Income Inequality: A Reading List

Too Much, a newsletter published by the Council on International and Public Affairs (CIPA), regularly reviews books that treat income inequality. Editor Sam Pizzigati has compiled a helpful archive of Good Reads.

The most recent addition to the list happens to be a book penned by Pizzigati himself, Greed and Good: Understanding and Overcoming the Inequality That Limits Our Lives.

According to publisher Apex Press (a CIPA program), the book

explores the most promising options for creating a less unequal America, then offers a practical political guide for moving forward incrementally on the boldest option of all, a “maximum wage,” a national ceiling on annual individual income that would rise if and only if the minimum wage rose first.

In Defense of Food Stamp Programs

When Congress recently threatened to cut support for food stamp programs, the Food Research and Action Center responded.

FRAC prepared a 117-page document, “Editorials, Columns, and Op-Ed Pieces in Opposition to Food Stamp Program Cuts,” which compiles nearly 80 articles from dozens of newspapers across the country.

The clippings treat a variety of issues, ranging from support for low-income people to Congress’ apparent disconnect from the needs of “average citizens.” Many, if not most, articulate sentiments like the following, from the Port Huron (Michigan) Times Herald:

Any budget, especially a national one, is a statement about priorities. How we spend money demonstrates what we really believe. The Congress of the United States needs to be reminded by people of good will that contempt for the poor and the neglect of those in need is not an American value.

In September 2005, FRAC published a report titled “Food Stamp Access in Urban America: A City-by-City Snapshot.” According to the report,

A recent USDA study shows that the costs to families to purchase enough food generally were higher in the cities than in their immediate surroundings or in non-metropolitan areas of the same state …

In a majority of the cities, at least one child in four lived below the poverty line in 2003, and in Atlanta and Detroit it was two children in five …

As of May 2005 in the 25 urban areas [examined by the study], approximately 5.4 million people were receiving food stamps. More than half of the households receiving food stamps contained children, and nearly 80 percent of the benefits issued were paid to households with one or more children. One in five urban food stamp households included an elderly person …

And in contrast to Congress’ proposal to cut benefits, FRAC argues that

[s]ince the nation’s big cities are home to a disproportionate share of poor and hungry Americans, expanding access to the Food Stamp Program in cities is a critically important step toward building an America free of hunger.

Congress Gets Pay Raise; Minimum Wage Unchanged

Members of Congress recently passed a pay increase for themselves to the tune of $3,100. Approved by President Bush and effective January 1, 2006, their base salary will be $165,200.

Congress’ annual pay bump stands in stark contrast to the federal minimum wage, which has not been raised for eight years … since September 1, 1997.

In its report Out of Reach 2005, the National Low Income Housing Coalition offers the following perspective:

In no rural county or metropolitan area can a renter with a full-time job paying the prevailing minimum wage afford even a one-bedroom unit priced at the Fair Market Rent. And in only 42 counties—representing less than 1% of renter households nationwide—does a full-time minimum wage job constitute sufficient income to afford an efficiency or studio (i.e. zero bedroom) unit.

A parent would have to work at least three minimum-wage jobs to afford a two-bedroom apartment in California, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, and Washington D.C.—nearly four jobs in Hawaii and Maryland.

The Economic Policy Institute provides comprehensive data on the minimum wage, including some concise Facts at a Glance and answers to FAQs.

Q: Who are minimum wage workers?

A: An estimated 7.3 million workers (5.8% of the workforce) would benefit from an increase in the minimum wage to $7.25 by June 2007. Of these workers, 72.1% are adults and 60.6% are women. Close to half (43.9%) work full time and another third (34.5%) work between 20 and 34 hours per week. More than one-third (35%) of the workers who would benefit from an increase to $7.25 are parents of children under age 18, including 760,000 single mothers. The average minimum wage worker brings home about half of his or her family’s weekly earnings.

And what of the earnings of our Senators and Representatives? According to the nonprofit publication Too Much,

No one can say precisely how many millionaires currently sit in Congress, or how many millions these millionaires hold, mainly because the annual disclosure forms members of Congress must file don’t require them to report the exact value of their assets. Instead, the forms ask lawmakers to list each of their assets within a set of fixed value ranges.

If you would like to study financial disclosure statements for members of Congress, visit PoliticalMoneyLine’s Candidate Profile Search.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Type in all or a portion of a last name.
  2. Choose the most recent election cycle.
  3. Click Go Search!
  4. Click on the appropriate name to open a profile.
  5. In the lower right-hand side of the screen, look for the box titled “Annual Personal Financial Disclosure Documents”
  6. Click on the report of your choice (available as a PDF document).

When you’re through, why don’t you contact your reps in Washington? Ask them to raise the minimum wage to help working families.

Focus: A Poverty Research Publication

The Institute for Research on Poverty publishes the quarterly journal Focus, which “provide[s] coverage of poverty-related research, events, and issues, … to acquaint a large audience with the work of the [IRP] by means of short essays.”

Full-text articles are accessible without charge and include titles like the following:

Racial Stigma and Its Consequences

Economic Inequality and Educational Attainment Across a Generation

Single-Parent Families and the Food Safety Net

Focus was previously featured in Kathleen McCook’s blog, A Librarian at Every Table.

Teaching Resource: kNOw Hunger

Brandeis University’s Center on Hunger and Poverty challenges students to help fight hunger in their community. With the Gerda & Kurt Klein Foundation, the Center created kNOw Hunger,

a ready-to-use, 6-unit social studies curriculum geared toward high school youth, and designed to enable educators to easily integrate social content materials into their classes. The curriculum meets the specifications of the National Council on Social Studies and is based on the most recent scientific research on hunger and poverty. The complete curriculum can be used online or downloaded free of charge!

The Web site provides resources for both teachers and students, printable materials in PDF format, and service learning guides for high school and middle school students.

An Atlas of Poverty in America

Penn State University’s Poverty in America Project studies poverty trends in the United States using census data, a unique index of “economic health” and “economic distress,” and public policy assessments.

Directed by Dr. Amy Glasmeier, the project has published An Atlas of Poverty in America: One Nation Pulling Apart, 1960-2003, available through

A key message of this Atlas is that America’s poor are people who work or who are dependents of people who work and face limited opportunity, often due to living in places that are seriously disadvantaged because of geography or history or both …

We use the terms poverty, being poor, economic insecurity, low-wage work, working poor, and unable to make ends meet to reflect a state or condition of being in which … [people lack] the ability to enjoy life due to lack of access to basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter, health care, and essential requirements for a successful work life such as a decent education and access to a vehicle.

Glasmeier and the Atlas were recently featured in National Public Radio’s “Hunger in America” series.

[NPR]: Why is there hunger in America?

[Glasmeier]: A big part of food insecurity relates to the uncertainties of daily life. People go hungry because of unexpected events, such as paying for an emergency visit to the hospital, a car repair, or the loss of a job. So you can be just above the poverty line, and any one of those circumstances can push you into poverty.

When a family is living that close to the edge, the bottom line is that cuts will be made in the consumption of food. Food is purchased with cash. If you don’t have a credit card, then you have to pay cash for food. The majority of people don’t have a monthly charge account at the local grocery store.

Poverty Action Lab

MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab conducts poverty research through the use of randomized trials.

The objective is to improve the effectiveness of poverty programs by providing policy makers with clear scientific results that help shape successful policies to combat poverty … [The Lab works] on issues as diverse as boosting girls’ attendance at school, improving the output of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, racial bias in employment in the US, and the role of women political leaders in India.

The Lab’s papers (available as PDFs) cover a wide range of topics. The archive includes “Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?,” which made the national news when it was originally published in 2003.

The authors summarize the project in this way:

We perform a field experiment to measure racial discrimination in the labor market. We respond with fictitious resumes to help-wanted ads in Boston and Chicago newspapers. To manipulate perception of race, each resume is randomly assigned either a very African American sounding name or a very White sounding name. The results show significant discrimination against African-American names: White names receive 50 percent more callbacks for interviews … We find little evidence that our results are driven by employers inferring something other than race, such as social class, from the names.

Storming Caesars Palace

Annelise Orleck, a professor of history at Dartmouth College, has published a book titled Storming Caesars Palace: How Black Mothers Fought Their Own War on Poverty.

It was a spring day on the Las Vegas strip in 1971 when Ruby Duncan, a former cotton picker turned hotel maid, the mother of seven, led a procession. Followed by an angry army of welfare mothers, they stormed the casino hotel Caesars Palace to protest Nevada’s decision to terminate their benefits. The demonstrations went on for weeks, garnering the protesters and their cause national attention. Las Vegas felt the pinch; tourism was cut by half. Ultimately, a federal judge ruled to reinstate benefits. It was a victory for welfare rights advocates across the country.

Duncan and others were part of a grassroots anti-poverty group called Operation Life. Former members recently enjoyed a reunion of sorts at UNLV to speak about their experiences during a book signing. According to Las Vegas CityLife,

Orleck says Operation Life and the work of the West Las Vegas black welfare mothers, many of whom had little to no formal education, “was a shining example” of how people could unite for a common goal. Operation Life brought the first health clinic, senior housing and library to the Westside …

Even though Operation Life is no more, its influence has left lasting effects in Nevada and elsewhere. The organization successfully lobbied for millions in federal money to bring food stamps to the state for the first time, as well as being one of the first certified Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) food programs in the country. When welfare and other poverty services were on the chopping block, Duncan was one of a handful of women around the country who spoke before Congress in an effort to keep the programs going. In 1977, Operation Life was the only Title 7 nonprofit organization to get federal funding in the country, Orleck says in her book.

Storming Caesars Palace (6×9; hardcover; 400 pages) is available from Beacon Press for $29.95.

Street News Service

The North American Street Newspaper Association and have jointly launched the Street News Service.

SNS is a gateway to the best articles, essays and features written by and about homeless and low-income people. These articles are collected from the pages of street newspapers—enterprising publications produced by low-income communities in over 40 cities across North America. Street newspapers serve a vital role in these cities, giving homeless people meaningful work, educating citizens about poverty issues, and breaking important news stories.

The HHPTF was alerted to this new resource by “Street Librarian” Chris Dodge, a librarian and writer with Utne in Minneapolis.

For a primer on street newspapers, including reasons to carry them in your library, read Dodge’s “Words on the Street: Homeless People’s Newspapers.” It begins:

If, as journalist A. J. Liebling declared, freedom of the press belongs to those who own one, where can we find the real thoughts of people who can’t afford to produce their own publications? How exactly are they speaking out? Where do you go to read firsthand about the real issues affecting their lives, or how public libraries can help them or what resources they need from us? An answer, and one that librarians should acquaint themselves with, is street newspapers.