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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Guess where it’s hardest to escape poverty?

NYT poverty trap heat map
David Leonhardt provides us with the above map showing the rate at which people escape poverty at various locations in the United States. And the deep south red states are appropriately red. For all their talk about giving people in poverty “a hand up, not a hand out," they seem to do a remarkable lousy job of doing either. And of course, another region hard hit is the rust belt, once a union stronghold where fair wages prevailed, which has fallen into hard times with the decline in organized labor and the resulting hits to the economy and tax base that comes with slowly sinking wages.

In Wisconsin, we too have a spot of red. That’d be Milwaukee County mostly, formerly run by our current Governor, Scott Walker. While it’s tempting to blame Milwaukee’s situation on Walker, it’s probably truer to blame it on former Gov. Tommy Thompson, who pioneered “welfare reform" that cuts people off of assistance for life after a set period of time. After Thompson’s legislation passed, rent-to-own, car title loan, and payday lender outfits sprouted up all over the place like mushrooms, leaving people trapped in poverty by tying a boat anchor to their legs in the form of a debt trap. Billed as a way to help people escape poverty, welfare reform has had the opposite result — leaving me to wonder if feeding the poor to usurious wolves wasn’t the plan all along. It’s telling that right next to the Milwaukee area on the map is the Madison area, where those crazy, pie-in-the-sky liberal economic policies nearly double the rate at which people escape poverty comparatively. Where Milwaukee’s rate is 5.6%, Madison drags the percentage — despite the anti-poor policies of the state — up to 10.2%.

In any case, we need a reversal of Republican policies, rather than a continuation of them. “Poor kids don’t exactly have a great chance in life no matter where they live, but in the South, they have almost no chance at all," writes Kevin Drum. “If you take a look at the policy preferences of Southern governors and legislatures, that’s apparently exactly the way they like it."

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