UP WITH CHRIS HAYES
September 16, 2012
Guests: Gary Younge, Julie Cavanagh, Josh Barro, Melissa Boteach, Matt Farmer
SAM SEDER, GUEST HOST: Good morning from New York. I`m Sam Seder, in
for Chris Hayes.
Four soldiers fighting with the NATO-led alliance in Afghanistan were
killed in an overnight attack. Afghan police are suspected to be involved,
making it the second insider attack in two days. And the State Department
has ordered departure of all family members and non-essential U.S.
government staff from its embassies in Sudan and Tunisia due to rising
But right now, my story of the week, how Republicans are using the
national crisis of poverty against President Obama. At the Values Voter
Summit on Friday, Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, whose
budget was approved by the House with sweeping cuts to aid for the poor,
responded to new figures from the Census Bureau this week showing that 46.2
million Americans were living below the poverty line last year, a rate
basically unchanged from the year before, but still a rate not seen in this
country for nearly 20 years.
Here`s what Ryan had to say about Obama`s record on poverty.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: The Obama economic
agenda failed not because it was stopped but because it was passed.
And here`s what we got -- prolonged joblessness across the country, 23
million Americans struggling to find work, family income in decline, 15
percent of Americans living in poverty. Here we are, four years of
economic stewardship under these self-proclaimed advocates of the poor, and
what do they have to show for it? More people in poverty and less upward
mobility wherever you look!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SEDER: It`s not the first time this election cycle that we`ve seen
the right raise the specter of the poor. But poverty is raised not to
offer prescriptions or remedies, but to be used as a cudgel, as a means of
playing on middle class fears of losing ground by suggesting not so much
that they too could become impoverished but that the threat to their
economic stability is the poor themselves, who are taking that ground from
Calling President Obama the "food stamp president" is not bemoaning
the plight of those Americans who, in the wake of a devastating financial
crisis, have lost the means to put food on the table for their families,
but rather to imply that some other is living large while the rest of us
That said, we do know something about the people Romney relies on and
what they believe about poverty. Remember those Romney ads claiming that
President Obama was gutting work requirements for welfare eligibility?
Putting aside the point that, as a policy consideration, work requirements
should be loosened for welfare recipients, the claim was simply a lie.
But take a look at the source they gave for that claim, the Heritage
Foundation from July 12th. As "Mother Jones" magazine reported a day
before Ryan spoke, that July 12th Heritage post was co-authored by a senior
research fellow at Heritage named Robert Rector.
Now, who is Robert Rector? A opposition research group called the
Bridge Project, affiliated with the liberal super-PAC American Bridge, dug
into Rector`s past writings. And it turns out that this false claim that
welfare recipients are somehow getting away with living an envious life of
leisure was developed by a man who has claimed welfare does not lift people
out of poverty, that no one who owns a refrigerator should even be
considered poor, and who once told "The Washington Post," quote, "Is
poverty harmful for childhood? I think not."
If you watched the Republican or Democratic conventions this year, you
might be forgiven for believing poverty isn`t harmful to childhood, for
there we were regaled with stories of parents and grandparents who overcame
childhood poverty, lifting themselves out of it with nothing but hard work
and dedicated effort. In few instances did these stories even hint that
these ancestors had any luck or help from their community that contributed
to their success.
Nor did we hear how social mobility has diminished in this country
since those grandparents supposedly pulled themselves up by their
bootstraps. The fact is, it`s increasingly harder in the United States to
lift yourself and your family from poverty now than it was 50 years ago.
And yet in the midst of a presidential campaign where the economy is
ostensibly the central issue of contention, we rarely hear poverty
mentioned by either candidate.
And according to a new report by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting,
less than 1 percent of the media`s campaign coverage has addressed poverty
in virtually any way -- that is, at least, directly. Consider this. This
week`s teacher strike in Chicago, more than 25,000 Chicago teachers went on
strike over a myriad of issues, not the least of which are the teaching and
learning conditions in Chicago schools.
The strike exposed the battle lines between the corporate-driven
school reform movement and educators fighting against high-stakes testing
and advocating for a more contextual approach to measuring school
performance. Driving this battle is a desire to improve educational
outcomes, which will supposedly improve economic opportunities for low-
Now, to the extent that poverty and joblessness are mentioned in our
political discourse, it is always education which is first and often only
mentioned as the cure. That prescription sounds intuitive, but what if the
premise is wrong? What if Robert Rector is wrong and poverty does, in
fact, harm childhood?
A study in 1995 found that the average low-income child enters
kindergarten with a listening vocabulary of 17,000 fewer words than that of
child of middle income. She can recognize only 9 letters of the alphabet
as compared to the 22 recognized by middle-income children.
So if it`s possible that the proposition that education fixes poverty
is actually backward and that resolving poverty actually fixes many of our
education issues, then we have to consider whether our remedies for both
are upside down.
We have to consider whether asking teachers to improve achievement in
schools is even possible without first addressing the disadvantages poor
children face on their very first day of their school careers. And if no
amount of privatizing education can fix our poverty problem, we also have
to look at the actual impact on poverty that our other policies have.
So while the media largely ignore the implications of poverty in
stories like the Chicago teachers` strike, our political establishment
meanwhile has adopted an approach towards dealing with our jobs crisis
which is sure not to alleviate poverty but to create more of it.
Austerity plans and the potential of a "grand bargain" which may cut
Medicare and Social Security will certainly add to the ranks of the poor.
Yet we hear virtually no dissent to these policy proposals from the
quarters of our so-called serious thinkers in Washington.
How is this possible? How is it that with record numbers of people
living in poverty and with many more people rightfully anxious that they`re
on the verge of falling into poverty, we as a society are providing no
response, not even a rhetorical one?
I want to address these issues, especially how they shape the battle
over education. So let`s bring in Gary Younge, a columnist for "The
Guardian" newspaper and "The Nation" magazine and author of "Who Are We and
Should it Matter in the 21st Century?" Julie Cavanagh, a special education
teacher in Brooklyn, a member of the teachers group Movement Rank and File
Educators and co-producer of the film "The Inconvenient Truth Behind
Waiting for Superman," Josh Barro, a columnist for Bloomberg View, and
Melissa Boteach, director of Half in 10 Poverty and Prosperity Program at
the Center for American Progress, which aims to cut poverty in half in 10
Welcome, all of you. And thank you so much for joining me.
So we have this amazing real -- I mean, this strike that`s -- that`s
taking place in Chicago, and very well may end today, and it really deals
with a lot of different issues, the union issues, which, of course, have
been sort of in the headlines for -- at least since Wisconsin, the
political campaign, of course, because of President Obama`s relationship to
Rahm Emanuel and Penny Pritzker, and his secretary of education actually
came from Chicago, as well.
It also involves education reform. And of course, undergirding this
and maybe laying on both the bottom and the top of it, education plays a
big part in this.
But I want to start with you, Gary. You`ve been reporting on this.
Just give us a sense of how we got here with the Chicago teachers` strike.
GARY YOUNGE, THEGUARDIANNEWS.COM: Well, Chicago has been the kind of
crucible of reform for a couple decades. So it didn`t just start with Rahm
Emanuel, Arne Duncan before him and on before that. And it`s really been
an attempt to privatize the education system. That would be the easiest
way to describe it.
So Rahm Emanuel comes in with a reform agenda. Millions are invested
in kind of trying to promote charter schools, and also to change the strike
rules so that you would need 75 percent of the eligible voters, teachers
(INAUDIBLE) to actually strike.
SEDER: And in fact, the strike laws were changed a year ago. And it
also narrowed what the teachers could actually strike in response to.
YOUNGE: Right. So they could only strike about paying conditions.
They couldn`t talk about class sizes or whatever. So they would
necessarily look self-interested and venal.
So Rahm comes in with his reform agenda. He immediately reneges on
the previous agreement that the teachers had for a pay increase. Then
comes the push for the longer working day, for which he wasn`t going to pay
teachers very much more -- I think 2 percent more for a 15, 20 percent
longer working day.
Then there`s a change in the strike laws. The teachers have a vote,
and they vote 98 percent to strike. I mean, it`s almost North Korean kind
of proportions. There`d become a volume of teacher dissatisfaction by that
The city then try and put it into touch (ph). They give it to an
arbitrator to say, Look, you know, you decide where we should go. The
arbitrator actually decides to side with the unions.
Throughout this time, the overwhelming number of parents in Chicago
side with the teachers. Even after the strike begins on Monday, they side
with the teachers. So Rahm Emanuel describes this as a strike of choice.
About that he`s right, but it wasn`t a choice of the unions, it was a
choice of Rahm Emanuel. It was set up to work like this.
But the teachers union had been doing a lot of work in communities. A
lot of schools have been closed down, which had fired up communities as
well as teachers. And a lot of this had happened in the predominantly
black and Latino areas.
Which brings us on to the strike, a massive show of force, cars
hooting all around the city pretty much every day, big rallies around the
city, yesterday, a huge rally with teachers coming in from Wisconsin and
elsewhere, which brings us to what I think has happened is that the city
SEDER: Yes. We are going to hear -- today at 3:00 PM, we`re going to
see the teachers` leadership vote, at least, as to whether or not they`re
going to accept the terms or have a tentative deal.
We`ve got to take a break, but what I`d like to do when we come back
is to actually talk -- bring in a parent because I think one of the big
aspects of this story is the parents` support -- and this notion that the
teachers are striking, they can`t necessarily fully articulate, at least
officially, what they`re striking upon. We`re going to take a break and
we`ll be right back.
SEDER: So we`re talking about the teachers` strike, and one of the
amazing elements that we were just talking about is that as a parent of a
school child, the idea that my child would not have school for five days
and the scrambling that would have to take place in my household to deal
with that -- and still after that, you have 60, 65 percent of parents
supporting the teachers` strike is pretty amazing.
And part of that, Julie, I think, is that the -- while the Illinois
Labor Relations Act says that teachers can only strike for compensation
reasons -- for basically, for money -- there`s been a lot of teachers and
even some officials of the union who have said, essentially, this is about
the conditions. A lot of it has to do with the conditions that we`re
supposedly teaching in. Tell us what you know about those conditions.
JULIE CAVANAGH, NYC TEACHER: Yes, I mean, you know, the strike was
obviously about working conditions, but working conditions are student
learning conditions. So in Chicago and certainly across the country, what
we see is huge class sizes.
In Chicago, there are class sizes are in the 40s, children packed into
a room with no air-conditioning, the proliferation of charter schools,
which is draining money from the public school coffers, school closings,
which Gary mentioned, and of course, this huge issue of high-stakes
testing, which isn`t just a teacher issue, you know, it`s an issue that is
very detrimental to students.
So the CTU has done a really great job of articulating these issues.
And this isn`t just a Chicago situation. This is a national and an
international problem that we`re facing with the privatization of public
And teachers` unions are in the best position to really advocate
against these harmful policies. And we`re seeing on the local level in
Chicago really a defining moment, and hopefully, the beginning -- not the
ending today at 3:00 o`clock, the beginning of a real fight to end
corporate education reform.
YOUNGE: I mean, just to come in on that, the kind of -- the Chicago
school strike was not just about Chicago. I mean, that`s a kind of very
important point to reiterate. This conversation is taking place all over
YOUNGE: ... and actually, pretty much all over the Western world.
There`s a similar -- very similar conversation going on in my home country
of Britain, which is a withdrawal of education as a public good, something
that is free at the point of service and which is good for the public, and
instead, the introduction of kind of for-profit privatization and a kind of
rote testing, particularly for poor kids. The rich kids get their art.
They get their libraries. They get all of that. But for the poor kids,
it`s kind of -- it`s drill.
SEDER: In fact, Melissa -- and Melissa, that`s -- I mean, that`s part
of what`s going on here, is that -- that`s why we say that poverty sort of
lies on top of this issue and below it, because the reason we see this
redistribution of resources to, essentially, charter schools and privatized
education facilities away from public schools is because the public schools
are basically servicing middle-income and lower-income children, and they
have less sort of political power in which to get those resources.
CAVANAGH: Right. And the whole say the funding formula is set up is
that it`s tied to property taxes. And so you have built-in inequalities
that we need to tackle through reforming some of the federal funding
streams, as well.
So you`re seeing these kids already coming in at a disadvantage
because in zero to 5, that`s a critical time for a child`s brain
development. Their brains are like sponges during this time. And you see
kids entering in the school system already at a disadvantage.
As a country, not only have we not invested enough in education K
through 12, we haven`t made significant investments or significant enough
investments in early childhood education to get kids ready to enter school
on par with their middle and higher-income peers.
SEDER: Yes. I want to -- I mean, this is a blog post by a teacher
who is on strike named Xian Barrett. And he explains here why he went on
strike. And he wrote, "When you make me cram 30 to 50 kids in my classroom
with no air-conditioning so the temperatures hit 96 degrees, that hurts our
kids. When you lock down our schools with metal detectors and arrest
brothers for play-fighting in the halls, that hurts our kids. When you
take 18 to 25 days out of the school year for high-stakes testing that is
not even scientifically applicable to many of our students, that hurts our
kids. When you spend millions on your pet programs, but put -- but there`s
no money for school-level repairs so that the roof leaks on my students at
their desks when it rains, that hurts our kids."
And here is a parent from Chicago making the case that this money is
being redistributed, essentially, away from the public schools into one of
these pet projects, and he speaks about how unfair it is. His name is Matt
Farmer, he was delivering this speech at a board -- at a CTU rally back on
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATT FARMER, CHICAGO PUBLIC SCHOOL PARENT: Your kids attended the
University of Chicago laboratory schools, correct? Yes. Same school Mayor
Rahm Emanuel has chosen to send his kids to, correct? The University of
Chicago laboratory school has seven -- count them, seven -- art teachers on
its faculty. Isn`t that right, Mrs. Pritzker? Yes.
But you`re aware, Mrs. Pritzker, that Diet (ph) High School, a school
you just voted to close a few months ago, had zero art teachers on its
faculty in 2011, isn`t that right? Yes.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
FARMER: Your students also receive music education from day one at
the lab school. Isn`t that true? Yes. Your students had physical
education classes every day at the lab school. Isn`t that right? Yes.
Your students had libraries, beautiful libraries in which to study,
research and write. Isn`t that true? Yes. You`re aware, ma`am, that as
we sit here today, 160 CPS schools do not have libraries. Isn`t that
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SEDER: That was Matt Farmer, and he was addressing -- he`s a parent
from Chicago public schools, and we`re going to have Matt Farmer in from
Chicago, one of those parents who has been supportive of the teachers`
strike, right after this.
We`ll be right back.
SEDER: I want to bring in Matt Farmer. He`s a Chicago public school
parent and lawyer, also a member of the local school council at Philip
Rogers (ph) Elementary School. Welcome, Matt. Thanks for joining us.
FARMER: Good morning. Thanks for having me.
SEDER: So Matt, you were making a case to Penny Pritzker, a member of
the Chicago public school board, that, essentially, your kids and the kids
in Chicago public schools deserve the same opportunities to express their
creativity, to be, in some ways -- I don`t know if coddled is the right
word, but to be allowed to sort of think and learn in a more creative
Tell me what`s behind that -- I mean, how much you feel that your
child is losing out by not having these opportunities.
FARMER: Well, let`s be clear. I raised the names of Rahm Emanuel and
Penny Pritzker in my May 23rd talk to teachers not because they`re very
wealthy people who send their kids to private schools. They are, and they
have the right to do that. But both of them, at this point, are public
officials making education policy for all our public school kids.
And it`s in that capacity that I asked the rhetorical questions I did
of Ms. Pritzker and the mayor because they know and they advocate for
things for their own kids which they are not quick to provide to our kids,
85 percent of whom are black and brown in the Chicago public school system,
87 percent of whom are low-income kids.
Let me give you an example. I talked about the lack of libraries in
our schools -- 160 CPS schools do not have libraries. Meanwhile, Ms.
Pritzker, who has great ties to the University of Chicago lab school, is
spearheading a fund-raising drive to raise money for newer, better
libraries for the lab school because as the lab school and its parents
know, those are important things for a child`s education.
Two years ago almost to the day, a group of Mexican-American mothers
in Chicago`s Pilsen neighborhood began a sit-in that lasted, I believe, 47
days at the first stretch because they were trying to get a library for
their kids` grade school. They were threatened with arrest during a sit-
in. The head of Chicago public schools threatened to turn -- in fact, did
turn the heat off in the building they occupied as temperatures got cold in
October. There`s still no library at that school.
I spent a lot of time with those moms during that sit-i, and one of
the things we heard from a Chicago public schools spokesperson was
essentially this talking point. Why do you think you`re special? We`ve
got 160 schools that don`t have libraries.
When you`re on a sit-in, you`ve got nothing but time on your hands.
So this enterprising group of moms and students and community activists
served up a Freedom of Information Act request on the Chicago public
What we learned was, yes, there are 160 schools without libraries.
But we requested the data. Where are those schools? We plotted them on a
map and only 18 of them were north of North Avenue in the city of Chicago.
And what that means to your national viewers, that the other 142 schools
were concentrated in the south and west sides of Chicago, where we have the
most concentrated poverty and segregation.
So there is a profound difference in the types of resources that kids
in different parts of town receive. That`s a big problem. So when Xian
Barrett talks about the lack of air-conditioning, the lack of resources,
his kids talk about the lack of textbooks, this is very real.
SEDER: Melissa, this is -- I mean, this is not uncommon, right? I
mean, we`re looking at people who have no political constituency, or no
political power, so their needs for their children are simply not
MELISSA BOTEACH, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Right. I mean, you
have something like 70 percent of low-income schools that are in need of
some kind of modernization or repairs. And when you`re in a learning
environment where the roof is leaking, where there`s not a library or
enough books, it becomes harder to level the playing field so that low-
income children have the same shot at the American dream as their peers in
higher income groups.
SEDER: And Julie, what about this notion that the -- that -- well,
you know, and I`ve noticed this in terms of even -- in charters in this
city. And I`m not -- you know, obviously, we can`t make any -- a blanket
statement about charters, but the charters are much more rigid. They don`t
allow for the -- the sort of the creativity that you might see at, like,
one of these lab -- these experimental schools.
What of that notion, that, you know, creativity and sort of lateral
thinking is something for wealthier kids and -- but lower-income kids, they
just need to learn how to sort of survive in the business world?
CAVANAGH: Right. I mean, it`s -- you know, it`s inherently racist.
It`s certainly part of the larger class war in this country, and it -- the
very people who are creating these policies choose the exact opposite for
their own children.
And instead of investing hundreds of millions dollars -- and the state
of New York alone Race to the Top was $700 million, and pretty much all of
that money is being used for high-stakes testing. We could be using that
money to provide our teachers, provide music teachers, not just air-
conditioning -- you know, I mean, that`s -- you know, we`re talking the
narrowing of curriculum and the lack of experiences that would really
bridge that achievement gap or that poverty gap.
But unfortunately, our policy makers are taking it this in a
completely different direction. We need early childhood intervention. We
need to level the playing field so that when our children enter 5th grade -
- or, excuse me, kindergarten when they`re 5 years old, you don`t have kids
in the class who are reading on a 2nd grade level and kids in a class who
don`t recognize their name.
That`s not a teacher problem. That`s not a union problem. That`s
society`s problem. And we need to invest in real reforms that will address
JOSH BARRO, BLOOMBERG VIEW: The funny thing, though, I mean, the --
we haven`t gotten to what, as I understand it, are the two key sticking
points that have brought this into the strike and that are -- looks like
are finally being resolved, which are -- are not these conditions issues
and are not compensation issues, it`s the way teachers are going to be
evaluated in the city of Chicago and the extent to which testing of
students is going to flow through to actual evaluations of the staff, and
then how teachers will be recalled (ph) or rehired.
SEDER: We`ll get to that when we come back. And we`ll talk about how
we evaluate teachers and those issues, and if they really are the prominent
issues in this strike.
SEDER: When we left, Josh, you were raising the issue of -- that the
-- this strike was, in your opinion anyways, a function of the issues of
teacher evaluations and the idea of how teachers are laid off.
BARRO: Right. Basically, the two -- what I understand to be the two
most -- the biggest points of contention that they`ve had the most
difficulty agreeing on are how teachers will be evaluated and what role
testing will play in that, and then when teachers are laid off, how rehires
will be done because the district is expecting to close a large number of
schools, and the union basically wants to say, Well, when you hire new
teachers, you have to start rehiring the teachers who were laid off. The
public schools` position is that the -- is that the principal should be
able to decide who they want to hire without regard to some sort of rehire
tree. And so I don`t...
SEDER: We should make it clear, on the layoffs, that`s when they
decide to close a school. So it`s not -- it`s not based upon the
evaluation of the specific teachers there.
SEDER: It`s an evaluation of the school, and so they essentially get
rid of all the teachers.
SEDER: And the union`s saying, We want those teachers who have really
not been evaluated as individuals to be first in line when the -- when you
BARRO: Right. Exactly. And as I understand it -- I know it`s been
fluid, but that they`re talking about something where they`ll class (ph)
them into, like, a high performer and low performer and have that right --
that right only for those who have the relatively high evaluations.
But I -- the -- with regard to these, you know, issues of conditions,
the -- that -- as far as I can tell, they`ve come to terms on that.
They`re actually -- they`ve agreed to rehire about 500 teachers in non-core
subjects in order to be able to offer more things like physical education
and art in more of these schools.
But the real point of contention is, how -- to what extent teachers
should be held accountable for the performance of their students and in
what way that accountability is done, and then how much flexibility
principals should be given in staffing their schools versus trying to give
enhanced job security to teachers in the Chicago public schools.
So I think this is the key question, is how you balance these working
condition issues for teachers with the ability of the public school system
to be able to evaluate teachers and hold them accountable and to staff
itself as it so chooses.
SEDER: OK, go ahead.
YOUNGE: To some extent -- because you`re absolutely right there,
Josh, but to some extent, when the CPS has gone (ph) for teachers, they`ve
really been knocking over (ph) strawmen again and again because I haven`t
met a single teacher who doesn`t believe that there should be some kind of
evaluation. It`s the nature of the evaluation.
SEDER: Right. And I think -- I mean, Josh -- I mean, to be fair,
Josh mentioned that...
YOUNGE: No, I`m agreeing with...
SEDER: And my understanding is that the value added, which is a
measure of -- where you evaluate a teacher based upon what the students do,
as opposed to what the teacher is doing -- the -- to the extent that the
union has a problem with that use of evaluation, they`re only arguing about
to what degree it should go into their evaluation, as opposed to 40 percent
versus 25 percent.
YOUNGE: But specifically tests.
YOUNGE: Specifically tests. I mean, there are...
YOUNGE: ... peer evaluations. There are a range of ways in which
teachers can be evaluated. But when tests are -- and this is the kind of
principal spearhead of this school reform movement -- when tests are at the
forefront, then teachers teach to tests. They don`t teach children, they
BARRO: And that`s fine, but the problem is you have a situation now
where north of 99 percent of teachers are rated satisfactory or better.
And so I`m -- you know, I`d be happy to see an evaluation system that --
that involves more -- more subjective criteria and more peer evaluations,
so long as it`s a system that actually holds teachers accountable for
performance and doesn`t -- doesn`t amount to...
SEDER: Julie, those tests exist, right? I mean...
CAVANAGH: Right. I think the problem is, it would be nicer to have a
more well-rounded evaluation system, but that`s not the policy that`s on
the table. The policy that`s on the table that has come (ph) to be (ph)
raised to the top is a huge percentage of these evaluations are based on
SEDER: OK. Sure.
CAVANAGH: And what we know about test scores is what they really are
a measure of is socioeconomic status. So when we`re talking about children
in areas of high poverty, and we`re talking about using tests to rate and
judge and hire and fire their teachers, we`re talking something that`s very
When you look at the NAEPs, the national standardized tests that are
used in the United States and around the world to sort of rank countries in
terms of educational outcomes, if you account for poverty, the United
States is actually at the top. When you factor in the students who live in
poverty, we fall down to the bottom. Poverty matters.
And I think the union has drawn a line in the sand on this evaluation
issue not because it`s a working condition issue solely for the teacher.
Working conditions are learning conditions. They`re standing up for this
because this is a detrimental policy to children, not because it`s a
detrimental policy for teachers.
BARRO: But the point...
BARRO: ... value-added methodology.
SEDER: Let`s let Matt get in here for one second. Matt, do you want
FARMER: Sure. Let me -- sure. Let me give you just a couple of real
world examples here in Chicago, so your viewers understand how this
standardized test evaluation mechanism would work in the real world, here
in probably the most segregated school system in the country.
Let`s take Harper High School in Chicago`s Englewood neighborhood. In
2011-2012, 27 former and current Harper High School students were shot.
Eight of them were killed. The school is 96 percent low-income students,
98 percent African-American, has a 71 -- 73 percent attendance rat and a 31
percent mobility rate. What that means is that 31 percent of the kids who
start in a Harper classroom at the beginning of the year don`t end up
Now, let`s compare that to the school my youngest child attends.
We`ve got 5 -- excuse me, 6.5 percent low-income kids. We`ve got 5 percent
African-American kids, 97 percent attendance rate, 2.1 percent mobility
When kids at my daughter`s school need help with standardized test
prep, the parents can break out a checkbook, oftentimes, get the kids the
preparation they need. So the fact that the kids at my daughter`s school
know how to take tests is more a function of their background, where they
They`re not worried about their classmate having been shot the
previous week. They`re not among the 15,500 homeless kids in the Chicago
public school system for whom there are currently 370 social workers in 684
You want to know how the kids do on standardized tests, look at their
zip codes. Look at what their parents do for a living.
SEDER: All right, well, we`re going to take a break, and Josh, you
can come back and respond to that. But I mean, we`re setting up this
notion that poverty will implicate even the evaluations of teachers because
we`re evaluating teachers based upon how the students are doing, and
poverty is implicating how those students do in the classroom.
We`ll be right back.
SEDER: So we`ve been talking about how the -- one of the problems in
measuring the ability and the quality of teachers is a function of the
social context in which students enter into the schools, and that`s going
to affect how they perform. And it`s, in many respects, not telling us
anything to judge their performance as a -- as a result of how teachers are
BARRO: Well, if what we`re coming up with here is that it`s
unreasonable to expect teachers who do their jobs well to show up as
increased student performance, that says something extremely depressing
about our ability to improve social outcomes through public education. You
know, the -- I mean, I...
SEDER: That may be the case.
BARRO: I think it`s -- I mean, I think it`s a little strange to
address this as an either/or question, like, Do we need to improve
educational standards and improve the performance of schools, or do we need
to address childhood poverty so -- and crime and other issues so that
children are in a better position to learn?
It seems clear to me that the answer is that we need to do both of
those things. But I think it`s quite dangerous to basically say, Well,
because the situation is dire socially in these urban areas and these poor
areas that we -- you know, we shouldn`t even expect to be able to measure
YOUNGE: ... how much you can expect of one without the other.
There`s a limit to how much educational excellence you can get when kids
are getting shot and they`re not eating breakfast and -- you know, and
everything that they`re...
YOUNGE: ... doing outside of the classroom is so kind of -- is so
SEDER: This is a chicken and egg type of question, I mean, because on
one hand, we expect education to solve poverty. On the other hand, it is
poverty which in some way inhibits the ability for a lot of our kids to be
CAVANAGH: And I would ask the question, you know, is part of this
intentional? The national conversation, specifically the corporate ed
reform conversation, the deformer (ph) conversation is -- you know, poverty
doesn`t matter, and a good teacher in front of every kid is what matters.
And I say this is a convenient way of doing nothing at all when it
comes to poverty. You`re right, we have to do both, but we`re not doing
both. And why isn`t the conversation about doing both? And why aren`t the
policies and the reforms targeted at doing both? And this is why the
Chicago teachers have stood up, and I thank them for doing it.
BARRO: I don`t -- I don`t think it`s the intention...
BARRO: I don`t think that`s like what Bill and Melinda Gates are up
to. I`m sure that -- you know, that there are people who would -- who
would certainly prefer not to spend government money on anti-poverty
programs, I don`t think that`s by and large the agenda -- you know, even
the center for American Progress, which is a major promoter of these sorts
of education reforms.
But I think, you know, the -- I think it`s telling that the reason in
Chicago that you`re going to have all these school closures is the
expansion of these charter schools, but the reason -- nobody forces a
public school parent to send their kid to a charter school.
YOUNGE: Well, actually, they`re doing it...
YOUNGE: If the school in their neighborhood is closed, then,
actually, the more charter schools there are and the less public schools
there are, the less choice you actually have.
SEDER: Matt Farmer, you wanted to add something here?
FARMER: Sure. One of the big concerns teachers and parents have with
respect to standardized testing is this. The mayor campaigned on getting a
longer day for school children. He took forever to unroll the plans as to
how that was going to be funded, what it was going to be -- look like. But
the talking points included, you know, adding art, adding music, adding PE,
et cetera. But the choice as to how to do that was going to be left up to
the schools. Not a lot of talk about how to fund any of that.
Here`s the rub, though. These principals, particularly in the south
and west side of Chicago, have a sword of Damocles hanging over their head,
and that is, if they don`t get their test scores up, the schools are going
to be closed, the teachers are going to be fired.
So if you`re a principal and you`re suddenly told you`ve got an extra
45 minutes or an hour a day and here`s a small pot of money to do something
with it, you know, are you going to start teaching kids how to work a
pottery wheel or are you going to do more kill-and-drill testing? And on
the south and west sides of Chicago, I`m not highly confident that it`s
going to mean a lot of additional art and music.
SEDER: Right. Go ahead, Melissa.
BOTEACH: I was going to say I think -- I think Josh has made an
important point, though, that we can`t let poverty become an excuse that
low-income children can`t succeed and that education interventions can`t
make a difference.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
BOTEACH: I think it`s absolutely both/and and not either/or.
SEDER: Well, the question -- I think the central question is, one, do
we need to address poverty to get those educational outcomes? I mean,
right? I mean, I don`t think anybody`s using that as an excuse. Nobody
wants to leave our kids uneducated. The question is, is it efficient to
not address poverty first and attempt to educate kids who just -- who enter
into kindergarten with 17,000 listening vocabulary -- 17 less...
CAVANAGH: Right. And I agree that poverty is obviously a very big
factor. But if we can invest in early childhood education...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
CAVANAGH: ... if we can make sure that kids are coming to school fed
or that they`re getting school breakfast and school lunch, if we can make
sure that there are community programs, and yes, arts programs to help
address some of the trauma of violent neighborhoods and things like that, I
don`t see a reason why that can`t happen on the same track and
simultaneously to also pursuing education reforms that lift up achievement.
SEDER: Right. Matt...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But what...
SEDER: I`m sorry, Matt Farmer...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Amen.
SEDER: ... Chicago public school parent, thanks for being here.
Julie Cavanagh, New York City school teacher, thanks for joining us.
What exactly does it mean to be poor? Well, coming up next, we`ll
talk about it.
SEDER: We`ve been talking about poverty in relation to education.
But for the bigger picture, listen to how politicians in this country used
to talk about poverty.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The hopes
of the republic cannot forever tolerate either undeserved poverty or self-
LYNDON BAINES JOHNSON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Many Americans
live on the outskirts of hope, some because of their poverty and some
because of their color, and all too many because of both. Our task is to
help replace their despair with opportunity. And this administration
today, here and now declares unconditional war on poverty in America!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SEDER: This type of talk doesn`t happen anymore, at least not from
politicians. Poverty isn`t even part of the national consciousness
anymore. It`s more of an abstraction, and not part of the whole.
And we want to talk about why that is. So joining me now, we have
Tanya Wells, founder of Lives Behind the Numbers, a blog which tracks
poverty in the United States, Stephen Pimpare, the author of "A People`s
History of Poverty in America" and associate professor at Columbia
University School of Social Work, and Steve Gates, program director for the
non-profit group Chicago Youth Advocate programs, and John Reel, assistant
to the director for Senior Services America, Inc., a Maryland non-profit
providing assistance to seniors.
Tanya, I want to start with you. I was a guest on this program I
guess it was about a month ago or a couple weeks ago, and you came on and
you talked about your experience particularly, I guess, in the wake of the
Just tell us a little bit about what the past couple years have been
like for you and your family.
TANYA WELLS, FOOD STAMP RECIPIENT: The past couple of years have been
really rough. Since the recession, we had to finds ways of maintaining our
lives. And one of the things we decided to do was go back to school. Both
of us are in school right now. We do have two children, and with our
school money and assistance (INAUDIBLE) SNAP program, we get our food and
we manage to live.
SEDER: And you went from middle income, upper middle income,
essentially -- both you and your husband lost your jobs.
SEDER: And I mean, give me a sense of just -- now, I know you decided
at that point to sort of -- you had a bit of a dilemma, didn`t you, in
terms of going back to school. Just explain that for us.
WELLS: We sure did. Of course, you have to kind of consider, well,
if you go back to school, where are you going to get the money to pay for
your bills? Where are you going to get the money to pay for your
apartment? Where are you going to move that you can afford to do this off
of your school loans, your Pell grant? And how are you going to do it?
We actually decided that he would go to school first until he
established himself. He did rather well in school. At then that at that
point -- I was still working part-time and kind of maintaining the family
Unfortunately, the part-time work wasn`t enough. We were still having
trouble putting -- providing food on the table of my family. So we decided
to actually apply for assistance for the first time in our lives. And that
was a very devastating moment in our family. It was heart-breaking to me
that I had to go in there and actually apply for services. But I knew it
was something that needed to be done for my children, and you know, it was
something that needed to be done for my family. And I did what I needed to
SEDER: Right. And well, I want to talk more about sort of the
differences of experiences and how it -- it -- how it`s different to sort
of drop from, I guess, middle income into that lower income level. I know,
John, you had, I guess, a similar experience in some respects. And we will
talk about that when we return.
We`ve got to take a quick break, and we will get back to this
SAM SEDER, MSNBC HOST: So, we are talking about how this country
addresses poverty and how it`s addressed it in the past and education as a
panacea for poverty but at the same time, poverty is a limitation on
people`s capacity to be educated.
But I want to go to this campaign ad. We heard a little clip from
Lyndon Johnson, speaking about poverty, in the last segment. But I want to
go to this campaign ad from Lyndon Johnson in 1964.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Poverty is not afraid of character. It is created
anew in each generation, but not by heredity, by circumstances. Today,
millions of American families are caught in circumstances beyond their
control. Their children will be compelled to live lives of poverty unless
the cycle is broken.
President Johnson`s war on poverty has this one goal: to provide
everyone a chance to grow and make his own way, a chance at education, a
chance at training, a chance at a fruitful life.
For the first time in the history of America, this can be done. Vote
for President Johnson on November 3rd. The stakes are too high for you to
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SEDER: And we`re -- I mean, we are laughing here (inaudible), because
it is an amazing thing to hear in a presidential campaign an ad, saying,
"circumstances beyond their control."
And John, just give me a little sense of how circumstances beyond your
control have impacted your life.
JOHN REEL, ASSISTANT TO THE DIRECTOR, SENIOR SERVICE AMERICA INC.:
First, I would go back to a must-read for people who want to understand
what`s going on with poverty and the work in this country.
Studs Terkel had a book called, "Working" and basically he was
chronicling the struggles people went to have work. They would do anything
and go anywhere. My family was one of those families back in the `30s, who
basically had to pick up and move thousands of miles to find work because
there was no work where they lived.
It caused a great disruption of life. So, it`s ironic that we have
this wonderful rhetoric, yet decades, later having spent billions of
dollars elsewhere on much-needed programs that we were sold on and we still
find that poverty, if anything, is worse now than it has been before.
SEDER: We have no stopgaps. I mean I -- in your circumstance, you
had to, essentially, your career was -- the circumstances that you had to
deal with involved your mother`s becoming ill.
REEL: I placed my life on hold. My mother became stricken with
Alzheimer`s. I was running a small business at the time. I elected to
take care of her for nearly 10 years at home, overseeing everything that
The choice was made because, as a single mother bringing me up in the
1940s, with no other help, I couldn`t abandon her. I just thought it
ethical to do something like that. So I elected to take care of her.
But then we, in turn, were abandoned by caregivers who basically would
leave without giving us notice. I came home from my business one time to
find that my mother had been locked in her room. The lady had moved out
without giving notice. And I was forced to close my business within two
weeks of that event.
So, I have never regained what I lost in that transition. My mother
has since died, of course, but it`s something that stays with you. It`s
terribly disruptive. And I mean, it carries over into many constituencies
in our society.
And, Steve, as you sit here, I know that during our -- in the -- our
last panel, we were talking about education as a panacea for poverty. And
I know that you have been working in the South Side of Chicago.
STEVEN GATES, PROGRAM DIRECTOR, YOUTH ADVOCACY PROGRAMS ILLINOIS:
SEDER: With you, under the Youth Advocate Program, tell us about, you
know, what your experience is and what the experience of those youth that
you are working with.
GATES: Well, first of all, it`s funny to sit here and be a part of a
panel and talk about poverty. And I`m the only black person, you know. So
what I deal with in the society that I live in, the poverty is so desolate
The South Side is so segregated that it`s strange, almost, to hear
tell you talk about going and applying for food stamps and that being
something painful when, in Chicago, on the South Side, the food stamp thing
or apply for LINK is almost normal, because the poverty level is so
But there`s hope. The people on the South Side are resourceful. They
And so are you, Tanya. And there`s nothing to be ashamed of. There
are millions of people that utilize the food stamp program. And I have
seen it where they are not trying to go to school, they are trying to feed
four or five kids.
And then when it comes to education, how do you begin to learn if you
are hungry? You know, you talk about the chicken and the egg, the egg
coming first. But how do you focus or talk about test scores when there`s
no lights and no gas? You know, we are talking deep, deep poverty, not
just missing a Citibank payment, but there may be a couple meals that are
missed. And it`s serious.
SEDER: Stephen, that is historically one of the biggest changes in
the `70s and `80s, the number of people living in deep poverty tripled,
didn`t it? Now and deep poverty, we define it as over 40 percent of the --
STEPHEN PIMPARE, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF
SOCIAL WORK, AUTHOR: Think of it as $11,500 or below for a family of four.
SEDER: And the people living in a community --
SEDER: -- of deep poverty is where you have over 40 percent of those
people living in poverty. How has poverty -- else -- how else has it
PIMPARE: Well, so, if I can, I want to pick up on something that
Steve said and pull this back to education. And I hope we will have an
opportunity -- I want to also thank Steve for bringing up the question of
race and suggest that perhaps we also want to talk about this in the
context of the American criminal justice system as well, because I think --
PIMPARE: -- we can`t think seriously about poverty without that.
But when we think about education, there`s this lovely 1967 movie with
Sandy Dennis, called "Up the Down Staircase." Right? It`s one of these
do-gooder young white lady goes into the South Bronx in this instance in
order to uplift the black and brown people and in order to make their lives
better, although sort of one of the better versions of that.
And she runs through all the obstacles those movies always have to run
into. And she takes a walk in her neighborhood -- this is the South Bronx
in the last 1960s, looks a lot like what the South Side of Chicago looks
And the woman she`s with, who`s been around for ages, says look
around. Our kids are here 18 hours a day. We have them for six. That`s
the ratio, 18:6.
And I think too often, when we think about education, as some of the
folks previously talked about, we expect these utterly superhuman efforts
of the people contained in those rooms for those six hours a day, not
realizing the enormous array of forces that are pushing against in those
other 18 hours. I think it`s useful for us to think about poverty in the
same way as well. Right?
I mean, you`ll be accused of Tanya being unrepresentative, right,
because she`s smart and she`s funny and she`s interesting and she`s
energetic and she`s working hard and she`s struggling with that experience.
And you`ll be accused of, well, you are selectively picking people and
you`re not showing what poverty really looks like.
TANYA WELLS, STUDENT: Right.
PIMPARE: This is what poverty looks like. This is very much what the
experience of large numbers of people are. The problem is, is that we`ve
got especially in very poor neighborhoods this enormous array of systems
pushing constantly against them and directing barrier after barrier after
So the simple act of getting food in your stomach and getting to
school without being injured requires superheroic efforts.
And, yet, when we think about poverty, we think about, well, we hold
up the people as examples and say, well, see, more people should do like
this as opposed to suggesting, well, maybe it would make more sense to
focus intensely on all of those obstacles that make it much more difficult
for some people rather than others just to get up in the morning.
GATES: And we do that at YAP. What we do is we meet Maslow`s
hierarchy of needs. OK, we --
SEDER: And YAP is the Youth Advocate Program.
The Youth Advocate Program, right. There`s fundamental needs that
have to be -- food, clothing and shelter, right? Imagine not having that.
SEDER: Let`s come back to that. We are going to take a break and
we`ll come back. And you can tell us about what it is to attempt to break
out of poverty without even the basic subsistence levels of tools and
assets that you need to break out of poverty.
SEDER: So, when we broke, Steve, you were making the point about how
difficult it is to break out of poverty without the basic of assets.
I want to put up a chart from The Heritage Foundation, which we had
mentioned earlier in the program, the source for the welfare, the loosening
of welfare work requirements for welfare ad that Romney put up is from The
Robert Rector, who writes a post, "Surprising Facts about America`s
Poor." This was, I guess, posted about a year ago. The chart shows that
the percent of households who have certain amenities, 92.3 percent have
microwaves, 64.5 percent have a DVD player, 50 percent have Internet
service, 33 percent have a big screen or plasma LCD.
And somehow the argument there is that there is -- how can someone be
poor if they have a television set?
And, Steve, let me get your take on this, because you work in an area
of extreme poverty, and I would imagine that a TV set, one way or another,
is not going to help you get out of poverty.
GATES: Well, let me start by saying that -- let`s address the
GATES: In Chicago, the microwave may be the only tools that these
families had to use and a cheaper tool as opposed to paying a gas bill.
Natural gas prices in the cities, in urban areas, have quadrupled, which
continue to promote oppression and poverty.
With some of our kids -- you talked earlier about poverty opposed to
education. Those kids are so resilient and they are miracles. But there
are programs and there are workers that have given these kids and families
hope, irregardless (sic) of the fact they are poor and they`re desolate
poor. They are underserved. They`re not served.
At Finger High School, that`s one of our partnerships, we have had a
decrease in the dropout rate, about 15 percent. We`ve had a 10 percent
increase in attendance. At YAP, the kids that we were given to serve, of
those kids, 85 percent of our seniors graduated.
SEDER: What accounts for that? Is it intervention?
GATES: It`s people that care, Steve. It`s shows like this. It`s
people that care. It`s systemic organization. It`s partnerships with
government and on-the-ground programs that work and address the Maslow`s
hierarchy of needs first. I can`t learn -- I can`t expect you to learn if
you are hungry. I can`t promote test scores if you are not safe.
Last year`s -- well, since 2008, I think, 1,300 kids were shot. It`s
hard to focus on an art program or an afterschool program when 127 were
killed since 2008.
And that is equated -- there`s a direct correlation with violence and
poverty, education and poverty. You can`t go around it. You can`t go
around it. And I think that this is a serious conversation, but we also
need to have it on the state level, the federal level. There`s not a
blanket cure for it.
Each person or each family, like Tanya and this young man, they are
very different in their strides. You know, with what`s going on. So, we
would have to take an individualized approach. And we do that at YAP, to
kind of meet the needs for each individual family.
PIMPARE: But we shouldn`t leave -- whether any individual is going to
have an opportunity not to get shot on the way to school and get through
with a serious education to the happenstance of whether he and she happens
to be born in a neighborhood where there`s a program like Steve`s.
GATES: If the kids in Chicago, if that was happening in Manhattan or
Long Island, or for us in Naperville or Northbrook, there would be an
PIMPARE: Well, it does, but it happens up in The Bronx and no one
really pays attention to it. Not at the same level.
GATES: But you do, because you do. You will see it -- it will be a
blog, it`ll be in the metro section of the "Sun Times." And those -- they
will have stats. But we have been charged to work with those kids.
I think that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is trying to partner with us and
trying to kind of seduce some of the violence as best he can. But, the
poverty, the violence, there are a bunch of underlying issues that go into
that big old mess.
SEDER: And ultimately, we need to have funding and some type of
policies prescriptions on a federal level that will provide for things like
SEDER: And we are actually going talk about that in the next segment.
Steven Pimpare, author of "A People`s History of Poverty in America";
Steve Gates from Chicago Youth Advocate Program; John Reel from Senior
Service America; thank you all for joining us this morning.
GATES: Thank you.
SEDER: A stunning new report on just how little coverage poverty is
getting during the presidential campaign. That`s up next and how we are
going to address these issues of poverty.
GATES: We were discussing how poverty is represented in our politics,
our culture and our media, that is when it`s even represented at all.
According to a stunning new report from a group, Fairness and Accuracy
in Reporting, poverty is barely registered as an issue in this media`s
coverage of this year`s presidential campaign. The report published this
week found that just 0.2 percent, 0.2 percent of campaign stories have
included substantive discussions of the poverty crisis.
By contrast, 18 percent of campaign stories have mentioned budget
deficits or the national debt.
This obsession with deficit cutting at the expense of poverty is not
unique to the media. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have focused almost
exclusively on slashing spending and at their convention in Charlotte,
Democrats barely made mention of the poverty crisis.
Instead, they touted a budget plan, the Simpson-Bowles Deficit
Reduction Framework, essentially a letter written by Simpson and Bowles,
based upon the fact they couldn`t pass it out of their own commission, that
would impose major cuts to safety net programs like Medicare, Medicaid and
Social Security, even though President Obama personally backed away from
that plan when it was released in 2010.
He told CBS last Sunday that he remains committed to reaching a so-
called grand bargain with Republicans on deficit reduction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are some programs
that are worthy, but we just can`t afford right now. And I`m willing to do
more on that front. I`m, you know, more than happy to work with the
Republicans. And what I`ve said is, in reducing our deficits, we can make
sure that we cut 21/2 dollars for every dollar of increased revenue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SEDER: Back with us at the table now, we have Josh Barro from
"Bloomberg View", Gary Younge from "The Guardian" newspaper and "The
Nation" magazine, Melissa Boteach from the Center for American Progress and
Tanya continues to join us.
Melissa, you tell us -- give me a sense of the implications of cutting
a Medicare or Social Security on poverty.
MELISSA BOTEACH, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Well, the
recent census numbers that just came out show that senior poverty would
have been five times as high last year without Social Security. So it`s an
amazing program, social insurance wise, that keeps seniors able to have
dignity in their old age.
But a program that I think doesn`t get enough attention actually is
Medicaid, not just for poor children, which it plays a critical role in
ensuring the health and development building blocks of poor children, but
70 percent of people in nursing homes eventually use Medicaid. And it`s a
program that has enormous impacts on people with disabilities, vulnerable
seniors and low income children.
And the Romney-Ryan budget plan would propose to kick about 31 million
people off the program.
SEDER: Right. And we just heard President Obama, also was sort of --
at least implied that he was willing to put cuts to Medicare, at the very
least, on the table and we have seen cuts to Medicaid.
Josh, what accounts for this? I mean, is it simply a difference in
view as to what can help poverty or -- ?
JOSH BARRO, "BLOOMBERG VIEW": Well, I think the president actually
deserves more credit on this than he gets from the Left, because I think
the stealth issue in this campaign is these poverty programs and the
question of, in an environment in the long term, where cuts to spending are
inevitable compared to the current policy trend, where Medicare is
essentially supposed to double as a share of the economy over the next 30
years, that`s not going to happen. There are going to be cuts.
The president has actually quite forcefully pushed for expansions of
aid to the poor programs, I mean, principally through his health care law,
which has an enormous expansion of Medicaid and also creates a new middle
and lower middle class entitlement for health care.
And he`s made prioritization decisions where they -- where there were
substantial cuts to Medicare as part of the health care law.
His proposal on defense spending will take the defense budget down to
less than 3 percent of the economy, which is a lower level than we`ve seen
in about 70 years.
And basically, what the president has done is not just make a
commitment to anti-poverty programs, he`s also found cuts elsewhere in the
budget that will make it possible to do that spending on those programs;
whereas what Romney and Ryan have laid out is a proposal that says we are
going to increase defense spending, we`re going to shield Medicare from any
cuts over the next 10 years, essentially rescinding a 10 percent cut in
Medicare that was part of the president`s health care law, and we are going
to cut taxes.
And the thing they don`t really say, except they say it explicitly on
Medicaid, is that the only way to make that math work is with big cuts in
programs that are particular important to the poor.
GARY YOUNGE, JOURNALIST: Well, I would disagree with Josh here,
because I think that he`s not criticized enough. He hasn`t made a single
speech on poverty. The word poverty appears only three times in all of his
State of the Union speeches. He pledged when he was standing that he would
half poverty in 10 years, that it could be halved. And it`s gone up.
He said that he would raise the minimum wage and he hasn`t. Now I
know that there are all sorts of obstacles (inaudible) some of these
things, but the fact is that we have got a president who stood on the
slogan of "Yes, we can," but increasingly, the slogan for his re-election
is, "It could be worse."
SEDER: Well, Tanya, let me ask you this, because it is -- I think
both what Gary and Josh are saying is true. We have not heard much of the
words poverty spoken by the president. But, at the same time, particularly
in the stimulus, there were expansions of programs which had helped people
TANYA WELLS, STUDENT: Correct.
SEDER: So you know, at the end of the day, what`s more important to
you? I mean, I guess it`s obviously to have that assistance is more
important in some respects --
SEDER: -- but we need to further these programs; we need somebody to
actually make the case.
WELLS: Well, what I think is the problem is that they really don`t
put the human face behind these numbers. They are cutting all these
numbers and they`re forgetting that every number that they`re cutting here
represents someone`s life. You know, and they totally forget about that.
So you have these children on Medicaid and you are going to cut those
numbers. Well, what are you going to do with those children? Now those
children are going to be sick. They have no way of getting medical
attention. What do you do? Do we let them die? Do we let them stay sick?
Why not, instead of cutting the numbers that provide these services
for these people, try making the programs better. Try making them more
efficient. Try doing a paperless effect on all the programs. Try uniting
them more. Try to make cuts in those parts instead of the cuts that are
actually giving the benefits to the people.
The people need this help right now. This country is in poverty. If
we were talking about viruses or something that would spread on 15 percent
of the population, we would be immediately acting upon it. Tons of
resources would go into this. But, no, we are talking poverty. So,
nothing gets done.
SEDER: Well, we are going to take a break. You mentioned the idea
that these politicians don`t really see people, they see numbers.
When we come back, we are going to listen to Mitt Romney`s
explanation, his interpretation of what middle income is, and it may give
you a sense of how out of touch he may be.
SEDER: So, Mitt Romney on George Stephanopoulos, was -- well, was
asked, what constitutes middle income? Let`s see that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The
fundamentals of my tax policy are these: number one, reduce tax burdens on
middle income people. So no one can say my plan is going to raise taxes on
middle income people, because principle number one is keep the burden down
on middle income taxpayers.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC HOST: Is $100,000 middle income?
No, middle income is $200,000, $250,000 and less.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SEDER: So what of that, Josh? I mean, you made a good point.
BARRO: This is the exactly the same standard the president has laid
out. You know, he talks about, you know, he`s protecting tax cuts for
middle income Americans and he won`t raises taxes on you if you make less
than $200,000 a year.
And this is this bizarre and destructive idea we have in this
political discourse that basically almost nobody is rich and almost nobody
should be subject to paying more tax.
So it`s a ridiculous stance that Mitt Romney has taken, but it`s not a
product of him being some out-of-touch rich guy. It`s, you know, the --
SEDER: Not necessarily.
SEDER: It`s the same --
BARRO: Well, I mean, I`m -- he might be an out-of-touch rich guy, but
this isn`t good evidence of it because it`s where -- it`s where the
president is. And frankly, I think, you know, the choice of Occupy Wall
Street movement emphasized the 99 percent.
Ninety-nine percent of American households have incomes south of
somewhere around $400,000. So if you are trying to establish this class
solidarity with nearly everybody as the oppressed, then you`re going to end
up with discussions like this of about how you`re middle income if you make
less than $250,000.
YOUNGE: Somebody is taking his lesson from Occupy Wall Street?
BARRO: I think there`s become this broad, left-and-right idea about
what it means to be middle class that has become ridiculous.
YOUNGE: Well, I would disagree. I mean, particularly coming from
Britain where we have class kind of written into our DNA with the Royal
Family, that there is this kind of -- there is this issue in America where
91 percent of people believe they are middle class. Now that can`t be
true. I mean, middle between what and what?
And so in the absence of a conversation about class, all you talk
about poor and rich. And that`s very relative. I think 19 percent of
Americans in 2000 thought they were in the top 1 percent. So nobody knows
what`s poor. And instead of talking about who has power, you talk about
who has war. And that is a kind of very nebulous conversation that allows
things like this.
BOTEACH: And you have the stealth then, what you have, this sort of
conversation that is very superficial up here and then that sort of has a
shield over what the actual policies are, because if you look at Romney`s
actual tax and budget plans, he`s proposing $2.9 trillion in additional tax
cuts to the top 1 percent and cuts of an equal amount to food stamps, to
supplemental security income for the blind and disabled, to school lunch,
to refundable tax credits for low wage working families.
So we literally can line it up and see nearly $3 trillion in cuts for
the poor, about $3 trillion in tax cuts for the 1 percent. And instead of
having a conversation about those budget choices, we`re having a
conversation about this -- where the line should fall.
BARRO: And I think to your point about the gap between rhetoric and
policy for the Democrats, I think there was a very interesting moment at
the Democratic convention with Bill Clinton talking about Medicaid, where
he made this very succinct and, I think, correct pitch about why you should
care that Romney`s proposal cuts Medicaid spending by about a third over
the next decade.
And he`s like, don`t you know that most of Medicaid spending is
actually for long-term care for -- mostly for disabled elderly adults and
children? And he doesn`t know what is going to happen to them if we cut
SEDER: I mean, essentially, he`s making the argument that Medicaid
should not just be viewed as a program for the poor, but it should be
viewed as a middle class social insurance program because, like you say, we
have elderly people who are on Medicare and they spend down their assets.
They spend their way through Medicare. They go into nursing homes and it`s
Medicaid that picks them up.
BARRO: But so I think Bill Clinton figured out that it`s a winning
political issue to defend Medicaid from proposals to cut it deeply. But it
seems like other Democrats just don`t want to talk about it.
The president didn`t talk about it in his speech. And I think it`s a
bizarre omission on the part of the Democrats, especially because they are,
to a significant extent, there on the substance of the policy. They just
don`t want to talk about it because they think it`s a losing issue.
SEDER: Well, I mean, let`s show an interesting bar graph. This comes
from Larry Bartels, the American Political Science Association, September
29th, 2011. It shows that 87 percent of wealthy people surveyed by the
researchers said that budget deficits were a very important problem. Only
56 percent of wealthy people surveyed said child poverty was a very
I mean, theoretically, what is -- why would we even be worried about
deficits, right? I mean, ostensibly it`s because it would impact our
economy and then, I guess, presumably, you would have more children in
poverty at the -- in the worst-case scenario.
Yet the -- we are seeing our political elite, essentially, our
establishment, not even the elite. I mean, this is the discourse through
following these policy prescriptions.
When we come back, we`ll talk more about that and what, perhaps, needs
to -- what can be done about it.
SEDER: We have been talking about the lack of responsiveness of our
policymakers to poverty on some level or at least rhetorically in some
Josh made the case that President Obama has actually been pretty good
on this accord.
Here is what Paul Ryan had to say at the Values Voters Summit on
Thursday in terms of what the Democrats have done for the poor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN, GOP VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Here we are, four
years of economic stewardship under these self-proclaimed advocates of the
poor. And what do they have to show for it? More people in poverty and
less upper mobility wherever you look.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SEDER: Now we should say that the poverty numbers, obviously, started
going up in the wake of the financial crisis. And social mobility has been
a problem for about 25 to 30 years in this country.
But, Tanya, give me your response to that, because you were hoping to
hear more from the Democrats at their convention about poverty.
WELLS: I was. I was a little disappointed to hear nothing mentioned
about poverty. There was maybe two instances where they referred to
poverty. I did feel a little bit of satisfaction when I heard them say, we
don`t leave a man behind. That`s a very famous motto in the U.S.
And that is one of the things that gave me hope and told me, hey, they
are still looking out for me. But I do realize that, if they mention
poverty, it will be demonized by the other side. And that is unfortunate.
When did we get to a country where helping the poor became something
that should be shameful? And you know, it -- that was very disappointing.
But at the same time, I felt relieved to know that somewhere they are still
thinking about it, whether they mention it on TV or not. You can tell they
are still trying to implement something, because they do realize that
poverty is an issue.
SEDER: How did we get to the point where the idea of providing
services to the poor is problematic and, at the same time, Paul Ryan is
criticizing for no more responsiveness to it?
BOTEACH: I mean, I think we have come to a point we`re at this sort
of radical individualism, where everybody is out for himself or herself.
And I don`t think we can also ignore the racial implications of the
conversation as well.
I mean, you had Ronald Reagan with the welfare queen, you know, people
seeing the poor as the other, as this problem over there that`s for
somebody else, when in reality, poverty can`t be discussed separately from
issues of an economy that works for all or a budget that works for all.
It`s part and parcel of those issues.
And as Tanya said, in America, we look out for each other. I mean,
you have to realize, that when we leave people on the economic margins, we
don`t have our full team on the playing field. And so that`s inhibiting
economic competitiveness and ultimately economic growth and deficit
reduction are related. And so cutting poverty will actually stabilize our
fiscal outlook in the long term.
BARRO: I think, though, that there are two broad sets of things the
government needs to do in order to combat poverty. One is programs that
aimed at alleviating poverty and raising standards of living among the poor
and things like Medicaid and food stamps and such.
And the other is ensuring a robust and growing economy that has low
unemployment and where people can get jobs and support themselves. And I
think that the government has not done well on that score, here or in most
of the rest of the Western world over the last few years.
And I think the administration does bear a lot of the blame for that.
And I think that`s the right place to criticize them for it (inaudible).
SEDER: What would you have liked to have to seen them do?
BARRO: Well, for one thing, I would have liked them to -- seen them
put more pressure on the Fed earlier for more accommodative monetary
policy. I think what we saw from the Fed this week is a very good thing
that will grow the economy and push unemployment down. It should have
happened two years ago.
Obviously, the president doesn`t directly control that, but he could
have more aggressively tried to get people who want that (inaudible) --
SEDER: But, really, isn`t fiscal stimulus going to be a little bit
more helpful on that accord?
BARRO: I think they are, to some extent, interchangeable. And they
both matter in that regard. I think the president got as much fiscal
stimulus as he could have out of Congress.
And I think once it became clear that he couldn`t get anymore, he
needed to pivot to plan B and I think that he really didn`t do that. And I
think he -- also there were other things could have been done on housing
that would have mattered at the margin.
SEDER: I think you`re right on that.
YOUNGE: I want to back up to something that was said there, which is
about the racialization of poverty, because there is this -- I think it was
Gingrich who said, if I`m elected, I`ll go to the NAACP and I`ll tell black
people you don`t need food stamps, you need a job, that kind of
characterization Obama is a food stamp president.
There`s this notion that has the welfare queen thing of kind of that
poverty being somehow is about black people and Latinos and non-white
people, which is actually not true. About half the people who are poor in
this country are white.
But by racializing poverty in that way, they manage to leverage
electorally a kind of section of the white working class, who, instead of
thinking about their own condition and actually saying, well, actually I`m
as poor as you are over there, are saying you have got mine, that somehow
you have got my food stamps, you have got my welfare checks. And so --
SEDER: I don`t think it`s a coincidence that when we`re looking for
political ads that mention poverty, we need to go back to 1964-65 that
mention that poverty is a function of circumstances that may be beyond the
control of the individual. We don`t see very much talk in political
campaigns as an asset to run on, advocating or diminishing poverty since
really the mid- to late `60s.
YOUNGE: Not least because, after `65, you get the Nixon strategy, the
Southern strategy, the code in racialization (inaudible) so welfare becomes
a racial word. So even Medicare in some of those ads becomes a racialized
So, none of these things then become neutral. You are actually not
talking about the poor. You are talking about black people, even though
the well majority of black people are not poor. It becomes a black thing.
And therefore I think that the Democrats don`t want to (inaudible) and the
Republicans want to kind of -- just kind of put out there like bait.
SEDER: Talking about the poor has become toxic in our political
environment, and to the detriment of many, many poor people.
Did you want to -- I`m sorry.
WELLS: Well, one of the things that -- I think we need to get more
people talking about poverty. We need to get the poor people talking about
poverty because, ultimately, they are the ones that are suffering through
But who is out there asking them, well, what do you think? What do
you think should happen? What do you need? What kind of services need to
be fixed for you to get that advantage so that you can go back into the
workforce? No one is asking the right people what to do.
When they talk budget cuts, budget cuts. But ultimately who is a
budget cut helping? Is it helping a single person? No. Is keeping a
program and keeping it with the budget that is has and fixing it so that it
can actually help people, who is that helping? It`s helping millions. So
there`s a big difference there.
SEDER: What we should know next for the news week ahead, coming up
SEDER: So what should you know for the coming week?
If you think that obesity disqualifies someone from being considered
poor, it may surprise you to know that lack of access to cheap, healthy
food choices is a common signature of impoverished communities.
But you should also know that this week a big source of cheap fast
food, McDonald`s, will begin posting calorie counts on all of its menus.
You should know the move is expected to create pressure for other fast food
chains to do the same.
But you should also know that they are going to have to follow suit by
a deadline that`s not yet been determined. And you should know that the
reason we`ll have a deadline for change with more than 20 locations to post
their calorie counts is because of a federal law popularly known as
Despite a new report from Heritage Foundation last week, you should
know that marriage is not, in fact, a get-out-of-poverty-free card.
According to Stephanie Koontz (ph) from the Council on Contemporary
Families, poverty, not surprisingly, appears to make marriages worse. So
the fact that many live -- women living in poverty are single or divorced
may have less do with their marital status than it does with the simple
fact that poverty makes it tougher to stay married.
You should also know that half the children living in families that
are impoverished or just above poverty are living with their married
You should that tomorrow, September 17th, is not only the one-year
anniversary of UP WITH CHRIS HAYES, it`s also the one-year anniversary of
the Occupy movement; most notably, Occupy Wall Street.
You should know, while the Occupy movement no longer captures the
headlines with massive rallies the way it did a year ago, it`s succeeded in
changing our national discourse. Even Republicans now have started talking
about the 99 percent and the 1 percent.
And you should know that Occupy and its offspring continue to draw
attention, not just to Wall Street, but to specific issues that bring Wall
Street into real people`s lives -- student loans, foreclosures, even public
And you should also know that the only way Occupy has a chance to
effect real change on these issues is if people participate.
Finally, you should know that lawyers for whistleblower Bradley
Birkenfeld announced this week that the IRS will award him $104 million for
revealing what he and others at UBS did to help clients evade U.S. taxes in
a case which has ultimately made Switzerland far less welcoming to U.S. tax
Birkenfeld`s whistleblowing led to the collection of more than $5
billion in unpaid taxes from 14,000 wealthy Americans, who participated in
a 2009 tax amnesty program meaning, for instance, that if one had
hypothetically engaged in this illegal Swiss bank tax evasion scheme and
then one hypothetically took advantage of said amnesty program, such
activity would be found in one`s hypothetical 2009 tax returns, if one were
to release such returns of one`s, such as it is.
I want to find out what my guests think we should know for the week
coming up. So let`s start with Tanya.
WELLS: What I think we should know for the upcoming week is that,
considering a lot of media is focusing on the poverty issues right now
because of the numbers that are coming out this week, more people should
take advantage of this and come out and speak up about the poverty issues
and about being in poverty so maybe we can get some political action going
to help out more people in this country.
SEDER: That`s a great idea.
BARRO: What you should know for this week and for many weeks coming
after it is that, based on last week`s announcement, the Fed is going to
keep up quantitative easing activities at a pace of $40 billion plus a
month, not just for a while, but until the unemployment situation improves
And this is a big change from what the Fed has done in the past. The
Fed has previously taken action to prevent us from going into deflation.
But really now what they`re saying is that they`re going to keep the foot
on the gas until people are actually really going back to work, so long as
inflation doesn`t start to spiral basically out of control.
So I think that this is a big shift in policy that`s really going to
matter a lot and I am hopeful that it`s actually going to produce a lot of
economic growth and, finally, a significant reduction in the unemployment
SEDER: Quickly, do you think that the political pressure that
Bernanke felt from Republicans -- you know, we had Rick Perry saying all
sorts of things. Do you think this is why it`s taken so long?
BARRO: I don`t know exactly why. I mean, the thing is, Bernanke
doesn`t have direct personal control over this. There`s a board that he
has to get to vote, and he got an 11-1 vote for this action. So I think
part of it is that there was previously more internal resistance in the
He didn`t want to be doing a really aggressive policy with a lot of
internal dissenters making noise against him. So I think something
happened that allowed him to consolidate support. I think the message
finally got through that we`re just going to continue this limp recovery
forever if the Fed doesn`t do something.
If I were really cynical, I would say that Bernanke has decided the
writing is on the wall and Obama`s going to get reelected and you know, the
next president has to reappoint him. And Romney would want tight policy.
And Obama I suppose would want loose policy, although he hasn`t said
anything about it over the last four years. So I think maybe that`s the
SEDER: Gary Younge from "The Guardian" newspaper?
YOUNGE: I think you should know, that despite almost inevitable
claims to the contrary, if the Chicago teachers` strike is settled, it
won`t be a victory for Rahm Emanuel. I think quite the opposite. If he
wanted a solution, he would have gone for it from the get-go.
SEDER: Melissa Boteach?
BOTEACH: Well, we`ve talking about the national poverty numbers. But
on Thursday, (inaudible) going to release a state and local poverty
numbers. And so this will be a chance for people to take this conversation
we`ve been having to their own communities.
And I would urge people to go to halfinten.org. We will have two
interactive maps, that where you can easily put in your zip code, find your
I want to thank my guests today, Tanya Wells from the blog
livesbehindthenumbers; Josh Barro from "Bloomberg View;" Gary Younge from
"The Guardian" newspaper and "The Nation" magazine; and Melissa Boteach
from the Half in Ten Poverty Prosperity Program at the Center for American
Thank you all.
And thank you for joining us.
We`ll be back next weekend, Saturday and Sunday, at 8:00 am Eastern
time. Well, I won`t be back. But Chris Hayes will be.
Coming up next is Melissa Harris-Perry. On today`s "MHP," Melissa has
a panel of small business owners to find out what they really want or don`t
want from the government, and an exclusive interview with author Maya
Angelou. That`s coming up next on "MHP."
I`m Sam Seder. Thanks to Chris for letting me sit in his chair and
the entire staff of UP for making me look good.
And thank you for watching. You can find me online at
majorityreport.fm. We`ll see you next week for the return of Chris Hayes,
right here on UP.
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