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The Frederick Law Olmsted School at Kensington-Buffalo’s Other Art Deco Building

By Paul McDonnell AIA
Buffalonians are very familiar with its art deco masterpieces; City Hall and Central Terminal, but many take for granted the equally impressive Kensington High School. Designed in the 1930’s during the Great Depression, Kensington was funded by the Federal Emergency Administration (FERA). FERA was one of President Roosevelt’s first New Deal programs, whose main goal was to ease unemployment by creating new jobs for tradesmen, artisans and architects in local and state government.
 
Despite the country’s dire financial situation during the Great Depression, Buffalo’s population between 1920 and 1940 expanded by almost 70,000 residents to 575,000 with over 80,000 students in the public schools. Much of this growth was occurring in the northern section of Buffalo, especially in the Kensington Bailey neighborhood. A new high school was needed and soon land on Suffolk Avenue was acquired and by 1935 the new Kensington High School was under construction.
Daniel McNeil, architect for the Buffalo Public School system chose to design this new school in the then popular art deco style. Art deco had originated in Europe in the 1920’s and made its way across the Atlantic where it was embraced by Americans who found its muscularity, linear symmetry and modernity appropriate for the new buildings in its booming cities. The style remained popular through the depression especially for civic buildings where its style invoked strength and optimism at a time when the public needed reassurance from the government that all was not lost. 

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Kensington incorporated many of the details commonly associated with art deco, from its symmetrical main elevation, strong verticality and geometric ornamentation. The verticality is accentuated with a five story central tower capped by a copper hipped roof and the recessed windows and metal spandrel panels. The limestone and buff brick exterior is adorned with stylized bison, owls, eagles, floral patterns and numerous geometric images. When opened, the school was a state-of-the-art facility for 2000 students with a large gymnasium, cafeteria, spectacular 3 story tall art deco detailed auditorium, well equipped science labs and ample well equipped classrooms. 
Kensington would develop a proud legacy all the way through the 1980’s. It would begin a decline in the 1990’s with changing demographics, a lack of programmatic and physical investment and poor academic performance. In 2003 Kensington High School was closed. After the last students vacated the building, the district would use it as a central food service preparation facility, administrative offices and storage. In 2005 Hutch Tech would relocate there and use it as a temporary home while their building was being reconstructed. 
At this same time, the Frederick Law Olmsted program was looking to consolidate some of its grade levels and expand the school. Olmsted had developed into one of the most successful programs in Buffalo. There was a consistent waiting list to attend the school and the neighborhood served by Olmsted had become a neighborhood of choice for Buffalonians. Because of the strong interest in expanding the program through the twelfth grade a large school was needed. Serendipitously Kensington High School was available.

In 2009 HHL Architects was selected to begin design work on Kensington High School to accommodate a grades 5-12 program as part of the Joint School Reconstruction Program (JSCB). Construction would begin a year later. The architect’s first task was to insure that issues with the building exterior were addressed. The school required a great deal of masonry re-pointing and brick replacement and the original 80 year old wood windows needed replacement. Although it is preferable to repair historic windows, the windows at Kensington had suffered from years of neglect and were deemed to be beyond repair. 
The district has considered the windows in all of its historic buildings to be character defining elements and when original windows could not be saved accurate reproductions would be created. Kensington was no exception. The old sash was removed, the frames were scraped, sanded smooth, painted and new bronze weather stripping was installed. New sash were custom fabricated by Infinity Windows of Buffalo using Spanish cedar, a sustainable, rot resistant species of wood. The windows have true divided lights, with 3 over 3 insulated glass units matching the originals perfectly yet meeting all contemporary energy performance standards. With the addition of the insulated glass, the new sashes were significantly heavier than the originals and the balancers could not accommodate the extra weight. To remedy this Infinity developed a system in which the widows balance themselves. As the bottom sash is raised, the upper lowers in unison and although each one ways in excess of 80 lbs, they can be operated with one hand.
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Kensington still had the original science labs installed in 1937 that were in dire need of replacement. New labs with proper preparation rooms, fume hoods and chemical storage were installed. The old wood cabinets, although obsolete for science labs were dismantled, refinished and installed throughout the building for use as display cabinets.
Every classroom received new lighting, flooring, ceilings and paint. Interactive white boards and the infrastructure to support six computers was installed. 
New computer rooms, a home and careers room, a technology center, music rooms, art rooms and administrative suites were constructed. The gymnasium, pool and locker rooms were also refurbished.
New construction included a new music room and entrance located in the rear of Kensington. Designed to house choral music, the “red cube” also serves as the “venue” entrance for the auditorium conveniently located near the school parking lot. 
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The most stunning space at Kensington and is the art deco auditorium. Almost three stories high, the 2000 seat auditorium was freshly painted with colors that highlight the deco detailing. All of the original light fixtures were re-lamped and refurbished, the wood seating restored and a new stage curtain was installed. In order to support virtually any event Olmsted may host, a new sophisticated theatrical lighting and sound system was included as part of the auditorium restoration.
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Finally, an “Olmstedian” landscape of rolling hills, trellises and trees was constructed in the rear of the school. The space serves as an outdoor classroom and offers recreational opportunities for the students.
Considering that Kensington High School was virtually abandoned as a school less than ten years ago, the transformation has been remarkable. Alumni that were so concerned with the disposition of the building are now collaborating with the Olmsted staff and students to ensure that the history of Kensington High School is not forgotten and the future of the new Frederick Law Olmsted School at Kensington is bright and successful.

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My grandfather, Thomas J. McDonnell was the first principal of Kensington High School. Tom was a Buffalo native, educated at Canisius College, the State Normal School and Columbia University. He began his teaching career at the newly opened South Park High School in 1915. There he met a fellow teacher, Estelle Weber, who would become his wife. In 1932 Tom was named Assistant Principal at Grover Cleveland High School and then hand picked by the Superintendent of Schools to serve as Kensington High School’s first Principal in 1937. His tenure would take the school through WW II. 
A picture shows him standing next to a Curtis aircraft manufactured in Buffalo named “Spirit of Kensington” to honor the school for an incredibly successful scrap metal drive in support of the war in 1943. My father, Paul would graduate from Kensington in 1946. One year later Tom died suddenly at the age of 55. The McDonnell family produced many Buffalo school employees; his brother Arthur, principal at School 33, two sons, Paul and Robert a granddaughter, Susan, and a grandson…me…who would have the privilege of managing the reconstruction of the school he so honorably served.
Paul McDonnell AIA is Director of Facilities, Planning and Construction for the Buffalo Public Schools, President of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture and Culture, Chair of the Buffalo Preservation Board and Board Member of the Buffalo and WNY Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

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Sometimes the authors at Buffalo Rising work on collaborative efforts in order to cover various events and stories. These posts can not be attributed to one single author, as it is a combined effort. Often times a formation of a post gets started by one writer and passed along to one or more writers before completion. At times there are author attributions at the end of one of these posts. Other times, “Buffalo Rising” is simply offered up as the creator of the article. In either case, the writing is original to Buffalo Rising.

5757 posts
  • Buffaboy

    what a transformation

  • ladyinwhite

    Beautiful building. A perfect example of what could arise from a government that used to understand what to do with unemployed people and public funds. If they would only revamp the welfare and unemployment system. We would then have a trained and more productive nation instead of masses of lazy people living off the system generation after generation.

  • grad94

    wow. double thumbs up!

  • hamp

    Congratulations on this great restoration.
    The care taken with the windows in all the refurbished school buildings sets them apart from most
    other school rehabs I have seen – nationwide. The Buffalo Schools Reconstruction Project is first rate, and a real asset to the city.

  • BuffaloRox

    Great article. I recently saw part of the building first hand. The renovation has restored the sparkle to this building. The auditorium is really beautiful with its art deco light fixtures. The building is bright, clean and beautiful. While it’s great that this school has a positive future as part of the Olmsted schools, it’s too bad that three out of four sides of the school consists of municipal housing. Such a large pocket of permanent poverty has to be a serious challenge to the growth of the rest of the surrounding neighborhood.

  • Black Rock Lifer

    Your ignorance of history is astounding, FERA and other New Deal programs were relentlessly attacked much like the stimulus program today. Critics of Roosevelt and his New Deal called it socialism, welfare, and a waste of taxpayer dollars. There were claims those workers were lazy, the projects were useless, and corruption was rampant. Of course none of that was true, sound familiar?

  • Black Rock Lifer

    The welfare and unemployment system have little impact on our economy. This is just a favorite wedge issue used by conservative candidates to divide voters. The bottom 50% of citizens now share just 1% of our nations wealth, they are indeed responsible for 1% of our problems. The other 99% is where the big money is, blaming the poor is not only dishonest but mean spirited.

  • benfranklin

    Slightly off topic… there’s a building in your neighborhood being auctioned next Saturday. 17,000 square feet, on Amherst, next to the Artisan Kitchen place.
    It has a metal covering on the front that looks fairly recent, do you know if it’s covering brick, or cinder block?
    Any other thoughts on that building?

  • BuffaloEmigrant

    And when you drive on the side streets by Kensington, you don’t see a lot of the urban prairies/disheveled properties that the East Side is infamous for. It’s a pretty nice looking area to an outsider. So I think there is hope for the Kensington/Bailey corridor if enough people invest in it.
    I’m not a fan of the municipal housing at all. To me it just encourages cyclical property and takes away opportunities for people to be independent/home owners. I’d tear them down and put that space to better use, but since it probably makes income for the City, no chance of that happening.

  • Black Rock Lifer

    I believe it is covering brick, I don’t know the specifics of this building but most of the neighboring buildings were constructed just prior to or just after the turn of the century. This area was directly impacted by the construction of the belt line and grew rapidly. The area was the first to be developed east of the railroad tracks as the old village expanded.

  • NBuffguy

    I don’t call 10% to 12% of the federal budget spent on welfare programs “little impact on our economy.”

  • benfranklin

    Thanks…the metal (imo) doesn’t look too good. Any amount of maintenance would make the property look better. I’ll take a closer look prior to the sale.

  • BuffaloRox

    I don’t know what factors limited the urban prairy in this area. Seems that most of the urban praires on the East Side are closer to the downtown core where the greatest flight has occurred. Putting aside the debate on the value of municipal housing of this type to the residents themselves, my concerns focus on the concentration of permanent poverty it creates in that neighborhood and how those residents overwhelm the other neighborhood residents and challenge growth. Unfortunately, with such a large municipal housing project that is not going away anytime soon, I imagine investment is most likely to be by publicly-funded social services or private enterprises that target the poor (rent-to-own stores) or face more (better funded) resistance elsewhere (e.g., scrap facilities or garbage dumps and the corner “deli”). Homeowners and landords have a hard choice when considering repairs/upgrades when they are faced with stagnant or declining housing values.

  • Tim

    True, but her point was that during the new deal people were paid to work on projects, whereas today people are paid to do nothing at all! HUGE difference! Sorry.

  • jim1234664

    Agreed. And in the local economy only 10% of the county budget is able to be used for any other purpose than mandated payments to cover the county’s share of medical payments for the uninsured…
    anyone see something wrong with this picture? I cant believe this issue seems to rarely if ever get mention

  • Black Rock Lifer

    That 10 or 12% includes the following- earned income tax credit, child tax credits, SSI for the elderly and disabled, food stamps, school meals, housing assistance, HEAP, child care credits, and unemployment insurance. Like I said welfare is chump change and is used to distract people from the real problem, the ever increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of the entitled class.

  • Black Rock Lifer

    The vast majority of Medicaid dollars go the elderly with the largest portion being used to pay for long term care.

  • Black Rock Lifer

    The stimulus dollars employed thousands of workers on projects throughout the country.

  • Dan

    > you don’t see a lot of the urban prairies/disheveled properties that the East Side is infamous for.
    That’s because most housing in Kensington was built in the 1920s. It’s tract housing built in an era of basic building codes, with full basements, and more contemporary plumbing, heating, and electrical systems.
    The thousands of bungalows in the neighborhood aren’t without their problems, but they’re not as functionally obsolete as the older East Side workman’s cottages. Most houses in Kensington have driveways and garages. Floorplans of post-1920 houses usually aren’t as weird as the older cottages; no telescoping/shotgun plans, bathrooms off the dining room, central space heaters in the living room, and the like.
    Kensington was ethnically mixed up until the late 1980s and early 1990s, with a lower-middle to middle class population. A lot of teachers, low- to mid-level city employees, UB staff, utility company employees, and the like lived there. Many houses have extensive upgrades from the time just before extensive racial transition took place.
    20 years? It may be a different story. New residents don’t have the same incomes to maintain and upgrade the houses as the residents that moved 20-25 years ago.

  • Black Rock Lifer

    Riverside is very similar, the neighborhood was built out beginning at the turn of the century but the bulk of the housing was built in the teens and twenties. I agree those homes had much better systems and were built to more modern codes but they also were built using cheaper materials and lack the character of older homes.
    Here in Black Rock many of the larger and architecturally attractive homes have begun to attract attention. These earlier builds have interesting spaces, quality millwork, and a history that inspires more than the tract housing.
    The more humble cottages and telescoping houses (that tend to be even older) are far from perfect but have provided a decent and very economical home to generations of residents. I think we should not discount this type of housing as obsolete, I have seen many clever renovations that have repurposed this space for a modern lifestyle. A good friend of mine owns a cica 1851 cottage with no basement and no central heat. He and his family live quite comfortably there and are able to afford a good lifestyle since the house is paid for and utilities and maintenance are fairly low cost. I realize this isn’t for everyone but there is certainly a need and demand for low cost housing, especially in a city where poverty is rampant.

  • BuffaloRox

    Wonder why Riverside seems to be deteriorating at an accelerating rate while Black Rock seems to have stabilized and attracted investment? The Ontario St. & Tonawanda St. business district in Riverside seems a shamble and the municipal housing on Ontario (near Flying Bison) looks brutal & scary. A couple of years ago, Grant street area seemed poised for investment to leverage that of Guercio’s and Sweetness 7. However, that seems to have stalled out and momentum now appears to be in Black Rock’s favor. I wonder if that’s my imagination or if residential and commercial real estate in Black Rock is seeing greater price appreciation and investment.

  • Up and coming

    I’ll upvote that.

  • ladyinwhite

    Maybe so. But things got constructed and people had to actually do something for their hand outs. Today it is actually thought of as a given right which is total bull. This country is going to hell in a handbasket with the losers working the system for welfare, heap, foodstamps and free cell phones. Put them to work learning a trade, cleaning the streets, rebuilding neighborhoods ….whatever for their money. Sorta like the rest of us. I realize in Blackrock working is a hard concept to realize but it’s a reality most of America.

  • Cam33r4

    My mom works there. She said it’s amazing inside! This was a restoration very well done!

  • Black Rock Lifer

    You must be also ignorant of the fact that Black Rock is a working class neighborhood. This area has always been a place where blue collar workers took pride in their work and entreprenurs have and continue to thrive. Many operate small business’s or work two jobs to make ends meet. My neighbors here are can do types, they work on their own houses, repair their own cars, and take care of the neighborhood. There are a number of active volunteers that maintain our parks, public garden, and other neighborhood assets. There is a pride of place here that frankly no longer exists in much of America.

  • Black Rock Lifer

    Black Rock has turned the corner after decades of slow decline. We have been working at a grass roots level for over 20 years and have just seen real progress in the past 5 or so. There have been multiple greenspace projects, small scale infrastructure projects, and the establishment of the Market Square Historic District. We also installed historic markers and interpretive panels to recognize the many historic sites in the area.
    Black Rock was once a small village and contains a wide variety of architectural styles dating from the 1830’s. There are also many interesting old commercial and industrial buildings that are ripe for reuse. The area still retains the look and feel of a village and has many long time residents. Riverside does not have that long history and the architecture is not especially appealing with the exception of Niagara St along the river. Riverside also contains more two family homes that have turned into rentals owned by absentee landlords. The Riverside business district also lacks quality architecture and has been decimated by demolition and abandonment.
    There is a future here in Buffalo’s oldest neighborhood, the waterfront is an asset that is yet to be fully exploited. Our location is central to all of the best of Buffalo with Elmwood, Hertel, Delaware Park and the museum district adjoining the neighborhood. We welcome new business and new residents to consider Black Rock.

  • grad94

    one last thing: burgard was an equally fine art deco masterpiece. why did city school district architects (or those they hired) crash a flying saucer into it?
    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/22/Burgard006.JPG/200px-Burgard006.JPG

  • Crisa

    Retry: What became of that historical Compass flooring in the main hall lobby?

  • BuffaloEmigrant

    Riverside could be a prime location if it weren’t for the 190 cutting through it. While the area doesn’t offer much in terms of historical architecture, it has a lot of potential as a residential community.

  • BuffaloEmigrant

    Looking at pictures from before the reconstruction, it appeared that there weren’t any handicap-accessible entrances. The new entrance is ground level and contains an elevator in to the main school, along with a new main office suite and a very nice computer lab addition to the library.
    As an aside: I took the picture you linked for Wikipedia. Always a little flattered when I see it pop up on other sites!

  • whatever

    In addition to reasons you listed, maybe in part the recent last few years of growth in traffic on Amherst St between Elmwood & Grant, some of it for Wegmans (or Tops & strip plaza at Amherst/Grant), gives that area more frequent visibility than say the other areas Rox mentioned like Riverside or most of Grant, which can help motivate businesses to choose it with hopes of customer flow.
    Although I think you’ve mentioned that part toward Wegmans east of Grant is only “honorary” Black Rock around where one of the bars has the Welcome sign.
    Speaking of which … I wonder when-abouts did the area now called Black Rock start to be called that, and how was that caused to happen?
    Somewhere recently (maybe on here?) I noticed a map from the late 1800s which still had the area near Porter/Niagara labeled as Black Rock, and your area now called Black Rock was labeled something different…. I don’t recall what.
    Maybe at some point some residents moved a couple miles north from the Porter area and brought along the name with them?
    We can only guess how district names would get suggested, judged, or mocked a century before blogs.

  • benfranklin

    This is off a wiki…” Black Rock took its name from a large outcropping of black limestone along the Niagara River, which was blasted away in the early 1820s to make way for the canal.” I’m sure it will be clarified by someone else, but around 1812, I think Black Rock and Buffalo were comparable in size. I recall, not real well, but I think an attack of 1812 was focused on Black Rock.

  • Black Rock Lifer

    The “Black Rock” was a large flat shelf of chert that extended into the Niagara River forming a natural pier and harbor. The rock was located near the foot of present day School St. just north of the Peace Bridge. The Native Americans had been coming to the rock for centuries to obtain the black chert or flint necessary to manufacture tools and weapons.
    The Upper Village of Black Rock was settled before 1800 near the intersection of Niagara and Ferry. The area was among the first to be settled on the Niagara Frontier, this was the area the British burned along with Buffalo in 1813.
    The Black Rock area was the site of three battles in the War of 1812 and five of Commodore Perry’s ships used in the Battle of Lake Erie were built in the shipyard at Scajaquada Creek.
    The Lower Village of Black Rock was located downriver and north of Scajaquada Creek near the interesection of Niagara and Amherst. Lower Black Rock grew rapidly with the construction of the Erie Canal in 1825. This is the heart of the old neighborhood today containing the City of Buffalo’s largest number of homes constructed prior to 1850.
    Black Rock was annexed by Buffalo in 1854, the Upper Village slowly lost its identity but the Lower Village has always kept its sense of pride and place. Probably more than you asked for but this is my area of interest.

  • Black Rock Lifer

    Many residents of Riverside and Black Rock fought the construction of Thruway in 1957. They recognized the highway would sever the neighborhods connection to the waterfront. There have been efforts to consider removing or relocating the 190 but this is a heavy lift. It would be possible to follow the under utilized rail corridor along Tonawanda St to open up the riverfront through Black Rock and Riverside. The present footprint of the 190 impacts a large area that would be prime for development.

  • whatever

    Lower Village – that was the label I couldn’t recall on the 1800s map which showed the more southern part as being Black Rock. Makes sense – lower in a sense of being farther downstream on the river. Thanks.

  • Dagner

    So Paul, when’s the tour?

  • bflolover

    Great article, Paul! The connections you have to the building are very cool!

  • Buffaboy

    I agree, and I hope that they give every broken school in Buffalo this treatment while the BPS system is being fixed. Yes, it’s the Olmstead program thingy but my school wasn’t elite yet everything was scholastic and up-to-date. Some members our our government have proposed school infastructure repair bills but most were shot down, in recent years, by a certian political faction (we shouldn’t keep them anymore…).

  • RaChaCha

    Paul, thank you so much for this article, and for sharing how your family history is tied up with the school.
    Congratulations on the great project!

  • BuffaloQPublic

    Outstanding job!
    LadyinWhite – You apparently have chronic negativity syndrome. It must have been too painful for you to simply post your complimentary statement “beautiful building.”
    RE: “If they would only revamp the welfare and unemployment system. We would then have a trained and more productive nation instead of masses of lazy people living off the system generation after generation.”
    “This country is going to hell in a handbasket with the losers working the system for welfare, heap, food stamps and free cell phones.”
    You must have missed it. The welfare system was significantly altered during the Clinton era which included a maximum period for receiving benefits. There are hard working people, some with two jobs, who qualify for food stamps.
    If you weren’t hampered by myopic stenosis you possibly would notice that the unemployment rolls have a growing number of highly educated, former middle income people on them. Testimony from them would most likely reveal their new found understanding of unemployment – the people and the circumstances.
    Survey your friends and acquaintances regarding HEAP assistance. You will probably find the faces of the recipients are not as narrowly confined as you arrogantly seem to assume.
    You may maintain good fortune and not require government assistance – but in the lottery of life – Hey! You never know.

  • Timothy Domst
  • grad94

    if we had more jobs than job-seekers, ladyinwhite would reason to b*tch. but as long as there are 100 or more applicants for every opening, individual laziness has no merit as an explanation for high unemployment.

  • r-k-tekt

    The compass which is formed in terazzo is still there, polished like new!

  • NBuffguy

    Working class is a term to describe those employed in lower tier jobs (as measured by skill, education and lower incomes), often extending to those in unemployment or otherwise possessing below-average incomes. We’re all pretty well aware of Black Rock’s status as working class.

  • NBuffguy

    Everything you mentioned, with the exception of the earned income tax credit, is welfare. And that’s no chump change.

  • grad94

    look at the lead images. kensington has steps at the front door instead of an entrance at grade, but nobody took that to mean that it needed a flying saucer pasted on to the front.

  • Black Rock Lifer

    Actually Black Rock has a wide range of incomes, one of my neighbors is a millionaire, many of my neighbors are business owners, and many others are professionals including myself and my wife. Also, my son and three of his friends that grew up here in Black Rock are ivy league graduates (and they were admitted on merit, not by legacy) But hey, it is no suprise you are ignorant of those facts, they don’t fit your limited knowledge of places like Black Rock.

  • Black Rock Lifer

    No, but keep telling that lie, Romney would be proud of you.

  • NBuffguy

    Actually, you’re the one who characterized Black Rock as a “working class” neighborhood in your reply to ladyinwhite. See above. I was merely pointing out what “working class” actually means.

  • NBuffguy

    Grow up.

  • Black Rock Lifer

    I think your comment was meant to demean my neighborhood as was Ladyinwhite’s, if I am wrong I apologize.

  • Black Rock Lifer

    Welfare is generally defined as TANF (Temporary Assistance Needy Families), prior to welfare reform it was known as AFDC (Aid Families Dependant Children). The cost of TANF to the federal government is 20.5 Billion or less than 1% of the budget. Your attempt to lump all those other costs into welfare is not accurate or factual.

  • NBuffguy

    “Welfare is generally defined as TANF” By whom? You? You’re saying the only form of welfare is cash payments. That’s neither accuarate nor factual. A payment made to a landlord on behalf of a welfare recipient is every bit as much a welfare payment as an electronic deposit made to a welfare recipient’s bank account. The same can be said of a HEAP payment made directly to a utility company. Just because the money doesn’t pass through the welfare recipient’s fingers does not mean the payment was not made.

  • whatever

    Lie? It looks to me that NBuffguy is clearly correct based on the dictionary definition.
    Unless Merriam Webster is lying too (or did Bain buy them? lol)
    wel·fare noun \ˈwel-ˌfer\
    1 : the state of doing well especially in respect to good fortune, happiness, well-being, or prosperity
    2 a : aid in the form of money or necessities for those in need
    b : an agency or program through which such aid is distributed

    Note the ‘or’ between money and necessities.
    In some cases including examples of corporate welfare and sometimes individual, what should count as ‘necessities’ and ‘need’ can be debated, but the point is that it isn’t always cash payments.
    Also – and without regard to any positives or negatives about it – the earned income tax credit fits the definition too, in that it’s aid given to recipients from other taxpayers (in a similar way of transfer as done for various forms of corporate welfare so-called ‘tax credits’ too).
    The merits of all this are separate arguments.

  • sonyactivision

    Terrific article!

  • Black Rock Lifer

    I apologize for the Romney comment, it wasn’t polite or constructive. My point about welfare was in response to Ladyinwhites comment of “masses of lazy people living off the system” I do stand by the fact that welfare as she defined it is indeed chump change and is less than 1% of the federal budget. The programs I listed are intended to help low income working people, that is a unfortunate neccesity in an economy that has driven down wages to poverty levels for roughly half of all Americans. Our present system has enabled the concentration of wealth and allowed corporations and business to pay lower wages while depending on goverment subsidies to supplement their employees meager earnings. Until that issue is addressed we will see only more dependance on government.

  • Black Rock Lifer

    I think when folks like Ladyinwhite attack the dreaded ‘welfare people’ she is referring to the non-working recipient of TANF. I understand how the meaning of welfare can encompass much more than that but my argument was meant to counter the ridiculous and often repeated lie that TANF is somehow costing us a fortune.

  • Up and coming

    PS I stopped by the Black Rock Cafe yesterday for brunch and was rather surprised. The food was good and the diner itself had a very upscale menu. My only complaint would be that they wouldn’t serve Bloody Mary’s before 12, and my pancakes were small to say the least and they even cost 10 dollars (ouch)!

  • Black Rock Lifer

    I would appreciate your take on my point that social programs are taxpayer subsidies that allow business to avoid the real cost of an employees labor. We provide food stamps, child care, housing subsidies, HEAP, etc. because wages have been driven down for decades while the wealth created by labor has been driven up to the top. This didn’t happen by accident but was a long term strategy motivated by good old fashioned greed.
    Those same subsidies also benefit the wealthy, food stamps go through many hands from the grocery store, to vendors, to farmers, etc. Housing subsidies go to landlords and large property management groups. HEAP is a direct payment to a highly profitable monopoly utility.
    We have built a system that depends on these programs to keep the masses out of extreme poverty. The only solution is to compensate all workers at a more fair and equitable wage.

  • Black Rock Lifer

    Another nice restaurant is opening soon on Amherst St near Military called the Phoenix. I believe the people that had Just Pasta on Bryant are the owners. There are also rumors a micro-brewery and bar could open in the old Pastime/Black Rock Saloon at the same corner.

  • whatever

    BRL>“We provide food stamps, child care, housing subsidies, HEAP, etc. because wages have been driven down for decades while the wealth created by labor has been driven up to the top.”
    Well, that’s different from my previous point about definitions (and LadyInWhite did mention things beyond TANF), but ok, moving on…
    and still none of this is arguing pros or cons, but giving my requested take about how you interpret it.
    The first part of my take is to wonder this –
    If your cause-effect premise is true, then among lower income jobs wouldn’t we see higher wages in states that offer less total social welfare per capita than states like NY or CA?
    In other words, if spending more in welfare programs helps cause lower income job wages to fall according to your premise, then wouldn’t the wages fall noticeably more in NY, CA, etc which have more per-capita welfare spending than wages fall for the same types of jobs in states that pay lower welfare like Texas, Mississippi, etc?
    Second, even aside from casue-effect, your premise of long term falling wages looks questionable.
    I realize what your stating is often said, but let’s look at decades 1971 to 2011.
    In real inflation-adjusted 2011 $, median household income hasn’t been driven down according to this chart based on Census data
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:US_real_median_household_income_1967_-_2011.PNG
    The above shows around $45k in 1971, nearly the same in 1981, growing to $49k in 1991, then to $53k in 2001 (all converted to 2011 dollars), and fell to a little over $50k in 2011 which is still well above what it was ’71 to ’81, and higher than in ’91.
    So you can say it’s fallen about 5% since 2001, but over four decades since 1971 what you said is “driven down over decades” was really “rising over decades”. That’s for the median as shown at that link and for all income ranges too as shown in next link, even the lowest 10% (at least through 2003 where next chart ends):
    http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:United_States_Income_Distribution_1967-2003.svg&page=1
    That one uses 2003 $, and the table below that chart shows for the lowest 10% income group:
    1971 $8,446
    1981 $9,280
    1991 $9,776
    2001 $11,105
    Doesn’t look like a driving down over those decades, yet during that time didn’t total welfare type programs grow a lot?
    Am I overlooking anything?

  • Black Rock Lifer

    On your first point, no we don’t see higher wages in states with less total social welfare per capita, we see much deeper poverty. I am sure you are aware of the huge disparity between the red southern states and the blue northern states. Thoe red states lead in almost every area of dysfunction including lack of health care, poor nutrition, lower test scores, teen pregnancy, alcohol and drug abuse, life expectancy, quality of life, etc. Most of those problems are a result of an ineffective and indifferent state government.
    On your second point, using median income is perhaps the best indicator but still does not account for two bigger issues. The household in 1971 was generally a one wage earner family, not the two wage earner household we have today. Wages have indeed been driven down as it takes two workers to maintain the same lifestyle that one earner provided in 1971.
    I should be more specific in saying that wages have been driven down the most at the bottom, low wage workers now make up about half of our economy. Those workers have lost the most ground, the median distorts that reality.
    The increase in welfare spending is directly related to the concentration of wealth as more of the wealth created by low skilled labor has been redistributed upwards.

  • Black Rock Lifer

    One more thing, do you agree that government programs benefit business by subsidizing their workers and relieving them of paying a living wage? Also do you agree those subsidies benefit business again as business is the final recipient of those benefit dollars?

  • whatever

    The 2nd chart linked in my previous comment shows the lowest income also grew over those decades, according to Census.
    Doesn’t that conflict with this?
    BRL>“I should be more specific in saying that wages have been driven down the most at the bottom, low wage workers now make up about half of our economy. Those workers have lost the most ground, the median distorts that reality.
    First chart was median income, then 2nd chart and table under it shows it for different income groupings. It shows even for 10% lowest-income grouping the inflation-adjusted dollars grew (not fell) over those decades. Not huge growth, but growth.
    To your point about increase of 2 wage earners per household, maybe if accounting for that it could look different – however, don’t forget there also was skyrocketing of single-parent households over those decades. For those, still 1 wage earner per household.

  • whatever

    BRL>“do you agree that government programs benefit business by subsidizing their workers and relieving them of paying a living wage?”
    I doubt it often truly affects what businesses really pay.
    Again – if it did, then wouldn’t a lot of businesses wanting to reduce payroll costs noticeably flock to states that offered more types and amounts of social welfare programs, away from states which offer fewer types and amounts? Doesn’t seem to me it happens, at least not for upstate NY metros.
    Consider example of child care type payments to low income folks.
    Not to single that out as a huge issue, but example of something recently added (I don’t think it goes back to FDR), and might vary among states or places. There was controversy when Collins tried to reduce it.
    Ok, say govt in some places offers more $ to low income people for child care than other places do, or some places don’t offer it at all.
    Then as a consequence, would types of businesses like cafes – say Coffee Culture or Sweetness7 – where govts have those programs really pay their low wage workers even less while paying more for the same jobs in places not having the payments?
    Or restaurants like say Merge or Mark Goldman’s BR Kitchen&Bar or even McDonalds or Wegmans – would business like those really pay lower wages if/when located in places with govt payments for low income child care (& similar aid programs) while paying higher wages for the same jobs if/when located in places the programs don’t exist?
    Is there any real evidence of it? Some of those businesses might favor such programs just like people have all different opinions about any issues.

  • whatever

    BRL>“Also do you agree those subsidies benefit business again as business is the final recipient of those benefit dollars?
    Of course govt choices can favor some types of businesses or industries, using $ from everyone else. Sometimes favoring is intentional, sometimes accidental, sometimes sneaky.
    For the same example, maybe day care businesses benefit in places that offer govt payments for low income child care.
    It won’t be surprising if those businesses might advocate or lobby for the programs – similarly to how Paladino and Termini might have done for Empire Zones which supposedly helped distressed metro areas (and themselves, coincidentally lol), or Solyndra did for solar energy aid, Gigi’s did as an east side business for public $ from City Hall,…. on and on.
    In the big picture, however, the $ has to come from somewhere and is spent instead of on some other use.

  • Black Rock Lifer

    My point stands that it now takes two earners to maintain the lifestyle one earner provided in 1971. Those single parent households are a good example since they basically must get by on half of what a single earner was able to earn in the past. I think this fact proves wages have been driven down even though household income does not indicate such dramatic change due to the norm of two wage earners per household. You might say wages have been cut in half by this logic.

  • Black Rock Lifer

    I disagree, for example it is well known that the majority of Wal-Mart employees are recieving some form of public assistance. Those employees could not afford to live on Wal-Mart’s wages and are kept out of extreme poverty by government. I could argue that Wal-Mart might not be able to fill their positions if not for government subsidy to their employees. Any way you look at it we (as taxpayers) are paying a portion of Wal-Mart employees wages.

  • Up and coming

    Let’s ask ourselves this. How much money has the BPS spent on remodeling schools over the past ten years? One billion, maybe a little less? Now ask youself how much graduation rates have went up during that time, maybe less than 10 percent? So ask yourself this, is spending money on fixing these buildings really worth it? How about spending money on boarding schools for low income students, or hiring better teachers. Just think of the difference that money could have made if spent wisely, instead of just throwing it at school remodeling.

  • Black Rock Lifer

    The scale of wealth transfer is not comparable, the Empire Zones, Solyndra, GiGi’s, etc. are quite small as compared to the dollars spent each year to subsidize low wage workers. As I noted those subsidies end up in the hands of business and as the “trickle” or should I say flood upwards to the wealthy.
    Maybe during Obamas second term we will see wages rise as fairness is recognized again as an American value. It seems the American people have rejected the failed agenda of enabling the rich and celebrating greed.

  • whatever

    BRL>”due to the norm of two wage earners per household. You might say wages have been cut in half by this logic.”
    Or I might suspect that’s ignoring how many households are single-person, or single-parent-not-receiving-child support. I’ll try to take a look at that some time.

  • whatever

    BRL>“for example it is well known that the majority of Wal-Mart employees are recieving some form of public assistance.
    C’mon, are you celebrating O’s win by going full Cliff Claven on us?
    Just because something is “well known”, doesn’t mean it’s true.
    A majority would mean over 50%.
    This says it’s less than half of 50% in deep blue Washington state, under 23%
    http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2002791346_walmart07m.html
    “Wal-Mart came out on top of both lists, with 3,180 employees receiving Medicaid benefits for themselves or a family member and 456 more on the BHP. The company employs about 16,000 people in Washington.
    3,600 divided by 16,000 employees is under 23%.
    Which means 77% aren’t.
    And here’s a question – if Walmart didn’t exist or pulled out of that state, would the 3,600 number receiving govt aid likely increase or decrease?
    Even lower percent according to this discussing WM employees in Arizona (under 10%, which means 90% aren’t)…
    http://www.goodjobsfirst.org/corporate-subsidy-watch/hidden-taxpayer-costs
    “Arizona
    In July 2005 the state Department of Economic Security issued data on the largest private employers with workers receiving taxpayer-financed medical insurance through the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System. At the top of the list was Wal-Mart, with about 2,700 workers– or 9.6 percent of its Arizona workforce–participating in the program. It was followed by Target, Kroger and regional supermarket chain Bashas, each of which had about 5 percent of their workers getting state healthcare coverage. …”

    Also notice at end there, the portion was about 5% for Target which means 95% aren’t.
    From same link, well below 20% in PA:
    “Pennsylvania
    In March 2006 the Philadelphia Inquirer published a report on data it obtained from the Department of Public Welfare on the percentage of workers enrolled in Medicaid at the ten largest employers in the state. Wal-Mart was at the top of the list, with 15.8 percent of its workforce (7,577 individuals) enrolled. [meaning 84% aren’t] Giant Food Stores was second with 11.8 percent (2,244 workers). [so 88% aren’t] …”

    Or has the definition of majority changed?
    On another note – do liberal-owned businesses (such as some examples of local cafes, restaurants, retail, etc?) pay higher wages than Walmart, and do they have a smaller % of workers receiving govt benefits?
    Or is it that those politically correct businesses just aren’t scapegoated in the same way?

  • LouisTully

    “I realize in Blackrock working is a hard concept to realize”
    You’re such a tool. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad. You are a fantastic example of a critical analyst with absolutely zero contribution to a solution. Lemme guess… you voted for Romney?