The Big Idea: The Poverty Paradox

City Limits • December 2004

When the latest poverty statistics came out in August, the numbers didn’t make very big waves. With the Republican Party roaring into New York, the fact that poverty had gone up nationally–no surprise for an economy just creeping out of a recession–barely made it to the local news at all. But a close look at New York City’s share of the numbers showed a quirk: Poverty here didn’t go up. It stayed flat.

Even more curious were the unemployment numbers. Though poverty didn’t go up in the Big Apple, unemployment plowed steadily upward; in September, it was 6.9 percent. Nationally, unemployment also rose, but on a much smaller scale. Nothing like what one would expect. After all, the more people lose jobs, the more people should be poor; and if fewer people are losing jobs, then fewer people should fall into poverty–right? Continue reading “The Big Idea: The Poverty Paradox”

The Union Builder

City Limits • December 2004

Do-gooders, beware: Lavon Chambers has his eye on you. Or, more specifically, on your workers. The 39-year-old union organizer is setting out to conquer one of labor’s frontiers, nonprofit staff.

But if you’re expecting traditional union gripes to drive this campaign–low pay, long hours, fix it or we walk–you’d better take a second look. “I have workers that say, ‘They can’t afford to pay me for 60, 70 hours, and that’s okay,” says Chambers, who entered the union movement after a stint as a community organizer challenging it. Many nonprofit workers are willing to deal with tough working conditions because of the social mission, says Chambers. And that social commitment is exactly what he hopes to gain by getting nonprofit workers to join the Laborers Union. His campaign to organize nonprofits aims to build bridges between grassroots groups and organized labor, heightening both groups’ political power. Continue reading “The Union Builder”

Big Idea: Work Details

City Limits • November 2004

New Yorkers always want the best. And usually, we get it. We’ve got the tallest buildings, the tastiest street food, the lowest crime, the hottest ball teams. But when it comes to making sure poor people can stay afloat on meager paychecks, New York is not always at the top of the heap.

Our poor can get job training, tax breaks, health insurance and other resources to help them get by. We offer one of the nation’s most generous state tax credits for the working poor, and New York City just upped the ante by adding its own. We offer high-quality public child care. And two-thirds of qualified adults are enrolled in public health care programs–well above the national average. Continue reading “Big Idea: Work Details”

Working Families Party Soars

City Limits • November 2004

With the election just a few weeks away, the Working Families Party has a major target in the crosshairs: Albany’s district attorney office. If its candidate, David Soares, wins, it will be the third major victory for the party–after the 2003 success of City Council candidate Leticia James and the legislative passage of a minimum wage hike in Albany.

“They’re probably the most traditional campaigners,” says Soares. “In the things they stand for and the things that they fight for, they are really in sync with my own personal philosophy. It was just a very perfect blend.” Continue reading “Working Families Party Soars”

InfoGuide: Where to Grab a Bite

City Limits • July/August 2004

Looking for a healthy snack? Your best bet is to head to Manhattan. It’s home to 322 supermarkets, more than any other borough. Each Manhattanite can claim 2.8 square feet of shopping space—not to mention 22 farmers’ markets and 16 community supported agriculture (CSA) clubs.

And you’d do well to avoid Brooklyn. Brooklynites scrape by with 1.4 square feet of space per resident, 11 farmers’ markets and 7 CSAs. That’s not all: Brooklyn is home to more than half of the 1.7 million New Yorkers living in zip codes with less than one square foot of market space apiece. Continue reading “InfoGuide: Where to Grab a Bite”

The Action Diet

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Food Access in NYC, by zip code
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Article as published in print

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winner, 2005 Harry Chapin Media Award
Finalist, 2005 James Beard Journalism Award


 

City Limits • July/August 2004

“It has a butt crack!”

Vanessa Santiago, 18 years old, giggles as she peers at the object of her glee: a garbanzo bean.

Tight jeans, a bomber jacket and a pink sweatband-Santiago doesn’t look like the type of girl to contemplate the aesthetics of legumes. But on this cold Saturday morning, she has come from Bushwick to lower Manhattan to inspect a can of beans. Standing in the middle of a commercial kitchen, Santiago and a half-dozen other teenagers cluster around a steel table, a ragtag bunch of critics. Continue reading “The Action Diet”

Market Babies

Finalist, 2004 Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism


 

City Limits • January 2003

Kwame Boame is only 6 years old, but he’s already got a helluva commute. Every Monday morning, Kwame’s mother, Kimberly Paul, rustles him out the door at 6:30 to take the A train from their apartment in the Dyckman Houses, at the northern tip of Manhattan, to the island’s southern border. In the Broadway-Nassau station, next to the magazine stand on the A platform, they meet Kwame’s great-grandmother, who shepherds Kwame onto the train to Bedford-Stuyvesant, where he goes to school. For the next five days, he’ll stay with his grandmother and great-grandmother. Kwame won’t see his mother again until Friday. Continue reading “Market Babies”

Schools of Door Knocks

City Limits • July/August 2001

A few years ago, as I prepared to leave college enthusiastic, politicized, and yearning for a better world, the obvious option was community organizing. But after four years of full-time work, full-time studies, and part-time organizing and the attendant vending-machine diet, absence of social life–and borderline poverty–a better world didn’t seem nearly as important as my nutrition, rent and mental health.

Ten, 15 years ago, organizing came with certain lifestyle demands. Incredibly long hours that vied with the most fierce workaholics on Wall Street. Compensation matching that of the Wall Streeters’ maids. Skimpy benefits. If you worked for a national or even regional organization, heavy and unpredictable traveling from campaign to campaign, often alone. Continue reading “Schools of Door Knocks”

The Great Training Robbery

Five years ago, Joseph Cruz enlisted in New York’s welfare army. He spent a year doing clerical work in a city office in exchange for a public assistance check. Then he hit the streets for the Sanitation Department in Coney Island. Cruz donned an orange vest five mornings a week before clearing refuse, shoveling snow and riding the garbage trucks.

Finalist, 2002 Harry Chapin Media Award


 

City Limits • May 2001

Five years ago, Joseph Cruz enlisted in New York’s welfare army. He spent a year doing clerical work in a city office in exchange for a public assistance check. Then he hit the streets for the Sanitation Department in Coney Island. Cruz donned an orange vest five mornings a week before clearing refuse, shoveling snow and riding the garbage trucks.

Six months ago, Cruz was pulled off the Work Experience Program trucks for a new welfare experience, this time in the shadow of Williamsburg’s elevated subway tracks. Here, at the St. Nicholas Job Center, welfare recipients double-click their way to employment. Aslee Williams, the center’s job specialist, leads a room of welfare recipients in an afternoon class that is supposed to prepare them for employment. “Okay,” she begins, peering over wire-rimmed glasses. “When you go in for a job interview, do you sit there like this?” Williams lolls about in her chair, slouches, dangles her arms, and rolls her eyes upward, garnering a few chuckles. “Or do you cross your legs and sit up straight?” Continue reading “The Great Training Robbery”