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Deepening Inequality Driving US Middle Class into Oblivion

“The hollowing of the middle has proceeded steadily for four decades, and it may have reached a tipping point,” Pew Research Center says

A closer look at the shift out of the middle reveals that “a deeper polarization is underway in the American economy,” says Pew Research Center report. (Image: DonkeyHotey/flickr/cc)

The American middle class is shrinking.

For the first time in more than four decades, middle-income households have lost their majority status in the U.S., according to new findings, and are now outnumbered by their counterparts on opposite ends of the income spectrum.

“The fastest-growing segments are the ones at the extremes, the very lowest and highest ends of the income distribution.”
—Pew Research Center

Based on the definition used in the Pew Research Center report released Wednesday, the share of American adults living in middle-income households—that is, with an income that is two-thirds to double that of the overall median household income, or $42,000 to $126,000 annually in 2014—has fallen from a high of 61 percent in 1971 to 50 percent in 2015.

At the same time, the share living in the upper-income tier jumped from 14 percent to 21 percent over the same period, and the share in the lower-income tier rose from 25 percent to 29 percent.

“The hollowing of the middle has proceeded steadily for four decades, and it may have reached a tipping point,” the Pew study suggests. Furthermore, a “closer look at the shift out of the middle reveals that a deeper polarization is underway in the American economy.”

“The movement out of the middle-income tier has been more than just a step in one direction or the other,” the report says. “The fastest-growing segments are the ones at the extremes, the very lowest and highest ends of the income distribution.”

In addition, middle class families have fallen further behind financially, the study shows, with the share of U.S. aggregate household income held by middle-income households having “eroded significantly over time.”

“Upper-income households now command the greatest share of aggregate income and are on the verge of holding more in total income than all other households combined,” the report reads. “This shift is partly because upper-income households constitute a rising share of the population and partly because their incomes are increasing more rapidly than those of other tiers.”

The Pew findings support what many 2016 presidential candidates, led by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, have been saying on the campaign trail.

In an op-ed published this summer, Sanders decried what he called “the war against the American middle class,” marked by Wall Street greed, anti-worker policies, and corporate tax evasion.

And on Thursday, he tweeted:

There’s been a massive transfer of wealth from the 99% to the top 1%. We’ve got to bring that money back to working families.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll in January found that 47 percent of respondents considered reducing income inequality an absolute priority for the government to pursue this year, with Democrats placing far greater importance on it than Republicans.

In a piece for Gawker on Thursday, Hamilton Nolan responded to Pew report with an irreverent eulogy.

“The Middle Class, a popular figure in American folklore, died this week after a long battle with capitalism,” Nolan wrote. “Its passing has been expected since the recent death of its partner, The American Dream.”

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American Hunger-Related Healthcare Costs Exceeded $160 Billion in 2014, According to New Study

Food insecurity, especially for children, remains near record high despite the Great Recession’s official end.

BY Elizabeth Grossman

Currently about 50 million Americans meet the USDA criteria for food insecurity. About 15 million of them are children.

While the official end of the Great Recession is a full five years behind us, there are now nearly 12 million more Americans who lack enough resources to access adequate food than there were in 2007, a number that has only improved slightly since United States food insecurity peaked at over 21 percent in 2009. These statistics alone are disturbing. But as detailed in a new study released today as part of Bread for the World Institute’s 2016 Hunger Report, absence of food security in the U.S. carries enormous healthcare costs, more than $160 billion in 2014.

Using data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Census Bureau and research on food security published in peer-reviewed academic journals between 2005 and 2015, a team of researchers led by Boston University School of Medicine associate professor of pediatrics John Cook, estimated these health care costs by looking at the costs of treating diseases and health conditions associated with household food insecurity plus earnings lost when people took time off work because of these illnesses or to care for family members with illnesses related to food insecurity.

As Cook, who is also research scientist and principal investigator with Children’s Health Watch, explained to In These Times, lack of access to adequate food does not necessarily directly cause a particular illness but “plays a role in that disease occurring.” Years of research consistently shows food insecurity increases the risk for a range of health problems. These risks are particularly great for children but poor and inadequate nutrition also increases risk for adult health problems, including obesity and chronic diseases, among them diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. It also exacerbates illness duration and severity–in some cases simply because people lack money for medication–and therefore treatment costs.

Putting this in a broader economic context, Bread for the World Institute points out that the U.S. “spends more per capita on health care than any other high-income country but compares poorly with these others on key population health indicators such as life expectancy and child survival. This is due,” report authors, “in part to our tolerance as a nation, for higher levels of poverty and hunger.”

Currently about 50 million Americans meet the USDA criteria for food insecurity. About 15 million of them are children. In 2014, 19.2 percent of U.S. households with children were food insecure–about a third higher than households without. The Boston University research team found if the costs of special education for children whose learning abilities are adversely affected by food insecurity are factored in along with related education impacts for high-schoolers, the $160 billion rose by an additional  nearly $18 billion. This brings a total estimate of direct and indirect health care costs of U.S. food insecurity in 2014 to $178.93 billion.

 

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Obamacare (c) Desert Rose Creations / Family Survival Protocol 2013

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First, the administration revealed that enrollments for Obamacare next year will barely hit 10 million, far below previous projections.

Then last week, the consulting firm of McKinsey & Company estimated that premiums for policies under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, were going up substantially in 2016. For instance, the median rate increase for the lowest priced, highly popular “Silver” plan will rise by 11 percent – compared to just a seven percent increase in 2015.

 

Related: Millions Face Premium and Deductible Sticker Shock under Obamacare

 

Now there are troubling reports  that consumers will be facing soaring out-of-pocket costs for deductibles next year – increases that in many cases will neutralize the benefits of their health care plans or discourage some from purchasing coverage.

“That these deductibles are so high is clearly one of the reasons people aren’t buying a plan—they simply don’t see themselves getting anything for the money,” Robert Laszewski, president of Health Policy & Strategy Associates, a business and policy consultant, said in a newsletter on Monday.

Department of Health and Human Services officials insist that there are still plenty of plans available with low premiums for those willing to aggressively shop on the federal and state operated insurance exchanges. Americans have until the end of the year to enroll for the third season of Obamacare. But even in cases where consumers find good deals on premiums, they are likely to be stung on the back end by requirements to pay sizeable out of pocket costs before their Obamacare coverage actually kicks in.

The average annual out-of-pocket costs per worker increased nearly 230 percent between 2006 and 2015, according to an annual survey of employer health benefits coverage by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

 

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Americans Give Health Insurers a Big Thumbs Down

Americans haven’t been this fed up with health insurance companies in a decade, and their frustration likely won’t fade soon.

Consumer satisfaction with health insurance providers fell to the lowest level since 2005, largely due to the slow processing of claims and the rising costs of premiums, deductibles and copays, according to a new survey from the American Customer Satisfaction Index that dates to 2001.

 

Related: How Workers Are Getting Slammed With Higher Health Care Costs

 

Americans are extremely cost sensitive, especially in the health sector, and take notice of how fast their costs go up, says ACSI managing director David VanAmburg.

Obamacare also plays an indirect role. Providers are unable to keep up with customer service as more people purchase insurance, he says. And many insurers haven’t beefed up their staffing to deal with the increase in demand. As insurers become responsible for more consumers, they may need to recalibrate, VanAmburg says.

 

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The Independent

Malnutrition and ‘Victorian’ diseases soaring in England ‘due to food poverty and cuts’

Cases of malnutrition and other “Victorian” diseases are soaring in England, in what campaigners said was a result of cuts to social services and rising food poverty.

NHS statistics show that 7,366 people were admitted to hospital with a primary or secondary diagnosis of malnutrition between August 2014 and July this year, compared with 4,883 cases in the same period from 2010 to 2011 – a rise of more than 50 per cent in just four years.

Cases of other diseases rife in the Victorian era including scurvy, scarlet fever, cholera and whooping cough have also increased since 2010, although cases of TB, measles, typhoid and rickets have fallen.

Chris Mould, chairman of the Trussell Trust, which runs a nationwide network of foodbanks, said they saw “tens of thousands of people who have been going hungry, missing meals and cutting back on the quality of the food they buy”.

 

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The Independent

Malnutrition cases in English hospitals almost double in five years

Admissions to hospitals have soared as poorer families struggle to afford food

 

The shocking impact of recession and austerity on England’s poorest people has come to light again in figures showing the number of malnutrition cases treated at NHS hospitals has nearly doubled since the economic downturn.

Primary and secondary diagnoses of malnutrition – caused by lack of food or very poor diet – rose from 3,161 in 2008/09 to 5,499 last year, according to figures released by the health minister Norman Lamb.

While the data does not include information on the circumstances of each diagnosis, the rise coincides with a dramatic increase in the cost of living, and a spike in demand for charity food hand-outs.

The figures, broken down by region, reveal the heaviest burden of hunger is being felt in rural areas. Hospitals in Somerset saw the most cases, with 215 diagnoses, followed by Cornwall and Scilly Isles.

 

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 POLITICO
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Roughly 80 percent of Obamacare customers received subsidies. | Getty

Obamacare rates to rise 7.5 percent next year

But the figures will vary widely from state to state.

Obamacare customers are facing an average 7.5 percent price increase for a key benchmark health plan next year, according to limited data the Obama administration released just days before the start of a challenging enrollment season.

But the average rate hikes will vary dramatically from state to state — skyrocketing more than 30 percent in Alaska, Montana and Oklahoma while dropping 12.6 percent in Indiana.

The administration’s analysis looks at the second-cheapest “silver” plan available to customers when open enrollment begins on Nov. 1. Those benchmark plans, which are among the most popular sold on the law’s health insurance exchanges, are important because they’re used to calculate how much federal support low- and middle-income exchange customers will receive toward their monthly premiums.

More than 70 percent of exchange customers chose silver plans this year, which cover about 70 percent of medical costs. Roughly 80 percent of Obamacare customers received subsidies, worth an average monthly credit of $270.

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  Rent Is Too Damn High Party car
Wikipedia.org
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We just learned America’s rental affordability crisis is as bad as it’s ever been. Unfortunately, it’s about to get a whole lot worse.

The American Community Survey for 2014, released a few weeks ago, found that the number of renters paying 30 percent or more of their income on housing – the standard benchmark for what’s considered affordable – reached a new record high of 20.7 million households, up nearly a half-million from the year before. Despite the improving economy, the increase was nearly five times bigger than last year’s gain.

That means about half of all renters live in housing considered unaffordable. And the latest increase comes on top of substantial growth since 2000 that has seen this number climb by roughly six million households over the period, an increase of about 41 percent.

Related: More Americans Struggling to Pay the Rent

 

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Hopes are dimming that Congress will intervene to block a huge Medicare premium increase of over 50 percent for nearly a third of the 50 million elderly Americans who receive their physician care and other health services through Medicare Part D.

Republicans and Democrats are deadlocked over how to come up with roughly $10.5 billion to prevent Medicare premiums from skyrocketing for millions of seniors beginning next January. The looming increase is the result of a quirk in the law that drives up premiums for wealthier Americans and poor people with chronic medical problems in years when the Social Security Administration doesn’t approve a cost-of-living adjustment for beneficiaries.

Related: Millions Face a 50 % Medicare Premium Hike If Obama and Congress Don’t Act

While both parties are interested in doing something to reduce or avert the premium hikes, Republicans are demanding that the cost of any bailout be offset by cuts in other areas of the Medicare program, while Democrats are resisting that approach. Moreover, there is a division between House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) – a major champion of a bailout – and some Senate Democratic leaders who are less enthusiastic about the effort and how to pay for it.

“It’s a big mess,” said one Washington health care expert who is following the negotiations closely.

Negotiations may pick up later this month once the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services formally releases its official 2016 premium rates, according to a report on Thursday by the Morning Consult.

 

 

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QUARTZ

October 17, 2015

About a year ago, I was having lunch with a friend when I made a throwaway comment: “Have you seen the rent in San Francisco? If I get a job in the Bay Area, I’ll totally live in a van.”

As I sit in darkness writing this, I’m trying to keep my typing quiet, lest a real inhabitant of the neighborhood I’m parked in should walk by and wonder about the sounds coming from the rusty bus loitering on their block. Yes, you understood that correctly: Today, I work in a multi-million dollar office complex, and I live in a van.

This summer, after receiving a job offer in Silicon Valley, I went on Craigslist and began sifting through housing listings: “verrrrrryyy cheap bedroom😉,” “great deal on rent!” A single room with a shared bathroom? Two thousand per month on the low-end. A small studio apartment, you ask? If your startup wasn’t recently bought for seven figures, forget about it.

I perked up after finding a listing for $1,000 per month. Now this could work. Clicking through to the details section however revealed the offer was for a single bunk in a room with eight people, a set-up referred to as a “hacker house” by an (evil) marketing genius.

Even if I was to spend the huge majority of my salary on rent, I knew I would likely still be in a grim living situation, resenting every penny I handed over that could have gone towards paying back my student loans. And as a software engineer, I’m one of the lucky ones! Imagine those who aren’t lucky enough to be on the tech payroll.

Anyway, three weeks ago I took the equivalent of three months’ rent and bought an old red bus. It’s a 1969 VW camper van with a hole in the floor and a family of spiders that has more of a right to be here than I do (sleeping in your car on public land in California is illegal).


(Katharine Patterson/blog.thinkkappi.com)

But with the help of Ikea and an army of cleaning supplies I was able to get the bus into livable condition.

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MSN News

Many Low-Income Workers Say ‘No’ to Health Insurance

By STACY COWLEY 6 hrs ago
An employee at Golden Corral taking clean cups from the kitchen. Some Golden Corral restaurants began offering health insurance to employees, but few have opted in.© Logan R. Cyrus for The New York Times An employee at Golden Corral taking clean cups from the kitchen. Some Golden Corral restaurants began offering health insurance to employees, but few have…JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — When Billy Sewell began offering health insurance this year to 600 service workers at the Golden Corral restaurants that he owns, he wondered nervously how many would buy it. Adding hundreds of employees to his plan would cost him more than $1 million — a hit he wasn’t sure his low-margin business could afford.

His actual costs, though, turned out to be far smaller than he had feared. So far, only two people have signed up.

“We offered, and they didn’t take it,” he said.

Evidence is growing that his experience is not unusual. The Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate, which requires employers with more than 50 full-time workers to offer most of their employees insurance or face financial penalties, was one of the law’s most controversial provisions. Business owners and industry groups fiercely protested the change, and some companies cut workers’ hours to reduce the number of employees who would be eligible.

But 10 months after the first phase of the mandate took effect, covering companies with 100 or more workers, many business owners say they are finding very few employees willing to buy the health insurance that they are now compelled to offer. The trend is especially pronounced among smaller and midsize businesses in fields filled with low-wage hourly workers, like restaurants, retailing and hospitality. (Companies with 50 to 99 workers are not required to comply with the mandate until next year.)

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© Andrea Comas
A school district in Tennessee voted to cancel classes and shut down its schools as a result of a budget problem that has left the government unable to fund the facilities. The school director blamed Obamacare for its problems.

Clay County, Tennessee operates three schools total – one high school and two that cover pre-kindergarten through eighth grade – on a $9.5 million budget. However, now more than 1,100 students are sitting at home while officials try to figure out how to reopen the doors. A school board meeting last week saw the board voting 6-4 to close the schools. A separate vote to keep them open failed.

Notably, the county’s financial issues are not new. Clay County Director of Schools Jerry Strong told Associated Press that officials have been struggling with the budget for three years, and blamed county obligations such as state and government mandates, particularly the Affordable Care Act, for the monetary hole.

“Clay County’s inability to generate the revenue to offset the mandates is what’s caused this to come to a head,” he said.

 

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