Rachel's Democracy & Health News #896
Thursday, March 1, 2007
From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #896 ..........[This story printer-friendly]
March 1, 2007
SOME IDEAS FOR A COMMON AGENDA
[The latest draft of this evolving paper is online with live links.]
[Rachel's introduction: Successful social movements inspire hope and create solidarity by adopting a set of core goals and understandings. As we work through the wrenching transformations needed to create a just and sustainable society, what ideas can help build the social movement we need?]
By Peter Montague and Carolyn Raffensperger
We could benefit if we had a few common ideas to guide our work. To provoke discussion about the elements of a common agenda, we have put together these initial thoughts. This draft is centered on the U.S. because it is the place we know best. The picture we sketch here contains elements that, to some, may seem remote from the traditional work of environmental protection, environment and health, or even public health. Perhaps few will be want to engage all aspects of this picture; nevertheless we hope there is some value in painting with broad strokes on a large canvas. Everything really is connected. Furthermore, we believe that people of good will, sharing a few common ideas and goals -- and willing to form surprising alliances -- can create a successful web of transformation.
First, we want to acknowledge some of our assumptions:
The Golden Rule
The wellspring of these ideas is a simple, universal ethic -- every culture and every religion endorses the Golden Rule [1, 2], which says, "Treat others the way you want to be treated." This tells us, first, to alleviate suffering. This, in turn, leads directly to human rights -- we all have a basic right to a life free of suffering, to the extent possible. The elements of such a life were laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the U.S. endorsed Dec. 10, 1948.
From the Golden Rule and the Universal Declaration: Justice
For us, the Golden Rule and the Universal Declaration together define justice. Justice is action that tends to manifest the Golden Rule and the Universal Declaration; injustice is action in another direction. It is unjust, unfair and therefore unacceptable to impose suffering on others or to stand by and allow suffering to go unnoticed or unchecked. It is unjust, unfair and unacceptable to deprive anyone of any human right as spelled out in 1948. Justice is not passive. Justice demands action, sometimes aggressive action, conflict, and struggle. Without justice, there can be no peace. We stand with Gandhi, advocating non-violent action.
In recent years, science has confirmed what people have always known: community is essential for human well-being. We humans evolved as social creatures[3, 4] who cannot thrive when separated from our circle of family, friends, acquaintances, and animal companions. Social isolation makes us sick and leads to an early death. This is one reason why racism and white privilege are profoundly wrong. At a minimum, they create social isolation, which leads to illness and suffering, and so they are unjust and unacceptable.
Furthermore, when we damage nature we diminish our own -- and everyone's -- possibilities for a life as free as possible of suffering. When we create havoc via global warming or damage to the Earth's protective ozone layer, or when we pave over fertile farmland, or exterminate the fish of the sea or the birds of the air, we diminish everyone's possibilities for securing life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (to quote the Declaration of Independence of 1776). This is unjust and unacceptable.
As Jeremy Bentham told us in 1789, animals too have a right to live a life free of suffering to the extent possible. As Bentham said, the question is not whether they can reason, or whether they can talk. Their right to live free from torment hinges on the question, can they suffer? Their suffering stands on a moral plane with ours.
However, we want to emphasize that humans are dependent upon all creatures, not just those that are sentient. Science now confirms the wisdom of indigenous peoples, that we are all interdependent, all humans, all species. We humans are part of, and are supported by, a biological platform of enormous complexity, which we cannot understand, but which we know with absolute certainty nourishes and sustains us. Even a child can see that, without it, we are lost.
Because rights and justice cannot be secured if our biological platform is shredded, we all have a right to intact natural and social environments -- environments that enable us to provide for ourselves the essentials of air, water, food, shelter and community, which we all require to prevent suffering.
The earth is our home and we have to take care of it, for the reason that we absolutely depend on it. To preserve our home without understanding all its billions of inter-related parts, we can aim to preserve every part of it. No part of creation can be presumed dispensable. We can say we know what's dispensable, but what if we're wrong? In recent years we humans came close to making the surface of the earth uninhabitable for humans because we failed to understand how CFC chemicals were damaging the ozone layer. It was a close call. Our ignorance is vast. As Albert Einstein reportedly said, "We still do not know one-thousandth of one percent of what nature has revealed to us."
Because the biological platform, upon which we all depend, cannot be secured unless we are free to take action to protect it, human rights and justice are essential requirements for human survival.
Good health is a fundamental right
What is health? What conditions are necessary for health?
Aldo Leopold defined health as the capacity for self-renewal. The preamble to the constitution of the World Health Organization (WHO, July 22, 1946), defines health as "a state of complete well- being, physical, social, and mental, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." The WHO's Ottawa Charter says, "The fundamental conditions and resources for health are: peace, shelter, education, food, income, a stable eco-system, sustainable resources, social justice, and equity."
The WHO constitution also defines health as a basic human right: "The enjoyment of the highest standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition." This is consistent with Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, which says,
"Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his/her family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care."
The right to health is crucial to all other human rights
Enjoyment of the human right to health is vital to all aspects of a person's life and well-being, and is crucial to the realization of all other fundamental human rights and freedoms.
Our health depends upon three environments:
1) The natural environment (air, water, soil, flora and fauna)
2) The built environment (roads, power plants, suburban sprawl, chemicals, etc.)
3) The all-important social environment (relationships of trust, mutual respect, and friendship but also poverty, racism and white privilege, sexism, homophobia, insecurity, the sense that life is out of control, and so on). The social environment creates what the United Nations calls "the social determinants of health." There is a very large body of literature indicating the importance of these determinants of a person's resilience in the face of stress.
All three environments are always intertwined in all "environmental" work and especially so in all "environment and health" work.
The basis of community and the economy is sharing the commons
The commons includes all the other things that we share together and that none of us owns or controls individually. The commons has been described as a river with three forks:
1. Nature, which includes air, water, DNA, photosynthesis, seeds, topsoil, airwaves, minerals, animals, plants, antibiotics, oceans, fisheries, aquifers, quiet, wetlands, forests, rivers, lakes, solar energy, wind energy... and so on;
2. Community: streets, playgrounds, the calendar, holidays, universities, libraries, museums, social insurance [e.g., social security], law, money, accounting standards, capital markets, political institutions, farmers' markets, flea markets, craigslist... etc.;
3. Culture: language, philosophy, religion, physics, chemistry, musical instruments, classical music, jazz, ballet, hip-hop, astronomy, electronics, the Internet, broadcast spectrum, medicine, biology, mathematics, open-source software... and so forth. Even the collective enterprise we call the "private sector" depends for its success upon the roads, the bridges, the water systems, the currency, the mercantile exchanges, the laws, the language, the knowledge, the understanding and the trust that all of us, and our ancestors, have built in common.
Government has three main purposes, which cannot be separated from each other
1) to guarantee the rights of the individual, as outlined in the Universal Declaration of 1948;
2) to ensure justice, and
3) to protect and restore the commons, holding them in trust for this generation and for those to come.
Prevention is essential
The 20th century has left us with an intractable legacy -- toxic and radioactive wastes, proliferating weapons, global warming, nearly two million citizens imprisoned, rising rates of childhood disease and chronic illness (e.g., asthma, attention deficits, autism, diabetes, Alzheimer's). We have learned the hard way that managing large problems such as these is prohibitively expensive. Therefore, our best hope is to create a culture of prevention -- to develop a habit of always doing our best to prevent problems before they occur, rather than paying to manage them afterward. This is the precautionary approach, and it lies at the heart of traditional public health practice.
Just as our great-grandparents made slavery unthinkable, our challenge is to make it unthinkable to finalize any large decision without examining the alternatives we face, asking who bears the burden of proof, and anticipating ways to prevent and minimize harm.
Our goal together can be to permanently alter the culture
We can aim to permanently alter the culture, not merely its laws, though laws can play an important part in both provoking and institutionalizing cultural transformation. Just as our forebears made slavery unthinkable, our goal together can be to make unsustainable life ways unthinkable.
Historically, in the U.S. and Europe, culture has been changed by social movements -- the first of them being the anti-slavery movement in England, 1787-1838. [See Adam Hochschild, Bury the Chains, ISBN 0618619070.] Therefore we believe that our goal of changing the culture can only succeed if it encourages, appeals to, and engages large numbers of people.
Accordingly, we believe a common agenda could be constructed from among the following ideas (plus others that we have not yet learned about):
I. Build a Multi-Issue, Multi-Racial, Multi-Ethnic Movement
1) We can make our work explicitly anti-racist. Because of European and U.S. history, it is essential that we take a strong position against racism and white privilege. This entails a relentless, ongoing effort to change the culture of the U.S. In addition to being a matter of simple justice, opposing racism is crucial politically because the New Deal coalition that governed the U.S. from 1940 to 1980 was divided and conquered using race as the wedge issue, beginning with Senator Goldwater's presidential platform opposing civil rights laws in 1964. If we ever hope to become politically influential in the U.S., we will need to build a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-issue coalition. Understanding and confronting white privilege will be essential in any such effort.
It is worth pointing out that the various movements for health and justice in the U.S., taken together, make up a numerical majority in the U.S. by at least two to one, and on many issues by far more than that. Therefore, the only way our adversaries can prevail is by dividing us. Race (and to a lesser extent class, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, and sexual orientation) has been the dividing wedge that our adversaries have used most effectively. (What are some other issues that our adversaries use to divide us? This seems worthy of considerable discussion.)
II. Reform the system for choosing candidates for public office
2) We can get private money out of elections. In principle, our republican democracy rests on the bedrock of "one person, one vote," not "one dollar, one vote." In the modern day, this means getting the mountains of private money out of elections, which in turn requires that elections be publicly financed so that every qualified individual is eligible to become a candidate for office, regardless of his or her personal wealth. (Various eligibility requirements have been proposed, such as the requirement that prospective candidates must gather a certain number of signatures to qualify as a candidate deserving of public financing.)
3) We can adopt the election system called instant runoff voting (IRV). In this system each voter ranks the candidates, 1, 2, 3, etc. If one candidate gets a clear majority of first-rank votes, he or she is declared the winner. However if no one candidate gets a clear majority of first-place votes, then the candidate with the least first-place votes (let's call this the "least popular candidate") is eliminated and his or her votes are re-distributed to the remaining candidates in the following way:
Each ballot that ranked the "least popular candidate" as No. 1 is examined and the second-place choice on those ballots is the candidate who receives that particular "least popular candidate" ballot. This process of elimination goes on until there is a clear winner holding a majority of ballots.
The system has many advantages over the current system and it is catching on across the U.S.
III. Protect the Commons
4) We can explicitly give all individuals the right to a safe and healthy environment. However, this alone will not suffice. We can also give these rights far higher priority than they have under current law, where they are presently trumped (for example) by the right to use one's property as one chooses for economic gain.
5) We can designate or elect guardians ad litem for future generations.
6) We can conduct annual audits of the commons (using consistent measures) with public reports supported by action plans for preservation, restoration, and prevention of harm.
7) We can establish a public interest research agenda that has as its first priority protecting and restoring the commons.
IV. Develop an Economy Whose Footprint is Not Growing, or is Even Shrinking
8) We can create an economy whose ecological footprint is not growing, or is even shrinking. Sustainability cannot be achieved without this bedrock idea, so it needs some elaboration and discussion.
A sustainable society is one in which the human economy provides the basics of a "good life" for everyone but the "footprint" of the economy never grows so large as to overwhelm the planet's natural ability to renew itself. As we will see, a sustainable society is also one in which justice and equity continuously pursued.
There are two parts to the "footprint" -- the number of people and their individual demands on the ecosystem.
Our current way of thinking and being in the world -- premised on perpetual growth of the human footprint -- is not sustainable. At present, the human footprint is simply too large for the planet to sustain, and the evidence is emerging all around us -- global warming; destruction of the ozone layer; decimation of marine fisheries; industrial poisons in breast milk; increasing rates of chronic disease (attention deficits; asthma, diabetes, some childhood cancers); accelerating extinction of species; and so on.
Because the total human footprint is unsustainably large, both human population and individual consumption must shrink. However, the only proven way to curb human population is to (a) achieve economic growth to escape the chains of poverty and (b) achieve freedom and opportunity for women. The evidence is that, once the chains of poverty are broken, and children are no longer the only available old- age insurance, then most women with prospects choose not to bear large numbers of children.
This implies that all societies need sufficient economic growth to escape poverty -- which implies the need for more roads, power plants, ports, and so on. However, given that the global human footprint is already unsustainably large, the need for growth in the global south requires footprint shrinkage in the global north. This, then, is the goal of forward-looking (precautionary) decision-making: to make choices that can shrink the footprint of the global North, to make room for growth in the global South, to end poverty and liberate women so they can choose small families.
An end to growth-as-we-know-it immediately raises the issue of a just distribution of available goods (and bads). In the traditional way of thinking (at least in the U.S.), poverty will be alleviated by economic growth -- the poor are promised that, as the pie grows, even their small piece of the pie will grow apace. They need only be patient. But if the size of the pie is going to remain constant, or perhaps even shrink in some dimensions, growth can no longer serve as the safety-valve for "solving" poverty. Now we must begin to ask, "What's a fair distribution of the pie?" Thus a sustainable society not only has a sustainable footprint, but it also will never abandon the active pursuit of justice and equity.
Therefore, we need an economy that can grow (in places where growth is needed today to eliminate poverty, for example in Africa) but is not required to grow as the present economy is required to do (so that "developed" nations can achieve a constant or shrinking footprint). By "growth" we mean growth in capital stock, or growth in "throughput of materials" ("stuff"). A steady-state economy will still be dynamic and innovative. What is needed is a constant (or shrinking) "footprint" for the human economy -- but within that footprint, technical and ethical innovation can be boundless.
One proposal envisions an economy based on competitive markets plus public ownership of productive facilities (factories, farms), renting them to producer co-ops, with investment capital raised by a flat tax on productive assets and distributed each year to all regions of the nation on a per-capita basis. (See David Schweickart, After Capitalism; ISBN 0742513009). No doubt there are other ways to achieve the steady-state economy -- all we know is that a steady-state economy (or an economy with a steady-state footprint) is essential. Perpetual growth on a finite planet is a certain recipe for a failed future.
Perhaps the nub of this issue is money lent at interest -- usury in the original meaning of the word. It is payment of interest on borrowed funds that creates the requirement for economic growth. So the question could be framed as, "How can a society provide interest- free investment funds to replace and modernize infrastructure as it decays?"
9) We can organize our economy around the concept of zero waste. The present one-way torrent of materials out of the ground for single-use (or nearly so), followed rapidly by re-entry into the ground, will be recognized as an unsustainable absurdity. In a sustainable economy, every product will be designed for repeated re-use and the cost of its reprocessing for re-use will be included in the original sale price. [See Paul Palmer, Getting to Zero Waste; ISBN 0-9769571-0-7]
10) We can guarantee full employment with decent wages to end poverty. The Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act of 1978 [P.L. 95-253] can serve as a model, with the added proviso that the federal government can serve as the employer of last resort. Everyone who wants to work has a right to a place in the shared enterprise.
V. Prevent Illness, Eliminate Health Disparities, Provide Universal Health Care
11) We can create a single-payer universal health care program, modeled on Canada's. This will be a health care program that seeks first to prevent illness and relies on "cures" only as secondary measures.
A central goal of any health system will be the elimination of health disparities -- including disparities based on race and ethnicity, gender, and geography.
Health disparities are a human rights violation because they indicate that someone has been deprived of their right to health; therefore health disparities are unacceptable and must be eliminated and prevented.
NACCHO (National Association of County and City Health Officials) has defined "health disparities" as "differences in populations' health status that are avoidable and can be changed. These differences can result from social and/or economic conditions, as well as public policy. Examples include situations whereby hazardous waste sites are located in poor communities, there is a lack of affordable housing, and there is limited or no access to transportation. These and other factors adversely affect population health."
VI. Make Decisions to Prevent Harm
12) We can adopt the precautionary principle to avoid trouble and prevent harm, rather than clean up messes.
VII. Expressing an Anti-Racist Intention
13) From its early beginnings, European society has been based on racist assumptions that have produced unacknowledged systems of white privilege. Racist ideology predates capitalism and has been fundamental to the creation of much of the modern world. The U.S. has been caught up in this mindset to an even greater degree than most European societies. The first step is to openly acknowledge the problem in its many dimensions.
14) Expressions of an explicit anti-racist intention are needed throughout the culture to counteract hundreds of years of silent violence against people of color. Anti-racism can be expressly practiced in the courts, the schools, our elections, the media, the churches, NGOs, in our funding priorities, our public health goals and practice, and on and on. Racism is not limited to individual acts of meanness, as much of the culture would have us believe. Racism is a largely-invisible, embedded system of privilege that gives white people unearned assets that they can count on cashing in each day, but about which they remain largely oblivious. As Peggy McIntosh has described it, "White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks." White privilege is difficult for some people to acknowledge because its pervasive nature means we do not, in fact, live in the meritocracy. The deck is stacked at birth by skin color.
VIII. Restoring Justice: A vision of the courts for the 21st century
15) We can develop a vision of the courts for the 21st century. Elements of this could include:
a. Eliminating racist outcomes from court proceedings, with a goal of vastly reducing the number of people in prison;
b. Ending the status of corporations as persons entitled to the same rights as individuals under the Constitution, to restore individual responsibility and accountability. The term "person" in the 14th amendment should not include corporations. The goal here is democratic control of the nature and behavior of corporations, as was the norm in the U.S. at an earlier time.
c. Reversing the burden of proof, giving the benefit of the doubt to ecosystems, to future generations, to the luckless and the downtrodden;
d. Taking seriously our commitment to future generations, to pass along to them undamaged the world we inherited from our forebears, and establishing our priorities in the courts to allow this to happen;
IX. Free Education for All
16) We can provide free education from pre-school through college. Investment in education -- whether Head Start or the GI Bill of Rights -- is an investment that demonstrably pays enormous dividends, generation after generation.
X. A Foreign Policy free of Imperialism or Colonialism
17) We can adopt a foreign policy that brings an end to imperialism and colonialism. Bretton Wood institutions can be abolished and new institutions of international finance invented. The aim of military dominance of the planet and of outer space can be discarded.
XI. Organize Society to Provide Time for Democratic Engagement
18) Society can be organized to give everyone time to participate in democratic decision-making. This will require a work-week shorter than 40 hours, living near the workplace to minimize travel time, and partners sharing child-rearing and household tasks. [See Gar Alperovitz, America Beyond Capitalism; ISBN 0471790028.]
19) Gender equity can be made a priority as a matter of fairness and justice, and because, for many people, having time for democratic participation depends on sharing child-rearing and household tasks with a partner. Furthermore, worldwide, gender equity accompanied by opportunity and education, is the only proven formula for limiting human population, as discussed above.
20) We can establish as a goal that everyone can walk to work, with incentives for city planners, urban developers and local decision- makers who meet this goal. This is important for personal health, for gender equity (couples must work near home if they are to share child- rearing and household tasks), and for democratic participation (time not wasted on commuting can become available for community engagement).
XII. The Future of These Ideas for a Common Agenda
21) This is just a beginning. Please contribute your ideas. Together all of us can be wiser and more successful than any of us alone.
 Einstein quoted in The Sun (June 2006), pg. 48.
 Peter Barnes, Capitalism 3.0 (San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler, 2006), pg. 5.
 Four books support this point with considerable historical detail:
1. Dan T. Carter, From George Wallace to Newt Gingrich: Race in the Conservative Counterrevolution, 1963-1994 (1996; ISBN 0-8071-2366-8).
2. Sara Diamond, Roads to Dominion; Right Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States (N.Y.: The Guilford Press, 1995); ISBN 0-89862-864-4.
3. Thomas and Mary Edsall's Chain Reaction; The Impact of Race, Rights and Taxes on American Politics (1992; ISBN 0-393-30903-7)
4. Jean Hardisty, Mobilizing Resentment (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999); ISBN 0-8070-4316-8).
From: Oakland (California) Tribune ........................[This story printer-friendly]
February 17, 2007
POLLUTION PLAGUES POOR, MINORITIES
[Rachel's introduction: The environmental justice movement emerged during the 1970s (some date it even earlier), an outgrowth of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. In the late 1990s, California passed laws making it clear that environmental injustices are unacceptable. But some patterns of exploitation are as American as apple pie and they persist tenaciously.]
By Douglas Fischer
Poor and minority residents in the [San Francisco] Bay Area breathe and live with far more than their share of industrial and traffic pollution, according to a first-ever analysis [5 Mbytes PDF] of the region's environmental disparities.
The stakes are high: Residents in neighborhoods closest to the pollution have higher lifetime cancer risks, greater rates of asthma and other breathing ailments and, typically, less access to health care.
"The patterns are clear and indisputable," said Manuel Pastor, professor and director of the Center for Justice, Tolerance and Community at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He co-authored the report.
"Communities of color face greater exposure to air pollution and toxics. They bear a disproportionate burden and face greater hazards and risks than others in the Bay Area."
The report, "Still Toxic After All These Years," [5 Mbytes PDF] was released Saturday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting in San Francisco.
It documents environmental disparity in the nine-county Bay Area by examining several key pollution databases and comparing that data with neighborhood demographics from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Among its findings:
** Two-thirds of residents living within one mile of a pollution source regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency -- refineries, power plants, factories and other large industrial polluters -- are minorities. But of those living 21/2 miles away or farther, two-thirds are white.
** Recent immigrants are nearly twice as likely to live within one mile of such a facility than they are to live 2 1/2 miles away.
** Given equal incomes, minorities are still more likely to live closer to pollution sources than whites.
"The report really confirms what many (minority) community residents have experienced for years," said Amy Cohen, campaign director for the Bay Area Environmental Health Collaborative, which helped sponsor the analysis.
"They know the pollution sources are closest to them. They know they live near the highways and the large (pollution) facilities."
And they bear the brunt of the grave consequences of living near such pollution.
Last month in the British medical journal The Lancet, UCLA researchers who had studied children over time reported that living near a freeway saddles children with a lifetime's worth of decreased lung capacity and function.
Rubye Sherrod sees the reality every day. The North Richmond community activist works with children afflicted with respiratory ailments, trying, as she says, "to keep the kids in school and not in the emergency room."
Some 60 percent of the children in her community carry an inhaler, she said.
"There are so many issues I don't know where to start," she said. "We're in the midst of all these refineries.... There are too many big rigs in these communities. There's just a lot of undesirable activity going on.
"There's been too much suffering for too many years," Sherrod added. "The people who can help haven't paid any attention to what's going on or simply don't care. I'm not sure."
Contact Douglas Fischer online at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (510) 208-6425.
From: Znet ...............................................[This story printer-friendly]
February 24, 2007
U.S. ECONOMY LEAVING RECORD NUMBERS IN SEVERE POVERTY
[Rachel's introduction: The percentage of poor Americans who are living in severe poverty has reached a 32-year high, millions of working Americans are falling closer to the poverty line and the gulf between the nation's "haves" and "have-nots" continues to widen.]
By Tony Pugh
WASHINGTON -- The percentage of poor Americans who are living in severe poverty has reached a 32-year high, millions of working Americans are falling closer to the poverty line and the gulf between the nation's "haves" and "have-nots" continues to widen.
A McClatchy Newspapers analysis of 2005 census figures, the latest available, found that nearly 16 million Americans are living in deep or severe poverty. A family of four with two children and an annual income of less than $9,903 -- half the federal poverty line -- was considered severely poor in 2005. So were individuals who made less than $5,080 a year.
The McClatchy analysis found that the number of severely poor Americans grew by 26 percent from 2000 to 2005. That's 56 percent faster than the overall poverty population grew in the same period. McClatchy's review also found statistically significant increases in the percentage of the population in severe poverty in 65 of 215 large U.S. counties, and similar increases in 28 states. The review also suggested that the rise in severely poor residents isn't confined to large urban counties but extends to suburban and rural areas.
The plight of the severely poor is a distressing sidebar to an unusual economic expansion. Worker productivity has increased dramatically since the brief recession of 2001, but wages and job growth have lagged behind. At the same time, the share of national income going to corporate profits has dwarfed the amount going to wages and salaries. That helps explain why the median household income of working-age families, adjusted for inflation, has fallen for five straight years.
These and other factors have helped push 43 percent of the nation's 37 million poor people into deep poverty -- the highest rate since at least 1975.
The share of poor Americans in deep poverty has climbed slowly but steadily over the last three decades. But since 2000, the number of severely poor has grown "more than any other segment of the population," according to a recent study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
"That was the exact opposite of what we anticipated when we began," said Dr. Steven Woolf of Virginia Commonwealth University, who co- authored the study. "We're not seeing as much moderate poverty as a proportion of the population. What we're seeing is a dramatic growth of severe poverty."
The growth spurt, which leveled off in 2005, in part reflects how hard it is for low-skilled workers to earn their way out of poverty in an unstable job market that favors skilled and educated workers. It also suggests that social programs aren't as effective as they once were at catching those who fall into economic despair.
About one in three severely poor people are under age 17, and nearly two out of three are female. Female- headed families with children account for a large share of the severely poor.
Nearly two out of three people (10.3 million) in severe poverty are white, but blacks (4.3 million) and Hispanics of any race (3.7 million) make up disproportionate shares. Blacks are nearly three times as likely as non-Hispanic whites to be in deep poverty, while Hispanics are roughly twice as likely.
Washington, D.C., the nation's capital, has a higher concentration of severely poor people -- 10.8 percent in 2005 -- than any of the 50 states, topping even hurricane-ravaged Mississippi and Louisiana, with 9.3 percent and 8.3 percent, respectively. Nearly six of 10 poor District residents are in extreme poverty.
'I DON'T ASK FOR NOTHING'
A few miles from the Capitol Building, 60-year-old John Treece pondered his life in deep poverty as he left a local food pantry with two bags of free groceries.
Plagued by arthritis, back problems and myriad ailments from years of manual labor, Treece has been unable to work full time for 15 years. He's tried unsuccessfully to get benefits from the Social Security Administration, which he said disputes his injuries and work history.
In 2006, an extremely poor individual earned less than $5,244 a year, according to federal poverty guidelines. Treece said he earned about that much in 2006 doing odd jobs.
Wearing shoes with holes, a tattered plaid jacket and a battered baseball cap, Treece lives hand-to-mouth in a $450-a-month room in a nondescript boarding house in a high-crime neighborhood. Thanks to food stamps, the food pantry and help from relatives, Treece said he never goes hungry. But toothpaste, soap, toilet paper and other items that require cash are tougher to come by.
"Sometimes it makes you want to do the wrong thing, you know," Treece said, referring to crime. "But I ain't a kid no more. I can't do no time. At this point, I ain't got a lotta years left."
Treece remains positive and humble despite his circumstances.
"I don't ask for nothing," he said. "I just thank the Lord for this day and ask that tomorrow be just as blessed."
Like Treece, many who did physical labor during their peak earning years have watched their job prospects dim as their bodies gave out.
David Jones, the president of the Community Service Society of New York City, an advocacy group for the poor, testified before the House Ways and Means Committee last month that he was shocked to discover how pervasive the problem was.
"You have this whole cohort of, particularly African- Americans of limited skills, men, who can't participate in the workforce because they don't have skills to do anything but heavy labor," he said.
'A PERMANENT UNDERCLASS'
Severe poverty is worst near the Mexican border and in some areas of the South, where 6.5 million severely poor residents are struggling to find work as manufacturing jobs in the textile, apparel and furniture- making industries disappear. The Midwestern Rust Belt and areas of the Northeast also have been hard hit as economic restructuring and foreign competition have forced numerous plant closings.
At the same time, low-skilled immigrants with impoverished family members are increasingly drawn to the South and Midwest to work in the meatpacking, food processing and agricultural industries.
These and other factors such as increased fluctuations in family incomes and illegal immigration have helped push 43 percent of the nation's 37 million poor people into deep poverty -- the highest rate in at least 32 years.
"What appears to be taking place is that, over the long term, you have a significant permanent underclass that is not being impacted by anti- poverty policies," said Michael Tanner, the director of Health and Welfare Studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.
Arloc Sherman, a senior researcher at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank, disagreed. "It doesn't look like a growing permanent underclass," said Sherman, whose organization has chronicled the growth of deep poverty. "What you see in the data are more and more single moms with children who lose their jobs and who aren't being caught by a safety net anymore."
About 1.1 million such families account for roughly 2.1 million deeply poor children, Sherman said.
After fleeing an abusive marriage in 2002, 42-year-old Marjorie Sant moved with her three children from Arkansas to a seedy boarding house in Raleigh, N.C., where the four shared one bedroom. For most of 2005, they lived off food stamps and the $300 a month in Social Security Disability Income for her son with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Teachers offered clothes to Sant's children. Saturdays meant lunch at the Salvation Army.
"To depend on other people to feed and clothe your kids is horrible," Sant said. "I found myself in a hole and didn't know how to get out."
In the summer of 2005, social workers warned that she'd lose her children if her home situation didn't change. Sant then brought her two youngest children to a temporary housing program at the Raleigh Rescue Mission while her oldest son moved to California to live with an adult daughter from a previous marriage.
So for 10 months, Sant learned basic office skills. She now lives in a rented house, works two jobs and earns about $20,400 a year.
Sant is proud of where she is, but she knows that "if something went wrong, I could well be back to where I was."
'I'M GETTING NOWHERE FAST'
As more poor Americans sink into severe poverty, more individuals and families living within $8,000 above or below the poverty line also have seen their incomes decline. Steven Woolf of Virginia Commonwealth University attributes this to what he calls a "sinkhole effect" on income.
"Just as a sinkhole causes everything above it to collapse downward, families and individuals in the middle and upper classes appear to be migrating to lower-income tiers that bring them closer to the poverty threshold," Woolf wrote in the study.
Before Hurricane Katrina, Rene Winn of Biloxi, Miss., earned $28,000 a year as an administrator for the Boys and Girls Club. But for 11 months in 2006, she couldn't find steady work and wouldn't take a fast-food job. As her opportunities dwindled, Winn's frustration grew.
"Some days I feel like the world is mine and I can create my own destiny," she said. "Other days I feel a desperate feeling. Like I gotta' hurry up. Like my career is at a stop. Like I'm getting nowhere fast. And that's not me because I've always been a positive person."
After relocating to New Jersey for 10 months after the storm, Winn returned to Biloxi in September because of medical and emotional problems with her son. She and her two youngest children moved into her sister's home along with her mother, who has Alzheimer's. With her sister, brother-in-law and their two children, eight people now share a three-bedroom home.
Winn said she recently took a job as a technician at the state health department. The hourly job pays $16,120 a year. That's enough to bring her out of severe poverty and just $122 shy of the $16,242 needed for a single mother with two children to escape poverty altogether under current federal guidelines.
Winn eventually wants to transfer to a higher-paying job, but she's thankful for her current position.
"I'm very independent and used to taking care of my own, so I don't like the fact that I have to depend on the state. I want to be able to do it myself."
The Census Bureau's Survey of Income and Program Participation shows that, in a given month, only 10 percent of severely poor Americans received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families in 2003 -- the latest year available -- and that only 36 percent received food stamps.
Many could have exhausted their eligibility for welfare or decided that the new program requirements were too onerous. But the low participation rates are troubling because the worst byproducts of poverty, such as higher crime and violence rates and poor health, nutrition and educational outcomes, are worse for those in deep poverty.
Over the last two decades, America has had the highest or near-highest poverty rates for children, individual adults and families among 31 developed countries, according to the Luxembourg Income Study, a 23- year project that compares poverty and income data from 31 industrial nations.
"It's shameful," said Timothy Smeeding, the former director of the study and the current head of the Center for Policy Research at Syracuse University. "We've been the worst performer every year since we've been doing this study."
With the exception of Mexico and Russia, the U.S. devotes the smallest portion of its gross domestic product to federal anti-poverty programs, and those programs are among the least effective at reducing poverty, the study found. Again, only Russia and Mexico do worse jobs.
One in three Americans will experience a full year of extreme poverty at some point in his or her adult life, according to long-term research by Mark Rank, a professor of social welfare at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
An estimated 58 percent of Americans between the ages of 20 and 75 will spend at least a year in poverty, Rank said. Two of three will use a public assistance program between ages 20 and 65, and 40 percent will do so for five years or more.
These estimates apply only to non-immigrants. If illegal immigrants were factored in, the numbers would be worse, Rank said.
"It would appear that for most Americans the question is no longer if, but rather when, they will experience poverty. In short, poverty has become a routine and unfortunate part of the American life course," Rank wrote in a recent study. "Whether these patterns will continue throughout the first decade of 2000 and beyond is difficult to say ... but there is little reason to think that this trend will reverse itself any time soon."
'SOMETHING REAL AND TROUBLING'
Most researchers and economists say federal poverty estimates are a poor tool to gauge the complexity of poverty. The numbers don't factor in assistance from government anti-poverty programs, such as food stamps, housing subsidies and the Earned Income Tax Credit, all of which increase incomes and help pull people out of poverty.
But federal poverty measures also exclude work-related expenses and necessities such as day care, transportation, housing and health care costs, which eat up large portions of disposable income, particularly for low-income families.
Alternative poverty measures that account for these shortcomings typically inflate or deflate official poverty statistics. But many of those alternative measures show the same kind of long-term trends as the official poverty data.
Robert Rector, a senior researcher with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, questioned the growth of severe poverty, saying that census data become less accurate farther down the income ladder. He said many poor people, particularly single mothers with boyfriends, underreport their income by not including cash gifts and loans. Rector said he's seen no data that suggest increasing deprivation among the very poor.
Arloc Sherman of the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities argues that the growing number of severely poor is an indisputable fact.
"When we check against more complete government survey data and administrative records from the benefit programs themselves, they confirm that this trend is real," Sherman said. He added that even among the poor, severely poor people have a much tougher time paying their bills. "That's another sign to me that we're seeing something real and troubling," Sherman said.
McClatchy correspondent Barbara Barrett contributed to this report.
BY THE NUMBERS
States with the most people in severe poverty:
California -- 1.9 million
Texas -- 1.6 million
New York -- 1.2 million
Florida -- 943,670
Illinois -- 681,786
Ohio -- 657,415
Pennsylvania -- 618,229
Michigan -- 576,428
Georgia -- 562,014
North Carolina -- 523,511
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
From: Ames (Iowa) Tribune ................................[This story printer-friendly]
February 2, 2007
RETURNING SOLDIER HAS MUCH TO TEACH US
[Rachel's introduction: "Some months ago, I sat next to a young soldier on a flight from Detroit to Des Moines. He was 22-year-old Army man coming home after two years in Iraq and Pakistan.... It was clear that I had a lot to learn from him."]
By Carolyn Raffensperger
The backbone of the common good is sharing, especially those things that are part of our public inheritance -- air, water, wildlife, parks, the library, roads and sidewalks -- to name a few. Government has a wonderful role serving as the trustee of the commons and fulfilling our responsibility to pass them on to future generations.
If we took the commonwealth and the common health seriously, we might innovate some leading-edge policies right here in Iowa. Can you imagine appointing a guardian for future generations in the city council and asking her to assess the impact of city decisions on generations to come? What would the city budget look like if we did an audit of the commons and included the audit information to city residents? Then we could set goals for mending, restoring, enhancing our public goods.
What if we did an inventory of all the work needed on our streams and prairies and state parks, for example, and provided a list to Gov. Culver of work that our Iowa National Guard might do here at home? There is some precedent for this: Last summer the governor of Montana wrote a letter to President Bush asking him to send the Montana National Guard home from Iraq so they could help fight forest fires in Montana.
And speaking of the National Guard, I suspect they have an enormous amount to teach us about the Wise Warrior, the True Guardian, the Sentinel that protects the common good for future generations.
Some months ago, I sat next to a young soldier on a flight from Detroit to Des Moines. He was 22-year-old Army man coming home after two years in Iraq and Pakistan. He was quite anxious about his return. This was his last leg on a 30-hour trip to Iowa. I was dismayed about sitting next to him since I am a religious pacifist and was returning from an environmental conference too tired and grieved myself about the state of the world. How could I open my heart to this young man?
I began with the chitchat -- who would be at the airport to greet him? His grandparents. Oh, and maybe his ex-girlfriend. Why would his ex- girlfriend be at the airport? A shrug. I asked if he loved her. His tears rose to the brim and he said "yes, but it's not manly to say so." I said, "The true warrior, the wise man, defends what he loves." He started to cry.
From there I asked him what his work was in the Army. His job was to protect the relief efforts of the earthquake victims in Pakistan. Noble work. He said, "Yes. But I can't be wrong." Sometimes he had to tell his commanding officer to kick in a door (implying that there were terrorists jeopardizing the relief efforts), and he couldn't make the Haditha mistake and have women and children harmed.
I told him about my life's work as an environmentalist and guardian of future generations. It was clear that I had a lot to learn from him. He said that he would have just graduated from Iowa State University if he had not gone into the Army.
I asked him what he would be doing if he had graduated. He said, "It would all be trivial. All trivial. I'd be buying a better car, looking for a job that would make a lot of money. It's trivial." I told him that's what he, as an initiated warrior, knew that we did not sitting back home.
That is what he has to teach us.
We spoke quietly and affectionately about what it was to return home as a warrior to a culture that has no concept of what a true warrior requires from his culture nor what a healthy culture requires of its warriors. In the end, we concluded that the great warrior is one who serves as a guardian of what they loved.
The commons are essential to so much that we love -- our children's health, the deer in my backyard, the ability to drive to church on a public road. May we learn to share and protect these treasures.
Copyright Mid-Iowa Newspapers 2007
From: Ohio Network for the Chemically Injured .............[This story printer-friendly]
February 27, 2007
TEST YOUR LOCAL ENVIRONMENT FOR THE PRESENCE OF HEAVY METALS
[Rachel's introduction: Would you like to know if you have unacceptable levels of heavy metals (such as lead, mercury, arsenic, chromium) in your home, your school playground or your garden? For $20.00 per sample, you can find out.]
By Toni Temple
Would you like to know if there are unacceptable levels of heavy metals (e.g., lead, mercury, arsenic, chromium) in your home or other environment?
If so, you can have soil, wood, or other samples screened for all 26 heavy metals at a cost of only $20.00 per sample by participating in an educational research project. Participants will be required to fill out a questionnaire and will be given information about how the data will be used.
The Environmental Quality Institute of the University of North Carolina Ashville (a NELAC certified testing laboratory), Thermo NITON Analyzers, LLC (manufacturers of x-ray fluorescence technology), and the Ohio Network for the Chemically Injured (a not-for-profit organization dedicated to education, advocacy and support for the chemically injured), have joined together to create an educational research program in which low cost testing of heavy metals will be provided to the general public.
Excesses in exposure to some heavy metals have been proven to cause health problems. Others can be dangerous to health at any level. For example:
Arsenic -- symptoms from exposure may include sore throat, irritated lungs, vomiting, abnormal heart rhythm, redness and swelling of skin, "pins and needles" sensation in hands and feet. May cause skin, lung, bladder, liver, kidney, or prostate cancer, and can also injure pregnant women or their unborn babies.
Copper -- high-level exposure can cause irritation of nose and throat, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Can cause anemia, damage to liver and kidneys, and death.
Lead -- can affect almost every organ and system in the body. Can cause severe stomachache, muscle weakness, miscarriage, anemia, high blood pressure, and damage to brain, kidneys, and nervous system
Mercury -- symptoms of exposure may include nausea, skin rashes, eye irritation and high blood pressure. May damage the lungs, brain, kidneys, and developing fetus.
Zinc -- high concentrations can cause stomach cramps, nausea, and vomiting, anemia, and can decrease the levels of good cholesterol. Inhalation of zinc as dust or fumes can cause metal fume fever. Skin exposure can cause skin irritation.
What types of samples can I have analyzed?
Soil, wood, and plastic (including PVC), jewelry, toys, vinyl lunch boxes or metal objects. You may send extracted teeth (for lead; crowns may contain heavy metals) only if you furnish a prepaid shipping container with your sample so that we can return it to you. You must also provide a prepaid shipping container for any other item you wish to have returned to you.
How long will testing take?
You should receive your sampling kit(s) approximately a week after your order is received. Your results will be mailed to you within one to two weeks after the laboratory receives your sample(s). You will also receive additional information to help you determine what your results mean and further information about the toxicity of the heavy metals.
Who is eligible to participate?
Anyone is eligible but everyone must fill out the questionnaire. Your identity will not be revealed. Please inform your family, neighbors, physician, school, employer, lawyer, and others about the project, as they may know of others who would benefit from this screening. A copy of the order form is on our website www.ohionetwork.org under the Detect and Protect tab.
Why should I test?
Prevention is key in avoiding many health problems. Protect your family by reducing or eliminating unnecessary exposures.
What should I test?
** Soil on playgrounds or other play areas
** Soil to determine safe placement of vegetable gardens
** Soil near treated wood fences and decks
** Soil samples before site selection for wells, ponds, and other man- made bodies of water
** Soil samples prior to residential or business property purchases
** Soil samples near wells and reservoirs
** Existing treated wood from decks, picnic tables, building materials
** New wood before building or remodeling
** Samples of plastic materials before building or remodeling
** any other object you would like to have tested for heavy metals
PLEASE DO NOT SEND ANY LIQUIDS OR WET SOIL SAMPLES
If you would like to participate, please complete the Order Form below and mail it to the Ohio Network for the Chemically Injured along with your check or money order. Do not mail any samples with your order. Environmental Quality Institute (EQI) will mail you the appropriate test kit(s) and provide you with instructions on how to collect soil samples. You will ship your samples directly to them.
Please print! Only checks or money orders accepted.
Enclosed is payment of $20 for each sample submitted. Each sample will be screened for 26 heavy metals. If you wish to have your sample returned, please provide a prepaid shipping container.
Please make checks payable to the Ohio Network for the Chemically Injured (ONFCI) and mail to P.O. Box 29290, Parma, OH 44129. For further information, visit our website at www.ohionetwork.org or phone (440) 845-1888.
Indicate number of:
() soil samples () wood samples () other samples -
Enclosed is payment for total number of ______ samples @ $20.00 each =
Contact: Toni Temple, (440) 845-1888
Rachel's Democracy & Health News (formerly Rachel's Environment & Health News) highlights the connections between issues that are often considered separately or not at all.
The natural world is deteriorating and human health is declining because those who make the important decisions aren't the ones who bear the brunt. Our purpose is to connect the dots between human health, the destruction of nature, the decline of community, the rise of economic insecurity and inequalities, growing stress among workers and families, and the crippling legacies of patriarchy, intolerance, and racial injustice that allow us to be divided and therefore ruled by the few.
In a democracy, there are no more fundamental questions than, "Who gets to decide?" And, "How DO the few control the many, and what might be done about it?"
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