Joelle Gamble

 

Recent Posts by Joelle Gamble

  • The Federal Reserve Won't Save the Economy for All

    Oct 9, 2014Joelle Gamble

    Deepening political participation in and beyond voting is key to achieving policies that raise outcomes for the working class.

    Deepening political participation in and beyond voting is key to achieving policies that raise outcomes for the working class.

    Inflation hawks have been the talk of the town in elite economic circles in recent weeks. More liberal-leaning minds critique their (frankly) unsubstantiated concerns that the Federal Reserve is driving the U.S. economy toward high levels of inflation. Hawks are concerned that high levels of inflation due to expansionary monetary policy will lead to negative economic outcomes for major firms and, in turn, the rest of the American public.

    Instead of worrying about inflation, which has remained at or below 1.5 percent for a year and a half, many prominent economists argue that we should focus on wage growth and jobs. We have seen profits for corporations rise to nearly pre-recession rates, while the poverty rate is not declining as fast as it should be. It’s clear there are some big policies that need changing: the minimum wage, the corporate tax structure, federal budget priorities, and regulations ranging across industries. So why is there so much focus on the Fed and the inflation hawks that circle it? Is there some policy lever we can pull here that would raise outcomes for the working class?

    Let’s lay it out on the table: Current economic debates have focused on U.S. and global monetary policy because our fiscal policy problems appear to be inoperable. A Congressional stagnation, of sorts, has led to a fixation on a different institution, the Federal Reserve. But, overall, can this fixation actually translate into outcomes for the middle class?

    With a gridlocked federal system, where can we push for substantial changes in wages and investment infrastructure that support the working class? Executive orders have their limits, of course. Advancements in cities like Seattle and New York City or states like Maryland have started to take effect. But at some point, a deeper, sustainable change must take place. This is a change in who leads in governance and who leads on policy change.

    Elections are our general go-to on these matters. If political representation fails, we can just vote them out! Elections matter, but, there are some facts to consider. Currently, the average U.S. voter has an income higher than the median. This is due to lack of access, as well as the privilege of being able to make time to vote. Thus, we should open up opportunities, such as early voting, to more people. But even still, with faith in government falling, access reforms only go so far.

    Beyond the act of voting itself, we have to question the responsiveness of the federal government, in particular, to voters. The growing influence of interest groups and coalitions of the wealthy make the ability to change political outcomes from the ballot box less and less secure.

    We need to grow the bench. Deepening political participation in and beyond voting is key to achieving policies that raise outcomes for the working class. It is not enough to vote; government must be responsive. As Roosevelt Institute Fellow Sabeel Rahman notes, historic movements of substantial political reform have popular sovereignty and grassroots movements at their core.

    Sabeel's words ring especially true in our current political climate. With congressional ineptitude and an unwillingness of the elites to take responsibility for the current state of our democracy, we must return to local movements and communities to build the foundations needed to create tangible economic change. That’s why members of the Campus Network are piloting the Rethinking Communities initiative. We recognize that democracy starts not in Washington but at home, in our own classrooms, our own cities, and our own communities.

    There is no silver bullet or hero in this fight for economic justice. Not one public official, nor one economist, nor one President will solve our mess. A return to democratic principles and a deepening of participatory process is what it will take to uplift the working class.

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

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  • The Big Mistake in President Obama’s Economic Pivot: Overlooking the Grassroots

    Oct 3, 2014Joelle Gamble

    The president spoke about federal legislation to promote economic opportunity, but real progress is happening at the local level.

    Yesterday, President Obama traveled to Northwestern University to give a speech on the new American economy. The speech was touted as a major pivot, both rhetorical and political, from a heavily international focus to a domestic one.

    The president spoke about federal legislation to promote economic opportunity, but real progress is happening at the local level.

    Yesterday, President Obama traveled to Northwestern University to give a speech on the new American economy. The speech was touted as a major pivot, both rhetorical and political, from a heavily international focus to a domestic one.

    Obama’s speech highlighted some of the successes of his administration, pointing to a lowered unemployment rate, a higher rate of insured individuals through Obamacare, and an increase in manufacturing jobs since the 2008 financial crisis. He also laid out some proposed investments the U.S. can make to build a new economy, ranging from clean energy to education to wages.

    This isn’t a critique of the President’s speech per se. What he had to say is not wrong; the problem is that his vision of how economic progress happens, like the vision of many other national leaders, does not have enough depth.

    For example, President Obama mentions that the U.S. must “measure our success by something more than our GDP, or a jobs report.”

    That is very much the right idea if we want to get a clearer picture of middle class opportunity. We already know that wages and incomes for most Americans have stagnated and that our current economic recovery has not produced substantial changes for working families. But what does the policy response look like?

    Obama outlined several key solutions: Raising the minimum wage, equalizing pay for women, investing in clean energy, and pursuing college affordability. If we had a functioning Congress, the President would be right on the money, and this would be a productive speech that politicians and advocates could use to push for new legislation. However, we lost that functioning Congress long ago.

    So, other than relying on federal legislation, what can be done? We need to build economic prosperity for working Americans from the ground up and create a grassroots economy.

    The president says he plans to continue to work with “governors, mayors, CEOs, and philanthropists.” This matters, as local actors are the ones building the new economic future. One can look to the Campus Network’s Rethinking Communities Initiative to see how anchor institutions (major employers that are rooted in a particular community) have the ability to shape positive economic outcomes for towns, neighborhoods, and cities across the country.

    To cite another example, the president points to Dodd-Frank as an important milestone in improving the American economy post-recession. But that raises the question of how advocates can continue to build on financial reform in this current political climate. Here’s one way: Roosevelt Institute Fellow Saqib Bhatti provides a new model for improving municipal finance that connects to grassroots work in communities.

    To achieve the President’s vision for economic stability for America’s middle and working class, we need to start from the bottom, not the top. Grassroots economic change is the new engine for widespread economic prosperity. And once our leaders in Washington recognize that, we might see a real pivot in our political conversation.

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

    Photo: White House

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • What Is Economic Growth Without Shared Prosperity?

    Apr 14, 2014Joelle Gamble

    It's time for the U.S. to recognize that policies to push economic growth must focus on average Americans, not "job creators."

    It's time for the U.S. to recognize that policies to push economic growth must focus on average Americans, not "job creators."

    Rampant inequality is putting the future of the American economy in peril. The financial recovery we have experienced the past few years has only led to massive gains for top earners and little to no change for average Americans. Decades of policies that throw more benefits to the top have not “trickled down” to the average household.

    But more importantly, our current idea of economic progress is skewed. The wealthy have created this idea that “job creators” are a class of people who can magically restore out economy, ignoring the fact that entrepreneurship and innovation come from all economic statuses.

    America needs to shift our economic narrative away from a heavy emphasis on GDP-based growth and toward a model that promotes prosperity for everyone. We need to think about how we generate demand in order to create jobs. This demand comes from average Americans having the ability to engage meaningfully in the economy, with fair wages without discrimination in the workplace. In short: economic progress must involve prosperity for all Americans, not just “job creators.”

    Legislative battles at the local, state, and federal levels around equal pay and the minimum wage will prove crucial to changing our conception of what constitutes good economic policy. Victories in these fights represent tangible ways in which the average American worker can better his or her own economic prospects and simultaneously grow the economy.

    We are seeing progress now. In January, the city of Seattle began pushing to raise the minimum wage for city workers to $15.00 per hour. Earlier this week, the state of Maryland voted to raise its minimum wage from the federal $7.25 to $10.10 per hour. Meanwhile, President Obama continues his push for federal action.

    Meanwhile, in the United States, women make an average of $0.77 for every $1.00 earned by men, but growing movements are pushing the needle in the right direction. The President signed directives to clamp down on gender discrimination by federal agencies and contractors. Americans show strong bipartisan support for paid sick leave and family leave. Municipalities, are pushing through bills to make this support a reality –in New York City, Mayor De Blasio has already expanded the paid sick leave law that was established in 2013.

    While the most sustainable and sweeping changes on these fronts may be best achieved at the federal level, many of the real policy battles are playing out in cities and states. This presents a real opportunity to involve a wide swath of Americans in economic justice work in their neighborhoods. If organizers on the ground build power to push a prosperity-centric policy agenda forward through both community building and new technology platforms, we can see a real shift in the narrative of what economic progress looks like in this nation.

    Joelle Gamble is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network National Field Strategist.

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