This article is part of a Huffington Post series on the global impact of austerity -- "A Thousand Cuts" -- from affordable housing funds lost in San Francisco to increasing class sizes in New York, food inspector cuts in Canada, disability benefits taken away in the United Kingdom, decimation of France's solar industry, and more. Click here for information on how you can help people affected by these measures.
DETROIT -- It's hot, nearly 100 degrees, and Ron Johnson, 56, has been waiting about 20 minutes at the bus stop on the corner of Warren and Woodward Ave. The stop is located near Wayne State University, and a young student is waiting with him. It's about 9 p.m. on a Thursday in late June. Johnson guesses it could be another 10 or 15 minutes before his bus arrives.
"When I was growing up, they used to have no problem with the bus service," said Johnson, a retired chef, barber and cosmetologist. "They used to say you could light a cigarette and the bus would be there before you finished."
Waits have been getting longer for many of the roughly 107,000 to 117,000 daily passengers who depend on Detroit's bus fleet. The city has lost about half of its bus service since 2005, according to Transportation Riders United, a rider advocacy group. Under the Detroit Department of Transportation's new "415" plan, the city has increased service along its four busiest routes, with buses now running every 15 minutes, but the new schedule necessitated tradeoffs elsewhere. In March, the department, whose management had recently been privatized by the city, shortened hours on more than 30 routes and discontinued all service between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m.
The changes, which the city anticipates will save $40 million a year, have forced an estimated 3,200 nighttime travelers to come up with alternative plans for getting around town and left others waiting longer on the side of the road.
"I'm hurting. A lot of times they don't come around, and when they do, they pass you by," said George Jones, 57, who was waiting with his wheelchair a few blocks away from Johnson at the Mack and Woodward stop, located on one of the "415" routes with increased service. "I can't do nothing but wait and read and weep and pray."
To address the financial crisis that has threatened to bankrupt the city, Mayor Dave Bing (D) announced this year that he would eliminate more than 2,500 city employees, including police officers, firefighters and transportation workers, and slash the budgets of city agencies. The transportation department's budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year was reduced from $53 million to $43 million.
"No one wants these cuts -- especially not the citizens who have already suffered as a result of declining budgets," Bing said while presenting his budget in April. "But they are essential to ensure the city’s long-term financial sustainability."
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Other cities are making similar calculations. According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), nearly 80 percent of the country's public transit systems in 2010 had implemented service cuts or rate hikes, or were considering them due to decreased funding.
In June, the Port Authority of Allegheny County, which covers Pittsburgh, agreed to eliminate 46 bus routes, reducing overall service by 35 percent, as part of a cost-cutting plan to help eliminate the agency's $64 million deficit.
In July, Boston's transit agency increased fares in order to cope with its projected $160 million deficit. The city narrowly avoided service cuts just days before they were scheduled to take effect, thanks to a $49 million bailout by the Massachusetts legislature.
"With the financial crisis, cities have less revenue," said Larry Hanley, international president of the Amalgamated Transportation Union. "Their tax bases are dwindling, and they take it out on transit."
High gas prices and a lack of federal funding for transit operations have made the problem worse, he said.
Meanwhile, more individuals than ever are relying on public transportation. Ridership increased 5 percent nationwide during the first quarter of 2012, compared to the same period last year, according to the APTA.
The problems are especially acute for the poor and disabled, and for workers who clock out late at night, when transportation options are already limited.
Shelly Young, 68, a former bar worker who is now on Social Security, used to take taxis to get around Detroit at night, but can no longer afford the fares. "It's terrible," she said after just missing her bus at Mack and Woodward, adding, "You got to take a bus; otherwise you can't go nowhere."
Michael Ruffin, 54, who works late at night in Detroit's New Center area, a commercial and residential district that's home to the Henry Ford Hospital, knows this situation well. He said the elimination of overnight service has left him with few options.
"When I get off, there's no bus to take me home," said the Detroit resident, waiting with some friends near a stop on East Grand Boulevard close to his office. "It's a mile-and-a-half walk. It's dangerous. You can see abandoned houses. It's scary."
Ruffin said he's been stuck at the city's central transit center several times because his connecting bus had left before he could make his transfer. "I've been stranded downtown until 4 o'clock or 5 o'clock, depending whether it's a weekday or weekend," he said. "I had to sit in a casino until the buses started again."
Naomi Patton, a spokeswoman for the mayor, defended his record on public transportation.
"It has been well reported that Mayor Bing has consistently worked with the [U.S.] Department of Transportation and Secretary Ray LaHood to get assistance for DDOT," she told HuffPost.
Despite these efforts, the city agency's future looks lean due to Detroit's financial troubles. The city's 2012-2013 budget mentions "route rationalizations" and stricter control of overtime.
"Route rationalizations occur when DDOT adjusts routes to meet the demands of the public, assessed with ridership data, and to meet the confines of DDOT's budget," Ron Freeland, the agency's chief executive, said in a statement to The Huffington Post. "Many of these services changes and modifications have been implemented since March."
Freeland noted that ridership has remained consistent since those changes and said that additional modifications will be made as needed.
The mayor's across-the-board personnel cuts are also likely to affect transportation workers -- and recent changes in the city's governmental structure will leave unions with little room to negotiate.
Detroit's close brush with bankruptcy this spring pushed the mayor and city council to agree to give oversight authority for city operations and finances to a nine-member financial advisory board, chief financial officer and program management director. The consent agreement gives the city the ability to sidestep collective bargaining with public employees.
Henry Gaffney, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 26, which represents city bus drivers, said he is expecting news about layoffs within the next two months.
"I know I'm going to be hearing about that," he said. "If they lay off firemen, ain't nobody safe."
Exactly what lies in store for the transportation department is unpredictable -- the same complaint some riders have with the city's bus service.
Johnson, waiting at the Warren and Woodward stop, said it's impossible to plan bus rides anymore. But he tries to look on the bright side.
"I'm just glad when the sucka comes," he said.
CLICK HERE to read the full story. The austerity budget, conservatives' favored response to the Great Recession, is more than just simple belt tightening. It's not one cut or 10, but a thousand. City and neighborhood essentials like bus service become expendable, and things that we have come to depend on as part of our daily lives are slowly erased. Those teachers and firefighters Mitt Romney doesn't want to pay for? They're already part of austerity's disappeared jobs. This austerity mindset is taking hold not just in cities and states across the United States, but around the world. While conservatives have championed austerity as eat-your-peas necessity, these massive cuts often have unintended consequences.
CLICK HERE to read the full story. "They are asking you to do more with less," Westfield, N.J., firefighters union president Mike Sawicki said. "A second-grader can figure that out. Show up with nine guys, and it is easier to save." While the number of deadly fires has declined over the last 20 years nationwide, thanks to better construction and safety techniques, fire departments are increasingly called upon to answer medical emergencies, chemical spills and more, said Garry Biese, CEO for the International Association of Fire Chiefs. Yet fire departments are going short-handed. The precipitous drop in state and local revenues caused by the Great Recession, combined with budget cuts pushed by austerity-minded politicians, has led to static or slowly dropping staffing levels across the country.
CLICK HERE to read the full story. When Shania started third grade at P.S. 148 last fall, she was thrilled to be back at the Queens public school. An outgoing eight-year-old, she said she was happy to be among her friends again, and she had loved her class the previous year. Her second-grade teacher would take the time to explain tricky topics like addition and subtraction one-on-one. She had even been named "student of the month." But since 2007, as the economy has tanked and expenses for public schools have risen, New York City has made principals cut budgets by 13.7 percent. When budgets are cut, teachers are fired and others aren't replaced -- including at P.S. 148, which has lost at least $600,000 and eight teachers since 2010. When teachers are lost, class sizes balloon. Shania had 31 classmates this past school year, compared to 20 the year before.
CLICK HERE for the full story. Since birth, Lisa Egan, 33, has dealt with a rare genetic disorder called osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease. The condition has caused more than 60 fractures in Egan's lifetime, including five separate breaks in 2011. "I once broke my back sleeping in an awkward position," she said. Because her disease is "wearing out her joints," doctors told Egan to use a wheelchair. "I can walk a very short distance and very slowly," said Egan, who lives in Camden, North London. "But sometimes things happen, such as my knee dislocates or I will tear a tendon out of a metatarsal and pull the end of the bone off with it. ... So I use a wheelchair most of the time." Despite her condition, Egan said she does not like to be seen as "vulnerable." Intelligent and articulate, she has written extensively on disability and politics, and has even tried a stint at stand-up comedy. As one of nearly 500,000 people in the United Kingdom who rely on welfare benefits, however, Egan now experiences fear daily: fear for her future, fear for her ability to live independently, even fear for her life.
CLICK HERE to read the full story. Waits have been getting longer for many of the roughly 107,000 to 117,000 daily passengers who depend on Detroit's bus fleet. The city has lost about half of its bus service since 2005, according to Transportation Riders United, a rider advocacy group. Under the Detroit Department of Transportation's new "415" plan, the city has increased service along its four busiest routes, with buses now running every 15 minutes, but the new schedule necessitated tradeoffs elsewhere. In March, the department, whose management had recently been privatized by the city, shortened hours on more than 30 routes and discontinued all service between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. The changes, which the city anticipates will save $40 million a year, have forced an estimated 3,200 nighttime travelers to come up with alternative plans for getting around town and left others waiting longer on the side of the road. "I'm hurting. A lot of times they don't come around, and when they do, they pass you by," said George Jones, 57.
CLICK HERE to read the full story. Frances Clark's last moments were not peaceful. Flu-like symptoms and seizures wracked her body. Her breathing deteriorated. At the end, she was "gasping, like a fish out of water," her daughter recalled later in court documents. The 89-year-old woman died on Aug. 25, 2008, the first victim of a listeriosis outbreak that killed 23 people, sickened thousands more and triggered the biggest food recall in Canadian history. A government investigation determined the cause of the outbreak: tainted meat from processing giant Maple Leaf Foods. The company apologized to the victims and settled a number of lawsuits, including one brought by Clark's family, for CAD$27 million. Following the scandal, the federal government introduced significant changes to its meat inspection program, including nearly doubling the number of inspectors from 225 to 400. But now, the government has slashed the budget for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the federal department responsible for food safety, by $56 million over the next three years.
CLICK HERE to read the full story. Roman Quinn said getting clean would have been nearly impossible if he were still living on the streets. But his struggle to find a place to live proved nearly as difficult as his struggle to find sobriety. San Francisco has nonprofit groups and other programs in place to help the city's most vulnerable residents -- people like Quinn and, increasingly, families tossed out of their homes due to the recession -- find housing. In recent months, however, that system has been greatly strained. Federal housing grants and tax credit programs have decreased drastically. Last year alone, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's HOME Investment Partnerships Program, which doles out grants to municipalities for things like affordable housing construction and down payment assistance, saw its budget slashed by almost 38 percent. And changes at the state level last year cost the city about $50 million worth of tax revenue that had gone toward affordable housing. Meanwhile, the flood of individuals who have lost their jobs and homes in recent years has swelled the demand for affordable housing. It became so bad that the city's public housing authority closed the waiting list to new applicants in 2010. The list has yet to reopen. Without new sources of funding, success stories, even ones as tenuous as Quinn's, will be increasingly uncommon.
CLICK HERE to read the full story. While austerity measures remain comparatively limited in France, one field has suffered considerably: renewable energy, particularly solar photovoltaic systems. Over the past few years, nearly half the jobs in the sector, a total of 12,000, have been disappeared. According to the Syndicat des Energies Renouvelables, the renewable-energy trade union, nearly one-third of those jobs vanished in 2011. Entrepreneurs like Kilian Heim, who had gone out to conquer this new market, are now restarting from zero.
CLICK HERE to read the full story. The austerity game also has winners. Cutting or eliminating government programs that benefit the less advantaged has long been an ideological goal of conservatives. Doing so also generates a tidy windfall for the corporate class, as government services are privatized and savings from austerity pay for tax cuts for the wealthiest citizens.
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