Welcome to the New TalkPoverty

Right now, the mainstream media is shutting down people and programs that provide good reporting on poverty—witness the recent loss of Melissa Harris-Perry and other progressive voices on MSNBC, as well as the demise of Al Jazeera America.

Despite the clear calculation by corporate media outlets to move away from substantive, progressive coverage of Americans struggling in a broken economy, we know that there’s a hunger for this kind of content. That’s why we are proud to launch our redesigned website today, with an inaugural post by Senator Elizabeth Warren.

TalkPoverty’s growth in the past two years has exceeded the capacity of our original website. In retrospect, I’m not surprised. During my eight years working at The Nation—the final two as its poverty correspondent—there was a marked increase in anti-poverty activism. I saw it first with Occupy, and then had the opportunity to report on organizing by domestic workers, farmworkers, janitors and other low-wage workers. I saw it with the Fight for $15, too. The voices of people most directly affected by poverty and inequality began to gain greater traction in the media.

My experiences on the poverty beat—and learning from excellent reporters like Bill Greider and Chris Hayes, and editor Katrina vanden Heuvel—led to an idea: what if there was a website where people living in poverty and people working to dramatically reduce it could work together to cover the issue with a kind of range and thoroughness that one, two, or even ten poverty reporters wouldn’t have on their own?

Moreover, what if our contributing writers reflected the kind of diversity that is needed if we are to build a vibrant anti-poverty movement—including people with low incomes, policy professionals and scholars, activists and advocates, students and other young people, and elected leaders at all levels of government?

What if there was a website where people living in poverty and people working to reduce it could work together?

In pursuit of this mission, TalkPoverty has now published dozens of writers—many of them with low-incomes—exploring issues ranging from the effects of incarceration, to the relationship between poverty and disability, to representations of poverty in our culture, to solutions to inequality, and many other areas where poverty and public policy intersect. Our writers have also used the site to push back against high-profile individuals who propagate myths about poverty in America. And our weekly podcast, TalkPoverty Radio, offers us another opportunity to demonstrate what good poverty coverage looks like, as we did when we interviewed the journalist who originally broke the story of the Flint water crisis.

With this increasingly diverse content, we needed a redesign that would make it easier for people to see how all of the different things we do at TalkPoverty fit together: original reporting, in-depth data analysis, a weekly podcast, and story collection. It will now be much easier for you to find related content, so you can take a deeper dive into topics of interest. We’ve updated our data feature, so that it’s simple to access—and understand—poverty data for every state and congressional district. We’ve also made it easier for readers to share their stories, so that we can continue to feature the voices and experiences of people living in poverty, and the policy solutions that deeply affect their lives.

There is no way to replace the progressive voices we are losing from the national media landscape. But we can promise you this: TalkPoverty will continue its commitment to finding new ways to lift up the voices of people living in poverty, and showing you the progressive policy solutions that will make a dramatic difference in creating opportunities for all Americans.

In the comments below, please let us know what you think of the redesign and any thoughts you want to share about covering poverty in America.



What Super Tuesday Voters Need to Know Before They Cast Their Ballot

Today is Super Tuesday, the day that voters and caucus-goers in 14 states will make influential decisions—decisions that may determine which names appear on the presidential ballot this November and, importantly, which policy proposals are added to the national agenda.

As people in these key states head to the polls, they should take a hard look at the candidates’ plans to reduce poverty and increase economic opportunity for all Americans. As of 2014, nearly one in seven Americans lived below the official poverty level—roughly $24,000 a year for a family of four. The fact that 46.7 million Americans—including 15.5 million children—lived in poverty should come as no surprise, as rising inequality and stagnant wages continue to drive a wedge between poverty and prosperity. At the same time, the costs associated with key elements of economic security—such as child care, higher education, health care, housing, and retirement—rose by more than $10,000 between 2000 and 2012.

But this national picture masks tremendous disparities between the states. Today, families face vastly different chances of escaping poverty and moving up the income ladder depending on where they live. Children growing up in Alabama are more than twice as likely to be poor as children in Wyoming. In Massachusetts, well over half of young adults have been able to access higher education, compared to less than one in three in Arkansas.

If there is one lesson from states’ wildly different track records of reducing poverty and increasing opportunity, it’s this: policy matters.

With Congress in constant gridlock, state policymakers have stepped in to fill this legislative void, introducing a slew of recent policies—some innovative and commendable, others regressive and harmful—that affect struggling families in their states. Presidential candidates—and the voters who are deciding among them today—need look no further than our nation’s so-called “laboratories of democracy” for examples of both positive and preposterous policies.

In the new State of the States report, the Center for American Progress ranks states’ success in reducing poverty and improving opportunity, and highlights the good, the bad, and the ugly of policymakers’ recent decisions. For example, Texas voters face an uninsured rate that is more than five times that of Massachusetts. The Lone Star State ranks dead last in healthcare coverage, and is home to 20 of the country’s 30 worst counties in terms of health insurance coverage. Unsurprisingly, the state has the second-highest health insurance premiums in the country, as well as one of the highest teen birth rates. Yet Texas lawmakers continue their crusade against access to health care for residents by refusing to expand Medicaid, and imposing restrictive rules on healthcare providers that severely limit access to family planning services—particularly among low-income women.

Healthcare isn’t the only basic need that families struggle to meet today. Putting food on the table is all too often difficult for lower-income families—in some states more so than others. Nationwide, about 14 percent of households were food insecure between 2012 and 2014, meaning that they struggled to provide enough food for economic reasons. Three Super Tuesday states—Tennessee, Texas and Oklahoma—ranked among the bottom ten for food security. While the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is designed to alleviate some of the economic stress brought on by food insecurity for lower-income families, some state lawmakers have erected barriers to this national program’s vital assistance. In 2014, eight states—including Texas, Ohio, and Kansas—reinstated harsh work requirements for nondisabled low-income adults, many of who struggle to find jobs in an unforgiving labor market.

Not all states have fallen behind the curve—some states have been pushing strong progressive ideas. That means candidates can turn to multiple states for innovative policy ideas that will improve opportunity and reduce poverty. For example, Minnesota was one of fifteen states to pass a minimum wage increase in 2014. Raising the minimum wage leads to higher earnings and reduced poverty rates among working families, without negatively impacting employment.

States have also taken the reins on paid family leave and medical leave in recent years. Decades after women began to enter the workforce in large numbers, they are still more likely than men to bear the brunt of caregiving responsibilities. Consequently, women are also more likely to experience a reduction in work hours or a disruption in work history, or to leave the paid labor force altogether—factors that explain about 10 percent of the gender wage gap. But states like Rhode Island have taken steps to mitigate this by enacting paid leave policies, which research shows will increase labor force participation and raise wages among women after childbirth.

Presidential candidates and Super Tuesday voters alike need only look to certain states for policies that strengthen American families and help them get ahead. At the same time, voters should hold their state’s policymakers accountable for decisions that damage families’ economic security and make sure presidential candidates learn from the states’ policies—the good, the bad, and the ugly.



A Cautionary Tale from Texas for Low-Income Women in Ohio

Last week, Governor John Kasich signed a bill into law that defunds Planned Parenthood in Ohio. If the current state of affairs in Texas is any indication, low-income women in Ohio are about to see their economic security plummet.

In 2011, the Texas state legislature barred Planned Parenthood from its Medicaid program and excluded from state health plans any clinic affiliated with an abortion provider. This policy decision has had damaging consequences for some of the most vulnerable women in the state. A recent report found that in counties where Texas defunded Planned Parenthood affiliates, there was a dip in usage of long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) and injectable contraceptives—the most effective forms of contraception available. During this time period, there was also an increase in births to mothers covered by Medicaid. Given that this surge in births occurred in the very counties where women faced new barriers to accessing contraceptives, it is highly probable that many of them were unplanned.

These troubling outcomes are also likely attributable to the Texas omnibus abortion law—known as the Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider (TRAP) law—which went into effect the same year that Planned Parenthood was excluded from state health plans. TRAP includes a number of provisions that make it more burdensome for women to obtain abortions. Among the provisions are bans on abortions that occur after 20 weeks, restrictions on medication abortions, and a requirement that physicians have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where they perform abortions. A challenge to the law is currently before the Supreme Court.

Together, these restrictive policies have threatened not only women’s reproductive health and autonomy but also their economic security. Women without coverage are more likely to forgo care in order to prioritize other basic needs like food, rent, and childcare. And some low-income patients in states with restrictive abortion laws now face prices that are triple the cost of what women in states with access and availability pay for care. The scarcity of these services also means that many women have to travel hundreds of miles to obtain annual wellness visits, cancer screenings, and maternal care. Many of these women will lose wages to travel time and, adding insult to injury, will incur the additional expenses of transportation, food, and childcare.

Perhaps most horrific of all, we know that women who have lost access to services are now attempting to self-abort in the absence of accessible and affordable abortion care. The true irony is that by enacting harmful policies targeting abortion—a safe and legal medical procedure—policymakers have jeopardized the ability for low-income women in particular to make timely and informed decisions about reproduction.

And yet, the abortion war continues to rear its ugly head. In 2015 alone, 17 states passed more than 50 abortion restrictions. Eleven states slashed funding to Planned Parenthood or any clinic that provides abortion care among its health services. As states continue to introduce this kind of harmful legislation under false pretenses, one truth remains the same: the legal right to abortion and other reproductive health services means nothing without the ability to affordably and reasonably access it.

While the Supreme Court weighs the merits of Texas’s TRAP law, and the women of Ohio brace for an uncertain future, these states should be a cautionary tale not only for 2016, but for years to come.



What the Academy Awards Tell Us About the Value of Black Work

What’s the value of an Academy Award?

It’s a question I’ve been mulling over ever since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences—the revered gatekeepers of America’s film industry—announced the nominees for their 88th Academy Awards ceremony, also known as the Oscars. In a bold feat of tone-deafness (read: overt racism), the Academy chose not to nominate a single Black actor in any of their four acting categories—again.

I wasn’t surprised by the Academy’s casual racism in refusing to recognize Black performers at this year’s ceremony. Hollywood’s diversity problems aren’t new. The fact that there are still people who blithely question whether Black performances are even worthy of recognition speaks to the existence of pervasive bigotry within the institution. It’s why Black people (along with other historically marginalized communities) have banded together to create our own institutions to recognize our work: without celebrations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Image Awards—and yes, even the BET Awards—daring to uplift Black performers in Hollywood, where else could we go to applaud and honor our stars?

What did surprise me was how some high-profile individuals like Helen Mirren, instead of grappling with the issue of the Academy’s accountability to Black actors, blamed this year’s lack of Black nominees on broader race and power dynamics within the industry. The Academy’s lack of racial sensitivity, she argued, is a symptom of a deeply engrained culture of racial bias that disadvantages Black professionals; as a result, one should not read racist intent into the Academy’s nomination decisions.

It isn’t entirely wrong to deflect blame onto the wider industry. As many have rightfully pointed out, diversity in the industry starts in the boardrooms where casting and business decisions get made. But in our hurry to write off the Oscars’ diversity problems as the logical byproduct of Hollywood’s ubiquitous racism, we shouldn’t dismiss the Academy’s distinct responsibility to recognize Black artists. More than mere pageantry, the Oscars award ceremony represents an issue of economic justice because of its role as a public evaluation of people in the film industry. Neither the Academy nor the Oscars operates in a vacuum; the Oscars is where Hollywood ascribes value to the artistic and cultural experiences that move and define us, and by proxy the performers whom embody these stories.

Moreover, the awards aren’t just a competition for cultural value: they double as an assessment tool that helps pick the industry’s economic winners and losers—in full view of the adoring public. While mainstream recognition from an institution like the Academy is not necessary to validate the contributions and experiences of Black performers, it still carries significant implications for the economic realities of the movie industry. Because the vast majority of Black artists don’t receive the same opportunities for exposure as their white counterparts, they aren’t given access to the same springboard that launches other workers in the industry. For the working actor, the value of an Academy Award is concrete: increased exposure to the best directors, casting agents, and managers, combined with greater leverage for higher pay and more favorable working conditions. Even receiving a nomination can make it easier to book the next job and sustain a career.

And as resilient as Black people are—Black entertainers especially—it is not enough for us to simply create spaces where we validate our own work if those spaces do not wield the same access to economic opportunities. Dismantling systemic racism goes hand-in-hand with ending economic inequality, and it’s imperative to the liberation of Black people that we tackle them in tandem. And so, we must fight for inclusion in mainstream spaces where our economic futures are at stake, and also create spaces for Black achievement to be validated in a way that honors and respects us.

The whitewashing of the Academy Awards presents a unique economic challenge to Black performers and other Black workers in the industry. In addition to shaking our fists at the intersecting systems of oppression that permeate Hollywood, we must call equal attention to the Academy’s actions—specifically, because they speak to a larger ethos for how Black work and Blackness go unrecognized and devalued within the film and greater entertainment industry.



How We Can Close the Racial Wealth Divide

The racial wealth divide is bad and getting worse, and nowhere is this more evident than in the South.

This national trend is reflected in the wealth and earnings of Southern states like Georgia, where the median household of color has only $7,113 in net worth (compared to the $85,499 in net worth owned by white households). In Virginia, the median white household has a net worth nearly 12 times that of the median African-American household.

One of the more striking findings from the Corporation for Enterprise Development’s (CFED) 2016 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard is just how wide the economic disparity is between whites and African-Americans in the South. The data in the Scorecard reveal a twofold truth: that family financial security is worse in the South than in any other region of the country; and that these stark disparities are inexorably tied to the racial inequality that has defined life in this nation since its founding.

That’s why CFED is calling on the next President, in his or her first 100 days in office, to take executive action to conduct a racial wealth divide audit. To execute this audit, the President would direct every federal agency to review existing federal policies and how they contribute to or alleviate this economic wealth disparity.

Wealth is about more than just money in the bank—it’s about assets of every type. There are a range of economic inequities that work in concert to limit the ability of households of color in southern states to achieve economic security at almost every turn:

  • Savings: One reason for the low net worth of African-American households is their relative lack of savings. More than two-thirds (67 percent) of African-American households are liquid asset poor—meaning they don’t have enough savings to live at the poverty level for just three months if they lose a job or face another income loss—compared to 35 percent of white households. This includes 62 percent of African-American households in both Virginia and Texas, and over 80 percent in Alabama.
  • Housing: Without the ability or means to save, African-American households are effectively shut out of the home purchase market. Today, fewer than half (44 percent) of all African-American households in southern states own their homes, compared to roughly 72 percent of white households. As a result, the majority of African-American households are forced into the rental market, where they pay a far greater percentage of their income on housing costs than do white households.
    The median white high school dropout has more wealth than the median African-American or Hispanic college graduate.
  • Education: In four southern states—Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Tennessee—fewer than 10 percent of all African-American eighth-graders tested at a proficient level or above on math exams. At 4.8 percent, Alabama’s abysmal proficiency rate is the lowest in the country. This achievement gap bleeds into higher education as white students in the South graduate high school at a rate roughly 10 points higher than African-American students, and white adults hold four-year college degrees at a rate over 12 points higher than African-American adults. But the racial wealth divide seen across the country is not merely a function of the achievement gap: even after graduating from college, African-Americans and Hispanics accrue far less wealth than do white households. In fact, the median white high school dropout has more wealth than the median African-American or Hispanic college graduate.
  • Jobs and Entrepreneurship: In the South, wage-earning African-Americans are unemployed at a rate (10.2 percent) more than twice that of white workers (4.6 percent). However, the disparities don’t end with unemployment as even African-American entrepreneurs in the South find themselves struggling to overcome sizable gaps in opportunity. On average, white-owned business in the southern states are worth 9.6 times ($694,877) that of the average African-American-owned business in the same southern states ($72,679).

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These racial inequalities are not new, but they are persistent and growing, aided and abetted by bad public policy. These policies are choices—choices that we need to stop making.

Historically, one of the greatest contributors to the creation and expansion of the racial wealth divide has been racially-biased federal policies. The federal government has played an important role in helping families build wealth. However, many of the federal initiatives used to expand economic opportunity for white families systematically discriminated against households of color. Past transgressions include the exclusion of farmworkers and domestic workers from the Social Security Act in 1935; the racially biased implementation of the GI Bill; and the widespread practice of redlining by the Federal Housing Administration which shut out entire communities of color from purchasing a home. This discrimination continues to have an impact today, as white families transferred their wealth to successive generations, while families of color were denied that same opportunity. The result is a racial wealth divide that has left white households with nine times more wealth ($110,637) than households of color ($12,377).

Moreover, these types of bad policies are not just historical relics. Today, for example, tax policies such as the Mortgage Interest Deduction and reduced tax rates on capital gains not only overwhelmingly benefit wealthy households, but they also disproportionately concentrate benefits in white communities. And because states are allowed to opt out of expanding Medicaid, a new health care coverage gap has emerged for a great number of the country’s most vulnerable communities, including 1.7 million adults of color.

In order to address widespread wealth inequality in the South and elsewhere, policymakers have to intentionally address the policies that continue to leave communities of color behind. A racial wealth divide audit conducted by every federal agency will help us create policies that will ultimately help to close the racial wealth divide.

With the new knowledge provided by an audit, federal policymakers will be able to take—and citizens will be able to demand—the actions necessary to rectify racial economic inequities that have been fueled by generations of discriminatory policies.