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Neighborhood inequalities in America: Do you see them?

Though the market appears to be attempting a comeback, we want to highlight the continuing economic disparity in American cities. The economy in many neighborhoods across this country continues to stagnate (if not decline) and appears to do so along racial and socioeconomic lines.  Back in 2011, we reported on the growing economic inequalities, ” if wealth can be described as the thing that buys homes and gets our kids to college, nearly half of the American people are unable to do either as they have virtually no wealth at all.”

Has this changed at all in the past year? Just this week, the BBC took a current look at the startling incongruity of one neighborhood  in the city of St. Louis.

Back in September, Scott Simon reported on “The Corner,” made famous by David Simon of the critically acclaimed HBO hit “The Wire.”  This week we revisit the area to try to address this question of progression, economic recovery and what recovery means for some of our hardest hit communities.

Tell us, where has U.S. policy fallen short in addressing the growing wealth gap in our cities? Should city governments work within their communities to create economic opportunities? Or should this be an issue to discuss on the national stage?

Let us know on Facebook , Twitter, or in the comments below.

Election 2012: What stories do you want to see?

Photo: AP/Ron Edmonds

From income inequality to immigration, the environment, America’s ongoing jobs crisis and the inner workings of Congress, we’ve brought you the most important stories facing Americans in the lead-up to next year’s presidential race. The year is coming to a close, but politics will hit the ground running in 2012. The Iowa caucuses are set for January 3, and will set the stage for the months leading up to the final showdown for the presidency in November.

As NTK gears up to bring you more stories of how Election 2012 will affect communities all around the nation, tell us: What issues do you want to see covered? What stories are most important to you? Let us know on Facebook, Twitter, or in the comments below.

Were you better off four years ago than you are today?

The release of the November jobs report – showing an 8.6 percent unemployment rate, the lowest in two years – is giving off a glimmer of hope, despite cautionary words from economic analysts. Still, many Americans are continuing to feel the same financial pressures and uncertainty that have become the norm of the new economy.

In this week’s episode of Need to Know, we traveled to northern Ohio to follow up with of the middle-class workers we profiled two months ago. Although they are still employed, they face cuts to benefits and wages that seemed constant and stable just four years ago, before the onset of the economic downturn.

Tell us: Do you think you were better off four years ago than you are now? How? Let us know in the comments below, through our Tumblr site or by emailing us at

‘Getting by’: Share your stories

By now, the story is familiar: In today’s difficult economic times, millions of Americans are seeing their benefits slashed, wages stagnate and paychecks stretched thinner to cover ever-rising costs. As policymakers wrangle over how best to restart the U.S. economic engine, “getting by” has become the new normal for many Americans.

We want to hear your stories of surviving in today’s struggling economy. How are you dealing with unemployment or underemployment? Are you part of the growing freelance nation, relying on contractual work that offers no benefits? How are you stretching your income to make ends meet? How has “getting by” affected your family life?

Share your experiences with us and we will feature them on our new Tumblr blog, which will focus on the human cost of America’s ongoing jobs crisis. You can participate by e-mailing us your stories at ntkonpbs (at) gmail (dot) com.

Our producers are also interested in showcasing some of your stories in upcoming broadcast segments. If you would like your story to be considered, please include your name and contact information with your submission.

The EPA and regulation: Your comments

Our latest episode on the EPA and regulation of toxic chemicals generated quite a buzz among our viewers. Given that more than 80 percent of respondents to our poll voted that the EPA should issue more, not fewer, regulations, it’s not surprising that most of the comments we received were in support of a stronger mandate for the regulatory agency. On our website, S. L. Sanduski wrote:

When toxicity about chemicals like trichlorethylene are known, there absolutely needs to be regulation and early on. In this case, the people in Endicott should have been notified as soon as the risks became clear. Regulation by the EPA is supposed to occur first, in order to prevent deaths; the deaths should not be the warning bell.

Barb Shillinger wrote that health should always be the major focus:

I think that chemicals should be tested before they are used, even those that were “grandfathered” in. When it comes to balancing profit with health, I will vote for health every time. These people who defend some of these chemicals that are “highly suspect” would react differently if one (or more) of their family members became sick from contact with them.

Commenter Sally C agreed that chemicals should be tested early:

The EPA is clearly hampered by too limited a mandate. The question not asked the gentleman from the tea party is: if your employees or people who live where you manufacture are negatively affected by chemicals, what is their recourse?  Since many of the effects are felt years later there is nothing to stop companies from pursuing short term economic benefit by using chemicals that seem to be miracles, but may be untested and have serious negative effects. There should be clear requirements to test and certify new chemicals before they are used indiscriminately. Isn’t this what went wrong with the financial industry?  New products created and used indiscriminately before their effects were fully understood?

RetiredOnLake, a former federal employee, argued that the current regulation over toxic chemicals must be reformed:

Based on my experiences, reform or replacement of TSCA is necessary and long overdue.  Thousands of chemicals need to be reviewed in a more efficient and productive manner than with TSCA.  The question then becomes: how should this be done?  Careful analysis and discussion of the provisions of the bill proposed by the senator from NJ is needed.  However, accomplishing anything in the current political climate where both parties are so polarized will be difficult if not impossible.  Also, as a veteran of the previous government shutdown and repeated freezes, funding problems, and limited resources that made accomplishing anything at EPA so difficult, I am not hopeful.  I fear climate change combined with problems from economic disruption and depression will overwhelm toxic chemical problems.

Another commenter, littleG, countered the argument for more EPA regulation, saying that tax policy was a more effective solution:

Actually, too many complex regulations creates loopholes for crony companies. The best thing to do is control the greed of individuals who make too much money and that itself is the dis-incentive for people not to do wrong things like polluting the environment at the cost of profits and so on. The easiest way to control human greed is to have a 90% income tax rate above 500K income per year. Once you have taken away the incentive to hoard too much money, you don’t need a ton of regulations whether it is EPA or financial regulations and so on. Simple, easy to understand regulations are enough. Everyone will behave properly on their own.

Some readers supported the idea of state-level regulation, rather than federal. From Guest:

Federal regulation, whether EPA, FAA, or FDA, is created and maintained for the benefit of the industry being regulated. Regulations are written by the industry.  Regulations give industry a shield to hide behind.  If industry follows the rules they have created, they are safe from liabilities. If you were the American Chemical Society, would you rather lobby the US EPA or fifty state EPAs?  There is a reason why California was able to name TCE a carcinogen years ago.  As political as California’s Air Resources Board is, it is still able to resist the influence of lobbying dollars better than the EPA because it is structured to be less dependent on industry than the EPA.

MrHonea echoed the sentiment:

There are those of us who believe that the task of testing and legally prohibiting or limiting concentrations of dangerous chemicals can be done more efficiently on a state to state basis. Fifty systems competing for a cleaner world could indeed be better than one, and in theory, it happens to help consumers in a capitalist society like ours. Our system of capitalism should be able to incorporate state to state preferences in a free marketplace.

But commenter PAWL responded negatively to the idea of state-level regulation:

Everything you propose sounds great on paper, but the problem occurs when the corporations wield more financial power than a community can afford. This is what has/is eventually happening to our federal regulatory programs. The corporations have bought the politicians. The main reason the FDA was created is JUST that reason, the states/cities did not have the funds to address and research all the chemicals being used and then the MASSIVE COSTS to fight the army of lawyers a company can afford to employ.

Keep up with all of Need to Know’s reader-driven discussions at the NTK site, on Facebook or on Twitter.

What’s thwarting the green economy? Your comments

Last week’s episode of Need to Know centered on the much-discussed notion of “green jobs.” As China and other countries speed ahead in the renewable energy sector, Americans are struggling to keep up. President Obama has been pushing for federal support of renewable energy industries in the U.S, but as our report from the solar energy sector in Greenville, Michigan, showed last week, creating jobs in green technology isn’t as easy as it might seem.

So what does it take to create a green economy, and what’s currently standing in its way? On our Facebook page, commenter Heidi wrote that strong leadership and public will are both lacking:

Everyone actually has to believe that alternative power works. Since we have a large population that wants gas, and coal and don’t believe that change needs to happen, then I don’t see how it can work. Until we run out of our current resources, we won’t do anything about it. That’s why we are failing and falling behind other countries. We used to be leaders, not anymore.

On our website, Jimbo1672 wrote:

No doubt some proponents of the green economy have overstated its near-term potential but the fact remains that if we want to continue to inhabit this planet, we’re going to have to change the way we live, and do it in a big way.  This goes far beyond how we produce energy:  it includes designing our homes to be more smaller and more efficient; learning to produce products that have a much smaller ecological footprint  … basically planning for the entire cradle-to-cradle product lifecycle; changing the way use our public and private outdoor spaces … Making these changes will probably create net jobs, at least in the short term, but we need to make them regardless.

If we end up with less jobs, the obvious solution is to embrace job sharing, which is being used very successfully in Europe.  Personally, I wouldn’t mind trading a little money for more time and a nation less burdened by poverty and disease.

Another commenter, Maherarar187, points to solar powered satellites as a solution:

Green economy? Bull. It’s a subsidy for businesses that can’t compete fairly, & a sham. Terrestrial solar cannot power a modern economy … Not to mention the fact putting thousands of acres into permanent shadow is NOT “environmentally friendly,” contrary to the fiction. Want genuinely green solar power? Support solar power satellites. It will create thousands of high-wage, high-value jobs. It will generate power at enormously reduced cost, which enormously increases productivity.

On Twitter, we asked, “Can green companies in the U.S. succeed against fierce global competition?” Txmattie replied:

Green Co’s can suceed in US but its competition isn’t global, it’s Congress inaction.

And Perspicacious01 wrote:

The answer is maybe. But if you just want to make big profits, probably not. On the other hand, if you want to help your country and the World become more energy efficient, independent, and create good jobs with reasonable pay … Yes … You can do that.

But the U.S. will not accomplish either. Because it would require the strong supports and protections by Washington from attacks by the special interests.

Do you think green companies in the U.S. stand a chance against global competition in the green technology sector? What do you think is needed? Let us know in the comments below, on Facebook or on Twitter.

What do you think of the new NTK?

By now, you may have noticed some changes here at Need to Know. Our show has a new half-hour format, with an upcoming lineup of guest hosts to fill the spot of our longtime anchor, Alison Stewart. The Need to Know website also has a sleek new look that highlights our heightened focus on U.S. politics and the impact that Washington’s decisions have on ordinary American citizens and underrepresented communities.

Our first show with this new format airs this Friday. In the meantime, tell us: What do you think of the new Need to Know? What issues are most important to you, and what kind of stories would you like us to cover? Let us know here in the comments, on Facebook or on Twitter.

What should the next generation learn from 9/11?

AP Photo/Stephen Hilger, Pool

On the morning of September 11, 2001, a terrorist attack jolted America and radically transformed the course of global events. When we think of September 11, we remember crumbling towers, heroic firefighters and grieving communities, followed by a global war on terrorism.

But what do we want the next generation of Americans to learn from the decade that followed? For those not yet born or those too young to remember when the twin towers fell – what lessons should they take away from the new geopolitical reality that emerged after the World Trade Center attacks? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Keep up with all of our reader-driven discussions here at Need to Know, on Facebook and on Twitter.

Comments roundup: Much ado about voter IDs

Not long ago, we reported that 17 states were changing their voter laws, including Ohio, where a bill was proposed that would limit the forms of acceptable ID voters can use on Election Day to only government-issued photo IDs. The bill, aimed at curbing voter fraud, recently hit a serious roadblock, but that didn’t stop some of our readers from engaging in a debate over whether it was such a big deal to require a government-issued photo ID for voting.

On Facebook, Juli offered a simple rule:

If you don’t have legal ID then you shouldn’t be voting. Period.

Another Facebook commenter, Walter, also didn’t see what was so objectionable about requiring a government-issued ID to vote:

You need a photo ID for so MANY things already — what’s one more? Sheesh. I have a non-driver ID, and I think it only cost like $6.50 or so, and it lasts for years, so the cost per year is tiny.

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