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OFF-KILTER with Rebecca Vallas

May 26, 2023

As Off-Kilter’s ongoing series continues, digging into why in the famous words of Audre Lorde, “self-care is political warfare,” we’re zooming out for this next episode to explore the goal of ending poverty in the United States—and the broader work of economic and social liberation—as self-care for the larger collective organism of which we are all part.

In this spirit, as Rebecca describes in this episode, she often thinks about advocates and activists for economic and social liberation as healers—healers of a collective organism that today is very sick—with one huge glaring symptom of that illness being widespread, needless poverty in the midst of plenty. Of course healers rely on good diagnostic tools—and this kind of “social justice advocacy as collective healing” framework can then help us understand something like a measure of poverty as a diagnostic tool—a tool that’s only as good at diagnosing social illness as what it measures and how it’s designed. 

So to zoom in on what America’s broken official poverty measure has to do with self-care, Rebecca brought back three thought leaders who are deep experts in poverty measurement, all of whom have been working for years to bring attention to how outdated and flawed our leading diagnostic tool on this front (a.k.a. America’s Official Poverty Measure) is—and the importance of rethinking how we measure poverty in the United States. if we are serious about meaningfully eliminating it versus just putting a band-aid on a still-very-sick economy.  

Shawn Fremstad is the director of law and political economy as well as a senior adviser at the Center for Economic Policy Research. Shailly Barnes is the policy director for the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice. David Brady is a professor of public policy at the University of California Riverside, where he directs the Blum Initiative on Global and Regional Poverty; he’s also a fellow with the WZB Berlin Social Science Center. 

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