Sasha Abramsky

Sasha Abramsky is a senior fellow at Demos and a writer on social justice issues. His latest book is The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives.

Recent Articles

The California Renters’ Revolt

Insane housing costs in the Golden State have rekindled the tenants’ movement.

Sasha Abramsky
Sasha Abramsky Richmond City Councilmember and ACCE activist Melvin Willis Capital & Main is an award-winning publication that reports from California on economic, political and social issues. The American Prospect is co-publishing this piece. N early a decade after the housing market’s collapse, California’s real-estate market has bounced back—and then some. The median price for a two-bedroom rental in San Francisco, depending on what report is used, ranges from roughly $3,000 a month to well over $4,000. The median home-sale price in the state, says the California Association of Realtors, is over $536,000. In regions with particularly buoyant markets—Silicon Valley, the greater Bay Area, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, and other, mainly coastal areas—increasing numbers of people are finding themselves utterly priced out of their communities. Investors have flocked to cities such as San Francisco and Oakland to purchase homes that they know they can rent out for a fortune...

Sharing the Wealth

Why can’t we broadly distribute the wealth produced from America’s common resource pool? Conservative Alaska manages to do it.

(AP Photo/The Juneau Empire, Klas Stolpe)
(AP Photo/The Juneau Empire, Klas Stolpe) Governor Sean Parnell announces the 2010 dividend check amount that all Alaskans receive through the state's popular Permanent Fund. Looking on is Department of Revenue Commissioner Pat Galvin, a trustee on the Alaska Permanent Fund Board. This book review appears in the Winter 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . With Liberty and Dividends for All: How to Save Our Middle Class When Jobs Don’t Pay Enough By Peter Barnes 174 pp. Berrett-Koehler Publishers $19.95 I n the mid-17th century, Gerrard Winstanley led a series of protests in England against “enclosure,” the practice of landlords privatizing public lands. Nonviolent, with a utopian communist agenda, Winstanley’s followers, the Diggers, published pamphlets and, more quixotically, sang their hopes and fears. A stanza from one of their songs: “Your houses they pull down, stand up now, stand up now Your houses they pull down, stand up now. Your houses they pull...

Creating a Countercyclical Welfare System

Clinton-era reforms mean that our safety net is weakest when we need it most.

Welfare systems exist to reduce the worst excesses of poverty. When poverty increases during recessions, the welfare state is supposed to rush into countercyclical action, providing a firewall against a growth in destitution. That’s the theory, anyway. In practice, it’s never been the case. In recent years in particular, the American welfare system has increasingly shed itself of this key obligation. In 1996, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC)—the welfare system established in 1935 as part of the Social Security Act—was scrapped in favor of a more limited system, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). But in the Great Recession that began in 2008, TANF has proved a total disaster. Unemployment doubled in many states, but in most of them, the number of TANF enrollees either increased only marginally or decreased. It wasn’t always that way. “AFDC used to be countercyclical,” says economist James Ziliak of the University of Kentucky’s Center for Poverty Research. The...

May It Please the Court

Problem-solving courts have a track record of lowering recidivism and incarceration costs, but they still don't reach enough offenders.

Inside a nondescript building on Polk Street in San Francisco's troubled Tenderloin district, an experimental court is trying to sort out the lives of the accused. Known as the Community Justice Center, the court regularly sees prostitutes, thieves, alcoholics, drug users and dealers, and mentally ill and homeless people primarily for nonviolent offenses. The average defendant has been arrested locally eight times. Instead of sending offenders straight to an overcrowded and expensive jail, presiding Judge Loretta Giorgi tries to connect them with social services that might finally end their downward spiral. On a recent fall day, Giorgi asked a middle -- aged defendant to attend drug-rehab sessions, admonished a young, tattooed man for sleeping through counseling sessions, and ordered another defendant to undergo more frequent urinalysis. The court makes these mandates easy to fulfill: The Polk Street center houses not only the court but also social services, including case-management...

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