The Title X Factor: Why the Health of America's Women Depends on More Funding for Family Planning

Oct 28, 2013

Download the paper (PDF) by Andrea Flynn

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) represents an unprecedented expansion of the nation’s health care system and an historic investment in the health of American women and girls. The ACA has already improved the lives of millions and will make health care accessible for millions more as rollout continues this year and next.

Download the paper (PDF) by Andrea Flynn

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) represents an unprecedented expansion of the nation’s health care system and an historic investment in the health of American women and girls. The ACA has already improved the lives of millions and will make health care accessible for millions more as rollout continues this year and next.

Fulfilling the promise of the ACA depends on the continued support and success of existing programs – like Title X, the federal family planning program – that serve as pillars of the nation’s still fragile primary health care infrastructure. Title X provides critical medical care and “wrap around” services for family planning clinics nationwide, enabling them to pay for and maintain facilities, train and hire staff, purchase equipment and supplies, and offer a host of services for specific populations.

Family planning is central to women’s health and social and economic security. Given the tenuous state of the U.S. economy, the vulnerability of women’s health programs in the face of unrelenting political attacks, and the fragility of the social safety net more broadly, public funding for family planning is more critical than ever. Critics may argue that because the ACA meets the needs of many women, Title X is no longer necessary. In fact, the opposite is true. Continued – indeed, increased – funding of Title X will maximize the impact and reach of the ACA and ensure continued care for those who will remain uninsured despite this landmark legislation.

Key Findings:

  • The ACA demands an unprecedented scaling up in the nation’s health infrastructure, and fulfilling the promise of the law will depend on the continued support and success of Title X.
  • The demand for Title X-funded clinics will only increase in coming years as more individuals seek care and those who already rely on safety net providers continue to do so.
  • Despite their coverage status,women will continue to rely on Title X-funded clinics because of the clinics’ experience in and commitment to providing care in a safe, confidential setting.
  • For many women, particularly young women and low- income women, Title X-funded clinics are a critical entry point into the health system. These clinics will be in even greater demand in the coming months as more women obtain coverage and seek a variety of health services.
  • Despite the extraordinary promise of the ACA, many will remain uninsured and for those individuals Title X providers will remain one of the only sources of quality, affordable family planning care.

Read "The Title X Factor: Why the Health of America's Women Depends on More Funding for Family Planning," by Roosevelt Institute Fellow Andrea Flynn.

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Daily Digest - October 18: How About a Fifty Year Farm Bill?

Oct 18, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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Wendell Berry (The Brian Lehrer Show)

Wendell Berry, who was awarded the Freedom Medal at the Roosevelt Institute's Four Freedoms Awards this week, appears on WNYC to discuss his work. His conversation with Brian Lehrer covers the farm bill, CSAs, and more.

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

Wendell Berry (The Brian Lehrer Show)

Wendell Berry, who was awarded the Freedom Medal at the Roosevelt Institute's Four Freedoms Awards this week, appears on WNYC to discuss his work. His conversation with Brian Lehrer covers the farm bill, CSAs, and more.

  • Roosevelt Take: Watch the video of the Four Freedoms Awards ceremony at the St. James' Episcopal Church, where Wendell Berry was honored along with Ameena Matthews, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Sister Simone Campbell, and Paul Krugman.

Farmworkers Hit NYC to Protest Wendy’s Labor Practices (The Nation)

Aaron Cantú reports on the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' protest outside a Wendy's in New York City, calling on the fast food chain to join their Fair Food Program. The CIW was in town to receive the Freedom from Want medal at the Four Freedoms Awards.

The Government Shutdown Wasn’t That Bad for the Politicians. It was Terrible for This Guy. (WaPo)

Jim Tankersley speaks to a federal contractor who won't get backpay from the shutdown - and he's a cafeteria worker in a Smithsonian museum. This man was already supporting his son paycheck to paycheck, and he had to negotiate with his landlord to avoid eviction.

Not Everything Is Back To Normal Now That The Shutdown Is Over (ThinkProgress)

Bryce Covert and Alan Pyke consider the ongoing effects of the shutdown, which continue despite the government reopening. Experiments have been scrapped or rescheduled, invoices and applications are backlogged, and nothing makes up lost business near national parks.

Let's Shut Down the Filibuster (TAP)

Paul Starr thinks that with the shutdown over, it's time to make some reforms to improve government function. He suggests that the filibuster should be first on the chopping block, because its modern usage only impairs the Senate from doing its job.

Let's Treat Housing as a Health Issue (City Limits)

Jeff Foreman suggests that the best use of public health dollars would be to solve homelessness. Ending homelessness would save enough money in healthcare costs to cover the cost of housing, so why are we leaving anyone on the streets?

Stay Put, Young Man (Washington Monthly)

Timothy Noah argues that the decrease in interstate migration in the U.S. has contributed to decreasing upward mobility. Even worse, the cost of housing has risen so much that people who do move often move away from economic opportunity.

New on Next New Deal

Local Experiments May Counteract Austerity in Education Funding

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Education Raul Gardea looks at California's new Local Control Funding Formula, which gives local communities more freedom in how they distribute and use their state education funding.

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Local Experiments May Counteract Austerity in Education Funding

Oct 17, 2013Raul Gardea

California is placing a new emphasis on local community needs and closing the poverty achievement gap in education, and the rest of the country would do well to follow.

California is placing a new emphasis on local community needs and closing the poverty achievement gap in education, and the rest of the country would do well to follow.

As our country’s economy has limped along from one crisis to another over the past several years, the impact of state and federal austerity measures on communities has exposed our troubling national priorities. A new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities showed that despite the Great Recession technically ending in 2009, schools have yet to return to pre-recession spending levels, and in some states the cuts reach up to 20 percent per pupil. These drastic cuts have become the norm as communities in states that have resorted to austerity to put out short-term fires must now cope with the fallout from such measures.

And then the government shut down.

So on top of underfunded schools, we had Head Start agencies on the chopping block, long-term WIC funding up in the airfurloughed workers flooding unemployment offices, and the nation on the brink of defaulting on our debt yet again. For many financially insecure families, it’s easy to see why they might hesitate before placing trust in their representatives in Washington or the state capitol to solve these problems.

As a result, the idea of robust and inclusive public education seems like a thing of the past. Cuts in education spending disproportionately affect low-income students, taking resources away from the institutions designed to prepare a generation for an already murky labor market.

California is taking a different path. Rather than normalizing those drastic cuts in school funding, the state is reinvesting the gains from its economic turnaround into providing its students a path to a brighter future. This summer, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), the most significant education reform in a generation, which passed the legislature with bipartisan support.

For decades, mountains of red tape and state-mandated programs have hamstrung districts that felt that top-down regulation was detrimental to the quality of education they could provide. The LCFF replaces the old, convoluted funding formula with one designed for equity and transparency. First, the state gives all school districts a ”base grant” per pupil of approximately $7000 depending on grade level. Those funds are supplemented with grants based on student needs and demographics. For example, a low-income, ESL, or special needs student’s district would receive roughly $3000 more for that pupil. An additional $1.25 billion is earmarked specifically for resources to help teachers shift to the new Common Core standards.

Educators and administrators benefit from this in several ways. Districts are given the freedom to manage their increased budget as they see fit by experimenting with different ideas to improve student outcomes. These may include increasing instructional time through a longer school year, rehiring teachers who had previously lost their full time jobs, incorporating new technologies in the classroom, or countless other innovations. LCFF respects and empowers educators while tempering the effects of metrics-based policy like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, which used bubble-in testing as the ultimate evaluation of a teacher’s effectiveness and then shut schools down for failing to achieve impossible proficiency rates. Additionally, the degree of freedom given to administrators will require significant community engagement as a measure of accountability, which is why the law mandates parental advisory boards in every school district.

Most importantly, weighted funding formulas like the LCFF recognize poverty as a key driver of achievement gaps. A Princeton study was recently published demonstrating how chronic poverty degrades one’s decision-making abilities, which can then worsen his or her financial circumstances. Any great society should attempt to curb the psychological toll that economic hardship can have on its citizens. Yet state and federal fiscal policy continues to squeeze the working poor from all sides. Policy like LCFF provides an important first step in mitigating the impact of poverty on educational outcomes.

This is precisely why school finance reform in the vein of California, with a purposeful focus on local control and the poverty achievement gap, should become the model for other states. California has a long way to go before its revenue streams match the targets laid out by LCFF, and it cannot replace Title I funds lost due to sequestration, but such policy demonstrates that it is still possible to reimagine age-old institutions. We live in extraordinary times where our country’s economic stability and global competitiveness is under perpetual threat by those we have placed in office. Families and students are feeling the sharp edge of broken policy and austerity economics. California’s willingness to hand the reins to communities demonstrates bold experimentation and a trust in its people, something that the national body politic has all but forgotten.

Raul Gardea is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's Senior Fellow for Education.

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Daily Digest - October 15: Fighting Global Inequality at Home

Oct 15, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

Inequality Is a Choice (NYT)

Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz discusses a new divide between countries who attempt to do something about income inequality and countries that don't. If the U.S. and its peers aren't trying to make change, why should anyone else?

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

Inequality Is a Choice (NYT)

Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz discusses a new divide between countries who attempt to do something about income inequality and countries that don't. If the U.S. and its peers aren't trying to make change, why should anyone else?

Living on $5,000 a Year, on Purpose: Meet America's 'intentional poor' (NBC News)

Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow Nona Willis Aronowitz looks at the lives of those who choose poverty as a lifestyle. She points out that choosing poverty is different from being poor: many who choose this lifestyle have a family safety net.

Nancy Pelosi on Sister Simone (Politico)

Rep. Nancy Pelosi writes about her admiration of Sister Simone Campbell, who will be awarded the Freedom of Worship medal at Wednesday's Four Freedoms Awards. Pelosi admires how Sister Simone's faith leads her to take action on behalf of the needy.

The Default has Already Begun (Reuters)

Felix Salmon argues that because global faith in U.S. financial institutions has already been shaken, for most purposes default has already started. The effects can't be stopped at this point, even though we haven't yet breached the debt ceiling.

A Government Above the People (Al Jazeera)

Sarah Kendzior says that when Republican congressmen suggest that furloughed federal workers take out expensive short-term loans during the shutdown, it's further proof of how disconnected government is from the people who rely on the social safety net, or even just their paychecks.

In Shutdown and Debt Ceiling Showdown, GOPers Ignore Their Party's Own Advice (MoJo)

David Corn compares the Republican's internal autopsy from March to their current behavior. The report was supposed to help the GOP make changes to appeal to a broader range of voters, but the party's actions are practically the opposite of the recommendations.

A Win For McJobs: Seattle's Mayoral Candidates Both Support a $15 Minimum Wage (The Atlantic)

Jordan Weissmann questions whether the support for fast food protesters' wage demands is just posturing. But even if it is, for any politician to start supporting a $15 per hour minimum wage should be seen as a great success in changing the narrative.

 

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The Larger Issue at Stake in the Shutdown: The Role of Government

Oct 14, 2013David B. Woolner

By choosing not to position himself as a defender of government, President Obama may have made his opposition stronger.

By choosing not to position himself as a defender of government, President Obama may have made his opposition stronger.

The recent news that there has been a shift in tone in the debate between congressional Republicans and the White House over the government shutdown has been greeted as a welcome development in much of the press and on Wall Street, where, in response to rumors of an impending deal, the DOW Jones Industrial Average shot up more than 300 points.

But there is a larger issue at stake in this debacle that President Obama has to a large extent ignored: the role of government in shaping a just and economically sustainable liberal capitalist democracy.

Today’s free-market fundamentalists continue to denounce any attempt by the federal government to regulate capitalism. They insist that the forces of the market could easily solve all of our nation’s woes if only government would get out of the way. Their faith stems from their unshakable belief that the free market system cannot fail, and the apostate in their vision is government.

The history of the free market system in the years between the October 1929 crash of the stock market and the steady deflationary slide into the Great Depression three years later teaches us something quite different. Capitalist economies can collapse; the free market system can fail; millions of people can be thrown out into the street, wondering not just where they might find work, but where they might get their next meal.

It was at the height of this crisis of capitalism that the American people elected Franklin D. Roosevelt as the 32nd President of the United States. FDR was no ideologue, he harbored no extreme views on the right or on the left, but he understood that capitalism was in deep trouble, that the transition of the United States from a largely agrarian state to a modern industrial society had left millions of Americans vulnerable to the fickle twists of the unregulated marketplace, and that the only institution strong enough to take on the forces of wealth and privilege that largely controlled the marketplace—those whose unbridled greed was chiefly responsible for its collapse—was government.

It was this message and this philosophy that led the American people to support the many measures FDR put in place under the banner of the New Deal. Measures like the separation of commercial and investment banking, the establishment of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission, or the passage of the all-important Social Security Act, which gave us old-age pensions and unemployment insurance. At the time, critics of the New Deal charged that FDR was leading the country down the path to a dictatorship; that he was subverting the Constitution. The American Liberty League even went so far as to claim that the passage of the Social Security Act meant “the end of democracy.”

But Roosevelt scoffed at these “prophets of calamity,” and unlike President Obama, was willing on behalf of the American people both to acknowledge and attack the forces arrayed against them. Consider, for example, FDR’s repeated assaults on the “economic royalists” whose vast concentrations of wealth distorted the free-market system to such an extent that they made it virtually impossible for “small businessmen and merchants to make worthy use of the American system of initiative and profit.” In the face of such vast inequality, “the hours men and women worked, the wages they received, the conditions of their labor… had all passed beyond the control of the people,” he warned. “Private enterprise,” he said, “became too private. It became privileged enterprise, not free enterprise.” 

As a result, “the political equality we once had won” had become “meaningless in the face of economic inequality,” leading to the inescapable conclusion that “against economic tyranny such as this, the American citizen could only appeal to the organized power of government.”

Throughout his tenure as president, Barack Obama has been reluctant to present himself as the voice of the average working American, to position himself and his administration as leading a government effort to attack the immense inequality that has re-emerged in our society over the past 30 years, and to seek the people’s support for this effort. Instead, he has engaged in a somewhat admirable attempt to find solutions to such problems as health care reform through compromise with his conservative opposition, often by the establishment of programs—such as the Affordable Care Act—designed to appeal more to those who harbor a greater faith in the free market than they do in government.

But as recent events make clear, the president’s decision to seek market-friendly solutions to our most pressing problems has not won him any credit among the archconservatives who have hijacked the Republican Party. Their overriding focus is to discredit government, not work with it; to destroy the social safety net, not save it; and it would appear that they are quite willing to go to extreme lengths to achieve their ideological goals, including the possibility of driving the U.S. Government into default.

One can certainly understand the political calculations behind President Obama’s oft-repeated willingness to meet his opposition halfway, but it now appears that his past readiness to compromise and acknowledge his other points of view has won him few converts and may have only strengthened the hand of those who seek to destroy his agenda.

A far better tack may be to steal a page or two from FDR, who called upon the American people to recognize “the need to find through government the instrument of our united purpose to solve for the individual the ever-rising problems of a complex civilization,” and above all else, to never forget that “government is ourselves and not an alien power over us.”

David Woolner is a Senior Fellow and Hyde Park Resident Historian for the Roosevelt Institute. 

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Women Are Bearing the Brunt of Shutdown Fallout

Oct 11, 2013Andrea FlynnNataya Friedan

The "non-essential" programs that are currently unfunded due to the shutdown are in fact essential for many women and children.

The "non-essential" programs that are currently unfunded due to the shutdown are in fact essential for many women and children.

The GOP likes to say the war on women is a myth. But the government shutdown, now in its eleventh day, is just the latest evidence that it is indeed alive and well. It should be no surprise that women are among those hurt most by the closure, which, predictably, is in part a reaction to the benefits that the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature achievement, guarantees women, as we wrote last week.

From the nation’s elite institutions to the oft-neglected rural areas of this country, women and their families are caught in the middle of a political impasse that has furloughed an estimated 800,000 government workers, threatens to upend the global economy, and has left critical government programs and services scrambling to secure emergency funds in order to serve America’s most vulnerable populations.

The shutdown threatens a number of programs and funding streams, including domestic violence shelters and service centers; Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); the Woman, Infants, and Children Program (WIC); School Lunch; Head Start; and Title IX investigations of sexual assault on college campuses. This will have a serious impact on the health, physical safety, food security, and economic stability of women and their families.

Physical Safety

As Bryce Covert wrote last week, funds for domestic violence programs designated under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) have been suspended since October 4. (It should be no surprise that many of the House members leading the shutdown also voted against VAWA itself earlier this year.)

Small centers without access to independent funding – those that serve women with the fewest options – will only be able to weather the storm for so long. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and the ensuing economic downturn, violence against women has been on the rise, with eight out of 10 shelters reporting increases in the number of women seeking help, and 74 percent of domestic violence victims staying in unsafe situations because of economic insecurity.  Demand for these services is increasing, while funding is being cut from every source. Nearly four out of five of domestic violence service providers have reported decreases in government funding over the past five years, and since October 1, many have closed their doors completely or limited their services.

The shutdown is also affecting the safety of women on college and university campuses across the country. An increasing number of institutions are under investigation for ineffective handling of sexual assault cases adjudicated under Title IX.

And with the shutdown, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has suspended investigations into alleged violations and has halted campus visits necessary for holding institutions accountable.  

Food Security

The shutdown threatens the food assistance on which millions of America’s most vulnerable women and children rely. At this point, federal funding for TANF, WIC, and school lunches has been suspended. State and USDA reserve funds are being reallocated so that states can continue to provide these essential services, but they will only be able to function with these limited resources for a short time.

States are shouldering the burden to keep TANF running while the government is shuttered, but last week, 5,200 eligible families in Arizona did not receive their monthly check. Thus far Arizona has been the only state to deny this important benefit for families in need, but every day the program is more strained.

WIC, the federal program that most crucially provides formula and breastfeeding assistance for mothers in need, has also been left in the lurch. On Tuesday, officials announced that no additional WIC vouchers would be issued in the state of North Carolina, where approximately 264,000 women rely on the program. In Utah, the WIC program shut its doors and only reopened four days later because the USDA provided a $2.5 million emergency grant. Other centers are sure to face the same challenges so long as workers are furloughed and grants are on hold.

Economic Security

Head Start programs that provide childcare and education for 7,200 low-income children ages 0-5 did not receive grants due on October 1. Thousands of low-income women are able to go to work every day because their children participate in Head Start programs. Without them, women already struggling in low-wage jobs and lacking benefits are forced to miss work, because no one else is able to care for their children. For women, secure employment is contingent on secure childcare and education for their families. The New York Times reported that programs in six states had closed due to the shutdown and then reopened temporarily thanks to a $10 million gift from a couple in Texas. Head Start will continue as a result of this short-term rescue, but private philanthropy will not be able to do the job of the government over the long term.

In sum, what some define as non-essential government services are, in fact, essential to the economic and physical well-being of America's most vulnerable women and their families. It’s just another variation on the old adage that one man’s public interest may be another’s tyranny – in this instance, largely tyranny over women and children.

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. She researches and writes about access to reproductive health care in the United States. You can follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.

Nataya Friedan is a recent graduate of Columbia University working for the Roosevelt Institute’s Women Rising program.

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How to Fight for "Freedom from Want" and Win: A Q&A with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Oct 10, 2013Richard Kirsch
On Wednesday, October 16, the Roosevelt Institute will present the 2013 Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Awards, honoring individuals and organizations whose work exemplifies FDR's vision of democracy. Click here to RSVP for the free public ceremony.

On Wednesday, October 16, the Roosevelt Institute will present the 2013 Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Awards, honoring individuals and organizations whose work exemplifies FDR's vision of democracy. Click here to RSVP for the free public ceremony. Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch spoke to Greg Asbed, Gerardo Reyes, and Nely Rodriguez of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the recipient of this year's Freedom from Want Medal, about their group's unique organizing model.

Richard Kirsch: The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is receiving the Freedom from Want Medal at the Roosevelt Institute's Four Freedoms Awards next week. What does "freedom from want" mean for your members? 

Coalition of Immokalee Workers: For as long as anyone can remember, farmworkers have been this country's worst paid, least protected workers, facing abject poverty, physical abuse, and daily humiliations in the fields. "Freedom from want" for us means not only earning a fair wage for the hard and essential work we do, but being treated with the respect and dignity we have earned through the vital contribution we make to our society every day. A world cannot be considered truly just as long as those who put food on our tables cannot afford to feed their own families.

RK: Can you tell me a little more about the working and living conditions your members faced? 

CIW: For generations, the farmworkers who pick our country’s fruits and vegetables have suffered almost unimaginable human rights violations, from systematic wage theft to sexual harassment and humiliating verbal and physical abuse. These injustices are as well-documented as they are widespread. In the extreme, farmworkers face situations of modern-day slavery – held against their will, under the threat or actual use of violence (beatings, pistol whippings, shootings), and forced to work for little to no pay.

The good news is that the Fair Food Program, through its human rights-based, market-enforced Code of Conduct -- which includes worker-to-worker labor rights education, independent workplace monitoring, and a worker-triggered complaint resolution process – is changing those conditions in the tomato fields of Florida.

RK: "Freedom from want" is more than being free from deprivation. What do your members hope for in their lives? 

CIW: Our members want nothing more, and nothing less, than to lead what most people would consider a "normal" life. Our members want to be able to provide their families with good food, a decent home, and a life they can enjoy together. Today, even though conditions are improving, farm labor remains a job that not only impoverishes workers economically, but socially as well, by demanding that workers be available from before dawn to after dusk.

Farm work steals the hours of the day when families spend time together. Mornings preparing breakfast for your children before school, weekends relaxing around the house or on family outings, those are the moments of which a family life is made. Having to pull up stakes and move the family to follow the harvest, children missing crucial weeks of school and living in a constant state of uncertainty, makes family life more difficult. Stability, dignity, and a measure of economic security are the things we want, not just for ourselves, but more than anything else, for our children. 

RK: FDR railed against the "economic royalists," the corporations, banks, and wealthy individuals of the day who thought they should rule the economy. Who are the economic royalists that CIW is taking on? 

CIW: In today's food system, the kings who would rule our world are the multi-billion dollar retail food companies, from fast-food chains with tens of thousands of restaurants to supermarkets like Walmart, which has food sales greater than its three closest competitors combined. These companies have come to dominate the U.S. produce market, leveraging their unprecedented volume purchasing power to command unsustainably low prices from their suppliers. At the farm level, those ever-lower prices are translated into sub-poverty wages for the workers who harvest the fruits and vegetables sold to these massive chain stores, because labor costs are essentially the only flexible input in raising a crop.

RK: CIW has been remarkably successful in standing up to the economic royalists of the food business, fast food chains, and supermakets. What has been your strategy?

CIW: Our Campaign for Fair Food seeks to harness the volume purchasing power of the food giants and reverse its impact. Where before, their market power created an inexorable downward pressure on farmworker wages and working conditions, that same power, if redirected by consumer demand, can be used to improve wages and require their suppliers to comply with more modern, more humane labor standards. This is not just a theory. It is working today in Florida's tomato fields.

Our Fair Food Program, with its penny-per-pound premium paid by participating retailers going to fund a bonus in workers' weekly paychecks, is designed, in part, to help farmworkers earn a just wage that can support a family. And it is making a dent in farmworker poverty, with over $11 million paid in premiums in since January 2011. But it is also addressing the broader definition of want that we are discussing here by bringing workers increased dignity and the respect that comes from partnering with growers to create a fairer and better industry.

RK: What does it take to get corporations to agree to join the Fair Food Program?

CIW: The Fair Food Program depends on the support of multi-billion dollar fast-food, foodservice, and supermarket chains to work. Without their penny-per-pound premium fueling improved wages, and without their purchasing power buttressing the human rights standards in the Fair Food Code of Conduct, none of the progress we are seeing today in the fight against sexual harassment, wage theft, and even modern-day slavery would be possible. But, unfortunately, it has been our experience that corporations don’t jump to support these changes on their own.

And so it has been necessary to travel across the country educating consumers about what they can do to help. We mobilize major actions -- everything from two-week long marches to week-long fasts -- and local protests where consumers and farmworkers take action, shoulder to shoulder, calling on companies like Publix, Kroger, and Wendy's to join the Fair Food Program and make a real investment in human rights. That consumer demand and public pressure has resulted in11 multi-billion dollar companies signing on to the program and the transformation of the Florida tomato industry from one of the most abusive to one of the most progressive sectors in the U.S. agricultural industry today.

RK: What has been the key to your success?

CIW: The single most important factor in our success is that the Fair Food Program is truly a worker-designed, worker-driven social responsibility program. The vast majority of corporate social responsibility programs are created and controlled by corporations themselves, and so, quite simply, they are designed to protect the corporations' interests. The Fair Food Program, with its principal architect being a workers' organization, has a unique design and structure, all constructed with one goal in mind: to protect farmworkers' rights.

In doing that, the Fair Food Program also improves the agricultural industry as a whole, through direct economic benefits such as lower turnover and increased productivity, and through the marketing advantages created when an otherwise indistinguishable commodity becomes a product that can be differentiated on the supermarket shelf as having been produced under humane conditions. That makes the Fair Food Program uniquely effective as a means for protecting human rights and simultaneously uniquely attractive as a business model for growers and buyers looking to succeed in the 21st century marketplace.

RK: What leadership role do members play in your work?

CIW: When we began organizing in the early 1990s, we had a motto: Todos somos lideres (We are all leaders). That has always been one of our guiding principles, and that is why we have organized -- from day one to this day -- on a foundation of broad-based, grassroots leadership, not around an individual leader. Our leadership comes from the community itself -- young, mostly immigrant leaders whose experience in the fields and on the front lines of our organizing battles are the keys to their ability to assume a leadership role in the CIW.

Our members travel across the country representing the CIW and the Campaign for Fair Food in conferences, churches, universities, and before the press, they lead community meetings and debate strategies, run our community radio station, negotiate with multi-billion dollar corporations, investigate and resolve labor complaints, go undercover to identify modern-day slavery operations, and educate their fellow workers in the fields about their rights under the Fair Food Program. Without a broad and ever-changing base of community leadership, none of this would be possible. 

RK: What can progressives learn from CIW in the struggle to create an economy that is based on people being able to live with dignity? 

CIW: What has worked for us is an unflagging commitment to our vision of a fair food system. We have been fighting for nearly 20 years, and during that time our vision has never changed. We fight for work with dignity, respect in the fields, a just wage that can support a family, and freedom from forced labor. Our organizing has gone through many phases, shifting as our strategies changed, but our goals have remained fixed.

Today, we are making the concrete, measurable, and sustainable changes that we visualized 20 years ago, and that is because we never gave up, never gave in, and never compromised on our core principles. Believe in whatever it is you are fighting for, be steadfast but flexible in how you fight for it, and be willing to walk away from the table when necessary. If your vision is sound and you refuse to give in, you will, ultimately, win.

RK: You started in Florida. What’s next?

CIW: The Fair Food Program was born in Immokalee, Florida, the tomato capital of the state. Florida provides 90 percent of the domestically grown tomatoes consumed in the U.S. from the months of November to May. But the model for worker-led, market-based social responsibility taking root today in Florida's tomato fields is already expanding beyond Florida up the East Coast, and its unique principles and mechanisms are being studied in other crops and other industries.

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

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"Inequality for All" Continues the Conversation That Occupy Began

Oct 8, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

I was one of the lucky ones: I was invited to a preview screening of Inequality for All a few months ago. Since then, I’ve been telling everyone I know that they needed to see this documentary about economic inequality when it hit theaters, which it finally did this month.

I was one of the lucky ones: I was invited to a preview screening of Inequality for All a few months ago. Since then, I’ve been telling everyone I know that they needed to see this documentary about economic inequality when it hit theaters, which it finally did this month.

No one is particularly surprised when I start talking about economic inequality; after all, I work at the Roosevelt Institute. But I emphasized to my friends that this isn’t a film for wonks. It’s a film for everyone, and I’m excited that others are recognizing that, too. Reviewers are raving about the film, calling it “unflinching,” “passionate,” and “essential viewing.” Reich gets rave reviews, too, for giving this issue a witty and affable voice.

Inequality for All is a welcome primer for the discussion of economic inequality that was kicked off by the Occupy movement two years ago. In his review, Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch calls the film “a major milestone” for getting “the core progressive story about what is wrong with the economy” out to the masses. Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline also recently hosted a screening for the film in San Francisco.

Maybe the most powerful thing that Reich hammers home in the film is that “we make the rules of the economy, and we have the power to change those rules.” Inequality for All explains how the rules changed to the advantage of the wealthy. The next step in this conversation is to figure out what we want those rules to be. Find a screening near you, and let us know what changes you think we need to start making.

Rachel Goldfarb is the Roosevelt Institute Communications Associate.

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"Inequality for All" is "The Progressive Economic Narrative: The Movie"

Sep 27, 2013Richard Kirsch

The new film starring Robert Reich delivers a powerful message about what's wrong with the economy, though it may leave viewers wondering what they can do about it.

With the release of the documentary Inequality for All today, the core progressive story about what is wrong with the economy is now on the silver screen. For those of us who have been working to articulate what we call a progressive economic narrative, it is a major milestone.

The new film starring Robert Reich delivers a powerful message about what's wrong with the economy, though it may leave viewers wondering what they can do about it.

With the release of the documentary Inequality for All today, the core progressive story about what is wrong with the economy is now on the silver screen. For those of us who have been working to articulate what we call a progressive economic narrative, it is a major milestone.

The right spent decades projecting their view that prosperity is created through limited government and free markets, concepts that still dominate most Americans’ thinking, even as the American dream is becoming a nightmare for more and more families. The new movie provides a powerful way to popularize a very different story.

Inequality for All is based around a big lecture course that Robert Reich gives at the University of California Berkeley. Reich and the film’s director, Jacob Kornbluth, mix facts, infographics, documentary footage, and profiles of families whose lives have been scarred by the new economy with the personal story of Reich’s lifelong work to push for a just economy, including his frustrations serving as Labor Secretary during President Clinton’s first term. Reich’s personality, his humor, feistiness, and passion, drive the film.

The progressive economic narrative can be encapsulated in four sentences:

  • Working families and the middle class are getting crushed while the super-rich game the system.
  • Working families and the middle class are the engines of the economy.
  • We build a strong middle class through decisions we make together.
  • It’s up to us to build an America that works for all of us.

Inequality for All tells the same story. In the movie, Reich ties the vast increase in income inequality to the loss of unionization, the diversion of economic growth from wages to CEO compensation and profits, the financialization of the economy, cutting taxes for the wealthy, and the failure of government to keep investing in education and infrastructure.

Reich shows how a virtuous cycle of higher wages and productivity, which put more money in consumers’ pockets, thus driving the economy forward and raising revenues for government investment, was replaced by a vicious cycle in which stagnant wages undercut consumer purchasing, leading to lower demand and more layoffs along with declining tax revenues and government spending.

While most Americans know that the rich are getting richer while everyone else is being squeezed, the crucial contribution the movie makes is explaining the two key economic concepts needed to discredit the conservative economic story.

The most powerful messenger for the first concept is not Reich, but Nick Hanauer, a Seattle billionaire, who made his fortune in both the old and new economy. Hanauer’s family business is one of the world’s largest pillow manufacturers, but his latest fortune is as an early Amazon investor. Hanauer tours his pillow-making factory, pointing out that “a person like me who earns 1,000 times as much as the typical American doesn’t buy 1,000 pillows a year. Even the richest person only sleeps on one or two pillows. The pillow business is quite tough, as it is for many, many industries, because fewer and fewer people can afford to buy the products we make.”

When consumers are able to afford a new item, many now go to places like Amazon, which Hanauer points out employs 60,000 employees to achieve the same volume of sales that mom and pop businesses would hire 600,000 for.

The second key concept, hammered home over and over again by Reich, is “We make the rules of the economy and we have the power to change those rules.” He says his first studies of economics, as a Rhodes Scholar, taught him that there was “no such thing as a perfectly free market anywhere. Government sets the rules by which the market functions… The real question is who do these rules benefit and who they hurt.”

The driving narrative behind Inequality for All, and the most important point for people to learn, is that the crushing of the middle class did not happen by accident; it happened because of decisions that were made by business and government. Reich’s message is that we can make different decisions to create an economy of shared prosperity.

The last third of the movie emphasizes that the biggest obstacle to change is the capturing of our democracy by big money. Reich, who is the chair of Common Cause, warns that because of the “threat to democracy” from the rising concentration of wealth, “we are seeing an entire society that is starting to pull apart.”

Reich concludes with a call for building a movement, telling a personal story of why he became an activist. Reich, who is less than five feet tall, was saved from bullying by an older schoolmate, Mickey Schwerner, who was murdered along with two other young civil rights volunteers in Philadelphia, Mississippi in 1964. That event, Reich says, changed his life.

His final charge to his students is a call to action: “You've got to mobilize, you've got to organize, you've got to energize other people. Politics is not out there. It starts here…. History is on the side of positive social change… You can be a leader.”

The biggest weakness of the film, which undercuts his hopeful conclusion, is that Reich does not propose any specific solutions. He says that “policy ideas are plentiful” but doesn’t provide them. As a result, the call for action may ring hollow. Action toward what? I know that one group of Millennials who saw a preview came away feeling both educated and discouraged. The movie would have benefited mightily from connecting to movements for change.

Reich and Inequality for All’s distributors are trying to make up for that through their website, which moviegoers will see as the film ends. The website links to actions people can take and organizations people can work with on six broad issues: raising the minimum wage; strengthening workers’ voices; investing in education; reforming Wall Street; fixing the tax system; and getting big money out of politics. Progressive groups are sponsoring showings of the film, and the website invites people to arrange for a showing at a theater in their communities. I hope many local progressive organizations will sponsor showings and engage the audience in a discussion afterward on how they can take action.

Still, Inequality for All is a powerful narrative vehicle for the progressive story about why income inequality is not just unfair, but the driving force behind the fading American dream and the fraying of our democracy. In his passionate final charge to his class, Reich offers one version of the core progressive idea, “we all do better when we all do better.” Hearing that message on the big screen, released by a Hollywood powerhouse like the Weinstein Group, is an affirmation that our history may indeed be moving toward positive social change.  

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

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Inequality Broke the Economy. How Can We Fix It in New York City?

Sep 26, 2013Nell Abernathy

The Roosevelt Institute's Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative, Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline, and the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute recently convened a panel of local policy experts to discuss inequality in New York and how the next mayor can address it. Watch the video below.

The Roosevelt Institute's Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative, Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline, and the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute recently convened a panel of local policy experts to discuss inequality in New York and how the next mayor can address it. Watch the video below.

“The economy is broken and inequality broke it,” James Parrott, Chief Economist at the Fiscal Policy Institute, said Tuesday night at the Roosevelt Institute’s forum on Inequality in New York.

The divide between the rich and the poor in New York and across the nation is not an inevitable consequence of technology, globalization, or even human capital, each of the panelists reiterated. “This is the result of policy choices,” Parrott continued. Learn more about what the next mayor should do to tackle inequality and how he can pay for it by watching the video of the event below:

Maya Wiley, Founder and President of the Center for Social Inclusion, emphasized the role of government in creating opportunity. “Fundamentally what we’ve had is a narrative that government gets in the way, rather than recognizing that we created a middle class in this country beginning with the New Deal, continuing with the Fair Deal, based on a series of policies that brought it into being in the mid-20th century. By and large, the middle class as we know it today didn’t even exist until the middle of the 20th century. And we forget that. It wasn’t some natural occurrence.”

Tsedeye Gebreselassie, Staff Attorney at the National Employment Law Project, said a key driver of inequality in New York City has been the stagnation of wages for the working and middle class. New York’s current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour equates to an annual income of $15,000 a year. Our next mayor, she argued, should work with Albany and the City Council to increase the city’s minimum wage, following the example of other high-cost cities like San Francisco, which has a floor of $10.55 an hour.

“Depending on how high you raise that wage, you could impact nearly a million workers living in the city,” said Gebreselassie. “It’s a tremendous policy in terms of boosting the wage floor across the low-wage labor market and putting money in the hands of people who will spend it immediately at local business, giving a stimulative effect to our economy as a whole.”

Lawrence Aber, a professor of psychology and public policy at NYU, said the next mayor should focus public investment on poor children ages 0-5. “We now know that poverty literally gets under the skin and into the mind.” Under-nourishment during the first few years reduces human development and puts children at a lifelong disadvantage. Every dollar invested to beef up New York’s existing child health programs, he explained, goes much further than public money spent to correct developmental challenges further down the road.

When an audience member questioned panelists about how they planned to pay for their proposed programs, answers varied.

The next mayor could use budget policy to reshuffle priorities. For example, tax breaks for real estate development in New York grew 180 percent under Mayor Bloomberg’s administration, to a total of $3 billion a year, Wiley said. Given the booming nature of New York’s real estate market, that public money could be better spent. Aber said the next mayor could use the bully pulpit to advocate for a shift in national budget priorities.

While an increase in local revenue cannot fund all the panelists’ priorities, there is room to raise taxes on the city’s top income bracket, Parrott said. Critics of progressive policy often cite income tax data to emphasize the percentage of city taxes paid by the rich, but Parrott showed that when property taxes and sales taxes are included, the rich, in fact, pay only 25.2 percent of the city’s tax burden while taking home 33.8 percent of total income.

The breadth of the challenge can be daunting, but panel moderator David Jones, President and CEO of Community Service Society, sounded a message of optimism. "I don't know if a decade ago we could gather this many people together to talk about this as a critical issue," he told an audience that had filled both auditorium and overflow room. "This is obviously a pivotal moment where people are taking this seriously."

Join Jeff Madrick, Director of Rediscovering Government, at the Frances Perkins Center in Portland, ME on October 4 for "Rediscovering Government: Making People Matter." The Frances Perkins Center will present Ai-jen Poo with its Intelligence and Courage Award and Sally Greenberg with its Steadfast Award, and Madrick will moderate a panel discussion. More information here.

Nell Abernathy is the Program Manager for the Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative.

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