Scraping By: Ehrenreich interview

Max Sawicky sawicky at
Wed May 16 06:15:01 PDT 2001

The Pwogs, who may not exist, are loathe to put a redefinition of poverty on the table for fear it could slide in a bad direction. This would have real implications for Federal spending of various types. The simplest option is to define it as half the median income, possibly varied by family size/structure.

We've been doing research here on 'hardship,' and we have published material on calculating "living wage" family budgets, including w/respect to regional price differences. The other topical reference on poverty measurement is Pat Ruggles' book. See our web site for details.


alex lantsberg wrote:
> >
> and the obvious question is why don't the more progressive dems push
> forward with a bill that would redefine poverty to include these obvious
> and necessary costs? seems like a sure fire political winner.

This contains several fallacies, which ?Alex is probably aware of but I think underlining them is worthwhile. The first is that progressive Democrats (in any serious sense of "progressive") exist. This proposal would require at least some mass mobilization to carry it through, and the Democratic Party exists primarily to block mass mobilization. And the second is that the DP gives first priority to winning elections. Winning elections is very important to them, doubtless, but that desire is definitely secondary to carrying out is primary goal of blunting mass mobilization.

This was rather clearly exhibited in 1988. Paul Simon (one of the great 'progressive' icons of the DP) ran for the presidential nomination pretty clearly not because he ever had any hope of the nomination but to blunt the impact of the Jackson campaign. And of course the most threatening aspect, perhaps the only threatening aspect, of the Jackson campaign was its potential for pulling more people into the political process. (I write in praise not of Jackson but of the constituency to which he appealed.) And part of the "deal" the Dukakis forces made with the Jackson supporters at the convention was to provide money for local registration drives. It never came through of course. Had he been willing to risk mass mobilization, Dukakis would have had an excellent chance of winning.

can you
> imagine a repug arguing why the costs of housing or health care should
> not be a consideration when figuring out if someone is officially poor
> or not.

No, but neither can I imagine DP leaders seriously arguing that when so arguing might make a difference. (DP progressive gestures always come when they are least apt to actually make any difference -- e.g. some of Clinton's last minute executive orders or his and his wife's medical proposals back in '93.)

> alex

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