Smart Charts

Keeping Big Box Stores in Check

Earns Lowes
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

What’s Wrong With Milwaukee in Seven Charts

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

The Gap Between SNAP and Basic Economic Security

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

Natural Disasters Made 2012 an Exceptional Year

FILE - This Oct. 30, 2012 aerial file photo provided 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)
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

Who is Polluting in Your Community?

The ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance, Calif., is seen Monday, Oct. 8, 2012. For the third straight day Monday Oct. 8, 2012, the California statewide average price for a gallon of regular rose to an all-time high, hitting $4.668, according to AAA. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
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

America’s Exceptional Food Insecurity

In this Monday, July 30, 2012 photo, 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. In the past four years, food distribution to 500 pantries, shelters, and other relief agencies in the six-county area has jumped about 60 percent. In the last year alone, that amounted to 36 million pounds of food. Krepcho estimates about 30 percent of those seeking help are first-timers. They're blue-collar and white-collar, many middle class, even some upper middle class. They include college-educated couples and professionals. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
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

U.S. Poverty: By the Numbers

We’re proud to collaborate with The Nation in sharing insightful journalism related to income inequality in America. The following is an excerpt from Nation contributor Greg Kaufmann’s “This Week in Poverty” column.


U.S. poverty (less than $17,916 for a family of three): 46.2 million people, 15.1 percent

Click pie chart to enlarge. Read the full report at the National Center for Children in Poverty website.

Children in poverty: 16.1 million, 22 percent of all children, including 39 percent of African-American children and 34 percent of Latino children. Poorest age group in country.

Deep poverty (less than $11,510 for a family of four): 20.4 million people, 1 in 15 Americans, including more than 15 million women and children

People who would have been in poverty if not for Social Security, 2011: 67.6 million
(program kept 21.4 million people out of poverty)

People in the U.S. experiencing poverty by age 65: Roughly half

Gender gap, 2011: Women 34 percent more likely to be poor than men

Gender gap, 2010: Women 29 percent more likely to be poor than men

Twice the poverty level (less than $46,042 for a family of four): 106 million people, more than 1 in 3 Americans MORE

It’s Not Just One Bad ‘Apple’

Earlier this week, a Senate panel investigated how Apple avoided billions in taxes through a web of offshore subsidiaries “so complex it spanned continents and went beyond anything most experts had ever seen.” Although the company may have achieved, in the words of Sen. Carl Levin, the “holy grail of tax avoidance,” senators didn’t accuse Apple of doing anything illegal and it is by no means alone in its use of loopholes and gimmicks to avoid paying taxes.

Here’s a list, topped by Apple, of 10 companies that increased their offshore holdings in the past year. MORE

The Link Between Mass Incarceration and Voter Turnout

Poll worker Eric Carr, background center, watches a technician for the New York City Board of Elections clear a paper jam in a ballot scanner as voters wait to scan their ballots, at a school in New York's Harlem neighborhood, Nov. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Poll worker Eric Carr, background center, watches a technician for the New York City Board of Elections clear a paper jam in a ballot scanner as voters wait to scan their ballots, at a school in New York's Harlem neighborhood, Nov. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Earlier this month, the Census Bureau reported that more black Americans voted in the 2012 election than any other group, including white Americans. The Associated Press called it a “tipping point” of historic proportions. A new study out this week contends that black male turnout was even higher than the Census reported.

Nearly all U.S. states have laws barring those convicted of a felony from voting while serving time in prison. In 11 states, some felons lose their voting rights for life; the ACLU puts the number of felons currently unable to vote at 5.3 million.

The Census measures voter turnout by counting all individuals of voting age — but nearly one in 10 black men are ineligible to vote because of state felony laws. Harvard political scientist Bernard Fraga found that by excluding black men who are not currently in prison but still cannot vote from the overall count of eligible voters, turnout figures for the group increased from 61.4 to 68 percent. Fraga also saw changes in the figures for black women, and white men and women, but none as substantial as the 6.6 point shift he saw with black men. MORE

Poverty and Inequality in Some of the World’s Richest Countries

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OEDC, has released its latest data on poverty and inequality. It’s a little wonky (we found it via Wonkblog), but if you’re not the type to spend your day clicking through 315 different charts, you can start with one: the Gini coeeficient, a commonly used measure of income inequality. The blue line represents all OEDC countries, the red represents whatever country you’ve chosen below. As you’ll see, the U.S. has one of the highest rates of inequality, topped only by Chile, Mexico and Turkey in this select group of developed market economies. These numbers are echoed in the top 10 percent vs bottom 10 percent section. Oh, and if you want to better understand the Tax & Transfers section, refer to the Wonkblog post. MORE

What Stalled Carbon Emissions Legislation?

A Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, Calif. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)
A Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, Calif. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

It’s a distressing milestone that you likely read about: On Friday, the average daily level of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere passed 400 parts per million — about 50 ppm over what scientists said was the “safe upper limit.” The gas, of course, is a byproduct of our fossil fuel economy, and is the key driver of climate change.

The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased dramatically since 1958, when the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii — the gold standard for measuring the gas — first began tracking levels. That year, the daily average was 316 ppm — since then, the level has increased by 26.5 percent.

And yet, Washington is doing very little to rein in CO2 emissions and slow the climate change that’s already underway. MORE

America’s Corporate Inequality Problem

Many of the reforms contained in Dodd-Frank — passed nearly three years ago, now — have yet to be written as clear-cut regulations through the complicated federal rule-making process. One of these rules would require corporations to disclose the pay gap between workers and CEOs. Although executive compensation disclosure has been an SEC requirement since the early 1990s, median worker pay has not — and not surprisingly, corporate lobbyists have been working hard to make sure that reform doesn’t see the light of day.

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

When (and if) a rule is written, shareholders will have hard data about the dramatic inequalities that exist within corporate America. In the meantime, Bloomberg News posted a chart of the top 250 S&P 500 companies with the highest estimated pay gaps for 2012. Since average worker pay is not usually available — thus the need for the new rule — Bloomberg used an “estimate of industry-specific rank-and-file employee compensation calculated from government data” to come up with the typical worker to chief executive pay ratios. MORE

Guns in America After Newtown

Take a look at gun deaths, school shootings, public opinion and the Senate vote on gun control in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that killed 26 people, including 20 children.
 

The Victims

As Slate editors note in the introduction to their crowdsourced map that attempts to visualize gun deaths in the US (pictured below), determining the actual number of gun deaths each year is “surprisingly hard.” That’s because as many as 60 percent of gun deaths are suicides that usually go unreported by the press.

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