donald Trump would have received a $2.18 million annual tax cut. Fortunately, the GOP’s latest attempt to create a windfall for the wealthy at the expense of the poor and working class was defeated. But this week in Mississippi, residents weren’t so lucky.

The conspicuously named HOPE Act (Act to Restore Hope Opportunity and Prosperity for Everyone), introduced by Mississippi State Rep. Chris Brown, passed the House and Senate and is now expected to be signed into law. The legislation reads like a compilation of all-time favorites from a Republican wish list: It would enrich a private contractor by outsourcing the work of verifying people’s eligibility for social-support programs, including Medicaid and SNAP (food stamps); throw people who likely qualify for assistance off of these programs; and make it more difficult for people to get food and income assistance in the future.

It does all of this under the guise of helping people — Rep. Brown described the bill as “an incredible opportunity” to help people “move out of welfare dependency and poverty to a better life.” It’s also about eliminating fraud, supposedly, though legislators offered no proof that this is a problem in the state.

The legislation reads like a compilation of all-time favorites from a Republican wish list: It would enrich a private contractor by outsourcing the work of verifying people’s eligibility for social-support programs, including Medicaid and SNAP (food stamps); throw people who likely qualify for assistance off of these programs; and make it more difficult for people to get food and income assistance in the future.

The HOPE Act applies to all Mississippians who receive Medicaid, TANF (income assistance) or SNAP. Anyone enrolled in those programs will have 10 days to reply to a written request for information proving eligibility, as deemed necessary by a private contractor hired by the state. That deadline would be tough for anyone to meet, but the fact that many program beneficiaries are disabled, unemployed, lack stable housing, or are simply living under the everyday pressures of poverty makes the deadline all but impossible for many people.

“Just getting that notice to program participants can be a real challenge,” said Matt Williams, the director of research at the Mississippi Low Income Child Care Initiative. “Then you’re talking about making sense of a lot of highly technical information, and putting that in written form too.”

Currently, a Mississippi Department of Human Services (DHS) caseworker determines eligibility by sitting down with an applicant and sorting through liquid assets, utility bills, loans, child-support payments, child care costs, employee pay stubs and other sources of income and expenses. It’s a time-consuming process, but the agency has been rewarded for doing it well. Between FY2012 and FY2014, the department received $8.75 million in bonus federal funds for its SNAP payment accuracy rates.

Under the HOPE Act, however, that kind of reciprocal relationship and guidance will be gone. “People will have to figure out on their own how to acquire the requested information and then explain it — in writing — within 10 days,” said Williams. “If they don’t, they’re going to be kicked off.”

Rep. Brown and other proponents claim the state will save money through this privatized system. But the assertion is belied by the state’s own analysis, which was conducted by a private firm that supports the legislation. It estimated a cost of $10 million to $12 million, with about $2.5 million covered by state taxpayers. Williams said even that would be hard to come up with given the state’s tax and budget cuts over the past two years. But the actual cost will likely be much higher, and the study wrongly assumed that the federal government will pick up most of the tab for the privatized system. Tennessee considered nearly identical legislation and found that it would run $81 million with the state covering 95 percent of the cost. The legislators killed that bill.

“We will be out millions of more dollars that could have benefited children, the elderly and disabled people who are already neglected due to budget cuts,” said Williams.

The HOPE Act will also make it more likely that childless adults between the ages of 18 and 49 will be limited to three months of SNAP benefits in any three-year period, unless they’re working. Under current law, the governor can apply for a waiver to this time limit during periods of high unemployment — during recessions, or for particular regions with high unemployment rates, like the Mississippi Delta. Now it will be up to a hostile state legislature to ask for the waiver. Moreover, if any household is found to be out of compliance with any requirement of SNAP or TANF, the children lose benefits, too.

Mississippians can thank the Foundation for Government Accountability — an ally of the American Legislative Exchange Council and an affiliate of the Koch-funded State Policy Network — for providing Rep. Brown with the model for this legislation. The right-wing group’s past efforts include mandatory drug-testing for TANF recipients in Florida. Studies showed that there was no greater incident of drug use for people who receive benefits than the general public — and a lower rate compared to all Floridians — so the court struck it down as an illegal search and seizure. The drug testing also cost the state far more to implement than it saved in benefits denied to the handful of people who tested positive.

Whatever the costs of Mississippi’s new system, proponents claim that they will be more than offset by savings as the private contractor discovers “fraud” and kicks people off of assistance, particularly Medicaid. However, Illinois used a similar system and found that more than 80 percent of cancelled Medicaid cases were simply due to a lack of response from the recipient, and nearly all of them ended up qualifying and reenrolling. The number of cases referred for fraud investigation was, in fact, “negligible.”

Mississippi’s move comes as conservatives across the country are kicking people off of needed assistance, under the pretense of freeing them from “dependency,” or giving states “flexibility” to better meet a community’s needs. Next up? More governors will likely seek waivers from protections for Medicaid recipients so that they can impose new work requirements, higher premiums, and time limits — and offer more largesse to the wealthy.

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What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Rural Poverty

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 31/03/2017 - 5:00am in

This post originally appeared at In These Times.

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Mississippi — In 2001, Michael Muhammad, a 45-year-old baker from Detroit, moved 1,000 miles south to rural Fayette, Mississippi. Muhammad saw opportunity in the town’s cheap land, low property taxes and small but tight-knit African-American Muslim community. He and several other followers of the New Nation of Islam pooled their resources for what would be the town’s only bakery — and in 2004, Fayette Bakery and Coffee Shop opened for business.

Like many former slave plantation counties, Jefferson County is divided into two distinct classes: a land-owning elite that is both black and white, and a large, impoverished majority that is almost entirely African-American.

But business was slow, and Muhammad soon began picking up night shifts at a motel in a neighboring county. To increase sales, his employees took turns driving a food truck from Jackson to Baton Rouge, selling fritters, donuts and bean pies. Muhammad realizes today that local spending will probably never be enough to support the bakery. In 2012, retail spending for the year in Jefferson County, population 7,507, amounted to less than $2,900 per person.

Fayette is the only incorporated town in Jefferson County, Mississippi, the third-least populous county in Mississippi and the 16th poorest in the country. Its unemployment rate is the second-highest in the state. But it defies the stereotype of rural poverty in at least one important way: Of the 3,143 counties in the United States, Jefferson County has the highest percentage of citizens who are African-Americans (85 percent of the county’s population in 2013).

Media representations of black poverty typically spotlight the segregated inner cities of the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic, like Chicago, Detroit and Baltimore. But less than half of the African-American population in the United States resides in cities. Suburbs and exurbs are home to 43 percent of black Americans, while 14 percent live in rural areas. That 14 percent has a poverty rate of approximately 34 percent — twice as high as that of rural whites. Nationwide, African-Americans have a 24 percent poverty rate, while whites have a 12 percent poverty rate. Similarly, metropolitan blacks have a 25 percent poverty rate and metro whites 12 percent.

Likewise, recent publicity given to rural poverty in the United States has been limited to a discussion of white Trump supporters. Judging from these accounts, one might imagine rural America as a sea of unbroken white. In fact, Black people (who overwhelmingly vote Democratic) make up nearly 20 percent of the rural poor.

In October, In These Times traveled to Jefferson County, and spoke with both county residents and national experts on the conditions of rural black poverty. Mil Duncan, a rural sociologist at the University of New Hampshire who has done extensive poverty fieldwork in the Mississippi Delta, Appalachia and New England, says that white poverty and black poverty in the South are more alike than different. “Nonetheless,” she adds, black people in the South face “the additional burden of real, inescapable racism. … Poor rural blacks in the South were always excluded from decent schools and good jobs, and the legacy of that discrimination endures today.”

Scraping and scrapping

During the 20th century, Jefferson County lost more than two-thirds of its population, which peaked at 21,000 in 1900. Apart from Fayette, the county is made up of seven unincorporated communities and a handful of ghost towns. A Google search of “Jefferson County, Mississippi” returns few hits, aside from a few websites about Southern history and genealogy and the homepage of the county government.

For L.C. Whistle, 60, who was born and raised in Jefferson County, it’s clear what caused the exodus. “There ain’t been no jobs,” he says. These days he collects and sells old car parts and machinery to recycling plants. In the 1960s, residents remember, one of the county’s largest employers, an auto dealership, moved away. More than 40 years later, the county has yet to attract new industry. This leaves most residents with three options: Leave, take a minimum wage job or (like Whistle) find informal work. “You might make enough to live,” says Whistle, “but you ain’t gonna get rich.”

Sheriff Peter E. Walker, who is black and has served Jefferson County for six consecutive four-year terms, argues that chronic poverty in Jefferson County is a symptom of the community’s low work ethic and dependence on welfare. “Those who really want to work — they do work, even if they have to go out of town to work,” Walker tells In These Times. “But then we have those who really don’t desire to work, they just hang out on government assistance, do whatever they can to make a dollar. Drug dealing is some of it.”

In 2011, 31 percent of Jefferson County residents received food stamps, compared to 14 percent nationally. The jail incarceration rate in Jefferson County is more than 19 times the national average, according to the Vera Institute of Justice.

In 2011, 31 percent of Jefferson County residents received food stamps, compared to 14 percent nationally. The jail incarceration rate in Jefferson County is more than 19 times the national average, according to the Vera Institute of Justice.

Walker says that the solution lies in shifting the community’s values toward self-reliance and action. “I’m hoping that one day the trend of families … instilling in our children to be dependent on the government for support, that that will change,” he says.

Walker’s argument is referred to in the social sciences as the “culture of poverty” theory — that the poor are steeped in a culture of hopelessness, dependency and ignorance, passed down through the generations. Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, the theory trickled into the mainstream political debate, gaining traction in the anti-welfare platforms of both Democratic and Republican politicians. The degrading label of “welfare queen,” first coined by a Chicago Tribune reporter, became a favorite of President Ronald Reagan in his crusade to dismantle New Deal programming, a move that would impact both poor whites and poor blacks. Many social scientists and activists criticized the “culture of poverty” theory for demonizing the poor as lazy and freeloading, and for overlooking the role of institutional and structural forces in the perpetuation of poverty.

Those institutional forces are readily apparent in the rural South, where the legacy of slavery continues to visibly shape the economy. Like many former slave plantation counties along the Mississippi River, Jefferson County is divided into two distinct classes: a land-owning elite that is both black and white, and a large, impoverished majority that is almost entirely African-American. In 2015, fewer than 1 percent of Jefferson County’s white residents lived below the poverty line, compared to 56.1 percent of black residents.

White descendants of plantation owners make up most of the landowning elite in Mississippi, according to Marvin King, a professor of political science at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. But he notes that the 20th century saw the rise of a small black middle class, some of whom acquired large estates in Jefferson County.

Ouida Pittman is one of these exceptions. Her father — an African-American schoolteacher — inherited an estate from his father, a clever businessman, that included several lakes and hundreds of rolling acres of corn, cotton, butterbeans, sweet potato and okra. The Pittmans raised and butchered hogs for pork chops, bacon and smoked sausage. “The town always thought my family was rich,” says Pittman, who today makes a modest living as a child care provider. Her family no longer farms, instead holding their land for personal use. Still, they remain relative haves in a community of have-nots.

The concentration of land ownership shaped Jefferson County, contributing to a vicious cycle of limited job opportunities, low education levels and low population density that can be found in much of the rural South. Wesley Whittaker, a professor of agriculture at Alcorn State University, a historically black land grant institution in Lorman, Mississippi, says that landholding elites have long prevented economic development in the region by restricting the land to forestry and personal use instead of providing opportunities for development and farming that could bring jobs to the area.

“You have very large landowners in this particular area,” Whittaker says. “Somebody who grows forestry will keep the land [restricted] for years, reaping the timber. And after they reap it, it takes a long time until they can convert it into cropland, so there’s not a lot of rural crops.”

This small group of landowners also retained a stranglehold over local political power. “The [plantation owners] were worried about unions and about civil rights organizing, and so they deliberately kept many people from getting an education or from participating in civic life,” says Duncan, the professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire. “In the early 1990s, there was still very real exclusion of African-Americans from civic life [in rural Mississippi]. If they worked for change, they would be punished.”

Exodus begins

In today’s deeply segregated rural South, where blacks often do not come into direct daily contact with whites, racism operates in the discriminatory allocation of state and federal funding.

In the 1930s, blacks fled Mississippi in large numbers, hoping to escape the institutionalized racism of Jim Crow and find unionized manufacturing jobs in Northern industrial cities. By the 1940 census, the state had become majority white for the first time. Between the 1960s and 1990s, federal civil rights legislation and fears of forced integration accelerated white flight from majority-black counties like Jefferson County. As a result, the state’s rural black population grew smaller but more concentrated, leaving black communities vulnerable to neglect and disinvestment from the state.

In today’s deeply segregated rural South, where blacks often do not come into direct daily contact with whites, racism operates in the discriminatory allocation of state and federal funding. Since 1999, black communities in the state have received billions of dollars in settlements for cases involving discrimination in the state’s higher education system and in the allocation of farm subsidies. In 2015, a white state representative in Mississippi made a statement implying that schools in African-American communities didn’t deserve additional funding because “all the blacks are getting food stamps and what I call ‘welfare crazy checks.’” Because many white families opt out of the public school system, blacks make up a disproportionate percentage of the students in Mississippi public schools — which rank fifth-lowest nationally in annual spending per student, at $8,263. And in a March 2016 report, the US Commission on Civil Rights found that Mississippi was limiting black communities’ access to federally subsidized child care services.

Choosing to stay

The decades-long northward migration of blacks was spurred in large part by the brazen — and violent — racism of the South. Clarence Hill, 65, remembers those days. “It used to be you see a white person coming down [the sidewalk], and you better get out on that road,” says Hill.

Hill is a retired truck driver who now runs a secondhand clothing shop in Fayette. His mother — a sharecropper — single-handedly raised him and his seven siblings while his father served a 10-year prison sentence for robbing and assaulting a white man.

Hill recalls lynchings in the county as recently as the 1960s. “A lot of people got hung in that courthouse,” Hill says, gesturing down Main Street in Fayette. In Hill’s shop hangs a dark, faded poster of Martin Luther King Jr., looking out in front of an American flag.

Things are different now, he says. “[The racism here] isn’t as bad as it used to be. They got it more covered up now.”

The exodus from Jefferson County continues, but these days, the primary reasons are economic. Priscilla Houston, a 23-year-old Jefferson County native, says that growing up, she and her friends dreamed of moving to cities like Atlanta and Memphis. “[My friends] say, ‘I can’t wait to leave Fayette.’ I’ve said that several times.” As they got older, both of her brothers moved to more populous parts of the South. Those who leave for college often never return.

Houston is an exception. After graduating from the University of Southern Mississippi in 2015, she decided to move back in with her parents in Fayette, where she began working a minimum-wage job at a local day care center. She missed the hospitality of Fayette, she says.

Clarence Hill says he has considered leaving. “It ain’t that I love it here,” he says. “But I got everything here; there ain’t no sense in starting over.”

The publication of this story was supported by a grant from the Marguerite Casey Foundation’s Equal Voice Journalism Fellowship Award.

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Jim Gray, “Liberty Can Create A Safety Net”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/03/2017 - 10:09pm in


article, gray, tax, welfare

Retired judge, libertarian, and blogger Jim Gray writes that current US public welfare systems should be replaced with a cash stipend.

The post Jim Gray, “Liberty Can Create A Safety Net” appeared first on BIEN.

Work is Bollocks

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/03/2017 - 6:18am in

image/jpeg icondesk_flip.jpg

Why the working-class should control how work is done.

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On the ‘automation’ argument for basic income

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 28/02/2017 - 4:46pm in


Opinion, race, welfare

As we spend so much time debating who’s right about whether robots will take most of our jobs and whether there’ll be a need for a basic income, other arguments for such a policy get “crowded out” of the discussion.

The post On the ‘automation’ argument for basic income appeared first on BIEN.

How basic income ends the poverty trap

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 17/02/2017 - 12:28am in


Opinion, Taxes, welfare

In a Universal Basic Income system, incentives are always aligned for the individual to accept a raise or to work an additional hour because it will always put more money in their pocket.

The post How basic income ends the poverty trap appeared first on BIEN.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017 - 5:22pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Wed, 15/02/2017 - 5:34pm in

I'm ranting altogether too much over local "journalism", and this comment introduces nothing new to what I've posted many times before, but since the Advocate won't publish it:

Again I have to wonder why drivel produced by the seething hive mind of News Corp is being syndicated by my local newspaper. This opinion comes from somebody who appears to be innumerate (eight taxpayers out of ten doesn't necessarily - or even very likely - equal eight dollars out of every ten) economically illiterate, and empirically wrong.

Tax dollars do not fund welfare, or any other function of the federal government. Currency issuing governments create money when they spend and destroy money when they tax. "Will there be enough money?" is a nonsensical question when applied to the federal government. As Warren Mosler puts it, the government neither has nor does not have money. If you work for a living, it is in your interest that the government provides money for those who otherwise wouldn't have any, because they spend it - and quickly. Income support for the unemployed becomes income for the employed pretty much instantly. Cutting back on welfare payments means cutting back on business revenues.

And the claim that the "problem" of welfare is increasing in scale is just wrong. Last year's Household, Income, and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) report shows dependence on welfare payments by people of working age declining pretty consistently since the turn of the century. This opinion piece is pure class war propaganda. None of us can conceivably benefit in any way from pushing people into destitution in the moralistic belief that they must somehow deserve it.

Welfare Reform from Locke to the Clintons

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/02/2017 - 3:23pm in

In a draft of his “Essay on the Poor Law,” Locke writes:

Now no part of any poor body’s labour should be lost. Things should be so ordered that everyone should work as much as they can.

That passage, which Locke ultimately deleted, came right after his complaint that women were staying home with their kids and not working. As a result, he wrote, “their labour is wholly lost.”

Locke follows this observation up with a complaint about the existing poor laws in England: the problem with them is that “they are turned only to the maintenance of people in idleness, without at all examining into the lives, abilities, or industry, of those who seek for relief.”

That is what a reformed poor law must do: examine into the lives, abilities, and industry of those who seek public assistance.