Friday, March 31, 2006

[UK] Militant action to counter poverty?

from The Midweek Hearld

DEVON Pensioners' Action Forum chairman Albert Venison has slammed Gordon Brown's budget and promised "militant action" to counter poverty amongst pensioners.

The budget saw the expected removal of the £200 allowance for pensioners, which the DPAF argue will tip many people over the edge financially.

Mr Venison slated the muddle over free bus passes, claiming East Devon pensioners will be the worst off in the country.

Mr Brown also claimed extra money for councils will go some way to alleviating the burden on taxpayers. However, Devon County Council has experienced a £36 million deficit compared to the average funding for councils in 2005.

A DPAF initiative currently being spread across the country will see activists refuse to pay council taxes after January 1, 2007, unless their financial burden is eased by the end of the year.

Mr Venison said: "The opt-out from a Devon-wide bus scheme will be very inconvenient.

"The government should have said that they will pay for bus passes for all over-60s.

"Many people in the Honiton area visiting the hospital will have to pay a full fare at the county border.

"We were expecting the £200 allowance to go; it was just an election bribe. This means that pensioners' council tax won't just be a 4.9% rise, it will be 4.9% with £200 extra.

"It is time for militant action, so we are suggesting no-one pays council tax after January 1 next year unless something is done.

"We have to do this so people recognise that we have to stop problems now, not after another two-year inquiry.

"Otherwise, the way things are going, pensioners will not be able to afford to eat and stay warm.

"We are being cut further and further adrift in Devon.

"The council, to be fair, has tried to cut costs, but it hasn't gone far enough.

[Vietnam] Northern region to bring poverty down

from The Vietnam News Agency

HA NOI — The northern mountainous region set a goal of reducing its poverty rate by 2.5-3 per cent annually between 2006 and 2010 at a Government-hosted two-day conference discussing measures to boost the region’s socio-economic development held in Ha Noi yesterday.

Prime Minister Phan Van Khai, among the participants, said the northern mountainous provinces have over the past years recorded achievements in all fields, especially improvements in the spiritual and material life of ethnic minorities.

However, the northern mountainous region and western parts of central Thanh Hoa and Nghe An provinces remained poor in comparison to other parts of the country, PM Khai said.

To change the situation, Khai called for the creation of conditions that will enable the region to boost the production of commodities in order to increase the living standards of ethnic minority people.

The PM also emphasised the need to preserve the traditional cultures of ethnic groups and provide sufficient educational and healthcare services to locals even in the most remote locations.

Together with building roads and irrigation works as well as clinics and schools for the local residents, authorities of northern mountainous provinces should also focus on implementing policies that encourage minority groups to practise their traditional religions, Khai said.

Provinces in the region plan to exploit available natural resources, such as minerals and water, and their border location to back economic development.

Speaking at the conference, Minister of Planning and Investment Vo Hong Phuc said over the last five years, the Government has made considerable improvements in the midland region’s infrastructure, especially in transport, telecommunications, and irrigation networks.

Between 2001 and 2005, economic development in the midland region and the northern mountain provinces was higher than the country’s average increase. The infrastructure had been improved to meet the demand of socio-economic development and national defence of the region.

By 2010, the region strives to rapidly shift the economic structure, aiming for 26 per cent of the economy to be devoted to the agro-forestry industry and 40 per cent to trade and services.

On the first day, the conference heard reports on developing infrastructure for transport, forest protection and afforestation programmes in the northern mountainous provinces.

Participants also heard reports on the resettlement of inhabitants in border communes, preventing landslides, State’s policies on education and training and religious practises in the northern mountainous provinces.

[UK] Children in ethnic minority homes face double poverty risk

from The Scotsman


CHILDREN from minority ethnic backgrounds are twice as likely to live in poverty as white children, say Executive figures.

Some 41 per cent of children with a minority ethnic head of household were living in relative low-income poverty between 2002-3 and 2004-5. For youngsters living in a household led by a non-minority ethnic adult, the figure was only 21 per cent. After housing costs are deducted, the number of ethnic minority children living in poverty is even higher, at 42 per cent.

The figures were revealed in an answer by Malcolm Chisholm, the minister for education and young people, to a parliamentary question asked by the SNP's communities spokeswoman, Christine Grahame. She said: "It is disgraceful enough that we have one in four children in Scotland living in poverty. But what these latest figures highlight is that if you are a child in an ethnic minority group, you are twice as likely to be living in poverty.

"It proves after seven years in power the Lib/Lab coalition's policies are failing children, and highlights a very worrying ethnic divide in child poverty."

Children living in low- income poverty are those in households whose income is below 60 per cent of the UK average.

The poverty gulf reveals serious inequalities in Scotland's labour market which continue to hold back minority ethnic groups. The employment gap between ethnic minorities and the rest of Scotland's population is 19 per cent.

Despite this, ethnic minorities in Scotland are as likely or more likely to have degrees than the majority population. About 41 per cent of Chinese students and 39 per cent of Caribbean students are studying business administration in Scotland, compared with 14 per cent of white students. A total of 11 per cent of Pakistani students are studying IT compared with 4 per cent of white students.

The Commission for Racial Equality in Scotland, which last week unveiled a code of conduct for employers to help stamp out racial discrimination in the workplace, said the revelations were "stark".

Ali Jarvis, the commission's interim director, said: "We know that living in poverty can shape children's lives from one generation to the next.

"Coming on a day when the Commission for Racial Equality is challenging Scotland's employers to take positive actions to make the most of all Scotland's talents, these figures provide a stark indicator of the need for substantial measures to address child poverty.

"This indicates the need for specific actions to tackle the particular barriers that prevent Scotland's ethnic minority population from maximising their potential."

Thursday, March 30, 2006

[Angola] ...And U.S. Sign Memorandum On Malaria

from all Africa

A memorandum of understanding on the initiatives of fight against malaria will be signed Thursday, in Luanda, by the governments of Angola, US and some United Nations agencies.

The agreement will be signed by the Angolan Health minister, Sebastião Veloso, the American ambassador in the country, Cyntia Efird, and representatives from World Health Organization (WHO), Fautomatta Diallo, UNICEF, Akhil Iyer, and ExxomMobbil executive director, Terry Mcphail.

According to a document from the US diplomatic mission, which ANGOP had access to, the memorandum is part of a challenge made in June 2005 by the United States of America president, George Bush, which aims at reducing children mortality rate caused by malaria to 30 percent in the African Sub Saharan region.

The memo includes a rise in the malaria prevention budget over USD 1 billion for a five year period.

Through this initiative, the US government will provide, as from 2008, USD 300 million per year, for the world combat against malaria, as well as USD 130 million to assist people in the most affected African countries.

The action started being implemented this year with USD 7.5 million for Angola, being expected considerable increase in the next years, representing a continuous support for an effective five year programme.

[Kenya] Drought, Poverty Forcing Young Women Into Risky Commercial Sex

From All Africa

As night falls in Makindu, a truck stop on the highway between the capital, Nairobi, and the port city of Mombasa, the fluorescent lights and blaring music of the bars and lodges signal the start of yet another evening of brisk business.

"Every week I drive from Tororo [eastern Uganda] to Mombasa and back. I stay in about four towns each way - I have a regular lodge in each one," said Masaba [not his real name], sipping his beer.

Towns along the Nairobi-Mombasa highway, like Makindu in the Makueni district of eastern Kenya, have experienced a mini-boom, while their rural surroundings languish in poverty.

The ongoing drought that has left hundreds of thousands in eastern Kenya facing severe food shortages has driven many rural people into these towns in search of work and food. Children are sent from deep within the interior to the roadside to sell honey and homemade crafts.

In an even more disturbing trend, parents have resorted to sending their young daughters into the towns to trade their bodies for money to feed their families.


"Because food reserves have run out and mothers can no longer afford to feed their children, many decide that the only way out is to 'go to the street'," said Iris Krebber, regional coordinator of the NGO, German Agro Action. "Many times, the girls are as young as twelve."

They find a ready market in towns like Makindu, where truckers welcome their company in the bars and in their beds. The result of this potent mix of sex with multiple partners and excessive alcohol consumption is that Makindu has an HIV prevalence rate almost double that of the general population in the district.

"The prevalence here is 11 percent, compared to about six percent in Makueni district," said Dr Richard Onkware, the head of medical services at the government's Makindu Hospital. "We attribute this to the town being on the highway and the large number of truck drivers and commercial sex workers here."

Onkware said the drought, which had deepened over the past two years, had exacerbated the problem of young women coming from their villages to engage in commercial sex work.

"I came to town four years ago - I was 17," said Alison [not her real name], a commercial sex worker who only agreed to be interviewed under cover of darkness. "When I finished primary school my parents had no more money to send me to secondary school, and said I was old enough to fend for myself."

She works four nights a week on average, charging as little as 100 Kenya shillings (US $1.40) per customer, having sex with up to seven men a night. Alison said she never had sex without a condom, although some men were willing to pay up to ten times the usual price.

Asked whether she had ever visited one of the town's voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) centres for an HIV test, she laughed shyly and shook her head.

"I am too scared, I would rather not know my HIV status," she said. Alison knows the risk - she contracted gonorrhoea two years ago - but feels she has no choice. It is simply "bad luck" when a condom breaks.

She said she enjoyed drinking in the bars with the men, and admitted that it was always harder to insist on a condom when she was drunk. Many girls, she said, were raped after a few drinks.

"I have to eat, and I'm not qualified to do anything else," she pointed out. "I would quit if I had enough money to open a shop, or if I had a man to look after me."

A camaraderie of sorts has grown between some truckers and commercial sex workers. "When I come here, I always come to the same bar, I call my girl and we have a few beers and some food together before going to my lodge," said Kalule [not his real name]. "I get up in the morning and continue my journey, but I leave her with some money to buy a few things till the next time I'm in town."

Kalule - who has two official wives and several children - said he knew she had sexual relations other men, but felt safe because he wore a condom every time they had sex.

A Ministry of Health survey in 2005, 'AIDS in Kenya: Trends, Interventions and Impact', found that men who slept away from home more than five days a month had an HIV prevalence rate three times higher than those who slept away from home for five or fewer nights.


Makindu has three VCT centres, two of which offer mobile as well as on-site counselling and testing, but the fear of being stigmatised keeps people away from the centres in town.

"At the VCT centre at the hospital we may get only about three people per day coming for testing," Onkware said. "This is a small community, and they are scared that the hospital personnel will spread the word about their status."

People actively discriminate against commercial sex workers, so the stigma is even greater; truck drivers are rarely in the town during the day, as they usually arrive at night and leave early in the morning.

In an effort to reach these high-risk groups, one of Makindu's VCT centres, 'Chagua Maisha' (Choose Life), runs a 'moonlight VCT' service, visiting bars and nightclubs in highway towns at night, holding counselling sessions, offering tests and handing out condoms.

"We cannot escape the reality of the activity that goes on in our town - we must reach those high transmission areas like bars and clubs," said Andrew, a VCT counsellor at the centre. "We are now considering getting one of their own [commercial sex workers] to join our team, so the message can really hit home."

Despite high attendance at the sessions, he said, it was difficult to tell whether they were having any effect. Alison said she had been to several of them but was still reluctant to be tested.

According to Onkware, "What we need is an integrated approach that deals with the core problems of poverty and drought so that we can, first and foremost, get these girls off the streets."

[Zimbabwe] where cleaners earn $3m on poverty wages

from The Scotsman


NO-ONE uses wallets in Zimbabwe these days. They're too small.

The country's money is devaluing so fast that you have to lug around plastic bags full of it if you're doing a small grocery shop. To buy anything bigger, you'll need to fill a suitcase.

If you want to take friends out for a meal - say to a popular barbecue spot like Kwa Mereki in Harare's Warren Park suburb - it's best to take a car-boot full of brown bearer-cheques, wadded together into thick two-million dollar piles known here as "bricks", "metres" or - if you want to rub it in - "stationery".

Prices go up nearly every day here as record inflation takes its toll. At more than 782 per cent, Zimbabwe's inflation rate is the highest in the world. And that is just the official tally. Like most things in Zimbabwe, inflation figures are controlled by the authorities, who carefully choose which goods are to be surveyed. Business people say, privately, that the real rate is well over 1,000 per cent.

A telephone bill last month - more than 15 million Zimbabwe dollars - would have bought five houses five years ago. Nice houses, in Harare's rich suburbs.

This week, $15 million is worth just £41 - enough to buy a tank of black-market petrol. Next week - who knows?

Millions don't mean much now. Zimbabweans joke that they are "poor millionaires". Like Gladys, a domestic worker who earns $2.9 million a month. That's a salary she could only dream of early last year, when maids' wages were fixed at just over $80,000. These days her millions won't stretch to a regular piece of meat. So she eats dried grasshoppers.

The real sums these days are done in billions and trillions. The state-appointed city council in Harare is planning to shell out $1.45 trillion to buy its managers pick-up trucks, the official Herald newspaper reported this week. The state-run electricity company needs to raise $500 billion to import electricity.

Gideon Gono, the governor of the Central bank, has urged people not to panic at soaring prices. He has promised that inflation will reach a peak of around 800 per cent this month and then start falling. Few people believe him.

[Vermont] Bridging the Poverty Gap

from WCAX

Students living in poverty are not keeping up with their peers academically. That's according to the 2005 New England Common Assessment Program tests.

Almost all of the students at Lawrence Barnes Elementary School are considered poor and not faring well on standardized tests.

It's those students that education officials say need the most help.

The 2005 New England Common Assessment Program exams show that over half of students at Lawrence Barnes are not meeting performance standards in reading, writing and mathematics..

The low scores are hard on both the students and the teachers.

"You end up having to make the decision of how much should you teach to the test," said Anne Tewksbury-Frye, a teacher at the school.

Burlington's superintendent, educators and the community have now formed a task force to discuss how to better serve the poorer population of students.

"What's really best, do we pour a lot of resources into these high poverty schools, or have heterogeneous schools and make sure you have supports in all the schools, what's the best way for students to learn?" said Jeanne Collins, Burlington's superintendent of schools.

And what's best for taxpayers -- students in poverty cost more to educate than their peers simply because more resources are needed.

"Clearly, if we don't ... make a difference, if we don't expose kids to a number of opportunities are we creating a situation that won't change? And are we losing any of these kids who may go into the prison system or may tax society in other ways?" said Collins.

Bridging a gap between the socio-economic classes one community at a time.

[US] Nation's Mayors Put Spotlight on Poverty

from The Los Angeles Times

City leaders from across the country are meeting in L.A. this week to brainstorm about ways to help the poor.
By Duke Helfand and Nancy Cleeland, Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who leads a city where thousands of working families live in poverty, believes he can help the poor by building affordable housing, strengthening job training and reforming the much-maligned public schools — ideas that have been tried elsewhere with limited success.

Today, his steps and those advanced in other cities will be on the table when mayors from across the nation converge on Los Angeles to strategize about a pernicious problem that defies a quick fix.

Although local government leaders say they can't do much about the underlying causes of poverty — such as job cuts and soaring home prices — economists, labor organizers, affordable-housing advocates and others say cities have a number of tools that can help.

At the very least, the gathering of mayors can cast national attention on a problem that, by many measures, is growing worse.

As head of a poverty task force for the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Villaraigosa scheduled today's session to highlight what researchers see as a widening gap between rich and poor — one that is pronounced in places populated by vast numbers of immigrants with limited education and minimal job skills.

"Our goal as mayors is to raise this issue around urban poverty to create a national debate about what we need to do," Villaraigosa said. "We've got to strengthen and grow the middle class."

Los Angeles epitomizes a kind of urban poverty in which the poor — day laborers, hotel workers, taxi drivers and convenience store clerks, among others — work two or three jobs and still confront agonizing daily choices about whether to put food on the table, have warm clothing or get decent medical care.

By one estimate, 1.4 million of Los Angeles' 3.8 million residents are "working poor," a category that would include a family of two adults and two children earning $38,000 a year or less.

Experts who study poverty recommend a range of solutions, some of them controversial.

Some cities, for example, require developers to set aside a portion of their projects for affordable housing or contribute to a housing trust fund. At least 400 U.S. cities have so-called inclusionary zoning laws, but developers have successfully resisted the idea in Los Angeles.

Also, municipal leaders can coordinate workforce training programs with growing industries, as Villaraigosa hopes to do with jobs in healthcare and construction.

Some cities have also used their regulatory powers to require that developers pay higher wages, as Los Angeles has done on a few large projects, including Staples Center.

Transportation systems could be updated to give workers greater access to jobs. In Los Angeles, that would mean linking neighborhoods in the southeast corners of the city with employment growth occurring in the northwest.

Officials could also crack down on the so-called informal economy, the cash-only sector that siphons tax income from municipal coffers and leaves workers without job protections. In Los Angeles, that informal sector is growing much faster than the legitimate economy, experts say.

"How do we use the power of local government to create a new middle class? That's the real challenge," said Madeline Janis-Aparicio, a member of the city's Community Redevelopment Agency board and executive director of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy. "We need to use the full extent of our democratic powers to lift people out of poverty."

A generation ago, prosperity seemed to flow naturally to Los Angeles and other California cities. The state's poverty rate was below the national average, and high-wage union jobs in aerospace and other heavy manufacturing industries produced a thriving middle class.

Those good jobs began to disappear in the 1980s, and the losses accelerated after 1990, when the aerospace industry collapsed with the end of the Cold War.

More than 1 million skilled workers left L.A. County in the '90s, says Dan Flaming, a former county demographer who runs the Economic Roundtable, a nonpartisan research group.

In their place came an influx of immigrants, largely from Mexico and Central America, many without high school educations.

They took low-wage jobs in garment factories and restaurants; they cleaned office high-rises for cut-rate contractors; they became the region's nannies and gardeners and housekeepers.

Now immigrants outnumber the native born in prime working-age populations in L.A. The numbers helped drive California's poverty rate above the national average, straining housing, education and healthcare at a time when federal support was shrinking, said Long Beach Mayor Beverly O'Neill, who chairs the U.S. Conference of Mayors and will be among a dozen chief executives attending today's meeting.

Mayors from Fresno, North Miami and Macon, Ga., among other places, will focus on three areas: education, jobs and financial security for poor families.

"We're specifically trying to find different thoughts about poverty in light of today's world," O'Neill said. "There certainly is an awareness of the need."

Los Angeles has taken some steps in recent years to address poverty. In 1997, the city was among the first in the country to adopt a living-wage ordinance, which set a higher wage floor for all contractors doing business with the city. The ordinance significantly boosted pay for an estimated 10,000 workers. Since then, hundreds of cities and counties across the country have adopted such laws, some of them far more sweeping than the Los Angeles model.

Villaraigosa also has pumped tens of millions of dollars into a fund to provide more affordable housing for the homeless and low-income workers.

His advisors, meanwhile, are working on several initiatives that would help low-wage workers move into apprenticeship programs and jobs in construction, nursing and other industries.

"If we invest in training, we know that the people trained will be hired," said Larry Frank, deputy mayor for neighborhood and community services.

For now, Villaraigosa appears to have the backing of the city's business community, whose leaders are keen on his ideas about job training and education. They believe the key to easing poverty lies in making Los Angeles more business-friendly.

"The reality is that investment is … a first step to job creation," said Carol Schatz, president of the Central City Assn., a business advocacy group. "If you don't attract the capital, you don't have a chance of creating those union jobs."

Public policy experts give Villaraigosa high marks for making poverty a priority, even as they point out the delicate balance he must strike between the often-competing interests of labor and big business.

"He's staking his political future on solving a problem that a lot of mayors give up on," said Peter Dreier, a public policy professor at Occidental College and director of the school's Urban and Environmental Policy Program.

"There are a lot of easier roads on which to build a national political profile than to tackle homelessness and poverty in your backyard. I think it's a statement about his core values," the professor added.

[Canada] Anti-poverty forum fizzles

from The Hamilton Spectator

But group feels churches will still work together
By Sharon Boase

Only three of 38 downtown churches invited to an anti-poverty forum Tuesday night attended the session.

Some were too busy tackling hunger and poverty with their own congregations to attend the meeting called to fight hunger and homelessness in the city core. Others weren't aware of the session.

But organizers aren't disheartened. They say the issue is too important to let their efforts flag.

"I'll use up some shoe leather going out and personally meeting some of these people," said Rev. Colin Cameron, who is optimistic that Hamilton churches will work together.

"They're already dealing with poverty and the needs that creates every day," said the pastor at St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church. "They don't want to come out to a meeting to 'do poverty' again."

St. John's hosted the meeting in the basement of the Hughson Street North church. The city's other five Evangelical Lutheran churches attended, as did representatives of First Unitarian Church, Christ's Church Cathedral and MacNab Street Presbyterian Church.

"I was talking to folks after the meeting and I know they're really committed to making this work," said Paul Johnson, project director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, who addressed the crowd of about 40.

Convened in 2004 by the Hamilton Foundation and the City of Hamilton, the roundtable has brought together community leaders and activists to reduce poverty in Steeltown.

Local Evangelical Lutheran churches decided to get on board the anti-poverty bandwagon after reading about the scope of poverty in The Spectator.

"This congregation knows what it means to be in a foreign land," Cameron said of his members, who emigrated from 17 German-speaking nations after the Second World War.

"They know what it's like to be hungry, to be cold, to be tired," he said. "God has helped us and now we have to help the people in the community. We're God's hands and feet."

Churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and gurdwaras in the community raise and distribute hundreds of thousands of dollars, perhaps millions, in aid to the poor each year.

"Here's an opportunity for people to put aside their differences and focus on our core, which is this desire to care for our brothers and sisters," Johnson said.

"How can you not see this as a really tantalizing connection that can be made for the roundtable?"

Clergy who couldn't make it to the meeting told The Spectator they didn't recall receiving the invitation.

"Then again, it may still be in my pile," said Rev. Wayne Irwin at Centenary United Church. "There's no bottleneck like a minister's desk."

Centenary, which runs an Out of the Cold meal program Tuesdays, tried to organize something similar a decade ago, Irwin said. It ended up creating the Ecumenical Downtown Ministries to fill the gaps between government and church supports. It has since disbanded.

"But it's so difficult with people who have different concepts even of what the church is about," Irwin said. "For them to agree on even a structure of how to function was difficult."

Bonnie Felker, executive director of Christ Church Unity, said the church is in "survival mode" as it awaits a new pastor. "But keep us in the loop."

Rev. Alison Nicholson at Olivet United Church said she and her congregation certainly didn't need to be sold on the idea of faith groups joining the poverty roundtable. It's just a question of finding the time.

Despite the limited turnout, those at Tuesday's gathering were game to talk strategy and kicked ideas around:

* Sharing volunteers between faith communities rather than reinventing a program at a neighbouring church;

* Publishing a list of charitable activities in faith institutions throughout the city as a means to promoting collaboration and avoiding duplication;

* Faith institutions giving up some of their lawns and grounds to be turned into community gardens.

[South Africa] Many former political prisoners living in poverty

from The Mail and Guardian

Thousands of former political prisoners and their families are living in dire poverty, Minister of Defence Mosiuoa Lekota said in Johannesburg on Thursday.

Lekota was addressing business people in the presence of former president Nelson Mandela and the Ex-Political Prisoners Committee (EPPC), where they asked that business "come on board to assist those who fought for this democracy.

"It becomes an issue of conscience. We shared cells with these people, some on Robben Island.

"We were lucky to get jobs in government, but what about the others?"

The EPPC was masterminded by Mandela, who in 1995 called for a reunion of all former political prisoners on Robben Island to celebrate the victory against apartheid. It was then that it came to light that most of them were living in poverty and could not survive with their families.

Lekota said after the struggle for freedom, most prisoners suffered setbacks because of torture and mental battering. Some even committed suicide. "Some left the country when they were teenagers, only to return to no roofs over their heads ... nothing. Some of their family members are even dead."

Mandela was at first called on to assist in raising funds for these people, but has since handed that task over to Lekota.

Mandela said: "Lekota has not forgotten where he comes from. We must honour those who sacrificed for our land.

"I have given the fund-raising task to Terror [Lekota]. It is through men like him that this country can be the place we want it to be. For me, these prisoners sacrificed in pursuit of justice and freedom."

A trust was created for this cause, but Lekota said it needs to be sustainable.

Also present was the executive of the committee. Chairperson David Mwisi said its main objective is to broaden the education of the former prisoners and their families, to ensure their well-being and for them to be included in HIV/Aids assistance programmes, as many are infected and affected.

"Some comrades have never recovered," Mwisi said.

The meeting heard that 3 000 former political prisoners and their families are on the database for support by the trust, but it is believed that many more have not yet enlisted.

Lekota said R40-million has been raised previously to assist these people.

"At first we told them to invest the money. But, we later gave in because the people we are talking had nothing; they needed help there and then. So, with the backing of business, we can help these people."

The committee has branches in several provinces that will ensure nobody is left out.

Businesses represented were Levi Strauss South Africa, De Beers, Altech, Bidvest, Anglo American and Macsteel.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

[India] Victims of poverty protest in Jammu

from NDTV

Vikram Chowdhury

At least 400 migrant workers staged demonstrations in Jammu to highlight their state of poverty.

It comes a day after NDTV reported that workers sold their children to survive.

The protestors besieged a governing Congress party member of Parliament when he visited them - causing injuries to five people.

The migrants have been homeless for the last eight years since anti-India militancy broke out.

"Three children we have already given away and eight years have past. Now we are ready to give a girl away too," said Krishna Devi, a demonstrator.

"We have nothing to eat, we can't afford their school expenditure, fees, their transport fare," she said.

Dalip Singh, another migrant worker earns about Rs 30-40 rupees as a laborer.

Last year he sold two sons to a local in Reasi for Rs 11,000 and his sons would be returned only when he paid back with interest.

"My wife was ill I was forced to borrow money and then I had give my children to them. I could not work because my shoulder fractured," said Singh.

[South Carolina] Hunger banquet brings poverty close to home

from The Island Packet


BLUFFTON -- Suzie Ibarra, a petite college freshman who was born in Mexico, lived on the edge of poverty for about an hour Tuesday.

With her baby in her arms and pregnant again, she was told she had AIDS, which she got from a wealthy young man named "Don Pablo" whom she had a tryst with in Mexico.

For shaming his family, Don Pablo's privileges and inheritance were revoked. He was living side by side with Ibarra in the poorest 60 percent of society in the flash of a silver spoon.

The situation wasn't real -- Ibarra wore a fake pregnancy stomach, and the student playing Don Pablo looked visibly uncomfortable in a tie and sweater -- but it was representative of the larger gulf between wealth and poverty in the world.

The students at University of South Carolina Beaufort were taking part in a "hunger banquet," an event designed to lay out the disparities of the world in stark terms.

Students, dressed in chic formal wear or posh foreign garb, sat on soft couches for a high tea while others sprawled on the floor, some covered in dirt or wearing ripped clothing, eating rice with their hands. In between was a throng of students representing the 25 percent of the world's population in the middle group, the segment of population only a paycheck or two away from falling into poverty.

"Everyone on Earth has the same basic needs," said Cherryl Garner, a psychology professor who organized and hosted the banquet. "It is only our circumstances ... that differ."

The banquet, a mixture of economics lecture, dinner party, immersion classroom and a play, was part of International Week 2006, a campuswide effort to celebrate international cultures and raise awareness of world issues. The theme for this week is addressing global poverty, and for Garner, the best outcome would be to see the students take an interest in learning about hunger -- and do something about it.

"I'm hoping we take this theme of global poverty and carry it into next year and do something really proactive," she said.

The themes of the hunger banquet were laid out in purposefully contrasting terms: The few students representing the elite were waited on while missionaries mingled among the poor, doling out rice from buckets; the bright oranges of posh Asian dresses and the bright red of a formal kilt clashed with the forlorn-looking poor, some of whom were barefoot or who had wrapped their feet in makeshift shoes of cloth and tape.

Hunger banquet is an event created by Oxfam, an international charity that works to overcome poverty and injustice. The purpose is to represent the three tiers of world society: the 15 percent in the high-income range, the 25 percent middle-income population and the 60 percent of the population considered to be in poverty. Aid organizations estimate that 1 billion people in the world are impoverished, while 850 million people in the world suffer from chronic hunger.

For Ibarra, whose family moved from Mexico when she was young, participating in the banquet was enlightening. She said it helped her realize her parents made the right decision to move to the United States and give the family new chances at success.

"It has helped us, " she said. "They gave me an opportunity to get an education."

[Botswana] Ministry records over 50 malaria cases

from African News Dimension

More than 50 cases of malaria were recorded in the traditionally malaria prone sub-districts of Tutume and Boteti between January and February this year.

This was disclosed by the Chairperson of the Central District Council, Lesego Raditanka, during a full council meeting last week.

He attributed the malaria outbreak to heavy rains that the areas received recently.

This is because stagnant waters provide fertile breeding areas for the anopheles mosquitoes that cause malaria, he said.

He said the Performance Management System (PMS) training that has been rolled out to the permanent and pensionable and the industrial class cadres would continue until October 2006.

The councillors would thereafter be taken on board.

Raditanka also acknowledged shortage of stationary that befell primary schools but said the problem was experienced countrywide.

The reasons advanced for this sorry state of affairs include late tendering by sub-districts resulting with the recommended contractors failing to supply on time.

He said some companies attributed their failure to supply stationary to the devaluation of the Pula.

This non-delivery has caught the district off guard, since no contingency measures had been put in place as and when the problem occurred.

Raditanka said tendering for the next year school calendar supplies should commence in earnest and the supplies should reach all the schools by November.

He refuted media reports about the councils failure to use US$ 4,690,550 that was allocated for maintenance.

We have been derided by the media in the past for suppressing expenditure on some of the development programmes, not least the infrastructure maintenance programme, he said.

But he informed the councillors that the council has exhausted US$ 5,253,416 that was allocated under the maintenance programme in the current financial year.

He said additional funding had to be requested from the Ministry of Local Government to cater for urgent additional works, which emerged during the year.

Such works included the outbreak of bat infestations in some primary schools and health facilities in parts of Bobirwa and Serowe/Palapye sub-districts.

Meanwhile, the full council meeting was scheduled to debate 72 motions, including that of Mmadinare North East Councillor, Oduetse Lejowa, which requests that, the council sanctions a special date on which the political leadership of CDC, councillors would publicly show good moral intervention by voluntarily testing for HIV/AIDS, in order to positively contribute to the nations quest to control the spread of the pandemic.

[Free Trade] WTO chief Lamy warns against missing April deadline

from Reuters India

By Richard Waddington

GENEVA (Reuters) - World Trade Organisation (WTO) chief Pascal Lamy warned member states on Tuesday it would be a huge mistake to miss an April deadline for accords vital to an eventual global trade treaty.

Although the 149-nation trade body has sometimes ducked major decisions rather than risk failure, Lamy said the end-April target for a sweeping pact on agricultural and industrial subsidies0 and tariffs must be hit.

"I believe we would be making a huge collective mistake if we thought we could postpone (a deal) by the end of April," he told the Trade Negotiating Committee, the steering body for the WTO's Doha round of free trade negotiations.

The difficulties of striking a deal have led to speculation in Geneva that the WTO could let the April date slip.

Lamy will be attending a two-day meeting this weekend in Rio de Janeiro with United States Trade Representative Rob Portman, European Union trade chief Peter Mandelson and Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, where a further attempt will be made to narrow differences.

He told journalists: "It will not be a meeting for taking decisions, but for exploring the possible shape of the 'landing zone'," his term for the outlines of a deal.

The French former EU trade commissioner said agreement on cuts to rich-nation farm subsidies and lower tariffs on farm and manufacturing goods was a key to unlocking other areas of the round, which aims to boost the global economy and lift millions out of poverty.

Failure to secure an accord by the end of next month would make it very difficult for the WTO to reach its goal of an overall free trade deal before the expiry of U.S. presidential powers to negotiate trade deals in mid-2007.

"(It) is in my view a recipe for failure," Lamy said.

While stressing the end-April date was "do-able", he warned leading WTO members against waiting until the last moment before announcing they were ready for a deal.

"We need significant progress among key players on key issues, but it will not be enough for a small number of members suddenly to arrive with a piece of paper in their hands on April 30," he said.

Lamy said the EU had to make further concessions on opening up its highly protected farm market to imports, the United States had to agree to more farm subsidy cuts and Brazil would have to accept deeper cuts in industrial tariffs.

"The question is not whether, but when," he said.

[Mexico - US] Poverty and mythology crossing borders

from The Daily Bulletin

(Editor's note: This is a twice weekly column written Conor Friedersdorf, who is managing the Daily Bulletin's blog, or special Web site, on immigration issues. The blog is designed to provide a forum for opinions and information on immigration. The blog is at

In small towns throughout Mexico and Latin America, children grow up amid crushing poverty and a complicated mythology about the United States.

As their fathers labor for a rich landowner or a local merchant, never earning enough to improve their lot, they hear stories about an uncle or a cousin who headed north. Sometimes the story is about how they died crossing the desert. Sometimes it is about how they worked washing dishes for five months, turned to selling marijuana and got thrown into a U.S. prison, then killed during a race riot a black inmate.

But sometimes the story ends happily. The uncle or cousin earns enough to get married, to buy a house and to send his children to college. Each time someone in the town gets a new satellite dish to prop beside their two-room house, word spreads that the money came from a son or nephew in the U.S.

Sometimes a man returns from the U.S. rich enough to retire. He builds a new home on the edge of town, drives a car newer that everyone else's and buys tequila for his friends at the local bar.

His children wear Nike shoes and go to study in Mexico City.

If you're a child growing up in that town, it doesn't matter how many people are killed crossing the desert. It doesn't matter how many illegal immigrants live ten to a room in the U.S., never escaping poverty. You believe that if you head to the U.S. you'll be among the immigrants who make it.

Today's composite character, 29-year-old Manuel, came from a small town like that. His views about illegal immigration are very different from those we've heard in previous columns. He marched in Los Angeles this week, a Mexican flag draped over his shoulders. If you hooked him up to a lie detector test and offered him $350 for his blunt views on immigration, here's what he'd say:

"My father worked his whole life, and when he died he left his family poor, hungry, with nothing. I'd rather die than have my wife and my daughter end up that way.

"When I came here my two friends got caught. I got through. My friend's cousin said he'd hire me for construction if I gave him my last $100. I've worked there for four years now, sending most of what I make home to my wife and kids.

"On the bus once someone asked me why I came here illegally, like a criminal. I never understood this. In my village the laws are for the rich people. They use the law to keep their power. If you are rich, you can break the law and no one stops you. For the poor, even if you follow the law, the police can say you broke it. You give them money or you go to jail.

"Then there is God's law. My mother taught the Bible to us as kids. Jesus said to honor God, and to treat others like you want to be treated. If you live with Mexican laws, you come to see that God made the laws a good man must follow.

"When I came here illegally I thought America was the same way. I understand now that Americans follow the laws more. I admire this. Still, I'd come illegally even today. Illegal immigration laws are like Mexican laws: The lucky people, the rich ones born in the U.S., are just using their power to get what they can from poor Mexicans. They let us work, but they make us illegal because if they let us in legally they'd have to pay us better.

"If America really doesn't want us coming here, then why do they let so many come? It is Americans who hire us. Yet we're blamed for coming here. We work hard. We make lots of money for Americans, and take just a little to send home to our families.

"You insult us for being illegal, but who enables us to be here?

"I'm proud to be here providing a future for my family. We Mexicans who make it across the desert, work hard and don't rob or cheat people should be proud. We live good Christian lives. That's why I wear the Mexican flag.

"I yearn to bring my wife and my daughter here. There isn't any future in our little town. If we could be here together, legally, then I'd fly the American flag every day. I'd tell my kids, this is a place where the law is fair for everyone.

"If my family can't come here, do you expect me to fly your flag? If you want to deport me, even though I work hard for Americans who hire me, do you expect me to love your country? If you call me a criminal, a dirty Mexican, but you let me stay as long as you can make money on me, do you expect me to respect the laws Americans break?

"What part of illegal don't you understand?"

[India] Poverty most formidable development challenge in South Asia: Atwal

from New Kerala

Colombo: Observing that widespread poverty in South Asia posed the most formidable challenge to development, Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal today said the region's parliamentarians should take collective action to tackle the menace.

"As elected representatives of the people, Parliamentarians must support and supplement the efforts being made by their respective governments," Atwal told the 4th Conference of Association of SAARC Speakers and Parliamentarians.

Widespread poverty in the region posed the most formidable development challenge for all member states, he said.

He said the people of the SAARC region were the real strength of the region and that this large human resource must be taken full advantage of by providing them with enabling conditions so that they can contribute to the prosperity of the region.

[UK] Chancellor 'must do more' to tackle poverty gap

from 24 Dash

Labour former Cabinet minister Alan Milburn has urged Chancellor Gordon Brown to do more to tackle the poverty gap between the well off and the poor.

Mr Milburn welcomed many aspects of Mr Brown's 10th Budget and his success in creating an economic climate almost "without parallel" in modern times.

But he called for "direct targeted cuts" in the tax burden of low income families to "spring more people from the poverty trap".

In the final day's debate on the Budget, Mr Milburn acknowledged poverty had been reduced in recent years.

"But the truth is - and we can see this in each of our constituencies - the gap remains stubbornly and unacceptably wide.

"While more people are better off, poverty has become more entrenched. There is a glass ceiling on opportunity in this country. We've raised it - but we haven't yet broken through it."

Mr Milburn recalled how Labour learned the "hard way" in the 1980s how confusion over the fundamentals of tax and spend policies could only spell electoral disaster and warned the Conservatives were stuck with the same problem over public spending now.

"In a highly competitive world every talent wasted is not just a loss to the individual but a drag on the country. Britain can only succeed economically if we are mobile socially."

Here, he said, the Labour Government had no "reason for complacency - and much to give us concern".

Living standards were rising and poverty had been reduced but the gap between the well off and the poor remained stubbornly wide.

"The biggest inequity today is not between income groups but between those who own shares, pensions and housing and those who rely solely on wages and benefits.

"That is why I believe the biggest contribution to enhancing social mobility is to establish Britain as an asset-owning democracy."

On the need for targeted tax cuts, Mr Milburn said tax credits had made a real difference in raising living standards and providing incentives to work.

Today over half a million fewer low income households than in 1997 faced "such insanely high marginal tax rates" of up to more than 100%.

"However, as the (Budget) Red Book confirms, the number facing marginal tax rates of 60% or more has increased by almost one million largely as a consequence of the workings of the tax credit system.

"The Institute of Fiscal Studies has warned that without remedial action this could worsen work incentives.

"I was brought up to believe that hard work and endeavour would be rewarded not penalised. The tax system needs to reflect those values. On fairness grounds it surely cannot be right for people towards the bottom end of the income scale to face higher marginal taxes than those at the top end.

"It's for this reason I welcome the Chancellor's plans for a review into the feasibility of aligning income tax and National Insurance contributions for low income families.

"The review, I believe, needs to consider additional ways of making direct targeted cuts in the tax burden of low income families, building on our introduction of the 10p starting rate of tax in 1999, so that we can spring more people from the poverty trap."

He warned: "The Budget is a further step in the right direction. But we need to do more to help more through the glass ceiling.

"The longer we are in government the greater the need to keep on changing to keep pace with the times in which we live. An 80:20 society where 80% do OK but 20% are left behind might be good enough for the Conservatives - but it should not be good enough for us."

[Kansas] Report: Poverty touching more kids

from The Lawrence Journal World

By Dave Ranney

In Douglas County, one of every five children is living within a few hundred dollars of the federal poverty line.

“I don’t know how some of these people are making it,” said Jeanette Collier, who runs the East Central Kansas Economic Opportunity Corp. office in Lawrence.

Ever-increasing numbers of children are not making it.

“Child poverty continues to increase in Kansas,” said Gary Brunk, executive director at Kansas Action for Children.

The Topeka-based advocacy group released its annual Kids Count report Tuesday.

The report shows that 29 percent of the state’s school-age children are living in households at or below 130 percent of the poverty level — $1,798 a month for a single mom with two children. Six years ago, it was 24 percent.

At 130 percent of poverty, children are eligible for free school lunches.

In Douglas County, 19 percent of school-age children — that’s almost 2,500 kids — currently are eligible for free lunches. Four years ago, 17 percent were eligible.

Brunk called the upward trend a “dark cloud” over the state’s mostly successful efforts to increase immunizations, reduce teen pregnancies and promote education.

“For a growing number of lower-income families across Kansas, paying for necessities such as food, housing, child care and health care is becoming increasingly difficult,” Brunk said.

The state’s politicians, he said, should:

• Raise the minimum wage.

• Increase educational opportunities, especially those available through Head Start.

• Create tax-free savings accounts aimed at helping low-income families build assets.

• Help families keep more of what they earn by encouraging participation in programs such as food stamps and HealthWave, and making them aware of tax refunds available to the poor.

In Lawrence, the poor are hamstrung by high rents and low, college-town wages.

“If you’re poor and you’re living in Lawrence and you lose your job, there are very few options for becoming re-employed,” said ECKAN director Collier.

Still, poor families are attracted to Lawrence.

“They come here because they’ve heard Lawrence is a prosperous place and they think they’ll be able to get a job here,” Collier said.

Once they’re here, she said, many stay.

“I’ve talked to families who’ve moved here from Dallas, Chicago, Detroit. Compared to what’s going on there, they think Lawrence is a paradise, even though they’re suffering,” Collier said.

At The Salvation Army shelter, case manager Mathew Faulk said recent upturns in the economy have not reached the poor.

“For most of them, it’s not getting better. It’s more people competing for fewer jobs,” Faulk said.

Nancy Jorn oversees the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department’s support program for pregnant women and their babies.

Families headed by workers earning minimum wage cannot make ends meet in Lawrence.

“When you add up rent, utilities, food and gas, there’s nothing left,” she said. “If you have to pay for day care, you’re in the hole.”

[Indonesia] Fighting TB means eradicating poverty

from The Jakarta Post

The fear of an avian influenza pandemic has tended to overshadow the fight against other diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis (TB). Indonesia has the third highest prevalence of TB in the world after India and China, with around 600,000 patients currently being treated and nearly 300 people dying daily from the disease. In line with World TB Day which falls on March 24, the World Health Organization's chief officer on tuberculosis in Indonesia Firdosi R. Mehta gave an interview to The Jakarta Post's Hera Diani.

Question: How alarming is the TB situation in Indonesia?

Answer: The prevalence rate has been reduced by about 40 percent since 1990, and the case detection rates or the number of smear-positive (infectious) cases detected every year has increased from 20 percent to 66 percent.

However, the number of cases is still alarming. An estimated almost quarter million, or 240,000 cases of all forms of TB occur every year.

Based on the 2004 household survey in 22,000 households in 30 provinces, there were big differences between eastern part of Indonesia, Java/Bali region and Sumatra. The national prevalence was 119, prevalence in Sumatra was 182, Java/Bali was 67 and Eastern Part was 250. Basically, there is a lot of TB in the eastern part, while the population is low over there.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, TB is being driven by HIV, and has become the common secondary infection with AIDS. Is that the case here?

It is not the case in Indonesia, but a glimpse of it is starting and we have to act now. HIV as you know is not a generalized problem in this country, it is a concentrated epidemic or mainly occurs in groups with high risk behavior, that is injecting drug users and commercial sex workers.

But in Papua, HIV is heading toward a generalized epidemic. In (provinces with a high HIV prevalence) Papua, Riau, Bali, West Java, East Java, and Jakarta, it appears that HIV is slowly having an impact on TB.

Has the government done enough to fight the disease?

I categorically say yes. The DOTS (Directly Observed Treatment Short Course), which sees health care workers closely monitoring patients to ensure they complete a short course of powerful drugs, is working well here. From 1997 through 2005, more than a million patients have been treated. Indonesia has contributed 5 percent of the number of cases treated in the world. This speaks well of the program as the number of patients treated drastically increases every year. There is no problem of drug availability either.

But many challenges remain. First of all, is the expansion of the hospital sector, because up to now, whatever has been achieved is mainly through implementing the TB program through the network of community health centers.

There are 1,200 hospitals, but only 29 percent have adopted the DOTS program. We need to empower the hospitals through training, equipment, monitoring, and supervision.

The second problem is addressing the problem of TB connected with HIV and multi drug resistance.

The last constraint is sustainable funding. We need to mobilize the local administrations to invest more to increase the government contribution. So far, the total cost for the TB program is $57 million per year. It is well funded basically, but it definitely needs more commitment and ownership at the local level.

TB is a disease of poverty. Fighting TB means fighting poverty.

Are there any success stories from other countries that we can learn from?

Peru has managed to come out of the list of 22 high burden countries, but only because the population there is low, unlike Indonesia.

However, Indonesia, and all members of the medical profession here, need to understand that anything that India, China and Indonesia do, contributes to accelerate the success of global efforts to control TB. Hopefully, we can meet the target of cutting global infections in half by 2015, and eliminate TB by 2050.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

[Nigeria] Worldbank, NAPEP Partner On Poverty Eradication

from All Africa

Onwuka Nzeshi

The World Bank, National Poverty Eradication Programme, and the Social Protection Advisory Group of the National Planning Commission has kick-started a comprehensive Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT), scheme aimed at complementing poverty eradication programme in Nigeria.

The programme, which has the backing of the British Department for International Development (DFID), will explore new strategies of tackling the peculiar poverty situation prevalent in Nigeria, using NAPEP's grassroots structures.

The Federal Government has also set up a presidential committee, to raise the sum of N50billion in loan facilities for agriculture, and make the loans available for the 2006 farming season.

The programme is meant to spur agriculture and agro-allied activities across the large, medium, small and micro levels.

National Co-ordinator, National Poverty Eradication Programme, Dr Magnus Kpa-kol, said these in Abuja yesterday, while addressing NAPEP coordinators from the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, at the maiden meeting of NAPEP management and state coordinators for the year 2006.

The CCTs, Kpakol said, will give certain cash benefits to participants in the programme, in exchange for a specified action. According to him, the programme is being used in some parts of the world to induce parents to increase their investments in human capital development, especially children education and health care.

Kpakol acknowledged that Nigeria has over the years carried out programmes similar to CCT in principle, the new resolve is to bring the broad concept of the the programme to bear on ares of poverty eradication such as education, health and micro enterprise. The Minister of Finance, Prof. Ngozi Okonjo had in 2005, asked the World Bank to assist the country in exploring options for the implementation of a CCT programme in Nigeria and based on this request, the World Bank conducted a rapid appraisal on the posibility of implementing the programme in the country.

In the course of the study, the World Bank identified bursary, school feeding programme, take home rations, immunisation and maternal health services as posible areas where CCT could be applied. Other areas include subsidised interest rates and micro financing.

Kpakol urged NAPEP Coordinators from across the states to collate some valuable information from their localities by engaging grassroots cooperatives and other community based organisations in constructive interactions, adding that such information will be useful to the new strategy recommended by the World Bank.

On the funds to be raised by the presidential committee, Kpakol further disclosed that the nationÃ-s commercial banks are expected to contributeN30billion; SMIES will contribute the sum of N6billion while the Nigeria Agricultural Cooperative and Rural Development Bank (NACRDB) will contribute N3.5billion. Other areas where funds will be sourced include the Central Bank of Nigeria, Agricultural Credit Gurrantee Scheme, N2.5billion; 36 State governments and Abuja, N7.4 billion while the sum of N0.7billion is expected from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Fund to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture. The funds aree to be distributed on a 60:40 percentage ratio to farming and agro allied activities while due preference will be given to women and small scale farmers to boost production and alleviate poverty.

[US] Helping Dropouts Break the Cycle of Poverty

from National Public Radio

If you come from a poor family, you are more likely to drop out of high school. And if you drop out and stay out of high school, you are more likely to be poor. In Portland, Ore., one program is designed to break this cycle by helping dropouts finish their education.

The program, called Gateway to College, is taught at Portland Community College. The idea is that students who enroll will get a taste -- even a thirst -- for college by taking classes on a college campus.

Some of the teens in the class are helping to support their families at home. They may become the first in their families to go to college. And many also have this in common: They hated high school.

The Gateway program screens for students who have the skills and motivation to try their hand at school again. It also offers things that most high schools can't: Small classes and a lot of counseling. Tuition is free. And it allows students to earn high school and college credit for every class they take.

There are many programs like Gateway to College across the country. The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is spending millions of dollars to launch more like the one in Portland. It's too early to know how many students graduate nationally. But in Portland, the program demands a lot of students who already have demanding lives; 40 percent of them drop out. Many do come back for their high-school diplomas, a big accomplishment considering where they started. But the title of this program is Gateway to College -- and so far, few students have gone on to earn that next degree.

The Cost of Dropping Out

by Ben Brudevold-Newman

Does going to school pay off? In 2004, 22 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds in the United States had not completed high school, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the average annual income for individuals without a high school diploma or GED is $18,734. Compared to 1971, when average earnings were $35,087, today's dropouts face a bleak economic future. Educational attainment levels are usually mapped against earning potential to illustrate the point that more learning leads to more earning. But this measurement often ignores the broader costs to society of high-school dropouts.

By the Numbers:

- 75 percent of state prison inmates and 59 percent of federal inmates are high-school dropouts.

- High-school dropouts are 3.5 times more likely than graduates to be incarcerated.

- Dropouts contribute disproportionately to the unemployment rate. In 2001, 55 percent of young adult dropouts were employed, compared to 74 percent of high-school graduates and 87 percent of college graduates.

- Dropouts contribute to state and federal tax coffers at about one-half the rate of high-school graduates. Over a working lifetime, a dropout will contribute about $60,000 less.

- The 23 million high-school dropouts aged 18-67 will contribute roughly $50 billion less annually in state and federal taxes.

- Studies suggest the United States would save $41.8 billion in health care costs if the 600,000 young people who dropped out in 2004 were to complete one additional year of education.

- If 33 percent of dropouts graduated from high school, the federal government would save $10.8 billion each year in food stamps, housing assistance, and temporary assistance for needy families.

- Testifying before Congress, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said dropouts cost the United States "more than $260 billion... in lost wages, lost taxes and lost productivity over their lifetimes."

[Malaria] WHO offical criticises misue of anti-malaria funds

from The Angola Press

The executive secretary of the "Roll back malaria" partnership, Awa Marie Coll-Seck, Monday denounced in Dakar the misuse of funds meant for the fight against malaria in African countries.

"There is a great mobilisation of development partners for the fight against malaria in Africa, but our countries must better organise to use resources allocated to the fight efficiently in order to achieve the desired objective," she said in opening remarks at a three-day sub-regional workshop on the implementation of anti-malaria programmes.

Some 100 participants (consultants, experts and programme coordinators) from West and Central Africa attending the workshop will identify strategies to facilitate a better use of the funds devoted to the fight against malaria in Africa.

Meanwhile, Senegalese minister of Health and Preventive Services Abdou Fall urged managers of the national malaria programme to redefine pragmatic management approaches and styles intended to reduce the difficulties or shortcomings in programme implementation.

"Despite the implemented prevention means and availability of efficient drugs, the rate of efficient operations remains desperately low, particularly among poor people and in rural areas," Fall observed.

Considered as a devastating scourge for humanity, particularly in Africa, malaria kills every year more than 1 million people, most of whom are children under the age of five.

The "Roll back malaria" partnership was established by the WHO, UNDP, UNICEF and WB in 1998, with the to reduce malaria-related morbidity by half by 2010.

[Malawi] economy to grow faster at 7 pct in '06 - finmin

from Reuters South Africa

Malawi's economy is set to expand by 7 percent in 2006, quickening from 2.1 percent last year, on expected donor inflows and a pickup in agricultural output, Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe said on Tuesday.

That would be the fastest pace of growth in the southern African country since 1995, and outpaces the 6 percent level seen as necessary to alleviate poverty in one of the world's poorest nations.

Gondwe told Reuters in an interview that agricultural production -- which accounts for 40 percent of Malawi's economy -- was expected to rebound in 2006 after good rains and an official fertiliser subsidy introduced last year.

He was also optimistic that Malawi would qualify for a complete write off of its $3 billion outstanding debt after meeting goals set by the International Monetary Fund, which concluded a review of the country's performance last week.

"The prospects are very good for us to achieve a 7 percent growth rate this calendar year because of the bumper harvest possibility and impressive performance under the IMF programme," Gondwe told Reuters.

Malawi's economy grew by 4.6 percent in 2004, but slowed sharply last year after a drought hit agricultural output.

The IMF has set a growth target of 8.2 percent for the year, but this has been described as ambitious by analysts.

Its assessment team said in a statement last week that Malawi had met all the goals set to the end of 2005 under a three-year $55 million Poverty Reduction Growth Facility (PRGF) program, which the body approved last August.

"We have reached completion point. Our performance under the PGRF programme has been impressive, I can't be sure but I am optimistic that we will get debt relief when the (IMF) Board meets in June to decide," Gondwe said.

"This confidence with donors will increase prospects of growth," he said.

[India] Poverty drives J&K villagers to sell children

from NDTV

Vikram Chowdhary

Unemployment and poverty drove a family in Jammu and Kashmir to sell their 12-year-old son Joginder for only Rs 8,000.

And it's not just the pain of giving away a child that the parents had to deal with. Joginder died two months after he was sold.

"Because of hunger and poverty he gave our son. We thought at least there he will be able to eat well and grow up. But fate had something else. He couldn't grow. How could he? They killed our son. He was killed," said Kiso Devi, Joginder's mother.

Migrant colony

For the last seven years Kiso Devi has been living in a colony of migrants in the remote village of Talwara in Udhapmur district.

Her family migrated from their village higher up in the mountains because of the fear of militants.

Karam Chand, another resident of the village, lost one of his legs while working as a labourer. Today, he is barely surviving, leading a hand to mouth existence.

Chand sold off his twelve-year-old son for Rs 1,000. He regrets his decision, but says with his family fighting hunger, that was the only option left.

"Today people refuse to give me any credit or loan. He was my only son. He was studying in 7th-8th. I forced him to leave his school and sold him just for Rs 1,000," said Karam Chand.

Battling poverty

The villagers say there are about a dozen such families who have sold their children, and some potential sellers are still waiting for buyers.

About seven years ago, thousands of villagers migrated from the higher reaches to safer places because of the threat of militancy.

In Reasi alone, there are more than 5,000 migrants.

Till 2004, they were getting free ration from the state government but now they say there is hardly anything to eat and are forced to sell their children.

[Indiana] Report: Poverty leads to educational crisis in county

from The Fort Wayne News Sentinel

By Sheena Dooley

According to the United Way of Allen County, more Fort Wayne families live in poverty than ever before, leaving more children at risk of failing in the classroom.

Since 2003, the percentage of people living in poverty in Allen County has exceeded the state average, according to a report released Monday by the United Way’s Success By 6 program. Success By 6 is a United Way initiative started almost two years ago with the cooperation of public and private partners to ensure children are healthy, nurtured and ready to start school.

Locally, more than 17,200 children under age 5 come from impoverished families, almost a 10 percent increase from five years ago. Nationally, 17 percent of children come from families living in poverty. In Indiana 13 percent do, and in Allen County 18 percent do. They also are more likely to come from single-parent, African-American or Hispanic families, the report said.

The increase comes at a time when programs such as Head Start, which aims to help low-income children get an early start on their education, lack the federal and state support they need, said the United Way’s Nancy Flennery.

Indiana, she said, is one of a handful of states providing minimal funding. That has forced programs such as Head Start to raise their income-eligibility guidelines and serve fewer youths.

“We cannot address an issue or a problem until we understand it,” said Roger Moll, vice chairman of Success By 6. “This report identifies a number of problems, and I think it’s a call to action to help the children of Allen County.”

[Georgia] Athens Organization Tries to Squash Poverty

from WNEG

Scott Myrick

"Partners for a Prosperous Athens" is working on a plan to combat poverty in Clarke County.

Last night the organization called citizens out to Cedar Shoals High School to get involved.

Community members joined committees to generate plans for action over the next six months.

Organizers expected around 250 people to attend the meetings. More than 750 actually showed up.

“It's going to be trying to get the whole community to tell us what they think the problems are, study them and come up with some recommendations that people are actually going to implement,” Red Petrovs, vice chairman of Partners for a prosperous Athens tells NewsChannel 32.

Athens transit provided a free bus route for people from low-income neighborhoods to get to the meeting, though no-one rode the bus.

Organizers say they'll hold town meetings in those areas to make sure they're included in discussions.

Monday, March 27, 2006

[US] Relatively Deprived

from The New Yorker

How poor is poor?

In the summer of 1963, Mollie Orshansky, a thirty-eight-year-old statistician at the Social Security Administration, in Washington, D.C., published an article in the Social Security Bulletin entitled “Children of the Poor.” “The wonders of science and technology applied to a generous endowment of natural resources have wrought a way of life our grandfathers never knew,” she wrote. “Creature comforts once the hallmark of luxury have descended to the realm of the commonplace, and the marvels of modern industry find their way into the home of the American worker as well as that of his boss. Yet there is an underlying disquietude reflected in our current social literature, an uncomfortable realization that an expanding economy has not brought gains to all in equal measure. It is reflected in the preoccupation with counting the poor—do they number 30 million, 40 million, or 50 million?”

Orshansky’s timing was propitious. In December of 1962, President John F. Kennedy had asked Walter Heller, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, to gather statistics on poverty. In early 1963, Heller gave the President a copy of a review by Dwight Macdonald, in The New Yorker, of Michael Harrington’s “The Other America: Poverty in the United States,” in which Harrington claimed that as many as fifty million Americans were living in penury.

The federal government had never attempted to count the poor, and Orshansky’s paper proposed an ingenious and straightforward way of doing so. Orshansky had experienced poverty firsthand. Born in the South Bronx in 1915, she was one of six daughters of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants who barely spoke English. Her father, a plumber and ironworker, was often unemployed, and Orshansky and her sisters wore hand-me-downs and slept two to a bed. Sometimes the family stood in relief lines to collect food. Nevertheless, Orshansky attended Hunter College High School, which was then a school for gifted girls, and went on to Hunter College, where she majored in mathematics and statistics. In 1939, she joined the U.S. Children’s Bureau, now part of the Department of Health and Human Services, and studied children’s health and nutrition.

Orshansky never married or had children, but she was passionate about children’s welfare. From 1945 to 1958, she worked in the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Human Nutrition and Home Economics, where she worked on a series of diets designed to provide poor American families with adequate nutrition at minimal cost. In painstaking detail, the food plans laid out the amount of meat, bread, potatoes, and other staples that families needed in order to eat healthily. These were “by no means subsistence diets,” Orshansky later wrote. “But they do assume that the housewife will be a careful shopper, a skillful cook, and a good manager who will prepare all the family’s meals at home.”

In 1958, Orshansky joined the research department of the Social Security Administration, and decided to try to estimate the incidence of child poverty. “Poor people are everywhere; yet they are invisible,” she told a reporter for the Dallas Morning News in 1999. “I wanted them to be seen clearly by those who make decisions about their lives.” Building on pioneering research on diet and poverty conducted in York at the turn of the twentieth century by Seebohm Rowntree, a British social reformer, Orshansky used her food plans to calculate a subsistence budget for families of various sizes. For a mother and father with two children, she estimated the expense of a “low cost” plan at $3.60 a day, and of an even more frugal “economy plan” at $2.80 a day. Rather than trying to calculate the price of other items in the family budget, such as rent, heat, and clothing, Orshansky relied on a survey by the Agriculture Department, which showed that the typical American family spent about a third of its income on food. Thus, to determine the minimum income a family needed in order to survive, she simply multiplied the annual cost of the food plans by three. Families on the low-cost plan needed to earn at least $3,955 a year; families on the economy plan needed to earn $3,165.

Orshansky compared these figures with the Census Bureau’s records on pre-tax family incomes and concluded that twenty-six per cent of families with children earned less than the upper poverty threshold and eighteen per cent earned less than the lower poverty threshold. In total, she estimated that between fifteen million and twenty-two million children were living in poverty, a disproportionate number of them in single-parent households and minority neighborhoods. “It would be one thing if poverty hit at random, and no one group were singled out,” she wrote. “It is another thing to realize that some seem destined to poverty almost from birth—by their color or by the economic status or occupation of their parents.”

Heller and his colleagues on the Council of Economic Advisers cited Orshansky’s paper in an “Economic Report to the President” that appeared in January, 1964, shortly after Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, declared a “war on poverty” in his State of the Union address. In August of that year, Congress created the Office of Equal Opportunity, which used Orshansky’s method to determine eligibility for new anti-poverty programs, such as Head Start. Other federal agencies followed suit, and in 1969 the White House adopted a slightly modified version of Orshansky’s lower threshold—the one based on the economy food plan—as the official poverty line.

In the nineteen-sixties, many economists believed that economic growth and government intervention would eliminate poverty. Between 1964 and 1973, as Johnson’s Great Society programs went into effect, the poverty rate fell from nineteen per cent of the population to 11.1 per cent. But, while the nation’s inflation-adjusted gross domestic product has virtually tripled since 1973, the poverty rate has hardly budged. In 2004, the most recent year for which figures are available, it stood at 12.7 per cent, a slight increase over the previous year, and in some regions the figure is much higher. The horror of Hurricane Katrina was not just the physical destruction it wrought but the economic hardship it exposed. In New Orleans, the poverty rate in 2004 was twenty-three per cent, a fact that George W. Bush noted in his address from New Orleans’ French Quarter on September 15th, when he said, “We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action.” (Six months later, the Bush Administration has yet to present an anti-poverty plan.) According to the Census Bureau, many cities are even poorer than New Orleans. In Detroit in 2004, the poverty rate was 33.6 per cent; in Miami, it was 28.3 per cent; and in Philadelphia it was 24.9 per cent. (In New York, it was 20.3 per cent.)

The persistence of endemic poverty raises questions about how poverty is measured. In the past ten years or so, significant changes have been made in the way that inflation, gross domestic product, and other economic statistics are derived, but the poverty rate is still calculated using the technique that Orshansky invented. (Every twelve months, the Census Bureau raises the income cutoffs slightly to take inflation into account.)

This approach has some obvious shortcomings. To begin with, the poverty thresholds are based on pre-tax income, which means that they don’t take into account tax payments and income from anti-poverty programs, such as food stamps, housing subsidies, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and Medicaid, which cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars a year. In addition, families’ financial burdens have changed considerably since Orshansky conducted her research. In the late fifties, most mothers didn’t have jobs outside the home, and they cooked their families’ meals. Now that most mothers work full time and pay people to help them take care of their kids, child care and commuting consume more of a typical family budget.

Another problem is that the poverty thresholds are set at the same level all across the country. Last year, the pre-tax-income cutoff for a couple with two children was $19,806. This might be enough to support a family of four in rural Arkansas or Tennessee, but not in San Francisco, Boston, or New York, where the real-estate boom has created a shortage of affordable housing. According to Jared Bernstein and Lawrence Mishel, economists at the liberal Economic Policy Institute, in Washington, D.C., the average rent in working-class neighborhoods of Boston is about a thousand dollars a month, which for a family of four with a poverty-level income leaves just six hundred and fifty dollars a month for food, clothing, heat, and everything else. Bernstein and Mishel argue that in some cities the poverty thresholds should be twice their current level.

Such considerations suggest that the official measures understate the extent of poverty, but the opposite argument can also be made. The poverty figures fail to distinguish between temporary spells of hardship, like those caused by a job loss or a divorce, and long-term deprivation. Surveys show that as many as forty per cent of people who qualify as poor in any given year no longer do so the following year. Middle-class families that suffer a temporary loss of income can spend their savings, or take out a loan, to maintain their living standard, and they don’t belong in the same category as the chronically impoverished. One way to remedy this problem is to consider how much households spend, rather than how much they earn. If in the course of a year a household spends less than some designated amount, it is classified as poor. Daniel T. Slesnick, an economist at the University of Texas, has tested this approach using figures that he obtained from the Department of Labor’s Consumer Expenditure Survey, which tracks the buying habits of thousands of American families. Slesnick calculated that the “consumption poverty rate” for 1995—that is, the percentage of families whose spending was less than the povertyincome threshold—was 9.5 per cent, which is 4.3 per cent less than the official poverty rate. Subsequent studies have confirmed Slesnick’s findings.

In 1995, a panel of experts assembled by the National Academy of Science concluded that the Census Bureau measure “no longer provides an accurate picture of the differences in the extent of economic poverty among population groups or geographic areas of the country, nor an accurate picture of trends over time.” The panel recommended that the poverty line be revised to reflect taxes, benefits, child care, medical costs, and regional differences in prices. Statisticians at the Census Bureau have experimented with measures that incorporate some of these variables, but none of the changes have been officially adopted.

The obstacles are mainly political. “Poverty rates calculated using the experimental measures are all slightly higher than the official measure,” Kathleen Short, John Iceland, and Joseph Dalaker, statisticians at the Census Bureau, reported in a 2002 paper reviewing the academy’s recommendations. In addition to increasing the number of people officially classified as impoverished, revising the Census Bureau measure in the ways that the poverty experts suggested would mean that more elderly people and working families would be counted as poor.

Conservatives would prefer a measure that reduces the number of poor people. “The poverty rate misleads the public and our representatives, and it thereby degrades the quality of our social policies,” Nicholas Eberstadt, of the American Enterprise Institute, wrote in a 2002 article. “It should be discarded for the broken tool that it is.” In February, the conservatives appeared to make some headway when the Census Bureau released a report on some new ways of measuring poverty that could cut the official rate by up to a third.

Rather than trying to come up with a subsistence-based poverty measure about which everybody can agree, we should accept that there is no definitive way to decide who is impoverished and who isn’t. Every three years, researchers from the federal government conduct surveys about the number of appliances in the homes of American families. In 2001, ninety-one per cent of poor families owned color televisions; seventy-four per cent owned microwave ovens; fifty-five per cent owned VCRs; and forty-seven per cent owned dishwashers. Are these families poverty-stricken?

Not according to W. Michael Cox, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, and Richard Alm, a reporter at the Dallas Morning News. In their book “Myths of Rich and Poor: Why We’re Better Off Than We Think” (1999), Cox and Alm argued that the poverty statistics overlook the extent to which falling prices have enabled poor families to buy consumer goods that a generation ago were considered luxury items. “By the standards of 1971, many of today’s poor families might be considered members of the middle class,” they wrote.

Consider a hypothetical single mother with two teen-age sons living in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, a neighborhood with poor schools, high rates of crime and unemployment, and few opportunities for social advancement. The mother works four days a week in a local supermarket, where she makes eight dollars an hour. Her sons do odd jobs, earning a few hundred dollars a month, which they have used to buy stereo equipment, a DVD player, and a Nintendo. The family lives in public housing, and it qualifies for food stamps and Medicaid. Under the Earned Income Tax Credit program, the mother would receive roughly four thousand dollars from the federal government each year. Compared with the destitute in Africa and Asia, this family is unimaginably rich. Compared with a poor American family of thirty years ago, it may be slightly better off. Compared with a typical two-income family in the suburbs, it is poor.

The concept of relative deprivation was first described by Adam Smith in “The Wealth of Nations,” in a passage on the “necessaries” of daily life:

By necessaries I understand not only the commodities which are indispensably necessary for the support of life, but what ever the customs of the country renders it indecent for creditable people, even the lowest order, to be without. A linen shirt, for example, is, strictly speaking, not a necessary of life. The Greeks and Romans lived, I suppose, very comfortably, though they had no linen. But in the present times, through the greater part of Europe, a creditable day-laborer would be ashamed to appear in public without a linen shirt, the want of which would be supposed to denote that disgraceful degree of poverty which, it is presumed, nobody can well fall into, without extreme bad conduct. Custom, in the same manner, has rendered leather shoes a necessary of life in England.

For decades, economists overlooked Smith’s analysis, and it was left to sociologists and anthropologists to study the impact of relative deprivation. During the Second World War, Samuel A. Stouffer, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, and a team of researchers compared the levels of job satisfaction reported by members of the military police, a profession in which few people were promoted, and members of the Army Air Force, where there were frequent opportunities for advancement. To the researchers’ surprise, the policemen reported greater happiness in their jobs than the airmen. One possible explanation, the researchers speculated, is that the policemen tended to compare themselves with colleagues who hadn’t been promoted, whereas the “reference group” for the airmen was colleagues who had been promoted. “The more people a man sees promoted when he is not promoted himself,” the Cambridge University sociologist W. G. Runciman wrote in 1966, in his book “Relative Deprivation and Social Justice,” “the more people he may compare himself to in a situation where the comparison will make him feel relatively deprived.”

More recently, three economists at the University of Warwick published the results of a survey of sixteen thousand workers in a range of industries, in which they found that the workers’ reported levels of job satisfaction had less to do with their salaries than with how their salaries compared with those of co-workers. Human beings are also competitive with their neighbors. Erzo Luttmer, an economist at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, recently found that people with rich neighbors tend to be less happy than people whose neighbors earn about as much money as they do. It appears that, while money matters to people, their relative ranking matters more.

Relative deprivation is also bad for your health. In a famous study conducted between 1967 and 1977, a team of epidemiologists led by Sir Michael Marmot, of University College London, monitored the health of more than seventeen thousand members of Britain’s Civil Service, a highly stratified bureaucracy. Marmot and his colleagues found that people who had been promoted to the top ranks—those who worked directly for cabinet ministers—lived longer than their colleagues in lower-ranking jobs. Mid-level civil servants were more likely than their bosses to develop a range of potentially deadly conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, lung cancer, and gastrointestinal ailments.

Initially, some critics suggested that these results could be attributed to differences in behavior: members of the lower ranks were more likely to smoke and drink and less likely to exercise and eat healthily than their better-paid superiors. To test this theory, Marmot and his team have been conducting a follow-up study of civil servants, which began in 1985 and continues to this day. This survey has confirmed the results of the first study, and has also suggested that less than a third of the difference in patterns of disease and mortality can be ascribed to behavior associated with coronary risk, such as smoking or lack of exercise. “The higher the social position, the longer people can expect to live, and the less disease they can expect to suffer,” Marmot explained in a recent paper. “This is the social gradient in health.”

The British findings have been replicated in other parts of the world, including the United States. Amartya Sen, who won the 1998 Nobel in economics, has pointed out that African-Americans as a group have a smaller chance of reaching old age than Indians born in the impoverished state of Kerala, who are much poorer. Part of the reason may be the high rate of homicide deaths among young African-American men, but African-American women also have higher mortality rates than women in Kerala. “So it is not only the case that American blacks suffer from relative deprivation in terms of income per head vis-à-vis American whites,” Sen wrote in his 1999 book, “Development as Freedom.” “They also are absolutely more deprived than the low-income Indians in Kerala.”

The epidemiological studies don’t explain how relative deprivation damages people’s health; they simply suggest that there is a connection. One possibility is that subordination leads to stress, which damages the body’s immune system. In the animal kingdom, where there are bitter fights over relative status, there is evidence supporting this hypothesis. The neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky has described how dominant baboons in troops on the African plains verbally and physically abuse their subordinates. When Sapolsky analyzed blood samples from low-ranking baboons, he found high levels of a hormone associated with stress. Other scientists have shown that dominant rhesus monkeys have lower rates of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) than monkeys further down the social hierarchy, and when dominant female monkeys are relegated to a subordinate status their rate of heart disease goes up.

“Given the animal results,” Angus Deaton, a Princeton economist who is an expert on poverty, wrote in a recent paper about relative deprivation and mortality, “the degree to which low rank is harmful to an individual is likely to depend on the number of people of higher rank, because each such person is in a position to deliver the threats, insults, enforced obeisance, or ultimate violence that generate stress. Individuals who are insulted by those immediately above them insult those immediately below them, generating a cascade of threats and violence through which low-ranked individuals feel the burden, not just of their immediate superiors, but of the whole hierarchy above them.”

Poor health may be the most dramatic consequence of relative deprivation, but there are more subtle effects as well. Although many poor families own appliances once associated with rich households, such as color televisions and dishwashers, they live in a society in which many families also possess DVD players, cell phones, desktop computers, broadband Internet connections, powerful game consoles, S.U.V.s, health-club memberships, and vacation homes. Without access to these goods, children from poor families may lack skills—such as how to surf the Web for help-wanted ads—that could enhance their prospects in the job market. In other words, relative deprivation may limit a person’s capacity for social achievement. As Sen put it, “Being relatively poor in a rich country can be a great capability handicap, even when one’s absolute income is high in terms of world standards.” Research by Tom Hertz, an economist at American University, shows that a child whose parents are in the bottom fifth of the income distribution has only a six-per-cent chance of attaining an average yearly income in the top fifth. Most people who start out relatively poor stay relatively poor.

Since relative deprivation confers many of the disadvantages of absolute deprivation, it should be reflected in the poverty statistics. A simple way to do this would be to classify a household as impoverished if its pre-tax income was, say, less than half the median income—the income of the household at the center of the income-distribution curve. In 2004, the median pre-tax household income was $44,684; a poverty line based on relative deprivation would have been $22,342. (As under the current system, adjustments could be made for different family sizes.)

Adopting a relative-poverty threshold would put to rest the debate over how to define a subsistence threshold. As long as the new measure captured those at the bottom of the social hierarchy, it wouldn’t matter much whether the income cutoff was set at forty per cent or fifty per cent of median income. If poverty is a relative phenomenon, what needs monitoring is how poor families make out compared with everybody else, not their absolute living standards.

Academics have proposed a relative-poverty line before; notably, the British sociologist Peter Townsend, in 1962, and the American economist Victor Fuchs, who is now an emeritus professor at Stanford, in 1965. Nobody has taken the idea very seriously. “I still think that it is the right way to think about poverty, especially from a policy point of view,” Fuchs told me. Unfortunately, few politicians and poverty experts agree. Liberals fear that shifting the focus of policy away from hunger and physical need would make it even harder to win support for government anti-poverty programs; conservatives fear that adopting a relative-poverty rate would be tantamount to launching another costly war on poverty that the government couldn’t hope to win.

Neither of these fears is justified. Many Americans are skeptical about government anti-poverty programs, because they believe that the impoverished bear some responsibility for their plight by dropping out of high school, taking drugs, or committing crimes. Raising public awareness about relative deprivation could help to change attitudes toward the poor, by showing how those at the bottom of the social hierarchy continue to face obstacles even as they, along with the rest of the society, become more prosperous. The Times recently reported that more than half of black men in inner cities fail to finish high school, and that, nationwide, almost three-quarters of black male high-school dropouts in their twenties are unemployed. “It doesn’t do a poor person any good to say ‘You are better off than you would have been thirty years ago,’ ” Fuchs said. “The pathologies we associate with poverty—crime, drug use, family disintegration—we haven’t eliminated them at all.”

The conservative case against a relative-poverty line asserts that since some people will always earn less than others the relative-poverty rate will never go down. Fortunately, this isn’t necessarily true. If incomes were distributed more equally, fewer families would earn less than half the median income. Therefore, the way to reduce relative poverty is to reduce income inequality—perhaps by increasing the minimum wage and raising taxes on the rich. Between 1979 and 2000, the inflation-adjusted earnings of the poorest fifth of Americans increased just nine per cent; the earnings of the middle fifth rose fifteen per cent; and the earnings of the top fifth climbed sixty-eight per cent.

In the Ninth Ward and in neighborhoods like it, the gap between aspiration and reality has never been greater. As Americans were shocked to learn, many residents lacked the means to pay for transportation out of the city during Hurricane Katrina. But the poor of New Orleans were also relatively deprived, as became clear when they were transported to Houston and other cities and, in some cases, ended up staying with affluent white families. (Not surprisingly, conflict ensued. In Houston’s public high schools, Katrina evacuees have been involved in brawls.) The entire episode demonstrated that those at the bottom of the social pecking order are not only economically detached from other Americans; they are also socially and geographically isolated.

Introducing a relative-poverty line would help shift attention to this larger problem of social exclusion. Although few attempts have been made to address the issue, the results have been promising. A recent long-term study of Head Start, which began in 1964, as one of the original “war on poverty” initiatives, found that poor children who participated in the program were more likely to finish high school and less likely to be arrested for committing crimes than those who did not. And in another initiative, undertaken between 1976 and 1998, the city of Chicago relocated thousands of impoverished African-Americans from inner-city projects to subsidized housing in middle-class, predominantly white suburbs; researchers found that the adults who participated were more likely to be employed, and their children were more likely to graduate from high school, than their inner-city counterparts. (A more recent experiment, in which the federal government gave vouchers to poor residents in a number of cities, enabling them to move to wealthier neighborhoods, has failed to produce similar gains. Many of the participants chose to live near one another, which researchers think may account for the disappointing results.)

Mollie Orshansky, who is now ninety-one and living on Manhattan’s East Side, never warmed to the idea of a relative-poverty line—she was too concerned about people actually starving—but she wasn’t wedded to her method, either. “If someone has a better approach, fine,” she said in 1999. “I was working with what I had and with what I knew.”