Jaeah is a former reporter at Mother Jones. Her writings have appeared in The Atlantic, the Guardian, Wired, Christian Science Monitor,Global Post,Huffington Post,Talking Points Memo, and Grist. She tweets at @jaeahjlee.
State legislators discovered more ways than ever to restrict abortion rights last year. See how they did it, and what's in store for 2014.
Jaeah Lee and Molly ReddenJan. 27, 2014 7:00 AM
Looking back at the legislative landscape in 2013, you have to give anti-choice lawmakers points for creativity. In South Carolina last year, one male senator managed to introduce six different bills making it harder for women to get abortions. In Arizona, a bill about child therapy morphed into a law that opens abortion clinics up to surprise state inspections without a warrant. In Iowa, a rape victim now needs the governor to sign off on Medicaid funding for her abortion. And in North Carolina, a new "Motorcycle Safety Act" contains more provisions about abortion than it does about motorcycle safety.
In all, lawmakers in 22 states enacted 70 new provisions that curbed reproductive rights—that's more new abortion restrictions than there were in any year but 2011. Earlier this month, the Guttmacher Institute, a think tank that supports abortion rights, reported that more new restrictions have passed in the last three years than in the entire previous decade.
"[It] was a terrible year for women's health," says Gretchen Borchelt, the director of state reproductive health policy for the National Women's Law Center. Republicans' sweeping gains in the 2010 elections gave them control of 25 state legislatures, power that was often used to push through abortion restrictions. "One of the biggest trends we saw was politicians running roughshod over the political process," Borchelt says. "We saw that in Texas where they kept calling special sessions to ram through an omnibus abortion bill."
Using data from the Guttmacher Institute, BillTrack50, and Open States, Mother Jones analyzed 178 anti-abortion bills* proposed in 32 states. In all, more than 330 state lawmakers proposed 476 provisions to restrict women's access to abortions and reproductive services. Here are some of the key results—including what to expect in 2014. To view the full data, click here.
1. A series of incremental attacks. As in previous years, state legislators used an incremental strategy to chip away at abortion rights. The most popular types of anti-abortion bills were bans on coverage in the Affordable Care Act's insurance exchanges; bills outlawing "sex-selective" abortions; mandatory ultrasound bills; bills imposing technical restrictions with the aim of shuttering abortion clinics (known as TRAP laws); and bans on abortions from 20 weeks after fertilization.
Lawmakers in five states passed bills barring the Obamacare exchanges from offering plans with abortion coverage, bringing the total number of states with such bans to 23. Borchelt expects the fight over ACA exchanges to resume this year in states such as West Virginia, where advocates have so far held such legislation at bay.
Bills banning sex-selective abortions—which often propose fines or jail time for doctors who perform abortions when the patient's decision is motivated by the gender of a fetus—were a fairly new trend, says Borchelt. So far, seven states outlaw sex-selective abortions, with five states—Arizona, Kansas, North Carolina, North Dakota, and Oklahoma—enacting those bans after 2010. Civil rights groups, such as the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum, say these bans perpetuate stereotypes about Asian communities and encourage doctors to interrogate women about their reproductive choices based on their race. In May, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a suit in Arizona challenging the ban in the state, which also prohibits race-selective abortions, on the grounds that it is discriminatory.
2. Anti-abortion all-stars. Federal lawmakers made news last year when an all-male House committee convened a hearing on abortion (twice). Male legislators dominate in proposing anti-abortion bills in the states, too. Of the 330 state lawmakers to sponsor such measures last year, 257—more than 75 percent—were men. Seventy-three were women. (According to the National Conference of State Legislators, about 75 percent of state lawmakers in 2013 were male.) About 1 in every 25 female legislators, and 1 in every 20 male legislators, sponsored an anti-abortion bill. The vast majority of the sponsors, 310 in all, were Republicans; 20 were Democrats.
In 2013, about 1 in 4 state legislators who sponsored an abortion-related bill—92 lawmakers altogether—sponsored more than one. South Carolina state Sen. Lee Bright, with six bills, sponsored more anti-abortion legislation in 2013 than any other lawmaker in the country—"so many that it's hard to remember them all," Bright says. His proposals include variousfetal personhood bills, and a bill banning abortions if the provider can detect a heartbeat.
"We would like to see abortion nonexistent in the US," Bright, who is challenging Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham in the primary this year, tells Mother Jones.
Close on Bright's heels was Alison Littell McHose, a Republican assemblywoman in New Jersey who sponsored five measures in 2013. In addition to her anti-abortion activism, McHose has raised at least $22,126 in an online campaign to nullify the Affordable Care Act in New Jersey.
3. What 2014 holds. Borchelt predicts many of the types of bills that were popular in 2013 will resurface in 2014. Although federal courts have consistently struck down bans on abortion at 20 weeks from fertilization, she says, that probably won't stop lawmakers from continuing to introduce them. "They are eternally optimistic that they can change the Constitution on this issue," she says.
Although a few more states may see attempts to ban abortion coverage from state exchanges, Borchelt notes reproductive rights advocates are more fearful of a rash of bills to ban private insurers from offering abortion coverage in 2014. Only a handful of states considered such measures in in 2013.
What's not clear is whether abortion opponents will be as active in 2014 as they were last year. Election years tend to cut the legislative calendar short. "And in theory, lawmakers don't spend as much time as on what we would deem controversial in election years," says Borchelt. "So we shouldn't see as much action in 2014…But we were surprised by what we saw in 2012."
Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson said it was a war America couldn't afford to lose. See how much poverty has changed since then.
Erika Eichelberger, Jaeah Lee, and AJ VicensJan. 8, 2014 7:00 AM
President Lyndon B. Johnson.
President Lyndon B. Johnson announced a "war on poverty" in America in his State of the Union address on January 8, 1964. "This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America," he said. "It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won. The richest nation on Earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it." The aim of the war, he said would be to "cure" and "prevent" poverty.
Johnson's administration went on to design "Great Society" initiatives, including a permanent food stamp program, Medicare and Medicaid, Head Start, which provides early education to low-income kids, and increased funding to public schools.
The war on poverty helped raise millions above the poverty line. During Johnson's years in office, the poverty rate dropped from 23 percent to 12 percent.
But where do we stand today? The government's official measure of poverty shows that poverty has actually increased slightly since the Johnson administration, rising from 14.2 percent in 1967 to 15 percent in 2012.
But those numbers aren't quite accurate, because while they factor in welfare and Social Security payments, for example, they don't include additional non-cash government aid from safety net programs such as food stamps and housing assistance, and expenses like taxes and medical costs. A few years ago, the government started using a new, more accurate way to measure poverty that includes these factors, which shows that government programs did indeed slash poverty—from 19 percent to 16 percent—between 1967 and 2012. And last month, a group of researchers at Columbia University released a report using a similar adjusted poverty measure that takes into account both non-cash government assistance and expenses, as well as today’s standards of living. With these adjustments, the poverty rate dropped from nearly 26 percent to 16 percent over that same time period.So have we won the war on poverty? If it means that the lives of millions of Americans in poverty have improved under the Great Society programs, yes. But by no means have we attained Johnson's goal of "curing" poverty. The poverty rates of certain demographic groups remain stagnant and racial disparities are as wide as ever. Check out the graphs below (based on the Columbia University measure):
The poverty rate for the elderly has fallen, as has child poverty. But as my colleague Kevin Drum noted last month, the working-age poverty rate has stayed flat for 40 years. It dropped from 20 percent in 1967 to about 15 percent in 1974, and remains there today.
The percent of Americans in deep poverty—those living on an income of less than $11,775 a year for a family of four—has hovered around 5 percent of the population for about 40 years.
Annually, $11,775 is not much. But try living on $2 a day, as Americans in more than 1.5 million households do. That number has jumped since 1996, when welfare reform kicked many families off of government assistance. (Note that when food stamps are included as income, the number of those living on $2 a day* decreases.)
Even though the portion of Americans in poverty has dropped, that doesn't mean that those above the poverty line—$23,550 for a family of four—have enough money to live on. A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) of 615 communities in the US found that in all of those localities it was impossible for two parents who earn the federal minimum wage—$30,000 a year total—to support a family of four. For instance, the EPI analysis found that the monthly costs associated with "an adequate standard of living" in St. Louis include $830 for housing, $754 for food, $959 for child care, $607 for transportation, $1,457 for healthcare, $405 for other necessities, and $377 in taxes, for a grand total of $5,389 a month. That's far above the federal poverty line for a family of four, which is $1,962 a month. Here are the costs of living for a family of four in 13 cities across the United States, according to EPI:
The income disparity between white Americans and minorities remains stark. The current poverty rate for African Americans is 27.2 percent, and just 9.2 percent for white people. It's 25.6 for Hispanics, and 11.7 percent for Asian Americans.
ExxonMobil, Walmart, and McDonald's are just a few of the companies that the mega-charity supports.
Alex Park and Jaeah LeeDec. 6, 2013 7:00 AM
With an endowment larger than all but four of the world's largest hedge funds, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is easily one of the most powerful charities in the world. According to its website, the organization "works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives." So how do the investments of the foundation's $36 billion investing arm, the Gates Foundation Trust, match up to its mission? We dug into the group's recently released 2012 tax returns to find out.
The Gates Foundation did not respond to requests for comment; however, its investment policy says the the trust's managers "consider other issues beyond corporate profits, including the values that drive the foundation's work."
In its most recent annual report to investors, private prison company GEO group listed some risks to its bottom line, including "reductions in crime rates" that "could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences," along with immigration reform and the decriminalization of drugs. Military contractor DynCorp, meanwhile, has faced allegations of fraud, mismanagement, and even slavery from the Middle East to Eastern Europe.
See what you'd earn if most Americans' paychecks had kept up with the explosion at the top of the income scale.
Dave Gilson, Jaeah Lee, and Ben BreedloveDec. 5, 2013 7:00 AM
The richest 1 percent of Americans have seen their average income jump more than 270 percent over the past five decades. Meanwhile, the average income of the least wealthy 90 percent of Americans grew an anemic 22 percent during that time. (Those figures are based on inflation-adjusted real dollars.)
So how much would you be earning today if the phenomenal income growth at the very top of the income scale had trickled down to most Americans? Use this calculator to find out.
If most Americans' incomes had grown at the same rate as the 1 percent's over the past 50 years, you currently would be making $0, the same amount you already do. Congrats! You're already in the top 1 percent of earners!
In other words, if you're in the bottom 90 percent of earners, your current income would be an estimated 205 percent higher if the vast majority of incomes had kept up with the gains experienced by the superwealthy.
At the lowest end of the bottom 90 percent, the difference is even more extreme: If the minimum wage had kept up with the 1 percent, it would be nearly 250 percent higher than it is today.
Back in the real world, most Americans' incomes have stagnated over the past few decades. Meanwhile, top incomes have skyrocketed, leaving middle- and low-income Americans behind and accelerating the growth of the income gap that began opening in the 1980s.
Methodology: The data used to the make this calculator is from the World Top Incomes Database. All income figures used to make the calculator are in 2012 dollars and do not include capital gains. Your hypothetical income is an estimate based on applying the overall change in the average income of the top 1 percent between 1960 and 2012 to the average incomes in 2012 for the bottom 90th, the top 10th to 5th, and top 5th to 1st income percentiles.
While top incomes have sizzled, minimum wage has fizzled. No wonder burger flippers want a raise.
Dave Gilson, Jaeah Lee, Ben Breedlove, and Mikela ClemmonsDec. 4, 2013 7:00 AM
This Thursday, fast-food workers in more than 100 cities are planning a one-day strike to demand a "livable" wage of $15 an hour. They have a point: The lowest-paid Americans are struggling to keep up with the cost of living—and they have seen none of the gains experienced by the country's top earners. While average incomes of the top 1 percent grew more than 270 percent since 1960, those of the bottom 90 percent grew 22 percent. And the real value of the minimum wage barely budged, increasing a total of 7 percent over those decades.
More of the numbers behind the strike and the renewed calls to raise the minimum wage:
Median hourly wage for fast-food workers nationwide: $8.94/hour
Increase in real median wages for food service workers since 1999: $0.10/hour
Last time the federal minimum wage exceeded $8.94/hour (in 2012 dollars): 1968
Change in the real value of the minimum wage since 1968: -22%
Median age of fast-food workers: 29
Median age of female fast-food workers: 32
Percentage of fast-food workers who are women: 65%
Percentage of fast-food workers older than 20 who have kids: 36%
Income of someone earning $8.94/hour: $18,595/year
Federal poverty line for a family of three: $17,916/year
Income of someone earning $15/hour: $31,200/year
Income needed for a "secure yet modest" living for a family with two adults and one child…
In the New York City area: $77,378/year
In rural Mississippi: $47,154/year
Growth in average real income of the top 1 percent since 1960: 271%
What the current minimum wage would be if it had grown at the same rate as top incomes: More than $25
How would you and your family fare on a typical fast-food paycheck? How much does it really take to make ends meet in your city or state? Use this calculator to get a better sense of what fast-food workers are up against.
In order to make $___ a year, the typical fast-food worker has to work __ hours a week.
A household like yours in ___,___ needs to earn $__ annually to make a secure yet modest living. A fast-food worker working full time would have to earn $__ an hour to make that much.
The average fast-food employee works less than 25 hours a week. To make a living wage in ___,___ at current median wages, s/he would have to work __ hours a week.
In __ hours, McDonald's serves __ customers and makes $__. That's about __ Big Macs.