TIME poverty

1 in 5 American Children Relying on Food Stamps for Meals

Food Stamps Help Bridge Gap For 20 Percent Of Americans Who Struggle With Hunger
A girl pays for her mother's groceries using Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) tokens, more commonly known as Food Stamps, at the GrowNYC Greenmarket in Union Square on September 18, 2013 in New York City. Andrew Burton—Getty Images

Economic recovery is not really benefiting low-income families

Twenty percent of children in the U.S. currently need food stamps to eat, according to federal data released Wednesday.

Citing figures compiled by the U.S. Census survey of American families, Reuters reports that 16 million children in the country used food stamps in 2014.

This number represents a significant spike from prerecession levels of 9 million children (or 1 in every 8), indicating that the U.S. economy’s recovery is not benefiting low-income families as much.


TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 26

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. We spent more than $170 billion on the wars they fought for us. Can we spend $5 billion to give veterans a guaranteed income?

By Gar Alperovitz in Al Jazeera America

2. A ‘teaching hospital’ model could work for journalism education by making students work collectively to produce professional results.

By Adam Ragusea at Neiman Lab

3. Humans are born with an intimate understanding of pitch, rhythm, and tone. We’re all musical geniuses.

By Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis in Aeon

4. WarkaWater Towers — which produce up to 25 gallons of water out of fog and dew every day — could change lives in drought-stricken countries.

By Liz Stinson in Wired

5. Private sector investment savvy and funds can help us tackle poverty’s toughest challenges. It’s time for impact investing.

By Anne Mosle in The Hill

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME poverty

L.A.’s Homeless Camps Are Growing as More People Are Forced Onto the Streets

A man carries his belongings while walking past homeless people sitting amid their belongings on a street in downtown Los Angeles, California, on January 8, 2014. FREDERIC J. BROWN—AFP/Getty Images

Gentrification and shelter closures are leaving more people without a roof over their heads

Homeless camps in downtown Los Angeles are growing past their original boundaries and spilling over into other areas of the city.

Because of redevelopment of the downtown area, soaring rents, funding cutbacks and the closure of shelters, residents from neighborhoods such as Highland Park and Boyle Heights are being forced into the streets, the Los Angeles Times reports.

In an effort to find out where these people came from, and why, 6,000 volunteers will hit the streets on Tuesday and Thursday to ask the city’s homeless people questions about domestic violence, military service, gender identity and prison history.

The city’s mayor, Eric Garcetti, has pledged to get the 3,400 homeless veterans off the streets by the end of 2015.

Read more at Los Angeles Times.

TIME 2016 Election

Romney ‘Seriously Considering’ 2016 Bid With Focus On Poverty

Mitt Romney is seen in attendance as Charlie Baker was sworn in as the governor of Massachusetts at a ceremony inside the House Chamber at the State House on Jan. 8, 2015 in Boston.
Mitt Romney is seen in attendance as Charlie Baker was sworn in as the governor of Massachusetts at a ceremony inside the House Chamber at the State House on Jan. 8, 2015 in Boston. John Tlumacki—Boston Globe/Getty Images

Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney sought to cast himself as a champion of the nation’s poor Friday, as he announced he is giving a third presidential campaign “serious consideration.”

Addressing the GOP’s elite at the winter meeting of the Republican National Committee aboard the U.S.S. Midway, Romney premiered a brand new stump speech, laying out the themes of his proto-campaign and for the party in the “post-Obama era.”

“First, we have to make the world safer,” Romney said. “Second, we have to make sure and provide opportunity for all Americans regardless of the neighborhood they live in. And finally, we have to lift people out of poverty. If we communicate those three things effectively, the American people are going to be with us—be with our nominee and with our candidates across the country.”

Romney received a warm welcome from the members of the RNC in his first appearance with them since his Nov. 2012 loss to President Barack Obama. “It’s nice to appear with friends like this, I gotta tell ya,” he said over the clamor of applause as he took the stage.

In strikingly personal terms for the famously wooden candidate, Romney spoke about his service as a “pastor” in the Mormon Church helping the poor, saying of his wife, Ann, “She’s seen me work with people who are very poor to help them get help.” Romney aides said that should he formally announce he would be more comfortable showing his warmer private persona in public.

“Under President Obama, the rich have gotten richer, income inequality has gotten worse, and there are more people in poverty in America than ever before,” Romney said. “People want to see rising wages, and they deserve them,” he added.

He argued that conservative principles would best address the problem.

“The only policies that will reach into the hearts of American people and pull people out of poverty and break the cycle of poverty are Republican principles, conservative principles. They include family formation, and education and good jobs and we’re going to bring them to the American people and finally end the scourge of poverty in this great land.”

The focus on poverty reflected a significant change of tune for Romney, a multimillionaire private equity executive who famously told a group of donors that 47 percent of Americans would never vote for him because they are dependent on government and “believe that they are victims.” Romney’s 2012 campaign even prevented his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, from incorporating a discussion of poverty into his stump speech.

But Romney continued to echo his infamous line, as well as his assertion after the election that Obama won in 2012 because he gave “gifts” to minority voters, saying of Democrats, “Their liberal policies are good every four years for a campaign, but they don’t get the job done.”

Romney, who believes his 2012 critiques of the Obama foreign policy have been vindicated, sharply criticized the president’s handling of global crises and geopolitical threats. “The world is not safer six years after Barack Obama has been in office,” he said, referencing last week’s terrorist attacks in France, Nigeria, and Yemen. “Terrorism is not on the run.”

Romney indicated that his wife is on board with a potential third campaign. “She believes that people get better with experience, and heaven knows I have experience running for president,” he quipped, adding, “Me, I’m giving some serious consideration to the future.”

Romney said regardless of his decision, he would work to support the Republican Party’s nominee in 2016.

In his introduction, RNC Chair Reince Priebus effusively praised Romney in his introduction, crediting him for his help for GOP candidates in 2014.

“Governor Romney was the man over these last two years,” Priebus said. “I just want to thank him for all of the work that he did, beside the life-changing experience of being the nominee, Mitt Romney was a person who spent the next two years helping our party, helping our party rebuild, and helping our party grow.”

But Romney, who faced a skeptical, if friendly audience, did not put an end to doubts that his candidacy would be in the party’s best interests.

“We heard some new themes tonight from Governor Romney, but we heard many other candidates’ new themes this week,” said South Carolina Chairman Matt Moore. “What’s clear is that this primary is going to be seriously competitive—whether Governor Romney gets in, or not.”

“I think he was talking about supporting the team,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, discounting Romney’s talk that he’s seriously considering a bid. “Obviously he’s doing a trip around to ask people whether they think he should be the candidate, but the important thing:, he made a strong commitment to the RNC here tonight that regardless of the outcome he’d be supporting the nominee.”

Issa would not say whether he thought Romney should launch a third bid for the White House.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 16

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. A simple plan pairing a low-income first-time mom with a nurse for advice through pregnancy and her child’s early years can give that family stability and even a better life.

By Nancy Cook in the Atlantic

2. Google will pilot test a build-your-own modular smartphone, operating out of a mobile phone-lab that looks like a food truck.

By Nathan Ingraham and Josh Lowensohn in the Verge

3. The belief that some scientific fields require innate genius or natural ‘brilliance’ may keep women out.

By Rachel Bernstein in Science Magazine

4. The FDA has cleared a ‘pacemaker for the stomach’ that could be a silver bullet against obesity.

By Thomas M. Burton in the Wall Street Journal

5. Offshore wind farms — if we can build them — stand to provide twice as much energy and create twice as many jobs as offshore drilling.

By Lindsay Abrams in Salon

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Philippines

Pope Calls Out Philippines on Corruption and ‘Scandalous’ Inequality

Pope Francis Visits Philippines - Day 2
Pope Francis waves to thousands of followers as he arrives at the Manila Cathedral on Jan. 16, 2015, in Manila Lisa Maree Williams—Getty Images

His remarks come on the first day of a highly anticipated four-day visit

Pope Francis has called on the Philippine government to fulfill its pledges to crack down on the country’s rampant corruption.

Addressing assembled dignitaries, including President Benigno Aquino, at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila on Friday, the Pontiff called on “everyone, at all levels of society, to reject every form of corruption which diverts resources from the poor.”

He added that “it is now, more than ever, necessary that political leaders be outstanding for honesty, integrity and commitment to the common good” and asked Filipinos “to hear the voice of the poor.” Injustice and oppression, he said, had given rise to “glaring, and indeed scandalous, social inequalities.”

The Pope’s remarks will have resonance for Aquino. When he campaigned for President in 2010, he vowed to fight poverty and tackle corruption and said that for too long the Philippines’ ruling elite had grown rich at the expense of the poor. The campaign message hit home in a country where about 1 in 4 lives in poverty. But while steps in the right direction have been made, official impunity and social inequality persist.

Filipinos, meanwhile, are sure to be pleased by the Pontiff’s comments. The country’s vibrant civil society has fought hard for decades to improve governance and give ordinary people a better shot. Their efforts have been stymied, though, by political infighting, special interests, and sclerotic courts that often operate at the behest of the wealthy and well-connected.

Pope Francis is on the first day of a highly anticipated four-day visit to Asia’s most Catholic nation. During his stay, he will tour areas hit hard by Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda) in 2013, and deliver Mass to what’s expected to be a millions-strong crowd in the capital.

MONEY Inequality

You’ll Never Guess Which State Has the Nation’s Most Unfair Taxes

Washington state may vote progressive, but its taxes are anything but.

When you think of states that hurt the poor and benefit the rich, ultra-progressive Washington state probably doesn’t spring to mind. And yet, according to a new analysis, Washington’s tax system is the most regressive in the nation, placing a disproportionate burden on those with the lowest incomes.

The study, published by the nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, finds the poorest 20% of Washington’s population pay almost 17% of their income in taxes, while the richest 1% pay just 2.4% of their earnings. The middle 60% of earners are taxed slightly more than 10% of their income.

While Washington’s regressive tax structure might seem surprising, it shouldn’t be. The institute observes that virtually every state in the union has a tax system that takes “a much greater share of income from low- and middle-income families than from wealthy families,” a policy the report describes as “fundamentally unfair.”

How some tax systems burden the poor

The most well-known tax to most Americans is probably the federal government’s progressive income tax, the “progressive” part meaning it takes a higher percentage from rich than the poor.

However, states actually gain a large portion of their revenues through regressive taxes, meaning those that disproportionately impact people with low income.

Any tax that asks everyone to pay the same amount—sales tax, for example—is regressive, because by taking “equally” from everyone, it takes a higher percentage of a poor person’s income than takes from a richer individual.

Here’s ITEP’s list of the 10 states that take the biggest tax bite from the least affluent residents:

Screenshot 2015-01-14 11.15.00

States in the report’s “Terrible Ten,” such as Washington, rely heavily on sales tax and excise taxes (taxes on specific products, like gasoline or cigarettes) and less on taxes that rise based on income.

Similarly, the institute’s report also reveals that highly regressive states also don’t levy a personal income tax (in the case of Washington, Florida, South Dakota, and Texas), meaning the state must raise more money through regressive consumption and property taxes.

Even states that do tax personal income sometimes do so in a non-progressive fashion. Pennsylvania has an income tax, but applies the same 3.07% rate to everyone. That might seem fair, but $614 means a lot more to a person making $20,000 than $3,070 does to someone making $100,000, even though both amounts are 3.07% of their respective salaries.

Other states on the list do have a progressive rate structure but have so few tax brackets that the outcome is effectively a flat tax. Kansas, for instance, has only two tax brackets, and married couples making $30,000 or more are taxed at the highest rate.

In either case, the the state generally must rely on other regressive taxes to make up for not taxing wealthier individuals a higher proportion of their income.

How to build a fairer system

States with the fairest tax structures follow a completely different path. Oregon, ranked as one of the least regressive states, relies heavily on a very progressive income tax. That allows it lower its dependence on regressive consumption taxes and eliminate sales tax entirely.

These states also have earned income tax credits (EITCs)—essentially tax refunds targeted toward low-income working families that can give certain households a reduced tax burden or, in some cases, a negative tax bill, meaning the government gives them money. The report describes these credits as offsetting the regressive taxes and helping poor families afford necessities.

Screenshot 2015-01-14 12.56.50

Inconsistent improvement

While some states have made their tax systems more fairer in the past year, many have taken a step back. Since 2013, Delaware and Minnesota have increased income tax rates for high earners, while Colorado, Iowa, and others have beefed up their earned income tax credits. At the same time, multiple states have become less progressive by increasing sales tax or implementing a flat income tax rate.

“The bleak reality,” the report concludes,” is that even among the 25 states and the District of Columbia that have taken steps to reduce the working poor’s tax share by enacting state EITCs, most still require their poorest taxpayers to pay a higher effective tax rate than any other income group.”

Read next: How Obamacare Could Make Tax Filing Trickier This Year

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME portfolio

Haiti Earthquake: Five Years After

Haiti continues to feel the effects of the devastating 2010 earthquake

On Jan. 12, 2010, a devastating earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 struck Haiti, killing more than 160,000 and displacing close to 1.5 million people. Five year later, scars of the tragedy remain in Port-au-Prince, says photographer Gael Turine, who has spent the last 10 years photographing the country.

“When you walk around the country’s capital Port-au-Prince, you still see half-destroyed buildings around town,” he tells TIME. “The wounds are still here, and everyone says that they’re living in worse conditions than before.”

Given the costs of recovery from such a shattering catastrophe, it might seem logical that an impoverished country such as Haiti would still feel the effects a half-decade later, if it weren’t for the unprecedented help the Republic received in its aftermath. “When you look at the history of humanitarian relief, there’s never been a situation when such a small country has been the target of such a massive influx of money and assistance in such a short span of time,” says Turine. “On paper, with that much money in a territory the size of Haiti, we should have witnessed miracles; there should have been results.”

And yet the situation on the ground is dire, says the Belgian photographer: “Two years ago, there were still refugee camps in Port-au-Prince’s center. Now, they are gone, but the people have been merely displaced. They now live in the city’s suburbs – in these prefabricated shacks – [with] a parallel economy.”

For Turine, the international community has crushed the country’s hopes. “NGOs are pulling out, creditors have stopped investing,” he says. “Haitians find themselves in a social and economic situation that is worse than before the earthquake.” And yet, its people subsist. “I feel there’s this collective energy that comes from how close all Haitians live with each other. There’s this idea of collectivity, which leads to certain neighborhoods taking control of their own fate – cleaning up their streets, opening up their schools, etc. They have been forced to take over from the government, which is unable to offer these services.”

Still, he has no doubt that Haitians will weather the crisis, even as it stretches on. “It’s already a victory to see that the country hasn’t exploded, especially when you see what has happened in the last decades — from Jean-Claude Duvalier to Jean-Bertrand Aristide, from the cholera to hurricanes, the country has faced a succession of social, political and environmental crises,” Turine says. “The fact that Haitians haven’t succumbed to madness shows that they’re resilient.”

Gael Turine is a Belgium photographer represented by Agence VU’.

Alice Gabriner and Phil Bicker, who edited this photo essay, are respectively the International Photo Editor and a Senior Photo Editor at TIME.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

TIME Opinion

Despite the Statistics, We Haven’t Lost the War on Poverty

Though it may not look like it, a stable poverty rate is consistent with anti-poverty programs that work

It’s been more than a half-century since President Johnson officially launched the War on Poverty, in his State of the Union address delivered on this day in 1964, and declared that the U.S. had “the power to eliminate poverty from an entire continental nation.” In the decades that followed his decision to invest in jobs, training and aid, the U.S. has experienced, by some measures, tremendous prosperity. GDP per capita—a measure of the value of goods and services produced in the U.S., a commonly used indicator of living standards–has nearly doubled, from less than $25,000 per person to nearly $50,000. At the same time, our key measure of economic hardship, the official poverty rate, has barely budged from 15 percent in the past 50 years.

On the face of it, then, the War on Poverty seems to have accomplished nothing. Critics of Johnson’s programs may also add that the War on Poverty resulted in billions of dollars spent on the poor. Why has there been no return on that investment?

The simple answer is that there have been improvements—but the way we measure poverty hasn’t, until recently, accounted for them. Many direct transfers to the poor do not count in an official poverty measure based on only pre-tax, cash income.

Many key programs established during the Great Society Era, such as Medicaid, Food Stamps (now known as SNAP) and the WIC nutrition program are “in kind” programs that provide non-cash help. In more recent decades, benefits through the tax system, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or child tax credits, have grown in importance but are ignored in official statistics.

Fortunately, the Census Bureau has developed their Supplemental Poverty Measure, which includes non-cash benefits and post-tax income, accounts for differences in regional costs of living and makes several other sensible adjustments to poverty measures. These adjustments can be incredibly important to understanding poverty. For example, the Census Bureau estimates that refundable tax credits, such as the EITC, lower the poverty rate by up to three percentage points (around 9 million people). SNAP benefits lower it by nearly two percentage points (approximately 6 million people).

Another critical failure of measurement, one that falls more on the community of poverty researchers, is the failure, until recently, to convincingly measure the full benefits of safety net spending. We now have credible, peer-reviewed research that measures the real benefits on health, educational attainment and quality of life from a variety of safety-net programs. These studies show over and over that many safety net programs improve the lives of the poor. For example, studies have shown that infants born to families who are at high risk of poverty are healthier because of Medicaid, SNAP and WIC. These benefits may not show up as lower poverty rates, but they lay the groundwork for a healthier, more productive populace.


Marianne Page and Ann Huff Stevens / UC Davis Center for Poverty Research


It is actually remarkable that poverty rates have not substantially grown, considering economic and social trends over the past three decades. Since the 1980s, rising demand for skilled workers and falling demand for their less-skilled counterparts have meant that real wages have increased substantially for workers earning above the median, but not for most of those who earn below it. This fact is at the heart of growing inequality. It explains how strong GDP growth can co-exist with no improvement for low-wage workers. Our own research suggests that the wider gap in earnings between workers at the median and those earning in the lowest 20 percent during the 1980s should alone have increased poverty rates by roughly 2.5 percentage points.

The last 50 years have also brought massive changes in the structure of U.S. families. Since the 1960s, the fraction of the non-elderly population living in single-parent families has more than doubled. Single-parent families are more likely to be poor because, by definition, there is only one parent to earn enough to push family income over the poverty line. The cost and difficulty of child care in single-parent families pose additional barriers.

Our calculations show that if poverty rates between two-parent and single-parent families had remained constant, and only the frequency of single-parenthood had changed, U.S. poverty rates among the non-elderly since the 1960s would have increased on the order of 4 percentage points. Again, there was actually no significant change in poverty rates over this period.

A major trend identified in the graph above is the downward trend in poverty among the elderly. Unlike the overall poverty rate, poverty among the elderly has declined substantially since the 1960s. Why is this the case? First, the elderly benefit from a stable cash-based benefit from Social Security. Second, the elderly and their probability of being poor are largely unaffected by changes in labor markets. Finally, Social Security benefits are indexed to average wage growth in the economy, and so do not lose their value to inflation—in contrast with many welfare programs aimed at younger individuals.

The lesson here is that an income-support program with benefits linked to overall economic growth, aimed at a population unaffected by the deterioration of the low-wage labor market, has led to a significant, lasting decline in poverty since the War on Poverty was launched.

The War on Poverty has clearly not been won. No amount of explaining, interpreting or squinting at the plot of U.S. poverty rates can get us to a declaration of victory. Declarations of defeat are just as misguided, however. The War on Poverty has been fought against a shifting landscape that has made the effort more difficult with each passing decade. Renewed efforts that recognize demographic and labor market realities and the enormous challenges they place on anti-poverty efforts, and measures of that progress, should be the hallmarks of the next phase in this war.

Marianne Page is a professor of Economics and Deputy Director of the Center for Poverty Research at the University of California, Davis. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.

Ann Huff Stevens is a professor of Economics, Director of the Center for Poverty Research, and Interim Dean of the Graduate School of Management at the University of California, Davis. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.

The UC Davis Center for Poverty Research was founded in 2011 with core funding from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is one of three federally designated Poverty Research Centers whose mission is to facilitate non-partisan academic research in the United States.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 8

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. The same features that make cities hubs for innovation may spur inequality. Smart policies can strike a balance.

By Richard Florida in CityLab

2. Solar power can provide hot meals for the masses.

By José Andrés in National Geographic’s The Plate

3. A simple way to make a huge difference in the lives of foster kids: college scholarships for youth ‘aging out’ of the system.

By Jennifer Guerra at National Public Radio

4. When we include women in post-conflict peacekeeping, they do a better job of managing resources to prevent future war.

By Priya Kamdar in New Security Beat

5. It’s time to build a more secure internet.

By Walter Isaacson in Time

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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