WORD LISTS

Bad Debts and Low Wages in the News: A Vocabulary List

December 4, 2013
With Illinois alleviating its crushing debt by trimming retirees pension plans, a federal judge ruling that Detroit's pension pledges would not be immune to a declaration of bankruptcy, and Democrats mobilizing around the issue of low wages, the vocabulary of debt is dominating this week's news.

To fully understand these unfolding news stories, learn ten key words taken from this week's New York Times and Wall Street Journal coverage.
engulf
To be engulfed is to be completely covered, as in a burning building engulfed in flames. When you are engulfed in debt, it means your income is completely absorbed by your debt obligations.
The Illinois legislature on Tuesday ended a day of emotional debate and fierce back-room arm-twisting by passing a deal to shore up the state’s debt-engulfed pension system by trimming retiree benefits and increasing state contributions.
-- Illinois Legislature Approves Retiree Benefit Cuts in Troubled Pension System, The New York Times, Dec. 3, 2013
arrears
See rear inside arrears and you'll be able to remember that it means "behind," as in "behind" in payments. If you are ten months behind on your $100 monthly rent payments, you can be said to be "$1000 in arrears" or "to have arrears of $1000."
With one of the nation’s worst-financed state employee pension systems — some $100 billion in arrears — Illinois has been the focus of intense attention across the country as states and municipalities struggle to come to grips with their own public pension problems.
-- Illinois Legislature Approves Retiree Benefit Cuts in Troubled Pension System, The New York Times, Dec. 3, 2013
municipality
Municipality is a catchall term to refer to towns, cities, townships--really, any self-governing entity smaller than a state. Good to know when talking about debt, as a township or hamlet can encounter the same rules and regulations, debt-wise, as a larger metropolis.
With one of the nation’s worst-financed state employee pension systems — some $100 billion in arrears — Illinois has been the focus of intense attention across the country as states and municipalities struggle to come to grips with their own public pension problems.
-- Illinois Legislature Approves Retiree Benefit Cuts in Troubled Pension System, The New York Times, Dec. 3, 2013
fiscal
If you were following stories of the "fiscal cliff," you're probably already aware that fiscal means "financial" or "having to do with money."
“This landmark legislation is a bipartisan solution that squarely addresses the most difficult fiscal issue Illinois has ever confronted.”
-- Illinois Legislature Approves Retiree Benefit Cuts in Troubled Pension System, The New York Times, Dec. 3, 2013
bankrupt
When you declare bankruptcy, you appeal to a court of law to take control of your assets, figure out who gets paid what, and in the case of a city or a vital institution, help you get back on track. Use bankrupt as an adjective to describe a person or entity who has declared bankruptcy, and as a verb when you mean "to drive into bankruptcy," as in, "My shoe-buying habit bankrupted my family."
“But it is the responsible thing to provide for a pension system that gives workers retirement security without bankrupting our state.”
-- Illinois Legislature Approves Retiree Benefit Cuts in Troubled Pension System, The New York Times, Dec. 3, 2013
Draconian
Draco was a 7th century Athenian who developed that city-state's first code of written law. The laws were so severe that the adjective draconian came to refers to a harsh or unforgiving style of rule. Harry Potter fans can remember this word by thinking of the unforgiving, mean-spirited Draco Malfoy, Harry's nemesis.
Opposition to the plan rose swiftly, particularly from union leaders who found it too draconian.
-- Illinois Legislature Approves Retiree Benefit Cuts in Troubled Pension System, The New York Times, Dec. 3, 2013
brink
Brink means the edge, as in a cliff, and along with its relative brinkmanship, we've been seeing it in the news a lot recently as local, state, and even the federal government teeter on the edge of one crisis after another.
“The pension crisis is not truly solved until relief is brought to Chicago and all of the other local governments across our state that are standing on the brink of a fiscal cliff because of our pension liabilities,” he said.
-- Illinois Legislature Approves Retiree Benefit Cuts in Troubled Pension System, The New York Times, Dec. 3, 2013
mobilize
When you see words with mobile somewhere inside them, you know they will have something to do with movement. Automobile means an car that moves on its own (as opposed to being drawn by a horse). Here, mobilize means to get ready to move. You mobilize troops when preparing for battle, and in politics, you mobilize your party's "base" when you are looking for support.
The White House, Democrats, and their supporters are mobilizing behind a focus for 2014 and beyond on the wage gap between the wealthy and the rest of America.
-- Democrats Mobilizing Push on Wage Gap, The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 4, 2013
minimum
When reading about, or earning, the minimum wage, know that minimum means "the least possible," and thus minimum wage means the lowest amount it is legal to pay a worker. The opposite of minimum is maximum. Some people find CEO salaries appalling, but to date there's little movement to get maximum wage legislation on the books.
Part of Mr. Obama’s focus will be on raising the minimum wage, as the White House begins to highlight an issue Democrats hope to inject into the 2014 midterm elections.
-- Democrats Mobilizing Push on Wage Gap, The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 4, 2013
vital
Your vital signs are your pulse and breathing. They are the things that you cannot live without. Vital programs or services are similarly indispensable. Keeping traffic lights running. Making sure the fire engines have gas in their tanks. These are considered vital services that cities cannot function without.
They are also fighting to prevent cuts in programs like food stamps, saying it is vital to many Americans.
-- Democrats Mobilizing Push on Wage Gap, The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 4, 2013

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Sunday December 8th 2013, 1:05 AM
Comment by: Sergei P.
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Sunday December 8th 2013, 3:31 AM
Comment by: Christopher A. (Nigeria)
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Monday December 9th 2013, 1:40 AM
Comment by: Tanveer Q. (India)
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