Will The Greediest Support The Neediest?

“The Neediest Cases For more than 100 years, The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund has provided direct assistance to struggling New Yorkers. Donate Now”

New York, New York: John and Yoko are back on the radio singing about Christmas time, while The New York Times publishes a list of New York’s  “neediest” as they have for one hundred years. What was known as the “newspaper of record” solicits donations and runs features on the beneficiaries of the paper’s beneficence.

There’s even a back story that is trumpeted proudly, “An encounter with a shabbily dressed stranger on Christmas Day 1911, prompted Adolph S. Ochs, publisher of The New York Times, to create The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund. The Fund’s 103rd annual campaign runs through Jan. 23. Each profile illustrates the stories of those who benefited from the fund and shows the difference that even a modest amount of money can make. The money is distributed to individuals through the fund’s seven participating New York charitable agencies, often in small amounts targeted to specific needs. Donations will be collected through Jan. 30.”

And, so, the generosity of New Yorkers triggered by a chance encounter between a media proprietor and an anonymous member of the disheveled rabble introduced a highly visible approach to fighting poverty—give to selected individuals in need. (Actually, get others to give!)

Nowhere in any of this is a sense of what has happened to the economy with its great gaps and disparities, or the findings that New York is the most divided city in the world when it comes to the chasm between the superrich and the super poor. As the cost of living climbs, and the middle class struggles to hang on, rents soar as affordable housing becomes much more difficult to find in a city where reality is increasingly defined in terms of realty.

All of this is happening at a time when the national economy is said to be improving with Obama being praised and praising himself, even as major cleavages remain. Economist Richard Wolff points out that “workers are returning to jobs with lower wages, fewer benefits, and less job security than they had before the financial crisis hit.”

The Economic Policy Institute notes, that for far too many people, particularly people of color, the recovery from the Great Recession has yet to take hold. The NAACP offered these details, “Though the total nonfarm payroll employment increased by a strong gain of 321,000 jobs, it did not make an impact on the unemployment rate.  The main unemployment rate remained at 5.8% with little change in racial/ethnic unemployment, whites at 4.9%, blacks at 11.1%, Latinos at 6.6%, and Asians at 4.8%.”

And what about youth unemployment? “Generation Opportunity, a national, non-partisan youth advocacy organization, is announcing its Millennial Jobs Report for November 2014. The data is non-seasonally adjusted (NSA) and is specific to 18-29 year olds:

  • The effective (U-6) unemployment rate for 18-29 year olds, which adjusts for labor force participation by including those who have given up looking for work, is 14.5 percent (NSA). The (U-3) unemployment rate for 18-29 year olds is 9 percent (NSA).
  • The declining labor force participation rate has created an additional 1.871 million young adults that are not counted as “unemployed” by the U.S. Department of Labor because they are not in the labor force, meaning that those young people have given up looking for work due to the lack of jobs.
  • The effective (U-6) unemployment rate for 18-29 year old African-Americans is 21.4 percent (NSA); the (U-3) unemployment rate is 16.1 percent (NSA).
  • The effective (U-6) unemployment rate for 18-29 year old Hispanics is 15.1 percent (NSA); the (U-3) unemployment rate is 9 percent (NSA).
  • The effective (U-6) unemployment rate for 18-29 year old women is 12.3 percent (NSA); the (U-3) unemployment rate is 8.7 percent (NSA).”

In short, little progress for those most in need. It is not surprising that labor militancy has broken out in the fast food sector where many young people are concentrated.

All of this has been dwarfed as an issue by an activist response to racial incidents in which younger people seem increasingly targeted by police as protests erupt nationwide. New York City has been torn apart by the reaction to the killing of Eric Garner on Staten Island where he was arrested for selling individual cigarettes, a minor crime of there ever was one.

In the aftermath of what was widely seen as police abuse—made visible by videos of the actual confrontation—there have been daily protests, arrests of more than 300 protesters disrupting streets and high ways, but little discussion of a class-based police strategy that seems to avoid cracking down on corporate crime but instead use a “broken Windows” model premised on the idea that stopping minor crimes, usually by minorities, is the only way to go.

Bill Black of the University of Kansas City and who prosecuted financial frauds critiqued the police strategy that has been sold to the public as “Quality of Life” enforcement.

He asks, “What does “quality-of-life enforcement” actually mean? When the NYPD, overwhelmingly, humiliated Blacks and Latinos an average of 1,500 times daily through “stop and frisk” encounters, what happened to the quality of their life? What happened to the quality of life of all the Blacks and Latinos who witnessed those humiliations? What happens to the quality of life of Blacks and Latinos when their kids are far more likely to be arrested for drug crimes than white kids with the same incidence of drug use? What happens when their kids spend far longer in prison because they use crack while the white kids use powder cocaine? What happens to the quality of life of the Blacks and Latinos targeted by predatory lenders when the lenders’ CEOs’ crimes go unpunished?

How many Blacks and Latinos must we incarcerate and even kill for trivial offenses in order to optimally improve the “quality of life” of Blacks and Latinos? Why does spending the City’s scarce dollars in this strategy of repression improve the “quality of life” in Black and Latino communities more than using those dollars to create jobs?”

And, while we are searching for answers without really asking the right questions, one indicator of economic failure goes by us as the neediest increase in number, especially among the young:
Felix Richter of Statista.com and Niall McCarthy report:

“Somewhat unsurprisingly, child poverty rates have increased dramatically in the countries worst affected by the financial crisis. Since the collapse of its banking system in 2008, Iceland has recorded a 20 percent increase in child poverty which now stands at 32 percent. Austerity ravaged Greece is close behind with a 17.5 percent increase between 2008 and 2012, bringing the overall rate to a gloomy 40.5 percent. During the same four year timeframe, child poverty in the United States went up 2 percent, reaching 32 percent by the end of 2012.”

Time perhaps to make the neediest appeal a daily feature, not just a seasonal begathon.

News Dissector Danny Schechter edits Mediachannel,org. Comments to dissector@mediachannel.org.

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