When we think of poverty, we tend to think about money in isolation: How much does she earn? Is that above or below the poverty line? But the financial part of the equation may not be the single most important factor. “The biggest mistake we make about scarcity,” Sendhil Mullainathan, an economist at Harvard who is a co-author of the book “Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much,” tells me, “is we view it as a physical phenomenon. It’s not.”
“There are three types of poverty,” he says. “There’s money poverty, there’s time poverty, and there’s bandwidth poverty.” The first is the type we typically associate with the word. The second occurs when the time debt of the sort I incurred starts to pile up.
And the third is the type of attention shortage that is fed by the other two: If I’m focused on the immediate deadline, I don’t have the cognitive resources to spend on mundane tasks or later deadlines. If I’m short on money, I can’t stop thinking about today’s expenses — never mind those in the future. In both cases, I end up making decisions that leave me worse off because I lack the ability to focus properly on anything other than what’s staring me in the face right now, at this exact moment.
One could argue that the resurgence of our cities does not necessarily portend the fall of the suburbs. But while many cities have been benefiting from an influx of wealth, the suburbs have been suffering a rise in poverty. From 2000 to 2010, the number of poor in the suburbs or the nation’s largest metro areas grew by 53 percent to a record 15.3 million. And while poverty has increased in cities as well, the growth rate in the number of poor living in the suburbs was more than twice that in cities during the decade—and the suburbs are now home to the largest and fastest-growing poor population in the country. This isn’t just the Great Recession at work; as early as 2005, the suburban poor outnumbered their city counterparts by almost a million. “We think of poverty as a really urban phenomenon or an ultra-rural phenomenon. It’s increasingly a suburban issue,” says Elizabeth Kneebone, Brookings fellow and coauthor of a recent Brookings book on the topic, “Confronting Suburban Poverty in America.”
But as with most things, decay isn’t evenly distributed. More affluent suburbs are “revitalizing”:
Some developers have actually turned their focus on these dead or dying malls. Ellen Dunham-Jones, architecture professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and June Williamson, associate professor of architecture at the City College of New York, have documented this phenomenon in their book, “Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs,” a comprehensive look at efforts to retool, reinhabit, or return to nature abandoned suburban forms. In some cases, this means turning gargantuan forgotten malls into hip, urbanized residential villages. One such experiment is under way in Lakewood, Colorado, an affluent suburb west of Denver. The former Villa Italia shopping mall, a 1.2-million-square-foot indoor mall built in 1966 that had fallen on hard times, has been turned into Belmar, 104-acre pedestrian-friendly community that has apartments, condos, town houses, office space, artists studios, and a shopping and entertainment promenade on twenty-two walkable, urbanized blocks. Now, instead of turning into the mall’s giant parking lot, you end up cruising along a downtown main drag, Alaska Street, which is lined with old-fashioned streetlights, coffee shops, boutiques, and restaurants. There are more than a thousand housing units, which range from town houses to loft condominiums to small-lot single-family homes, as well as a row of ground-floor artist studio and business incubator spaces. A public art project called “Urban Anatomy” has installed small works of art and fragments of poetry on manhole covers, sidewalk joints, and grates throughout the development, highlighting overlooked details of the urban environment.
The whole setup is definitely still suburban—the new urbanized village includes a Zales, Yankee Candle, and Sur La Table—but these suburbanites can leave their loft apartments on foot, pick up an espresso, and go hear a poetry reading, all on a site where Foley’s, Dillard’s, Montgomery Ward, and JCPenney once sat. There are dozens of these projects at other malls around the country. “It’s time to let the suburbs grow up,” Dunham-Jones says.
Lindy West writes for Jezebel about all the gruesome stories ricocheting around social media lately, and how they marginalize the real issue: lack resources for the mentally ill.
I don’t mean that the people who latched on to this particular meme are bad people (though I would say they’re a bit thoughtless), or that it’s never appropriate to respond to unthinkable tragedy with macabre humor. But I’m not feeling particularly charitable toward wacky zombie jokes today. There’s no such thing as undead people, only dead people. And sad people. No one deserves to be publicly ridiculed for their identity — gay people, fat people, black people, poor people — but when we ridicule and marginalize mentally ill people, actual innocent people get killed.
-Florida is the second to worst state in the country when it comes to funding mental health services. Of the 325,000 people with persistent and severe mental illness, only 42 percent receive treatment.
-In 2010, the State Legislature cut adult community mental health funding, children’s mental health funding and adult substance abuse services by more than $18 million. This year, the state legislature tried to make Florida the worst state in the nation at funding mental health, and almost succeeded.
-Prescription drug overdoses and the prescription drug death rate are up in Florida by 61 percent and 84 percent respectively. That didn’t stop state politicians from trying to cut funding for drug treatment by 20 percent, which would have kicked 37,000 people out of services while they were trying to kick a habit.
– First responders across the state say that they are seeing mental health cases that they have never seen before, such as a Palm Beach man that was held in custody 50 times in one year under the state’s Baker Act because he was a threat to himself and others.
It’s much easier to place the blame on some weird new designer drugs (that the perpetrators might not have even been using) than it is to talk seriously about complex issues like lack of funding and access to social programs and deep rooted problems with mental health institutions.
Ed Wray was terrified the first time he encountered a masked monkey. Having lived and worked in Jakarta as a freelance photographer for years, he was accustomed to seeing the animals, cruelly leashed by chains, jumping through hoops or riding trikes on the sidewalks. But for Wray, the mask was a terrifying twist.
“When I first saw a monkey with a rubber baby doll’s head stuck over its head as a mask, it immediately struck me as horrifying and beyond weird.” Wray said. “Something about the combination of the doll head – which I think is scary looking to begin with – and a long tail just struck a chord in me.”
The program, called Bolsa Familia (Family Grant) in Brazil, goes by different names in different places. In Mexico, where it first began on a national scale and has been equally successful at reducing poverty, it is Oportunidades. The generic term for the program is conditional cash transfers. The idea is to give regular payments to poor families, in the form of cash or electronic transfers into their bank accounts, if they meet certain requirements. The requirements vary, but many countries employ those used by Mexico: families must keep their children in school and go for regular medical checkups, and mom must attend workshops on subjects like nutrition or disease prevention. The payments almost always go to women, as they are the most likely to spend the money on their families. The elegant idea behind conditional cash transfers is to combat poverty today while breaking the cycle of poverty for tomorrow. […]
The program fights poverty in two ways. One is straightforward: it gives money to the poor. This works. And no, the money tends not to be stolen or diverted to the better-off. Brazil and Mexico have been very successful at including only the poor. In both countries it has reduced poverty, especially extreme poverty, and has begun to close the inequality gap.
The idea’s other purpose — to give children more education and better health — is longer term and harder to measure. But measured it is — Oportunidades is probably the most-studied social program on the planet. The program has an evaluation unit and publishes all data. There have also been hundreds of studies by independent academics. The research indicates that conditional cash transfer programs in Mexico and Brazil do keep people healthier, and keep kids in school.
The criticism I’ve heard of this sort of program from the hard left is that the money is essentially a small bribe to keep the poor from rising up and affecting real change. That may be true – but it’s hard to argue with with real results.
My biggest concern is the fact that the World Bank is financing all of this in the form of loans. What happens when it’s time for the countries to pay up?
I’d be interested in seeing a comparison of these conditional transfers with the U.S. welfare system.
Sub-Saharan Africa is not famous for technological innovation but a report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology indicates that mobile telephone use has grown twice as quickly there as anywhere else in the world. Even in tiny Rwanda, the government estimates that revenue from mobile phones will reach US$1 billion by 2012.
Somalia’s mobile phone business is booming despite the almost daily artillery fire that flies over expensive satellite dishes and the violence that has brought misery to the population of the Horn of Africa nation.
The three largest firms, Hormuud Telecom, Nation Link and Telecom Somalia, have a combined 1.8 million mobile users who enjoy some of the world’s cheapest calling rates, allowing them to stay in touch with their loved ones amidst the conflict. […]
With mobile phone use at about 18 percent of the population, Somalia lags its neighbour and east Africa’s largest economy Kenya, where it is above 40 percent, but it is ahead of several other poor African nations.