Water crisis in Mississippi – a new norm for too many

From a piece in the Center for Disaster Philanthropy updated in November, 2022, the ongoing water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi is summarized. Here are a few paragraphs, with a link to the entire piece below:

The intersection of two disasters – infrastructure failure and river flooding – exacerbated a pre-existing water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi.

In mid-to-late August 2022, heavy rains led to flooding along the Pearl River watershed. While the Pearl was predicted to overtop, it crested below the major flood stage of 36 feet at 35.37 feet. This prevented the large-scale evacuations and extensive damages that were expected. However, localized flooding damaged one of the water treatment plants leading to an inability to produce sufficient water pressure at the O.B. Curtis treatment plant. This was combined with a malfunction of the pumps at the J.H. Fewell treatment plant.  

Water pressure was restored in Jackson on Sept. 5, but the ongoing boil water advisory remained in effect until Sept. 15. This will mark the first time in almost seven weeks that residents should be able to drink the water in their homes, without boiling it beforehand. In the absence of drinking water, the state distributed approximately 12 million bottles of water.

On Oct. 28, Governor Tate Reeves extended the state of emergency until Nov. 22. In his press release, he stated, ‘Since I first declared a State of Emergency on August 30, the state has invested nearly $13 million to prop up Jackson’s failing water system, distribute water, and restore clean running water to the residents of the city. Over this time, the state of Mississippi entered the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant, identified the rampant issues that existed due to years of neglect, and immediately began repair operations. Jackson’s mayor has announced that the city will have a private operator in place by November 17, stating, ‘we anticipate having a contract in place by November 17th.’ Recognizing this, I have decided to end the emergency on November 22, to allow for a five-day transition period between the state’s management team and the chosen private operator. At that point, the State of Emergency must, by statute, end as the water system can be managed solely by local control, as has been insisted upon by the City of Jackson. The State of Emergency must only exist when a situation is beyond local control and the City of Jackson has demanded local control.”’

Per Oliver Laughland in a recent piece on the Mississippi water crisis in The Guardian,

“It underlined the daily struggle faced by thousands in this predominantly Black city, where poorer neighborhoods have routinely borne the brunt of the ongoing disaster. Simple tasks become complex or insurmountable. Greater burdens are placed on those living farther from resources. And, for many, the days are centered around an often frantic search for clean and fresh water.”

Per Laughland, this is the third water outage in two years. Why do elected officials continue to not address problems until they become a crisis? This kind of failure is as old as time and relates to two themes – money and courage. Money for maintenance or repairs tend to get put off until something breaks or fails. Courage is lacking because, for some reason, politicians do not get as much political goodwill from preventing a crisis as they do by addressing it when it gets broken. And, by the way, it usually costs more to fix a crisis than prevent one.

This relates to any infrastructure need which has been in dire need of funding for about a decade. Finally, infrastructure funding was included in the recent Inflation Reduction Bill that was passed and strides are now being made. Yet, with respect to water, we seem to be getting caught with our pants down in the US and have for several years.

It should be noted that the number one or two long term global concern per the members of the World Economic Forum for several years has been the global water crisis. Yet, here in the US we rarely hear of this until a something breaks. In the US, the problem is water supply as well as water distribution. The fight among seven states over water from the Colorado River has been heightened the last couple of years as the water diminishes. We also have farmers and ranchers raising concerns over diminishing water supply. It should be noted that climate change is only exacerbating the water problem.

And, it is common that water crises impact the more impoverished citizens. This occurred in Flint, Michigan where water was drawn for the poorer Flint area using lead-heavy pipes where the lead causes brain damage, especially in Children whose brains are still developing. This is a reason why the Jackson problem was not fixed beforehand. Fewer constituents of the Republican based legislature lived there.

I should not just pick on Republican led legislatures, as more funding is needed regardless of political persuasion. In fact, a Republican and Democrat led a bipartisan push for years for more infrastructure funding, supported by the US Chamber of Commerce and Labor Unions, but failed to get the needed funding. And, it is disappointing, but unsurprising that almost all Republicans in Congress did not vote for the infrastructure bill last year.

Water is a problem and it will continue to be one. Will we address it like it should be addressed? Of course not, especially with the new Republican majority in the US House. But, we need to spend more time talking about it and providing solutions and funding. Air and water represent two of the greatest needs we humans have. We likely should pay attention to them.

Just to illustrate one final point. In a documentary about the 2007-08 financial crisis, an investment advisor who tried to forewarn banks that it was coming and they were in danger of going bankrupt, a final statement was made. When asked what he was most concerned about going forward after predicting the housing crisis (and successfully betting against those who would not listen to him), he said the global water crisis.

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Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman by Miriam Horn – a much needed reprise on working collaboratively to address environmental issues and still make a living

The overarching theme of the book “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman” by Miriam Horn is to accomplish lasting, impactful solutions (in this case with climate change and environmental concerns) we need to work with folks in the middle. In essence, the folks in the extremes are too strident and reluctant to compromise.

A good example comes from the Montana rancher as he combats climate change and environmental degradation caused by fracking for natural gas. He works with folks who will address the environmental issues, but permit him and his family to make a living ranching. He notes the fracking companies paint a picture that is far rosier than it is, while some extreme environmentalists want everything to stop and do nothing with the land. At personal risk, he built a coalition of ranchers, environmentalists and government officials who were willing to follow his lead to preserve the environment while permitting the ranchers to do their thing.

The Kansas farmer speaks to working in concert with the land and learning and sharing best practices with other area farmers and the agro-economics people at nearby Kansas State University. Farmers want to maximize a sustainable yield on their crops, but climate change and water concerns increase the challenges to do so. He emphasizes growing what grows naturally in the area. There is a reason wheat and alfalfa are cash crops in Kansas. He notes the farm to table concept is not necessarily ideal – it would be a waste of water and land to try to grow everything everywhere. As for climate change, they work with legislators to protect the water resources, but have to stop short of using that term with their representatives. They gain collaboration by speaking to what is happening, not identifying its lead cause.

The book focuses on five professions in total, although only three are listed in the title. The other two are Shrimper and River Captain. Skipping over the fisherman and shrimper, who are each impacted by the environmental waste and degradation worsened by climate change, let me finish up with the River Captain.

The Louisiana based river man moves frieight up and down the Mississippi River. He understands the importance of experienced teams who know the river going both ways, with high, low or medium water levels. He has seen the significant dissipation of the wetlands in the Bayou which are causing huge problems to many. Engineers tried to outsmart the river and failed. In fairly dramatic fashion, the Gulf of Mexico is absorbing land due to rising sea levels and fewer buffers, So, they are working with scientists, businesses, and even the petroleum industry to slowly rebuild the Bayou.

Note, there are pros and cons to each set of solutions, so getting to the best answer requires honest input on the costs and risks to people, environment and livelihoods. And, some of the answers are counterintuitive. For example, not sending barges down the Mississippi means more truck traffic which pollutes the environment, degrades the roads and heightens risk for other drivers. With more electric trucks, this would lessen the risk, so that is a factor in risk/ benefit trade-offs. The farmer’s comment about farm to table also deserves scrutiny as farm to table also helps to lessen these trucking risks and costs. Yet, on a large scale, the point about growing stuff that is more natural to an area is profound and will lessen the impact on water resources which are dear.

It should be noted working in collaboration is how business and government work best. Yet, collaboration is hard work. For those who block the consideration of solutions, they need to be sidelined. In our toxic tribal political environment, we must remember each side does not own all the good ideas and both sides own some bad ones. Let’s follow the lead of these folks who get their hands dirty, understand what is happening and work together.

Anna’s Time – a movie about mental illness and romance

My wife and I often watch foreign films with subtitles due to interesting storylines and dialogue. And, at our age and state of hearing, we don’t mind subtitles to begin with. We came across another movie that touched our hearts called “Anna’s Time,” about a true love story in Switzerland written by the granddaughter of the couple. The theme of the movie involves mental illness long before it became more appropriate to recognize and discuss.

In French, the movie title is “Le temps d’Anna.” The story was written by Noemie Kocher and was directed by Greg Zglinski. An overview of the films follows:

“Canton of Neuchâtel, 1917 to 1933. A young watchmaker falls head over heels with a mysterious young woman. Jean and Anna get married, love each other madly and go through all life experiences together, supported by their happiness and friends at their side. Jean wants to invent a new waterproof watch, and the future looks promising. But Anna suddenly seems to suffer from a strange sickness which gets worse each day. Will Jean’s love for her be enough to save her?”

Jean is played by Mathieu Simonet with Anna played by Gaelle Bona. Theirs is a love story that begins with two chance meetings about three years apart. Yet, Jean’s friendship with his two watchmaking colleagues, Abraham (played by Jean-Charles Clichet) and Gaspard (played by Baptiste Coustenoble) and Anna’s with her friend Elisabeth (played by Isabelle Caillat) are key parts to the story.

Without giving too much away beyond the challenge you sense Anna has reasonably early in the movie, the movie draws you into the life of a loving husband, but work-alcoholic inventor of watches, who realizes after much urging by his friends he must make more time for his troubled wife. Anna loves him dearly, but something is not right as she hears voices and goes into a depressive state quite easily. At first it is written off to post-partum depression after she has each of her four children, but it does not go away.

I will stop there. The movie is compelling and evocative. The love is present and obvious throughout, even though the husband can be distracted with his watches. Bona plays Anna well and takes you through a range of emotions from love, lust, anguish, confusion and ultimately realization. Check it out, but keep some tissue close by.

My guess is mental illness was just as present then as it is now. It is just recognized now and treated and managed. Per a behavioral psychologist colleague, one in five people will have some bout of mental illness in their lifetime. It may be depression, anxiety or paranoia they must deal with or it could be something more challenging like schizoid affective disorder, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia. Often, people have multiple diagnoses.

The stigma still exists, but it is not even close to how it once evoked a reaction as evidenced in the movie. Fear of the unknown creates a denial defense mechanism all too often. Today, there is no shame in seeking help from a therapist qualified to offer it. Medication helps but is also best to govern that treatment with therapy. Talk with someone.

A few random thoughts for this big day

The day to officially vote has arrived in America. Will America take a step back from its democracy or will it say to some belligerent autocratic thinkers enough is enough? Here are a few thoughts, again from an independent and former member of both parties. I mention this often as I want people to know I have some conservative bents around financial stewardship and progressive bents around civil rights and opportunities.

Please vote, if you have not doneso already. If you have, well done.

If you care about our planet and battling climate change even more, please vote.

If you care about the civil rights of all people on our shores, please vote.

If you care about the right for a woman to choose what to do with her own body, please vote.

If you care about healthcare access for all Americans, please vote.

If you care about financial programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, please vote.

If you care about requiring more truthfulness and civility in politics, please vote.

If you want to people to address real issues rather than contrived ones, please vote.

To be frank, the halls of legislature no longer are filled entirely with people with good morals, ethics and sense. We have some folks who are not only less than competent, they are more than mean-spirited. Sadly, we have hundreds more just like this lot who are running for office today.

This last statement is unnerving is as Bill Maher put it so well, this is how autocracies start, by electing the people who have sown seeds of doubt. As Maher said the other night, Hitler and Mussolini were elected into office and brought along like-minded folks.

If anyone touts the former US president’s bogus and unproven claims of election fraud in this election, they should not be voted for. Full stop. They are purposefully gaslighting you to get elected, just as the former president has done all of his adult life. He did not just wake up, run for office and start deceiving people. That has long been his modus operandi. This is why I did not vote for him in 2016 or 2020. I want my president to be more truthful than not.

We have one Senatorial candidate who is against abortion, unless it is his baby and he needs to pay to get rid of it. We have one Senatorial candidate who as a doctor on a TV show was hauled in front of Congress for peddling snake oil miracle cures that were untested and harmful to people when taken with other drugs. We have another Senatorial candidate who owns a gun shop, presenting a fairly significant conflict of interest, but also has posed a even tighter nationwide abortion ban.

People need to look at the candidates and vote. Even if you don’t agree with me on all issues, please vote. The problem with elections in America is not fraud, it is not enough people voting. That has always been the case. One party does not think that.

Views from an independent, former Republican and Democrat voter

For what they are worth, the following are the views of an old fart who can sing the lyrics with truth behind them to Paul McCartney’s song about age; “will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four.” I have been a Republican for over 20 years and Democrat for less than five. Around the 2007-08 timeframe, I left the GOP to become an Independent voter.

I would add I am more conservative, especially in financial matters, and more progressive in other issues. I believe in helping people climb a ladder when needed, but we need to be able to pay for it. I am also a big believer in Teddy Roosevelt’s mantra of a Square Deal, meaning giving everyone equal opportunity and I am also a believer in Franklin Roosevelt’s Fair Deal, which helped people who were disenfranchised and broken.

Politics seems to be less about policy and more about designed, fabricated and embellished wedge issues. To be frank, the Republican party public relation spin doctors do not want their candidates to speak about real issues, unless it is blame someone that they really have little control over. Democrats embellish and even lie as well, but it is not a normal distribution being heavily tilted to the right.

Let me set aside the obvious concerns this election and speak to a few policy concerns.

-the Republican Party has no platform, as they did not vote on one in the 2020 GOP presidential convention in Charlotte. Senator Rick Scott, who is heading the Senate campaign, came up with one, but it did not reach consensus. This is a one reason Republicans will not tell you what they will do to solve the problems as they don’t know. The PR people said don’t put a stake in the ground and no one can fault you for it. So, ask them “what do you plan to do about it?”

-Democrats are not perfect, but they are at least addressing or attempting to address issues. A gun governance law was passed (although watered down to garner votes by Republicans), laws impacting infrastructure funding, climate change funding, renewable energy measures, and health care premium and drug costs stabilization were passed and subsidies were passed to help people during the pandemic, building off the ones passed under Trump’s tenure. We also returned to the Paris Climate Change Accord. While an abatement is being provided on federal student loans, I personally would have rather seen something deal with healthcare debt, which is the number one reason for personal bankruptcy.

-Outside of the pandemic help, the key thrusts of the Trump administration were to repeal and replace the ACA (which thankfully failed), give a huge tax break to the wealthy and corporations, masking that the middle class may not come out ahead with limitations on state tax deductions and place tariffs on our trading partners which upset markets causing supply chain issues which were worsened by the pandemic. We also harmed our relationships by focusing more on the transactional and we pulled out of three major accords that went on without us – the Paris Climate Change Accord, the Trans-Pacific Partnership to better compete with China and the Iran Nuclear Deal.

-We should be talking more about what should matter most to people – helping them feed their families, pay for healthcare and keep a roof over their heads. We must deal more with environmental issues as a steward of this country and planet – on top of climate change, we have a global water crisis, that is being exacerbated even worse by climate change and lack of decision-making. If that were not enough, we have a lead pipe issue for distributing the diminished water supply. And, we must protect all people’s rights, not just those who look or worship a certain way. Finally, we have too many in a country this successful going to bed hungry. That is a damn shame.

-What we don’t need to be talking about is contrived issues that really don’t matter a whole lot. I won’t even mention them now as that would give them more cover than they deserve. If I did not mention it above, with the exceptions below, then maybe it is not that big of an issue.

The exceptions are two. We have a debt and deficit problem in our country that has been made worse with the last two administrations. Neither party does well with this issue. Neither. The GOP likes to beat on their chest about it, but made the debt worse under the previous president. The current administration did something about, but that is after making it worse with pandemic subsidies. Obama did something about, but only because both parties put in this sequestration fall back position that made cuts if no deal was reached. No deal was reached.

We have immigration concerns, but the problem is nowhere near as bad as portrayed and was not that bad in 2016 either, even though it was played up. I would ask Republicans if you want to deal with immigration, why did Speaker John Boehner not bring to a vote a bipartisan immigration bill which passed the Senate, which had enough votes to pass the House? Why did the former president renege on his number one campaign issue when a bipartisan deal was reached to give $25 billion for his border wall for making DACA a law? The reason is PR people told the GOP not resolving immigration issues was a more winning issue than solving them – not my words, by the way, but I agree.

Setting aside all of the above, as an independent, I feel my old Republican party is adrift an untethered to the truth. Michael Gerson, a conservative pundit, said the “party is in decay.” When the truth tellers are vilified and the liars aggrandized, it is does not lead to gravitas and veritas. If you tout a Big Lie, then it greases the skids to lie about more things. I believe our voters need to send a strong message to any Republican who touts the former president’s bogus election fraud story and to any Republican who has rationalized his deceitful and illicit behavior. They are perpetuating a fraud on the American people and many know they are so doing, which is even worse.

I encourage people to research how candidates stand on issues. If they support the Big Lie, then dig even deeper. And, know there is one party bent on restricting dissenting votes leveraging the Big Lie. My advice is know the rules and vote. And, remember who wants you not to as you do, as your voice does matter.

Financial suggestions from an old fart (a reprise)

Recognizing there are many places for financial advice, as an old fart, I thought I would offer some specific examples on ways to save money. Some of these are in reaction to various conversations I have had with my children, nieces and nephews, but regardless of age, it does not hurt to validate your thinking from time to time. Please take these for what they are worth, examples of lessons learned, pitfalls avoided and plans executed when I was prescient enough to listen to someone else beforehand. NOTE: I am not a financial advisor, so please do not interpret this as coming from such.

  • Don’t have too many credit cards. I have one debit and two credit cards – you will pile up too much debt otherwise and expose yourself to identity theft with too many. Pay down your largest interest rate first and close it out. Don’t just cut up the card, cancel it as identity theft can still occur – trust me on this.
  • If you are working and have access to a 401(k) or 403(b) plan, for God’s sake use it. If there is a match, find a way to contribute up to the maximum match percentage. You will retire from some place and the cash provides cushion if you are laid off (company’s do that and it has happened to people who are better at their jobs than you are). You are throwing money away otherwise.
  • Do not play the lottery. I repeat, do not play the lottery. You might as well throw the money out the window. Lotteries are a regressive tax – it means people who can least afford to pay taxes, contribute to the lottery. Use the money instead in the 401(k) or 403(b) plan.
  • Avoid online fantasy team and sports betting. You are playing against an audience using multi-variable regression tools for their predictions. A very small percentage of people win the bulk of the money, with everyone else in the red. If you do play, set a small budget.
  • Avoid payday lending. In the bible, usury is a sin. In Dante’s Inferno, there is a level of Hell for payday lenders of the day. These guys are a step away from legbreakers. You will go into a death spiral of debt if you succumb.
  • If you can’t get a job, try volunteering for a charity group. The networking is good as people will see your energies on showcase in a good way. Plus, the psychic income is rich. By working, you will avoid depressive thoughts and can use your energy in a positive way. Some non-profits may be able to figure out a way to get you some income. Plus, you can see ways to tap services if needed.
  • If you have some money to invest – think dividend paying stocks with low P/E (price to earnings) ratios. Take the price per share of the stock and divide it by the earnings per share. If 20 or under, it may be worth the effort. These companies may also have Dividend or Customer Purchase plans you can access online. This means you buy the stock without a sales charge driectly from the company.
  • You do not need to own the newest gadget or thing. Companies do this to get you to buy something. I am not impressed by who owns what. Most people are not. If people are more impressed by your gadgets than you, then you may want to hang around a different crowd.
  • Be smart with your fast food purchases. Do not buy the drinks there as the margins are huge on liquid. Get out of your car and go inside. You are wasting a ton of gas waiting in line and it may be faster if the line outside is long. Read the calorie chart – the Affordable Care Act is requiring disclosure. This will help you be less of a train wreck later on. And, please do not supersize as you will become what you eat – supersized.
  • Better yet, eat more meals at home and yes, eat the leftovers. The savings are huge. I will never die of food poisoning in my own house, so I usually have to be quick with the leftovers before my wife tosses them.
  • Avoid eye level purchases in stores, especially if you are woman. Not to be sexist, but the highest margin items in a grocery store are at the eye level of a 5’5″ woman. Also avoid out-of-place stuff at the end of an aisle or by the cashier. The stuff by the cashier is lethal. While we are at it, do not go inside a convenience store when you pump gas unless it is to use the restroom. Their margins are huge inside on purchases.
  • Reduce water usage by not running water while you shave, brush your teeth, etc. Also, get a lower flush toilet or put a small enclosed container of rocks in the tank as this will reduce the water usage. Use the energy saver setting on dishwashers.
  • Shut off electrical devices overnight. This will save energy plus it will slow the deterioration of modems, routers, computers, etc. And, it will reduce a fire hazard.
  • Go generic on all prescriptions (some generics are the same pill). Use the store brand ibuprofen, decongestants, etc. as they work just as well. Not all pills are the same as one of my sons breaks out in a rash with one generic, but the brand is fine, so use trial and error.
  • Get a second and third opinion on surgeries or diagnosis. Especially, back surgeries. Sometime surgeries can do more harm than good. If you need one, make sure you get all the answers to your questions and have exhausted other options.
  • Walk to errands. Take a couple of shopping bags and walk to the store. You will be healthier, plus you will buy less because you cannot carry it all back.
  • Don’t drink so much. I don’t drink anymore, but have drunk enough for a lifetime before I quit fifteen years ago. You would be amazed at how much you save, plus the better health pays dividends. My last straw was a friend who died at age 59 because of alcoholism. I can tell most people drink more than they tell people. So, find ways to cut it back. Trust me, I know.

That is all I have for now. I hope this was useful. I am sorry about the preaching on the last item, but that is a big-ticket savings item. I welcome other ideas as I want to learn how to save more as well. Please provide additional suggestions below.

Mental health spending on the rise

From a recent article in Benefits Pro, which is a recurring newsletter for benefit professionals:

“Overall spending on mental health services increased from 6.8% to 8.2% between 2013 and 2020, according to a new study published by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI).

Approximately 1 in 5 adults and 1 in 6 youth experience mental illness each year, and these rates have been rising,’ Paul Fronstin, director of EBRI’s Health Benefits Research and co-author of the study, says in a statement. ‘Over 20 million Americans have a substance use disorder.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated mental health issues nationally and in the workplace. With increases in both the number of individuals diagnosed with mental health disorders and use of health care services, higher spending is of great concern to plan sponsors of health benefit programs.'”

This trend has been supported by other sources of information, especially as it relates to the impact from the pandemic. When I traveled around with a Behavioral Psychologist who would help our corporate clients set-up mental health programs around depression and obesity management, mental wellness help-lines, etc., she would cite a statistic that 1 in 5 adults would have some form of depression in their lifetime. That is now a dated statistic, as the above surveys cites 1 in 5 per year.

Her main thrust is people who are battling depression to any degree should get counseling. She hated to see anti-depression medicine prescribed by general practitioners, as that just helped with the depression not get at the cause and management. If you know of anyone who is experiencing depression, please encourage them to seek counseling.

There is no shame in getting help from someone qualified to give it. This also goes for other disorders that someone might be dealing with – substance abuse, anxiety, paranoia, OCD, schizoid personality disorder, PTSD, etc. It is not uncommon for someone to have multiple diagnoses. And, I include PTSD, as one need not be in battle to experience post-traumatic stress disorder, as homeless mothers and kids or victims of domestic violence will tend to have PTSD issues as well.

A few straightforward suggestions to fight poverty (a reprise)

The following is a reprise of a post I wrote three years ago. After the pandemic and its lingering tentacles, along with increased apartment prices due to a housing boom fueled even more by investors buying up property, it is even more of a concern today. I welcome your ideas and thoughts.

“If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out.”

The above quote comes from the Pulitzer Prize winning book “Evicted” by Matthew Desmond. Its subtitle is also telling – “Poverty and Profit in the American City.” The dilemma is we have a poverty problem that stretches from urban to rural America. Yet, it manifests itself daily in the eviction courts of American cities and towns, whether it is from apartments, houses or mobile homes.

The book speaks of how fragile the rental community is regardless of race, yet the black community tends to have a higher rate of exposure to evictions in urban areas. Unexpected expenses, transportation problems, and tragedies can push people paying a very high portion of their rent over the edge and out the door. Ideally, 30% of family income should be toward housing and utilities. Too many of these folks are paying well above that percentage.

It should be noted that there are other drivers of fragility. Some have opioid and other dependencies. Some are fragile due to too many children that stretch the budgets of even the best planners. Some are in downward spirals with unsupportive landlords. And, many of those unexpected expenses that arise are healthcare related.

What are some suggestions to remedy these issues? Based on my experience as a volunteer Board member helping working homeless families and my reading, I would like to throw out some ideas for consideration.

First, we need to talk more about it. America has a huge disparity in distribution of wealth which is not talked about enough by leaders. Where and to whom one is born are greater predictors of success as the American Dream  has waned for too many.

Second, we need to fund more family planning efforts not less. There is a high correlation between poverty and large families. When family planning is funded and birth control access and education are increased, poverty declines, system health care costs decline and abortions decline.

Third, more mechanisms to reduce evictions need to be in place and funded. Crisis assistance funds show success in helping keeping the electricity on and, when funded, reducing the number of evictions. Stopping homelessness (or fragility) before it starts can make a huge difference and will have a positive echo effect.

Fourth, we must invest in impoverished  areas making them more suitable for families both with opportunity and resources. In their absence, crime and other poor influences fill the void.

Fifth, while I have concerns about the new Tax law (passed in early 2018) with its impact on debt and heavy emphasis on the wealthy and corporations, a huge opportunity was missed when we could have added an increase in the minimum wage tying it to automatic increases due to wage inflation. I worry that less money than expected by the law’s drafters will end up in the hands of workers.

Sixth, we must address our opioid crisis in America. And, we must look at our rising numbers needing mental health counseling. To be frank, cutting access to healthcare and mental care insurance benefits are not the answer. We should actually be expanding access where it does not exist. We must stabilize access and cost of healthcare, yet opposite measures have been taken in the past few years under the guise of political gain.

Seventh, too many go hungry in the United States, especially children. That may be one of our greatest tragedies as a nation. We must address food deserts where grocers choose not to go. Too many are living off horrible fast food or nothing at all. Food co-ops would be a big help to those areas, but they need help funding the build-out.

There are many more ideas, but these will help. On the investing front, many locations have seen success with using historical tax credits leveraging private money. There is a concept called ABCD (Asset Based Community Development) which shores up or repurposes a deteriorated asset creating jobs and revitalizing areas.

But, first we need to talk about this real and pervasive problem.

Nickel and Dimed in America – a tribute to Barbara Ehrenreich (may she RIP)

Yesterday, I learned that Barbara Ehrenreich passed away at the age of 81. From the Associated Press,

“Barbara Ehrenreich, the author, activist and self-described ‘myth buster’ who in such notable works as ‘Nickel and Dimed’ and ‘Bait and Switch’ challenged conventional thinking about class, religion and the very idea of an American dream, has died at age 81…A prolific author who regularly turned out books and newspaper and magazine articles, Ehrenreich honed an accessible prose style that brought her a wide readership for otherwise unsettling and unsentimental ideas. She disdained individualism, organized religion, unregulated economics and what Norman Vincent Peale famously called ‘the power of positive thinking.’”

I wrote the following post nine years ago about the need to increase the minimum wage. Fortunately, many states and cities did this very thing to get folks closer to a living wage.

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The walkout this week by restaurant workers to protest poor wages is indicative of a major problem we have in this country. We have a poverty problem in this country with far too many people living in poverty or paycheck to paycheck. As I have noted in earlier posts, the disparity between the “haves” and “have-nots” has grown wider at the same time our socio-economic class mobility has greatly diminished. Where we are born and to whom we are born are now greater indicators of success than they used to be. To compound the problem, those who are in the upper income echelons are having a more difficult time appreciating the challenges faced by those who are not. More on this later.

In Barbara Ehrenreich’s book “Nickel and Dimed (in America),” she chronicled her efforts and those of her co-workers, in trying to live on minimum or near-minimum wage jobs. Her conclusion is these jobs perpetuate poverty. She notes a variety of factors which include not being able to afford healthcare, not being able to save, poor food habits as fast food was the cheapest and most convenient food, being a slave to the work schedulers, being tied to mass transportation schedules due to gas prices, and having to work more than one job. She also noted in the restaurant jobs, people having to work when they are sick, because they needed the pay. Getting by was the best you could hope for. Getting ahead was quite difficult as you were treated like a commodity. I would add this contention is supported by Dr. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley’s book “The Rich and the Rest of Us.” A summary of the key findings in the book can be gleaned from the attached post.  https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2012/10/20/the-rich-and-the-rest-of-us-a-must-read/

Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. In some places, the state or local minimum wage is higher (Illinois, California have $8.00; Arizona is $7.47 and the city of San Francisco is $9.79, e.g.). Yet, a living wage is higher in these locations. A living wage varies by geography and is based on the cost of living to provide shelter, food, healthcare and basic necessities. Attached is a link to a MIT website that will allow you to see the calculation of living wage by area. http://livingwage.mit.edu/.

Per this MIT website, in my home county in North Carolina, a living wage is now $10.02 for a single adult and $19.68 for a one parent, one child family. In other higher cost of living areas, the living wage can be a few dollars more. As of this writing, President Obama has proposed an increase in the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.00. While not enough, the increase is a tangible step forward. Per a Gallup Poll in March 2013, this proposal is supported by 70% of Americans. The result is even higher for women, Democrats, moderates, non-whites, adults who earn less than $24,000 per annum, and young adults. 2/3 of Americans who are seniors, Independents, and earners between $24,000 and $60,000 support the change. It is only beneath 67% for men, Republicans conservatives,and upper middle class earners and above.

Those who decry this change cite that we will end up with fewer jobs as a result. I have seen data on both sides of this argument. To me, there is a huge cost of turnover in retail and restaurant jobs due to lost productivity of the staff, but also of the department and store manager. The manager has to spend more time back-filling a job or making sure people are on the floor, than focusing on customer service and selling merchandise. Any measure a retail company can do to reduce this churn shows up in better productivity. Per the attached link, Costco seems to believe this, as they pay their people far more than the minimum and are doing quite well. http://money.cnn.com/2013/08/06/news/economy/costco-fast-food-strikes/index.html.

We have a problem in this country, which will only get worse, if we do not remedy it. This is a key reason I have been a staunch supporter of Obamacare. While imperfect, it does speak to the healthcare insurance needs of those who are now uninsured. And, many of those who cannot afford insurance are working in retail and restaurants. Yet, we must pay people better. Will it cause the number of jobs to go down? My guess is for some employers it might, but for many it won’t. In my consulting work with retail and restaurant employers, I have observed the employers who treat their employees as commodities will never have the productivity and customer service of those who treat their employees as key in their ability to sell products and serve customers. These latter companies work back from how can we serve the customer better.

And, when you hear someone who is doing more than fine financially state that increasing the minimum wage is a poor investment of money, please respond the better off people are, the less they will depend on those so-called hand-outs the well off seem to hate. I do not like to use the term hand-outs, as helping people survive in tough times is an appropriate investment of resources, yet for an audience that tends to use this term freely, it is an argument that might resonate. Plus, the more we all have to spend, the better off the economy will be. Let’s increase the minimum wage. It is time.

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Thank you Barbara Ehrenreich – you made us think and sit-up and take notice.

Medicaid expansion – letter to the editor

When the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, a key element was for people who made less than 133% of the poverty limit based on their family size. This group would pay no premiums through a state-by-state expansion of Medicaid. The federal government said it would reimburse each state for 90% of that cost.

At this point in 2022, there are twelve holdout states that have not expanded Medicaid. That leaves 2 million Americans with access to no healthcare coverage. The holdout states include my home state of North Carolina and big states like Texas, Florida and Georgia (see link below to a NPR article).

North Carolina was close to passing Medicaid expansion, but the effort stalled once again. Here is a letter I sent to my newspaper that they graciously printed this morning.

NC and Medicaid

As a retired benefits consultant and former benefits manager for a Fortune 500 company, I was hopeful that the N.C. General Assembly would at long last pass an expansion of Medicaid to fully comply with the Affordable Care Act. Failing to do this has harmed N.C. residents. Our economy has been impacted and some rural hospitals have either closed or are in financial trouble, according to the Commonwealth Fund, a nonpartisan healthcare advisor.

As former GOP presidential candidate and Ohio governor John Kasich noted when Ohio expanded Medicaid years ago, it was a no-brainer with the federal funding the state has realized for years now. Please move forward on Medicaid expansion.

We have heard of food deserts in largely rural states which impact people in need more than others. But, we also have healthcare deserts as well. Taking only one data point, it is not a surprise to learn that maternal mortality rates in these states are worse than in other states and first-world countries. Note, this is mother’s dying in childbirth. That is a sad state of affairs, especially for a country who claims exceptionalism.

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/07/01/1011502538/12-holdout-states-havent-expanded-medicaid-leaving-2-million-people-in-limbo