Demonizing the poor

One of the many consequences of having so many states controlled by Republicans is that there has been a flurry of bills demonizing the poor. One of the most common ways of doing so is by dictating what can and cannot be bought using food stamps and other forms of assistance. Many of these bills feed off of stereotypes of the poor - and stereotypes of "those people."

Emily Badger at The Washington Post notes that there are a lot of problems with these bills:

The first is economic: There's virtually no evidence that the poor actually spend their money this way. The idea that they do defies Maslow's hierarchy — the notion that we all need shelter and food before we go in search of foot massages. In fact, the poor are much more savvy about how they spend their money because they have less of it (quick quiz: do you know exactly how much you last spent on a gallon of milk? or a bag of diapers?). By definition, a much higher share of their income — often more than half of it — is eaten up by basic housing costs than is true for the better-off, leaving them less money for luxuries anyway. And contrary to the logic of drug-testing laws, the poor are no more likely to use drugs than the population at large.

The second issue with these laws is a moral one: We rarely make similar demands of other recipients of government aid. We don't drug-test farmers who receive agriculture subsidies (lest they think about plowing while high!). We don't require Pell Grant recipients to prove that they're pursuing a degree that will get them a real job one day (sorry, no poetry!). We don't require wealthy families who cash in on the home mortgage interest deduction to prove that they don't use their homes as brothels (because surely someone out there does this). The strings that we attach to government aid are attached uniquely for the poor.

That leads us to the third problem, which is a political one. Many, many Americans who do receive these other kinds of government benefits — farm subsidies, student loans, mortgage tax breaks — don't recognize that, like the poor, they get something from government, too. That's because government gives money directly to poor people, but it gives benefits to the rest of us in ways that allow us to tell ourselves that we get nothing from government at all.

Political scientist Suzanne Mettler has called this effect the "submerged state." Food stamps and welfare checks are incredibly visible government benefits. The mortgage interest deduction, Medicare benefits and tuition tax breaks are not — they're submerged. They come to us in round-about ways, through smaller tax bills (or larger refunds), through payments we don't have to make to doctors (thanks to Medicare), or in tuition we don't have to pay to universities (because the G.I. Bill does that for us).

I would add a fourth problem: many poor people don't vote.

There's a strong correlation between income an voter turnout. Nearly 80% of those who make $150,000 per year voted in 2008 - almost twice the turnout rate of those who make less than $15,000.

Of course, that also ties in with voter ID laws.

I've never been extremely poor (I've always had a roof over my head, for instance), but I've felt the pain of being on a limited income - and even no income.

It sucks.

But this sinister trend is is part of a vicious cycle that is undermining our civic life. Poor people are less likely to vote, so politicians ignore their needs. And because many politicians ignore the poor, the poor don't think government matters - so they don't vote.

It's up to us - poor, middle class, and everyone else - to break that cycle.

In the coming weeks, I'll talk about how we can break this cycle.


Thank you, MLive Media Group and Jack Lessenberry

Michigan needs at least $1.2 billion per year to address its steadily deteriorating roads. Some experts say we need as much as $2 billion per year. The situation requires new revenue, and we need it yesterday.
Voters must pass Proposal 1 on May 5. Failure to do so will have harmful consequences for schools, cities and our state's economy -- not to mention your car and yes, potentially your safety.

Don't be fooled by the anti-Proposal 1 talk of a Plan B. There is no viable alternative. The closest thing to it was the failed Bolger plan of 2014, a scheme that would have eventually cost our schools a devastating $800 million per year.

Indeed, any proposal to fund road improvements without raising taxes will likely result in big losses for schools and cities. There isn't anywhere else in the budget that would provide the kind of money our roads need.

The whole thing is worth a read.

So is this from Jack Lessenberry who notes that if Proposal 1 passes:

There will also be a little more money for local governments and the schools, and even some to invest in mass transit. Plus, the working poor would get a much-needed break.

The EITC, the Earned Income Tax Credit stripped from them earlier in the Snyder administration would be fully restored; for many, this will make a significant difference.

Politics really is the art of the possible, and I don't think there is any other rational choice.

If the voters turn down Proposal 1, none of those good things will happen, at least not for years, and the roads will get worse and worse.

The arguments against it are mediocre at best, ridiculous at worst. I'll have more on that next week.

Fundraising emails work! ... except when they don't. An insider's perspective.

This week our inboxes were once again cluttered with emails from campaigns and other political organizations. But why?

It's quite common for folks in the world of digital politics to claim that these emails work. On its face, it's not incorrect; every time an email goes out, the dollars - at least a few of them - come in.

But there's a cost. A huge cost.

These EOQ blitzes annoy supporters -  and when people are annoyed, they unsubscribe. Each unsubscription equals another person who is less connected to the campaign - and we need them connected if we want them to volunteer or donate. Plus, there seems to be more of a focus on short-term metrics like dollars - at the expense of a long-term sense of community and connectedness.

President Obama set out to change politics - and the country - for the better. That included changing the relationship between campaigns and supporters. He understood that we need to make people feel connected if we want them to support us, to volunteer for us, to donate to us. A few years after Howard Dean pioneered email fundraising, Obama revolutionized it. The conversational tone is still featured in today's OFA emails.

Unfortunately, most campaigns have run away from that (just like they ran away from our President himself).

Today, political fundraising emails have gone out of control, offering little substance except for fear and groveling. No updates on events, no big announcements, pleas for money.

And that money? Well, a lot of it is going toward consultants - including digital consultants - when it could instead go towards things that could help us win elections.

The consultants see dollar signs.

The Democrats see defeat.

We have fewer seats in Congress than at any point since the Truman era. Democrats have only 58 of 148 seats in Michigan's legislature. Voter turnout in 2014 was lower than any other midterm since 1942 - when many eligible voters were overseas. (Yes, gerrymandering played a role - but how did the gerrymanderers get in office? Exactly.)

We can do better. I know we can. The Democratic Party is one of the greatest forces for good in the world. Not just the country - the world.

That's part of why I founded Humanoid Digital. It's also why I am so active in the Party.

Let's fix this. Together.