TIME Economy

These Are the States Where the Middle Class Is Disappearing

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The average income among middle class families shrank by 4.3% between 2009 and 2013

This post is in partnership with 24/7 Wall Street. The article below was originally published on 247WallSt.com.

The American economy is by many measures well on the road to full recovery. The national unemployment rate was 6.2% in 2013, down from 9.3% in 2009; U.S. gross domestic product grew 5% in the third quarter of 2014; and the S&P 500 recently reached its all time high. And yet the middle class, which historically was the driver of economic growth, is falling behind. The average income among middle class families shrank by 4.3% between 2009 and 2013, while incomes among the wealthiest 20% of American households grew by 0.4%.

Based on average pre-tax income earned by the third quintile, or the middle 20% of earners in each state, middle class incomes in California declined the most in the country. Incomes among middle class Californian households fell by nearly 7% between 2009 and 2013, while income among the state’s fifth quintile, or the top 20% of state earners, grew by 1.3%. Based on an analysis of household incomes among America’s middle class, these are the states where the middle class is suffering the most.

According to Joe Valenti, director of asset building at the Center for American Progress, the American middle class is essential for economic growth because middle income families are spending relatively large shares of their incomes on goods and services. “An additional dollar in the hands of a middle income earner is going to drive a lot more spending than an additional dollar in the hands of someone in that top quintile,” Valenti said. While households in the top quintile are able to spend enormous sums of money, “at some point there’s only so much that an individual can spend, even on all different kinds of luxury goods.”

While the middle class is the most important cohort in terms of spending and has in the past been essential for economic growth, middle income families have been the victims of wage stagnation. Valenti argued that as early as the 1970s, American companies started becoming much more productive. However, because of “a decoupling of productivity and wages,” wages among many workers have remained stagnant, and many in the middle class “have not been able to reap the benefits of higher productivity,” Valenti explained. Instead, returns from higher productivity have gone to owners and investors and not to the workers, he said. Many of the beneficiaries of these returns are likely part of the wealthiest 20% of households, whose incomes have grown in recent years.

Much of the income growth among the highest earning households is likely due to stock market gains. As Thomas Piketty argues in his book, “Capital in the 21st Century,” income inequality results from a higher return on capital — money used to make more money in the stock market or other revenue-generating assets — than wage and GDP growth. With the rich holding a disproportionate share of money in the stock market, their incomes have recovered much faster than those of middle class workers.

In all 10 of the states on this list, the share of total income earned by the bottom 80% of households fell between 2009 and 2013 and was redistributed to the highest quintile. The top 20% of U.S. households held more than 51% of total income in 2013, up 1.14 percentage points from 2009. Even among top earners, income was not evenly distributed. Over that five-year period, the top 5% of households accounted for nearly 75% of income gains in the top 20% of earners.

Income from capital gains may partly explain why the income distribution has skewed towards the rich in recent years. “We have seen the stock market recover quite well for many Americans who do have access to the market and who are investors,” Valenti said. Meanwhile, average workers do not.

According to data collected by Piketty, the average capital gain income of households in the bottom 90% was $558 in 2012. The average capital gains of the top 10% of households was nearly $30,000. And the comparable figure for the top 1% of U.S. households was a whopping $242,000 in 2012.

Several other factors, such as union membership rates and a particular state’s tax climate, such as no income tax or higher sales taxes, can also affect the redistribution of wealth across the nation. “Traditionally, union organizing has stepped in when policy makers have been unwilling to,” Valenti said. For example, depending on the union’s size and its sway, “policy makers may not feel the same pressure to pass or increase a minimum wage” if unions can negotiate a wage increase on their own.

While union organizing was a major component of the middle class’ formation in America after World War II, the level of labor force participation in unions fell from 12.4% in 2009 to 11.3% in 2013. In some states the decline was even more pronounced. Oregon’s union membership, for example, fell by 3.3%, the second largest decrease nationwide.

To determine the states where the middle class is suffering the most, 24/7 Wall St. used data on the average pre-tax income earned by each income quintile from the U.S. Census Bureau. We defined middle class as the third quintile, or the middle 20% of earners. We examined the growth in average incomes in the third and fifth quintiles between 2009 and 2013 to identify income trends in the middle and upper class. The final list was composed of states where middle class incomes fell by more than 4.3% and fifth quintile incomes rose by more than 0.4%, the national aver. Both benchmark figures reflect the national change of their respective quintiles. Because Census income data reflect pre-tax levels, they may overstate the degree of income inequality in the poorer quintiles. However, it is unlikely that the tax burden of the third quintile is significant enough to skew the data.

We also looked at data on the share of aggregate income by quintile from the Census Bureau, and how that share changed between 2009 and 2013. Also from the Census Bureau, we reviewed poverty rates, the share of households making less than $10,000 a year, as well as the share of households making more than $200,000 a year. All data are from 2009 to 2013. Additionally, we considered the Gini coefficient. The Gini coefficient indicates the degree to which an area’s incomes deviate from a perfectly equal income distribution. Scaled between 0 and 1, a coefficient of 0 represents perfectly equal incomes among all people. From the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we looked at annual unemployment rates from 2009 and 2013. The percentage of non-agricultural employees who identify as members of a union came from Unionstats.org. Tax data come from the Tax Foundation’s 2014 State Business Tax Climate Index.

These are the states where the middle class is dying.

10. Massachusetts
> Middle income growth 2009-2013: -4.4%
> Fifth quintile income growth 2009-2013: 1.3%
> Fifth quintile share of income: 51.2%
> Middle class household income: $66,974 (6th highest)

Although the average income of a middle class household in Massachusetts was $14,000 above the national level in 2013, it had nevertheless declined by more than 4% since 2009. By contrast, incomes of the wealthiest 20% of households in the state grew by 1.3% between 2009 and 2013 to $235,246. Nationally, income of the top quintile grew by only 0.4% over the same period. The top quintile of Massachusetts households accounted for more than 51% of the state’s total income in 2013, a substantial increase from 2009. The declining share of middle class income may be related to the loss of worker bargaining power. The percentage of employees who were union members fell from 16.7% in 2009 to 13.6% in 2013, the fourth largest decline in the country.

9. Indiana

> Middle income growth 2009-2013: -4.4%
> Fifth quintile income growth 2009-2013: 2.6%
> Fifth quintile share of income: 49.0%
> Middle class household income: $47,680 (17th lowest)

Middle class households in Indiana had an average income of $47,680 in 2013, down 4.4% from 2009. As in most of the nation, even as the income of middle class households declined, the income among Indiana’s highest earners grew. Yet, just 2.6% of households earned more than $200,000 in 2013, roughly half the comparable national figure. While wealthy Indiana residents had among the lower incomes compared to their nationwide peers, average incomes in the highest quintile grew by more than 2.5% between 2009 and 2013, one of the faster growth rates. As a result, the state’s Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality, worsened at a faster pace than in most states over that time, moving to the fourth highest nationwide in 2013.

8. Oregon
> Middle income growth 2009-2013: -4.6%
> Fifth quintile income growth 2009-2013: 1.1%
> Fifth quintile share of income: 49.4%
> Middle class household income: $50,425 (23rd lowest)

Oregon’s unemployment rate dropped by 3.4 percentage points to 7.7% in 2013, only slightly higher than the national unemployment rate and a better improvement than in most states. Despite the job market gains, however, income inequality has been getting worse in the state. The highest earning 20% of Oregon households had an average income of nearly $167,000 in 2013, up 1.1% from 2009. Meanwhile, the income of a typical middle class Oregon household fell by 4.6% between 2009 and 2013, more than the comparable national decline of 4.3%. Union membership, which is often associated with middle class health, fell by 3.3% over that time, three times the nationwide decline and the second-highest figure among all states. At the beginning of this year, Oregon raised its minimum wage to $9.25 an hour, one of the highest minimum wages nationwide. Many have argued that raising the minimum wage is essential to addressing income inequality.

For the rest of the list, please go to 24/7WallStreet.com.

TIME States

Kentucky Mulls Statewide Smoking Ban

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But measure unlikely to become law

Kentucky lawmakers voted Friday to ban smoking in all public buildings and workplaces, but the measure faces a steep uphill battle to become law.

The vote was seen as a landmark move in Kentucky, which ranks among the states with highest tobacco yield. The sponsor of the bill, state Rep. Susan Westrom, said secondhand smoke kills about 950 Kentuckians each year.

The bill passed 51-46 in the Democratic-controlled state House of Representatives, WLWT reports, but will face harsher odds in the Republican-controlled state Senate.

[WLWT]

TIME States

Alaska Forced to Reroute Iditarod Sled-Dog Race Over Lack of Snow

Iditarod
Anchorage Daily News—MCT via Getty Images Mitch Seavey's dogs look back at the musher after they arrived at the White Mountain checkpoint during Alaska's Iditarod sled-dog race on March 10, 2014

Temperatures in Alaska are quickly increasing

The famous Iditarod sled-dog race will alter its route this year because of low snowfall.

This is only the second time in the race’s 42-year history that the climate has forced a course change, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports.

Temperatures in Alaska have been rising twice as fast as the national average, increasing an average of 6.3 degrees over 50 years, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Rocks and boulders that have been hidden for decades now block the dogs’ path to their finish line. This year, the race will start in Fairbanks rather than Willow and stretch over 1,000 miles.

[Fairbanks Daily News-Miner]

TIME States

Oregon Governor Says He Won’t Resign

President Obama Hosts Insourcing American Jobs Forum At The White House
Bloomberg via Getty Images Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber at a roundtable meeting titled "Insourcing American Jobs" in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 11, 2012

Governor John Kitzhaber is the target of an ethics investigation

Governor John Kitzhaber of Oregon, who is the target of an ethics investigation, announced Wednesday afternoon that he has “no intention of resigning.”

Rumors had swirled that Kitzhaber might step down Wednesday after his would-be replacement, Oregon secretary of state Kate Brown, abruptly left a conference in Washington, D.C., to return to Oregon.

Kitzhaber has come under fire over allegations that his fiancée Cylvia Hayes used his office to land contracts for her clean-energy consulting business. The governor has denied any wrongdoing.

The state attorney general launched an investigation into the matter, and newspaper editorial boards have called for his resignation. But the Democrat stood firm on his decision to stay in office.

“Let me be as clear as I was last week, that I have no intention of resigning as governor of the state of Oregon,” he said in a statement. “I was elected to do a job for the people of this great state and I intend to continue to do so.”

Read more at the Oregonian.

TIME Laws

Alabama’s ‘Ten Commandments Judge’ Defies the Feds Over Gay Marriage

Roy Moore
Rogelio V. Solis—AP Chief Justice Roy Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court addresses a Pro-Life Mississippi and a Pastors for Life pastors luncheon in Jackson, Miss., Friday, Jan. 17, 2014. Moore told the attendees that he cannot separate his faith from his job as chief justice and continues to oppose abortion and same-sex marriage.

Roy Moore has a history of defying federal orders

On Sunday, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore told the state’s probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, an order defying a ruling last month by a federal judge that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

A state judge refusing to follow federal orders is rare. But for Moore, it would’ve been more unusual if he went along with the decision quietly.

Judge Moore is often known as the “Ten Commandments Judge.” When Moore, a devout Christian who often relies on Biblical scripture in his rulings, began his judicial career as an Alabama circuit court judge in the 1990s, he placed a Ten Commandments tablet he had carved himself behind his courtroom bench and began instituting prayer before jury selection.

Soon enough, the American Civil Liberties Union sued Moore for violating the Constitution’s Establishment Clause in the First Amendment. In 1996, a Montgomery County circuit judge ruled that prayer in the courtroom was unconstitutional and later ordered that the Ten Commandments display either be removed or placed alongside secular documents like the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. To that, Moore responded: “I will not surround the Ten Commandments with other items to secularize them. That’s putting man above God.”

But Moore eventually won out. In 1998, the Alabama Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuits, and the commandments stayed. And Moore’s popularity, thanks to his conservative defiance, skyrocketed. Two years later, he was elected chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.

In 2001, Moore again made national news when he issued an opinion in the case D.H. vs. H.H., a custody battle between a lesbian and her ex-husband who she said was abusive. In his concurring opinion, Judge Moore ruled for the ex-husband, saying that the woman’s sexual orientation was grounds enough to prevent her from taking custody of the children.

A year later, Moore resurrected the Ten Commandments debate when he had a 5,200-lb. granite Ten Commandments monument commissioned and placed inside the Alabama State Judicial Building. Two lawsuits were filed, and by August 2003, a federal judge ordered the monument removed. Again, Moore refused, forcing his fellow justices to remove it instead and sparking thousands of protesters to rally in support of Moore outside the state judicial building. But they weren’t able to save his job. Later that year, a state judicial panel removed Moore from his post as chief justice.

In the years following, Moore unsuccessfully ran for Alabama governor twice and in 2012 was re-elected chief justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court. “I have no doubt this is a vindication,” Moore said after his election. “Go home with the knowledge that we are going to stand for the acknowledgment of God.”

Moore’s latest tenure has been relatively quiet until this week. His latest attempts to ignore federal orders and block the state from handing out marriage licenses to gay couples, while extraordinary for other justices, is natural for a judge with a history of judicial defiance. But this time, Moore appears to be experiencing the kind of resistance he’s sown for years.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would allow same-sex marriages to move forward, and most judges appeared to be following suit — defying a state judge who has made judicial disobedience his defining characteristic.

 

TIME nature

Grand Canyon Development Plan Sparks Dispute

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Plans for the canyon's rim include a multimedia complex with an IMAX facility, retail shops, hotels, an RV park and a gondola tram

As morning light painted the far-reaching buttes of the Grand Canyon gold, Renae Yellowhorse stood at the edge of the canyon’s rim, looked out toward where the rivers met below her, and smiled.

“It is my church, it is where I say my prayers. It is where I give my offerings. It’s where I commune with the holy ones, the gods that walk along the canyon,” said Yellowhorse, a member of the Navajo Nation.

This place, called “the confluence,” is where the Colorado River meets the Little Colorado River on the canyon’s east side. According to the Navajo creation story, the confluence is where their people first emerged.

And now this Navajo-owned land is at the center of an ugly land-use dispute…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME States

Indiana Bill Would Allow the Dead to Vote

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The Whooooo-sier state

It’s difficult to vote if you’re dead. (Unless you live in Chicago. Or New York. Or Florida.) But an Indiana lawmaker is hoping to make election season a bit easier for the recently departed at least.

Indiana Rep. Matt Pierce proposed a bill taken up by the House Elections Committee Wednesday that would allow an absentee ballot from someone who dies before Election Day to be counted.

MORE: Jeb Bush Pitches Conservatism for the Middle Class

According to the Indianapolis Star, Pierce said he was motivated to propose the bill after hearing that former U.S. Rep. Frank McCloskey’s vote in 2004 wasn’t counted, because he died from cancer before Election Day.

TIME real estate

These Are the Best States to Grow Old In

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The list considered income, health, labor, and environmental indicators to rank Utah at the top

This post is in partnership with 24/7 Wall Street. The article below was originally published on 247WallSt.com.

The U.S. elderly population is growing rapidly. The number of Americans 65 and older grew from 35 million in 2000 to 41.4 million in 2011 and to an estimated 44.7 million in 2013. This trend is expected to continue as members of the baby boomer generation reach retirement age.

While it can be difficult to grow old in some U.S. states, life for seniors is often far worse in many other countries. Still, the United States will face increasingly large challenges. In the coming years, state officials, families, and individuals will need to pay more attention to the needs of the elderly — to improve medical care, access to services, infrastructure, or other amenities increasingly necessary late in life.

HelpAge International evaluates each year the social and economic well-being of elderly country residents in its Global AgeWatch Index. Last year, the United States was among the better places to grow old in the world, at eighth place. However, domestically, each state offers a very different quality of life for its older residents. Based on an independent analysis by 24/7 Wall St., which incorporated a range of income, health, labor, and environmental indicators, Utah is the best state in which to grow old, while Mississippi is the worst.

To be considered among the best states to grow old, senior citizens in the states had to have relatively strong income security, as measured by several indicators. While the national median income among families with a head of household 65 and older was $37,847 in 2013, comparable incomes in eight of the best states to grow old, for example, exceeded $40,000 in 2013. A typical elderly household in Hawaii led the nation in 2013 with a median income of $55,650.

Retirees often have fixed income, as they begin to tap into their savings and collect social security. Kate Bunting, CEO of AgeWatch USA, explained that, “It is really important for older people to have reliable access to a guaranteed income.” More than 90% of Americans 65 and older in the vast majority of all states received social security income in 2013. The average monthly social security benefit of $1,294, however, was likely not enough for many seniors.

As a result, many older Americans relied on non-social security income, such as withdrawals from 401Ks and savings as a supplement. In 2013, 47.9% of Americans 65 and older had such supplemental retirement incomes. More than 50% of older residents in four of the best states to grow old had such incomes. At stake, according to Bunting, is the elderly’s “ability to eat nutritious foods, which impacts their health, and their ability to access other critical services.”

With lower, and often fixed, incomes, elderly Americans are vulnerable financially. In addition, age often brings a host of health problems, causing greater reliance on medical and accessibility services. To determine how the states fare when it comes to health care, we examined health services and outcomes. In the best states, life expectancy was relatively high. In eight of the 10 states, it was at least 80 years.

A good education, which can lead to employment opportunities and higher incomes, is also an indication of well-being. While less than one-quarter of Americans 65 and older had at least a bachelor’s degree as of 2013, at least 28% of seniors in seven of the best states had attained such a level of education. More than 34% of Colorado’s elderly population were college-educated as of 2013, the highest rate nationwide.

As older people tend to be more vulnerable to criminals, the best states to grow old also needed to be relatively safe. In all of the 10 states, the violent crime in 2013 was less than 300 incidents per 100,000 people, all among the lower rates reviewed.

In addition, policies often shape the quality of life for a state’s elderly population. Smart Growth America rated state-level infrastructure policies and their effectiveness in serving all residents, including the elderly. While many states had not passed any such policies, a majority of the best states to grow old had done so in recent years. Bunting suggested that as the aging population grows, it will become increasingly “important that you have the right kinds of policies in place that help support a quality old age.” Adapting to these demographic patterns through age-friendly policy, Bunting continued, is “important and worthwhile to do, no matter what age you are.”

These are the best states to grow old.

10. Massachusetts
> Median household income (65+): $40,020 (15th highest)
> Pct. with a disability (65+): 34.1% (10th lowest)
> Pct. with a bachelor’s degree or higher (65+): 29.2% (7th highest)
> Violent crime rate: 404.0 per 100,000 residents (16th highest)

Based on income, health, labor, and environmental indicators, Massachusetts is the 10th best state to grow old. In particular, Massachusetts’ elderly population has the benefit of an exceptionally strong health care system. In a state where the vast majority of residents were insured in 2013, less than 0.5% of elderly residents aged 65 and over were not, among the lowest rate in the country. Older Massachusetts residents are also relatively well educated. Nearly 30% had at least a bachelor’s degree as of 2013, one of the higher rates. Also, as in a majority of the best states to grow old, Massachusetts’ policies are rated favorably for considering the needs of seniors and other groups that require more services. In particular, state officials introduced a directive that would require all public transportation land use plans to include features necessary to offer greater access for people of all capabilities.

9. Washington
> Median household income (65+): $42,287 (12th highest)
> Pct. with a disability (65+): 37.4% (17th highest)
> Pct. with a bachelor’s degree or higher (65+): 29.8% (5th highest)
> Violent crime rate: 277.9 per 100,000 residents (21st lowest)

Less than 48% of America’s population 65 and older had some form of retirement income, excluding social security benefits. In Washington, nearly 53% of elderly residents had retirement incomes to supplement their social security benefits, one of the highest proportions among all states. In addition to relatively strong income security, seniors living in Washington rated their accessibility to services an 8.9 out of 10, better than how seniors rated their access in all other states. Older Washington residents were also well-educated compared to their peers in other states. Nearly 30% of people 65 and older in Washington had at least a bachelor’s degree as of 2013, one of the highest rates in the country.

8. Connecticut
> Median household income (65+): $44,240 (7th highest)
> Pct. with a disability (65+): 32.1% (2nd lowest)
> Pct. with a bachelor’s degree or higher (65+): 28.3% (11th highest)
> Violent crime rate: 254.5 per 100,000 residents (15th lowest)

Connecticut residents were expected to live nearly 81 years in 2011, the third highest life expectancy in the country. Just 32.1% of older Connecticut residents had a disability as of 2013, nearly the lowest rate. Physical health among older residents likely contributed to longer lives. According to a recent OECD study, Connecticut residents rated their general health a 7.8 out of 10. Also, the median household income among Connecticut elderly residents was more than $44,000, well above the national median of $37,847 in that age group. While the relationship between income and health is hotly debated by experts, high incomes likely allow older residents greater access to services.

For the rest of the list, please go to 24/7WallStreet.com.

TIME States

Lawsuit Looks to Legalize Aid in Dying in New York

Latest 'death with dignity' push following the death of Brittany Maynard

A group of patients and doctors filed a lawsuit Wednesday asking the New York Supreme Court to rule that aid in dying to terminally ill patients is legal in the state.

The lawsuit argues that having a doctor help a mentally sound, terminally ill patient end their life does not fall under the state’s current assisted-suicide ban, under which physicians can be prosecuted for manslaughter.

The plaintiffs—four doctors, three terminally ill patients, a nurse and the organization End of Life Choices New York—also argues that barring physicians from helping patients obtain life-ending medication is a violation of the state constitution’s equal protection clause, because doctors already help terminally ill patients in some situations, like removing life support.

“For some dying patients, they find themselves trapped in a dying process they find unbearable,” said Kathryn Tucker, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, at a news conference Wednesday, which included two patients who were party to the lawsuit.

Steve Goldenberg, a 55-year-old New York City resident dying of AIDS-related diseases, said that he hopes to gain some control over his medical condition, which has required several surgeries, radiation and constant medication.

“In New York today, my doctor fears even discussing aid in dying with me,” Goldenberg said. “I am asking the court to clarify that my doctor can provide medication I could ingest to achieve a peaceful death.”

Sara Myers, a 60-year-old woman suffering from ALS, said she’s suing New York state “to remove the legal barrier between my doctor and myself that prevents me from achieving a peaceful and dignified death, at the time and place of my choosing.”

Polls often show support for allowing terminally ill patients to end their own lives, but so far aid in dying is only legal in five states: Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. But the so-called “death with dignity” movement has gained traction in recent months following the death of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old who spoke publicly about moving from California to Oregon in order to legally end her life. Lawmakers in several states have recently proposed right-to-die laws, including New York.

The lawsuit may put the state on a similar path as New Mexico and Montana, where courts have decided that there is nothing legally preventing physicians from helping a terminally ill patient who is mentally competent end their own life.

MORE: More States Considering Right-to-Die Laws After Brittany Maynard

TIME faith

Noah’s Ark Theme Park Group Sues Kentucky Over Withdrawn Tax Breaks

Ark Encounter Concept art of Noah's Ark

Answers in Genesis to sue for $18 million over tax rebates withdrawn for group's hiring practices

A Creationist group building a Noah’s Ark-inspired theme park said Tuesday it would sue Kentucky for $18 million in tax rebates the state withdrew over its hiring practices.

Answers in Genesis President and CEO Ken Ham announced the lawsuit in a YouTube video, claiming the state breached the group’s right to freedom of religion by denying the tax incentives on the grounds that the group was using the project as an “extension of [its] ministry.”

Kentucky’s tourism secretary said in December that the park required a “salvation testimony” and a “Creation belief statement” in its job postings, which the state said was hiring discrimination based on religious grounds.

“[The lawsuit] really involves freedom of religion, free exercise of religion, freedom of speech in this great nation of America,” Ham said in the video. “Numerous bloggers and media outlets have spread a lot of misinformation about the tax rebate program, and also a lot of false information about employment laws as they relate to the Ark Encounter project.”

Ham, who became known for his creation debate last year against Bill Nye “The Science Guy,” was joined in the video by Mike Johnson, Chief Counsel of Freedom Guard, a religious liberty defense organization that will represent Answers in Genesis.

“This is public interest law,” Johnson said. “We’re defending freedom for everyone, and I think that’s an important cause that all of us should be involved in.”

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