Commentary

In case you missed it, the Associated Press is reporting new and disturbing news (click here to see the article in the Greensboro News & Record) about the impact that the nation’s mushrooming economic divide between the rich and everyone else is having on education:

Education is supposed to help bridge the gap between the wealthiest people and everyone else. Ask the experts, and they’ll count the ways:

Preschool can lift children from poverty. Top high schools prepare students for college. A college degree boosts pay over a lifetime. And the U.S. economy would grow faster if more people stayed in school longer.

Plenty of data back them up. But the data also show something else:

Wealthier parents have been stepping up education spending so aggressively that they’re widening the nation’s wealth gap. When the Great Recession struck in late 2007 and squeezed most family budgets, the top 10 percent of earners — with incomes averaging $253,146 — went in a different direction: They doubled down on their kids’ futures.

Their average education spending per child jumped 35 percent to $5,210 a year during the recession compared with the two preceding years — and they sustained that faster pace through the recovery. For the remaining 90 percent of households, such spending averaged around a flat $1,000, according to research by Emory University sociologist Sabino Kornrich.

“People at the top just have so much income now that they’re easily able to spend more on their kids,” Kornrich said.

The article continues:

The disparity in spending patterns creates a hurdle for reducing income inequality through additional education — the preferred solution of many economists.

Thomas Piketty, the French economist whose exploration of tax data helped expose the wealth gap, has argued that education “is the most powerful equalizing force in the long run.”

In short, the article provides a sobering confirmation of what critics have long been saying about the conservative movement’s successful, decades-long campaign to disinvest in and privatize our public education system — namely, that it’s expediting the demise of our middle class society.

News

Nuns on the busThe one and only Nuns on the Bus are bringing their truly unique “get out the vote” tour to North Carolina this week. Click here to listen to NOTB Executive Director Sister Simone Campbell explain what the tour is all about. Here’s the schedule:

Oct 4, 2014 (9:30 am) Civil Rights Remembrance and Call to Vote Governmental Plaza (Between City of Greensboro & Guilford County Courthouse)
300 Washington Street, Greensboro, NC 27401
RSVP
Oct 4, 2014 (2:00 pm) Rally at the Capitol North Carolina State Capitol
1 E Edenton St, Raleigh, NC , Raleigh, NC 27601
RSVP
Oct 4, 2014 (6:30 pm) Multicultural Festival & Voter Registration Immaculate Conception Catholic Church
810 W Chapel Hill St, Durham, NC 27701
RSVP
Oct 5, 2014 (8:30 am) Pot Luck Breakfast Pullen Memorial Baptist Church
1801 Hillsborough St., Raleigh, NC 27605
RSVP
Oct 5, 2014 (11:00 am) Sunday Worship Pullen Memorial Baptist Church
1801 Hillsborough St., Raleigh, NC 27605
RSVP
Oct 5, 2014 (2:30 pm) Voter Forum Sycamore Chapel Missionary Baptist Church
1360 Farmville Blvd., Greenville, NC 27834
RSVP
Oct 6, 2014 (10:00 am) Voter Registration YWCA Asheville
85 S French Broad Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
RSVP
Oct 6, 2014 (7:00 pm) Forum (Ticket Required) Poverty Forum at Diana Wortham Theatre
2 S Pack Square, Asheville, NC 28801
Oct 7, 2014 (3:00 pm) Site Visit YWCA Central Carolinas
3420 Park Road, Charlotte, NC 28209
RSVP
Oct 7, 2014 (6:00 pm) Town Hall for the 100% St. Peter’s Catholic Church
501 South Tyron Street, Charlotte, NC 28202
RSVP
Commentary

For a while this morning on WRAL.com, the following three headlines appeared consecutively near the top of the website:

One shot at Stanly County high school
Police in Albemarle report one student has been hurt and another person is in custody after a shooting at Albemarle High School.

Despite clarion call, youth violence continues in Fayetteville
In July, city and county leaders called for an end to youth violence in Fayetteville, but violent incidents involving youth have since continued in the city, including the shooting death of a 16-year-old Saturday night.

Indoor ‘mega’ shooting range coming to Raleigh
When it’s complete, an indoor shooting range in northwest Raleigh will be one of the largest in the nation and will offer more than target practice and guns for sale, the facility’s founder and owner says.

Meanwhile, the rate of fire arm-related deaths in countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and Japan (where tougher gun laws generally keep deadly firearms better regulated) remain a small fraction of the U.S. rate.

NC Budget and Tax Center
This is the seventh post in a series that takes a detailed look at the 2013 US Census Bureau poverty data released on September 18th. Previous posts examined: 1) how North Carolina is faring overall; 2) how poverty varies by race, 3) poverty by County; 4) child poverty; 5) the impact, or lack thereof, of the current economic recovery on poverty in our state and 6) the public success of Social Security in bringing down poverty rates for older North Carolinians.

The latest data on poverty released by the U.S. Census Bureau last week confirms that work does not inoculate adults from experiencing poverty. One in three workers in North Carolina earned poverty wages, up from a low of 24 percent in 2002. The proliferation of low-wage jobs not only makes it difficult for workers to support themselves and their families but it puts a drag on the entire economy by depressing consumer spending.

The poverty threshold for a family of four in 2013 was $23,834. A full-time, year-round worker would need to earn an hourly wage of $11.46 to reach that level. That is well above the current federal and North Carolina minimum wage of $7.25 as well as higher than the proposed increase in the federal minimum wage to $10.10. And yet, low wage workers play key roles in the lives of our communities: they are home health aides who care for our parents or child care providers who are entrusted with the care of our children or bus drivers who get us safely to work each day.

In the increasingly prominent public debate about the falling wages of workers and the failure of the wage standards to ensure work pays, this latest data provides further evidence that workers are not only struggling but that it doesn’t have to be this way.

The trend data show that progrWorkers and Povertyess was made in the state for workers over the past thirty years but has been reversed more recently. North Carolina actually performed better relative to the rest of the nation through the 1980s and 1990s seeing a rapid decline in its poverty rate for workers over that period–an actual reduction from the high of 44 percent of workers earning poverty-wages in 1983. This faster decline is largely attributable to the state’s stronger employment opportunities than the nation in middle-wage industries like manufacturing and construction during that period as well as lower income inequality.

Beginning in the 2000s, those gains were lost as North Carolina began to see an increase in the number of workers earning poverty-wages. Contributing factors to this trend are likely the significant job loss in manufacturing and construction, the fallout of two successive national recessions and the significant growth of low-wage work since 2009. As of 2013, the share of North Carolina’s workers earning poverty wages was four percentage points above the national average.

When workers earn poverty wages, the entire economy struggles as does the broader community. That is because as workers struggle to meet their family’s most basic needs, they are less able to consume on main streets or pay their rent or mortgage. Workers who work hard yet earn poverty wages seek out other ways to bridge the gap in their income whether that be through taking on additional jobs, reducing their time to support their children’s development and their family’s well-being, incurring significant debt through the use of credit or informal loans to make needed payments, or seeking out resources or support from private charities or public programs. The result is an economy that fails to ensure work pays and can support strong local economies through vibrant main streets and stable families.

Commentary
DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

If there’s anything positive about placing our state under the control of right-wing politicians, it might be this: the fact that it forces at least some people to, eventually, confront the hard reality that cut rate, on-the-cheap government rarely works. This fact is apparently being slowly brought home of late to North Carolina’s embattled Secretary of Health and Human Services, Aldona Wos.

As WRAL.com reports this morning, Wos is calling for millions of new dollars to be spent on the state’s troubled medical examiner system:

State health officials told lawmakers Monday that they need about $6 million more a year to fix the medical examiner system, which has failed to meet minimum national standards for staffing, training and facilities.

Lou Turner, deputy section chief for the state Department of Health and Human Services, told lawmakers that the agency has been asking for more money and staff for a decade but lawmakers haven’t listened.

“It did not get funded. It did not go forward,” she said.

Put simply, Wos and her team are learning what a lot of crusading anti-government ideologues learn when they are faced with actually making the trains run on time: Notwithstanding the propaganda from the right-wing think tanks, providing high quality public services costs real money.

Let’s hope state lawmakers respond favorably to the new DHHS request and, more importantly, that North Carolina’s elected leaders learn an important lesson from the experience — namely, that it’s shortsighted and destructive to try to run the public structures and services that bind our middle class society as if they were some kind of bottom feeding chain of retail outlets.