Saturday, March 15, 2008

A true measure of poverty

Most Americans are familiar, or have at least heard of, the federal poverty guidelines. The Real Cost of Living (RCL) is an alternative to those guidelines, attempting to take a more realistic approach to examining the standards of living and survival that we have in our country. According to Poverty Benchmarks 2008: Assessing New Jersey’s Progress in Addressing Problems of Inadequate Income, from Legal Services of New Jersey's Poverty Research Institute, RCL "measures how much income is required for a family [...] to meet all basic needs without any public or private support. It takes into account the number of members in a family, ages of all children and place of residence and relies on conservative estimates of costs for basic needs, with no allowance for extras like eating out or savings." The RCL factors in full time working adults, but not the elderly or the disabled, who have different needs. The RCL is not tracked on a national level, but organizations do calculate RCL on a state level. This is New Jersey's RCL:



Now, I understand that table only looks at a single parent with two school age children, and most people have no sympathy for single parents, for whatever reasons, although they do rank somewhat higher than gay couples. Here are the numbers, by county, for the necessary combined income for a family of two adults with two school age children in New Jersey for 2005 (from Diana Pearce and the LSNJ Poverty Research Institute):

Atlantic - $33,968
Bergen - $48,043
Burlington - $54,220
Camden - $40,165
Cape May - $45,411
Cumberland - $45,811
Essex - $39,472
Gloucester - $51,018
Hudson - $43,453
Hunterdon - $57,254
Mercer - $45,196
Middlesex - $44,824
Monmouth - $44,941
Morris - $54,753
Ocean - $51,979
Passaic - $42,666
Salem - $46,151
Somerset - $58,318
Sussex - $50,192
Union - $40,720
Warren - $47,449

I don't have the 2008 figures for each county, but I can adjust for inflation the highest, lowest and median figures (but no more than that...no more). We'll look at Somerset, a central county in the northern part of the state, Atlantic, a southeasten county which contains Atlantic City, and Salem, the southwesternmost county. Thirteen of the 21 counties in New Jersey were within $5,000 of Salem county (including, not coincidentally, Salem itself), so don't give it too much mind that Salem is an outlying county, geographically speaking.

Atlantic's $33,968 in 2005 is $36,819 in 2008; Somerset's $58,318 in 2005 is $63,213 in 2008; and Salem's $46,151 in 2005 is $50,025 in 2008. Dem's a lot o' beans.

You can look at those figures and see what you will, but how I interpret those numbers is that what we used to consider middle class is now the bare necessity to maintain an adequate standard of living. If your kid gets sick, or you lose your job, or your car is stolen, you could very well be dropped into the financial void. With inadequate health care coverage, no job security, and a stagnant economy, the risks are high.

The situation is not improving. According to Poverty Benchmarks 2008, in 2004, 2005, and 2006, 4% of New Jersey's population was at a severe poverty level (below 50% of the federal poverty level), while 9% were at the federal poverty level. In contrast, 20 to 21% of New Jersey was living in true poverty (200% or less of the federal poverty level) from 2004 to 2006. There are undoubtably many who who above the level of true poverty, but not by much. When a quarter of your population is on the ropes, that's not positive.

While it's hard to say how this translates to the rest of the country, the U.S. Census Bureau's Persons Below Poverty Level (2003) has New Jersey ranked 46th out of 50 states in terms of total poverty. In other words, 45 states have a higher percentage of poor people as measured by the federal guidelines. We are now in a Recession, as say 71% of 55 economists surveyed by the Wall Street Journal last week. I'm not an economist, I'm not a fiscal advisor, and I'm not a mathematician. I can read, though, and the writing is on the wall. We're in trouble.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

When a good shit goes bad

There are only two reasons I could imagine for sitting on a toilet longer than ten minutes. One is if I was reading a magazine article, comic or novel, and the other is if I was sick. Still, the time on the john would not exceed, at worst, an hour. So this article is kind of surprising:
WICHITA, Kan. — Deputies say a woman in western Kansas became stuck on her boyfriend's toilet after sitting on it for two years.

Ness County Sheriff Bryan Whipple said it appeared the 35-year-old Ness City woman's skin had grown around the seat. She initially refused emergency medical services but was finally convinced by responders and her boyfriend that she needed to be checked out at a hospital.
* * *
[Her boyfriend] told investigators he brought his girlfriend food and water, and asked her every day to come out of the bathroom.

"And her reply would be, `Maybe tomorrow,"' Whipple said. "According to him, she did not want to leave the bathroom."

The boyfriend called police on Feb. 27 to report that "there was something wrong with his girlfriend," Whipple said, adding that he never explained why it took him two years to call.
There are days when I need a little time to myself, and I can see why you'd want to escape to the bathroom. There are also times when your stomach disagrees with what you dropped inside it. But to sit there for two years? She must've had the curry chicken.

Taking care of what matters

Andrew "Lord and" Taylor, AP:
All three major presidential candidates interrupted their campaigns to cast votes on the budget planning, which is non-binding but highlights the difficult choices facing the next president and Congress. Binding votes on the expiring Bush tax cuts will be left to his successor and the Congress that's elected in November.
* * *
In the Senate, John McCain of Arizona, the Republican presidential nominee-in-waiting, voted to extend the full roster of tax cuts, which he opposed seven years ago as being tilted in favor of the wealthy. Democratic rivals Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois both voted against them.

Clinton and Obama did vote for $340 billion in tax cuts over five years for middle- and higher-income taxpayers, investors and people inheriting businesses and big estates.

But they joined with Democrats and a couple of maverick Republicans to reject, 52-47, an additional $600 billion in extensions of income tax rate cuts, more generous estate tax cuts and relief from the alternative minimum tax.
Just a reminder that no matter who wins - McCain, Clinton or Obama - you, my friend, will be fucked.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Governors: mini presidents, major pains

New York Governor Eliot Spitzer allegedly paid for sex...no, not buying a girl drinks in a bar, or buying a girl chocolates, or taking a girl to dinner...I mean cutting out the middle man and just giving the girl money for sex.
Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who gained national prominence relentlessly pursuing Wall Street wrongdoing, has been caught on a federal wiretap arranging to meet with a high-priced prostitute at a Washington hotel last month, according to a law enforcement official and a person briefed on the investigation.
He's wrong because he's a hypocrite for breaking up call girl rings while obviously engaging in them, and he's also a skunk towards his family (no offense to the black and white furry mammals). My position on prostitution has been made public before, in that it should be legal ("free market capitalism at work, providing a service people want for a fee people are willing to pay"). Last time I wrote about it from a hetero-centric viewpoint, but gay prostitution should be legal as well. I also noted my concern ("most prostitutes I have seen are hideous, and would actually make me abstinent"), but I think the kind of whores I can afford are missing teeth and looking for a few bucks to go buy crack or 40 oz bottles of malt liquor. Rich people don't rent whores, they obtain the services of call girls. I imagine call girls are cleaner, more attractive, better smelling, and not riddled with diseases.

Meanwhile, New Jersey governor Jon Corzine is also fucking people up the ass, but he's not screwing prostitutes, just his constituents. With a budget crisis in the state, Corzine is robbing the poor to help the rich:
Gov. Jon S. Corzine today proposed major budget cuts to key New Jersey programs, including state workers, property tax rebates and aid for towns and hospitals, calling it an agonizing bid to revamp troubled state finances.
* * *
Corzine also wants to significantly increase tolls on the Garden State Parkway, New Jersey Turnpike and Atlantic City Expressway to pay at least half of $32 billion in state debt and fund transportation.

Although that plan is separate from the budget proposal, Corzine referenced legislative opposition to it and pleaded to find a way to cut debt.
It sounds pretty bad, but fear not, Corzine is freezing taxes on businesses for the second year in a row. Phew! We wouldn't want those making the most money to have to contribute back or anything.
The budget cuts were welcomed by businesses.

“We applaud the governor for understanding the seriousness of our fiscal crisis by presenting a budget that, while tough to stomach by just about everyone in this state, will begin to repair the damage,” said Joan Verplanck, New Jersey Chamber of Commerce president.
Of course you applaud it, you cunt. Fortunately, most people are against Corzine's proposal, including those who can stop his budget.
“I see a lot of pain coming down, and that pain is coming down on poor people and middle-class people,” said Sen. Ronald Rice, D-28th of Newark.

Carla Katz, president of the largest state workers union chapter, said the cuts would “scapegoat public workers, will hurt middle-class families and fail to provide a real solution to the state’s fiscal problems.”

Republicans want spending cuts but blasted plans to pare rebates.

“What we will not do is be a party to any plan that would lower or eliminate direct property tax relief for middle-class families,” said Assembly Minority Alex DeCroce, R-26th of Morris Plains.
I shall note that Corzine and Spitzer are both Democrats, as are Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. If there is any reason to get excited about the Democratic Party in 2008, please tell me, but if you do so, note that I am tired of the "they're better than the Republicans" line. Being barely better than shit doesn't make you good. It makes you Chef Boyardee.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Kids getting high on tap water

The Associated Press proudly presents: AP probe finds drugs in drinking water! Dun dun dunnn!
A vast array of pharmaceuticals — including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones — have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, an Associated Press investigation shows.

To be sure, the concentrations of these pharmaceuticals are tiny, measured in quantities of parts per billion or trillion, far below the levels of a medical dose. Also, utilities insist their water is safe.

But the presence of so many prescription drugs — and over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen and ibuprofen — in so much of our drinking water is heightening worries among scientists of long-term consequences to human health.
So there's one more thing in the environment leading to alzheimer's, autism, cancer, whatever. Give me something funny.
Here are some of the key test results obtained by the AP:

_Officials in Philadelphia said testing there discovered 56 pharmaceuticals or byproducts in treated drinking water, including medicines for pain, infection, high cholesterol, asthma, epilepsy, mental illness and heart problems. Sixty-three pharmaceuticals or byproducts were found in the city's watersheds.
So I won't have high cholesteroal or epilepsy since I've been taking all this pharma-water? Great! But I said something funny...
_A sex hormone was detected in San Francisco's drinking water.
Well played, AP.