April 2020


  1. Viral Inequality
  2. How the Civil War Changed the Way Americans Thought About Economic Inequality
  3. Poor people experience greater financial hardship in areas where income inequality is greatest
  4. Why Are “Some Kids Worth Less”?

Viral Inequality


Far from merely reflecting an unequal distribution of economic means, rising inequality comes with a broad range of additional toxic side effects, many of which the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown into sharp relief. With the pandemic transforming life around the world before our eyes, this is a problem that can no longer be ignored.

LONDON – Not everyone experiences pandemics in the same way. A tiny sliver of the world’s population has access to high-quality health care should they succumb to infection. Most of those performing low-paying shift work or agricultural jobs do not. People suffering from chronic disease such as obesity, diabetes, or cancer – including roughly 60% of American adults and a rising proportion of their African, Asian, and Latin American counterparts – are more at risk of dying than those who are younger and healthier.

The COVID-19 pandemic is serving as a stark reminder of the many inequalities that exist between and within countries. While virtually everyone will suffer from the disease – including wealthier people who picked up the coronavirus while travelling – the poor will be the most affected. Hundreds of millions of people are at risk of severe illness in low-income countries, most of which lack the economic resources and medical infrastructure to fight back against the virus. No part of the world will be more in need of support than Africa, South Asia, and Latin America.

Even before the coronavirus outbreak and its dramatic transformation of all our lives, inequality was already one of the most incendiary issues on the global economic agenda. In addition to being a core grievance of populists and street protesters just about everywhere, it has also been at the center of a flagship United Nations report, and has even become a leading concern of business leaders surveyed in the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Risk Report.

So, the scale of global concern with rising inequality is entirely justified. After all, inequality is a key contributor to the political gridlock, social anxiety, and rising tide of nationalism that has swept the world in recent years, and which is now complicating the response to the COVID-19 crisis. Inequalities in income and wealth, access to health and child care, and many other domains will now shape the trajectory of the pandemic over the coming months and years, especially when fatality rates begin soaring in communities suffering from acute deprivation and disadvantage. Social isolation simply is not an option for multiple family members crowded into a single-room home or for those who must commute to put food on the table.


The story of international inequality in recent decades is not straightforward. Income and wealth gaps between countries have actually narrowed, a sign of progress in many lower- and middle-income settings. Yet levels of inequality within countries are steadily rising. A tiny elite – the so-called 1% – is pulling away from the rest pretty much everywhere, and not just in rich Western countries, but in poorer ones as well.

The fact that the super-rich emerged unscathed from the 2008 financial crisis has contributed to simmering resentments among a middle class that suffered deeply from that episode. When the rich flaunt their wealth – including fleeing to their bunkers and remote islands when faced with a crisis, jumping the queue to get tested for COVID-19, or disproportionately benefiting from treatment and care – public anger and discontent predictably will grow. When poorer people cannot afford to buy bread, much less a hospital bill, their anger turns to protest and radicalism. The situation has the makings of a political and social time bomb.

The first dimension of the inequality story – declining inequality between countries – is the natural result of developing countries growing much faster than richer countries. On average, incomes have long been converging globally. The other dimension – rising inequality within countries – has several causes. The main reason, however, is a matter of public policy: governments have cut taxes for the wealthy while slashing social and economic-redistribution policies that benefit those at the middle and bottom of the income distribution.

The regressive policies driving inequality within countries started during the era of US President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and continued into the years of US President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Elsewhere, in countries where virtually everyone was poor in the 1970s – Brazil, China, India, Russia, and South Africa – poverty reduction since the 1990s has been accompanied by soaring incomes among a thin wedge of elites.

Long before COVID-19 started spreading around the world, within-country inequality was growing at different speeds depending on where one looked. Since the 1980s, it increased most rapidly in China, India, Russia, and North America, and grew more moderately in western Europe.

Income inequality remained stubbornly high but stable in the Middle East, in large Latin American countries like Brazil, and in much of Sub-Saharan Africa. It shot up from already high levels in countries like South Africa, which is now ranked as the most unequal country on Earth. The different speeds at which inequality grew within countries reflects their unique economic circumstances and their particular blend of policies for managing trade, deregulation, taxation, public spending, and redistribution.


Further complicating the global picture, a few very large countries are exerting an outsized effect on global inequality. Consider the cases of China, Brazil, India, and Indonesia. Collectively home to more than three billion people, these countries account for humanity’s largest-ever reduction in extreme poverty over the past four decades.

In China alone, average incomes have doubled for each of the past four decades, pulling more than 800 million people out of deep poverty. In the 1980s, East Asia accounted for roughly half of all people living in extreme poverty (defined by the World Bank as an income below $1.90 per day), compared to just 9% today. Still, large pockets of deprivation remain. Roughly one-tenth of the world’s population lives in extreme poverty, including over 420 million people in Africa.

Meanwhile, wealth has become increasingly concentrated at the very top globally. According to Oxfam, between 1980 and 2016, the world’s richest 1% captured twice as much as the bottom 50%. During that time, the lower-middle class experienced improvements (especially in China), while the bottom 10% experienced little change.

But since the 2008 financial crisis, with some exceptions, job losses and stagnating wages have persisted, and yawning inequalities within countries have deepened, creating widening divides between the haves and have-nots. In the United States, for example, the incomes of the top 1% have risen seven times faster than those of the bottom 20%, and the top 0.1% now takes in 188 times more than the bottom 90%. Globally, the combined wealth of the richest 2,200 billionaires in 2019 exceeded $9 trillion, the equivalent of the total income of the poorest 160 countries combined.

Wealth is also concentrated geographically. One-quarter of the world’s billionaires now live in the US, and Chinese billionaires will soon outnumber European ones. These trends represent a clear failure to prevent a small minority from capturing the value added of economic growth. Unfortunately, this story is not new. In the US, real (inflation-adjusted) wages have been more or less stagnant for almost half a century despite ongoing growth. While top earners have seen their incomes rise substantially, lower- and middle-class laborers have fallen further behind.


The inability to translate economic growth into higher wages is dangerous. Like climate change and pandemics, inequality is a threat magnifier, and has already contributed to growing anger and instability around the world. Higher levels of economic inequality tend to erode support for democracy and democratic institutions across all social classes. It is little wonder that trust in government, political parties, and state services has plummeted – especially in liberal democracies – over the past decade.

Lost public trust sets the stage for deeper social and political unrest. Although frustrations will play out differently in each country, popular outrage tends to seize on issues of state corruption and excessive concentrations of power and privilege in the hands of a distant elite. Anger about inequalities in income, housing, schooling, and political power has been a common thread of mass demonstrations in Bogotá, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Istanbul, Paris, and Santiago throughout 2019.

Inequality is also bad for the economy, because it creates a downward spiral of slower growth, political paralysis, and polarization. The greater the inequality, the more constraints there tend to be on talent, social mobility, and access to skills training and education. These limitations undermine productivity and ultimately stunt economic growth.

At the same time, the political volatility generated by inequality creates uncertainty, thereby undermining investment and business confidence. According to the International Monetary Fund, a one-percentage-point increase in inequality decreases long-run national GDP by 2.5-3%, on average, for middle-income countries.

It is not just economic inequalities, but also gender- and ethnic-based disparities that hamper growth. In most countries around the world, women earn about one-quarter less than men for performing the same job. Meanwhile, other inequalities remain hidden, including the daily constraints experienced by elderly and disabled people and the discrimination against sexual minorities and other groups on the basis of race, caste, and religion.


There are spatial and temporal dimensions to the global inequality story as well. For example, if measured by Gini coefficients, despite improvements, Latin America is one of the world’s most unequal regions. Moreover, beneath the surface, there are deep urban-rural divides around the world. Major cities are also major drivers of inequality. Vibrant cities such as São Paulo, Stockholm, and Sydney act as magnets, absorbing capital and talent from other cities and the hinterland.

But even within cities, where one is born and raised correlates strongly with one’s income later in life. For example, the closely connected neighborhoods of Pinheiros and Parelherios in São Paulo individually register human-development scores similar to those of Switzerland and Iraq, respectively. Inequalities in income and access to high-quality education and health care also correlate with more unplanned teenage pregnancies and higher infant mortality rates.

The extent of inequality often makes the difference between life and death. In Brazil, a one point increase in the Gini coefficient translates into 32 more births per 10,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19. And these newborns are at a higher risk of premature death: a 1% increase in the Gini coefficient is associated with a 3% higher infant-mortality rate.

Higher inequality also has disturbing side effects in the form of violent crime and armed conflict. According to a 2002 World Bank study, inequality predicts around half of the variance in murder rates around the world. This is painfully obvious in the Americas, where over 40% of all the world’s homicidal violence occurs. In Mexico, a one-point increase in the Gini coefficient translates into a 36% increase in the homicide rate. In the US, multiple measures of inequality correlate strongly with higher firearm homicide rates across all ethnicities.

Around the world, economic, educational, ethnic, and gender inequalities between various groups increase the risk of armed conflicts breaking out. There is even evidence that the larger the gaps in income and other forms of inequality, the higher the rates of reported victimization. This may help to explain why South Africa and a number of countries and cities in countries such as Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico experience above-average levels of collective and interpersonal violence.

A Gallup poll asked almost 150,000 people in 142 countries about their perceptions of crime and safety across four measures: whether they had been assaulted in the previous year; whether they felt safe walking home at night; whether they have had property stolen; and whether they trust the local police. When these results were tested against each country’s Gini coefficient, they revealed a strong and positive relationship. In Venezuela, over 80% of the population does not feel safe walking home, whereas 95% of Norwegians feel the opposite. Finally, inequality has been linked to a range of other externalities from increased obesity and anxiety to higher rates of mental illness and suicide.


Given all of the evidence of the harms wrought by rising inequality, it is clear that closing the gaps between the haves and have-nots should be a top priority for policymakers. Besides, there are many ways to reduce inequality that also would generate significant positive economic effects, as well as health, education, and security benefits. But there is no silver bullet. As the 2019 UN Human Development Report shows, policies to boost income and improve redistribution are necessary but not sufficient. Each country also needs a wide array of measures to reduce disparities and improve opportunities, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable.

Specifically, governments, businesses, and civic organizations need to do much more to correct the imbalance in services that rich and poor neighborhoods receive. There also need to be stronger policies and more investments in employment and income opportunities for deprived communities, and in health, education, and social protections. These issues will not go away after the COVID-19 pandemic recedes.

We know that these kinds of inequality-reduction interventions work. In Latin America, improvements in educational coverage – especially in early childhood and secondary schooling – have helped to reduce the earnings gap between skilled and low-skilled workers. And similar other strategies have been used to transfer more income to the poor (though that progress tapered off after the commodity boom of the 2000s).

Fortunately, many of the measures needed to address inequality are already encapsulated in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and other initiatives like the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just, and Inclusive Societies. Smart strategies span the gamut from increasing the minimum wage and expanding collective-bargaining power to ending discrimination against women and girls. Most of these interventions would rely on higher, more progressive income taxes, earned-income discounts at lower income levels, taxable child benefits, and universal minimum income policies.

Even when unlimited quantitative easing, job guarantees, and basic-income programs are launched to mitigate the economic fallout of COVID-19, improving tax collection will be crucial to ensure that governments have the funds needed to invest in health, education, and social wellbeing. In OECD countries, tax and spend policies like those listed above have historically helped to reduce inequality by over 25% and poverty by over 50%. This requires, among other measures, the closing of tax havens and loopholes.

Just as the world pivots to address the catastrophic effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic, inequality reduction demands a similar sense of urgency. The price of inaction compounds over time in the form of not just increased inequality but growing frustration and social unrest. Ensuring a more level playing field means overcoming both economic imbalances and entrenched political and power relations. The wealthy need to give up some of their power and privileges and accept that they should pay more in taxes.

While our short-term focus is on flattening the curve and discovering a vaccine, the COVID-19 crisis requires that we fundamentally rethink politics and economics at the global level. To limit the suffering – including when and where the next pandemic strikes – and ensure that people can achieve their full potential and flourish, we need a comprehensive plan to address entrenched inequalities in a post-COVID world.



By                            :               Ian Goldin and Robert Muggah

Date                         :               March 27, 2020

Source                     :               Project Syndicate


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How the Civil War Changed the Way Americans Thought About Economic Inequality


In the run-up to the 2020 election, some Americans are increasingly worried about the immense power that wealth plays in the country’s democracy. Those concerns would not have surprised Americans in 1776 — they assumed that property and political power were intertwined. Indeed, one had to own property to vote, although in America (unlike England) landholding was widespread and therefore most free men could vote. But even as Americans praised their new republic as uniquely egalitarian, they worried that a future aristocracy of wealth would corrupt its politics. Some even called for legal limits on property ownership. After 1800 the country changed markedly, as individual property rights became increasingly sacred, wage labor became increasingly common, and the gap between rich and poor widened. States gave voting rights to all white men, making race instead of property the foundation of politics. But the tradition of American economic equality persisted in the Workingmen’s parties of the 1820s and the communitarian movement of the 1840s.

That egalitarian tradition surged during the Civil War. As the war became a campaign to end slavery, some leading Republicans envisioned using confiscation to reshape the aristocratic South into a more equal society in terms of property ownership and power. As growing numbers of black people fled slavery, Union officers offered those refugees land on abandoned plantations. Egalitarian land reform became official policy in the wake of the Emancipation Proclamation, as President Lincoln issued an order allowing freedmen to claim up to 40 acres of abandoned or confiscated land for $1.25/acre.

Northern reformers saw redistribution as linking the egalitarian tradition of the American Revolution to the needs of emancipated Americans. The abolitionist Wendell Phillips told an enthusiastic crowd that “If the people own the land, it is a democracy; if a few men own it, it is an oligarchy,” and that since the U.S. for generations had robbed millions of men of their lives and labor, it “owes to the negro not merely freedom — it owes to him land” — reflecting the view dating back to John Locke that a man’s labor gave value to the land. In early 1864, Congress considered a bill that would have allowed freedmen to claim up to 160 acres of confiscated lands in the South. Although the bill failed, its goal was applauded by many. The New Orleans Tribune, the first black-owned newspaper in the South, insisted that “no true republican government” could exist “unless the land and wealth in general, are distributed among the great mass of the inhabitants” and that “an oligarch of slaveholders or property holders” had no place in America.

At this point, the U.S. Army, for practical reasons, instituted confiscation and redistribution. As General Sherman’s forces cut a devastating swath through the southeast, they were joined by many people who were fleeing slavery with few possessions. On Jan. 12, 1865, after Sherman took Savannah, he met with 20 African American leaders, who emphasized their desire “to have land, and turn it and till it” — the right to vote was much further down their list. Four days later, Sherman issued Special Field Order 15, confiscating 400,000 acres of fertile land along the coast and redistributing it to freedmen families in 40-acre allotments, with Army mules to help them plow — the famous “40 Acres and a Mule.” In March, before adjourning for the year, Congress created the Freedman’s Bureau within the War Department and gave it the task of renting or selling abandoned or confiscated land to freedmen at low rates.

Throughout the occupied South, former slaves took control of plantations abandoned by Confederate owners. They claimed freedom from dependency as well as from slavery, planting food and sometimes a little cotton. They created governing councils, churches and schools, and in various ways sought to control their land. When plantation heirs tried to reclaim the land, freedmen forcefully resisted. Observers throughout the South, like the Freedmen’s Bureau official in South Carolina, reported the “wide spread opinion amongst these people that the land of their former masters belongs to them, that they have worked on it all of their lives without pay and it is now theirs as a compensation for such work.”

The situation darkened with Lincoln’s assassination on April 14, 1865. The new president, Andrew Johnson, thought black people should remain dependent laborers and offered amnesty to all Confederates leaders. Yet through the end of the year, freedmen continued to believe that the U.S. would confiscate rebel-owned plantations and redistribute it in 40-acre parcels, and they were encouraged by calls for such action by leading Congressmen like Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania. By the fall, rumors spread that this would happen between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and in some places these rumors took on the mystical tinge of the biblical Great Jubilee and Revelations. Unfortunately, freedmen were disappointed as federal officials moved reluctantly to enforce Johnson’s policies.

Confiscation and redistribution again seemed possible when radical Republicans gained power with the November 1866 elections and renewed those efforts. Stevens in the House told his colleagues that, for freedmen, homesteads were “far more valuable” than the vote as a way to avoid future servitude, and Charles Sumner in the Senate insisted that black Americans needed farms to exercise effective political clout. But their party was increasingly focused on social stability, defending prewar property rights, and ending military occupation of the South. At the end, Congress insisted that freedmen only needed the vote, which it (supposedly) guaranteed with the 15th Amendment.

Congress’s refusal to confiscate and redistribute land highlighted the new assumptions that political and economic power were distinct, private property sacred, and wage labor virtuous. Until the 1800s, Americans assumed that a citizen needed economic independence in order to exercise their proper political role in a virtuous republic. By the end of the Civil War they overwhelmingly believed that citizens needed only the vote. Unfortunately, that assumption would allow Southern reactionaries to regain power and shove African Americans back into poverty. It would also fail to prevent great wealth from mushrooming and playing an increasingly dominant role in American politics, which was precisely what the Founders feared.


Daniel R. Mandell is the author of The Lost Tradition of Economic Equality in America, 1600–1870, available now from Johns Hopkins University Press.


By                            :               Daniel R. Mandell

Date                         :               April 7, 2020

Source                     :               Time (https://time.com/5816481/economic-inequality-history/)

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Poor people experience greater financial hardship in areas where income inequality is greatest


Study shows how a lack of community support caused by inequality exacerbates cycles of poverty

Date: March 30, 2020

Source: Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs



In areas with the highest levels of income inequality, the poor are less likely to rely on their community for support due to shame or embarrassment, according to a new study

While some are relying on friends and neighbors to help them get groceries, the poor may need to put themselves at risk for COVID-19 by venturing out on public transportation to get supplies. Depending on where they live, they may trust no one else to help out.

This is true in areas with the highest levels of income inequality, according to a paper to be published in Nature Human Behaviour, where the poor are less likely to rely on their community for support due to shame or embarrassment.

Look at New Haven, Connecticut, as an example. Part of the city is a wealthier University area, and the other part is primarily low-income. It would be rare, the research suggests, for someone from the lower-income areas to ask those in the University section for help -- especially now as the coronavirus continues to spread.

The findings illustrate why policymakers and researchers should move beyond a sole focus on helping low-income individuals and instead look at ways to develop stronger communities.

"If I'm poor, it exacerbates my need to rely on community, but what does it mean if I don't trust my community? It means that there is no way for me to get what I need without putting myself in danger. This can have disastrous long-term effects among the poor," said study lead author Jon Jachimowicz, assistant professor of business administration, at Harvard University.

"Our work shows that hardship increases for low-income individuals by reducing their ability to rely on their community as a buffer against financial and other related difficulties," said co-author Elke Weber, Gerhard R. Andlinger Professor in Energy and the Environment and professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. "This suggests that stimulus measures designed to address the economic and social fallout of the coronavirus should focus on reducing the existing income and wealth gap in our country."

The study was an interdisciplinary effort led by psychologists and economists using data analysis strategies across disciplines.

The team also included co-lead author Barnabas Szaszi of Eotvos Lorand University, Marcel Lukas of Heriot-Watt University, David Smerdon of the University of Cambridge, and Jaideep Prabhu of the University of Cambridge.

The researchers conducted eight studies looking at more than one million people across the United States, Australia, and Uganda. Their work included an instrumental variable analysis, lab experiments, online studies, and field work.

In the first four studies, the team established empirical support for their hypothesis that greater income inequality hits the poor the hardest. Their findings were as expected: Across all countries, the greater the economic inequality, the harder the financial hardship for those with the lowest incomes.

In the next four studies, they investigated the main driver behind this effect, finding strong evidence supporting their claim: Higher economic inequality weakens the perception of a community buffer, which is a key source of support for low-income people.

The researchers estimated this lack of support comes at a cost $6,587. This means that a person earning $36,587 in New Haven, where there is greater income inequality, experiences the same financial hardship as someone making $30,000 in a more homogenous income area like Princeton.

So, why do low-income people feel they can't ask community members for support? Many people hit by money problems worry about what others would think, so they don't ask for help. The researchers actually found that the higher the income inequality in an area, the more distrustful the poor are of those in their community.

Other factors are also perpetuating cycles of poverty in these places. One is a person's need to display his or her wealth for reasons of status through physical objects like a fancy car, which further indebts them. In other cases, people overwhelmed by destitution may resort to negative behaviors like taking out payday loans to cover the bills, which only worsens their financial situation.

All of this supports the strengthening of local communities, the researchers said. Programs like the YMCA are extremely beneficial, and community investment funds could further empower towns with the greatest income disparity. Infrastructure also matters; a city's walkability can bond neighbors together. In light of COVID-19, stimulus bills could help address some of these issues, while financially helping the most vulnerable.

"At a time when the coronavirus crisis puts a premium on cooperation and community support, our policymakers need to be aware of the social and economic conditions that eat away at such support, especially for the most vulnerable among us, the poor," Weber said.

The results do not shed light on how economic inequality affects people at median income levels, so the researchers encourage further work in this area. It is possible that the availability of liquid assets and other kinds of wealth could help in times of need, the researchers said.


Source: ScienceDaily (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/03/200330110333.htm)

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Why Are “Some Kids Worth Less”?


BU student researcher Bayley Connors has unearthed the ways public policy shortcomings, like the Child Tax Credit, only exacerbate economic inequality for children in the US

As if he stepped out of a time machine, Bayley Connors, a senior at Boston University’s Arvind and Chandan Nandlal Kilachand Honors College, can recite the raucous debates that fired back and forth between legislators serving in the United States Congress during the late 1980s—years before he was even born. He can tell you how, during the middle of a legislative session, policymakers started arguing about whether bologna, the love-it-or-hate-it sandwich filling, is “real” meat or not. And then, moments after, they switched topics to address child poverty.

“It’s fascinating how they talk[ed] about this,” says Connors, who has been laser-focused on learning all he can about how public policies could help lift families and children out of poverty, dedicating his senior thesis to the topic. Having spent the last four years analyzing policies dating back to the Great Depression, watching them morph and evolve through the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, and all the way to today, Connors has been struck by his findings that government programs meant to alleviate child poverty have undergone a shift from providing direct benefits to people—like cash payments, or breakfast programs—to roundabout policies that sometimes fail to reach families most in need. To him, it doesn’t seem fair. So, he’s investigating deeper.

“When you really look into how distribution plays out, we are only helping some kids,” explains Connors. He’s most interested in the Child Tax Credit, the largest policy addressing child poverty in the nation. But the policy doesn’t benefit everyone the same; for a single mother with two children earning the minimum wage, the tax credit only went up by $75 in 2017. Meanwhile, the benefit for a married household with two kids earning $400,000 a year went up by $4,000.

“So, that single, hard working mother? Well, they’re saying her kids are worth $75, compared to these other kids worth four grand,” Connors says, his frustration palpable. With assistance from his thesis advisor Cathie Jo Martin, BU College of Arts & Sciences professor of political science, Connors culminated his research by finishing his paper, “Some Kids Are Worth Less: The Neoliberal Politics of Indirect Social Spending,” just days before the global coronavirus pandemic caused BU to move to remote learning, as life in Boston and around the world was completely upended by the virus’s spread. To Connors, the pandemic only further highlights the issues of economic inequality in the US.

“This pandemic is revealing the backwardness of how we address social crises and the shortcomings of our safety net,” says Connors.

As a resident assistant in one of BU’s brownstone buildings on Bay State Road, Connors is one of the few students left on campus due the coronavirus pandemic, working to fulfill his duties in the residence halls while finishing his academic semester remotely from his dorm. He’s been drawing inspiration from the current events, following the news and drawing comparisons between the historic $2 trillion economic stimulus package that passed in late March—of which the largest component of the bill will go toward the country’s largest corporations—to how the US addresses child poverty.

“Just like the Child Tax Credit, we are giving aid to those who are seen as deserving based on their economic worth,” he says.

Connors has seen firsthand how economic inequality affects children. In 2019, he served in an AmeriCorps program called DREAM (Directing through Recreation, Education, Adventure, and Mentoring), which facilitates youth mentoring with volunteers from 13 colleges in the Greater Boston area and Vermont. Inspired by his mother, who has been a kindergarten teacher in New York for over 20 years, Connors felt drawn to the program and encouraged by the idea of making a positive difference in the lives of children.

“This pandemic is revealing the backwardness of how we address social crises and the shortcomings of our safety net”

-Bayley Connors

His days that summer were spent mentoring and bonding with a group of 10-year-olds from Roxbury, about 20 minutes from BU’s Charles River Campus, who Connors grew to cherish over the weeks spent outside, roasting in the sun, and sometimes getting roasted by the kids.

“I got roasted pretty badly,” he says, remembering how the children in the program playfully teased him for his stark T-shirt tan line after spending long days in the sun. Despite the precious moments with the kids, Connors recalls signs of poverty present everywhere he looked. He remembers a seven-year-old girl whose protruding joints signaled to him and the other summer counselors that food wasn’t always available and plentiful at home. Her parents couldn’t afford to keep their pantry stocked enough, despite each having jobs, nor did they qualify for the Child Tax Credit in its full value, Connors said.

“They’re really amazing kids who are going through unbelievably difficult experiences and situations,” he says. And the more time he spent with the kids, knowing this is the reality for millions of other children like them, the more frustrated Connors felt.

“In that moment, the solution seemed so straightforward: give kids food. If we wanted to we could probably have a breakfast program in this country tomorrow morning, getting kids free breakfast. But it’s like, why don’t we do that? Why do we instead go through all these hoops to give [their parents] a tax credit? We spent over $2 trillion in the past two decades on this tax credit. That can buy a lot of breakfast.”

The disconnect between giving impoverished families direct benefits—like breakfast or assistance through government programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families—and indirect benefits, like the Child Tax Credit, emerged as a result of neoliberal politics, says Connors, which he defined as the reliance of policymakers on market means to achieve public goals. In other words, distributing aid through the tax code.

By going back in time to research how today’s policies came to be, it became clear to Connors that things weren’t always done this way. In the early 1990s, as politicians talked about giving benefits to economically struggling families through Aid to Families with Dependent Children, which was changed and renamed to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program in 1996, their language changed from talking about “hard working families, to calling them welfare families, implying they’re not productive and leeching off of taxpayers,” Connors says.

With funding from BU’s Kilachand Honors College, Connors conducted an 850-person survey to further gauge how the public interprets neoliberal policies that address poverty, like the Child Tax Credit. Half of the survey’s participants identified as Democrats and half as Republican. The results, as written in his paper, show that by including a form of a child tax credit, politicians are able to dramatically increase bipartisan support, even if the bill does little to counter poverty.

“Political actors can have a really bad bill that affects folks in the upper one or five percent, but they can attach this [child tax credit], and reframe the entire bill as being a tax cut for families and helping poor kids. When in reality, they’re really giving them nothing, in comparison to wealthier Americans,” Connors says.

With enough political will, he believes the solutions to social and economic issues, like child poverty, can be straightforward. Though government programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Child Tax Credit have reduced the rate of child poverty, they have not been enough, nor are they designed to benefit families most in need. Connors points out that eight out of 10 Americans support universal breakfast programs for K-12 students—not just those living in poverty—and that by expanding and improving programs that exist, more children can be lifted out of the cycle of poverty.

At the present moment, his reality will continue to be working remotely from his temporary home on BU’s campus. He’ll be presenting the findings in his thesis later in April, via Zoom, to his peers and faculty members at Kilachand Honors College. After completing his degree, Connors hopes to move to Washington, D.C., to start work in public policy—and hopefully help make his vision of all kids being worth the same a reality.


By                            :               Jessica Colarossi

Date                         :               April 9, 2020

Source                     :               The Brink


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