Saturday, December 30, 2006

A look at those in need: Part 3/'Circles' gives local family a chance to improve lives

from The Marshall Democrat News

By Eric Crump

Editor's note: This is the last of three stories about those in need in Saline County.

A little more than a year ago, the Ridge family of Marshall was like many who live in poverty. They worked hard but were spinning their wheels.

Michelle and Shawn Ridge lived paycheck to paycheck. They tried to pay their bills but often came up short. They lived in public housing. They didn't own a car. They finally had to get food stamps to feed their four children.

When they enrolled their youngest child in the Headstart program, they met Cherry Merchant of the Missouri Valley Community Action Agency's Circles of Support program. And things began to change.

Now, Michelle Ridge has a better job. She has plans to continue her education. They are renting a house and are thinking about purchasing a home. She and Shawn are becoming politically more aware and active.

"A year has totally changed us," Michelle Ridge said. She gives credit to Merchant for encouraging them to take the steps necessary to turn their lives in a new direction.

"She taught us how to knock barriers down," she said.

And she gives credit to Saline County Circles, a new anti-poverty program sponsored by MVCAA that helps people in poverty by including them in a network of relationships and emphasizes reciprocity, with participants who receive help expected to contribute to the community in return.

"We were kind of leery at first. We thought we would be judged. It was shocking that it didn't happen," she said. "They said, 'We're so proud of you.' It's good to know somebody cares. It gives us the support we need to know we aren't alone."

The whole family participates in the program, Ridge said, attending weekly community meetings and meeting regularly with their allies -- volunteers who serve as mentors as the family works to improve their lives -- one of whom is Chuck Hird of Marshall.

The benefits of the program include some good practical education, according to Ridge. The weekly meetings include guest speakers who provide information on a number of survival skills, like managing household finances and navigating government bureaucracies.

"We didn't know how to save, didn't know how to get a credit report," Ridge said. And they had never established clear goals. "You can't save money unless you have a goal."

But the biggest change that has happened during their participation in Circles is a change of attitude, she said.

Growing self-esteem has enabled Michelle Ridge to begin speaking in public about her experiences. She addressed a rally on the courthouse square in Marshall at the conclusion of the Poverty Walk last summer, something she never dreamed she would be able to do.

And Shawn Ridge voted for the first time in November and is becoming interested in politics and policy, she said.

The main issue Michelle Ridge hopes to address is one that prevents many people from successfully escaping poverty in spite of various programs intended to help them do so.

She calls it the "cliff effect," and her family has had first-hand experience with it.

What happens, she said, is that as families begin to improve the financial situations they often reach thresholds in assistance programs and can be suddenly cut off from assistance before they are fully self-sufficient.

The result in too many cases, she said, is that families find themselves ensnared by government assistance, unable to get enough financial momentum to break free.

Ridge discovered the effect when her income improved enough that her family very nearly lost their food stamp allotment before she made enough money to compensate.

Ridge said she wrote to U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) about the issue and got a reply from him, and that experience has encouraged her to continue lobbying for change to the system.

Merchant said Ridge's experience exemplifies one of the main goals of the circles program.

"Circles teaches people to be advocates for themselves," Merchant said.

Contact Eric Crump at

Friday, December 29, 2006

A look at those in need: Part 2/Allies help people cope with their problems

from The Marshall Democrat News

By Eric Crump

Editor's note: This is the second of three stories about those in need in Saline County.

One of the basic tenets of the circles of support approach to fighting poverty is that lack of money is only part of the problem for those in poverty and having more money is only part of the solution. Social isolation is common to those who struggle to make it financially, according to Saline County Circles officials.

"We want to look at the whole picture," said Bill Nichols, project coordinator, at the first community meeting in July. "The circles approach is that one thing we need is lots of supportive relationships."

That's where allies come in.

Allies are volunteers from the community who have experience and connections they can share with participants who are trying to turn their lives around.

Each participating family ideally has three allies, one to help with economic literacy, one to help with community networking and one to help with education needs and job searches.

But basically allies just provide whatever knowledge and skills they have, serving as mentors in whatever way the families most need, according to Chuck Hird, one of the early volunteers with Saline County Circles.

"We just meet and talk about what their interests are, what their dreams are and how to achieve them," he said.

The family he's working with, Michelle and Shawn Ridge and their children of Marshall, have come a long way in a relatively short time, he said.

The Ridge family and others involved in the program are showing good initiative in joining the project, he said.

"It takes a lot of effort on their part just to be involved," he said. But their efforts are paying off, and the results give them more hope, which may be the biggest blessing the program bestows, according to Hird.

"I think that's the key to the whole thing. It's giving them a new attitude. Maybe their dreams are achievable," he said. "When you have no hope, nothing's going to happen."

The benefits are not a one-way street, either, he said. Allies can learn a great deal from the families they work with, getting a better sense of the challenges many people in the community face that may not be visible otherwise.

And the whole community benefits when more people emerge from poverty, he said.

He still has some concerns about the young program, which was announced in April and by July had begun full operation. But the goals and the approach seem sound, he said, and things are off to a good start.

The program still needs more allies. Anyone who is interested in volunteering can contact Nichols at Missouri Valley Community Action Agency at (660) 886-7476.

Contact Eric Crump at

Mixed Situation for Vulnerable Children

from The Urban Institute

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Some of the most significant challenges facing children in vulnerable families improved over the past decade, while others remain of concern. “Children in Vulnerable Families: Facts and Figures,” a new fact sheet from the Urban Institute, looks at child maltreatment, domestic violence, children’s disabilities, substance abuse, and parental mental illness. The fact sheet is available at

The number of children waiting to be adopted dropped from 132,000 in 2000 to 114,000 in 2005. The number of school-age children with disabilities receiving federally funded services rose from 4,500,000 in the 1991–92 school year to 5,800,000 by 2000–01.

But some trends are less encouraging. In 1990, 2.3 million children were investigated for abuse or neglect by child welfare agencies, a number that increased to 3.5 million in 2004. Rates of abuse and neglect are highest amongst infants and toddlers.

Many risks confronting children occur in tandem. Some are disproportionately frequent among low-income families. For instance, over a quarter of low-income children have parents reporting poor mental health, more than double the share of children in higher-income families.

More than 28.5 million children live in low-income households, which have annual incomes up to twice the federal poverty level, or about $40,000 in 2005 for a family of four.

The Urban Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research and educational organization that examines the social, economic, and governance challenges facing the nation.

Fair trade retailers say demand for their products is growing

from The Wisconsin State Journal


The term "fair trade" is finally becoming familiar beyond coffee shops on the Isthmus.

The range of fair trade products is rapidly broadening beyond coffee, cocoa and bananas. Furnishings, clothing, spa products, gourmet foods, toys, ornaments, musical instruments, kitchen equipment and jewelry are among the items being sold under the umbrella of fair trade associations.

Perhaps the most glamorous fair trade operation on Earth is Bono's clothing company Edun (Nude spelled backward). And at this year's International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York, many high-end design firms displayed a wide range of furnishings made by Third World artisans.

But one of the world's most successful and oldest fair trade groups, A Greater Gift, is based in Madison. And a pioneering apparel, Fair Indigo, opened recently at Hilldale Shopping Center.

"This is not charity," said Renee Gasch of A Greater Gift, which has annual revenues of more than $9 million. "It's a way of doing business fairly."

And the Internet is changing everything for the fair trade movement.
Its major tenet is paying "living wages" to producers. Living wages are determined by a community's minimum wage and the cost of living. The city of Madison, for instance, has determined that the living wage here is $10.23 an hour. A calculator that can determine the living wage anywhere in the world is being developed by the fair trade organization called A World of Good. "But we look to the artisans to determine what a living wage is for them," said Gasch.

In addition to living wages, A Greater Gift and other fair trade groups set standards in other areas: women's rights, the absence of child exploitation or forced labor, safe and healthy work environments and eco- friendly production. Fair trade production criteria set by A Greater Gift, for example, prohibits the use of exotic, endangered or slow growing species like the teak tree. Instead, sustainable materials like palm grass or fast-growing bamboo are used.

For some fair trade groups, including A Greater Gift, sales growth hit double digits in each of the last three years, in large part because of online product sales. A Greater Gift also prints a million catalogs and sells at 250 other locations in the U.S. Because the middleman is eliminated in fair trade operations, prices are competitive even though higher wages are paid to producers.

Fair trade stores try to make a connection between shoppers and producers who are usually separated by an ocean. Cards tell the stories of who, where and how many of the things were made. Cold-pressed olive oil, for example, was made by a group of Jewish and Arab women on Israel's West Bank who are working together to improve the lives of Arab olive growers in Galilee. Other items came from a workshop for handicapped artisans in Kenya; their profits have provided them with housing, medical care and a cultural center.
Today's fair trade movement began in the ruins of Europe after World War II. Madison's A Greater Gift has roots in a pacifist church that wanted to help European refugees. Since then it moved on from war zones, separated from the church and became a non-profit. Like other fair trade groups, such as Ten Thousand Villages, it gives artisans grants to buy equipment and supplies and computers, and it holds workshops on exporting and other business practices and helps with design. The Internet, in addition to connecting products to buyers, has made it easier for artisans and those who work with them exchange information.

"We tell (artisans) about trends - natural colors are popular now, and certain shapes are," said Gasch, a marketer for the group. "But we are also very cognizant of the cultural meaning of the artisans' works. We don't want to compromise the integrity of their work just for the sake of fresh new design."

Building long-term relationships with artisans is one of the core goals of the group.

"The only way to dig out of poverty is for the artisans to get a fair price year after year," Gasch said. The fair trade business model turns the standard business model on its head. A typical business will negotiate with producers to lower their prices in exchange for buying large quantities. Rival producers are encouraged to underbid each other.

The path for Madison's pioneering fair trade apparel business, Fair Indigo at Hilldale, may be more daunting because they deal with textile factories instead of small artisan collectives.

"There's no certification process yet for fair-trade apparel, and it's very complicated," said store manager Julie Krbec. "We're working with UW- Madison and Stanford to try to speed up the development of certification standards, but I don't expect anything to be settled for a couple of years. But it's going well for us so far. Madison was the perfect place to try something like this, because people here already understand the concept of fair trade."
Mary Zwicky, of Madison, has been buying all her Christmas gifts at Global Express since attending a holiday fair held by the group at a West Side church about five years ago.

"I found one-of-a-kind things at good prices, and my family and friends seemed to like them more than things from ordinary department stores," she said. "Then I started hearing all the stories about overseas sweatshops and Wal-Mart, and I started feeling guilty about buying anything there, even if the prices are low. There are some stores I won't even enter any more."

For Paul Steiner of Madison, buying fair trade coffee at several area coffee shops over the past several years piqued his interest in other fair trade merchandise. He bought a black jersey skirt for his wife's birthday at Fair Indigo, and wooden toys for his infant son at Global Express.

"I'd say the United States has a big image problem right now," he said. "I know thinking about what kind of coffee I buy doesn't change much, but it's at least a little thing I can do."

Gasch says interest the fair trade movement in the U.S. is still in its infancy.

"It's a drop in the bucket," she said. "At this point fair trade isn't affecting the economy of any country. But it is changing the lives of individual artisans. We take surveys every year, asking if we're effective, what we could differently or better. We believe that eventually this movement will build to the point where it will change the economy of a country."

Edwards leaves Poverty Center

from The Herald Sun

By Emily Coakley

CHAPEL HILL -- Former Sen. John Edwards has left the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity he founded three years ago to make a second run for president.

Edwards gave up the UNC job Thursday, the day he made official what he had long hinted and was revealed a day earlier when his campaign accidentally went live with his "John Edwards '08" Web site, that he will be a candidate for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

Edwards chose the back yard of a victim of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans' devastated Ninth Ward to declare his candidacy Thursday.

Edwards, 53, called for an increase in community service and cuts in poverty, global warming and troops in Iraq. He said he made a mistake in voting for a resolution to go to war with Iraq, but noted that he didn't conduct the war.

He also said the country should provide universal health care for all and end its dependence on foreign oil. He said he would tax oil company profits and eliminate President Bush's tax cuts to pay for his priorities.

"We need to ask Americans to be willing to be patriotic about something beyond war," he said.

He said that will include a National Call to Action Day on Jan. 27 where Americans can contribute their time to help enroll children in government health care programs, fight for an increase in the minimum wage or other efforts.

In his bid for the presidential nomination, Edwards will likely battle a host of Democrat foes, possibly including U.S. Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Barack Obama of Illinois, John Kerry of Massachusetts and Joe Biden of Delaware, Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa and U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, among others.

Edwards was the Democratic Party's 2004 vice presidential nominee on a failed ticket with Kerry. Edwards had earlier dropped his own presidential bid.

Edwards, an extremely successful trial lawyer in North Carolina who built a personal fortune on the strength of some highly visible personal injury awards, served one six-year term in the U.S. Senate after being elected in 1998. He did not seek re-election to the Senate in 2004.

In his letter of resignation to Jack Boger, UNC's law school dean, Edwards outlined what he saw as the achievements of the center he helped create and which is housed in the law school.

The center's achievements, Edwards wrote, include holding conferences and panel discussions and, in April of next year, publishing a book of essays from a variety of scholars called "Ending Poverty in America."

Edwards, a native of South Carolina who grew up in the mill town of Robbins in the Sandhills of North Carolina, graduated from UNC's law school in 1977.

Despite Edwards' departure, there are no plans to discontinue the center's work.

Boger has already announced the appointment of Marion Crain, the center's deputy director, to replace Edwards as director.

In his resignation letter, Edwards said the center had managed to raise enough funds "to ensure that the Poverty Center remains a permanent part of the UNC family and will be able to continue its work for many years to come."

Edwards got a warm send-off from UNC Chancellor James Moeser.

"We wish John Edwards all the best in his future pursuits. He has done an excellent job in guiding the initial work of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity. There is a strong foundation in place for the center to continue to address issues related to poverty," Moeser said.

In related news, it appears Edwards' campaign headquarters is up and running in Chapel Hill. Contact information on his campaign Web site,, lists the campaign's mailing address as Southern Village.

Edwards will wind up a two-day, five-state tour with a "special homecoming rally" at 4 p.m. Saturday in Southern Village.

Tickets are required. They are free and available at

Yemen Poverty and illiteracy hamper child rights, report says

from Reuters Alert Net

SANAA, (IRIN) - Poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and a high population growth rate are the main factors preventing Yemen from observing children's rights. Those are the findings published in a report by the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood (SCMC), a government body.

The 26 December report, into the living conditions of children in Yemen, examines to what extent the demands of the Convention on the Rights of the Child were being met, and identifies why Yemen is falling short of honouring its pledges.

Fathia Ahmed, assistant secretary general of the SCMC, said the report's goal was to help reduce violence against children (whether at home, school or street), child labour and child trafficking.

According to the SCMC, child trafficking has increased over the past few years.

"The status of Yemeni children has improved since Yemen ratified the child's rights convention in 1991. Children's rights were not given much attention before," she told IRIN.

However, she added that the convention has not been upheld in Yemen because of widespread illiteracy, high unemployment, and lack of data on the conditions of the children.

Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world, with almost half of its 20 million people living below the poverty line, on less than US $2 a day.

The report states that "48.8 per cent of Yemeni families live below the poverty line, and 17.6 per cent of families live with food poverty. Poverty is mainly found among the young, and 53 percent of poor people are children under 15".

With the health services covering only 50 percent of the population, the report said that in the countryside, many children under the age of five years are at risk of dying as a result of their low birth weight, for not being vaccinated, or for not having access to clean drinking water and hygienic toilets.

Poverty, illiteracy and tough social conditions for many families exacerbate the problem, the report said. It added, that in the case of child trafficking, children are also at risk of being detained, beaten or sexually abused.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

A look at those in need: Part 1/The goal: End poverty in Saline County/Organization provides 'circles of support' to those who need help

from Marshall Democrat News

By Eric Crump/Staff writer

Editor's note: This is the first of three stories about those in need in Saline County.

The goal is ambitious: End poverty in Saline County.

The approach is simple: Provide those in poverty with a circle of support that will help them achieve their dreams.

In April, the Missouri Valley Community Action Agency hosted the launch of a new anti-poverty project, one designed to disrupt the conditions that keep people mired in poverty.

Saline County Circles gets its name from the "circles of support" concept promoted in the U.S. by the Move the Mountain Leadership Center. According to the center's Web site, Saline County Circles is one of three established circles projects in Missouri, with a fourth in the beginning stages. There are 44 established and emerging sites nationwide.

MVCAA's Community Leadership Coordinator Bill Nichols explained the idea during the first community meeting in July, noting that one thing that often distinguishes people who are living in poverty is the fact that they aren't well integrated into the community. The circles program seeks to remedy that.

"We need to work together as a community," Nichols said. "What we're doing is building a new community here."

The program invites people who are living in poverty -- which includes not just people without jobs but people with low-paying jobs who struggle and sometimes fail to make ends meet every month -- to take the initiative to escape the situations that prevent them from succeeding.

Those people are matched with several allies, members of the community who are more successful and can provide useful advice, help make connections and provide moral support as the participants seek to break the cycle of poverty.

There are two key requirements for participants, according to Nichols. They have to want to improve their lives and they have to be willing to reciprocate, to begin giving back to the community even as they are working to turn things around for themselves.

"There are a lot of services out there," he said. "But this approach is, you're getting something from the community so you give back to the community."

The program also seeks to maintain continuity by including weekly meetings as opportunities to provide participants with general information about the practical aspects of getting and staying out of poverty, helping them improve basic skills like managing a household budget, learning how to apply for home and auto loans, how to interact with government agencies and more.

State Rep. Joe Aull (D-Marshall) has been a guest speaker for the project, talking to the group about state government, and he said he's very impressed with the way things are going so far and is especially impressed with the participants who have come forward.

"It impresses me that these people are doing something to help themselves," he said. "They lean on each other. Nobody has all the answers, but they talk things through."

Marshall Mayor Connie Latimer is one of a number of community leaders who has been involved in the project since it began, serving on the planning committee that helped give the program its current shape. She, too, said she appreciates the emphasis on responsibility.

"It's not just a hand-out type of program," she said. "It gives people the tools they need. You can give people money to get out of debt but if you don't teach them how to stay out of debt you're soon back to square one."

Since July the group of participants and allies has slowly grown, according to Nichols. Organizers hope the early participants will help spread the word about the program and that the new year will see interest in it increase.

"It's making a difference for those who have sought it out," Latimer said.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Aging gets harder for the poor

from The Mail Tribune

Unexpected illnesses can leave even the well-off in dire straits
By Martha M. Hamilton

Barbara Davis was 57 when the heart attack struck at midnight in April 1996. She had just turned over to look at the clock, and as she turned back, "the pain hit me between my breasts and went all the way through to my back."

Until that day, Davis had worked as a chef at the College of Preachers at the Washington National Cathedral, but the heart attack and subsequent open-heart surgery made it hard to continue at the job she had held since 1972, although she tried briefly. As a result, she retired sooner than expected — before she was eligible for a full pension, she said.

Now she gets along on a little less than $15,000 a year in retirement — her combined net income from Social Security and a pension benefit of $216.02 a month.

She is more typical than it often seems when you live in the world of the worried well — those with the luxury of wondering whether to open a Roth or a traditional individual retirement account or whether to annuitize that lump sum. Nearly a quarter of all retirees have no income other than Social Security. For 40 percent of elderly recipients, Social Security is more than 90 percent of their income — which underscores why strengthening Social Security is so important.

Davis raised her grandson and put him through Beauvoir, Annunciation and Georgetown Prep with the help of grants and other assistance. That used up any discretionary income she might have saved for retirement.

"I didn't have anything saved," said Davis. "But I don't regret it one bit, because he was such a good child, especially for a boy child." Two years ago, she watched him graduate from Indiana University. Shortly after she returned, she suffered another heart attack. Now she lives in subsidized senior housing operated by Asbury United Methodist Church. But she still has bills to pay and in recent weeks has been struggling to pay for the medications she takes. The new prescription benefit through Medicare made her drugs affordable until she hit the limit that requires patients to pay full price after total individual and government expenditures exceed $2,250.

Statistically, you are more likely to end up poor or nearly poor if you are a woman or if you are black or Hispanic. It's hard to imagine you might end up in that category when you are working, but it can happen, especially if you get hit by something unexpected: a heart attack, a layoff, the need to quit work to take care of an aging parent or an ailing spouse. Suddenly, instead of adding to savings, you're using them up — long before anticipated.

When you're on a limited income, as Davis is, an increase in costs for prescriptions or anything else can throw you for a loop. "I have been putting medicines on my credit cards, and I've been saying, I've got to stop that because I'm putting myself further in the hole," she said.

Emmaus Services for the Aging, which serves about 850 older residents of Washington, is helping her to find alternatives and lined up three months' worth of pharmaceutical company samples to cover one of her medications until the first of the year, when she will be eligible again for discounted medications.

Emmaus was founded in 1978 by Arthur Fleming, secretary of health, education and welfare in the Eisenhower administration and a force in shaping Social Security policy for more than four decades, said Mauri Carter, development director.

"He said, 'There are a lot of senior citizens in poverty, living alone,' and he believed a community approach was the best way to care for seniors," she said. With a small staff but a large number of volunteers, Emmaus works by visiting clients at home and providing services at a center opened a few years ago.

"It's a community that often suffers in silence," said Carter. Clients may not have friends or family nearby who can check on them to make sure they are getting what they need. "If seniors are lonely, we visit them. If they're hungry, we feed them, and everything in between."

Poverty rates among the elderly have fallen over past decades, thanks largely to increases in Social Security benefits, according to the Congressional Research Service. In 1959, the poverty rate for those age 65 and older was 35 percent. Today, it's closer to 10 percent. But the CRS also points out that many older people in the U.S. "have family incomes that put them just above the official poverty threshold." Nearly a quarter of older people in the U.S. had family incomes that were below $14,050 for an individual and $17,722 for a couple.

Who are America's Poor Children? The Official Story

from the National Center for Children in Poverty

Nearly 13 million American children live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level, which is $20,000 a year for a family of four. The number of children living in poverty increased by more than 11 percent between 2000 and 2005. There are 1.3 million more children living in poverty today than in 2000, despite indications of economic recovery and growth.

Not only are these numbers dispiriting, the official poverty measure tells only part of the story—it is increasingly viewed as a flawed metric of economic hardship (see box). Research consistently shows that, on average, families need an income of about twice the federal poverty level to make ends meet. Children living in families with incomes below this level—for 2006, $40,000 for a family of four—are referred to as low income. Thirty-nine percent of the nation’s children—more than 28 million in 2005—live in low-income families.[1]

Nonetheless, official poverty statistics continue to be used by researchers, policymakers, and the media to define economic disadvantage. In addition, eligibility for many public benefits is based on the official poverty measure. This fact sheet details some of the characteristics of American children who are considered poor by these official standards.

The Official—Yet Flawed—Poverty Measure

The current U.S. poverty measure is widely acknowledged to be inadequate. Although considerable research has been done on alternative methods to measure income poverty, the political will necessary to implement an official change is lacking.

Data collected in the 1950s indicated that families spent about one-third of their income on food. Poverty is still measured by multiplying food costs by three. Yet food now comprises far less than a third of an average family’s expenses, while the costs of housing, child care, health care, and transportation have grown disproportionately.

The official poverty measure takes into account a variety of income sources, including earnings, interest, dividends, and benefits, such as Social Security and cash assistance. It does not, however, include the value of the major benefits that assist low-income families—the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, Medicaid, and housing and child care assistance.

On the expense side, the official poverty measure does not include the cost of payroll and income taxes or work-related expenses, such as child care and transportation. Nor does it take into account varying family needs, such as the cost of out-of-pocket medical expenses. And finally, the poverty measure does not adjust for the substantial variation in the cost of living from state to state and between urban and rural areas.

How many children in America are officially poor?

Rates of official child poverty vary tremendously across the states.

* Nationwide, 18% of children live in families that are officially considered poor (13 million children).
* Across the states, child poverty rates range from 7% in New Hampshire to 27% in Mississippi.
Child poverty rates across the states map

What are some of the characteristics of officially poor children in America?

Poverty is especially prevalent among black, Latino, and American Indian children.

* 35% of black children live in poor families. In the 10 most populated states, rates of child poverty among black children range from 20% in New Jersey to 43% in Ohio.
* 28% of Latino children live in poor families. In the 10 most populated states, rates of child poverty among Latino children range from 20% in New Jersey, Florida, and Illinois to 35% in Texas.
* 29% of American Indian and 11% of Asian children live in poor families (comparable state comparisons are not possible due to small sample sizes).
* 10% of white children live in poor families. In the 10 most populated states, rates of child poverty among white children range from 4% in New Jersey to 12% in Georgia.

Child poverty nationwide, by race graph

Having immigrant parents increases a child’s chances of being poor.

* 26% of children of immigrants are poor; 16% of children of native-born parents are poor. (Children living with one immigrant parent and one native-born parent are not included.)
* In the six states with the largest populations of immigrants—California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Texas—the poverty rate among children of immigrant parents ranges from 14% to 40%.
* In all six states, children living with immigrant parents are more likely to be poor than children of native-born parents.

Poor children by parents’ nativity graph

Official poverty rates are highest for young children.

* 20% of children under age 6—1 in 5—live in poor families; 16% of children age 6 or older live in poor families.
* In half the states, more than 20% of children under age 6 are growing up in poverty, whereas only 13 states have a child poverty rate (that is, for children up to age 18) that is as high.
* Researchers believe that parents of young children do not earn as much as parents of older children because they tend to be younger and have less work experience.

What are some of the economic hardships faced by children in America?

Food insecurity, lack of affordable housing, and other economic hardships affect millions of American children—not just those who are officially poor.

* 16% of households with children experience food insecurity.[2]
* 41% of families who rent their homes spend more than a third of their income on rent.
* Compared to white families with children, black and Latino families with children are more than twice as likely to experience economic hardships.[3]

Many poor children lack health insurance.

* 19% of poor children lack health insurance—this is nearly double the percent of all children who lack coverage (10%).
* In the 10 most populated states, the percent of poor children who lack health insurance ranges from 12% in Michigan to 28% in Florida and Texas.
* The percent of all children who lack health insurance increased for the first time in nearly a decade in 2005—from 10.8% in 2004 to 11.2% in 2005.[4]

What can be done about child poverty?

Child poverty is not intractable. Effective public policies can make a difference. NCCP recommends two major policy strategies to improve the well-being of children and families living in poverty:

* Make work pay
Since research is clear that poverty is the greatest threat to children’s well being, strategies that help parents succeed in the labor force can help children. Policies such as earned income tax credits and regular increases in the minimum wage are critical to supporting income growth for low-wage workers. These workers also need access to benefits that higher-wage earners take for granted, such as health insurance and paid sick leave.
* Support parents and their young children
To thrive, children need nurturing families and quality early learning experiences. Programs that target families with infants and toddlers, such as Early Head Start, have been shown to improve children’s cognitive development and their behavior, as well as parenting skills. Investments in preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds are just as critical. High-quality early childhood experiences can go a long way toward closing the achievement gap between poor children and their more well-off peers.


This fact sheet was prepared by Sarah Fass and Nancy K. Cauthen.

1. For more information about children living in low-income families—that is, defined as families with incomes below 200% of the official poverty level—see: Douglas-Hall, A.; Koball, H.; & Chau, M. (2006). Basic facts about low-income children, Birth to age 18. New York, NY: National Center for Children in Poverty, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

2. Nord, M.; Andrews, M.; & Carlson, S. (2006). Household food security in the United States, 2005 (Economic Research Report No. 29). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture (accessed December 7, 2006).

3. Sherman, A. (2006). African American and Latino families face high rates of hardship. Washington, DC: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (accessed December 4, 2006).

4. DeNavas-Walt, C.; Proctor, B. D.; & Lee, C. H. (2006). Income, poverty, and health insurance coverage in the United States: 2005. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau (accessed December 7, 2006).

Sources: State data were calculated by NCCP analysts from the U.S. Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, March 2004, 2005, and 2006, which represents information from calendar years 2003, 2004, and 2005. NCCP averaged three years of data because of small sample sizes in less populated states. National data were calculated from 2006 data, which represents information from calendar year 2005. Estimates include children living in households with at least one parent and most children living apart from both parents (for example, children being raised by grandparents). Children living independently, living with a spouse, or in group quarters are excluded from these data. Children ages 14 and under living with only unrelated adults were not included because data on their income status were not available. Among children who do not live with at least one parent, parental characteristics are those of the householder and/or the householder’s spouse. Previous versions of this fact sheet counted children living apart from parents differently; therefore, comparisons with versions published prior to December 2006 are not valid. Data on renters is from the American Community Survey, 2005, accessed October 2, 2006.

Microcredit helps Aceh's women rebuild lives after tsunami

from Yahoo News

by Sophie Boudre

LAM KUTA BLANGMEE, Indonesia (AFP) - Two years after the tsunami killed 168,000 in the Indonesian province of Aceh, microcredit is helping thousands of people, mostly women, rebuild their lives.

Pioneered by Bangladeshi Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, microcredit is essentially a small loan extended to a poor person lacking the collateral required by regular banks to help them start or expand a small business.

Few Acehnese have heard of Yunus or his Grameen Bank, but his microcredit methods are spreading across the province where tiny loans are helping women set up small but thriving businesses.

In tsunami-devastated Lam Kuta village on the west coast of Aceh, Salmia said she nearly doubled her income selling cakes after taking out two loans of one million rupiah (100 dollars) each through a community microcredit scheme.

"I bought pans, a mixer, everything I needed to make cakes, including sugar and rice flour," the 36 year-old kindergarten helper told AFP, pointing to appliances stacked on the floor of her kitchen.

Every evening she makes cakes and rissoles and drops them off at nearby stalls the following morning.

"At the end of the day, I pick up the money. I make 500,000 rupiah (50 dollars) per month," Salmia said with a smile.

Across the road, when the tsunami killed her husband, a child and wiped out their house and well building business, Abida, 50, had to start from scratch while bringing up her nine remaining children alone.

"Everything was gone but our land so I had no money to buy sand, cement, moulds to make the well rings again," she explained, adding that "with so many children, you need to keep going."

So a year ago, Abida and nine other women gathered upon the invitation of French non-governmental organisation Triangle Generation Humanitaire to pool small amounts of money, which are shared on a weekly basis between members.

Triangle provided initial capital of 75,000 euros (97,500 dollars) shared between nine groups of 10 people who each week put 50 cents into a joint fund.

"The idea was not only to restart the local economy but also to reinstate social links lost with the tsunami," project chief Abel Bove explained to AFP.

Each week the group picks a member who goes home with the cash from their donations and, more importantly, one of them can ask for a loan of up to 200 dollars.

With many houses being rebuilt, Abida has successfully restarted her husband's business and now employs two men.

All the members had been able to reimburse the loans, Bove said, adding that women were usually more reliable.

"Those meetings at home are a woman's business," laughed Bove.

"Men participate but sit close to the door while women take off their jilbabs and do the talking," he said, referring to the mandatory headscarf for women in the staunchly Muslim province.

S.M. Ahsan Habib, who manages funds from the US-based Grameen Foundation, which aims to provide 25,000 Acehnese with access to microcredit before June 2009, agreed money was safer in women's hands.

"If you give it to men they'll just spend it at the coffee shop or to buy cigarettes," he told AFP.

Acehnese women often bake and sell cakes or own a small stall next to their house, so "they don't need to learn how to do business. What they need is capital," said the Bangladeshi microcredit expert.

Aceh, which is gradually implementing Islamic law, has a dormant network of Sharia banks offering loans which are interest-free but have a profit-sharing mechanism instead.

"If you make a 10 percent profit, 30 percent of this profit goes to the creditor while you keep the remaining 70 percent," explained Said Hisyam, the manager of the Institute for Finance and Capitalization at the Agency for the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction of Aceh and Nias (BRR).

In May 2006, BRR established an 8.5-million-dollar fund along with the Asian Development Bank to capitalize some 140 licensed financial institutions in Aceh and enable them extend microfinance to 100,000 people so far.

One of those rural banks is working with a group of women in Lam Cot village on the outskirts of Banda Aceh.

Ita, 26, and her mother Saudah make kekarah cake, a crispy, moon-shaped local specialty.

Ita borrowed 500,000 rupiah which she paid back in 17 weekly installments.

"It really helps," Ita said.

"I can stock up supplies such as rice, oil and kerosene and make more cakes so I make more profit."

UN okays RP proposal vs global poverty--JDV

from INQ7

THE Philippine proposal for a global debt-for-equity plan to finance the anti-poverty programs of the United Nations won the unanimous approval of the General Assembly on Dec. 22, Speaker Jose de Venecia announced yesterday.

In a statement sent from the UN headquarters in New York, De Venecia said the plan, if adopted by creditor countries, would convert half of the $2.3 trillion in foreign debt of the Philippines and 101 other heavily indebted countries into equity in mass housing, food production, reforestation, irrigation, education, clean water, anti-AIDS and health care, and other projects.

Philippine Ambassador to the United Nations Lauro Baja described the proposal, which was conceived by De Venecia two years ago, as the “year-end triumph for the Speaker and RP government.”

Baja said the next campaign would concentrate on getting the nod of the Paris Club and the G-8 countries—United States, Great Britain, Russia, Germany, Canada, Italy, France and Japan.

In a phone interview, De Venecia said the plan “does not call for debt forgiveness nor moratorium nor debt cancellation nor debt discounts,” or even new money from US, European and Japan governments.

“We proposed only that the rich countries, multilateral institutions and large commercial banks plow back into the economies of debtor-countries 50 percent of the debt-service payments due them,” he said.

Millennium goals

This conversion, he said, would fund the UN Millennium Development Goals, which include halving global poverty.

Under the De Venecia scheme, 50 percent of the Philippine debtservice payment of $1.5 billion a year should not be remitted to creditor countries but instead be converted as their “equity investments” in the country.

Mechanics of the conversion scheme such as the earnings of the equity investments will be drawn up by the Paris Club, said De Venecia.

“The argument for debt conversion is that the poor countries don’t have the adequate resources to finance the antipoverty programs under the UN Millennium Development Goals,” he said.

Philippine debt stands at P5 trillion, five times bigger than the annual national budget.

Late last year, the General Assembly merely “took note” of the proposal, which was supported by President Macapagal-Arroyo and Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo.

This came after Ms Arroyo and De Venecia formally presented the debt-conversion strategy at the United Nations in September 2005.

De Venecia also presented the debt-conversion strategy in speeches to the International Monetary Fund and World Bank at the time.

The Speaker arrived in New York City on Dec. 22 to receive the news at the United Nations following earlier endorsement of his plan by outgoing UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Indonesian President Yudhoyono, Pakistani Premier H. Aziz and Cambodian Premier Hun Sen.

Birthday gift

De Venecia, who celebrated his birthday yesterday by attending Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, said the UN approval was a “birthday gift to him and the Filipino nation.”

In return, he said his staff distributed lunch boxes to 5,000 urban poor families in Metro Manila and Pangasinan during his birthday.

The Spanish government adopted the De Venecia proposal into law a few weeks ago, following endorsements by Romanian and Bulgarian governments and by leaders of the G-77 countries, which now number 132 of the 192 members of the UN.

De Venecia said the Christian Democrats representing 110 political parties in Europe, Latin America and Africa met last month at the Canary Islands and supported his proposal.

Much earlier, 90 Asian political parties meeting in Seoul for the International Conference of Asian Political Parties and representatives of 33 Asian parliaments at the Asian Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Iran endorsed the debt-for equity plan.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Inter-Parliamentary Organization summit in Cebu early this month also adopted the proposal.

De Venecia reported to Ms Arroyo by phone before Christmas and asked the President, Romulo and UN representative in the Philippines Elma Noble to include the proposal in the Asean and East Asean Summit in Cebu next month.

De Venecia, who is invited by the Asean summit to address the meeting of presidents and prime ministers, asked for the Asean’s endorsement of the UN approval. Michael Lim Ubac

Poverty, graft a backdrop to blast that kills hundreds of Nigerians

from The Seattle Times


LAGOS, Nigeria — A gasoline pipeline ruptured by thieves exploded into a blazing inferno Tuesday as scavengers collected the fuel in a poor neighborhood, killing at least 260 people in the latest oil-industry disaster to strike Africa's biggest petroleum producer.

Braving a towering pillar of fire and a cloud of acrid black smoke, thousands of people in Lagos' Abule Egba neighborhood surged around rescue workers carrying away bodies, checking for a glimpse of missing relatives.

Tapping is common in Nigeria, where many of the 130 million people live in woeful poverty amid widespread graft that makes a handful wealthy. A single pilfered can of gasoline sold on the black market can earn two weeks of wages for a poor Nigerian.

But tapping also brings frequent accidents. Earlier this year, 150 people died in a similar explosion in Lagos, and a 1998 pipeline fire killed 1,500 in southern Nigeria.

Tuesday's blast, the worst in years, came after thieves opened the conduit during the night but left without fully sealing it, prompting hundreds of nearby residents to rush to collect spurting gasoline with cans, buckets and even plastic bags, witnesses said.

Residents said a gang of thieves had been illegally tapping the pipeline for months, carting away gasoline in tankers for resale.

It was unclear what ignited the fuel just after dawn.

A senior official for the Nigerian Red Cross, Ige Oladimeji, said his workers counted 260 dead by nightfall and took 60 injured people to hospitals. "We are still counting [dead], but there will not be hundreds more," he said.

Bodies lay scattered around the periphery of the site. For many victims, only tiny reminders — a child's flip flop blistered by the heat, a half-melted plastic bucket — were the only identifiable items in a fused mass of remains.

"There were mothers there, little children," said Emmanuel Unokhua, an engineer who lives nearby.

"I was begging them to go back."

Unokhua said people had splashed fuel on him seeking to chase him away and also doused a few police officers who tried unsuccessfully to control the crowd.

Flames that nearly incinerated cars and melted electrical lines to pylons kept rescue workers away from much of the carnage until the fire began to wane in early afternoon.

Crowds of anguished people impeded the passage of fire crews and ambulances.

Owned by Nigeria's state-owned petroleum company, the pipeline delivers refined fuel for domestic consumption, so the blast was not expected to affect oil pumped for export.

Residents blamed greed, graft and poverty for the disaster.

"This was a preventable tragedy," said Joel Ogundere, a lawyer whose home is next to the blast.

"It was poverty, ignorance and greed."

Widespread corruption and mismanagement have left Nigeria's refineries unable to meet demand, and fuel shortages are common.

Christians heading home for Christmas and Muslims preparing for a feast day have jammed service stations for days across Lagos, a sprawling city of 13 million.

Many Nigerians feel they have gained little from decades of oil production in their country, saying natural gas flaring and oil spills have polluted lands while they remain poor and a tiny elite grows rich.

"How can this be, that people are so poor in Nigeria that they will risk their lives for a little thing," said Bode Kuforiji, a university lecturer.

"But boats leave for America every day filled with oil."

Long lines have formed at fuel stations across Nigeria over the past few weeks because of shortages in supply from the national oil company.

President Olusegun Obasanjo promised not to increase local fuel prices in 2006, after a series of increases triggered protests in 2005. But there is widespread speculation that prices will rise after the new year.

Industry experts estimate that about 5 percent of Nigerian crude oil is stolen for export by criminal syndicates with contacts in the military and government.

China and India strive to keep economies booming

from The International Herald Tribune

Poverty, water shortages, environmental crises: China and India confront daunting challenges as they strive to keep their economies expanding fast enough to raise growing numbers of their 2.3 billion people out of poverty.

For each, the potential is huge, but then so are the risks.

By the numbers, both economies look poised to continue their remarkable performances in 2007. The Chinese economy grew 10.4 percent in the July- September quarter compared with a year earlier, with forecasts for growth in 2007-8 at about 10 percent.

The Indian economy is close behind. It grew 9.2 percent in the quarter that ended in September — its strongest performance since 1991. The International Monetary Fund estimated that inflation-fighting measures could slow growth to 7.3 percent in the year starting in April 2007, down from the 8.3 percent expected for this year.

Such stratospheric figures highlight China's rise as an export power and India's newfound cachet as an outsourcing center for the high-technology industry, as well as robust growth in its agricultural, industrial and services sectors.

But the gleaming new office buildings in cities like Shanghai and Mumbai, with their legions of newly affluent consumers snapping up the latest cellphones and new sedans, stand in stark contrast to the poverty that persists in both countries, particularly in rural areas.

Some 10 percent of the 1.3 billion people in China live on less than $1 a day, according to the World Bank. In India, with a population of 1.1 billion, about 40 percent do.

"There is an India of bursting growth, and there is an India of widespread want," Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the governing coalition in India, said at a recent business conference in New Delhi.

More than a third of all Indians can neither read nor write, and a fifth of them have no access to safe drinking water. Poverty and unemployment are fueling insurgencies and Communist-led rebellions in many parts of the country.

Still, both economies have proven remarkably resilient, adapting outdated trade and industrial policies while blunting the impact of those reforms on their poorest citizens with price controls and subsidies to farmers.

Tens of billions of dollars of foreign direct investment, coupled with strong domestic spending, is supporting heavy investment to build railways, ports and other infrastructure needed to support further growth. Steel making, cement and many other industries have prospered.

And in both countries, share prices have surged because of optimism over growth and rising corporate competitiveness, with Indian stocks trading at all-time highs and those in Shanghai just below the peak they hit in 2001.

But leaders in China and India are realizing that greater equity, better protection for the environment and stewardship of scarce resources are needed to sustain growth and lift tens of millions more out of poverty. Both governments have stepped up rural spending and increased subsidies to the poor while attempting to attract more investment for backward inland regions cut off from the growth centers along the coasts.

The Indian government plans to spend $26 billion in 2005-9 to build rural homes, expand irrigation coverage and provide drinking water, electricity and phone connections for all the nation's villages. It is too early to say whether those initiatives, as well as a rural employment scheme, will be able to meet their objectives or will degenerate into populist rhetoric.

The Communist leaders of China, who face no electoral pressures and do not tolerate public or organized dissent, have acknowledged the threat to their nearly six decades of rule as public anger increases over ubiquitous corruption and the widening gulf between rich city dwellers and the rural poor.

Raising rural incomes has become a top priority, both for ensuring political stability and for bolstering the domestic consumer demand required to sustain growth over the long term. Leaders in China have abolished farm taxes and made schooling free for rural families, hoping to help redress the huge gap with city dwellers. More such gestures are likely ahead of a Communist Party congress in late 2007.

"Can China sustain 8 percent to 10 percent growth?" asked Yiping Huang, an economist with Citigroup in Shanghai. "It has to do more to stimulate consumption, a lot more." He added, "It needs to do more for social welfare so that people can feel comfortable and spend more."

At the same time, China is just barely beginning to address the huge environmental costs of its headlong rush to industrialize: fouled water and air, rural villages drowning in waste and massive shortages of water and other resources.

Another risk that China faces is an overheating economy. Worried that soaring investment in real estate and construction could leave banks with bad loans, authorities have raised interest rates and implemented other measures to curb borrowing. In meetings this month, officials said they would continue those policies.

Economists have repeatedly warned that despite multibillion-dollar write- offs of bad debt and spectacular international stock offerings, state-owned Chinese banks could fall prey to bad debts, especially if growth slows.

"When the economy is doing well, we don't see big financial risks," Huang said. "But when economic growth slows, nonperforming loans rise."

India faces an uphill battle to rein in the insurgencies and terrorism that threaten the country's investment climate.

Beyond the unrest in Kashmir, analysts worry about a growing Maoist rebellion in parts of southern and eastern India that they have said is fueled by economic deprivation and uneven growth.

Insurgent groups are also active in remote northeastern India, where local people often accuse the federal government of exploiting the region's rich mineral resources without bringing much benefit to its inhabitants.

India is also vulnerable to domestic risks and so-called external risks like volatile oil prices and a resurgence of protectionism, which would crimp export growth.

And India has yet to bring surging prices under control: Finance Minister P. Chidambaram had termed the nation's 5 percent-plus inflation rate "worrisome."

Yet with growth at its highest level in 15 years, Chidambaram remains upbeat. "Just savor the moment," he said.

Beijing to push rural lending

China plans to give rural lenders more flexibility to set deposit and lending rates as well as to cut their tax burdens in a government effort to strengthen the rural economy, the chief banking regulator said Tuesday, Bloomberg News reported from Shanghai.

The government could also allow Agricultural Development Bank, one of the nation's three policy banks, to offer loans to small enterprises in the countryside, Liu Mingkang, chairman of the China Banking Regulatory Commission, said in Beijing.

Minimum wage, major controversy

from Orange County Register

UCI's David Neumark has helped shape the debate among economists over the effects on jobs and poverty of raising the minimum wage.

As the U.S. Congress considers raising the minimum wage for the 20th time since it was created in 1938, one of the leading experts involved in the debate is a bit conflicted.

David Neumark, a recent addition to the UC Irvine economics department, has concluded from his two decades of research that higher minimum wages cost jobs and don't reduce poverty.

In the 1990s, he twice testified about his findings at congressional hearings. Republican legislators who opposed higher minimum wages cited his work to buttress their arguments.

But he feels that his work has earned him a reputation at odds with his private political leanings.

"I have to admit, frankly, I was really sick of getting pegged as a conservative, because I wasn't at all," he said in an interview last month at his UC Irvine office. "I only ever voted for Democrats in my life, except for this past governor's election."

Neumark's career has helped shape the sometimes fiery national debate over minimum wages – and earned him some enmity.
Decades of debate

Minimum wages have always been controversial. Early attempts to establish a wage floor were struck down by the Supreme Court in the 1930s. President Franklin Roosevelt succeeded in establishing a national minimum of 25 cents an hour in 1938. Over the years, Congress has raised the minimum in 19 increments, most recently in 1997, to $5.15. Democrats are now proposing an increase to $7.25 by 2009.

The debate played out in California earlier this year, when the Legislature voted to increase the state's minimum wage from $6.75 to $7.50 as of Jan. 1 and to $8.00 in 2008. Twenty-eight other states also have approved minimums higher than the federal one.

Advocates for the working poor say that a legislated minimum wage can help those at the bottom of the economic ladder afford basic necessities. Businesses – and most economists – have argued that minimum wages lead to more unemployment because companies will choose to hire fewer low-skilled workers if forced to pay a higher wage.

The debate acquired a new urgency in the 1990s, when fresh research challenged the traditional view among economists that increasing the minimum wage would tend to have negative effects on employment.

On one side were David Card and Alan Krueger, both then at Princeton University. Their most famous study looked at employment at fast-food restaurants in New Jersey. Through telephone interviews with managers at the restaurants, they found that an increase in that state's minimum wage "slightly increased employment."

That study was heralded by Democrats in Congress and the Clinton administration as reason to justify raising the national minimum wage.

Meanwhile, Neumark and his research partner, William Wascher, an economist with the Federal Reserve Board, had also been looking at state minimum wages. Their research tended to confirm the traditional view that higher minimums hurt employment.
Tough words

Things started to get "a little nasty," Neumark recalled, when Card and Krueger released a 1993 paper disputing some findings of Neumark and Wascher.

"Perhaps Neumark and Wascher are not to be blamed too harshly for their mistakes and faulty analysis," the paper said. "The economics profession places a high premium on empirical results that confirm accepted theories. The negative employment effect of the minimum wage is a lesson taught in almost every introductory economics course and textbook. But there is a lesson here. In situations where the economics profession has a 'stake' in the outcome, researchers should strive to be especially careful and even-handed ."

To Neumark, Card and Krueger were "essentially accusing us … really accusing the profession, of kind of being unable to get past its biases and therefore not looking at the data neutrally, but doing things … to always find the predicted effect."

Later, Neumark and Wascher obtained payroll data from some of the same New Jersey restaurants that had participated in Card and Krueger's survey. They crunched the numbers and got a result that undercut Card and Krueger – again finding reduced employment.

Neumark says that Card and Krueger's reliance on telephone surveys had created flaws in their data through misunderstandings.

Ultimately, Card and Krueger re-analyzed the New Jersey fast-food study with new data and concluded that the minimum wage increase "probably had no effect" on employment.

Card, who is now at UC Berkeley, declined to comment for this article, except for a couple of brief e-mails. In one, Card wrote: "In all honesty, I do not think much of Neumark or his work."
Preference for Bay Area

Harry Holzer of Georgetown University was chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor during the Clinton administration. He considers himself a friend of Neumark's and has worked on papers with him.

He recalls that back in the 1990s, Neumark "was known as the guy you didn't like if you wanted to raise the minimum wage."

Neumark's lasting contribution to the minimum wage debate, Holzer said, has been to bring it back to where it was 25 years ago.

"Card and Krueger had shifted it and convinced a lot of people that you can have your cake and eat it too," Holzer said. "I think David reestablished the argument that you have to be thoughtful about this and you have to worry about the downside risk."

Holzer's view is that while a higher minimum wage probably causes a small amount of unemployment, it produces other worthwhile benefits, such as attracting some young people back to the labor force and boosting earnings for others.

Nowadays, the controversy seems quieter. President Bush said last week he would support an increase in the minimum wage if it were coupled with tax breaks for small businesses.

But hard feelings have a way of lingering.

In an interview published in the December issue of The Region, a magazine published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Card said his work on the minimum wage "has cost me a lot of friends."

For Neumark, it possibly cost him a preferred job. Recently, he decided to return to academia after a few years at the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonpartisan think tank in San Francisco. As he scouted California for a university job, Card's presence at Berkeley loomed as a strike against him.

"I would have stayed in the Bay Area if I had an option," Neumark said. "I would say my relationship with Card was sufficient that he wasn't going to hire me at Berkeley – there was that much distance between us."

Card, in an e-mail, wrote "I have nothing to say about Neumark, except that his not getting hired at Berkeley had nothing to do with me."

In any event, David Brownstone, chairman of UC Irvine's economics department, was glad Neumark was available.

Neumark is "a world-renowned labor economist who has made important contributions to many areas in this important field," Brownstone said in an e-mail.

Contact the writer: 714-796-6045 or

[Comment] What America could learn from Britain about helping the poor

from The Press Democrat

It's the season for charitable giving. And far too many Americans, particularly children, need that charity.

Scenes of a devastated New Orleans reminded us that many of our fellow citizens remain poor, four decades after LBJ declared war on poverty. But I'm not sure whether people understand how little progress we've made. In 1969, fewer than one in every seven American children lived below the poverty line. Last year, although the country was far wealthier, more than one in every six American children was poor.

And there's no excuse for our lack of progress. Just look at what the British government has accomplished over the last decade.

Although Tony Blair has been President Bush's obedient manservant when it comes to Iraq, Blair's domestic policies are nothing like Bush's. Where Bush has sought to privatize the social safety net, Blair's Labor government has defended and strengthened it. Where Bush and his allies accuse anyone who mentions income distribution of "class warfare," the Blair government has made a major effort to reverse the surge in inequality and poverty that took place during the Thatcher years.

And Britain's poverty rate, if measured American-style - that is, in terms of a fixed poverty line, not a moving target that rises as the nation grows richer - has been cut in half since Labor came to power in 1997.

Britain's war on poverty has been led by Gordon Brown, the chancellor of the exchequer and Blair's heir apparent. There's nothing exotic about his policies, many of which are inspired by American models. But in Britain, these policies are carried out with much more determination.

For example, Britain didn't have a minimum wage until 1999 - but at current exchange rates Britain's minimum wage rate is now about twice as high as ours. Britain's child benefit is more generous than America's child tax credit, and it's available to everyone, even those too poor to pay income taxes. Britain's tax credit for low-wage workers is similar to the U.S. earned-income tax credit, but substantially larger.

And don't forget that Britain's universal health care system ensures that no one has to fear going without medical care or being bankrupted by doctors' bills.

The Blair government hasn't achieved all its domestic goals.

Income inequality has been stabilized but not substantially reduced: as in America, the richest 1 percent have pulled away from everyone else, though not to the same extent. The decline in child poverty, though impressive, has fallen short of the government's ambitious goals. And the government's policies don't seem to have helped a persistent underclass of the very poor.

But there's no denying that the Blair government has done a lot for Britain's have-nots. Modern Britain isn't paradise on Earth, but the Blair government has ensured that substantially fewer people are living in economic hell. Providing a strong social safety net requires a higher overall rate of taxation than Americans are accustomed to, but Britain's tax burden hasn't undermined the economy's growth.

What are the lessons to be learned from across the pond? First, government truly can be a force for good. Decades of propaganda have conditioned many Americans to assume that government is always incompetent - and the current administration has done its best to turn that into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But the Blair years have shown that a government that seriously tries to reduce poverty can achieve a lot.

Second, it really helps to have politicians who are serious about governing, rather than devoting themselves entirely to amassing power and rewarding cronies.

While researching this article, I was startled by the sheer rationality of British policy discussion, as compared with the cynical posturing that passes for policy discourse in George Bush's America. Instead of making grandiose promises that are quickly forgotten - like Bush's promise of "bold action" to confront poverty after Hurricane Katrina - British Labor politicians propose specific policies with well-defined goals. And when actual results fall short of those goals, they face the facts rather than trying to suppress them and slime the critics.

The moral of my post-Christmas story is that fighting poverty isn't easy, but it can be done.

Giving in to cynicism and accepting the persistence of widespread poverty even as the rich get ever richer is a choice that our politicians have made. And we should be ashamed of that choice.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Despite low poverty rate, one in seven families is low-income

from The Boston Herald

Despite the state’s low poverty rate, at least 48,000 low income families struggle to make ends meet, according to a University of New Hampshire report.

The report by the university’s Carsey Institute, a rural studies think tank, finds that overall New Hampshire boasts a high quality of life: People are well educated, incomes are relatively high, and the state’s poverty rate is the lowest in the nation.

Yet in the midst of this prosperity, one in seven New Hampshire families is low income, and dropping incomes and rising housing costs are compounding their struggles, the report found.

“The struggles of low-income families are especially troubling since we have seen strong economic growth in recent years,” said Allison Churilla, the study’s author.

Between 1999 and 2004, low income families’ annual earnings dropped 9 percent, from about $7,300 per person to $6,700 per person. That and other factors, like a drop in work force participation, means more low income families are living in poverty - rising from 29 percent in 1999 to 38 percent in 2004, the study, based on U.S. Census data, found.

During the same period, low income families spending more than half their income on housing increased from one in three to more than half.

“Because a larger share of low-income families rent their residences and rental costs are variable, low-income families tend to be more vulnerable to rising housing costs,” Churilla wrote.

Families headed by young adults and single parents - particularly women - have a higher risk of struggling financially, the report said.

Adults in their 20s and 30s have startup costs, lower-paying jobs and less stable housing and because most them have younger children, “young adults’ instability therefore puts young children at a heightened risk of low income,” said the report, which found 23 percent of families with young children also had low incomes in 2004.

While the number of children living in low income families fell by 7 percent between 1999 and 2004, the number of children living in low income, single mother families increased by 14 percent. In all, the total number of single mother families in New Hampshire grew by 10 percent during that time.

“The risk is incredible for single mothers,” said Churilla, noting that many single moms have less education and therefore work in low-paying jobs. Child care also is an obstacle to gaining full-time, higher-income work, and there are signs that single mothers may not be taking full advantage of state programs, she said.
Then there is the issue of pay - New Hampshire’s minimum wage of $5.15 an hour is the lowest in New England.

“Proposed increased in the minimum wage could bolster workers’ earnings and promote economic self-sufficiency for 28 percent of New Hampshire’s low-income families,” Churilla wrote.

Ten ways to give that just might change the world

from Thw Bonita News

By By GINA KIM, The Sacramento Bee

It is the season of giving, and not just to your cute little nephew.

If you want your gift to make a difference around the world, you may be overwhelmed by the number of charities that do good work. Which will do the most with your money? Who will they help and how?

Here are 10 charities to consider. All have a three- or four-star rating — good or exceptional — from the independent evaluator Charity Navigator, which measures nonprofits by how efficiently they use donated dollars.

Accion International

Offers microloans and business training to men and women so they can start their own enterprises and afford running water, food and school for their children. Founded in 1961, the Boston nonprofit has given almost 1.9 million people in the United States and around the world more than $2.6 billion in loans.

The good deeds: A Nicaraguan man quit his job stocking produce at a grocery store to sell oranges at a wholesalers market. With the help of a $70 loan, he was able to increase his orange inventory to jump-start his business, and now, several loans later, he has 12 steady clients, including the grocery store where he used to work. He has added rooms to his home and can afford to send his children to school, according to Accion International.

How it keeps giving: Borrowers pay interest on their loans, so when loans are repaid, there is more money to offer loans to more people.

What gives: First loans start small — maybe $100 in Latin America and $500 in the United States. Borrowers who repay their loans on time are eligible for larger loans so they can continue growing their businesses.

-- or (617) 625-7080

Children Inc.

A sponsorship program in which donors are matched with a child, helping to provide food, shelter and health care as well as education. Based in Richmond, Va., the nonprofit was created in 1964 after the founder visited Guatemala and photographed 95 children in miserable circumstances. Today, the organization helps more than 16,000 children in 24 countries, including the United States.

The good deeds: A sponsor helped pay for the education of a Kenyan boy who grew up in an orphanage. Today, he runs his own trash-collection business, according to Children Inc. And a sponsor helped a girl in Feds Creek, Ky., whose father was in a mining accident, pay for college. The girl will graduate and hopes to work in the mental health field.

How it keeps giving: Given a chance, many of these children go on to become contributing members of their communities.

What gives: Sponsors can become pen pals with the children and arrange to meet them.

What it costs: $28 a month sponsors a single child.

-- or (800) 538-5381

Coffee Kids

Helps coffee-growing families in Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Costa Rica through small-business loans, scholarships and grants to schools in those communities. Founded by a coffee roaster in Santa Fe, N.M., in 1988, the nonprofit recognizes that coffee farming is often linked to poverty.

The good deeds: Every year, almost everyone who lives in Ayahualuco, a small town in the Mexican state of Veracruz, migrates to harvest coffee, according to Coffee Kids. Many of children work alongside adults and miss three months of school. Through the microcredit program, some families no longer need the extra income from coffee harvesting and can keep their children in school.

How it keeps giving: By keeping kids in school, other opportunities are opened.

What gives: The nonprofit’s biggest program is a microcredit venture that offers loans to women who start businesses such as pharmacies, beauty salons or food stands to help supplement their families’ incomes. The loans are repaid with interest to a community bank that can sustain itself.

-- or (800) 334-9099


A nonprofit Web site started by teachers at a Bronx high school in 2000. Public school teachers submit proposals for classroom projects, and donors can pick which project they would like to fund — whether a kindergarten field trip to the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito, Calif., or a map of the world for a second-grade classroom in Livermore, Calif.

The good deeds: Children in public schools across the country traveled on field trips, benefited from new supplies and books, and gained technology in classrooms. The Web site has raised more than $4.5 million this year. How it keeps giving: About 82 percent of the materials bought by donors is reused by the following year’s students.

What gives: After a project is fully funded, the teacher photographs the students participating in the project and writes about how the students benefited. Students also write thank-you notes that are mailed to donors who gave more than $100.

-- or (212) 239-3615

E+Co, Energy Through Enterprise

A nonprofit based in Bloomfield, N.J., that offers loans to small, clean-energy enterprises in Latin America, Africa and Asia. These enterprises provide biothermal, wind, solar and hydroelectric energy for people who otherwise have access only to “dirty” sources of energy.

The good deeds: In Vietnam, the nonprofit helped finance a project providing digesters that convert the methane from pig and other animal waste into energy. Each digester meets the daily cooking requirements of a single rural household, and the program has installed 4,000 in the last four years, according to E+Co.

How it keeps giving: Clean, sustainable energy opens up access to better nutrition, heating, hygiene and health.

What gives: Clean energy means a better world for everyone.

-- or (973) 680-9100

Heifer International

Founded in 1944 by a Christian relief worker who decided it was better to give families in need a source of food rather than short-term relief. Today, the Little Rock, Ark., charity has helped 7 million families in more than 125 countries with gifts of cows, sheep, chickens, pigs and other animals.

The good deeds: A single mother of four in Cameroon became part of a group that received a gift of pigs. Soon, every family in the group had its own pigs, and the single mother can now feed and clothe her children by selling healthy pigs at the market, according to Heifer International.

How it keeps giving: Recipients of animals promise to pass on the offspring to others in need, meaning the cycle of giving continues.

What gives: A single cow can produce up to four gallons of milk every day, providing nourishment for families and extra income as its owner sells surplus milk. Plus, cow manure is used as fertilizer to help crops grow. What it costs: $500 for a heifer, $120 for a pig, $60 for rabbits and $20 for chicks.

-- or (800) 422-0474

Orbis International

Founded in 1982 when a donated plane converted into a flying hospital flew to Panama to train local medical professionals in how to preserve and restore sight, and to offer free medical care to the visually impaired.

The good deeds: Since that maiden flight in 1982, the nonprofit has given more than 3 million people medical treatment and trained more than 124,000 health care professionals.

How it keeps giving: Orbis not only offers sight but also the chance to go to school and work because of restored vision.

What gives: About 90 percent of the world’s blind and visually impaired people live in underdeveloped countries.

What it costs: Orbis accepts cash donations as well as frequent-flier miles.

-- or (646) 674-5500

Project HOPE

Founded in 1958 when President Eisenhower donated a U.S. Navy hospital ship that was transformed into the SS Hope and sailed on 11 voyages around the world, bringing health education to developing countries. Today, the Millwood, Va., nonprofit provides medical supplies to developing countries, teaches health seminars and funds microcredit programs helping families stay healthy — financially and physically.

The good deeds: A woman in Peru became a single mother of six when her husband died of a brain hemorrhage. With a loan from a Project Hope program, she bought material to sew macrame bags and now earns almost as much as her husband did, according to Project HOPE.

How it keeps giving: As part of the microcredit program, beneficiaries take health education courses that teach them how to prevent the most common causes of child illness.

What gives: Through education, the spread of communicable diseases such as tuberculosis and AIDS can be slowed.

-- or (800) 544-4673


Believes knowledge, when it comes to environmental conservation, is power. Created in 1973, the Arlington, Va., nonprofit educates locals in the world’s most threatened areas about the dwindling resources and animal populations in their backyards, and gives them tools to create their own marketing campaigns to raise even more awareness.

The good deeds: There were fewer than 100 St. Lucian parrots in the 1980s, written off by scientists with the ominous “in terminal decline.” But after RARE donated $5,000 worth of marketing materials and raised public awareness in St. Lucia, the parrot became the island’s national bird, and there are now 600 of them, according to RARE.

How it keeps giving: Animals and plants that exist today will also exist tomorrow.

What gives: Beyond awareness campaigns, RARE also supports ecotourism, linking income for local residents with the preservation. RARE has helped start ecotourism enterprises in Honduras, Mexico and Guatemala, and another is being created in Grenada.

-- or (703) 522-5070

Wings of Hope

Works like an airline for the poor, transporting people and supplies, often in remote areas where the terrain is rugged and some times impassable by other modes of transportation. Founded in 1962, the nonprofit is based in Chesterfield, Mo., and works in 39 countries.

The good deeds: The Medical Air Relief and Transport program delivered more than 540 patients in need of major surgery to hospitals last year. About 80 percent of them were children.

How it keeps giving: Wings of Hope helps other nonprofit organizations, such as one in Zambia with remote medical clinics, to get supplies and people where they need to be on a regular basis.

What gives: The organization runs on volunteer pilots and mechanics, with a paid staff of four.

-- or (636) 537-1302

Richest 2 Percent Own Half of World's Wealth

from Yahoo News

The richest 2 percent of adults in the world own more than half the world's wealth, according to a new study released by the Helsinki-based World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University.

The study's authors say their work is the most comprehensive study of personal wealth ever undertaken. They found the richest 1 percent of adults owned 40 percent of global assets in the year 2000, and that the richest 10 percent of adults accounted for 85 percent of the world's total.

In contrast, the assets of half of the world's adult population account for barely 1 percent of global wealth.

"It reflects the extreme nature of inequality around the world," one of the study's authors, New York University Professor Edward Wolff, told OneWorld. "Yes, we are richer than Africa and Latin America and most of Asia, but how much richer is what hadn't really been established until our study came out," Wolff added.

According to the report, the average American's wealth amounted to $144,000 in the year 2000, more than 100 times higher than the average Indian or Indonesian, whose assets totaled $1,100 and $1,400, respectively.

The study defined wealth as physical and financial assets--like personal savings and home, land, and stock ownership--less debts.

Besides the United States, only Canada, Western Europe, Japan, and Israel showed average personal wealth of more than $50,000.

Pakistan, Vietnam, Cambodia, many former Soviet Republics, and most of sub-Saharan Africa showed average personal wealth of under $2,000.

Conflict-ridden countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Sudan did not report data.

"This is a reminder that most people do not live the way middle class Americans live," David Rauchman of the Washington, DC-based Center for Global Development told OneWorld. "That comes out of two centuries or more of history where North America and Europe have experienced steady and fairly rapid industrial development. Meanwhile, places like Asia and Africa haven't so much."

Rauchman said foreign aid programs and philanthropy would go part of the way toward closing the international wealth gap, but trade and immigration policies are also important.

"If we make it easier for clothing manufacturers and farmers in Bangladesh or Mali to ship their goods to the United States so Americans can buy them, that will help and it will be good for us too," he said. "Same thing for immigration. It's good for Mexico if Mexicans can come to the United States and send money home. If we make it easier for people to come and participate in our economy, it's actually good for economies in the rest of the world."

But unfettered free trade tends to benefit the wealthy at the expense of the poor, says Anuradha Mittal of the California-based Oakland Institute, a think tank that specializes in social, economic, and environmental issues. She says the rise of free trade has increased the wealth gap, both internationally and inside many countries.

Mittal cites as an example the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) signed in 1992 by the United States, Canada, and Mexico. "Instead of Mexico being able to export its food to the United States, what's really happened is that U.S. corn exports to Mexico have tripled, pushing 2 million Mexican corn farmers out of business. And those are the very people who then migrate [to the United States]."

Those migrants then work for low wages inside the United States, Mittal argues, pushing wages for all workers down.

In addition, says Mittal, "when you talk about the ability to export you're talking about big plantations, which creates further inequities inside of countries. You're not going to be talking about [improving livelihoods for] small farmers in Mexico or Honduras or India."

One solution put forward by the authors of the United Nations University report is expanding access to microcredit--small loans given to poor people who are not able to get traditional lines of credit from regular banks. The loans, which are often used to help establish or improve small businesses, have proved to be quite safe, with many lenders experiencing repayment rates close to 100 percent.

This month, Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his pioneering microcredit program. Yunus shared the award with the Grameen Bank, which he founded 30 years ago. The bank gives small, unsecured loans to nearly 7 million impoverished Bangladeshis--almost all of whom are women.

Yunus started by lending 42 people a total of $27.

"The excitement that was created among the people by this action got me further involved in it," he said in his Nobel acceptance speech in Oslo. "If I could make so many people so happy with such a tiny amount of money, why shouldn't I do more of it? That's what I have been trying to do ever since."

"Grameen Bank gives collateral-free income-generating loans, housing loans, student loans, and micro-enterprise loans to poor families and offers a host of attractive savings, pension funds, and insurance products for its members," Yunus added.

But despite its benefits, Mittal notes that microcredit alone is unlikely to put a significant dent in the international wealth gap.

"Research shows that more than 55 percent of borrowers after eight years of borrowing are still using their loans to buy food," she said. "So while microcredit is a good survival strategy, it is not a solution for development."

New Orleans symbolizes U.S. war on poverty

from USA Today

By Richard Wolf, USA TODAY

NEW ORLEANS — If this is Ground Zero for the federal government's war on poverty, it's hard to find the front lines.

Since Hurricane Katrina struck on Aug. 29, 2005, only 94 homeowners — and no tenants — have received federal aid to rebuild. The poor have been treated at walk-in health clinics while a federal-state partnership struggles to finance a new medical complex.

"I thought they would do a lot for us, but so far they haven't given us anything," says Albert Walker, 75, who's using insurance to rebuild a one-story home in the devastated Lower 9th Ward, which nearly disappeared under 11 feet of water. "Most of the people down here are waiting on the road to recovery."

Fifteen months ago, President Bush stood in Jackson Square, in this city's fashionable French Quarter, and pledged to confront poverty, racial discrimination and a "legacy of inequality."

Now, as Democrats prepare to take charge of Congress, advocates for the poor say New Orleans symbolizes the government's fits and starts in addressing poverty. They want lawmakers to increase the minimum wage, cut interest rates on college loans and expand health insurance to more poor children.

Lawmakers take on issues

Democrats say they intend to raise the profile of anti-poverty issues. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., who will take over a key housing subcommittee, plans hearings here next month. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., incoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, plans to examine how poverty negatively affects economic growth, sprawl, crime, health care, even national security. "We can't afford poor folks," he says.

Any broader war on poverty will have to wait. The annual budget deficit is nearly $300 billion. "It's a reflection of the political realities," says Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., outgoing chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. "The public is fed up with these growing deficits."

Politics, too, presents a problem. Conservatives led by Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., don't want to spend heavily on social programs. Even liberals such as Rangel don't want to raise taxes. Senate Republicans can block almost anything from passing. "I don't see a concentrated war on poverty by Democrats," says Jared Bernstein of the liberal Economic Policy Institute. "But you are going to see a couple of well-chosen battles."

Like many, Tracie Washington remembers the Bush speech.

"I bought it," says Washington, director of the NAACP's Gulf Coast Advocacy Center. Today, she says, "It's like that old Wendy's commercial — 'Where's the beef?' "

"There's been very little done for health care, very little done for mental health services, virtually nothing done to shore up and support the criminal justice system," says Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. "For all the president saying 'We'll do whatever it takes,' it hasn't quite happened that way."

The majority of New Orleans' poorest residents remain outside the city, unable to return because of a shortage of habitable housing and soaring prices. More than 200,000 former residents are in the nationwide diaspora that Katrina created, about 80% of them black.

Tenants have yet to receive anything from a federally financed program intended to help people get back into their homes, even though more than 50,000 units of rental housing were destroyed. The federal government plans to replace many of those with private, mixed-income developments.

Making the immediate shortage worse is the Department of Housing and Urban Development's plan to tear down more than 4,000 units of public housing. HUD says it would cost $130 million to rehabilitate the run-down projects. Low-income-housing advocates have gone to court to block the move. HUD now says it will be phased in.

It has been left to groups such as Catholic Charities USA and ACORN, which represents low-income families, to gut flooded houses. "The joke here is that we need a New Orleans Study Group," ACORN founder Wade Rathke says.

The federal government has invested billions into housing, health care and education, but red tape and a fear of fraud have slowed the flow of funds. The administration wants to change systems that were failing before Katrina struck:

•Housing. It's trying to turn renters into homeowners with jobs and rent-to-own programs. The state is readying $1.5 billion in rental aid to landlords and $1.7 billion in low-income tax credits.

•Health care. It wants to replace the old two-tiered system, in which the poor were relegated to Charity Hospital, by having the Department of Veterans Affairs join Louisiana State University in building a modern medical complex.

•Education. It's investing in charter schools, where parents play a direct role, rather than rebuilding the old public school system that was one of the nation's worst.

Donald Powell, the federal coordinator of Gulf Coast rebuilding, is frustrated with the delays. "We need to be very resourceful about finding ways to speed up the process," he says.

Andy Kopplin, executive director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, says aid was slow to arrive and tied with red tape. "We asked for significantly more than we got in lots of categories," he says.

Despite Bush's speech on poverty Sept. 15, 2005, little has been done to address it nationally.

The need is clear: Census Bureau figures show that about 37 million Americans, or 12.6%, lived in poverty in 2005 (annual income of $19,971 or less for a family of four). The poverty rate has been rising since 2000. About 8.8 million families have severe housing-cost problems, up 33% since 2000.

New Orleans had the eighth-lowest median income in the nation among big cities in 2005 — $30,771 — before Katrina. Orleans Parish had the sixth-highest poverty rate among counties, 24.5%.

Some experts say that if disaster struck elsewhere, poor city dwellers would fare worst. "We're under-investing in our urban core," says John Powell, executive director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University.

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have pledged to vote early next year to raise the federal minimum wage, stagnant since 1997, to $7.25 an hour over two years from $5.15. That would have an immediate impact in states such as Louisiana that have no minimum wage laws.

Program funding sought

The leaders also will try to reduce interest rates on student loans and expand the Children's Health Insurance Program to some of the 9 million children still uninsured.

Anti-poverty advocates such as Mark Greenberg of the liberal Center for American Progress say more money is needed for programs set to expire in coming years: food stamps, child care, Head Start, job training. They want changes in the tax code that would benefit the poor, such as an expansion of the earned income tax credit.

Democratic lawmakers caution against high expectations. They point to the budget deficit, the future insolvency of Medicare and Social Security and their own promises to pay for new spending.

"The body politic does not want to mention the word 'poverty.' All you're going to hear about is the middle class," Waters says. "We've got to talk about poverty, not only in Louisiana but in America."

As the 2008 presidential campaign heats up, experts say, the issues of poverty and inequality will be given voice by Democratic candidates such as former North Carolina senator John Edwards, who plans to announce his quest in New Orleans next week. "This is going to be a reference point for the debates nationally about equality and poverty," Rathke says.