March 17, 2009

National Poverty News Roundup for 17 March 2009

The casualties of the present economic downturn continue to mount. Unemployment here in Washington DC, supposedly one of the areas of the country most recession-proof on account of its government jobs, hit 9.3% for January 2009; even lawyers are beginning to feel the pinch. And once we get out of the higher income brackets, things get worse: at least 3% of District residents appear to be infected with HIV, and the mayor's office suggests that the actual number is probably higher. Here as elsewhere in the country, food banks are experiencing record high demand combined with record low levels of supply; in Orlando, Florida, aid workers are comparing the situation to what they traditionally experience following a major hurricane. Even local Humane Society chapters are hard-pressed to provide food for cats and dogs. And once we get outside of the United States, the situation gets perhaps worse: Kenya faces widespread starvation, and you know that the global situation must be dire when Wal-Mart and the AFL-CIO -- usually at loggerheads over labor issues -- join a coalition urging more targeted US aid to address the situation of the developing world.

So it's bad all over. We know this abstractly, but how to get a handle on it? We can look at national statistics for some perspective, such as this revealing graphic detailing the number of "underwater" (negative-equity: the homeowner owes more on the property than the property is worth at current market rates) mortgages; California leads the pack in absolute numbers (1.9 million mortgages), while Nevada leads the relative percentages with a whopping 55% (!) of all mortgages in the state being underwater. Such economic dislocation might exacerbate well-known patterns of residential segregation, driving more low-income working families into the inner cities where the all-too-familiar cycle of increased demand for services combined with a decreased tax base places additional burdens on already-strapped urban service infrastructures. The Obama Adminstration's stimulus package might help address some of the shortfalls; a recent meeting of the "Eight Neighbors" coalition of regional service organizations provides some insight into how the money might be most effectively used (their one-hour mp3 briefing is a useful compendium of information, if you have some time to listen to it).

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