Skip to main content


Showing posts from 2018

TANF's Long Reach

This is about one of the worst laws signed by President Clinton - the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which dramatically cut cash benefits to the poor and limited cash benefits to five years. States could choose to adopt this portion of the law - to restrict poor families from receiving additional benefits when they have additional children. 14 states currently adopt this rule: Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. How does it work? In Massachusetts, a single parent with two children receives $578in TANF benefits each month. But if a second child is born while the family is already receiving TANF, that child is ineligible, and the family receives $100 less, for a grant of $478. 22 states originally adopted the cap and so far, 8 states repealed the cap, the most recent is New Jersey. 

You can imagine the comments from conservatives. "If t…

Poverty and Education

Whenever I talk about poverty, my more progressive friends get annoyed because I think it is very difficult for children in poverty to be successful in schools and my more progressive friends think that we can educate every child, no matter how poor, to a high standard.

Let's look at poverty. The official poverty definition by the Census Bureau is family money income before taxes and does not include capital gains or noncash benefits (such as public housing, Medicaid, and food stamps)." The Census Bureau chooses poverty thresholds which are the dollar amounts that determine poverty status.  In 2017, the poverty thresholds ranged from $11,756 for one senior person age 65 and older living alone to $54,550 for a family of nine people or more. There is an annual cost of living adjustment but not a geographic adjustment.  Not a lot of money. America has one of the highest rates of poverty for children in the developed world. According to OECD, America ranks 17th out of the 19 OEC…

Recognizing the Power of Tribalism

I live in Charlottesville. Last year on a Friday night, I witnessed three hundred, young, white, angry men march with tiki torches through the grounds of the University of Virginia. Undeterred, these young men shouted Nazi slogans, surrounded the Jefferson statute, and proceeded to beat students and faculty who were brave enough to tell them to go home.

     The next day these hundreds of young men armed with sticks, shields, and masks descended onto a small park (Lee Park) near the Downtown Mall to protest the city's decision to move General Robert E. Lee's statute. Shouting the same Nazi slogans as the evening before (their favorite was "Jews will not replace us"), these angry young men were accompanied by armed militia who were older with serious armament. (In case you didn't know by now, Virginia is an "open-carry" state which means I can walk into Kroger's and see a shopper with a rifle.)

     That Saturday, as I watched the protest grow m…

Trump Era and Nazism

In James Whitman's book, Hitler's American Model, he writes that the German Nazis regime in the 1930s learned much from American racism. In 1935, the Nazis sent 45 lawyers to America to study our race-based legal system. These lawyers had a reception with the NYC Bar Association. Whitman found document after document in the German archives about the lessons Nazis had learned from the United States.

We knew before he was elected that Trump was a racist. He demonstrated that time and again in New York City. His most infamous action - asking for the death penalty for the "Central park Five" who, ten years after imprisonment, were found to have been innocent. Trump continued as president to be incredibly racist. "After Charlottesville, President Trump faced an easy test, and failed. When presented with an obvious opportunity to condemn the evil that was and is Nazism, he first waited, then equivocated, then read from a teleprompter, then relativized. He spoke of “ver…

Philanthropy and Capitalism

Winners Take All by Amand Giridharadas takes the spotlight this week. The author succeeds in questioning our current crop of "robber barons" on why should they get to decide how to respond to major public policy issues facing our country rather than our elected officials on every governmental level. These modern day robber barons include Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Bill Clinton.  The author demonstrates that the successful capitalists have it both ways - advocating for fewer taxes, resulting in immense profits, and then embracing their version of social change through philanthropy. Talk about inequality makes these philanthropists nervous; it's best to talk about enlarging opportunity.

These philanthropists do not discuss the concentration of wealth in a handful of families. "Much of the charity and social innovation and give-one-get-one marketing around us may not be reform measures so much as forms of conservative self-defense - measures that protect elites from…

The Tax Liens Program in New York City

Giuliani's Tax Lien Program Continues Today
During the Giuliani reign, the mayor created a tax lien program in which homeowners and landlords could easily lose their homes and apartment buildings. If a homeowner fell behind in his tax payments, the finance department would notify the homeowner and after waiting a short period of time, the finance department would sell the tax lien to a private corporation, a trust, created by the mayor that would charge additional fees and 18 percent interest and attempt to collect the long, overdue taxes. If unsuccessful, the trust would foreclose on the homeowner. The city would have one more homeless family or families.

Loss of Low-Income Housing
There is another consequence to foreclosure. Homes are often bought by developers and renovated into market rate housing. This means that such homes are no longer available to low-income families.

Of course, it is isn't just homeowners who find they can no longer pay their property taxes but it is l…

The Pros and Cons of Free Trade

What is free trade? Free trade means that nations agree to trade goods and services without government interference – no tariffs, no underlying government regulation. The concept of free trade is supported by mainstream economics (neoclassical) which assumes that there is a level playing field worldwide; that free trade means governments do not help the private sector. But when the U.S. made a deal with Canada and Mexico to promote free trade, the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA), manufacturing jobs were lost to this country.

There is no denying that free trade has had an enormous impact on employment in some sectors in this country. Look at Mexico. Labor is cheap in Mexico so many American manufactures moved their plants to Mexico. Between 1994 and 2002, the U.S. lost 1.7 million jobs, gaining only 794,00, for a net loss of 879,000 jobs. Nearly 80% of these jobs were in manufacturing. California, New York, Michigan and Texas were hit the hardest because they had high con…

How Many Republicans Are There?

On July 12, 2018, Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia gave us some interesting statistics:

44,242,975 voters are registered as Democrats; 
32,570,817 voters are registered as Republicans;  
31,489,028 are registered as Independents; and, 
11,672,1568 voters are registered as other.

40% Democrats
29% Republicans
28% Independents
 2%  Other

However, several states don't ask for affiliation and are left out of the count. Sabato points out that "To be sure, there are a number of major states that do not register voters by party, such as Texas, Georgia, Washington, and the keystones of the industrial Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin [19 states]. If they did register by party, Texas, Georgia, and Indiana would almost certainly add to the Republican total; the industrial states probably less so." 

Then he looks at trends and sees that the proportion of voters have shifted to independents as opposed to party affiliation. What does it mean?

It means that Ind…

What NYC needs to do to build more affordable housing

There are many ways the city could provide more affordable housing to low-income renters.

1. Subsidize rents. More unconventional strategies include "buy-down" programs sponsored by corporations, "in which the city would purchase empty high-end apartments and then subsidize their rents for lower-income families with the help of corporate funding." In Denver, Chipotle is the first "employer partner" to try its hand at this. Atlanta has announced its intention to try similar partnerships.

2. Develop nonprofit financing. Under the Bloomberg administration, the Bowery Residents Committee (BRC) built low-income housing at Landing Road as part of its building that housed its shelter. It took the surplus from the shelter to operate the private low-income apartments. BRC has also begun the Way Home Fund, a goal to raise $7 million as a revolving fund to kick off a pipeline of projects similar to Landing Road. The organization believes that amount is sufficient to …

Federal Abandonment of Public Housing

Public housing began during the Roosevelt years. In 1937 President Franklin Roosevelt signed the United States Housing Act, known as Wagner-Steagall, to support building low-rent public housing. In the wake of  President Truman‘s surprise reelection in 1948, Congress passed the bill now known as the Housing Act of 1949 and re-authorized the public housing program. The GI Bill after World War II supported veterans in securing low-interest loans to own their own homes. In the 1950s Congress passed a second Housing Act focused on conserving and rehabilitating low-income housing. All these laws favored white people.

The 1950s were famous for "urban renewal" which meant that the federal government provided grants for slum clearance that often meant cities would choose the poorest section of town to abolish residences and build new construction.

 In the 1960s, public housing became less discriminatory with Kennedy's Equal Opportunity in Housing Act. President Johnson elevated…

The Sins of Eva Moskowitz

I am appalled at the continued veneration of Eva Moskowitz' Success Academy. She had 73 students when she started and she graduated 16. Who are you kidding? That is a dismal record. And she does this with lots of money from her rich friends. It's disgusting.

From the Curmudgucation:
"But do not pretend this accomplishment is magical or scalable or offers any lessons other schools could learn from. Any school with a mountain of extra money, friends in high places, and the ability to teach only the students that suit it-- any school could do the same under those conditions. If government were willing to mobilize these kind of resources for every school and every school, it would be a great thing. But in the meantime, don't tell me that Moskowitz has accomplished something great and special here. It's a great day for those sixteen students, but as a lesson in how to operate a school system, it's a big fat nothingburger."

Which educational reforms make sense

We have two sets of primary and secondary schools in this country. One set of schools lies in wealthy areas in which student achievement is quite high. The other set of schools lies in poor urban areas or extreme isolated rural areas in which poverty is pervasive and student achievement is dismal. We know what to do to improve the quality of education in under performing schools. As a country, we do not have the will to do it. There are several reforms that will make education so much better for those in poverty.

Increase Early Childhood Education
The Chicago economist, James Heckman, Nobel prize economist, analyzed data from Michigan and North Carolina going back several decades and found that no other infusion of public dollars came close to matching the rate of return of high-quality early childhood education. Heckman's studies in both the Michigan (the Perry Preschool Study) and North Carolina (the Abecedarian preschool program) studies concluded that there were significant he…

Reducing Homelessness

In order to reduce homelessness, our country needs to build low-income housing. The federal government used to build both affordable and low-income housing but doesn't anymore. Now the federal government makes deals with private developers and provides tax breaks of all kinds, so that developers build luxury housing and some affordable housing to qualify for tax credits but developers are not building low-income housing. What is the difference between affordable housing and low-income housing?

The federal Department of Housing and Development (HUD) calculates the Area Median Income (AMI) every year for every metropolitan area. AMI is the average household income for a metropolitan area. Let's use New York City metropolitan area as an example. In 2017, the AMI was $85,900 for a family of three. So if a locality defined 50% of the AMI as being low-income, that would mean the maximum income for such a status would be half of $85,900 or $42,950. You can see from these calculations…

Mayor de Blasio admits homelessness cannot be eliminated immediately.

After four years of blaming his predecessor, Mayor Bloomberg, for moving so slowly on housing the homeless, Mayor de Blasio finally admitted that it will take years to house so many homeless people. De Blasio discovered this when the homeless population increased from 50,000 to 62,000 during his administration. Perhaps it isn't all of a mayor's fault.

   To add a different perspective, let us take a look at New York State and its inability to commit resources to the city's problem. During the Bloomberg administration, the state cut funding to the homeless from $164 million in FY2002 to $110 million in FY2012, a 33 percent cut.  In addition, the state cut the funding to one of the few programs to permanently house the homeless, the Advantage Program. Not only did the state cut the program, but the state also passed legislation that the city could not use other state funds for the program.

   Then of course there is the federal government that has cut millions of dollars ou…

How Poverty Affects Children's Education

The greatest complaint I have of educational reformers is their belief that our public schools should be able to educate children even if the children come from poverty. It is poppycock. The research over years has demonstrated that poverty has demonstrative effects on children's learning. Let me cite a few examples of that research using Eric Jensen's article, "How Poverty Affects Classroom Engagement."Health affects the poor. The poor have more untreated ear infections and hearing loss issues (Menyuk, 1980); greater exposure to lead (Sargent et al., 1995); and a higher incidence of asthma (Gottlieb, Beiser, & O'Connor, 1995) than middle-class children. Each of these health-related factors can affect attention, reasoning, learning, and memory. Nutrition plays a crucial role as well. Children who grow up in poor families are exposed to food with lower nutritional value. This can adversely affect them even in the womb (Antonow-Schlorke et al., 2011). Moreover,…

Education is big business

The United States has the highest poverty rate in the developed world. It has the second highest poverty rate for children (23.1%) in the developed world beaten only by Romania. Sheldon Danziger, the director of the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan said:  “Among rich countries, the U.S. is exceptional,” he said. “We are exceptional in our tolerance of poverty.”

   In the last post, I documented how horrific poverty is for children's well being. How do we educate our children when almost 1/4th are dealing with poverty issues - poor health, terrible nutrition, sometimes horrible lives with homelessness and domestic violence, and meager preschool education? We don't. We have a bifurcated school system, one for the well to do richly funded with great results, and the other, usually in the inner cities or rural countryside, that is poorly funded with failing results. This story has not changed for decades. The reformers have changed. Once we had education…