After our investigation, the Department of Justice decided to end its contracts with private prisons. Read our story, and what it took to report it.
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.
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.
No one has completely clean hands when it comes to filibusters in the Senate. Democrats have used them and Republicans have used them. But hoo boy, Republicans sure have used them more. That's why Democrats went nuclear on Thursday. Three charts tell the story.
The first two charts show the evolution of filibusters by presidential administration. As you can see, their use rose steadily through the '80s and then leveled off starting around 1990. Democrats mainly kept things pretty stable throughout the Bush administration, with the number increasing only when Republicans lost the 2006 midterm elections and became the minority party. At that point, they ratcheted up the use of filibusters to record levels, and there was no honeymoon when Obama won the presidency, not even for a minute. Republicans went into full-bore filibuster mode the day he took office, and they've kept it up ever since. For all practical purposes, anything more controversial than renaming a post office has required 60 votes during the entire Obama presidency.
But it was Republican filibusters of judicial and executive-branch nominees that finally drove Democrats to act on Thursday. Democrats had struck one deal after another with Republicans to try and rein in their abuse of the filibuster, but nothing worked. A few nominees would get through, and then another batch would promptly get filibustered. The chart below tells the tale. Under George Bush, Democrats mounted filibusters on 38 of his nominees. That's about five per year. Under Obama, Republicans have filibustered an average of 16 nominees per year.
The last straw came when Republicans announced their intention to filibuster all of Obama's nominees to the DC circuit court simply because they didn't want a Democratic president to be able to fill any more vacancies. At that point, even moderate Democrats had finally had enough. For all practical purposes, Republicans had declared war on Obama's very legitimacy as president, forbidding him from carrying out a core constitutional duty. Begging and pleading and cutting deals was no longer on the table. Eliminating the filibuster for judicial and executive branch nominees was the only option left, and on Thursday that's what Democrats finally did.
UPDATE: Some edits made to the passage about Republicans losing control of Congress in 2006, to clear up exactly who was filibustering during the 2008-08 period.
States where doctors prescribe more antibiotics also have the highest obesity rates. Why?
Nov. 18, 2013 7:00 AM
Lately, I've been fascinated by a study on antibiotic prescription rates across the United States that was recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The researchers found a surprisingly wide variationamong the states, and the rates—expressed in terms of prescriptions per 1,000 people—seemed to follow a geographical pattern: The Southeast had the highest rates, while the West's were lower. West Virginia had the most prescriptions, and Alaska had the fewest. The rest of the country fell somewhere in between. Here's a map of the findings:
As I thought more about the map, I wondered whether the prescription rates followed any demographic patterns. Lauri Hicks, a lead author of the study and a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told me that her team had initially expected to find certain correlations—for example, higher prescription rates in states with large elderly populations. But that didn't turn out to be the case. Take Florida, which has a sizable elderly population, but only an average antibiotic prescription rate.
Yet Hicks' team did find one very strong correlation: The states with higher rates of antibiotic use also tended to have higher obesity rates. Take a look at this map of obesity rates by state and see how it reflects the antibiotics map above:
When we mashed up the data behind these maps, we confirmed the strong correlation between obesity and antibiotic prescription rates (we got an r of 0.74, for the statistically inclined). We also found a correlation between the states' median household incomes and antibiotic prescription rates: States with below-average median incomes tend to have higher antibiotic prescription rates. This makes sense, considering that high obesity rates correlate with low income levels. (You can see the data sets for antibiotic prescription rate, obesity, and median household income level here.)
Hicks and her team can't yet explain the connection between obesity and high rates of antibiotic prescription. "There might be reasons that more obese people need antibiotics," she says. "But it also could be that antibiotic use is leading to obesity."
Indeed, a growing body of evidence suggests that antibiotics might be linked to weight gain. A 2012 New York University study found that antibiotic use in the first six months of life was linked with obesity later on. Another 2012 NYU study found that mice given antibiotics gained more weight than their drug-free counterparts. As my colleague Tom Philpott has notedrepeatedly, livestock operations routinely dose animals with low levels of antibiotics to promote growth.
No one knows exactly how antibiotics help animals (and possibly humans) pack on the pounds, but there are some theories. One is that antibiotics change the composition of the microbiome, the community of microorganisms in your body that scientists are just beginning to understand. (For a more in-depth look at the connection between bacteria and weight loss, read Moises Velasquez-Manoff's piece on the topic.)
Hicks says that more research is needed on the potential connection between antibiotics and obesity. But there are other reasons for doctors to change the way they prescribe antibiotics. As I noted a few weeks back, a recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that doctors commonly prescribe antibiotics for symptoms such as sore throat and bronchitis—which don't usually require the drugs. Considering that bacteria are already evolving to withstand many antibiotics, it's probably time to figure out how to use them more prudently.