Rent Comes First

During his recent State of the Union address the President outlined various retirement account proposals for his last budget. Again, this morning NPR was quoting him as urging Americans to save more. Relying on just Social Security will find them entering poverty on retirement. Analysis finds all this well and good, prudent within the Judeo Christian ethic of personal responsibility. But is it in accord with contemporary America, actual existing America? Not quite 4 years ago, then Presidential candidate Mitt Romney was caught on an audio recording dismissing 40 some percent of Americans who relied on some form of government assistance, thereby guaranteeing his opponent their vote. It is no coincidence that Romney’s statistics mirrored those of the number of people in America who have no financial net worth – their debts equal or are greater than their assets. Within this 40+% are the 20+% of Americans who are officially defined as in poverty. These 40+% live from one source of income to the next. Catastrophic medical events, losing a job, etc. results in crisis and deterioration of any sense of personal financial responsibility, the kind the President is encouraging. Analysis finds it disingenuous to advocate for more savings when 40+% of the population is not in a position to “afford” it. Though economist claim we are in recovery, and Conservatives are racing to shut off the government assistance programs because unemployment is at the magical 5% neighborhood, wages have been quite stagnant, and for most of the 40+%, quite inadequate. Reuters confirms all this with a 1-26-16 report by Lisa Lambert entitled “Obama makes new push to expand retirement savings”. “The proposal would also allow smaller employers to create pooled 401(k) plans. The U.S. workplace is undergoing a transformation, especially with the rise of the “on-demand” economy, which will lead workers to change jobs more frequently and face new challenges in saving for retirement, [Labor Secretary Tom] Perez said. Up-and-coming companies that provide goods and services on demand through phone apps mostly rely on freelancers who are not tied to jobs and traditional employer-sponsored retirement accounts.” This is notable on two counts. During the last month the stock market, to which 401(k) plans are tied, dropped significantly costing individual plans in excess of $8,000 (relying on Social Security will result in poverty?). Additionally, with the changing U S economy (“freelancers who are not tied to jobs and traditional employer-sponsored retirement accounts.”), plans and proposals centered on “employer” provided whatever (healthcare or retirement, etc.) are somewhat misguided. Analysis begins to sense that an individual mandate for an individual working class emerges as default. Eric Pianin for the online Fiscal Times (1-26-16) writes “Why half a million people will lose their food stamps this year” “At least 500,000 people will lose their food stamp benefits this year as many states revert to a strict three-month limitation on benefits, according to a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. At the extreme, as many as one million of the country’s poorest people will lose food assistance, which averages $150 to $170 per person per month. Those affected are people aged 18 to 49 who aren’t disabled or raising minor children. Most of them live a subsistence existence, scraping by with the help of government and charitable organizations and low-paying jobs, although college students are also eligible.” Notable to consider is: “According to the CBPP analysis, the three-month time limit will be back in force in more than 40 states — including 23 states that haven’t imposed this requirement since the start of the recession. “Even SNAP recipients whose state operates few or no employment programs and fails to offer them a spot in a work or training program—which is the case in most states—have their benefits cut off after three months, irrespective of whether they are searching diligently for a job,” the report states.” Analysis continues to reflect on the President’s urging that Americans save so as not to retire in poverty. Reporting for CityLab Henry Grabar headlines “More Americans Are Going Hungry in the Suburbs”. Analysis finds no one to be immune, though all are racing to retirement (actual or only Powerball fantasized). The suburbs Grabar covers is “Rockland County, New York, a bedroom community near the nation’s largest city and one of the top 40 counties in the United States in household income. Still, Rockland, like many suburban counties, has gotten poorer. The percentage of individuals living in poverty here has grown by 5 percent since the millennium. Ramapo, a sprawling Rockland town along the New Jersey border with 126,000 residents, is one of more than a dozen New York City suburbs that had a greater proportion of residents living in poverty in 2010 than in 2000. More than 5,000 Ramapo residents depend on People to People to put food on their table every month.” Most notable and that resonates with actual existing Licking County (at least the one Tim Bubb described in his Newark Advocate Year In Review column of 1-10-16) is : ““You have all the problems of urban hunger, and then you have the physical distance and access problems that are generally less of a problem in compact urban areas,” explained Joel Berg, the director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger and a Rockland native. Berg’s mother, late in her life, qualified for food assistance, but physically wasn’t able to reach the providers. Transportation is the primary challenge of getting food—and anything else—to the poor in the suburbs. “No one walks in Rockland County,” Serratore said [Diane Serratore, executive director of People To People]. In any case, the distances are too far. More than 4,000 patrons of People to People, for example, come from Haverstraw, a faded industrial town on the Hudson, nine miles north of the pantry. “Rent comes first,” explained Charleen Borchers, a Rockland resident who works at McDonald’s. “Car insurance comes second. Then, at the bottom of the list, is food.””

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