President Obama: Give Millennials a Seat at the Table on Climate Change

Nov 22, 2013Melia Ungson

Solutions to climate change begin at the community level, and tomorrow's leaders must be involved in the planning process today.

Solutions to climate change begin at the community level, and tomorrow's leaders must be involved in the planning process today.

Over the past several months, climate change has finally inched toward the spotlight. President Obama issued a Climate Action Plan in June, and a few months later he directed the EPA to enforce carbon emission limits for power plants. As a recent UN report further solidified that human activity is the cause of climate change, Obama has taken another step toward ensuring that the United States sticks to its international commitments and that the country is prepared to mitigate and adapt to changes at home. Shortly after the anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, on November 1, the President issued an executive order, “Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change.” This executive order paves the way for more prepared and resilient communities, but it is no substitute for young people, who will be the leaders of tomorrow, engaging in conversations to reenvision government’s role in addressing climate change.

In the executive order, Obama recognizes first the obligation to leave a healthy planet to future generations, and second that communities are already experiencing the effects of climate change. Added to the urgency is the fact that the communities most greatly impacted by climate change are often those that already contend with other problems, such as weak economies or regional health problems.

According to the White House, the executive order is meant to ensure that the federal government is equipped to effectively support “community-based preparedness and resilience efforts” through policies and investment priorities that advocate preparedness, protect infrastructure, support scientific research, and “protect and serve citizens in a changing climate.” More concretely, this means finding a way to modernize federal agencies and federal programs in order to encourage government at every level to consider climate risks and implement mitigation and adaptation strategies. 

To do this, the federal government is looking to the state and local levels. President Obama has created a task force made of governors, mayors, and tribal and local officials who have volunteered to participate. According to the White House, the task force will provide recommendations on how the federal government can remove “barriers to resilient investments, [modernize] Federal grant and loan programs to better support local efforts, and [develop] the information and tools they need to prepare.”

Far from a government takeover, the executive order calls for the federal government to look to state and local officials to gain insight on how to improve federal programs and better understand how communities can boost preparedness and innovation. Ultimately, the failure to prioritize climate change on the federal level is and will continue to be played out on a local level. This means that the local officials of tomorrow, who are the young people of today, will be forced to contend with changes in their communities and will be responsible for navigating the state and federal programs designed to provide support. Nancy Sutley, head of a White House environmental council, explained that communities are “on the front lines of dealing with the impacts of climate change.” That makes this bottom-up approach critical while the federal, state, and local levels of government incorporate climate change risks into project planning.

This order is an important step in ensuring that government at every level will be better equipped to plan for and address climate change in the future. It will spur greater innovation by encouraging officials in DC and around the country to think creatively by promoting data-sharing and collaboration for informed and coordinated efforts, and by opening a space, through the task force, for officials to come together and provide feedback.

Furthermore, this action is important in building a more vibrant economy and government in the long run. The federal government will continue to be called on to foot the bill for disaster relief after major storms or droughts, to compensate for the effects of ailing infrastructure, and to support communities that are struggling to adapt to climate change. Given this potential for real burdens on the government budget, we cannot wait to act if we want to protect both our communities and our economy. We need to create our own climate insurance of sorts. The steps we take now toward preparation and mitigation could be less costly overall than waiting until the urgency is greater and options more limited.

White House staff understand this need. John P. Holdren, the President’s science advisor, noted how the executive order emphasizes the need to make current investments “produce a much more resilient society.” This future-oriented thinking is essential if we want to effectively address climate change and if we want to fulfill the moral obligation to leave future generations with a healthy planet and resilient communities. More immediately, when Millennials are in positions of power, we know that climate change will be high on the agenda, and therefore understand that it is our generation that will reap the rewards or manage the clean-up of whatever actions we take or do not take in the coming months and years.

Our generation needs to go one step beyond this executive order. This call for a bottom-up approach, for crowdsourcing ideas, feedback, and innovation should extend to Millennials around the country as well. We know we have a huge stake in preparing our communities for the future, and we cannot sit back and wait for our turn to take the reins. A clear next step to the executive order would be to engage youth representatives, students, and young professionals in a task force that would emphasize a forward-thinking approach. To get there, Millennials can take an active role in learning from local officials grappling with climate change impacts as they arise, so that we are more knowledgeable and prepared when the problems are squarely in our hands. Millennials can also take an active role in proposing and testing solutions that will start building stronger communities today. We must take on the responsibility to engage with local officials, harness our creativity and skills, and stay dedicated to a long-term vision. 

Melia Ungson is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Energy and Environment.

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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.


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Daily Digest - November 20: Why Aren't We Working On Youth Unemployment?

Nov 20, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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The Real Lost Generation (Harper's)

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

The Real Lost Generation (Harper's)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Director of the Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative Jeff Madrick considers the youth employment crisis. This problem has a ripple effect on the whole economy, but Washington isn't talking about it at all.

Rep. Sandy Levin on Why Congress Should Talk to More Unemployed Workers (WaPo)

Brad Plumer speaks to the Representative about the looming deadline to continue funding for extended unemployment benefits. The benefits wouldn't be phased out this time - it would be an immediate cut off at the end of the year.

San Francisco Workers Can Now Request Flexible Work Schedules—But Not Predictable Ones (RH Reality Check)

Sheila Bapat says that while San Francisco is still ahead of the curve on progressive work policy, it missed something important in a recent new ordinance. Guaranteeing flexible schedules is great, but many workers really need predictable schedules week-to-week.

Poor, with Savings (TAP)

Monica Potts writes about an innovative program in New York City that is helping the poor to save money. Most tax incentives for saving target middle- and upper-income families, but tax deferrals on 401(k)s don't do much for families struggling to get by.

Micro-Apartments: More Trouble Than They’re Worth? (Remapping Debate)

David Noriega considers how micro-apartments being built in New York City fit into housing policy as a whole. He suggests that these tiny studios are unlikely to serve as a real solution to the lack of affordable housing.

JP Morgan's $13bn Settlement – the Record-Setting Penalty Explained (The Guardian)

Heidi Moore explains the details of the JPMorgan Chase settlement with the Justice Department for its part in the mortgage crisis. About $4 billion of that settlement is going to help homeowners - but it will be hard to measure the impact of that money.

New on Next New Deal

Do Negative Rates Call For a Permanent Expansion of the Government?

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal writes about an exchange between Ben Bernanke and Larry Summers at an International Monetary Fund event last week. Summers admitted that there may be a need for more permanent government stimulus.

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Daily Digest - November 14: Millennial Success Beyond Big Cities

Nov 14, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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Jersey City: Cheaper, Yes, But Also a Real Sense of Community (The Atlantic Cities)

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Jersey City: Cheaper, Yes, But Also a Real Sense of Community (The Atlantic Cities)

Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow Nona Willis Aronowitz continues her two week series on cities where Millennials can afford to succeed. She emphasizes that Jersey City, NJ isn't just a suburb anymore, with more people centering their work there too.

Elizabeth Warren to Regulators, Congress: End ‘Too Big to Fail’ (The Nation)

Zoë Carpenter discusses Senator Warren's keynote at a Roosevelt Institute and Americans for Financial Reform event this week. She focuses on how the Senator's speech fits into the larger picture of Congressional action on financial reform.

  • Roosevelt Take: Watch Senator Warren's speech, which aired live on C-SPAN 2, here.

How McDonald's and Wal-Mart Became Welfare Queens (Bloomberg View)

Barry Ritholtz takes a strong stance against the major corporations which work on a model of unsustainable wages for workers, who then need public assistance. Raising the minimum wage is a likely solution, but he also suggests penalties for companies whose workers can't get by.

Scalia’s Chance to Smash Unions: The Huge Under-the-Radar Case (Salon)

Josh Eidelson explains why Unite Here Local 355 v. Mulhall could make forming a union even more difficult. Most union organizing today is done under "card check neutrality agreements" between unions and companies, but those agreements could be ruled unconstitutional.

Detroit's Decision to Fend Off Bankruptcy: Pay Pensions or Banks? (The Guardian)

Dominic Rushe speaks to Detroit pension recipients about what bankruptcy would mean for their lives. They place the destruction of pensions squarely within the destruction of middle-class opportunity in the United States.

Everyone's Talking About This Simple Solution To Ending Poverty By Just Giving People Free Money (Business Insider)

Danny Vinik lays out a simple explanation of universal basic income. Importantly, he explains how the U.S. could fund a basic income up to the poverty line, even though it would never pass the current Congress.

How To Save Entitlements Without Really Trying (Blog of the Century)

Zachary Bernstein explains a potential change to Federal Insurance Contributions Act, which creates the taxes that fund Social Security and Medicare, that even the GOP could appreciate. We could save the long-term future of these programs and lower taxes for most Americans.

New on Next New Deal

The Real Movers and Shakers

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Equal Justice Erik Lampmann would be happier if elections and one-off protests got far less media attention. Instead, he suggests examples of community organizing successes that really deserve our applause.

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The Real Movers and Shakers

Nov 13, 2013Erik Lampmann

Instead of electoral politics, we should be paying more attention to the community-based movement building happening around the country.

There are actions, policies, battles ... and then there are movements.

Over the past few weeks I’ve grown increasingly concerned that episodic protests, press releases, and elections receive the lion’s share of our concern, while strategic movements to build strong, resilient communities are left by the wayside.

Instead of electoral politics, we should be paying more attention to the community-based movement building happening around the country.

There are actions, policies, battles ... and then there are movements.

Over the past few weeks I’ve grown increasingly concerned that episodic protests, press releases, and elections receive the lion’s share of our concern, while strategic movements to build strong, resilient communities are left by the wayside.

Take, for instance, the media’s flirtation with Russell Brand’s ‘revolutionary politics.’ It seemed as though pundits were bending over backwards to support Brand’s calls for the fair distribution of wealth in the UK, heralding him a radical leftist. This isn’t the space to examine the authenticity of Brand’s claims to radical progressive politics. It is worth noting, however, the power asymmetries of a media landscape that affords Brand unheard of attention for his politics while failing to ever address the work of undocumented, queer, youth, and student activists (sometimes together) across the country.

Similarly, I’ve seen reductive partisan politics engrain themselves in my state, Virginia, through this most recent gubernatorial campaign, pitting a particularly bigoted conservative Attorney General against a Democrat with no previous experience as an elected official and an endless rolodex of IOUs to call in. I’m sad that my choice as a queer person boiled down to whether to vote for a candidate that would rather overturn Lawrence v. Texas or an eventually-successful corporate Democrat with no grounding in public service. With such distinct lack of vision to choose from, it almost seems as though one should have ironically followed Brand’s advice and not vote.

This is not to undervalue the importance of electoral politics. Without federal legislation, programs as essential to the American social safety net as Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, and SNAP would be impossible. However, focusing on electoral targets is a narrow lens through which to treat issues like community revitalization, green jobs campaigns, and food security. These issues are complex; they are, by their nature, multidimensional questions that require coalition-based solutions with stakeholders from advocacy groups, direct service organizations, and elected officials to make meaningful progress.

The conversation should therefore shift to an analysis of whom we are leaving out of the discussion on movement-building. Let’s examine several community organizing wins from these past few weeks that weren’t covered in the mainstream media, amplified by elected officials or catalyzed by major national non-profits.

  1. Undocumented youth in California successfully pressured former Secretary of Homeland Security and current University of California President Janet Napolitano to invest $5 million in financial assistance for undocumented students.  Not only did these student activists succeed in securing much-needed financial support for their communities, they also compelled Napolitano to reverse her own immigration politics. The collective voice of these young people held an official from the administration with the highest number of deportations accountable to the needs of the communities she had previously helped marginalize.
  2. Youth in the Chicago Student Union launched a creative and strategic protest  during Halloween, dressing as zombies suffering the ‘death of public education.’ This youth-led action came after months of mobilizations of teachers, staff, students, and community members around Mayor Emmanuel’s attacks on the Chicago Teachers Union.
  3. Students at George Washington University – including members of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network chapter at that school – are mobilizing around revelations that their admissions department had been secretly screening students based on their ability to pay. Despite marketing itself as a ‘need-blind’ institution, apparently GWU has used family wealth as a deciding factor in undergraduate admissions.

These struggles are not isolated, disconnected media headlines. Far from it. Instead, they represent the power of collective voices rising up to make demands on an establishment that has either attempted to quell their momentum, disenfranchise them, or otherwise push them to the margins of public discourse. They represent the power of community organizing to better our communities and create meaningful change at the grassroots level.

We speak often of the democratic experiment of the United States – of the on-going process of ‘making’ a nation. Yet our attention span for truly transformational struggles is so often limited to flashpoints in undoubtedly richer, more nuanced movement histories. As I embark on a capstone project within the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network to investigate best practices among fellow youth organizers, I’m taken by the importance of narratives that speak to the experience of those who devote their lives to movement work.

This week is already devolving into an endless series of gubernatorial recaps without much substantive analysis of grassroots organizing or movements that influenced the electoral landscape. It’s important that we reject pundits’ reductive understanding of social change as electoral change and affirm a more grounded understanding of the ‘real movers and shakers’ of our political landscape. They aren’t the Terry McAuliffes of the world who come to govern through a litany of party fundraising jobs, favors, and corporate savoir faire; they are the disadvantaged communities forging a better tomorrow through many small wins, and occasional big wins, and united under the banner of one movement towards justice for all people. These movements toward change are much more deserving of our concern, respect, and honor.

Erik Lampmann is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Equal Justice. He studies political theory and French at the University of Richmond. 


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What Do the Millennials Want From the Affordable Care Act?

Nov 12, 2013Anisha Hegde

Millennials are more interested in learning about how the Affordable Care Act works and obtaining health insurance than hyper-partisan rhetoric.

Millennials are more interested in learning about how the Affordable Care Act works and obtaining health insurance than hyper-partisan rhetoric.

In addition to serving as Senior Fellow for Health Care for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network, I am the Executive Director for my campus’ Roosevelt chapter. A few weeks ago at our general body meeting, I asked the crowd whether they had been talking with their friends about the Affordable Care Act, and what these conversations sounded like. Did they know the basics: that in January, most Americans will be expected to either carry at least minimal insurance or pay an opt-out penalty? Do they know that they will be able to stay on their parents’ insurance until they are 26, if they so choose? Have they compared the prices of different options available for young adults versus the penalty?

The question meant to take up the first ten minutes of our meeting turned into a full forty-minute discussion. As we scarfed down our pizza in true hungry college-student fashion, students shared their puzzlement about pro-ACA campaigns that encouraged individuals to just log on to (you know, the website now infamous for its still-lingering usage problems) without further explanation as well as Generation Opportunity’s “don’t let government play doctor” campaign. In order to move the meeting along, we prematurely wrapped up the discussion, deciding that given the complexity of the ACA, Millennials want easy access to resources that educate us rather than simply feeding us instructions.

The kinds of resources we want are out there, but it seems their utility is suffocated by the louder (i.e. more well-funded) campaigns still focused on the politicization of health care reform. The campaigns focus on erroneous value-laden statements and criticism of public officials like Barack Obama and Kathleen Sebelius—ultimately leaving people aware of the latest stinging headlines but completely unaware that marketplaces opened October 1, or of the impact the marketplaces could have on them.

During our meeting, several students admitted that by getting sucked into media politicization of the ACA and calling into question the character of anyone who opposes it, they had lost sight of why we were retooling our health care system in the first place, and racing to fix the problems that came along with that process. The solid ten minutes of conversation that followed consisted of the health care wonks in the room answering the basic question of ‘why.’ Because we currently pay more for our health care than most other developed countries. Because our emergency rooms, required to treat all patients regardless of their insurance or ability to pay, drive up costs for the system as a whole. Because, in fixing these skyrocketing prices, we still believe that socioeconomic status should not determine an individual’s access to services essential for his or her life.

Even with the ‘why’ of health care reform answered, it is valid to make sure that the cure is not harder to stomach than the disease itself. For Millennials, one of the biggest pros of the Affordable Care Act is that individuals with lower salaries will be able to afford insurance and obtain health services thanks to government subsidies. This is critical, given that Millennials have the highest uninsured rates and that the Millennials with the highest uninsured rates are in the lowest income bracket. Possible cons must also be addressed, including the fact that Millennials who have a higher income might end up paying higher premiums for insurance purchased on the exchanges than they have paid on the individual market in the past. 

So, Millennials have choices to make, choices that were the cornerstone of the Supreme Court’s ruling to uphold the ACA. These choices will be colored by individual comparisons of marketplace premiums versus out-of-pocket costs, the future outlook and trajectory of these premiums, and which doctors and services would fall into certain networks, among other questions. Given that 53 percent of Millennials say they do not have a trusted source for information about the ACA, gauging an answer to these questions becomes a difficult, time-consuming task.

These sources need to be readily available and widely publicized soon, as the ACA relies on the comparatively healthier Millennials to keep premiums down for the rest of the population. Assuming discussion sparked in our Roosevelt chapter is a rough indication of Millennial sentiments as a whole, we are ready for the media to shift its focus from the embittered political debate to see that presenting one hyper-partisan side of the ACA leaves Millennials suspicious, unwilling to act either to keep premiums reasonable or to contribute to the defunding of the ACA. We do not want orders barked at us or abstractions and hyperboles hurled at us. Instead, we want the facts to empower us – to guide us in translating ACA jargon of marketplaces and mandates into the value of health care as a fundamental human right.

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

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How Did the Great Recession Affect Millennial Views on Love?

Nov 8, 2013

As part of the Roosevelt Institute's "What's the Deal?" series, Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow Nona Willis Aronowitz explains how Millennials' view love and relationships after the Great Recession.

As part of the Roosevelt Institute's "What's the Deal?" series, Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow Nona Willis Aronowitz explains how Millennials' view love and relationships after the Great Recession.

For more on Nona's work, visit:

To visit the Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline and learn about their network:

Have an idea or topic suggestion for our "What's the Deal" series? Let us know by tweeting at #RIExplains and @RooseveltInst.

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"The Kids Aren't Alright": Millennials Demand Economic Stability for all LBGTQ People, Now

Nov 8, 2013Erik Lampmann

Millennials struggle to comprehend why the Employment Non-Discrimination Act isn't law yet, but they shouldn't accept the version with religious exemptions being considered today.

Millennials struggle to comprehend why the Employment Non-Discrimination Act isn't law yet, but they shouldn't accept the version with religious exemptions being considered today.

Ask any college senior today what they are most focused on and they will reply with the same phrase: a job. Today’s young people grew up during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. They’ve seen their own government shut down over funding disputes, the student loan debt bubble top $1 trillion, and income inequality soar through the roof. According to reports, 41.3% of those aged 25-34 will spend at least a year earning less than 150 percent of the poverty line.

In short, young people – notably those without college degrees – understand that the fight for financial stability is an uphill battle in today’s America. Perhaps for this reason, it is downright inconceivable to even some of the most conservative Millennials that lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) people don’t have the same level of employment protection as other historically disadvantaged social groups.

This week, for the first time, it seems as though one of the ‘secondary’ issues of the LGBTQ movement is finally getting its time to shine. The Senate passed its version of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) Thursday, voting 64 to 32 in favor of barring discrimination by “employers, employment agencies, labor organizations, or joint labor-management committees ... on the basis of an individual’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Some straight Americans may mistakenly believe that LGBTQ advocates would only have agitated for marriage equality after having secured workplace nondiscrimination for queer people. They would argue that, while marriage carries a certain religious weight, the idea of protecting LGBTQ people from wrongful termination seems like common sense.  It would surprise many, then, to know that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people have no workplace protections in 29 states and trans* people remain vulnerable in 34 states.

Progressives are now attempting to capitalize on the Senate’s passage of ENDA to pressure House members to vote similarly when their version of the bill comes to the floor in the near future. Since 90 percent of Americans believe that LGBTQ people are already protected from discrimination, one would hope that liberals in the House would have an easy time sealing the deal on ENDA before the end of the month.

Say what you will about the movement for marriage equality in the United States, it’s at least been successful in its marketing. It seems likely that the average American could tell you that LGBTQ people are struggling for one thing: marriage. While the lion’s share of the financial, human, and media resources of the LGBTQ movement have gone towards the push for same-sex marriage at the state and federal level, it’s not accurate to say that LGBTQ Americans only care about marriage to the detriment of other pressing issues. In fact, a vocal minority of queer people have pushed the mainstream ‘gay’ establishment for years to shift their priorities toward other issues, such as workforce and housing protections, violence against queer communities, and the provision of inclusive healthcare to LGBTQ people.

It’s unfortunate that some of these organizations now find themselves up against a wall. Yes, ENDA has been passed by the Senate for the first time and seems destined for the same in the House. Yet many queer are concerned by religious exemptions negotiated into both the House and Senate drafts of the bill.  These strategic loopholes open the floodgates for religious organizations to continue to ostracize, harass, or discriminate against the queer movement family.

One of these queer organizations, GetEqual, announced its public opposition to the current drafts of ENDA. They were alarmed by the ability of these religious exemptions to undermine their goal of collective liberation for all queer people. Additionally, they were troubled by the idea that national LGBTQ religious exemptions might then be deployed against advocates working to expand women’s access to comprehensive reproductive health services. GetEqual’s Co-Director, Heather Cronk, went as far as to say that, “Conservatives believe that ‘religious liberty’ should trump all other democratic constructs – including equal protection – and we must call out that they're wrapping bigotry up in shiny packages of religious liberty and hoping no one notices.” It’s clear to me, and the young people I work alongside, that equity with conditions (as articulated in the Senate’s version of ENDA) isn’t really equity at all.

To some extent, this conversation around ENDA and ‘compromise’ has evolved into a sort of motif of the LGBTQ movement. For years, grassroots organizers have found liberal elected representatives willing to sponsor nondiscrimination ordinances to protect ‘sexual orientation’ as a suspect class. But for many officials, the term ‘gender identity’ or perhaps ‘gender identity and expression’ has carried an entirely different political, or even radical, charge. Again and again, mainstream gay organizations caved to the demands of politicians to limit the scope of their work to ‘LGB’ populations – leaving the trans* community out to dry. Perhaps due to this storied past, the pressure on progressives to concede to the demands of the Christian right’s religious exemption seems ever so familiar and frightening.

In light of the failure of previous concessions to substantially decrease rates of violence against LGBTQ people and bring all queer people under the umbrella of legal protections, I’m hesitant to endorse a pre-conditioned draft of ENDA. Instead of accepting the religious exception as a fait accompli, we ought to pressure our elected officials to protect queer people from harassment, discrimination, and persecution everywhere from anyone. We must push them to see past the façade of religious fundamentalism to the continued oppression of LGBTQ people at home and abroad.


Consequently, young people must say with one voice: we demand access to economic stability for all people – including LGBTQ communities – without condition. We cannot allow our elected officials to carve out spaces where queer people are protected and other spaces where it’s legal to discriminate.

Erik Lampmann is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Equal Justice. He studies political theory and French at the University of Richmond. 

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Daily Digest - November 7: Remember The Last Time Wall Street Invested in Housing?

Nov 7, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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The Best City for the Next Generation of Artists Just Might Be Jackson (Atlantic Cities)

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The Best City for the Next Generation of Artists Just Might Be Jackson (Atlantic Cities)

Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow Nona Willis Aronowitz continues her series on cities where Millennials can succeed. She reports on the art scene in Jackson, MI, where young creatives are taking advantage of cheap available space to try new projects.

Wall Street Slumlords’ Outrageous New Scheme: How They Could Wreck the Economy Again (Salon)

David Dayen reports on Wall Street's newest housing-based investment vehicle, which are backed by rental payments. Ratings agencies have given these securities triple-A ratings, but mortgage-backed securities had the same rating.

The One Mortgage Fix Washington Isn’t Talking About (ProPublica)

Jesse Eisenger considers the pros and cons of keeping Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in government, even though policymakers are ignoring that option. He thinks it might be the simplest and most effective choice - but it's the direct opposite of current policy trends.

A Booster Shot for Social Security (In These Times)

Sarah Jaffe explains the plan some progressive Democrats are presenting to expand Social Security. They call chained CPI a tax on life itself for seniors, because it assumes people will substitute cheaper goods when possible - but health care has no substitutes.

Ten States Have Banned Cities And Counties From Passing Paid Sick Days (ThinkProgress)

Bryce Covert looks at the states that passed preemptive laws banning municipalities from enacting paid sick leave. These states apparently know better than their cities, which may want to eliminate the lost productivity that comes with sick workers on the job.

Unemployment Benefits Set To Expire For 1.3 Million At End Of Year (HuffPo)

Arthur Delaney says that Congressional patterns of cutting close to the deadline for extending federal unemployment benefits should be cause for concern again this year. With Congress's disinterest in preventing SNAP cuts, he wonders if the same could happen here.

A Hunger Expert Explains What Happens Now That Food Stamps Are Cut (WaPo)

Dylan Matthews speaks to Joel Berg of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger about how SNAP cuts will affect food-insecure Americans, and how he would structure policy around hunger. Berg thinks that benefits weren't enough before the cuts.

New Student Loan Rules Add Protections for Borrowers (NYT)

Ann Carrns explains new rules from the Department of Education meant to helped borrowers get out of default. Income-based rehabilitative payments and increased ease in requesting forbearance should make a big difference for struggling graduates.

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Daily Digest - November 6: Underdog Cities and Underfunded Agencies

Nov 6, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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San Antonio's Simple Appeal to Millennials: Diversity, Decent Jobs, and Cheap Living (Atlantic Cities)

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San Antonio's Simple Appeal to Millennials: Diversity, Decent Jobs, and Cheap Living (Atlantic Cities)

Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow Nona Willis Aronowitz continues her series on cities "Where Millennials Can Make It Now." San Antonio, she says, is a bit of an underdog compared to other Texas cities that attract Millennials, but many residents relish that status.

  • Roosevelt Take: Nona speaks about how Millennials' views on love and relationships have been affected by the Great Recession in the newest video in the Roosevelt Institute's explainer series, "What's the Deal."

How Washington Is Wrecking the Future, in 2 Charts (The Atlantic)

Matthew O'Brien looks at the severe cuts to non-defense discretionary spending in the past few years with charts from the Financial Times. He argues that at these spending levels, government is only barely fulfilling its basic responsibilities.

Liberal Push to Expand Social Security Gains Steam (WaPo)

Greg Sargent speaks to Senator Sherrod Brown about why now is the time for Democrats to shift the conversation and go on the offensive for entitlement programs. The discussion should be about whether to make cuts to Social Security, not how much.

Shortchanging a Wall Street Watchdog (U.S. News & World Report)

Pat Garofalo argues that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission's budget is eternally short because of intentional Republican strategy. An underfunded enforcement agency can't enforce much of anything, let alone new Dodd-Frank regulations.

Will ENDA Be the Next Casualty of the GOP’s Internal Crisis? (The Nation)

Zoë Carpenter considers why the popularly supported Employment Non-Discrimination Act is unlikely to even get a vote in the House. Boehner claims it's to protect business owners - but business owners aren't speaking up against ENDA.

Higher Wage Is Approved in New Jersey (NYT)

Patrick McGeehan reports on the results of the NJ constitutional amendment, which not only raises the minimum wage starting on January 1, but also indexes it to inflation. That annual adjustment is key, because without it low-wage workers essentially get wage cuts each year.

Bulldozing Homes and Civil Rights (MSNBC)

Adam Serwer reports on the upcoming Supreme Court case Mount Holly Citizens in Action vs Township of Mount Holly, which he says could give the Court's right wing an opportunity to collapse the Fair Housing Act, a pillar of civil rights law.

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