Gentrification And The Upper-Class Cultural Bubble

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Author Charles Murray has been criticized and praised for his latest book, “Coming Apart,” in which he argues that white America is in crisis and that the country is divided primarily by class, not by race.

Murray’s argument is that “the super wealthy, super educated and super snobby live in so-called super-ZIP [codes]: cloistered together, with little to no exposure to American culture at large,” reports NewsHour. Murray’s book includes the “bubble quiz,” meant to determine just how out-of-touch respondents may be (and it’s presumably intended for whites).

A caveat to one of the questions may be of particular interest to our readers. The first question states, “Have you ever lived for at least a year in an American neighborhood in which the majority of your fifty nearest neighbors did not have college degrees?” But, the quiz qualifies, it doesn’t count if the neighborhood is gentrified and you’re one of the gentrifiers. In other words, Murray argues, gentrifiers are still in an upper-class bubble, even if they don’t technically live in one. Do you agree? It’s a salient question in D.C., given the number mixed-income neighborhoods.

And you can take the quiz here.

Photos: What Won’t You Stand For?

Want to end racism? Why not start with putting it on a T-shirt.

Until 8 p.m. today, a pop-up booth will be in Farrguat Square where people can create T-shirts with customized messages. It’s part of USA Network’s Characters Unite campaign to bring awareness to hate and discrimination.

Passersby can stamp T-shirts that read “I won’t stand for…” with a number of words, including discrimination, intolerance, homophobia, racism, sexism and hate. Some individuals, including D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, told DCentric about what they chose to stand against. Is there anything you won’t stand for? Why?


How to Get Low-Income People Bike-Sharing

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Bike-sharing may be one of the cheapest methods of public transportation in D.C., but you can’t use a bike without a credit card. That poses a big challenge in the District, where more than 12 percent of households are unbanked, meaning they don’t have access to financial instruments like bank accounts.

D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare launched a program this month to get more people credit cards so they can use the bikes, The Atlantic Cities reports:

Capital Bikeshare partnered with United Bank, the District Government Employees Federal Credit Union, and Bank on DC, a collaborative between the city, local financial institutions and non-profits working to provide greater access to financial products in the District. Residents can open a Bank on DC account with none of the minimum balances or monthly fees that frequently serve as an obstacle.

Through Bank on DC, Capital Bikeshare will offer a discounted $50 annual membership to residents who don’t currently use a bank but sign up for a debit or credit account through either the District employees credit union or United Bank.

Increasing access to credit cards is only one way to get more low-income people riding. Capital Bikeshare works best when bike stations are clustered together. Stations east of the Anacostia River, in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, are fewer in number and spread further apart than in wealthier and denser sections of Northwest. But access east of the river is improving; in May, there were nine stations, and now there are 13.

Competing For Flat-Screen TVs and Affordable Housing

Hundreds of people anxiously waited in a long line near 14th Street NW in Columbia Heights last week so they could buy heavily discounted flat-screen TVs and tablet computers. Another long line formed in the neighborhood last night, but this time it was full of people waiting to sign up for affordable housing.

Hundreds people waited Tuesday night, through the rain and with some camping overnight, to sign up for newly-renovated Hubbard Place’s waiting list. And according to The Washington Post, competition for the apartments “was intense:”

Security guards and two D.C. police officers tried to keep the line orderly, but shouting matches broke out, and some of those who had waited accused others of cutting in line and not waiting their turn.

“There are a lot of people that need housing, a lot of homeless right now,” said Katherine Felder, a security guard who had been waiting in line since midnight. She lost her apartment this year and has been staying with relatives, along with two granddaughters, ages 3 and 2, who are in her care.

“I don’t have anywhere to stay,” she said from under a black umbrella, shifting her weight to keep warm. “I’m cold, wet and soaked to the bone, soaked from my head to my toes. Cold, cold, cold. Haven’t slept all night.”

As the Post points, out, there’s quite a high demand for affordable housing in the city: about 20,000 people are currently on the city’s waiting list. Although D.C. rents aren’t the highest in the nation, they are out-of-reach for many in the city. A little more than half of District residents don’t make enough money to afford a market rate, two bedroom apartment. Development has caused Columbia Heights in particular to become more expensive, which is one reason behind Latinos increasingly settling in more affordable neighborhoods in the city.

D.C. Aldi Doesn’t Accept WIC

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The new Aldi grocery store that opened last week in Northeast D.C. has been touted as a boost for nearby low-income residents since the discount grocer is known for its low prices. But the store doesn’t accept governmental assistance payments such as the Women, Children and Infants (WIC) program, which provides low-income families with subsides to purchase groceries. The chain does, however, accept Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards.

“We have explored ways for the Women Infants and Children (WIC) program to work within our operational structure,” Spokeswoman Amy Nadler emailed this statement to DCentric. “However, since the majority of our grocery products are under our own ALDI exclusive brands and are not national brands, unfortunately, we simply don’t qualify within the program’s current guidelines.  Therefore, we cannot accept WIC.”

So even though Aldi does have low prices, the pricier Safeway nearby may be the only option for those on WIC.

This post has been updated to include information about Aldi accepting EBT cards.

Seven Food Desert Myths

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In its efforts to combat disproportionately high obesity rates and poor health in low-income communities, the Obama administration has turned its focus to food deserts, defined as low-income communities lacking supermarkets or large grocery stores.

The idea is simple: if you don’t have cheap, nutritious food around, you’ll see health problems in your community. Hence the emphasis on bringing more supermarkets into neighborhoods. But improving a community’s health is more complicated than that, as other factors influence people’s health. Here are seven myths surrounding food deserts:

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D.C. Poverty Rates Could Increase With New Measurement

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A new government method of measuring poverty takes into account many factors the old rate didn’t: geography, taxes, government benefits, housing costs and other expenses. For D.C., this means many more people would qualify as poor due to the city’s high cost of living, DC Fiscal Policy Institute analyst Jenny Reed said on Thursday’s Kojo Nnamdi Show.

“Here in the District, we’ve seen median rent actually rise by 35 percent over the last 10 years, and incomes, at the same time, have only grown by 15 percent. So our costs of living are growing very rapidly,” Reed told Nnamdi.

While housing prices have been slow to recover in the wake of the recession, the District is one of the only cities where home prices increased from 2010 to 2011. Renting has gotten more expensive in the past year, too.

Under the new nationwide rate, poverty among children decreases while increasing for seniors. This is because government assistance families with children receive count as income. Meanwhile, out-of-pocket medical expenses paid by seniors count against them, so poverty among that group rises under the new rate. The drop in childhood poverty shows social safety net programs are helping children, but more needs to be done for seniors, the Urban Institute‘s Sheila Zedlewski said on Thursday’s Kojo Nnamdi show.

A state-by-state breakdown of the new measure isn’t yet available, but regional data show western states have the highest rate, followed by the southern region. Experts on Thursday’s Kojo Nnamdi Show spoke about the ramifications of the data and why poverty measures are important — for example, they determine who’s eligible for government assistance programs. You can listen to the entire segment here.

Two Americas Coexist in D.C.

D.C. is a microcosm of national class disparities, and the country saw the gulf between the rich and poor widen during the recession. Theo Balcomb, production assistant for “All Things Considered,” writes about these “two Americas” she saw while helping produce stories on the economy.

While in Spartanburg, S.C., Balcomb met a diabetic pregnant woman on disability, “struggling to sort through cereal and pork patties in her food pantry box.” Balcolm witnessed the other America when reporting from New York’s Upper East Side, where, while visiting a seven-story mansion, her “biggest concern was not getting winded as I carried a bottle of wine, a corkscrew and a cheese plate up to the roof.”

And that’s what’s confusing: That America is a place where these two worlds can coexist, often without knowledge of each other. One where a pregnant woman has to wait in line for frozen pork patties, and one where I’m in New York being offered goat cheese and fig spread and crisp gluten-free crackers and low-fat string cheese.

The contrast has always been there, but it’s looking stark right about now. The 27-year-old woman working in the grocery store lit up when she had this thought: Those people in Washington, those people with all the money who make all the decisions, they should have to live a week in our shoes. It could be a new reality show, she said brightly. Just a week. Just a week in our shoes.

Victor Cheung / Flickr

The U.S. Capitol isn't far from some of D.C.'s poorest neighborhoods.

Many around the country view D.C. as the power capital of the world, but the District’s disparities are some of the starkest. The D.C. region has the highest incomes and lowest poverty rates in the nation. But 1 in 5 people in the District proper live below the poverty line. In Ward 3, 49 percent of people have incomes higher than $100,000 annually and unemployment is about 3 percent. A few miles away in Ward 8, 41.1 percent of people have incomes below $25,000 and unemployment is at about 25 percent.

Those “people in Washington… with all the money who make all the decisions” are presumably politicians and lobbyists on Capitol Hill. They don’t need to travel to South Carolina to see poverty or hardship. They can drive 10 minutes away to see it.

Can Moving to a Middle Class Neighborhood Make You Healthier?

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It’s well documented that poverty and bad health have a strong connection. A team of researchers wondered if simply moving from a low income to middle class neighborhood could make a person healthier.

Turns out that it does, according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine does. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development researchers studied three groups. One group stayed in poor neighborhoods. Another group received rent subsidies to move into middle class neighborhoods. The third group received the same subsidies to help with rent, but remained in poor neighborhoods. The results: the group who moved to the middle class neighborhood were 5 percent less likely to be obese and show signs of diabetes. The people who stayed in the poor neighborhoods, even with the help of extra money, experienced no improvement in health.

From ScienceNOW:

The experiment clearly shows that the neighborhood effect is real, says Nicholas Christakis, a sociologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston who studies the effect of social ties on health, but the mechanisms remain murky. Is it the shops and restaurants, the parks and pools, he wonders, “or the people in a neighborhood that affect you most?” For example, Christakis says, the people who moved might have lost weight because safer streets and open spaces “allowed them to walk outside more, or because they saw thinner people around them, or both.”

Even if a neighborhood has plenty of recreational facilities and opportunities, it doesn’t mean people will take advantage of them. Research shows the fear of violence discourages people from being active outside. People are less likely to walk, bike or let their kids play outside. That rings true in D.C., where Ward 8, the ward with the most violent crime thus far this year, also has the lowest physical activity rate. We may have plenty of food deserts, but we also have our fair share of exercise deserts.

Why The Uninsured Aren’t Aware Of Health Care Reform Benefits

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Politicians who pushed for federal health care reform focused much attention on how the law would help the uninsured. But a new poll shows many uninsured Americans don’t see the legislation as beneficial, nor do they know about provisions designed to help them.

The Kaiser Family Foundation poll shows that 41 percent of uninsured Americans said that the new law won’t make a difference to them, while 14 percent said the law will hurt them. Nearly half of uninsured respondents don’t know about the law’s low and middle class tax credits. And the reason? People who can’t pay for insurance are quite occupied with trying to make ends meet. Politico reports:

Drew Altman, [president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation], said the figures do not reflect a communications failure. He says busy people — particularly those struggling to afford insurance now — will only understand the law when it becomes tangible for them.

“When there is real insurance coverage available for people who don’t have it, they will be more aware of it, and they will be able to render a judgment about whether coverage is affordable for them,” Altman said.

In D.C., about 11 percent of the population is without insurance, which is actually lower than the national average of 17 percent, according to Kaiser Family Foundation data.