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Archive for the ‘misconceptions’ Category

We invite you to join us for the 2010 Buffalo Poverty Challenge!

The Poverty Challenge is an exercise aimed at transforming how our community thinks about poverty and how to end it. Participants can attempt to live on the budget of a minimum wage worker or on the budget of someone at the federal poverty level.

Prominent local politcal, community, and business leaders like Mickey Kearns of Buffalo’s Common Council, Aaron Bartley of PUSH, and the Vukelic family of Try-it Distributing have taken the challenge. Visit www.povertychallenge.com to see their blog posts and videos about the diffculties they faced living at the poverty level.

This year we are partnering with www.WNYmedia.net who will be hosting the Poverty Challenge on their website.

To participate send an email to:

info@wnyhomeless.org

Write “I want to take the Poverty Challenge” in the subject.

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Over the past few decades and especially since the onset of  the “Great Recession,” city, county, and state governments around the country have had to cope with increasingly dire budget deficits. The go-to solution for many policy makers has been to make large funding cuts to programs that address poverty and inequality.

While this may help balance some budgets in the short term, recent reports find that not addressing poverty and inequality, especially child poverty, ends up costing billions more in the long term.

In 2007 the Center for American Progress released The Economic Costs of Poverty in the United States: Subsequent Effects of Children Growing Up Poor. In it they found:

Most arguments for reducing poverty in the U.S., especially among children, rest on a moral case for doing so—one that emphasizes the unfairness of child poverty, and how it runs counter to our national creed of equal opportunity for all.

But there is also an economic case for reducing child poverty. When children grow up in poverty, they are somewhat more likely than non-poor children to have low earnings as adults, which in turn reflects lower workforce productivity. They are also somewhat more likely to engage in crime (though that’s not the case for the vast majority) and to have poor health later in life. Their reduced productive activity generates a direct loss of goods and services to the U.S. economy.

What’s more, crime often imposes large monetary costs to the taxpayer, costs associated with administering our huge criminal justice system. And their poor health generates illness and early mortality which not only require large healthcare expenditures, but also will  impede productivity and ultimately reduce their quality and quantity of life.

How much does childhood poverty end up costing the country?

The Center for American Progress’ report results suggest that the costs associated with childhood poverty  to the U.S. total about $500B per year, or the equivalent of nearly 4 percent of GDP.

In 2008 the Human Services Policy Center at the University of Washington released The Cost of Child Poverty State by State which broke down those costs by state.

The annual cost of New York’s 888,000 children growing up in poverty?

$33.4 billion.

Thanks to the New York State Community Action Association’s recently released 2010 New York State Poverty Report we can break that down by county.

The annual cost of Erie County’s 39,528 children growing up in poverty?

$1.51 billion.

This begs the question:

When running government like a business, does it not make sense to invest in ending poverty?

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During the Poverty Challenge we received a ton of interesting thoughts and comments in the Poverty Challenge Blog as well as from people who have previously taken the Challenge.  In an interview for this years Poverty Challenge, Rev. Drew Ludwig talks about an experience he had last year while taking the Challenge:

For those of you who can’t watch the video, Rev. Ludwig talks about how he went to see a friend in the hospital.  His friend really wanted a coke, something that you couldn’t get in the hospital, and Rev. Ludwig was presented with a moral dilemma.  Buying a coke for his friend would probably put him over budget and mean that he couldn’t eat dinner but at the same time this was such a small request that it was hard to turn down.  Living on poverty level budget meant that Rev. Ludwig had to agonize over even very small acts of charity, something that you may never have to think about if you have a higher income.

Another story comes from Sr. Sharon Goodremote.  While thinking about how she will have to change things in order to stick to a poverty level budget she was confronted with a dilemma much like the one Rev. Ludwig had to face.  A Sister she lived with needed a ride somewhere but this would mean getting more gas for her car, which would put her way over her poverty level budget.  She thought:

Normally, there would be not thought – of course I can do that.  But because tomorrow I am living in poverty, my answer would need to be, I can’t help you, because I need to get to work and don’t have the extra money to take you to work.  Or my answer could be, yes, I’ll take you to work – knowing that I wouldn’t be able to have lunch tomorrow in order to have enough for gas after helping her.”

Like Rev. Ludwig she had to make the choice to either help a friend out and blow the poverty level budget or not help a friend, even if it was just giving someone a ride.  For those living at the poverty level this is a daily dilemma as many people living in poverty, especially those living in the ghettos, have friends or family living in poverty who could use some help.  Financially the person must decline requests for charity or risk getting farther behind but many times impoverished people go ahead and help people out even if it sets them farther back.  Sr. Goodremote noted this tendency of low-income people to give even when they have very little:

It is interesting to me that I immediately thought that I would just say no, yet knowing people who live in poverty are often more generous than people who “have”, I decided not to have lunch tomorrow so I could be of help to someone else.  I am grateful for the example of the people I know who live in poverty who are willing to go that extra mile for others.

Sr. Goodremote is not alone in noticing this trend.  Reading change.org’s Poverty in America blog I saw this post by Leigh Graham who found an article in the Miami Herald about how according to US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the poor donate more to charities percentage wise than the extremely wealthy.  Read the full article here.

The article titled “They are more generous — even in hard times” describes how the poorest fifth of Americans gave more than twice as much to charity (4.3% of income) as the wealthiest fifth gave (2.1% of income).  Statistics like these conflict with the dominant stereotypes about poor people being morally bankrupt and “leaching off the system”.  These statistics about charitable giving show that income has nothing to do with a person’s moral character.  It shows the poor actually being statistically more charitable than the wealthy.  This is not to say that the wealthy have less concern for the plight of others but it does help refute claims that the poor are as irresponsible and selfish as many people in society feel that they are.

Stories like the ones from Rev. Ludwig, Sr. Goodremote, and the article from the Miami Herald help challenge the myths and stereotypes surround those in poverty and those who are homeless.  They ask us to review and rethink the ideas we have about impoverished people and open our minds to the idea that income does not dictate moral character.

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Greg Plotkin over at change.org’s Poverty in America Blog re-posted an article from the Herald Bulletin that touches on a lot of what the Poverty Challenge was all about.  The article, “Coping With Hard Times: Ambivalence about poverty” by Ashley Walker, examines some of the predominant ways that people view the poor and gives some possible explanations for why many people hold these views.  A very formative idea that guides many people’s thinking about poor people is the “rugged individualist” ideal, which is like a secular translation of the “Protestant work ethic”.  The basic tenet is that “if you work hard, you can make it”.  Walker cites numerous academics who find that this ideology ignores the numerous economic and social barriers to success that many people face and is rarely supported by social science.  A favorite quote in this article comes from Dr. Bruce MacMurray, professor of sociology and criminal justice at Anderson University:

“To suggest that the poor are poor because they are lazy or can’t save money or they are dumb is somewhat self-serving,” MacMurray said. “Those views allow those of us who don’t live in that environment to dismiss it as their problem rather than our problem — to say that they’re responsible for their own failure rather than to say that it stems from the problems of our society.”

In a town that is incredibly segregated, both racially and economically, it is rare for many higher income people to have very much meaningful interaction with lower income people.  The passionate declarations by many higher income people that the 1/3 of Buffalo that is impoverished is lazy, irresponsible, and morally bankrupt is understandable in view of MacMurray’s insight.  These accusations shift the causes of poverty off the economic and social inequalities (which oftentimes benefit the people making these accusations) and onto the poor themselves.

Through the Poverty Challenge we hope that higher income people can begin to get an understanding of at least some of the economic/financial challenges facing poor people.  Struggling through the Poverty Challenge, and seeing prominent political, faith, and community leaders struggle, will hopefully demonstrate how difficult and undesirable living in poverty is.  Obviously this cannot replace face-to-face, meaningful discussion with low-income people themselves but hopefully people will begin to see the accusations about the moral character of the poor as self-serving statements with no basis in social reality.

Once we can shift our focus away from blaming the poor for their poverty, then we can begin to focus on the economic and social inequalities like the dearth of accessible* well-paying jobs and high housing/utility costs, as Buffalo’s Partnership for the Public Good’s 2009 Community Agenda does.

*Accessible both transportation-wise and education-wise.

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That may seem like a ridiculous question.  Part of the reason I came to Buffalo was because I thought it was probably the most affordable place to live in the state*.  But the Center for Housing Policy‘s recently released report entitled Paycheck to Paycheck serves to remind us that for many working people, owning a home or even renting a 1BR apartment in Buffalo is unaffordable.

The report compares the wages of 60 occupations with the wages necessary to afford the cost of an average home ($100,000 including all associated costs) or the Fair Market Rent for a one-bedroom or two-bedroom apartment in different states and metropolitan areas.  Housing  is usually considered affordable if it amounts to 30% of your budget.  For example, CHP calculates the income needed for a one-bedroom apartment by multiplying the Fair Market Rent for a one bedroom apartment by 3, which would roughly give you the income needed for that month to afford the apartment.  That monthly number is then multiplied by 12 to get the yearly income necessray.

The report found that while the wage necessary to afford a home decreased (much of that having to do with declining home prices) the wages for many occupations, construction-related occupations in particular, still are not high enough to afford a home and in severe cases a two-bedroom apartment.  Fair Market Rents continued to increase in most areas, which is very troubling given the big increases in unemployment and that renting is usually the more affordable option for low-income people.

The homeownerhsip and rental information for Buffalo, a town that most people consider a very cheap place to live, is also very troubling.  Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom apartment increased from $704 in 2008 to $723 in 2009, a 2.7% increase.  Even more disturbing are the number of service sector wages that are not high enough to afford a one or two bedroom apartment, let alone a home.

Consider these graphs which show the income needed to afford a home, one bedroom, or two bedroom apartment in Buffalo along with the incomes of a selection of service sector occupations (which represents a large portion of the employment available in Buffalo):

Annual Income Needed to Afford a Home

homeownership 1

Other occupations that did not earh enough to afford a home included: hairdresser, home health aide, housekeeper, janitor, laundry worker, nursing aid, office clerk, packager, parking lot attendant, receptionist, retail salesperson, school bus driver, security guard, stock clerk, stock mover, telemarketer, and wait staff.

(more…)

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A Chicago homeless man is attempting to run for office but is facing resistance because he is homeless and does not have a permanent address.  This article highlights the fact that homeless individuals have every right that those that are housed do and that no one should ever be discriminated against because of their housing status.

02/20/09 07:35 AM

Associated Press Writer

A suburban Chicago man barred from running for the village board because he is homeless isn’t giving up trying to get on the ballot.

Daniel Fore and his attorneys on Thursday filed both a petition seeking a judicial review of the decision and an emergency motion for expedited hearing with the Cook County Circuit Court.

The team hopes for a ruling on the matter by March 6, ahead of the March 16 start of early voting, said Larry Griffin, an attorney for the firm Kirkland and Ellis who represents Fore pro bono.

Oak Park’s electoral board voted 2-1 last week to bar Fore from the April 7 ballot. A message left for an Oak Park spokesman was not immediately returned Thursday afternoon.

Two Oak Park residents, Randy Gillett and Richard Newman, challenged Fore’s candidacy, claiming a person without a fixed address cannot run for office or register to vote.

But Fore’s attorneys say the electoral board’s decision violates Illinois law and nothing in it bars homeless people from ballot access just because they’re homeless.

Cook County Clerk David Orr agrees, saying in a statement he believes state law supports Fore’s case.

“Just as homeless voters deserve the right to cast ballots, homeless candidates have a right to run for office,” Orr said. “At a time when more and more Americans are losing their homes, it is imperative they not also lose access to full participation in our democracy – either as voters or officeholders.”

Orr’s support is key, Griffin said.

“I think his perspective is obviously valuable,” Griffin said. “We appreciate that he sees, as we do, that Dan has a right to run.”

Fore collected 800 signatures from Oak Park residents, almost double the amount he needed to be placed on the ballot, Griffin said.

Fore is also represented by the Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

http://www.buffalonews.com/260/story/585039.html

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Here’s an article that counters some of the attacks on Henrietta Hughes, a homeless woman who spoke at a town hall meeting that President Obama attended about a week ago.  The author “Cara” highlights the way that many people critical of social welfare focus solely on individual responsibility (even when virtually nothing is known about the person’s history) and neglect to examine the larger, systematic inequalities in our economy that impoverishes many people, like Hughes.  In addition, Hughes’ statement highlights the primary need of homeless individuals: housing first.

Posted by Cara, Feministe at 8:58 AM on February 16, 2009.

For those who have not heard of Henrietta Hughes, she is a homeless woman who stood up at a town hall meeting and told Barack Obama that she is unemployed and has been forced her to live in her car.  She further pleaded with the president to do something to ensure that people like her had housing:

“I have an urgent need, unemployment and homelessness, a very small vehicle for my family and I to live in,” she said. “The housing authority has two years’ waiting lists, and we need something more than the vehicle and the parks to go to. We need our own kitchen and our own bathroom. Please help.”

Now, Michelle Malkin has decided to publicly mock her with taunts like “If she had more time, she probably would have remembered to ask Obama to fill up her gas tank, too.”  She then went on to say:

Hughes didn’t explain the cause of her financial turmoil. Obama didn’t ask. And if we conservatives dare to question the circumstances — and the underlying assumption that it is government’s (that is, taxpayers’) role to bail her out — we’ll be lambasted as cruel haters of the downtrodden.

[. . .]

Well, pardon my unbending belief in fairness and personal responsibility, but why should my tax dollars go to feed the housing entitlement beast?

Indeed, why should housing be considered a right?  After all, what does my housing say about my personal class status and how much better I am than other people, if there aren’t those other people out there who don’t have a place to live at all?

The worst part is that Malkin isn’t alone.  From Limbaugh falsely saying that Hughes “ask[ed] for a car” to others claiming that Hughes is “milking the system,” there’s no shortage of people who want to bring down the woman who had the potential to a far more sympathetic Joe the Plumber — an everyday American who is actually negatively affected by the economic policies of our government.

And they can get away with it!  I just, honestly, do not understand.  Are people like Malkin really so privileged and entitled themselves that they just do not comprehend the very concept of housing not owned by the person living in it — and that therefore “I need a place to live” does not equal “buy me a new house, please” — or do they just really think that no, if you’re not as fortunate as the rest of us, you really do deserve to live on the street, and as a neighbor I have absolutely no responsibility for what happens to you?

On second thought, I don’t know that I want the answer to that.

Via Womanist Musings

http://www.alternet.org/blogs/peek/127177

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