Tag Archives: poverty

The Beginning of the End?

3 Sep

Social Security Services | WESTMORELAND COUNTY

Beginning this month, September 2020, The Trump administration will begin deferring payroll taxes for all eligible federal employees over the objections of unions and other employee groups, who have labeled the plan as “chaotic and confusing.”

The Agriculture Department’s National Finance Center, which processes paychecks for about 600,000 employees across 160 agencies, issued a notice indicating that it would implement provisions of an August presidential memorandum to defer the taxes, which fund Social Security, until the end of 2020.

The deferrals will be temporary and last until the end of the year and apply to all federal employees making less than $104,000 per year. In the short term, those federal workers will see an increase in take-home pay, but they will also be required to pay that money back next year when they fill out their annual tax returns.

Unless: The President, as promised should he be re-elected this fall, continues to issue executive orders extending the payroll tax deferral.

But The Trump administration has not provided information to federal employees about the implications this deferral will have on future tax obligations or on their future Social Security benefits or if they will have to pay penalties and interest on the money as required by the IRS should they be required to return the money to the SS fund.

You know, should someone else be elected President this fall.

Meanwhile, The Social Security Administration’s Chief Actuary, Stephen C. Goss, released a letter warning that should President Trump’s plan to terminate Social Security’s dedicated funding be extended and applied to all workers who pay into the fund, it will destroy Social Security long before the President’s second term is up.

 

Goss’s letter states that if Social Security’s funding were terminated, as Trump has repeatedly proposed and promised if he were re-elected,  that Social Security’s Disability Insurance trust fund would be depleted by 2021, and the Old Age and Survivors Insurance trust fund would be left “with no ability to pay benefits” after 2023.

Thus by instructing the IRS to continue deferring the collecting of Social Security contributions for up to a year, and then continuing to do so each year with executive orders, he can fully defund and destroy Social Security’s disability insurance all by himself, provoking an immediate crisis that could force Congressional legislation cutting benefits or privatizing the program.

At the very least he is beginning this month to deplete the Social Security Trust Fund by syphoning away the payroll taxes of 600,000 federal employees from the fund whether those federal employees want to or not!

In the meantime…The 2018 Supplemental Poverty Measure found that Social Security benefits keep more than 27 million people out of poverty every year and that refundable tax credits do the same for almost 8 million people. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, known as food stamps, also keep an estimated three million people from becoming poor.

And yet all of those programs and now Social Security are being rolled back, cut back or depleted by this President’s efforts and proposals. So if we add 38 million people to the poverty rolls by cutting or eliminating these anti-poverty measures to the already 40 million Americans living in poverty now… we’ll have a whopping 78 million citizens living below the poverty line.

That’s would be about 24% of the United States population or the highest poverty rate ever recorded! Historically, the official poverty rate in the United States had ranged from a high of 22.4 percent when it was first estimated for 1959 to a low of 11.1 percent in 1973.

So our 45th President of the United States in his effort to “make America great again” is at this very moment downsizing the Post Office (the oldest institution in the USA) towards an eventual closing. Fighting the Affordable Care Act at the Supreme Court level in the hopes of having it eliminated from the law of the land. Defunding American cities that he does not like. Mocking our national voting system, the cornerstone of our democracy. And now Beginning the process of depleting our Social Security Trust Fund until it is empty and/or useless…

and one other thing…

It’s not even a secret!

It’s a promise!

 

 

“All for ourselves, and nothing for other people.”

2 Jun

I saw a post on Facebook recently espousing this thought:

“We must put an end to economic freeloading…There must be no place for parasites who draw their sustenance from society without giving anything in return.”

We have over 50 million people in this country who live below the poverty line. And it’s a pretty low line…certainly not one that we or anyone else that I know would want to live under for one day… let alone a year or two or a lifetime. And of all the industrialized countries in the world we, the United States, the richest, mightiest, most boastful country in the world… is last in helping its poor people.

Wow! We’re last in the first world at charity…and as far as I can tell it makes most Americans sick…and not because we’re last but because we can’t get any lower… without leaving the first world and joining the second and third world countries in order to do it that is. Most folks and certainly all Republicans, would like to cut programs for the poor (like food stamps, rent assistance, healthcare and welfare) all together and completely.

After all there is no place for parasites is there? Unless we count prison, and we are first in prisons and prisoners aren’t we? Huzzah! At least we are proud to be number one in some category among the wealthy, advanced nations of the world. But if the poor are parasites and undeserving moochers who draw sustenance from their hosts while offering nothing in return, what are we to do with them? Kill them? Eat them? We already ignore them don’t we? If they aren’t already in prison then they certainly are pretty much invisible. Right?

I mean seriously, do you see a lot of poor folks during your daily routine? You pretty much have to go out of your way or take a wrong turn or exit on the freeway to bump into them don’t you? Or maybe you sometimes see them get shot by scared witless policemen in their efforts to “protect and serve” as you channel surf on your cable TV. So really, what more can we do besides cut those checks?…and I mean cut as in off… not as in… write.

But who are these undeserving poor that beguile and bewilder our great United States of America with their hands out for more and more of our hard earned money every day? Who are these 50 million or so ingrates who can’t stand on their own two feet? These huddled masses who are bankrupting the richest citizens of the richest country in the world? Which, by the way, they aren’t because in case you missed it at the beginning of this blog post, we don’t really give them anything, because we, in all actuality and factuality, already are the STINGIEST, wealthy country in the world!

But I digress…

Because, who are these money grubbers anyway?!

Well… 35% of the 50 million or so poverty stricken Americans are kids! They are all under the age of 18 so how much of a slacker can they all be? Are we going to call 17.5 million children parasites and undeserving moochers for whom there must be no place in our society because they don’t pull their own weight in this world? Yet? They haven’t even graduated high school.

Another 10% of the poorest Americans are elderly. They are all over 65 years of age and can’t work or shouldn’t have to work anymore. How much financial independence and personal accountability do we require from those who may not have had any pensions or 401K plans during their working years or who saw them swallowed up by banks or government cuts or by the financial sector’s mismanagement? Can we give these folks a break and help them out with food stamps, medical and housing assistance or is there simply no room in our society for this particular type of societal parasite? You know…the old and feeble kind.

So that accounts for almost half of all the poor citizens in our country: old folks and children. But did you know that another 31% of the poor in our country are poor because they have mental and/or physical disabilities that prevent them from working or that caused them to lose their jobs in the first place? They might be veterans, paraplegics, developmentally challenged, perhaps those who suffered on the job injuries where no workman’s comp. was in effect or those who were suffering from severe mental incapacitates when their hospitals were closed during the cutbacks of the Reagan years and beyond. Are these citizens to be considered freeloaders also? Lazy work shirkers on the public dole? Irresponsible no-gooders who need to have their food stamp purchases monitored lest they buy an occasional steak or seafood out of season so that we do-gooders can treat ourselves to another tax cut?

A full 76% of those who live below the poverty line here in the United States of America are either children, senior citizens or disabled…that’s 3 out of 4… and what of the other 24%? Mostly they are comprised of mothers: more than likely they are single, divorced or unwed women with children (and a man on the lam from his child support)

And all together they comprise the Approximately 50 million people who can’t make ends meet in this, our Land of Plenty. Sure it’s a big number…but we’re a big country…and a rich country…the richest country! One that can afford to spend 20+% of its budget on blowing the citizens of other countries up and then debate whether or not we should be spending more on such endeavors.

But when it comes to helping our own poorest of citizens, the great majority of whom are either too young, too old, too disabled… or mothers trying to make ends meet…we wag our fingers and say, “We’ve given you enough! What more do you want?”  And yet, We as a nation are last in the world at helping our fellow citizens get back up on their feet now, so really, How much crueler and indifferent can we be?!

Well…The United States also has the highest poverty rate among the major industrialized nations of the world! And Our poverty rate for children is just as bad. So that means that we are first in creating poor people and last in helping them! Do we now need to make sure that we constantly refer to the poor in America as Parasites? Fraudsters? Morally bankrupt? Undeserving? Lazy? Cheats? Thieves?…

Do we really need to add insult to penury?

Because after all. Haven’t we fortunate Americans…God Bless Us…done enough already?

It’s Academic

25 Feb

In the history of the world there have been many great and prosperous civilizations and they have all failed. And usually at the time of the failing some few folks had all of the money and most other folks had none. They were either Kings or Queens or Popes or Emperors or Czars or Caesars or Pharaohs or whatever and they always invoked the divine right of the gods as the reason for concentrating all of that wealth in the hands of one man or one small circle of family and friends. Eventually the disenfranchised, poor populace grows disinterested and disaffected and the empire succumbs to a force of outsiders who invade and plunder. While the wealthy few run away or hide or are murdered or all 3! Then the new conquerors share in the plunder and even rejoice while sharing, and then the cycle begins anew as the new leaders emerge and invariably begin indulging in their own grandeur until…

Fortunately we no longer have empires such as those in the world today but we still have world leaders who rule with concentrated power and wealth. In the United States however, our president is not among the wealthiest men in the nation and we have no all powerful despot who rules with an iron hand under the divine rights of either religion or lineage but we still have concentrated wealth in the hands of a few and those few are now the business and corporate leaders of the world. Where we once had popes and kings we now have CEOs and corporations (The latter which ironically enough have recently been declared to be persons by our Supreme Court composed of actually real people!) and they have quite a large amount of wealth at their disposal which is growing while the wealth of the common population is shrinking. This is the historical recipe for national disaster. No matter how vast and distant the empire may reach, when the interior rots the empire always withers and dies.

Our public schools represent that interior. They are the nucleus which fuels the fire of freedom and free enterprise. We have built our greatness from the inside out and we look to replenish our strengths and our greatness through the rebirth and reaffirmation of our ideals in our children. In our best of times, We have spread our influence through the free trade and free movement of our citizens and by setting an example of economic wealth that can be earned and shared and experienced by all and not concentrated within a few.

Our public schools must be fortified and not abandoned. They must be embraced and enhanced and empowered in terms of anticipating and responding to technological, social, political, economic, and competitive change. Healthy cultures must always be willing to rethink their most basic assumptions about themselves in order to improve and grow and repair their societies and we must be willing to accept that what our schools need now more than ever is not a cut in spending but rather a renewed effort to spend more on the future and the future generations who will lead us.

Today’s students are willing to work hard but what makes us think that they are going to be willing to work hard for low wages that would suffice a life in China or India or some other-where where they don’t live? America’s corporate leaders and great men of wealth need to stop hoarding and start spreading the wealth. They can begin by first embracing the public schools of this country with largess and generosity and then by raising wages across the middle and poorer classes of society so that the term “working poor” is eradicated from our vocabulary.

Today’s students of the 21st century in America are beginning to notice that it is getting harder and harder to bring the American dream, a dream of studying hard then working hard, and then achieving affluence, into focus and for most of our poorest students that dream is nothing more than a taunting apparition of their hopelessness: a happy meal that they will never be able to afford

Go Fish!

23 Aug

Fox news, is an amazing program channel with an obvious agenda all its own. Their recent special “The Great Food Stamp Binge” was all about how the U.S. Government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, was turning our once great nation into a happy band of greedy and lazy freeloaders living on the public (Fox news watchers) dole.

What they did was profile a 29 year old jobless California man who drove a nice car, surfed all day, hung out with his surfing friends and received $200/month from the SNAP program which he spent, as far as I could tell from the newscast, on a seemingly unlimited supply of lobster and sushi.

What Fox news didn’t tell anyone was that In reality this man bears no resemblance to the overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients, many of whom are elderly, children, or who rely on the program for a short time while looking for work. Instead Fox News portrayed the California Surfer dude as the new face of food stamps in America just as President Reagan had once touted his fictional,  high living, New York “Welfare Queen” as the face or Welfare in America over 30 years ago.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, the fraud and waste rate in SNAP is roughly 1 percent, contrary to Fox News claims that the program is rife with fraud…and if one simply goes to the SNAP website you’ll see this:

Under federal rules, to be eligible for benefits a household’s income and resources must meet three tests:

  • Its gross monthly income — that is, its income before any of the program’s deductions are applied — generally must be at or below 130 percent of the poverty line.  For a family of three, the poverty line in federal fiscal year 2013 is $1,591 a month.  Thus, 130 percent of the poverty line for a three-person family is $2,069 a month, or $24,828 a year.  The poverty level is higher for bigger families and lower for smaller families.
  • Its net income, or income after deductions are applied, must be at or below the poverty line.
  • Its assets must fall below certain limits:  households without an elderly or disabled member must have assets of $2,000 or less, and households with an elderly or disabled member must have assets of $3,250 or less.

That’s not much to have and if you further read the amount of assistance that one is given if one meets the guidelines you’ll find that that’s not all that much either. $200 is not going to buy you a lot of lobster and sushi and even if you try to turn those food stamps  into cash well… anyone with a serious drinking, smoking, drugging or eating habit knows that $200 probably wouldn’t get you through your first addictive week.

In fact, 41 percent of food stamp recipients live “in a household with earnings,” and use SNAP benefits to supplement their primary source of income. 76% of SNAP households included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person. These vulnerable households receive 83% of all SNAP benefits.  And the USDA reports that most food stamp recipients stay in the program for only a short period of time and that single parent families and elderly individuals tended to stay in the program longer than did working poor individuals, childless adults without disabilities, and noncitizens. Seventy-four percent of new participants leave the program within two years.

So Fox news’ attempt to demonize food stamp recipients was just plain wrong and mean and incorrect and unlike their lazy, flippant, surfer dude  the majority of those who receive SNAP benefits are on the program not because they are lazy but because they are hungry.

And sadly they are mostly hungry children and senior citizens…not surfer dudes…who live in a nation of  great wealth and surplus…perhaps the greatest wealth and surplus that the world as ever seen…

So why demonize these unfortunate individuals? What is to be gained except more wealth and surplus for the wealthy and surplus worthy?

It has been said that, “Give a hungry man a fish and he will eat for one day. Teach that man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime”. In the world of Fox News and their ilk, Give a hungry person a fish and he will just quit his job, lay on the beach and make communist sushi on the public dole…better to just tell that hungry person to…

“Go fish!”

Walton$ Mountain

14 May

Today on the internet I saw a list posted by Forbes Magazine of the 5 richest women in the United States. The top 2 were Christy Walton and Alice Walton of the Walton family and Wal-Mart fame. Christy’s brother-in laws (Alice’s brothers) Jim and S. Robson, are also quite wealthy and together they are numbers 6,7,8 and 9 on the top 10 list of the richest people in America. All together they have over 107 billion dollars between them.

Isn’t it amazing that a company whose employees are mostly poor and whose shoppers are mostly poor creates enough wealth to produce 4 of the 10 richest people in America?

In fact Wal-Mart CEO Michael Duke’s (not a member of the family…too poor) earns about $20 million a year, or about 9,615 dollars an hour. Which when you think about it is only about 9,606 dollars more per hour than your average Wal-Mart employee who makes around $8.75 an hour and who would gross about $13,650 a year. So Mr. Duke earns about as much as 1,465 of his employees put together.

On the other hand, the 4 richest Walton’s earn more than 7.8 million of their employees put together…but that’s OK because Wal-Mart only employs about 1.5 million Americans…so there is still plenty of Wal-Mart work to be done. Yet just to be fair, that is a lot of employees and Wal-Mart does pay its taxes…but still…

There are many ways to make one’s fortune in this world, and building one on the backs of the poor is still the best way to make the biggest ones possible. And why is that? Because…

On an interesting and ironic side note, if you Google “The Waltons” you’ll see a list featuring the story of John-Boy and all of his favorite relatives who live with him in Walton’s Mountain, a fictitious television town in rural Virginia. If you watched this show then you learned about how a very large and extended family could  live happily together during the great depression in the United States even though they were poor and didn’t have much money… and yet they had a town and a mountain named after them….go figure.

But of course in America art imitates life almost every day…on television.

That’s How We Do: Juxta-Posers

15 Mar

Today I took a drive to the Philadelphia airport and on the drive home, thanks to major construction and the worn out, pot-holed, crumbly highway, I was forced to a crawl just as I passed the relatively new South Philadelphia Stadium Complex. Where the Philadelphia Phillies, Eagles and Flyers play.

I couldn’t help but notice how shiny and new and spectacular the stadiums looked…however I also couldn’t help but notice that the names on the stadiums were Citizens Bank Park Stadium, Lincoln Financial Field and The Wells Fargo Center. And I also couldn’t help but notice that the surrounding neighborhoods were about as shiny and new and spectacular as the interstate highway  that I was traveling on.

And that got me to wondering…Why do we almost always put sports stadiums in the worst parts of big cities where then millions of people have to travel from the suburbs to spend millions of dollars to watch millionaires play? Probably you’ll say it’s so we can get all of that money that is being spent back into the cities…but that’s just not the case

Most if not all of these stadiums are financed by the crumbling cities themselves rather than by the wealthy teams and owners and financial institutions that have their names on them. And even though banks like Wells Fargo and  Citizens bank and Lincoln Financial pay millions for the naming rights, when you consider the recent trillions of dollars spent by the federal government in bailing out these banks then just about all of the money spent on these ballparks comes from…the citizens…not banks.

 That’s just plain crazy.

Many politicians and proponents of these publicly financed stadiums argue that new stadiums bring new jobs and economic expansion but when new sport stadiums are financed with public money, all research has shown that the population is actually worse off economically than before the stadium. 

In fact arenas and stadiums rarely live up to the promises teams, owners, and city politicians use to justify their construction. Cities are often left holding unsustainable amounts of debt because the economic development that is promised never shows up, and as a result, other services that provide more benefit to taxpayers like new roads and bridges and jobs and boring things like that are slashed to pay the bills.

Which when you think about it is insane.

Almost 40 years ago my home state of New Jersey borrowed $302 million to  construct  the Meadowlands and was supposed  to pay off the bonds in 25 years. Today because of refinancing, and redirecting funds for other stadiums the authority that runs the Meadowlands owes $830 million…on a stadium that was just torn down.  

That’s nuts!

Did you know that according to a new study from Harvard: when public-private partnerships are used to build such stadiums, taxpayers finance more than three-quarters of the investment, with teams and owners picking up just 22 percent of the tab…And every NFL franchise is today worth over 1 billion dollars!

It’s so ridiculous that it’s unbelievable!

And while our cities and infrastructures are crumbling around us we are cheering ourselves up by yelling, screaming and cavorting in the midst of abject poverty on urban oases as green as the piles of cash we spend there, named after banks that wouldn’t lend us a dollar under the very same deals and interest rates that they broker to build these coliseums.

Shouldn’t we  really be building these monuments to fame and fortune in the places where they belong like Beverly Hills, Wall Street and Fort Knox?

 It’s so ridiculous that it defies explanation…

But after all…that’s just how we do…isn’t it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Nouveau Poor

11 Oct

The Nouveau Poor

Being poor in America just doesn’t seem to be what it used to be. Today a public school district is considered “poor” or classified as a Title I district when a certain percentage (40%) of its children qualify for a free or reduced lunch. Once any school or district reaches a point where over half of its students qualify for free or reduced lunches (in other words they are living in poverty) they’ve reached what’s become commonly known as their “tipping point” and those schools begin to spiral downward into the abyss of failure, almost never to return to successful stature again. Poverty really does equal failure in America. If you are poor then you can bet (if you have any money) that you will be hounded throughout your life by failure of one kind or another.

But whose fault is poverty? Does it have a fault? And what do I mean by the Nouveau poor? Isn’t poor, poor? To be poor means to be without money, right? That’s what I always thought but throughout my years teaching in a poor, Title I school district I have noticed some subtle changes in poverty.

Many of today’s “poor kids” (at least in my school) wear expensive clothes and they wear expensive sneakers and shoes (often several pair of various colors to match their various outfits) They carry cell phones which means they have monthly fees to pay just for the privilege of texting (they don’t even call) their friends who are sitting only a few feet or classrooms away. (Remember writing notes?) They drink 2 dollar bottles of water when water from the tap is virtually free. They are all wired with headphones and MP3 players. And many if not most even have regular jobs. Today’s poor kids just don’t have that one thing that would qualify them as NOT being poor…money! And it’s not just the poor who are poor anymore!

What family saves these days? What family pools all of its economic resources to pay for the important family bills like food and heat and housing and then skimps on the luxuries? It seems as though luxuries come first these days. Non essential first, then we eat. I’ll use my cell phone to text home, “I’m hungry!”

I’ve had students tell me that food is something they can steal if they need to, but not electronics or clothes etc. “They guard that shit!” Say the kids. Kids need to pay to have those things.

Think about it: Those stores have security measures and employ security guards while most food or grocery stores do not.

I’m not advocating being poor, nor am I saying that poverty doesn’t exist. Nor am I trying to blame poverty on the poor as many well off and no doubt well meaning people do. It just seems as though poor ain’t what it used to be. And poor isn’t just for poor people anymore either. Everybody wants to get in on the action…Today poor is when after you’ve spent your money on what you don’t need, you don’t have enough left for what you do need…like food and as the kids would say, “dumb crap like that.” I’ve even had friends tell me from time to time that they don’t know if they will be able to meet their month’s rent on their apartment or home. And they tell me this at the restaurant, just after having come from their health club, while checking the internet on their phone, and before producing a credit card to pay for their tab!

Many of today’s families are sliding down the socioeconomic ladder in the pursuit and the acquisition of goods or luxuries that were previously unobtainable but are now made tantalizingly affordable through  mass marketing and mass production in places like China and India where sadly, the real poor live. Here in America many of our young people are learning about their new found poverty the hard way, by spending their way into the ranks of what I call the Nouveau Poor. They may be poor but at least they have the clothes, and the technology and the sneakers and the stuff that says, “We’ve earned it!”

What today’s public schools need is a better public: One that both collectively and individually pools its resources to spend on that which is essential and important before its wastes those same resources on what is frivolous and unnecessary. We need to tone down the marketing frenzy that tempts and lures our citizens, from their cradles to their graves, to behave in opposition to their better natures and encourages them to spend their hard earned money (In many cases before they’ve earned it!) on things they don’t really need or can get elsewhere for free. What we need to do is to start leading and encouraging our students and citizens to put their money where their mouth is, meaning to start spending it on their proper nutrition and diet and personal health, education and welfare where it will most directly contribute towards enhancing their chances of improving their lot in life. That is the true pursuit of happiness that Thomas Jefferson was speaking of in the Declaration of Independence and that George Mason had previously penned in the earlier Virginia Declaration of Rights to which he added “and obtaining.” (Curiously Jefferson borrowed Mason’s idea but dropped “and obtaining” from the end of “and the pursuit of happiness” when penning the Declaration. Hmmmmm…foreshadowing perhaps?)

America’s students need to be taught that they not only have the right to pursue their happiness but also the right to catch up to it and hang on and that it’s not only a right guaranteed by their government but also a responsibility expected and required of them and every other citizen of the United States. We won’t be able to keep whining about money spent and taxes levied, as long as we know that it is being spent on that which benefits the greater good of us all.

It would help of course if our politicians would chime in by showing some responsibilities of their own. One (1) predator drone, excuse me, Unmanned combat air vehicle, costs as much as 5 Sesame streets! The entire program of (let’s face it) “killer robots” costs 11.8 billion dollars! That’s 26.2 PBS stations! Call me a socialist but is it really better to kill than to receive? Which one of the above mentioned programs is for people and which one is for anti-people? Which would be the best way and the cheapest way and the most sensible way for our government to help keep us from going broke and becoming the Nouveau-est poor country in the world? By cutting 2 trillion dollars in additional defense spending or that other crap like housing, food and educational spending? Yes, I’m a socialist! Up with societies! Down with blowing up societies!

When will we learn that we cannot keep pursuing the “YouDaMan!” tactics of selfish capitalism? Instead we must seek the “Eudemonia” of a free society for all. And I’m not going to help you with that one. You’re going to have to look that word up on your own!

Hey,  I’m a teacher! I know the odds of you looking it up…

eudemonia: happiness as the result of an active life governed by reason.

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