We Need Pretrial Detention Reform in Massachusetts

Oct 29, 2014Jessica Morris

Alternatives to bail won't just reduce overcrowding in jails: they will create a more just justice system.

Alternatives to bail won't just reduce overcrowding in jails: they will create a more just justice system.

There is a bill pending in the Massachusetts House Committee on Ways and Means to build a bail jail in Middlesex County. Led by Representative Kay Khan (D-Newton), H.1434 proposes for a new facility for women charged of a crime and awaiting trial. This jail is not for convicted prisoners, but for women who are charged with violent and nonviolent crimes and cannot afford bail.

Three states away in New Jersey, residents are preparing to vote on Ballot Question Number 1, a bail reform legislation, in this November’s election. Signed by Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ), this policy states that dangerous suspects can be held in jail without bail, while non-dangerous suspects can be released through alternatives to bail. Both of these states attempt to tackle the overcrowding issue in jails, but New Jersey’s legislation will alleviate this issue through a long-term and humanizing solution. New Jersey has shown that bail reform is a bipartisan issue that can only be solved through intentional policy.

Massachusetts can learn from New Jersey’s responsible approach. There has been a growth of pre-trial detention in the state. From 2005 to 2014, pre-trial detainees in Massachusetts Department of Correction custody increased by 23 percent. This growth of pre-trial detention significantly impacts women. 34 percent of total female inmates in Massachusetts's jurisdiction this year are awaiting trial, but only 3 percent of total male inmates. Most women awaiting trial in Massachusetts are not able to make bail (80 percent cannot make bail of $2,000 or less and a third cannot make $500 or less). Many need services – not to be in jails. Two-thirds of the women in Massachusetts state prison have a diagnosed mental illness and half of them use psychotropic drugs. Prisons, such as the bail jail proposed in Middlesex County, can exacerbate mental illness when the women truly only need proper substance abuse and mental health treatments.

A study by the Pretrial Justice Institute shows that judges are inclined to assign harsher punishments to pretrial detainees than to those who are able to make bail. Thus, a person’s credibility is determined by money, no matter the verdict. Those who can afford to pay their bail do not undergo the ramifications of being in jail. They are able to continue supporting their families or continue their education. If they cannot afford bail, however, they have to go through the obstacles of pausing their lives and are more likely to commit recidivism; pretrial detainees are six times more likely to return to jail because of the challenges they face once released.

States such as Colorado, Delaware, Kentucky, Maine, Ohio, Virginia, and possibly soon New Jersey have reformed their pretrial systems. Massachusetts needs to join them. Facilities across the state of Massachusetts are overcrowded by up to 155 percent, and this could be alleviated by using electronic monitoring as an alternative to incarceration. New Jersey’s proposed legislation does this by having bail depend on risk and not whether someone can afford to pay to get out of jail. A judge will only present bail as a last resort if electronic monitoring might not assure the defendant's appearance at their trial or if he or she is believed to pose a threat to public safety.

Massachusetts has the political will to take the same path as New Jersey and reform its system. Through legislation similar to New Jersey’s bail reform, pretrial detainees charged with nonviolent crimes should be enrolled in an electronic monitoring program instead of entering a facility. There is a high financial cost for the state and social cost for defendants of having people await trials in jails. An electronic monitoring program is cheaper on both fronts. Defendants would have the ability to return to their lives fully and freely until they are tried. The idea of innocent until proven guilty is currently obsolete in Massachusetts because of the bail system, but it can be restored through reform that ensures liberty prior to trials.

Jessica Morris is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Equal Justice. She studies politics and gender studies at Mount Holyoke College.

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California Community Colleges Building the Workforce of Tomorrow

Oct 29, 2014Rachel Kanakaole

A new program offering career-focused bachelor's degrees at California Community Colleges could begin to shift the combined higher education and employment crises in the state.

"Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom." George Washington Carver

A new program offering career-focused bachelor's degrees at California Community Colleges could begin to shift the combined higher education and employment crises in the state.

"Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom." George Washington Carver

Living in a society where possessing a college degree is key to securing a well-paying job, the opportunity and access to obtain those degrees is crucial. As students strive to build a better standard of living for themselves and their communities, policy makers and higher education advocates have been stuck with the strenuous task of finding more creative and impactful solutions to educating people. In an era of high demand yet seemingly limited supply, class offerings at the university level in California have become increasingly scarce, leaving it to community colleges to increase their role in educating the workforce of tomorrow.

Historically, community colleges are known for offering two-year degrees and certificate programs to students who are looking to quickly enter the workforce. While there is a transfer student population planning to transition to a four-year university, that is not their widely known purpose, at least not in California. According to the Vision Statement posted on the website of the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office, community colleges are designed to "provide access to lifelong learning for all citizens and create a skilled, progressive workforce to advance the state’s interests." In the advancement of this mission statement, Governor Jerry Brown has just signed into law a pilot program allowing certain community colleges to offer a bachelor's degree program for courses not currently offered at the California State University (CSU) or University of California (UC) level.

Senate Bill 850, drafted by Senator Marty Block from San Diego calls for selected districts to develop a pilot program to offer a bachelor's degree program beginning in the 2017-2018 school year, and ending in 2022-2023. It is the intention of the pilot program to offer degrees in courses not otherwise available at traditional four-year institutions, focusing on more direct, career-driven programs such as dental hygiene or radiology. According to the text of the bill itself, the intention is "to produce more professionals in health, biotechnology, public safety, and other in-demand fields." Advocates of the bill stress that the pilot program is not trying to compete with the UC or CSU systems, which is why it was tailored to specific fields. In an attempt to keep costs affordable for students, pricing for classes in the program are capped at the rates offered by CSUs. Also, in order to prevent money from the Board of Governors (BOG) waiver from being shifted away from students still obtaining the traditional two-year degrees and certificates, the bill calls for students enrolling in the pilot program to apply for a Free Federal Financial Aid Application or California Dream Act application in lieu of a BOG waiver.

The most promising aspect of this bill is its mission to fill the gap between employers who need workers, and workers who need employers to provide jobs. It is specifically outlined in the bill that districts must "identify and document unmet workforce needs in the subject area of the baccalaureate degree to be offered and offer a baccalaureate degree at a campus in a subject area with unmet workforce needs in the local community or region of the district." The districts have an added responsibility to strategically plan which BA programs to offer in order to most beneficially serve the surrounding community. While we won't know the impact this law will have on California Community Colleges just yet, considering the fact it passed with a unanimous vote, the least we can say is our representatives believe there is some positive change to be made.

While this program is nothing brand-new, with colleges in twenty-one other states already offering BA degrees in similar areas described in the bill, it is new to California, and has the potential to begin to shift the dynamic regarding education and workforce needs across the state. Florida is a great example of a state that allows community colleges to offer BA degrees. Educators in Florida saw enrollment in community college BA programs quadruple in a period of five years. Currently, twenty-five of their twenty-eight community colleges offer BA degree programs. This just goes to show, while SB 850 is by no means the end-all solution to the crisis affecting the higher education or employment systems in California, it is a step forward in the direction of progress for students and workers everywhere.

Rachel Kanakaole is the Chapter Head of the San Bernardino Valley Community College chapter of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and one of the New Chapters Coordinator for the Western Region.

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Threat of Ebola Highlights Problems in the U.S. Public Health System

Oct 15, 2014Emily Cerciello

It is likely that Ebola will be contained in the United States, but errors in Texas show we have room for improvement in responding to public health emergencies.

It is likely that Ebola will be contained in the United States, but errors in Texas show we have room for improvement in responding to public health emergencies.

On October 15, the second case of Ebola transmitted in the United States was confirmed in Texas between patient Thomas Eric Duncan and a health worker. Even more frightening, perhaps, is the sequence of events leading up to the transmission, and the many questions it generates about the preparedness of the U.S. in responding to public health emergencies.

Six days after Duncan arrived in the United States  – having passed a screening for fever at a Liberian airport – his symptoms progressed and he sought care at a Texas hospital, where he was promptly sent home with antibiotics.

The hospital claimed his early discharge was the fault of the electronic health record (EHR) for not communicating the patient’s travel history, but soon issued a correction saying his history was “available to the full care team…there was no flaw in the EHR.”

No matter who or what is at fault for letting Duncan fall through the cracks, we cannot let this huge breach in protocol happen again.

More than a week later, and several days after the patient was confirmed to have Ebola, the apartment at which he was staying with four individuals remained unsterilized. The quarantined family had the responsibility of arranging clean bedding until a waste management company agreed to clean the apartment. When they arrived, contractors wore no protective equipment and used power washers to sanitize – a practice which is likely not the most effective method of treating infectious surfaces.

And then, on October 12, the CDC confirmed that a nurse who had worn full protective gear while treating Duncan had contracted Ebola due to a yet unknown breach in protocol. On, October 15, another nurse who treated Duncan was confirmed to have the virus, showing symptoms just one day after boarding a commercial flight returning from Cleveland to Dallas.

These events point to several issues in the U.S. public health infrastructure: who is in charge when high-stakes infectious diseases spread? How should the U.S. prevent diseases originating in other countries? What can we learn from this case to prevent other errors in the system?

First, we need to decide who, or which agency, is in charge when a public health emergency occurs. Larry Copeland, a reporter at USA Todayagrees. Currently, the CDC provides assistance and guidelines to states and educates providers about how to prepare for Ebola. The choice to enact these protocols and successful operation of these procedures remains with the states. The CDC also issues guidelines to prohibit practitioners who have treated Ebola patients from boarding commercial flights. Separately, the Department of Homeland Security controls issues of air travel, including providing guidance to airlines and calling for symptom screenings at high-profile airports.

So there is no single entity leading the public health response to Ebola. While the CDC may fall into this role, it is up to individual hospitals and practitioners to respond promptly and effectively. Unfortunately, in Texas, several errors – including sending the patient home while infected, delaying sanitation of the patient's apartment, and developing two more confirmed cases – showcase how disorganization in public health can lead to unfavorable outcomes.

And how should the U.S. prevent diseases originating in other countries? Experts agree that closing borders of West African countries would worsen the crisis. Unfortunately, the issue of Ebola as it relates to air travel has become politicized by conservatives, prompting CDC Director Tom Frieden to speak out strongly against a travel banConservative Republicans have even attempted to relate Ebola to anti-immigration reform by claiming that migrants from Central America could bring Ebola through the southern U.S. border (despite the fact that no outbreak of Ebola has ever occurred in Latin America).

In a press conference, Dr. Frieden assured that strong core public health functions could stop the spread of Ebola. Although the CDC and public health workers successfully tracked close contacts of Duncan and isolated those at high risk, those steps could not stop the first incorrect diagnosis or the spread to front-line health workers – arguably the most important role in stopping the epidemic.

The implications of public health slipups cannot be understated. We need to start a conversation about the relationship between federal, state and local public health authorities. We need to simplify and communicate protocols to hospitals and ensure that providers and communities are enacting preparations for infectious diseases. Valuing the field of public health as much as we do individual appointment-based care is essential to stopping an epidemic. We need to organize authority and mobilize an informed and efficient workforce to improve the preparedness of the U.S. health system in responding to public health emergencies.

Emily Cerciello is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Health Care, and a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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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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At NextGen IL Conference, Young People Set the Agenda for Their State

Oct 7, 2014Julius Goldberg-LewisDominic RusselRachel Riemenschneider

At the NextGen Illinois conference, Campus Network leaders found a policy space shaped entirely by young people.

At the NextGen Illinois conference, Campus Network leaders found a policy space shaped entirely by young people.

Last Saturday, the Midwest Regional Team of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network met in Chicago to attend the NextGen Illinois conference, the culmination of months of discussion, caucuses, and ideas from around Illinois. NextGen IL, an initiative led by the Campus Network and Young Invicibles, is working to bring young adults in Illinois together to shape a youth policy agenda for Illinois. What set NextGen apart from so many other conferences was that its content, agenda, and execution were a direct outcome of power and coalition building among Millennials. NextGen’s attendees included high school students, college students, and graduates; they were organizers, activists, and policy wonks of every kind. Throughout the day, attendees were able to vote on a slate of statewide policy proposals that were the product of the dozens of caucuses that took place over the previous few months. Young people had the opportunity to shape the outcome of the conference and take ownership of their ideas.

One common theme that resounded through the day at the NextGen IL conference was that young people are capable of making a difference in their communities. We all have the knowledge, ability, and passion to make real change. This was thoroughly underscored by the number of young people and students that were panelists throughout the day. Each breakout session featured professionals working in the field, as well as Millennials already working to change the landscape. Whether discussing environmental policy or restorative justice, the young panelists were just as able to engage their audience in a variety of statewide policy issues.

The breakout sessions gave the audience a picture of the issues being addressed on the front lines of the progressive political fight, but the plenary sessions gave us a chance to hear from the elected officials who have the power to turn our ideas into action. Will Guzzardi, a 27-year-old candidate for the Illinois House of Representatives, and Amara Enyia, a 31-year-old running for Mayor of Chicago, both spoke about how young people need to step up to make a difference. They both referenced a common realization many young adults have about growing up. When you’re young, you are told to defer to those in charge, trust your elders, and wait your turn. These candidates stressed that in order to be taken seriously and have our issues adequately addressed, our generation must step up and realize that while our parents and grandparents have a lot to teach us, they don’t have all the solutions. This realization may be scary, but it is also empowering: if no one actually has all the answers, young people have the opportunity to create just as much of an impact as older generations. We have the opportunity to think creatively, and see our age as a benefit, and not a burden to creating and realizing innovative policies that better our communities.

If there was one message that we as participants and attendees took away from the NextGen IL conference, it was an echo of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1936 address to the Democratic National Convention: “There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.” Our generation faces seemingly insurmountable problems, but if the NextGen space was any indication, we can expect bold solutions.

Julius Goldberg-Lewis is the Midwestern Regional Coordinator for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and a senior at the University of Michigan. Dominic Russel is the Midwestern Policy Coordinator and a sophomore at the University of Michigan. Rachel Riemenschneider is the Midwestern New Chapters Coordinator and a junior at Northwestern University.

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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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Georgia Political Candidates: Where Are Carbon Emissions in Your Election Platform?

Sep 25, 2014Torre LaVelle

None of the candidates for major statewide office in Georgia are talking about carbon emissions or climate change, despite major new policy from the EPA that will make these issues central to their terms in office.

None of the candidates for major statewide office in Georgia are talking about carbon emissions or climate change, despite major new policy from the EPA that will make these issues central to their terms in office.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s groundbreaking new carbon emissions proposal hedges some pretty hefty bets: the new rules require the equivalent of taking two-thirds of all cars and trucks in the U.S. off the road. The proposal will cost the economy more than $7 billion annually, but will lead to public health benefits accruing to more than $55 billion. The heated discussion it has prompted from environmentalists, industry, and lawmakers has centered on the multi-billion dollar question: what is the role of government regulation in addressing climate change?

The EPA rule has assigned each state a separate pollution reduction target, and under the plan, Georgia would need to reduce its carbon dioxide output by 44 percent by the year 2040. Notably absent from the debate, however, are the individuals who will soon be directing the discussion through their policy decisions: the current gubernatorial and Senate candidates. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jason Carter, endorsed by the Sierra Club in May, has only noted that he wants residents to get credit for progress they've already made in carbon reduction. His “On the Issues” online platform fails to include environmental policy as a broad topic, let alone talk of pollution.

Although Governor Deal may want to distance himself politically from Carter, the candidates are remarkably similar in their lack of talking points on the EPA standards. A spokeswoman for Deal said it was too early for the governor to comment on the emissions proposal back in June, and apparently it's still too early three months later, even as the election approaches in November.

Former Dollar General CEO David Perdue, who beat out Rep. Jack Kingston to win the Georgia GOP Senate nomination, has dismissed the emissions regulations as altogether too burdensome. In June, it was revealed that Perdue has sat on the board of the Wisconsin-based Alliant Energy Corp. since 2001.

Democratic Senate candidate Michelle Nunn has served as the sole light in this matter; although she has offered a ‘wait-and-see’ on the emissions plan until what will go into the state calculations is made clear, she has at least affirmed her support for reducing carbon emissions.

The candidates’ insubstantial weigh-in on how to tackle these rapidly approaching EPA deadlines provides voters with an incomplete policy platform, and one that is myopic in scope. For example, what is to be of Georgia’s Plant Scherer? It’s been identified as the dirtiest power plant in the United States, and under the EPA policy, there will be significant pressure to shut the coal plant down. What would the next steps be for evaluating Georgia’s energy portfolio, and how would the candidates handle claims that the limits will crush jobs and the economy?

By failing to more concretely enter into discussions on how to tackle these EPA deadlines, candidates also lose the ability to capitalize off the new regulations. For example, a comprehensive report released last month ranked the Atlanta-based utilities provider Southern Company 31st among 32 utilities across the U.S. in percentage of sales tied to electricity from renewables. Individuals in the gubernatorial and Senate races should work to address mounting pressure to improve Georgia’s national ranking in energy efficiency and renewables by connecting it to the EPA guidelines, and proposing to tackle the emission standards through increasing emphasis on clean energy infrastructure.

The most critical issue left unaddressed, however, stems from our Georgia candidates' inability to define issues such as carbon emissions within the larger sphere of climate change. Just as the esteemed evolutionary biologist Dobzhansky noted that nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution, nothing in environmental policy really makes sense except without accepting the involvement of climate change. Although both Deal and Carter have campaigned extensively for improved water conservation methods and the protection of Georgia’s coastline, these issues cannot be adequately examined without including factors symptomatic of climate change into the picture, such as sea level rise, the decreasing reliability of water supply networks, threatened coastal infrastructure, and increased risk of drought.

The question that remains is why our Georgia political candidates aren’t talking about the EPA standards in the context of climate change. Perhaps I already know the answer: it is not in the interest of the candidate to do so. Climate change is a loaded, divisive phrase, and an intensive analysis into the Georgia public’s views on the matter has, to date, been overlooked. However, Florida’s open emphasis on climate policy as a major bipartisan issue during the election, as well as the overwhelming amount of public witnesses at the EPA Atlanta hearing prove that the topic is ripe for public discourse and political opportunity. Georgia candidates would do well to remember that these issues are not simply environmental issues, but fundamentally economic and public health issues. For the sake of Georgia voters, candidates should view these issues as mandatory to offering a more complete and expansive view for the future of the great state of Georgia.

Torre Lavelle is the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment. She is majoring in ecology and environmental economics at the University of Georgia. 

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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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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. 

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