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Archive for the ‘stereotypes’ 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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This article from a few weeks ago does a nice job demonstrating how mass media sources (conservative and liberal alike) neglect to cover structural inequalities, instead focusing on issues of individual responsibility.  Here at HAWNY we hope to provide an alternative understanding of poverty and policy/action related to poverty which focuses on the root economic/social inequalties that impoverish vast numbers of people here in Western New York and throughout the country.

News Not Fit to Print?

Structural Inequality

By DEDRICK MUHAMMAD

Last week President Obama spoke boldly about persistent racial discrimination and criticized the “structural inequality” that presents “the steepest barrier” to African American equality in the 21st century.

Speaking before a crowd at the centennial convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, he highlighted the need for government action to help tear down these barriers.

So it was a surprise to see this headline on the New York Times story covering the event: “Obama Tells Fellow Blacks: ‘No Excuses’ for Failure.”

Somehow the Times saw fit to dismiss Obama’s meaningful acknowledgement of continued discrimination and, instead, portray his speech as a dose of “tough love” to black America.

The Times was not alone, though. The Huffington Post, a purportedly more liberal outlet, titled its article “Your destiny is in your hands … ‘No excuses.'”

It is true that President Obama borrowed a page from the book of black leaders as diverse as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Rev. Al Sharpton and Minister Louis Farrakhan in outlining the need for black self-empowerment. But it was a damaging oversight to ignore the president’s recognition of systemic inequality and the policy solutions he laid out to reform these systems.

By addressing the living legacy of white supremacy, African-American socio-economic disenfranchisement, President Obama advanced the discussion of racial inequality.

The president pointed out that the African American community still suffers from discrimination and is disproportionately hurt by a recession and the boom/bust economy that has broadened economic inequality throughout the country. He included policy proposals ranging from changes to tax policy, health care, education and housing to improve the condition of African Americans.

One of the most repeated themes in Obama’s address was that the nation’s racial inequality is not an African-American problem, but rather a problem of our entire nation. Yet if you read the New York Times, you’d think the president was simply scolding African Americans for failing to live up to their potential.

I had hoped for more from the leading newspaper in the country. Not only should the Times have reported on what Obama actually said, but as is done concerning other important policy matters, it should have also examined whether Obama’s prescriptions were adequate for the ongoing racial economic divide.

As someone who studies the racial economic divide, particularly between African-Americans and whites, my strongest criticism of the address is that Obama’s policy solutions are not strong enough to overcome the structural inequality suffered by African Americans. African Americans have only 10 percent of the wealth of white Americans and they are segregated into the most disenfranchised communities. On top of that, their job loss rate has been far higher than the rest of American’s during our current economic crisis.

When I first read President Obama’s address to the NAACP, I had a mixed reaction. I was glad to have a president who saw government responsibility for the structural inequality developed through decades of discrimination. At the same time, I found myself disappointed that he did not advocate for stronger measures, like an equity assessment of all future federal spending to ensure that government funds do not solidify the racial economic divide.

Yet after reading news coverage of President Obama’s address, I realized that his discussion of structural inequality is beyond what most Americans are prepared to deal with, or at least beyond what The New York Times sees as news that’s fit to print.

Dedrick Muhammad is the senior organizer and research associate for the Inequality and Common Good Project of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. – www.ips-dc.org

http://www.counterpunch.org/muhammad07222009.html

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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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One of the main purposes of the Poverty Challenge is to dispel myths and stereotypes about homeless and low-income people and shift our attention to the economic and social inequalities that create and perpetuate the grinding poverty in Buffalo.  A dominant message in our society is that poor people are to blame for their poverty.  That they make bad choices and do not try hard enough to get out of poverty.  Hopefully by taking the Challenge, people will be able to see how difficult it is to live in poverty, let alone move out of poverty with out any outside assistance.

Where do we focus if we shift our attention away from poor people being the cause of their own poverty?  One place that we can focus on is the very intimidating and complex issue of economic inequality.  Obviously there are a number of different sources of economic inequality and it is impossible to separate complex social inequalities from these already complex economic inequalities.

But in his second Poverty Challenge blog Aaron Bartley, of PUSH, touches on one source of economic inequality that has been a major part of Buffalo’s long term economic bottoming out:

Today’s General Motors bankruptcy is symbolic to me of the millions of industrial jobs lost in this country over the last forty years, and all the pain and suffering that continues to cause Buffalonians and others.

A recent Buffalo News article also reported the bankruptcy and what this means for GM workers in WNY.  In “Layoffs slated at GM’s Tonawanda plant”, Matt Glynn reports that the General Motors Corp. engine plant in the Town of Tonawanda will likely face layoffs of up to 261 workers.  Layoffs at this plant are not new; in 1989 the plant employed 4,350 people, in 2003 the plant employed 2,003 people, and after this latest round of layoffs the number could go down to 610 workers.

These were jobs that, through the efforts of local unions, had good wages and benefits.  The kind of jobs that helped build the modern American middle class and kept thousands of local families living comfortably with relatively secure futures.

The loss of these jobs has forced thousands of workers into unemployment and as other industries left the area, local workers were left with few options for employment.  Many of the jobs left in the Buffalo area for high school graduates (which is the highest level of education many people can complete because of financial restrictions among other reasons) are low paying, benefit-less, service sector jobs that are often times part-time.

As Bartley pointed out, the GM’s bankruptcy is symbolic.  It means the loss of even more of what’s left of the well-paying jobs that employed thousands during Buffalo’s heyday.  As made clear through the Challenge, losing income (through both unemployment and the replacement of good paying jobs with very low paying jobs) means not being able to eat and pay the bills; it means that one will be forced into poverty.

Economic changes and inequalities like the layoffs at GM plants are a large part of what has made Buffalo the third poorest city in America.  Policy and action in the area must take into considertaion the loss of  well-paying jobs like the ones that GM offered and strive to create more well-paying jobs.

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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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