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    Mississippi Crumbling: The Inheritance of Inequity in The Magnolia State

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    “Everybody in the Mississippi Delta was a racist, white or black. Racism was built into our bones. It is a thing we will never recover from having committed, but it also had its side that we always benefitted from…I lived in a society that was filled with horrors, as you look back on it. They were not horrors at the time.” – Shelby Foote

    They say that time heals all wounds, but the maxim only applies if the wounds are properly tended to. You can’t just leave a gaping sore open to the influence of the oppressive environment in which it was born and it expect it to get better. No, a wound left untended amongst a sea of malignant influences is sure to bloom with miasmatic glory before long. By the same token, no healing is going to take place if the regeneration of flesh is interrupted by a public that believes the best course of action is to perpetually pick at the wound with their cruddy, unwashed fingertips, waiting until little rivulets of pus and blood begin to run down their arm before they finally stop long enough to let it to scab over again. Time alone is sufficient for the mending of paper cuts and carpet burns, but when it comes to the deep, ravenous gashes that cut down to the bone, it is nothing more than an incubation period. The reality is that time is a neutral agent—something that possesses the ability to help and harm our collective injuries in equal measure. It does not heal. It does not hurt. It merely facilitates.

    During his Second Inaugural, President Lincoln spoke of the necessity of “binding up the nation’s wounds” and caring for those who had borne the battle if we were ever to see a prolonged peace. He acknowledged the contradictions of war and spoke to the absurdities that spring from it, asking how it could be that two groups of men who read the same Bible and worshiped the same god could pray for victory over their enemy and expect Him to answer one group’s prayer, but not the other. By the end of his address, Lincoln had framed the Civil War and all of the suffering attendant to it as a sort of divine reckoning that had come and would come to pass over a nation which had harvested the fruits of slavery for 250 years,saying:

    “Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'”

    It has been nearly 150 years since President Lincoln let his countrymen know the debt he believed we owed to our creator and, 150 years later, we have yet to pay it off. Well, to be fair, we’ve already paid one half of the debt off. Or at least I hope we have. Call me an optimist, but I would think that the Civil War itself would be enough to atone for all of the blood that had been drawn by the lash during the course of American slavery. That’s not to say that the country didn’t immediately start accruing more cosmic debt from the moment Reconstruction started, but I’d like to think that more than 700,000 gallons of blood in a 4 year span would satiate whatever bloodlust god had up to the point.(1) It’s that whole accumulation of ill-gotten wealth from 250 years unrequited toil part that we’ve never really made a lot of progress on.

    A depiction of Lincoln’s 2nd Inauguration in the US Capitol’s Great Experiment Hall

    Earlier in his Second Inaugural, Lincoln made a covert dig at the morality of the Confederate position on slavery when he commented on the strangeness of a people asking, “a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces.” To a modern reader, it might seem like a strange choice of words, but his audience in 1865 was likely to pick up on the biblical allusion Lincoln was making. In the Book of Genesis, god puts a curse upon the ground after discovering that Adam and Eve have eaten from the Tree of Knowledge, telling Adam that, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”With this as context, it would seem that Lincoln is painting the practice of slavery as a violation of god’s will as it is an economic system designed to absolve one group of people from the curse of god on the land by making another group bear twice the burden. It is not so much a condemnation of the particular institution of slavery as it is the practice of systematically exploiting the labor of your fellow-man for unearned personal gain. Had he lived through Reconstruction, I have little doubt that Lincoln would have been just as disgusted with the practices of sharecropping and convict leasing as he was with slavery and that he would have done everything in his power as President to stifle their spread through the South.

    But, Lincoln did not live through Reconstruction. In fact, he didn’t even make it through the second month of his second term, thanks to a deranged Confederate sympathizer named John Wilkes Booth who decided it was incumbent upon himself to avenge Old Dixie by assassinating our 16th President in the middle of a showing of Our American Cousin. Tragically, Booth’s nerve was not shared by one of his co-conspirators, George Atzerodt, who was supposed the kill Vice President Andrew Johnson on that same night, but got cold feet. Thus, we had a situation in which the greatest President our nation had ever known was assassinated, only to be replaced by a man who would prove to be the one of the worst we’ve ever had to endure.

    From his quick and largely consequence free reinstatement of former Confederate leaders and endorsement of discriminatory Black Codes in many Southern states, to his vetoing of legislation that proposed civil rights increases and an extension for the Freedman’s Bureau, Johnson played the part of the white supremacist savior, effectively killing off any hope that the civil rights of blacks in this country would go beyond mere emancipation in the near future. The slaves had been nominally given their freedom, but Johnson was determined that they shouldn’t be given anything else. Under his watch, the rights and opportunities available to white men would not be extended to any other race and the ascendency of a new American hatred would begin.

    In the span of three years, our country went from a President who urged his fellow Americans to have malice towards none and charity towards all to a President who demonized one section of the population for the benefit of another and unironically warned that if the black race, “obtains the ascendency over the [white race], it will govern with reference only to its own interests for it will recognize no common interest–and create such a tyranny as this continent has never yet witnessed.” In Andrew Johnson’s words you can hear the contempt and revulsion for his fellow-man burbling out in a sea of incoherent hatred. You can see his words spurring on the basest nature of the white southern plebians from which he sprang, settling in them a vicious enmity towards their black brothers and sisters that would cause them to ignore the grave injustices being perpetrated against them by their patrician white fellows. Most of all, you can feel that scar tissue that was built up after Gettysburg and Appomatox and Shiloh begin to slowly crack open, exposing those tender wounds of ours to infection and disease and rot. There would be no healing there.

    ————-

    Despite the inevitable protestations of some of their neighboring states in the deep south, I think there is no question that the State of Mississippi is the most enduring legacy of the Confederacy. Sure, South Carolina can lay claim to being the first state to secede from the union and Alabama can hold tight to the knowledge that their state legislature still meets in the building that was once the Confederate Capitol, but they can’t quite compare with the sheer scope and volume of Mississippi’s rebel worship. South Carolina wants to offend some folks by continuing to fly the Confederate flag at their state capitol? Well, that just means Mississippi’s going to have to one up them and actually stick the stars and bars in the design of their own state flag. Alabama’s feeling pretty good because it named a community college after Jefferson Davis? Mississippi named an entire county after the son of a bitch. Hell, the nickname for the University of Mississippi’s sports teams is the Rebels and, until 2010, the mascot for the school was an antebellum plantation owner named “Colonel Reb”.

    But all of those are just some of the cosmetic heirlooms of Mississippi’s Confederate past. Yes, they are racially and culturally insensitive and, yes, they honor the legacies of some of the most oppressive bigots in our nation’s history, but at the end of the day they’re still largely symbolic. The Magnolia State’s true antebellum inheritance can be seen in the day to day lives of the majority of its nearly 3 million residents, who are still shouldering the burden of a white ruling class that has consistently thumbed their nose at President Lincoln’s words of warning by continuing to pile up tarnished wealth from the bondsman’s unrequited toil, even if the bondsman has been relabeled a sharecropper or a minimum-wage worker.

    Poverty
    Statistically speaking, Mississippi is the most downtrodden and depressing state in all of America.

    No matter which direction you go, the signs and symptoms of this perpetual oppression will make themselves readily apparent to you. Drive yourself southeast from Greenville to Gulfport or northwest from Clinton to Corinth—it doesn’t matter. You can drive in concentric circles around Jackson for all I care, because regardless of where you want to start off from or where you plan on going, the end product will be the same: poverty. With nearly 1 in 4 Mississippians living below the poverty line, the Magnolia State is far and away the most impoverished in America, besting the state with the 2nd largest percentage of impoverished residents by more than 3 percentage points. Mississippi can also lay claim to an unmatched ubiquity of poverty as well, as every one of Mississippi’s 82 counties—save DeSoto, Madison and Rankin Counties—has a poverty rate that is above the national average of 15.9%.

    Of course, being the poorest state in the union, it should come as no surprise that Mississippi comes in dead last—or first, depending on how you look at it—in a slew of other unenviable categories, but I have to admit that it is still shocking to see just how much worse off Mississippians are then everyone else in the country. How bad is it? Well, Mississippi ranks last in median household income, per capita personal income, overall health outcomes,diabetes rates, obesity rates, average life expectancy, cardiovascular deaths, infant mortality, infants with low birthweight, teen pregnancy rate and high school graduation rates. Statistically speaking, Mississippi is the most downtrodden and depressing state in all of America. The only consolation they can glean from their collective misfortune is that the rest of the South is, to varying degrees, experiencing the same health, wealth and education disparities as they are. In fact, things are so bad in the South that the region is responsible for 11 of the 12 twelve states with the lowest life expectancies(2) and can point to only one state (Virginia) that has a median household income higher than the national average. I’m not positive on this one, but I’m pretty sure that dropping out of high school, having a baby when you’re 15, getting a meager paycheck and dying early isn’t what folks mean when they talk about preserving “the Southern way of life.”

    —————

    (1) For those wondering where the 700,000 gallon number came from and want to nerd out, keep reading. If the average percentage of the human body that is blood is about 7% and the average Civil War soldier weighed 143 lbs, that would mean that the average Civil War soldier had roughly 10 lbs of blood in him. Now, if you know that there are 8.85 lbs in a gallon of blood, then you can figure out that 10 lbs of blood—or one soldier—is about 1.13 gallons Then, all you have to do is multiply those 1.13 gallons by the number of casualties in the Civil War, which was about 620,000, and you have the final figure of 700,600 gallons of blood.

    (2) The abberant 12th state here is West Virginia, who is pretty well situated just above Mississippi as the 2nd worst in many of these metrics. West Virginia could be classified as part of a very loosely defined South, but for the most part it’s simply an Appalachian no man’s land, with no definitive association with folks on either side of the Mason-Dixon line.

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    Drew Gibson is the News Correspondent Staff Writer for Social Work Helper. He is also a writer and the social media director for "Virally Suppressed", a blog covering a multitude of issues related to social justice and inequities in American life, with a particular focus on Appalachia, the Midwest and the Deep South. Drew returned to his hometown of Cincinnati last year after getting his Masters in Social Work from The University of Maryland-Baltimore and working for the Office of Nation Drug Control Policy, where the federal government paid him with 2 M&M's boxes from the White House Easter Egg Roll. Drew is not at all bitter about this. You can check out more of Drew's work on Virally Suppressed at http://virallysuppressed.com/"

    Global

    Why Housing Affordability Needs To Be Reevaluated

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    Traditionally, academics and policymakers have determined whether an individual or family can afford to live somewhere by simply dividing their housing costs by their income. If at least 30 percent of a person’s or family’s income goes to housing and related expenses like utilities, then their household is said to be “cost burdened.” The ratio is not determined by economic or social analysis; rather, it is simply the number Congress chose in 1981, which has not been changed nor updated since. Although this approach is easy to understand, it falls short of accurately reflecting the financial burdens people actually experience. This is a problem because many federal housing programs rely on this 30 percent measure to determine rent.

    Measuring Housing Affordability

    This ratio-based approach breaks down for Americans with extremely low incomes. If wages decline, a middle-class family could potentially downsize its home or related expenses. When people live below the poverty line, however, they must spend above a minimum just to reside in a home that meets the local building codes and meets basic human needs.

    “Shelter poverty” analysis provides an alternative to the traditional approach. Shelter poverty is a concept that was first developed by Michael Stone, a professor of community planning, in the 1970s. In this analysis, instead of comparing housing costs to income, housing costs are evaluated in the broader context of the household’s other basic needs, including food, clothing, and transportation. If housing costs are high enough that household’s residents cannot cover these basics from their income, then they are said to be experiencing shelter poverty. The challenge for this method lies in determining how much money must be spent to meet other needs, especially because the federal government no longer publishes such estimates for non-housing necessities.

    The Self-Sufficiency Standard, created by University of Washington senior lecturer Diana Pearce in the 1990s, addresses this issue by compiling estimates of basic expenditures from various public and private sources, based on the county of residence, the number of persons in the household, and the age(s) of any children present. This information can be combined with anonymized responses to the American Community Survey, a nationally representative survey conducted annually by the U.S. Census Bureau. The combined data make it possible to determine whether each household in the sample is experiencing shelter poverty. This method also helps determine if, and by how much, households fall short in covering their expenses. That is called the “affordability gap.” Using estimates developed in this way, analysts can extrapolate out to the general U.S. population.

    Housing Affordability in Ohio and South Carolina

    A shelter poverty analysis was conducted for Ohio renters who responded to the American Community Survey, and for sampled South Carolina renters and homeowners (including both mortgage holders and those who own a home free and clear). In both states, the shelter poverty method generates substantially different results than a basic cost burden analysis. Although overall rates of economic distress are generally similar using the two different measures, the total affordability gap using the shelter poverty measure is substantially larger. Among Ohio renters, it would take over $3 billion annually to address cost burdens using the 30 percent metric, but nearly $15 billion per year to mitigate shelter poverty entirely. The disparity is somewhat narrower in South Carolina, but a similar gap exists.

    There are differences in the areas of need as well. In both Ohio and South Carolina, the prevalence of a cost burden measured by the ratio system is higher than the burden of shelter poverty in suburban areas with the highest median household incomes. In economically distressed urban and rural areas in both states, far more households experience shelter poverty than excessive ratio cost burdens. In other words, it appears that current standards of housing affordability overstate the needs of families who are most able to pay and understate burdens for those least able to do so.

    Improving Housing Affordability

    Overall, experts may not be accurately describing the magnitude and nature of housing affordability challenges in the United States. Those experiencing shelter poverty are found in nearly every community nationwide. In South Carolina, which is not by national standards a particularly expensive state to live in, households experiencing shelter poverty (nearly one-third of all individuals and families statewide) have an average affordability gap of $14,330 per year, or about $275 per week.

    Meanwhile, the geographic distribution of shelter poverty suggests that the 30 percent measure distorts the landscape of housing affordability. That distortion happens because there are households that choose to spend more than 30 percent of their income voluntarily and are thus inappropriately categorized as cost burdened. Meanwhile, others spend less than 30 percent on housing costs but still find they do not have enough to make ends meet. Taken together, failure to consider these issues leads decision-makers to understate the level of economic inequality among U.S. households.

    It is worth noting that affordability gaps are not only measures of deprivation experienced by less fortunate Americans. These gaps also reflect economic activity that is lost due to the inability of many households to meet basic needs. Ohio renters have about $15 billion less to spend each year as consumers in the state’s economy because they lack access to affordable housing.

    Although housing costs have become more politically salient in recent years, the scope and scale of the problem have not been fully articulated. Housing is the single largest expense for most individuals and families, and it is typically regulated at the county and municipal level through zoning codes and related ordinances. Local policymakers must consider whether their policies are harming the welfare of residents and businesses alike by artificially restricting housing supply or preventing construction of subsidized housing.

    All Americans have a stake in better measurements of housing affordability – and better solutions to the shortfalls many people face in this vital area. A shortage of affordable homes can have numerous downstream effects. Employers may face high rates of labor turnover if employees cannot find places to live in the vicinity. Longer commuting distances increase the amount of traffic and contribute to urban sprawl, which has a variety of negative environmental, social, and economic consequences.

    To find solutions, local officials must engage with homeowners, renters, business owners, and nonprofit groups, as well as housing policy experts in the public and private sectors. To ensure communities across the country have a path toward a prosperous and sustainable future, everyone must be able to find a suitably located and affordable place to call home.

    Opinions expressed in this brief are those of the author alone, not the State of South Carolina or any other entity.

    Read more in Bryan P. Grady, “Shelter Poverty in Ohio: An Alternative Analysis of Rental Housing Affordability,” Housing Policy Debate 29, no. 6 (November 2019): 977-989.

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    Health

    Report: Home Health Aides Scraping By on Low Wages During Pandemic

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    On Equal Pay Day, the Rutgers Center for Women and Work highlights the growing number of home health aides in New Jersey and the economic challenges they face

    New Jersey’s home health aides are caring for seniors and people with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, while earning an average salary of just $25,000 per year, according to a report released today by the Center for Women and Work at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations. Since home health aides and other domestic workers are predominantly women, their low wages help to explain why the gender wage gap persists in New Jersey and across the U.S.

    “With all of the attention rightly focused on our incredible doctors, nurses, and first responders, it’s easy to forget about the thousands of home health aides who are caring for vulnerable New Jerseyans every day,” said Debra Lancaster, executive director of the Rutgers Center for Women and Work. “We’ve seen a growing demand for their services over the last 20 years. Yet, they remain among the lowest-paid workers in our state.”

    Home health aides check vital signs and assist their clients with bathing, dressing, meals, medications, and other daily activities, while providing companionship and emotional support. Some aides live with their clients 24/7. Others work for home health agencies and visit multiple clients daily. The Rutgers Center for Women and Work’s analysis of federal data finds:

    • New Jersey has about 36,000 home health aides. That’s more than almost every other state.
    • 95 percent are women; 51 percent are immigrants; and 69 percent are Black, Hispanic, or Asian.
    • The number of home health aides in New Jersey is on the rise due to an aging population.
    • Despite the important services they provide, home health aides are low-wage workers.
    • The average home health aide in New Jersey earns between $23,380 and $25,330.

    The Center for Women and Work made the announcement on Equal Pay Day, the symbolic date on which women’s earnings catch-up to men’s earnings from the previous year. New Jersey ranks at or near the bottom of all states on pay equity for women of color. Latina women in New Jersey earn 42 cents and black women earn 56 cents for every dollar a white man earns, according to data from the National Women’s Law Center.

    “The low wages paid to home health aides and other domestic workers are a major reason why we still have a wage gap in 2020,” said Yana Rodgers, economist and faculty director of the Rutgers Center for Women and Work. “It’s not always a function of overt discrimination. In many cases, the problem is that jobs thought of as ‘women’s work’ do not pay as much as ‘men’s work.’ Until that changes, the wage gap is not going away.”

    About the School

    The Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations (SMLR) is the world’s leading source of expertise on managing and representing workers, designing effective organizations, and building strong employment relationships. SMLR’s Center for Women and Work engages in research, education, and programming that promotes economic and social equity for women workers, their families and communities.

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    Mental Health

    Hardship During the Great Recession Linked with Lasting Mental Health Declines

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    People who suffered a financial, housing-related, or job-related hardship as a result of the Great Recession were more likely to show increases in symptoms of depression, anxiety, and problematic drug use, research shows. The research findings, published in Clinical Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, reveal declines in mental health that were still evident several years after the official end of the recession, but were obscured when examining trends in population-level data (e.g., the number of people overall with each mental health outcome).

    “Our study provides a new perspective on the impact of The Great Recession, showing that population-level analyses likely miss important patterns in the data,” says lead researcher Miriam K. Forbes, who began the research at the University of Minnesota and now works at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. “By looking at individuals’ mental health and experiences of the recession, we could see a different picture.”

    “Individuals who experienced even a single recession impact still had higher odds of nearly all of the adverse mental health outcomes we examined – including clinically significant symptoms of depression, generalized anxiety, panic, and problems with drug use – three years after the recession,” Forbes explains. “And these odds were higher still in specific sociodemographic groups who suffered marked losses during the recession or without a strong safety net.”

    Forbes and University of Minnesota colleague Robert F. Krueger examined data collected as part of the longitudinal Midlife in the United States study of adults aged 25 to 75. To investigate the impacts of the Great Recession, which officially lasted from December 2007 to June 2009, the researchers focused on data collected in the 2003-2004 wave, three years before the recession began, and the 2012-2013 wave, three years after the recession ended.

    Forbes and Krueger examined participants’ symptoms of depression, anxiety, and panic disorder and their symptoms of problematic alcohol and drug use. In the 2012-2013 wave, participants also reported whether they had experienced a variety of recession-related impacts, including financial impacts (e.g., missed mortgage or credit card payments, declared bankruptcy), job-related impacts (e.g, took on an additional job, lost a job), and housing impacts (e.g., moved in with family/friends, threatened with foreclosure).

    As observed in previous studies, the prevalence of each mental-health outcome in the full sample remained stable or decreased slightly from 2003-2004 to 2012-2013. But when the researchers looked at mental-health outcomes in relation to the hardships individuals experienced as a result of the Great Recession, the analyses told a different story. Specifically, each hardship experienced was associated with an increased likelihood of having symptoms of depression, generalized anxiety, panic, or problems with drug use. This pattern held even when Forbes and Krueger accounted for participants’ previous symptoms and their sociodemographic characteristics.

    The researchers also found that individuals who did not have a college education were more likely to show increased anxiety in relation to job-related hardships. And people not living with a spouse or partner were more likely to have problems with drug use associated with housing-related hardships. These associations may reflect the relative lack of safety net available to people in the job market who have fewer qualifications, or who rely on a single income.

    The analyses also showed that people with greater financial advantage were particularly affected by some hardships. Compared with their less-advantaged peers, participants who were well off were more likely to have anxiety symptoms associated with housing-related hardships and were also more likely to have drug use problems associated with financial hardships. These associations may reflect that fact that experiences such as “moving in with friends or family to save money” or “selling possessions to make ends meet” likely signal a substantial loss of assets and a considerable level of hardship for people who were previously living comfortably.

    The researchers note that the observational nature of the MIDUS data does not allow them to conclude that recession hardships caused an increase in participants’ symptoms. However, the findings do reveal the limited perspective afforded by aggregate-level analyses – understanding people’s actual lived experiences requires analyses that examine individual-level outcomes and changes over time.

    The Great Recession of 2007 to 2009 resulted in huge losses to employment, earnings, assets, and income in the United States and this research shows that those losses were associated with lasting negative mental health outcomes for many individuals.

    “These findings suggest the adverse effects of the Great Recession on individuals’ mental health likely compounded and prolonged its economic costs, highlighting that government-funded mental health support following financial recessions may not only ease individuals’ burdens, but could be a sound financial investment that may act to stimulate faster economic recovery following future recessions,” says Forbes.

    “These findings may be particularly pertinent given some indications that the next period of economic contraction might begin as early as 2020,” she adds.

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