Daily Digest - December 4: Youth Unemployment Is Leading to Tragedy

Dec 4, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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"Tragedy as a generation" for U.S. Youth (Marketplace)

David Brancaccio speaks to Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Jeff Madrick about the problems young people are facing in today's economy. He says that without professional lobbyists, other groups' needs are being heard over young people's.

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"Tragedy as a generation" for U.S. Youth (Marketplace)

David Brancaccio speaks to Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Jeff Madrick about the problems young people are facing in today's economy. He says that without professional lobbyists, other groups' needs are being heard over young people's.

CFPB To Supervise Largest Student Loan Servicers (HuffPo)

Shahien Nasiripour reports that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has finalized a rule giving it oversight over the companies that collect payments on federal student loans. This should hopefully ensure more borrower-friendly practices.

Detroit Is Bankrupt: What Now? (Pacific Standard)

Anna Clark lists the three most important things to be aware of now that the courts have approved Detroit's bankruptcy filing. She notes that this case will have a major impact on other cities, which look to Detroit as an example of the possibilities in their future.

Fighting Corruption Polls Off the Charts (MSNBC)

Zachary Roth reports on a new poll from represent.us which shows that the vast majority of Americans support tougher campaign finance laws. Unfortunately, incumbents seem uninterested in changing the rules that helped to get them elected.

  • Roosevelt Take: Jeff Raines, Chair of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Student Board of Advisors, explains how a current Supreme Court case could further weaken campaign finance law.

Black Friday and the Race to the Bottom (The New Yorker)

George Packer ties low retail sales during the extended Black Friday weekend to the fights for a higher minimum wage. Executives should recognize the practical truth that workers need to be able to afford to shop too.

Tax Breaks for CEOs Pay for Million-Dollar Salaries (The Guardian)

Jana Kasperkevic explains the performance pay loophole that allows corporations to deduct millions in executive compensation from their federal income taxes. She draws a parallel between the results of that policy and the low wages of average fast food workers.

  • Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute Director of Research Susan Holmberg and Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network alum Lydia Austin wrote a white paper calling on Congress to close the performance pay loophole. Read it here.

Low Bank Wages Costing the Public Millions, Report Says (WaPo)

Danielle Douglas writes that new data from the University of California at Berkeley's Labor Center shows that bank employees are relying heavily on public assistance, to the tune of $900 million a year. The banking industry reported $141.3 billion in profits last year.

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North Carolina Students Push Past Bad News For Good Policy Proposals

Nov 26, 2013Wilson Parker

Members of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network in North Carolina refuse to be discouraged by the state’s bad news, and propose policy changes that would make a difference for their state.

Members of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network in North Carolina refuse to be discouraged by the state’s bad news, and propose policy changes that would make a difference for their state.

North Carolina has been in the news quite a lot recently, and for almost uniformly bad reasons. North Carolinians have watched as their legislature passed one of the nation’s “most wide-ranging” voter ID laws, enacted the “harshest” cuts to unemployment insurance during the recession in the entire country, banned the use of modern science to project sea level rise,  attached a restrictive set of requirements on abortion providers to a motorcycle safety bill in order to ramrod it through, and made a host of other questionable decisions about our state and its future.

But I’m happy to say that students in North Carolina aren’t discouraged. I’ve watched my peers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) – from diverse perspectives – engage with the issues our state is facing. At the UNC chapter of Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network – and at our sister chapters across the state – we’re trying to do our part.  Last year, we published a journal focused on policy issues in North Carolina. The journal was a big success, covering a wide array of policy topics and getting more than 15,000 hits online.

We just finished our second volume and we hope it will be an even bigger success. Like our first edition, it contains a variety of forward-thinking ideas for our state and its future. Here are some quick takeaways:

North Carolina should expand access to Dual Enrollment

North Carolina currently offers high school students the option of taking courses at nearby community colleges and receiving credit towards both their high school diplomas and a college degree. These programs give North Carolinian students skills they can use in the workforce, additional preparation for their college educations, and – by reducing the number of semesters they need to receive a diploma – make it easier for students to complete their college educations. They are especially helpful to low-income students who seek to minimize the financial burden of education after high school.

In our journal, Kate Matthews argues persuasively that North Carolina should expand this program to enhance the effectiveness and equity of its high school programs. Furthermore, because these programs “utiliz[e] available resources rather than funding new initiatives,” expanding them is a highly cost-effective way for the state to improve education in North Carolina.

North Carolina shouldn’t give rapists parental rights

“In 31 states, including North Carolina, a rapist can assert the same custody and visitation rights that other biological parents enjoy.” This may be the journal’s most frightening sentence. But Molly Williams’s article does more than raise awareness about this serious problem: it also offers a solution. Williams suggests that North Carolina should adopt legislation modeled after bills in other states which give courts the option of terminating parental rights if a child was conceived as a result of incest or rape.

Wake County Schools should take a page out of Forsyth County’s book

North Carolina’s Wake County Schools – like its legislature – have been getting the state in the news for the wrong reasons. Many commentators, including Stephen Colbert, have criticized the school district for eliminating its diversity plan.

Students at the Wake Forest chapter of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network have a proposal that will help Wake County meet the needs of all its students. Forsyth County and Wake County have similar needs: both contain major North Carolina cities (Winston-Salem and Raleigh, respectively) and both serve diverse student populations. In order to provide its most ambitious students with a variety of curricular options, Forsyth County created a “Career Center” which offers a variety of Advanced Placement and technical courses. Students remain enrolled at their home high schools but travel to the Career Center for part of the day. Transportation is provided by the school district. Not only does the Career Center expand students’ curricular options; it makes those options available to all students in the district, no matter which high school they happen to attend. The Wake Forest chapter makes the case that Wake County should consider a similar program.

North Carolina should use a “foundation funding” approach rather than a “flat-grant” model to fund its schools

North Carolina’s current funding model for public schools pays for districts’ basic costs, but requires localities to pick up the rest of the bill and makes no allowance for economic differences between districts. Consequentially, Ioan Bolohan writes, “geographic socioeconomic differences lead to inequalities in the resources available to schools” which result in “inadequate funding and disparities in educational opportunities for students.”

Instead, Bolohan argues, North Carolina should adopt a foundation funding model that establishes a minimum tax rate across all school districts and provides state funding on an adjusted basis to make up for economic disparities. This approach, he writes, has improved outcomes and reduced inequality in states as diverse as Ohio, Massachusetts, and Texas. We can only hope North Carolina will be next.

Wilson Parker is a junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, studying Economics and Philosophy. He is Co-President of the UNC Chapter of Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and Editor-in-Chief of the North Carolina Undergraduate Journal of Public Affairs. 

Photo via Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

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Daily Digest - November 26: Rethinking Fairness And Pay It Forward College Plans

Nov 25, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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The Trouble with Pay It Forward, Pay It Back (The GC Advocate)

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The Trouble with Pay It Forward, Pay It Back (The GC Advocate)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal argues against the pay it forward model of higher education funding that Oregon will soon attempt. He would greatly prefer using government to drive down the cost of tuition at public schools - and hopefully private institutions would follow.

Statistics: The Real Lost Generation (Truthdig)

Alexander Reed Kelly takes a look at the data in Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Jeff Madrick's recent column for Harper's Magazine on youth who are neither in school nor employed, or "opportunity youth." The numbers are scary, but government isn't taking any action.

  • Roosevelt Take: Read Jeff's column, "The Real Lost Generation," here.

H&M to Pay All Textile Workers Living Wage by 2018 (Epoch Times)

Catherine Yang reports on the clothing retailer's announcement, which they said will not impact prices. H&M's statement explicitly tied the size of the company to its responsibility to be a leader in pushing for living wages worldwide.

Bank Deal Ends Flawed Reviews of Foreclosures (NYT)

Jessica Silver-Greenberg reports on a settlement deal that is taking the place of real reviews of foreclosures. This solution is obviously faster and easier for the banks and the government, but it doesn't do much of anything for people who were harmed by the banks.

Aging Americans Have a New Companion: Higher Debt (Reuters)

Helaine Olen explains how social and economic changes have led to a major increase in the amount of debt held by Americans over 50. The trouble is, as Americans age, it's harder and harder to retain work to pay off that debt.

Here's Why Wall Street has a Hard Time Being Ethical (The Guardian)

In light of a new report which states that financial services professionals see ethical standards as an impediment to advancement in their workplaces, Chris Arnade explains how ethics and compliance standards were uphold during his Wall Street career.

New on Next New Deal

Abortion Restrictions Are Harming Women's Health and Human Rights in Texas

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Andrea Flynn looks at a new report from the Center for Reproductive Rights and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, which shows just how badly new laws are harming the women of the Rio Grande Valley.

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Daily Digest - November 22: This Black Friday, Labor Protests With Your Sales

Nov 22, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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Wal-Mart Labor Group Promises 1,500 Black Friday Protests Next Week (Salon)

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Wal-Mart Labor Group Promises 1,500 Black Friday Protests Next Week (Salon)

Josh Eidelson speaks to Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren about upcoming protests at Wal-Mart. Dorian compares Wal-Mart to General Motors in the 1940s, as a company that works against the economy's best interest today, but could turn around.

New Bill Offers Tax Relief to Keep Students in State (The Michigan Daily)

Shoham Geva reports on a bill that gives Michigan college graduates a tax credit equal to half their student loan payments if they stay and work in state. Recommendations from the University of Michigan chapter of Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network are in the State House version of this bill.

Another Reason for Filibuster Reform: It Will Help Dems Crack Down on Wall Street (WaPo)

Ryan Cooper argues that, having invoked the nuclear option, the Democrats have now given financial reform a better shot at success, because court cases about these regulations go to the D.C. Circuit Court. Filling that bench is what set this whole thing off.

  • Roosevelt Take: Ryan references the Roosevelt Institute's report, An Unfinished Mission, as an example of the kind of regulations that reformers are seeking.

Good Benefits Don't Make Unemployed People Happy About Being Unemployed (Smithsonian Magazine)

Colin Schultz reports on a new study that compares the happiness of unemployed people across the European Union. Stronger benefit programs don't affect life satisfaction - nor do they affect how hard people look for new jobs.

Home-Care Aides at Poverty’s Edge Are Hottest U.S. Jobs (Bloomberg)

Tom Moroney writes about the fastest-growing job in the U.S., personal care aides, and profiles one aide in her work and home life. While their industry is booming, personal care aides are also among the worst paid workers in the country.

The 'Exploitative' Internship Economy (Pacific Standard)

Casey McDermott speaks to intern rights advocate David Yamada about the legal and ethical issues of the intern economy. Yamada is disappointed that some companies choose the lose-lose option of ending internship programs instead of paying minimum wage.

Here's Why Insurers Probably Won't Go Along With Obama's Obamacare Fix (MoJo)

Erika Eichelberger argues that most insurance companies aren't going to reinstate the plans they've already canceled that do not comply with the Affordable Care Act's requirements, because that would cost money. It's possible this fix will mostly serve as political cover.

  • Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch argued in favor of the president's decision last week, because it would allow the administration to retain its focus on insuring more Americans.

Dying Sooner: America Falls Behind On Longevity (National Memo)

David Kay Johnston reports on new data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development which shows that the U.S. is falling behind its peers on life expectancy. The report blames the country's poor health care system and income inequality.

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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.


Banner image via Shutterstock.com

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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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Fifty Years After the March on Washington, Equality Remains a Dream

Aug 28, 2013Jim Carr

We've made progress on addressing many blatant injustices since 1963, but people of color still don't have an equal opportunity to succeed.

We've made progress on addressing many blatant injustices since 1963, but people of color still don't have an equal opportunity to succeed.

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s electrifying speech at that event was inspiring and unforgettable. Those remarks, combined with hundreds of thousands of people on the National Mall marching for jobs and freedom, seemed to electrify American society to its core. As President Bill Clinton recently remarked, “I remember thinking that, when it was over, my country would never be the same.”

Over the five decades since the March on Washington, much has changed. No longer do black students require National Guard escorts to enter the school of their choice. No longer are protesters for civil or human rights at risk of being beaten or attacked by dogs for exercising their constitutional right to challenge unfair or otherwise unwise laws.

No longer are jobs and opportunity blatantly denied on the basis of an individual’s race or ethnicity, gender, physical appearance, or sexual preference. No longer are America’s cities burning. And perhaps most significantly, no longer is the office of the President of the United States off-limits to an African American.

Yet in spite of these and many other successes that have been achieved over the past five decades, much of the forward momentum seems unsustainable, or old problems are replaced with new ones that continue to deny opportunities disproportionately to people of color.

Take, for example, the fact that our cities are no longer burning in protest to blatant acts of discrimination and denial of civil rights. While that’s true, the city of Detroit has never recovered from the tumultuous days of the 1960s. In fact, Detroit has continued to decay, literally, into bankruptcy. The city’s official unemployment rate was a staggering 16 percent in April 2013, with a black unemployment rate over 20 percent. And Detroit is not alone among cities with exceptionally high black unemployment rates.

The acceleration of the exodus of non-Hispanic white families from the nation’s inner cities, in part to avoid integration after passage of the major Civil Rights laws, combined with the relocation of manufacturing jobs first to the suburbs and later overseas, has created urban economic deserts that deny opportunities as powerfully as any segregationist policies.

National Guard troops no longer stand in front of school houses to block admission—they do not have to. Racial and ethnic residential segregation in many of the nation’s largest cities is so high that black and Latino students do not live within physical proximity of isolated non-Hispanic white suburban enclaves in sufficient numbers to achieve meaningful school integration.

Furthermore, the cost of college tuition is so high these days that no armed presence is needed to prevent young African Americans or Latinos from entering. The majority of African American and Latino students cannot afford access the nation’s major universities even where they meet the academic standards.

In fact, economic deprivation is so great among blacks and Latinos that race is used as a reliable proxy for exploitation by financial firms. Leading up to the recent collapse of the housing market, subprime lenders disproportionately targeted African American and Latino communities for their reckless and irresponsible high-cost loans. They generated huge profits while originating loans that were designed to fail.

The subsequent loss of homeownership among African Americans and Latinos has been the largest contributor to a staggering loss of wealth for African American and Latino households during the Great Recession. Latino and black households have lost two-thirds and more than half of their net wealth, respectively. The result is that today, the racial wealth gap between blacks and non-Hispanic whites, and Latinos and non-Hispanic whites, is greater than it was two decades ago.

Over the next decade, seven of ten new households will be headed by a person of color. In fact, already, the majority of babies born in America are of color. Yet the majority of their economic futures are not promising.

This dramatic shift in the composition of the nation’s population gives even greater impetus now than was the case a half century ago for America to become a more economically inclusive society. Today, economic equality is as much an issue of economic competitiveness and national security, for example, as it is social justice. After all, how can America maintain its economic and military leadership role in the world if the fastest growing segments of the population, i.e., people of color, remain economically marginalized?

In spite of the success we have achieved as a nation in breaking down the barriers to opportunities based on racial or ethnic bias, we remain far from Dr. King’s dream and vision of a just and equitable society.

Jim Carr is a Distinguished Scholar with The Opportunity Agenda and Senior Fellow with the Center for American Progress. He is also co-editor of Segregation: The Rising Costs for America.

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Failing Low-Income Students: How Targeted College Information Could Improve Enrollment

Aug 27, 2013Asha M. Fereydouni

A focus on student loan rates isn't enough to help low-income students. The government needs to improve how it helps these students get enrolled in the first place.

A focus on student loan rates isn't enough to help low-income students. The government needs to improve how it helps these students get enrolled in the first place.

President Obama recently signed a bipartisan bill that ties student loan interest rates to the financial markets, which allows this year’s undergraduates to borrow at 3.9 percent interest -- nearly half of what they would have paid if Congress had failed to act. As a recent college graduate, I, like many of my peers, was very excited to learn of this decision. However, while the federal government has done great work to help those students who are already enrolled in college, it is effectively failing those students who come from families at or below the poverty line.

A recent Brookings Institute and Princeton University study notes that the federal government is spending around $1 billion per year on programs to help low-income students. Despite this funding, the four major college prep programs, Upward Bound, Upward Bound Math-Science, Student Support Services, and Talent Search (known collectively as TRIO), have had “no major effects on college enrollment or completion.” The study shows that students from low-income backgrounds who earn college degrees are 80 percent less likely to be poor. Unfortunately, Brookings and Princeton report that only 34 percent of low-income students actually enroll in college. Of that 34 percent, only 11 percent graduate.

The federal government is spending $1 billion with little or no return, policymakers are focused on other issues, and hardworking low-income students are paying the price. The government needs to refocus its efforts and provide targeted information to low-income students.

The closest thing to such a resource has been developed and marketed by the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB). The CFPB created an 11-part online roadmap called the "Financial Aid Comparison Shopper" to help students navigate the college application process.

This tool, while it has some virtues, still effectively fails low-income college students. The first stages of the CFPB tool, “apply for college” and “research schools,” which would be most relevant to low-income applicants unsure about their college prospects and financial options, merely link to a page hosted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

The NCES page (which looks like it was made in the early 2000s) asks visitors to type in the name of a school, or search by state, zip code, level of award, or institution type. The burden is on the student to search for the right kinds of schools in the right states. There is little guidance as to what kind of school will be the best fit for a given student. By linking to an old-fashioned page with untargeted information, the CFPB is not providing real guidance to low-income applicants. The impacts of this are severe.

Caroline Hoxby, an economics professor at Stanford University, studied 40,000 low-income students and found that simply providing students with an informational tool-kit with targeted information about various colleges and their respective costs made students 53 percent more likely to apply to a peer institution (an institution where the low-income students were just as qualified as their high-income counterparts), 78 percent more likely to be admitted, and 50 percent more likely to enroll.

If the CFPB seeks to remedy the low rates of low-income students attending college, the site needs to be re-worked. It needs to ask students to input specific details about their academic and financial backgrounds and then present a list of potential schools based on those facts.

But the burden is not just on the CFPB. This failure to reach low-income students is a much larger problem that can be seen within all of the federal government’s billion dollar efforts to help potential college students. The untargeted resources transcend every single federal effort.  

While the reduction of student loan rates is a major bipartisan achievement with real-world implications, there is still much to be done to increase enrollment and graduation rates among low-income students. The CFPB needs to update its tool, the Department of Education needs to revamp its efforts, and we must not forget those low-income students who have the grades and the drive, but just need a little more guidance in the college search process.

Asha M. Fereydouni is an alumnus of the University of California, Davis and the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network, and is currently a graduate student at Oxford. 

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Daily Digest - August 27: High-Speed Internet? Not So Much

Aug 27, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

Latest Pew Study Shows 70 Percent of U.S. Has Broadband. But Access Is Still Unequal (Wired)

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

Latest Pew Study Shows 70 Percent of U.S. Has Broadband. But Access Is Still Unequal (Wired)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford thinks that the Pew study has too broad a definition of "high-speed," and demonstrates the persistence of the digital divide. It shouldn't be acceptable that race, class, and region have so much effect on access.

Health Care and Education are Messed Up for the Same Reason (WaPo)

Ezra Klein argues that health care and education don't work like other markets, because people will do anything to avoid saying "no." That's the cause of the skyrocketing costs, and the reason for government subsidies in these areas.

One Way to End the School-to-Prison Pipeline (TAP)

Bryce Stucki suggests that policies that create job opportunities for low-income youth could do a lot more than keep teenagers busy for a summer. Summer jobs could be one of the keys to reducing suspensions and expulsions, and disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline.

The Outsiders: How Can Millennials Change Washington If They Hate It? (The Atlantic)

Ron Fournier's research shows that Millennials want to change the world, but don't think that public service is the way to do it. He concludes that if they take control of government, they will destroy the current system in order to radically rebuild.

An Unfulfilled Dream From the March on Washington: Labor Rights for Domestic Work (The Nation)

Bryce Covert looks at the state of domestic workers' labor rights, which haven't changed much in the fifty years since the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Because they aren't covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act, domestic workers have few protections.

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Matt Yglesias thinks that since the requirements for serving on corporate boards are few, the low number of women is evidence that companies aren't putting any effort into involving women. It's not as though qualifications are keeping women out.

Look Out: Here Comes the Debt Limit (MSNBC)

Chris Godburn reports that Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has asked Congressional leadership to raise the debt ceiling before mid-October. That means it's time to listen to arguments about not raising the debt ceiling without budget cuts again.

New on Next New Deal

California's Community Colleges Teach Us How to Make Education More Affordable

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Western Regional Co-Coordinator Kevin Feliciano considers the changes that California has made to its colleges and universities, and suggests that the President could draw on what California has learned as his higher education proposals develop.

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California's Community Colleges Teach Us How to Make Education More Affordable

Aug 26, 2013Kevin Feliciano

As President Obama's proposals for curbing higher education costs develop, we should look to similar experiments on the state level as a guide to best practices.

As President Obama's proposals for curbing higher education costs develop, we should look to similar experiments on the state level as a guide to best practices.

Last week, President Obama released a plan to combat rising college costs and make college affordable for American families. The president’s plan outlines three proposals: tying federal student aid to college performance based on yet-to-be developed college rankings; promoting innovation and completion by instituting a college scorecard that would give consumers clear, transparent information on college performance to help them make the decisions that work best for them; and ensuring that student debt remains affordable by expanding eligibility for the Pay As You Earn repayment program. While this federal push is new, many of the ideas have already been tried and tested on the state level, and California's community college system in particular provides some important data on what we should expect as these proposals are developed.

As a student who has attended community college and is attending a public university, I applaud President Obama for taking this step toward ensuring an affordable higher education for all. I know firsthand how the middle class has been affected by access and affordability issues. My family had a high enough income to make me ineligible for most federal and state financial aid until I was 24 years old, which is the age of independence. I relied on scholarships, money saved from working multiple jobs, and the support of my parents. I was also fortunate to attend a California community college, which charged an enrollment fee of only $18-46 per unit, depending on the term. My friends were not so lucky.

The cost of a California community college education is deceptive. The current rate of $46 per unit remains the lowest, by far, in the nation, but the other costs associated with an education (room and board, child care, textbooks, transportation costs) can easily amount to over $17,000 per year according to the Institute for College Access and Success. I know students who left community college to transfer to a four-year institution with at least $11,000 in student loan debt.

In the 2011-12 academic year, the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges convened a 20-member task force on student success, which was comprised of stakeholders from across the system, including faculty, staff, and two students. The Student Success Task Force (SSTF) published 22 recommendations, some of which are similar to the president’s proposals.

Many of these initiatives have already begun to be incorporated into the system, like putting more responsibility on students for their academic performance and ensuring that they are making progress toward their degrees or goals. The Student Success Act of 2012 specifically incorporated one of the SSTF recommendations, which required students to make satisfactory academic progress every term in order to remain eligible for a waiver of enrollment fees. These academic and progress standards are in addition to existing standards required to receive federal and state financial aid. The provision took effect January 1, 2013, and has a goal similar to the president’s: to encourage students to complete their degrees or attain their goals within a reasonable time frame.

President Obama proposes that we empower students with information about the colleges with his new ranking system. The SSTF introduced the Student Success Scorecard in 2013, which provides information on a college’s retention rate; graduation rate; transfer rate; completion rate; success rates of remedial math, remedial English, and English as a second language; and career technical education students, all broken down by gender, age, and ethnicity. The scorecard allows colleges and students to see their progress and make side-by-side comparisons between institutions. This was not intended to help students decide which college to attend, but to assist colleges in narrowing achievement gaps.

The president’s proposal for student loan debt expands the eligibility of the Pay As You Earn program, which caps federal loan payments at 10 percent of discretionary income, to all borrowers. Student loan debt has exceeded the $1 trillion mark in 2013, surpassing credit card debt, and many students go for years without paying off their student loan debt because they can’t afford a car loan or mortgage in addition to student loan repayments. With student loans still excluded from bankruptcy, a predictable student loan repayment plan is important to allow graduates to better plan their financial future.

One particularly concerning facet of this proposal is the intention to tie financial aid to college performance. The proposal indicates that the new college ratings would be used to “compare colleges with similar missions and identify colleges that do the most to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds as well as colleges that are improving their performance.” Institutional, state, and federal financial aid should help students focus on their studies without worrying about how to pay the bills. If students attending a high-performing college receive larger Pell Grants and more affordable student loans, what happens to students at lower-performing schools? Taking aid from those whose options are limited and giving it to colleges and students with greater means does not increase access to affordable, quality higher education. It has the potential to do the exact opposite.

There is still much to be done in order to ensure that colleges work to improve the quality of education they offer, not just increase graduation and transfer rates. President Obama has stated that the Department of Education will be holding public forums on the development of the metrics and proposed policies to gather as much input from stakeholders and the public as possible. The president was correct that a higher education is the single most important investment a student can make in his or her own future; to that end, students must be included in this process. We should learn from California’s example, search for best practices, and learn from one other to better prepare our students and make college more affordable for everyone.

Kevin Feliciano is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Western Regional Co-Coordinator, and is studying Public Affairs and Administration at California State University, East Bay.


"Welcome to California" sign image via Shutterstock.com

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