In this photo taken Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013, during a session of The Last Mile at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
As of last year, according to a report released yesterday by the American Civil Liberties Union, more than 3,200 people were serving life in prison without parole for nonviolent crimes. A close examination of these cases by the ACLU reveals just how petty some of these offenses are. People got life for, among other things… MORE
The United States is the wealthiest country in the world, in terms of GDP. But which country is the richest in terms of median wealth per person? Australia. The median wealth of adults there is $219,505, according to the Credit Suisse 2013 Global Wealth Report, which was released on Wednesday. In the US, the median wealth is only $45,000, compared to an average wealth per person of more than $250,000. Here are some other chart-tastic findings from the report.
Global wealth reached an all-time high of $241 trillion, up about five percent since last year. If all the money in the world were spread out evenly, it would amount to $51,600 per person. And here is a map of what it would look like if countries’ GDP were spread out evenly among their populations.
Over the summer, designer and blogger Nickolay Lamm re-envisioned New York’s skyline such that the height of buildings represented the wealth of the people who inhabited them.
The art was striking, and exposed the city’s vast inequalities. “I feel a lot of people look at New York’s skyline and think, ‘that’s where dreams happen, that’s where dreams are made,” he says. “I wanted to recreate the skyline to show dreams can happen there, but it’s not as easy as it seems.”
Lamm has just come out with a new set of illustrations visualizing inequality for several other cities, including Chicago, Boston, Miami, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Here’s how his visualization of income inequality works: If one section of a city had a net worth for example of $500,000, the height of the green 3D bar shape for that section is 5 cm. If one section had a net worth of $112,000, the height for that section is smaller at 1.12 cm.
Lamm’s method reveals striking divides within cities. In his visualization of Chicago above, for instance, one can see wealth clustered along the shore of Lake Michigan and in the suburbs to the west, but not in between.
Here’s another map by Lamm that shows the same phenomenon. The dark green areas represent those areas with the highest wealth, similar to the soaring green bars in the previous image. MORE
A typical American household made about $51,017 in 2012, according to new figures out from the Census Bureau this week. That number may sound familiar to anyone who remembers George H. W. Bush’s first year as president or Michael Jackson in his prime. That’s because household income in 2012 is similar to what it was in 1989 (but back then it was actually higher: you had an extra $600 or so to spend compared to today).
That sobering statistic gives an indication of where the American middle class appears to be headed. Take a look below at a snapshot of where the middle class is now, the problems they face and what our Facebook audience has to say about squeaking out a living these days.
A note on the term “middle class”: There is no single, universal definition so we turned to economic analyst Robert Reich – who spoke to us this week – for some direction. Reich suggested defining middle class as those with income levels 50 percent above and below the median income. Median is a term that means the “middle of the middle.” Median earnings are a key indicator of how the middle class is doing. MORE
A man pays for his fruit at Lisbon's Arroios food market, Sept. 18, 2013. Wasted fruit has a relatively small ratio of food waste to carbon emitted. Meat's ratio is much larger. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
A full third of the world’s food is wasted. According to a new report from the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization, discarded food accounts for a staggering amount of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, if food waste was a country, its 3.3 gigatonnes of emissions would make it the third highest-emitting country in the world, after China and the United States: MORE
The massive Plant Scherer near Juliette, Ga. puts 21.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air every year, more than any other power plant in America. (AP Photo/Gene Blythe)
Our energy comes from 6,000 power plants which together produce about 40 percent of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions, the main greenhouse gas driving climate change. But a handful of very large, very dirty plants are responsible for a disproportionate share of the problem.
A new report from two think tanks — the Frontier Group and the Environment America Research & Policy Center — takes a look at this small group of heavy polluters. The researchers found that the 50 dirtiest power plants in the U.S. are responsible for 30 percent of the energy industry’s CO2 emissions, and a full two percent of all emissions worldwide — these 50 plants were responsible for more climate change than all but six countries in the world.
The top 100 dirtiest plants in America produce 3.2 percent of the world’s carbon emissions — or roughly the same amount as all passenger vehicles in the U.S. MORE
Lehman Brothers Chief Executive Richard Fuld testifies before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Oct. 6, 2008, on the collapse of Lehman Brothers. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
One of the great American delusions is meritocracy — the idea that everyone competes on an even playing field, and then gets what they deserve. In a meritocratic society, we would expect top-earning chief executives to represent the best and the brightest. Or, at the very least, to be good at their jobs.
Consider the case of Richard Fuld, who ran Lehman Brothers from 1994 until 2008. Fuld made the list of America’s twenty-five highest-paid executives for eight years in a row, until the bank collapsed under a slew of bad investments. The Lehman bust was the largest bankruptcy in the nation’s history and a defining event in the financial crisis. For his leadership in the eight years prior to the collapse, while the firm was making bad bets and covering them up with accounting tricks, Fuld raked in more than $466 million.
Then there’s Vikram Pandit, former CEO of Citigroup. Pandit made the top-twenty-five list in 2008, earning $38 million. That same year, his firm laid off 75,000 employees, and took government bailouts ultimately exceeding $472 billion. Pandit accepted only $1 for his services while his firm was in the red, but by 2011 he was back on the list of top earners. MORE
A recent Urban Institute report finds that the racial wealth gap — measured as the difference in wealth accumulated by white Americans and black and Latino Americans — is the largest it has ever been since the Federal Reserve started tracking it. In 1983, for every dollar held by the average black or Latino family, the average white family had five. In the aftermath of the financial meltdown and the Great Recession that figure today has increased to six dollars. The figures for the median post-recession family — a measure less skewed by America’s handful of superrich — are even further apart: in 2010, for every dollar held by the median black or Latino family, the median white family had eight.
Credit: Urban Institute. Click to enlarge.
One thing that’s remarkable about these statistics is that the racial wealth gap is three times greater than the racial income gap. In other words, white people not only have higher incomes, but they are also better positioned to retain that income and build it. “Such great wealth disparities help explain why many middle-income blacks and Hispanics haven’t seen much improvement in their relative economic status and, in fact, are at greater risk of sliding backwards,” the researchers who compiled the Urban Institute study note. MORE
The first decade of the 21st century contained nine of the 10 warmest years on record. A new report from the World Meteorological Organization compares the 2001-2010 decade with the 12 that came before it in a chart that makes it hard to argue that the planet isn’t warming. MORE
Customers walk toward the Lowe's store in Saugus, Mass. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer/file)
One of the primary arguments against allowing big box stores — such as Walmart, Lowe’s, Target and Best Buy — to set up shop in small towns is that they take customers away from local family businesses that have existed in the community for years. Using high-volume sales — versus price mark-ups — to drive profits, big box stores are often able to sell their goods at lower prices. But they also employ fewer workers than their Main Street competition and pay those workers substantially less. The net effect is often slower community economic growth and dying downtowns.
But when big box stores are given permission to build, these long-term financial effects often aren’t considered. Almost all local planning policies limit discussion about big box stores to zoning issues, “like how much traffic the store will generate and whether the site has sufficient landscaping,” Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, writes in Grist. Discussion of the store’s impact on the economy is rarely on the table. MORE
This weekend’s episode of Moyers & Company and next week’s Frontline special Two American Families both tell the story of the Stanleys and the Neumanns, two Milwaukee families that Bill has been following since the breadwinners in each lost their well-paid factory jobs in 1990.
These Wisconsinites are part of a broader picture, representative of trends that effect many Americans. For nearly half a century, the Great Lakes region — Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois, once at the core of America’s industrial belt — has been experiencing a continuing, dramatic decline in manufacturing. In the early 1980s, the bottom fell out.
Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. (Click to enlarge).
Middle class workers and the poor in the region were hit particularly hard as median incomes dropped, particularly in cities. It’s not uncommon for cities to have lower median incomes than the state on the whole, but in many cities in the Great Lakes region, the gap is significant. In Milwaukee, median household income is only 68 percent of the Wisconsin average. Other cities in the area have even more significant gaps: Detroit and Cleveland both have median incomes of only 57 percent of their states’ averages. MORE
There’s a wide gap between the income cutoff for government food assistance and the income required to provide children with a nutritious diet. As of early 2013, nearly 48 million Americans received food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). That’s about 15 percent of the country. Despite those numbers, a May 2013 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which oversees SNAP, found that 21 percent of families with children experienced food insecurity in 2011 — meaning that at least some family members couldn’t get enough to eat to lead “active, healthy lives.”
To qualify for SNAP — which, until 2008, was called the Federal Food Stamp Program — a family can earn no more than 130 percent of the federal poverty guideline, which is established each year by the Department of Health and Human Services. Until October 2013, that figure is set at $2,069 per month for a family of three; after that, it will be bumped up by about $50. But many antipoverty advocacy groups point out that 130 percent of the poverty guideline is hardly a comfortable income for a family with children.
The nonprofit group Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) has developed its own indicator for economic security called the Basic Economic Security Tables index, or BEST index. The index differs from state to state, and even between cities within a state, because of differences in the cost of living, including the price of food and childcare. WOW found that across the country, the actual income required for a family of three (one adult and two children) to be economically secure is 200 or 300 percent of the federal poverty guideline, not the 130 percent the USDA uses as the cutoff for SNAP. MORE
This Oct. 30, 2012 aerial photo taken by the U.S. Air Force shows flooding on the New Jersey shoreline caused by Superstorm Sandy. The unprecedented storm surge caused by the storm caused the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to increase the number of storm surge forecasters at the National Hurricane Center starting with the 2013 Atlantic Hurricane season. They will also provide potential storm surge hazards at least 48 hours before the onset of tropical storm or gale-force winds. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force, Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen, File)
According to a new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2012 was the second-most expensive year for natural disasters since the National Climatic Data Center started keeping track in 1980. With tornadoes, wildfires, severe storms, a year-long, catastrophic drought and Hurricane Sandy, last year was surpassed only by 2005, which saw four devastating hurricanes, including Katrina.
These disasters claimed over 300 lives, cost $110 billion and will have a long-lasting negative impact on local economies in the many areas effected. MORE
The Exxon Mobil refinery in Torrance, Calif. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Day in and day out, the residents of the Standard Heights neighborhood in Baton Rouge watch as a century-old oil refinery, operated by Exxon Mobil, belches forth plumes of smoke in various shades of gray. The Louisiana State Department of Environmental Quality allows the facility to pump millions of pounds of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the atmosphere each year; but the company recently announced that between 2008 and 2011, the refinery accidentally leaked 4 million pounds more than they were supposed to release. MORE
Dave Krepcho, director of the Second Harvest Food Bank, looks over a supply of goods that have arrived at the food bank warehouse in Orlando, Fla. Since the start of the recession, food distribution to 500 pantries, shelters, and other relief agencies in the area has jumped about 60 percent. Krepcho estimates about 30 percent of those seeking help are first-timers. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Millions of American families say they have trouble putting food on the table and the economic recovery has done little to provide them with relief. Despite our relative prosperity as a nation, the percentage of Americans who, at some point in a given year, cannot afford to eat sets us apart from other wealthy countries.
Last month, the Pew Research Center used International Monetary Fund data to analyze the “levels of deprivation” across various countries, including our own. When the data is compiled in a chart (as it is below), it’s clear that the U.S. is an outlier: We are by far the richest country included in Pew’s study, but nearly a quarter of our population – over 78 million people — live in what’s called a “food insecure” household. In Canada, the second richest country Pew looked at, only nine percent of people had difficulty; in China, it was eight percent. MORE