• Taxes Are Never Just a Class Issue

    Sep 4, 2014Joelle Gamble

    Tax reforms can't solve all economic inequality, because they won't change the reality of race in the U.S. economy.

    Tax reforms can't solve all economic inequality, because they won't change the reality of race in the U.S. economy.

    The threat of corporate inversions to the American tax base sprung an interesting political dialogue around tax reform in the United States. We’ve seen debates on how to stop the spread of inversions and arguments that they aren’t a problem at all. Some call for the abolition of the corporate tax rate as a whole and others completely reject such suggestions. I find these discussions of tax reform and its effects on the economy informative yet simultaneously slightly disappointing.

    What bothers me about how tax reform debates shake out is how absent they can become of socio-political realities, particularly the reality of race.

    One line of progressive argumentation follows simply: If everyone pays their fair share of taxes, we can support public spending and job growth, and we’ll all do better. The argument firmly stands, but there is an important caveat.

    It’s easy to harken back to the 1950s when tax rates were high, social services were relatively steady and economic security stretched across economic strata. But who was really secure then? Even the high points of job security for the American economy still left African Americans (and other racially marginalized groups) behind. This a structural phenomenon, instituted by socially racist institutions and a deep history of systemically harming the Black community.

    We can’t take race out of conversations around economic inequality. The reality of race is that even fixes to the broader federal revenue landscape don’t always address the structural barriers of racism. A rising tide can’t lift all boats, if some boats are bolted to the seafloor.

    Black unemployment consistently exceeds that of whites, both post-Recession and since such data has been available. Gaps between white unemployment and black unemployment shrank in 2009. This was not due to falling black unemployment but instead due to skyrocketing white unemployment.

    This racial gap in economic success extends beyond the employment rate. In fact, it is deeply entrenched in the way wealth is distributed in the U.S. The gap between median Black wealth and median white wealth stands at about $236,000 dollars. Flagrant discrimination, in part, contributes to this gap. But it is perpetuated by generations of asset accumulation policies that are targeted at those who already own assets.

    Corporate tax reform alone isn’t sufficient to fix the effects of decades of second-class status conferred on African Americans. The government does not just need sufficient funding to create equality within the economy. Distribution of these dollars is equally important. It needs to reflect the nuances of structural inequalities built into multiple aspects of our tax code.

    Take federal housing spending policies as a prime example. Ending ineffective tax incentives, such as the mortgage interest reduction, can start to tilt the scales toward those who are not already wealthy. Seventy-seven percent of the benefits of the mortgage interest reduction accrued to homeowners with gross incomes of above $100,000. We need to rethink housing subsidies so that the benefits of federal programs do not heavily favor those who already own homes.

    We need corporate tax reform to ensure that all participants in our economy are paying their fair share. But we also need a federal benefits structure that ensures that the concept of a "fair share" considers our history of discrimination when determining which Americans need those benefits most.

    Joelle Gamble is the National Director of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

    Share This

  • Campus Network Looks Ahead for Policy Engagement

    Aug 22, 2014Joelle Gamble

    The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network has nine years of success under its belt, and is ready for more in its tenth.

    “We know the old way of doing things isn’t going to cut it anymore. We want to pioneer a new process of civic engagement…” This is the opening line of the purpose statement our Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network staff articulated for this year. Its brazen rejection of the status quo and forward-looking promise of a new mode of policy change encapsulates the ethos of our network as we move into a new year.

    The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network has nine years of success under its belt, and is ready for more in its tenth.

    “We know the old way of doing things isn’t going to cut it anymore. We want to pioneer a new process of civic engagement…” This is the opening line of the purpose statement our Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network staff articulated for this year. Its brazen rejection of the status quo and forward-looking promise of a new mode of policy change encapsulates the ethos of our network as we move into a new year.

    We believe that local, people-centric policy change can ripple into larger national change. We believe in the power of communities organized into networks to innovate, incubate, and promulgate impactful ideas.

    This statement also pulls on the history of innovation and impact that the Campus Network has had over the past nine years. Founded on the conviction that student voices matter beyond Election Day, we have seen our members from across the country inject powerful ideas into the political debate and make tangible change in their communities. From starting revolving loan funds in Indiana to creating educational access in New Haven, from building capacity for non-profits in D.C. to combating student homelessness in Los Angeles, we have been and will continue to be committed to an unconventional and effective model of policy change.

    Even in the past year of the Campus Network (2013-2014), students have taken enormous strides toward building a forward thinking, locally driven, and more inclusive policy process. Our presence has grown to over 38 states, with chapters at a diverse range of institutions, public and private, community college and four-year university. Ideas generated from our network have been read over a half-million times and our work has been featured in outlets like The Nation, Al Jazeera America and Time Magazine Ideas.

    But, more than the power of the ideas or the prestige of the platforms which support them, the people in this network are what excites me the most about the years to come.

    This first week of August, we hosted our 9th annual Hyde Park Leadership Summit at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. We gathered the leaders of Roosevelt chapters that have been around since our founding and the leaders of new chapters growing this year for a weekend of community-building, training and strategic thinking.  The overflowing energy, big thinking mentality, and willingness to pound the pavement summit attendees displayed was invigorating and holds the promise of a highly impactful year for our network.

    And, we need that kind of energy and passion. We have a great deal that we want to accomplish.

    • We’re rolling out a new training curriculum to support chapters as they do policy research, organize their peers, and engage with stakeholders.
    • We’re pioneering a state-based approach to engaging young people in policy with our NextGen Illinois initiative and our new Chicago staff presence.
    • Highlighting that our network is about people, we’re investing deeply in our chapter leaders and national student leadership team, increasing opportunities for training, conferences, and publishing.
    • With specific, actionable projects under our belt, we’re launching another year of our Rethinking Communities Initiative. (Check out our new toolbox here.)
    • Through increased and innovative usage of online tools and social media, we’re building community amongst the members of our network. We recognize that you don’t necessarily have to be in the same room as someone to be connected to them.
    • As we approach out 10th year as a network, we’re making a special effort to engage and reengage our distinguished alumni. Roosevelt alumni have gone amazing places; we’re reconvening them to help chart the course ahead with us.

    With our powerful team of national student leaders, an expanded level of staff capacity, and a little grit, we will continue to grow and strengthen the Campus Network to tackle issues today and build progressive leaders for tomorrow.

    Let’s get to work!

    Joelle Gamble is the National Director of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

    Share This

  • Stefaan Verlhurst: Mean and Lean Local Government

    Aug 21, 2014

    The Next American Economy project brought together 30 experts from various disciplines to envision tomorrow's economic and political challenges and develop today's solutions. Their assignment: be bold, and leave the conventional wisdom -- and their own opinions -- behind. In today's video, Stefaan Verhulst of GovLab speculates on future municipal policy that allows cities to do more with less.

    The Next American Economy project brought together 30 experts from various disciplines to envision tomorrow's economic and political challenges and develop today's solutions. Their assignment: be bold, and leave the conventional wisdom -- and their own opinions -- behind. In today's video, Stefaan Verhulst of GovLab speculates on future municipal policy that allows cities to do more with less.

    Stefaan Verhulst, Co-Founder and Chief Research and Development Officer of GovLab, speculates on future municipal policy that allows cities to do more with less. Combining open-source data with crowd-sourcing networks, city government will be able to connect experts with public problems more efficiently. An enlightened municipal agenda can help battle the recent governance deficit and lack of government trust rising in the US, Stefaan said.

    Share This

  • Curbing Campus Sexual Assault is Not About the Money

    Aug 19, 2014Hannah Zhang

    The cost of sexual assault on college campuses far outweighs that of implementing bipartisan, comprehensive reform.  

    The cost of sexual assault on college campuses far outweighs that of implementing bipartisan, comprehensive reform.  

    On August 13, I stood with Senator Gillibrand, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and survivors, among others, at the Senator’s New York press conference on the Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA). Currently co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of Senators, eight Democratic and seven Republican, this bill represents a tough but common sense reform. It requires universities to designate Confidential Advisors as a resource for survivors, provide a minimum standard of training to personnel processing sexual assault cases, and conduct an annual survey of all students on sexual violence. For schools that do not comply with these requirements, this bill increases the initial financial penalty to up to one percent of their operating budgets and $150,000 (previously $35,000) for each subsequent violation.

    As a student attending a university that struggles to combat sexual assault, I hope that this bill will hold my school accountable in the future. As an advocate for progressive change, I was proud to stand with the Senator on this bill that focuses reforms on survivors. 

    While increasing financial penalties is a common sense solution, the seemingly common sense objection is that CASA provides no funding for colleges to implement surveys and hire personnel. This much is true, but is financial cost really an issue compared to the cost that sexual assault imposes upon young women?

    In introducing CASA, Senator Gillibrand repeats a powerful tagline—“The price of a college education should not include a 1-in-5 chance of being sexually assaulted,” a statistic from the White House Report on campus sexual assault.

    This cost far outweighs a fine that constitutes one percent of a university’s massive total budget or funds set aside to hire staff. For instance, Stanford University’s operating budget of $4.8 billion is more than the national GDPs of Cape Verde and Bhutan combined. While public universities arguably have fewer resources than these private institutions, Chancellor Nancy Zimpher gave the bill her full support on behalf of the SUNY system.

    One critic argues that the fines and expenses of compliance would take money away from academic programs. Lawmakers, another critic writes, have stated that the costs would “compromise the education of a college’s entire student body.” These statements neglect the sad truth that campus sexual assault has already compromised the education of countless students. Stopping sexual assault helps campuses to focus on academics, rather than hindering them from doing so.

    Talking about money misses the point. The goal of CASA isn’t to fine universities. It’s to incentivize compliance. By investing in the resources now, universities create a safer educational environment for current and prospective students.

    Curbing sexual assault should be a priority for our universities for yet another reason. Sexual assault on campuses exists as part of a larger, global problem – violence against women, which remains a significant barrier to full gender equality.

    Charlotte Bunch, founder of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership and speaker at the upcoming Women and Girls Rising Conference, said it best in 1997, “Violence against women and girls is the most pervasive violation of human rights in the world today.” Bunch pioneered the inclusion of gender violence in the larger fight for human rights. Her words remain true in today’s world, where almost a third of all women have experienced physical or sexual violence (or both) perpetrated by an intimate partner.

    The U.S. has taken action on this issue in the past, most recently reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act in 2013. We tend not to associate the U.S. with developing countries where wife beating is condoned and women are raped as casualties of war. Yet the evidence that 20 percent of women who step foot on U.S. college campuses face sexual violence proves that our work is far from over. To stand as a global leader in gender equality, the U.S. must start by fixing problems at home.

    Hannah Zhang is the Campus Network's External Engagement Coordinator for the Northeast, and a member of the Columbia University chapter. 

    Share This