Featured stories in this issue...
Some Ideas for a Common Agenda
Successful social movements inspire hope and create solidarity by
adopting a set of core goals and understandings. As we work through
the wrenching transformations needed to create a just and sustainable
society, what ideas can help build the social movement we need?
Still Toxic After All These Years
The environmental justice movement emerged during the 1970s (some
date it even earlier), an outgrowth of the civil rights movement of
the 1960s. In the late 1990s, California passed laws making it clear
that environmental injustices are unacceptable. But some patterns of
exploitation are as American as apple pie and they persist
U.S. Economy Leaving Record Numbers in Severe Poverty
The percentage of poor Americans who are living in
severe poverty has reached a 32-year high, millions of working
Americans are falling closer to the poverty line and the gulf between
the nation's "haves" and "have-nots" continues to widen.
Returning Soldier Has Much to Teach Us
"Some months ago, I sat next to a young soldier on a flight from
Detroit to Des Moines. He was 22-year-old Army man coming home after
two years in Iraq and Pakistan.... It was clear that I had a lot to
learn from him."
Test Your Local Environment for the Presence of Heavy Metals
Would you like to know if you have unacceptable levels of heavy
metals (such as lead, mercury, arsenic, chromium) in your home, your
school playground or your garden? For $20.00 per sample, you can find
From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #896, Mar. 1, 2007
SOME IDEAS FOR A COMMON AGENDA
[The latest draft of this evolving paper is online with live links.]
By Peter Montague and Carolyn Raffensperger
We could benefit if we had a few common ideas to guide our work. To
provoke discussion about the elements of a common agenda, we have put
together these initial thoughts. This draft is centered on the U.S.
because it is the place we know best. The picture we sketch here
contains elements that, to some, may seem remote from the traditional
work of environmental protection, environment and health, or even
public health. Perhaps few will be want to engage all aspects of this
picture; nevertheless we hope there is some value in painting with
broad strokes on a large canvas. Everything really is connected.
Furthermore, we believe that people of good will, sharing a few common
ideas and goals -- and willing to form surprising alliances -- can
create a successful web of transformation.
First, we want to acknowledge some of our assumptions:
The Golden Rule
The wellspring of these ideas is a simple, universal ethic -- every
culture and every religion endorses the Golden Rule [1, 2], which
says, "Treat others the way you want to be treated." This tells us,
first, to alleviate suffering. This, in turn, leads directly to human
rights -- we all have a basic right to a life free of suffering, to
the extent possible. The elements of such a life were laid out in the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the U.S. endorsed Dec.
From the Golden Rule and the Universal Declaration: Justice
For us, the Golden Rule and the Universal Declaration together define
justice. Justice is action that tends to manifest the Golden Rule and
the Universal Declaration; injustice is action in another direction.
It is unjust, unfair and therefore unacceptable to impose suffering on
others or to stand by and allow suffering to go unnoticed or
unchecked. It is unjust, unfair and unacceptable to deprive anyone of
any human right as spelled out in 1948. Justice is not passive.
Justice demands action, sometimes aggressive action, conflict, and
struggle. Without justice, there can be no peace. We stand with
Gandhi, advocating non-violent action.
In recent years, science has confirmed what people have always known:
community is essential for human well-being. We humans evolved as
social creatures[3, 4] who cannot thrive when separated from our
circle of family, friends, acquaintances, and animal companions.
Social isolation makes us sick and leads to an early death. This
is one reason why racism and white privilege are profoundly wrong.
At a minimum, they create social isolation, which leads to illness and
suffering, and so they are unjust and unacceptable.
Furthermore, when we damage nature we diminish our own -- and
everyone's -- possibilities for a life as free as possible of
suffering. When we create havoc via global warming or damage to the
Earth's protective ozone layer, or when we pave over fertile farmland,
or exterminate the fish of the sea or the birds of the air, we
diminish everyone's possibilities for securing life, liberty and the
pursuit of happiness (to quote the Declaration of Independence of
1776). This is unjust and unacceptable.
As Jeremy Bentham told us in 1789, animals too have a right to live
a life free of suffering to the extent possible. As Bentham said, the
question is not whether they can reason, or whether they can talk.
Their right to live free from torment hinges on the question, can they
suffer? Their suffering stands on a moral plane with ours.
However, we want to emphasize that humans are dependent upon all
creatures, not just those that are sentient. Science now confirms the
wisdom of indigenous peoples, that we are all interdependent, all
humans, all species. We humans are part of, and are supported by, a
biological platform of enormous complexity, which we cannot
understand, but which we know with absolute certainty nourishes and
sustains us. Even a child can see that, without it, we are lost.
Because rights and justice cannot be secured if our biological
platform is shredded, we all have a right to intact natural and social
environments -- environments that enable us to provide for ourselves
the essentials of air, water, food, shelter and community, which we
all require to prevent suffering.
The earth is our home and we have to take care of it, for the reason
that we absolutely depend on it. To preserve our home without
understanding all its billions of inter-related parts, we can aim to
preserve every part of it. No part of creation can be presumed
dispensable. We can say we know what's dispensable, but what if we're
wrong? In recent years we humans came close to making the surface of
the earth uninhabitable for humans because we failed to understand how
CFC chemicals were damaging the ozone layer. It was a close call. Our
ignorance is vast. As Albert Einstein reportedly said, "We still do
not know one-thousandth of one percent of what nature has revealed to
Because the biological platform, upon which we all depend, cannot be
secured unless we are free to take action to protect it, human rights
and justice are essential requirements for human survival.
Good health is a fundamental right
What is health? What conditions are necessary for health?
Aldo Leopold defined health as the capacity for self-renewal. The
preamble to the constitution of the World Health Organization (WHO,
July 22, 1946), defines health as "a state of complete well- being,
physical, social, and mental, and not merely the absence of disease or
infirmity." The WHO's Ottawa Charter says, "The fundamental
conditions and resources for health are: peace, shelter, education,
food, income, a stable eco-system, sustainable resources, social
justice, and equity."
The WHO constitution also defines health as a basic human right:
"The enjoyment of the highest standard of health is one of the
fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race,
religion, political belief, economic or social condition." This is
consistent with Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights of 1948, which says,
"Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the
health and well-being of himself and his/her family, including food,
clothing, housing, and medical care."
The right to health is crucial to all other human rights
Enjoyment of the human right to health is vital to all aspects of a
person's life and well-being, and is crucial to the realization of all
other fundamental human rights and freedoms.
Our health depends upon three environments:
1) The natural environment (air, water, soil, flora and fauna)
2) The built environment (roads, power plants, suburban sprawl,
3) The all-important social environment (relationships of
trust, mutual respect, and friendship but also poverty, racism and
white privilege, sexism, homophobia, insecurity, the sense that life
is out of control, and so on). The social environment creates what the
United Nations calls "the social determinants of health." There is a
very large body of literature indicating the importance of these
determinants of a person's resilience in the face of stress.
All three environments are always intertwined in all "environmental"
work and especially so in all "environment and health" work.
The basis of community and the economy is sharing the commons
The commons includes all the other things that we share together and
that none of us owns or controls individually. The commons has been
described as a river with three forks:
1. Nature, which includes air, water, DNA, photosynthesis, seeds,
topsoil, airwaves, minerals, animals, plants, antibiotics, oceans,
fisheries, aquifers, quiet, wetlands, forests, rivers, lakes, solar
energy, wind energy... and so on;
2. Community: streets, playgrounds, the calendar, holidays,
universities, libraries, museums, social insurance [e.g., social
security], law, money, accounting standards, capital markets,
political institutions, farmers' markets, flea markets, craigslist...
3. Culture: language, philosophy, religion, physics, chemistry,
musical instruments, classical music, jazz, ballet, hip-hop,
astronomy, electronics, the Internet, broadcast spectrum, medicine,
biology, mathematics, open-source software... and so forth. Even the
collective enterprise we call the "private sector" depends for its
success upon the roads, the bridges, the water systems, the currency,
the mercantile exchanges, the laws, the language, the knowledge, the
understanding and the trust that all of us, and our ancestors, have
built in common.
Government has three main purposes, which cannot be separated from
1) to guarantee the rights of the individual, as outlined in the
Universal Declaration of 1948;
2) to ensure justice, and
3) to protect and restore the commons, holding them in trust for this
generation and for those to come.
Prevention is essential
The 20th century has left us with an intractable legacy -- toxic and
radioactive wastes, proliferating weapons, global warming, nearly two
million citizens imprisoned, rising rates of childhood disease and
chronic illness (e.g., asthma, attention deficits, autism, diabetes,
Alzheimer's). We have learned the hard way that managing large
problems such as these is prohibitively expensive. Therefore, our best
hope is to create a culture of prevention -- to develop a habit of
always doing our best to prevent problems before they occur, rather
than paying to manage them afterward. This is the precautionary
approach, and it lies at the heart of traditional public health
Just as our great-grandparents made slavery unthinkable, our challenge
is to make it unthinkable to finalize any large decision without
examining the alternatives we face, asking who bears the burden of
proof, and anticipating ways to prevent and minimize harm.
Our goal together can be to permanently alter the culture
We can aim to permanently alter the culture, not merely its laws,
though laws can play an important part in both provoking and
institutionalizing cultural transformation. Just as our forebears made
slavery unthinkable, our goal together can be to make unsustainable
life ways unthinkable.
Historically, in the U.S. and Europe, culture has been changed by
social movements -- the first of them being the anti-slavery movement
in England, 1787-1838. [See Adam Hochschild, Bury the Chains, ISBN
0618619070.] Therefore we believe that our goal of changing the
culture can only succeed if it encourages, appeals to, and engages
large numbers of people.
Accordingly, we believe a common agenda could be constructed from
among the following ideas (plus others that we have not yet learned
I. Build a Multi-Issue, Multi-Racial, Multi-Ethnic Movement
1) We can make our work explicitly anti-racist. Because of European
and U.S. history, it is essential that we take a strong position
against racism and white privilege. This entails a relentless, ongoing
effort to change the culture of the U.S. In addition to being a matter
of simple justice, opposing racism is crucial politically because the
New Deal coalition that governed the U.S. from 1940 to 1980 was
divided and conquered using race as the wedge issue, beginning with
Senator Goldwater's presidential platform opposing civil rights laws
in 1964. If we ever hope to become politically influential in the
U.S., we will need to build a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-issue
coalition. Understanding and confronting white privilege will be
essential in any such effort.
It is worth pointing out that the various movements for health and
justice in the U.S., taken together, make up a numerical majority in
the U.S. by at least two to one, and on many issues by far more than
that. Therefore, the only way our adversaries can prevail is by
dividing us. Race (and to a lesser extent class, ethnicity, national
origin, religion, gender, and sexual orientation) has been the
dividing wedge that our adversaries have used most effectively. (What
are some other issues that our adversaries use to divide us? This
seems worthy of considerable discussion.)
II. Reform the system for choosing candidates for public office
2) We can get private money out of elections. In principle, our
republican democracy rests on the bedrock of "one person, one vote,"
not "one dollar, one vote." In the modern day, this means getting the
mountains of private money out of elections, which in turn requires
that elections be publicly financed so that every qualified
individual is eligible to become a candidate for office, regardless of
his or her personal wealth. (Various eligibility requirements have
been proposed, such as the requirement that prospective candidates
must gather a certain number of signatures to qualify as a candidate
deserving of public financing.)
3) We can adopt the election system called instant runoff voting
(IRV). In this system each voter ranks the candidates, 1, 2, 3, etc.
If one candidate gets a clear majority of first-rank votes, he or she
is declared the winner. However if no one candidate gets a clear
majority of first-place votes, then the candidate with the least
first-place votes (let's call this the "least popular candidate") is
eliminated and his or her votes are re-distributed to the remaining
candidates in the following way:
Each ballot that ranked the "least popular candidate" as No. 1 is
examined and the second-place choice on those ballots is the candidate
who receives that particular "least popular candidate" ballot. This
process of elimination goes on until there is a clear winner holding a
majority of ballots.
The system has many advantages over the current system and it is
catching on across the U.S.
III. Protect the Commons
4) We can explicitly give all individuals the right to a safe and
healthy environment. However, this alone will not suffice. We can also
give these rights far higher priority than they have under current
law, where they are presently trumped (for example) by the right to
use one's property as one chooses for economic gain.
5) We can designate or elect guardians ad litem for future
6) We can conduct annual audits of the commons (using consistent
measures) with public reports supported by action plans for
preservation, restoration, and prevention of harm.
7) We can establish a public interest research agenda that has as its
first priority protecting and restoring the commons.
IV. Develop an Economy Whose Footprint is Not Growing, or is Even
8) We can create an economy whose ecological footprint is not
growing, or is even shrinking. Sustainability cannot be achieved
without this bedrock idea, so it needs some elaboration and
A sustainable society is one in which the human economy provides the
basics of a "good life" for everyone but the "footprint" of the
economy never grows so large as to overwhelm the planet's natural
ability to renew itself. As we will see, a sustainable society is also
one in which justice and equity continuously pursued.
There are two parts to the "footprint" -- the number of people and
their individual demands on the ecosystem.
Our current way of thinking and being in the world -- premised on
perpetual growth of the human footprint -- is not sustainable. At
present, the human footprint is simply too large for the planet to
sustain, and the evidence is emerging all around us -- global warming;
destruction of the ozone layer; decimation of marine fisheries;
industrial poisons in breast milk; increasing rates of chronic disease
(attention deficits; asthma, diabetes, some childhood cancers);
accelerating extinction of species; and so on.
Because the total human footprint is unsustainably large, both human
population and individual consumption must shrink. However, the only
proven way to curb human population is to (a) achieve economic growth
to escape the chains of poverty and (b) achieve freedom and
opportunity for women. The evidence is that, once the chains of
poverty are broken, and children are no longer the only available old-
age insurance, then most women with prospects choose not to bear large
numbers of children.
This implies that all societies need sufficient economic growth to
escape poverty -- which implies the need for more roads, power plants,
ports, and so on. However, given that the global human footprint is
already unsustainably large, the need for growth in the global south
requires footprint shrinkage in the global north. This, then, is the
goal of forward-looking (precautionary) decision-making: to make
choices that can shrink the footprint of the global North, to make
room for growth in the global South, to end poverty and liberate women
so they can choose small families.
An end to growth-as-we-know-it immediately raises the issue of a just
distribution of available goods (and bads). In the traditional way of
thinking (at least in the U.S.), poverty will be alleviated by
economic growth -- the poor are promised that, as the pie grows, even
their small piece of the pie will grow apace. They need only be
patient. But if the size of the pie is going to remain constant, or
perhaps even shrink in some dimensions, growth can no longer serve as
the safety-valve for "solving" poverty. Now we must begin to ask,
"What's a fair distribution of the pie?" Thus a sustainable society
not only has a sustainable footprint, but it also will never abandon
the active pursuit of justice and equity.
Therefore, we need an economy that can grow (in places where growth is
needed today to eliminate poverty, for example in Africa) but is not
required to grow as the present economy is required to do (so that
"developed" nations can achieve a constant or shrinking footprint). By
"growth" we mean growth in capital stock, or growth in "throughput of
materials" ("stuff"). A steady-state economy will still be dynamic and
innovative. What is needed is a constant (or shrinking) "footprint"
for the human economy -- but within that footprint, technical and
ethical innovation can be boundless.
One proposal envisions an economy based on competitive markets plus
public ownership of productive facilities (factories, farms), renting
them to producer co-ops, with investment capital raised by a flat tax
on productive assets and distributed each year to all regions of the
nation on a per-capita basis. (See David Schweickart, After
Capitalism; ISBN 0742513009). No doubt there are other ways to
achieve the steady-state economy -- all we know is that a steady-state
economy (or an economy with a steady-state footprint) is essential.
Perpetual growth on a finite planet is a certain recipe for a failed
Perhaps the nub of this issue is money lent at interest -- usury in
the original meaning of the word. It is payment of interest on
borrowed funds that creates the requirement for economic growth. So
the question could be framed as, "How can a society provide interest-
free investment funds to replace and modernize infrastructure as it
9) We can organize our economy around the concept of zero waste. The
present one-way torrent of materials out of the ground for single-use
(or nearly so), followed rapidly by re-entry into the ground, will be
recognized as an unsustainable absurdity. In a sustainable economy,
every product will be designed for repeated re-use and the cost of its
reprocessing for re-use will be included in the original sale price.
[See Paul Palmer, Getting to Zero Waste; ISBN 0-9769571-0-7]
10) We can guarantee full employment with decent wages to end poverty.
The Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act of 1978 [P.L. 95-253] can
serve as a model, with the added proviso that the federal government
can serve as the employer of last resort. Everyone who wants to work
has a right to a place in the shared enterprise.
V. Prevent Illness, Eliminate Health Disparities, Provide
Universal Health Care
11) We can create a single-payer universal health care program,
modeled on Canada's. This will be a health care program that seeks
first to prevent illness and relies on "cures" only as secondary
A central goal of any health system will be the elimination of health
disparities -- including disparities based on race and ethnicity,
gender, and geography.
Health disparities are a human rights violation because they indicate
that someone has been deprived of their right to health; therefore
health disparities are unacceptable and must be eliminated and
NACCHO (National Association of County and City Health Officials) has
defined "health disparities" as "differences in populations' health
status that are avoidable and can be changed. These differences can
result from social and/or economic conditions, as well as public
policy. Examples include situations whereby hazardous waste sites are
located in poor communities, there is a lack of affordable housing,
and there is limited or no access to transportation. These and other
factors adversely affect population health."
VI. Make Decisions to Prevent Harm
12) We can adopt the precautionary principle to avoid trouble and
prevent harm, rather than clean up messes.
VII. Expressing an Anti-Racist Intention
13) From its early beginnings, European society has been based on
racist assumptions that have produced unacknowledged systems of white
privilege. Racist ideology predates capitalism and has been
fundamental to the creation of much of the modern world. The U.S. has
been caught up in this mindset to an even greater degree than most
European societies. The first step is to openly acknowledge the
problem in its many dimensions.
14) Expressions of an explicit anti-racist intention are needed
throughout the culture to counteract hundreds of years of silent
violence against people of color. Anti-racism can be expressly
practiced in the courts, the schools, our elections, the media, the
churches, NGOs, in our funding priorities, our public health goals and
practice, and on and on. Racism is not limited to individual acts of
meanness, as much of the culture would have us believe. Racism is a
largely-invisible, embedded system of privilege that gives white
people unearned assets that they can count on cashing in each day, but
about which they remain largely oblivious. As Peggy McIntosh has
described it, "White privilege is like an invisible weightless
knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas,
clothes, tools, and blank checks." White privilege is difficult for
some people to acknowledge because its pervasive nature means we do
not, in fact, live in the meritocracy. The deck is stacked at birth by
VIII. Restoring Justice: A vision of the courts for the 21st
15) We can develop a vision of the courts for the 21st century.
Elements of this could include:
a. Eliminating racist outcomes from court proceedings, with a goal of
vastly reducing the number of people in prison;
b. Ending the status of corporations as persons entitled to the same
rights as individuals under the Constitution, to restore individual
responsibility and accountability. The term "person" in the 14th
amendment should not include corporations. The goal here is democratic
control of the nature and behavior of corporations, as was the norm in
the U.S. at an earlier time.
c. Reversing the burden of proof, giving the benefit of the doubt to
ecosystems, to future generations, to the luckless and the
d. Taking seriously our commitment to future generations, to pass
along to them undamaged the world we inherited from our forebears, and
establishing our priorities in the courts to allow this to happen;
IX. Free Education for All
16) We can provide free education from pre-school through college.
Investment in education -- whether Head Start or the GI Bill of Rights
-- is an investment that demonstrably pays enormous dividends,
generation after generation.
X. A Foreign Policy free of Imperialism or Colonialism
17) We can adopt a foreign policy that brings an end to imperialism
and colonialism. Bretton Wood institutions can be abolished and new
institutions of international finance invented. The aim of military
dominance of the planet and of outer space can be discarded.
XI. Organize Society to Provide Time for Democratic Engagement
18) Society can be organized to give everyone time to participate in
democratic decision-making. This will require a work-week shorter than
40 hours, living near the workplace to minimize travel time, and
partners sharing child-rearing and household tasks. [See Gar
Alperovitz, America Beyond Capitalism; ISBN 0471790028.]
19) Gender equity can be made a priority as a matter of fairness and
justice, and because, for many people, having time for democratic
participation depends on sharing child-rearing and household tasks
with a partner. Furthermore, worldwide, gender equity accompanied by
opportunity and education, is the only proven formula for limiting
human population, as discussed above.
20) We can establish as a goal that everyone can walk to work, with
incentives for city planners, urban developers and local decision-
makers who meet this goal. This is important for personal health, for
gender equity (couples must work near home if they are to share child-
rearing and household tasks), and for democratic participation (time
not wasted on commuting can become available for community
XII. The Future of These Ideas for a Common Agenda
21) This is just a beginning. Please contribute your ideas. Together
all of us can be wiser and more successful than any of us alone.
 Einstein quoted in The Sun (June 2006), pg. 48.
 Peter Barnes, Capitalism 3.0 (San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler,
2006), pg. 5.
 Four books support this point with considerable historical detail:
1. Dan T. Carter, From George Wallace to Newt Gingrich: Race in the
Conservative Counterrevolution, 1963-1994 (1996; ISBN 0-8071-2366-8).
2. Sara Diamond, Roads to Dominion; Right Wing Movements and Political
Power in the United States (N.Y.: The Guilford Press, 1995); ISBN
3. Thomas and Mary Edsall's Chain Reaction; The Impact of Race, Rights
and Taxes on American Politics (1992; ISBN 0-393-30903-7)
4. Jean Hardisty, Mobilizing Resentment (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999);
Return to Table of Contents
From: Oakland (California) Tribune, Feb. 17, 2007
POLLUTION PLAGUES POOR, MINORITIES
By Douglas Fischer
Poor and minority residents in the [San Francisco] Bay Area breathe
and live with far more than their share of industrial and traffic
pollution, according to a first-ever analysis [5 Mbytes PDF] of the
region's environmental disparities.
The stakes are high: Residents in neighborhoods closest to the
pollution have higher lifetime cancer risks, greater rates of asthma
and other breathing ailments and, typically, less access to health
"The patterns are clear and indisputable," said Manuel Pastor,
professor and director of the Center for Justice, Tolerance and
Community at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He co-authored
"Communities of color face greater exposure to air pollution and
toxics. They bear a disproportionate burden and face greater hazards
and risks than others in the Bay Area."
The report, "Still Toxic After All These Years," [5 Mbytes PDF] was
released Saturday at the American Association for the Advancement of
Science's annual meeting in San Francisco.
It documents environmental disparity in the nine-county Bay Area by
examining several key pollution databases and comparing that data with
neighborhood demographics from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Among its findings:
** Two-thirds of residents living within one mile of a pollution
source regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency --
refineries, power plants, factories and other large industrial
polluters -- are minorities. But of those living 21/2 miles away or
farther, two-thirds are white.
** Recent immigrants are nearly twice as likely to live within one
mile of such a facility than they are to live 2 1/2 miles away.
** Given equal incomes, minorities are still more likely to live
closer to pollution sources than whites.
"The report really confirms what many (minority) community residents
have experienced for years," said Amy Cohen, campaign director for the
Bay Area Environmental Health Collaborative, which helped sponsor the
"They know the pollution sources are closest to them. They know they
live near the highways and the large (pollution) facilities."
And they bear the brunt of the grave consequences of living near such
Last month in the British medical journal The Lancet, UCLA researchers
who had studied children over time reported that living near a freeway
saddles children with a lifetime's worth of decreased lung capacity
Rubye Sherrod sees the reality every day. The North Richmond community
activist works with children afflicted with respiratory ailments,
trying, as she says, "to keep the kids in school and not in the
Some 60 percent of the children in her community carry an inhaler, she
"There are so many issues I don't know where to start," she said.
"We're in the midst of all these refineries.... There are too many big
rigs in these communities. There's just a lot of undesirable activity
"There's been too much suffering for too many years," Sherrod added.
"The people who can help haven't paid any attention to what's going on
or simply don't care. I'm not sure."
Contact Douglas Fischer online at firstname.lastname@example.org or call
Return to Table of Contents
From: Znet, Feb. 24, 2007
U.S. ECONOMY LEAVING RECORD NUMBERS IN SEVERE POVERTY
By Tony Pugh
WASHINGTON -- The percentage of poor Americans who are living in
severe poverty has reached a 32-year high, millions of working
Americans are falling closer to the poverty line and the gulf between
the nation's "haves" and "have-nots" continues to widen.
A McClatchy Newspapers analysis of 2005 census figures, the latest
available, found that nearly 16 million Americans are living in deep
or severe poverty. A family of four with two children and an annual
income of less than $9,903 -- half the federal poverty line -- was
considered severely poor in 2005. So were individuals who made less
than $5,080 a year.
The McClatchy analysis found that the number of severely poor
Americans grew by 26 percent from 2000 to 2005. That's 56 percent
faster than the overall poverty population grew in the same period.
McClatchy's review also found statistically significant increases in
the percentage of the population in severe poverty in 65 of 215 large
U.S. counties, and similar increases in 28 states. The review also
suggested that the rise in severely poor residents isn't confined to
large urban counties but extends to suburban and rural areas.
The plight of the severely poor is a distressing sidebar to an unusual
economic expansion. Worker productivity has increased dramatically
since the brief recession of 2001, but wages and job growth have
lagged behind. At the same time, the share of national income going to
corporate profits has dwarfed the amount going to wages and salaries.
That helps explain why the median household income of working-age
families, adjusted for inflation, has fallen for five straight years.
These and other factors have helped push 43 percent of the nation's 37
million poor people into deep poverty -- the highest rate since at
The share of poor Americans in deep poverty has climbed slowly but
steadily over the last three decades. But since 2000, the number of
severely poor has grown "more than any other segment of the
population," according to a recent study in the American Journal of
"That was the exact opposite of what we anticipated when we began,"
said Dr. Steven Woolf of Virginia Commonwealth University, who co-
authored the study. "We're not seeing as much moderate poverty as a
proportion of the population. What we're seeing is a dramatic growth
of severe poverty."
The growth spurt, which leveled off in 2005, in part reflects how hard
it is for low-skilled workers to earn their way out of poverty in an
unstable job market that favors skilled and educated workers. It also
suggests that social programs aren't as effective as they once were at
catching those who fall into economic despair.
About one in three severely poor people are under age 17, and nearly
two out of three are female. Female- headed families with children
account for a large share of the severely poor.
Nearly two out of three people (10.3 million) in severe poverty are
white, but blacks (4.3 million) and Hispanics of any race (3.7
million) make up disproportionate shares. Blacks are nearly three
times as likely as non-Hispanic whites to be in deep poverty, while
Hispanics are roughly twice as likely.
Washington, D.C., the nation's capital, has a higher concentration of
severely poor people -- 10.8 percent in 2005 -- than any of the 50
states, topping even hurricane-ravaged Mississippi and Louisiana, with
9.3 percent and 8.3 percent, respectively. Nearly six of 10 poor
District residents are in extreme poverty.
'I DON'T ASK FOR NOTHING'
A few miles from the Capitol Building, 60-year-old John Treece
pondered his life in deep poverty as he left a local food pantry with
two bags of free groceries.
Plagued by arthritis, back problems and myriad ailments from years of
manual labor, Treece has been unable to work full time for 15 years.
He's tried unsuccessfully to get benefits from the Social Security
Administration, which he said disputes his injuries and work history.
In 2006, an extremely poor individual earned less than $5,244 a year,
according to federal poverty guidelines. Treece said he earned about
that much in 2006 doing odd jobs.
Wearing shoes with holes, a tattered plaid jacket and a battered
baseball cap, Treece lives hand-to-mouth in a $450-a-month room in a
nondescript boarding house in a high-crime neighborhood. Thanks to
food stamps, the food pantry and help from relatives, Treece said he
never goes hungry. But toothpaste, soap, toilet paper and other items
that require cash are tougher to come by.
"Sometimes it makes you want to do the wrong thing, you know," Treece
said, referring to crime. "But I ain't a kid no more. I can't do no
time. At this point, I ain't got a lotta years left."
Treece remains positive and humble despite his circumstances.
"I don't ask for nothing," he said. "I just thank the Lord for this
day and ask that tomorrow be just as blessed."
Like Treece, many who did physical labor during their peak earning
years have watched their job prospects dim as their bodies gave out.
David Jones, the president of the Community Service Society of New
York City, an advocacy group for the poor, testified before the House
Ways and Means Committee last month that he was shocked to discover
how pervasive the problem was.
"You have this whole cohort of, particularly African- Americans of
limited skills, men, who can't participate in the workforce because
they don't have skills to do anything but heavy labor," he said.
'A PERMANENT UNDERCLASS'
Severe poverty is worst near the Mexican border and in some areas of
the South, where 6.5 million severely poor residents are struggling to
find work as manufacturing jobs in the textile, apparel and furniture-
making industries disappear. The Midwestern Rust Belt and areas of the
Northeast also have been hard hit as economic restructuring and
foreign competition have forced numerous plant closings.
At the same time, low-skilled immigrants with impoverished family
members are increasingly drawn to the South and Midwest to work in the
meatpacking, food processing and agricultural industries.
These and other factors such as increased fluctuations in family
incomes and illegal immigration have helped push 43 percent of the
nation's 37 million poor people into deep poverty -- the highest rate
in at least 32 years.
"What appears to be taking place is that, over the long term, you have
a significant permanent underclass that is not being impacted by anti-
poverty policies," said Michael Tanner, the director of Health and
Welfare Studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.
Arloc Sherman, a senior researcher at the Center on Budget and Policy
Priorities, a liberal think tank, disagreed. "It doesn't look like a
growing permanent underclass," said Sherman, whose organization has
chronicled the growth of deep poverty. "What you see in the data are
more and more single moms with children who lose their jobs and who
aren't being caught by a safety net anymore."
About 1.1 million such families account for roughly 2.1 million deeply
poor children, Sherman said.
After fleeing an abusive marriage in 2002, 42-year-old Marjorie Sant
moved with her three children from Arkansas to a seedy boarding house
in Raleigh, N.C., where the four shared one bedroom. For most of 2005,
they lived off food stamps and the $300 a month in Social Security
Disability Income for her son with attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder. Teachers offered clothes to Sant's children. Saturdays meant
lunch at the Salvation Army.
"To depend on other people to feed and clothe your kids is horrible,"
Sant said. "I found myself in a hole and didn't know how to get out."
In the summer of 2005, social workers warned that she'd lose her
children if her home situation didn't change. Sant then brought her
two youngest children to a temporary housing program at the Raleigh
Rescue Mission while her oldest son moved to California to live with
an adult daughter from a previous marriage.
So for 10 months, Sant learned basic office skills. She now lives in a
rented house, works two jobs and earns about $20,400 a year.
Sant is proud of where she is, but she knows that "if something went
wrong, I could well be back to where I was."
'I'M GETTING NOWHERE FAST'
As more poor Americans sink into severe poverty, more individuals and
families living within $8,000 above or below the poverty line also
have seen their incomes decline. Steven Woolf of Virginia Commonwealth
University attributes this to what he calls a "sinkhole effect" on
"Just as a sinkhole causes everything above it to collapse downward,
families and individuals in the middle and upper classes appear to be
migrating to lower-income tiers that bring them closer to the poverty
threshold," Woolf wrote in the study.
Before Hurricane Katrina, Rene Winn of Biloxi, Miss., earned $28,000 a
year as an administrator for the Boys and Girls Club. But for 11
months in 2006, she couldn't find steady work and wouldn't take a
fast-food job. As her opportunities dwindled, Winn's frustration grew.
"Some days I feel like the world is mine and I can create my own
destiny," she said. "Other days I feel a desperate feeling. Like I
gotta' hurry up. Like my career is at a stop. Like I'm getting nowhere
fast. And that's not me because I've always been a positive person."
After relocating to New Jersey for 10 months after the storm, Winn
returned to Biloxi in September because of medical and emotional
problems with her son. She and her two youngest children moved into
her sister's home along with her mother, who has Alzheimer's. With her
sister, brother-in-law and their two children, eight people now share
a three-bedroom home.
Winn said she recently took a job as a technician at the state health
department. The hourly job pays $16,120 a year. That's enough to bring
her out of severe poverty and just $122 shy of the $16,242 needed for
a single mother with two children to escape poverty altogether under
current federal guidelines.
Winn eventually wants to transfer to a higher-paying job, but she's
thankful for her current position.
"I'm very independent and used to taking care of my own, so I don't
like the fact that I have to depend on the state. I want to be able to
do it myself."
The Census Bureau's Survey of Income and Program Participation shows
that, in a given month, only 10 percent of severely poor Americans
received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families in 2003 -- the latest
year available -- and that only 36 percent received food stamps.
Many could have exhausted their eligibility for welfare or decided
that the new program requirements were too onerous. But the low
participation rates are troubling because the worst byproducts of
poverty, such as higher crime and violence rates and poor health,
nutrition and educational outcomes, are worse for those in deep
Over the last two decades, America has had the highest or near-highest
poverty rates for children, individual adults and families among 31
developed countries, according to the Luxembourg Income Study, a 23-
year project that compares poverty and income data from 31 industrial
"It's shameful," said Timothy Smeeding, the former director of the
study and the current head of the Center for Policy Research at
Syracuse University. "We've been the worst performer every year since
we've been doing this study."
With the exception of Mexico and Russia, the U.S. devotes the smallest
portion of its gross domestic product to federal anti-poverty
programs, and those programs are among the least effective at reducing
poverty, the study found. Again, only Russia and Mexico do worse jobs.
One in three Americans will experience a full year of extreme poverty
at some point in his or her adult life, according to long-term
research by Mark Rank, a professor of social welfare at the University
of Wisconsin, Madison.
An estimated 58 percent of Americans between the ages of 20 and 75
will spend at least a year in poverty, Rank said. Two of three will
use a public assistance program between ages 20 and 65, and 40 percent
will do so for five years or more.
These estimates apply only to non-immigrants. If illegal immigrants
were factored in, the numbers would be worse, Rank said.
"It would appear that for most Americans the question is no longer if,
but rather when, they will experience poverty. In short, poverty has
become a routine and unfortunate part of the American life course,"
Rank wrote in a recent study. "Whether these patterns will continue
throughout the first decade of 2000 and beyond is difficult to say ...
but there is little reason to think that this trend will reverse
itself any time soon."
'SOMETHING REAL AND TROUBLING'
Most researchers and economists say federal poverty estimates are a
poor tool to gauge the complexity of poverty. The numbers don't factor
in assistance from government anti-poverty programs, such as food
stamps, housing subsidies and the Earned Income Tax Credit, all of
which increase incomes and help pull people out of poverty.
But federal poverty measures also exclude work-related expenses and
necessities such as day care, transportation, housing and health care
costs, which eat up large portions of disposable income, particularly
for low-income families.
Alternative poverty measures that account for these shortcomings
typically inflate or deflate official poverty statistics. But many of
those alternative measures show the same kind of long-term trends as
the official poverty data.
Robert Rector, a senior researcher with the Heritage Foundation, a
conservative think tank, questioned the growth of severe poverty,
saying that census data become less accurate farther down the income
ladder. He said many poor people, particularly single mothers with
boyfriends, underreport their income by not including cash gifts and
loans. Rector said he's seen no data that suggest increasing
deprivation among the very poor.
Arloc Sherman of the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
argues that the growing number of severely poor is an indisputable
"When we check against more complete government survey data and
administrative records from the benefit programs themselves, they
confirm that this trend is real," Sherman said. He added that even
among the poor, severely poor people have a much tougher time paying
their bills. "That's another sign to me that we're seeing something
real and troubling," Sherman said.
McClatchy correspondent Barbara Barrett contributed to this report.
BY THE NUMBERS
States with the most people in severe poverty:
California -- 1.9 million
Texas -- 1.6 million
New York -- 1.2 million
Florida -- 943,670
Illinois -- 681,786
Ohio -- 657,415
Pennsylvania -- 618,229
Michigan -- 576,428
Georgia -- 562,014
North Carolina -- 523,511
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
Return to Table of Contents
From: Ames (Iowa) Tribune, Feb. 2, 2007
RETURNING SOLDIER HAS MUCH TO TEACH US
By Carolyn Raffensperger
The backbone of the common good is sharing, especially those things
that are part of our public inheritance -- air, water, wildlife,
parks, the library, roads and sidewalks -- to name a few. Government
has a wonderful role serving as the trustee of the commons and
fulfilling our responsibility to pass them on to future generations.
If we took the commonwealth and the common health seriously, we might
innovate some leading-edge policies right here in Iowa. Can you
imagine appointing a guardian for future generations in the city
council and asking her to assess the impact of city decisions on
generations to come? What would the city budget look like if we did an
audit of the commons and included the audit information to city
residents? Then we could set goals for mending, restoring, enhancing
our public goods.
What if we did an inventory of all the work needed on our streams and
prairies and state parks, for example, and provided a list to Gov.
Culver of work that our Iowa National Guard might do here at home?
There is some precedent for this: Last summer the governor of Montana
wrote a letter to President Bush asking him to send the Montana
National Guard home from Iraq so they could help fight forest fires in
And speaking of the National Guard, I suspect they have an enormous
amount to teach us about the Wise Warrior, the True Guardian, the
Sentinel that protects the common good for future generations.
Some months ago, I sat next to a young soldier on a flight from
Detroit to Des Moines. He was 22-year-old Army man coming home after
two years in Iraq and Pakistan. He was quite anxious about his return.
This was his last leg on a 30-hour trip to Iowa. I was dismayed about
sitting next to him since I am a religious pacifist and was returning
from an environmental conference too tired and grieved myself about
the state of the world. How could I open my heart to this young man?
I began with the chitchat -- who would be at the airport to greet him?
His grandparents. Oh, and maybe his ex-girlfriend. Why would his ex-
girlfriend be at the airport? A shrug. I asked if he loved her. His
tears rose to the brim and he said "yes, but it's not manly to say
so." I said, "The true warrior, the wise man, defends what he loves."
He started to cry.
>From there I asked him what his work was in the Army. His job was to
protect the relief efforts of the earthquake victims in Pakistan.
Noble work. He said, "Yes. But I can't be wrong." Sometimes he had to
tell his commanding officer to kick in a door (implying that there
were terrorists jeopardizing the relief efforts), and he couldn't make
the Haditha mistake and have women and children harmed.
I told him about my life's work as an environmentalist and guardian of
future generations. It was clear that I had a lot to learn from him.
He said that he would have just graduated from Iowa State University
if he had not gone into the Army.
I asked him what he would be doing if he had graduated. He said, "It
would all be trivial. All trivial. I'd be buying a better car, looking
for a job that would make a lot of money. It's trivial." I told him
that's what he, as an initiated warrior, knew that we did not sitting
That is what he has to teach us.
We spoke quietly and affectionately about what it was to return home
as a warrior to a culture that has no concept of what a true warrior
requires from his culture nor what a healthy culture requires of its
warriors. In the end, we concluded that the great warrior is one who
serves as a guardian of what they loved.
The commons are essential to so much that we love -- our children's
health, the deer in my backyard, the ability to drive to church on a
public road. May we learn to share and protect these treasures.
Copyright Mid-Iowa Newspapers 2007
Return to Table of Contents
From: Ohio Network for the Chemically Injured, Feb. 27, 2007
TEST YOUR LOCAL ENVIRONMENT FOR THE PRESENCE OF HEAVY METALS
By Toni Temple
Would you like to know if there are unacceptable levels of heavy
metals (e.g., lead, mercury, arsenic, chromium) in your home or other
If so, you can have soil, wood, or other samples screened for all 26
heavy metals at a cost of only $20.00 per sample by participating in
an educational research project. Participants will be required to
fill out a questionnaire and will be given information about how the
data will be used.
The Environmental Quality Institute of the University of North
Carolina Ashville (a NELAC certified testing laboratory), Thermo NITON
Analyzers, LLC (manufacturers of x-ray fluorescence technology), and
the Ohio Network for the Chemically Injured (a not-for-profit
organization dedicated to education, advocacy and support for the
chemically injured), have joined together to create an educational
research program in which low cost testing of heavy metals will be
provided to the general public.
Excesses in exposure to some heavy metals have been proven to cause
health problems. Others can be dangerous to health at any level. For
Arsenic -- symptoms from exposure may include sore throat, irritated
lungs, vomiting, abnormal heart rhythm, redness and swelling of skin,
"pins and needles" sensation in hands and feet. May cause skin, lung,
bladder, liver, kidney, or prostate cancer, and can also injure
pregnant women or their unborn babies.
Copper -- high-level exposure can cause irritation of nose and throat,
nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Can cause anemia, damage to liver and
kidneys, and death.
Lead -- can affect almost every organ and system in the body. Can
cause severe stomachache, muscle weakness, miscarriage, anemia, high
blood pressure, and damage to brain, kidneys, and nervous system
Mercury -- symptoms of exposure may include nausea, skin rashes, eye
irritation and high blood pressure. May damage the lungs, brain,
kidneys, and developing fetus.
Zinc -- high concentrations can cause stomach cramps, nausea, and
vomiting, anemia, and can decrease the levels of good cholesterol.
Inhalation of zinc as dust or fumes can cause metal fume fever. Skin
exposure can cause skin irritation.
What types of samples can I have analyzed?
Soil, wood, and plastic (including PVC), jewelry, toys, vinyl lunch
boxes or metal objects. You may send extracted teeth (for lead; crowns
may contain heavy metals) only if you furnish a prepaid shipping
container with your sample so that we can return it to you. You must
also provide a prepaid shipping container for any other item you wish
to have returned to you.
How long will testing take?
You should receive your sampling kit(s) approximately a week after
your order is received. Your results will be mailed to you within one
to two weeks after the laboratory receives your sample(s). You will
also receive additional information to help you determine what your
results mean and further information about the toxicity of the heavy
Who is eligible to participate?
Anyone is eligible but everyone must fill out the questionnaire. Your
identity will not be revealed. Please inform your family, neighbors,
physician, school, employer, lawyer, and others about the project, as
they may know of others who would benefit from this screening. A copy
of the order form is on our website www.ohionetwork.org under the
Detect and Protect tab.
Why should I test?
Prevention is key in avoiding many health problems. Protect your
family by reducing or eliminating unnecessary exposures.
What should I test?
** Soil on playgrounds or other play areas
** Soil to determine safe placement of vegetable gardens
** Soil near treated wood fences and decks
** Soil samples before site selection for wells, ponds, and other man-
made bodies of water
** Soil samples prior to residential or business property purchases
** Soil samples near wells and reservoirs
** Existing treated wood from decks, picnic tables, building materials
** New wood before building or remodeling
** Samples of plastic materials before building or remodeling
** any other object you would like to have tested for heavy metals
PLEASE DO NOT SEND ANY LIQUIDS OR WET SOIL SAMPLES
If you would like to participate, please complete the Order Form below
and mail it to the Ohio Network for the Chemically Injured along with
your check or money order. Do not mail any samples with your order.
Environmental Quality Institute (EQI) will mail you the appropriate
test kit(s) and provide you with instructions on how to collect soil
samples. You will ship your samples directly to them.
Please print! Only checks or money orders accepted.
Enclosed is payment of $20 for each sample submitted. Each sample will
be screened for 26 heavy metals. If you wish to have your sample
returned, please provide a prepaid shipping container.
Please make checks payable to the Ohio Network for the Chemically
Injured (ONFCI) and mail to P.O. Box 29290, Parma, OH 44129. For
further information, visit our website at www.ohionetwork.org or phone
Indicate number of:
() soil samples () wood samples () other samples -
Enclosed is payment for total number of ______ samples @ $20.00 each =
Contact: Toni Temple, (440) 845-1888
Return to Table of Contents
Rachel's Democracy & Health News (formerly Rachel's Environment &
Health News) highlights the connections between issues that are
often considered separately or not at all.
The natural world is deteriorating and human health is declining
because those who make the important decisions aren't the ones who
bear the brunt. Our purpose is to connect the dots between human
health, the destruction of nature, the decline of community, the
rise of economic insecurity and inequalities, growing stress among
workers and families, and the crippling legacies of patriarchy,
intolerance, and racial injustice that allow us to be divided and
therefore ruled by the few.
In a democracy, there are no more fundamental questions than, "Who
gets to decide?" And, "How do the few control the many, and what
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