This study empirically explores the origin of the two-tiered credit system in the U.S. While mainstream financial institutions, such as banks and credit unions, serve the middle-class and the wealthy, fringe banking serves those in the low-income bracket. One of the striking examples of fringe banking is payday loans, which typically incur a finance charge of $15 to $20 per $100 loan for two weeks. These financial charges result in interest rates ranging from 391% APR to 521% APR, which has led to a serious social problem since 2000.
Extending consumer credit to the wider social class, especially black people living in poverty-stricken areas, had been recognized as an issue to be addressed in the late 1960s. This was partly because riots broke out in many cities, and rioters burned and looted merchants in ghettoes. Consequently, the National Commission on Consumer Finance (NCCF) was established by Title IV of the Consumer Credit Protection Act of 1968. The NCCF consisted of nine members from the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the public at large. The NCCF submitted the final report, Consumer Credit in the U.S., on December 31, 1972.
The report had over 90 specific recommendations. It also had a great influence on the reform debate in the financial system over 10 years. This led to the enactment of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974, which prohibits discrimination solely based on sex and marital status. The focus of the report, however, has been dismissed among scholars in modern credit history. It was recommended that each state should consider raising or repealing interest rate ceilings. It was argued that higher interest ceilings or the removal of interest rate ceilings would increase the availability of credit to low-income, high-risk borrowers.
In this article, we clarify some of the reforms that the report and its opponents envisioned regarding the removal of the interest rate ceilings. Among others, Democratic Representative Leonor K. Sullivan and Democratic Senator William Proxmire opposed them. They argued that higher interest rate ceilings, which enhanced credit availability, hurt low-income consumers rather than benefit them. They also noted that a relatively high interest rate would only benefit the consumer credit industry. According to Sullivan and Proxmire, the poor was not creditworthy, so that they should “save and then buy” rather than “buy now, pay later.”
Contrary to the concept of market forces and competition, Proxmire believed that limited-income credit unions, which are funded by the Office of Economic Opportunity, could help build self-sufficient financial institutions in poverty-stricken areas. However, the economic outlook for limited-income credit unions was not encouraging. On the other hand, the NCCF viewed “small small” loans in Texas (loans of $100 or less, which incur alternative interest rates ranging from 108.75% APR to 240.00% APR) as a promising arrangement for providing cash credit to the poor.
In retrospect, the report’s recommendations to raise or abolish interest rate ceilings in each state would be realized in the high inflation of the 1970s. Just as “small small” loans became a predecessor of today’s payday loans, we find the origin of the two-tiered credit system in the debate over the recommendation in the report.
Boston at the turn of the twentieth century was regarded as the very embodiment of the American ideal of freedom and equality, with racial discrimination in public places outlawed by the state of Massachusetts soon after the Civil War and overt harassment and violence against African Americans virtually non-existent in this “cradle of liberty.” Blacks in Boston were, however, disproportionately poor due mainly to unfair hiring practices under the pretext of insufficient abilities or qualifications, and their plight and struggles were often neglected. This paper tries to clarify how Americans of African descent in a (supposedly) color-blind city dealt with their impoverishment. It also tries to elucidate the reasons why, in comparison with other ethnic groups, Blacks adopted specific sets of coping strategies and not others.
Most Blacks in Boston were trapped in poverty with no way out. Those black Bostonians who were lucky enough to secure education and employment nonetheless urged their fellow African Americans to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. So did social workers, who paid far more attention to all the other peoples from abroad than to black migrants from the South. Slighted by the “elite” of their own race and by white professionals who were supposed to help them, needy Blacks had fewer places to turn to than immigrants and were left to their own resources. Still, they did not ask for public assistance, which, given the almost negligible black political influence, did not reach them even during the Great Depression.
By contrast, the Irish, who came to dominate city politics by the first decades of the twentieth century, made the most of government aid as well as Catholic charities. Likewise, the Jews expanded their philanthropies in addition to receiving greater public support. The Chinese helped each other, so much so that none of them were on the welfare rolls at the worst point of the economic crisis.
Poor African Americans in Boston had to help themselves because no help was coming either from the “upper class” of their own people or from outside. Moreover, personal recollections and other sources tell us that they seemed to believe in the principle of individual self-help and chose to improve their situation on their own. They were so “American” and independent that they could not rely on the patronage of political bosses, as the Irish tended to do, or band together on religious or cultural grounds to forge a separate community for mutual help, as the Jews or the Chinese tended to do, even though American democracy, culture, and Christianity did not do justice to African Americans.
These proud Americans of African ancestry in “freedom’s birthplace,” who had internalized the ethics of individual responsibility, had a long way to go before claiming public aid as a right and fighting against the stigma of poverty and welfare.
The welfare rights movement, led by the National Welfare Rights Organization, is one of the least-studied social movements of the 1960s and 70s. NWRO activists insisted on the right to decent clothing, heating in the middle of winter, and other basic needs—along with the right to conduct rent strikes. They fought against involuntary sterilization and advocated for a guaranteed adequate income for all. Yet despite the significance of their discourses and influence in the political debate over “welfare,” their critical narratives have been consistently overlooked.
When the NWRO folded in 1975, scholars have offered explanations for this outcome. Quoting the words of George Wiley, civil rights activist and executive director of the NWRO, Nick Cotz and May Lynn Cotz contended that poor women, like anyone else, had taken advantage of the minor perks of office, and the taste of power it offered. The NWRO eventually collapsed because these poor women were “merely interested in being leadership and maintaining their own position.” Guida West, on the other hand, argued that the demise of the NWRO was due to the contradictions and tensions that existed within the organization from the very beginning: while architects of the NWRO had set up a “new, nonpaternalistic model” that challenged the stereotypes of poor people as subordinates, middle-class, white male staff ended up dominating the movement activities of poor African American women.
Yet, how had these “tensions” surfaced in the early 1970s? Based on Wiley’s papers, NWRO archives, NWRO’s newsletters, and other primary documents, this article illustrates how the backlash against “welfare mothers,” hand in hand with anti-welfare ideology, led to shrinking donations and the contract funds to the NWRO, tightening finances. Politicians and the press came to represent welfare recipients—increasingly African American and unmarried/divorced—as unworthy of public support. Due to these financial difficulties, many organization personnel were eventually fired, exacerbating “tensions” among them, as well as those between the staff and the recipients. The demise of the NWRO cannot be fully understood without considering the changing political and social climate surrounding Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), which became increasingly unpopular in the late 1960s with the rapid expansion of membership rolls and its payments.
Johnnie Tillmon, the first chairperson of the NWRO, believed in “working together to do something about the problems that affect poor people across the country.” Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, calls for new imaginings of public safety, addressing the need for divestment from police, prisons, and surveillance, as well as investment in the communities that are most directly impacted by “the violence of poverty.” COVID-19 laid bare “the systemic inequalities within America,” from who dies and who receives good care, to who gets to work from home and who has to choose between making money and risking their health, says William Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign. Centering the voices of welfare recipients—who have long been silenced, both in the debate over “welfare” and the history of American social movements—would be one of the first steps necessary in untangling the connections between systemic racism and the “violence of poverty” in the U.S.
In 2019, the documentary photography book titled Dignity was published. It shows us shocking figures suffering from poverty in big cities or small rustbelt towns in the United States and the poor situations of the people in the 21st century. Moreover, as indicated by its title, the photo book presents the unyielding spirit of people who endure the painful poverty with human dignity. The author, Chris Arnade, praises their spirit, but from the book, we can see that dignity complicates the issues of poverty, preventing the poor from asking others for aids. Curiously enough, Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance also shows the manner in which poor hillbillies stick to dignity even under the degraded situations. Dignity is so essential for humans that they never abandon it despite any humiliation as Francis Fukuyama stressed in The End of History and the Last Man. In the book, he insists that the United States can satisfy the pride of the people by ensuring free enjoyment of dignity without recourse to any ideological legitimacy. This essay challenges his idea by probing that dignity in the light of poverty becomes obstructions for poor people to reveal their horrible circumstances.
The main part of the essay specifically explores the way three American authors deal with poverty in their novels and stories and concludes that the issues of poverty are likely to be invisible in characters that do not yield to humiliation with a strong sense of dignity. Raymond Carver’s “Neighbors” shows the couple named the Millers, who do not want to accept the fact that another couple, the Stones, who live in the next room succeed and soar up to the upper class. Besides, dignity does not allow the Millers to feel that they are a loser in the American society. When the Millers take care of the Stones room, as they are away on account of business and pleasure, the refusal of the fact leads them to act eerie behaviors in the room of the Stones. In a different nuance from “Neighbors,” readers also sense the strength of human dignity from Tom Joad in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. He is very firm in his conviction that people are no more humans if they lose dignity. In fact, Tom, because of belief on dignity, harshly denounces a garage worker with one eye who repeatedly complains about his unfortunate luck. Although the ways Carver and Steinbeck present poverty are different, both of them write about the characters showing aspects of dignity in their difficult situations.
Contrarily, Erskine Caldwell does not hide the environments of penury by featuring elements of humanities, such as dignity and morality. Caldwell can be distinguished from Carver and Steinbeck in that Caldwell does not hesitate to show spiritual poverty of humans who are degenerated to be creatures like animals or materials, whereas the other two depict only physical poverty. That is the reason why many of the readers cannot stand seeing those aspects in characters and evade reading Caldwell’s works. One of the traits of his literature is that he does not highlight human virtues but directs readers’ attention to the horrible effects of poverty on human minds. However, this is nothing but Caldwell’s literary ethics, as people are liable to turn blind eyes to poverty with an attempt to find some hope or humanity in such a degraded situation. His works should see the light in the era where class disparity is worse than ever.
Julie Taymor’s production of The Lion King, for which she would become the first woman to win a Tony for Best Direction of a Musical, opened at Broadway’s New Amsterdam Theatre in 1997. To recreate this story of savannah animals on the stage, Taymor devised a method that she called “the double event,” in which each character was simultaneously expressed by an actor’s body and an animal mask or puppet. Because the actors’ faces were not hidden from the audience by the masks, their skin colors were closely associated with the characters they portrayed. Skin color is a racial characteristic that is easy to identify visually. As Stephanie Leigh Batiste has pointed out, in her book Darkening Mirrors(2011), the skin color of African-American actors becomes part of their performance, especially in the theater. Recognizing this, Taymor deliberately cast African and Black actors, using “color-conscious casting,” which consciously incorporates actors’ racial characteristics as production elements. By presenting the “color” of African actors to audiences in this way, she embodied an important theme of the musical: “the power of Africa.”
By contrast, the “color” of the white actors was rendered indistinguishable through facial makeup. This paper pays particular attention to the villain Scar, who is typically played by a white actor. Just as in the film on which the musical was based, Scar was the only lion who spoke with a British accent. He was depicted as a “white presence” with a stereotypical Shakespearean actor’s performance style and mannerisms. In his book The Great White Way(2014), Warren Hoffman has argued that the “white people” who appear in most Broadway musicals are positioned as a raceless norm that cannot engender racial problems. By using makeup to paint Scar, the “white presence,” brown, Taymor made it impossible for audiences to interpret Scar as a “white person.”
This paper refers to the three-layered structure assigned to The Lion King’s white actors—actor body, animal mask, and artificial color—as “the triple event.” In doing so, it demonstrates how skillfully obscuring the color of white actors can effectively force “color-blind casting.” By deliberately combining color-conscious casting for Black actors with forced color-blind casting for white actors, Taymor created a phenomenon that can reasonably be considered a form of “reverse racism,” as described by Anne Nicholson Weber in Upstaged: Making Theatre in the Media Age(2006) In disguising the color of white actors, the triple event became a pioneering staging method, serving to overturn the racial privilege of white actors.
President Donald Trump received considerable support from the traditionally Democratic states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. High support in these statues is why President Trump won the 2016 presidential election. In fact, Republican candidates have won the above three states in presidential elections as far back as the 1982 election when Ronald Reagan was a candidate. It’s clear that these traditionally Democratic states have supported democratic presidents in elections over the past 30 years.
These Rust Belt states have traditionally been heavily influenced by labor unions. As a result, union members—who have traditionally supported the Democratic Party—have changed their behaviors. Commentators have pointed out that this was a decisive factor in the 2016 presidential election. In fact, in the Rust Belt region, including the three states above, union executives tended to support Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton. Union members and their families, however, tended to support Donald Trump. How can we explain the divergence in attitudes over Donald Trump between union leadership and union members? In other words, why did union members vote for Donald Trump, when union leaders advised them not to? Answering these questions is important not just for understanding the 2016 presidential election, but also for understanding the changes that have occurred in unions and the influence of these changes on American politics as anti-global actors since the 1990s. For this reason, this paper examines the division between union members and union leadership over support for President Trump by focusing on changes in the organizational structures of American labor unions since the 1990s.
Since 1990, unions in the United States have transitioned from business unionism to social unionism following the New Voice movement. These changes have sought to improve declining membership rates and revitalize the labor movement by developing new strategies. The social unionism labor movement combines various social movements. However, as the legitimacy of social unionism becomes recognized and vested interests are acquired, opposing forces may become stronger. Movements actively promoted by social unionism, such as environmental protection and gender equality, are generally middle-class movements whose members are highly educated. Therefore, there is potential for strong opposition from workers who are still rooted in male authoritarianism. The American labor movement, which sought to move from business unionism to social unionism, also faced this dilemma. This was manifested in the division between union executives and union members over their support or rejection of President Trump. This disagreement is not exclusive to American unions. Indeed, this is a difficult problem faced by unions around the world. Therefore this paper deals with a problem that has important implications for unions in other countries.
This essay examines Rolando Hinojosa’s Korean Love Songs(1978) and The Useless Servants(1993), both of which depict his alter ego Rafe Buenrostro’s military service during the Allied occupation of Japan (1945–1952) and the Korean War (1950–1953). Although Hinojosa refers to these two events briefly in his US-based narratives, in the two works discussed here, he moves beyond the Texas borderland to explore cross-racial relationships, between Mexican Americans and Asians as two non-white groups, that supersede war-era geopolitical divides. There is a significant stylistic difference between the two, as Korean Love Songs is a collection of short poems, while The Useless Servants is presented as Rafe’s diary. However, Hinojosa presents the same characters and episodes in both: Rafe encounters racism toward Mexican Americans in the army, experiences the bloody battlefield and loses many of his ethnic American friends in Korea, survives R&R in Japan, and eventually decides to leave the military to return to Texas. Hinojosa may be said to harp on this theme in part because of frustration over Korea as the “Forgotten War” in the US, despite heavy causalities. However, he also updates his own understanding of Asia during the fifteen years between the two publications, indicated by the protagonist’s growing awareness that Mexican Americans and Asians are both “friends” and “enemies.” Despite their racialized status in the US military, Mexican Americans are part of the military and could potentially oppress Asians along with their white counterparts in the midst of the rapidly shifting geopolitical circumstances in mid-20th century Asia.
In Korean Love Songs, Japan is envisioned as the place where Mexican American soldiers can sleep with Japanese women on R&R and rehabilitate their bodies and masculinity damaged by enemy soldiers in Korea as well as Anglo racists in the military. Rafe sleeps with several prostitutes in Japan, and his Mexican American friend from Texas, Sonny Ruiz, deserts the army after getting injured in Korea, lives in Japan with his Japanese wife by racially passing as a Japanese person, and calls Japan his “home.” In The Useless Servants, Hinojosa revises this overly simplistic romantic scenario similar to James A. Michener’s Sayonara and complicates the standpoint of Mexican Americans in Asia. In his diary, Rafe refers to the unromantic events, including the US’s dropping atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the US military’s war crime against Korean civilians, Japan’s colonialism in China and Korea, and Japanese racism toward ethnic Koreans in Japan, and points out the continuity between WWII in the Pacific and the Korean War. In other words, instead of simply placing “wartime” Korea and “peacetime” Japan as an opposition, Hinojosa compares tension between Asian racial groups to racial conflict in the US and raises and challenges stabilizing oppositions between home and away, Mexican Americans and the Japanese, South Koreans and North Koreans, and WWII allies and Cold War commies. Navigating these dissolving oppositions, Hinojosa’s hero Rafe exhibits a racial double consciousness exacerbated by his role in the US military that remains unresolved.