Category Archives: Poverty

Chevron’s malignant legacies in Ecuador, Bay Area


In the second of three programs on the brutal policies of a global oil giant [first part here], Abby Martin looks at the lethal pollution of Ecuador’s land and water by an American oil giant, a bizarre U.S. court ruling made by a judge who owns stock in the company, the the firm’s heavy-handed politics in Richmond, California.

During our six years at the Berkeley Daily Planet, we covered environmental politics in nearby Richmond, one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s poorest communities, and watched as Chevron Texaco fought to control city council elections to ensure that operations at the company’s massive refinery were unhindered by council members’ concerns about dangers to the health and safety of their constituents.

Martin lived nearby and saw firsthand how the company spared no expense in courts and in political and public relations campaigns, and we’re glad that the issue will gain wider exposure through her efforts.

And now, one with the shot.

From teleSUR English:

The Empire Files: Chevron vs. the Amazon – The Environmental Trial of the Century

Program files:

In Part II of this three-part series, The Empire Files continues the investigation into the battle between Chevron Texaco and Ecuador.

In this installment, Abby Martin uncovers what really happened throughout the 22-year legal battle between the oil corporation and indigenous Amazonians, interviewing lead attorney for the case, Pablo Fajardo.

This episode also chronicles the shameful, scandalous history of Chevron Texaco—from the support of Hitler’s Nazi movement, to backing war crimes in Myanmar—and its retaliatory attacks against its victims.

IMF sounds the alarm for the U.S. economy


It’s bad, and getting worse.

From Xinhua:

The U.S. economy risks getting stuck in a prolonged period of low-growth amid slowing productivity and a shrinking middle class, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned.

The U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 1.2 percent in the second quarter this year, following a downwardly revised 0.8 percent gain in the first quarter, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. That marked the third straight quarter in which the U.S. economy grew at lower than 2 percent, the weakest period in four years.

The weaker-than-expected economic data underscores the continuing frustration about the current U.S. recovery, which has repeatedly failed to shift to higher gear in the past seven years.

The U.S. economy has grown at an average pace of 2.1 percent since the recession ended in the mid-2009, registering the weakest U.S. economic expansion since World War II. During the postwar period up to the current recession (1947-2007), the average annual growth rate for the United States was 3.4 percent.

The IMF warned in June that the United States faces “potentially significant longer-term challenges” to strong and sustained growth, including a shrinking labor force and middle class.

Recoveries grow increasingly feeble

A report from the Economic Policy Institute reveals that recoveries are slower with each succeeding recession:

BLOG Econ 2More from the EPI:

One key gauge of the severity of recessions is the output gap, which measures the difference between the economy’s actual output and its potential output if all resources (including workers) were fully employed. At the trough of the Great Recession in June 2009, the output gap was 7.1 percent, equivalent to over a trillion dollars. The only larger output gap in the postwar period was the 7.6 percent gap recorded at the trough of the early 1980s recession in the last quarter of 1982. Cumulatively, the losses over the Great Recession and the sluggish recovery dwarf even those from the early 1980s recession. The output gaps at the trough of the early 1990s recession (the first quarter of 1991) and that of the early 2000s (the final quarter of 2001) were 2.6 and 1.8 percent, respectively.

And the gold goes to. . .

From the World Socialist Web Site:

Hundreds of retail stores have been shut over the past two years as the impact of relentless cuts in wages and pensions and the permanent destruction of decent-paying jobs, combined with sweeping cuts in social programs, have thrown tens of millions of working class families into poverty or near-poverty. The bankers and speculators have placed relentless pressure on the chains to cut costs and increase profit margins at the expense of their employees and the general public.

The surge in stock and bond prices both in the US and internationally, which has further enriched the capitalist elite, has come amid mounting indications of stagnation and slump in the real economy and a worsening social crisis. Economic growth in the US, Europe, Japan and China has slowed to a crawl. New figures released Friday pointed to a slowdown across the entire Chinese economy, with factory output, business investment and retail sales all failing to meet economists’ projections.

The euro zone economy grew by a paltry 0.3 percent in the second quarter, with Italy failing to register any growth and the German economy expanding at a reduced rate.

Gross domestic product in the US is barely increasing, rising only 0.8 percent in the first quarter and 1.2 percent in the second. Both labor productivity and business investment are falling sharply, reflecting the systematic diversion of resources from productive investment to financial speculation and parasitic activities such as stock buybacks, dividend increases and mergers and acquisitions.

US corporations, flush with cash extorted through the slashing of wages and benefits and the imposition of speedup, are hoarding $1.9 trillion. They refuse to invest in new plants and equipment that could provide decent jobs and address the decay of the country’s bridges, roads, schools and housing because the profit margins are too low, preferring instead to speculate on the market and buy back their own stock to increase the take of big investors and inflate the bonuses of top executives.

More from the Associated Press:

Income inequality has surged near levels last seen before the Great Depression. The average income for the top 1 per cent of households climbed 7.7 per cent last year to $1.36 million, according to tax data tracked by Emmanuel Saez, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley. That privileged sliver of the population saw pay climb at almost twice the rate of income growth for the other 99 per cent, whose pay averaged a humble $48,768.

But why care how much the wealthy are making? What counts the most to any family is how much that family is bringing in. And that goes to the heart of the income-inequality debate: Most Americans still have yet to recover from the Great Recession, even though that downturn ended seven years ago. The average income for the 99 per cent is still lower than it was back in 1998 after adjusting for inflation.

Meanwhile, incomes for the executives, bankers, hedge fund managers, entertainers and doctors who make up the top 1 per cent have steadily improved. These one-percenters account for roughly 22 per cent of all personal income, more than double the post-World War II era level of roughly 10 per cent. One reason the income disparity is troubling for the nation is that it’s thinning out the ranks of the middle class.

Incomes in California follow the pattern

The Golden State is, increasing, golden for those at the top, lead for those below.

Consider this graphic from the Public Policy Institute of California:

BLOG Econ

More from the Institute:

Over the past three decades, the distribution of pre-tax cash income in California has been driven by broad, long-term economic forces—although economic booms and busts also figure in. We can track changes in the spread of incomes since 1980 by measuring family incomes at the top, middle, and bottom of the ladder.

Top income levels (at the 90th percentile) were 39.7 percent higher in 2014 than they were in 1980, while low incomes (at the 10th percentile) were 18.6 percent lower. The middle-income level (at the 50th percentile) in California is a mere 5 percent higher than it was in 1980.

California’s economy has experienced a number of boom-and-bust cycles in the past three decades, and incomes across the spectrum have clearly been affected by the gains and losses of these cycles. However, their effects have been uneven. Top incomes have contracted in bust periods, but they have typically rebounded fairly quickly and have gained additional ground. Over the long term, top incomes have increased well beyond 1980 levels. Middle incomes gained some ground in the late 1990s and early 2000s, rising roughly 10 percent above 1980 levels, but these gains disappeared during the last recession. Low incomes declined the most during each of he major recessions since 1980 (early 1980s, early 1990s, and late 2000s) and did not rise above 1980 levels during recovery periods. In 2006, after the growth period of the late 1990s and early 2000s, the 10th and 20th percentiles of income had rebounded to 1980 levels, but the Great Recession took hold soon after. These trends at the bottom, middle, and top of the income ladder add up to a long-term divergence of family incomes in California.

According to the most recent data (from 2014), the median family income before taxes and adjusted to represent a family of four in California is about $69,000. Incomes at the bottom are $15,000 or less, while the top incomes are $198,000 or more.

America’s ethnic wealth divides are growing deeper


BLOG Wealth

The chart is from a sobering new report from the Institute for Policy Studies: The Ever-Growing Gap: Without change, African-American and Latino families won’t match white wealth for centuries.

Key findings from the report:

  • Over the past 30 years, the average wealth of White families has grown by 84% — 1.2 times the rate of growth for the Latino population and threetimes the rate of growth for the Black population. If the past 30 years were to repeat, the next three decades would see the average wealth of White households increase by over $18,000 per year, while Latino and Black households would see their respective wealth increase by about $2,250 and $750 per year.
  • Over the past 30 years, the wealth of the Forbes 400 richest Americans has grown by an average of 736% — 10 times the rate of growth for the Latino population and 27 times the rate of growth for the Black population. Today, the wealthiest 100 members of the Forbes list alone own about as much wealth as the entire African-American population combined, while the wealthiest 186 members of the Forbes 400 own as much wealth as the entire Latino population combined. If average Black households had enjoyed the same growth rate as the Forbes400 over the past 30 years, they would have an extra $475,000 in wealth today. Latino households would have an extra $386,000.
  • By 2043 — the year in which it is projected thatpeople of color will make up a majority of the U.S. population — the wealth divide between White families and Latino and Black families will have doubled, on average, from about $500,000 in  2013 to over $1 million.
  • If average Black family wealth continues to grow at the same pace it has over the past three decades, it would take Black families 228 years to amass the same amount of wealth White families have today. That’s just 17 years shorter than the 245-year span of slavery in this country. For the average Latino family, it would take 84 years to amass the same amount of wealth White families have today — that’s the year 2097.

Next, an interview by The Real News Network‘s Kim Brown of one of the authors of the report, Josh Hoxie , who heads the institute’s Project on Opportunity and Taxation:

A Post-Racial Society With a Racial Wealth Divide?

From the transcript:

HOXIE: Historical policy definitely has played a role in contributing to the racial wealth gap. And one of the interesting things about studying wealth is that it’s really where the result of past policy meets the present that’s impacting people’s lives. So income can tell us a snapshot of where people are at right now, but wealth really gives us that longitudinal view. And as you pointed out, the historical public policies in this country have contributed directly to the growing racial wealth gap we’re witnessing today. And unfortunately, current policies that we have right now also contribute to the racial wealth gap we see today.

Just one example of that is the tax expenditures that we see come out of Congress year-in, year-out, which now total over half a trillion dollars, $600 billion, to be exact. So we’re seeing this money come out that’s designed to be helping people generate wealth. It’s for retirement savings, it’s for home ownership, it’s for things like saving for your child’s college. But the problem is that it’s being skewed into fewer and fewer hands, people at the tippity-top of the economic spectrum who don’t need huge subsidies in order to maintain or generate wealth. People at the bottom are not getting the same amount of help, or anywhere near the amount of help that people at the top are getting.

BROWN: And your report notes that, that there has been tremendous accelerated wealth, growth by the top 1 percent of Americans. You cite the Forbes 400 and you say that they have seen wealth gains of over 700 percent in the last 30 years. I’m curious, because most of the Forbes 400 are white Americans, now, if you were to somehow exclude these very wealthy hundreds of people from this equation, does that change the wealth gap at all? Does that shrink it between when you’re looking at average black, white, and Latino families? Or is the gap still about the same?

HOXIE: Well, it’s certainly true the wealth has concentrated over the past 30 years in an incredible amount into the tippity-top of the economic spectrum. The Forbes 400, as you mentioned, had an average wealth gain of over 700 percent. For context, that’s 10 times faster than the rate of growth for an average Latino family and 27 times the rate of growth for an average black family. So no doubt that money has been concentrating significantly.

And to you direct question, I think there is a role that money concentrating at the top plays in driving the averages up for white families. Because if we look at the median income, or median wealth, excuse me, black wealth over the past 30 years for the median family has actually gone down. So we talk a lot in this report about the average family which, you know, the statistical average is being pulled up by those at the top, and the same is true for white families.

Now, the median white family has gone up, but less than the average, which implies that the top of the spectrum is pulling up that average. But for the black median family and for the Latino median family those rates have been going down. So what we’re seeing is that a typical family that you see on the street is not doing as well as they were 30 years ago when it comes to generating and maintaining wealth.

What more to say?

ChevronTexaco’s deadly Ecuadorian legacy


During our years reporting for the Berkeley Daily Planet, we wrote any number of stories about the Chevron refinery in nearby Richmond on the shores of San Francisco Bay.

As the dominant economic power in a city on of the region’s poorest city, one with a large minority population and in a state of economic implosion, the company was the target of considerable community concerns about fires [they had ‘em] and pollution.

The firm was represented by Willie Brown, the former powerful speaker of the lower house of the legislature of the richest and most populous state in the country, the same Willie Brown casino developers hired to sell the black population of Atlantic City on the ballot measure that legalized casinos there. Willie promised them jobs and good housing; they got neither.

Sophisticated at public relations and press-spinning, Chevron played a dominant role in funding city council elections and turning out supporters, sometimes financed by contributions to churches and other organizations, to ensure their messages got across at city council meetings.

But Richmond’s concerns pale compared to those experienced by thousands of Ecuadorians, the subject of former Bay Area journalist Abby Martin’s latest episode of her series for teleSUR English:

The Empire Files: Chevron vs. the Amazon – Inside the Killzone

Program notes:

A U.S. court just handed another victory to the oil giant Chevron Texaco, in its decades-long battle to avoid paying damages it owes in one of the worst environmental disasters in history. In the Ecuadorean Amazon, the most biodiverse area of the world, the energy titan deliberately poisoned 5 million acres of pristine habitat and subjected tens of thousands of indigenous peoples to destruction of their health and culture. In Part 1 of ‘Chevron vs. the Amazon,’ Abby Martin takes The Empire Files inside Chevron Texaco’s Amazon killzone to see the areas deemed “remediated” by Chevron, and spoke with the people living in the aftermath.

Chart of the day: Lyndon Johnson’s legacy


From the Los Angeles Times, dramatic evidence that Lyndon Johnson was the last American President to have a positive impact on poverty in the U.S.:

BLOG Poverty

Lydon Johnson left office in 1968, declining to run again after the country erupted in race riots in the aftermath of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and troubled by massive youth opposition to the Vietnam War, a legacy he inherited from John F. Kennedy and Dwight Eisenhower.

Yet Johnson, for all his bombast and bluster, came from a poor background, and cared deeply about the fate of America’s poor, and from his time in the U.S. Senate, then as Vice President under John F. Kennedy, he spent much of his considerable political capital on easing their plight.

Johnson knew that the worst poverty rates were among the nation’s black population, and he also knew that he could never win support for programs seen as primarily beneficial to African Americans.

As president, Johnson, perhaps the greatest political operator to hold the White House in the latter half of the 20th Century, came up with a brilliant strategy: He would focus public attention on the poor white people of Appalachia, backwoods poor whose ancestry went back before the American Revolution.

His strategy worked, and thus was born the War on Poverty, reinventing Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, and it worked, as clearly demonstrated in the chart.

We covered the impact of the War on Poverty in Nevada during our first daily newspaper job at the Las Vegas Review-Journal. and saw first hand the program’s dramatic impacts on a black community previously ignored by the city’s newspapers. Our efforts won us our first major journalism award.

Since Johnson left office, poverty rates have never dropped, other than minor fluctuations.

Back in the mid-1960’s we joined anti-war protests against Johnson, but we cannot deny his legacy when it comes to poverty and his attempt to heal America’s racial divide.

Compared to LBJ, Hillary Clinton is simply pathetic.

Study shows sharp divide on educational equality


Americans are sharply divided on solutions to educational inequality, supporting class-based remedies but not measures based on ethnicity.

That’s the troubling conclusion of new research from the American Educational Research Association.

Here’s one of the study’s authors explaining the findings and possible measures to resolve a dilemma in which poor ethnic minorities are victims of poor schools and taxpayer reluctance to approve measures to improve them:

Study: The Politics of Achievement Gaps: US Public Opinion on Race- and Wealth-Based Differences…

More from the American Educational Research Association:

When asked about wealth- and race/ethnicity-based academic achievement gaps, Americans are more concerned about the gap between poor and wealthy students, more supportive of policies that might close it, and more prepared to explain the reasons behind it, according to new research [open access]published online today in Educational Researcher, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association.

Drawing on nationally representative survey data, the study authors—Jon Valant of Tulane University and Daniel Newark of the University of Southern Denmark—found that 63.7 percent of American adults say that it is “essential” or “a high priority” to close the poor-wealthy gap in student test scores. Only 35.6 percent and 31 percent say the same thing about the black-white gap and Hispanic-white gap, respectively.

For their study, Valant and Newark used data from a national survey conducted by YouGov, an internet-based research firm specializing in academic survey research and online political polling. One thousand members of YouGov’s online respondent panel were randomly assigned to one of three groups to answer questions about the poor-wealthy test score gap, the black-white gap, or the Hispanic-white gap. The study authors then compared answers to these questions across the three gap groups.

Respondents were also asked about their support for three specific gap-closing proposals—teacher bonuses, school vouchers, and summer school programs. Fifty-two percent supported the teacher bonus proposal to close the poor-wealthy gap, compared to 31 percent for addressing the black-white gap and 27 percent for the Hispanic-white gap. The voucher and summer school proposals also received more support when directed at the poor-wealthy gap.

More after the jump. . . Continue reading

Map of the day: Soaring rates of Euro idle youth


With Europe still reeling from the impacts of the Great Recession, it’s the continent’s youth who are paying the greatest cost, with increasing numbers falling into a category sociologists dub NEET [Neither in Education, Employment, or Training].

From Eurostat, a map of the rates of NEET youth in Europe:

BLOG Euroiyouth

More from Eurostat:

The European Union (EU) totals almost 90 million people aged 15-29, representing 17% of its population. These young people are in very different situations, with education and employment patterns varying considerably between Member States and by age group.

Between the ages of 15 and 29, a clear and significant shift occurs from the world of education to the world of employment. While in the 15-19 age group the vast majority of people in the EU were in education in 2015, the opposite is true for those aged 25-29: most of them were in employment. In-between, young people aged 20-24 were relatively evenly distributed between education and employment. Moreover, the proportion of young people neither in employment nor in education or training (NEET) increases considerably with age. The NEET rate, which stood at 6.3% for the age group 15-19 in 2015, almost tripled to 17.3% for the age group 20-24 and reached almost 1 young person in 5 aged 25-29 (19.7%).

In 2015 across Member States, more than 1 in every 4 young persons aged 20-24 was neither in employment nor in education or training in Italy (31.1%) as well as in Greece (26.1%) and more than 1 in every 5 was also in this situation in Croatia (24.2%), Romania (24.1%), Bulgaria (24.0%), Spain and Cyprus (both 22.2%). In contrast, the lowest NEET rates among young persons aged 20-24 were recorded in the Netherlands (7.2%), Luxembourg (8.8%), Denmark, Germany and Sweden (all 9.3%), Malta and Austria (both 9.8%) as well as the Czech Republic (10.8%).

At EU level, almost 5 million young persons aged 20-24 (or 17.3%) were in 2015 neither in employment nor in education or training.

Highest increase in NEET rate in Italy, Greece and Spain, highest drop in Germany and Bulgaria Although the proportion of young people aged 20-24 neither in employment nor in education or training remained relatively stable in the EU as a whole between 2006 and 2015, important changes occurred over the last decade in Member States. In ten of them, the NEET rate has decreased, with the most significant reductions being registered in Germany (from 15.2% in 2006 to 9.3% in 2015, or -5.9 percentage points – pp), Bulgaria (-5.3 pp), Sweden (-3.4 pp), the Czech Republic (-2.9 pp) and Poland (-2.8 pp). In the other eighteen Member States, the situation has deteriorated, with the proportion of persons aged 20-24 neither in employment nor in education or training increasing notably in Italy (from 21.6% to 31.1%, or +9.5 pp), Greece (+9.3 pp), Spain (+9.0 pp), Cyprus (+8.5 pp), Ireland (+7.8 pp), Croatia (+5.4 pp), Romania (+5.2 pp), Portugal (+4.9 pp), the United Kingdom (+4.4 pp) Denmark (+4.3 pp) and Finland (+4.1 pp).