Category Archives: poverty

Hey,You Liberal Dummies. It’s the Tenth Amendment

The mainstream press has been gushing on for months about the jobless economic recovery, when in fact, the recession never ended–just ask the people who have been on unemployment for well over a year and still can’t find jobs. The press and the pols say they’re just recalcitrant bums,too lazy to work, and all we’ve got to do is throw out the Mexicans and force our guys to pick up the broom. Maybe we can motivate the slugs by removing unemployment insurance.

  Of course, the government, in the manner of the socialist New Deal,could hire all these bums and put them to work rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure– for example, a nationwide rail system like they have in the French nanny state.God help us if that happened.Socialism would collapse into anarchism and lead to return of the unions.

  The right wing Republican solution to all this is states rights.Naturally they don’t call it states rights. It’s the tenth amendment, stupid.Can’t you read? In which case, this latest report from the liberal-minded (that is `socialist’) Center on Budget and Policy Priorities might be of interest. Here is a summary:

At least 46 states struggled to close shortfalls that totaled $121 billion when adopting budgets for the current fiscal year (FY 2011, which began July 1 in most states). These came on top of the large shortfalls that 48 states faced in fiscal years 2009 and 2010.

Federal assistance has reduced the extent of state spending cuts and state tax and fee increases needed to close the shortfalls. But it now appears likely the assistance will end before state budget gaps have abated. If states get no further federal assistance, the steps they will have to take to eliminate deficits will reduce aggregate demand and weaken the economy at a critical moment in its recovery. Such measures likely will take a full percentage point off the Gross Domestic Product. That, in turn, could cost the economy 900,000 jobs next year.

At least 46 states struggled to close shortfalls that totaled $121 billion when adopting budgets for the current fiscal year (FY 2011, which began July 1 in most states). These came on top of the large shortfalls that 48 states faced in fiscal years 2009 and 2010.

Federal assistance has reduced the extent of state spending cuts and state tax and fee increases needed to close the shortfalls. But it now appears likely the assistance will end before state budget gaps have abated. If states get no further federal assistance, the steps they will have to take to eliminate deficits will reduce aggregate demand and weaken the economy at a critical moment in its recovery. Such measures likely will take a full percentage point off the Gross Domestic Product. That, in turn, could cost the economy 900,000 jobs next year.

You can read the full report here http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=711
or here http://www.cbpp.org/files/9-8-08sfp.pdf 11pp.

Well, as the Tea Party would say, it’s their own fault.

Petition to Stop the Entitlement-Cutting “Catfood Commission”

Readers of Unsilent Generation may be interested in a new online petition directed at members of Congress, concerning the work of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility of Reform, which I’ve written about here many times before. Here is the introduction to the petition, which was started by Alternet. You can read the text of the petition, and sign it, here at Change.org

Right-Wing “Deficit Hawks” and their enablers are on a march to destroy the social safety net we built for our seniors and retirees. Shockingly, some of the most notorious advocates are actually in charge of the presidential commission that will soon determine the future of Social Security and Medicare. We need to stop them in their tracks! Join us in calling on Congress to Stop the Catfood Commission.

The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform has been dubbed by progressives the “Catfood Commission” because its goal appears to be cutting benefits so drastically that retirees will only be able to afford to eat pet food. It’s hard to tell exactly what the commission is planning because its meetings are closed to the public and the press. Based on past statements and the background of its members the proposals are likely to include raising the retirement age to 70, turning large portions of Social Security over to Wall Street, and cutting Medicare benefits.

The commission’s co-chairman Alan Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming, has stated he believes the founders of the Social Security program never expected anyone to actually live to 65 and collect. “People just died,” he has said. “Social Security was never [for] retirement.” Erskine Bowles, the other co-chairman, negotiated a secret but ultimately unsuccessful deal between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich to cut Social Security benefits. Any chances that the commission would make cuts to the US defense budget in its pursuit of fiscal responsibility seem slim owing to the fact that the CEO of Honeywell, a major defense contractor, is a member of the panel.

We can’t sit back and count on a Democratic-controlled Congress to protect our social safety net. Just a day before the July 4th holiday weekend, the House of Representatives passed a measure that would guarantee an up-or-down vote on the Catfood Commission’s recommendations in the current session of Congress if they pass the Senate. With this measure House Speaker Nancy Pelosi relinquished her power to prevent the vote from coming to the floor.

Your representatives need to hear from you NOW.  Let’s stop the Catfood Commission from raiding the Social Security trust fund and slashing medical benefits for current and future retirees.

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New York City Is Abandoning Its Elders

Last week, Clyde Haberman of the New York Times  wrote about aging in his column, celebrating all that New York City is doing for its older residents:

 [I]t was interesting to come across a bit of news the other day that drew few headlines. The World Health Organization added New York to its “global network of age-friendly cities.” It was an international tip of the hat to the city for trying to make itself a better place for growing old. “It makes us members of a club of people who are struggling, in their own and perhaps much different ways, with learning about and thinking about and approaching this issue,” said Linda I. Gibbs, the deputy mayor for health and human services. “It’s really a lovely recognition.” In some respects, New York is a great place in which to grow old. A decade ago, the Department for the Aging banged that drum, promoting this as “the ultimate retirement city.” It listed advantages like reduced mass-transit fares, splendid parks and limitless cultural opportunities to keep the mind active… 

New York ranked No. 7, based on considerations like available medical care, living space for the elderly and the relative ease of getting around on subways and buses. Portland, Ore., had top billing, a decision that surely had nothing to do with the fact that Sperling’s is based in Portland. “We’re a retirement destination,” Ms. Gibbs said. “A lot of retirees come with their bank accounts.” In recent years, the Department of City Planning says, about 11,500 people 65 and older have moved into New York each year.

Unfortunately, this presents a distorted picture of what’s going on.  In the same week that Haberman’s column was being celebrated for its “age-friendliness,” I received an email regarding cuts to New York’s services for the aging from Bobbie Sackman. She is a leading advocate in the City for the elderly, and runs the Center for Senior Community Services (CSCS), a non-profit that serves 300,000 older New Yorkers through a network of 363 senior centers, housing, adult day care, services for the homebound, mental health and other programs. Sackman wrote:

The New York City Department of Aging DFTA is a very small city agency and was just cut by $22 million – vulnerable seniors were hurt as social adult day services for people with Alzheimer’s lost all its funding which is devastating to both the individual with Alzheimer’s and their family caregivers being ripped apart by this disease, a 40 percent cut to a home care program for people above the Medicaid level (with incomes mostly $15,000-$20,000 a year in NYC), and other cuts.

The cuts affect New York’s most vulnerable elders–those who are poor, seriously ill, or suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. These older people were living on the edge as it was. With these deep cuts, there’s cause to wonder how they will even survive, much less enjoy New York’s “age-friendly” attractions.

Young and Old Starve in Niger Amidst Markets Filled With Food

Photo: Oxfam

International aid agencies have issued emergency appeals about the rising famine in the West African nations of Niger and Chad, which could eventually threaten millions. The Guardian reports today

Starving people in drought-stricken west Africa are being forced to eat leaves and collect grain from ant hills, say aid agencies, warning that 10 million people face starvation across the region.

With food prices soaring and malnourished livestock dying, villagers were turning to any sources of food to stay alive, said Charles Bambara, Oxfam officer for the west African region. “People are eating wild fruit and leaves, and building ant hills just to capture the tiny amount of grain that the ants collect inside…

In Niger, which the United Nations classifies as the world’s least developed country, starving families are eating flour mixed with wild leaves and boiled plants. More than 7 million people – almost half the population – currently face food insecurity in the country, making it the hardest hit by the crisis. According to UN agencies, 200,000 children need treatment for malnutrition in Niger alone. “Niger is at crisis point now and we need to act quickly before this crisis becomes a full-blown humanitarian disaster,” said Caroline Gluck, an Oxfam representative in the country.

The real tragedy–and travesty–lies in the fact that there is food available in Niger, but starving people cannot afford to buy it.

With food prices spiralling, people are being forced to slaughter malnourished livestock, traditionally the only form of income. “When you walk through the markets, you can see that there is food here. The problem is that the ability to buy it has disappeared. People here depend on livestock to support themselves, but animals are being killed on the edge of exhaustion, and that means they are being sold for far less money. And on top of that, the cost of food basics has risen,” explained Gluck. Compounding the crisis, thousands of animals have starved to death as villagers use animal fodder to feed themselves…

“This is just the beginning of the traditional hunger period, and people have already been forced to sell their livestock. This is very early for the alarm bells to be ringing, before Niger has even reached the start of the most critical part of the food calendar. You can imagine three to four months down the line how shocking the situation will be,” said Gluck…”West Africa has traditionally not been very high on the developed world’s priority list. The question now is how many people do we have to see die before the world will act?” she said.

In “Freemarkets and Famine in Niger,” the Guardian‘s Jeevan Vasagar writes that during the most recent famine in Niger, in 2005, “free market dogma stopped the government giving out free food to the starving.” He warns that this disaster could easily be repeated. Other analysts blamed the 2005 famine in large part on the economic policies of the IMF and EU, which contributed to a precipitous rise in the prices of staple grains.

This year, global economic factors, combined with a recent coup in Niger, are once again compounding a crisis caused by drought, and the toll in lives will be high. Just how high depends upon what the international community and Niger’s government do next.  One aid official told the Guardian that if relief does not come quickly, the crisis could reach the proportions of the 1984 famine in Ethiopia, “during which an estimated 1 million people died due to drought and a slow response to the crisis both within the country and internationally.”

Photo: Rachel Palmer/Save the Children

The photographs already making their way out of Niger are heartbreaking and horrifying. Like the news reports, they tend to focus on children, who make up half of Niger’s population. Nearly 380,000 children are at risk of starvation in the next few months, according to Save the Children. 

In the 2005 Niger famine, the UN identified the elderly and the sick, along with children, as the “most vulnerable groups,” who would be “on the brink of being wiped out” without substantial aid. The Guardian reported that older people were often the last to be fed even when help arrived: “As aid agencies focus their scant resources on saving malnourished babies and children, the elderly are the forgotten victims of the crisis in Niger.” Older women, in particular, usually fell at the end of the line.

Oxfam is taking donations for its emergency response in West Africa here. Save the Children’s emergency appeal for Niger is here. To support emergency aid programs specifically targeting the needs of old people, donations can be made to HelpAge International.

Roszak’s “Making of an Elder Culture”

Few may remember it, but before the advent of Social Security in the 1930s and Medicare in the 1960s, the old were widely viewed as a spent force. Nobody talked about happy retirement, in part because, these were people who remembered only too well the Depression. Few looked forward to leisure worlds because the poor house was too recent in so many people’s minds. Before old age entitlements, tending to the old was viewed as the job of the family. If you didn’t have a family, then it was charity–you joined the begging class. And even if you did have a family, you lived knowing that the young and middle aged couldn’t wait to get rid of you.

The same is more or less true today. Some days it seems the entire city of Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital, is on a mission against the old. Of course, nobody would ever say that. But there is a war against the old going on here in the form of a vigorous, largely uncontested attack on entitlements—a fighting word for conservatives and conservative Democrats who simply can’t stand Roosevelt’s New Deal, Johnson’s Great Society, and everything the stood for.

In his book The Making of an Elder Culture, recently published by New Society, Theodore Roszak, the cultural historian who more than three decades ago wrote The Making of a Counter Culture, sets out some of the grim history of old people in American society, and in doing so places elders within our current political world.

The old were in fact the worst victims of industrialism, primarily because they were not deemed worth saving. They belonged to that class of unwelcome dependents called the impotent poor—those who could not provide for themselves…as comfortable as many middle-class elders may be today, they share with all older people a long sad history of bleak mistreatment they would do well to remember. For generations the old have suffered wrongs inflicted on them by harsh public policy and often by their nearest and dearest….in the modern western world where the old have been seen as the claim of the dreary past upon the bustling forces of progress.

In the early days of the industrial revolution, Roszak writes, “aged workers became poor. The workhouse and county home were little better than the concentration camp. They were fed gruel, bedded down on straw or bare wood…they had no place to turn  save for their children…They were pictured as withered, toothless, bent, lean.’’

You must remember that as recently as 40 or 50 years ago, there was no senior lobby. The political pros never talked about a senior vote. Today all that has changed–yet Roszak sees in today’s entitlement wars a serious threat to the well-being of elders.

In the same way that organized labor was once regarded as a potentially tyrannical force able to achieve its own selfish ends, entitlement critics began characterizing seniors as a threat to the democratic process…

Nobody of any political stripe wants to risk the charge of granny-bashing,but the facts are clear. In the United States, gaining even  modest degrees of security in retirement has been a struggle against business leaders, political conservatives, and free market economists for whom money is the measure of all things.

Always remember, Roszak says, “the well-to-do are the first to tell us that there is not enough to go around.”

In his book, Roszak envisions a society in which rather tan cutting social programs for the old, we will extend them to younger people. Noone would resent Medicare, for example, if we had universal health care for Americans of all ages. He sees a future where the old and the young join to create a new world devoted to common humane goals: ending poverty at all ages, assuring education–laying the planks of a new society on the New Deal and LBJ’s social welfare project. Such ideas face an uphill battle in today’s political culture–but are no less inspiring for that fact.

I’ll be writing more about Roszak’s work in future posts.

Reader Response: How About Going After the Real “Fat Cats” Before Attacking Elders?

This morning I received a comment from Elizabeth Rogers in response to my posts about Senator Alan Simpson, the octagenarian elder-basher who co-chairs Obama’s Deficit Commission. Simpson has been making news with his comments about “fat cat” geezers who cling to their government handouts while younger generations suffer. I want to share it with everyone because Ms. Rogers gets to the heart of the whole entitlements question in a simple and direct way.

There’s a good chance this commission will end up proposing cuts in Medicare, along with steps towards privatizing  parts of Social Security. These have been heartbeat issues for conservatives running all the way back to the creation of Social Security in the New Deal, and has only grown since Congress created Medicare in the 1960s, after some arm twisting by LBJ. Doing away with these entitlement programs has been a cherished conservative idea, right alongside ridding the nation of  ties to the UN, ending the income tax, and abolishing the Department of Education, to name but a few.

In addition to destroying the social safety net, the war on entitlements serves to distract attention from the real causes of the inflated deficit. Elizabeth Rogers suggests some other sources of deficit-reduction that our politicians might want to consider before they start dipping into our Social Security checks. 

Retired Senator Simpson must travel in a very different crowd of older Americans than my husband and I do! We live in a compact 2 BR condo in the Pacific Northwest. Yes, there’s a gate, but our complex is very definitely occupied by middle class workers and retirees like us. At 73 I’m still working part time and thank my lucky stars that I have a job. My husband, now 80, worked until four years ago (he started working at age 14).

Lexuses? I don’t think so. Our small SUVs are over 10 years old and we hope they last as long as we do. Fat cats? Not exactly, although we do have an overweight feline in our family.

Seriously, although we have some additional resources, Social Security is a significant source of income for us, as I suspect it is for most recipients. That said, we get that the nation’s huge budget deficit is a serious problem.

We’d be willing to pay more taxes if the amount is fair and reasonable, but FIRST, how about: (1) pursuing the offshore bank accounts of billionaire tax evaders, (2) allowing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans to expire, (3) ending the UNfunded wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that are now costing in the trillions; (4) changing our culture’s views on end-of-life care so that Medicare doesn’t continue to spend huge sums on “heroic” measures to “save” those in their last 6 months of life. I have multiple advance directives in place because I have no desire to fall into the hands of the medical-pharmaceutical complex at the end of my life, but even so, I can’t be certain that I won’t. We need to get real about this issue!

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Recession Over? Some Americans Haven’t Gotten the Memo

In case you missed the news, the recession ended in 2009. Some members on a panel of economists are now disputing that fact, to the surprise from politicians and mainstream media who long ago declared the greatest economic crisis of our time dead and gone, and are merely bickering over precisely when it dropped off the twig: Was it in mid-2009? Before then? After? 

Of course, some people just refuse to get with the program, insisting that with a national unemployment rate hovering around 10 percent , the recession isn’t really over. And that for older people dependent on deep-sixed 401ks, it most likely will never be over. People who are unemployed and on food stamps don’t think it’s over. People underemployed and still looking for more work are not receiving any trickledown. And for those lucky enough to have been receiving unemployment insurance, who now find it running out and still can’t find a job, things don’t seem to have materially improved. 

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Washington,D.C.-based think tank with a liberal bent, recently released a report that offers a different slant on this subject: 

The long-term unemployment rate — the percentage of people in the work force who have been out of work for over half a year and are still looking for a job — reached an unprecedented 4.3 percent of the labor force in March (see the chart). Yet Congress has allowed the Recovery Act measures that provide additional weeks of unemployment benefits and subsidized COBRA health insurance coverage for unemployed workers to lapse. Opponents’ arguments that these measures should not be extended unless they are paid for with cuts in other spending do not withstand scrutiny. Meanwhile, delay imposes unnecessary hardship on the long-term unemployed and weakens the economic recovery. 

Although there are growing signs that the economy is in the early stages of a recovery, unemployment remains very high, and the economy is not running on all cylinders. Demand for goods and services remains far below what the economy is capable of producing, and the rate of job creation anticipated over the next several months will represent only a small start toward restoring the 8.2 million jobs lost since the recession started. (That loss essentially erased all of the jobs created between 2003 and 2007 in the economic recovery that followed the previous recession.) 

Sam Smith over at prorev.com calls attention to another factor reported by Air Force Times

Disturbing new statistics from the Labor Department show that one in three veterans under age 24 is unemployed – and that the unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans has jumped to 14.7 percent, half again as high as the national employment rate of 9.7 percent.The March unemployment rate of 30.2 percent for veterans aged 18 to 24 is a big jump from February’s figure of 21.7 percent, although it may be partly the result of a small sample used by the Labor Department in determining unemployment, said Justin Brown, a labor expert for Veterans of Foreign Wars. 

Then, there’s this from Black Agenda Report:

Official labor statistics show Black unemployment rose to 16.5 percent in March, up from 15.8 percent the month before, while white joblessness remained steady at 8.8 percent. At least a score of major Black population centers now register official unemployment levels nearing 25 percent, comparable to the depths of the Great Depression – and it took World War Two to pull the economy out of that pit.

With 5.5 job seekers for every actual job opening, according to the latest data, employers can discriminate in favor of whites to their hearts’ content, while continuing to lower wages and working conditions. It’s easy to casually fire Black people and even easier not to hire them. We will soon find out if a statistical “point of no return” in unemployment levels exists, from which communities cannot recover absent extraordinary assistance by a caring government.