Articles on this Page
- 01/10/14--10:12: _Perverse, Chilly Jo...
- 01/10/14--10:55: _IRS chief seeks to ...
- 01/10/14--11:50: _Doctors say food st...
- 01/10/14--12:14: _Kate DiCamillo want...
- 01/10/14--13:00: _NewsHour is LIVE
- 01/10/14--13:12: _Unemployment's Slow...
- 01/10/14--13:02: _News Wrap: Up to 11...
- 01/10/14--13:08: _Weak job growth, un...
- 01/10/14--13:19: _Federal disaster de...
- 01/10/14--13:23: _Mayor of Charleston...
- 01/10/14--13:28: _Celebrations break ...
- 01/10/14--13:32: _Shields and Brooks ...
- 01/10/14--13:45: _From author to amba...
- 01/11/14--03:50: _Former Israeli Prim...
- 01/11/14--07:11: _World reaction to A...
- 01/11/14--08:42: _Poverty grows on Ma...
- 01/11/14--10:06: _Mali attack leaves ...
- 01/11/14--10:30: _When a raise means ...
- 01/11/14--12:03: _Reflecting on the l...
- 01/11/14--12:09: _Poverty rates surge...
- 01/10/14--10:55: IRS chief seeks to restore public trust, faces lack of funding
- 01/10/14--11:50: Doctors say food stamp cuts will result in higher healthcare costs
- 01/10/14--12:14: Kate DiCamillo wants to spread the joy of reading
- 01/10/14--13:00: NewsHour is LIVE
- 01/10/14--13:12: Unemployment's Slow Drip: Top Economists on the 2013 Jobs Record
- 01/11/14--03:50: Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon dies at 85
- 01/11/14--07:11: World reaction to Ariel Sharon's death in tributes and tweets
- 01/11/14--08:42: Poverty grows on Maple Street
- 01/11/14--10:06: Mali attack leaves 3 U.N. peacekeepers wounded
- 01/11/14--10:30: When a raise means losing ground for low-income families
- 01/11/14--12:09: Poverty rates surge in American suburbs
By Paul Solman
My preferred word to describe today's unemployment numbers comes from Robin Harding in this morning's Financial Times: "perverse" (though you need a subscription to read the article). That is, a paltry 74,000 new jobs were added to the economy, according to the survey of employers. Our own inclusive U-7 statistic for those who want a full-time job but can't find one barely budged, from 15 percent to 14.97 percent, including more than 24 million of us.
Our "Solman Scale" measures the "U-7," adding to the officially unemployed part-timers looking for full-time work and "discouraged" workers -- everyone who didn't look for a job in the past week but says they want one. Note that seasonally adjusted household data for previous months has been revised using updated seasonal adjustment factors, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics does at the end of each calendar year. Because of these revisions, November figures referenced in this month's Solman Scale may be slightly different from in their original release last month and last month's Solman Scale.
On the other hand, however, a remarkable half-a-million fewer Americans were reported as "unemployed," driving down the unemployment rate from 7 percent to 6.7 percent. How to explain the perversity? I'd highlight several factors.
One, to paraphrase the DJ in "Groundhog Day": it's been COOOLD out there. Construction jobs were down in December, for example. Any wonder as to why?
Two, discouragement. Yes, half a million Americans seem to have left the unemployment rolls, but at the same time, the workforce apparently shrank by more than 300,000 -- and that's in a month where the civilian population rose by its usual 200,000 or so. These are people who haven't looked for work in the past 12 months but would work if they thought they could find any. The number of people officially "not in the labor force" who told surveyers that they "currently want a job" shot up by more than 300,000, after dropping steadily all year at an average rate of 100,000 a month.NOVEMBER'S JOBS NUMBERS: At November's Pace, 5 Percent Unemployment by the End of Obama's Second Term
Three, statistical wobble. As Robin Harding puts it in the FT, "The margin of error on the report is plus or minus 90,000 jobs for the headline figure and plus or minus 0.2 percentage points on the unemployment rate." Actually, depending on what statisticians call the "level of confidence" you use, the margin of error can be greater still, since the reported numbers are only based on samples: 60,000 households for the "household survey" and 140,000 businesses and government agencies for the "establishment survey."
I'd add a fourth factor that I've been pushing for months now: baby boomers reaching 66 and "retiring" -- no longer looking for work, that is, though they'd take a job if one they found suitable were available. I should report, however, that our jobs expert on Friday's NewsHour, Lisa Lynch of Brandeis, doesn't think "retirement" is much of a factor, pointing out that much younger age cohorts are also participating in the workforce at historically low rates, which means they too have left the labor force, at least for now.
Bottom line: a surprisingly weak jobs report. Let's hope it's a fluke.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said he will work to restore public trust and acquire more funding for the agency. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
In his first office visit since taking over the beleaguered agency, recently appointed IRS Commissioner John Koskinen visited the Cincinnati branch to express his commitment to rebuilding the IRS' reputation in the public eye.
"It's going to take all our mettle" to restore public trust in the Internal Revenue Service, Koskinen said Thursday during his visit to Ohio.
The Cincinnati offices were at the center of last year's scandal when the IRS was accused of unfairly scrutinizing conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. The IRS acknowledged last May that agents in Cincinnati as well as Washington improperly selected political groups for extra screening, raising allegations of political bias at the IRS. The controversy to the resignation of acting commissioner Steven Miller.
In her list of the 20 major problems facing taxpayers, Olson called for a Taxpayer Bill of Rights and expressed her concern for a lack of IRS funding. Olson wrote that the list of problems "mask the major problem facing the IRS today -- unstable and chronic underfunding that puts at risk the IRS's ability to meet its current responsibilities, much less articulate and achieve the necessary transformation to an effective, modern tax agency."
The IRS commissioner said he would ask Congress for additional funding for the agency.
The government could be paying higher health bills over time if they cut food stamps, according to doctors lobbying the government, the Associated Press reports.
The doctors say the results will not be apparent immediately, but with time, the poor will end up in doctor's offices. As Congress looks for a compromise on a farm bill that's expected to include food stamp cuts, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, doctors warn that hunger will cause diabetes and developmental problems for young children.
"If you're interested in saving healthcare costs, the dumbest thing you can do is cut nutrition," Dr. Deborah Frank of Boston Medical Center, who founded the Children's HealthWatch pediatric research institute, told the AP. "People don't make the hunger-health connection."
Kate DiCamillo wasn't always a writer. She started writing when she was 30 years old. It took her six years to publish, but it was her dream so she kept trying. Now, DiCamillo is the author "Because of Winn-Dixie" and "Tale of Despereaux" and she is the newly appointed National Ambassador for Young People's Literature.
It's 6 p.m. EST -- what are you watching? PBS NewsHour is streaming live.
The unemployment rate in December 2012 was 7.9 percent. A year later, it's at 6.7 percent. But the employment picture, top economists agree, is not so simple. Photo courtesy of Matthew Staver/Bloomberg via Getty Images.
The release of December's job report prompts us to look back at the year in unemployment. Earlier in 2013, a partial government shutdown delayed this fall's Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. And for much of the year, each month's release sparked speculation about whether the numbers would be positive enough for the Federal Reserve to begin tapering their monetary stimulus program. At their December meeting, they announced tapering would begin in January 2014, a decision based, in part, on what they judged to be the recovering health of the labor market, with November's unemployment rate dipping to 7 percent -- at the time, the lowest in five years -- and 200,000 or more jobs added for the second month in a row.
December's unemployment rate dropped even lower, to 6.7 percent, but with only 74,000 jobs added.
Economists often talk about how one month's data cannot be judged in a vacuum. Month-to-month revisions change the headline numbers, and, as we see this month and saw after the government shutdown, the two different surveys that produce the unemployment rate and the payroll numbers sometimes tell very different stories. To take a longer view of this month's data and illuminate trends throughout the year, we asked several of the economists and labor-market-watchers with whom we've spoken about unemployment on the broadcast in 2013 to weigh in on the final report of the year.
First, we hear from Brandeis' Lisa Lynch, a NewsHour regular and former Labor Department economist, who appears on Friday's show and who last spoke with us about August's report (when unemployment was 7.3, now revised to 7.2, percent).
MORE THE JOBS NUMBERS: A 'Perverse' and Chilly Jobs Report: Unemployment Down, but We're Leaving the Workforce in Droves
Lisa Lynch: In today's employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one might mistakenly draw the conclusion that 2013 was finally the year of marked improvement with respect to unemployment. The December unemployment rate fell to 6.7 percent, down from 7.9 percent a year earlier. In December 2013, there were a total of 10.4 million unemployed workers, 1.9 million less than a year ago.
Disappointingly, not all of this decrease in the unemployment rate came about because of people moving into employment. A large part of the decrease was driven by people dropping out of the labor market completely. Over the past year, the labor force participation rate (the number of people employed plus unemployed, as a percentage of the population 16 years of age and older) fell from 63.6 percent to 62.8 percent. If the labor force participation rate had not fallen at all over the past year, we would have had 2 million more people in the labor force today. Some of that decrease in labor force participation may include more young people delaying entry into the labor market and staying on in school. Some of the decrease reflects the fact that with an aging population, a greater share of the working-age population is over the age of 65 and is retiring.
But there is a worrying trend in the labor force participation rate for "prime-aged" (those 25-54 years of age) workers. This rate fell from 81.3 to 80.7 percent over the past year and is well below its pre-recession rate of 83.1 percent. Hundreds of thousands of prime-aged workers have dropped out of the labor market in spite of job growth and a falling unemployment rate. Many of these workers have become discouraged; they want and are available to work, and have looked for work over the past 12 months, but have currently stopped looking because they believe no jobs are available or there are none for which they are qualified. Many of these workers have a high school degree or less.
The other area of concern in today's employment report has to do with the number of unemployed workers who have been out of work for six months or more. Almost 4 million workers are in this state and are now facing the dual challenge of bleak employment prospects and their unemployment benefits expiring.
The Economic Policy Institute's Heidi Shierholz, with whom we spoke about July's numbers, contextualizes this month's report in light of average monthly job growth and points out that the unemployment rate would be much higher if so-called "missing workers" were included.
Heidi Shierholz: The jobs report released this morning marks six years since the official start of the Great Recession in December 2007 and four-and-a-half years since its official end in June 2009. Unfortunately, the report shows a very weak labor market, and the continued fleeing of workers from the labor force because job opportunities are weak. The unemployment rate dropped from 7.0 percent to 6.7 percent in December, but as has been a constant refrain throughout this recovery, the improvement was not for "good" reasons.
The share of the working-age population with a job did not increase in December, and the labor force participation rate dropped back down to its lowest point in 35 years. The number of "missing workers" increased from 5.6 million to 6 million. (Missing workers are jobless workers who are not actively seeking work but who would be either employed or looking for work if job opportunities were stronger, after taking into account long-run demographic trends.) If these workers were in the labor force looking for work, the unemployment rate would be 10.2 percent instead of 6.7 percent.
December's job growth of 74,000 brought the average monthly growth rate in 2013 to 182,000, just under the average monthly growth rate of 2012, which was 183,000. In recent weeks, much has been made of the supposed acceleration in labor market strength, but it doesn't appear to be happening. At the average growth rate of the last three months (172,000 jobs per month), it will take nearly six more years for the labor market to regain pre-recession labor market conditions.
With job opportunities so weak for so long, workers have gotten stuck in unemployment for record lengths of time. Last month, the extensions of unemployment insurance benefits were allowed to expire -- an unprecedented move given the weak state of the labor market. The share of the workforce that is long-term unemployed (i.e., jobless for more than six months) is nearly twice as high today as it was in any other period when we allowed an extended benefits program to expire following earlier recessions. This is no time for Congress to turn its back on the long-term unemployed.
Here's a visual from EPI of those "missing" workers Shierholz and Lynch describe:
Co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research Dean Baker is a frequent contributor to the Making Sense Business Desk, and he spoke with Paul about the October jobs numbers following the shutdown. Most recently on the Business Desk, in "Why People with Jobs Should Want Other People to Have Them Too," Baker argued that fuller employment is better for the entire economy, and not just for the unemployed. Baker echoes Shierholz's concerns about missing workers and breaks the labor force participation rate down demographically.
Dean Baker: The drop was almost entirely due to people leaving the labor force as the number of people reported employed in December only rose by 143,000, just enough to keep the employment-to-population ratio constant.
Blacks disproportionately left the labor market, with the labor force participation rate for African Americans dropping by 0.3 percentage points to 60.2 percent, the lowest rate since December of 1977. The rate for African American men fell 0.7 pp to 65.6 percent, the lowest on record.
The data on the establishment [payroll] side was not any brighter with the survey reporting an increase of just 74,000 jobs. Some of this weakness was due to unusually slow growth in health care and restaurant employment. This is likely an anomaly that will be reversed in future months.
However, there was also a decline in the index of average weekly hours. This suggests that the economy may be weaker than some of the recent optimistic accounts indicated.
For October's report, we also spoke with the American Enterprise Institute's Michael Strain. As Congress debates the extension of unemployment benefits, Strain has been one of the conservatives voices urging them to renew benefits.
Dear Congress: Please extend UI benefits. Sincerely, The December jobs report.— Michael R. Strain (@MichaelRStrain) January 10, 2014
Michael Strain: Unemployment in 2013 looks good on the surface. The unemployment rate fell by over a point last year, and will almost surely continue to fall in 2014. That indicator gets a great deal of attention, but going beneath the surface and digging deeper into the labor market statistics tells a different story. ...
A falling unemployment rate is good if the unemployed are transitioning into employment. A falling unemployment rate is not good if the unemployed are losing hope and giving up their job search entirely. Getting more people -- especially the long-term unemployed -- into jobs should be the major focus of federal economic policy in 2014. Of course, that was true for 2013, too.
The Heritage Foundation's James Sherk spoke with Paul about November's jobs report. 2013 was a bad year for the labor market, underscored by the employment rate of those prime-aged workers. But 2013 could have been worse, he explains.
James Sherk: The job market had another anemic year in 2013. Unemployment dropped by 1.2 percentage points, but only because millions of Americans stopped looking for work. The labor force participation rate continued to decline and hit its lowest level since 1978. The proportion of the adult population with jobs remained unchanged. Some analysts blame falling labor force participation on retiring baby boomers, but the same pattern holds when looking at prime-aged workers (25-54 year olds). Over the year the employment rate of this group increased by just 0.2 percentage points even as their unemployment rate dropped by almost a full percentage point. The economic recovery remains sluggish.
On the positive side, the labor market did not get any worse in 2013. Many Keynesian economists predicted that fiscal "austerity" -- particularly the sequester -- would sharply reduce economic growth and threaten another recession. That did not happen.
Former Fed economist Catherine Mann, now at Brandeis University International Business School, was our window into the Fed last month as we previewed their decision to taper. In a series of extended transcripts, she explained why the Fed's low interest rates are sending dollars abroad and how the Fed's trillions end up back at deposit at the Fed. Here she explains how December's unemployment rate surprised economists after a relatively strong report from private payroll reporter, ADP. (We've explored the unreliability of ADP reports for predicting America's unemployment picture before on Making Sense).
Catherine Mann: There were two surprises with this report. Discrepancy between ADP and BLS reports and the drop in the unemployment rate.
First: The big miss between the ADP at 238,000 and the BLS at 87,000 (business-added jobs). Although the two reports often differ, this is a very large miss between these two indicators of job strength. The two categories where the discrepancies are largest are construction: ADP was positive 48 and BLS was negative 17 -- entirely on account of drops in employment in non-residential specialty trades, perhaps coming from shale gas activities. And the other discrepancy is in services-providing jobs: ADP at 170 and BLS at 90 -- the discrepancies may come from BLS recording drops in some business/professional services like accounting and entertainment, and health (which is very rare).
Second: the drop in the unemployment rate from 7.0 to 6.7 percent. Looking underneath this number, however, reveals big differences for youth versus mature workers and men versus women. For mature men (25 and older) the unemployment rate declined significantly 6.1 to 5.7 percent whereas for mature women (25 and older) the decline was more modest (5.6 to 5.5 percent). There were bigger differences for young workers: for men 18-19 unemployment fell 22.7 to 18.9 percent but rose for young women, 16 to 17.6 percent.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. economy turned in the weakest jobs growth in three years last month. Today's Labor Department report showed a net gain of just 74,000 jobs in December. The unemployment rate did fall from 7 percent to 6.7 percent, largely because many people gave up looking for a job. Paul Solman will break down the numbers, right after the news summary.
Wall Street had a muted reaction to the jobs report. The Dow Jones industrial average was down slightly, losing seven points to close at 16,437. The Nasdaq rose 18 points to close at 4,174. For the week, the Dow lost two-tenths of a percent; the Nasdaq rose 1 percent.
That data breach at the Target company over the holidays was far worse than first reported. The nation's third largest retailer said today that up to 110 million customers were affected, well over the initial estimate of 40 million. The latest disclosure includes phone numbers, e-mail and mailing addresses. Last month's involved credit and debit card numbers. Target says customers will not be liable for any fraudulent charges.
The U.S. House voted overwhelmingly today to set new data security requirements for the president's health care law. The Republican bill says that enrollees must be notified within two days if there's a breach involving their personal information.
That touched off jousting on the House floor.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN, D-Calif.: So, today, House Republicans are resorting to scare tactics. They're bringing up a poorly thought-out bill based on a false premise that healthcare.gov is not secure. The truth is, I will say it again, there have been no successful security attacks on healthcare.gov.
REP. ERIC CANTOR, R-Va.: Why wouldn't we take precautions to help people? That's all this bill does is, it says if there is a risk of data breach, we should afford people opportunity to take corrective action immediately. That's it. There's no message in there. This is just trying to help people.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The bill ultimately passed 291-122, with 67 Democrats joining the Republicans. It is not expected to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate.
The Obama administration is changing lead contractors on the healthcare.gov Web site. Medicare/Medicaid officials confirmed today that CGI Federal will not be retained. It oversaw a disastrous rollout of the site in October. The administration plans to hire Accenture instead.
Federal authorities announced an investigation today into a chemical spill that's largely shut down Charleston, West Virginia. The spill tainted the Elk River and cut off the supply of water for drinking, cooking and bathing. We will hear from the mayor of Charleston later in the program.
The federal government will recognize more than 1,000 gay marriages performed in Utah since late December. Attorney General Eric Holder announced today the same-sex couples are eligible for federal benefits, for now. A federal judge struck down Utah's ban on gay marriage in late December. The state is appealing the decision.
The president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, may not sign a deal letting U.S. troops stay there, at least not any time soon. "The Washington Post" reported today the U.S. ambassador has cabled Washington that he doubts Karzai will sign before elections in April. That's much later than Washington wants, but a State Department official said this today.
JEN PSAKI, State Department: We recognize that, at this time, it is up to President Karzai to determine what it is in Afghanistan's best interests, and we continue to work on the ground with -- with President Karzai and his team and encouraging them to sign the BSA. So those efforts remain under way, and there shouldn't be any confusion of that.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The agreement would govern any U.S. forces who remain in Afghanistan after most foreign troops leave this year. Without a deal, the U.S. has warned that it will pull out all troops.
A diplomatic storm over the strip search of India's deputy consul general in New York took a new turn today. An American diplomat was expelled by New Delhi, as the Indian official was allowed to leave the U.S. She was granted immunity on federal charges that she forced a housekeeper to work more than 100 hours a week for low pay, and then lied about it. Her arrest and body search last month had outraged Indians.
In Syria, a human rights group reports nearly 500 people died this week in fighting between al-Qaida militants and other rebel factions. The conflict has spread across four provinces. Also today, state media said government forces around Homs killed dozens of rebels who tried to break a siege of the city.
A Pentagon report today found an ingrained culture of sexism at the nation's military academies. Reports of sexual assaults at West Point, Annapolis and the Air Force Academy actually fell a little, from 80 to 70, in the last year. But officials said that may be due to peer pressure.
MAJ. GEN. JEFFREY SNOW, Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office: Sexual assault is a crime and has no place in our academies, just as it has no place in our armed forces. The academies are aware we develop the future leaders of the military. That is why it is essential that the department instill in its future leaders a commitment to fostering a climate of dignity and respect.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In a related development, the superintendent at the Naval Academy dropped charges against a second football player accused of sexually assaulting a female classmate last March. Trial is pending for a third Midshipman in the incident.
President Obama has tapped a former head of the Bank of Israel, Stanley Fischer, to be vice chairman of the Federal Reserve. The nominee is currently a professor at MIT and holds dual citizenship in the U.S. and Israel. If confirmed by the Senate, Fischer will replace Janet Yellen, who's taking over as Fed chair. A civil rights pioneer who helped spark sit-ins across the South died overnight. In 1960, Franklin McCain and three other black college students took seats at a segregated Woolworths lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. They were denied service, but they kept coming back, and the protests spread. In later years, McCain became a research chemist and a sales executive. He was 73 years old.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Today's jobs report was surprising, and by most accounts, disappointing. It renewed concerns about the strength of the labor market during this recovery.
NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman begins a two-part look, part of his ongoing reporting Making Sense of financial news.
PAUL SOLMAN: When it came to jobs, 2013 ended with a whimper. According to the Labor Department's survey of employers, December saw the lowest monthly gain in three years.
LISA LYNCH, Brandeis University: It was a stunning report, but not stunning in a good way.
PAUL SOLMAN: Former Labor Department chief economist Lisa Lynch:
LISA LYNCH: The economy only added a little over 70,000 jobs. And there were whispers of 300,000 jobs being added to the economy. The unemployment rate dropped. That's usually good news, but it dropped for all the wrong reasons. It dropped because people dropped out of the labor force.
PAUL SOLMAN: Is this the latest example of what we have been calling for a decade now a jobless recovery?
LISA LYNCH: I think its always important to not get too carried away with any one month's report. So we also saw in today's report upward revisions in the employment numbers for last month, in November. Over the course of the year, we're adding 182,000 jobs a month. That's the monthly average.
That's keeping pace with the pace of growth of the population, making a small dent into the pool of the unemployed, but not at the pace that anyone would like to see.
PAUL SOLMAN: As to the specific industries, 6,000 jobs were cut in health care. That's the first decline in 10 years. Another sector taking a pounding, construction, which shrank by 16,000 positions. But Mother Nature may have been a factor there.
LISA LYNCH: The low employment numbers that we saw in this month's report may be partially explained by cold weather in early December that kept people from their jobs, especially in the construction industry.
PAUL SOLMAN: The official unemployment rate, however, based on a survey of households, actually went down, from 7 to 6.7 percent. But the drop seems largely because people left the work force and were no longer counted as unemployed.
LISA LYNCH: People are counted as unemployed in the official survey if they are available for work and have looked for work over the course of the past month. But if they're available to work, but they have stopped looking, they're no longer counted as unemployed. But the Labor Department does ask a question, are you interested in work, but you have stopped looking because there don't seem to be possibilities out there for you?
And people answer that, and over 900,000 people last month said that they would like to work, but they are discouraged because they don't see employment possibilities in their community
PAUL SOLMAN: In fact, the portion of the population now working or looking for work is smaller than it's been in decades, says Lynch.
LISA LYNCH: So, the labor force participation rate is now down to the lowest level we have seen since 1978.
PAUL SOLMAN: What's going on?
LISA LYNCH: Good news is some of that is driven by people delaying entry into the labor market, as they're staying on in school. Part of it is also driven by people who are close to retirement, are having difficulty finding alternative employment, and are dropping out, or just frankly have sufficient income and are retiring and are no longer looking for work.
The troubling component of the fall in labor force participation is the fall for people that are in their prime working years. And there, we see larger decreases in labor force participation for both men and women. And this is a problem.
PAUL SOLMAN: Moreover, even of those who haven't given up their job search, nearly four million reported in December that they'd been looking for six months or more. That four million total essentially hasn't budged since late summer.
All of this comes amidst the battle in Washington over whether to extend unemployment benefits for those long-term unemployed. Senate Democrats have scheduled a Monday vote on the extension. The law allowing for the program expired last month. It's unclear whether the measure will garner enough Republican support to pass.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Some further perspective now on the questions raised by Paul's report, particularly on this critical issue of workers leaving the job market.
Our guests are both economists. Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and Robert Shapiro is the co-founder and chairman of Sonecon, an economic advisory firm.
And we welcome you both back to the program.
DEAN BAKER, Center for Economic and Policy Research: Pleasure to be here.
ROBERT SHAPIRO, former U.S. Undersecretary of Commerce: Thank you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Dean Baker, to you first. What stands out to you mainly in this report for December?
DEAN BAKER: Well, I guess there were two things.
One, looking at the household survey, the big fall in the number of people in the labor force that was pronounced really across-the-board, but among African-Americans, we have the lowest rate of labor force participation among African-American men since we have kept that count. So that was really striking.
And then on the establishment side, as Lisa had said, people were expecting as many as 300,000 jobs. Just to see 75,000, that was certainly a very weak number. So to see two independent surveys both showing weakness same month, that indicates, I think, the labor market is certainly weaker than most people had perceived.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Robert Shapiro, do you see it as weak as Dean Baker does?
ROBERT SHAPIRO: Well, the fact is the labor market has been weak for a decade.
We keep on comparing what's happening today to our memories of job creation in the '80s and '90s. The fact is, job creation is doing significantly better in this expansion than it did in the 2002-2007 expansion. But both of them are very weak by historic standards. This weakness has continued, but there is -- it is easy to misinterpret some of these numbers.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, it sounds like you're saying this is being judged against the wrong standard; is that what you're saying?
ROBERT SHAPIRO: Well, I'm saying that there are a lot of factors entering into this.
One of them, we talk about the decline in the labor participation rate. That is driven mainly by demographics. This is the unwinding of the enormous increase in the labor participation rate we saw with the boomers, who are not only an unusually large generation, but for whom women participated, went into the labor force in much larger numbers and shares than historically.
That drove up the labor participation rate 10 percent. And the decline in the labor participation rate begins in 2009, which is just when the boomers begin to retire.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Are beginning to retire.
Dean Baker, so what about that? You hear him saying it's demographics.
DEAN BAKER: No, I really would say very differently.
First off, in terms of comparison, I think the proper comparison is another severe downturn. We lost around nine million jobs. You expect a quick jump back, and we didn't see that. So you compare this to '81-'82, we haven't seen anything like the jump back you had then.
But it is easy to see the big falloff in labor force participation is among prime age workers, 25-to-54-years-olds. That is down by four full percentage points. That is equivalent to five million people in their prime ages. They are not retiring at age 50.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You are saying these are not baby boomers?
DEAN BAKER: That's right. Well, these are the bottom end.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The younger, not the older end of the baby boomers.
DEAN BAKER: Yes, these are people too young to retire.
ROBERT SHAPIRO: The fact of the matter is that the peak of the baby boom comes from 1949 to 1957. That's the highest birth rates. Those people are now 57 to 65.
The first boomers began to retire in 2000. This is an unwinding of an increase in the labor participation rate, on top of a terrible financial crisis and a decade-long slowdown in the rate of job creation. You know, one of the other facts in this report that helps explain this sharp drop in the unemployment rate, despite the fact we only created 74,000 jobs, is that layoffs fell as well by 360,000.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Which you're saying is obviously a good point.
But then let's just pick that up one more time, and then I want to ask you about something else.
Dean Baker, what about -- just to look at the age cohort, you know, he's basically saying this was a decade when people who -- were just aging to the point where it was time for them to get out of the work force.
DEAN BAKER: Well, again, we could see that doesn't explain it, because we have separate data on people 25 to 54.
And those people are leaving the labor force. We're down five million jobs among that group of people. These are not people retiring. So, that simply can't explain it. I understand about the baby boomers aging, being one of them, as I think Rob is also.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.
DEAN BAKER: You know, we're aging. But we're still in the labor force. That doesn't explain the loss of prime age jobs.
ROBERT SHAPIRO: It explains -- it explains about half of it.
And so this notion that this is all about a particular economic problem is only half-true. But it does explain about half of the decline in labor participation.
JUDY WOODRUFF: How does the age of people who are stepping out of the work force, whether it's because they have to or because they want to, how does that affect the economy?
DEAN BAKER: Well, it's a good question. You know, we have actually seen people staying in the work force longer. So, actually, the people who had big the job gainers, if you go back -- this is a little bit different in the last year, but the people who have been big job gainers were in the age group of 55 and over. So people were actually staying in the work force longer than they had previously.
I mean, that's still true, except that the increase isn't as much as it had been. But there is a big question -- I don't think it's resolved -- as to whether when these people stay in the work force, that is pulling in younger people by being complements, in effect, an older worker training a younger worker, or whether they're substitutes.
And I think it has got to be a bit of both. The question is, how does that come out on balance?
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Robert Shapiro, step back. Look at these numbers. What are you most -- what are you most optimistic about looking at this? And you have been talking about that. And what worries you?
ROBERT SHAPIRO: Well, the best news in this was the continued sharp decline in the number of layoffs.
This is something we usually see at an earlier point in an expansion. It's come later because this expansion is different in many ways from a typical expansion. And what is certainly most troubling is what Dean has noted. And that is the low number of new jobs being created and the problems for people in their 40s in particular in the labor force.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You want to put a button on this just quickly?
DEAN BAKER: Yes.
Well, I mean, we would like to see everyone benefiting from growth, and we're not seeing that. We see a severe shortage of jobs, and wages are going nowhere. So we have had a whole decade where most workers are seeing none of the benefits of economic growth. Not a good story.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, well, we thank you both, Dean Baker, Robert Shapiro. Maybe next month will be better.
DEAN BAKER: Let's hope so.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Hundreds of thousands of citizens in West Virginia are heading into the weekend dealing with a major water emergency caused by a chemical spill.
Even as it's disrupting lives, officials are still trying to get a handle on just what happened.
Earlier this evening, Hari Sreenivasan in our New York studio spoke with Charleston's mayor.
But he begins with some background.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Ground zero is this Freedom Industries plant that makes chemicals for the mining, steel and cement industries. State inspectors say a foaming agent used in coal preparation leaked from a 40,000-gallon tank yesterday. Some of it overran a containment area, and ended up in the Elk River.
An estimated 300,000 people are affected in nine counties, many of them reporting a smell like black licorice. Emergency hot line centers like this one are fielding calls.
C.W. SIGMAN, Kanawha County, W.Va., Deputy Emergency Management Director: We have had some complaints about eyes burning, things of that nature. Best advice is to stay inside right now until they get this taken -- taken care of.
HARI SREENIVASAN: For now, people are being told to avoid using tap water to bathe, drink, cook, or wash clothes and dishes.
Jeff McIntyre heads the Charleston Water Treatment Plant. He says the chemical is not especially toxic, but it's not worth taking a chance.
JEFF MCINTYRE, West Virginia American Water Company: We don't know that the water is not safe. But I can't say that it is safe.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Testing shows contamination levels in the river are already falling, but McIntyre says it's too early to say how long it will take to clean the water system.
JEFF MCINTYRE: Our activities will be to go away from the treatment plant in concentric rings, if you like, flush the system and sample the system to make sure it's safe for our customers. We may be able to put customers back in service by zones. I don't think we are going to be able to do it, the entire area, all at once. So it's going to be chasing the line as the water flows and testing and flushing as we go.
HARI SREENIVASAN: For its part, Freedom Industries says its working nonstop to contain the leak and determine how much of the chemical got into the river.
In the meantime, bottled water and bags of ice have been flying off store shelves.
WOMAN: This is actually the third place I have been to trying to get water, so I have resorted to ice.
WOMAN: You're going to melt this down. That's what you are going to do, like you did back in them old days. Put it in a little tub, put it in there, and just take, you know, like a bird bath.
HARI SREENIVASAN: President Obama has declared a federal disaster in the affected region, expediting aid. And federal prosecutors have launched an investigation.
HARI SREENIVASAN: We're joined now by the mayor of Charleston, W.Va., Danny Jones.
Thanks for joining us.
What is the latest that you're hearing now about the efforts to contain this spill?
DANNY JONES, Mayor of Charleston, W.Va.: Well, we know basically what we were told at the press conference this morning.
And we are at the mercy of the principals involved, mainly West Virginia American Water Company, because they are probably going to be decides when they feel like it's safe for people to bathe and to drink the water.
And you can't imagine what it's like to live in one of the nine counties affected in West Virginia, or in my home town of Charleston, W.Va., which is the urban part of that area, what it's like to not have any water to do anything except for flush commodes and put out fires.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Sorry.
The governor says that he doesn't know the details. The company in some ways hasn't said exactly how much has spilled out into the river. When do they have any expectation of when they will know more?
DANNY JONES: And that was my question this morning at the press conference.
And there is no timeline. There is no answer as to when the citizens of this valley and all these nine counties can affect this nightmare to end. And it has devastated this area in a way which is indescribable. Everything is closing.
And that means the Marriott Hotel. That means our Town Center Mall. No restaurant is allowed to open because you can't legally open without water. And it's been devastating for our area. People are in their homes. The schools are closed. You're not supposed to take showers and certainly not supposed to drink the tap water.
And we are distributing water out of a few of our fire stations, bottled water. And the West Virginia American Water has had truckloads of water to come in to try to distribute water to citizens, so they will have something to drink.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Now, we heard that there's almost a smell of black licorice either in the air or of the water. Have you smelled it? Have you tasted it?
DANNY JONES: I smelled it yesterday, when a gentleman from the office across the street came over to my office to get me. He knew me, and he took me across the street and I smelled it when I got outside. I had been inside for that afternoon.
And then he -- I went up to his water fountain and then I tasted it. And I took a big drink of it, and I knew that there was something very wrong. And it wasn't much longer after that that the West Virginia Water Company and the governor and all those folks held a press conference. It wasn't the governor's press conference.
He was just happened to have been there, but was West Virginia American Water Company. And they have nothing but bad news for these citizens, and with no end in sight.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So have you heard of any of the possible health side effects? Are there clinics or hospitals reporting any adverse affects to people having drank this water?
DANNY JONES: No, we have not heard anything like that, and -- which is good news. But it also means we really don't know what we're dealing with.
If there are outbreaks of any kind of reaction to this, I have not been informed of it. And I think, if it had happened in Charleston, I think I would have been informed of it. We're just told what not to do.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what are the contingency plans going forward?
I mean, now you know that you have this corporate citizen in your backyard. What kind of plans were there? What kind of plans do you hope there are if something like this ever happens again?
DANNY JONES: If you're talking about the chemical company, that company is not in the city of Charleston. They are about a quarter-mile down the Elk River, which is outside of our city limits.
We believe that they have three tanks up there. One of them leaked. And the chemical went through the -- leaked through the wall and out into the Elk River. We believe that is what happened. So I think that any chance of that happening again would be nil because of precautions that will be taken.
But that doesn't help us out of the mess that we're in right now and all the questions about technicalities and about why weren't we notified when, I will be glad to try to answer that. But that doesn't -- we are preoccupied with getting back to normal lifestyle with water to bathe in and tap water to drink and to prepare food with.
HARI SREENIVASAN: What do you want the -- what do you want the company to be able to do in the next day or two?
DANNY JONES: I want West Virginia American Water to fix this. And I realize it's the chemical company's fault.
But West Virginia Water, West Virginian American Water has 40,000 miles of line that they run water through. And that -- that goes out to a lot of people. And we want them to take advantage of whatever technology is out there and fix this.
And I believe that it must exist in this day and age that they can fix this and allow these people to get back to normal.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Mayor Danny Jones of Charleston, W.Va., thanks so much for your time.
DANNY JONES: Thank you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The president of the violence-stricken Central African Republic resigned today, after mounting pressure from regional leaders for failing to stop the country's slide toward anarchy and sectarian bloodshed.
The rebel leader, Michel Djotodia, seized control of the country nine months ago, bringing a Muslim rebel movement to power, one blamed for looting, kidnapping and killing. In December, a Christian militia attacked the capital, and the fighting has only escalated, leaving more than 1,000 dead and nearly a million people forced to flee their homes in fear.
We have this on-the-ground report on reaction to the resignation from Alex Thomson of Independent Television News.
ALEX THOMSON: From the first light, they knew today was going to be their day, at first, small groups on the streets trying to block them, but there was no menace here, at least at this stage.
French soldiers politely suggesting they allow one carriageway clear for the traffic, then more and more, and bursting into the national anthem. They sing of dignity and brotherhood, the Christian un-silent majority here voicing their hatred of the president they blame for siding with the Muslim minority.
"Djotodia resign, Djotodia resign," they chant.
MAN (through interpreter): Before midday, he must go. Before midday, he must resign. All Central African people demand this. If he doesn't, we will go to the airport and occupy it for the rest of our lives.
ALEX THOMSON: So, we ask, if the president resigns, will it be peace?
ALEX THOMSON: That will be a yes, then.
For the moment, the French soldiers here can do little more than advise people not to go down this road. This is one of the key interfaces in this city. If the demonstrators proceed down this road, they will go into a predominantly Muslim area. So far, we have a balance of euphoria. They're singing their song again, as you hear -- but also deep and profound anger.
You wave branches here at someone's funeral to recognize they have passed on. In this case, President Djotodia's passed on.
MAN (through interpreter): We don't want the resignation to come from us. It was France who colonized us. They are the ones who brought the president to power. We don't want Djotodia in power.
ALEX THOMSON: More ominously today, we're seeing the juju symbols of the Christian militia on the streets, including here the scarf and horns. Anything will do when it comes to protecting yourself in battle.
They shout, "Watch out, Muslim fighters. The Christian militias are back."
And they are, hundreds of Christian militia gathering with spears, daggers and machetes at the airport this morning. They said they'd block the runway if the president didn't go. Now President Djotodia has gone, and African peacekeepers spread themselves as widely as they can in this situation. Nobody knows how the Muslim and Christian militias will respond.
The French keep watch at ground level, heavy machine guns in place now, rather larger guns out by the airport, a place the departed president may never see again.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.
Welcome, gentlemen. It's Friday.
So let's start with the spectacle New Jersey, Republican Governor Chris Christie in hot water over a, apparently, Mark, deliberately arranged traffic jam done in retribution for political enemies, people who didn't vote for him. What -- what do you make of this? Why is it getting so much attention?
MARK SHIELDS: It's getting so much attention because he is the de facto front-runner in many people's minds for the Republican nomination. Certainly, Democrats see him as the most formidable potential nominee at this point in 2016 on the Republican side.
But, Judy, this is a story that plays to his greatest strength and becomes his greatest vulnerability, in my sense. Chris Christie crystallized as a national figure August 26, 2011. He stood on the beach as Hurricane Irene thundered down upon the Jersey Shore. And there were some sunbathers who refused to go.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Hurricane Sandy.
MARK SHIELDS: No, Hurricane Irene, 2011.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Oh, this is another one. This is 2011.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes, this is 2011.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you.
MARK SHIELDS: OK.
And he went -- they refused to leave, in spite the threats and the warnings, and everything else. And Chris Christie went on television and said, get the hell off the beach. Get out, get in your car, the sun is down, it's 4:30. You have got all the tan you have got.
It was just one of those moments that was just so real. And this was what he was. He was a no-nonsense guy. He was a take-charge, I'm in control guy, roll up your sleeves.
And this, the only defense he has is, he was detached, he was disengaged, he didn't know. And instead of the naturalness of that language, his language yesterday in the press conference was that of the victim, you know, that he was betrayed by those whom he trusted.
And yet he didn't once express real, genuine, authentic Chris Christie concern for the people whose lives were really disrupted, I mean, thousands of people who missed appointments, who missed funerals, who missed business opportunities, who missed their chance to get their kids to school.
And it was a -- it was a lousy act. And it was a ruthless act. it wasn't -- this isn't hardball politics, where you take David's pet project and don't fund it. This is dislocating thousands of people and a cheap political trick. And if he didn't know about it, the people he trusted the most, brought in, and he was uncurious about, I think it raises serious questions about him.
And the most important thing is that nobody has come to his defense, nobody. I mean, Republicans haven't come to his defense. And Democrats are happy to see him stew right now.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Raises serious questions?
DAVID BROOKS: Here I come. Here I come to his defense.
MARK SHIELDS: OK.
DAVID BROOKS: No, I -- some of that, I agree with. He should have expressed more regret about the people who were inconvenienced.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes.
DAVID BROOKS: It should be said also the level of small-minded petulance that exists in politics is never to be underestimated.
People do nasty, cheap stuff all the time, because they are caught up in some small-minded politicalness of it. As having said that, though, I thought Christie did reasonably well. I thought...
JUDY WOODRUFF: At the news conference.
DAVID BROOKS: At the news conference.
If he knew about what was happening at the time, his career is really damaged. But so far, there has been no evidence that he did.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Because he denied.
DAVID BROOKS: He denied, flatly denied.
So, if an e-mail comes out showing he knew, then he is in deep trouble. But, so far, I thought he expressed naturalness. He expressed humiliation. He walked us through in intimate detail how he found out about it, how he fired the people.
I thought it was Christie. Now, my friend Mike Murphy, the political consultant, says the essence of Christie, he doesn't come in small doses. He comes in big doses. And the challenge for Christie as a candidate has always been, will people accept somebody who comes on that strong?
But if he comes on that strong as even a little bit of a bully, which is sort of what he looks like in this, he could be that people want a bully to go to Washington. If they're going to vote for Christie, they don't want a charmer. They want a big bully. And this will not hurt him, I think.
I think some politicians would be hurt by this kind of scandal. He will not be hurt, because his image, as a big, tough, bully, that is what you are hiring him for if you are going to elect him president. And so this is consistent with that image, I think.
MARK SHIELDS: You don't want the president who is a bully. You want a president who is strong. You want a president who can impose his will upon Congress. You want a president who can lead, is not afraid to make tough decisions.
You don't want a bully. Chris Christie has been everyman up until now. Now, at this point, he has become somebody who is so uncurious about what is going on. He was the last person in the entire governor's office to find out about this?
Add to this the other problem that he's going to have, is that, 2012, he was one of the finalists with Paul Ryan to be the Republican nominee for vice president. He was passed over. And when somebody is passed over, there's always questions. And there were stories out of the Romney campaign. Many spoke on the record that it was his entourage, overbearing, demands of a private jet, demands of a big support system, impossible, divas to deal with, and all of this.
This plays right into that. And if he found out at 8:55 on Wednesday morning that this was happening, and then this is a story that has been brewing now for two months, you know, I just think it really confounds anybody's believability.
DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, first, if I...
JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean you are saying you don't believe him?
MARK SHIELDS: I don't. It's next to impossible.
I can't believe anybody could be so chronically, terminally uncurious about something that affects his career, as well as his governorship, let alone his presidential ambitions.
DAVID BROOKS: Well, it could be that he was lied to.
It's also, it seems to me, true it's rare that a scandal, especially not a major scandal, knocks out a candidate, Bill Clinton, Gennifer Flowers. Scandals are not -- people are reasonably scandal-tolerant.
And as to Mark's point about whether it should be a bully, I think in normal times, this is true. But now we're living in a time of incredible distrust of Washington, distrust of politics. I think the standards are a little different. In times of high distrust, maybe you want somebody -- and this has happened through history, and even in Israel, Bibi Netanyahu, a little rough guy.
People get -- pick the rough guy when they're really fed up.
MARK SHIELDS: What is the knock -- just one rebuttal? What is the knock on Barack Obama? A close, tightly-knit staff of ultra-loyalists, don't seek outside advice, don't go beyond that circle, detached and disengaged.
Sound familiar to the Chris Christie modus...
DAVID BROOKS: Well, the diva thing, I totally get. I totally agree with that. If the diva thing is a problem, he is a diva and that will hurt him.
But he doesn't remind a lot of people of Barack Obama. Barack Obama is very cool and...
MARK SHIELDS: No, no, but, I mean, his defense is that he was detached and disengaged. He didn't know what was going on.
DAVID BROOKS: OK.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All right.
Well, speaking of President Obama, he was the, I guess you could say, victim, certainly the victim of criticism, in the book that came out in the last few days by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
He has clearly broken a little bit of china with this book. It's 600 pages. I confess, I have not read the entire thing. I am going to be talking to Secretary Gates next Tuesday.
But, just in a situation like this, David, where a former official comes out and says, among other things, that the president didn't believe in the war in Afghanistan and didn't trust the generals, is this the kind of thing that ends up hurting the president? Does it -- what effect -- what is the lasting effect of something like this?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, his -- his defense is that he was skeptical of the Afghan surge. And maybe skepticism was well justified, because it was widely determined it didn't work so well.
And so he was skeptical. And then the criticism of him, he sent young men and women into harm's away not really believing in it. And the argument should be, if you don't totally believe in a military mission as president of the United States, you shouldn't do it.
And my understanding at the time -- and I had a lot of direct reporting at the time -- my firm conviction then was the president wasn't fully behind the surge, that he had completely understood and in many ways was very sympathetic to the arguments against it. Why he did, I really don't know.
Maybe he wanted to give it a shot. Maybe he thought it would work. But I certainly -- the central charge, that he wasn't fully supportive of the Afghan surge, rings completely true to my memory of reporting at that time.
MARK SHIELDS: I think, from everything -- and I have not -- I confess I have not read the book, but everything I have read about the book and excerpts from it, it is quite nuanced.
I mean, yes, this is an indictment of the president.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Is more than just criticism.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes. He calls him the most deliberative president he's ever been around, a gutsy decision-maker. I mean, he really is quite full of praise. He had never made a political decision, that -- you know, that he was -- really, the consequences of the formulation of the campaign of 2008 came back to haunt the president.
The consequences were that -- the formulation that Iraq was a bad war, Afghanistan was a good war. And so you come to office, and you have got to support the good war and wind down the bad war. And I don't think there's any question that -- but that that happened.
And -- but, at the same time, to me, there are two questions. The serious thing that he says in the book -- and I think it's true of not just this administration -- we had the campaign in 2012, when none of the four had even been anywhere near military service. And there is a skepticism and distrust of the military thinking they want to go to war.
They don't want to go to war. People who have been to war don't want to go to war. That's the first thing. And the second thing, I will leave to David.
MARK SHIELDS: I have taken too much time. I'm sorry.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we will all go off read the book. Then we will come back and talk about it again.
But the last thing I do want to ask the two of you about is, we observed the 50th anniversary this week of the war on poverty, what President Lyndon Johnson announced in 1964.
David, looking back on it, big question. I want to ask you if it's been a success. And I mean that, because right now you have got this big debate under way between Democrats and among Democrats and Republicans about whether the whole -- the apparatus that was established to fight poverty has been a total failure and should be torn up and we should start from scratch with something else.
DAVID BROOKS: I'm still in shock Mark is giving me time.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And I'm giving you some time too.
DAVID BROOKS: Right.
I wouldn't say it was a total failure, and I'm a skeptic of it. There were programs that were clearly successful, the food stamp program. There were programs that were successful, but they just got the costs wrong, Medicare. So they estimated what Medicare would cost today. They were off by huge factors.
There were some programs that could have been successful, but they were poorly executed. I think Head Start would count on that. And so you have got a bunch of programs that they tried all at once, which had some modest effect, but not the effect you wanted, and a lot of negative effects.
And right after the Great Society program, there was a tremendous decay in our social fabric, a tremendous rise in crime. And I would say they emphasized the economic parts of poverty. They didn't emphasize and they misunderstood some of the social capital effects. And they had unintended negative consequences.
So I would say mixed blessing. I would lean a little more on the skeptical side, that it was a -- more of a failure than a success.
JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see...
MARK SHIELDS: The biggest criminal act of the last 50 years is committed by people who had nothing to do with OEO or a poverty program. It was done by people on Wall Street. And the country is still reeling and suffering and paying from it.
I think, Judy, that it's been a very great success if you happen to be over the age of 60 in this country. We have reduced poverty among those over 65 from 35 percent of the population down to 9. Ninety-nine percent of people over 65 have medical care now. They didn't.
And children, there are hard studies now that show people who went through Head Start are graduating from high school and going on to college at a higher rate than those who didn't. I agree that it hasn't been an unvarnished success.
But I would just point out this. The difference is, in large part, people over 65 have very formidable lobbies, and they vote. And kids don't. And I do think the reexamination of it by the president, encouraged Republicans to participate in that dialogue, is important.
I think the pope deserves credit for putting it on the agenda. And I think we are addressing poverty. It's something that when -- all we talked about in 2012 was the middle class, the middle class, the middle class. Now we are at least addressing a reality.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But you are saying children have been left out of it.
MARK SHIELDS: Children have -- children have been -- children have not benefited to the degree that those over 60 have, who have done very well.
DAVID BROOKS: Well, I agree with that. The -- we did reduce elderly poverty, but by taking -- making the government a giant transfer machine from young families to the elderly.
Just one thing on poverty and Republicans. Marco Rubio had a speech today, or this week, which was, I thought, a quite impressive speech, much more affirmatively using the power of government to address poverty problems, whether it's wage subsidies, whether it's through direct grants, much -- for a party that has become instinctively anti-government, we are beginning to see Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio and some others wanting to affirmatively use government, I think, in targeted, but limited and conservative ways to really address practical problems.
JUDY WOODRUFF: We can talk about that.
MARK SHIELDS: OK.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Unless you can say it in one word, or two words.
MARK SHIELDS: David is not completely right.
JUDY WOODRUFF: OK. Promise to let you finish that thought later.
Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you both.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: Author Kate DiCamillo today became the newest national ambassador for young people's literature, a post created by the Library of Congress in 2008 to promote literature for children.
Jeffrey Brown talked with her earlier this week.
JEFFREY BROWN: Kate DiCamillo says she was the shyest child in the world, the kind of kid who wouldn't say boo to a goose.
Well, she found her voice as a writer of stories for young people. Among her bestselling books are "Because of Winn-Dixie," the recent "Flora and Ulysses," and Newbery Award-winning "Tale of Despereaux."
She will spend the next two years as both author and ambassador for stories and reading.
Kate DiCamillo lives in Minneapolis and joins us from there.
And congratulations to you. And it's nice to talk to you again.
KATE DICAMILLO, U.S. National Ambassador for Young People's Literature: Well, thank you very much for being willing to talk to me. Let's talk books.
JEFFREY BROWN: So, the shyest -- the shyest child in the world becomes a national ambassador.
JEFFREY BROWN: How did that happen?
KATE DICAMILLO: Well, I know. There's a really rich irony in that, isn't there?
And I am not exaggerating -- well, I do tend to exaggerate. I'm a storyteller, but, really, I was just like -- if I had a dime for every time an adult said, "Cat got your tongue?"
You know, and my mother was a very outgoing person. And she could never believe that I couldn't run into the store and ask somebody some kind of question. So how did I end up here? I ended up here by telling stories.
And telling stories helped me connect with the world. And it turned me into somebody who can talk to people, I think. I don't know. I'm doing a pretty good job talking to you. Right?
JEFFREY BROWN: You are.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so tell us what you -- how you see this role and what you plan. Is it -- do you start off thinking that there is a problem that you need to address, a problem of young people and reading?
KATE DICAMILLO: I want to remind people -- I don't want to think about it as a problem.
I want to remind people of the great and profound joy that can be found in stories, and that stories can connect us to each other, and that reading together changes everybody involved. So I am not coming at it from a problem angle. I'm coming at it from a celebration angle. That's how I would like to think of it.
JEFFREY BROWN: What books did that for you, brought you out of the shell you were talking about?
KATE DICAMILLO: Well, one of them -- and I was a kid who loved to read and also a kid who was lucky enough to have a -- I had a mom that read to me all the time.
"Island of the Blue Dolphins" by Scott O'Dell had a huge impact on me. "Harriet the Spy," Louise Fitzhugh. I remember my mother reading me Beverly Cleary's "Ribsy."
All of those books kind of did that thing of connecting me to myself and connecting me to the world and connecting me to the people around me. So that is kind of the message that I want to carry out into world. That's what I hope to do.
JEFFREY BROWN: And do you think of -- is reading reading, or does it matter what young people are reading? I'm thinking about some of the books that gained tremendous currency, like "The Hunger Games" now and other ones you can think of at different times.
Do you think just whatever they're reading is good, or do you think there -- certain things are more nourishing than others?
KATE DICAMILLO: Well, I'm not going to make judgments about what people are reading.
I just want them to be reading. And I think reading one book leads to another book. So, I am just going to celebrate the whole ball of wax. I just want people -- I also want people to know that this is -- you know, that kids books can be for adults as well. There are a lot of different ways to connect to a story.
And I think "Harry Potter" has actually gone a long way to convincing people that adults can read kid books. But I would like to just bring more people into the room.
JEFFREY BROWN: The other thing that becomes part of this conversation of course, these days is technology and that sort of competition for the young people's attention.
Do you think of all these things, the -- you know, whether it's video games or tablets, do you think of them as the enemy, or is there a way to make them friends? How do you think about it?
KATE DICAMILLO: I think that it's a matter of balance and moderation.
And I think that my role here is just to remind everybody of the power of story and it can be just as entertaining and engaging as a video game. So, again, I'm not going to say, no, don't do that, but, rather, remember story. And story is what makes us human in a way. So, I just -- I'm here to say story can be a powerful thing.
JEFFREY BROWN: I remember when we first talked. And now it's 10 years ago...
KATE DICAMILLO: Yes.
JEFFREY BROWN: ... when you won the Newbery Award.
But you came to writing late yourself, right? This wasn't -- you weren't a natural.
KATE DICAMILLO: Yes.
JEFFREY BROWN: You just sort of came into it.
KATE DICAMILLO: No, I'm not a natural. I'm a late bloomer.
And I feel so fortunate to have ended up where I have ended up, as somebody who gets to tell stories for a living. But I didn't start writing until I was almost 30 years old. And I didn't get published until I was 36 or 37.
So -- but it was something that I always knew that I wanted to do. And I finally sat down and started trying to do it. So, hey, let's hear it for all the late bloomers and for dreams coming true, right?
JEFFREY BROWN: And I think I read that -- this is a little hard for me to believe, but maybe you can tell me -- you received 450 rejection letters before anyone agreed to publish you?
KATE DICAMILLO: I wish that I could tell you that that is erroneous.
KATE DICAMILLO: But it is not.
I kept a notebook where I kept track of everything, where I sent it, when it came back. So that is the case. So, I sent stories out for six years before anything happened. And when I go and I talk to kids, I go, imagine if I had given up at like the -- the rejection letter, you know, 200. I wouldn't be here.
So if there is any message that I can give in that respect, it's, you know, persistence and not giving up on your dream.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right.
Well, Kate DiCamillo, congratulations again. And good luck in your new role, the national ambassador for young people's literature.
Thanks so much.
KATE DICAMILLO: Thank you.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon takes part in a lighting of Hanukkah candles at his Jerusalem office on Dec. 27, 2005, prior to suffering a severe stroke the following year. Photo by Kevin Frayer-Pool/Getty Images
Israel's Ariel Sharon, a decisive military commander and divisive prime minister, died Saturday. He had been in a coma since 2006. He was 85 years old.
Sharon's son Gilad announced the death on Saturday afternoon outside the hospital near Tel Aviv where his father had been treated in recent years. "He has gone. He went when he decided to go," he said.
Sharon was considered a great military leader within Israel. He commanded the Israeli Army since its start in 1948, and he fought in four major wars: the 1956 Suez War, the Six-Day War of 1967, the War of Attrition and the Yom-Kippur War of 1973.
Israeli army Southern Command Gen. Ariel Sharon inspects the Egyptian front on Oct. 1, 1973, in the Sinai Desert during the Yom Kippur War. Photo by Ministry of Defense via Getty Images
After retiring from the Army, Sharon held different ministerial posts in the Likud party, including minister of defense. In that role, he oversaw the 1982 Lebanon War and was later found by a commission established by the Israeli government to have had "personal responsibility" for not stopping the slaughter by Lebanese militias of Palestinians and Lebanese Shiites in refugee camps in Beirut. He resigned from the ministry in 1983.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, center, is briefed by local mayor Rabbi Yaakov Guterman, left, on the route of Israel's separation barrier on Nov. 8, 2005, in the West Bank community of Modi'in Illit. Photo by Moshe Milner/Israeli government press office via Getty Images
Sharon served as prime minister from 2001 to 2006. During that time, he directed Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank, angering some within his Likud party. In 2005, he split off and formed the more moderate Kadima party. The next year, he suffered a major stroke, which put him into a coma and a permanent vegetative state.
Throughout his years as prime minister, Sharon participated with various U.S. administrations on efforts to forge a peace agreement with the Palestinians, which remains elusive.
On the March 20, 2001, PBS NewsHour, analysts and former diplomats Dennis Ross, Mark Regev and Edward Abington discussed an upcoming meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and then-President George W. Bush, and the challenges to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. At the time, Yasser Arafat was chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The analysts said the prevailing sentiment was that changes had to be made on the ground before a peace agreement could be reached.
Ross: "I think what you really have to focus on is: How do you change the realities on the ground? There is an economic reality, it has got to be addressed. There is a security reality that has got to be addressed. There is a day-to-day reality in terms of the how the two sides interact with each other that has to be addressed."
Prior to another U.S. visit in the spring of 2004, Sharon had announced a plan to pull Israel out of the Gaza Strip and portions of the West Bank. He said some West Bank settlements would remain under Israeli control, which was considered illegal under international law.
Analysts David Makovsky and Hisham Melhem discussed the potential impacts of Sharon's controversial actions on the Oct. 26, 2004 NewsHour.
Makovsky: "(Sharon) demonstrated a sort of determination, the single mindedness that as one Likud member told me in Israel this summer, we liked him when he was more of a bulldozer and dealing with the Palestinians, but now he's turned the bulldozer against us, his own party and against the settler movement. He has shown that sense of determination, and I'm not surprised; he has gambled his entire political future on this issue, and he wants to prevail."
Despite the opposition to his Gaza pullout plan, Sharon went on to survive a no-confidence vote in Israel's parliament as he had done several times earlier.
Sharon is survived by two sons, Omri and Gilad.
We'll have more on Ariel Sharon's life on the PBS NewsHour Weekend. View all of our World coverage.
World leaders paid tribute to Ariel Sharon following the announcement of the former Israeli Prime Minister's death Saturday morning.
Credit: Hikmet Saatci/Anadolu Agency/Gety Images
His son, Gilad, speaking outside the hospital near Tel Aviv where Sharon had been treated in recent years, said, "He has gone. He went when he decided to go."
Sharon had been in a coma since 2006. He was 85 years old.
In a statement, President Obama said Sharon "dedicated his life to the State of Israel," and pledged the United States' "unshakable commitment to Israel's security."
On behalf of the American people, Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to the family of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and to the people of Israel on the loss of a leader who dedicated his life to the State of Israel. We reaffirm our unshakable commitment to Israel's security and our appreciation for the enduring friendship between our two countries and our two peoples. We continue to strive for lasting peace and security for the people of Israel, including through our commitment to the goal of two states living side-by-side in peace and security. As Israel says goodbye to Prime Minister Sharon, we join with the Israeli people in honoring his commitment to his country.
The Spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon released a statement saying Sharon was "a hero to his people" as a soldier and statesman.
The Secretary-General is saddened by the death of Mr. Ariel Sharon, former Prime Minister of the State of Israel. He offers his condolences to the bereaved family and to the Government and people of Israel. Throughout a life dedicated to the State of Israel, Ariel Sharon was a hero to his people, first as a soldier and then a statesman.
Prime Minister Sharon will be remembered for his political courage and determination to carry through with the painful and historic decision to withdraw Israeli settlers and troops from the Gaza Strip. His successor faces the difficult challenge of realizing the aspirations of peace between the Israeli and Palestinian people.
The Secretary-General calls on Israel to build on the late Prime Minister's legacy of pragmatism to work towards the long overdue achievement of an independent and viable Palestinian state, next to a secure Israel. At this time of national mourning, the Secretary-General renews the commitment of the United Nations to work alongside the Government and the people of Israel for peace and security.
President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton praised Sharon for giving "his life to Israel."
Ariel Sharon gave his life to Israel--to bring it into being, to sustain and preserve it, and at the end of his long service, to create a new political party committed to both a just peace and lasting security. It was an honor to work with him, argue with him, and watch him always trying to find the right path for his beloved country. Hillary and I join his fellow citizens in honoring his memory and offering our condolences to his sons and his family
House Speaker John Boehner issued the following statement on Sharon's death:
I join the people of the Jewish state of Israel in mourning the loss of Ariel Sharon, one of the greatest warrior-statesmen in modern history. Sharon's contribution to establishing and defending Israel's independence is incalculable and his devotion to peace undisputed. The people of America and Israel have forged a friendship based on a common love of freedom, a relationship strengthened by farsighted leaders like Ariel Sharon. He knew, as ancient Scripture attests, 'The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe.' I send condolences to his family, friends, and countrymen.
British Prime Minister David Cameron offered his condolences, calling Sharon "one of the most significant figured in Israeli history." Cameron said:
Ariel Sharon is one of the most significant figures in Israeli history and as Prime Minister he took brave and controversial decisions in pursuit of peace, before he was so tragically incapacitated. Israel has today lost an important leader.
Sharon was also remembered in tweets:
In a series of tweets, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed Sharon's life and legacy in Israel.
The State of Israel bows its head on the passing of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Ariel Sharon played a central role in the struggle for the security of the State of Israel over all its years. He was, first and foremost, a courageous fighter and an outstanding general, and was among the IDF's greatest commanders.
From youth, he served the people of Israel on the battlefield. He did so as a soldier in the War of Independence, a commander in the Sinai. campaign and the 6 Day War and up to his decisive role in the battle over the Suez Canal that led to the turning point in the Yom Kippur War. He established Unit 101 and took the initiative in the war against terrorism, which became a central pillar of the State of Israel.
Upon leaving the military, Ariel Sharon continued to work on behalf of the people of Israel both in his many government roles, and as the 11th prime minister of the State of Israel. His memory will be enshrined forever in the heart of the nation.
PM Netanyahu expresses his deep sorrow over the passing of former PM Ariel Sharon:"he was a great warrior and military leader" 1/2— Ofir Gendelman (@ofirgendelman) January 11, 2014
Today, former PM Ariel Sharon passed away. He was a courageous leader & defender of Israel. May his memory be blessed pic.twitter.com/YCEJPPsE6R— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) January 11, 2014
My dear friend, Arik Sharon, lost his final battle today. I send my condolences to the Sharon family, may he rest in peace.— PresidentPeres (@PresidentPeres) January 11, 2014
Palestinians react to announcement of Sharon's death:
Even in death, Sharon remains a controversial figure in the Middle East.
Associated Press correspondent Mohammed Daraghmeh writes Sharon is loathed by many Palestinians for his role leading military offensives against them in Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza.
Reuters reports Palestinians in Gaza on Saturday passed out sweets in celebration of the former leader's death. Photographs posted on Getty Images showed jubilant teens burning posters of Sharon in the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Yunis.
While Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas did not have an immediate comment about Sharon's death, Palestinian groups have issued statements to the media.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters the group was "more confident in victory with the departure of this tyrant (Sharon)."
Reuters also posted comments from Wael Abu Youself, senior member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
"The Palestinian people remember what Sharon did and tried to do to our people and their dream of forming a state," Youself said.
"Despite the settlements and wars that he launched against us, here and in Lebanon and with the war crime of Sabra and Shatila (camps), Sharon has departed and the Palestinian people remain on their land."
Associate producer Kayla Ruble contributed to this report.
In 1964, as President Lyndon Johnson launched a broad platform to abolish American poverty, images of American poverty focused on the inner-city and rural poor.
Today, fifty years later, statistics reveal another rapidly-growing group living in poverty: the suburban poor.
The Metropolitan Policy Program of The Brookings Institution tracks national rates of poverty and found that while populations in the suburbs have increased in previous decades, the poverty rate in the suburbs has increased even faster.
According to Confronting Suburban Poverty in America, there are now more poor residents living in the suburbs than in central cities, including over one-third of the nation's total population.
"Suburban communities with growing poverty may face a distinct set of challenges compared to poor communities in cities. They are often more geographically isolated from jobs, and lack the transit connections that can help link residents to employment opportunities. Social services are often less prevalent due to a lack of local public, nonprofit, and philanthropic capacity." ---Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube, *Confronting Suburban Poverty in America*
NewsHour Weekend producer Megan Thompson visited Suffolk County, New York to document the struggles of suburban families living on the edge.
Three U.N. peacekeepers were wounded during an attack in North Mali on Friday evening, a spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali said Saturday afternoon.
The U.N. troops were from Chad and reportedly exchanged fire with the gunmen. The peacekeeping battalion had been searching for suspects from a separate attack at a nearby military camp.
Al-Qaeda-linked militants have remained active in the African country, despite military operations by the French to oust them last year.
The separatist Tuareg rebels from the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad are also currently at odds with the central government after ending a five-month long ceasefire in November.
On Thursday, while speaking about the operation in Mali, French President Francois Hollande said the "key objectives of the mission have been accomplished."
Hollande also announced he would cut the number of French troops in Mali down to 1,600. Approximately 12,000 U.N. troops are currently deployed in the country.
Director of the Washington-based think tank Africa Center at the Atlantic Council, J. Peter Pham, told the Associated Press that while there are currently fewer conflicts in Africa today than in previous decades, recent violent outbreaks are a cause for concern.
As part of NewsHour Weekend's coverage of the rising rates of poverty in American suburbs, we also refer to the "cliff effect."
This phenomenon occurs when a family begins to earn above the limits set by the state and becomes ineligible for subsidies for food, housing, child care and other benefits. For low-income families, this means earning more could actually put them in a worse place financially.
In some states like Colorado, the cut is dramatic. The benefits aren't just stepped down as income rises -- they are eliminated.
To learn more about this issue, watch "Losing Ground: The Cliff Effect," produced by public television affiliate Rocky Mountain PBS.
The Rocky Mountain PBS report follows three families as they face a problem with no easy solution: If they accept a raise or promotion, the work support benefits they rely on, such as child care, can be lost.
MARGARET WARNER: He was one of the nation's most controversial figures: a ferocious military strategist and hard-nose politician, whose life and career spanned Israel's entire sixty-five year history.
At just twenty Ariel Sharon shone as a platoon commander during Israel's 1948 war of independence, launched his meteoric, but at times contentious military career. In the years after independence he earned the enmity of Palestinians and Arabs, by leading a special army commando unit, Unit 101, in sometimes brutal reprisal attacks against Palestinian resistance fighters and civilians.
In 1953, Unit 101 responded to the killing of the three Israeli civilians with a revenge attack on the West Bank town, Kibya, leaving 69 Palestinians dead, including many women and children. "Kibya was to be a lesson," he wrote years later in his autobiography. "I was to inflict as many causalities as I could on the Arab home guard. I was to blow up every major building in the town."
His tough, at times defiant, streak showed during the 1956 Suez War, when against orders he sent his forces across the Mitla Pass in the Sinai Peninsula. Egyptian soldiers ambushed and killed dozens of his Israeli troops, forcing them to retreat. But in the 1967 Six-Day War Sharon was hailed as a hero when, as commander of a powerful armored division in Sinai, he captured the entire peninsula from the Egyptian army. It played an important part of the decisive victory that left Israel in control of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, and Sinai. Sharon was once again lauded for his role as a brigadier general in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when he responded to Egypt and Syria's' surprise attack with a counter attack that cut off the Egyptian Army in Sinai. It marked a turning point in the war.
After retiring from the army, Sharon plunged into more than three decades in politics, as a leading figure in right-wing Israeli parties. As a legislator, a prime minister's aide, and head of different cabinet ministries, Sharon promoted a hard line on security issues. Above all, he championed the establishment of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. Following a rationale, he would later describe as, "Everything we take now will stay ours. Everything we don't grab will go to them."
His most controversial cabinet tenure came as a defense minister, beginning in 1981. The following year, after the shelling of northern Israel by the Palestinian Liberation Organization in Lebanon, Sharon unleashed an invasion of Israel's northern neighbor. The PLO was driven from Lebanon, but thousands of Israelis and Palestinians died; many hundreds of Palestinians slaughtered during a massacre at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps by Lebanese Christian militia men. An investigative commission later found the Israeli military indirectly responsible and faulted Sharon personally for not taking appropriate measures to prevent bloodshed. He was dismissed from the defense ministry.
But Sharon went onto other cabinet posts, including the critical housing minister's job in the early '90s, overseeing a rapid expansion of the Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. He opposed the 1993 Oslo peace accords, and in 1998 he declared; "Israel is against having Palestinian state, and the government - as a matter of fact all of the government, is against having a Palestinian state here, because of the dangers."
In 1999, Sharon was elected the leader of the rightist Likud party. A year later, during his campaign for prime minister, he made a provocative visit to Jerusalem's Temple Mount, home to the holiest site to Jews and the third-most-revered by Muslims. Shortly afterwards the second Palestinian uprising or intifada, began. Later, in New York, Sharon defended the Temple Mount visit: "The Temple Mount is the holiest place of the Jewish people. I hope I'll be doing that in the future as well, no restrictions. We live in a free country. Everyone can go in the sovereign area of Israel everywhere." Sharon had won that election, defeating Ehud Barak to become prime minister in the spring of 2001.
ARIEL SHARON: "I, Ariel Sharon, swear as prime minister to be honest and uphold the rules of the state of Israel." (translation)
MARGARET WARNER: Reacting to an upsurge in suicide bombings by Palestinians against Israel, he launches the building of the controversial security barrier to separate the two. But, in 2005, in a surprise turnaround, Sharon announced a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, dismantling Israeli settlements and forcing their inhabitants to leave. The move infuriated many of his conservative constituency, and later that year he quit Likud to form a new centrist Kadima Party.
Sharon was widely expected to win another term as prime minister, but two strokes, a mild one in December 2005 and a second massive brain hemorrhage two weeks later put an abrupt end to his political life. Since then, Sharon remained in a coma at a long-term care facility near Tel Aviv. Over the years his family has reported occasional eye and finger movement, but the lifelong warrior never fully regained consciousness. At his death, Ariel Sharon was 85 years old.
MEGAN THOMPSON: By all appearances, Leigh Scozzari is living a comfortable suburban life. She baked cookies one recent afternoon with her four-year-old twins at her mom’s place in Shirley, Long Island - about 65 miles east of New York City. Scozzari owns an SUV… the girls spend their days at a nice day care center ...and Scozzari works a full-time job.
LEIGH SCOZZARI: A lot of people look at me and they judge me just by looking at me, like, "Okay, well, she has a job, you know. She-- you know, she has a home and-- you know, her kids look very well taken care of. Why would she need any help at all?"
MEGAN THOMPSON Scozzari needs help because by official standards, she and her daughters live in poverty. Her job as a certified medical assistant pays just over 19,000 a year and offers no benefits. So Scozzari is on Medicaid, gets food stamps, and a government subsidy to pay for child care she could never otherwise afford. This 30-year old single mom lives in that two-bedroom house with her mother and pays rent. Her car has almost 200,000 miles on it and is in such bad shape Scozzari says she’s afraid to drive it.
LEIGH SCOZZARI: I live paycheck to paycheck. That’s what it is right now.
MEGAN THOMPSON: Do you have any savings?
LEIGH SCOZZARI: Typically, I have enough probably to get me through the next week or so. But as far as having a savings, no. I worry about-- not being able to have enough food to feed the girls. I worry about them not having the opportunities that other kids-- are going to have. So I'm constantly worrying, you know, always worrying.
MEGAN THOMPSON According to experts, stories like Leigh Scozzari’s are becoming more common across the United States.
ELIZABETH KNEEBONE: There are now more poor residents living in suburbs than in major cities.
MEGAN THOMPSON: Elizabeth Kneebone is a fellow at The Brookings Institution and co-author of the book, “Confronting Suburban Poverty in America.”
ELIZABETH KNEEBONE: Poverty in these kinds of communities can be hidden. It can be harder to identify-- or-- even understand the extent to which the need has grown, because it may not be-- easily visible.
MEGAN THOMPSON: Today the nation’s poverty rate is about 15 percent compared to 19 percent in 1964 when President Johnson declared the War on Poverty.
PRESIDENT JOHNSON: Our aim is not only to relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure it.
MEGAN THOMPSON: Kneebone says since then, some aspects of the problem have changed dramatically.
ELIZABETH KNEEBONE: When we saw the sort of launch of the war on poverty-- the geography of poverty, it was very different than what we're looking at today. The bulk of poor people in the country lived in urban areas, in big cities or in rural communities. And since that time, we've seen a real shift.
MEGAN THOMPSON: According to Kneebone, since 2000, the number of poor people living in suburbs has grown by 65 percent.
For example, poverty is up by almost 16 percent in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. Up more than 27 percent in the suburbs of providence. Nearly 79 percent outside Seattle. And in the suburbs of Austin, Texas, the number of poor has swelled almost 143 percent. More poor people now live in America’s suburbs than in cities or in rural areas.
The main explanation for this shift is simply demographics. Many more Americans have moved to suburbs in recent years, and that growth included low-income residents and new immigrants. Other factors - suburbs are still recovering from the foreclosure and financial crises. Kneebone says federal programs for the poor were mostly designed back in the 60’s with rural or urban communities in mind, and when hard times came to the suburbs, many weren’t prepared.
ELIZABETH KNEEBONE: Often suburban communities-- have not built up the same level of infrastructure-- and-- safety net supports that cities have been building up over decades.
RICHARD KOUBEK: Oh, boy. Where do I begin with the challenges?
MEGAN THOMPSON: Richard Koubek chairs the Welfare to Work Commission in Suffolk County, where Leigh Scozzari lives. It advises the county legislature on issues affecting low-income residents. Local governments – already strapped themselves - face greater burdens in the face of federal budget cuts and the winding down of stimulus funds.
RICHARD KOUBEK: Suffolk County in the last couple of years has faced $500 million deficit.
MEGAN THOMPSON: Even though Suffolk County has one of the highest median household incomes in the country, and multi-million dollar homes in the Hamptons… the food stamp caseload has soared, up 185 percent in the past six years. That’s the case throughout much of America….food stamp use up dramatically… from coast to coast.
ELIZABETH KNEEBONE: It can be very difficult, especially in this budget-constrained environment, to try and scale up to meet the level of need that they're seeing.
MEGAN THOMPSON: In Suffolk County, charities have stepped as the local government has had a hard time meeting the demand. Food pantry organizers say they’ve seen numbers double in recent years… even in some of the county’s most affluent towns. Carol Yarmosh leads the mercy house food pantry in Dix Hills.
CAROL YARMOSH: We used to be a one of a few food pantries. But now we're one of very many food pantries. It's-- multiplying on a level that it's hard to comprehend.
MEGAN THOMPSON: Advocates say they’re not just serving people out of work. They see many with jobs who just can’t make ends meet – just like Leigh Scozzari. Nationally, real wages, adjusted for inflation, have been flat for several decades…even as costs continue to rise.
ELIZABETH KNEEBONE: We also have these larger shifts in the economy where a lot of the jobs we're creating-- don't pay enough to make ends meet for a family. So, even if you're working full time-- you're just not taking home enough.
MEGAN THOMPSON: that's especially true in Suffolk County, where many working poor don't qualify for government help because they earn too much to be considered officially "poor" - around $23,500 for a family of four.
RICHARD KOUBEK: Despite our affluence, we have a lot of middle income people who are struggling. We are one of the most expensive communities in the United States in terms of everything, gasoline, housing, food.
MEGAN THOMPSON: In 2012, Koubek’s commission put out a study estimating that, because of the high cost of living here, the poverty rate’s at least 20 percent– that’s three times higher than the official census figure of less than 7 percent.
Another major problem and expense: transportation. In many suburbs, public transportation is limited. Until recently, buses in Suffolk County didn’t run on Sundays.
RICHARD KOUBEK: If you're a working poor person, if you're for example, a home health aide, many of them work on Sundays, what do you do? How do you get to work? /unless someone drives you, you take a cab which could eat up 20 to 50 percent of what you're earning that day.
MEGAN THOMPSON: So many poor people, like Leigh Scozzari, depend on their car. And car insurance and gas eat up about $600 – more than 40 percent -- of the estimated $1400 she takes home each month.
And in case you’re wondering, Scozzari's mom, who just turned 60, really isn’t in a position to help. She’s working two jobs to maintain the family home she inherited. And last year paid property taxes of around $7000 on their small two-bedroom home.
MEGAN THOMPSON (TO SCOZZARI0: So why do you stay in this house if it-- and in this neighborhood if it's so expensive?
LEIGH SCOZZARI: This is her home. She says she'll never leave here. I mean, I can't force her to want to leave just because the cost of living's inexpensive someplace else.
MEGAN THOMPSON: Scozzari says she’s also gotten no help from the twins’ father.
LEIGH SCOZZARI: Child enforcement-- is trying to help me locate Dad. Before I even knew that I was pregnant with them, I got up one day and he was gone.
MEGAN THOMPSON: Some people might say, "Okay, the situation happened to you. But why should taxpayers help fund-- some of these programs that you are being helped by?"
LEIGH SCOZZARI: I mean, I started working when I was 12 years old. I've been working ever since. So I mean, I've put into just as much if not more than what I'm asking for, you know. I understand the backlash, I really do. But at the same time, this is only temporary.
MEGAN THOMPSON: But for the moment she’s facing a Catch-22. The more she earns, the worse off she might be. Because if she accepts the small raises she’s been offered at her job, she’d earn too much to qualify for the child care subsidy. And if she lost that, she’d have to stay home with her kids…meaning she’d have no income at all.
RICHARD KOUBEK: A system that works against the system's own interests. It's so counterproductive.
MEGAN THOMPSON: The Suffolk County Welfare to Work Commission is trying to address this and other issues affecting the working poor. It’s pushed for more child care funding …held hearings to call attention to growing poverty… and helped get some public bus lines running on Sundays and later at night. Experts say it’s critical for suburbs across the nation to recognize and address the changing face of poverty.
ELIZABETH KNEEBONE: What we're seeing in terms of the growth in suburban poverty is a real-- pressing policy concern looking forward. If we think about the war on poverty, 50 years ago when Lyndon Johnson declared this war, if everybody had known what was going to happen what would we have done differently? This is our opportunity now for suburbs to answer those questions.