Tuesday, September 29, 2009



There's a fine line between advocacy and, well, poor taste. The ever-popular American Girls brand has released a controversial new doll named "Gwen," a character who's actually homeless.

CBS sent correspondent Hattie Kauffman to an L.A. shelter to gather some reaction to the doll:

[One homeless advocate] observed to Kauffman that she finds "the whole concept to be extremely disturbing. It's not a doll I would ever buy for a child."

There are between 7,000 and 10,000 homeless children in L.A. alone, Kauffman notes, and it's doubtful many, if any, could afford Gwen's $95 price tag.

One homeless woman in a shelter Kauffman visited said Gwen touched her heart when she saw the doll in its box.

The women praised the doll, Kauffman reports, until they learned Gwen isn't a fundraising device for the homeless.

Read more


WASHINGTON — The recession has hit middle-income and poor families hardest, widening the economic gap between the richest and poorest Americans as rippling job layoffs ravaged household budgets.

The wealthiest 10 percent of Americans — those making more than $138,000 each year — earned 11.4 times the roughly $12,000 made by those living near or below the poverty line in 2008, according to newly released census figures. That ratio was an increase from 11.2 in 2007 and the previous high of 11.22 in 2003.

Household income declined across all groups, but at sharper percentage levels for middle-income and poor Americans. Median income fell last year from $52,163 to $50,303, wiping out a decade’s worth of gains to hit the lowest level since 1997.

Poverty jumped sharply to 13.2 percent, an 11-year high.

“No one should be surprised at the increased disparity,” said Richard Freeman, an economist at Harvard University. “Unemployment hurts normal workers who do not have the golden parachutes the folks at the top have.”

Analysts attributed the widening gap to the wave of layoffs in the economic downturn that have devastated household budgets. They said while the richest Americans may be seeing reductions in executive pay, those at the bottom of the income ladder are often unemployed and struggling to get by.

Large cities such as Atlanta, Washington, New York, San Francisco, Miami and Chicago had the most inequality, due largely to years of middle-class flight to the suburbs. Declining industrial cities with pockets of well-off neighborhoods, such as Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Buffalo, also had sharp disparities.

Up-and-coming cities with growing middle-class populations, such as Mesa, Ariz., Riverside, Calif., Arlington, Texas, and Henderson, Nev., were among the areas showing the least income differences between rich and poor.

It’s unclear whether income inequality will continue to worsen in major cities, said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. Many Americans are staying put for now in traditional cities to look for jobs and because of frozen lines of credit.

“During the years of the housing bubble, there was middle-class movement from unaffordable metros with high-income inequality,” Frey said. “Now that the bubble burst, more of the population may be headed back to the high-inequality areas, stemming their middle-class losses.”


Monday, September 28, 2009

Does poverty make people obese?

Does poverty make people obese, or is it the other way around?
As a matter of public health, it might be more important to help poor people than fat people. According to epidemiologist Peter Muennig, the relative risk of mortality for being obese is between 1 and 2. That means that, controlling for other factors, someone who's really fat is up to twice as likely to die early as someone whose body mass index is in the normal range. But if you compare people from the top and bottom of the wage scale (with everything else held constant), the risk ratio goes up to about 3.5. In other words, it's much better for your health to be rich and fat than poor and thin.

Those in greatest need, furthermore, tend to be both poor and fat. We know, for instance, that the lower your income, the more likely you are to inhabit an "obesogenic" environment. Food options in poor neighborhoods are severely limited: It's a lot easier to find quarter waters and pork rinds on the corner than fresh fruit and vegetables. Low-income workers may also have less time to cook their own meals, less money to join sports clubs, and less opportunity to exercise outdoors.

If poverty can be fattening, so, too, can fat be impoverishing. Paul Ernsberger, a professor of nutrition at Case Western Reserve University, lays out this argument in an essay from The Fat Studies Reader, due out in November. Women who are two standard deviations overweight (that's 64 pounds above normal) make 9 percent less money (PDF), which equates to having 1.5 fewer years of education or three fewer years of work experience. Obese women are also half as likely to attend college as their peers (PDF) and 20 percent less likely to get married. (Marriage seems to help alleviate poverty.)

When it comes to public health, the relationship between poverty and obesity gets more convoluted. Being fat can make you poor, and being poor can make you sick, which means that being fat can make you sick irrespective of any weight-related diseases. Fatness (or the lifestyle associated with obesity) also creates its own health problems, regardless of how much money you have—and health problems tend to make people poor, through hospital bills and missed days of work. So fat can be impoverishing irrespective of any weight-related discrimination.

The point here is that sickness, poverty, and obesity are spun together in a dense web of reciprocal causality


Thursday, September 10, 2009


Our Recession: More in poverty, without health coverage

WASHINGTON -- The early impact of the worst recession since the 1930s pushed median incomes down, forced almost 40 million more people into poverty and left more Americans without health care in 2008, according to new annual survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Poor people, working people, blacks, Hispanics and children bore a disproportionate share of the hardship. The new figures, however, likely understate the severity of the economic downturn because a large portion of nation's job losses and unemployment rate increases occurred after the Census survey data was collected in March as part of the annual Current Population Survey.

-Along the way, the nation's real median income - the point at which half the nation earns less and half more - fell 3.6 percent from $52,163 in 2007 to $50,303 in 2008. That was the first such decline in three years and the worst in the first year of any recession since Census Bureau began collecting the data during World War II, said Lawrence F. Katz, an economics professor at Harvard University.

-Men and women were both affected. Full-time working men saw their median incomes fall by 1 percent from $46,846 to $46,367, while female earnings declined by 1.9 percent, from $36,451 to $35,745.

-The worst is yet to come. "This is just the beginning, or the tip of the iceberg, because 2008 was not nearly as bad an economy as 2009," Katz said. The average unemployment rate in 2008 was 5.8 percent, up from 4.6 percent in 2007. That pales in comparison with the 9 percent average unemployment rate so far this year, and it's likely to increase. August unemployment was 9.7 percent, and it's expected to peak above 10 percent in the months to come.

The national poverty rate also hit its highest level since 1997, jumping to 13.2 percent in 2008 from 12.5 percent in 2007. The increase dragged 39.8 million people below the poverty line, the most since 1960. That's up from 37.3 million in 2007. For children, the poverty rate hit 19 percent, or 14.1 million youngsters in 2008. That means 35.3 percent of the nation's poor in 2008 were under age 18.

Meanwhile, the number of people without health insurance increased from 45.7 million in 2007 to 46.3 million in 2008, even though the percentage of uninsured Americans didn't change, at 15.4 percent. About 46 percent of the nation's uninsured are non-Hispanic whites, but as a group, 11 percent of non-Hispanic whites lack coverage, compared with 19 percent of blacks and 31 percent of Hispanics. About 45 percent of noncitizens lack coverage.