Jared Bernstein unpacks the new Census data on poverty, income, and health insurance; Liz Weintraub on how Kavanaugh’s confirmation would set disability rights back 50 years or more; and Jeremy Slevin returns with the news of the week, In Case Yachts Missed It.
This week on Off-Kilter, it’s poverty data week! Poverty nerds everywhere have spent every waking minute digging into the annual Census Bureau report on poverty, income, and health insurance for 2017, since its release Wednesday morning (after some technical difficulties that had wonk Twitter desperately crying out for a table… ANY TABLE!) (Yes, really.) So Rebecca talks with one of her favorite poverty wonks, Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, about the report and what the new data tell us about the “Trump economy.”
Next, one of the most powerful moments of the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings came when Liz Weintraub, a disability advocate and a woman with cerebral palsy, became the first ever witness with an intellectual disability to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee in confirmation hearings for a Supreme Court nominee. Liz testified about what Kavanaugh’s confirmation would mean for her and other people with disabilities — given his ruling as a federal judge in a case called Doe v. D.C., in which he ruled that it was, like, totally cool to perform elective surgery on people with disabilities without their consent. Rebecca speaks with Liz, who serves as a senior advocacy specialist at the Association of University Centers on Disabilities, or AUCD, as well as the host of “Tuesdays with Liz,” a weekly YouTube series.
But first: 13,000 yachts, Jamie Dimon, Trump goes Frank Underwood, and more… as Jeremy Slevin returns with the news of the week, ICYMI (and this week the Y stands for YACHTS).
This week’s guests:
- Jared Bernstein, Senior Fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and former chief economist to Vice President Biden
- Liz Weintraub, senior advocacy specialist at the Association of University Centers on Disabilities and host of “Tuesdays with Liz”
For more on this week’s topics:
- Dig into the full Census report on poverty, income, and health insurance — and if it’s TL;DR, get caught up on the highlights here, here, and here
- Get more of Jared’s takes on the new poverty data in his Washington Post op-ed and over at his “On the Economy” blog
- Read Liz’s full testimony in the Kavanaugh hearings; learn more about the “Doe” case over at TalkPoverty; and join the disability community’s call-in day on Friday, Sept. 14th to #StopKavanaugh
- Check out Liz’s weekly YouTube show “Tuesdays with Liz” — and find out more about AUCD’s new policy fellow position
For more on this week’s ICYMI topics:
- Learn how Tax Scam 2.0 is the tax bill that could launch 13,000 yachts
- Get up to speed on Trump going Frank Underwood by diverting FEMA resources to his deportation force — and how the Trump admin sued for permission to put 1,000 displaced Puerto Ricans, who’ve been in FEMA emergency housing, out on the streets
- Read more about how Trump and House Republicans are pushing to take food assistance away from formerly incarcerated folks in the Farm Bill
- And then there’s Jamie Dimon telling us he’s smarter than Trump
This week’s transcript:
REBECCA VALLAS (HOST): Welcome to Off Kilter, the show about poverty, inequality and everything they intersect with, powered by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. I’m Rebecca Vallas. This week on Off Kilter, it’s poverty data week. Poverty nerds everywhere have spent every waking minute digging into the annual census bureau report on poverty, income, and health insurance from 2017. Sine it was released Wednesday morning after some technical difficulties that had wonk twitter desperately crying for a table, any table; I’m actually not joking I talk with one of my favorite poverty wonks, Jared Bernstein about the report. Next one of the highlights of the Kavanaugh hearings last week was the testimony of Liz Weintraub, a power house disability advocate who shared what Kavanaugh’s confirmation would mean for her and other people with disabilities given his ruling in the so called Doe case just a decade ago. That case included him finding that it was OK to perform elective surgery on people with disabilities without their consent. I speak with Liz about her testimony before the judiciary committee and how Kavanaugh’s confirmation would set the civil rights of people with disabilities back by fifty years or more. But first Jeremy Slevin, you came back.
JEREMY SLEVIN: I came back.
VALLAS: You always come back. I don’t know why necessarily because of how these segments sometimes go.
SLEVIN: You need a punching bag.
VALLAS: Oh I hope you don’t feel that way, is that how you feel about these segments?
SLEVIN: No. But if it was true I would feel OK.
VALLAS: I was cracking up because Joel Berg who was on the show last week was tweeting when he say the transcript post, we post a transcript every week to be a fully accessible show for our listeners who need to read it instead of listening to it. And he tweeted that he loved where the transcripts said in several places just, “[LAUGHTER]” and I assume that was referring to the complete meltdown of an ‘In Case You Missed It’ segment that we had last week.
SLEVIN: Just two minutes of just laughter in the transcript.
VALLAS: That’s, it sounded right, it sounded right. I think it was probably when you were being a human graph, it’s my guess.
SLEVIN: Which is on our Twitter account, you can see the image.
VALLAS: And one should because it makes one’s life better. Did you bring any graphs with you this week that you plan to act out?
SLEVIN: I can act out anything you’d like I don’t have any graphs because it’s a radio show but —
VALLAS: Didn’t stop you last week!
SLEVIN: We can make graphs in our head and then I could act them out but it probably wouldn’t be that entertaining for our listeners.
VALLAS: Well maybe for the first thing that we’re going to talk about you could be a yacht?
SLEVIN: Right, right.
VALLAS: What do you do when you’re being a yacht, just out of curiosity, Will, get the camera. [LAUGHTER] Oh my God, this is so good, wait did you get that, Jeremy, he was, oh it’s so good! It’s so good because it’s so bad! [LAUGHTER] Oh Slevs.
SLEVIN: Alright do we want the news?
VALLAS: I mean, I just want to play charades for the rest of this segment because it’s going so well.
SLEVIN: Our favorite radio segment, charades! [LAUGHTER] So the yacht news is related to the tax news which is as many people know, house Republicans are voting any day now on a new tax plan, a second helping of tax cuts, which actually makes permanent many of the tax cuts for the wealthy that were in the original tax cut passed back in September.
VALLAS: And you’re so angry about it that you’re banging on the table in ways that are making your microphone reverberate.
SLEVIN: That was me being a yacht. Anyway so we got an updated score today from the non-partisan Tax Policy Center who’re seen as the standard of outside experts on tax analysis, consistent with other findings it would add $630 billion to the deficit over the first decade, $3 trillion over the second decade and as other analysis shows, it is just as skewed to the wealthy as the previous tax cut because most of the provisions they’re extending help the wealthiest Americans, so 65% of the benefits I think going to the top 1%.
VALLAS: And part of the reason this has to do with yacht is because as listeners of this show will know —
SLEVIN: Top 20%, you gave me time to fact check myself.
VALLAS: Oh wait, so if you want to clarify —
SLEVIN: 65% of the benefits go to the richest 20% of Americans and actually the poorest 20% of Americans between the two tax cuts, negative 1% goes to them, which means their taxes are actually increased.
VALLAS: Their taxes are actually increased because blood from a stone is the best kind of tax policy we can come up with and by we I mean they. So yachts, what does this have to do with yachts?
SLEVIN: So —
VALLAS: Well I was going to say something!
SLEVIN: Say it, say it, oh you were asking yourself.
VALLAS: You’re interrupting me interrupting you Jeremy and that’s not helpful. I was going to say, so what this has to do with yachts is people will remember that when tax scam 1.0 was actually took effect the same day the law went into effect Verne Buchanan, a Republican member of the house who had been one of the architects of the bill in committee bought himself a yacht, presumably with his own tax cut. I mean you can’t make this stuff up.
SLEVIN: Yeah, the yacht cost over $2 million. That’s how much he got in tax cuts from the tax bill that he wrote.
VALLAS: But give us the yacht update.
SLEVIN: With the cost of this new tax cut, $600 billion, we could pay for another 13,000 yachts for Vern Buchanan and his friends. And there is your yacht fact of the day.
VALLAS: Yacht fact of the day, or if we wanted to spend the money differently, I think I would if I were in power in this case, we could say, end child poverty for the next decade, Jeremy. Don’t know if you knew that.
SLEVIN: I did know that and we could pay for thousands of avocado toasts.
VALLAS: I knew you were going to take it to avocado toasts, because you always do. And Jeff Stein is this all your fault if you’re listening. So OK, so that’s the yacht update. But they’re planning to take this to the floor any day now, this is what we’re hearing and they really want to do this?
SLEVIN: So what’s notable I think about this second round is that it’s not expected to advance anywhere past the house, the senate is not expected to take it up. The president not expected to sign it, they’re barely talking about it outside of to donors and internal tax policy discussions.
VALLAS: Because that’s the audience for this.
SLEVIN: Exactly, it’s consistent with reporting that the tax bill itself led to tens of millions of dollars in spending by Republican donors. This is clearly a message to donors that we have your back, give up money or we will lose this election. And they’re barely even selling this as some sort of middle class tax cut because it’s not credible, they already got their tax cut, they are just trying to signal to donors that they’re still looking out for them, it’s shameful.
VALLAS: So we’re going to leave taxes and yachts there, although I feel like this week in yachts maybe is the new name of the segment that we do for the however long tax scam 2.0 goes on. So putting yachts aside, there’s a hurricane brewing and folks are paying a lot of attention to this.
SLEVIN: Maybe literally putting yachts aside.
VALLAS: Actually yes, touché, Melissa Boteach will appreciate that one and approve. So literally and metaphorically putting yachts aside there’s a hurricane brewing in the Carolinas and a lot of people are paying a lot of attention to, rightly so, with evacuations and other things coming to bear, but we actually have seen some pretty boneheaded stuff coming out of the Trump administration around this storm.
SLEVIN: Yes, this I think is a plotline that is literally directly pulling from House of Cards but Jeff Merkeley’s staff just this week leaked that the Trump administration transferred nearly ten million dollars from the budget of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency that manages responses to hurricanes and transferred it to ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement. And that money was specifically to fund detention and deportation. So they are, and this consistent with what the Trump administration has been doing, they have been pulling money from other priorities to fund their deportations squads.
VALLAS: And now I feel like often on this show we talk about this administration and Republicans in congress wanting to take money away from things and people who actually are worthy causes like people who are struggling to make ends meet to line the pockets of millionaires and billionaires, that’s a lot of the way that we’ve talked about and explained the intersection of the tax scam 1.0 and now 2.0 with say Trump’s budget and the farm bill, which would take food assistance away from two million Americans if Republicans get their way. This is literal taking money away from disaster preparation and recovery and literally diverting it to their deportation force.
SLEVIN: That’s right and I should note that they deny that this was money used for emergency preparedness although that’s what FEMA does so they were saying it’s from all the other FEMA stuff. They acknowledge that it was being transferred to fund deportations and detention. Meanwhile, 400 kids are still separated from their families and have yet to be reunited and they’re taking extra money to detain and indefinitely detain in some cases, kids.
VALLAS: Now before we started taping when we were going through the list of things you wanted to talk about and that were going on in the news this week, we talked about how this sounded familiar, this sounded like it was straight out of a TV show and we said was this House of Cards? We actually went and confirmed that it indeed is literally ripped from the script of House of Cards, let’s take a listen because it is eerily similar.
FRANK UNDERWOOD: How strong will it be when it hits?
MAN 1: Simulators say a Cat 3, possibly Cat 4. Major devastation across a dozen states.
UNDERWOOD: Yes, but some of these projections have it turning back to sea.
MAN 1: That’s highly unlikely, sir. Sir, FEMA’s mission is to prepare for the worst. First responders, medical, mass evacuation. I’m worried about the funding.
MAN 2: The Disaster Relief Fund has been depleted by a third since you launched AmWorks.
UNDRERWOOD: That still leaves two billion.
MAN 1: Oh, for this storm, we need four times that.
UNDERWOOD: I’m about to meet with the Leadership to ask them to replenish the fund. But I can’t ask for that much.
MAN 1: We need eight billion minimum for bare bones preparation.
MAN 2: We shouldn’t gamble with something like this, sir. Hundreds could die. Maybe thousands.
VALLAS: So I think proving that you can’t make this stuff up.
SLEVIN: What a clip.
VALLAS: It’s kind of amazing to listen to that and to do the side by side but that is what we are living right now. Trump has gone full Frank Underwood and it’s not AmWorks, it’s not jobs he’s trying to even fund here, it’s his deportation force. This is truly astounding Slevs. But that’s not even the only unbelievable news you came in this week with when it comes to the hurricane front and what Trump’s administration is doing with FEMA.
SLEVIN: Right actually Friday of this week, so for those tuning in, this will be the 14th so it may have already happened by the time you’re listening but —
VALLAS: That was so suave of you Slevs not to give away when we’re taping.
SLEVIN: Yeah, I won’t give away the day at all (Wednesday) [LAUGHTER] So more than, in not so good news, more than a thousand displaced Puerto Ricans, the government has been providing housing for for the past year or so who have been displaced by Hurricane Maria will now be essentially out on the streets starting Friday. A federal judge ruled after the Trump administration appealed in court, to no longer house these people that they no longer had to be housed in hotels or motels throughout the country while they awaited more permanent housing alternatives. In effect, and even the judge acknowledged that this would render many of the hurricane victims essentially homless, essentially homeless.
VALLAS: So everything you need to know about this admisnitration they decided to literally take it to the courts to try to get basically permission not to have to house Puerto Ricans who had been displaced, that is how badly they wanted not to do the right thing here.
SLEVIN: Right and Trump literally said yesterday “we will spare no expense ahead of Hurricane Florence,” he literally said that and the day after the win a suit that will actually make victims of Hurricane Maria homeless and at the same time we learn that they were pulling money from FEMA, millions of dollars to fund their mass deportations. I think it’s the Trump administration encapsulated in two days.
VALLAS: So there’s one, a couple last pieces of news that you came with, one of which has to do with someone who thinks that he’s smarter than Trump and I’m sure he’s not alone, I mean I put it like that.
SLEVIN: I was going to say.
VALLAS: But we’ll leave that there, in this particular case who are we talking about?
SLEVIN: Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, I think they still have the Chase. One of the biggest banks —
VALLAS: Well don’t look at me, I’m an expert on poverty Jeremy, not banks.
SLEVIN: And one of the biggest beneficiaries of the tax code, one of the lobbying arms of any bank he said that he thinks he could beat Trump, today he said this in an election.
VALLAS: You gave away when we’re taping again by the way.
SLEVIN: No, I didn’t give it away at all, (it’s not Wednesday). He said because I’m as tough as he is, I’m smarter than he is and by the way this wealthy New Yorker actually earned his money, it wasn’t a gift from daddy.
VALLAS: I gotta tell you Jeremy, when I look at Jamie Dimon and think about him running for office because that’s a heck of a lot of what that sounds like, all I can think is you know what we need more of in elected office?
VALLAS: Rich white dudes, that is what we’re missing, that perspective.
SLEVIN: By the way his father and grandfather both worked on Wall Street, they were both bankers.
VALLAS: I swear to God.
SLEVIN: The lack of self awareness of these guys. And I think it’s almost the exact same thing as Trump, the uwillingness to acknowledge your own privilege, for some reason they still believe that they’re self made, he can acknowledge that he is successful because of family or the country you were born into or certain privileges without saying that he shoudn’t run as a — anyway.
VALLAS: Well I think that you didn’t build that frame, didn’t seem to go over well with the folks born on third base who seem unaware of other basis having existed before their births.
SLEVIN: That’s exactly what it is.
VALLAS: Yeah so Jamie Dimon, I hope you run.
SLEVIN: Apparently he’s not running for president and he says he doesn’t think he could beat the left of the Democratic Party so thank you left of the Democratic Party for pushing back on Jamie Dimon’s candidacy.
VALLAS: I don’t even know what to say about that but I actually kind of hope he runs, it would be helpful and clarifying in some ways in our political discourse. So last thing has to do with the farm bill.
SLEVIN: So —
VALLAS: Which is still a thing by the way so periodic reminder that the farm bill is still being negotiated behind closed doors and the clock is ticking, heading to September 30th which is when authorization for the SNAP program runs out so there’s not that many days left even though it’s not in the public eye anymore but is it that you came up with.
SLEVIN: That’s right and folks are actually meeting behind closed doors as we speak. As far as we know, house Republicans are still demanding deep cuts to SNAP, which may prevent a deal from being reached at all and today, sorry for spoiling the day —
VALLAS: You’ve done it so many times at this point I don’t even know why you’re apologizing anymore.
SLEVIN: Great op-ed that discusses how former incarcerated individuals will be especially impacted by the farm bill. It could prevent them from accessing food assistance, essentially saying if you have a criminal record, you are not deserving of food.
VALLAS: Something we have talked about extensively on this show before, the barriers that people can face often for their entire lives if they are formerly incarcerated or have a criminal record when it comes to being able to find a job and get housing and all the other basics that you need to have a shot at successful reentry. There’s all kinds of wonderful bipartisan, transpartisan even for removing those kinds of barriers and making it more possible for people with records and histories of incarceration to find work and reenter successfully and yet you’ve got President Trump and House Republicans basically saying that they literally want to try to take food away from people with criminal records while they’re trying to get back on their feet as though that’s somehow going to be helpful to their reentry while they’re having every door closed in their face by a labor market that tells them that they’re not wanted despite skilled and qualified they might be. So unfortunately really out of step with all the bipartisan support around reentry and yet one more reason why this farm bill, if Republicans get their way is nothing short of a monstrosity.
SLEVIN: And just two quick facts on this, this is from the wonderful op-ed in The Washington Post by Alex Busansky and Gary Maynard, former incarcerated folks are almost ten times more likely to face homelessness, their unemployment rate, and this is in the midst of an economic recovery where Trump is bragging about low unemployment, it’s 27% for people with a criminal record. So the idea that we would kick people who already face all these barriers, kick them while they’re down while taking away food, increasing their likelihood of facing homelessness, increasing their difficulty in finding work.
VALLAS: And potentially increasing their likelihood of recidivism if they run out of any options because you’ve got to eat to live. So we got to leave it there but hopefully you come back next week despite the treatment that you get every single week in ‘In Case You Missed It’, which now called ‘This Week in Yachts’. Don’t go away Jared Bernstein is up next from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, we talk about this week’s census report on poverty, income and health insurance.
You’re listening to Off Kilter, I’m Rebecca Vallas. This week the Census Bureau released its’ annual report on poverty, income, and health insurance for 2017. So I’m bringing back my friend and one of the few wonks who speaks English Jared Bernstein. He’s the former chief economist to Vice President Biden, he’s also a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and he is coming back on this show to help unpack the findings and what they tell us, Jared, thanks so much.
JARED BERNSTEIN: Rebecca if you take a three dimension matrix in n-space and invert, oh no sorry, that’s not the English part.
VALLAS: If you start talking like that this is going to be your last time on this show, Jared.
BERNSTEIN: Teasing, teasing.
VALLAS: Did you bring me any haikus this time though?
BERNSTEIN: I didn’t, I didn’t, maybe I could come up with one spontaneously but I better not try.
VALLAS: If anyone could it would be you so feel free as we talk to start doing it in haiku. So Jared this report comes out every year, there’s a lot of things that it does shed light on, there’s a lot of things it doesn’t tell us, it’s not the whole picture when it comes to how people are doing financially, but maybe help us get started with some of the key takeaways you saw in this report.
BERNSTEIN: Yeah, well this report as you put it, gives us a snapshot how middle and low income people are doing in ways that we don’t get from many other reports. You get the monthly jobs report or the GDP report but none of them really drill down to how say, the median household, the household right at the middle of the income scale is faring or for that many, obviously mostly germane to our show here, how poor people are doing. And the poverty rate actually declined in this report, it went from 12.7% in 2016 down to 12.3% in 2017. So these are data for last year, which makes sense because it’s an annual income concept. Now I think we probably should thing a little bit about what the poverty rate actually is and what it means.
VALLAS: Exactly where I wanted you to start.
BERNSTEIN: Yeah because it’s a metric or a measure that’s been in place for a long time, and it’s got some attributes but it’s got a lot of stuff wrong with it too. I actually think at this point it’s not the best way to measure wellbeing among low-income people. But at any rate since it is the official measure it looks at the, it takes a threshold or a line in the sand of your income. And if you live in a family with income below that threshold, which is different for different family sizes, which makes sense, then you’re poor. So for a family of three, say a parent with a couple of kids, single mom for example. The threshold is around $20,000 or something like that. So if your income is below $20,000 in 2017, last year you were counted as poor if you’re of that family type, and if it was above it you’re non-poor.
VALLAS: So you mentioned that we saw this modest decline in the official poverty rate, I should note that alongside that the census report also told us that the number of people living in poverty was actually unchanged, so underscoring that this isn’t some huge massive improvement in poverty that we’re seeing in this report.
BERNSTEIN: Exactly, it’s a relatively small decline and in fact, I think this is important, this is year 8 of an economic expansion and this decline is actually smaller than the one for last year, for 2016 and the one for 2015, the year before that. And by the way, when we get into median household income, the gains there, as median household income went up, the real gains there were also diminished relative to earlier years and I think I know why that’s the case and we can talk about that by your underlying point was that while there was an improvement in poverty, which is absolutely what you’d expect, I think you have to get away from a mindset that says poverty went down, everything is great, poverty went up, everything is bad. You have to look at the context. Where you are in the economic recovery, where poor people are relatively tow here you think they ought to be. And in that regard it was a somewhat disappointingly small decline.
VALLAS: And to underscore the inadequacy of this official poverty rate, which you were mentioning before, tells us some things, not other things, it doesn’t even begin to capture what it takes to afford to live in this country. And a better number that also comes from this report tells just that 140 million Americans are either poor or are just one emergency away from actually living in poverty, that that was what we saw in 2017.
BERNSTEIN: I am sure that when your listeners heard that the poverty threshold is $20,000 for a family of three, everybody was saying well wait a minute. There may be some rural area in America where you can be poor on $20,000 but if you’re living in any city, which of course a lot of poor people are, you’re not making ends meet on that amount of money.
VALLAS: So now you mentioned, and actually there’s one more point I want to make on this while we’re talking about the poverty piece of this and then we’ll get into the median household income because I think that’s really important especially given a lot of the misleading reporting that has already taken place just hours after these data went online. And the other point I wanted to make on poverty and get your thoughts on is this report also tells us that almost half of people who were living in poverty last year were actually living in deep poverty, which is way worse, it’s after half the official poverty threshold you were talking about.
BERNSTEIN: If you’re talking about a threshold of $20,000 for poverty then deep poverty is $10,000 and that’s a level of depravation, no matter where you live in this country. And it’s interesting because that’s where a lot of our public policies have really dropped the ball. There are low income people who face disabilities, who face difficulty finding child care, who live in places where there’s not enough work, and we used to have a safety net that helped people like that and we’ve completely eroded that part of the safety net. At the same time, we’ve built up the part of the safety net that’s complementary to work. So we do a lot more through the Earned Income Credit and the Child Tax Credit policies that I know are familiar to your listeners and that make a real difference to working people. But for those who are not able to maintain employment, deep poverty is all too familiar.
VALLAS: And you teased me a little bit before we started taping by telling me you had some new analysis or new thinking you had done after these data came out that actually has a lot to do with that population and with work.
BERNSTEIN: Yeah, I think with someone who’s of a very conservative mindset heard me talking about work just now, they’d say well, this is the old Paul Ryan line that these poverty prograsm create a hammock and people don’t try hard enough. In fact, I’ve known for a long time because really and I’ve cut my teeth on labor economic and I’ve known for a long time that low income people respond to tight labor markets. So one of the things that we looked at this morning with the data that came out today, with the employment rates of low income single moms and we compared them to the employment rates of people with higher incomes. The low income single moms since 2010 have increased their employment rates by 5% which is a lot, there are a lot more of them working than there used to be. If you then look at the folks who are much more connected to the labor market, they’ve increased their employment rates by only 1%. So if you look at the increase in labor supply, labor effort, people in the labor market, the low income single moms are actually crushing it and that’s not a surprise to me because I know they respond to an improved labor markets, low-income people do, and why? Because news flash, you can’t live on SNAP, you can’t live on Medicaid, you sure can’t live on TANF. You cannot live and raise a family, these are single moms on the kinds of benefits that the government pays. You have to supplement that with labor market income and all the more so now that we have wage subsidies that help boost that income.
VALLAS: So really important analysis that flies in the face of the logic that Paul Ryan and others are pointing to when they say ah, we need these things called work requirements.
BERNSTEIN: Well that was really the motivation for this exercise. Because of my contention that I just described what I expected to find in the data, greater work effort by lower income people, to me it puts the lie to this notion that you have to have work requirements to get people to go to work. Here’s what work requirements will do for the very people I’m talking about, something like around 75% of these low income single moms are working. That’s a big group. If you think put up a needlessly bureaucratic set of barriers, it’s actually likely to make them lose their benefits that they’re getting if they’re already getting some, not go get a job because for the most part, they’re already working. And if I were more cynical I’d say well in fact that’s the point, to actually up the inducement of the hassle factor, to get people who are working, playing by the rules but need some extra help to get by with their kids to take those benefits away from them.
VALLAS: It’s red tape, it’s shaming people, it’s trying to make things like health insurance, things like food, things like house as hard to access as possible.
BERNSTEIN: You know, I started in this field as a social worker in New York City.
VALLAS: I didn’t know that, Jared.
BERNSTEIN: I did, and I worked with lots of families as one would, in East Harlem. This is about 100 years ago before you were born, and I just remember how difficult the lives of many of the people in terms of just getting organized. Someone to maintain their Medicaid, a gold card for a lot of these folks, again these are single moms with kids and going through the bureaucratic hoops while they try to hold a low wage job was much more effort than middle class or upper income people have to make.
VALLAS: Incredibly similar to my memories of my clients in my legal aid days, not in Harlem but in north Philadelphia, very similar story, it was basically a full time job to try to maintain your food assistance or maintain your Medicaid.
BERNSTEIN: So imagine on top of that, we say OK now if you have 21 hours a week instead of 20 hours you have to fill out this form and hop over this barrier so it’s just a ridiculous hassle factor and these data show that when the job market tightens up low-income people will take advantage of it.
VALLAS: Now another thing that these data show and we’re going to get away from the official poverty measure and get into, to get wonky for a second, something called the supplemental poverty measure. A lot of folks actually look at that measure and say it does a better job of actually measuring poverty in this country.
BERNSTEIN: It does.
VALLAS: And in some ways, it definitely does, it’s not perfect either.
VALLAS: It’s a little bit, it has some advantages including that it actually takes into account certain types of assistance that people receive. Anti-poverty programs, it actually counts whether you’re helped.
BERNSTEIN: Which are left out of the official measure.
VALLAS: Exactly. And so things like SNAP, which you mentioned food assistance, things like the Earned Income Tax Credit, these actually get captured by the supplemental poverty measure. So another one of the things that we find that this report tells us year after year and then I’m going to push you to tell us what we learned from this 2017 report, is how much these programs that President Trump and Republicans in congress are trying to slash actually do when it comes to cutting poverty and hardship.
BERNSTEIN: Well for example, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, two subsidies that we just talked about, pro-work, wage subsidies for low income working people took over 8 million people off the poverty roles in 2017. That is over 8 million people would’ve be poor but not for those programs, SNAP I believe the number was somewhere around 3 or 4 million so these programs demonstrably help lift people out of poverty and you’re correct. They’re not counted in the official measure. And that’s a particular problem because over time we’ve actually increased the very stuff that’s left out of the official measure. So it’s like we’re trying not to measure to effect of stuff that we’re doing and enabling critics of anti-poverty programs to say they’re not working. Well they’re not working because you’re not measuring them. When you measure them they actually work and lift millions of people out of poverty.
VALLAS: Now we started to talk before about wages and I mentioned that there are a lot of mainstream media outlets that in my opinion really got it pretty wrong in the way that they characterized what we learned about from this census bureau report about wages last year. So what did we take away from this report and then let’s do a little bit of media accountability.
BERNSTEIN: Yeah, so a number of reports argued that the median household income, which came in at about $61,000 a year, so that’s the household right in the middle of the income scale was the highest ever on record. Well, there are two things wrong with that.
VALLAS: It sounds pretty good, I have to say when you just put it like that.
BERNSTEIN: It does sound, and that the upbeat clickbait they were going for I guess, but there are two things wrong with that. First of all, it’s wrong. [LAUGHTER] So that’s wrong. And the Census Bureau, to their credit, they’re very acute about this sort of thing, they went to the newspapers very quickly and said in fact, this is statistically speaking this number is indistinguishable from the number that prevailed in 2007 and in 2000. So that’s important for a number of reasons. 2000, just to show you math acumen was 17 years ago as far as these data are concerned. These data are from 2017 and you just heard me say that the median household income is the same essentially in real terms in 2017 as it was in 2000. GDP is up 40% since then, productivity is up 35%, corporate profits have doubled, they’re up over 100% since then. And yet the median household is kind of treading water. Now I don’t want to be too glum in the sense that it is true that last year median household went up just under 2%, as I said that’s less than the prior two years when they went up about 3% and 5% respectively.
So the gains weren’t as strong as I’d like them to have been but we have to appreciate the benefits of the tight labor market and how it’s helping middle and low-income people. But we also have to put it in historical context and that’s what I didn’t really like about that headline, it had no historical context.
VALLAS: So to take what you’ve just said and distill it a little bit, yes we saw some modest gains in terms of the incomes that the typical household saw last year, went up just a little bit, about 1.8% as you said. But that actually represents a pretty significant slowdown from the increases we saw the year before and the year before that, so when you ask the question of who’s benefiting in this so-called ‘Trump economy’ it sounds like average workers and average families aren’t necessarily top of that list when you think about what we’re seeing from corporate profits and from the ultra-rich.
BERNSTEIN: Well that was my point in terms of citing the profitability statistics because one of the things we’ve just seen just quarter after quarter is that middle income wages have been pretty stagnant and this is an interesting point. So I just said in 2017, the earnings of middle-income people [INAUDIBLE] hourly wages, they’ve actually been flat. They haven’t gone up much [INAUDIBLE] but I told you their income went up a couple of percent’s. How do you do that? You work more. So you’re looking at a flat hourly wage but there’s more employment, more people in your family going to the workforce maybe they more weeks per year, more hours per week, so labor supply is up. But if that’s the only way to get your income to grow that’s a real stressor. Meanwhile if you’re sitting on a stock portfolio that’s appreciating 10% or 12% a year, you don’t have to do squat. So there is a fundamental economic injustice in there. One that we typically talk about under the rubric of inequality but here’s the thing; massively exacerbated by that tax cut. Here’s another I know I’m throwing out a lot of numbers but listen to this.
VALLAS: It’s why I have you on, Jared.
BERNSTEIN: Listen to this. Since Trump came on board corporate profits are up in real terms 4.5%, I just did this calculation the other day, and that’s good for them, if you like corporate profits.
VALLAS: I was going to say it depends on who you ask but OK.
BERNSTEIN: If you’re someone whose income depends on that you’re like meh, that’s pretty good. After tax, so that 4.5%, that’s since Trump’s been here, after tax they’re up three times that amount, 15%, now how is it that they’re up 4.5% pre-tax, three times that amount after tax? Well that’s what happens when you cut corporate taxes 35 to 21%. And so I think it’s a good microcosm meanwhile, over that same period, the real wage of middle wageworkers is up half a percent. And so the only way you’re going to get your family income up in that climate is by win the lottery, buy a boatload of stocks magically because you don’t have the income to do that, or work your butt off.
VALLAS: Work a lot more and that’s what we’re seeing people do. So Jared we need to get into the health insurance part of this as well. Because this report, while I as a poverty nerd focus most on the poverty and income piece of it, there’s a lot that we learned from this year’s report in particular when it comes to health insurance and a lot of what we learned actually really is an incredibly stark reminder of the role of policy is all of these trends. It’s not like they fall out of the sky.
BERNSTEIN: Correct, so the finding that you’re talking about is an important, unique and the least favorable findings, most unfavorable finding from this report. It’s that a percentage of Americans who are uninsured did not fall in 2017 for the first time since Obamacare has been upon the land. So because there’s some peculiarities in this data I’m not going to get into you have to start at 2013, but that’s the first year that Obamacare was fully phasing in anyway. So in 2013, the uninsured rate was something like 14% and it fell to about 9%, and every year it just cascaded down and this was one of the greatest policy achievements of President Obama’s tenure and in fact one of the great policy achievements in recent decades. And it’s interesting, I was thinking as you were describing, we tend to put things in bins because we are who we are. There’s the poverty report, and the income report and the health insurance report. For normal people health insurance is just part of your life the same way your income is. It’s not something you distinguish, or food or housing, these are absolute necessities, especially if you’re a working parent.
Well this is the first year since 2013 where that uninsured rate did not fall. So why didn’t it fall? Well Obamacare is still upon the land and it didn’t go up and that’s good. But the reason it didn’t, one of the main reasons I believe it didn’t go down is because of all the sabotaging that’s been going on by this administration and the Republican congress. Some of it is a pretty, you can see it like the lack of attention to the enrollment period and trying to get people to enroll, so disinvesting in enrollment, some of it is behind the scenes, basically scaring legal and eligible immigrants to get it in their heads that if they avail themselves of benefits like the ACA they’re going to deported or lose their immigrant status.
VALLAS: Something that we’re hearing really awful and tragic stories about left and right.
BERNSTEIN: Exactly, I’d say mostly right. But yeah, and so this kind of a sabotage is playing out in ways that are behind the curtain. It’s not that they’re up there in the capitol trying to repeal the thing because they lost on that. So now they’re taking the subterfuge route and trying to undermine it and this number suggests they’re having some success.
VALLAS: So really unfortunate stalled progress —
BERNSTEIN: Stalled exactly.
VALLAS: After years and years of seeing that uninsured rate go down, now we’re stuck at about 8.8% of uninsured Americans or Americans being uninsured. And as you said, something that could have been worse and perhaps might even be worse in next year’s report if Trump gets his way.
BERNSTEIN: That’s very important. It’s still the law of the land and it’s still working really well. But among those almost 9% of people who are still uninsured, we’ve crunched some numbers and many of those people are clearly eligible for benefits. They can benefit from the Medicaid expansion, they can benefit from subsidized care in the exchanges and they’re not getting it and one of the reasons is because there are a lot of Republicans who don’t want them to.
VALLAS: You mentioned Medicaid and that was another one of the big takeaways from this report was the difference in uninsured rates in the Medicaid expansion states, states that expanded Medicaid when they had the opportunity and they still do and some still are versus states that have not expanded Medicaid.
BERNSTEIN: Yes, and I don’t have those numbers at the tip of my head but the differential there is notable. And I know that on our website CBPP.org, those reports are up there.
VALLAS: Well never fear Jared, I have those numbers in my head so I can help you out. But it was that states that have not expanded Medicaid have uninsured rates that are almost twice as high as states that have expanded and it was about 12.2% for non-expansion states versus 6.5% uninsured.
BERNSTEIN: Well that would make sense because the average is 8.8%, you can take away the average there so yep.
VALLAS: But again highlighting the role of something that states can do here if they want to make sure that people have health insurance.
BERNSTEIN: I think that’s really a message from the whole report and it’s, whether we’re talking about poverty policy, whether we’re talking about the ability of middle income people to get their fair share of growth that they’re helping to contribute, whether we’re talking about the 17 year stagnation, these are not benign or somehow accidental outcomes of an economy that’s working the way it should. I mean here we’re at full employment almost and I just told you the wage story as it stands so yes I agree with your policy point.
VALLAS: So Jared in the last couple minutes that we have what would you hope that policymakers would be in a better world which I guess would have to be a vastly different world than the one that we’re living in. What would you how they were take away from this report when it comes to what the policy takeaways should be?
BERNSTEIN: Well the first thing is to stop pushing the wrong way and I think that’s obvious. One of the tax cuts are not only exacerbate inequality by dumping all those benefits at the top, but they rob the treasure of revenues it needs to do the sorts of things that I’m about to talk about. So raise the minimum wage so that low wage workers would have a better deal, I’d expanded these credits that we’re talking about the Earned Income Credit, the Child Tax Credit and then I’d think also about, and I think those would really help low income people, it’d certainly be very robust in terms of making sure people knew about the ACA that the Medicaid expansion went into states that it wasn’t in and then I’d try to start thinking about a more universal coverage approach. But I want to say a word or two about policies for the middle class. Because I don’t think we talk enough about them. And there I’d have two things I’d really hammer on. One sounds a little wonky but it’s the overtime threshold. So years and years of erosion of the salary threshold below what you’re supposed to get overtime pay means that millions of middle class workers should be getting O.T. when they work overtime and then the next thing is we need to do more to support unions. I so clearly see, day in and out whether we’re talking about economics or politics or even society in general the absence of a strong robust union movement. And there are policy ideas that could help boost collective bargaining.
VALLAS: I would agree wholeheartedly with those policy recommendations. I would also I don’t see them exclusively as middle class policies.
VALLAS: One of the points you made up front which is so important for I think folks to take away and that I would be remiss if I didn’t underscore is that the data we’ve been talking about are a snapshot. They actually don’t reflect people’s lives the way that we actually inhabit the world. It’s not how you were all year, it’s a point in time. And so people’s incomes, their financial situations, they can change throughout the year and often do and so you’ve got a lot of folks who might be official poor in one moment but who might have a little bit more income in another moment or vice versa if they end up experiencing say job loss or someone in their family gets sick.
BERNSTEIN: Oh yeah, the research that follows people overtime will you tell you that the number of people touched by poverty at some point within a year or two, three, five years, is many multiples of those that we’re talking about now.
VALLAS: And so it ends up being much more of a story about us as opposed to a story about them, even though it often gets framed that way. Jared, always fun having you on the show.
BERNSTEIN: Thank you Rebecca.
VALLAS: And I need to have you back soon because I realized it’s been awhile. Jared Bernstein is a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, he’s also chief economists to Vice President Biden and someone that I realize I’m overdue to hang out with and have a drink with so let’s talk about that after we stop taping.
BERNSTEIN: Shut this mic off and have a drink.
VALLAS: Don’t go away, more Off Kilter after the break, I’m Rebecca Vallas.
You’re listening to Off Kilter, I’m Rebecca Vallas. Last week one of the most powerful moments of the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings came when Liz Weintraub, a disability advocate and a woman with cerebral palsy became the first ever witness with an intellectual disability to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee in confirmation hearings for a Supreme Court justice. Liz testified about what Kavanaugh’s confirmation would mean for her and other people with disabilities, given his ruling as a federal judge in a case Doe v. DC back in 2007. In that case, Kavanaugh ruled that it was OK to perform elective surgery on people with disabilities without their consent. I was thrilled to speak with Liz, who serves a senior advocacy specialist at the Association of University Centers on Disabilities or AUCD, she’s also the host of Tuesdays with Liz, a weekly YouTube series. And I was thrilled to speak with her about her testimony. Let’s take a listen.
Liz, thank you so much coming back on the show.
LIZ WEINTRAUB: Thank you for having me, Rebecca. This is a big honor.
VALLAS: Well it was an honor for me to be on your show and so I’m really thrilled everytime I get to have you on my show. And we should do it more often. So Liz you testified last week before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary about the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh and we’re going to talk a little bit about your testimony in a minute but before we do that, I would love for our listeners to know a little bit about you so Liz, who are you? What’s your story.
WEINTRAUB: My story is that the case the judge Kavanaugh had called the Doe case, it’s the Carla Doe case and I also call it the “nothing about us without us” case. It means a lot to me because people with disabilities need to be part of their, the decisions about their lives. Nothing about me, if you’re making a decision about me then I insist on being a part of that conversation. And that’s, I just wanted for him, why this case is so important to me. But to back up, as you said, I’ve worked for the Association for Universities Centers on Disabilities, I’ve been there for 9 years. I’m married, I’ve been married for 13 years to one of, a guy who also happened to have a disability and we live in a community just like anyone else. That wasn’t case, that wasn’t always the case, I was in my early 20s, I was placed into a private institution my parents put me in without, that came out of love, they’re no longer here today but I know it came out of love. They were only following the doctors’ and the professional advice. And fortunately, parents do listen to doctors and professionals. And I wasn’t even included in that decision, it was just oh yeah, you’re going. And yes they asked me if I would try it out but I didn’t really feel like I had a say because the decision was already made. And to make it I think that they also, the other thing I wanted to say, the other decision that was really very careful was that there was a meeting, a family meeting and I wasn’t even included in that family meeting. And the reason was because my parents listened to doctors and the doctor said oh Liz wouldn’t understand those issues, so why bother?
VALLAS: You have some really powerful words in your testimony and I want to read some of them. You say that, “Fifty-one years ago, I entered a world that had low expectations for me and people like me. Professionals told families like mine,” this is what you’re talking about with the doctors, right, “that they should put me in an institution. They said that I might distract attention away from my healthy sisters if I was raised at home, that I could never go to college, that I could never get married, that I could never have a career, and that I could never have my own family.” But these are all things you proved them wrong about.
WEINTRAUB: Yes, today I’m married as I just told you, I have a career, I have a wonderful career, a career that my parents thought that I would never, ever, ever, could ever have. I remember when I was early 20s, when a typical, when typically parents sit down with their kids and ask them what they want, and I feel fortunate that my parents sat down with me. Because not a lot of people, as you know Rebecca, not a lot of the families do that. So in some ways my parents were very progressive and I said I wanted to be a lobbyist and their lights popped. And they were like how can you do this? They thought it was a joke. And I said I really wanted to be a lobbyist and they said no, and so therefore the job that they asked to have beyond going into workshop was putting away books in the library.
VALLAS: And you’re referring to sheltered workshops which we’ve talked about on this show before as places that people with disabilities are often sent because people think they can’t do real work.
WEINTRAUB: Yes, yes.
VALLAS: So you proved them wrong and you became a lobbyist and that’s what you do today for AUCD and a big part of the work that you have been doing over the years has been proving people wrong and helping to educate them about why low expectations for people with disabilities are wrong and need to be filed in history rather than being with us today. But this is also, a big part of what you’ve also been doing lately has been working on the Supreme Court nomination and so that was as I mentioned, a big part of what you did last week. What was it like testifying before the Senate Judiciary committee?
WEINTRAUB: I can’t sit here and say, or talk to your viewers by saying listeners, to say that it was easy. It was hard work. I was nervous, I was scared but I felt just honored, so honored to be here. This is an issue, nothing about me without me is so important to me. It’s my issue and when I say my issue, I really believe that it’s my issue. And maybe I’m having a big head or because it’s not, it’s everyone’s issue, but as I told you, those two stories, people were making decisions without me and I trust the fact that people, that Judge Kavanaugh is a good guy, I trust the fact that he’s a good father, a good husband, a good community member but he should have asked these women and we can’t, we cannot allow this to go on. He made the decision in 2007, we’re not talking about 1950, we’re not talking about 1940, we’re talking about less than 20 years ago. I’m not very good with math so it could, so I don’t know.
VALLAS: I’m not either for what it’s worth but it wasn’t that long ago that he made a decision that sounds like it was straight out of ancient history is what you’re saying.
WEINTRAUB: Yeah, so why are we doing this? Why are we, if he should be on the bench and he’ll make decisions, he’ll make decisions that could impact a lot of people’s lives.
VALLAS: You write in your testimony, “All adults deserve to be treated like grown-ups and have the power to make decisions about their lives, especially when it is about their own bodies.” And I found those words to be so powerful because it’s something that a lot of people might take for granted thinking about themselves but they might not even realize that these are the kinds of rights that have a deep, deep history of not being respected when it comes to people with disabilities. And you’ve described powerfully two examples of how that happened in your life. What is your message to people who might be listening and might me thinking you know, I think doctors do know better. I think that maybe we should be listening to medical professionals.
WEINTRAUB: No, no, we have rights. We are united citizens, we vote, we pay taxes, we are citizens. And we’re, and part of the, all the constitution is about rights. And if the constitution said oh just for certain people that’s fine. But people with disabilities, you’re not rights, you’re not a citizens, we are citizens, we have a right because if we, if we have rights then we need to exercise them.
VALLAS: Now your experience with people wanting to make decisions for you and wanting to talk to other people besides you, it’s not just old history for you. This is stuff that’s actually come up recently and you actually write in your testimony about a time when you and your husband went to renew the lease on your home. What happened?
WEINTRAUB: This happened probably a year ago, maybe less than that. We wanted to renew our lease and the, my sisters, because my sisters really want, after my parents died, my sisters are not my guardian but they do help us, which I’m really, which I think both of us are very grateful for and because we all need help. We all need help. And that’s the idea, we all need help and we all need support and so my sisters said to us, well you go and talk to the lease management and they help us practice, sort of like when they need some help at work, Riley or Andy will help me to think about this, and in the end Riley really helped me to practice and think my testimony, this testimony —
VALLAS: Andy and Riley are two of your co-workers.
WEINTRAUB: Yes, and so I said, so my husband takes care of all the financial things and they did not want to talk to Phil. So went in and said, “I’m Phil Weintraub, I would like to renew my lease, this, this” and he, and they said no we want to talk to your sister.
VALLAS: So they didn’t want to talk to him, they wanted to talk to your sister because they didn’t think that talking to a person with a disability like him was necessarily the way to do business, that’s what I think I hear you saying.
VALLAS: What are you worried will happen if Brett Kavanaugh gets confirmed and becomes a Supreme Court justice?
WEINTRAUB: I worry and I think I can talk for, I can, I hope I can speak for everyone but maybe I can only talk for myself, is that I worry that if he gets on, if he is a justice that all the decisions, all the progress that we have made for the last 50, 60 years will go away and that you or others make decisions for us.
VALLAS: And it’s a very real concern given his ruling in this Doe case that you’ve been talking about. Liz, in the last couple of minutes that I have with you, I know that there’s an opportunity at AUCD, the organization where you would that’s getting a lot of excitement and attention right now and that people might want to hear about.
WEINTRAUB: Yes, we just, we’re just advertising a new position called the policy intern, a paid intern to come here in DC, it’s for a year to work with us on the policy team at AUCD and it could be a family member, a sibling, a professional in the field, we really would like a person with a disability because we think that nothing about us without us and if we’re, if the policy is about us then we need to be at the table. We need to be talking about the policy.
VALLAS: And we’ll post some information about that job on our nerdy syllabus page so listeners can find out more but I suspect that a lot of people listening are going to want to work with you now that they’ve heard you talk a little bit about what you do. I’ve been speaking with Liz Weintraub, she is a senior advocacy specialist at the Association of University Centers on Disabilities, better known as AUCD and she testified last week before the Senate Judiciary committee about Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Liz, thank you so much for everything that you’re doing to stop this nomination from moving forward and for your leadership in helping people understand why it’s so important that people with disabilities be at the table.
WEINTRAUB: Thank you very much Rebecca for having me and for your listeners please remember, nothing about me without me. It’s a very important issue, it’s not just a fake saying, it’s a really important saying, so thank you.
VALLAS: And that does it for this week’s episode of Off Kilter, powered by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. I’m your host, Rebecca Vallas, the show is produced each week by Will Urquhart. Find us on Facebook and Twitter @offkiltershow and you can find us on the airwaves on the Progressive Voices Network and the WeAct Radio Network or anytime as a podcast on iTunes. See you next week.