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Quick Read - Economic Justice

Young Adults Reluctant to Enroll in the Affordable Care Act

California is the facing a new challenge: getting young adults to enroll in the Affordable Care Act.  More than 2 million Californians, ages 19 to 34, are uninsured. Getting these individuals enrolled is crucial to balancing the cost of older, sicker patients. The state is developing media strategies to specifically target young adults and encourage to them buy insurance. The Los Angeles Times reports:

The success of the healthcare law "depends on reaching everyone who is uninsured, but particularly young people who may feel like they don't need insurance," said Larry Levitt, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Read more here.

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Half of Americans Below or Near Poverty Line

Although the Census Bureau has reported that 15 percent of Americans live in poverty, when assets and wages are factored in half of Americans are below or near poverty line. Alternet has compiled a list of five reasons poverty affects so many Americans.

1. Almost half of Americans had NO assets in 2009 - In 2009 47% of Americans had more debt than assets.

2. It’s Even Worse 3 Years Later - An OECD report states that “inequality has increased by more over the past three years to the end of 2010 than in the previous twelve,” with the U.S. experiencing one of the widest gaps among OECD countries.

3. Based on wage figures, half of Americans are in or near poverty - The highest wage in the bottom half of earners is about $34,000. To be eligible for food assistance, a family can earn up to about $30,000 for a family of four.

4. Based on household expense totals, poverty is creeping into the top half of America - After taxes and expenses, a family making $60,000 a year is left with nothing except debt.

5. Putting it in Perspective -  While food support was being targeted for cuts, just 20 rich Americans made as much from their 2012 investments as the entire  2012 SNAP (food assistance) budget, which serves 47 million people.

Read more here.

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U.S. Unemployment Claims at Highest Level in 6 Weeks

A week after reaching a five-year low, Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose by 32,000. This is the highest level in six weeks. Although the job market has improved in the lat six months, unemployment applications continue to fluctuate each week. The Associated Press reports:

"The underlying story in jobless claims continues to be one of gradual improvement," said Julia Coronado, an economist at BNP Paribas. Coronado said the small rise in applications "highlight(s) the need to take volatile weekly readings with a grain of salt."

Read more here.

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Senate Committee Passes $500 Billion Farm Bill

Tuesday the Senate Agriculture Committee passed a new five-year farm bill. The bill cuts subsidy payments and the food stamp program while expanding crop insurance. The Senate bill will reduce spending by $24 billion over 10 years. The bill passed 15-5 in committee with a full Senate vote expected later this month. USA Today reports:

The farm bill passed on Tuesday eliminates $17 billion in farm subsidies, $5 billion a year in direct payments given to farmers regardless of need and reduces $4 billion from conservation programs largely through consolidation. Spending for food stamp programs, used by 48 million Americans, also would be cut by $4 billion.

Read more here.

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Ending Extreme Poverty in Three Charts

The Brookings Institute recenlty released a report about the prospects of ending extreme poverty (living on less than $1.25 a day) by 2030. The study found economic progress of a country and income equality as two determining factors in reducing poverty. The Washington Post reports:

A few things will have to happen for the poverty reduction goal to be hit...India will have to up its game on both economic growth and the distribution of the benefits. As this chart shows, China has mostly run its leg of the relay – with economic growth that has lifted hundreds of millions from poverty and, almost on its own, put the world on trend to reach Kim’s goal.

View interactive charts here.

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New Farm Bill Leans on Food Stamps

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas has proposed a new farm bill that saves $38 billion over 10 years. However the bill saves money by cutting funding to food stamps. Politico reports:

But in real dollars — and as a proportion of his entire package — Lucas admits he is leaning more on food stamps. Last year the nutrition title contributed about $16.1 billion in savings, or less than half of the chairman’s mark. This year it is not just up by $4 billion, but also accounts for 53 percent of the Farm Bill savings and almost 60 percent of the new cuts — beyond those attributed to sequestration.

Read more here.

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Workers Die in Building Collapse

Last Tuesday, a building in Dhaka, Bangladesh that housed five garment factories collapsed, resulting in more than 400 deaths and 2,500 injuries. Estimates are that possibly hundreds more are still missing. Cracks had appeared in the buildings walls the day before and polices ordered it evacuated. Factory managers, however, ordered workers to return. The factories primarily produced cheap clothing for western markets.

Protest rallies have been held this week in Bangladesh. Today, May Day, a procession demanded safe working conditions and the death penalty for the building’s owner, currently under arrest.

The Associated Press reported that Pope Francis commented on the tragedy in his Mass for the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker:

“At the Vatican, Pope Francis said he was shocked by a headline about the building collapse that said some of the workers were living on 38 euros [$50] a month. "This was the payment of these people who have died ... and this is called `slave labor,'" he said. Vatican Radio said the pope made the remarks during a private Mass at the Vatican.”

Read the Associated Press report.

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More Than 100 Million Women Lead Migrant Workers Worldwide

If migrants and refugees worldwide were their own country, it would be the fifth most populous in the world today. Increasingly, it is women who are leaving their homes and families to seek work to support their families economically. They are the heads of households. They are the primary "breadwinners" for their extended families. They are also more vulnerable to sexual exploitation. The United Nations Population Fund recently hosted a week-long meeting to study the more than 100 million women who are migrant workers. IPS reports:

The face of migration is changing dramatically as women and girls now represent about half of the over 214 million migrants worldwide. And in some regions of the world, they outnumber their male counterparts, says Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA). Addressing a week-long meeting of the 46th session of the U.N. Commission on Population and Development (CPD), which concluded Friday, he pointed out that many women migrate on their own as heads of households, to secure a livelihood.“Others leave their homes in search of more open societies, to get out of a bad marriage, or to escape all forms of discrimination and gender-based violence, political conflicts, and cultural constraints.”

Read more here.

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Obama Administration Simplifies Health Care Form

The first draft of form was confusing and complex so the Obama administration has created a simplified application for healthcare. The Associated Press reports:

Details to be released Tuesday include a three-page short form that single people can fill out, administration officials said. Medicare chief Marilyn Tavenner, also overseeing the rollout of the health care law, called it "significantly shorter than industry standards."

Read more here.

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USDA Expands SNAP Access at Farmers Markets

Today a $4 million plan was announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The plan will increase the use of federal food credits at farmers markets by allowing retailers to use wireless technology to connect sellers with the SNAP program. The Washington Post reports:

“These grants increase the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables to SNAP customers and further encourage them to purchase and prepare healthy foods for their families using SNAP benefits,” said Agriculture Undersecretary Kevin Concannon.

Read more here.

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Wealth Gap Among Races Widened Since Recession

Annie Lowrey reporter for the New York Times, writes about a new study released by the Urban Institute. The study found:

"The racial wealth gap yawned during the recession, even as the income gap between white Americans and nonwhite Americans remained stable. As of 2010, white families, on average, earned about $2 for every $1 that black and Hispanic families earned, a ratio that has remained roughly constant for the last 30 years."

However the wealth gap continues to grow.

"Before the recession, non-Hispanic white families, on average, were about four times as wealthy as nonwhite families, according to the Urban Institute’s analysis of Federal Reserve data. By 2010, whites were about six times as wealthy"

Read more here.

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The Church Defends Amazon Environment, Threatened by Market Interests

The Ecclesial Network for the Amazon, a Catholic church network representing 12 Latin American countries, met recently in Puyo, Pastaza, Ecuador, challenging unrestrained market forces that are decimating the Amazonian ecosystem. The Network has been established to provide on-the-ground facts about Amazonia's environment, indigenous communities, and to strengthen the church in the region. Agenzia Fides reports:

"Many people still think that there is an unlimited amount of energy and resources that can be used, and that the negative effects of the wild manipulation of nature can be easily absorbed. But this is totally false." Such attitudes, Catholic Bishop Julio Parrilla continued, "are not rooted in science or technology, but in a technocratic ideology that serves the interests of the market." The Bishop concluded by reiterating "the influence of secularization, because when man turns away from God, he falls into the temptation of thinking that everything is permitted, in order to meet one’s immediate needs and desires."

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Sequester Cuts Hit Communities

The effects of the federal funding sequester are beginning to hit, and it’s not a pretty picture. Amanda Terkel and Sam Stein at Huffington Post write that while the damage is being downplayed, it is very real and painful.

“Organizations and companies have begun laying off workers, while many more have decided not to staff vacant positions. Schools on military bases are contemplating four-day weekly schedules. Food pantries have closed, as have centers that provide health services. Farmers have been forced to go without milk production information, causing alarm in the dairy industry and the potential of higher milk prices. Workers at missile-testing fields are facing job losses. Federal courts have closed on Fridays. Public Broadcasting transmitters have been shut down.”

They go on to list 100 specific stories from the past week of cuts that are taking place across the country. It’s a broad swath effecting many thousands of people. And the longer it goes on, the worse it will become.

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15 Things You Need to Know About the Sequester

If you haven’t been paying close attention, or are still confused by the “sequester” heading for us like a runway train, veteran Capitol Hill reporter Steven T. Dennis offers “15 Things You Need to Know About the Sequester.”  He calls it “things you need to know about how the sequester came to be, how it will be implemented, and the choices lawmakers face as they seek to avert it.” It’s a helpful guide thrugh the maze.

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Inequality and Recovery

Economist Joseph Stiglitz contends that the growing inequality in the U.S. makes an economic recovery more difficult and is leading to the death of the American dream.

“Politicians typically talk about rising inequality and the sluggish recovery as separate phenomena, when they are in fact intertwined. Inequality stifles, restrains and holds back our growth. When even the free-market-oriented magazine The Economist argues — as it did in a special feature in October — that the magnitude and nature of the country’s inequality represent a serious threat to America, we should know that something has gone horribly wrong. And yet, after four decades of widening inequality and the greatest economic downturn since the Depression, we haven’t done anything about it.”

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