Fighting Bad Science in the Senate

Jul 17, 2014Andrea Flynn

The Senate hearing for the Women's Health Protection Act shows just how important it is for women's health advocates to push for the facts.

The Senate hearing for the Women's Health Protection Act shows just how important it is for women's health advocates to push for the facts.

The propensity of anti-choice advocates to eulogize false science was on full display on Tuesday’s Senate hearing on the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA). That bill is a bold measure that would counter the relentless barrage of anti-choice legislation that has made abortion – a constitutionally protected medical procedure – all together inaccessible for many U.S. women.

The bill was introduced last year by Senators Richard Blumenthal and Tammy Baldwin and Representatives Judy Chu, Lois Frankel and Marcia Fudge. It prohibits states from applying regulations to reproductive health care centers and providers that do not also apply to other low-risk medical procedures. It would, essentially, remove politicians from decisions that – for every other medical issue – remain between individuals and their providers.

The WHPA is long overdue. For the past three years, conservative lawmakers have used the guise of protecting women’s health to pass more than 200 state laws that have closed clinics, eliminated abortion services, and left women across the country without access to critical reproductive health care. The WHPA would reverse many of those policies and prevent others from being passed.

Tuesday's hearing was representative of the broader debate over abortion rights. Those in favor of the bill argued that securing guaranteeing unfettered access to reproductive health care, including abortion, is critical to the health and lives of U.S. women and their families.

Those in opposition used familiar canards about abortion to argue the law would be calamitous for U.S. women. Representative Diane Black of Tennessee had the gall to make the abortion-leads-to-breast cancer claim, one that has been disproven many times over. Others repeatedly cited the horrific cases of Kermit Gosnell, insinuating that all abortion providers (abortionists, in their lingo) are predatory and that late term abortions are a common occurrence. In fact, if women had access to safe, comprehensive and intimidation-free care, Kermit Gosnell would have never been in business. Given the opposition’s testimony, you’d never know that late term abortion is actually a rarity. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 90 percent of all abortions occur before 13 weeks gestation, with just over 1 percent taking place past 21 weeks.

At one point Representative Black argued that abortion is actually not health care. The one in three U.S. women who have undergone the procedure would surely argue otherwise.

Perhaps the most ironic testimony against the WHPA – and in favor of abortion restrictions – came from Senator Ted Cruz, who hails from Texas, a state with so many abortion restrictions that women are now risking their health and lives by self-inducing abortions or crossing the border to get care in Mexico. Senator Cruz attempted to validate U.S. abortion restrictions by referencing a handful of European countries with gestational restrictions on abortions. This was a popular argument during the hearing for Texas’ HB2 – the bill responsible for shuttering the majority of clinics in that state.

Cruz wins the prize for cherry picking facts to best support his argument. When citing our European counterparts, he conveniently ignored that such abortion restrictions are entrenched in progressive public health systems that enable all individuals to access quality, affordable (often free) health care, including comprehensive reproductive healthcare. Senator Cruz and his colleagues have adamantly opposed similar policies in the U.S., particularly the Affordable Care Act’s provisions for contraceptive coverage and Medicaid expansion. On the one hand conservatives lean on European policies to argue for stricter abortion restrictions at home, and on the other they claim those policies are antithetical to the moral fabric of the United States.

Would Cruz support France’s policies that enable women to be fully reimbursed for the cost of their abortion and that guarantees girls ages 15 to 18 free birth control? Or Belgium’s policy that enables young people to be reimbursed for the cost of emergency contraception? Or the broad exceptions both countries make for cases of rape, incest, and fetal impairment, to preserve woman’s physical or mental health, and for social or economic reasons? He absolutely would not.

Given the House of Representatives seems to be more motivated by suing the President than by voting on – let alone passing – laws that will actually improve the health and lives of their constituents, it’s highly unlikely the WHPA will become law. But Tuesday's debate – and the bill itself – is significant and shows a willingness among pro-choice advocates to go on the offense after too many years of playing defense.

Bills such as the WHPA – even if they face a slim chance of being passed by a gridlocked Congress – provide an opportunity to call out conservatives' use of bad science in their attempts to convince women that lawmakers know best when it comes to their personal medical decisions. And they allow us to remind lawmakers and citizens that despite all of the rhetoric to the contrary, abortion is a common, safe and constitutionally protected medical procedure, and that regulating it into extinction will only force women into back-alley practices like those run by Gosnell, costing them their health and their lives.

Those in support of the WHPA showed anti-choice lawmakers that the days of make a sport of trampling women’s health and rights are numbered.

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.

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Daily Digest - June 17: Obama's ENDA Executive Order Sends a Message

Jun 17, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our Monday through Friday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Obama Making Bold Move on ENDA Protections (MSNBC)

Steve Benen says the President's executive order protecting LBGT federal contractors could be an attempt to push Congress to act on broader anti-discrimination legislation.

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our Monday through Friday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Obama Making Bold Move on ENDA Protections (MSNBC)

Steve Benen says the President's executive order protecting LBGT federal contractors could be an attempt to push Congress to act on broader anti-discrimination legislation.

The Fed’s Unemployment Conundrum (WaPo)

Ylan Q. Mui notes that the Federal Reserve's decision to tie its stimulus program to unemployment is problematic because unemployment is falling faster than the economy is growing.

In San Jose, Higher Minimum Wage Pays Benefits (USA Today)

For minimum-wage workers in San Jose, the increase from $8 to $10 per hour meant small but meaningful changes, like being able to afford dental care, writes Paul Davidson.

After Piketty, the Ownership Revolution (AJAM)

Gar Alperovitz suggests that experimenting with broad, democratized ownership of capital could help counter the trend toward inequality highlighted by Thomas Piketty's Capital.

You Can Blame Student Debt for America's Inequality and Shrinking Middle Class (HuffPo)

Sean McElwee argues that while a college education may be a gateway to the middle class, high student debt holds back low- and middle-income students.

Three Fed Governors Sworn in Just in Time for Meeting (WSJ)

Pedro Da Costa reports on the swearing in of the newest members of the Federal Reserve Board, which is expected to continue to scale back the Fed's bond-buying program this week.

Miami Sues JPMorgan Alleging Mortgage Discrimination (Reuters)

The city's suit against JPMorgan claims that the bank not only issued higher-cost loans to minorities but also discriminated when determining refinancing terms, reports Dena Aubin.

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Teachers and Tutors Can't Fix All of Low-Income Students' Problems

Jun 13, 2014Casey McQuillan

Targeted public policy could help with many of the problems students face that their teachers can't solve alone.

My parents, both teachers, often blurred the line between being parents and being educators. Luckily, I found academics to be second nature. As a result, my teachers in the local public school system served as valuable role models and fostered my personal growth not just as a student, but as a whole person. I always felt supported by my community and equipped with the necessary tools for my success.

Targeted public policy could help with many of the problems students face that their teachers can't solve alone.

My parents, both teachers, often blurred the line between being parents and being educators. Luckily, I found academics to be second nature. As a result, my teachers in the local public school system served as valuable role models and fostered my personal growth not just as a student, but as a whole person. I always felt supported by my community and equipped with the necessary tools for my success.

I faced a stark contrast to my own experience when I worked with Achieve, a program that offers tuition-free educational enrichment to impoverished students in Boston. I taught critical math skills and literacy comprehension for eight weeks during the summer, and volunteered on Saturdays during the school year. Over the three years I spent with Achieve, I developed intimate and meaningful relationships with my students; but I felt that my impact, even the impact of the entire program, was severely limited.

These students did not have the same tools I did to succeed in the classroom. As a teacher, it was excruciatingly painful to hear a student who is already falling behind explain he could not do his homework because his mom could not pay the bills and the electric company shut off the power. It kills me to tell a student to take notes in class only to find out later that her parents can't afford the prescription glasses she needs to see the board and take those notes. I was expecting these kids to read when some of them could not even see.

Our government claims each citizen maintains the right to an education, but fails to substantiate this right with everything needed for an education. The social safety net did not subsidize electricity for low-income families, and Medicaid doesn't cover prescription eyewear. How could these students possibly reach their full potential under such circumstances? I could see the changes needed to better these students’ lives, but I could not enact them. Our political system remains apathetic or even complicit to the systemic inequality I faced everyday in the classroom. I cared about these students and their success, and it deeply disturbed me to see them seemingly destined for failure because of conditions out of their control.

I only grew more frustrated when I continued to encounter these obstacles with my students. I tried to provide these students with an education that would empower them to be agents of change in their community; instead, when I faced these situations, I felt more helpless than helpful. My students looked to me for help, but I was utterly powerless. I came to the conclusion that to affect positive change would require more than volunteering with these students. Children in these situations needed more from me than an education. Instead of growing more frustrated within the system as I continued to confront these impediments to my students’ success, I decided the entire system needed change. That brought me to the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network, and to the Summer Academy Fellowship.

This summer, I will be researching and writing a policy proposal regarding economic equality and equitable development in New York City. I am also working with Operation Hope to provide financial guidance and education to low-income communities. My students remain my driving motivation: I hope this work improves their lives, and the lives of other students in similar situations. To meet their needs and help them achieve their best, our system needs to change.

Casey McQuillan, one of four Andrew Goodman Foundation Fellows in the 2014 NYC Summer Academy, is a rising sophomore and active Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network member at Amherst College studying Math, Economics, and Law.

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Daily Digest - May 20: In a Weak Recovery, Even the Employed Feel Stuck

May 20, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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The Recession’s Effect on Job Churn (St. Louis Fed)

David Wiczer cites Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal's writing on the decline of job-to-job transitions and agrees that workers staying put highlights a weakness in the job market.

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The Recession’s Effect on Job Churn (St. Louis Fed)

David Wiczer cites Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal's writing on the decline of job-to-job transitions and agrees that workers staying put highlights a weakness in the job market.

  • Roosevelt Take: Mike argues that the struggles employed people face in finding work can tell us as much about the economy as the struggles of the unemployed.

Eric Holder, Michelle Obama talk about racism (The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren says Holder and Obama's speeches on the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board show the need for both policy and social change to fight racism.

Americans Owe $1.2 Trillion in Student Loans, Surpassing Credit Card and Auto Loan Debt Totals (NY Daily News)

As Senate Democrats prepare a bill that will allow student loans to be refinanced, Dan Friedman speaks to young people who feel their debt prevents their next steps forward.

  • Roosevelt Take: The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network report "A New Deal for Students" lays out student-crafted policy proposals for solving the student debt crisis.

Thomas Piketty and the End of Our Peaceful Coexistence With Inequality (The Atlantic)

Moisés Naím looks at the rise of the "Piketty effect," which describes how the discussion of inequality and wealth spreads beyond academics into people's daily lives.

Here's The Painful Truth About What It Means To Be 'Working Poor' In America (HuffPo)

Nick Wing and Carly Schwartz introduce a new Huffington Post series on the working poor with quotes from many such workers that lay out the harsh realities they face.

Mortgage, Home-Equity Woes Linger (WSJ)

Underwater mortgages are still holding back the housing market, writes Conor Dougherty. When homeowners can't leave, inexpensive houses don't enter the market.

Credit Suisse Pleads Guilty in Felony Case (NYT)

Ben Protess and Jessica Silver-Greenberg report that this is the first time in two decades that a bank has pled guilty on criminal charges, in this case conspiring to aid tax evasion.

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In Georgia, Lawmakers Taking Pride in Policies That Hurt the Poor

May 16, 2014Andrea Flynn

This post is the final in the Roosevelt Institute's National Women's Health Week series, which will address pressing issues affecting the health and economic security of women and families in the United States. Today, a close look at the state of Georgia, where the legislature is taking active steps against the Affordable Care Act.

This post is the final in the Roosevelt Institute's National Women's Health Week series, which will address pressing issues affecting the health and economic security of women and families in the United States. Today, a close look at the state of Georgia, where the legislature is taking active steps against the Affordable Care Act.

Georgia has taken the lead in the mad dash to thwart the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and prevent poor people from accessing health care. Last week, Governor Nathan Deal signed into law two bills that ensure the state won’t be expanding Medicaid any time soon, and that make it decidedly more difficult for people to gain coverage under the ACA. These laws – a notch in the belt of conservatives preparing for the fall election – compound the social and economic injustices already experienced by many low-income Georgians.

House Bill 990 moves the authority to expand Medicaid out of the Governor’s office and over to lawmakers. In a state where conservative politics run deep, HB 990 is Governor Deal’s clever way of way of ensuring Medicaid expansion will never get passed, and abdicating all responsibility for the health and economic consequences that will surely result. The second bill, HB 943, restricts state and local agencies and their employees from advocating for Medicaid expansion, bans the creation of a state health insurance exchange, and prohibits the University of Georgia from continuing its navigator program once its original federal grant expires in August. The University’s navigators have been working throughout the state – especially in underserved rural areas – to help demystify the ACA, assist individuals in gaining coverage on the national exchange, and help those who already qualify for Medicaid to enroll.

“Someone else will now have to re-invent the wheel and figure out how to get resources to people in rural areas," said Beth Stephens of Georgia Watch, a non-partisan consumer advocacy organization.

Like many other states that refuse to participate in Medicaid expansion, Georgia isn’t faring so well by most socio-economic indicators. The poverty rate, which now hovers around 20 percent, is 50 percent higher than it was in 2000. Nearly two million Georgians do not have health coverage, ranking the state fifth nationally in numbers of uninsured. Close to half of those individuals between the ages 18 and 64 have incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, many of whom would be covered under Medicaid expansion. Georgia has one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates (seven percent) and today the average family makes $6,000 less than it did 10 years ago, when inflation is factored in. Individuals living outside of major cities have few health care options. In recent years eight rural hospitals have closed, leaving residents with scarce health resources and hospital workers without jobs.

To make matters worse, lawmakers in Georgia have been systematically dismantling the state’s social safety net. Of the 300,000 Georgian families living below the poverty line, only 19,000 receive TANF and more than three quarters of those cases involve children only. That means that fewer than seven percent of low-income Georgians are able to get the welfare assistance they badly need. On the same day that Governor Deal signed the aforementioned bills, he also signed HB 772, requiring certain individuals to pass – and foot the bill for – a drug test before receiving welfare and food stamps. That bill is thought to be the nation’s most stringent when it comes to public assistance.

The environment is especially hostile for Georgia’s women, 21 percent of whom live in poverty (33 and 36 percent of Black and Hispanic Georgian women, respectively). More women in Georgia die of pregnancy-related causes than women in all but two other states. The U.S. maternal mortality rate (MMR) is 18.5; that is the number of women who die for every 100,000 births. Georgia’s MMR has more than doubled since 2004 and is now 35.5 (a shocking 63.8 for black women and 24.6 for white women). Expanding Medicaid would extend health coverage to more than 500,000 uninsured Georgians, 342,000 of them women. That coverage would surely save women’s lives.

Expanding Medicaid is the right thing to do, and it makes good economic sense. It would support the development of 70,343 jobs statewide in the next decade. In that time it would bring $33 billion of new federal funding into the state, generating $1.8 billion in new state revenue. Despite all this, and despite the fact that poverty is increasing, access to health care is decreasing, and more women are dying because of pregnancy than in any time in the past 20 years, conservatives in Georgia proudly reject Medicaid expansion.

Grassroots groups in the state are working hard to counter anti-ACA sentiments. SPARK Reproductive Justice Now, an Atlanta-based non-profit that is educating and mobilizing Georgians on issues related to the ACA, released a statement in support of Medicaid expansion immediately after the Supreme Court determined states could opt-out. In addition to hosting press conferences at the capital and participating in public education events, SPARK is empowering young people to collect and tell their own stories – and those of their families – to illustrate the need for improved health access in the state and clear up confusion about how the ACA would benefit various communities. The organization is also collaborating with health navigators, particularly those working in low-income, LGBT, and black communities, to get across the message that all Georgia citizens deserve health security. “We are telling them they shouldn’t have to worry about sacrificing gas, transportation, prescriptions, etc. We are putting it back on our state and our policymakers to make it right for everyone," said Malika Redmond, SPARK’s executive director.  

The majority of Georgians want lawmakers to make it right. Polls show that 59.6 percent disagree with the state’s refusal to participate in expansion. That sentiment is shared by 64.9 percent of women and by 82.9 percent of African-Americans.

Conservative lawmakers don’t seem to care. They are busy patting each other on the back for sticking it to Obama and undermining the ACA. But the ACA isn’t going away. It’s only getting stronger. And the only people conservatives are sticking it to are the poor families in their state that are already reeling from policies that are costing them their health, their happiness, and their lives. 

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.

Banner photo via Flickr.

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To Stop Campus Sexual Assault, We Should Study the Men Responsible

May 13, 2014Andrea FlynnNataya Friedan

This post is the second in the Roosevelt Institute's National Women's Health Week series, which will address pressing issues affecting the health and economic security of women and families in the United States. Today, a suggestion for how the White House's Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault could use research to strengthen prevention efforts.

This post is the second in the Roosevelt Institute's National Women's Health Week series, which will address pressing issues affecting the health and economic security of women and families in the United States. Today, a suggestion for how the White House's Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault could use research to strengthen prevention efforts.

Finally, the national spotlight is focused on the issue of campus sexual assault. Not Alone, the White House’s first report on the topic, is a historic step in acknowledging violations that have long been ignored, mishandled, or silenced by universities and authorities. One in five women on U.S. campuses experiences sexual violence. Not Alone symbolizes President Obama and Vice President Biden’s commitment to reversing that tide.

Not Alone calls for increased prevention efforts, including the sharing of best practices and promoting the intervention of male bystanders. It urges schools to train the officials responsible for investigating and adjudicating assaults as victim advocates. But this isn't just a report: there's also a toolkit to help campuses conduct and evaluate “campus climate surveys” meant to illuminate the dimensions and scope of sexual violence.

Campus climate surveys ask students to anonymously report on topics ranging from their opinions on consent and the role of alcohol to their own encounters with sexual violence. The report calls on colleges and universities to voluntarily conduct the surveys next year, and the administration is exploring legislative or administrative options that would mandate the surveys in 2016.

These surveys are critically valuable and add to the important research done by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on a broad range of sexually violent behaviors, including verbal sexual coercion/sexual pressure. That research – included in the report’s toolkit of resources – shows that between 25 and 60 percent of men report some form of sexual misconduct in their lifetime. It also shows that nearly 80 percent of women who experience rape do so before the age of 25. Campus climate surveys expand on this research and give schools the data they need to institute change.

All of this research is important for understanding the continuum of sexual misconduct and violence. But to truly prevent sexual assault, it seems imperative that we understand the behaviors, triggers, and environments that contribute to these crimes. For that, we need to talk to the men.

When it comes to understanding rape, there is research worth revisiting and repeating: psychologist David Lisak’s study of college men, which found that the majority of campus rapes (and attempted rapes) in the study were committed by a small group of serial offenders. The study – referenced in the White House’s original Call to Action – challenges the myth that campus rape is somehow less real or serious than rapes that occur in other settings. Lisak’s findings disrupt the notion that campus rape is an issue of drunken confusion, or naivety about consent, rather than a violent act of will and force.

Lisak’s study is distinct in that it suggests that a small group of individuals are responsible for the majority of sexual assaults on college campuses. His research was conducted over eight years with nearly 2,000 students at a university in Boston. Unlike other studies, it asked men about their actions, not just their opinions. Lisak’s surveys asked participants to (confidentially) report on a range of their own experiences with interpersonal violence and sexual behavior. 6.4 percent of the participants admitted to actions that legally constitute rape or attempted rape. This small group was responsible for 85 percent of the study’s reported acts of interpersonal violence. Two-thirds of that group admitted to being serial offenders who committed, on average, six rapes each and those offenders committed more than 90 percent of the study’s admitted rapes and attempted rapes.

The study concludes that the campus rape statistics match up with data on convicted rapists. The admitted rapists' answers to questions about their viewpoints on women, sex, and violence closely mirror those of convicted rapists as well. Campus rapists, it turns out, aren't very different from any other rapists.

The study had a small sample size, which makes it difficult to generalize its findings to the larger population. That's why repeating the research on a larger scale would be so valuable: confirming the patterns and indicators of sexual violence could enable administrators to create and implement more effective prevention programs. Not Alone falls just shy of calling for such research, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use this moment as an opportunity to be more expansive in our thinking and questioning of this important issue. Not Alone clearly emphasizes that education is not the only form of prevention: proactive investigation is needed to disrupt patterns of violence. Incorporating more male-focused lines of questioning into the campus climate surveys or conducting separate surveys similar to Lisak’s would allow administrators to focus not only on the experiences of survivors but also on the men who perpetrate these crimes.

The White House – and the activists who have bravely spoken out – has changed the conversation from one that historically blames the victim to one that calls on men to actively participate in ending sexual violence. As the report correctly states: Not all men are perpetrators of sexual assault. But most perpetrators are men, and a deeper understanding of those perpetrators' behavior will help universities build systems of accountability. Right now, too many institutions are doing too little to prevent sexual violence. Given time, resources, and the right kind of research, we can change that.  

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.

Nataya Friedan is the Program Manager for the Roosevelt Institute's Women Rising initiative.

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Daily Digest - May 5: Yes, the Haves Still Have Most of It

May 5, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

Is Net Neutrality Dead? (Bill Moyers)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford says FCC chairman Tom Wheeler is prioritizing political expediency over a real solution to the problem of net neutrality, such as declaring the Internet a utility.

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

Is Net Neutrality Dead? (Bill Moyers)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford says FCC chairman Tom Wheeler is prioritizing political expediency over a real solution to the problem of net neutrality, such as declaring the Internet a utility.

Is Everyone a Little Bit Racist? (All In with Chris Hayes)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren discusses the ways that racial attitudes, which are different from racist behaviors, impact policy. 

Inequality Has Been Going On Forever ... but That Doesn’t Mean It’s Inevitable (NYT)

Inequality could be turned back, writes David Leonhardt and improving education might be an easier route than French economist Thomas Piketty's much-discussed suggestion of a global wealth tax.

Why the Jobs Report Isn’t All Good (The Nation)

George Zornick says that until the jobs report from the survey of households is just as positive as the one from the survey of businesses, Americans shouldn't be assured there's been economic growth.

Mary Jo White Doesn't Scare Anybody (TNR)

Alec MacGillis writes that while President Obama framed his choice for new chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission as a push back on Wall Street, in fact White's regulatory approach has been lacking.

New on Next New Deal

The Minimum Wage Index: Why the GOP's Filibuster Will Hurt Workers

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch lays out the numbers that show how raising the minimum wage is necessary for today's economy.

Cliven Bundy's Window into the War on the Poor

Cliven Bundy's description of the social safety net as a form of slavery reflects a common conservative ideology of poverty as personal failing, writes Roosevelt Institute Fellow Andrea Flynn. That framework enables the GOP's push to dismantle the safety net.

No More Sterlings: It's Time for Communities to Take Ownership of Their Sports Teams

Alan Smith, Roosevelt Institute's Associate Director of Networked Initiatives, writes that a fan-owned Los Angeles Clippers could be a model of how a sports team could truly support its community.as an anchor institution. 

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Doesn't All Work Deserve Dignity?

Apr 29, 2014Lydia Bowers

A subway ad provides a reminder of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's second bill of rights, which called for a living wage and access to leisure.

A subway ad provides a reminder of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's second bill of rights, which called for a living wage and access to leisure.

I recently saw an advertisement for Grubhub on the New York City subway. For the unfamiliar, Grubhub is a food delivery website used to place orders online. Grubhub focuses its ads on creative reasons you should order delivery tonight from “You refer to your oven as Manhattan Mini Storage” to “Your friends in the Midwest share photos of their kids. You share photos of dinner”. Grubhub has purchased enough ad space in the NYC subway system to make their ads fixtures of NYC commutes.

This ad was different. “Sure, you could go out for dinner. And walk in the snow. Uphill. Both ways. Someone else can do it for you! Order In. You Deserve It.” The case for why you should order delivery tonight is still there (it’s cold, it's uphill!) but there’s more. Pay someone else to deal with that unpleasantness, you deserve it! In our new society, where 1% of the population controls more wealth than the bottom 80% combined, dignity comes from money and, more importantly, what that money can pay others to do for you.

Am I making too much of one ad? Possibly – but it’s emblematic of widespread and growing issues. Look at recent examples of fast food restaurants underpaying their employees or denying them benefits while concurrently paying CEOs obese incomes. Look at Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe being sued by their employees for colluding to keep wages low and maximize corporate profits. The idea that a fair day's work equals a fair day's pay is eroding at every level of our society, except for those controlling it all at the very top. We have become a society where we are sorted into those who deserve fair pay, benefits, and empathy, and those who don’t. And at the end of a long day, the deserving few deserve to have someone being paid exploitative wages (the average delivery worker in NYC is paid minimum wage at $8.00 an hour or roughly $15,300 a year) bring sushi to their front door.

Am I advocating the end of delivery? Of course not. What I’m asking for is a restoration of the basic social contract, where we agree as a society to value all our workers and their right to happiness. This is not a new idea. In his 1944 State of the Union address Franklin Delano Roosevelt advocated for a second bill of rights. He argued that the political rights guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights had “proved inadequate to assure us equality in the purist of happiness.” In this new version, Americans would have the right to employment with a living wage, housing and food, and clothing and leisure, among other things.

What an incredible concept. That beyond simply feeding and housing ourselves, Americans should have the right to leisure – to enjoyment and happiness. That while there will always be delivery people and fast food workers, we all deserve to pay rent off the earnings of a single full-time job. But this is not an issue only impacting minimum wage workers in America. The Apple collusion case referenced above and recent reports that the American middle class is no longer the richest in the world indicate a pervasive mindset has taken root in America, that only those at the very top deserve anything at all. The rest of us can fight for what they leave behind.

The solution? Restore the basic social contract and raise minimum wage. Rather than continuing to argue for the failed policies that wrongly argue equality trickles from the top down, acknowledge that wealth flows when we all do better. Raising our most vulnerable workers above the barely-scraping-by level of living betters our society as a whole, from both economic and social justice standpoints. The recent increase in the New York state minimum wage and political will at the national level for a federal increase are good first steps. But until politics prove otherwise, I will continue to overreact at billboards that reinforce the concept that any workers in our society are "undeserving."

Lydia Bowers is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's National Operations Strategist.

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Paul Ryan and the Voluntarism Fantasy

Apr 28, 2014Mike Konczal

When I wrote a long piece about the Voluntarism Fantasy at Democracy Journal, several people accused me of attacking a strawman. My argument was that there's an influential, yet never clearly articulated, position on the conservative right that we jettison much of the federal government's role in providing for economic security. In response, private charities, churches and "civil society" will rush in and do a better job. Who, complained conservatives, actually argues this?

Well, here's McKay Coppins with a quite flattering 7,000 word piece on how Paul Ryan has a "newfound passion for the poor." What is the animating core and idea of his new passion?

Ryan’s broad vision for curing American poverty is one that conservatives have been championing for the last half-century, more or less. He imagines a diverse network of local churches, charities, and service organizations doing much of the work the federal government took on in the 20th century. Rather than supplying jobless Americans with a never-ending stream of unemployment checks, for example, Ryan thinks the federal government should funnell resources toward community-based work programs like Pastor Webster’s.

Many are rightfully pointing out that this doesn't square with his budget, which plans to eliminate a lot of spending on the poor in order to fund tax cuts for the rich. But in the same way that budget shenanigans like dynamic scoring is supposed to make his numbers work, there's an invisible work of charity that will simply fill in however much that is cut from the federal budget.
 
There's a dead giveaway here. Note the "in the 20th century" rather than the normal "since the War on Poverty" as when things went wrong. Ryan doesn't think the War on Poverty is a problem, or doesn't just think that. He thinks the evolution of the state during the entire 20th century is the problem, and wants to return to the freer and better 19th century.
 
But as I emphasized in the piece, this idea is not true in history, theory or practice. The state has always played a role in providing economic security through things like poorhouses and soldier pensions well before the New Deal. When the Great Depression happened, the old system collapsed. Service organizations called on the government to take over things like old-age pensions, unemployment insurance and income support because they realized they couldn't do it themselves. Freed of the heavy lifting of these major pieces of social insurance, they could focus in a more nimble manner on individual and targeted needs.
 
And the reasons this doesn't work out are quite clear - charity is uncoordinated, very vulnerable to stress (charitable giving fell in the recession just as it was most needed), and tied to the whims and interests of the rich. And charitable organizations aren't calling for the Ryan Budget, and they don't think that they'll run better and with better resources if Ryan's cuts happen. They know firsthand they won't have the resources to balance out the gigantic increase in need that would result.
 
(Elizabeth Stoker has more on attempts to link this this fantasy up with Christianity broadly and Catholic subsidiarity specifically.)
 
Ideas have consequences. The fact that Ryan's are fundamentally flawed on so many levels will have consequences too for the poor if they come to pass.
 
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When I wrote a long piece about the Voluntarism Fantasy at Democracy Journal, several people accused me of attacking a strawman. My argument was that there's an influential, yet never clearly articulated, position on the conservative right that we jettison much of the federal government's role in providing for economic security. In response, private charities, churches and "civil society" will rush in and do a better job. Who, complained conservatives, actually argues this?

Well, here's McKay Coppins with a quite flattering 7,000 word piece on how Paul Ryan has a "newfound passion for the poor." What is the animating core and idea of his new passion?

Ryan’s broad vision for curing American poverty is one that conservatives have been championing for the last half-century, more or less. He imagines a diverse network of local churches, charities, and service organizations doing much of the work the federal government took on in the 20th century. Rather than supplying jobless Americans with a never-ending stream of unemployment checks, for example, Ryan thinks the federal government should funnell resources toward community-based work programs like Pastor Webster’s.

Many are rightfully pointing out that this doesn't square with his budget, which plans to eliminate a lot of spending on the poor in order to fund tax cuts for the rich. But in the same way that budget shenanigans like dynamic scoring is supposed to make his numbers work, there's an invisible work of charity that will simply fill in however much that is cut from the federal budget.
 
There's a dead giveaway here. Note the "in the 20th century" rather than the normal "since the War on Poverty" as when things went wrong. Ryan doesn't think the War on Poverty is a problem, or doesn't just think that. He thinks the evolution of the state during the entire 20th century is the problem, and wants to return to the freer and better 19th century.
 
But as I emphasized in the piece, this idea is not true in history, theory or practice. The state has always played a role in providing economic security through things like poorhouses and soldier pensions well before the New Deal. When the Great Depression happened, the old system collapsed. Service organizations called on the government to take over things like old-age pensions, unemployment insurance and income support because they realized they couldn't do it themselves. Freed of the heavy lifting of these major pieces of social insurance, they could focus in a more nimble manner on individual and targeted needs.
 
And the reasons this doesn't work out are quite clear - charity is uncoordinated, very vulnerable to stress (charitable giving fell in the recession just as it was most needed), and tied to the whims and interests of the rich. And charitable organizations aren't calling for the Ryan Budget, and they don't think that they'll run better and with better resources if Ryan's cuts happen. They know firsthand they won't have the resources to balance out the gigantic increase in need that would result.
 
(Elizabeth Stoker has more on attempts to link this this fantasy up with Christianity broadly and Catholic subsidiarity specifically.)
 
Ideas have consequences. The fact that Ryan's are fundamentally flawed on so many levels will have consequences too for the poor if they come to pass.
 
Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
  

 

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Daily Digest - April 21: In Minimum Wage Fight, Localities May Have Maximum Impact

Apr 21, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Minimum Wage Debate Goes Local (San Francisco Chronicle)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Annette Bernhardt and Ken Jacobs consider why the minimum wage debate has such momentum at a local level. They see this as a return to states and cities being laboratories of policy innovation.

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Minimum Wage Debate Goes Local (San Francisco Chronicle)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Annette Bernhardt and Ken Jacobs consider why the minimum wage debate has such momentum at a local level. They see this as a return to states and cities being laboratories of policy innovation.

The Link Between One Website and Hate Crimes (Melissa Harris Perry)

In a discussion on domestic terror and hate, Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren suggests that the way we live, segregated by race and class, makes it even harder for Americans to embrace difference.

The Biggest Predictor of How Long You’ll Be Unemployed Is When You Lose Your Job (Five Thirty Eight)

Ben Casselman finds that the unemployment rate at the time when a worker loses her job is the strongest indicator of whether she will end up among the long-term unemployed.

  • Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal builds on this data to explain why the long-term unemployed aren't necessarily weak employees.

Student Debt Holds Back Many Would-Be Home Buyers (LA Times)

The share of first-time home buyers has dropped. Tim Logan ties that to the vast increase in student loans over the past decade, which hinders would-be buyers from getting mortgages.

How Payday Lenders Prey Upon the Poor — and the Courts Don’t Help (NYT)

Since AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, which limited class action lawsuits, people trapped in cycles of predatory payday lending have even fewer routes out, writes Emily Bazelon.

Beyond the Laffer Curve — The Case for Confiscatory Taxation (Vox)

Matt Yglesias notes that many of our taxes aim at changing behavior, not increasing revenue. Perhaps higher taxes on inheritances or very big salaries could discourage the economic activity that promotes inequality.

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