Tuesday, April 09, 2019

What's The Matter Here?

This interactive map from the USDA Economic Research Service shows childhood poverty rates for non-metro counties in the U.S. Clicking around on it I noticed that 1 in 3 children live in poverty in non-metro areas of Florida, Arizona and South Carolina - some places are better and some places worse, but just the idea that 1 in 3 children live in poverty in places in this country should tell us something is very wrong.

This is the USDA ERS description of what the map depicts -
"In 2017, 22.8 percent of rural children in the United States were poor, compared to 17.7 percent of urban children. At the county level, on average over 2013-17, there were 43 counties in the United States with child poverty rates of 50 percent or higher, 40 of which were rural (nonmetro) counties heavily clustered in the South (30 of these counties). The rural counties with the highest child poverty rates were East Carroll Parish, LA (76.5 percent), Issaquena County, MS (69.6 percent), and Greene County, AL (67.8 percent). Eleven of the rural counties with child poverty rates of 50 percent or higher were in Mississippi—mainly in the Mississippi Delta region—where child poverty rates have been persistently high, particularly among the Black or African American child population."
It's worth asking why there isn't more concern shown by the media and political class about childhood poverty in the United States. Part of the reason is of course that it's neither entertaining nor profitable. It's also one of those inconvenient truths that people probably can't bear to dwell on because they feel helpless or guilty or both.

One might ask why protecting the rights of the unborn became such a central issue for the GOP while apparently turning a blind eye to the rights of the born. No doubt there are people of good faith who are strongly opposed to abortion, however if you want a better understanding of why a political party embraced and fueled the pro-life movement read Thomas Frank's book What's the Matter With Kansas.

If you want some balance, his book Listen, Liberal - Whatever Happened to the Party of the People? gives some insight into why working class people have become disenchanted with the democratic party of the last several decades.

If like most people you are too busy to be reading a lot of books maybe just check out the article Consolation Prizes written by Alex Pareene.

I've mentioned this before but I recommend reading the 2018 Report of the U.N. Special Rapporteur - On Extreme Poverty and Human Rights in the United States of America if you are curious how things are going for the forgotten people in America.

When I wrote the title of this post I was thinking about Natalie Merchant's song What's The Matter Here? but this one might be more fitting...


If you are more video-oriented The Business of Poverty from Bill Moyers is educational.

The video describes the business practices of a used car company called J.D. Buyrider, one of those "bad credit/no credit" places that preys on poor people. They don't have prices on their cars but do have a sophisticated program to determine what maximum monthly payment they can extract from their customers. Someone making 8 dollars an hour ends up with a payment of 546 dollars a month for a beater car plus insurance.  The company makes money even if the cars are repossessed and then resells them to some other person.

I was curious if J.D. Buyrider was still a going concern and indeed it is. In fact this one in Davenport Iowa got 100% recommend and 5 stars from 84 reviewers. I'm guessing 80 or so of those reviewers work for or are related to the owner(s) of this franchise.


The Business of Poverty goes on to talk about payday loans and mentions that even big banks like Wells Fargo were getting into their own version of payday loans for those 40 percent of Americans who can't come up with 400 dollars in an emergency.

Wells Fargo charged 2 dollars for each 20 dollars borrowed, which based on a 30 day repayment window works out to an annual rate of 120%. They also mention an Indiana law that was enacted to lower the payday loan rate to 28% which sounds high until you consider that prior to the law it was 391%.

Speaking of predatory financial practices, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB), put into place thanks to Elizabeth Warren, has been mostly gutted by the current administration. This administrations most recent proposal is to delay an "ability to pay" rule put into place during the Obama administration. Of course they don't care if someone can pay off a loan - it works better for the predatory lenders if you have to take out another loan.

President Obama appointed Richard Cordray as the head of the CFPB but he was replaced as soon as possible once the greed is good gang got into office. When I was a C-Span junkie I used to enjoy watching the well informed and experienced Cordray run circles around banker-owned politicians like Texas Representative Jeb Hensarling Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee (recently retired).


The Business of Poverty goes on to cover non-profit hospitals who have begun to sell their patient debts to collection agencies. Some people say that no one goes without medical care in the U.S. because they can always show up in an emergency room. If you show up at the emergency room homeless and unemployed you might get some free help (assuming you don't have a phone number or address where the bill collectors can find you). If you are reachable they are going to go after you for the debt (plus interest).

The mother and daughter they interview for this piece are both employed and their troubles show how misguided the notion is that poor people are lazy. It also demonstrates the fallacy that low-unemployment is this nation's path to a shared prosperity. That would only be true if the jobs being created paid a living wage - but the U.S. job growth is primarily in low wage service industry jobs.


Finally to wrap up...finally.

I saw some old guy, like me I guess, say that he grew up poor. He went on to say that poverty is a big umbrella that covers a whole lot of different people who have different goals, life experiences, luck and outlooks.

If we could keep in mind that poor people aren't some undifferentiated mass of people or some stereotypical welfare Mom driving a Cadillac we'd have a better chance of addressing poverty.

While we're at it wouldn't it be great if we could treat people who work with their hands or in the service industry in general as human beings due the respect and dignity owed all human beings? Give them some of that good old American freedom - freedom from fear, freedom from hunger, freedom from financial ruin due to medical bills...you know - that kind of freedom.