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The State of Working America and More

Every two years, the Economic Policy Institute releases a Labor Day study that “sums up the problems and challenges facing American working families” and “examine[s] the impact of the economy on the living standards of the American people.” The State of Working America 2006/2007 is now available. A fact sheet sample:

The United States bills itself as the land of opportunity, where someone from the humblest roots can, with grit and determination, climb the economic ladder. Some even say that concern about growing inequality between the top and bottom of the income pyramid is misplaced because of our high income mobility. In a chapter new to this edition [EPI] finds that rags-to-riches stories, despite their wide appeal, are the exception, not the rule, and that for most people in America today, where you end up is increasingly a function of where you started out.

Our colleague AV forwarded Robert Reich’s biting commentary, “How to Reduce Urban Poverty Without Really Trying” (Aug. 30, 2006):

It’s an old story, really. Areas of any town or city where the infrastructure is most ignored—like [New Orleans’] Industrial Canal levee that burst on the morning of August 29 a year ago—have the lowest property values. So that’s where the poor live. When there’s a flood or a leak of toxic wastes or any other calamity, these places are the first to become uninhabitable. Which means, the poor often have to leave. Then the political and moral question is whether anyone cares enough to help them return and rebuild.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of “welfare reform,” enacted by President Bill Clinton in 1996. Robert Scheer, however, believes that “Clinton Ended Welfare, Not Poverty” (Aug. 30, 2006):

The ex-president gloats over the large decrease in the number of welfare recipients as if he is unaware of the five-year limit and other new restrictions which made it inevitable. Nor does he seem bothered that nobody … assess[es] how the families on Aid to Families with Dependent Children fared after they left welfare. The truth is we know very little about [their fate], 70% of whom are children, because there is no systematic monitoring program … The best estimates … indicate that at least a million welfare recipients have neither jobs nor benefits … For those who found jobs, a great many became mired in minimum-wage jobs—sometimes more than one—that barely cover the child-care and other costs they incurred by working outside the home.

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