How Can We Help America's Opportunity Youth? Five Lessons Learned in New Orleans

Nov 20, 2013Nell Abernathy

Young people who aren't in school or working aren't beyond hope, but we need to invest more in the programs that will help them.

Young people who aren't in school or working aren't beyond hope, but we need to invest more in the programs that will help them.

The great recession has hit younger, less educated workers hardest, leaving 6.7 million young people between the ages of 16-24 out of work and out of school. These “Opportunity Youth” are more likely than their peers to experience unemployment, low wages, and poverty as adults, and more likely to end up incarcerated or in need of government assistance.

The Roosevelt Institute’s Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative went to the heart of the crisis, New Orleans, where 23 percent of young people between the ages of 18-24 are out of work and out of school, compared to a national average of 16 percent.

We asked expert academics and practitioners how we, as a country, can tackle this pressing challenge.

Here’s what we learned:

I. Opportunity Youth remain hopeful and we should too.

The vast majority of Opportunity Youth remain motivated and optimistic. One of our panelists, Amy Barad, Director Strategic Initiatives at the Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives, summed it up well: “What makes me hopeful is the kids themselves, they really want to get and education, get a job and contribute to society. Based on responses to a national survey, nearly three-quarters of Opportunity Youth are very confident or hopeful that they will be able to achieve their goals. Over three-quarters of respondents believe that getting a good education and job is their own responsibility and depends on their own effort.”

According to a survey conducted on behalf of Civic Enterprises and America’s Promise Alliance, 77 percent of those surveyed believe that getting a good education and a good job is their own responsibility and whether they succeed depends on their own effort, and 73 percent of Opportunity Youth are confident or hopeful in their ability to achieve their life goals. Here are those results in chart form:

II. However, the obstacles to reconnection are enormous and costs of disconnection are huge.

Disconnected Youth are more likely to grow up in poverty than their peers and were hit hardest by the recent recession. They are unlikely to have role models with degrees, the qualifications they need, transportation options for travelling to a job, or access to good jobs in their neighborhoods.

“The challenge is what urban planners call a wicked problem. The factors affecting disconnected youth are numerous, messy, and inter-related," Lauren Bierbaum, Executive Director of the Partnership for Youth Development, said. The obstacles to addressing disconnection are structural and rooted in communities.

For more, see the graphs below from Sarah Burd-Sharps and Kristen Lewis's report One in Seven: Ranking Youth Disconnection in the 25 Largest Metro Areas.

III. Some programs are successfully tackling these challenges, and the Opportunity Youth are eager to receive the help.

Two much-heralded programs designed to support these young people include Project U-Turn in Philadelphia, which recently won $499,000 in funding from the Aspen Institute as part of a plan to identify and replicate a national model, and YouthBuild, a nationwide Department of Labor program for high school dropouts.

Because the long-term societal costs of disconnected youth who don’t get help include lost taxes, more government transfers, higher prison budgets, and more, upfront investment in these programs is much cheaper than doing nothing.

And kids really want this help. “I’m excited to see the youth that are out there and that really want these programs,” Cherie LaCour-Duckworth, from the Urban League of Greater New Orleans, told us. “They are screaming for them. But funding has been cut drastically.”

Through Project U-Turn, the City of Philadelphia launched a collaborative effort to provide at-risk youth with needed services and raised the city’s high school graduation rates from 52 percent in 2005 to 64 percent in 2012. The following graph provided by Project U-Turn demonstrates the program's success so far:

According to a 2010 survey, 50 percent of YouthBuild participants received a high school degree or GED at the end of the program and 60 percent either went on to college or found full-time living wage jobs. Here is a chart illustrating the progam's impact:

Taxpayers are going to pay one way or another, either for fixing the problem upfront or for the costs of negligence later. The following charts from Civic Enterprises' reports on its National Roadmap for Opportunity Youth and The Economic Value of Opportunity Youth show this clearly:

According to the Civic Enterprises Survey, the kids are eager and ready for this help:

IV. But here is the rub: despite the long-term societal and fiscal benefits, we are under-investing in these intervention programs.

Most programs successfully serving disconnected youth are over-subscribed, and due to austerity measures, funding is further reduced. Youth opportunity grants authorized through the Workforce Investment Act reached 90,000 young people and reduced the overall number of out-of-work, out-of-school teens. But the program has not been funded since 2005, and sequestration has reduced overall workforce training funds by an additional $1.5 billion.

AmeriCorps-funded programs, which offer young people from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to serve in communities across the country, have been found to improve graduation and employment rates. The 2009 Serve America Act passed by Congress committed to increasing the number of AmeriCorps positions from 75,000 to 250,000 by 2017. The Act has not been implemented, however, and 85 percent of the more than 500,000 applicants were turned down in 2012. 

Here's a pair of charts highlighting this problem, from the National Skills Coalition and Service Nation

V. So what now?

“The only way we’re going to be able to have an impact is if government at all levels tackles these issues,” Jerome Jupiter, from the Youth Empowerment Project, told us in New Orleans, “This is no one person’s issue. We need all hands on deck – key stakeholders at the federal, state, and local levels, as well as institutions such as higher education all must work collaboratively to address youth unemployment.” 

Nell Abernathy is the Program Manager for the Roosevelt Institute's Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative.


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Daily Digest - November 19: Cheers For Enforcing Labor Laws

Nov 19, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

Wal-Mart Faces Warehouse Horror Allegations and Federal Labor Board Complaint (Salon)

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

Wal-Mart Faces Warehouse Horror Allegations and Federal Labor Board Complaint (Salon)

Josh Eidelson reports on Wal-Mart's no-good, very bad day in labor news. Between allegations of worker safety concerns in California and a National Labor Relations Board complaint about strike retaliation, Wal-Mart started the week with a bang.

Reality Check: Obamacare is Not to Blame for Wal-Mart's Sluggish Sales (The Guardian)

Heidi Moore thinks it's ridiculous when big retailers try to use the Affordable Care Act as a scapegoat for their disappointing financial performance. Even if every person who enrolled in the ACA stopped shopping at Wal-Mart, it wouldn't cause this drop in sales.

Elizabeth Warren to Congress: Grandma "Will Be Left to Starve" If We Cut Social Security (MoJo)

Erica Eichelberger discusses Senator Warren's speech on the Senate floor yesterday, in which she decried the very idea of cutting Social Security benefits. The Senator insisted that balancing the budget couldn't come at the expense of seniors.

American Inequality in Six Charts (The New Yorker)

John Cassidy looks at charts shared by presenters at the launch of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth last week. He's particularly interested in the questions these charts raise about the relationship between inequality and growth.

There is Not Enough Affordable Rental Housing (MetroTrends Blog)

Erika Poethig explains how programs for affordable housing haven't kept up with the expanding need. She suggests that policy changes like raising the minimum wage will help, but more proactive policy will make a much bigger difference.

Democrats Push For Extending A Lifeline For The Long-Term Unemployed (ThinkProgress)

Bryce Covert reports on the push for extended unemployment benefits. The federal program, which helps support people who have been out of work for more than six months, will otherwise disappear at the end of the year.

New on Next New Deal

Courageous Boeing Workers Say No to Corporate Extortion

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch applauds the Machinists Local 751, which voted down a contract despite the risk of lost work. The union saw this contract as an offense to past workers - and a destruction of middle class opportunity for future workers.

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Story Wars: Why Personal Stories Are Shaping the Health Care Battleground

Nov 8, 2013Richard Kirsch

It's natural for negative stories about the Affordable Care Act to have the biggest impact, but media bias is obscuring the facts.

More than any other public policy issue, health care is very personal. So it is not surprising that personal stories are a central battleground for the public perception of the Affordable Care Act. And it is increasingly clear that this battle will be fought through the prisms of class and race.

It's natural for negative stories about the Affordable Care Act to have the biggest impact, but media bias is obscuring the facts.

More than any other public policy issue, health care is very personal. So it is not surprising that personal stories are a central battleground for the public perception of the Affordable Care Act. And it is increasingly clear that this battle will be fought through the prisms of class and race.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) would not have become law if it were not for the willingness of survivors of the nation’s health care mess – people who had lost loved ones, fought to get care after an insurance company denial, faced crippling medical costs – to tell their stories to members of Congress and the press. Many members of Congress voted for the bill, despite the political risk, because they were moved by personal encounters with constituents with compelling stories. Many of the most effective spokespeople during the legislative battle over the law were people whose lives and livelihoods had been threatened by our defective health coverage system.

Now that the central part of the Affordable Care Act is finally being implemented, however painfully and slowly, personal stories are again becoming the focus of debate. The stories that the press has focused on recently have been mostly negative, largely because of three press biases. The first is that “if it bleeds, it leads.” Negative news gets people’s attention, raising people’s fears, a phenomenon with strong physiological and psychological roots that extends well beyond the news. Advocates for passage of the law used that to our advantage when we were chronicling insurance company abuses, but in the new terrain of the law’s implementation, it’s a handicap. Coverage of people successfully getting affordable coverage is not as compelling as that of someone who says she is being forced to pay higher premiums after being told she is losing her existing coverage.

The second press bias is to take people at their word and not actually investigate them, particularly when they make good news. We have seen a lot of this in the coverage of people who have received letters from insurance companies telling them they are being forced into higher-priced plans.

Take Deborah Cavallaro, a real-estate agent in suburban Los Angeles, who’s been on NBC Nightly News and Fox. Ms. Cavallaro is losing her current plan, which only covers two doctors visits a year and has a $5,000 deductible. She complained, “I’d be paying more for the exchange plans than I am currently paying,” after an insurance broker told her she would have to pay $478 a month compared to the $293 she now pays. But with a little research, Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times found that after her income-based subsidy, Cavallaro would pay only $33 a month more for a plan which covers all her doctors visits and has a $2,000 deductible.

Cavallaro is typical of many of the people represented in the negative stories being run, in that she is white, suburban, and has a middle-class job. Reporters like Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic have explored the shoddy media coverage of other stories whose subjects are similar to Cavallaro.

Which brings us to the third media bias, focusing on the white middle class. This is a general bias when it comes to the press, particularly when not reporting on government services or crime. In this case, it is a bias that will accentuate the problems with the Affordable Care Act and downplay its benefits to millions. As Cohn points out in another piece, there are some people who will pay more for comparable insurance plans under the new law. This is the small minority of people in the individual insurance market who, because they have been in good health and have enough income to buy insurance, have been able to find decent coverage at a price they can afford. Their good health has shielded them from big premium hikes or losing their coverage altogether, which will happen when they have a serious illness.

One of the few good news stories I found that focused on someone who will benefit from losing her coverage was about Gail Roach, an African-American woman from Pittsburgh. Ms. Roach is a retired school district employee who will save $500 a month after receiving her subsidy. A diabetes sufferer, she’s been forced to pay a big premium because of her health condition.

The ACA’s biggest beneficiaries are low- and moderate-income people, including poor people who have been denied Medicaid and people who work at low-wage jobs that don’t provide health coverage, who will now get big enough subsidies in the exchanges to afford coverage.  

In fact, the biggest group benefiting from enrolling in coverage under the Affordable Care Act are people who are eligible for Medicaid. In Washington State, for example, where the exchanges are working well, there have been 42,605 Medicaid enrollees, compared to 6,390 who have signed up for the exchanges.  A New York Times article on how navigators are helping people to enroll in Kentucky tells the story of several people thrilled to be enrolled in Medicaid.

The Times article also reveals the bias against people who are on public programs like Medicaid by recounting the story of one "well-dressed woman" in Kentucky:

She had learned that she would be eligible for Medicaid under the new law, but she was unwilling to enroll because of what she saw as a stigma attached to the program. A substitute teacher, she wanted to know whether she could afford full-priced private exchange plans. “I don’t want to be a freeloader,” said the woman, who asked to be identified only by her middle name, Kay, because she said she was embarrassed about qualifying for Medicaid. “I believe in paying our way in life.”

There may be a promising ending to Kay’s story. Kay did sign up for Medicaid, saying that she would pay for routine doctor visits herself but have Medicaid as a fall-back if she really got sick. Will the experience of finally getting health coverage change Kay’s views? Will she now be more secure, freed finally from the worries of huge medical debt if she gets seriously ill?

This gets us back to the personal politics of health care and how they will impact the political debate. Kay’s U.S. senator, Mitch McConnell, who is up for re-election, has already dismissed the success of Kentucky’s launch of the ACA by saying, “Well, 85 percent of the people who’ve signed up in Kentucky have signed up for Medicaid. That’s free health care.” Will Kay want to vote for a guy who will take away her newly found health security?

The next big political test for Obamacare will be whether it is a defining issue in the 2014 elections. That will depend both on the reality of people’s experiences and what people learn about the law from the media, which will largely be shaped by personal stories. Since the law will have no noticeable impact on the coverage of 85 percent of Americans, Obamacare should not be a big election issue. But we know that opponents will use every negative story to keep the issue alive.

The most important task for supporters of the law will be to make sure that it does realize its promise of better coverage for millions of people. The more people who get enrolled and find, like Kay, Gail Roach, and even Deborah Cavallaro, that it is good for their health and their pocketbook, the better. Then supporters must forcefully fight to tell the personal stories of their success, even if it is boring, good news, often about struggling working families. 

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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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

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.

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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