Hannah Levintova

Hannah Levintova

Reporter/Associate Editor

Hannah Levintova reports and edits in Mother Jones' DC bureau. Previously she worked at NPR and the Washington Monthly. A proud New Englander, she enjoys tea, good books, and cold weather.

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Who Subsidizes Restaurant Workers' Pitiful Wages? You Do

| Mon Apr. 20, 2015 7:45 AM EDT

For Americans who like to eat out occasionally, the full-service restaurant industry is full of relatively affordable options—think Olive Garden, Applebees, or Chili's. But these spots aren't exactly a bargain once a hefty hidden cost is factored in: The amount of taxpayer assistance that goes to workers earning little pay.

Food service workers have more than twice the poverty rate of the overall workforce, and thus more often seek out public benefits. A new report published last week by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC), a restaurant workers' advocacy and assistance group, calculated the tab and found that from 2009 to 2013, regular Americans subsidized the industry's low wages with nearly $9.5 billion in tax money each year. That number includes spending from roughly 10 different assistance programs, including Medicaid, food stamps, and low-income housing programs like Section 8.

Here's the breakdown per program:

Restaurant Opportunities Centers United

The amounts were calculated by combining Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics figures on the programs' cost and enrollments with the number of Americans working in full-service restaurants.

ROC also found that employees at the five largest full-service restaurant companies alone cost taxpayers about $1.4 billion per year. According to the report, these five companies employ more than half a million of the sector's more than 4 million workers.

Here's another striking statistic: If you add up these five companies' profits, CEO pay, distributed dividends, and stock buy-backs, the total comes to a bit more than $1.48 billion—almost exactly what taxpayers spend on these five companies' workers, $1.42 billion.

ROC's report notes another key point: Polling shows that most Americans want a tax system that requires Corporate America to pull its weight. If customers start realizing that their meal costs a lot more than the check says, they just might lose their appetite.

This Letter From a Gay Veteran's Brother Is the Most Heartbreaking Response to Indiana's Law We've Read Yet

| Wed Apr. 1, 2015 2:57 PM EDT

On Tuesday morning, Indiana's largest newspaper, the Indianapolis Star, published a full front-page editorial calling on Gov. Mike Pence to repeal the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the new bill that has incited national furor because it allows businesses to refuse service to gay people, citing their religious beliefs.

Tuesday's Indianapolis Star. @markalesia/Twitter

By the end of the day, the paper received a heartbreaking letter from Nick Crews of Plainfield. Crews writes about walking his dogs to the local market that morning to pick up two copies of the day's Star, something he never does. He continues:

With the papers under my arm, I walked to Plainfield's Maple Hill Cemetery, and found my brother's grave. My brother, who had been a troubled Vietnam War vet, was gay at a time when being gay was a very difficult thing to be. When he died of AIDS in 1985 in a far-off city, his refuge from his closed-minded native state, some in our family were sufficiently ashamed that his cause of death was not discussed.

At the grave I opened the Star. I said, "Well, Charlie, times have changed, thank God. It turns out you were on the right side of history after all." Then I read aloud as much of the paper's editorial as tears would let me get through.

And today I'm doing what I never thought I'd do. I'm renewing my subscription to the Star. I'm doing this because, if for no other reason, I believe we must all support those who stand against discrimination and for inclusiveness. I do it too as thanks to the Star whose courage and right-mindedness on this issue made this moment of personal closure possible for me.

Read his entire letter here.

Robot-Building 6-Year-Old Girls Talking Tech With Obama Is the Best Thing You'll See All Week

| Tue Mar. 24, 2015 6:56 PM EDT

On Monday, President Obama made his annual rounds at the White House Science Fair. The event is a breeding ground for adorable interactions with kid-nerds (See 2012's marshmallow-shooting air cannon), but his chat yesterday with five cape-wearing Girl Scouts from Oklahoma was especially magical.

The 6-year-olds from Tulsa's Girl Scout Troup 411 were the youngest inventors selected to present at this year's fair. Inspired by conversations with a librarian and one of the girls' grandmas, they built a mechanical Lego contraption that can turn pages, to help patients with mobility issues read books.

The group of first graders and kindergartners explain to Obama that the device is a "prototype" that they came up with in a "brainstorming session." One of the girls asks Obama if he's ever had his own brainstorming session.

"I have had a couple brainstorming sessions," replies an amused Obama. "But I didn't come up with anything this good!"

Another girls asks what he came up with:

"I mean, I came up with things like, you know, health care. It turned out ok, but it started off with some prototypes," the president says.

And then they all go in for a group hug. GOLD.

Suzanne Dodson, the coach of the Lego team and the mom of one of the scouts, told Tulsa World that she's glad the girls are getting such positive attention for their project: "It really is a problem with girls, when they get to middle school, they lose confidence in their own ability to succeed in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math)" she said. "Having this experience at young age really gives them a confidence boost."

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