Friday, 23 June 2017

We need to talk about Finkel (and Adani) - Australian Politics Live podcast

I don't think anyone seriously thinks there is going to be investment in new coal-fired generation in Australia,” Mark Butler, the federal shadow minister for climate change tells Katherine Murphy. In a detailed discussion on the recommendations from the Finkel review, they talk about the reasons no private investor wants to build a coal-fired power station and why the Adani mine is a bad idea for Australia.

Portugal forest fires under control after more than 60 deaths

Officials say some fires could reignite after huge blaze ravaged tens of thousands of hectares around Pedrógão Grande

A firefighter lights a controlled fire to bring wildfires under control
A firefighter lights a controlled fire to bring wildfires under control. Photograph: Tiago Petinga/EPA

Wildfires that killed 64 people in Portugal have been brought under control, firefighters have said, as the government insisted it was still too early to say whether the disaster could have been handled better.
Portugal’s worst forest fire broke out on Saturday in the central municipality of Pedrógão Grande before spreading to neighbouring areas including Góis, Pampilhosa da Serra and Arganil.
Many of those who died were killed in their cars as they tried to flee the flames, which also injured more than 250 people.
The fire in Pedrógão Grande, which ravaged 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) of forest, was only doused late on Wednesday after firefighters contended with searing heat and rapidly shifting winds.
“Higher humidity levels and lower temperatures allowed the firefighters to contain the fire and extinguish the remaining hotspots which had briefly broken out,” Antonio Ribeiro, who led the Pedrógão operations, said on Thursday.
The blaze in Góis, the second biggest after Pedrógão Grande, was brought under control on Thursday, although officials said some fires could break out again.
Both the government and the emergency services have been criticised over their response to the fires, but the Portuguese interior minister, Constança Urbano de Sousa, said it would be premature to talk about possible state failings while the fires were still burning.

A road meanders through areas affected by a wildfire about 20 miles from Pedrógão Grande.
A road meanders through areas affected by a wildfire about 20 miles from Pedrógão Grande. Photograph: Miguel Riopa/AFP/Getty Images

“At the moment we can’t say for sure whether the catastrophic consequences of this fire could have been prevented,” she told the state broadcaster RTP. “It’s the kind of natural disaster that is caused by many factors.”
Portugal’s prime minister, António Costa, has asked the head of the National Republican Guard (GNR) why officers did not close the road where many of the victims burned to death.
He also asked for clarification on the extent to which rescuers’ communications systems had been affected by the fire, and for more information on whether the high death toll was the result of unusual weather or problems with the response.
“Why, for how long and what impact was there on the planning, command and execution of operations if your very systems were not working? What was done to establish alternative connections?” Costa asked of the emergency services, according to the state news agency Lusa.
A day earlier, he said early efforts to alert the public had been hindered after the flames destroyed phone lines and communications towers, but insisted that “nothing compromised the firefighting efforts”.

Firefighters in Vale da Ponte, Pedrógão Grande
Firefighters in Vale da Ponte, Pedrógão Grande. Photograph: Miguel Riopa/AFP/Getty Images

The Portuguese weather agency IPMA said in an initial report that the fire had spread so quickly because of exceptional conditions.
The agency blamed the dynamics of the wildfire itself and atmospheric instability, which created a “downburst” – an unusually strong wind that blows down towards the ground and sprays embers across a broad area.
The IPMA report was posted on the government’s website late on Wednesday along with another report from the GNR, a paramilitary police force that patrols rural areas.
Responding to questions about why the EN 236-1 road where 47 deaths occurred was not closed, the GNR report said its officers had “no indication or information” of risk there.
In an apparent reference to problems with radio and mobile phone links, it said there had been “difficulties with [all] communications” at the time.
It added that both “freakish” weather conditions and the rapid pace of the fire took everyone by surprise.

 Wildfires kill dozens in central Portugal

There is also confusion over how the fire started. The national police chief, Almeida Rodrigues, ruled out arson on Sunday, blaming dry thunderstorms for the blaze and saying officers had found a tree that had been struck by lightning.
But Jaime Marta Soares, president of the League of Firefighters, said he believed arson was to blame, telling local media the fire had already been burning for two hours before the storm started on Saturday.

“I believe, until there is evidence to the contrary … that the fire was of criminal origin,” he said.

Hawaii's largest homeless camp: rock bottom or a model refuge?

Three backpack-laden children chattered happily as they trudged down a dirt path and disappeared into a patch of thorny brush along a highway.
Tucked around a corner, a woman named Twinkle Borge greeted the schoolkids from her metal folding chair. A seven-year-old girl tugging a red wagon full of water jugs paused to give Borge a kiss on the cheek. Then all three walked into their home: the largest homeless encampment in Hawaii.
Remarkably, some 200 people live there, and six infants were born there over the past year alone. Even in the state with the highest homelessness rate in the US, it draws attention. Yet while residents acclaim it as a novel community that incorporates ancient Hawaiian principles, it is now at risk of being swept away.
“We know from what we’ve seen in the past, once an encampment goes above a certain size, it becomes unmanageable,” said Scott Morishige, the governor’s coordinator on homelessness.
Borge might disagree. For 10 years she has served as leader of Pu’uhonua o Waianae, or the Refuge of Waianae, named for the local town about 30 miles from Honolulu. It covers almost 20 acres of state land adjacent to a boat harbor, and its swept dirt trails, lined with tents and pallets, lead to the ocean, where on summer days children and adults can often be found seeking relief from the heat.
Unlike encampments on the streets of downtown Honolulu or Waikiki, the camp has a large number of families, with 45 children among them. And while other encampments across the islands are cleared away and their residents displaced at regular intervals, Borge’s encampment has endured, a fact that some credit to her leadership.
A stout Hawaiian woman, Borge first pitched camp near the boat harbor 13 years ago. At the time, she was heartbroken from a breakup, addicted to cocaine and haunted by the loss of her twins during pregnancy. But when her sister entrusted her with babysitting her nephew, she saw it as a second chance at motherhood and found the motivation to get clean. Ten sober years later, she has become a mother figure to hundreds of homeless people.
Many residents of her encampment have fallen through the safety net. Borge estimates that 40% have jobs but still can’t afford a home. A number have addictions or mental health challenges, and while nurses and social workers visit the camp once a week to provide basic health services, some need more intensive help. A few years ago, a man set himself on fire and almost died. On a recent afternoon, an elderly woman stopped by to say hello to Borge, began laughing and then broke down in tears. “Oh, come here, it’s gonna be OK,” said Borge as she embraced the woman and looked up at the trees.

Many residents of the encampment have fallen through the safety net.
Many residents of the encampment have fallen through the safety net. Photograph: Chapin Hall for the Guardian

Borge has been acclaimed by the Hawaiian legislature for “practicing pu’uhonua, one of Hawaii’s most valued ideologies”. Pu’uhonua is an ancient Hawaiian term for a place of refuge, or a sacred place where miscreants can find forgiveness and a clean slate.
Her Pu’uhonua camp has the flavor of a matriarchy, because out of the eight captains managing different areas, seven are women. Many consider those under their care to be their hanai babies, a term referring to an ancient Hawaiian practice of nourishing another person’s child. The women help residents with everything from settling fights to providing new clothes for job interviews.
“Some adults still need a momma, they still need that firm hand,” said Rose Loke Chung-Lono, who is considered second in command at the camp.
On a Thursday morning in May, Loke tapped on tents and woke up residents of her section for a monthly meeting to review rules. “We show pride in how we live,” she sternly called out over a crowd of 35 men, women and children. “When people come walking through, what they see is what you are.”
One woman raised her hand tentatively. “Where we gonna put the trash?” she asked.
It is a pressing question for both campers and state officials. Currently people in the neighboring town of Waianae help cart away garbage on the weekends, but they can’t always keep up with the mounding refuse.
Adding to the hygiene issues, the bathrooms in the adjacent park have been permanently closed. Campers use buckets as makeshift toilets, which they empty into two porta-potties nearby. Meanwhile, the Hawaii department of land and natural resources, which owns the land under the encampment, is considering shutting off water hoses in the area. Residents use them for drinking and showering, but the department’s water bill for the boat harbor area has doubled, soaring to more than $500,000 a year.

The women help residents with everything from settling fights to providing new clothes for job interviews.
The women help residents with everything from settling fights to providing new clothes for job interviews. Photograph: Chapin Hall for the Guardian

Officials have resisted calls to fund hygiene facilities and trash pickup. They have a different plan for the encampment.
“The administration is focused on how we can get people into housing, that’s where we believe the best use of resources are,” Morishige said. Dozens have already been moved into homes, and the state is building 15 new units in the area.
It is the state’s goal to clear the camp and house everyone. But this aspiration may be hard to realize: Hawaii has one of the toughest housing markets in the country, with more than one-quarter of properties snapped up by vacationers. According to a recent study, a Hawaii resident with a minimum-wage job would need to work 116 hours each week just to afford a one-bedroom apartment.
Amid this uncertainty, Borge is pushing a different solution.
Cities such as Seattle and Portland have popularized the concept of legal campgrounds for homeless people, and Hawaii lawmakers are considering a similar solution on the islands – with a local twist. The campsites would be known as Pu’uhonua safe zones, and Borge’s encampment would be the prototype.
“The way forward is to embrace their way of thinking,” said Andria Tupola, a state representative for the neighboring district. Tupola said the current camp is not sustainable or sanitary, but she supports finding a solution that would allow the campers to maintain the low-cost, communal style of living they desire. She is meeting with local landlords in hopes of securing a land lease, enabling Borge’s encampment to become a sustainable Pu’uhonua community.
Over the next year, a group of legislative analysts will assess the feasibility of allowing these safe zones. Opinions diverge. For some Hawaiian officials, normalizing the existence of encampments is a sign of failure – an admission that homelessness can never be eradicated. But for Borge, the stakes are quite different.
“This is my home,” Borge said. “If I had property, I would still want to stay in a tent. Even when I stay home with my dad, I sleep on the back porch. I guess maybe because I’m a –” she paused. “I don’t know. But for years, I’ve been like this.”

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Adani mine 'not a positive thing for Australia', Labor's Mark Butler says

Exclusive: Shadow climate change minister rubbishes idea of federal finance for coal-fired power and says ALP will not back an energy target that includes it
We need to talk about Finkel (and Adani) – Australian politics live podcast
Support our independent journalism and critical reporting on the environment by giving a one-off or monthly contribution

Chimneys at the Bayswater coal-powered thermal power station near the NSW town of Muswellbrook.
The Bayswater power station near the NSW town of Muswellbrook. Labor frontbencher Mark Butler says Labor will not support commonwealth funding for coal power. Photograph: David Gray/Reuters

The shadow climate change minister, Mark Butler, has blasted the idea that the commonwealth could finance new coal-fired power stations, and is holding to Labor’s declaration that it will not support a clean energy target if coal is in the mix.
In an interview with Guardian Australia’s politics live podcast, Butler has also articulated a significantly tougher line on the controversial Adani coalmine than the Labor leader, Bill Shorten – saying it would “not be a positive thing for Australia for the Adani mine to go ahead”.
Butler says he can “understand why the Queensland government might be pressing [the Carmichael coal mine development] but from a national perspective, I just don’t think it stacks up.”
The new podcast interview with Butler traverses the Finkel review and Labor’s likely response, and the party’s attitude to coal – both in supporting research into carbon capture and storage technology, and the Adani coalmine.
Nearly two weeks ago Australia’s chief scientist, Alan Finkel, handed governments a road map for climate and energy policy, with the centrepiece recommendation for a new clean energy target (CET) for the national electricity market.
The CET has been the subject of considerable pushback within Coalition ranks, and on Wednesday, the prime minister opened the way for an alternative to the central Finkel mechanism.
Butler said he was “optimistic” the government had not killed the CET less than two weeks after the publication of the Finkel review, but: “I think some of the signals, particularly over the last 24 hours around government investment or support for new coal fired power stations sends, at the very least, very confusing signals.”
He said the Minerals Council of Australia had been lobbying MPs since the Finkel report’s release to support a power purchase agreement, funded through government, to replace the Hazelwood and the Liddell power stations with two new coal-fired coal generators.
This had subsequently manifested itself in the form of Malcolm Turnbull floating reverse auctions to bring more dispatchable power into the national electricity market, Butler said.
“It remains to be seen whether this is a pretty weird thought-bubble the prime minister has floated to placate the hard right of his party room through this week without having something more permanent done to the CET – or whether they are genuinely serious,” he said.
Fact v fiction: Adani's Carmichael coal mine – video explainer
“If they are genuinely serious, I think this is the most bizarre intervention in the electricity market we have seen for decades.”
He said financial institutions had signalled there was no appetite to build new coal-fired power, and Butler said governments would have to indemnify new builds against the risk of a carbon price, and against regulatory risk, which would leave taxpayers on the hook for massive expense.
The case for new coal-fired power stations was pushed again by the former prime minister Tony Abbott on Wednesday afternoon. Abbott told 2GB he wanted to see more coal plants built.
Butler has reiterated Labor’s position that a clean energy target which allowed coal in the mix was not a clean energy target in anything other than name.
He said Labor would take the view that a CET had to drive new investment in clean energy.
He said even “ultra super critical coal, which sounds like something out of a Marvel comic, but even awesomely ultra super critical coal is still, by any stretch of the imagination, high polluting electricity”.
The Finkel review modelled a CET threshold 0.6 tonnes of CO2 per megawatt hour, which would be too low to see “clean” coal given incentives.
While saying Labor was yet to adopt a formal position on an appropriate threshold for the CET, Butler said a higher baseline of 0.7 or 0.75 is “unambiguously too high to be properly called a clean energy target”.
Addressing the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday, Finkel said his CET recommendation was not dead, or on life support, but was “quite legitimately being further evaluated by the government”.
The regular meeting of Coalition MPs this week gave in principle support to all of the other recommendations of the Finkel review, but not the CET, which was referred for further work.
Turnbull on Tuesday cautioned reporters against a conclusion that the government would dump the CET. “I wouldn’t analyse it in that way if I was you,” he said.
In the event the CET survives the current internal deliberations, the government will need Labor in order to legislate the measure.
One Nation confirmed this week it would not support the CET under any circumstances, which cuts off a viable crossbench pathway for the government, unless it can reach a deal with the Greens, which seems unlikely.
Butler was also asked during the interview to explain how Labor was adopting a harder line on new coal-fired power generation, but was supporting the controversial Adani coalmine in Queensland in the event it met regulatory approvals and was not given any taxpayer support.
Butler said he was an opponent of the project. “I have a very clear view that the economics of Adani don’t stack up, and it would not be a positive thing for Australia for the Adani mine to go ahead.
“I think all it would do is take jobs from elsewhere in the coal industry. This is a zero sum game in a declining coal market.”
Several Labor MPs have broken ranks on the Adani issue, saying the project should not proceed.
Shorten has previously argued there is no point having a giant coalmine if you wreck the reef “but, on the other hand, if the deal does stack up, if the science safeguards are there, if the experts are satisfied, then all well and good and there’ll be jobs created”.
Asked to account for the difference in his position to the hedged position articulated regularly by Shorten, Butler said: “I think people take different views about the economics of this.
“I have said I don’t think it stacks up.”

He said while there was an internal spectrum of views about the project on either environmental or economic grounds, all federal Labor MPs had the same negative position on taxpayer support, “which is the matter before us”.

Housing 'crisis' looms for older Australians retiring with mortgages

Posted about 6 hours ago

It's well known younger people are struggling to buy their first home, but experts are today warning of a "significant crisis" facing older Australians already in the market.
The pressures of carrying mortgages into retirement as well as finding suitable housing are leading to increased financial strain and even homelessness, according to the Council on the Ageing.

Key points

  • Summit warns of looming housing crisis for older Australians
  • Concern at number of people retiring with mortgages
  • Rental prices and workplace age discrimination add pressure
  • Concern at scarcity in social and community housing

COTA described older Australians as the "forgotten faces" of the housing debate and is today hosting a summit in Canberra alongside industry experts and policymakers to find a way to address the issue.
"If we're not doing something about it pretty soon then in 10 or 15 years we will be facing a really significant crisis," COTA chief executive Ian Yates told News Breakfast.
"We've seen some early warning signs."
Mr Yates said homelessness had risen amongst older people — particularly women — and it was not due to many of the factors of traditional homelessness.
Media player: "Space" to play, "M" to mute, "left" and "right" to seek.

"It's an economic issue, a financial issue for people,' he said.
"We're seeing more people entering retirement with a mortgage, and we're seeing the rates of home ownership amongst retirees starting to decline.
"The projections are they'll decline quite dramatically in the next decade."
The summit will consider six key issues that could hurt older Australians in the next two decades, including:
  • Falling rates of home ownership;
  • Rising rental prices and a hostile private rental property market;
  • Scarcity in social and community housing;
  • Increasing number of older Australians retiring with a mortgage;
  • Rental housing not fit for or secure enough to meet the physical needs of older people; and,
  • Inadequate supply of suitable housing for older people to downsize, while remaining in or close to their pre-existing community.
"We also have issues like later family formation — people who are divorced having unstable financial situations," Mr Yates said.

Rental pressure combine with age discrimination

Today's summit will also look at the rental challenges facing older Australians.
The 2017 Rental Affordability Snapshot report by Anglicare found just 6 per cent of the market was affordable for a single older person living on the Age Pension.
"There is a whole group of people currently in their 50s and 60s who will be retiring as renters," Mr Yates said.
What's more, researched published by the University of South Australia earlier this year found age discrimination in the workplace was rife and workers over 50 are in the hardest age bracket to find a new job.

"Unfortunately older Australians make up a very significant proportion of the long-term unemployed," Mr Yates said.
"So you've got people coming into retirement after years of financial stress."
Grattan Institute chief executive John Daley is the keynote speaker at the summit and said change must begin now for there to be a "fighting chance" of turning the tide.
"We are dealing with a vastly different economic landscape than 10 years ago," he said.

"Policymakers must come up to speed with the key issues and trends in housing for older Australians, including re-evaluating assumptions about home ownership that underpin age pension policy."

'Ocean Elders' urge Malcolm Turnbull to reject Adani coalmine

Extract from The Guardian

Prominent oceanographers and global leaders write to Australian prime minister and Queensland premier

Marine biologist Sylvia Earle addressing the general assembly to mark World Oceans Day on 8 June. Earle has spearheaded a group of prominent oceanographers and marine biologists in opposing the Adani mine in north Queensland.
Marine biologist Sylvia Earle addressing the general assembly to mark World Oceans Day on 8 June. Earle has spearheaded a group of prominent oceanographers and marine biologists in opposing the Adani mine in north Queensland. Photograph: Kim Haughton/UN Photo

A group of prominent oceanographers and global leaders headed by renowned marine biologist Dr Sylvia Earle has written to the Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, urging him to reject the proposed Adani Carmichael coalmine, which it says will have a devastating impact on the Great Barrier Reef.
The letter from the group Ocean Elders argues that if it goes ahead, the coalmine will damage international efforts to mitigate climate change by increasing global carbon emissions.
The Unesco World Heritage Committee has released a draft report saying that 75% of the world’s 29 world heritage listed coral reefs have been exposed to conditions that cause coral bleaching in the past three years, largely due to climate change.

‘We are in a runaway situation with respect to a warming planet, changing [the] chemistry of the ocean,” Earle said in an interview recorded for RN Breakfast. “We know what to do, it’s a matter of being smart enough, courageous enough, bold enough, sensible enough, to go in this better pathway.”
Earle said the link between the proposed $16bn Adani coalmine and damage to the Great Barrier Reef was “not just speculation,” and said scientific monitoring of the reef showed an “unprecedented decline.”
“I think historically and perhaps even now that people don’t know that their actions in Australia but also globally are altering the resilience, the health of the ocean,” she said.
. “All of us can do something to turn it around.
“I am not alone being upset about what is happening to the Great Barrier Reef. I know people in Australia who are upset, but this is a world heritage area, a place that is unique and the people who live in Australia have a particular opportunity to take action that can influence something globally, not just now, but far into the future.”
The letter from Ocean Elders was co-signed by Earle; Prince Albert II of Monaco; Sir Richard Branson; Swiss balloonist Dr Bertrand Piccard; prominent oceanographers Dr Walter Munk, Capt Don Walsh, and Jean-Michel Cousteau; former Costa Rican president Jose Maria Figueres; Queen Noor of Jordan; Hawaiian navigator Nainoa Thompson; microbiologist Dr Rita Colwell; CNN founder Ted Turner; and adventurer Sven Lindblad.
It argued that Australia’s responsibility for mining the coal was not abrogated if it was burned in India, as the Indian-owned company Adani intends.
“The 4.7bn tons of carbon dioxide created over the proposed life of the mine from the burning of the coal, whether in Australia, India or any other country, will further contribute to the damaging effects of climate change, including increases in global air and ocean temperatures, increased acidity of oceans, and destruction of coral reefs,” it said.
The letter also suggested that the economic case for federal government support of the mine does not stack up, citing the “decreasing global market for coal.”

 Great Barrier Reef: diving in the stench of millions of rotting animals

Adani is awaiting approval for a $900m taxpayer loan to build a railway from the Abbot Point coal terminal to the Carmichael mine.
The letter urged Australia to “demonstrate climate leadership” by abandoning the project.
It was sent to Turnbull and the Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, on 14 June, the day the Senate passed changes to the Native Title Act that would allow the mine to go ahead without unanimous support from traditional owners.
Adani lost majority support from the Wangan and Jagalingou traditional owner group last week, but the native title amendments mean it does not need majority support to broker an Indigenous land use agreement, which is critical to the project securing finance.
On Wednesday Queensland’s environment minister, Steven Miles, issued a statement in response to the the World Heritage Committee draft report on climate change and coral bleaching, calling for “immediate action on a global scale” to protect the future of all coral reefs, particularly the Great Barrier Reef.
“This means that both Australia and Queensland will need to do their fair share,” he said.
It is the second time the Ocean Elders have written to Turnbull, following a letter in April 2016 that urged Australia to phase out coal and “become a renewable energy based nation.”
The organisation was founded in 2010 to further a push by Earle to draw public attention to need for greater conservation and protection of the ocean.

 Coral violently spews out algae in response to heat stress

Disability advocates slam Pauline Hanson's 'bigoted' call to 'segregate' children with autism

Updated about 5 hours ago

Disability advocates have slammed One Nation senator Pauline Hanson's call for children with autism to be removed from mainstream classrooms, saying the "hurtful" idea would amount to "segregation".
The Queensland senator made the suggestion during debate on the Federal Government's school funding legislation, saying children with disabilities were putting a strain on teachers and schools and should be educated separately.
"These kids have a right to an education, by all means, but, if there are a number of them, these children should go into a special classroom and be looked after and given that special attention," she told the chamber.
"Because most of the time the teacher spends so much time on them they forget about the child who is straining at the bit and wants to go ahead in leaps and bounds in their education."
Both Labor and the Greens have condemned Senator Hanson's remarks while disability advocates, including Craig Wallace, said there was no evidence to support her claims.
"What the evidence does tell us is that students with a disability perform much worse when they are put away in segregated settings and denied the benefits of a mainstream face-to-face education," he said.

Mr Wallace speaks from personal experience.
He was sent to a so-called special school, which he said was like a warehouse where children with disabilities were "shunted away" and given a cheap education.
"It is segregation, it is a kind of apartheid and it's one that many of us experienced personally," he said.
"It simply doesn't work, it's second rate and no-one benefits by people with disabilities being excluded."
His comments were echoed by Autism Australia chief executive Nicole Rogerson, whose 21-year-old son Jack has autism.
She said she felt sick when she heard Senator Hanson's "repulsive, bigoted and hurtful" comments and argued they took "the discussion about inclusive education back about 50 years".
"Any Australian still listening to that woman needs to seriously think about what they're doing," she said.
Ms Rogerson said Senator Hanson would do well to realise there were 160,000 Australians with autism and accused her of turning her back on the "battlers" she claimed to represent.
"They vote and their parents vote and their grandparents vote and they will not be voting for her," she said.
"If she cares about the battlers, she needs to know that those battlers have got kids with autism and they're struggling."
Greens senator Rachel Siewert called on Senator Hanson to apologise and retract her comments, which she said showed "a lack of understanding of the issues and the fact that people have been working so strongly to ensure we have an inclusive community".

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Is the American dream really dead?

Research shows that poor people in the US are 20 times less likely to believe hard work will get them ahead than their (poorer) Latin American counterparts – with white Americans particularly pessimistic. What’s driving their despair?

American flag sun setting
Is the sun setting on the traditional US belief in upward mobility and meritocracy? Photograph: Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR

The United States has a long-held reputation for exceptional tolerance of income inequality, explained by its high levels of social mobility. This combination underpins the American dream – initially conceived of by Thomas Jefferson as each citizen’s right to the pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
This dream is not about guaranteed outcomes, of course, but the pursuit of opportunities. The dream found a persona in the fictional characters of the 19th-century writer Horatio Alger Jr – in which young working-class protagonists go from from rags to riches (or at least become middle class) in part due to entrepreneurial spirit and hard work.
Yet the opportunity to live the American dream is much less widely shared today than it was several decades ago. While 90% of the children born in 1940 ended up in higher ranks of the income distribution than their parents, only 40% of those born in 1980 have done so.
Attitudes about inequality have also changed. In 2001, a study found the only Americans who reported lower levels of happiness amid greater inequality were left-leaning rich people – with the poor seeing inequality as a sign of future opportunity. Such optimism has since been substantially tempered: in 2016, only 38% of Americans thought their children would be better off than they are.
In the meantime, the public discussion about inequality has completely by-passed a critical element of the American dream: luck.
Just as in many of Alger’s stories the main character benefits from the assistance of a generous philanthropist, there are countless real examples of success in the US where different forms of luck have played a major role. And yet, social support for the unlucky – in particular, the poor who cannot stay in full-time employment – has been falling substantially in recent years, and is facing even more threats today.

In short, from new research based on some novel metrics of wellbeing, I find strong evidence that the American dream is in tatters, at least.

White despair, minority hope

My research began by comparing mobility attitudes in the US with those in Latin America, a region long known for high levels of poverty and inequality (although with progress in the past decades). I explored a question in the Gallup world poll, which asks respondents a classic American dream question: “Can an individual who works hard in this country get ahead?”
I found very large gaps between the responses of ‘the rich’ and ‘the poor’ in the US (represented by the top and bottom 20% income distributions of the Gallup respondents). This was in stark contrast to Latin America, where there was no significant difference in attitudes across income groups. Poor people in the US were 20 times less likely to believe hard work would get them ahead than were the poor in Latin America, even though the latter are significantly worse off in material terms.

A man waits at dawn, after sleeping in his car, to see a free ‘mobile doctor’ in Olean, New York.
A man waits at dawn, after sleeping in his car, to see a free ‘mobile doctor’ in Olean, New York. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Another question in the poll explores whether or not respondents experience stress on a daily basis. Stress is a marker of poor health, and the kind of stress typically experienced by the poor – usually due to negative shocks that are beyond their control (“bad stress”) – is significantly worse for wellbeing than “good stress”: that which is associated with goal achievement, for those who feel able to focus on their future.
In general, Latin Americans experience significantly less stress – and also smile more – on a daily basis than Americans. The gaps between the poor and rich in the US were significantly wider (by 1.5 times on a 0–1 score) than those in Latin America, with the poor in the US experiencing more stress than either the rich or poor in Latin America.
The gaps between the expectations and sentiments of rich and poor in the US are also greater than in many other countries in east Asia and Europe (the other regions studied). It seems that being poor in a very wealthy and unequal country – which prides itself on being a meritocracy, and eschews social support for those who fall behind – results in especially high levels of stress and desperation.
But my research also yielded some surprises. With the low levels of belief in the value of hard work and high levels of stress among poor respondents in the US as a starting point, I compared optimism about the future across poor respondents of different races. This was based on a question in the US Gallup daily poll that asks respondents where they think they will be five years from now on a 0-10 step life satisfaction ladder.
I found that poor minorities – and particularly black people – were much more optimistic about the future than poor white people. Indeed, poor black respondents were three times as likely to be a point higher up on the optimism ladder than were poor whites, while poor Hispanic people were one and a half times more optimistic than whites. Poor black people were also half as likely as poor whites to experience stress the previous day, while poor Hispanics were only two-thirds as likely as poor whites.
What explains the higher levels of optimism among minorities, who have traditionally faced discrimination and associated challenges? There is no simple answer.
One factor is that poor minorities have stronger informal safety nets and social support, such as families and churches, than do their white counterparts. Psychologists also find that minorities are more resilient and much less likely to report depression or commit suicide than are whites in the face of negative shocks, perhaps due to a longer trajectory of dealing with negative shocks and challenges.
Another critical issue is the threat and reality of downward mobility for blue-collar whites, particularly in the heartland of the country where manufacturing, mining, and other jobs have hollowed out. Andrew Cherlin of Johns Hopkins University finds that poor black and Hispanic people are much more likely than poor white people to report that they live better than their parents did. Poor whites are more likely to say they live worse than their parents did; they, in particular, seem to be living the erosion of the American dream.

The American problem

Why does this matter? My research from a decade ago – since confirmed by other studies – found that individuals who were optimistic about their futures tended to have better health and employment outcomes. Those who believe in their futures tend to invest in those futures, while those who are consumed with stress, daily struggles and a lack of hope, not only have less means to make such investments, but also have much less confidence that they will pay off.
The starkest marker of lack of hope in the US is a significant increase in premature mortality in the past decade – driven by an increase in suicides and drug and alcohol poisoning and a stalling of progress against heart disease and lung cancer – primarily but not only among middle-aged uneducated white people. Mortality rates for black and Hispanic people, while higher on average than those for whites, continued to fall during the same time period.
The reasons for this trend are multi-faceted. One is the coincidence of an all-too-readily-available supply of drugs such as opioids, heroin and fentanyl, with the shrinking of blue-collar jobs – and identities - primarily due to technological change. Fifteen per cent of prime age males are out of the labour force today; with that figure projected to increase to 25% by 2050. The identity of the blue-collar worker seems to be stronger for white people than for minorities, meanwhile. While there are now increased employment opportunities in services such as health, white males are far less likely to take them up than are their minority counterparts.
Lack of hope also contributes to rising mortality rates, as evidenced in my latest research with Sergio Pinto. On average, individuals with lower optimism for the future are more likely to live in metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) with higher mortality rates for 45- to 54-year-olds.
Desperate people are more likely to die prematurely, but living with a lot of premature death can also erode hope. Higher average levels of optimism in metropolitan areas are also associated with lower premature mortality rates. These same places tend to be more racially diverse, healthier (as gauged by fewer respondents who smoke and more who exercise), and more likely to be urban and economically vibrant.
Technology-driven growth is not unique to the US, and low-skilled workers face challenges in many OECD countries. Yet by contrast, away from the US, they have not had a similar increase in premature mortality. One reason may be stronger social welfare systems – and stronger norms of collective social responsibility for those who fall behind – in Europe.
Ironically, part of the problem may actually be the American dream. Blue-collar white people – whose parents lived the American dream and who expected their children to do so as well – are the ones who seem most devastated by its erosion and yet, on average, tend to vote against government programmes. In contrast, minorities, who have been struggling for years and have more experience multi-tasking on the employment front and relying on family and community support when needed – are more resilient and hopeful, precisely because they still see a chance for moving up the ladder.
There are high costs to being poor in America, where winners win big but losers fall hard. Indeed, the dream, with its focus on individual initiative in a meritocracy, has resulted in far less public support than there is in other countries for safety nets, vocational training, and community support for those with disadvantage or bad luck. Such strategies are woefully necessary now, particularly in the heartland where some of Alger’s characters might have come from, but their kind have long since run out of luck.
Carol Graham is the author of Happiness for All? Unequal Hopes and Lives in Pursuit of the American Dream (Princeton University Press, 2017).

Ivanka Trump shoes slated for production at China factory despite brand's denial

After three Chinese activists were arrested investigating a factory where Trump’s shoes were made, her brand claimed none were produced after March

Ivanka Trump listens during a speech in Washington. Her shoe brand has been embroiled in controversy over workers pay and conditions in Chin and Indonesia.
Ivanka Trump listens during a speech in Washington. Her shoe brand has been embroiled in controversy over workers’ pay and conditions in China and Indonesia. Photograph: Shawn Thew/EPA

When three activists investigating labour abuses at a factory that makes Ivanka Trump shoes in China were arrested, the brand stayed silent for a week and then attempted to distance itself from the controversy by saying it had been months since its products were manufactured there.
But production tables reviewed by the Guardian contradict public statements made by the brand owned by Ivanka Trump, the daughter of the US president, Donald Trump. They show that Ivanka Trump shoes were still scheduled to be made at the factory two months after the brand said they had stopped.
The case highlights the pitfalls of having a president and his relatives in the White House while maintaining business interests around the world. Trump herself has remained silent on the case but the US state department did call for the activists to be released.
China’s foreign ministry quickly rebuffed the US, saying, “other countries have no right to interfere”. The men, Hua Haifeng, Li Zhao and Su Heng, have been arrested on suspicion of “illegal use of eavesdropping and secret photography equipment” after they went undercover in factories making products for international fashion brands.
In the wake of the arrests, Hua’s wife has been interrogated by police and his lawyer has been told by the authorities not to speak to the media.
After the three men were arrested, the brand waited a week before releasing its only public statement, defending working standards and saying: “Ivanka Trump brand products have not been produced at the factory in question since March”.
But a 14 April production table from the factory in Ganzhou in southeast China show nearly 1,000 shoes were slated to be manufactured between 23 and 25 May. The order was set to be delivered by 30 May. Material for clothing and shoes is typically ordered months in advance.
In response to questions from the Guardian, Ivanka Trump’s brand did not refute the information contained in the production tables.
“Ivanka Trump HQ is committed to only working with licensees who maintain internationally recognised labor standards across their supply chains,” Abigail Klem, president of Ivanka Trump, said in a statement. “Our licensees and their manufacturers, subcontractors and suppliers must comply with all applicable local and international labor laws, and the legal and ethical practices set forth in our vendor code of conduct.”
Klem did not respond to questions about previous statements contradicted by factory productions tables. She also declined to respond to questions about how the brand ensures standards are maintained or about the fate of the three arrested labour activists.
Marc Fisher, the company that licenses the Ivanka Trump brand to make shoes, declined to comment. The factory in Ganzhou, owned by Huajian Group, also declined to comment on the production timetables or arrested activists.
Ivanka Trump no longer leads the business that bears her name, turning over day to day operations to Kelm, but the first daughter maintains an ownership stake.
The three detained activists, who worked for New York-based NGO China Labor Watch, were preparing to release a report that showed a host a labor violations at the factory, which also makes shoes for brands such as Coach, Karl Lagerfeld and Kendall + Kylie.
Those abuses include paying below China’s legal minimum wage, managers verbally abusing workers and “violations of women’s rights”.
The arrests were the first for China Labor Watch in its 17 years of investigating labour conditions in factories across China, including companies like Apple and Samsung.
But the Chinese government has launched a wide-ranging crackdown on civil society since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, and foreign NGOs have also come under increased scrutiny. A new law requires them to register with police and find local NGOs as partners, with many Chinese organisations wary over political repercussions.
The three arrested activists’ ties to the New York-based NGO may now complicate their cases. Police have accused the men of “giving information to foreign organisations with the goal of receiving payment”, according to local news reports.