Category Archives: Poverty

Poor teens go hungry as younger sibs are fed


From Johns Hopkins University, an alarming finger about hunger and poverty in the United States:

In very poor families, teenagers are going hungry twice as often as their younger siblings, a new Johns Hopkins University study finds.

Parents first forgo food themselves, skipping meals to feed their children. But if there still isn’t enough for everyone, the study found parents will feed younger children before teenagers, regularly leaving the older kids—teen boys in particular—without enough to eat.

“If you’re really poor, you try to sacrifice yourself first, but when you’re forced to make some choices, these parents are deciding to let the teens not have enough—if they have to give up on something, they’re giving up on teenagers,” said JHU economist Robert Moffitt, the lead author. “It’s hard to imagine parents having to do that.”

The study, which is the first to demonstrate how children’s food deprivation can differ by age and gender, even within the same household, is published as a working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research [$5 to read].

Moffitt and co-author David C. Ribar of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research analyzed a survey of about 1,500 extremely disadvantaged families in Boston, Chicago, and San Antonio. The survey asked parents, along with one of their children, about missing meals, checking in with them several times over six years, from 1999 to 2005.

The families had incomes well below the federal poverty line, making an average of about $1,558 a month, or $18,696 a year. Most were headed by single parents, unemployed, on welfare, and not college-educated. Most were minorities and raising children in rental homes.

Questions for the parents included:

  • At any time in the past 12 months, did you or other adults in your household cut the size of your meals or skip meals because there wasn’t enough money for food?
  • At any time in the past 12 months, did you or any other adults in your household not eat for a whole day because there wasn’t enough money for food?
  • In the past 12 months, were you ever hungry but didn’t eat because you couldn’t afford food?
  • Sometimes people lose weight because they don’t have enough to eat. In the past 12 months, did you lose weight because there wasn’t enough food?

In these disadvantaged families, researchers found 12 percent of the adults suffered from extreme food hardship, answering “yes” to several of these questions. At the same time, about 4 percent of the children went hungry.

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American invader threatens Africa’s food supplies


It’s a stealthy invader, an illegal immigrant, and it threatens to cause still more instability in a continent struggling with conflict and First World profiteers, but its impacts portend famine and yet more instability and violence.

Making matters worse, the invasion comes at a critical moment when the continent faces imminent threats from drought and climate change.

From MercoPress:

New research announced by scientists at CABI (Center for Agriculture and Bioscience Information) confirms that a recently introduced crop-destroying armyworm caterpillar is now spreading rapidly across Mainland Africa and could spread to tropical Asia and the Mediterranean in the next few years, becoming a major threat to agricultural trade worldwide.

Fall armyworm is native to North and South America and can devastate maize production, the staple food crop that is essential for food security in large areas of Africa. It destroys young plants, attacking their growing points and burrowing into the cobs.

An indigenous pest in the Americas, it has not previously been established outside the region. In the past year, it was found in parts of West Africa for the first time and now a UK based CABI-led investigation has confirmed it to be present in Ghana. It can be expected to spread to the limits of suitable African habitat within a few years.

Plant doctors working in CABI’s Plantwise plant clinics, which work to help farmers lose less of what they grow, have found evidence of two species of fall armyworm in Ghana for the first time. This has been confirmed by DNA analysis undertaken at CABI’s molecular laboratory in Egham, Surrey (UK). In Africa, researchers are working to understand how it got there, how it spreads, and how farmers can control it in an environmentally friendly way.

CABI Chief Scientist, Dr. Matthew Cock said, “We are now able to confirm that the fall armyworm is spreading very rapidly outside the Americas, and it can be expected to spread to the limits of suitable African habitat within just a few years. It likely travelled to Africa as adults or egg masses on direct commercial flights and has since been spread within Africa by its own strong flight ability and carried as a contaminant on crop produce.”

More threats loom: Drought and climate change

The introduction to a very alarming report from IRIN tells the basics:

The once-fertile fields of South Africa’s Western Cape region are filled with scorched patches of earth, dying plants, and wasted crops.

The scene is now common throughout eastern and southern Africa, as droughts for three consecutive years have decimated crops and caused widespread hunger. New research indicates that it is partly due to climate change driven by human action, which has worsened the El Niño weather phenomenon.

“This is about as bad as it has ever been,” said Chris Harvey, as he walked to his farm´s irrigation dam, where the water level has fallen six metres in 10 months.

“We might not be able to grow any vegetables next year,” his wife Sue added.

Dams in the area are drying out, symptomatic of the continent´s battle with years of poor rainfall. The droughts in eastern and southern Africa beginning in 2015 have affected tens of millions of people. The latest numbers from the UN suggest that 24 million people are facing food insecurity in eastern Africa alone, not counting millions of people in the southern region.

According to a new study published by the American Meteorological Society, such conditions will become increasingly normal as climate change takes its toll.

“We are advising governments to expect yearly disasters, droughts, floods, and also now diseases,” David Phiri, the UN´s food and agriculture coordinator in Southern Africa, told IRIN.

Austerity forces Greeks to sell assets abroad


We have consistently held that the whole purpose of austerity regimes implemented and enforced by the world’s institutional lenders has but one goal: The concentrate wealth at the top.

The latest example comes from Greece, where the Troika of the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank, and the European Commission have forced the sales of nationally owned transportation systems, healthcare programs, the electric power grid, ports, islands, and other assets.

The austerity regime also forces Greeks to pay more in taxes and fees, while mandating public and private sector pay, pension, and benefit cuts.

So it should come as now surprise that Greeks are being forced to sell their homes, businesses, and other assets to foreing buyers,

From Kathimerini:

The mergers and acquisitions (M&A) chart of Greece in 2016 that PricewaterhouseCoopers presented on Wednesday showed that foreigners have been acquiring assets in Greece while Greeks have generally been selling.

In total last year assets with a combined value of 4.4 billion euros changed hands in 38 transactions. The value level is about two-and-a-half times that recorded in 2015. Sixty-two percent of that amount came from National Bank’s sale of Finansbank in Turkey.

Last year’s M&A crop was dominated by what PwC dubbed “divestment of the systemic banks from their non-core assets.” This divestment fetched about 3.3 billion euros, or 75 percent of all transactions’ value. When the 500 million euros from privatizations (Piraeus Port Authority, Astir Palace etc) are added, then 2016 can be seen as the year of almost compulsory divestment. Without that, the M&A transaction volume would have come to just 600 million euros.

In recent years the M&A cycle has been “incoming,” with PwC analysts noting that foreign buyers are trying to take advantage of the drop in the value of Greek assets, as three in five transactions last year concerned acquisitions of Greek assets by foreign investors.

Lack of health insurance can shatter communities


Lack of health insurance isn’t just bad for the health of individuals and familieies  without it. It can also increase tensions within communities and shatter social cohesion.

From sociologist Tara McKay, Assistant Professor of of Medicine, Health, and Society at Vanderbilt University, writing in The Conversation, an open source academic written for lay readers.

All links in the article are, unfortunately, to paywalled academic journals:

Dismantling the Affordable Care Act (ACA) without a replacement plan is projected to increase the nation’s uninsured population by 18 million in the first year after repeal and by 32 million in 2026, according to recent estimates by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). As lawmakers and the American public consider repealing portions of the ACA, it is an important time to reflect on what limiting access to health insurance might mean for Americans and their communities. If a repeal occurs, not only individuals, but also their communities, could be affected.

Whether we like it or not, health insurance affects our lives in significant ways. Sometimes these effects are very direct, determining whether we can afford to see a doctor when we need to. At other times, health insurance affects us in less direct ways by shaping whether providers hire that extra nurse or relocate to a wealthier area of town.

One of the things we’ve paid a lot less attention to is whether the effects of health insurance go beyond things like health and costs to shape other aspects of our social lives. My new study with Stefan Timmermans of UCLA addresses this gap by examining the consequences of uninsurance for cohesion and trust in Los Angeles communities during the 2000s.

Using longitudinal data from the Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey (L.A. FANS), we find that people living in communities with lower levels of insurance are less likely to feel connected to and trust their neighbors, even after controlling for several other neighborhood and individual factors that might affect people’s perceptions of and engagement with their communities.

We also test whether broader access to health insurance through a policy like the ACA could strengthen communities over time. This analysis demonstrates that people’s perceptions of their neighbors and communities improve as more people gain access to insurance in their community.

Consequences beyond health care

How does this work?

When large groups of people don’t have health insurance, this places unique financial and organizational strains on individuals, providers and health care markets. Research demonstrates that a lack of access to health insurance negatively affects health, health care access and quality, utilization of preventative services and out-of-pocket costs for the uninsured.

These effects also frequently spill over to the insured, negatively affecting the health and out-of-pocket costs for people living or receiving care alongside large groups of uninsured. Such spillovers come about as providers try to lower their exposure to a large uninsured population by reducing, dropping or redistributing staff and services that are disproportionately used by the uninsured, such as emergency care.

These provider strategies also go on to affect access to health care, quality of care and trust in health care providers for everyone living in a community, not just the uninsured.

Given the particular pressures that uninsurance places on individuals, providers and health care markets, it’s not surprising that we find the consequences of uninsurance go beyond health and health care.

We specifically measured the consequences of living in a community with high levels of uninsurance on residents’ reports of social cohesion, or their feelings of trust, mutual obligation and reciprocity toward their neighbors. Moving from a community where almost everyone has health insurance to one where more than half are uninsured results in a 34 percent decrease in residents’ perceptions of social cohesion in their community, we found.

We tested many possible explanations for this decrease, including differences in the composition of these communities over time, but this result is persistent. There is a social cost for communities that carry a larger burden of uninsured. This 34 percent difference in social cohesion is a substantial difference that has important consequences for other individual and community outcomes pertaining to health, political engagement and more.

New tensions created in communities

There are two primary ways that a lack of health insurance might affect communities.

First, in battles over state and local budgets, attempts to cover the uninsured through the redistribution of new or existing funds may run into political barriers or be forced to compete with other public services such as education and law enforcement. These battles can create competing interests and goals within a community that contribute to the breakdown of social cohesiveness, trust and reciprocity among community members over time.

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Quote of the day: Putting the Gasolinazo in context


The New Year saw a dramatic increase in gasoline prices south of the border, with the government ordering gasoline prices raised to about four dollars, or what an average Mexican minimum wage worker earns in a day.

The result, as he have reported extensively, has been a wave of massive protests, looting, and violence.

But the protests, dubbed El Gasolinazo, have their roots in a deeper agenda art work in the government of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, the most unpopular incumbent in recent history.

From Luis Rangel and Eva María, writing in Jacobin:

What’s happening right now in México is a result of an accumulation of offenses by the regime led by Peña Nieto. For one, Ayotzinapa (one of the thousands of cases of disappeared people, as is the case of Raquel Gutiérrez, the disappeared daughter of our comrade Guillermo Gutiérrez), as well as massacres such as that of Tlatlaya or Nochixtlán, and the seven femicides per day reported in our country that, for the most part, go with impunity.

Politically, Peña Nieto’s government has killed the constitution of 1917 (which came out of the revolution) and the Mexican state’s “social pact” that was created in the twentieth century.

Additionally, with the new energy reform, oil, until now under state control, has been newly sold to the transnational companies expropriated under Cárdenas. If we add to this the surreal cases of corruption, the mining concessions (at least 20 percent of the national territory), the invitation to Trump to come to México when he was just a presidential candidate (!), among other things, what we are seeing is not only the little credibility this government has, but also the deep crisis that the regime is facing as an “oligarchic-neoliberal” state which substituted the “Bonapartist sui generis” of the twentieth century.

Thus, “el Gasolinazo” isn’t a last drop in the bucket, but part of a climate of constant crisis and mass uprisings in México.

And massive protests continue throughout Mexico

The latest from teleSUR English:

Thousands of protesters from various organizations gathered Sunday in Mexico City’s main square to reject the increase in gasoline prices, which came into effect at the beginning of 2017, while similar protests took place in other parts of the country.

Shouting “Peña Out,” in reference to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, and demanding “social justice,” thousands gathered at the Plaza de la Constitucion to denounce a double-digit spike in fuel prices known as the “gasolinazo” which is also set to raise the cost of basic food staples like tortillas by up to 20 percent.

Other groups of protesters gathered in front of the National Palace as well as other government buildings in the city to protest against the measure. No official figures were available but EFE news agency reported that at least 7,500 people were at the main square.

Another large mobilization took place in Guadalajara, the capital of the western state of Jalisco, where some 10,000 people from local unions, nongovernmental organizations and civil society groups walked the main streets of the city in rejection of the government’s economic policies.

Protests also took place in Villahermosa, the capital of Tabasco state, Morelos state capital Cuernavaca and Sinaloa’s capital, Culiacan. The large nationwide demonstrations united around the demand of calling for the resignation of the president and rolling back hikes in fuel prices.

Peña Nieto’s government hiked gasoline prices by 20 percent on the first day of 2017, insisting that the move corresponds to international prices and is not a result of his neoliberal reforms.

Headline of the day: Hang on to your hats, folks


From the New York Times:

18 Million May Lose Insurance After Repeal, Study Finds

  • The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said that repealing major provisions of the Affordable Care Act would cost 18 million people their insurance in the first year.
  • The number of uninsured Americans would increase to 32 million in 10 years, while causing insurance premiums to double over that time.

From the study, a report on investigations by the Congressional Budget Office [CBO] and the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation [JCT]:

Estimated Changes Before the Elimination of the Medicaid Expansion and Subsidies

Following enactment but before the Medicaid expansion and subsidies for insurance purchased through the marketplaces were eliminated, the effects of H.R. 3762 on insurance coverage and premiums would stem primarily from repealing the penalties associated with the individual mandate.

Effects on Insurance Coverage. CBO and JCT expect that the number of people without health insurance coverage would increase upon enactment of H.R. 3762 but that the increase would be limited initially, because insurers would have already set their premiums for the current year, and many people would have already made their enrollment decisions for the year. Subsequently, in the first full plan year following enactment, by CBO and JCT’s estimates, about 18 million people would become uninsured. That increase in the uninsured population would consist of about 10 million fewer people with coverage obtained in the nongroup market, roughly 5 million fewer people with coverage under Medicaid, and about 3 million fewer people with employment-based coverage.

Most of those reductions in coverage would stem from repealing the penalties associated with the individual mandate. However, CBO and JCT also expect that insurers in some areas would leave the nongroup market in the first new plan year following enactment. They would be leaving in anticipation of further reductions in enrollment and higher average health care costs among enrollees who remained after the subsidies for insurance purchased through the marketplaces were eliminated. As a consequence, roughly 10 percent of the population would be living in an area that had no insurer participating in the nongroup market.

Effects on Premiums. According to CBO and JCT’s analysis, premiums in the nongroup market would be roughly 20 percent to 25 percent higher than under current law once insurers incorporated the effects of H.R. 3762’s changes into their premium pricing in the first new plan year after enactment. The majority of that increase would stem from repealing the penalties associated with the individual mandate. Doing so would both reduce the number of people purchasing health insurance and change the mix of people with insurance—tending to cause smaller reductions in coverage among older and less healthy people with high health care costs and larger reductions among younger and healthier people with low health care costs. Thus, average health care costs among the people retaining coverage would be higher, and insurers would have to raise premiums in the nongroup market to cover those higher costs. Lower participation by insurers in the nongroup market would place further upward pressure on premiums because the market would be less competitive.

Estimated Changes After the Elimination of the Medicaid Expansion and Subsidies

The bill’s effects on insurance coverage and premiums would be greater once the repeal of the Medicaid expansion and the subsidies for insurance purchased through the marketplaces took effect, roughly two years after enactment.

Effects on Insurance Coverage. By CBO and JCT’s estimates, enacting H.R. 3762 would increase the number of people without health insurance coverage by about 27 million in the year following the elimination of the Medicaid expansion and marketplace subsidies and by 32 million in 2026, relative to the number of uninsured people expected under current law. (The number of people without health insurance would be smaller if, in addition to the changes in H.R. 3762, the insurance market reforms mentioned above were also repealed. In that case, the increase in the number of uninsured people would be about 21 million in the year following the elimination of the Medicaid expansion and marketplace subsidies; that figure would rise to about 23 million in 2026.)

The estimated increase of 32 million people without coverage in 2026 is the net result of roughly 23 million fewer with coverage in the nongroup market and 19 million fewer with coverage under Medicaid, partially offset by an increase of about 11 million people covered by employment-based insurance. By CBO and JCT’s estimates, 59 million people under age 65 would be uninsured in 2026 (compared with 28 million under current law), representing 21 percent of people under age 65. By 2026, fewer than 2 million people would be enrolled in the nongroup market, CBO and JCT estimate.

According to the agencies’ analysis, eliminating the mandate penalties and the subsidies while retaining the market reforms would destabilize the nongroup market, and the effect would worsen over time. The

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Gasolinazo protests continue to rage in Mexico


The gasolinazo, the name Mexicans have given the the government-mandated 20 percent hike in gas prices as a result of the partial privatization of Mexico’s national oil monopoly, continues to inspire massive discontent.

President Enrique Peña Nieto, whose administration mandated the price hike. Has watched his poll numbers plummet, with only one in four Mexicans approving of his handling of the office.

And now he’s trying to cool things down.

From the Associated Press:

Mexico’s president tried again on Thursday to calm anger over the big jump in gasoline prices this month amid a historically weak currency and continued threats by Donald Trump to steer manufacturers back to the United States.

In his latest speech, the deeply unpopular President Enrique Pena Nieto outlined measures that he said would help families mitigate the impact of the price hike. Yet steps like notifying more than 3 million Mexicans older than 65 that they have money in government retirement accounts seemed unlikely to dissipate the outrage that led to widespread looting in parts of the country and marches calling for his resignation.

Earlier this week, Pena Nieto promised to police price increases for staple goods and invest in modernizing public transportation. But it was difficult to see how any of that could make up for the overnight 20 percent increase in the price of gasoline when the government ended price controls.

After days of seeking ways to strike a calming chord, Pena Nieto tried taking a more relaxed posture Thursday, leaning casually on the podium, cracking jokes — and telling Mexicans to suck it up.

Protests lead to State Department warning

Just how tense the situation in Mexico has become can be judged by this travel advisory from the State Department:

The U.S. Consulate General Nogales informs U.S. citizens that large demonstrations are expected at Port of Entry DeConcini January 14-15, 2017 to protest the increase in gasoline prices.  U.S. citizens are urged to use the Mariposa Port of Entry until further notice. As always, avoid areas of demonstrations, and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations.

Demonstrations in Nogales last Sunday turned violent, with police firing numerous warning shots in an attempt to turn back protesters.

Protests continue, on a reduced scale

A report from Business Insider:

Protests against the gas price hike imposed by the Mexican government at the start of this year have spread across the country, appearing in at least 28 of Mexico’s 32 states.

Many of the protests have been peaceful, but in some areas demonstrators have shut down gas stations and facilities belonging to the state oil company, Pemex.

Elsewhere, protests against the gasolinazo, as the price increase has come to be called, have boiled over into looting and violence.

In Mexico City, one police officer was killed while trying to stop looting at a department store, and elsewhere police officers joined in to ransack stores. At least six people have been killed and more than 1,500 have been arrested.

Looting seen during the first week of the year largely subsided this week, but in Tijuana, which shares the Western Hemisphere’s busiest land-border crossing with San Diego, protesters continue to block traffic and confront authorities. Since the price increase — designed to let prices float in response to supply and demand — Tijuana and Baja California state have seen some of the country’s highest prices.

One protest, a blockade in the city of Rosarita, turned violent earlier this week, with at least seven people hurt when a truck rammed the barricade.

A video via the San Diego Informer:

U.S. gas stations on the border do a booming business

While the gasolinazo had been bad for Mexican businesses, it’s proving a real boon for one kind of business on this side of the border.

From Bloomberg Markets:

Mexico’s fuel market liberalization has done something rarely seen before: make California’s pump prices look cheap.

Drivers are flooding across the border to southern California to fill up on gasoline, after protesters blocking distribution centers near the Baja California capital of Mexicali caused stations to run dry. Antunez’s Shell gas station in Calexico is just five blocks away from the Mexican border and rarely has business been as busy as now. Mexicali drivers wait four to five hours to cross into the U.S. just to fill their fuel tanks and then wait two more hours to cross back into Mexico.

>snip<

Unleaded gasoline in Mexicali was increased in January to 16.17 pesos a liter, or $2.815 a gallon. Seventeen miles north across the border in El Centro, California, pump prices jumped 5.3 cents a gallon to average $2.718 as of 5 p.m. New York time Wednesday, according to GasBuddy, a price tracking company.

“There is a very important commercial exchange happening in the border region,” said Jose Angel Garcia, the president of Mexico gasoline retailer association Onexpo. “There are trucks with large tanks being used to bring fuel into Mexico from the U.S.”

More from CSP News, a trade publication for gasoline retailers in the U.S.:

In Calexico, Calif., gas stations reported a tripling in fuel sales and waits of an hour or more for fill-ups, according to The Desert Sun. The town of 40,000 sits across the border from Mexicali, where protesters had earlier blocked the road into the central fuel distribution center, causing local gas stations to run out of fuel. Federal police cleared the blockade, but waits for fuel in Mexicali were still more than an hour that same day.

“It’s great for us,” Juan Arce, the manager of two SoCo Express gas stations in Calexico, told the newspaper. “I do feel bad for the people to the south.”

Several retailers in Calexico reported similar spikes in business. “It’s been more than double,” said Carlos Vera, manager of a Shell-branded site. On a high-volume day, the gas station typically sells 5,000 gallons of gas; the weekend of Jan. 7, it sold nearly 10,000. Its supplier has had to refill its underground storage tanks each day, Vera said.

Motorists were filling up gallon gasoline containers, empty laundry soap containers and even metal barrels to bring back into Mexico for family and friends.

Cartels add gas to their drug business

And in Mexico, there’s one organization already doing business in a highly valued commodity where the demand is great and the market is eager to buy.

So it should come as no surprise that they, too, are getting into the gasolinazo.

From Bloomberg Businessweek:

The black market is booming. Several states experienced gasoline shortages at the end of last year as more thieves tapped into state-owned Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) pipelines. The pilfered fuel was sold to drivers hoping to save money. Pipeline theft in 2015 increased sevenfold, to more than 5,500 taps, from just 710 in 2010. Pemex attributes the company’s 12-year slide in crude production in part to the growth in illegal taps.

The drug cartels have turned to fuel theft as a side business worth hundreds of millions of dollars each year, and crime groups focused solely on gasoline robbery have sprung up, says Alejandro Schtulmann, president of Empra, a political-risk consulting firm in Mexico City. “You only need to invest $5,000 or $8,000 to buy some specific equipment, and the outcome of that is huge earnings.”

Fuel theft creates a vicious cycle: The theft increases costs for Pemex and makes the official gasoline supply more scarce, contributing to higher prices for legal consumers. Theft amounts to about $1 billion a year, says Luis Miguel Labardini, an energy consultant at Marcos y Asociados and senior adviser to Pemex’s chief financial officer in the 1990s. “If Pemex were a public company, they would be in financial trouble just because of the theft of fuel,” he says. “It’s that bad.”

And while on the subject of funny business. . .

Consider this from teleSUR English:

An anti-corruption group in Mexico revealed Tuesday that the energy minister, as well as relatives of President Enrique Peña Nieto, had financial interests in the recent gas hikes that have sparked protests across the country for the second week in a row.

Energy Minister Pedro Joaquin Coldwell is a shareholder of four of the five gas stations on the Caribbean island of Cozumel in partnership with his sister and two sons.

One of the gas stations was closed down in April 2016 over alleged manipulations of prices, as the station was not providing the amount of diesel customers were paying for, Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity exposed in the official reports by Profeco, the oil watchdog in Mexico. The ruling was appealed.

The investigative paper Aristegui Noticias denounced a conflict of interests even more problematic in the context of the contested gas price hike. “Coldwell is the head of the energy sector in Mexico. As the energy minister, he could access privileged information on the oil business,” said the article.

Coldwell denied any interference in the administration of the four gas stations in an interview with the anti-corruption group, adding he will pass over his shares to a trustee in order to avoid conflicts of interests.