Poverty Trends in the United States

Many are unaware of the issue of poverty in our society, but even more people are uneducated about those who are most likely to be living in poverty: children. In fact, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty, 22 percent of all children live in families who have an income below the federal poverty level, for a family of four this is $23,500 or less a year. This means that 16 million children in the United States may deal with an inadequate quality of life.

This was not always the trend of poverty in the United States, between 1960 and 1995, the poverty rate for the elderly decreased drastically from 35 percent to 10 percent, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Poverty is a huge threat to children’s ability to learn, and this increasingly problematic trend in the United States needs to be assessed. Our fiscal policy and poverty alleviation should be focused more on education for children and other policies that will benefit children who need it most.

Over 30 percent of families led by single women are living in poverty, according to the U.S. Census. This is in comparison to 16.4 percent of families led by single dads. In an article in Slate, they acknowledge that the gender difference in American Poverty Rates isn’t new news, but the continual reiteration of these numbers illustrates the drastic need to focus on these growing trends in the country.

United States focused on elderly poverty and ensured that those rates went down, now it’s important to shift our focus to the children and single mothers suffering from poverty.

What do you think? How can we change these trends?

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‘Poverty Porn’ and What’s Wrong With It

In my journalism classes, I’m taught to find a narrative anecdote to start my stories. The key is to begin each story with a human element because otherwise the reader will get bored and stop reading after the second sentence. So when reporting on poverty, journalists search out those affected the worst, stories that will make the audience stop and think about their life, and sometimes go on to donate money to an organization fighting to alleviate poverty.

But that’s where their interaction ends.

They donate $50 and move with their life, feeling good about their contribution to society and that poor undeserving person suffering. This journalistic work is called “poverty porn,” where an extreme case is highlighted for all the bleeding hearts in the world. And that’s the biggest problem with this type of journalism. Poverty isn’t just a picture of a starving child or a junkie. It’s much more than that.

Poverty Porn glosses over the real human element of the issue; it doesn’t spend the time to acknowledge this person past their suffering. And more importantly it doesn’t recognize those in poverty deemed less “severe.” Poverty has more than one face, and while it does encompass those that accompany shocking photos, it also includes a family that can’t afford all the desired necessities, a recovering addict, and basic quality-of-life issues.

The problem is that these stories don’t elicit the desired response. Our society responds to the extreme cases while ignoring the norm. This is partly to blame on the media who perpetuates the issue. However, it’s also a societal dilemma.

As journalists, we must realize that poverty porn does not result in activism but instead charity. Charity is an important aspect to alleviated poverty, but the problem cannot be solved without a structural change. The media must find a way to emphasize the problem without falling into our materialized solutions. We need to solve the problem in a sustainable way and represent the issue as such.

What do you think? Have you seen ‘poverty porn’ in the media?

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Ithaca YMCA Healthy Kids Day

Amie Hamlin, executive director of New York Coalition for Healthy School Food pauses from mixing her smoothie to encourage a child to grab the light green mixture from the table.

The kids pause with apprehension before sipping the smoothie, but as soon as they’re finished, they’re clearly happy with their adventurous decision. The Super Hero Super Power smoothie is made from soymilk, apple, kale, ice cubes and bananas.

“I’m a huge green smoothie fan,” Hamlin said.  Hamlin says this is the 10th year anniversary of NYCHSF, which develops healthy recipes and educational resources for schools in Ithaca and New York City.

The Event

Hamlin is one of many vendors at Healthy Kids Day at the Ithaca YMCA. The event is free for families and is part of a national YMCA event to promote healthy physical activity.  Along with Hamlin, the vendors include the Tompkins County Library, Music and Motion, YMCA Karate, Dan the Snake Man, the Tompkins County Solid Waste, Armstrong School of Dance, ICircus and Cayuga Medical Center for Healthy Living.

Vendors like the Armstrong School of Dance performed for an audience, and many of the child performers spent the rest of the time enjoying the large bouncy house in the corner of the room, getting their face painted, or using mats to work on designated physical activities, like jumping jacks or wall sits.

YMCA hoped to have 100 kids attend the event, and according to Laurie Cuomo, Health and Wellness Director, they surpassed their goal. Cindy Gordon is one of many who attended the event with her three children. Her daughter, Brooke, is a part of the Armstrong School of Dance and the family attended the event to watch her performance.

Backstory of Healthy Kids Day

According to Cuomo, Healthy Kids Day is a community-organized event that includes not only the Ithaca YMCA, but also invites the community to “educate and celebrate healthy children.”

The event encourages both fun activities and more educational material, Cuomo said.  The event even provided healthy fruit snacks for the families as they participated in the activities.

Cuomo said that they promote,  “healthy lifestyles, so that will incorporate activities and recreational, physical fitness, nutrition, any spectrum.

When the YMCA first started to host the event, it originally “showcased just what we did in the YMCA, and then we decided to collaborate with the rest of the community,” says Cuomo.

Health in the United States

According to the American Heart Association, around one in three children and teenagers in the United States are overweight or obese and childhood obesity has become the number one health concern for kids in the United States.  Educational programs like the YMCA work to help combat these growing trends.

Encouraging children to partake in healthy activities, like those showcased at Healthy Kids Day, can lead to a lifetime of good choices.

“Eating healthy, and exercising, is really important to be happy and healthy,” Hamlin said.

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Pew Research’s State of the News Media and Digital Growth

The Pew Research Journalism Project recently released their 2014 State of the News Media. The Growth in Digital Reporting: What it Means for Journalism and News Consumers gave some great insight into the new developments of journalism. Mark Jurkowitz, author of the Digital Reporting section, talked of the increase in digital news.

“Since the fall of 2013, there has been a dramatic and conspicuous migration of high-profile journalists to digital news ventures,” said Jurkowitz.

Jurkowitz mentioned the various high profile journalists migrating from well-known, more traditional news reporting, to newly emerging digital start-ups. They point out Mark Schoofs, a Pulitzer Prize reporter from The Wall Street Journal, ProPublica and The Village Voice who runs the investigative team at BuzzFeed. Ezra Klein’s move from the Washington Post to start his own project is also mentioned.

Some of these new start-ups are examples of explanatory journalism, which has been increasingly rising. More journalists have turned to this form: easy and simple explanations for the average person. However, this new form of reporting comes with its own ethical issues, since often these explanatory journalists have a point of view and are debunking incorrect information instead of reporting “he said, she said”. Nate Silver, founder of the FiveThirtyEight blog, recently said in an interview with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show, “Transparency is the new objectivity.”

Digital organizations are rising, and according to the Pew Research, its hiring has exploded along with it. This shows that now, more than ever, journalists need to adapt to new technology and social media. Journalism isn’t a dying field; it’s just adjusting to fit the new generation’s dependence on technology. We have to adapt to fit in with our audience, which means presenting our arguments in engaging formats.

As the Pew Research states, new storytelling skills are emerging to better suit audiences, and I, for one, think that this move is necessary and beneficial to journalism as a whole.

While journalism has by no means found the perfect sustainable business model, I think that these new trends show promise for the future of reporting. We have found out what forms are needed, and are in the process of fine-tuning them. Now, the focus should be on how to create a profitable way to market those ways.

Using Twitter to Predict Unemployment

I’m not going to lie, I’m addicted to the Internet, specifically social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Every time I check my phone I make sure to see the latest updates to my photos and statuses. Some of that I can blame on being a news junkie (I primarily use twitter as news aggregate), but I also spend time socializing with friends. I’m not the outlier on this issue; it’s the norm for adults to use social networking. According to the Pew Research Internet Project, 73 percent of adults use social networking.

Some economists from the University of Michigan have taken advantage of social media to predict the number of people who will file for jobless benefits. The University of Michigan Social Media Job Loss index accumulates tweets that use common phrasing like “lost my job,” to help with this prediction. The index is in real-time and accounts for detrimental events that would affect employment, like the 2013 government shutdown.

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This new algorithm predicted that 342,000 people would file for jobless benefits last week. Economists in turn predicted that 320,000 people would file, but in reality 311,000 people actually filed. Why did the Twitter algorithm predict that more than 30,000 people would file than actually did? There are a couple of possible explanations for this.

  1. People could have lost their job but failed to file for jobless benefits, this could be because of severance pay.
  2. The algorithm indexes certain phrases that are associated with the loss of a job; however, these phrases have been taken out of context, implying that someone lost their job when they did not.

I think that this new way of predicting unemployment is long overdue. Social media is an integral part of our society and I believe that economists are moving in the right direction using Twitter to predict economic factors. However, the algorithm needs to be further tested.

What do you think about social media? Are economists correct to use twitter for economic predictions or do you think there will be too many misinterpretations with the statements.

 

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Rescue Mission Relies on Thrifty Shopper for Funds

Desiree Smith bends over a large red bin to sort through an overwhelming pile of what she calls “bric-a-brak.”  This is a pile of miscellaneous objects that includes lamps, heaters, suitcases and even an ice-tea maker. To the untrained eye, the items may look random, but soon they will be organized and shelved.  Each was donated to the Thrifty Shopper by community members and will be resold in order to help those who are in desperate need.

Smith, the store manager at Thrifty Shopper in Ithaca started working for Rescue Mission 8 years ago. Previously, she was an aspiring EMT, and was halfway through her paramedic classes when she realized that she couldn’t afford to finish her schooling. She started to work at the Binghamton Thrifty Shopper and has since moved to the Ithaca location.

“I stayed working here, and I’m okay with that because I’m still helping people in some way,” said Smith.

What does the Thrifty Shopper Support?

The Rescue Mission Alliance of Syracuse strives to help the hungry and homeless, and has initiatives throughout Syracuse, Auburn, Binghamton and Ithaca. In order to fund these numerous programs, the mission owns 14 Thrifty Shopper stores. These stores sell used clothing and other household items that have been donated from members of the community. They fund more than 50 percent of the Rescue Mission’s homeless initiatives.

How Important are Thrifty Shoppers to Rescue Mission?

According to Amanda Erwin, Rescue Mission communications specialist, this is where Rescue Mission differs from most non-profits. Less then 10 percent of their funds are from grants, state funding or federal funding, which allows them to be more self-sustaining than other non-profits. Their revenue has a stable source for years to come and allows them to be a “reliable support system for the people we serve,” said Erwin.

In addition to the revenue from Thrifty Shopper stores and government funding, Rescue Mission’s private donors make up the last 40 percent of the funds that they require to meet their goals.

With such a large portion of their funds from Thrifty Shoppers, Rescue Mission is dependent upon these stores. According to Erwin, Rescue Mission wouldn’t be able to support all of the programs without these stores.

“We would try to meet the need as best we could,” said Erwin. “But we might not have as large capacities or programs to the extent that they are.”

Where exactly does the money go?

These Thrifty Shopper stores directly support the local programs in the area. This means that any goods donated in Ithaca will go to the Ithaca Thrifty Shopper, and that revenue will go to Ithaca homelessness initiatives, Court Street Place or the Emergency Shelter, not programs in other towns.

According to Smith, when Rescue Mission creates budgets, the organization puts into consideration programs that they want to open, continue or expand. They then evaluate the stores and volunteers to meet the budget goals.

Poverty

The poverty rate for Ithaca is 45.5 percent. Since the population of Ithaca is 30,331, then 13,800 people are living in poverty. Poverty thresholds are used to calculate the number of people below the poverty level. For an individual person, the federal poverty threshold is $11,484, which means anyone making less than that amount is classified as living in poverty.  In 2012, the official poverty rate was 15 percent according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which amounts to 46.5 million people living in poverty. This is an increase in the poverty rate of 2.5 percentage points from 2007.

Poverty is clearly an issue in the United States, and is a prominent issue within Ithaca itself. Rescue Mission relies upon the revenue from the Thrifty Shopper to fund their numerous programs. On March 1, 2014, Rescue Mission began to operate the Emergency Shelter in Ithaca in addition to Court Street Place.

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Interest Rates Low, Long Term Unemployment Still High

As a college student, I’m acutely aware of the job market. There’s always that fear that when I graduate, there won’t be any jobs, no matter which field I pursue, economics or journalism. Most of this is an irrational fear that my four years of studying and excessive tuition is worthless, but those with higher education tend to do much better than those with only a high school degree.

However, according to a new paper focused on long-term unemployment by Alan Krueger, even those with higher degrees may be subject to high unemployment rates if they are part of the long-term unemployed. In fact, their chances of being hired drastically diminish after long-term unemployment.

Not only are people more likely to dip into savings to pay for necessities, they also are less likely to find a new job. This study shows that generally the long-term unemployed have a decreased chance of getting hired, and that when they do find a job, it’s not for long. According to the Krueger, “only 11 percent of those who were long-term unemployed in a given month returned to steady, full-time employment a year later.”

“Although the long-term unemployed have about a one in ten chance of moving into employment in any given month, when they do return to work their new jobs are often transitory,” said Krueger. The long-term unemployed are more than likely to leave the labor force. After 15 months of unemployment, they are twice as likely to leave.

This grim outlook for the long-term unemployed affects the economy and the interest rate. The Federal Reserve has kept the interest rate near zero to help with recovery from the recession, citing the long-term unemployment as one reason. But the individuals who are out of work for such a long time may not actually have the same influence on inflation as the short-term unemployed.

What do you think about the long-term unemployed and the inflation rate? More importantly, should the government step in and drastically help the long-term unemployed, and if so, how?

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Lost Questions: Exploring Economic Data and Variables

In my blog last week I mentioned the importance of using data in journalism and using evidence in your argument. While the issue of unsupported arguments needs to be addressed, journalists need to make sure that economic data is used properly and correctly.

In several of my blogs, I’ve talked about issues with variables in data, like the problem with the poverty measurement and unemployment, which can be skewed because of discouraged workers and the labor force participation rate (read my post “Seeing Past the Unemployment Rate”). It is obvious that any side, to prove any issue, will use economic data. As journalists, we need to make sure that the data we use is correct and accurate. Here are some ways to make sure that the data being used in economic articles are beneficial.

Always Pay Attention to the Measurement

Often economic measurements lack an important piece of information. For instance, the exchange rate commonly talked about by the media references the nominal exchange rate, but it is often the real exchange rate that should be referenced. The real exchange rate is the relationship between the domestic country’s goods in terms of the foreign country’s goods. However, the nominal exchange rate is the relationship between the domestic country’s currency and the foreign country’s currency.

Data Used Incorrectly

Data gives the impression that what you’re saying is correct, that it can’t be refuted. I can’t emphasize how wrong that is. Data can be prone to misinterpretation and construed in ways that is not intended, especially if no explanation is given. As an economist or journalist, we must all question the data surrounding us.  A lot of economic data is revised after more information is discovered. This means that journalists should be skeptical of all economic data, no matter where it’s from, be it the government or a private company.

What does the data actually mean?

There may be a reason behind the data that isn’t immediately clear. One big problem with the economy is the multitude of variables that can influence data. This makes it incredibly hard for economists to organize and interpret statistics, and even harder for journalists to explain the issues with data to the audience.

Economic data is changing, statistics are revised, and variables can be missed. As economic journalists we must analyze and decipher the data, but also keep in mind that data isn’t the be-all and end all.

What data have you encountered that has holes in it? What kinds of variables have been missing from data?

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Graph it Out: The Necessity of Data

As an avid news junkie, I’m always trying to figure out how to get information as quickly as possible. I’ve struggled with trying to access websites like the U.S. Census Bureau or the Labor of Labor Statistics on my phone to fact-check something I’ve recently read. There are some apps that I’ve found really useful for those quick checks.

Three Apps for the Economics Obsessed

Economy App

  • Gives economic indicators for both the national and state level
  • Gives not only the most recent data available, but also clearly states where the information is coming from and when it was aggregated
  • Highlights general trends in the data for quick analysis

A2ZEconomy App

  • Organized into categories, from unemployment to gas prices to mass layoff statistics
  • Gives the source and date for data

FRED Economic Data App

  • Push notifications, which is helpful for staying updated on the latest information and trends
  • Organized through different categories, but also through releases and sources
  • Economists and other professionals commonly use FRED, so it’s a great resource to check out online even if you’re not using the app.

Why should we pay attention to Stats?

Now more than ever we run the risk of being overwhelmed with information, especially data. Often the slightest change in data measurement can lead to new results, but whether it’s correct or not depends on the change in measurement. As journalists, we need to organize data in ways that the general audience can understand. More importantly, we need to put the data into context. A general number or statistic means nothing if it’s not compared to anything. As journalists, we can’t report our government deficit without the context of GDP.

There are a bunch of new data journalism sites launching now and in the coming year. This increase in data journalism emphasizes the need for context and, overall, the necessity to focus on evidence.

  • Fivethirtyeight.com – This site is being re-launched with a new backing from ESPN instead of the New York Times. The blog’s writers are skilled in more than just statistical analysis, but also computer programing, data visualization and more. This was launched on March 17, and has had a lot of criticism, but I still hold out hope for the site in the future.
  • The UpShot- New York Times will launch this site, which will focus on explaining the world and connections so that everyone can easily understand. They will also use data as a tool to describe events and issues. But they make sure to state that data is only effective if it is used properly and to clarify reality.
  • Vox.com- this is a new blog to launch soon by former Washington Post Blogger Ezra Klein that will also focus on this new form of journalism.

How do you stay up to date on data? Have you found that data visualized engages you in a story more? What would you like to see in journalists’ explanations of data?

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The Art of Walking: Ithaca’s Historic Tour

 

Downtown Ithaca is home to a multitude of colorful community art pieces, especially surrounding the commons. Some of these pieces include Annemarie Zwack’s work, like her watershed wall mosaic and the Tioga Street parking garage mosaic.

Zwack, who specializes in working with communities and art, has been commissioned by the City of Ithaca to add artwork to the Martin Luther King Jr. Southside walkway. This walkway is a tour, primarily through downtown Ithaca, which connects local historic civil rights actions to national events.

Background on the Project

According to Lynn Truame, the Historic Preservation Planner for Ithaca, many Ithaca residents wanted to recognize Martin Luther King, Jr.  In 2009, State Street was renamed Martin Luther Kin Jr. Street, according to the Cornell Daily Sun. However, many people weren’t satisfied with this and wanted, “some other way, in addition to that, to recognize Dr. King’s legacy and obviously the legacy of civil rights actions in Ithaca,” Truame said.

In order to recognize local history and civil rights activity in Ithaca, the town began to look at historically significant sites in the area. According to Truame, the town set aside some funding for the project a number of years ago. In addition, there will be private fundraising to pay for the rest of the project.

“This is a project about African American history in this community. I don’t think a lot of people are aware of the depth of history that we have here in that area,” said Truame.

Where Will It Be?

The walkway will be made up of two loops, the first one starting at the Southside Community Center and focusing on the block of Cleveland Avenue between Corn Street and Plain Street. This will include historic sites like the St. James Ame Zion Church. The second loop, or North loop, which is still in the planning stages, will cover the downtown area to the city cemetery and Greater Ithaca Activities Center.

In front of the Southside Community Center, there’s a small, bare clearing. This will be home to the “hub” sculpture, according to Zwack. The hub sculpture is going to be the beginning of a series of medallions set-up throughout the community. These medallions will direct people to various historic sites.

What Will It Look Like?

Zwack envisions that the hub sculpture could be a variety of different designs, but would most definitely be a compilation of mosaics made by community members. Zwack hopes to hold community sessions where people can come and make their own tiles, which she would then assemble into a larger piece of artwork.

“Maybe it’s a bench, maybe it’s a sculpture that’s not functional, but just art for art sake,” Zwack said. “Those pieces of the tiles, they would have the fingerprints of those who live here, as well as being part of a larger whole.”

The sculpture would also be next to a kiosk, where people would be able to get information about the local sites emphasized in the tour. According to Zwack, they might even design an app so that people can easily scan information at listening posts and then listen to information directly from their phones.

Community Input

Truame and Zwack both are incredibly passionate about getting the community’s input in this project. Zwack has set up a facebook page, Zwackart, where anyone interested in the project can contact her with ideas and contributions.

“For a community to create artwork that reflects how they feel about themselves and where they live is a really empowering tool,” Zwack said.

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