Category Archives: Poverty & income gap

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

VUU Gambles on Recruiting Hispanic Students

VUU President Hakim j. Lucas

by James A. Bacon

Although the appeal of Virginia’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) has been limited mainly to African-Americans, Richmond-based Virginia Union University, founded in 1865 to educate former slaves, is making a major push to recruit Hispanic students.

VUU President Hakim J. Lucas wants the student body to be 25% Hispanic within three years, reports the Richmond Free Press. If it is successful, it would become the first HBCU in the country to earn a federal designation as an “Hispanic-serving institution.” It would be the second such institution in Virginia, following Marymount University in Arlington.

HBCUs face an existential threat from other colleges and universities which are intensifying efforts to recruit minority students, often offering financial aid that less affluent HBCUs are hard-pressed to compete with. But Lucas thinks Virginia Union can make inroads with Hispanics because of their commonality with African-Americans as oppressed minorities. Reports the Free Press: Continue reading

You Thought Payday Lenders Were Bad? Welcome to Internet Lending.

by James A. Bacon

A new law that went into effect this year is designed to protect Virginians against “predatory” short-term loans by limiting what lenders can charge. And in honor of National Consumer Protection Week, Attorney General Mark R. Herring is encouraging Virginians to familiarize themselves with the risks associated with smaller-dollar loans.

I’m all in favor of educating consumers, and I’m glad to see that the AG’s office is vigilant against fraudulent lending. But I can’t escape the worry that the political class’s do-gooder instinct to “help” poor people by regulating one of the few industry sectors willing to lend them money may do them more harm than good. Regulating payday lenders pushes poor people into the arms of online lenders.

In a press release today, the AG’s Office reported some interesting numbers regarding the scope of payday lending. Citing data from the 2019 Annual Report of the Bureau of Financial Institutions, the press release notes that 83,107 Virginians took out 268,097 payday loans totaling nearly $110 million with an average annual percentage rate of 253%. Continue reading

Politicians Get the Gold Mine, the Middle Class Gets the Shaft

by James A. Bacon

Thousands have Virginians have fallen behind on their electric bill payments as they struggle through the COVID-19 epidemic. The General Assembly wants to help. So, in the budget compromise reached by the House of Delegates and the state Senate, Dominion Energy will be directed to forgive customers’ unpaid balances that were more than 30 days in arrears as of Dec. 31, 2020.

Who will pay for this? Not the Commonwealth of Virginia. The state may be awash in $2.4 billion in federal COVID relief funds plus $410 million in tax revenue over forecasts this year, but, no, legislators want to spend every dime.

And not Dominion Energy. The budget bill reaffirms the utility’s right to use the bill-forgiveness costs to offset earnings from 2017 to 2020 in the State Corporation Commission’s next review of its profits, reports The Virginia Mercury.

You, dear ratepayer, will pay the cost (unless you’re one of those who have fallen behind in your payments). With apologies to Jerry Reed, the politicians get the gold mine, and Virginia’s middle class gets the shaft. Continue reading

Updates: PPP, PIPP, Dominion’s School Buses

by Steve Haner

Tax on Paycheck Protection Program Grants

The General Assembly session deadlines require final decisions on various revenue bills before the final budget bill is adopted, in theory keeping the two issues separate. What is good tax policy should not be driven by the need or greed of the appropriators.  Continue reading

Your PIPP Tax Will Buy Heat Pumps For Poor

by Steve Haner

Lower-income Virginians who are customers of the two largest electricity providers may begin to receive subsidies on their residential bills in March 2022 under legislation moving forward in the General Assembly. The money for the subsidies will come from their fellow customers.  Continue reading

In Praise of Trailer Parks

Bermuda Estates, Chesterfield County

by James A. Bacon

Nobody knows for sure how many trailer parks there are in Virginia, and Del. Paul Krizek, D-Fairfax, wants to find answers. He has introduced a budget amendment to establish a Virginia Manufactured Home Park registry, to be funded with a $100 database maintenance fee from each mobile home park. 

Krizek regards trailer parks as a rare form of affordable housing in the state, and he’s concerned that market forces could put them out of business. Many were built long ago on land that was inexpensive at the time but due to the evolution of real estate markets has become desirable.

“The biggest problem is that the land is so valuable,” Krizek told The Virginia Mercury. “These parks are a gold mine for someone who wants to come in and build a 20-story apartment complex. I understand the need for density, but it’s sad when one of these communities goes away because they have been there for 20-30 years.” Continue reading

McAuliffe’s “Big Bold” Housing Plan Is Neither

Richmond homelessness. Credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by James A. Bacon

Homelessness spiked in the Richmond area over the past year — more than 50%, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The increase from 549 to 838 people in 2020 was the largest single-year jump since anyone began tracking the number in the 1990s. Given the fact that hundreds of thousands of Virginians are at risk of eviction, homelessness likely will get much worse before it gets better.

Clearly, Virginia has a social crisis on its hands. The burning question is what to do about it. Do we treat the symptoms? Do we enact remedies that backfire and make things worse? Or do we address underlying problems?

We can get a glimpse of Virginia’s likely course of action by scrutinizing the plan to tackle the commonwealth’s housing crisis proffered by gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe. Dominating the field of Democratic Party candidates, the former governor is the odds-on favorite to win the party nomination. Facing the survivor of the Republicans’ circular firing squad, that makes him the odds-on favorite to become Virginia’s next governor.

McAuliffe announced he has a plan — a “big bold” plan — in a Feb. 8 press release. In McAuliffe’s assessment, more than 260,000 Virginia households face the risk of eviction in the fall. Continue reading

Holding Richmond Public Schools Accountable — Part I

by James C. Sherlock

We have discussed here the failures of the City of Richmond Public Schools (RPS) in educating its economically disadvantaged children, as well as the abysmal performance of Black children in its schools.  

I intend to help readers understand how it manages to fail repeatedly even with major federal funding as guardrails and state oversight officially in place.

Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) provides financial assistance to local educational agencies (LEAs) such as RPS and its schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families to help ensure that all children meet state academic standards.

It is useful to drill down into the details of that program so that readers can understand how every school district in Virginia is supposed to plan and execute the education of poor kids to improve their chances of success.

The question that will remain when I finish will be accountability.  

How does a system like the Richmond Public Schools continue to submit similar paperwork every year and every year fail to meet its stated goals? Where is the accountability? Why do the people of Richmond put up with it?  Continue reading

The Mythology of Robert E. Lee

By Peter Galuszka

With excellent timing, the former head of the history department at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point has come out with a book about the mythology of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and much of the White “Southern” culture.

Retired U.S. Army Gen. Ty Seidule, a former paratrooper, has deep Virginia roots and his analysis goes right to the heart of the problems plaguing Virginia, Civil War memorabilia, Richmond, Charlottesville, the Virginia Military Institute and more.

He grew up in Alexandria and had ties to the Episcopal prep school where he expanded his desire to be a “Southern” gentleman while worshipping the likes of Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

Here’s a link to my review of his book in Richmond’s Style Weekly. The Post also reviewed the book this past Sunday.

Lockdown Lobby Crushed the Poorest Children

by Kerry Dougherty

The Federalist, one of my daily must-read news sources, had a great piece yesterday. It supported my point of view, naturally.

And it’s timely as Michael Osterholm, one of Biden’s advisors, predicted Sunday that lockdowns will return with a vengeance once the U.K. variant of Covid-19 becomes dominant in the United States.

In “Covid Lockdowns Were An Overreaction to Protect The Rich ,” Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, professor of medicine at Stanford University and one of America’s outspoken opponents of many measures taken during the pandemic,  joined Megyn Kelly in a podcast to discuss the results of shutdowns around the U.S. They affirmed what has been glaringly obvious to anyone paying attention: Lockdowns protected the rich while putting the poor in harm’s way.

I noticed this early on in the pandemic when friends of mine on Facebook were hash-tagging the hell out of slogans like #JustStayHome.

Easy for them, when they weren’t missing a paycheck and had work-from-home jobs. Continue reading

To Solve Homelessness, Equip People to Rise from Poverty

The Brisben Center’s Ucan Club teaches families cooking and meal-planning skills they can take with them when they leave the shelter.

by David Cooper

There is an ongoing debate among nonprofits providing homeless shelters on the best way to address homelessness. Should they focus on finding places for people to live, regardless of what mental health or substance abuse problems they might have, or should they stress equipping them with life skills, even if it means a prolonged dependence upon the shelter?

As the staff of the Thurman Brisben Center has learned from serving the homeless of Greater Fredericksburg for 33 years — more than 7,000 individuals since 2005— homelessness is complicated. From underemployment and unemployment to physical/mental disabilities, from family breakups to poor credit histories, and from addictions to criminal justice involvement, the breadth of underlying causes is sobering.

The majority of homeless are working households and turn to shelters only as a last resort. A mere 14% — about 34 individuals locally — meet federal criteria for “chronic” (long-term) homelessness. However, they are targeted to receive the most government funding to permanently house them. Continue reading