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Poverty rising in Chicago

Nearly 1 in 4 Chicagoans, totalling over 636,000 people, lived below the federal poverty level in last year, according to the Census Bureau’s newly released community survey — indicating an anemic recovery and city economic development policies which have failed to target living-wage jobs for neighborhood residents.

The number represents an increase of over 6,500 Chicagoans in poverty over last year’s survey.

The Illinois Hunger Coalition cited the figures to argue that Congress should reject cuts to nutrition assistance now under consideration in the House of Representatives.

“Hunger and poverty rates spiked at the beginning of the recession and have stayed high ever since,” said Diane Doherty of IHC.  “Given the economic struggles that continue to persist in this state, it is outrageous that Congress is even debating cuts to SNAP,” said Diane Doherty of IHC.

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Don’t fear 15

With fast-food and retailer workers striking in 58 cities Thursday — a dramatic increase over the seven cities where similar actions took place last month — calling for a $15-an-hour wage, here’s an interesting historical note:

Fifty years ago, when Martin Luther King spoke at the March on Washington, one of the demands was a minimum wage increase from $1.15 to $2 an hour.  That would be just over $15 in today’s dollars.

In case we’re tempted to get carried away with this “dream,” the Chicago Tribune offers us University of Chicago economist Allen Sanderson’s advice: “Don’t fight for 15.”

All in all, it’s a pretty thorough demonstration of how far the dismal science can stray from any connection with reality.

First of all, he warns that if workers become too expensive, they risk being replaced by automation.  In fact, though, it’s really hard to imagine how much more automated McDonald’s could be.   Or to picture computerized checkouts at Macy’s.

He suggests higher wages would mean even higher unemployment rates for minority teens.  That might be a factor if there were a better job market for older people, but there isn’t — especially with an economy that is quickly replacing middle-class jobs with low-wage ones.

More than half of new jobs are in low-wage retail and hospitality sectors, according to the Chicago Political Economy Group.  And the number of college graduates earning minimum wage is steadily growing.

In fact the surge in youth unemployment came before the 2008 crash, while the economy was growing (not very fast), as federal funding for youth jobs was eliminated.  As we noted at the time, it was the first economic recovery in which youth unempoyment increased.  That was without a minimum wage hike, too.

Really poor?

Sanderson then looks into the “claim” that “one can’t live on $8.25 an hour and that someone working full-time would be in poverty.”  Not true at all, he says — a full-time minimum wage worker earns $16,500 a year, a generous $1,000 above the federal poverty level for a two-person household.

Of course, if the full-time worker had two kids rather than one, the family would be at about 20 percent below the poverty level.  Which is not exactly quibbling.

But the reality is that only about one-third of minimum wage workers have full-time jobs.  That’s one of the reasons fast-food workers want a union — so they can negotiate over things like scheduling.

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Disability and poverty

Disability accounts for poverty in far more cases than we commonly realize — and people have a greater chance of experiencing disability, too, according to a new report (pdf) from the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

About half of working-age adults who experience poverty have a disability; of those who are poor for at least three years, two-thirds are disabled. 

Food shortages, evictions, utility shutoffs, skipping medical care — all are more common for people with disabilities.

The report also finds that male household heads in their mid-50s have a 53 percent chance of having been disabled and a 19 percent chance of chronic and severe disability.

“These new findings show that any serious attempt at an agenda to reduce income poverty must take disability into account as both a cause and consequence of poverty,” said author Shawn Fremstad.  Health insurance, paid sick days and sick leave, and modernization of Social Security disability are of particular importance, Fremstad said.

Not far above people with disabilities are people who care for people with disabilities, who are among the lowest-paid workers.

Poor folks and climate change

“The effects of climate change will hit low-income communities first and hardest,” writes Dan Lesser at the Shriver Brief.  And while climate change policy could stimulate the economy and create green jobs, its costs could also fall on low-income folks, he says.

The Shriver National Center on Poverty Law is planning a symposium on climate change policy and low-income communities in Chicago on September 30.

Ideas for Obama

President-elect Barack Obama faces tremendous challenges, and local advocates and organizers — many of whom have worked with Obama over the years — offer a range of ideas on how to make the bailout work, address the foreclosure crisis, target economic stimulus to jobs and better transportation, and move forward on immigration, education, media reform and campaign financing.

In addition, some express concern over the prospect of administration positions for local establishment figures Rahm Emanuel, Valerie Jarrett and Arne Duncan.

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Green Jobs Now

Chicagoans from Altgeld Gardens to the North Park Village Nature Center will participate in a national day of action for Green Jobs Now on Saturday, September 27, part of some 500 events with tens of thousands of people nationally urging the government to invest in green jobs and clean energy as a solution to poverty and climate change.

At our Lady of the Gardens School, 13300 S. Langley in the Altgeld Gardens neighborhood, Blacks In Green is sponsoring an event from noon to 3 p.m. with a range of cultural activities — and farmers from Pembroke Farmers Cooperative in Hopkins Park showing horses and livestock and talking about the need for agricultural jobs in the regional food system.

At the Chicago Center for Green Technology, 445 N. Sacramento, the Chicagoland Green Collar Jobs Initiative is sponsoring tours of green buildings and workshops on green trades geared to students in job training programs as well as construction and manufacturing workers. (Tours of the green industrial park Rancho Verde, 2900 W. Ferdinand, take place at 11 and 11:30 a.m., and tours of the Green Center take place at 1:30 and 2:30 p.m., with workshops in between.)

Greencorps students will work on installing a rain garden at the North Park Village Nature Center, 5801 N. Pulaski (all day), and the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance and Bright Leadership Institute will have an informational booth with Green Jobs Now petitions at the Conservatory’s annual perennials exchanage, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., 300 N. Central Park.

One goal of the day is to put major federal investment in the emerging green economy on the agenda for the first 100 days of the new administration, said Naomi Davis of BIG — regardless of new budget constraints on the government.

“Just look at the subsidies big oil is getting,” Davis said. “That’s enough money to fund the reinvention of this country with a green economy. Why should [oil companies] continue to be subsidized when they’re the centerpiece of the problem?” (They’re also enjoying windfall profits.)

It’s about jobs, energy security, and a lower-cost energy system, said Kindy Kruller of Chicagoland Green Collar Jobs Initiative.

“We can’t drill and burn our way to prosperity. We can and must invent and invest our way there,” said Van Jones, founder and president of Green For All, sponsor of the national effort.

“Right now, there are millions of people ready to work and countless jobs to be done that will strengthen our economy at home,” Jones said. “There are thousands of buildings that need to be weatherized, solar panels to be installed, and wind turbines to be erected. There are communities that need local and sustainable food and people ready to farm the crops. There are public transit systems and smart electricity grids in need of engineers and electricians.

“Americans are ready to build the new economy. It’s time to invest in saving the planet and the people. It’s time for green jobs now.”

Another goal is “letting communities know there are jobs, careers and enterprises in the new green economy,” Davis said.

“All these markets are emerging, and the question is how do we start driving them?” said Kruller. “We especially need more diverse energy and transportation systems.” There are roles for business, consumers, and government, she said.

The Chicagoland Green Collar Jobs Initiative focuses on green workforce development. BIG has ambitious visions around “green village building.” They’ve promoted Kennedy King College as a “green hub” for green trades and business education, and are working with the Chicago/Calumet Underground Railroad Effort to envision a green village (encompassing Altgeld Gardens and parts of Roseland) based around a living heritage farm museum at the site of the Jan Ton farm on the Little Calumet River. The farm was a station in the Underground Railroad before the Civil War.

Located central to a five-state network network of hiking and biking trails, a green village and heritage center could be a cultural and eco-tourist destination, Davis said.

She emphasizes the symbolism of the Underground Railroad for today’s activists. “It was an outrageous vision — the abolition of slavery — it was impossible, it was illegal.” And the Underground Railroad brought people together across racial and cultural boundaries — “the same as the new green economy has to do.”

“We need to draw on the spirit of our ancestors and this great American story,” Davis said. “This is a time when such great things are possible.”


Shriver Center launches blog

The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law has launched a new blog — John Boumann cites a new study showing that 22,000 people died in 2006 because they didn’t have health coverage, to urge action on health care; other entries discuss Congress’s failure to pass meaningful legislation on the foreclosure crisis, Bush administration efforts to undermine family and medical leave, cultivating new anti-poverty leadership — and using your tax refund to “recession-proof your house.”

CRS, Herbert, Wright

Today New York Times columnist Bob Herbert writes that Rev. Jeremiah Wright is bad news for racial reconciliation in America (and for the presidential candidacy of Wright’s most prominent parishioner). 

 Tomorrow Herbert speaks at the 125th anniversary luncheon of the Community Renewal Society, the local civil rights project founded and supported by Wright’s denomination, the United Church of Christ — Wednesday, April 30, 12 noon at the Fairmont Hotel, 200 N. Columbus.  Herbert will give the keynote, speaking on “Poverty Beyond the Bush Years.”

PS – Monroe Anderson has a different view of Wright’s reemergence.

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