Praxis - Metro Justice

If You're Born Poor, You're Probably Going to Stay that Way

1024px-Summer_Camp_2010.jpgSocial status at birth has a major role on where social status for an individual is likely to remain. Sociologist Karl Alexander spent three decades following the youth in inner-city Baltimore. Alexander's findings show illustrate two major factors in how well-off a child will be when they reach adulthood, findings which Stephanie Mencimer explores in her article for Mother Jones. Those two factors are social status at birth, and race. Those who are born poor are likely to remain poor. Those who are black are more likely to face bias in the legal system, despite white males from both wealthy and poor families having a higher rate of substance abuse and violent crime.

It isn't all doom and gloom, Alexander did find a small minority of his subjects were able to obtain things many of us consider standard for American life. A few were able to gain a college education, as well as sustainable employment. For many though, such ideas remain just that, ideas. Education seems like it would be a fix, even though according to Alexander, the current system perpetuates these economic and racial inequalities. Much of this is apparent in Rochester as well with its high poverty rate as well as its racially diverse population What can we do with our education system to change the perpetuation of privilege and allow for a greater social mobility? What can we do to improve our own neighborhoods and ensure the youth in those neighborhoods have access to opportunity?

(Image: Children at the APEX Youth Center Summer Camp 2010 in New Orleans. APEX serves at-risk youth and young adults)

In 1997, before The Wire made him a household name, then-Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon published The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood, a book about an open-air drug market at West Fayette and Monroe Streets in Baltimore. The book painted a grim portrait of the urban ghetto and the people trapped there. It was hailed as a landmark work of immersion journalism. 

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Krugman: How American Capitalism Fails- and Northern European 'Socialism' Succeeds- at Job Creation

Labor_protest.jpgSometimes it's good to look at what other countries have done to not only improve their economies, but the quality of life for their citizens. Janet Alton discusses Paul Krugman's latest New York Times piece and how European countries, France in particular, go against what Krugman describes as "reverse Robin-Hoodism". Europe hasn't always been so stable or just. In recent past countries like France faced their own economic crisis and high unemployment. Should we take a page from France's book when it comes to job creation? What are some other policies you have seen from different countries that have created more just societies?

Image credit: Bernard Pollack from the Building Trades Unemployment Insurance Rally. Licensed under Creative Commons.

 Paul Krugman wrote his column this morning in the New York Times from Europe, a place which—conservatives like Paul Ryan would like you to believe—demonstrates the complete failure of the welfare state. That's because, as Krugman points out, "Our political discourse is dominated by reverse Robin-Hoodism — the belief that economic success depends on being nice to the rich, who won’t create jobs if they are heavily taxed, and nasty to ordinary workers, who won’t accept jobs unless they have no alternative."

France, a country that the American media and conservatives particularly love to bash, is having particular success in employment rates. Krugman reports this "startling, little-known fact: French adults in their prime working years (25 to 54) are substantially more likely to have jobs than their U.S. counterparts."

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What I Realized When I Finally Decided to Sign up for Food Stamps

First_food_stamps.jpgFirst person accounts give us a good window to see how life really is for those who are struggling. Dennis Powers shares his account of what it is like to sign up for food stamps as someone who is facing financial instability after living a comfortable life. His piece "What I Realized When I Finally Decided to Sign up for Food Stamps" is part of a series presented by the Huffington Post titled All Work, No Pay: The False Promise of the American Economy, which shares several accounts of what it's like to be a member of the working poor.

One of the things Powers touches upon is how many of the people at Social Services are like him, working poor. They weren't the stereotypes he thought he'd initially run into. If anything, this is a reminder that we need to raise the minimum wage to assure those who are working can receive a wage that sustains them. When did you realize many of the stereotypes related to poverty are wrong? In what ways can we take a stand for the working poor and ensure they receive better wages and benefits?

(Image: First Food Stamps, public domain image)

I have previously written how three days before my 60th birthday I came to a decision that I once considered unthinkable. On that day, I gathered up my financial information, took my book, entered the Social Services office in Waterbury, Connecticut, and asked if there was someone I could see to obtain some assistance. I pretty much already knew for what I was eligible, and had known for the past year, but since I was self employed I needed help to complete the forms that are designed for those on an hourly pay. I needed to talk to someone. 

(more after the flip)

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Will Phony Populists Hijack the Fight Against Inequality?

U.S._Distribution_of_Wealth__2007.jpgPopulism is a popular political tactic in where a politician will "connect" with voters as a means to win them over, and win the election. Their high appeal is in their apparent understanding of what concerns citizens the most. Some politicians are sincere in their efforts to advocate for their constituents' causes whether it be education, or jobs. Others are known for using populism as a means to manipulate, going back on their concerns and promises once in office.

Income inequality has by far been the biggest issue in recent political history. Every politician who is a populist has their own take on how to reduce inequality. Zoe Carpenter's article from The Nation explores some of these plans, as well as the question of whether or not to trust populists. Democrats in particular come under scrutiny for simultaneously holding a populist stance while appealing to many of the companies that contributed to the economic crisis.

What are your thoughts on how to fight income inequality. Do you believe in raising pay or taxing big business at a higher rate? Do you believe both together is the best tactic? The other big question is how do we hold our politicians accountable? In particular those who promise to improve the lives of those who are unemployed or under-employed?

(Image Credit: Edward N. Wolff)


In late January, President Obama met some two dozen CEOs at the White House to discuss the plight of the long-term unemployed. Frustrated by the refusal of congressional Republicans to extend unemployment insurance benefits, Obama persuaded several hundred companies to sign a “best practices” hiring pledge promising not to discriminate against those who have been unable to find work for a lengthy period of time.

Among the executives present was Don Thompson, who made nearly $14 million in 2012 as the CEO of the McDonald’s Corporation, and whose restaurant workers are paid so little that they must rely on $1.2 billion in public assistance each year. Also present was Boeing CEO Jim McNerney, who earned $23.3 million in 2013 while threatening to move his company to a right-to-work state if the machinists’ union did not accept a contract that froze pensions and limited future raises. Walmart, which last year chose to buy back $7.6 billion of its own stock when it could have raised employee pay by more than $5 an hour instead, signed the agreement, as did JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, whose fraudulent mortgage practices helped tank the economy and destroy decades of middle-class wealth. “I was really grateful to all of them for stepping up in this way,” Obama said.

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The Four Biggest Right-Wing Lies About Inequality

Great_Depression_Soup_Kitchen.jpgEconomic injustice has been a crucial element of political debate throughout our history. This has especially become apparent since the Industrial Revolution and the rise of factory labor. In modern-day America the battle has moved from the factory to the fast-food restaurant. Regardless of time period, there are those who support improving the quality of life for the working class and the poor, and those who oppose such improvement. 

In this article from Common Dreams by Robert Reich, Reich explores the four biggest lies the right-wing promotes regarding economic inequality. Some of them may be lies you have heard from Fox News loving friends and colleagues, others may be new to you. What lies have you heard in your conversations about inequality? What lies have you encountered following the news and political debates? If in conversation, how do you counter these lies?

(Photo: Chicago soup kitchen opened by Al Capone during the Great Depression)

Even though French economist Thomas Piketty has made an air-tight case that we’re heading toward levels of inequality not seen since the days of the nineteenth-century robber barons, right-wing conservatives haven’t stopped lying about what’s happening and what to do about it.

Herewith, the four biggest right-wing lies about inequality, followed by the truth.

Lie number one: The rich and CEOs are America’s job creators. So we dare not tax them.

The truth is the middle class and poor are the job-creators through their purchases of goods and services. If they don’t have enough purchasing power because they’re not paid enough, companies won’t create more jobs and economy won’t grow.

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The Big Tip That America's Servers Never See

Fast_Food_Strike.jpgThe restaurant industry is one of the biggest opponents of labor reform and economic sustainability for wage workers. Notorious examples include Papa John's CEO stating that giving employees health benefits will raise the price of pizza despite giving away pizzas during Super Bowl season, and major fast food chain heads making hand-over-fist while paying those doing the most work a dismal minimum wage. Minimum wage for waitstaff has remained the same since 1991, making servers reliant on tips customers don't always give to cover living expenses. By the way, gratuity is taxed whether or not you give the full 15-20%.

Sam Pizzigatti of explores the food industry in this article shared on Common Dreams. He discusses how industry giants have prevented wage increases and benefits for the very people who keep the restaurant industry running.

What can we do to encourage a change in these practices? Are there any restaurants that do pay their workers a living wage?  Please share in the comments, I'm sure other readers would love to bring their business to places that care about their workers.

(Photo credit: Fast Food Strike NYC, July 2013 by Annette Bernhardt shared under Creative Commons 2.0 Lisence)

A good many Americans now know the high-finance games that JPMorgan Chase and other big banks like to play — at our expense. And big oil giants like ExxonMobil have been outraging Americans for years.

But plenty of other corporate giants that inflate our inequality have been flying under the radar screen. Who, for instance, has ever heard of Darden? Or Yum! Brands?

(read more after the flip)

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We Built This Country on Inequality

Most_Wanted_Jobs_Not_Cuts_Rally.jpgIncome inequality isn't a new issue, Metro Justice has essentially been around since 1965. The issue goes further back than that though. In many ways, income inequality has been a major element of American and World history. Mychal Denzel Smith's article from The Nation examines the history of income inequality in America, especially in relation to race. Smith addresses the importance of intersectionality in regards to addressing the issue. With the long history of inequality do you think that this will always be a struggle? Do you think our society can socially change to both a racially and economically just one? What actions do you feel will help in creating a more equitable country?

Image from the Most Wanted: Jobs Not Cuts rally, August 2011.


I admit to tuning out most conversations surrounding income and/or wealth inequality in the United States. It’s not because I don’t find these conversations important; they are vital. The problem is that I always hear the issue of inequality situated around what has happened in the last thirty or forty years, which ignores the fact this is a nation built on inequality. The wealth gap didn’t spring up from policy gone awry—it is the policy. This country was founded on the idea of concentrating wealth in the hands of a few white men. That that persists today isn’t a flaw in the design. Everything is working as the founders intended.

(more after the flip)

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Global Corporations are Scheming to Take Control of Our Economy- We Can Put a Stop to it.


If you thought NAFTA contributed to the damage done to our economy, just imagine what kind of damage the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) would create. Much like NAFTA, the TPP is a transnational trade agreement fueled by neoliberal economic policies, policies which have been shown to increase poverty while giving more power than ever to transnational corporations. Fast-track approaches to passing the agreement so far have been defeated by fair trade movements who have brought up concerns over lack of transparency in orchestrating the agreement. Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers explore the philosophies behind transnational trade agreements, the progress they can promote, and the damage the neoliberal approach has on global economies in this article produced by Popular Resistance and published on Alternet.

Are there alternative agreements we can pursue that allow for progress that put people over profits? What would those alternatives approaches be? If you don't think an alternative is feasible, why? What actions can we take to stand against the TPP?

Photo credit: by John Keevert from the Occupy Rochester event.

 The broad movement for fair trade has stalled the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).  When fast track trade promotion authority was introduced by former Senator Baucus, the Chairman of the Finance Committee, it was announced dead by Harry Reid [3] and many of the members of the Finance Committee. A similar bill in the House also died quickly, not even proceeding to mark-up in the Ways and Means Committee, despite being introduced by its Chairman, David Camp (R-MI).

Congressional leadership including Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) all announced that they opposed the Baucus-Camp version of fast track. Vice President Biden acknowledged that trade promotion authority was unlikely this year. This happened because a movement of movements [4] engaged in protests across the country [5], the issue was raised at town hall meetings and hundreds of thousands of phone calls and emails [6] went to Capitol Hill saying “no” to fast track for the TPP.

But, we knew that efforts to rig global trade in the favor of trans-national corporations would not stop there. The movement of movements that stopped the first version of fast track has been preparing for the next stage.

Read more after the flip.

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What it's Like to Panhandle

44323_595125773835790_153462899_n.jpgPanhanders are common in Rochester, we see them in the downtown, near highway exits into the city, and in some of our neighborhoods. This article by Evelyn Nieves, originally published in Alternet shows us the reality of panhandling. Not all panhandlers are homeless for instance. For many, it's a matter of what kind of income adequately provides for their families. Do you believe that panhandling should be brought up when we discuss income inequality?

Photo info: From the Raise the Wage Rally in Albany

Read more after the flip.


If there are secrets to successful begging, ways to stir people's souls, Brenda Johnson swears she doesn't know them.

You might think the sight of her--a woman in her 50s, sitting on a busted rollie bag, hunched from the pack on her back, inches from cars rolling off a freeway--would do the trick.

But no. Perched on a spit of grass at a bustling intersection in south San Jose, Johnson, as she wants to be called, in a threadbare brown kerchief, layers of sweaters and long black skirt, like an extra from Ken Burns’ Dustbowl series, had no luck at all for an hour and a half the other day. No one so much as tossed her a quarter. No one even smiled.

“It’s funny like that,” she said as cars whizzed by. Drivers who had to stop for a red light avoided eye contact. Johnson’s cardboard sign, "Please Help,” under her chest on her lap, made her point, but only one driver, a woman in a Ford Focus, came close. She looked through her purse, frowned, waved empty hands behind her windshield and mouthed: “Sorry.”


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What's in Target's New Anti-Union Video? Scary, Scary Talk

300182_311329545548749_1259481939_n.jpgIt's common for major corporations to fight against unionization. Target's latest employee video is further proof of that. What should we as consumers do to address companies that scare their employees out of unionizing?

The article "What's in Target's New Anti-Union Video? Scary, Scary Talk" by Mark E. Andersen, and published in DailyKos calls out Target on their propaganda.


Photo Credit: From Occupy Rochester March on City Hall by Annette Dragon.



Gawker has gotten a hold of Target's new anti-union video. I am unable to embed the video, but click on the link above: it is worth it to see the lies and lengths go to to prevent the unionization of its workforce.In the video, cheerful Target employees warn you not to sign anything from a union and that unions are a business. The bullet points presented by our cheerful Target employees about unions are:Unions are a business

  • NOT a charity
  • NOT a club
  • NOT a part of government

 Read more after the flip.

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