"Eight Facts about Poverty That Will Blow Your Mind"

By: Steve Grumm

Lists are all the rage among journalists, bloggers, and publishers these days.  Everybody loves a list.  They are 1) simply organized and 2) easy to read.  Some people – and these are typically college literature majors – get a bit snooty and talk of the death of longer-form writing.  Pish-posh.  Law school re-trained my brain to think in outline form, so lists are fine by me.  I still know when to go to the treatises if necessary. 

At the Huffington Post, Heartland Alliance president Sid Mohn (cool name!) lists eight mind-blowing facts about poverty in the U.S, including (and the below parentheticals are my own editorializing):

  1. Our kids are poor. (This one I already knew but the latest census data are still astonishing.)
  2. Too many of our workers are poor. (This is related to one of the worst mistruths that gained currency during the mid-1990s welfare reform efforts.  Some AFDC reform was needed, but there was a mischaracterization of welfare recipients as being (largely) lazy system-manipulators content to live on the dole.  In fact welfare recipients were (largely) the working poor who cycled on and off of benefits as work came and went.)
  3. Our building blocks out of poverty are weak.


Job o' the Day: Paid Summer Internship at Mercy Corps in Portland!

Mercy Corps’ mission is to alleviate suffering, poverty and oppression by helping people build secure, productive and just communities.

Mercy Corps is looking for a summer legal intern to provide full-time support from approximately May through August 2012 (hours and time period to be determined). Its legal department consists of a General Counsel, Associate General Counsel and a Legal Department Administrator.

The intern will have the opportunity to learn the legal processes involved with a nonprofit, international relief and development organization. The summer legal intern will have the opportunity to conduct a significant research project regarding a current legal issue facing Mercy Corps, assist in updating policies, grids and other pertinent data.

To learn how to apply, check the listing at PSLawNet!


Above or Below the Line: Poor? Near Poor? Low-Income? Kinda Poor?

by Kristen Pavón

Hi everyone! I hope you all had a wonderfully relaxing Thanksgiving with lots of friends and family! After family-time, sleeping off severe gluttony, getting my bar card in the mail, and a bit of shopping, I’m back on track over here. 🙂

You may already know about the new measure of poverty — the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) — that the Census Bureau released earlier this month. If you didn’t know, read this from HuffPost and this from the Census Bureau.

The new measurement reveals higher overall poverty rates and higher rates for some groups, including Whites, Asians and Hispanics, individuals between the ages of 18 and 64 and those 65 or older.

However, SPM rates are lower for children.

In my opinion, a poverty measure like this, while not perfect, needed to be implemented decades ago. The original measure, established in the 1950s, had not changed much in the 60 years.

The original measure is based on the costs of feeding a family of four. Because, according to this model, food should cost one-third of your income, multiplying that number by 3 gives us the poverty threshold. Anyone making less than that number, is considered “poor.” Anyone falling anywhere above that number is not.

This measure does not take inflation (other than for food), regional costs, actual food costs, various incomes and health care costs into account. The new SPM is a step in the right direction in using a measurement that is more reflective of our current economy and reality.

Anyway, I’ve digressed from what I actually wanted this post to be about… Last week, the New York Times published an article on the new poverty rates according to SPM and how a contentious debate has been set off about how to describe families that are technically above the poverty line but still struggle to make ends meet.

The findings [on the “near poor”], which the Census Bureau plans to release on Monday, have already set off a contentious debate about how to describe such families: struggling, straitened, economically insecure?

Robert Rector, an analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, rejects the phrase “near poverty,” arguing that it conjures levels of dire need like hunger and homelessness experienced by a minority even among those actually poor.

“I don’t have any objection to this measure if you use the term ‘low-income,’ ” he said. “But the emotionally charged terms ‘poor’ or ‘near poor’ clearly suggest to most people a level of material hardship that doesn’t exist. It is deliberately used to mislead people.” . . .

[Bruce Meyer, an economist at the University of Chicago said] “I do think this is a better measure, but I wouldn’t say that 100 million people are on the edge of starvation or anything close to that[.]”

I’ve always struggled with the arbitrariness of categorizing a family as “poor” or not poor. Poverty in the U.S. looks different than it does in other countries — and just because “100 million people [aren’t] on the edge of starvation” doesn’t mean they aren’t “poor.”

What do you think of the new Supplemental Poverty Measure? How about this categorization debate?


Job o' the Day: Staff Attorney Position at the Legal Aid Society of DC!

The Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia is looking for an attorney for its Domestic Violence / Family Law Unit.

The Legal Aid Society was established in 1932 to “provide legal aid and counsel to indigent persons in civil law matters and to encourage measures by which the law may better protect and serve their needs.” Legal Aid is the oldest general civil legal services program in the District of Columbia.

The Staff Attorney will handle a caseload of family law cases, including custody, child support, protection orders, and divorce matters; interview prospective clients; participate in community outreach; and engage in systemic reform efforts.

To find out more and to learn how to apply, check out the listing at PSLawNet!

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Public Interest News Bulletin – September 16, 2011

By: Steve Grumm

Happy Friday, dear readers.  This week’s Bulletin comes to you from a small beach cabin on Cape Cod, where the Internets are spotty but the ocean is gleaming beautifully in the morning sun.  Seemingly overnight, summer has given way to a brisk, lovely autumn morning.  Please pardon typos as I’m laboring with an intermittent Web connection and will call it a victory just to get this blog post published.  

This week: law students aiding a New York federal court in handling an influx of mediation cases; also in the Empire State, chief judge Jonathan Lippman is again on the warpath for more legal services funding; what a Legal Services Corporation funding cut would mean in Maryland, and why taxpayer $ should support legal services; big LSC news – Senate appropriators are contemplating a 2% dip in FY12 LSC funding; to narrow the justice gap, pro bono guru Esther Lardent calls for mandatory law school pro bono (among other measures); the Census Bureau’s release of alarming poverty data, and what it means for the legal services community; the state of legal services funding in the Glorious Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; a big medical-legal partnership conference is about to get underway in the Bay Area. 

  • 9.16.11 – there has been much coverage lately in legal and national media about resource shortages confronting court systems throughout the U.S. The Southern District of New York is bringing on law students to help handle its caseload.  From the New York Law Journal: “The Southern District has enlisted three area law schools in a new program that will give participating students a practical exercise in client advocacy and managing expectations and help the court cope with an expected upsurge in mediations. Under the supervision of their professors, approximately 30 students at New York Law School, Seton Hall Law School and Brooklyn Law School will represent about 20 employment discrimination plaintiffs in court-referred mediations. They will meet with clients to ascertain their goals, prepare mediation statements and conduct negotiations before volunteer mediators. If a resolution is reached, the students will also help draft the settlement agreement. However, students will not represent plaintiffs in litigation if the mediation is unsuccessful.”
  • 9.15.11 – more New York.  The state’s top jurist is once again leading the charge for state legal services funding.  More New York Law Journal: “With grim economic realities persisting in New York, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman will renew his efforts beginning next week to drive home to the governor and the Legislature the need for greater state funding for civil legal services for the poor. The chief judge will preside over the first of four planned hearings Tuesday in White Plains along with Chief Administrative Judge Ann Pfau, New York State Bar President Vincent E. Doyle III of Connors & Villardo in Buffalo and A. Gail Prudenti, presiding justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department. Presiding justices of the other three departments will appear at later hearings in Manhattan, Albany and Buffalo.”
  • 9.14.11 – in a Baltimore Sun op-ed, Legal Services Corporation board chair John Levi explains what’s at stake if LSC funding sees a significant cut in FY12, lays out the growing need for legal services among Terrapin Staters and Americans generally, and makes the case for supporting federal funding of legal services: “Across the country, civil legal assistance supports the orderly functioning of the civil justice system and access to administrative agencies throughout government. Large numbers of unrepresented parties in courts slow dockets and reduce efficiency in the administration of justice for everyone who needs to use the court system. Individuals unable to obtain advice may later be faced with far greater consequences than if they had been able to have their matters sorted out at an early stage.”
  • 9.14.11 – the National Legal Aid & Defender Association is keeping us looped in about LSC appropriation  news on the Senate side.  Recall that a House FY12 proposal would slash LSC funding by over 25% (from just over $400m to $300).  Things are looking a little better in the Senate.  From NLADA: “The Senate Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) appropriations subcommittee marked up its FY 2012 funding bill today. The bill includes $396 million for LSC, which is a 2 percent decrease from the FY 2011 level of $404 million. Full committee markup is scheduled for tomorrow, September 15. The House full committee recommended a FY 2012 level of $300 million. No appropriations bills have been cleared and appropriators are preparing a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government running after the end of the fiscal year (September 30).”  Here’s an LSC press release about the subcommittee’s markup.  (Unfortunately, being out of DC and with limited Internets I’m not sure what’s happening with the full Approps. Committee.  I’ll tweet word as soon as I have it.) 
  • 9.13.11 – the Pro Bono Institute’s Esther Lardent pens an opinion piece asking, “Is It Time for Mandatory Pro Bono?” in light of the ever-widening justice gap.  Her answer: not yet.  “For both philosophical and highly pragmatic reasons, I believe that mandatory pro bono should be the last possible resort.”  But Lardent does offer some options for increasing pro bono service, one of which is mandatory pro bono in law school.  “Including a substantial pro bono contribution to the American Bar Association law school accreditation standards — e.g., 150 hours during the course of law school as a condition of graduation — would create additional pro bono resources while promoting an appetite for pro bono and teaching tomorrow’s lawyers how to integrate pro bono into a busy schedule.”  Interesting stuff. 
  • 9.13.11 – as has been well documented in the media, the U.S. Census Bureau released 2010 poverty data.  The data are – I won the Latin Scholar award in high school so you’re darned right I only use “data” in the plural – less than encouraging.  (Some findings below.)  John Levi, the aforementioned Legal Services Corporation board chair, issued a statement reacting to the data: “The U.S. Census Bureau released its official 2010 statistics on poverty this morning, and the data show that nearly one in five Americans qualifies for civil legal assistance at the legal aid offices funded by the Legal Services Corporation (LSC).  The number of Americans now eligible for legal services is staggering: more than 60.4 million, up 3.6 million from the prior year.  These 60 million Americans had incomes at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty line—$13,613 for an individual and $27,938 for a family of four.”  Here’s some data from the Census Bureau’s report:
    • “The poverty rate in 2010 was the highest since 1993….  Since 2007, the poverty rate has increased by 2.6 percentage points.
    • 15.1% of the population in 2010 was living in poverty.  That’s almost one in six people.
    • “In 2010, the family poverty rate and the number of families in poverty were 11.7 percent and 9.2 million, respectively, up from 11.1 percent and 8.8 million in 2009.”
    • Over 1 in 5 children lives in poverty.
  • 9.9.11 – just a few hours from this blog post’s publication, a bigtime medical-legal partnership conference is taking place in one of our nation’s most beautiful locales.  From a press release: “The Bay Area’s most progressive healthcare and legal professionals, students and educators will gather at UC Hastings on Friday, Sept. 16 (8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.) to mark the first Medical-Legal Partnership conference on the West Coast. Their goal: to transform medicine and law practices to improve community health.  The all-day summit is part of the Medical-Legal partnership movement, a healthcare and legal services delivery model that improves health and well-being of vulnerable populations by integrating health and legal systems. The event has been planned by the Medical-Legal Bay Area Regional Coalition (M-BARC), a partnership that includes 10 Medical-Legal Partnerships with 18 medical sites.”


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Is Mandatory Pro Bono in the Queue as a Solution to our Access-to-Justice Crisis?

By Kristen Pavón

When it comes to taking on our nation’s growing access-to-justice crisis, the Pro Bono Institute’s President and Chief Executive Officer Esther Lardent is not willing to wait around for a solution to conveniently present itself, especially because she has sensed apathy outside the legal profession.

In a recent National Law Journal article, she proposed seven bold steps that can alleviate the gap between the need for legal assistance and the availability of free legal services for the poor (teaser: one is mandatory pro bono hours for law students, gasp!).

Lardent contends that the situation is now dire because of the “Great Recession” and budget cuts for legal services organizations and courts across the country. For Lardent, the last resort should be mandating pro bono service for attorneys. However, she has other interesting options. Here’s a quick rundown of her proposals:

1. Voluntary-plus pro bono. Assume all attorneys are willing to take on pro bono cases. Allow uninterested attorneys to opt out of the program, instead of recruiting individual attorneys.

2. Law student pro bono. In contrast to her prescription for attorneys, Lardent suggests law students be required to complete 150 hours of pro bono hours to graduate. She emphasized the value in awakening an appetite for pro bono work and engaging in a hands-on legal experience for students.

3. Pro bono as a criterion for leadership. Attorneys should have a consistent portfolio of pro bono work before becoming eligible for any leadership position.

4. Revise ABA Model Rule 6.1 (the volunteer pro bono publico provision). Rule 6.1 is too broad for Lardent. The definition of pro bono should be narrowed, and should only mean free legal work for low-income or disadvantaged clients (fun fact: Lardent co-authored Rule 6.1 in the 1990s).

5. Bar association contributions. These associations should actively support local legal services programs, financially and on the legislative front.

6. Make pro bono reporting meaningful. Put procedures in place so that accuracy, consistency, disaggregation and transparency are reflected in annual reporting.

7. Triage and simplification. Come up with an effective triage system that would include effectively diagnosing a client’s legal issues and treating them with the “best and least costly legal intervention.” This could include brief advice, education, unbundled assistance or full-fledged zealous representation.

Check out the article in its entirety here. To learn more about Esther Lardent, read her bio here.

What do you think? Do these seem like viable solutions to access-to-justice issues?

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