On Monday, Angus Deaton, a British-American economist and professor at Princeton University, won the 2015 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics for his work on “consumption, poverty, and welfare.” As that description might suggest, Deaton’s academic interests are quite vast. His areas of research include “poverty in the world and in India,” “health status and economics,” and “household surveys.” His list of papers and publications is similarly extensive.
In addition to all that, Deaton has also focused a good deal on income inequality. The topic has appeared in both the biannual “Letter from America” he pens for the Royal Economic Society’s Newsletter and, more prominently, in his book on 250 years of income inequality, The Great Escape. (A book which, incidentally, was released in October 2013, several months before the English-language version of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century). In his April 2014 letter, for example, Deaton pointed out how the United States appeared to have suddenly “rediscovered” income inequality following decades of stagnant median wages and dramatic wealth accumulation at the very top. “There are many unfamiliar things in a new country,” he wrote, “and one of the most immediate, for me, when I first came to America, was the lack of interest in inequality, among either academics or the general public.” And:
In politics too, income inequality had little traction. Americans, unlike the British, are not interested in or disturbed by stories of ‘fat cats’, indeed they rather approve of them. Attempts by Democratic politicians to talk about inequality or redistribution were effectively met by cries of ‘class warfare’ from the Republicans. Americans, we were told, believed in the American Dream, that everyone could get rich if they tried hard enough. It was equality of opportunity that was important, not inequality of outcomes, and America, so the story went, was the land of opportunity.
As for what such newly rediscovered gaps in equality might mean, The Great Divideoffers the following commentary (via Cardiff Garcia):
Climate change is unfair. While rich countries can fight against rising oceans and dying farm fields, poor people around the world are already having their lives upended — and their human rights threatened — by killer storms, starvation and the loss of their own lands. Mary Robinson asks us to join the movement for worldwide climate justice.
As a global community, we all want to end poverty. Mia Birdsong suggests a great place to start: Let’s honor the skills, drive and initiative that poor people bring to the struggle every day. She asks us to look again at people in poverty: They may be broke — but they’re not broken.
The VICE News Capsule is a news roundup that looks beyond the headlines. Today: Nigeria’s most populous city has a housing problem, Indian veterans continue their hunger strike, prominent Iranians support the nuclear deal, and dog is man’s newest ally in the fight against cancer.
Lagos Residents Build Homes in Garbage Dumps
A lack of affordable housing has pushed some people into the landfills.
Army Veterans on Hunger Strike Over Pension Plan
Three ex-servicemen protest the government’s delay in starting a new retirement program.
Prominent Activists Launch Campaign Supporting Nuclear Deal`More than 40 high-profile Iranians have posted videos on YouTube and Facebook.
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Canines have three hundred million sensory receptors compared with five million in humans.
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Coates objects to the cliché that blacks have to be “twice as good.” It’s closer to the truth that they, like all Americans, are in a much better position to succeed if they honor certain basic norms: graduate from high school; get a full-time job; don’t have a child before age 21 and get married before childbearing. Among the people who do these things, according to the research of Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution, about 75 percent attain the middle class, broadly defined.
Conservatives like Rick Santorum have taken to using this factoid as definitive proof that structural factors behind poverty don’t matter, that people can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and government action to help marginalized people is unnecessary. It does not prove that at all. If anything, it’s a useful reminder of the fact that poverty is mainly a problem of systemic failure, not personal failure.
The stat comes from a 2009 book by Haskins and Sawhill called Creating an Opportunity Society. Haskins and Sawhill analyzed income data from 2007 and broke down households based on whether the head of household followed three norms:
- They work full-time.
- They graduated high school.
- They waited until they were married and at least 21 to have a child.
They found that only 2 percent of persons in families that followed all three norms were poor, whereas 76 percent of persons in families that followed none were poor, and 73.8 percent of those who followed all three were at least middle-class:
From Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine. From Jacksonville to Juneau. No matter where you look, there isn’t enough affordable housing.
Without exception, there is no county in the U.S. that has enough affordable housing. The crisis is national and it is growing. Since 2000, rents across the nation have increased. So has the number of of families who desperately need affordable housing.
New research from the Urban Institute shows that the supply of housing for extremely low-income families, which was already in short supply, is only declining. In 2013, just 28 of every 100 extremely low-income families could afford their rental homes. Than figure is down from 37 of 100 in 2000—a 25 percent decline over a little more than a decade.
Using data from the Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, researchers built an interactive map to illustrate the nationwide reach of the problem. In no county in the U.S. does the supply of affordable housing meet the demand among extremely low-income households. (Families who made no more than 30 percent of an area’s median household income were considered “extremely low income.”)
In Travis County, Texas, for example, the extremely low-income cutoff for a family of four is $21,950. There are about 7,000 safe, affordable rental units to meet the needs of these poor Austin families. But there are more than 48,000 extremely low-income families living there.
The Urban Institute’s research shows how the number of extremely low-income households around the nation has grown since 2000. At the same time, federal housing-assistance programs have grown, but not nearly enough to keep up with need. The difference in the availability of affordable housing between 2000 and 2013 is immediately apparent from the maps, especially in states in the South (namely Alabama, Kentucky, and South Carolina), the Midwest (Ohio and Illinois), and the West (Nevada).
Strike federal support from the map—as many members of Congress might like to do—and the picture grows considerably bleaker. Extremely low-income households increasingly rely on assistance from HUD: More than 80 percent of affordable rental homes for extremely low-income families are provided through assistance from HUD. (This figure is surging: It was 57 percent of households in 2000.)
The Urban Institute’s interactive map shows just what a dire situation the nation would face without federal housing assistance. In Pulaski County, Arkansas, for example, some 15,000 families met the criteria for extremely low income in 2013 (earning no more than $18,650 for a family of four). Without federal assistance, none of these poor families in Little Rock would have access to affordable housing: zero. As it stands, only 24 extremely low-income families out of every 100 can find safe, affordable rental housing in Little Rock.