Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A view of poverty from Chicago's West Side

A student's reaction paper on eliminating or reducing poverty.
While I was reading the article, “Policies to Reduce Poverty”, I noticed that there are two major things that must happen in order to reduce poverty.  One point is that we must remove the barriers or obstacles that stand in people’s way.  Barriers could be skill deficits, emotional or mental problems, racism, health problems, distance from employment opportunities, and so forth.  The other point is that we must help people find and keep employment that is satisfying and rewards them with an income that keeps them out of poverty, or if people can’t be employed, we must supply them with an income that eliminates their poverty. 
I did not know that there were two different types of poverty. The first type of poverty is absolute poverty. Absolute poverty is when people have an insufficient income to afford the basic necessities of life, such as food, rent and clothing. The other type of poverty is relative poverty. Relative poverty is when people have income significantly less than the average income for society. The American poverty threshold is set with an understanding that people need a certain income to be adequately fed and pay a certain portion of their income to secure housing, so in one sense the American poverty threshold is an absolute poverty standard.  But most people at the top end of poverty income distribution (those making more than 70% of the poverty threshold) probably do not face absolute poverty deprivation if they are getting the various welfare supports for which they quality. The people we read about in $2 A Day at the bottom 2% of the income distribution really are living in absolute poverty, insecure in their housing and food, and living with instability an real deprivation. 
I grew up on the Westside of Chicago, IL. Poverty is a huge problem in my neighborhood. There are areas that display a better side then what I see. This article made me think about how many people are laying on bus stops, sleeping in tents under the freeway, or even begging for change in front of stores. There has to be solutions to fix this problem. 
The article presents many possible policy solutions. The question is, “will they ever get approved?”. The first thing that caught my eye while looking at the list was reducing unemployment. I feel like the unemployment rate has lowered ever since Obama came into office. I really do hope that it stays the same. I’ve seen articles that has possible solutions that can help it, but I have not found any that has already reduced poverty. Increasing progressive taxes should reduce poverty. This could be the policy that take more the high income tax payers. Next, increasing benefits to the poor would also help, it would help because benefits that they receive now may not be enough. Being not able to feed your family, not able to pay for their medicine is too heartbreaking. While I was reading this article I saw that there should be a national minimum wage. The article states, “The government could increase the national minimum wage. This is an effective way of increasing the incomes of the low paid, and therefore reducing wage inequality.” I believe that the minimum wage should be higher so people can have a better lifestyle. There should be a national minimum wage that applies for everyone. 

Mary Bogle, Gregory Acs, Pamela J. Loprest, Kelly S. Mikelson, Susan J. Popkin. (August 25, 2016) “Building Blocks and Strategies for Helping Americans Move Out of Poverty” published at the Urban Institute.  

Student Reaction to $2 per Day

The most eye opening thing I have learned in this class came from the book $2.00 A Day. I am appalled and shocked that how many adults and children are going without food. Families that have no cash safety net, because Clinton signed a welfare reform bill passed by a Republican Congress that was supposed to lower the amount of people on welfare by getting them into productive employment. He and the Congress, in reality, started an epidemic of people living well below poverty levels. How can we as Americans, not see what is right in front of our faces? Children are going days and maybe even weeks without eating. Their parents are selling SNAP cards for cash, which they need for bills, such as water and electricity. How do we give a family a card to purchase food and think this is going to help their situation? Take Rae, the mother of Azara, she lost her job at Walmart because she didn’t have enough gas to get to work, even though she had previously never missed a day. Now Rae has no job and no money for gas to go out looking for another job. It is a vicious cycle of sometimes having over $2.00 a day and than enduring spells of misery living under that.

This book helped me see, not only that I could be more appreciative of my life, but to feel more empathetic when I see people using the SNAP card in the grocery store. Reading the story of the town of Delta made me sick to my stomach. Children were turning to prostitution just to be able to pay the bills or put food on the table for their children. Clinton enacted the EITC, which is a policy that helps the working poor, however so many people are living without an income that this tax credit does nothing to help them. In this situation the policies force mothers to sell their children’s social security numbers for someone else to claim, just to receive not even half the amount the person who bought the number will be getting. Americans are so worried about the starving children on the television that need $1 a day for a meal, when we need to be worrying about the homeless children in our own neighborhoods. We need to care for children that take a shower in the library bathroom sink or move from shelter to shelter when their families time has lapsed at that location. 

In conclusion, I don’t understand why people still think that welfare was reformed? If President Trump wants to make America a better pace, he needs to start with the welfare system. We cannot have a program that has no cash safety net. We need a program that encourages people to work, however, once they do we cannot just take away their benefits; intern leaving them poorer that before they were working. I don’t know the solution, but something must be better than what we are doing now.

I think that outrage is the appropriate emotion when we read $2 a Day, or consider the lifestyles and hardships of any of the Americans who are trying to survive at the lowest 2% or 3% of the income distribution. These people really are suffering at a level that approximates what people endure in much poorer societies, and the emotional costs of this poverty are probably greater in North America, since by comparison the rest of our society is so affluent.  I do want to caution you about the moral issue of “why do we worry so much about X, when we should be worrying about Y” statements. Compassion and altruism are universally good.  Most ethical or religious teachings suggest that humans ought to feel compassion and altruistic concern for all other persons, and perhaps even all other manifestations of Life.  The persons you don’t know, who live far away from you, and have different experiences than you have, are not less valuable than the people you do know, who live near you, whose life experiences are shared in common with you.  So, in this sense, we “owe” people far away and people yet to be born just as much as we owe the people in our immediate families.  But, on the other hand, ethical thinkers and moral philosophers have generally reached a sort of consensus that there is just too much suffering and need out there in the world, and it is impossible for individuals to take care of all the people or all the beings on the planet, those now living and those yet to live, and so, we do as a practical necessity owe more to the people closest to us, and ought to concern ourselves mostly with the people we can see, where we best understand their problems, and can most directly help them. From this perspective, we do owe more to the poor in our cities and our nation than we owe to the poor of distant lands or remote future times. 

This leads to a practical suggestion: give more of your time and wealth to help local humans than you give to help far-away humans, but give to both; and give more of your time and wealth to humans than you give to plants and animals, but do give something to help animals and plants.  It’s not so much, “why do we care so much about distant problems when local problems are pressing” as it is, “we need to care about distant problems and attend to them, but we need to give more attention and concern to local problems and attend to them more.” 

You may know of the logical fallacy of the “false dichotomy” where an issue is framed as an “either this or that, but not both” problem when in fact that is no reason to exclude “both” or bring in alternatives to the limited choices (of “this” or “that”) presented in the argument.  It’s worth keeping this in mind.  Human minds seem especially vulnerable to simplifying problems into false choices between two positions or actions when in fact there are many positions or actions possible, and choices often do not stand in opposition so that one choice excludes the other. 

Student reacts to a blog post about living as a Deaf Asian Hindu in the United Kingdom

A social justice issue that I am interested in is the disadvantages of the disabled in everyday endeavors, specifically the workforce. Last weekend, I found a blog titled The Limping Chicken, a news site in the UK that shares news of interest to the deaf community. An article by Reema Patel named Growing up Deaf in a Hearing World was posted on March 28, 2012. Patel discusses her struggles as someone with minor hearing loss but also reflects on some solutions for such behaviors.  
Patel’s parents were really conscious of people judging her because she was deaf, so they did not really tell anyone she was deaf unless they it was absolutely necessary. Patel shares with us the three key reasons that she believes deafness is stigmatized in her culture. Born in a British Asian Hindu family, she explains that it is an environment that stigmatizes disability, deafness included. Here is a list of the three reasons and my reaction to her given statement:

1. The cultural bonds that tie people together in her culture are mostly visual and aural. Many rituals and practices consolidate around music, dance, recitation, and other arts.
She shares a story about a blind girl that picked up a minuscule sculpture of a Hindu God and felt around it so she could recognize what she’s touching. Someone immediately snatched it away from her, informing her that it’s a sin to touch a statue in such a way. The young girl only wanted to know what she was touching, she did not mean to offend anyone. The blind and the deaf share these instances of miscommunication across language barriers every day, making them feel excommunicated from the hearing world at times. 

2.  Generally, progressive attitudes towards disability come with greater awareness, education, and more time to reflect/think – the sort of education that many migrant communities don’t often have access to. 
I believe that what she is talking about here is that when someone is disabled in your community or home, it takes awareness, education, and time for reflecting to truly understand and help encourage and lift them to their greatest potential. It seems that people in her community don’t have access to time for this. I’m thinking that maybe in a British Asian Hindu family/community, things can be pretty hectic and some important topics and people can get put on the back burner. 
3. In Patel’s personal opinion, Hinduism has in practice rarely concerned itself with isonomy, social change, and liberalism. The teachings about the caste-system bolster attitudes of ‘knowing one’s place’ in society. They accept the hand life has dealt one as punishment for sins in your previous life.
Not only does her family/community’s culture not support Patel’s disability economically but religiously as well. In /Hinduism, what goes around comes around so if someone was rotten in a previous life, they could be disabled in another. That could make people think that being disabled is just this unbelievably horrible thing that no one can survive because it is marked as punishment for the rotten-spirited. People are surviving and thriving through their disabilities every day and being fabulous while doing so. 

Patel’s perspective on the stigmatization of disabilities in her community reminds me a lot of how the world does the same. One topic she did not cover that I thought would be an amazing addition to her article is assimilation. Social norms and institutions try to create things to help the disabled become “more like us” instead of creating things to help them be a better THEM. Patel offers three solutions for obliterating the perception that disabled persons, especially the deaf, are less likely to be successful. One, to provide the support to children that lets them challenge the perception themselves. Two, to provide a supportive environment that encourages self-worth and confidence. And three, to provide the right funding to open doors and opportunities. She believes that if these things are given, as they deserve to be, then they will be able to show and prove that they can be just as successful as anyone else, even more so. 

Works Cited

Patel, R. (2012, March 28). Reema Patel: Growing up deaf in a hearing world [Web log post]. Retrieved February 15, 2017, from

Student reaction to minimum wage issue

In this reaction essay the student considered some of the issues surrounding the minimum wage, and also applied the issue to her own work experience at a local hotel. 

  In class, we have been discussing many different topics already, but one really stood out to me. On the week one schedule, there were a list of different videos that we should watch on I watched a few and then I got to the one that really sparked my interest. "How the Minimum Wage Hurts Young People" which was not on the list, but it came up as a suggestion while watching the others. This video talked about the brutal reality of how the system works. This caught my attention because it actually applies to me. 

   First off, the video starts with an example. It talks about if you owned a nice piece of land and needed the grass cut, who would you pick? Since cutting grass does not require much skill, you would probably chose the person who is willing to do it for the cheapest, which works out until...the government gets involved. If the government got involved and created a law saying you have to pay 40 percent more than you have been, things would change. Since you have to pay more, you are going to want someone skilled in cutting grass, not just a young person in the neighborhood. Everyone wants more when it comes to spending more. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people ages 16-19 had an unemployment rate of 15% in January 2017, while people at the ages of 45-54 had the rate of 3.3%. 

   As stated above, this subject personally matters to me. I work at a hotel here in Springfield, and we are going through this change right now. I work at the front desk and there is a front office manager, assistant manager, two full time employees, me (I work only one or two days on the weekend), and two night auditors. This is crazy if you think about it. There are 3 shifts at 8 hours each. There is no room for call offs, etc. but there is no money to hire anymore people. My manager has interviewed a lot of people throughout my time there, but maybe hired 2 or 3 and do not keep them for a long time. In addition to not being able to hire more workers, some periods of time hours get cut MAJORLY. During Christmas Break, I was lucky to get 8 hours each week, but luckily I got hours from our sister hotel, who coincidentally, was in the hiring process, and short on staff. Less revenue for the hotel means less money for the workers, no matter what age.

   I am very lucky because I am not working to survive, but if someone had my job and was trying to actually pay bills and live off of it, there would be no way to. People my age feel this "phase" that workplaces are going through because we have no experience yet and they want what they pay for, since they only have a little bit of money to spend on workers. It makes sense, but I wish our economy was not so bad that it had to be like this. I can see why a lot of people are in poverty. 

To wrap thing up, I just want to list a few pro and cons to this technique. 

Pros: employers will get more for their money, skilled people will produce quality work

Cons: Unemployment rate for younger people will increase, more poverty, more assistance from the government will be needed, no opportunity for skill training, more work for employers when someone quits, passes away, etc. 

When you say, “this technique” I suppose you mean the practice of having the government set a minimum wage.  Setting a floor to wages runs into a problem because the economy (or, more precisely, people who are in charge of setting up systems of creating and selling goods or services) sometimes require work that is so trivial or marginal that the person who does that work does not “earn” for their employer enough to cover the minimum wage. In this case, employers are forced by the minimum wage to “over-pay” their unskilled employees doing the fairly unproductive work. The employer could simply decide not to hire someone, or they could alter the job role so that the employee did “add value” at a rate matching or exceeding the minimum wage.  

Actual empirical studies of what happens when a government makes modest increases in the minimum wage suggest that the loss of jobs for unskilled workers is real, but not especially large.  For one thing, the increase in wages among the low-paid workers stimulates demand, as those workers spend their newly increased wages, and this increase in demand largely offsets the decline in employment.  Another argument is that increases in the minimum wages will force employers to increase the cost of their goods or services to cover the increases in labor costs.  This is also measured, and is real, but is of trivial significance.  The inflation in goods and services that follows a modest increase in the minimum wage in the actual world (as opposed to theoretical models), is tiny.  A comparison of the gains in human welfare from the increased wages provided to low-wage workers against the costs in terms of higher unemployment for unskilled and young workers and inflation suggests that, from a utilitarian moral perspective, modest increases in minimum wages provide far more benefits than harms, and are a net good.

You describe working at a local motel where there only eight employees, and you seem to be concerned that the motel really needs more staff, but the motel owner cannot afford to hire more, which leaves the employees overworked.  And yet, you also mention that hours are drastically reduced at certain times of year.  My own business experience is in farming, which also works a bit like the travel industry: there are times of the year when we need more workers and everyone works longer hours (holiday weekends, summer vacation, or times when the General Assembly is in session for motels in a state capital, and during harvest on a farm), and there are slack periods where fewer workers are needed, and those who are working get fewer hours (Christmas Break for motels, December through February on the farm). The economy generates some sorts of work like this where labor is seasonal, and employers would like to be able to quickly hire more persons, or lay off persons when work is slack (e.g., fireworks display operators work very long hours for a few weeks around the Fourth of July, but don't need to work much at all for the rest of the year).  I'm not sure in what way that connects to the minimum wage, however. 

I am not clear on how you are relating this observation about working hours to the minimum wage. If the minimum wage was lower, perhaps the motel would hire hire more staff, and that would reduce the work burden on all staff, but the newly hired workers would be paid less (since the minimum wage would be reduced). It may be a good thing that people are able to work for $6 or $7 per hour, since having a job is better than no job, and the work burden on everyone is lighter with more employees, but it may be a bad thing if workers can be hired for $6 or $7 per hour, if “living wages” are about twice that, and with a higher minimum wage workers would earn $8.5 or $9 per hour instead of $6 or $7.