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Quick Read - Economic Justice

Extending the Debt Ceiling.

New reports this afternoon are that House Republicans have agreed to vote next week on extending the debt ceiling for about three months, giving time for passage of a budget. The agreement would not require immediate spending cuts, a retreat from the previous GOP position. Democrats so far have responded cautiously to the plan for a short-term increase.

According to the Washington Post:

“House Republicans will scale back their ambitions in an upcoming fight over the nation’s borrowing limit, saying Friday that they will try to pass a bill next week to raise the debt ceiling for three months. But they indicated that the Senate must pass a budget before the lawmakers would agree to a longer-term increase in the limit.

“Under a bill to be considered next week, members will propose raising the debt ceiling through mid-April -- long enough, they say, to give both chambers time to pass a budget. Under the measure, if either chamber fails to adopt a budget by April 15, Congress would not be paid.”

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The Poor Still Can't Breathe Easy Post–Fiscal Cliff

The Nation reports that the fiscal cliff deal is a "mixed bag" for the poor. On the positive side:

The biggest takeaway, perhaps, was for the unemployed: they saw a one-year extension in federal unemployment benefits. Another very important piece of the deal was a five-year extension of crucial tax breaks: the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit and the American Opportunity Tax Credit.

On the negative side:

The payroll tax holiday was allowed to expire. The double whammy of trying to get Congress to raise the debt ceiling while also trying to keep it from torching the social safety net does not bode well for the poor.

Read more here.

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Homeless Rate Remains Steady

The Huffington Post reports:

A vigorous effort to house the homeless has been countered somewhat by a sluggish economy.

The federal government and local communities have greatly increased the number of beds available to the homeless over the last four years, either through emergency shelters or through government-subsidized apartments and houses. But the struggling economy contributed to the number of homeless people in the United States remaining stable between January 2011 and January 2012.

Read more here.

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Effective Sweat-Equity Rural Housing at Risk

A low-cost, highly successful rural housing self-help program is at risk from both sides of the aisle. A year ago, the Sojourners article Seven Ways Home described:

 the “mutual self-help” model, where families in rural America first qualify for a mortgage, then partner with seven to 11 other families who will all build their homes together.

The model first gained prominence in the Central Valley of California in the 1960s through the work of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). The Quaker group had listened to the housing dreams of migrant farm workers, many of whom lived in squalid conditions—30 families might share one rusty faucet. In response, AFSC offered the mutual self-help model: Families would work together to build their homes, with no one moving in until all the homes were completed. This built community as well as housing. The success of this model inspired the formation of Self-Help Enterprises, based in Visalia, California, which has helped more than 5,000 families build homes. The model has been so successful that today some self-help housing is sponsored by the USDA’s Rural Development program.

Now, the Daily Yonder reports that the program is under threat:

Self-Help Housing is unique among the panoply of federal programs. Under it, nonprofit housing developers provide training, technical assistance and close supervision to small teams of future owners who build their own homes. Each family invests roughly 1,200 hours, creating what's known as "sweat equity." Construction professionals do the rest. 502 direct loans finance the debt. 

The average annual income of participant families is $27,000. Most are minorities. Their repayment record is better than higher income families.

The key to this success story is the assistance provided to participant families by nonprofits. But instead of increasing funding — or at least holding funding level — the Obama administration’s FY 2013 budget reduces funding for these groups by two thirds.. 

The House version cuts this program by half.

This classic, highly effective pairing of citizen initiative with governement aid shouldn't be undermined by short-sighted cuts.

Elizabeth Palmberg is an associate editor of Sojourners magazine.

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Income Inequality Has Risen In Nearly Every State Over The Last Three Decades

Think Progress reports:

Income inequality has grown in nearly every state in the country over the last three decades and continues to climb across the nation, according to new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute.

While a slow recovery from the Great Recession for middle- and low-income families has exacerbated income inequality in the short-term, government policies that are preferential to the wealthy and the long-term stagnation of wages have caused significant growth in the gap between the wealthiest 20 percent of Americans and the poorest fifth, the report found. Across the country, the richest 20 percent make eight times more than the average income of the bottom 20 percent, a ratio that didn’t exist in a single state 30 years ago:

In the United States as a whole, the poorest fifth of households had an average income of $20,510, while the top fifth had an average income of $164,490 — eight times as much. In 15 states, this top-to-bottom ratio exceeded 8.0. In the late 1970s, in contrast, no state had a top-to-bottom ratio exceeding 8.0.

Read more here.

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Church and State for the Homeless

Christianity Today reports:

When Kimberly Banks unexpectedly lost her job in 2006 and her job search stretched from weeks to months, she became despondent. Living in a Denver motel, she would frequently wake at 3 A.M. and cry out to God in prayer as her two sons slept soundly nearby. "I was always a woman who said I can take care of my own. There were some nights that I didn't want to keep living because I felt like less than a mother, like my kids were better off somewhere else," Banks recalls. "I didn't know what to do."

But getting involved with Denver's innovative Family and Senior Homeless Initiative (FSHI) changed all of that. Banks was matched with a mentoring team from a local church. They met regularly for financial counseling, support, and encouragement. The church paid the first month's deposit on an apartment and helped her furnish it.

 

Read more here.

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Politicians Ignore the Working Poor at Their Peril

Eric Sapp writes for The Huffington Post:

In recent years, there has been a trend in politics away from any mention of the poor. Republicans never really paid them any mind, but Democrats have been convinced they should not make any mention of the poor, and instead, focus exclusively on the middle class. The decision to stop talking about the poor was, for Democrats, based on polling data. Pollsters have tested traditional progressive language about the "poor, vulnerable, and needy" and seen that voters don't have a very high opinion of those groups. Furthermore, polling shows that most voters want to self-identify as "middle class."

Because of all of this, many Democrats have reached the conclusion that mentioning the poor or openly championing policies that explicitly benefit them is a political loser. This conclusion has very dangerous policy and strategic implications (especially with the looming sequestration debate) and will ultimately box Democratic leaders into a corner where they have no choice but to sacrifice programs that struggling American families depend on the most. Thankfully, in this case, we don't have to choose between doing what is right and what works politically.

Read more here.

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Educating Girls Reduces Poverty.

It’s been said before, but it’s worth saying again. One of the surest ways to reduce poverty is to provide an education for girls. Yet, as AFP reports, a new study shows there is still a long way to go.

“Millions of girls worldwide are condemned to lives of hardship because they don't go to school, an education gap that entrenches broader extreme poverty, a new report said. The report, "Because I am a Girl: The State of the World's Girls 2012," was released in New York by Plan International on the first International Day of the Girl organized by the United Nations.

"The estimated 75 million girls missing from classrooms across the world is a major violation of rights and a huge waste of young potential," the child poverty alleviation group said in launching the report.”

The full 200-page study is HERE.

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BREAKING: Jobless Rate Falls

The U.S. jobless rate fell to 7.8 percent in September, the lowest since January 2009, President Obama’s first month in office. The Associated Press reports:

“The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent last month, dropping below 8 percent for the first time in nearly four years. The rate declined because more people found work, a trend that could have an impact on undecided voters in the final month before the presidential election.

“The Labor Department said Friday that employers added 114,000 jobs in September. The economy also created 86,000 more jobs in July and August than first estimated. Wages rose in September and more people started looking for work.”

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BREAKING: Pa. Voter ID Law Blocked

A Commonwealth judge this morning blocked a Pennsylvania law requiring a photo ID to vote from being enforced in the upcoming election. The law was one of the most stringent in the country and has sparked a divisive political debate. AP reports:

“A judge on Tuesday blocked Pennsylvania's divisive voter identification requirement from going into effect before Election Day, delivering a hard-fought victory to Democrats who said it was a ploy to defeat President Barack Obama and other opponents who said it would prevent the elderly and minorities from voting.

“The decision by Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson on the law requiring each voter to show a valid photo ID could be appealed to the state Supreme Court.”

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Hungry in America

It’s the time of year when various government agencies release their reports for the previous year, in this case, 2011. The annual report on poverty is due from the Census Bureau next week, and, according to AP, early reports are that

“The ranks of America's poor are on track to climb to levels unseen in nearly half a century, erasing gains from the war on poverty in the 1960s amid a weak economy and fraying government safety net.”

This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its annual report on household food security. (If you want all the detailed statistical tables, here is the full report.) Not surprisingly, the results showed a growing number people in the U.S. going hungry. 17.9 million households (14.9 percent of households) were  “food insecure.” That means at some point during the year, those households did not have enough food due to lack of money. Of those, 6.8 million households (5.7 percent of households and one-third of all food-insecure households) had “very low food security.” That means at some point during the year, some household members went hungry. According to their answers on the survey, these folks reported that “the food they bought just did not last and they did not have money to get more,” and that “an adult had cut the size of meals or skipped meals because there was not enough money for food.”

It is hardly the time to reduce assistance to hungry families, but as McClatchy News noted,

“The survey data comes as congressional Republicans … push for massive cuts in food stamp-program funding to curb enrollment growth and to help balance the federal budget. The Democratic-controlled Senate also voted in June to cut food stamp funding, but by a smaller amount.”

Without programs such as SNAP (food stamps) school lunches, the Women, Infant and Children nutrition program; there would be many more food insecure families in America.

Here’s the data in a helpful infographic from McClatchy.

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Willing to Work, Where Are the Jobs?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its monthly employment report for August this morning. In the numbers that make the headlines, 96,000 jobs were added and the unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent – 12.5 million people. The numbers behind the headlines are mixed.

Across the major demographic groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (7.6 percent), adult women (7.3 percent), teenagers (24.6 percent), whites (7.2 percent), blacks (14.1 percent), and Hispanics (10.2 percent) showed little or no change. In the macro picture, 5 million people, 40 percent of those unemployed, are “long-term unemployed” (those jobless for 27 weeks or more.) 8 million people who are considered employed are referred to as “involuntary part-time workers,” meaning they are working part time because their hours have been cut or they are can’t find a full-time job.

 But it’s the people who aren’t even counted that give me pause. 2.6 million people are considered “marginally attached to the labor force,” meaning they want work, have looked for a job sometime in the past year, but didn’t look during August. So, they don’t count. Of these, 844,000 are “discouraged workers,” meaning they aren’t looking for work because they believe there are no jobs available for them. They also don’t count.

There is much this country needs and there are people available and willing to do the job. What is lacking is the will to put them to work.  

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Five Examples of Civil Disobedience to Remember

Ever since the global financial cabal drove the world's economies into a ditch, popular movements have been rising up to fight "austerity measures" that exact punishment on the poor and leave the rich untouched. This is a familiar biblical meme for the definition of injustice. The words of the prophet Jeremiah come to mind: "Your clothes are stained with the blood of the poor and innocent" (Jeremiah 2:34).

The Guardian's Richard Seymour writes:

"When Spanish mayor Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo recently led farmers on a supermarket sweep, raiding the local shops for food as part of a campaign against austerity, his political immunity as an elected assembly member protected him from arrest. He now asks other local mayors to ignore central government demands for budget cuts and refuse to implement evictions and lay-offs. In this era of austerity, such flagrant disrespect for the law ought to be encouraged. Sometimes, the greatest strength of popular movements is their capacity to disrupt. So here, for the benefit of imaginative indignados, are five examples of civil disobedience:
 
1. Salt March led by Gandhi
 
2. Extremadura Campaign, a peasan't land reform movement in Spain
 
3. Flying Pickets and Sit-Ins, labor movements in the United States
 
4. Dismantling unwanted enterprises, Jose Bove's anti-globalization movement in France
 
5. Poll Tax Non-Payment, anti poll tax mobilization in London in 1990s"
 
Read the whole article and see great photos here.
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Food Price Crisis Worse Than 2008 Predicted

The advocacy group Stop Gambling on Hunger reports world food prices are predicted to rise sharply in the coming months, due partly to speculation:

"The New England Complex Systems Institute, [which has] developed a quantitative model able to very closely predicted the FAO’s food price index, released a new report predicting sharply higher food prices due in part to excessive speculation.

"Their model, originally released in September 2011 matched the FAO’s index from 2004 to 2011. Since then it has continued to closely follow the real world numbers.

"Unfortunately, the model now predicts, 'another speculative bubble starting by the end of 2012 and causing food prices to rise even higher than recent peaks.'

"While the researchers acknowledge that the drought in the Midwest U.S. will cause prices to rise, their model shows that excessive speculative activity will have an even larger effect. Though some key financial reforms passed in 2010 may finally begin to be implemented in early 2013, that may be too late to avoid the coming price bubble."

Read the rest of the article here.

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Conflict Minerals Report Card

As conflict, rape, and other human rights abuses continue in eastern Congo, armed groups are still funding themselves with conflict minerals — gold, tin, tantalum, and tungsten — which are often used in the manufacture of cell phones, computers, and other electronics. Now advocacy group The Enough Project has issued a new report card about how well different corporations are doing at cleaning up their supply chain to avoid contributing to violence.

Some companies, such as Intel and HP, are doing much better than others — get an ethical clue, Nintendo! — but everyone has some room for improvement.

See the rankings here or take in the chart-at-a-glance here.

 

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