If your total income is deemed insufficient to purchase basic food, shelter, clothing and essential services, then you would be classified by the U.S. Census Bureau as “impoverished” – and you would not be alone.
Approximately 11% of counties in America are defined as “persistently poor” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service (ERS), meaning that over 20% of their population has been living in poverty for the past 30 years. Over 85% of these persistently poor counties are regionally concentrated in the South. In these high-poverty counties, ERS reports that three quarters of the poor are racial and ethnic minorities.
Let’s reflect for a moment on these statistics.
The residents of over one in ten counties in America have been unable (or unwilling?) to propel their neighbors above the poverty line over a period of three decades. Racial and ethnic minority groups – particularly in the South – are disproportionately living in poverty.
Since we live in an individualistic society, some might question why it is the prerogative of these residents to “propel their neighbors above the poverty line” by supporting policies and funding programs that will elevate the income of the entire county.
In the spirit of the holiday season, I would argue that it is beyond goodhearted – it’s actually logical to help your neighbor – when you consider the toll that poverty takes on neighborhoods, schools and workplaces in the community at large.
- Neighborhoods: Researchers have drawn the correlation between poverty and violence. To make surrounding neighborhoods (and thus the entire county) more safe for residents, we need to eliminate poverty.
- Schools: It’s common knowledge that kids who enter the classroom hungry and experience challenges at home are less likely to excel at school work and standardized tests. And, don’t we all want a healthy and equitable learning environment in our children’s schools?
- Workplaces: People living in poverty are often hungry, lack access to nutritious foods, have greater decision fatigue and reduced access to health care. This can hinder productivity within workplaces and impact the economy of the entire county.
In 2014, let’s all resolve to take measures that will help to eliminate poverty in our cities and counties – especially if living in one of the 353 persistently poor counties in the U.S.
Comment below and let us know what you will do to eliminate poverty in the new year.
Many Americans are irritated with the insurance cancellations that have recently occurred due to the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare). This reaction marks a lack of true understanding about Obamacare.
I’ll share a personal example. My husband is currently covered under a very inexpensive ‘catastrophic’ health care plan, which is not ideal for many reasons; the most obvious being that he can’t go in to the doctor’s office for check-ups (unless we want to pay out-of-pocket for the visit).
My husband is only covered for a portion of the bill if he is hospitalized, meaning that we spend a lot of our time with fingers crossed, hoping that nothing bad happens. This makes me extremely uneasy, as I am very aware of the positive effects of proactive (rather than reactive) medical care in early detection and treatment.
Since his ‘catastrophic’ insurance plan won’t cover the essential services – including preventive visits – that now must be covered by all health plans under the Affordable Care Act, it will likely be cancelled. If you think about it, it’s just not economically feasible for health insurance companies to fold all of the new required services into plans like the one my husband has while keeping the prices down.
But – that is okay for our family, and it’s also a positive development for other people who have received cancellation notices. Because this means that we are all able to upgrade to better health insurance. It means that we’ll all be able to get coverage for preventive services that will help us to live longer and healthier lives.
Furthermore, 70% of people purchasing health insurance through individual plans will qualify for financial help so that they can afford coverage. So, a majority of people who are purchasing new plans will get to keep paying into inexpensive plans while receiving much better coverage.
For these reasons, my husband and I are actually looking forward to purchasing his new insurance plan from the Maryland Marketplace. Do you think that the Affordable Care Act will help your family as well? Comment below and let us know your opinion.
I recently came across “Share Shelf,” a simple, yet ingenious way to support community members.
Similar to “Take a Penny, Leave a Penny,” where store patrons place unwanted pennies in a designated dish for customers who need a penny to avoid breaking a higher-denomination coin or bill, Share Shelf is a way for people who have too much to share their excess.
Debuting in Los Angeles, CA, Share Shelf is a little square shelf attached to parking signs on streets with ample foot traffic, a number of restaurants and a high volume of homelessness. Restaurant-goers can place their leftovers on the shelves for those in need to consume and enjoy. Share Shelf is an elevated way to help the next person out – reducing waste while feeding someone who might otherwise dig through trash for food.
For those dining in Los Angeles, here’s a MAP of where the shelves are located so that you can participate – don’t forget to promote by posting a picture on Instagram, or tweeting that picture with the #shareshelfLA hashtag so that your friends can participate too!
For those outside of Los Angeles, consider this endeavor in your community. Or perhaps there’s another – just as easy – way for restaurant diners to share leftovers with others?
It’s been almost a year since the horrific incident in Newtown, Connecticut that resulted in the loss of 20 children and 6 teachers. Despite the months that have passed, the psychological trauma that accompanied the shooting is still very real for first responders and families of the victims.
Thomas Bean, one of the first officers to respond to the Newtown shooting, is living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). “That day killed me inside.” He recalls, explaining that he continues to have flashbacks, wake in tears, and suffer paranoid delusions that people are trying to kill him.
Due to Thomas Bean’s PTSD, he could lose his job. And, because the state of Connecticut allows for long-term care coverage only when mental injuries are accompanied by physical injuries, he would be out of work and without long-term health care to manage his PTSD symptoms.
Fair treatment for a hero who put his own life at risk to try to save the innocent lives of children?
I think not.
PTSD is not only an affliction experienced by our military heros overseas – it is well-documented among civilians and officers who experience violence within America. Instead of continuing to sweep this issue under the proverbial rug, we need to recognize it’s impact on our families and communities, and offer strong support networks and services. We should re-think policies that punish good people by allowing employers to fire their employees due to mental health issues like PTSD. As advocates for both safety and health, we should raise this issue to public consciousness and let people living with PTSD know that they are not alone.
Click here to learn more about symptoms, treatment and help for PTSD.
Contribute to a Healthy Community Display Display (Photo credit: Ryan Somma)
With the roll-out of the new healthcare law, there has been a lot of conversation about affordability. Whether you’re anti-healthcare reform or are lauding the Affordable Care Act (ACA), you are likely determining how ACA will affect you financially.
However, there has been little talk in the mainstream media about accessibility to health. This is particularly troubling since overcoming obstacles to health and wellness can only occur when all people have access to education, food, and nutrition. In addition, addressing health inequity requires the elimination of barriers and unfair policies and practices as they relate to the environment, housing, safety, jobs, and transportation.
Access to safe neighborhoods, healthy housing, healthy foods, transportation, education, and employment opportunities all play an important role in our health and wellness. The Baltimore City Health Department explains, “Generally, it’s assumed that people with higher levels of education and income have greater access to and control over health-promoting resources and opportunities. However, the mounting evidence from national scientific research indicates that where you live matters. All city policies affect health, including housing, education, labor, finance, transportation, recreation and planning/zoning policy.”
In 2010, the Baltimore City Health Department created a Health Disparities Report Card to begin to identify some of the issues. Some of the findings prove that where you live matters:
- Residents in one affluent neighborhood live on average 20 years longer than residents in a neighborhood only 6 miles away
- Mortality rates for heart disease are three times higher for those with a high school education or less than mortality rates for college graduates
- Those living in a household with an annual income of $15,000 or less are twice as likely to report having diabetes than those from a household where the income is $75,000 or more
These correlations between where you live and rates for certain health diseases are not unique to Baltimore City. Health inequities can be found in cities across the country.
It is not enough to recognize that disparities exist. We all must advocate that health inequity “be tackled through inter-agency cooperation” and that local policies have the health and wellness of everyone in our communities in mind.
What else can we do to end health inequities in our communities, states and regions? Share your comments below.
Fast Food Workers Strike/ Protest in Chicago (Photo credit: danxoneil)
Workers’ unions and strikes are arguably the most powerful collective action tool available to laborers. However, during what has been called the “Glided Age of Austerity”, an age that has seen a huge rise in wealth inequality, unions and strikes seem to be a thing of the past. Over the past year, that trend seemed to reverse.
This summer, thousands of low-wage workers in retail and fast food went on strike to demand a living wage of $15 per hour. The Fight for 15 (FF15) campaign went public in November 2012 and grew quickly, culminating in a nationwide one-day strike on August 29th, involving thousands of people in over 60 cities. Many of these strikers work full-time, earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, and are barely able to make ends meet. Had the minimum wage kept up with inflation over the past 40 years, it would be $10.74 per hour.
Unfortunately, with many young and poor people looking for work, it seems unlikely that the fast food businesses will raise their workers’ wages without Congressional action. The movement is still in its infancy and needs many more workers to join in order to be successful, but hopefully it will continue a movement towards collective action and improving the living quality for all in America.
What can you do?
For 35 years, “care” has been at the center of Baltimore-based healthcare provider, Chase Brexton’s mission. At their Cathedral Street location, they have served thousands of community members in the areas of medical care, behavioral health, dental care, pharmacy services and specialty services, to name a few.
For months, we have watched as the beautiful old Monumental Life Building on Charles Street was transformed into Chase Brexton Health Services’ new home. The 178,000 square foot building allows the service provider to throw open its doors even wider, and to better honor it’s credo to “to provide compassionate, quality health care that honors diversity, inspires wellness, and improves our communities.”
In its newly opened home, the dedicated staff at Chase-Brexton Health Care can serve an even larger portion of the community, and they want you to know that includes YOU. As a federally qualified health center, Chase Brexton offers a variety of medical, dental, behavioral health providers and case managers – as well as a Quality Improvement Manager and a Patient Advisory Council.
The organization began in service to the gay male population in 1978, at a time just before AIDS began to afflict the community, and was otherwise avoided by the mainstream. This mission, and the spirit that the organization is rooted in, are extremely important. Since then, they have expanded to six locations across the area – including student health services at MICA.
As it enters its new home in Mt. Vernon Center, however, Chase Brexton is still trying to raise awareness that their doors are open to everyone, and that the care they provide extends into all communities across the city – especially those in need.
While Chase Brexton Health Care’s pioneering effort and focus on inclusive care above all else will always be there for the LGBT community, labeling them as solely a LGBT service and treatment center seems like a missed opportunity on a (now even grander) scale.
Help spread the word that quality care, kindness and community resources abound in open space for all who need them over at 1111 N. Charles Street.
In American society, we have certain negative associations linked with our poorest citizens. A few sentiments that I’ve heard people say out loud:
- “If they try harder, they can pull themselves up by their bootstraps”
- “No one deserves to live off of welfare”
- “If I could get out of my bad situation, they can too.”
Sendhil Mullainathan of Harvard University explains that there is a blame-the-victim mentality, where many Americans believe that poor people continue to be poor because they are lazy, unmotivated or just not that sharp.
In reality, just the opposite is true – poverty saps brainpower. Mullainathan co-authored a study that was recently published in the journal Science proving this point through a series of IQ comparisons between rich and poor people in several countries.
One of the most interesting tests was conducted among sugar cane farmers in India, who were surveyed one month before harvest time when they had limited finances, and then again after the harvest when they had an influx of cash. When the farmers were struggling financially, they scored a substantial 9 points lower on their IQ tests.
The explanation for this poverty brain drain is actually quite logical. When an individual is consumed by the need to provide for basic needs like food, shelter and medicine, they have very little attention to devote to secondary issues and dilemmas that arise in their life.
How do service providers and advocates take the information in this study and put it into practice? Some ideas that come to mind are:
- Services that seek to help raise people out of poverty need easy-to-navigate intake systems. Government assistance programs should ditch the infamously tedious paperwork and develop verbal, pictorial or shortened intake forms that accomplish the same purpose.
- Rather than silo-ing many different services for our nation’s poorest citizens, integrated services can reduce confusion and are easier to navigate.
- Try to schedule situations where thoughtfulness is critical – for example, job interviews – for the day after a paycheck or subsidy comes in. According to this study, IQ is boosted during windows where social and financial security are more assured.
What else can we do to operationalize the information in this study? Comment below with your ideas.
In order for the new healthcare law (a.k.a. the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare) to make health care affordable for all, people of every age and level of health must buy in. Young, healthy consumers must balance out the cost of chronically ill consumers, ensuring that health insurance premiums don’t skyrocket for everyone who has purchased the plans.
However, health reform advocates foresee a challenge in convincing young, healthy people to purchase health insurance – particularly if they are already strapped for money. To persuade this group to buy health insurance, it will be necessary to emphasize the benefits of paying an inexpensive monthly premium that can guard against expensive out-of-pocket expenses that a young person would have to pay if they get sick or go to the hospital.
Of primary importance is relaying this message in a way that will resonate with youth. The White House has ingeniously enlisted the website Funny or Die to create a series of funny online videos that will promote the health care law. The website has drawn 19 million unique viewers – a bulk of whom are youth.
President Obama has also met with Amy Poehler, Jason Derulo, Michael Cera and Jennifer Hudson, and asked them to help promote the healthcare law to young people. Derulo subsequently tweeted a message to his 2.3 million followers, asking them to sign up for health insurance at healthcare.gov. Poehler and other celebrities including Pharrell, Lady Gaga, Kerry Washington, Sophia Bush, Taye Diggs, Kate Bosworth and Olivia Wilde posted pictures of themselves on Instagram and Twitter holding signs with the hashtag #GetCovered .
Although it is still early to tell whether these tactics are working, I anticipate that the Obama administration will have the most success if they continue targeting youth on social media, using humor and respected pop culture icons to drive the messages home. This strategy enables youth to actively encourage their peers to sign up for a health insurance plan by re-tweeting or sharing content on social media.
You too can get involved via social media:
- Share videos promoting the new healthcare law from the Funny or Die website
- Tweet or Instagram a picture of yourself holding a sign with the hashtag #GetCovered
- Retweet or re-post messages that will inspire others to sign up for health insurance plans