Star-Ledger: Poverty up 20 percent among N.J. children

From a story in today’s Star-Ledger:

a new report released today says the sharp economic downturn continued to drive an unprecedented number of New Jersey families into poverty, forcing them to rely on such safety net programs as food stamps, reduced-cost school meals programs and Medicaid.

Almost one-third of New Jersey’s children 5 and younger were living in low-income homes in 2011 — defined as earning at or below 200 percent of the poverty level, or about $37,000 for a family of three — according to the report, called “Kids Count,” which was prepared by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a national nonprofit and nonpartisan family research organization, in cooperation with Advocates for Children of New Jersey.

The full report can be found here.


Foreclosure failures

ProPublica has a piece up today that updates its fine reporting on the foreclosure crisis and the federal and state governments’ lagging response.

As the piece points out, we are in the sixth year of the crisis and

the percentage of loans in foreclosure remains a staggering eight times higher than it was in 2005. About 5.3 million homeowners — about 11 percent of all borrowers — are behind on their payments.

The government’s response so far has been lacking.

The largest program is a review overseen by federal regulators covering more than 4 million loans. It launched back in 2011, but as of mid-December, no homeowner had received any compensation. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency spokesman Bryan Hubbard said regulators had been “working toward beginning compensation for a limited number of people [this month] with reviews and remediation continuing through 2013.”

The program — called the Independent Foreclosure Review — has been beset with questions about its fairness, transparency and integrity since it launched. At least partly due to those problems, many borrowers aren’t even bothering to apply for compensation. As of November, only 315,000 borrowers have sent in forms requesting to be reviewed, according to the OCC’s Hubbard, about seven percent of people eligible to apply. The final deadline to apply is at the end of this month.

Federal regulators designed the program to work like this: Each of the banks would hire an “independent consultant” (approved by the regulator) to conduct reviews of the bank’s foreclosure cases. The bank was supposed to foot the bill, but the consultant, not the bank, was supposed to decide which of the bank’s customers deserved compensation and how much.

The money, however, is not going to homeowners. Rather, it has been going to banking consultants — when it has been distributed at all.

The government’s other big reaction to the foreclosure crisis, the National Mortgage Settlement, has also had its disappointments. The deal involved 49 states, the federal government, and the five largest mortgage servicers. The headline number was $25 billion, but only $5 billion of that is actually cash that the big banks would pay out. The other $20 billion is composed of “credits,” awarded when the banks take steps to avoid foreclosures, for instance by offering loan modifications that cut the amount homeowners owe.

Of the cash, half — $2.5 billion — was to go to states to address the foreclosure crisis. But as we’ve reported, almost $1 billion of that is actually being used to patch state’s ailing budgets.

That is the case here in New Jersey, which has a mortgage delinquency rate of 9.87 percent — almost two percentage points above the national average of 8.06 percent. The state received $72.1 million in settlement money, none of which is going to programs for homeowners. Instead, it is being used to balance the state budget — which benefits the politicians, but does nothing for troubled homeowners.

Housing money for storm victims underscores lack of commitment to low-income housing

From The Tent City Project blog:

The state is providing 1,000 housing vouchers to low-income people displaced by Hurricane Sandy. According to a press release from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, the Christie administration “will set aside 1,000 vouchers from the state-administered Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program to assist low-income households that were displaced by the storm in moving into permanent housing.” The program, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, “will provide vouchers that will be used as ‘Special Admissions’ for households that cannot return to their homes. The vouchers, which average approximately $9,840 per year per household, will total $9.84 million.”

To read more go to The Tent City Project blog.

By the numbers: The minimum wage

$15,080 — Annual wages of a person who works 40 hours a week for 52 weeks at the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

$17,860 — Annual wages of a person who works 40 hours a week for 52 weeks at the proposed $1.25 an hour increase.

$12,228-$17,400 — Fair market rents calculated by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for two-bedroom apartments in New Jersey.

$1,560 — Annual cost of gasoline for someone driving a 25 mpg car 12,000 miles at $325 per gallon.

$6,660 — Annual cost of food for a family of three, according to The Self-Sufficiency Standard for New Jersey, 2008

Bloomberg: McDonald’s $8.25 Man and $8.75 Million CEO Shows Pay Gap

I saw this first on Nick Turse‘s tumblr blog and wanted to share:

Johnson (a low-wage worker at McDonald’s) would need about a million hours of work — or more than a century on the clock — to earn the $8.75 million that McDonald’s, based in the Chicago suburb of Oak Brook, paid then- CEO Jim Skinner last year. Johnson’s work flipping burgers and hoisting boxes of french fries, like millions of other jobs in low-wage industries, helps explain why income inequality grew after the 2007-2009 recession ended.

From The Tent City Project: Buddy, can you spare a jail cell?

Crossposted from The Tent City Project:

Brian Eastman wanted to spend the night in jail; instead, he faces a fine for drinking in public and still must find away to deal with the cold.

As reported by, police approached the 46-year-old Eastman as he was “drinking a 24-ounce can of Mike’s Hard Iced Tea in front of Macho Nacho restaurant at 66 Morris St. at about 2:12 a.m. Wednesday, police said.”

As O’Brien approached Eastman, the homeless man put down the can, police said.

“You got me. I’ll take the ticket. I want to go to jail because it is getting cold out here,” Eastman told O’Brien, according to the police report.

Instead of arresting Eastman, O’Brien gave him a ticket for drinking in public and threw out the alcoholic beverage without incident, police said.

The incident — presented as a brief item in a police blotter — offers a glimpse into our failed economy and the lack of seriousness with which we are approaching its natural byproduct.

The American economy has been rigged to generate massive wealth for a small subset of the population, who has managed to take the profits off the top while pushing the cost of the economic byproduct (as in a chemical equation) onto the public. Se we have homelessness and poverty and economic instability, pollution and health problems, shattered urban areas and devastated rural towns — all created by the actions of corporate America, but ameliorated through the auspices of federal, state and local governments with the cost being shared by each and everyone of us.

Perhaps, this is logical. We get some of the benefits, so why shouldn’t we share in the cost? The problem is that we are paying on both ends: We pay in higher prices and waning workplace power on the one side and then again through our taxes — and rising crime, dirtier air and water, etc. — on the other side. And people like Brian Eastman remain on the streets, and going so far as to commit a petty offense to get himself a warm space for the night.

Housing must be a priority

As far as priorities go, housing is pretty far down on the federal government’s wish list, though wish list is probably not the correct way to describe it. Housing money doesn’t even make the list.

That’s the gist of today’s editorial in The New York Times, accurately titled “The Affordable Housing Crisis.” As the paper notes,

The precious few federal programs that provide rental assistance to the nation’s poorest and most vulnerable families are already underfinanced. These programs provide decent housing for about only a quarter of the low-income families who qualify for them. And with nearly nine million households teetering on the verge of homelessness, the country clearly needs more support for affordable housing, not less.

And yet, we are unlikely to see added federal support. As we know from our experience here in New Jersey, subsidized housing can be a non-starter when it is forced to battle for attention with the kinds of programs middle- and upper-class voters tend to appreciate.

The sad truth, however, is that the “number of families eligible” for housing is growing.

Last year, for example, 8.5 million very-low-income families without housing assistance paid more than half their incomes for housing — an increase of 43 percent from 2007.

These families skimp on food and medical care to make the rent and tend to move often, making it difficult for their children to be successful at school. They are also more prone to homelessness, which is traumatic for them and extremely costly for the municipalities that run shelters.

Yet even as the need for affordable housing has grown, such units have disappeared. Over the last two decades, for example, private landlords have removed more than 200,000 apartments from subsidy programs so that they could raise rents. And, faced with weak federal support and no money for repairs, the local housing authorities that manage federally supported developments have boarded up or torn down more than 150,000 units.

According to an analysis by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, it would take about $26 billion to repair the public housing developments that shelter more than two million of the nation’s most vulnerable people. The department is currently engaged in a pilot project under which a small subset of public housing authorities will be allowed to leverage private capital to make the needed repairs on their properties.

In New Jersey, an affordable housing program that had been among the most forward-looking in the country is now mired in a series of court challenges and under attack by a hostile governor who already has vetoed an attempt to convert abandoned, foreclosed homes into affordable housing. The legislation has the support not only of housing advocates and builders, but realtors and municipal officials. That makes it rare among affordable housing proposals, which tend to pit towns and housing advocates against each other.

So, while there is an obvious need for more money for housing and a bigger commitment rhetorically and politically, it is not likely to happen anytime soon — at least not without some push from the grassroots.

The transitional economy

The New York Times reports today on one of the more important issues facing the nation — and one being ignored by policymakers at the state and federal level obsessed with spending.

Nearly five million Americans out of work for more than six months are left to wonder what kind of help might be coming, as the Federal Reserve, the International Monetary Fund and a bipartisan swath of policy experts implore Washington to act — both to alleviate human misery and to ensure the strength of the economy.

The pain of the long-term unemployed has persisted even as the overall jobs picture has brightened a bit and the unemployment rate has fallen to 7.8 percent. The new government report for October was due to be released Friday morning.

“The problem is incredibly urgent,” said Kevin A. Hassett, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute and an adviser to Mitt Romney’s campaign. “Spain had a financial crisis in the late 1970s and has never seen its unemployment rate drop back to where it was before that crisis. The unemployed become discouraged, and ultimately the employment to population ratio might take a permanent hit.”

The potential drag on the economy is great, as is the likelihood of hardship — hunger, homelessness, etc. This will have a much greater long-term impact on the national debt than spending on food stamps, unemployment insurance, welfare payments and other general assistance.

We need to address the transitional nature of the current economy and our priorities and begin focusing our resources on the shifts that are occurring. That means looking for new ways of working and being honest about the costs of our current way of doing business. Right now, we are more focused on turning a dollar into two or 10, than in using that dollar to create something tangible and useful or in finding ways to function in a sustainable manner.

The goal, always, is economic growth, to exclusion and at the expense of everything else. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, that just seems like a misplaced priority.


New facility in Secaucus, courtesy of another big corporate tax break

Goya began the consolidation of its distribution and headquarters facilities in Secaucus with a groundbreaking today on its 615,000-square-foot facility.

The warehouse is expected to cost $127 million and house between 491 jobs (and just nine new ones, based on its application to the state Economic Development Authority for tax breaks) and 580 jobs (of which 80 would be new, according to company officials today).

The state awarded $82 million in tax breaks, which translates into about $10 million per new job (based on the application) or $1 million per new job (Goya statement).

New Jersey Policy Perspective has repeatedly criticized the use of tax breaks to attract and retain jobs as bad economic policy, because the tax losses far outweigh the gains in employment.

Gov. Christie is having nothing of it. Speaking during today’s groundbreaking he said:

“That’s not what it’s about. It’s not just those 500 jobs. If Goya were to leave the state, it would have a downstream domino effect on a lot of other companies and businesses that do business with Goya because they’re here. It’s just too simplistic to take the number of jobs and divide it into the incentive.”

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