All Articles Tagged "poverty"

Why Black Women (Still) Can’t Seem To Get Ahead Economically

April 14th, 2016 - By Ann Brown
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Damned if we do, damned if we don’t.

Make no mistake, Black women work hard, but many of us are still stuck in a seemingly unending cycle of poverty. And it’s not that we don’t have the skills or even an entrepreneurial spirit to change our circumstances, there are a lot of factors — both internal and external — that come into play regarding our economic standing.

Black women are “graduating high school, attending college, participating in the labor force, and starting businesses at higher rates, but they still aren’t seeing the rewards of their hard work, reported Think Progress after examining a recent report from the Black Women’s Roundtable, the women’s initiative of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.

In fact, according to the latest stats, young Black women have increased their high school graduation rate by 63 percent over the past 50 years, more than tripling it and “virtually eliminating the gap with Asian women (down to 2 percent), and significantly narrowing the gap with white women (7 percent),” the report noted. Of the Blacks who went to college and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in 2010, 66 percent were women, 71 percent with a Master’s, and 65 percent with a Doctorate.

And Black women are no strangers to entrepreneurship. Black women are starting businesses at six times the national average and make up the fastest growing segment of women-owned businesses. “Black women own more than 1 million firms, employ 272,000 people other than themselves, and generate an estimated $44.9 billion in revenue,” Think Progress noted.

So if we have all of this going for us, why we can’t get ahead? Cultural mindset and a fear of excelling plays a major role it seems. It’s something Saideh Browne, Director of Development for United Nations’ Non-Governmental Organization National Council of Women of the United States, knows firsthand.  “I believe one of the main reasons Black women get trapped in poverty is our culture and environment. There is a tremendous amount of pressure placed on Black women, in particular, whereby they feel they are indebted to their race; and once any modicum of success is attained, they’re viewed as a turncoat.

“It starts at a very young age. I was told during my entire childhood that I talked ‘white,’ that I was acting ‘white’ and that I thought I was better than anyone else. So what happened? By the time I reached high school I tried everything I could to prove I was Black and not an outcast. I secretly applied to Cornell University and any HBCU I could find information on and, to the dismay of my parents, I became pregnant in October of my senior year in high school. That pregnancy thrust me into a world of ‘poverty’ (relatively speaking). I did attend college and it was definitely a struggle. Which ultimately takes us into the next question of how poverty affects our career outlook.”

Or perhaps how poverty affects the way we like to look from the outside? “One of biggest differences I see between Black communities and other groups is the focus on what I call the ‘trappings of success,'” said marketing expert Melissa Harris Rohlfs of Rohlfs Group Public Relations. “For example, prioritizing a fancier car over paying cash for a necessity like a new washer and dryer. Money spent on clothes and jewelry rather than investing and saving.”

Keeping up with the Kardashians can keep you broke, but some experts say this need we have to look better than we’re doing fiscally has deep roots. “Women of color are raised in a competitive environment. We receive pressure from both our male counterparts as well as our European-born sisters to compete to get ahead in various areas of life,” branding coach Temica Gross,  author of Live Victoriously–4 Easy Steps to Defeating Self Doubt said. “Careers, families, relationships, etc., we are always viewed as the second option when measured against others.  Now, because of media, we believe all things luxurious and expensive are reflections of our wealth and status. Unfortunately, this is not true yet, women of color will still spend obscene amounts of money to keep up with the ‘Jones’.”

And that mindset, along with the wage gap and employment discrimination, has trapped Black women generation after generation. As a whole, the Black community does not often benefit from generational wealth passed down through the ages. Not even financial knowledge is passed down often time. In addition to lack of financial education comes the hardship of dealing with low-paying jobs. Even today, Black women still only earn 64 percent of what white men take home. “In 2010, single Black women’s median wealth, or income and assets minus obligations, was just $100, compared to single white women’s $41,500. Almost half had zero or negative wealth. Even though they participate in the workforce at elevated rates, they are stuck in low-paying work.  They also experience high unemployment rates, with a 9.9 percent rate compared to 5.1 percent for white women,” Think Progress’ synopsis noted.

Higher rates of evictions for Black women also exacerbate the cycle of poverty. Harvard University sociologist Matthew Desmond studied this issue in his book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, and told the Huffington Post, “Eviction is fundamentally changing the face of poverty. One way we can interpret eviction is like, ‘Oh, it’s a result of irresponsibility, it’s bad spending habits.’ But if … you’re spending 80 percent of your income on rent, eviction is much more of an inevitability than an irresponsibility.”

Getting out of the cycle of poverty can be extremely difficult–but having your sista’s back would help. “It is difficult to break the cycle because you have to know somebody who knows somebody. Until Black women, en masse, sit in powerful seats the cycle will never be broken. Further, it must become a moral obligation to reach back and help. My philosophy is I work with the willing and love the rest,” explained Browne, who added that at the beginning of the year The National Council of Women launched “In Good Company,” a podcast and blog specifically for women at work that discusses career mobility as a way to help the next generation of women in the workplace.

Getting on the right track financially is a major step as well. This means curbing spending as much as possible. “I’m a prosperous Black woman. My household income is over $350,000. If you looked at me, you might not think I had as much money in the bank as I do. I shop at thrift stores. I reuse my Ziploc sandwich bags, I drive a used car. I bought it used with cash. I intend to drive it for 12-plus years. Then I’ll buy another one with cash,” shared Harris Rohlfs, whose spending habits have a lot to do with experiencing economic hardship as a child.  “I came from nothing. Raised in single parent household in housing projects. Got my first job at 14.5 years to help out. Paid my own way through college. I remember my mom struggling with whether to pay rent or a light bill. We ate many nights because someone in our church congregation brought us food. Today, I live an amazing life. I travel around the world. Live in fabulous home. It wasn’t luck. I worked for it all. My first piece of advice is live like our great grandparents did. Get creative. Partner with other women to help.”

For many women, that means completely altering your mindset. “Stop falling into the consumerism trap the media and society promote,” added Harris Rohlfs. “Figure out your actual expenses, debt, income. Then live within your means. Be honest with yourself before purchases: Do you really need it? Can you borrow it? Are you shopping because you’re bored or your friends are buying one too. Or can you wait until it goes on sale? Reduce your transportation costs: Can you carpool? Can you use public transit or walk?”

You should also research ways to generate another income stream. “Can you sell something you don’t need? Can you get a side job? Can you do surveys online–that’s how I saved for Christmas gifts),” advised Harris Rohlfs.

In addition to he external factors Black women can change to improve their economic standing, there is some internal work that needs to be done first.”Get out of your own way,” said Harris Rohlfs. “If you want to get ahead, do so!  You create your future. Stay informed and network; meet with strong-willed and successful entrepreneurs. Release that ‘lottery mentality’ of waiting on someone or something to happen before you take a stand.  You’re playing small, but dreaming big.  This isn’t the lottery; you can’t make it with just a dollar and a dream. You need to take action and you need to take it now.”

Is The Neighborhood You Live In Setting You Up For Failure?

March 14th, 2016 - By Deja Jones
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I live in one of those cities where once you leave, you don’t come back voluntarily. It’s one of those places where it’s instilled in you that to be successful you have to leave. So I did. I left in 2007. But years later, I found myself in one of those financial situations that placed me back in the city I worked so hard to leave and stay away from. 

As I drove down familiar streets of my past, I lost count of the multitude of abandoned but once beautiful houses that lined the streets. I couldn’t help but notice the emptiness of the once lively neighborhoods, the cold and distant vibes I was feeling. It was disheartening. Life in a lost city.

I live in Trenton, New Jersey, a city with a population of a little over 80,000 with more than half at or below the poverty line. When you think of ‘hood life and all of its casualties, the things you might zone in on are gang violence, gun violence, and the mounting issues of police brutality. You might think of the rising population of homeless people, the lack of resources. But what is very present that you might not pay attention to are the things that seem convenient, but are also detrimental. You might not notice that for every block you pass, there’s a liquor store. You might not realize that you can count the number of McDonald’s restaurants, Burger Kings and Wendy’s eateries on two hands less than five miles of each other. You might not recognize the vast amounts of chicken shacks within walking distance of each other. Nothing healthy. Nothing all that useful. But it’s clearly the norm. 

My first few months back in Trenton, I found myself wondering what exactly I could do to keep myself entertained–aside from packing on the pounds eating at the fast food joints. After asking people I know in Trenton, the consensus was “nothing.” In the state capitol of New Jersey, somehow, there’s nothing to do here (and boy, does that statement have a broad meaning). 

Blame it on the city of Newark, in its early stages of gentrification, for spoiling me. There seemed to be so much to do there. Out of nowhere, Newark started to sprout with cafes, art galleries, gyms, community events and festivals. An attempt was being made to revitalize the large city. But what about Trenton? 

No such attempts are being made. Upon my return, I noticed the lack of social activities, diverse food options, fitness facilities and health awareness & education programs. The sprinkling of positive recreational activities for residents. I observed the overall emotional state of this now dilapidated city. The quality of life went downhill a while ago, and people aren’t really doing anything about it. 

I got to thinking about how so many urban cities like Trenton set their residents up for failure, cities that do nothing to boost the quality of life or morale of its taxpayers. Cities that often leave their inhabitants to fend for themselves. Since being here, I’ve become dormant and often find myself hopping on the first train to Newark when I need to see something different, experience something offbeat, and really, just need a breather. I live in a city without balance. And perhaps the change starts with us, the residents. But I’m often left wondering how many people feel the way that I do. How many are comfortable with their circumstances. And how many are focused on the traditional plan we were taught growing, to get out by any mean’s necessary, as opposed to staying and working on bettering the community. 

Shanesha Taylor’s 18-Year Probation Highlights War On The Poor

May 18th, 2015 - By Charing Ball
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Shanesha Taylor gets 18 years of supervised probation, and George Zimmerman is still a free man.

So are the cops that killed Eric Garner and Mike Brown.

And the cops that killed Tamir Rice haven’t even been charged because due process apparently takes a long time, even though Rice was denied his…

It may seem like a false comparison. However, the mass incarceration of Black people while White people seem to skirt it, should be at the center of our collective angst. We have an unequal and unjust system, which as illustrated by the Department of Justice’s report on Ferguson, likes to ensnare Black people into a corrupt cycle of arrests and probation. These arrests are often prompted by a desire for revenue rather than to ensure our collective public safety. After all, who really benefits from the continued prosecution of a single, struggling Black mother? Certainly not the children we all claim to be trying to protect here.

Probation may seem like a gift, considering the alternative was prison time and having her children taken away from her – the latter of which was looking like a strong and unnecessary possibility as previously noted here. The truth is, Arizona’s Child Protective Service Department is known for being pretty harsh.

According to a report by the Department of Health and Human Services, the number of children in foster care between 2002 and 2012 declined by almost 24 percent nationwide, from 523,616 to 399,546. Yet as this article on The Fix notes, while national stats went down, Arizona’s number of children entering foster care from 2007 to 2012 skyrocketed by as much as 48 percent. Likewise, out of the 10,141 children removed from their birth home in Arizona in 2012, 59 percent were taken because of their parent’s substance abuse problem.

According to this article from the Arizona Daily Star, the increase in CPS removals has spawned a federal lawsuit filed by New York-based advocacy group Children’s Rights, and the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest last month. It was filed on behalf of 10 Arizona foster children (with intentions of reaching class action status to represent the nearly 17,000 children currently in Arizona’s foster care system). The lawsuit alleges that the Arizona Department of Child Safety, as well as the Department of Health’s poor treatment of foster children, puts them at risk of great harm.

But as Chris Albin-Lackey noted in a report for the Human Rights Watch earlier last year entitled Profiting from Probation, our nation’s court system has been funding most, if not all of their operations with fines and fees paid for by probationers. And the probationer’s freedom is “contingent on paying those fees.”

“The central problem with offender-funded, pay only probation is this: the longer it takes offenders to pay off their debts, the longer they remain on probation and the more they pay in supervision fees. In other words, the poorer a person is the more they ultimately pay and the longer they have to live with the threat of possible incarceration hanging over their heads. Some low-income offenders end up paying more in fees to their probation company than they were sentenced to pay in fines to begin with. Those fees are costs an offender of greater economic means could avoid altogether.”

The terms of Taylor’s first supervised probation, which would keep her out of jail and her children in her custody, mandated that she get a job, housing and dedicated child care, all at her own cost. And in addition to court fees as well as counseling services, which too came out of her own pocket, she had to put all of the funds she had been gifted through crowdfunding into a trust for her children, which could only be accessible to them when they turned 18. None of this would be an easy feat for a woman, who prior to her arrest, was working odd jobs, living in her car and bouncing between the homes of relatives and cheap motels. It is no surprise that she would ultimately renege on the terms.

And despite erroneous reports and rumors, mostly told to the media by an Al Sharpton-esque “community organizer” who was mad that she had not donated to his political campaign in exchange for his so-called support of her case, Taylor had not spent the gifted money on her boyfriend’s rap album. But as reported by Phoenix Fox 10, which included a spreadsheet submitted into court records of Taylor’s monthly spending, the gifted money was used for rent, food, clothing and a $1000 worth of non-essential items including cable television, dining and other forms of entertainment – none of which is outside the norm of what most of us spend within a month, particularly for a family with children. And none of which should have been cause for her to be considered a bad mother or criminally negligent.

Yet, Taylor found herself widely criticized and condemned for not following the terms of her probation, which she has always argued were not fair and only agreed upon out of an act of desperation to stay out of jail and to keep her children. As reported by US News Today, her new attorney said that Taylor’s background as a veteran would make it “hard to admit that things aren’t working out.” This may be true. Sometimes we get ourselves so deep in holes that it’s hard to see a way out, so we just keep on digging.

However, it is also true that an 18-year probation, which includes more rounds of classes, counseling, court fees and other stringent supervisions, likely to be paid out of pocket, will not help get her out of the hole either. If anything, it is a trap, which will almost guarantee failure, like it has for so many that have the misfortune of being Black, brown and poor.

And while it was our public advocacy, which kept Taylor out of prison, I also believe that it was also our advocacy, which put more scrutiny on her, particularly among folks determined to make her an example. Many of the same people who believe that Taylor deserves this punishment are likely the same folks who are applauding the Wisconsin GOP’s decision to require drug testing for welfare recipients and banning shellfish as a food option for SNAP recipients.

At some point we have to recognize that the war on the poor is real. And it is a fight that is not exclusive to the male portion of our communities. If we can march in the streets for Mike Brown, a kid accused of stealing cigars and roughing up a grocery store clerk and see the injustice around Freddie Gray, who himself had a long extensive rap sheet, we should be fully able to understand how Taylor is also being railroaded, and dare I say victimized, by the same unjust and racist system.

What Can We Learn From The Food Stamp Challenge

April 23rd, 2015 - By Charing Ball
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What is the goal of a food stamp challenge?

No really, when you stop to think about it, what really is the lesson we all are supposed to learn when celebrities and politicans and regular lay persons force themselves to live like the poor in America?

As reported on her blog GOOP, everybody’s favorite pretentious health nut actress Gwyneth Paltrow accepted a challenge last week from chef guy friend Mario Batali to try to live on $29 a week, which is what supposedly many low income families on SNAP survive on for their weekly allowances. From the onset, she admitted that she already knew this challenge was going to be a dud and just donated money to a New York area Food Bank. Sometimes you just got to acknowlege your limitations and move on. However, not many had suspected that the challenge would be this bad.

In the picture she posted on her blog of grocery purchases from her SNAP funds, I wasn’t quite sure if Paltrow was actually planning on making a meal or a couple of margaritas. I’m talking a single loaf of bread, one avocado, one ear of corn, one onion, one sweet potato, some leafy vegegtables, some eggs, black beans, a bag of peas and six limes. I don’t know why she needed six limes. But she did say that she made black bean taquitas and black bean cakes and corn salsa with the allowance, which is healthy and certainly sounds delicious enough.

Still, I do wonder where she decided to go food shopping? I know $29 isn’t lots, but I also know that there are some produce stores around my way (and around other ways in America), where you can get a big bags of corn, onions, sweet potatos and other veggies for like a buck a bag each. But everybody got their special places they like to shop. And as reported on her blog, her favorite place made her quit by the fourth day. In particular, she writes:

“As I suspected, we only made it through about four days, when I personally broke and had some chicken and fresh vegetables (and in full transparency, half a bag of black licorice). My perspective has been forever altered by how difficult it was to eat wholesome, nutritious food on that budget, even for just a few days—a challenge that 47 million Americans face every day, week, and year. A few takeaways from the week were that vegetarian staples liked dried beans and rice go a long way—and we were able to come up with a few recipes on a super tight budget.”

That’s nice. And in all honesty, I give her a virtual high five for even trying to understand what poor people have to go through in America. However she then goes on a tangent, albiet well-meaning, about equal pay, which in my opinion, totally misses the point of understanding the economic plight of the poor. In particular, she writes:

“After trying to complete this challenge (I would give myself a C-), I am even more outraged that there is still not equal pay in the workplace. Sorry to go on a tangent, but many hardworking mothers are being asked to do the impossible: Feed their families on a budget which can only support food businesses that provide low-quality food. The food system in our beautiful country needs to be subjected to a heavy revision—it is a cyclical problem, with repercussions that we all feel. I’m not suggesting everyone eat organic food from some high horse in the sky. I’m saying everyone should be able to afford fresh, real food. And if women were paid an equal wage, families might have more of a choice in the grocery aisles, not to mention in the rest of their lives.”

And this is where I have to side-eye Paltrow a little here. I know that she is all about eating “organic” and assumes the rest of us are disease-infested zombies because we eat the stuff the government sprays down with bug spray. But it assumes priorities on poor people that are largely rich people’s contemplations. In other words, eating organic from places like Whole Paycheck is a luxury, which is why it is marketed to people with the means to afford it. We learn more and more every day that the stuff marketed as organic is not necessarily…well, organic. Heck, it is not all that healthy.

Likewise, those without money, even when they have a little more, are not necessarily going to go for “better” quality vegetables because they have more money, but rather they will probably use those extra dollars to purchase more food. As noted by a UK study called the Cost of Poverty, essential goods and services that people need to participate in society take up a relatively larger share of low-income budgets. Therefore, we pay more for less. And with the extra money, we will pay more to get more. You know, so they can make it the full seven days without fake-starving like Paltrow by the fourth day?

And that is part of the reason why I dislike the food stamp challenge. It is not just about healthy and organic food. Heck, surviving on limited allowances isn’t really about the food at all. As I mentioned earlier, those who have been without for so long, know how to make a $29 budget work. I do it all the time. And I still manage to eat healthy and I eat until I’m full. However the real challenge is getting the food itself. One stop at the produce aisle for cheap vegetables; my staple and non-perishable items at a discount supermarket, which is on the other side of the neighborhood. Then it is a trip to a discount drug store to get deodorant, toilet tissue, body lotion and all other personal hygiene care. Unlike, many of my fellow comrades in the economic struggle, I have a car, which makes my weekly trek for food and such much easier (with exception of the cost of gas).

As pointed out by another article in Next City, a 2011 Brookings study revealed that while 70 percent of adults in American metropolitan areas can find a transit stop within three-quarters of a mile from home, the “typical” resident can only use that transit to reach 30 percent of jobs within 90-minutes or less. Then there are other deterrents; as this article from AlterNet points out, low-income drivers pay more for car insurance. We also pay more on average for our mortgage interest. We are more likely to buy furniture and appliances through pricey rent-to-own businesses.

In other words, it is not just about food. It is about food, shelter, clothing, personal items, and the same thing for children. It is the hardship between those things. It’s about a structure put into place to ensure that those things are not accessible to us all. You can pay folks equally and raise the minimum wage and they will still not be able to get by without reliable transportation or when they are paying way more for stuff that Paltrow has the privledge to pay fair market value for.

And I know I sound like a downer considering that she tried, however those efforts only aim to make those with privilege feel better about their privileged existence, because at least they tried to live partly like the working poor, who do so without asking and without much fanfare, every single day.

Food Stamps And Needing Help Is No Laughing Matter

April 1st, 2015 - By Charing Ball
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Food Stamps And Needing Help Is No Laughing Matter

Source: Shutterstock

Earlier this week, a story began to float around about a former Chief of Operation for a medical company who now finds himself barely making it on food stamps.

As reported by FOX 59, 37 year old Adam Smith used to work for a Tucson Arizona-based medical manufacturer, making $200,000 a year. However he had been fired after he posted a video of himself on YouTube chastising a Chick-fil-A employee for working for what he called a “hateful corporation.” And he has been unable to find work since the summer of 2012.

If you recall, the CEO of the popular chicken sandwich fast food restaurant had openly discussed his opposition to gay marriage, which sparked nationwide protest against the food chain, including Smith’s ill-advised protest video.

And as the news station reports:

“After Smith posted the video to YouTube, he returned to work where he was fired that day. A receptionist told him that their voicemail was completely full of bomb threats.

Smith and his family then moved to Portland where he got another job as a CFO. But he was fired two weeks later after they found out who he was. Since then, he has been unable to find work.

“I don’t regret the stand I took, but I regret… the way I talked to her,” Smith said.”

And yet the CEO of Chick-fil-A is still gainfully employed and living high off of the hog…er, I mean spicy chicken sandwiches. I guess the freedom of speech that anti-gay rights activists always like to tout when you call them out on their shit, is only available to them.

You can watch the video here. As you can see, it wasn’t that bad. In fact, the entire moment was more awkward than it was abusive. And in all honesty, I have no idea why he was fired considering that the only one who appeared to be hurt in this entire exchange was Smith himself, who looked like a total douchebag. If he really wanted to take a stand, he should have taken his complaints to the CEO himself, and not a $10 bucks-an-hour employee. But shit happens. We all (or many of us) have been fired before for dumb and superficial reasons. I know I have…

But what bothers me more about this story is how gleeful and amused folks have been while passing this story around. Folks find it funny that a man and his family have gone from American Express cards to an EBT card. I have read statuses on Facebook and other social media sites, mocking this family’s circumstances, like “ha-ha, that’s what he gets,” and “ha-ha, he’s on welfare…”

But there is nothing funny about needing help. On the contrary, it is actually quite humbling. As an able-bodied adult who wants to work but can’t find suitable employment, it is not easy admitting to the world, let alone yourself, that you must take a hand-out. And I’ve been there. I was there as a full-time college student who, in spite of working nearly 40 hours a week, still couldn’t manage to pay for school expenses, rent, utilities and groceries at the same time. And again in my twenties, when my first post-graduate job left me woefully underpaid and living back at home with mom. And again, most recently, when I lost my job at non-profit, which ran out of funding, and I was unable to pay most of my bills.

In each one of those situations, I was faced with the uncomfortable position of needing to ask for help. On one of those occasions I did ask. It was at the insistence of my best friend who couldn’t watch me struggling in tears anymore as I tried, in vain, to find ways to pay my mortgage and eat at the same time. But in spite of my desperation and clear need, I resisted at first.

I would like to say it was just pride. Like many Americans, I have internalized the belief that to struggle financially, is indeed noble. I had taken pride in being able to pull myself up by the boot straps even when I was boot-less. And I saw it as a character-flaw to ask for help. But foolish pride aside, it was the stigma around public assistance, particularly the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or food stamps, which acted as its own deterrent in itself.

That’s because in our culture, we see and treat those who use public assistance as lazy and shiftless. And I’m not just talking about the right wing, which has done a pretty good job of villainizing the poor and painting mothers in need as “welfare queens.” But also those of us who should know better, but hide our biases behind anecdotal stories about welfare cheating cousins and strangers we see in the supermarket “frivolously” spending money on crab legs, hoagies and other non-essential food items.

As someone who had grown up on public assistance, I have first-hand experience dealing with the marginalization. I remember the embarrassment I felt, very well, the first time Mom sent me to the corner, Korean grocery store with a stack of booklet of stamps, or fake money, to buy food. I remember the kids laughing and pointing at me because I had to eat the freebie lunch at school when Mom, who was working a low-wage job taking care of mentally-ill people, was too poor to even afford lunch meat. And I also remember watching a total stranger suck her teeth and hiss in the direction of my Mom for being shiftless as she paid for our shared birthday cake (our birthdays are only 8 days a part) with food stamps, although that cake would be the only celebration we would have that year.

I remember being a child, swearing to myself that I would starve first before finding myself on public assistance. And I did everything I could – everything that society told me I should do – to make that a reality, including going to college, not having children out of wedlock and being fiscally responsible. But as I said earlier, shit happens. And according to CNS News from earlier this year, that shit is happening to more Americans than we care to believe.

More specifically, the news site reported last year that the number of Americans receiving food stamps has exceeded 46,674,364, which is about the population of Spain. This is compared to the average participation rate in 1969, which stood at 2,878,000. That is an increase of 1516.96 percent. And according to this article in the Huffington Post, “more than three times as many SNAP households had members who were employed as compared to those who relied solely on SNAP benefits for food.” Moreover, “In 2010, the Government Accountability Office found that “trafficking,” a fraudulent activity commonly cited in the media, where SNAP benefits are sold for cash, has decreased from 3.8 cents per dollar of benefits in 1993 to about 1 cent per dollar of benefits — a significant decline.”

Eventually I would bite the bullet, acknowledge my place among the invisible poor and fill out the application for assistance. I got food stamps as well as free medical care. And although folks looked at me strange when I pulled out my card to pay for groceries, I was happy that the safety net was there to catch me at a time when I was seriously in need of a helping hand. Plus, eating food is actually quite nice.

However we feel about Adam Smith’s personal actions that day, we should all know that public assistance is not punishment or karma. It is not something that happens to people because they were bad, dishonest or even criminal. Public assistance is just that: assistance. And as the Republicans persist in its aggressive war against the poor, particularly villainizing and actually cutting services to those receiving public assistance, we should be sharing stories around about how we can work to protect one of this country’s greatest public services – and not use it as a tool of humiliation.

I’m sure this Adam Smith will eventually bounce back. People are resilient. Plus, he is a White man. Somebody will hire him. Perhaps he could go work for a non-profit, which supports gay rights. He has already proven himself a martyr for the cause. Or perhaps his first-hand experience seeing how the other half lives, including and likely the $10 bucks an-hour employee he berated, will go work for on behalf of the poor. Lord knows, we can use more vocal advocates.


Triple Threat: Sanders Sisters Overcome Poverty & Neglect To Pursue Education & Give Back

August 12th, 2014 - By Veronica Wells
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Undoubtedly, every child is born with potential. But challenges, difficult upbringings and unfair circumstances can shroud or even snuff out some of that light. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If anyone can tell you that, it’s the Sanders sisters.

Triplets, Angel, Ashley and Amber Sanders, 24, did not always have a rosy childhood. Angel told The Indianapolis Star that around 7 or 8 she remembers being taken to the Marion County Children’s Guardian Home with her sisters. They obviously weren’t ideal circumstances but as they recalled the stories, all three wore smiles that seemed to suggest that they couldn’t believe that they had not only endured but walked away from that experience triumphant.

“It was like the movies,” Angel said. “There was a room with a bunch of kids and a bunch of beds. There was a little cubby for your stuff.”

And then her sister Amber interjected: “Some of those kids were bad.” She told The Star, they stayed in that home for a few weeks before being placed in foster care with a relative. And that was just one time. Before their childhood ended, the triplets would spend two long stints in foster care, several months in shelters with their mother, who had a substance abuse problem, and transferred to several different schools, homes and apartments. So many that the three of them have a hard time remembering all of them.

Ashley said, “It’s almost like a dream-it seems so far away. If we didn’t have each other, I don’t know how we could have done it. I don’t know who we would have had to talk to about all the things were were going through.”

Thankfully, the Sanders sisters found confidantes in their high school teachers and advisors.

Amber recalled having suicidal thoughts after being bullied as a young teenagers and all three of the girls remember cutting themselves for a brief period trying to cope with their emotional pain. Thankfully, the sisters, after landing at the Indianapolis Metropolitan School, were able to find teachers who were willing to council them.

Amber said, “Talking to teachers helped a lot. We were really quiet for a long time; it was like we never talked in public. But once we talked to our reached about everything, I felt we were more outgoing. We hadn’t known how to communicated and I just wanted to be quiet because I was mad about everything going on. I feel like talking to the teachers just helped me learn to speak up and find my voice.”

They certainly did. It was during their high school years that the sisters discovered their passion for languages, studying everything form Arabic to Chinese.

Principal of the Indianapolis Metropolitan High School, Clete Ladd remembers the trio well.

“They’re probably the hardest working kids I’ve ever met in my lifetime.” He recalled the sister rising above the violent and impoverished neighborhoods which they often lived and honing their energies on resumes, test scores and improving their grades. Ladd said, if one of the girls received an A- on a research paper, all three of them would march up to their teachers trying to find out what they needed to do to receive an A.

Ladd said one day the sisters, who always traveled in a group, came to his office to inquire about receiving an Academic Honors diploma. In Indianapolis Metropolitan, a high-poverty charter school, these types of diplomas were uncommon at the time. But Ladd says the sisters not only earned the diplomas for themselves, they encouraged fellow classmates to join them.

They also participated in a few after-school and summer programs, all which worked to prepare them for college.

They ultimately decided on Indiana University, (IU) because they knew they needed to escape the city life. They used scholarships to finance their educations and their high school teachers, and Principal Lad, continued to help them, serving as mentors and driving the three to and from IU at the beginning and end of each semester.

“I knew we needed to get away.” Amber said.

A change of scenery helped them.  Angel majored in international studies and Amber and Ashley focused on East Asian languages. All three graduated with bachelor’s degrees a g.p.a. of at least 3.1.

But their education hasn’t stopped. They’ve been accepted to graduate school in South Korea. Their high school mentors have created a website to help raise funds for the sisters. You can learn more about it here.

Currently, each of the sisters help mentor children faced with some of the traumas they endured growing up.

“Kids need to know there are people that care about them. Teachers helped us.” Ashley said.

Angel reiterated her sister’s sentiment, reflecting on their own lives.

“I look back and I feel like all of the pain was building up inside of us because for a long time we had nobody to talk to other than each other. We felt so much better once we started talking to teachers and sharing our stories.”

Office Of Minority Health Report Finds Nearly 2 In 5 Black & Latino Males Lack Health Insurance

July 15th, 2014 - By Tonya Garcia
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A new report from the Office of Minority Health finds that nearly 40 percent — two in five — African American and Latino males don’t have health insurance. Among these uninsured black men, 59 percent report an income at or below the national poverty line.

The report, “Characteristics of Uninsured Adult Males by Race and Ethnicity (Ages 19 to 64 Years)” is a snapshot of the state of health care for men of various races across the US. While we’ve focused quite a bit on how the Affordable Care Act is bringing more Americans on to much-needed health care plans, the uproar the law has caused among Republicans, and the impact that the new mandates — and the Supreme Court decisions against them — has on women, there’s also men’s health to be concerned with.

According to the latest numbers, eight million people have signed up for health insurance under the ACA. The Office of Minority Health is a special effort within the Department of Health and Human Services charged with creating policies and programs that benefit minorities and reduce health disparities in this country. This latest report shows that there’s a big gap in access to health insurance. In every age group, white men have the lowest percentage of people lacking health insurance (Asian men are next). African American and Latino men have the highest.

“An important factor in making progress toward reducing health disparities and achieving health equity is our ability to understand why disparities occur and how to eliminate them,” Dr. J. Nadine Gracia, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health and the Director of the Office of Minority Health, told us via email.

“This type of knowledge about the patterns of uninsurance among adult minority men prior to the establishment of the Health Insurance Marketplace and the expansion of Medicaid eligibility can be a powerful tool for organizations today.  It  can help them develop targeted interventions to ensure that more men of color and their families obtain access to opportunities for coverage and preventive health benefits to improve the health status of all Americans,” she continued.

Poverty is a closely-related issue, specifically among African-American men, who are more often at the federal poverty level (FPL) than any other racial group. Forty-three percent of African-American men have no full-time worker in their household, also the highest percentage among the racial groups examined.

For more from the Office of Minority Health, click here. The site has information about everything from cancer to AIDS and infant health. And you can get the full report on men’s health here.

And if you’re interested in the mental health issue, be sure to tune in to Twitter on Thursday, July 17 at 2pm ET, using the hashtag #MMHMChat. MN Business will be there along with the Office of Minority Health, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services. The chat, marking Minority Mental Health Month, will cover everything from the cultural differences on the issue of mental health to reducing the disparities between different ethnic groups. Have your questions ready for this important topic!

Southern Living Isn’t Easy: The South Sees Major Increase In Poverty

July 3rd, 2014 - By Ann Brown
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Other parts of the country may be on the rebound from the recession. But don’t count the South in that group. Even today, the South is poorer than the rest of the nation, according to new findings.

North Carolina and a number of other Southern U.S. states had the biggest increases in the number of people living in “poverty areas” between 2000 and 2010, according to a just released Census Bureau report. “Poverty areas are places where more than 20 percent of the people live below the federal poverty line, which varies by family size. For a family of four, the poverty line in most states is an annual income of $23,850,” reports The Huffington Post.

And the number of poor Americans is nothing to sneeze at. In fact, some 25.7 percent of all Americans live in poverty-stricken areas.  This is a major increase from 18.1 percent in 2000, found the report. Lack of money is not they only thing that affects these areas; poverty areas most commonly have “higher crime rates, poor housing conditions, and fewer job opportunities,” states the report. And majority of these poverty areas are located in the South.

Five of the six biggest states to see an increase in poverty areas were in the South. Southern states typically trail behind the rest of the country in things like wages, economic mobility and access to health care, and take the lead in poverty, obesity and general unhappiness. “Another thing Southern states have in common is Republican political leaders that have spent the past decade shrinking the social safety net,” reports HuffPo.

There are two Southern states–Louisiana and West Virginia–who did not follow the downward trend. These states saw the number of people living in poverty decrease during the decade.

But the region that saw the largest overall rise in the number of people living in poverty areas between 2000 and 2010 was actually the Midwest, not the South. That may, however, be attributed to the fact that the Midwest had relatively low numbers to begin with while the South began with extremely high rates of people living in poverty-stricken areas.

Oftentimes, when we think about poverty, our minds go to third-world countries, when in fact it’s right here as well. It’s an issue that requires our attention and the services and investment to combat.

Started From The Bottom: Does Growing Up Without A Silver Spoon Make You Less Of A BOSS?

April 21st, 2014 - By CAP
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Dennis Van Tine/Future Image/

Dennis Van Tine/Future Image/

Before I get into the nitty gritty of my position, know that I am aware that almost all statistics support the fact that growing up privileged leads to a greater rate of success in life. However, there are some distinct examples of people who grew up under some of the worst conditions becoming massively more successful than others from similar backgrounds. In some cases, more so than those from the most privileged backgrounds.

Malcom Gladwell, renowned author of books like Blink and Outliers, dedicated an entire book to this subject, in David and Goliath. He states:

“There is a set of advantages that have to do with material resources, and there is a set that have to do with the absence of material resources-and the reason underdogs win as often as they do is that the latter is sometimes every bit the equal of the former.”

Plainly put, growing up with disadvantages, can lead to significant advantages in life. For example, anyone who knows me knows that one of my favorite sayings is, “What’s the difference between me and Oprah?” It’s not quite grammatically correct, but a provoking thought all the same. To me Oprah’s upbringing is the epitome of struggle and what she has accomplished in her life is the epitome of success. She was mistreated, sexually abused and promiscuous as a teenager. However, Oprah’s grandmother taught her to read at a very young age and that was her escape all throughout her hardships. Even after gaining some stride in her career she was rejected several times, which she overcame with ease.

Oprah was treated so horribly as a youth that she knew she had seen and been through so much and still remained standing, that this built up a resistance, and as a result, confidence which helped her overcome rejection. Furthermore, by using books as a means to escape her troubles, she was able to craft her skills in communication and journalism which aided in propelling her success. Without these struggles would Oprah be who she is today?

How much did being blind contribute to make Ray and Stevie great? Or that the President of the United States grew up practically fatherless? And did I mention Oprah?

Malcolm Gladwell explains how people from privileged backgrounds face so little adversity, they don’t build up a sense to think outside the box because they don’t have to. Whereas when you live through adversity you may have to think outside the box on a daily basis just to survive.

We have to learn to embrace the struggle, turn our negatives into positives, and channel our anger into energy. For example, a product of the struggle could be considered fast talking, scheming, angry, and a hustler. In positive application, these same negative characteristic could transfer into being charismatic, convincing, thoughtful… and a BOSS.

Can The Inequality Gap Be A Color-Blind Issue? Politicans Act Like It Is

March 20th, 2014 - By Ann Brown
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One of the latest political/social issues to grab a lot of attention is the inequality gap. But the discussions often dance around the notion of how race affects the gap. In 1967, in throes of the Civil Rights movement the median household income was 43 percent higher for white, non-Hispanic households than for black households. Things have changed, but for the worse! In 2011, median white household income was 72 percent higher than median black household income, according to a Census report from that year.

The gap is even more glaring when you look at the median household wealth instead of yearly income, reports MSN. The Pew Research Center found that in 1984, the white-to-black wealth ratio was 12-to-1. It narrowed by 1995 when the median white income was 5-to-1 to black income. But incredibly, by 2009 the ratio shot up to a whopping 19-to-1.

Despite this, politicians are avoiding discussing race and the inequality gap. A new 204-page analysis of the federal War on Poverty, led by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), barely mentions racial disparity. And remember Ryan recently said poverty is due in part to the fact that “inner cities” have a culture of “men not working,” a comment he ultimately called “inarticulate.”

While President Obama did note that “the painful legacy of discrimination means that African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans are far more likely to suffer from a lack of opportunity—higher unemployment, higher poverty rates” during a December 2013 address, it was just one line.

So why the deliberate avoidance of race? “I think it doesn’t make for good politics,” Color of Change executive director Rashad Robinson says. “It’s messy and requires us to be deep and think about much bigger and more long-term solutions than Washington’s oftentimes willing to deal with.” But when taking about employment and home ownership it is hard to keep out the issue of race.

A recently study from Brandeis University found that the disparities in homeownership are a major driver of the racial wealth gap especially due to “redlining, discriminatory mortgage-lending practices and lack of access to credit.

And for those black families who finally owned homes, the Great Recession reversed the advancements, many losing their homes in foreclosure.

And when it comes to employment, black unemployment is still twice as high as white unemployment—a ratio that has been solid since the mid-1950s.

“The underlying narrative that many people share is that whatever inequities still exist, they’re due to the misbehavior or dysfunctional behavior of black folks themselves,” said William Darity Jr., the director of Duke University’s Consortium on Social Equity. “So there’s no reason to pay attention to racial disparities because one doesn’t believe they’re still significant, or there’s no need for public policy action by the government because it’s just a question of black folks changing their own behaviors.”

Even Obama often likes to stress personal responsibility when addressing the black community. His new “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative emphasizes it in its effort to help young men of color.

Darity argues that self-perpetuating inequality will only be broken through wealth transfers.

“People’s behaviors are largely shaped by the resources they possess, and if their resources altered, than they might change their behaviors,” he said.