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Low-Income Voters In Key States Could Swing Senate Races, Activists Say

RIO RANCHO, N.M. (AP) — A coalition of activists, unions, and religious leaders inspired by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last organizing effort said Tuesday new data suggest low-income voters in key states could swing some U.S. Senate races.

The Poor People’s Campaign said it’s using the data to pressure candidates from both parties to focus on poverty and encourage poor and low-income voters in 13 states to register to vote.

A study released Tuesday by Columbia School of Social Work assistant professor Robert Paul Hartley found that low-income eligible non-voters make up about one-fifth of the electorate in states like Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and West Virginia.

It also found that low-income voters are about 22 percentage points less likely to vote in national elections than voters with higher incomes.

William Barber II, president of the Repairers of the Breach, a nonprofit group that fights poverty and discrimination, said the Poor People’s Campaign intends to use the study as a tool to organize low-income voters to make sure their concerns are heard.

“This is not a Republican or Democratic thing. This is a moral thing,” Barber said. “For far too long, the issue of poverty in this country has been ignored.”

Rev. William J. Barber II speaks at a Poor People’s Campaign event in Washington, DC on June 17, 2019. 

The study uses information from MIT Election Data and Science Lab’s 2017 reports on presidential and U.S. Senate elections and the Current Population Survey from the U.S. Census and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The voter drive comes nearly a year after Democrat Andy Beshear edged out incumbent Republican Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin in 2018 following an effort to register low-income voters. Anti-poverty advocates in New Mexico also ousted several veteran, moderate Democratic state lawmakers in June after running more liberal candidates. 

In this Wednesday, June 12, 2019 file photo, Rev. William Barber and fellow faith leaders march to the White House to protest

In this Wednesday, June 12, 2019 file photo, Rev. William Barber and fellow faith leaders march to the White House to protest Trump administration policies that hurt the poor and marginalized.

Modeled after King’s last organizing effort, the Poor People’s Campaign seeks to bring the issue of poverty to the American consciousness amid anxiety, uncertainty, and growing inequality.

The coalition’s Mass Poor People’s Assembly & Moral March on Washington in June, for example, aimed to build upon the nation’s principles to pursue solutions to poverty, something advocates say is getting especially severe in rural areas.

But instead of assembling in camps near the National Mall — as protesters did in the wake of King’s death in 1968, as part of the Poor People’s Campaign — the new coalition of religious leaders is seeking to build chapters in various states for prolonged drives to tackle poverty.

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An Unprecedented 14 Million Children Are Going Hungry Due To The COVID Crisis

Nearly 14 million children in the United States went hungry in June, as the economic fallout from the pandemic continued to batter families. That’s an increase of more than 10 million since 2018, and nearly three times the number of children who went hungry during the Great Recession, according to an analysis of Census data released by the Hamilton Project on Thursday.

The food crisis shows no signs of abating, either, as COVID-19 cases continue to rise, the relief measures implemented by the federal government in March are set to run out in a few weeks, and it’s not clear whether children will go back to school, where many get fed.

“It’s pretty bad and it’s not getting better,” said Lauren Bauer, an economic fellow at the Brookings Institution who conducted the research.

Typically, children are fed even in families that are really struggling; parents will go hungry in order to make sure their kids are eating. 

“If you’re not able to feed your children, it’s a pretty severe signal about your household’s capability to deal with financial shocks,” said Bauer. Most of these families have run out of cushion to deal with the economic pain wrought by this pandemic.

A boy wears a face mask as food is delivered to his family’s truck at a food bank distribution center in Van Nuys, California, in April. At the time, organizers said they had distributed food for 1,500 families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The data relies on a survey conducted by the Census in June that asks households struggling to afford food whether, over a seven-day period, the children in their home are often or sometimes not getting enough to eat. 

A stunning 16.9% of households said they were struggling to feed their children. Bauer then estimated how many children are living in those households, and examined their demographics.

The numbers are even worse for Black families, 30% of which are struggling to afford food right now. The rate for Hispanic households is 25%. The struggle to feed children is yet another way the coronavirus crisis is hitting people of color disproportionately harder. 

Hamilton Project data on food insecurity

Hamilton Project data on food insecurity

The unemployment rate was 11.1% in June — lower than in May but still historically high — and some believe that number doesn’t truly represent job conditions currently, as many businesses have been forced to close again to deal with the resurgence of the virus. 

Relief checks cut in late March helped many Americans buy food and necessities, but given how quickly the neediest households spent that money, it’s likely long gone by now. And at the end of the month the beefed up unemployment insurance passed through the CARES Act expires, too.

Even parents with jobs are struggling to pay for food. Many relied on meals provided by their children’s school to help alleviate the cost of groceries; in an ordinary year, children’s rates of food insecurity go up in the summer, Bauer said.

But the school backstop is gone. Parents are struggling to buy more food with kids at home and it’s looking unlikely that things will go back to normal in September. For example, the country’s largest school system, New York City, just announced that children will only be attending school in person one to three days a week.

Meanwhile, food generally has gotten more expensive. The average cost of groceries has gone up by nearly 5% — and as much as 10% for some categories of food like meat, eggs and dairy — over the past year, according to federal data, because of massive shifts in how we’re eating because of the pandemic. Demand for food in grocery stores went up and food suppliers weren’t prepared for the change. The rise in food prices hit lower-income families harder, too: Not only did everything cost more, but it is more difficult to bargain-hunt when you want to reduce your exposure to a virus.

None of this is surprising. As soon as schools shut down, activists and policymakers sounded the alarm. The stimulus also provided for food vouchers for kids who typically got food at school. And Congress did expand SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka food stamps), as part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act it passed in March. 

But the expansion didn’t really expand benefits for everyone. Because of a Trump administration decision, those already receiving the maximum amount of food assistance — $509 a month for a family of three — got nothing more. 

That affected an estimated 5 million children.

The Trump administration essentially prevented the expanded benefits from going to the neediest households, Bauer said. The move stands in sharp contrast to actions taken at the federal level to expand food benefits during the Great Recession, which kept a lot of people from going hungry.

All of these benefits are set to run out soon, and Congress so far has shown little sign of doing anything.

There are relatively simple policy solutions to the problem of kids going hungry. Nothing new has to be cooked up, policymakers simply need to expand food stamp benefits through the fall and re-up the program that gives food vouchers to those who aren’t able to go back to school, said Bauer.

But so far, there’s been little attention on the issue. Instead, the media spotlight has focused on relatively well-off middle class families who are struggling with their children being at home instead of at school. 

“There’s a real black hole here where the microphone has been given to people like me, frustrated by having to watch their kids while working from home,” said Bauer. “But my kid is fed.”

A HuffPost Guide To Coronavirus

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50 Years After MLK, Pastors Lead A New Poor People's Campaign

More than 50 years after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. called for a Poor People’s March on Washington to demand economic justice, two pastors are attempting to revive King’s efforts for a new era ― using the technology available today to highlight the injustices currently plaguing the most vulnerable Americans. 

Rev. William Barber II and Rev. Liz Theoharis are leading “The Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington” on Saturday. The assembly seeks to challenge what the pastors call the “interlocking evils” of systemic racism, wealth inequality, ecological devastation, militarism and religious nationalism ― all of which they believe have the heaviest toll on poor people.

The event was initially supposed to gather people in person in the nation’s capital, but it was moved online in recent months, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. It will feature testimonies from people typically relegated to the margins of society ― service workers from the Midwest who have worked during the coronavirus pandemic without personal protective equipment, residents of Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley” fighting corporate polluters, an Apache elder trying to stop the government from destroying his sacred site in Arizona, and families devastated by police brutality.

The Revs. William J. Barber II and Liz Theoharis, co-chairs of the Poor People’s Campaign, hope to challenge “interlocking evils.”

Organizers have come up with a broad list of progressive demands for elected officials. Those demands include blocking new pipelines and refineries, bolstering voting rights and access, reforming the immigration system, providing free tuition at public universities, ensuring living wages for all, enacting single-payer universal health care and banning assault rifles.

Theoharis told HuffPost that the movement’s demands are “radical, bold and visionary” because she believes that’s “exactly what the nation needs.” She pointed to how the government could afford to give coronavirus bailouts to corporations while millions of Americans still don’t have health insurance and while stimulus checks aren’t reaching people who are too poor to file taxes, the homeless and undocumented immigrants.

“Right now, people are very aware that the institutions that are supposed to be there to serve are failing people and are making people fend for themselves,” she said. “It’s not that we have a scarcity of resources, it’s not that things have to be the way that they are. It’s that there’s a scarcity right now of political will.”

“So what do you do in the face of that? You build power among the people that are most impacted to be able to change that will and make the power structures prioritize people, to lift from the bottom, which raises everybody up,” she added.

Organizers of Saturday’s online assembly have deliberately modeled it after King’s 1968 Poor People’s Campaign ― echoing not just his title but also his goals.

King is remembered across the political spectrum for the pivotal role he played in securing civil rights for Black Americans. The leader’s more controversial positions ― on redistributing wealth, calling out the failures of capitalism, ending war ― don’t get as much attention.  Nevertheless, in the final months of his life, King was actively promoting his belief that racial and economic justice are intricately tied.

In the fall of 1967, King and fellow activists started planning for a Poor People’s Campaign and march on Washington to challenge elected officials to address the economic inequalities faced by poor Americans. King’s vision for the march was for poor protesters from all backgrounds to join forces in demanding an “economic bill of rights” that would direct government funds toward full employment, a guaranteed annual income, more low-income housing and other anti-poverty programs.  

An estimated 50,000 people joined in support of the Poor People's Campaign in Washington, D.C., on June 19, 1968.

An estimated 50,000 people joined in support of the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, D.C., on June 19, 1968.

His goal for the demonstration was to “dramatize the gulf between promise and fulfillment, to call attention to the gap between the dream and the realities, to make the invisible visible.”

King was assassinated before he could see that march come to fruition. The Poor People’s Campaign continued under the leadership of another civil rights leader, the Rev. Ralph Abernathy. Thousands of protesters occupied the National Mall for 42 days during May and June of 1968, using a temporary encampment called “Resurrection City” as a base from which to petition various government agencies. The campaign culminated on June 19 with more than 50,000 people marching for economic justice. 

Solidarity Day at the Poor People's Campaign on June 19, 1968, on the National Mall.

Solidarity Day at the Poor People’s Campaign on June 19, 1968, on the National Mall.

There have been other civil rights marches on Washington since 1968, but Saturday’s event is unique in its attempt to expand and adapt King’s goals to current crises ― and to build an even broader coalition.

Theoharis said that the modern Poor People’s Campaign has spent two years building momentum through state and local organizers. The goals of the movement now include highlighting the injustices faced by Muslims, undocumented immigrants, LGBTQ people and disabled Americans. The organizers are also calling out Christians for focusing on issues like prayer in school, abortion rights and gun rights while ignoring poverty, health care and other crises facing poor Americans.

The initiative has found support among a broad range of religious leaders and faith-based advocacy groups ― evangelicals, Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, Methodists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Unitarian-Universalists. Activists who were part of the original Poor People’s Campaign will be participating in Saturday’s event, Theoharis said. Celebrities including Wanda Sykes and Jane Fonda and former Vice President Al Gore have signed up to introduce speakers at the rally, who will then testify about their personal experiences with poverty.

Organizers are “fully recognizing that we are in a different moment than in 1968,” Theoharis said. Wealth inequality has increased, the pandemic has exposed issues around public health and America is grappling with the prevalence of police violence, she said.

“We’re not just commemorating or building what [Dr. King] was calling for back then,” she said. “We would have to build a poor people’s campaign today even if he had never.”

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African Nations Draft Resolution To Investigate U.S. For Human Rights Violations

GENEVA (AP) — African nations have prepared a draft resolution at the U.N.’s top human rights body that singles out the United States and would launch intense international scrutiny of systemic racism against people of African descent in the wake of recent high-profile killings of blacks by American police.

The draft text, a copy of which has been obtained by The Associated Press, could become the centerpiece for an urgent debate hastily scheduled for Wednesday for the Geneva-based Human Rights Council.

It calls for a Commission of Inquiry — the rights body’s most powerful tool to inspect human rights violations — to look into “systemic racism” and alleged violations of international human rights law and abuses against “Africans and of people of African descent in the United States of America and other parts of the world recently affected by law enforcement agencies” especially encounters that resulted in deaths.

Such work would be carried out “with a view to bringing perpetrators to justice,” said the text, circulated by the Africa Group in the council. The breadth of support for the measure was not immediately clear.

The U.S. mission in Geneva declined immediate comment on the draft resolution.

President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the 47-member body two years ago, accusing it of an anti-Israel bias and of accepting members from some autocratic governments that are serial rights violators.

On Monday, the council agreed unanimously to hold the urgent debate on “racially inspired human rights violations, systemic racism, police brutality and the violence against peaceful protests” in the wake of the George Floyd killing in the United States.

Follow all AP coverage of stories about racial injustice and police brutality at https://apnews.com/GeorgeFloyd.

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Brazil’s Disastrous COVID-19 Response Exposes Profound Inequalities

SÃO PAULO and BRASÍLIA — Brazil’s death toll from the coronavirus surpassed Italy’s on Thursday after the nation’s health ministry reported 1,437 deaths in the previous 24 hours. The latest grim data was released three hours later than usual and came too late for evening news bulletins.

Brazil has now reported 34,021 deaths from COVID-19 as of Saturday afternoon, trailing only the United States and the United Kingdom. With 30,925 new confirmed cases reported Thursday, the total number of infections reached 614,941, second only to the United States.

But experts consider the tally a significant undercount due to insufficient testing.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has downplayed the coronavirus, criticizing social distancing measures and urging regional governments to lift restrictions for the sake of the economy.

On Tuesday, Bolsonaro told Brazilians that death is “everyone’s destiny.” The impact of COVID-19 on Brazilians, however, has been far from equal.

From prevention measures and testing to access to health care and mortality rates, the virus is having a disproportionate impact on Brazil’s poorest and most vulnerable.

According to official figures from the Ministry of Health, coronavirus-related deaths have occurred at a higher rate in the north and the northeast of the country, regions that have a much lower GDP per capita than the rest of Brazil.

In seven regions of the state of Amazonas in the north ― which include Manaus, the capital — there are around 300 deaths per million people. Among the capitals, Belém, in the northern state of Pará, has the highest rate: 1,016 deaths per million. São Luís and Recife are also hard hit by the disease. These numbers are much higher than the national average of 155 deaths per million.

São Paulo, the country’s biggest city and the epicenter of the epidemic in Brazil, also shows how the poor are more likely to die from COVID-19. According to data collected up to April 21, there were more cases in the poor neighborhoods of Brasilândia, Sapopemba and São Mateus than in all 14 districts in central São Paulo.

The mortality rate is also higher among the Black population.

According to a recent study, Black people who lacked a formal education were 4 times more likely to die from the coronavirus than white people with a higher education. Among Brazilians with the same level of education, Black people were still 37% more likely to die from the coronavirus than white people.

The coronavirus is also spreading fast through Brazil’s Indigenous populations, with total deaths caused by the disease increasing more than fivefold in the past month, from 28 at the end of April to 182 on June 1, according to data collected by a national association of first peoples.

These numbers reflect underlying issues that range from access to clean water to the difficulty of maintaining isolation.

Almost 35 million Brazilians do not have access to clean water, including residents of 22 of the country’s 100 biggest cities, according to data from the National Water Agency. Without water, it is impossible to wash your hands, one of the most basic measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

“This is the result of our social inequality. Epidemics bring [social] differences to the forefront and also the lack of support from the government,” José Cássio de Moraes, an epidemiologist at the Brazilian Association of Public Health, told HuffPost Brazil. “Lack of clean water, no money to buy soap or hand sanitizer, the impossibility of being in isolation — these are all perfect conditions for the spread of respiratory diseases.”

In favelas and other vulnerable communities, hygiene essentials are difficult to come by, and social isolation is impossible.

“We are collecting donations and giving out basic hygiene items, because some families simply can’t afford them,” says Samantha Messiades, a member of the residents association for Cidade de Deus, one of Rio de Janeiro’s biggest favelas. “The other day I collected hygiene items for a friend of my neighbor. She has COVID-19, is completely isolated and did not have access to essential items.”

Patients undergo exams conducted by health care workers with Doctors Without Borders.

Raquel Rolnik, a professor of architecture and urbanism at the University of São Paulo, said that inequality is stark within Brazilian cities. “We’re talking about millions of people without access to basic stuff. From the homeless, who have no access to a tap with running water, to many people who see water coming out of the tap infrequently.”

Rolnik says the country must do more to support vulnerable groups. “Not only protecting them from the pandemic, because social isolation means economic hardship. We’re talking about people going hungry.”

The informal economy

The loss of income has immediately been felt in the poorer neighborhoods of big cities, where many of those who rely on the informal economy (such as street vendors) live. At least 38.3 million Brazilians do not have formal employment contracts, but take part in the country’s large informal job market.

Moraes, the epidemiologist, says that this is the hardest hit population. “Working from home is not an option for these people. We need financial support from the government to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.”

“We from the favelas are the first to be affected. It’s almost like we’re disposable. It’s very sad,” says Messiades, from Cidade de Deus.

“Everyone around here knows someone who no longer has income. There are manicurists, hairdressers, people who bake items at home to sell — none of them can work. Also, people who collect soda cans for recycling, people who watch cars, who work selling stuff on the beach. They are not making any money.”

Messiades’ mother is one of them. She works cleaning houses in the fancy neighborhood of Barra da Tijuca. “She works informally, so they stopped calling, she’s not being paid. I try to help,” Messiades says. “In addition, I used to be an apprentice for a lawyer that works here [in the favela], but she had to let me go because there’s no demand.”

With two kids, ages 6 and 11, Messiades says she’s uncertain about her future. “The father of my daughter works at a restaurant; the father of my son makes deliveries. Both jobs are impacted by the pandemic. It’s an avalanche, a domino effect. Companies are the first pieces to fall, followed by everyone else.”

The situation is the same in other big Brazilian cities. In Cidade Estrutural, one of the poorest neighborhoods of Brasília, the capital of Brazil, unemployment is the only subject of conversation.

“Everyone is worried. Our health is fragile, because our diet is fragile,” says Coracy Coelho, a resident of the neighborhood.

He says that people don’t want to be stuck at home. “Without work, everyone needs to rely on social programs. A lot of people depend on Bolsa Família [an assistance program run by the federal government]. Some had issues with the application process and are very anxious about it, because it is the only income source for the family,” says Coelho.

In April, the federal government announced that millions of Brazilians would be eligible for an emergency fund — 600 reais ($115) for informal sector workers and 1200 reais ($235) for mothers. The program has had some issues and delays, but now the government says 59 million people have received at least part of the money.

Private labs: more testing for the rich

There is also a huge disparity in how COVID-19 has been diagnosed. According to the preprint version of one study, which HuffPost Brazil obtained, economic inequality played a major role in limiting access to tests during the first phase of the coronavirus epidemic in Brazil.

According to the study, two-thirds (66.9%) of the tests in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro until March 25 were taken in private labs. The cost of a test was between 300 and 690 reais ($60-$130).

Up to then, four weeks after the first confirmed case of the coronavirus in the country, 67,344 other suspected cases were reported in 172 cities.

“There was a clear link between testing and income, which revealed a big socioeconomic gap in testing as the number of cases grew,” the study says.

There was also an increase in the correlation between tested cases and income in the second, third and fourth weeks of the pandemic, according to the research.

The authors of the study say the socioeconomic barriers to testing must be addressed in order for Brazil to understand and stop the spread of the coronavirus. Universal access to testing and the success of interventions will be the keys to the fate of the pandemic in Brazil.

“Along with changes in surveillance guidelines, the socioeconomic bias in testing suggests that the number of confirmed cases can substantially underestimate the actual number of cases in the population,” the study says.

Today, Brazil counts more than 600,000 cases and 34,000 deaths, and testing capacity has been expanded.

The federal government claims to have distributed more than 3 million tests that detect the presence of virus to state labs. More than 1.8 million tests have been taken, including serological tests — or 8,737 exams per million.

Uildeia Galvão da Silva works as a doctor at the main public hospital of Manaus, in the north of Brazil.

Uildeia Galvão da Silva works as a doctor at the main public hospital of Manaus, in the north of Brazil.

Public hospitals close to collapsing despite empty beds in private hospitals

“Look at this paradox: People dying in hospital hallways while there are empty beds,” Francisco Braga, a researcher at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Rio de Janeiro, one of Brazil’s top public health research institutions, told HuffPost Brazil, decrying the lack of resources in Brazil’s public health system.

In private hospitals in São Paulo, between 20% and 30% of beds remain open. These hospitals usually cater to people with private health insurance, which in most cases is part of an employee’s benefits package from their job.

“In Brazil, around 23% of the population has private insurance. In São Paulo, the percentage is 50%, while in some state capitals in the north and the northeast, it stays below 10%,” says Gonzalo Vecina Neto, a professor of public health at the University of São Paulo and superintendent of Sírio-Libanês, one of the biggest and better-equipped private hospitals in the city.

This regional disparity means that the burden on the public health care system is much greater in the country’s north and northeast regions. And it also explains why states like Amazonas have been on the verge of collapse for weeks due to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases.

Dealing with hundreds of patients with the new coronavirus is part of the routine for Uildeia Galvão da Silva, a doctor who has been working for 12 years in the emergency room of the main public hospital in Manaus.

She tells HuffPost Brazil that her life, and those of her fellow health care workers, “has been turned upside down” since the pandemic began.

“The day-to-day is wearing us out too much. This gets to you, physically,” says Silva, who, like many other health care professionals, has marks on her face due to wearing protective gear for hours on end. “Everything hurts. And the mask makes us distant [from patients].”

The marks from the masks Silva wears the entire day.

The marks from the masks Silva wears the entire day.

Seeing her patients struggling for life day after day, Silva says the past few weeks have been the hardest in her career.

“There were so many patients that we were unable to save in the last two months. This changes us a lot. It is something drastic and dramatic, even for those who have been working in the health sector for 25 years like me,” she says. “Knowing that you won’t be able to save one, two, three patients. … It hurts your soul.”

Marcella Fernandes reported from Brasília, and Grasielle Castro and Andréa Martinelli reported from São Paulo.

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Child Poverty Projected To Rise By 15% In 2020 Amid Coronavirus: UNICEF

Up to 86 million more children could live in poor households by the end of the year if countries don’t take more urgent action to address the economic crisis wrought by the coronavirus pandemic, reports UNICEF. 

Child poverty is projected to rise by 15% in 2020, largely due to the pandemic and its economic effects, according to an analysis by UNICEF and Save the Children released Thursday. The groups looked at World Bank data across more than 100 low- and middle-income countries

The report did not include higher-income countries, including the U.S., France, Japan. An analysis that includes all nations should be released in the coming months, a UNICEF spokesperson said.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a global economic downturn in the wake of broad shutdowns of businesses to prevent the virus’ spread. A significant loss of income for many families has left them unable to afford basic necessities, including food, housing and more.  

The majority of children expected to be living below their country’s poverty line by year’s end reside in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, per UNICEF. However, low- and middle-income countries in Europe and central Asia may see the most significant increases, of up to 44% more children in poverty, the analysis reported, and in Latin America the overall increase could be 22%.   

“The coronavirus pandemic has triggered an unprecedented socio-economic crisis that is draining resources for families all over the world,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a release. “The scale and depth of financial hardship among families threaten to roll back years of progress… Without concerted action, families barely getting by could be pushed into poverty, and the poorest families could face levels of deprivation that have not been seen for decades.”  

UNICEF recommends countries step up their social supports to families with “rapid and large-scale expansion” of services, including cash transfers, child benefits and food distribution through schools. The group also recommends broader policies to support children and families, including universal access to health care, paid job leave and expanded child care.    

Nearly 6 million confirmed coronavirus cases had been reported worldwide as of Thursday, with a death toll of more than 350,000 dead. In Brazil, the outbreak’s new epicenter, more than 400,000 confirmed cases have been reported and its public health systems are reaching their breaking points

The coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact have also been deeply felt in higher-income countries, including the U.S., which currently leads the world with the most coronavirus cases and deaths.  

The U.S. this week reached grim milestones of more than 100,000 dead from COVID-19 and more than 40 million people who’ve filed for unemployment since March. Surveys of American households late last month suggested that food insecurity had roughly doubled nationwide amid the pandemic. 

Meanwhile, U.S. billionaires’ net worth has grown by 15% over the last two months, providing stark proof of the unequal impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the related economic crisis.

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South America Emerges As A New COVID Epicenter, While Cases In Africa Grow Rapidly

GENEVA (Reuters) – South America has become a new epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic with Brazil hardest-hit, while cases are rising in some African countries that so far have a relatively low death toll, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.

“The COVID-19 pandemic today reached a milestone in Africa, with more than 100,000 confirmed cases. The virus has now spread to every country in the continent since the first case was confirmed in the region 14 weeks ago,” the WHO said in a statement, noting there were 3,100 confirmed deaths on the vast continent.

Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, who is from Botswana, said: “For now COVID-19 has made a soft landfall in Africa, and the continent has been spared the high numbers of deaths which have devastated other regions of the world.”

Even so, she said, “We must not be lulled into complacency as our health systems are fragile and are less able to cope with a sudden increase in cases.”

About half of African countries are experiencing community transmission of the virus, the WHO said.

The situation in South America appeared graver. Dr. Mike Ryan, WHO’s top emergencies expert, speaking earlier to a news conference, said: “In a sense South America has become a new epicenter for the disease.”

Brazil is the “most affected,” and authorities there have approved broad use of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine for treatment of COVID-19, he said. He reiterated that clinical evidence does not support the drug’s widespread use against the disease, given its risks.

Nine African countries had 50% rises in cases in the past week, while others have seen a decline or have stable rates, Ryan said.

The low mortality rate may be because half the continent’s population is 18 or younger, he said, while saying he remains worried the disease will spread on a continent with “significant gaps” in intensive care services, medical oxygen and ventilation.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and John Miller in Zurich; Editing by Leslie Adler

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EXCLUSIVE: Coronavirus Could Reduce 260 Million Indians To Poverty, Say Oxford University Researchers

Sambalpur, ODISHA — At least 260 million people in India could be pushed into poverty due to the economic fallout from coronavirus, putting at risk historic gains made in poverty alleviation, according to estimates from United Nations and Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI).

The 2019 UN Development Programme’s Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), developed in collaboration with OPHI at the University of Oxford, had reported in a study last year that India lifted 271 million people out of poverty between 2006 and 2016. This was the fastest absolute reduction in poverty among ten countries encompassing close to 2 billion people, the researchers noted, even as 369 million Indians remained poor, the highest globally.

But as coronavirus batters India’s economy and hundreds of millions of Indians struggle to eke out a living under a punitive national lockdown, more than 260 million Indians—who are presently classified as vulnerable to poverty—are at risk of becoming the new poor, according to researchers such as the OPHI’s Sabina Alkire who worked on the 2019 numbers.

Unlike income poverty, multidimensional poverty does not rely on any single indicator. To track poverty, it takes into account multiple deprivations experienced by people in health, education and standard of living across 10 indicators — nutrition, child mortality, years of schooling, school attendance, sanitation, cooking fuel, drinking water, electricity, housing and assets. People deprived in at least a third of the indicators, or 33% of the indicators, are classified as poor.

Under global MPI, people who experience deprivations in at least 20-33% of the indicators are classified as vulnerable. In other words, these are people who remain close to the poverty line. 

In 2015-2016, according to global MPI, 27.9% of people in India were poor while a staggering 19.3% were classified as vulnerable to poverty. 

Sabina Alkire, director at OPHI and the lead author of the 2019 study, told HuffPost India that people who are vulnerable are at risk from a variety of factors as Covid-19 spreads in India.

“Three MPI indicators are also covid-19 risk factors,” Alkire said. “These are sharing a household with a person who is malnourished, lack of safe drinking water and clean cooking fuel.”

According to Alkire, 994 million Indians — nearly one billion — experienced deprivations in at least one of the above three indicators in 2019. “If we focus on the 994 million, and observe that unemployment will short-circuit the financial flows of many, there is indeed cause for concern that poverty will rise.”

But a much bigger cause for concern would be rising malnutrition.

“The virus creates two challenges: threats to life among the poor, and increases in poverty. The biggest cause for concern is the predictable short-term surge in malnutrition. [Any increase] would have a big impact on MPI because it weighs three times more than assets or drinking water,” Alkire said. “Plus, it is very important to prevent malnutrition—particularly in children because it affects their brain development.”

Bishwa Nath Tiwari, a senior official with UNDP’s Human Development Reports at the Bangkok Regional Office, said that malnutrition would increase among vulnerable Indians— including the poor and informal workers — owing to immediate income losses due to a nationwide shutdown and disruptions in food supply chains. 

A 10% increase in malnutrition among people in poor or vulnerable households in India—who were not previously deprived in nutrition—would result in 42 million people falling into poverty, according to a simulation developed by researchers at OPHI. But if malnutrition increased by 50%, and half of the school-going children were out of school, poverty would rise by 187 million.

On March 24, Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a nationwide lockdown—which has since been extended twice as Covid-19 cases continue to increase in India—putting an immediate freeze on economic activity and disrupting India’s huge informal sector workforce.

On May 14, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced monetary and fiscal support worth Rs 20 lakh crore estimated at 10% of the GDP. But the big ticket stimulus measures appear intended to placate taxpayers, micro, small and medium-sized companies, and power companies. The support package includes a slew of measures in agricultural and business reforms.

These measures were announced 45 days after India’s government unveiled an initial relief package worth 1.7 lakh crore rupees, featuring a variety of cash transfers and grain distribution measures. But many economists criticised it then, calling for the government to spend more to help hundreds of millions of Indians who were adversely affected by the lockdown.

Economists, who have been consistently calling for increased monetary measures for hundreds of millions of India’s informal sector workers, are disappointed after Wednesday’s stimulus measure failed to shield India’s poor and vulnerable population.

“The relief measures will do nothing to ease the blow of the lockdown on the most vulnerable,” Reetika Khera, a professor of economics at Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, told HuffPost India. “My main worry is that by the time the government has satisfied all the industry demands, there will be nothing left for those who need it most.”

Reports and analysis suggest that even before the pandemic set in, millions of Indians were not getting enough food to eat. For instance, the UN’s World Food Program estimates that about 250 million Indians were already undernourished.

After the pandemic set in, pushing up prevalence of hunger across the country, the government called for increased grain distribution through the Public Distribution System (PDS) under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana.

But the government’s reliance on 2011 census data to target beneficiaries has left out close to 100 million people from receiving the benefits, analysis by economists Jean Drèze, Reetika Khera, and Meghana Mungikar suggests.

Himanshu, an economist at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, says that the people who are left out could number even more than 100 million. “It is true that malnutrition and hunger is likely to increase [but] we don’t know how [by] much or whether this is temporary or likely to persist. Most likely malnutrition will increase in the long run.”

Khera of the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, said that even though the numbers are alarming, she is not surprised to find out that more than 260 million Indians could fall into poverty.

“Multidimensional poverty includes health and education indicators that have longer term effects. If children fall out of school their life chances for the rest of their lives are going to be affected. Similarly, malnutrition is an intergenerational issue – poorly nourished mothers will have poorly nourished children,” Khera told HuffPost India.

In essence, these numbers suggest that the modest gains that we had made on improving people’s wellbeing over the past decade or so are at risk.”

The share of India’s population living in multidimensional poverty in 2006 stood at 55.1%, or about 640 million people. 

Khera said that India’s initial relief package, which accounted for less than 1% of GDP, was “grossly inadequate in a country where nearly half of the population lives so close to the edge,” and called for an urgent universalisation of the PDS.

This warning was also echoed by economists Amartya Sen, Raghuram Rajan and Abhijit Banerjee in an article published in the Indian Express, in which they collectively warned that “huge number of people will be pushed into dire poverty or even starvation by the combination of the loss of livelihoods and interruptions in the standard delivery mechanisms.”

“I don’t think we have any data whatsoever to make a prediction on number of persons or households which are affected or likely to fall into poverty,” Himanshu told HuffPost India, but pointed out that malnutrition is bound to increase, for it was even evident in the leaked findings of the National Statistical Office (NSO)’s consumption survey of 2017-2018.

In February this year, NITI Aayog and Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI) indicated that they would use MPI to assess the incidence of poverty in India, years after the Modi government dropped the report of the C. Rangarajan Committee after it showed poverty was increasing in India.

“Even without the pandemic, the number of poor by income/consumption poverty was already showing increase along with decline in real food consumption. There is every likelihood of these trends persisting and getting worse after the economic slowdown and particularly after the pandemic,” Himashu said.

But Alkire says that even in the midst of a pandemic that threatens to reverse almost all the gains made in poverty alleviation over years, there is hope for recovery. “I think with some emphatic policy action in terms of multidimensional poverty, it would be possible to recover if rising malnutrition is covered very powerfully by the government.”

According to Alkire—who also calls upon the government to treat the pandemic as an opportunity to end poverty—if malnutrition is tackled with strong policy measures now, then within a time period of six months, we could drastically reduce multidimensional poverty, possibly leading to a historic change.

In the intervening decade of 2006-2016, when India was also clocking high economic growth rates, 271 million Indians moved out of poverty. Yet, according to Alkire, there is little or no association between economic growth and reduction in multidimensional poverty, and what matters is the scale of public expenditure. “But without growth, a government cannot have the capacity to spend more.”

Hence, Alkire says that public expenditure to mitigate hunger and invest in public services are vital to minimize increases in, or better, reduce, levels of poverty in India.

“What is very clear is that without certain public services, India wouldn’t have this reduction in poverty [between 2006-2016],” Alkire said.  

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Ventilators In Short Supply In Africa As Experts Estimate Millions Of Possible COVID Deaths

Africa — where lifesaving equipment like ventilators, oxygen and masks, and even basic necessities like water and soap, are in short supply — could become the next epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organization has warned.

Michel Yao, the WHO’s emergency operations manager in Africa, said last Thursday that Africa could see more than 10 million severe cases of the virus in the next six months, based on provisional models.

A report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa said that in a worst-case scenario, where no interventions against the virus are taken, 3.3 million people in Africa could die from COVID-19 and 1.2 billion could be infected by the end of year.

Even under the best-case scenario, the report said, 300,000 people in Africa could perish from the virus.

To date, the continent has reported more than 20,000 cases of coronavirus and 1,000 deaths.

Africa, the U.N. report said, is “particularly susceptible” to COVID-19 because of widespread poverty, overcrowded living conditions and the highest prevalence among all the continents “of certain underlying conditions, like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.”

A lack of medical equipment and poor access to basic necessities like water and soap could further exacerbate COVID-19’s effects on African nations. 

Public hospitals across 41 African countries have fewer than 2,000 working ventilators, The New York Times reported on Saturday, citing WHO data. The United States, in contrast, has 170,000.

Ten countries in Africa have no ventilators at all, according to the Times. Several nations, including South Sudan, Mali, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, have five machines or fewer. Even if those numbers increase because of donations, the region lacks adequate trained personnel to use the equipment, the U.N. report noted. 

Other critical medical equipment, including masks and oxygen, are also scarce across the continent, and only 34 percent of African households have access to basic hand-washing facilities, the U.N. said. 

“We are now failing. Let me use that word deliberately,” epidemiologist Mahad Hassan, a member of the Somalian government’s coronavirus task force, told The Washington Post of the country’s COVID-19 response. “At our main treatment center, almost nothing is there. Last time I visited, beds, only beds.”

Somalia’s public health system reportedly does not have a single ventilator at its disposal. More than 100 confirmed cases have been reported in the country so far, though at least one health official told the Post that the number could “be even a million.”

Hassan told the Post he’s expecting “very, very painful weeks ahead.”

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It Shouldn’t Take A Pandemic For Us To Care About Working People And The Poor

Weeks before any cancellations were announced, as a public speaker I knew the fate of my job was not going to fare well, if at all, as the coronavirus outbreak spread. For weeks, I had a news channel on in both the kitchen and my bedroom, waiting for some kind of doomsday to happen. No more gatherings of 250 or more, then 50, then 10, for eight weeks or more. Possibly to July. I turned to my husband, who stayed at home to care for our kids, house and everything else so I could travel several times a month, and said, “We’re screwed.”

Before we were married last year, my husband and I were both full-time single parents. We knew what it was like to barely make ends meet, watch your life savings dwindle to nothing, and panic over bills coming out of bank accounts before expected payments were deposited. 

Things had been going well for me financially since my book, about working as a housekeeper while living in poverty, was a success, paving a way for a career as a public speaker and watching an adaptation of my story on Netflix. Still, losing several months of expected income was enough for me to feel a sort of panic that can only be described as familiar.

Shortly after my first daughter was born in 2007, we had to move into a homeless shelter. For the next decade, I fought for security in all things: Food, housing, employment, transportation, child care, medical care and our future. We never had any of those at the same time, but I remember almost every time we got close, like discovering my child care grant would cover the hours I spent in class at college, or when we received a boost in our SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, otherwise known as food stamps) allotment after the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009.

Because of my experience with living under the poverty level, as realized the gravity of the current situation, I immediately went into action: I made a list of our monthly bills, crossed out subscriptions, made grocery lists for food that would last for weeks or months, then I went back into freelance writer mode and started pitching pieces to editors. My husband began a periodic search for employment that, in our tourism-driven college town, could be described as abysmal and grim. We discussed selling one of our vehicles, or refinancing loans. Gone was the talk of purchasing our first house together in a few months, or taking a family vacation in July.

For me, this was a pretty seamless transition. It wasn’t too long ago that I couldn’t afford to go out to eat. When restaurants began closing their doors, I expected people to endlessly complain. Americans, if anything, do not like to be told to cut back.

As a poor person and someone who now writes extensively about social and economic justice, I’ve often noticed a lack of a focus on poverty appearing in news cycles or in debates among White House contenders. While politicians raise their voices for universal health care, they rarely discuss that millions of Americans are forced to prove they work 20 hours a week in order to be able to afford to take their children to the doctor.

When I saw that restaurants were closing, I didn’t think of the patrons. When people were told to shelter at home and work remotely, and when kids were kept out of school, I didn’t think about how the family living in that home was affected. I thought of the housekeeper who is undocumented and can’t apply for food stamps or any kind of government assistance who lost all of her clients.

I also thought of the single mom who works as a waitress who now can’t pay the bills. I thought of the families who are barely making ends meet, who have no savings and whose income relies entirely on one thing: them showing up to work.

These are the workers who invisibly clean up after us at all hours of the day. They vacuum and polish the airport floors, they collect trash in parks; they sweep up the crumbs our children spread all over the place during brunch.

As Americans had to hunker down, and felt the panic of possibly running out of household staples, they seemed to be thinking about these affected people, too. After the Bay Area began its Shelter At Home ordinance, people tweeted about still paying their dog walker because they needed that income to survive.

I heard news anchors discussing how difficult these closures would be on the workers. And former Vice President Joe Biden, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, tweeted that it was a “disgrace” that millions of workers don’t have a single day of paid sick leave.

Bewildered parents who now had to homeschool their kids cried out that teachers should be paid a million dollars. Athletes donated salaries to cover the workers in stadiums who were out of a job. This wasn’t your average donation to a local food bank. This was something I’d been waiting to see for several years: a recognition that minimum-wage, hourly work exists, and without it people cannot survive.

These are the workers who invisibly clean up after us at all hours of the day. They vacuum and polish the airport floors, they collect trash in parks; they sweep up the crumbs our children spread all over the place during brunch.  

We’ve become so accustomed to having these people work to make our lives easier that we rarely talk about them or notice them. Yet, when politicians claim tighter work requirements for various forms of government aid are necessary, when they try to make it more difficult for families to receive assistance for paying for their heat during the winter, those are the ones they’re mostly affecting.

What’s going to happen to those workers who now have no job? For most, a clock starts ticking. Each SNAP recipient, if they’re able-bodied, between 18 and 59 years of age and without a child younger than six at home is allowed only three months out of any three-year period to work under 20 hours a week. If a person has already used up that three-month period, say, looking for the job they just lost, they will not be able to apply for help with food, pandemic or not.

In our rebuilding from this epidemic, my hope is that the empathy that has surfaced will lead to a lasting compassion. That we’ll remember the stadium workers and bartenders who suddenly had no way to pay rent and feed their families.

After our lives go back to normal, so will theirs: working hour by hour for no benefits and too little pay, unless we lift our voices in outrage. It shouldn’t take a pandemic for us to take notice that millions of people can’t afford a single sick day. But now that we have, it’s time for change.

Stephanie Land is the author of “Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother’s Will to Survive” and a fellow at Community Change.

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