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Poverty Education Center

Poverty Education Center Blog

Obama, poverty, and the media

Posted by Benjamin Curtis on May 17, 2015 at 10:05 AM PDT

Charles Blow in the New York Times recently discussed President Obama's remarks on the poor, and media reaction to them. The President said,

“Over the last 40 years, sadly, I think there’s been an effort to either make folks mad at folks at the top, or to be mad at folks at the bottom. And I think the effort to suggest that the poor are sponges, leeches, don’t want to work, are lazy, are undeserving, got traction.”

The response of his critics, particularly those on the right, have echoed some common fallacies about poverty. Read the whole article.

Poverty in American public schools

Posted by Benjamin Curtis on January 22, 2015 at 9:01 AM PST

This article from the New York Times describes a report that exposes the extent of poverty in American public schools. 

"According to the report, which analyzed data from the National Center for Education Statistics, a majority of students in 21 states are poor. Close to two-thirds of those states are in the South, which has long had a high concentration of poor students. In Mississippi, for example, close to three-fourths of all public school students come from low-income families.

But the West also has a large and growing proportion of low-income students. Arizona, California, Hawaii and Nevada have high rates of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches."

This is the report by the Southern Education Foundation on which the NYT article is based.

The War on Poverty: Won or Lost?

Posted by Benjamin Curtis on January 22, 2015 at 9:01 AM PST

This article in Time Magazine by a researcher at UC Davis says that the War on Poverty has not been lost. Any such claim depends on how one defines "winning" and "losing," however. Nonetheless, the basic finding that some anti-poverty programs do work is important.

"It is actually remarkable that poverty rates have not substantially grown, considering economic and social trends over the past three decades. Since the 1980s, rising demand for skilled workers and falling demand for their less-skilled counterparts have meant that real wages have increased substantially for workers earning above the median, but not for most of those who earn below it. This fact is at the heart of growing inequality. It explains how strong GDP growth can co-exist with no improvement for low-wage workers. Our own research suggests that the wider gap in earnings between workers at the median and those earning in the lowest 20 percent during the 1980s should alone have increased poverty rates by roughly 2.5 percentage points."


Worsening inequality in the US

Posted by Benjamin Curtis on November 18, 2014 at 10:11 AM PST

More and more evidence portrays not only the high levels of inequality in the United States, but how inequality is getting worse. A recent article in the New York Times claims:

"Before the impact of tax and spending policies is taken into account, income inequality in the United States is no worse than in most developed countries and is even a bit below levels in Britain and, by some measures, Germany. However, once the effect of government programs is included in the calculations, the United States emerges on top of the inequality heap."

The article includes some excellent graphs comparing things such as the tax burden, vacation days, and government social transfers in the US to other high-income countries. Few of the comparisons show the US in a favorable light. Read the whole article.

Poverty in the Pacific Northwest

Posted by Benjamin Curtis on November 18, 2014 at 10:11 AM PST

Poverty in America is not just a problem for urban areas, or people of color. Getting past those tired stereotypes, it's clear that poverty afflicts many many people in rural America, even in predominantly white areas. In the Pacific Northwest--famed for its dynamic tech economy--a closer look reveals communities struggling to survive as older livelihoods such as logging no longer employ many people.

One such community is Sweet Home, Oregon: 

"Here in east Linn County, two hours south of Portland, one in five families earns less than the federal poverty threshold. In 2012, even as the economy in Portland, the state’s biggest city, began booming again as a center of high-tech and hipster life, Oregon had the nation’s highest percentage of residents receiving federal food stamp assistance, according to the census. And from 2011 to 2013, more than 15 percent of Oregon families were sometimes uncertain about getting enough to eat, a federal study in September said."

Read the whole article from the New York Times about how the decline of the timber industry has hollowed out parts of the rural Pacific Northwest.

Black households in Seattle are getting poorer

Posted by Benjamin Curtis on November 14, 2014 at 8:11 PM PST

An article in the Seattle Times reports that Seattle--a city where many people have relatively high incomes--nonetheless has a surprisingly poor black population. In fact, incomes for black people (which can include African-Americans or African immigrants) have been declining in recent years.

"It may feel like boom times in Seattle, but at least one group is being left out: the city’s black residents.

While Seattle’s median household income soared to an all-time high of $70,200 last year, wages for blacks nose-dived to $25,700 — a 13.5 percent drop from 2012. Among the 50 largest U.S. cities, Seattle now has the ninth lowest income for black households."

Read the whole article to learn more about pockets of poverty in a generally wealthy city, which is perhaps not such a surprising phenomenon in America.


Why is there hunger? Answer: poverty

Posted by Benjamin Curtis on November 14, 2014 at 12:11 PM PST

Mark Bittman in the New York Times proposes that the reason people go hungry in the world isn't because of food shortage. The world produces more than enough food. The reason people go hungry is because they are poor, and so are deprived of food for a number of reasons.

"There’s plenty of food. Too much of it is going to feed animals, too much of it is being converted to fuel and too much of it is being wasted. We don’t have to increase yield to address any of those issues; we just have to grow food more smartly than with the brute force of industrial methods, and we need to address the circumstances of the poor.

Our slogan should not be “let’s feed the world,” but “let’s end poverty.”"

Read the whole article.

Upcoming event: Poverty immersion workshop November 16th

Posted by Benjamin Curtis on October 30, 2014 at 11:10 AM PDT

A new poverty immersion workshop is coming soon, this time in central Seattle. If you've never done one of these before, they are a transformative, experiential learning activity about what it's like to live a month in poverty.

Poverty Immersion Workshop Details:

·         Sunday, November 16, 10 AM to 12:00 PM

·         Temple De Hirsch Sinai, 1441 16th Avenue Seattle, 98122

·         Workshop starts promptly at 10

·         Youth 12 & up are welcome

·         Register:

During the two hour workshop participants will role-play a month in the lives of low-income individuals and families, meet others in the community who care about the issue and explore the impact of poverty on our community, increasing collaboration and action.

Yet more bad news for the American middle class

Posted by Benjamin Curtis on October 25, 2014 at 3:10 PM PDT

The head of the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen, recently remarked that she found inequality in the US to be an issue of serious concern. An article from The Atlantic launches from Yellen's comment to a new paper by economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, which:

"shows that growing income inequality is fueling a commensurate disparity in total wealth. The two economists used tax data to build the most complete picture to date of U.S. wealth. Their findings are worrisome.

Today, the top 0.1 percent of Americans—about 160,000 families, with net assets greater than $20 million—own 22 percent of household wealth, while the share of wealth held by the bottom 90 percent of Americans is no different than during their grandparents’ time."

Upcoming Event: Why Is College So Expensive?

Posted by Benjamin Curtis on October 17, 2014 at 4:10 PM PDT


College costs, student debt, and societal inequality

A panel discussion

Thursday, November 6th

7:00 to 8:30pm

Student Center room 160

Higher education in the United States used to be a great motor of social mobility. Today, however, higher education in this country is more expensive than anywhere else in the world. Critics allege that universities exacerbate inequality, retard social mobility, and perpetuate privilege.

The facts are startling: students from the current generation have higher levels of student loan debt, poverty and unemployment, and lower levels of wealth and personal income, than preceding generations. Two-thirds of recent bachelor’s degree recipients have student loans, with an average debt of about $27,000. In recent years, more than half of new college graduates were jobless or underemployed. And universities are becoming less accessible to people from lower income backgrounds: of Americans age 25 to 34 whose parents didn’t finish high school, only 5% attain a college degree.

This provocative discussion will consider how American universities are contributing to inequality. Why have they become so expensive? How is student debt a problem of social justice? What policies can remedy these problems? How does Seattle University relate to these trends?

Four panelists will provide challenging perspectives on these issues: Marc Webster and Rachelle Sharpe from the Washington Student Achievement Council; Dr. David Madsen from Seattle University; and Michael Kaemingk, a 2012 SU alumnus and co-founder of Salish Sea Cooperative Finance, which works to reduce college graduates’ debt burdens.

Sponsored by the Poverty Education Center. Please contact Dr. Ben Curtis ( with any questions.