Lifelong Roosevelt Connections Help Students Lead Policy Change

Jul 22, 2014Madelyn Schorr

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network model of students creating policy change has impact beyond the college years.

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network model of students creating policy change has impact beyond the college years.

In 2004, when college students first started organizing under the Roosevelt name, I was still in elementary school. While they were busy working on national healthcare reform, I was busy watching The West Wing past my bedtime. Little did I know that ten years later I would be successfully starting a chapter of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network at The University of Alabama, while my predecessors are pursuing careers all over the country and the world.

As Special Initiatives Fellow for the Campus Network, I recently spent a weekend with a group of alumni in New York City to discuss how to build our alumni program. I was amazed at how these alums – some of whom have been away from Roosevelt for years – are still dedicated to our founding principle that young peoples’ ideas matter.

I know how big of an impact alumni can make in the work chapters across the network produce. Students benefit from connecting with alumni because not so long ago our alumni were students, too. We have similar values, and believe that young people are capable of producing solid policy ideas. When our students and alumni connect it creates something truly spectacular: a group of people, spread all over the world in different fields of work, willing to collaborate and facilitate discussion around current policy issues, then working with their communities to come up with innovative solutions.

I loved getting to meet these alums and see the different things they are doing with their lives. They are working at nonprofits, going to law school, working on political campaigns, and more. Our alumni are found in every level of government from the U.S. Capitol and the White House to state legislatures to mayoral offices. They are still fighting to make the change they want to see in the world. And now, they're mentoring the new generation of Campus Network students and organizing their own policy projects.

The Campus Network has grown a lot since it was founded. What started as two chapters has expanded into over a hundred. We now run Summer Academies in four cities, and in the past six years our publications have reached half a million people. This new generation of Roosevelt students is looking at local policy issues to create an impact in their communities. By avoiding the constant congressional gridlock my generation has grown accustomed to, and focusing on local community development, we are better able to turn our ideas into action.

With almost ten years of change-making under our belt, the Campus Network is working to find new and unique ways to make being a Roosevelter a lasting affiliation. We have thousands of alumni and it is so exciting to build out a framework and vision that will help me stay involved far beyond graduation.

From the long laughs during our regional team calls every month to building a thriving chapter on my campus, I will always appreciate the relationships I have formed through this amazing organization. This organization is like a second family to me; it’s hard to imagine not engaging with the Campus Network and all of the people I have met in it after I graduate. If you have recently graduated, or are looking to reengage, email me.

Madelyn Schorr is the Special Initiative Intern for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and the Southern Regional Coordinator.

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Detroit's Revitalization Funds Could Re-Empower Residents, Too

Jul 9, 2014Dominic Russel

Through participatory budgeting, Detroit could bring its resident's hyper-local expertise to the revitalization process.

Through participatory budgeting, Detroit could bring its resident's hyper-local expertise to the revitalization process.

The city of Detroit is suffering. It has the highest unemployment rate of the nation’s largest cities at 23 percent, the highest poverty rate at 36.4 percent, and has been listed by Forbes as America’s most dangerous city for five years in a row. As a result of its shrinking population, the city needs $850 million worth of blight removal and cleanup. On top of this, Detroit had an estimated $18 billion in debt in 2013, which caused the state of Michigan to essentially force the city to declare bankruptcy in a desperate attempt to save it.

Detroit urgently needs funding for any revitalization efforts. One source that the city receives each year is in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) from the federal government. The grant is one part of the funding that the federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) distributes to metropolitan cities. The CDBG is the portion that must go to community development projects, including the rehabilitation of residential and non-residential buildings, the construction of public facilities and improvements, and more. CDBG budgeting also must include a mechanism for citizen participation.

Detroit’s current method for allocating CDBG funds is broken, as evidenced by both their inability to completely distribute funding and the lack of citizen involvement in the process. Each year from 2010 to 2012 the city failed to spend a portion of their CDBGs, nearly causing the federal government to recapture money and diminish future grants. Again in 2014, the city is making a last-minute amendment to their CBDG plan, reallocating $12 million to avoid a recapture. This was necessary, in part, because the city allocated funds to programs that no longer exist. The main citizen participation program is the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund (NOF), in which service organizations apply for funding from the CDBG. This process, however, is limited to organizations and leaves no outlet for individual residents. In fact, individuals have only one public hearing annually for the entire HUD program. The interests of residents are not effectively being channeled into spending. All of this adds up to a system in need of reform.

Detroit has the opportunity to use CDBGs to develop a more citizen-involved allocation process. This can be achieved by creating a participatory budgeting (PB) program, which empowers citizens to allocate a portion of their own government resources and has been recognized by the United Nations as a “best practice” for local governance. A Detroit model could be based off programs in Chicago and New York City. These programs include a series of workshops where residents brainstorm ideas and elect community representatives who turn the ideas into full proposals. Residents then vote on the proposals, and the winning projects are put into action.

In Detroit, the city’s Planning and Development Department can ensure projects conform to HUD guidelines and lead outreach. The department would target traditionally underrepresented viewpoints by aiming outreach at neighborhoods with low- and moderate-income residents, using public schools for outreach to students and parents, and locating meetings and voting stations in areas that are accessible for underrepresented groups. A PB process has the potential to engage Detroit residents and better utilize their hyper-local knowledge to allocate CDBG funding.

On the night Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan was elected in 2013 he said, “Detroit’s turnaround will not occur until everyday Detroiters are involved in this effort.” He has the opportunity to create a clear path to this community involvement for all Detroiters by using participatory budgeting to determine how to spend a portion of the city’s federal grants. Not only would this make Duggan’s dream a reality, but it would reform an antiquated allocation process that has nearly cost the city millions of dollars.

Dominic Russel, a Michigan native, is a rising sophomore at the University of Michigan and is a Summer Academy Fellow interning at the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network as the Leadership Strategy Intern.  

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Graduated and Living With Your Parents? You May Be Luckier Than You Think.

Jul 3, 2014Lydia Bowers

Millennials who are being forced to move back home may have their economic futures determined by the affluence of their birthplace rather than their own ability.

Millennials who are being forced to move back home may have their economic futures determined by the affluence of their birthplace rather than their own ability.

If you could live in Westchester County, NY or Logan County, OH, which would you choose? What if you were young, college-educated, and just entering the workforce? Recent articles about the return of college-educated Millennials, “the boomerang generation," to their parents' homes focus on how income inequality has contributed to the phenomenon overall. But what is critically overlooked is how this situation stratifies inequality within the Millennial generation and reinforces generational economic privilege.

Compare Sarah and Jess. Both graduated from Notre Dame University in 2013 with degrees in English. Both have similar GPAs and campus activities, and as graduation neared, neither was able to find a job. But what makes them different is that after graduation, Sarah moved back in with her parents in Westchester County while Jess moved home to Logan County.  Westchester County has a per capita income of $48,385, an opportunity score (an aggregated score measuring the educational attainment, economic strength, and community health of a town or county) of A-, and is located within easy commuting distance of New York City – a major metropolitan hub with over 8 million residents that provides ample opportunity for job-hunting. Logan County has a significantly lower per capita income of $22,993, and an opportunity score of C+. The nearest metropolitan hub, Columbus, is over an hour away, requiring a burdensome commute for job-hunting. These two women, who were nearly indistinguishable on paper at graduation, have profoundly different economic outlooks after moving home.

Let's imagine both women have the national average amount of student loan debt, $24,301, averaging out to payments of $279.66 a month for the next 10 years. And let's be generous and assume both women are lucky enough to find jobs in their fields at the median per capita income for their respective towns. Sarah, with almost twice the income of Jess, is able to double her monthly loan payments, becoming debt-free five years earlier than Jess and saving over $4,000 in interest. This puts Sarah on the path to financial stability much sooner.

A college degree used to be a ticket out of a predetermined economic destiny based on your location of birth. In a country where the likelihood that a child raised in the bottom fifth income level will rise to the top fifth can range from 4 percent to 25 percent depending on county of residence, college was traditionally viewed as the equalizer – a chance to escape the economic limitations of your hometown. But, for the one-in-five people in their 20s and early 30s currently living with parents, this is no longer the case. With the rising costs of rent in almost every major metropolitan area, many unemployed or underemployed college graduates will find moving home their only option. And if they are fortunate to have a home in an economically robust area, they will have leverage over their counterparts elsewhere. And as most children who come from economically robust areas come from financially privileged families, this is an example of income inequality growing starker through generational privilege.

College graduates aren’t looking for special treatment, but simply the chance to define their own economic destiny. Policies that work in tandem to address the rise in student loan debt, the affordability of housing in urban areas, and the economic growth needed to create jobs for young graduates are part of the solution. But ultimately, we need to address inequality and acknowledge that for some graduates opportunity is not based on potential but hometown. And that a familial zip code matters more than personal ability should be a rallying cry for anyone concerned about the future of a country once viewed as the "land of opportunity” for all.

Lydia Bowers is Operations Director for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

Image via Thinkstock

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Money in Politics is a Local Problem, Too

Jun 30, 2014Eugenia Kim

Large donors dominate our politics even at the local level, but communities have the power to overcome them.

Large donors dominate our politics even at the local level, but communities have the power to overcome them.

Last summer, I interned for mayoral candidate Gary Holder-Winfield in New Haven, CT. New Haven is not a small town. While it’s 130,660 residents pale in comparison to New York’s 8,405,837, it is a major city in Connecticut. In New Haven, which is primarily Democratic, the real race for mayor was in the primary. In a local election with seven candidates, there are not going to be seven radically different perspectives.  Most of the candidates generally held the same values, to the point that the race was decided more on the likability of the candidates then the content of their platforms.

In trying to differentiate Gary Holder-Winfield from the field, we got in touch with voters directly. I saw him work a full day at his job and then come in to the campaign office and knock on doors for hours until after dark on weekdays, and then walk all day knocking on doors on the weekends, rain or shine. I saw him write his personal phone number on literature to give out to his community.

I also saw Holder-Winfield forced to drop out because of lack of money. He had agreed to fund his campaign through the Democracy Fund, which restricts the amount of campaign expenditures allowed, limits individual contributions to $370, and prohibits any PAC or business from donating all together. In return, the Democracy Fund matches donations up to $125,000 and provides a $19,000 grant for the primary and general elections. Ultimately, all of the candidates that ran in the mayoral election with the Democracy Fund were defeated. While the new mayor of New Haven, Toni Harp, is extremely qualified and will do well as New Haven’s next mayor, I am disappointed that the process of getting there required raising more than half a million dollars.  

Despite Holder-Winfield dropping out of the race, I was not yet completely disheartened.  But when I went to work on aldermanic campaigns, I realized that money was the largest barrier to entry in politics today. Aldermen in New Haven are the equivalent of city councilmen. They each represent particular neighborhoods in New Haven, making their concerns and constituents hyper-local. Some sitting members on the Board of Aldermen in New Haven have been there for decades without a serious challenge, in part because local interest groups have backed them financially.

By helping to run the campaigns of aldermanic candidates who wanted to run free of these local interests and maintain a campaign on very few funds, I learned what an uphill battle it was to get money out of politics even at such a local level. We backed five candidates; only one was elected. It’s sobering when paying for lawn signs is out of a campaign’s budget. It’s disheartening to see a second candidate  I worked for drop out because of funding. It’s devastating that a group of dedicated volunteers can spend weeks systematically knocking on doors and hours on phone calls with potential voters, only to have the incumbent pay for enough canvassers in the week leading up to election day to pull off the votes to win.

That summer, it became very clear to me that democracy came with a high price. This is not a call to action for my congressman or senator to advocate for campaign finance reform; I am too realistic for that request. My call to action is for people who care about their communities. Some people may not vote because they feel like their votes do not matter, and it's easy to understand why in heavily partisan national elections. However, the closest aldermanic race was won by 81 votes. Local elections are where our votes matter most, and where we are least aware of where power lies.

Money in politics has permeated the governance of local issues, so we need to start identifying the drivers of local politics. In New Haven, politics are centered on the effects of Yale University as an anchor institution. Aldermanic races are shaped by the influence of the unions partnered with Yale. We need to impress the importance of local elections and analyze the drivers of these local communities. We must identify who holds power, economically and socially in these communities, and harness that power. Locally, there is still a chance for the voices of voters over large donors.

Eugenia Kim is the Rethinking Communities Intern at the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network, and a member of the Rethinking Communities Brain Trust.

Image via Thinkstock

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Teachers and Tutors Can't Fix All of Low-Income Students' Problems

Jun 13, 2014Casey McQuillan

Targeted public policy could help with many of the problems students face that their teachers can't solve alone.

My parents, both teachers, often blurred the line between being parents and being educators. Luckily, I found academics to be second nature. As a result, my teachers in the local public school system served as valuable role models and fostered my personal growth not just as a student, but as a whole person. I always felt supported by my community and equipped with the necessary tools for my success.

Targeted public policy could help with many of the problems students face that their teachers can't solve alone.

My parents, both teachers, often blurred the line between being parents and being educators. Luckily, I found academics to be second nature. As a result, my teachers in the local public school system served as valuable role models and fostered my personal growth not just as a student, but as a whole person. I always felt supported by my community and equipped with the necessary tools for my success.

I faced a stark contrast to my own experience when I worked with Achieve, a program that offers tuition-free educational enrichment to impoverished students in Boston. I taught critical math skills and literacy comprehension for eight weeks during the summer, and volunteered on Saturdays during the school year. Over the three years I spent with Achieve, I developed intimate and meaningful relationships with my students; but I felt that my impact, even the impact of the entire program, was severely limited.

These students did not have the same tools I did to succeed in the classroom. As a teacher, it was excruciatingly painful to hear a student who is already falling behind explain he could not do his homework because his mom could not pay the bills and the electric company shut off the power. It kills me to tell a student to take notes in class only to find out later that her parents can't afford the prescription glasses she needs to see the board and take those notes. I was expecting these kids to read when some of them could not even see.

Our government claims each citizen maintains the right to an education, but fails to substantiate this right with everything needed for an education. The social safety net did not subsidize electricity for low-income families, and Medicaid doesn't cover prescription eyewear. How could these students possibly reach their full potential under such circumstances? I could see the changes needed to better these students’ lives, but I could not enact them. Our political system remains apathetic or even complicit to the systemic inequality I faced everyday in the classroom. I cared about these students and their success, and it deeply disturbed me to see them seemingly destined for failure because of conditions out of their control.

I only grew more frustrated when I continued to encounter these obstacles with my students. I tried to provide these students with an education that would empower them to be agents of change in their community; instead, when I faced these situations, I felt more helpless than helpful. My students looked to me for help, but I was utterly powerless. I came to the conclusion that to affect positive change would require more than volunteering with these students. Children in these situations needed more from me than an education. Instead of growing more frustrated within the system as I continued to confront these impediments to my students’ success, I decided the entire system needed change. That brought me to the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network, and to the Summer Academy Fellowship.

This summer, I will be researching and writing a policy proposal regarding economic equality and equitable development in New York City. I am also working with Operation Hope to provide financial guidance and education to low-income communities. My students remain my driving motivation: I hope this work improves their lives, and the lives of other students in similar situations. To meet their needs and help them achieve their best, our system needs to change.

Casey McQuillan, one of four Andrew Goodman Foundation Fellows in the 2014 NYC Summer Academy, is a rising sophomore and active Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network member at Amherst College studying Math, Economics, and Law.

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Healing the Medical Field: How A Push Against Careers in Medicine Could Push Back on Burnout

Jun 10, 2014Anisha Hegde

When doctors speak out about burnout, it creates an opportunity to create a more sustainable way to practice medicine.

When doctors speak out about burnout, it creates an opportunity to create a more sustainable way to practice medicine.

This fall, I will join about 17,000 students matriculating into medical colleges across America. For all of us, gaining admission to a medical school was at least a four year long process of first discerning – through shadowing, taking rigorous science classes, and volunteering – that we want to be doctors, followed by studying for the MCAT and successfully completing the marathon-like admissions process. For most of us, gaining admission to a medical school is only the beginning of a decade of training in the practice of medicine.

A grueling work environment upon graduation from medical school apparently accompanies this daunting timeline. Domestically, there is a forecasted shortage of 130,600 doctors by 2025, which will likely be exacerbated by the millions of newly insured people under the Affordable Care Act and the increasing emphasis on preventive care. These changes are both tremendously positive for society, but create challenges in the field of medicine. With only 17,000 of the 40,000 yearly applicants matriculating into American medical schools, compared to 45,000 beginning law school and 100,000 beginning business school, reducing that shortage becomes hard to envision. The physician shortage is even more striking on a global scale, as reported by the New England Journal of Medicine.

We can also expect high burnout rates when we get to work. As I was completing secondary applications last fall, I noticed a plethora of headlines advising Millennials against careers in medicine, with multiple doctors leaving comments to express their agreement. I cannot recall reading even one article during that same time period encouraging students interested in service and science to pursue an MD. A survey by NerdWallet sums up the crux of the issues mentioned in the articles: doctors are deeply unsatisfied with their professional choices and would not choose careers in medicine if they could go back and do it all over again. 

Perhaps surprisingly, these articles never made me doubt my desire to become a doctor. Many of the doctors I have shadowed over the years have iterated the power of one positive patient encounter to carry them through the day, to recall as encouragement through the toughest moments. In these interactions between doctors and their patients, I have witnessed the privilege of serving someone in their time of need, the fulfilling skillset of helping someone stay healthy and the lifelong learning that is required in attempting to understand the human body.  These memories and observations have morphed into goals and have seen me through 2 am study sessions for organic chemistry tests and the aftermath of medical school rejection e-mails.

Though I haven't obeyed the command of the articles pushing back on medical school, they did lead to honest conversations with doctors about balancing work and family and about the weighty, taxing responsibility that accompanies a career in medicine. To address burnout, Diane Shannon highlights inexpensive yet seemingly effective measures, such as physician retreats and increased day-to-day clinical autonomy. She also points to larger overhauls and paradigm shifts, such as redirecting the reimbursement system to compensate for quality, as opposed to quantity, of care and employing third-parties to cultivate compassionate healthcare, which medical school curriculums also emphasize.

Maybe I am simply on a post-undergraduate-commencement high, but perhaps this deluge of articles from doctors who left their practices is an inception of a long-needed change in the world of medicine: elevating conversations about stress and concerns plaguing doctors onto a larger stage. This change promises to engage doctors before the final burnout and to fill doctor shortages in a sustainable way. At its core, this change is relevant to service sector fields from doctors to nurses to teachers. As a millennial entering medical school, I realize I know very little about what to expect when it comes to a career in medicine, but I am grateful to those who have spoken out. I hope that the attention they have brought to the dearth of humanity allotted to both the provider and the patient is the inception of a policy and culture-oriented journey to correct both.

Anisha Hegde is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Health Care.

 

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Summer Academy Fellows Come Together for the Fight Against Inequality

May 30, 2014Etana Jacobi
The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's 2014 Summer Academy Fellows have gathered for a summer of learning and growing together to solve today's most pressing issues.
 
Inequality well may be the issue of our generation. The research, commentary, and policy debates are building across the country, from the depths of the ivory tower to the streets of Seattle.
 
The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's 2014 Summer Academy Fellows have gathered for a summer of learning and growing together to solve today's most pressing issues.
 
Inequality well may be the issue of our generation. The research, commentary, and policy debates are building across the country, from the depths of the ivory tower to the streets of Seattle.
 
But how are we preparing this generation – the group that will inherit the outcomes of the policy choices we make today? Are we equipping them with the knowledge to engage, the skills to act, and the community capable of coming together to create change?
 
Today, the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network welcomes 36 students representing over 19 colleges and universities to kick off the 2014 DC and New York City Summer Academies. Curious, brilliant, and diverse in experience, this group is ready to take on the issues in their own backyards, exploring how they address both economic and democratic inequality on the ground. Over half of our new fellows are from the New York City area, while others come from geographically diverse regions of the United States: Alabama, California, and Illinois to name a few home states.
 
Over the course of the next nine weeks, Summer Academy Fellows will be placed in full-time internships with a partner organization, including city governments, community-based organizations, advocacy groups, and think tanks. Concurrently, Fellows participate in a rigorous curriculum composed of workshops, a team-based challenge, field visits, and a speaker series to develop key skills necessary to generate and implement concrete policy change.
 
Together they will tackle the problems of runaway inequality in New York City and a broken political system in Washington, DC. With the challenge frame provided by the Center for Social Inclusion and Fund for the Republic, respectively, students will jump right in to the current debates supported by leading experts and thoughts leaders – and their ideas and contributions will be taken seriously by these leading organizations.
 
Why are we doing this? We believe that policy matters – from City Hall to the community center, from the White House to the social innovation hub. How people and resources come together to solve problems can determine the direction of communities and institutions. It is imperative that we develop a group of young people who capable of tackling complex problems and systems with the power of ideas-inspired action.
 
Interested in what emerges? Students will present their research and ideas at policy expos at the end of the summer in Washington, DC and New York City, as well as the Bay area and Chicago, where Summer Academies will launch in June.
 
In the context of a stagnant public dialogue and increasing disillusionment with a political system incapable of tackling our complex collective challenges, it is more important than ever to invest in a generation of leaders committed to active problem-solving and concrete change in the public sphere. As it enters its seventh year, the Summer Academy boasts 200 alumni now serving as leaders in the non-profit, public, and social innovation sectors. We are overjoyed to welcome a new class of students to this great tradition of leadership.
 
Etana Jacobi is Training Director for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network. 

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Doesn't All Work Deserve Dignity?

Apr 29, 2014Lydia Bowers

A subway ad provides a reminder of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's second bill of rights, which called for a living wage and access to leisure.

A subway ad provides a reminder of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's second bill of rights, which called for a living wage and access to leisure.

I recently saw an advertisement for Grubhub on the New York City subway. For the unfamiliar, Grubhub is a food delivery website used to place orders online. Grubhub focuses its ads on creative reasons you should order delivery tonight from “You refer to your oven as Manhattan Mini Storage” to “Your friends in the Midwest share photos of their kids. You share photos of dinner”. Grubhub has purchased enough ad space in the NYC subway system to make their ads fixtures of NYC commutes.

This ad was different. “Sure, you could go out for dinner. And walk in the snow. Uphill. Both ways. Someone else can do it for you! Order In. You Deserve It.” The case for why you should order delivery tonight is still there (it’s cold, it's uphill!) but there’s more. Pay someone else to deal with that unpleasantness, you deserve it! In our new society, where 1% of the population controls more wealth than the bottom 80% combined, dignity comes from money and, more importantly, what that money can pay others to do for you.

Am I making too much of one ad? Possibly – but it’s emblematic of widespread and growing issues. Look at recent examples of fast food restaurants underpaying their employees or denying them benefits while concurrently paying CEOs obese incomes. Look at Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe being sued by their employees for colluding to keep wages low and maximize corporate profits. The idea that a fair day's work equals a fair day's pay is eroding at every level of our society, except for those controlling it all at the very top. We have become a society where we are sorted into those who deserve fair pay, benefits, and empathy, and those who don’t. And at the end of a long day, the deserving few deserve to have someone being paid exploitative wages (the average delivery worker in NYC is paid minimum wage at $8.00 an hour or roughly $15,300 a year) bring sushi to their front door.

Am I advocating the end of delivery? Of course not. What I’m asking for is a restoration of the basic social contract, where we agree as a society to value all our workers and their right to happiness. This is not a new idea. In his 1944 State of the Union address Franklin Delano Roosevelt advocated for a second bill of rights. He argued that the political rights guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights had “proved inadequate to assure us equality in the purist of happiness.” In this new version, Americans would have the right to employment with a living wage, housing and food, and clothing and leisure, among other things.

What an incredible concept. That beyond simply feeding and housing ourselves, Americans should have the right to leisure – to enjoyment and happiness. That while there will always be delivery people and fast food workers, we all deserve to pay rent off the earnings of a single full-time job. But this is not an issue only impacting minimum wage workers in America. The Apple collusion case referenced above and recent reports that the American middle class is no longer the richest in the world indicate a pervasive mindset has taken root in America, that only those at the very top deserve anything at all. The rest of us can fight for what they leave behind.

The solution? Restore the basic social contract and raise minimum wage. Rather than continuing to argue for the failed policies that wrongly argue equality trickles from the top down, acknowledge that wealth flows when we all do better. Raising our most vulnerable workers above the barely-scraping-by level of living betters our society as a whole, from both economic and social justice standpoints. The recent increase in the New York state minimum wage and political will at the national level for a federal increase are good first steps. But until politics prove otherwise, I will continue to overreact at billboards that reinforce the concept that any workers in our society are "undeserving."

Lydia Bowers is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's National Operations Strategist.

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Millennials Are Shifting the Public Debate with the Power of Their Ideas

Apr 16, 2014Taylor Jo Isenberg

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's annual 10 Ideas series collects the top student policy proposals from across the country. This year's journals are now available online; read them here.

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's annual 10 Ideas series collects the top student policy proposals from across the country. This year's journals are now available online; read them here.

December 2014 will mark 10 years since a group of college students united behind a new model for engaging young people in the political process, a model that became the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network. Deeply grounded in the belief that young people have more to offer than just showing up on Election Day, the Campus Network has continued to evolve and grow from its visionary beginning into the nation’s largest student policy organization, with a membership capable of shifting dialogue and effecting policy at the local, state, and national levels.

We believe that in the context of a stagnant public discourse and increasing disillusionment with a political system incapable of tackling our complex collective challenges, it is more important than ever to invest in a generation of leaders committed to active problem-solving and concrete change in the public sphere. As the Campus Network expands to more than 120 chapters in 38 states, we serve as a vehicle for fresh ideas, exciting talent, and real progress.

You will find our commitment to bold experimentation on display in the 2014 edition of the Campus Network’s 10 Ideas journals, collecting our members’ best policy proposals on issues including economic development, defense and diplomacy, energy and the environment, health care, education, and equal justice. From reforming western water rights to supporting green infrastructure, students are envisioning and acting on better solutions.

The variety and scope of the ideas in these journals are indicative of our network’s larger impact. In the past year, we’ve leveraged the effectiveness of our model to work with and inform dozens of other organizations on how to engage Millennials on critical issues, ranging from campaign finance to inequality to climate change. We’ve elevated a fresh, Millennial-driven vision for government in an otherwise stale public debate, and launched an initiative that taps into our generation’s unfettered thinking and ambition to reimagine the role of citizens in shaping fairer and more equitable local economies. Our members have continued to substantively engage in local processes to shape and shift the policy outcomes that directly impact their communities, from introducing new mapping systems to improve health outcomes in low-income neighborhoods to consulting local governments on flood prevention.

These ideas are just the starting place, because ideas are only powerful when acted upon. Yet this work is occurring in a dramatically shifting political and social context. The ways citizens engage their government, participate locally, and advocate for their communities are changing every day. As a vibrant, evolving network driven by our active members nationwide, we believe there is immense potential to capture these innovations and ensure better and more progressive ideas take hold. We believe that:

  • Millennials are turning away from traditional institutions and are looking to build new ones as vehicles for social change. We believe there is an opportunity to channel this reform-mindedness into building a healthier, more inclusive system that’s responsive to citizen engagement and evidence-based solutions.  
  • To jump-start political engagement and combat disillusionment, the focus needs to be on pragmatic problem-solving and intersectional thinking across key issues. For example, we can no longer tackle economic mobility separately from climate change.
  • There is immense potential (and need) for scalable policy innovation at the local and state levels, and much of the most effective and important policy change in the coming decade will be local.
  • With the shift from top-down institutions to networked approaches and collective problem-solving, it is more important than ever before to invest in the development of informed, engaged community leaders capable of driving engagement and action on ideas.

As you engage with the ideas, ambitions, and goals in these journals, I encourage you to dig in and explore how our country’s future leaders are taking the initiative to create the change they know we desperately need. You won’t be disappointed. 

Taylor Jo Isenberg is the Roosevelt Institute's Vice President of Networks.

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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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