RE: Too Damn High

Posted on November 13, 2010 by


David Brigham

The Rent IS Too Damn High!!

In leaving a comment on Max’s post Too Damn High I discovered a train of thought that I would like to explore: the notion that the political conversation that we have in this country is race and class biased.  Max’s post was in regard to Jimmy McMillan’s Rent Is Too Damn High Party, and can be found here (my comment makes more sense in the context of Max’s post, so read his post first).  To quote myself:

I have to agree with Tony about this being a wonderful bit of Americana. To some extent I disagree with the position of your blog and many of the comments: that this is somehow unproductive or insulting to the process.
There are a couple of things here that are important. Firstly, he is drawing attention to the political process, which is always a positive. Secondly, his message resonates with people who may not be politically active. This second point is what strikes me as being particularly important. Our political conversation tends to be very class and race biased: our candidates talk about the concerns of the constituencies that vote: the whiter and more money you have, the more likely you are to vote. And so the issues that candidates end up talking about have a race and class bias. Two simple examples will suffice: for the left-wing whites, the war and Guantanamo bay; for right-wing whites, abortion and prayer in school. None of these issues address the common problem that people living in poverty face: THAT THE RENT IS TOO DAMN HIGH!!!

To clarify, the groups that are most likely to vote are whiter, older, more educated, and more affluent.1 So my suggestion in the comment was missing two factors.  In this blog I would like to take a look at a few of the issues that were in the spotlight during the election, how these have a class and race bias, and why these may not be meaningful for people who are dealing with the everyday reality that the rent is too damn high!

According to the non-profit Feeding America, in data taken from a United States Department of Agriculture study: “In 2009, 43.6 million people (14.3 percent) were in poverty” in the United States, and “In 2008, 49.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households, 32.4 million adults and 16.7 million children.”  The (USDA) defines household food insecurity as “meaning that the food intake of one or more household members was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year because the household lacked money and other resources for food.”  The USDA’s study found that food insecurity had risen from 11% to 14.6% from 2007 to 2008.

Some food-insecure households turn to Federal food and nutrition assistance programs or emergency food providers in their communities when they are unable to obtain enough food. Fifty-five percent of the food insecure households surveyed in 2008 said that in the previous month they had participated in one or more of the three largest Federal food and nutrition assistance programs—the National School Lunch Program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, the new name for the Food Stamp Program), and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). About 20 percent of food-insecure households obtained emergency food from a food pantry at some time during the year, and 2.6 percent ate one or more meals at an emergency kitchen in their community.


One of the reasons that these households are food-insecure is that when faced with the choice between paying rent and other bills or buying food they choose to pay their rent, because an empty stomach is still better than being homeless.  However, they could afford both food and rent if the were not too damn high!

As stated there is a racial component to this issue: poverty affects minorities in the US at higher rates than whites, and so any issue that deals with poverty is an issue of race.  According to the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan:


In 2009, 25.8 percent of blacks and 25.3 percent of Hispanics were poor, compared to 9.4 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 12.5 percent of Asians.

Poverty rates are highest for families headed by single women, particularly if they are black or Hispanic. In 2009, 29.9 percent of households headed by single women were poor, while 16.9 percent of households headed by single men and 5.8 percent of married-couple households lived in poverty.

There are also differences between native-born and foreign-born residents. In 2009, 19.0 percent of foreign-born residents lived in poverty, compared to 13.7 percent of residents born in the United States. Foreign-born, non-citizens had an even higher incidence of poverty, at a rate of 25.1 percent.

Issues of race and poverty are intricately tied to issues of wealth, which in turn speaks to the fact that the rent is too damn high!  Minorities in the United States are far less likely to have wealth accumulated than whites.

In an article on Darrick Hamilton and William Darity Jr. discuss the wealth disparity between white and people of color:

Those who recognize the racial wealth gap but still embrace the idea of a post-racial America have crafted two explanations for this disparity. The first is that, in search of immediate gratification, blacks are less frugal when it comes to savings. Indeed, in an April [2009] lecture at Morehouse College, Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke attributed the racial wealth gap to a lack of “financial literacy” on the part of blacks, particularly with respect to savings behavior.

Such an explanation, however, is not the case. Economists ranging from Milton Friedman to Marjorie Galenson to the recently deceased founder of the Caucus of Black Economists, Marcus Alexis, found that, after accounting for household income, blacks historically have had a slightly higher savings rate than whites. In 2004, economists Maury Gittleman and Edward Wolff also found that blacks save at a moderately higher rate than do whites, again after adjusting for household income. This indicates even greater black frugality because many higher-income blacks offer more support to lower-income relatives than do whites, further reducing their resources to save.

Hamilton and Darity continue:


Apart from the national failure to endow ex-slaves with the promised 40 acres and a mule after the Civil War, blacks were deprived systematically of property, especially land, accumulated between 1880 and 1910 by government complicity and fraud as well as seizures by white terrorists. During the first three decades of the 20th century, white rioters destroyed prosperous black communities from Wilmington, North Carolina, to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Restrictive covenants, redlining, and general housing and lending discrimination also inhibited blacks from accumulating wealth.

So the question might become, what does any of this have to do with the rent being too damn high?  This last line, and an important part of Hamilton and Darity’s argument, ‘Restrictive covenants, redlining, and general housing and lending discrimination also inhibited blacks from accumulating wealth’ suggests that for minorities owning a home was far less likely than for whites.  Home ownership is an important aspect of the accumulation of wealth, especially for newly middle class folks that are trying to pull themselves out of poverty?  This graph from a New York Times article which illustrates the disparity in home ownership quite well:

As the subtitle on the graph suggests the article in question discusses the fact that while home ownership was on the rise among minorities, they were more likely to be targeted for a sub-prime mortgage, and therefore home ownership among minority groups is slipping faster than for whites.

So if minorities are far less likely to own a home than whites they are correspondingly more likely to be renting an apartment or home and therefore are more likely to be affected by the fact that the rent is too damn high!

Jimmy McMillan has been accused of being a single issue candidate, a clown, of being high, and of inappropriately disrupting the gubernatorial election in New York State.  We have seen that there is a connection between rent, race and poverty in America.  So that a discussion of the cost of rent would be an issue that would be important to someone who was living in poverty or even just middle class people who are having a rough time right now.

However, as I suggested at the beginning of this blog, the issues that were discussed during the election had nothing to do with issues of poverty.  I could go through each item that made headlines this election cycle, but considering that I have had complaints about my blog being too long, I will simply summarize the prominent issues in this election cycle, and I think it will be apparent why they are class and race biased:

  • Abortion
  • Separation of Church and State

o   The Teaching of Evolution in Schools

  • The Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (really these were not mentioned)
  • Illegal Immigration
  • Taxes

o   The Deficit

o   The Bush Tax Cuts

o   Taxed Enough Already

  • The Economy

o   Jobs

o   The Stimulus

o   The Bailout

  • Healthcare Reform
  • The Gulf Oil leak (Thanks BP!)


Now it is clear that all of these issues are relevant to all Americans in some way or another, as the song Tom Sawyer by Rush says: “if you choose to do nothing at all, you still have made a choice.” Clearly jobs are important to people that are living in poverty, however the issue is addressed to the middle class: a more appropriate issue would be paying people a living wage (i.e. raising the minimum wage.)  So while unemployment is certainly relevant to folks in poverty, it does not address as well as it could the fact that the rent is too damn high!


Clearly abortion matters to people that are poor: for example take a single mother living in poverty that has an unwanted pregnancy.  However, again if politicians were addressing the needs of people in poverty the debate might be more about providing access to a doctor or bettering our sex-education system.  So while abortion is relevant to poor people, having a child should be a time of joy in peoples’ lives, not a burden, and it wouldn’t be a burden if the rent was not so damn high!


Lastly this video is quite good so I wanted to share it.  However, I want to reiterate that our politicians do not care about the plight of poor people, and a lot of the reason why is that poor people and people of color do not vote: our politicians do not fear retribution at the polls for doing nothing about ongoing poverty in the richest nation in the world.  The people need to get out and vote, we need to hold our politicians accountable!  And we can start by letting them know that THE RENT IS TOO DAMN HIGH!



1 Banducci, S. A., Karp, J. A. (2000). P. 233.  Going Postal: How All-Mail Elections Influence Turnout.  Political Behavior, 22(3), 223-239.

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