Thinking like a social worker

…any questions? Yes. I have plenty.

On a quest for American made

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!

Today, I have had the privilege of reading about Dr. King’s strong belief in economic justice.  He fought for equality for workers and individuals living in poverty.  So, how are you honoring MLK today?  I am buying underwear. (It is well-known, now that I am a blogger, I can make obscure connections between myself and great American leaders.)

About 7 years ago, during college, I became interested in worker’s rights and modern day slavery.  I wanted to do my part, so I decided to only buy clothing “made in the U.S.A.”.  This really helped to curb my shopping habit (I was a bit of a sale-rack junkie), because American made clothing is hard to find.  And once you find some, it is EXPENSIVE!

So, I made some loopholes for myself that I still use today:

  1. On top of clothing made in the USA, I can also buy anything I want if it’s second hand or fair trade.  I figure buying fair trade supports a positive world-wide labor movement, and buying second hand doesn’t really support anything (except the local business).
  2. I also don’t attempt to control what gifts others give me, so I happily accept imported Christmas/Birthday gifts.  When people remember my quirk and get me American made, I am extra excited.
  3. When I can’t find a clothing item at a reasonable price, and need to cheat, I buy from a local business.  For example, I feel uncomfortable buying bras online (where I do most USA made shopping), so I recently bought some bras from Kiss and Make-Up in Richmond.  Kiss and Make-up does sell a few US brands.

Because of these loopholes, a majority of my wardrobe is not from the U.S.  Now that I am working and able to afford more American made clothing, I want to change that.  My most current hunt: underwear!  (Which I quickly learned is a bad search term – stores use “panties”.)  I started off on Google and found Lingerie Addict has a great listing of lingerie made in the U.S.A.  I also searched the big box online stores like amazon.com and herroom.com for “Made in the USA panties”.  On top of the lingerie addict listing here are some other brands I found:

I wound up buying three thongs on sale from Bella Materna, and two 3-packs of Uranus boy shorts.  I would love to try the brand “Commando”, but the price tag is a little steep for me.  My total came to $79.30 for 9 pairs of panties, which is more than I would spend Wal-Mart, but on par with a Victoria Secret sales receipt.  Both companies import their clothing and have been chastised for child labor and extremely low wages.  So, I may not be changing the world this MLK day, but I know there is power in money.  I want want to spend my money where workers are safer and better paid.  Most importantly, I will let you know how I like my new underwear when they arrive!

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National Poverty Panel: Not inclusive, but important start

I typically hate panels.  They consist of “important” people talking without respect for time or content.  With that being said I thoroughly enjoyed the intensity and clarity of thought at the “Vision for a new American” panel.  The beauty of the panel was that the soliloquies (which I typically hate) produced some great quotes and sound bites!  In the end, it was just refreshing to spend 2 ½ hours listening to passionate people talk about poverty in the U.S.

I am typically skeptical of too much talk (not enough action), but around poverty, we need more talking.  The government needs more input from individuals living in poverty, working to fight poverty, and researching poverty, so that as a nation we can improve our current approach.  There are great programs, data, and practices being used all over the country (and other countries) that should be supported at a national level.

The problem: poverty is complex. So where do you start on a national level? Housing? Health care? Criminal justice? Education? Food? Safety net programs? Jobs?

Tavis and the panelists were focusing their attention on child poverty, especially around quality of education.  I was disappointed that other populations and factors did not come up.  I did not hear any talk of men, mental health, housing, or substance abuse – topics that are often associated with lack of personal responsibility.  Children living in poverty is an easy sell.  They are seen as vulnerable and innocent to the failings of their parents and of the system.  So maybe we start there – focusing on education, social safety net, and health care to make sure that children have a “sidewalk” out of poverty.  But eventually we need to move to a discussion about “the guilty ones”, the single adults who also deserve a chance at social mobility.

For now, I am glad that this panel sparked more conversation around poverty, and I want to see the conversation continue.  The panel discussion is available at http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/TavisSm.  You can also learn more about the project and sign a petition to the president at http://www.tavistalks.com/visionforanewamerica/.

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New poverty measure and a trip to the hospital

I had the misfortune of spending a portion of my Christmas in the ER.  My trip led to few hours of waiting, a couple bottles of pill, and (thankfully) one much happier and healthier me.  All I have to worry about now is taking my prescriptions on time and paying the bill.  I have insurance and a savings account so I will be fine, but my trip to the hospital made me realize how quickly medical expenses could bring (or keep) a family in poverty.

The federal government has an official poverty guideline it uses to form policies, administer programs, and conduct research, but the US Census Bureau now also uses the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) to research poverty.  SPM is a more accurate and comprehensive measurement of poverty than the official poverty measure because it subtracts expenses that reduce income including medical out-of-pocket expenses (MOOP).  Individuals above the official poverty line still experience financial pressures like missing bill payments and unstable child care.  The SPM begins to study at these hardships by including not just the cost food, but shelter, utilities, taxes, work related expenses and child care costs into the measurement.

The SPM brings up some interesting links between health care and poverty.  Individuals and families only covered by public health insurance have lower poverty rates.  On the other hand, MOOP increased poverty rates, especially for older adults.  So, public health insurance lifts people out of poverty while medical expenses force people into poverty. SPM paints a new picture of poverty in America where the number of poor is higher, but public programs able to lift families out of poverty – including programs like public health insurance that may not be labeled at “anti-poverty”.

SPM vs. Official Measure: More details

The U.S. has an official poverty guideline that was implemented in 1969 to show the number of people with incomes to low to pay for food and other needed goods and services.  The problem is that the poverty threshold that determines those in poverty is an outdated tool that only looks at food cost.  In 1955, a survey determined families spent about one third of their income on food (which no longer true).  So the poverty threshold multiples the cost of the Department of Agriculture’s economy (a.k.a. cheapest) food plan by three.  Anyone below the poverty threshold is considered living in poverty.

Starting in 2011, the US census bureau also uses the SPM to research poverty.  The SPM determines its threshold by using the 33rd percentage of average cost of food, clothing, shelter, and utilities for a family multiplied by 1.2 for other necessities.  Individuals are measured to this threshold by totaling all income and benefits (i.e. EITC, SNAP, school lunch program, housing subsidies, and home energy assistance) then subtracting taxes and expenses that reduce disposal income (i.e. work related, child care, and medical out-of-pocket expenses, child support paid, and income and payroll taxes).

To learn even more about the SPM read The Research Supplement Poverty Measure:2011

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