Daily Digest - March 5: Are the GOP's Plans Anti-Poverty or Anti-Poor?

Mar 5, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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The New GOP Poverty Efforts Are Impractical, Incoherent, and Inhumane (TNR)

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The New GOP Poverty Efforts Are Impractical, Incoherent, and Inhumane (TNR)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal explains the problems with the Republican focus on cutting costs and eliminating government programs. The president’s anti-poverty plan, while flawed, makes more sense.

The Partisan Divide Over the Earned Income Tax Credit (MSNBC)

Timothy Noah writes that the GOP now classifies any kind of government aid as “dependence,” even the EITC. That means the working poor can no longer count on any bipartisan support.

Obama's Budget: Help for Workers, Taxes for the Rich (CNNMoney)

Jeanne Sahadi says the president's budget proposal centers on tax reforms that help low- and middle-income workers. She lays out the minor changes this would mean for the wealthiest Americans.

Budget Day and Why That Matters–A Lot! (On The Economy)

It's true that many of the top-line budget numbers were set by the Murray/Ryan plan that ended the shutdown, but Jared Bernstein says the president's budget is about political aspirations.

The Real Poverty Trap (NYT)

Paul Krugman counters an assumption from Paul Ryan's poverty report, explaining that work effort doesn't guarantee social mobility. But reducing inequality increases mobility, so social safety net programs remain key.

Exclusive: Report Finds Taking A Paid Day Off When Sick Is A Privilege Of The Wealthy (ThinkProgress)

Bryce Covert looks at a new report from the Institute for Women's Policy Research, which shows the vast gap in access to paid sick leave between low-income workers and wealthier workers.

New on Next New Deal

Prevention Over Punishment: The Push to Reduce Gun Violence in Chicago

Focusing on strengthening neighborhoods and healing communities is a far more effective solution than sentencing minimums, write Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Chicago City Network members Janaè Bonsu and Johnaè Strong

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Daily Digest - March 4: Want a Reason to Raise Wages? Here Are Seven.

Mar 4, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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7 Bi-Partisan Reasons to Raise the Minimum Wage (Boston Review)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal explains the most compelling reasons to increase the minimum wage, from poverty alleviation to civic republicanism. He says the political fight will center on fairness.

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7 Bi-Partisan Reasons to Raise the Minimum Wage (Boston Review)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal explains the most compelling reasons to increase the minimum wage, from poverty alleviation to civic republicanism. He says the political fight will center on fairness.

A Public Option for Banking (AJAM)

Mike Konczal says that postal banking could function as a public option on the model of the Treasury Department's Direct Express program, which provides debit cards to Social Security recipients.

You Call This a Middle Class? “I’m trying not to lose my house” (Salon)

Conservatives spin poverty as a personal failing caused by lack of education or skills, writes Edward McClelland, but for many Americans, even education and experience aren't enough to make ends meet.

The Business Case for Paying Service Workers More (Atlantic Cities)

Richard Florida speaks to Zeynep Ton about her research, which links higher pay for employees to higher profits in the service industry. She says service-sector workers perform better when paid better.

We Do Not Have to Live with the Scourge of Inequality (FT)

Jonathan Ostry writes that according to his recent research, redistribution creates more equality and stimulates economic growth. That means it shouldn't be considered a dirty word in policy.

New on Next New Deal

The Simple Solution to Obamacare's Employer Mandate Problems

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch suggests employers should be offered a choice between providing health insurance for all employees or paying an additional payroll tax to cover the costs.

The Congressional Budget Office Should Serve the People, Not Politics

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Jeff Madrick writes that when the CBO provides single numbers instead of ranges, it gives politicians what they want. But it shouldn't treat lawmakers as clients.

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Daily Digest - February 28: The Deficit's Going Down. Will the Economy Go With It?

Feb 28, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Federal Budget Deficit Falls to Smallest Level Since 2008 (NYT)

Annie Lowrey reports on the sharp decrease of the deficit, which she ties to growth in tax revenue thanks to the improving economy as well as the surprising slowdown in health care costs.

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Federal Budget Deficit Falls to Smallest Level Since 2008 (NYT)

Annie Lowrey reports on the sharp decrease of the deficit, which she ties to growth in tax revenue thanks to the improving economy as well as the surprising slowdown in health care costs.

Budget Deficits Shrinking at the Expense of Economic Recovery (Blog of the Century)

Andrew Fieldhouse writes that policies focused on growth could have achieved the same reduction of the deficit with a far healthier economy, but instead, we have austerity policies.

The Mobility Myth (New Yorker)

American economic mobility has never been particularly high, says James Surowiecki, so public policy should focus on raising the standard of living of ordinary workers instead.

Governors Move to Block Farm Bill’s Food Stamp Cuts (MSNBC)

By raising heat subsidies linked to food stamp eligibility, the governors of Connecticut and New York have ensured hundreds of thousands of households will get a reprieve from cuts, writes Ned Resnikoff.

Not a Single Home Is for Sale in San Francisco That an Average Teacher Can Afford (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Karen Weise reports that a tight real estate market and dwindling pay for teachers are causing the problem, and it isn't good for the school system when teachers can't afford a place to live.

Why Ivy League Schools Are So Bad at Economic Diversity (The Atlantic)

Robin J. Hayes says that elite universities have a singular view of what a high-achieving applicant looks like on paper – and that view overvalues the opportunities provided by wealth.

Are Unions Necessary? (LA Times)

It's unions, writes Michael Hiltzik, that have secured most of the major workplace protections that help all workers, unionized or not. Who else will push for new improvements to labor law?

New on Next New Deal

Beyond Black History Month: A Roosevelt Institute Reading and Viewing Guide

As Black History Month comes to a close, the Roosevelt Institute suggests books, films, and more to continue the discussion and reflection on race in the U.S.

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Snowed Under: When Keeping Schools Open Puts Low-Income Students Further Behind

Feb 18, 2014Sarah Pfeifer Vandekerckhove

New York City's public schools may provide hot lunches, but keeping them open in a snowstorm does no good if students aren't able to attend.

New York City's public schools may provide hot lunches, but keeping them open in a snowstorm does no good if students aren't able to attend.

On January 22, New York City saw its third major snowstorm in just three weeks. Despite nearly a foot of snow in the city and treacherous travel conditions, NYC Department of Education Chancellor Carmen Fariña and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced schools would remain open. Even so, just 47 percent of New York City’s 1 million public school children made it to school that day.

Last week, as another snowstorm made its way toward the New York City metro area, Fariña and de Blasio repeated that decision, simultaneously proclaiming travel hazardous and schools open. This time attendance was even lower at less than 45 percent.

Fariña has defended her decision to keep schools open in these bleak conditions by arguing that it is critical for the many poor students who depend on school for hot meals. But her argument is misguided, as it fails to acknowledge that those very students are the ones who have the greatest difficulty getting to school in inclement weather. Most are more likely to live and/or attend school in the outer boroughs of New York City. The Bronx and Brooklyn, home to the highest percentage of NYC K-6 public school students receiving free or reduced-price lunch, suffer from greater lack of access to public transportation and slower snow clean-up, which makes getting to school all the more difficult.

Source: New York State Well Being Indicators for 2010-2011 school year.

Aside from the physical danger it creates, keeping schools open when students can’t get there only serves to put these students further behind academically. As the Education Week blog pointed out after the January 22 snowstorm, keeping schools open despite low probability of attendance can mean disadvantaging the students who stayed home or inconveniencing the teachers and students who were present.

The low-income students in whose interest Fariña claims to work – those who theoretically benefit from school being open for the hot meals – already face enough of an achievement gap at school, performing worse academically than their middle- and upper-class counterparts. They don’t need one more reason to fall behind. Students from low-income families also suffer from Summer Slide, a phenomenon in which students experience summertime learning loss due to lack of educationally enriching resources and opportunities.  

Last Thursday’s public school attendance numbers not only showed results worse than the January 22 attendance numbers, but also demonstrated that the attendance rates disproportionately affect the outer boroughs. The Bronx and Brooklyn had 37 percent and 44 percent attendance rates, respectively, both below the total New York City average. (Staten Island had the lowest attendance rate at 26 percent).

Source: New York Department of Education

At a Bronx school only 15 percent of the students showed up, many leaving before lunch, according to one teacher. And Bedford-Stuyvesant Preparatory High School in Brooklyn recorded just 6 percent attendance while 37 Manhattan schools recorded attendance of over 80 percent.

For Fariña, as the leader of the nation’s largest school system, to close schools due to inclement weather is inevitably a tough choice with many complicating factors – as de Blasio pointed out, it has happened just 11 times in the last 36 years. But when less than half of the city’s students are able to attend school, and boroughs with the highest numbers of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch record some of the lowest attendance rates, it’s clear that simply keeping schools open for students who need the hot meals doesn’t add up.  

Sarah Pfeifer Vandekerckhove is the Roosevelt Institute's Director of Programmatic Operations.

Image via Thinkstock

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Finding Affordable Housing Solutions in Boston

Feb 18, 2014Gavin O Brien

Innovative solutions are needed to solve the serious problem of housing affordability in the Boston area.

Innovative solutions are needed to solve the serious problem of housing affordability in the Boston area.

The housing affordability crisis is reaching dramatic levels in Massachusetts. Case in point: according to The Boston Foundation’s Greater Boston Housing Report Card, “during the last eight years, the cost of living in Greater Boston has increased twice as fast as the median household income of homeowners and three times faster than the median household income of renters.” Affordability is a problem for 40 percent of homeowners in the area. For many families, owning a home is not even an option. The U.S. Census ranks Massachusetts 44th in homeownership and also 44th in income equality. These two rankings are not coincidental.

Homeownership increases social mobility and acts as a buffer against falling into poverty. For example, as an inheritance, a home can improve the economic outlook for future generations. Homes also have strong symbolic value as a key component of the American Dream. For these reasons, increasing access to homeownership is an important tool in the fight against inequality in America. Federal policies like the home mortgage interest deduction provide large financial incentives for homeownership. Other incentives and assistance may be needed.

Comprehensive efforts to maintain and increase the availability of affordable housing must involve all levels of government, in addition to nonprofits like local community development corporations. The private housing market will continue to drive up prices, so there is a need for creative solutions that avoid or reduce normal market pressures.

For example, cohousing or cooperative arrangements can allow for cost sharing and rent moderation. In a limited equity cooperative, members buy shares of a corporation that owns the housing. The corporation makes decisions democratically, can pay for building improvements, and removes the profit motive from property ownership. The value of a share is limited. There is, however, need for more bank financing of housing cooperatives, which could be addressed through state regulations or the use of community development financial institutions (CDFIs) – locally-based financial institutions targeting underserved populations.

Another possible solution is affordable housing trust funds operated at the city level, which are financed through property taxes, government funds, or fees levied on building developers. The trust funds can subsidize construction of new housing and provide direct subsidies to homeowners. The city of Somerville near Boston operates such a fund that loans money for down payments to first-time homebuyers and renters.

Affordable housing solutions must also involve local colleges and universities. Greater Boston has a large student population. Graduate students in particular are increasing in number, which drives up the cost of housing for student and non-student residents alike. City government could work with colleges to construct additional low-cost student housing to alleviate some of this upward price pressure.

High housing prices affect the ability of young professionals and families to remain in the Boston area. This in turn reduces the city’s economic and social potential.  Pipeline Greater Boston is organizing a series of discussions to examine possible solutions to housing issues that affect these groups. There is a need for civically engaged young people in Boston to implement new policy ideas and address the housing crisis that is affecting them, their neighborhoods, and the city as a whole.

Gavin O'Brien is a recent graduate of Brandeis University's Master of Public Policy program and a core member of the Greater Boston City Network of Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline.

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Daily Digest - February 10: When the Personal Becomes Political

Feb 10, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Turning Personal Tragedy Into Activism (Melissa Harris-Perry)

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Turning Personal Tragedy Into Activism (Melissa Harris-Perry)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren discusses how tragedies like the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis have pushed so many to take part in activism. He uses the public pressure to cancel George Zimmerman's celebrity boxing match as a prime example.

Sex Workers' Rights are Just Workers Rights (WaPo)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal considers the policy arguments on sex work presented in Melissa Gira Grant's new book, Playing the Whore. He sees the need to conceptualize sex work as labor as the most important takeaway, regardless of individual opinions on that labor.

Liberals Should Question Obama’s ‘Opportunity Agenda’ (AJAM)

Mike Konczal argues that shifting the discussion from inequality to opportunity could leave out key items on the progressive agenda. If opportunity isn't defined beyond legal equality of opportunity, or if acceptable policy outcomes aren't made clear, the progressive agenda won't advance.

The Case for a Higher Minimum Wage (NYT)

The New York Times editorial board calls for an increased minimum wage, emphasizing its purpose in reducing power imbalances between workers and employers. The accompanying interactive graphic from Jeremy Ashkenas and Bill Marsh shows the insufficiency of $7.25 per hour.

January Jobs Report: Hard to Read (MoJo)

Erika Eichelberger says that the jobs report released on Friday is hard to interpret. Unemployment is at its lowest point in five years, and the labor force participation rate increased slightly, but that could change without an extension of unemployment benefits from Congress.

The Spectacular Myth of Obama's Part-Time America—in 5 Graphs (The Atlantic)

Derek Thompson pulls data on part-time job growth, part-time workers as a share of the labor force, and part-time work for non-economic reasons to demonstrate just how wrong certain slices of the financial media are when they insist that the president is creating a part-time economy.

Obamacare: It's a Net Gain for the Economy (LA Times)

Jonathan Gruber writes that the Congressional Budget Office report shows that the Affordable Care Act in fact creates a more efficient job market in the U.S., by allowing people leave jobs when they want to and increasing job mobility.

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Daily Digest - February 4: A Vision for the Opportunity Community

Feb 4, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Students Rethink How to Build Community (The Nation)

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Students Rethink How to Build Community (The Nation)

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Equal Justice Erik Lampmann explains how the Campus Network's new Rethinking Communities initiative, which is evaluating institutions like universities on their local impact, could build a more equitable economy for the future.

  • Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute Associate Director of Networked Initiatives Alan Smith writes about the theory behind Rethinking Communities' focus on local economies.

Would the U.S. Postal Service Make a Better Banker for the Poor? (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Joshua Brustein takes up the question of postal banking as a method for the unbanked poor to avoid exploitative payday lenders and their ilk. He sees a future in which banks become worse at retail banking, which makes postal banking a solid possible alternative.

Banks Don’t Do Much Banking Anymore—and That’s a Serious Problem (Pacific Standard)

David Dayen writes about how "shadow banks," which include hedge funds, private equity firms, and the like, have taken a primary role in the lending industry as banks do less and less traditional banking. That's a big concern, because shadow banks are far less regulated and expand risk in the entire financial system.

State Could Be First In The Nation To Make Sure Workers Can Take A Vacation (ThinkProgress)

Bryce Covert reports that Washington lawmakers have proposed a bill that would mandate paid vacation for workers who put in at least 20 hours a week at employers with 25 or more employees. There's nothing like this anywhere else in the U.S.

Placed on Unpaid Leave, a Pregnant Employee Finds Hope in a New Law (NYT)

Rachel L. Swarns reports on one of the first cases invoking New York City's new Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. The law is meant to protect workers like Floralba Fernandez Espinal, who was placed on unpaid leave from her retail job when she brought a note from her obstetrician requesting accommodations.

New on Next New Deal

Obama and the GOP Present Two Very Different Paths to Opportunity for All

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch contrasts the messages presented by the president in the State of the Union with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers’s official GOP response. Both focus on opportunity, but only one emphasizes the need for collective action.

Internet for the Public Interest Needs Protection

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network member Areeba Kamal calls on the Federal Communications Commission to redefine Internet Service Providers as common carriers in the wake of a court decision that struck down net neutrality regulations.

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Daily Digest - January 31: Out of Economic Chaos Come Executive Orders

Jan 31, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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The President and Inequality (All In with Chris Hayes)

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The President and Inequality (All In with Chris Hayes)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz discusses the place of inequality in this week's State of the Union address, and the deeper question of why we don't implement the economic policies that would absolutely make a difference.

A History of Executive Orders (All In with Chris Hayes)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren talks about the similarities between President Obama's plans for executive orders, as announced in the State of the Union, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt's use of the executive order, which also pushed for progressive labor policy.

Obama’s Toughest Job (NYRB)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Director of the Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative Jeff Madrick comments on the State of the Union, complimenting the president for making jobs a central focus despite the challenges of that issue.

The Post Office Should Just Become a Bank (TNR)

David Dayen argues that there's one policy the president could push through that would contribute to many of the goals he articulated in the State of the Union: postal banking, which would create jobs, help the poor, and could be accomplished through executive order.

Why Alt-Labor Groups Are Making Employers Mighty Nervous (TAP)

Lane Windham says that for all that anti-union groups want to tout low union membership numbers, labor isn't going anywhere. Alternative labor groups are growing and gaining power, as the growing discussion about raising the minimum wage makes clear.

GOTD: Inequality Is Not A Four Letter Word (Blog of the Century)

Benjamin Landy contrasts Tuesday's State of the Union with the president's December 4 speech at the Center for American Progress. His shift from "inequality" to "opportunity" is clearly a political one, since he still endorsed progressive policies, but why the centrist rhetoric?

New on Next New Deal

The Rise of 'Insourcing' Gives Internet Companies a New Way to Exploit Workers

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network National Operations Strategist Lydia Bowers cautions that while Internet-based service companies like Uber and Taskrabbit may make life easy for their customers, they don't give their workers any real protections.

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The State of the Union Then and Now: Raising the Minimum Wage is Still a Good Idea

Jan 29, 2014David B. Woolner

Decades after FDR called for a national minimum wage, the debate continues -- and his arguments for it still ring true.

Decades after FDR called for a national minimum wage, the debate continues -- and his arguments for it still ring true.

We have not only seen minimum wage and maximum hour provisions prove their worth economically and socially under government auspices in 1933, 1934 and 1935, but the people of this country, by an overwhelming vote, are in favor of having the Congress—this Congress—put a floor below which industrial wages shall not fall, and a ceiling beyond which the hours of industrial labor shall not rise. – Franklin D. Roosevelt, State of the Union Address, January 3, 1938

In calling for an increase in the minimum wage in his State of the Union address, President Obama may have unwittingly echoed Franklin D. Roosevelt. For it was in the sixth year of FDR’s presidency, in the annual message to Congress that FDR delivered on January 3, 1938, that Roosevelt reiterated his increasingly vehement call for the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act—the very law that would establish the national minimum wage.

In proposing the legislation, FDR used many of the same arguments that President Obama used to counter the conservative opposition that insisted—much as the conservative right does today—that the federal government has no business trying to increase the purchasing power of the average worker, and that the enactment of a national minimum wage law would hurt business and increase unemployment. Opposition in the largely non-union and racially segregated South—where there was a huge differential between the wages of white and black workers—was especially intense, and thanks to the actions of Southern Democrats in both the House and Senate, who had joined with conservative Republicans in the formation of an anti-New Deal coalition, passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act was not going to be easy.

To counter these arguments, FDR appealed, as he often did, to the moral sensibilities of the American people, insisting that government had “a final responsibility for the well-being of its citizenship” and this included enacting “legislation to end starvation wages and intolerable hours.” Furthermore, there were sound economic reasons to pass wage and hours legislation. In an earlier address on the subject, using language that is especially relevant to President Obama’s call for an increase in overseas exports, FDR observed that:

American industry has searched the outside world to find new markets—but it can create on its very doorstep the biggest and most permanent market it has ever seen… A few more dollars a week in wages, a better distribution of jobs with a shorter working day will almost overnight make millions of our lowest-paid workers actual buyers of billions of dollars of industrial and farm products. That increased volume of sales ought to lessen other cost of production so much that even a considerable increase in labor costs can be absorbed without imposing higher prices on the consumer. I am a firm believer in fully adequate pay for all labor. But right now I am most greatly concerned in increasing the pay of the lowest-paid labor—those who are our most numerous consuming group but who today do not make enough to maintain a decent standard of living or to buy the food, and the clothes and the other articles necessary to keep our factories and farms fully running.

Interestingly, a group of over 600 economists, including seven Nobel laureates, recently issued an open letter calling on President Obama and the congressional leadership in both parties to raise the minimum wage, arguing, as FDR did, that “the weight of evidence” shows that an increase in the minimum wage will “have little or no negative effect on the employment of minimum-wage workers, even during times of weakness in the labor market.”

It seems incredible that we should still be locked in the same debate about the moral and economic impact of an increase in the minimum wage more than three-quarters of a century later, at a time when even the McDonald’s Corporation had to admit after its own internal analysis that its minimum-wage workers could not survive on what they were receiving without the addition of a second job.

In 1938, Franklin Roosevelt argued that if we want to move “resolutely to extend the frontiers of social progress, we must… ever bear in mind that our objective is to improve and not to impair the standard of living of those who are now undernourished, poorly clad and ill-housed.” The Fair Labor Standards Act, which was signed into law on June 25, 1938, has helped improve the lives of millions of American workers—especially those at the bottom rung of the income scale—through its recognition of need to establish a minimum wage and through the provision that provides time and a half for overtime work. But in order for the law to be effective and have meaning, the minimum wage must keep up with the cost of living, and, as President Obama noted in last night’s address, the real wage of the average American worker has been in decline for decades when adjusted for inflation.

If Congress is serious about improving and not impairing the lives of the millions of working poor in this country, then it is high time to heed the president’s call to “give America a raise” and increase the minimum wage. To fail to do so would be yet another example of the callous indifference—most recently exemplified by the failure of Congress to extend long-term unemployment benefits—that those in positions of wealth and power have shown for the plight of the millions of Americans who struggle day by day to get by on wages that force even those working full-time to live a life of poverty. Indeed, the inability or unwillingness of this Congress to act on behalf of the most vulnerable in our society brings to mind the words of the late Pete Seeger, who died this week, when he sang, “which side are you boys, which side are you on?”

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

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Roosevelt Reacts: What Worked and What Didn't in the 2014 State of the Union

Jan 29, 2014

Roosevelt Institute Fellows and Network members weigh in on what they liked about President Obama's fifth State of the Union and where it fell short.

Andrea Flynn, Roosevelt Institute Fellow:

Roosevelt Institute Fellows and Network members weigh in on what they liked about President Obama's fifth State of the Union and where it fell short.

Andrea Flynn, Roosevelt Institute Fellow:

Last night, President Obama again proved himself to be a champion of improving the economic security of American women. He addressed many policy initiatives – immigration reform, universal pre-K, paid sick and family leave, and strengthening the Earned Income Tax Credit – that, if advanced by Congress, would have a positive impact on women and their families. Most notable was his strong support for raising the minimum wage. Yesterday the president issued an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay their employees at least $10.10 an hour, and in his address he called on governors and state legislators around the country to follow his example. This is an issue that disproportionately affects women and their families. As of 2011, women represented 46.9 percent of the work force but more than 62 percent of minimum-wage workers. More than 2.5 million American women have incomes at or below the minimum wage. As President Obama noted, women still only get paid $.77 for every dollar earned by their male counterparts, with women of color being particularly impacted by wage discrepancies. Black women earn $.64 and Latina women $.55 for every dollar a white man earns. Conservatives are likely to criticize President Obama for using the power of his office to mandate such a sweeping change, but there is precedent for utilizing the power of executive orders to institute improvements in the workplace. In fact, more than 40 years ago, President Nixon issued an executive order prohibiting workplace discrimination based on sex, race, age and other characteristics. That order paved the way for an expansion of employment opportunities for women, just as President Obama’s order will begin to level the playing field for American women and their families.

Yasemin Ayarci, President, George Washington University chapter, Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network:

While I was pleased to hear the announcement of an increase in minimum wage for federally contracted workers through an executive order, President Obama must also put in place limitations on executive pay, which will hold them accountable for funneling taxpayer money into their own pockets. But after spending the majority of his time in office coddling banks and wealthy donors, Obama is not the person to look to for decreasing income inequality. To the president, economic reform means tweaking payroll taxes and making hollow calls to end tax cuts for the rich. When you observe the policy, he has made the Bush tax cuts permanent, lowered Wall Street's capital gains and dividends taxes to 20 percent, and lowered the estate tax to 40 percent, among other things. A rearrangement of the tax code that allows Americans to take back the wealth created by labor and accumulated by corporatists is key for a progressive job creation plan and for reducing income inequality levels. That sort of change will not come from the White House, and so progressives must shift their focus to the grassroots, bottom-up approach.

Erik Pekkala, member, Greater Boston Network, Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline:

President Obama set a bold vision for our nation in his 2014 State of the Union address last night. He started the speech by citing various policy accomplishments and measures of growth, signaling "after five years of grit and determined effort, the United States is better-positioned for the 21st century than any other nation on Earth."

The President addressed head-on the Washington gridlock that led to October’s debt ceiling brinksmanship, shuttered the federal government and deeply frustrated the American people. President Obama said he is "eager" to work with Congress to make his vision for the nation a reality, but made it clear that "...wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do." While the Commander-in-Chief should use the powers of his office to serve the American people, there are limits to executive authority. If congressional infighting continues to block legislative progress, the Obama administration can only go so far through executive orders and federal agencies.

This State of the Union got a warmer reception from Republican members of Congress than in recent years, with GOP applause for Obama's statements on reforming the immigration system and corporate tax code. As the Republican Party continues its internal debate about its image and connecting with voters, perhaps it will be more open to collaboration and finding common ground with the President and Democrats in Congress. The President seemed renewed as he told the nation that he is ready to go to work. Let's hope he can use that same energy and leadership displayed in last night's speech to unite both parties in Congress to work together for the American people. Only then will the President's vision for our country be realized.

Rajiv Narayan, former Senior Fellow for Health Policy, Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network:

Like many, I was struck by the president's now-crystallized shift away from a deeply unpopular and inactive Congress. While I look forward to 2014 being the politico-zodiac Year of the Executive, I think the "do-nothing" and "lame-duck" characterizations of Congress miss what the legislative branch is doing. On no less than the day of the State of the Union address, the do-nothing Congress did something pretty deplorable -- a farm bill finally moved from conference to the House and Senate floors, and it aims to cut monthly SNAP benefits to 850,000 households by $90. For a presidency increasingly focused on closing the income gap and reducing income inequality, this is a lunge in the wrong direction. As the administration focuses on action at the state and executive levels, it's important to remember we cannot make a powerful legislative body completely irrelevant. President Obama and voters need to draw the line between an unproductive Congress and a counterproductive one. 

David Meni, Vice President, George Washington University chapter, Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network:

I found this State of the Union address to be a much different animal than addresses in past years. There was less rhetoric involving cooperation with Congress, and more emphasis on executive actions that can be taken with some immediacy and without gridlock. President Obama's relative sidelining of Congress has been talked up enough by the news, but I think the implications of the speech are interesting; we saw more policy discussion, from the long-overdue minimum wage increase for federal workers to expanding school broadband access. These are all immediate proposals that will not have to be watered down. That is refreshing.

On the other hand, I was dismayed by the amount that was glossed over. The president's discussion of college affordability was more of the same. The proposal for a comprehensive immigration bill, the much-applauded statement that women should have equal pay, and the brief sentences on gun control and military spending--all of these are critical issues that should be at the core of any State of the Union address, but what I heard was very little tangible policy. So while I am glad that the president is finally talking about addressing issues that are within his executive power, I have to admit that this State of the Union lacked ambition on many of America's most pressing issues.

Jill Nguyen, Co-Director, Hendrix College chapter, Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network:

2013 ended with President Obama’s disapproval rating at an all-time high of 56%, according to CNN. It was a tough year, especially with the technical challenges of healthcare.gov, a much anticipated immigration reform bill kept out of the House’s agenda, and gun control actions achieved only through Executive Orders. Despite my disappointment with failed promises of previous years, the State of the Union address last night brought me back to the hope-filled time that was 2008. By recycling some promises from previous years, the President has managed to satisfy my wish list.

Considering his declaration of 2014 as a year of action, I was glad to see the President return to immigration reform. As I see it, an ideal law should keep families together, evaluate the broken deportation machine, and offer job trainings and education access to immigrants’ families. I was also pleased to see the President recognize the work of the First Lady. It was even more important that he recognized that women are still not paid equally to their male colleagues. The women who were in the chamber, who included the bipartisan group of female senators who led the negotiations that ended the government shutdown, are constitutionally guaranteed equal pay. It's well past time for all women to be paid fairly.

Tarsi Dunlop, member, DC Network, Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline:

As someone who works in the nonprofit education sector, I tend to focus in on elements of the State of the Union that pertain to K-12 education, and to the status of young people in American more broadly. On a rhetorical note, I was thrilled to hear President Obama open the speech with an anecdote about a teacher helping a student. So often, it is the strength of this relationship and the effort and dedication of our teachers that reach those struggling students and help them succeed in the classroom. While education was not a primary focus of last night’s speech, the President did repeat a request from last year’s State of the Union for universal pre-K.

Many state governors are looking at universal pre-K as a possibility to help students start out on more equal footing. This seems to be the strongest acknowledgment we will get from our current government that growing up in poverty can have a negative influence on student learning and academic achievement. I’m familiar with the ‘no excuses’ refrain, and I agree, but the presence of poverty cannot be ignored. While pre-K is a start, kids who grow up in poverty are very unlikely to move out of it over the course of their childhood. We need to factor that into our efforts to support schools with high percentages of low-income students, whether it in wrap-around services, after-school programs or more targeted supports for student learning. Since the full implementation of universal pre-K will rest heavily on the states and cities, the President might also consider how his administration could support such efforts – other than competitive grant funding in the form of another race to the top program.  

Zach Komes, Policy Director, George Washington University chapter, Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network:

Globalization and technological change have dramatically transformed our urban economies from hubs for well-paying manufacturing jobs to neighborhoods suffering from extended structural unemployment. The president argued forcefully for a new year-long focus on boosting upward mobility and competitiveness in communities left behind by the economic growth of the past few decades. It's reassuring that the president has put emphasis on universal pre-kindergarten, education spending, job training, tax reform, and broadband access to help our struggling cities. However, specific and innovative urban community development policies were missing from much of the speech. In the end, though, many of the best solutions for our challenged metropolitan regions must come from far outside Washington in statehouses, city halls, college campuses, and our local communities. 

Magali Duque, Stanford University, Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network:

Last night's State of the Union address touched on many of the same issues the President has spoken on before, but he approached them in new ways. By using specific stories of ordinary citizens and aligning their struggles with policy arguments, the President is able to appeal to a broader audience – an audience focused on how their own issues fit into this democratic narrative. In that way, his speech was successful. My favorite moments were his appeal to women's equality, access to comprehensive health services including mental health, education innovations, socio-economic mobility, and fair policy. His hopes for women's equality in the economy appealed to not only women, but also to the American people as a whole because he framed "women's success" as "America's success."  In fact, this framework was reminiscent of John Stuart Mill's perspective on equality of the sexes in The Subjugation of Women, making an important point about the pervasiveness of gender inequality. Also, I appreciated how the President addressed educational, economic and immigration reform, because he simply laid out the facts for why they are so essential for our nation's progress. His calls to action such as "Congress, give these young people the chance they deserve" and "creating new jobs, not creating new crises," highlight the importance of a unified and unbiased approach towards policy because it "should be the power of our vote not size of our bank account that drives our policy. " The power of democracy should also be driving social progress rather than hindering it, and to do so, it should include more voices of our generation.

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