Category Archives: Poverty & income gap

More Ignored News: Bag Tax Coming to Richmond

From American Progressive Bag Alliance flyer opposing local bag taxes.

by Steve Haner

The plastic bag tax recently approved in Roanoke and several Northern Virginia localities, created by the General Assembly in 2020 as a local option, is also coming to the City of Richmond. It was promised in the same September 13 Richmond City Council “climate crisis” resolution that implied a future closure of the Richmond Gas WorksContinue reading

Wait, What? Renter Credit Scores Are Improving?

Average credit scores. Graph credit: Consumer Protection Finance Bureau

by James A. Bacon

Who would have guessed? For all the angst over the “eviction crisis” precipitated by COVID-19-related job losses, it turns out that the financial condition of low-income renters improved overall as the epidemic wore on, according to a new report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The federal bureau credits stimulus payments, stepped up unemployment insurance benefits, and the suspension of college loan repayments for the change.

Virginia advocates of tenant rights used the eviction crisis as justification for the partial moratorium on evictions through June 2022. (Before evicting tenants for unpaid rent, landlords need to give tenants 45 days to get rental assistance approved.) At one level, the crisis appeared to be very real. The Virginia Unemployment Commission fell far behind in processing unemployment benefits to workers who lost their jobs, which seemed a plausible explanation for why so many were falling behind on their rent payments.

Administrative failures may be responsible for Virginia’s eviction crisis, but the CFPB report suggests that the story is more complicated than commonly portrayed. Continue reading

SCC Hikes Electricity Bills For New PIPP Subsidy

By Steve Haner

All customers of Dominion Energy Virginia and Appalachian Power in Virginia will begin soon to pay an extra monthly charge related to the coming Percentage of Income Payment Program, the General Assembly’s new electricity cost subsidy for low-income residential customers.

The PIPP was initially created in the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act and then revised with a bill in 2021, but just when then bill subsidies begin is still to be determined. The Department of Social Services, which will determine eligibility, still needs to devise the program. No start date is specified in the law. Continue reading

Wake Up, People! This Is Me Telling You That the Old Answers Are Not Working!

Photo credit: WTKR televison

by James A. Bacon

How many children have to be killed, wounded and traumatized before people wake up?

Headline from today’s Virginian-Pilot: “Nearly a dozen children have been shot this month in Norfolk. Communities are hurting…”

And then it adds this kicker: “and activists want change.”

The Virginian-Pilot spoke with elected officials, community organizers, the city’s police chief, and nearly two dozen families impacted by the violence. There are lots of ideas out there — more funding for recreation centers, expanded peer mentorship, getting guns off the street. The usual suspects… all of which have been tried and all found lacking.

The story does extract the beginnings of insight from one person. Councilman Paul Riddick cuts to the quick: “We have no one but ourselves to blame,” he says, referring to city leaders “We have lost control of our youngsters.”

But then he says the city needs to redistribute money from wealthy areas to poor areas to build more libraries and recreation centers. Libraries? Are you kidding me? The City of Norfolk needs to build more libraries to reduce the number of random shootings? Continue reading

Virginia’s New Ruling Class: How Exploitation Works in the Real World

Graphic credit: Axios

Medical debt, which comprises 58% of all debt collections in the U.S., is the leading cause of bankruptcy in the United States. Between January 2018 and July 2020, hospitals filed tens of thousands of lawsuits and other court against against patients, according to AXIOS,  which drew upon Johns Hopkins University data. Until a public outcry compelled them to stop suing patients last year, the two most aggressive debt collectors in the country, by a wide margin, were the VCU Medical Center in Richmond (17,806 court actions) and the University of Virginia hospital in Charlottesville (7,197 court actions).

What do the VCU and UVa hospitals have in common? Several things. First, both enjoy nonprofit status. Second, both generate significant profits. Third, both are teaching hospitals affiliated with large research universities. Fourth, both universities are governed by self-perpetuating oligarchies accountable to no one, least of all to patients. Fifth, both are incentivized to suck every dime they can out of their customers to fund the thing that confers institutional prestige — medical research.

This is what social injustice looks like in the real world: Academic elites exploit the medical patients in their care to bolster profits and research funding. The fixation on racial injustice — obsessing over memorials named after slave holders and Civil War veterans, apologizing for sins that occurred a hundred years ago — is a dodge and a distraction.

— JAB 

How’s Descano’s Social-Justice Prosecution Policy Working Out?

A Fairfax County police car vandalized with spray paint in a 2016 incident.

by James A. Bacon

Steve Descano was elected Commonwealth Attorney of Fairfax County in 2019 on the promise that he would end mass incarceration by winding down the prosecution of marijuana possession and raising the threshold to $1,500 for larceny prosecutions. As he stated in his reform platform, “I will not ruin someone’s life because of an impulsive decision to steal an iPhone.”

It did not take long for his policies to spark a backlash. Charging Descano with pleading felonies to misdemeanors, a failure to punish reckless drivers,  and abandoning victims of violent crimes, a Fairfax citizens group has launched a recall initiative.

With the publication of the Crime in Virginia 2020 report, we have the data to get a better feeling for what Descano was up to last year. The statistics for Virginia’s most populous county indicate that he was as good as his word — he significantly reduced prosecutions for shoplifting and drug-related crimes. The big question is whether Descano’s brand of social justice will make Fairfax County less livable for law-abiding, middle-class families. Continue reading

Free Bus Fares for Everyone Because… Equity

Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine

by James A. Bacon

Once upon a time, Virginia built roads and bridges according to the quaint old principle of “pay as you go,” meaning that the state didn’t spend money it didn’t have. That idea went hand in glove with another quaint concept that the people who used public transportation infrastructure should be the people who paid to build and maintain it. People who walked (which a lot of people did in those days) or rode the trolleys shouldn’t pay for roads.

Now Virginians are much more sophisticated. We tell ourselves that such antiquated ideas originated with Harry Byrd Sr., who was a segregationist and racist, which therefore discredits everything he said and did. Not only do modern-day Virginians borrow billions of dollars to build transportation projects, government now operates bus, passenger rail and commuter rail lines, and we tax everyone to pay for everything. The link between who use and those who pays for transportation infrastructure has dissolved like a corpse in a vat of hydrochloric acid.

Virginia’s original bus lines, trolley lines, and passenger lines once operated for profit. They no longer do. The government owns them and massively subsidizes them — even more than roads and highways (which is a travesty in itself). But apparently those subsidies are not enough. Now the au courant thinking is that subsidized transit fares are a “barrier.” People who ride mass transit should not have to pay anything at all. Continue reading

How to Empower Low-Income Communities in Virginia

Public housing project in Richmond.

by Stephen Jordan

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to describing poverty in Virginia. Portsmouth, aka “Pistol City”, population 93,000, is six hours away from Galax, population 6,000. The housing projects of east and south Richmond are very different from the hollowed out small towns that dot Southside and coal country. Both urban and rural decay are powder kegs waiting to blow, but no one has seriously tackled them in Virginia politics for decades because the issues are so complex.

Conservatives are complicit in this problem because for too long they have allowed liberals to frame the debate and set policy. The result is that since 1964, more than 1,500 “low income apartment communities” have sprung up around the Commonwealth. They are hotbeds of drug abuse and violent crime. Rural Virginia has some of the largest concentrations of people over the age of 65, in part because young people can’t find enough good paying jobs. Democratic mayors, Democratic governors, and Democratic federal policy have predominantly shaped the current state of Virginia’s communities. It is a disgrace.

To start to develop solutions, we have to evaluate the roots of the problem. One of the things that you will notice walking around many housing projects is how isolated and in some cases, empty of outdoor life they are. They are badly designed, set away from services, and with no mixed-use opportunities for jobs close to home. If you can interview some of the residents and get to the point that they trust you, they’ll tell you there is nothing to do but sell some weed, play ball, and wait for something to change. Continue reading

Kings Dominion Stays a Step Ahead of the Minimum Wage

Bridgett Bywater, the new GM at Kings Dominion.

by James A. Bacon

Virginia’s $9.50-per-hour minimum wage will go into effect May 1, but it won’t have much impact on King’s Dominion, which expects to hire more than 2,000 seasonal workers, mostly young people, this season. The Hanover County amusement park plans to boost its minimum wage to $13 per hour, reports Virginia Business. The enterprise also is hiring 80 new full-time positions with wages and benefits starting at $16 an hour in culinary and operations roles.

Hopefully, the flap over the minimum wage in Virginia will prove to be much ado about nothing, as market forces in a fast-recovering economy push up wages faster than the General Assembly can jack up the minimum. In 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70,000 of Virginia’s 1,978,000 workers were paid the $7.50 minimum wage. Presumably, a significant number more were paid less than $9.50 and will benefit from the wage increase. That’s the up-side of the mandated wage boost.

What we don’t know is how many workers will lose their jobs as employers decide they don’t add enough value to the enterprise to justify the higher wage, or, in the longer run, invest in automation. Bacon’s Rebellion will stay alert for signs of how the minimum is impacting “marginalized” employees, such as minorities, teenagers, and rural workers. Continue reading

Virginia Will Mandate and Hold Retirement Savings

Click here for more information on the California state-run retirement fund that inspired the Virginia legislation. Source:  Georgetown Center for Retirement Incentives.

by Steve Haner

Next week’s reconvened General Assembly session will decide whether only full time employees of Virginia’s small businesses will be pushed into a new state-sponsored retirement savings plan, or part-time workers will join them there.  Continue reading

Roving Bands of Whites Steal COVID Shots?

Shocking News: People afraid of death will drive to get vaccines!

by Steve Haner

Call out the militia!  Roving bands of white people are rushing to Danville to steal COVID vaccines from more deserving blacks and Latinos!  That’s the big news according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, although it lacks the courage to write that headline directly.

The story dominates the print front page and the on-line paper, complete with a map (above) showing the distances these despicable Privilege Recipients are willing to drive to avoid hospitalization or death from a disease which everybody who reads the paper knows is only truly dangerous for People of Color.  Continue reading

More Unintended Consequences: Shutdowns, Alcohol, and Domestic Violence

The good news… Rapidly declining COVID-19 cases in Virginia

by James A. Bacon

As the number of COVID-19 vaccinations administered in Virginia passes the two million mark, new COVID-19 cases in Virginia are falling off rapidly. We can look forward to the day when fear of the virus will be a distant memory. But the damage wrought by the virus — or, to be more accurate, wrought by the lockdowns prompted by the virus — will linger with us for years. Perhaps for  lifetimes.

The impact on young children, compelled to learn in an online environment for which they are ill suited, has been well documented. A distressingly high percentage of students, consisting disproportionately of lower-income minorities, has fallen significantly behind academically. Whether they ever catch up is anybody’s guess. But sociologists already are speculating about the long-term cost of lower educational achievement as reflected by higher dropout rates, increased criminality, lost employment, and lower lifetime wages.

There may be an even more insidious, more damaging effect of the lockdowns: increased domestic violence and childhood trauma. Continue reading

Podcast: How the General Assembly Has Changed

By Peter Galuszka

I haven’t contributed much to BR lately since I am slammed with non-Virginia work. I did manage to help out on a Podcast about how the General Assembly has changed the state over the last two years as Democrats have gained power.

This Podcast is produced by WTJU, the University of Virginia radio station. I do a weekly talk show on state politics and economics and, on occasion, work on Podcasts.

Joining me is Sally Hudson, a delegate from the Charlottesville area. She is Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Education and Economics. Sally studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford and is one of the youngest members of the General Assembly.

I hope you enjoy it.

Mark Herring: Friend of the Poor, Scourge of Lenders

Mark Herring

by James A. Bacon

Attorney General Mark Herring is at it again — acting to protect the poor by government fiat without regard to unintended consequences.

In a press release release today, Herring claims credit for backing a law backed by Del. Hala Ayala, D-Woodbridge, that will ensure that federal COVID-relief payments don’t “get swept up by debt collectors and creditors.” The law exempts the first $1,200 of any COVID-relief payment from garnishment.

“The most recent round of federal payments represents a lifeline for so many Virginia families who are still struggling to make ends meet because of the economic impacts of the COVID pandemic,” said Herring. “Virginians should not have to worry about creditors or debt collectors taking all of their much-needed stimulus money and I’m glad Delegate Ayala and I were able to work together to get this important legislation passed.” Continue reading

Exploitation and Privilege at VCU

VCU adjuncts protesting for fair pay. Credit: VPM News

by James A. Bacon

Bacon’s Rebellion has devoted considerable digital ink over the years to explaining how Virginia’s higher-ed institutions exploit its students through unconscionably high tuition and fees. But it is useful to remind ourselves that colleges and universities are rigidly hierarchical and exploit the knowledge workers at the bottom of that hierarchy as well.

Adjunct professors at Virginia Commonwealth University protested outside the office of President Michael Rao the other day, demanding better pay and benefits. Currently, an adjunct with a full teaching load makes about $20,000 a year, or about $1,000 per credit. They’re asking for $3,000 per credit.

“We want a raise to our base pay, which is currently low enough that an adjunct can work full-time and be below the poverty line,” said Rose Szabo, a member of VCU Adjuncts Organizing for Fair Pay in an interview with Virginia Public Media. Full-time-equivalent adjunct faculty don’t even get health benefits. Continue reading