Category: Poverty

commisaryImagine you have a family member who has been in prison for a month. You decide to send them some money to buy a tube of toothpaste from the prison store. How much would you need to send them?

At some prisons you’d need to send $130.

Jails often deduct intake fees, medical co-pays, and the cost of basic toiletries first, leaving the prisoner’s account with a negative balance. To provide enough money for them to buy that initial tube of toothpaste would often require, at a minimum:

  • $25 for booking fee
  • $90 for subsistence and medical co-pays ($3 a day for 30 days)
  • $8.95 for payment transfer fees
  • $5.64 for Senodyne toothpaste

This is one of the findings from an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity that reveals how prison bankers, private vendors in prisons, and corrections profit off the innocent by shifting costs onto inmates’ families.
(more…)

gb_pamphlet2An estimated 10 million American households — about 8 percent of all households — are “unbanked” and one in five households — 24 million households with 51 million adults — are “underbanked.” These are households which don’t have accounts at banks and other mainstream financial institutions and use cash for most of their transactions. As a result, notes the FDIC, these “cash consumers pay excessive fees for basic financial services, are susceptible to high-cost predatory lenders, or have difficulties buying a home or otherwise acquiring assets.”

The highest unbanked and underbanked rates are found among non-Asian minorities, lower-income households, younger households, and unemployed households. Close to half of all households in these groups are unbanked or underbanked compared to slightly more than one-quarter of all households.

One of the most common reasons people have for avoiding checking accounts is overdraft fees. If you write a $10 check and it “bounces” (fails to clear because of lack of funds) most banks will charge you a $35 per transaction fee. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the average overdraft fees paid per bank customer was $225. If you make less than $20,000 a year, you can easily find yourself paying one percent of your annual salary on overdraft fees alone.
(more…)

Former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson declares a “war on poverty” – Jan. 8, 1964

Former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson declares a “war on poverty” – Jan. 8, 1964

Last week the U.S. Census Bureau released its report, Income and Poverty in the United States: 2013. The agency announced that “in 2013, the poverty rate declined from the previous year for the first time since 2006, while there was no statistically significant change in either the number of people living in poverty or real median household income.”

Sure to spark reactions from both sides of the political aisle, the report, along with this year’s 50th anniversary of the U.S. government’s launch of a “war on poverty,” present an opportunity to reflect on the effectiveness of the United States’ domestic poverty alleviation strategy to date.

But amid the necessary analysis and debate about government’s role in helping the least among us, it is essential to keep at the forefront of our thinking the primary figure poverty alleviation efforts are intended to help: the human person. Through taking the time to recognize each individual’s unique gifts and creative capacity, we can more fully appreciate his/her contribution to society and form relationships that enable this flourishing to take root.

Ismael Hernandez, founder and executive director of the Freedom and Virtue Institute, echoes the importance of recognizing people’s true nature. He says, “The person needs to be called by name, the ‘poor’ need for us to dump that label and look at them as unique and unrepeatable human beings, not simply another token belonging to an expansive and yet shallow sea of sameness.”

(more…)

poverty_20130311One of the most underreported stories of the last decade is about good news: we’re winning the struggle against chronic hunger around the globe.

A new U.N. report estimates that the number of chronically undernourished people in the world has decreased by more than 100 million over the last decade, and 209 million lower than in 1990–92. Those figures are even more remarkable when we consider the global population has increased by almost 2 billion since 1990.

According to the report, since 1990-92, 63 countries have reached the hunger target of halving the proportion of undernourished people and 25 countries have achieved the goal of halving the number of undernourished people. Of the 63 developing countries, 11 already had undernourishment levels below 5 percent (the methodological limit that can assure significance of the results different from zero) in 1990-1992 and have been able to keep it in that interval, and are therefore not the prime focus of the 2014 report.

In the same period, the prevalence of undernourishment has fallen from 18.7 to 11.3 percent globally and from 23.4 to 13.5 percent for developing countries. There has likely never been a time in modern human history when such a large percentage of the population has been freed from chronic hunger.

Unfortunately, about 805 million people — mostly in Africa and South-Eastern Asia still remain without adequate food resources, due largely to conflicts and natural disasters. But we’re making remarkable progress. In fact, as Steve Davies of LearnLiberty explains, in the near future we may be able to eradicate extreme poverty and global hunger altogether.

(more…)

childsupport2_1003“Deadbeat Dads”—absent fathers who don’t provide financial support for their children—are one of the most significant factors contributing to child poverty in America. So why do some single women have children outside of marriage when they know they will receive little to no support from the child’s father?

A new study from the University of Georgia and Boston College attempts to answer that question. The authors created an economic model to simulate a scenario in which every absent father was forced to pay child support. As the researchers note, “Looking at the data through the lens of this ‘perfect enforcement’ scenario caused the picture to change.”

(more…)

French economist Thomas Piketty

This summer’s issue of The City, which includes an article by myself on Orthodoxy and ordered liberty, opens with a symposium of five articles on “The Question of Inequality.” These include two articles on Pope Francis, two on French economist Thomas Piketty’s recent book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, and one on the Bible.

Having recently written a two part article on the subject for the Library of Law & Liberty (here and here), I took copious notes as the topic is an ongoing subject of research.

In order to recommend the symposium to our readers here, who no doubt have interest in the topic, I compiled the following highlights:

Josiah Neeley, “What Does Bono Know That the Pope Doesn’t?”

Argentina is now the world’s only “formerly developed” country.

[E]ven in the United States a great deal of inequality is the result not of the heroic innovator but of government favoritism.

Donald Devine, “Does Pope Francis Hate Capitalism?”

[B]y 1910 … Argentina’s per capita Gross Domestic Product [was] number ten in the world.

Peron’s Argentina [in the mid-twentieth century] was perhaps the first comprehensive welfare state…. [And] the result has been a much poorer country.

The actual experience of markets [contra Pope Francis] is hardly autonomy. The U.S., one of the freer countries, has 300,000 regulations.

[B]etween 2005 and 2010 the total number of poor in the world actually fell by half a billion people as trickle down prosperity lifted millions from absolute destitution.

Today’s reality is the over-regulatory welfare state, not wild markets. (more…)

7figuresThe UNICEF report Hidden in Plain Sight, which draws on the largest-ever compilation of data on violence against children, reveals the disturbing prevalence of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse of children around the globe.

According to the report the effects of violence on children are often lasting and have inter-generational repercussions. Findings reveal that exposed children are more likely to become unemployed, live in poverty, and be violent towards others. The authors of the report note that the data is derived only from individuals who were able and willing to respond, and therefore represent minimum estimates.

Here are seven figures you should know from the latest report:
(more…)

fast-food-strikeWould you be in favor of a pay increase of 107 percent for your current job?

Most of us would be thrilled at having our pay more than double, and would readily support such a change. Imagine if all that was required was to vote for your industry to become unionized. Who wouldn’t support unionization if it resulted in a bigger paycheck?

But what if the change came with one caveat: If the pay increase were approved you’d not only lose your job, you’d no longer be qualified to work in the same industry. Would you still support the pay increase if it cost you your job?

That’s the choice a lot of food-service workers face—though few understand the true implications of their decision. Most fast-food workers going on strike for higher wages simply believe they are deserving of more money and aren’t aware of the basic economic factors that could cause them to become unemployable.
(more…)

save-to-winPeople who play the lottery with an income of less than $20,000 annually spent an average of $46 per month on lottery tickets. That comes out to more than $550 per year and it is nearly double the amount spent in any other income bracket.

Those who have the least spend an inordinate percentage of their income every year on lottery tickets (estimates vary from 4-9 percent). Yet while it is irrational for those in poverty to waste their limited resources on a one in 176 million chance, there is something almost rational in the reasoning for doing so. In 2012, The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson noted that,

For the desperately poor, lotteries perform a role not unlike the obverse of insurance. Rather than pay a small sum of money in exchange for the guarantee of protection that you’ll need in the future, you pay a small sum of money in exchange for the small probability that you’ll win money to help your lot right away. It is, for lack of a better term, a kind of aspirational insurance.

But what if the poor could pay a small sum to themselves (in the form of savings) and still reap the “aspirational insurance” benefits of the lottery? As the New York Times reports, some credit unions and non-profits are doing just that:
(more…)

lego-people“Can you explain that important economic concept using Legos?”

Apparently, someone must have said that to Richard Reeves, an economist at the Brookings Institution economist, because he’s made a brief video using Legos to visualize social mobility.

There are two reasons I really appreciate this video. First, I love to see important economic issues explained in an accessible and entertaining manner. Second, as I’ve repeatedly said to anyone who will listen, social mobility — specifically getting people out of poverty — is infinitely more important than focusing income inequality, a topic that gets far too much attention nowadays.

The one drawback to the video is that it’s far too pessimistic. Yes, social mobility is still a huge problem. But the video makes clear, that social mobility is possible for almost all people. That has not been true for most of human history and it is not true in most parts of the world today.

Also, I am far less concerned with whether a person can go from the bottom quintile to the top as I am with going from the bottom quintile to the middle. Like many Americans, I was born in the bottom quintile and worked my way to the middle quintiles. The fact that I’m unlikely to ever join the top quintile is of absolutely no importance to may life. None at all. What we should care about is whether people can get out of poverty and flourish economically, not whether they can join Beyonce and Jay-Z in the billionaire’s club.

But those quibbles aside, I’m grateful this video is helping to spread the message about the importance of social mobility.