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

Mar 4, 2014Janaè BonsuJohnaè Strong

Chicago should seek new methods of violence prevention that strengthen neighborhoods and focus on healing, because these methods are more effective and more cost-effective.

Chicago should seek new methods of violence prevention that strengthen neighborhoods and focus on healing, because these methods are more effective and more cost-effective.

It’s no secret that gun violence has long been a major problem in Chicago. An astronomical number of lives have been lost, the social fabric of communities has been compromised, and as a result, both morgues and prisons have continued to fill up. That gun violence is a problem is something on which everyone – liberals and conservatives alike – can agree. The grounds get muddy, however, in identifying and implementing an effective solution.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his administration have been pushing for a more “tough on crime” strategy to reduce gun violence in Chicago, with mandatory minimum sentencing for illegal gun possession. The original proposed Senate Bill 1342 (now House Bill 5672) included a minimum sentence of one to three years for any person caught with an illegal weapon. ‘Gang affiliation’ – which is determined at the discretion of a judge – would lead to an escalated minimum. In addition, there are currently five new bills (HB 3770 - 3774) that have been introduced by Rep. Michael J. Zalewski (D) to the Illinois General Assembly that may very well have been drafted and introduced with good intentions to deter gun violence and other crime, and keep those who engage in it off of the street. However, components of the House package are unduly punitive. For example, HB 3770 raises the Unlawful Use of a Weapon (UUW) charge to an Aggravated UUW for an individual who has committed a forcible felony as a juvenile. Thus, instead of facing a misdemeanor charge with up to one year of jail time, a defendant faces a class 4 felony that carries a sentence of up to three years of prison time, plus a fine of up to $25,000, because of a crime committed in their youth. Taken together, HB 5672 and similar legislation pose a mirrored threat that will disproportionately affect communities of color and further depress local and state budgets by funneling much needed resources into the city jails and state prisons.

A substantial body of research shows that mandatory minimums have little to no effect on crime, which even its proponents seem to accept: they expect these laws to reduce arrest rates for violent crime by only 0.6%. Aside from that, more incarceration could produce more problems than it actually solves. Many Chicago communities of color grapple with high unemployment and neighborhood instability. More incarceration would further exacerbate these issues at a steep price. In Illinois, if mandatory minimum legislation such as HB 5672 does pass, it will likely cost Illinois close to $2 billion over 10 years, and add to an overcrowded prison system. And more money for “corrections” leaves less for interventions that actually work.

In Chicago, community members and activist organizations that are no longer willing to watch the silent war against minority communities are contesting these bills through direct action campaigns and policy advocacy. These organizations include, but are not limited to the Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100), Community Renewal Society, and Project Nia. Mirroring the progressive direction of the Obama Administration and other politicians including Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rand Paul (R-KY) by moving away from mandatory minimums, these organizations are advocating for funds allocated to subtractive policies to instead be used for empirically based preventative solutions to violence in Chicago communities. Two major initiatives in the works to prevent violence are 1) the expansion of youth employment in communities especially affected by violence as a preventive measure and 2) the implementation of restorative justice peace hubs as an alternative to incarceration.

BYP100 and Project Nia are working towards proposing a youth jobs bill that may look similar to the National Youth Administration (part of the Works Progress Administration during the New Deal). The bill will focus on scaling up existing employment and training programs that have been proven effective such as One Summer Chicago Plus as well as dropout and violence prevention programs such as Becoming A Man (BAM). The bill will push for the reallocation of resources to help communities most impacted by violence implement various proven and promising employment and mentoring interventions across the entire state of Illinois. These programs reduce gun violence and strengthen communities economically and socially.

In addition to the push for youth employment, Community Renewal Society is currently spearheading the Reclaim Campaign, an initiative that urges the Cook County justice system to fund community based restorative justice hubs and mental health and drug rehabilitation programs through money saved from the release of Cook County nonviolent detainees. The campaign advocates alleviating jail overcrowding and reversing the trend of warehousing individuals who pose little threat to public safety by relying more on release with personal recognizance and electronic monitoring. Less bodies in the jails can free up dollars to fund the peace hubs, which are proposed to act as a coordinating referral center in the community where offenders, victims of crime, family members, and other impacted residents can appropriately handle conflict without further violence. The restorative justice approach offers a promising alternative to retributive justice that we have seen fail us for decades.

These solutions outline a need for economically just measures and attention to community healing and restoration over imprisonment. Most importantly, these solutions begin by looking within the community and empower people to change the policies governing their homes and neighborhoods, which is the best way to achieve real social change.

Janaè Bonsu is a Lead Coordinator for the Chicago City Network of Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline and a Master’s student at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration.

Johnaè Strong is a Master’s student in the University of Chicago Urban Teacher Education Program (UTEP) and Lead Facilitator of the Chicago City Network of Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline. 

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Venezuela: The Crisis We Fuel With Our Apathy

Feb 28, 2014Leslie Bull

When the mainstream media ignores crises abroad, the crisis doesn’t stop or disappear, and that lack of attention can shift a situation from bad to worse.

When the mainstream media ignores crises abroad, the crisis doesn’t stop or disappear, and that lack of attention can shift a situation from bad to worse.

Given the recent revolutionary events in Ukraine, it is understandable that much of American media attention on foreign politics is concentrated on that country, and that country alone. But it is important to remember that our myopic focus on just one world event at a time comes with a price: sometimes the other crises in the world that go ignored are actually made even worse because of it. We sometimes forget the power that just paying attention to a crisis can have – without it, those perpetrating the crimes can rest assured that the international community’s eye is elsewhere, and can behave with impunity. In the case of the current unrest in Venezuela, the price of that apathy might just be my friend’s life.

That friend is Carlos Vecchio, National Political Coordinator of the Venezuelan opposition party Voluntad Popular (VP). I met Carlos when he came to Yale University just a few months ago to start his term as a Yale World Fellow. While he was here, he spoke passionately about his tireless efforts to promote democracy in Venezuela; his enthusiasm and depth of knowledge were infectious. As a recent college grad, I was by far the youngest and least experienced of the staff on the program and he always made time for me and treated me with respect and kindness. He reached across campus to students, faculty and other Fellows – many of whom have rallied around him in this time of crisis – with his pure love of his country and genuine respect for democratic ideals. And now, just two months after returning to Venezuela, he is facing a warrant for his arrest.

Venezuela is in the midst of game-changing anti-government protests by students and opposition party supporters (many led by Voluntad Popular members), calling for improved security, an end to shortages of basic goods, and better freedom of speech. The Venezuelan government has responded with a violent crackdown on protestors, raids on VP’s political offices, and persecution of VP leaders, including Carlos. Following the detention of top VP leader Leopoldo López, who was taken into custody on February 18, Carlos now serves as the de facto leader of the VP party, making him a likely government target. Carlos’ safety is in serious jeopardy, and he is currently in hiding with limited access to communication. Unlike López, he is not an internationally recognized figure, so media outlets outside of Venezuela have yet to report on his situation. Amnesty International has released an alert specifically naming Carlos as a government target, but his relative anonymity will allow government forces the space and ability to do whatever they please without fear of international repercussion. 

This is the real, human result of what may seem like harmless apathy on our part. Leaders who want to stifle political opposition and media freedom through extreme or violent means are free to do so, and those working to effect positive democratic change are sacrificed because we can’t be bothered to pay attention. As Francisco Toro, of the blog Caracas Chronicles, put it best:

“Venezuela’s domestic media blackout is joined by a parallel international blackout, one born not of censorship but of disinterest and inertia. It’s hard to express the sense of helplessness you get looking through these pages and finding nothing. Venezuela burns; nobody cares.”

We cannot continue to choose our apathy over people like Carlos, who are putting their lives on the line for the sake of a functioning democracy. Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has spoken out about Carlos’ persecution, and a few news outlets are picking up the story, but there is a long way to go if we are to ensure Carlos’ safety. Please share Carlos’ story far and wide, urge your representatives to speak out as well, and help us show the Venezuelan government that someone is paying attention.

Leslie Bull is a former Senior Fellow for Defense and Diplomacy with the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network. She is currently a Woodbridge Fellow at the Office of International Affairs and the World Fellows Program at Yale University. All opinions expressed herein are her own, and not those of Yale University or its administration.

Photo via Flickr.

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

Feb 28, 2014Roosevelt Institute

Black History Month is coming to a close, but the need for discussion and reflection on the impact of race in American life continues. We’ve asked people from across the Roosevelt Institute to provide their suggestions on books, films, poems, and articles to keep the conversation going into March and beyond.

Felicia Wong, President & CEO, Roosevelt Institute

Black History Month is coming to a close, but the need for discussion and reflection on the impact of race in American life continues. We’ve asked people from across the Roosevelt Institute to provide their suggestions on books, films, poems, and articles to keep the conversation going into March and beyond.

Felicia Wong, President & CEO, Roosevelt Institute

Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement, A lyrical, personal, heartfelt memoir of the Civil Rights Movement's origins, tensions, and triumphs, from John Lewis, one of its greatest heroes and a Roosevelt Institute Freedom of Speech laureate (1999).

The Men We Reaped. A recent memoir by National Book Award-winning novelist Jesmyn Ward, The Men We Reaped tells Ward's own story, and the story of being young and black in the rural south, by recounting the lives and deaths of four young black men - Ward's brother, cousins, friends - in DeLisle, Mississippi. 

Etana Jacobi, Training Strategist, Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network

One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life – A Story of Race and Family Secrets, an excellent read that explores passing, racial identity, and familial ties through a well-written and entertaining story of the author's discovery of her father's secret black roots in her white Connecticut world.

David Palmer, VP and National Director, Four Freedoms Center, Roosevelt Institute

Roots: The Saga of an American Family, by Alex Haley. This book gave me a deep -- and valuable -- sense that so many black people in America today carry an incredible family history of survival in the face of unimaginable hardship, and that slavery wasn't so long ago.

Malcolm X, A Life of Reinvention, by Manning Marable, for those who have read Haley’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X and want more.

Joelle Gamble, National Field Strategist, Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network

A Dream Deferred,” by Langston Hughes, and “On the Killing of Jordan Davis by Michael Dunn,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

In celebrating Black History Month, it is critical to not only celebrate our past struggles but also to reflect on them in the context of our current ones. Hughes comments on the difficult-to-obtain aspirations of oppressed people: aspirations of human dignity, fair treatment, genuine opportunity, and so on. Coates highlights poignantly in his piece just how far away from reality those aspirations still are. In U.S. society, there is still a gross undervaluation of black life.

Dante Barry, Engagement Editor, Roosevelt Institute

Obama Will Announce Initiative to Empower Young Black Men. This new initiative launched by the White House and President Obama critically looks at some of the social and economic systemic challenges affecting young men of color. The school to prison pipeline is a system in which contributes to the disproportionate rate of Blacks and Latinos incarcerated every year. This is an important new project but we must also recognize how the system also disproportionately affect women and trans* people of color.   

Freedom Summer: The Savage Season of 1964, by Bruce Watson. This is a thrilling story about a chapter in the 1960s civil rights movement where 700+ young people came to a segegrated Mississippi to register Black voters and educate Black children. On the very first night, three Freedom Summer volunteers disappeared and thought to have been murdered by the Ku Klux Klan. The Freedom Summer Project of 1964, organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, still remains a defining moment in our history for the struggle against domination and oppression.

Winston Lofton, National Leadership Strategist, Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network

Eyes on the Prize. The Civil Rights Movement is a formative period in the Black Freedom Struggle in the United States and has a lot to teach all of us about what it takes to strengthen democracy. Eyes on the Prize is a compelling and comprehensive look at the movement, and is a perfect entry point for anyone interested in the Black American experience in the mid-20th Century.

Black Power Mixtape. Black Power Mixtape provides a rousing portrait of another interesting period in Black history, the early post-Civil Rights period of 1967-1975.  It's a really fascinating amalgamation of perspectives, from those of the Swedish journalists who first shot the footage to the Black leaders whose speeches and interviews are featured in the film in their own words, to the current-day Black leaders from Erykah Badu to Danny Glover who helped bring about and shaped the film. 

Rachelle Olden, National Director, Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline

The Mis-Education of the Negro“No man knows what he can do until he tries.” This book emphasizes the instruction, research and writing of Black History. Though published in 1933, it still has meaning and direct implications for today's consideration. 

Too Poor for Pop Culture. This article is a creative and real look into the lives of real people affected by poverty and broken systems. The story highlights how communities take care of each other and see passed each other hardships and flaws. Pop culture serves no purpose in their lives but is rather a privilege that others enjoy.

Taylor Jo Isenberg, Vice President of Networks, Roosevelt Institute

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Provides insightful and challenging perspectives on race in America from an "outsider" viewpoint along with a powerful and entertaining narrative on love, place, and identity. 

Blood Done Sign My Name by Timothy Tyson. A deeply stirring and troubling story about a small town in 1970s North Carolina that experienced a belated Civil Rights Movement forged by murder, upheaval, and a painful history. 

Rachel Goldfarb, Communications Associate, Roosevelt Institute

"Whitewashing Reproductive Rights: How Black Activists Get Erased." Renee Bracy Sherman’s article calls out the ways that black support of abortion has been erased over the years, pointing out how reproductive freedom and reproductive justice have been key elements of revolutionary politics from slavery to today. 

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The Politics of Children

Feb 19, 2014Mike Konczal

Not the politics of having children, but the politics of actual children. Long-winded, but three things.

One. Katie Baker has written some of the best things I’ve read this month, but one thing stands out: Here to Make Friends. It’s about the difficulty reality show television producers have in making children compete against each other for prizes, as the kids naturally want to cooperate.

“In the beginning, older Kid Nation contestants helped younger, weaker kids out and the dusty air was rife with auspicious anti-grownup sentiment … host Jonathan Karsh, a fully grown man, showed up halfway through the first episode and announced that the kids would be separated into a socioeconomic hierarchy … From then on, the kids were more interested in climbing the ranks of the pseudo-feudal class structure than subverting it.

[Although the] MasterChef Junior … structure was ultimately every-kid-for-themselves, the contestants still found ways to support one another by giving each other hugs and high-fives, tearing up when their new friends lost, and celebrating their competitor’s victories.”

It then goes into the Hunger Games. Definitely worth a read.

Two. From New York Daily News, 4 and 5-year-olds are taking standardized math tests. “Teachers said kindergartners are bewildered. ‘Sharing is not caring anymore; developmentally, it’s not the right thing to do,’ said one Queens teacher, whose pupils kept trying to help one another on the math test she gave for the first time this fall.”

Sarah Jaffe likes using this story as a good example of what people mean by neoliberalism subjectivity creation. There’s something awful in a teacher having to break up 5 year olds trying to help each other learn and overcome obstacles, saying that they can’t help other, but instead should be looking to compete and win.

Three. In early 2006, I decided I was going to visit a variety of churches across Chicago, both to see the ceremonies and as an architecture tour. I grew up attending a Catholic Church with an aggressively modern design that shocked the Poles in Chicago’s Gage Park when it arrived, so I always had a fascination with church architecture.

One stop I wanted to make was at First Unitarian Church of Chicago, in a gothic Hyde Park building. I checked their schedule and Melissa Harris-Lacewell was giving a talk on “The Ethics of Getting Away With It.” ("How can our diverse religious and humanist traditions help us to understnad why bad acts so often seem to bring prosperity and reward?") I had seen her give an interesting talk on public access when my DVR box recorded that instead of the normally scheduled Chic-a-go-go, and I was intrigued. (Harris-Lacewell is now Melissa Harris-Perry, of the weekend show on MSNBC. I debated trying to bring this story up during commercial when I was on that show, but thought better of it.)

Before the ceremony, the children in the audience were given a bunch of pieces of wrapped candy and told that they could pass them out or do whatever they want with them. And the kids handed them so that each person in the church got some. They didn’t stockpile them, or only pass them out to their friends, but ensured that there was something for everyone. A basic distributional concern that society would eventually try to remove from them.

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:

  

Not the politics of having children, but the politics of actual children. Long-winded, but three things.

One. Katie Baker has written some of the best things I’ve read this month, but one thing stands out: Here to Make Friends. It’s about the difficulty reality show television producers have in making children compete against each other for prizes, as the kids naturally want to cooperate.

“In the beginning, older Kid Nation contestants helped younger, weaker kids out and the dusty air was rife with auspicious anti-grownup sentiment … host Jonathan Karsh, a fully grown man, showed up halfway through the first episode and announced that the kids would be separated into a socioeconomic hierarchy … From then on, the kids were more interested in climbing the ranks of the pseudo-feudal class structure than subverting it.

[Although the] MasterChef Junior … structure was ultimately every-kid-for-themselves, the contestants still found ways to support one another by giving each other hugs and high-fives, tearing up when their new friends lost, and celebrating their competitor’s victories.”

It then goes into the Hunger Games. Definitely worth a read.

Two. From New York Daily News, 4 and 5-year-olds are taking standardized math tests. “Teachers said kindergartners are bewildered. ‘Sharing is not caring anymore; developmentally, it’s not the right thing to do,’ said one Queens teacher, whose pupils kept trying to help one another on the math test she gave for the first time this fall.”

Sarah Jaffe likes using this story as a good example of what people mean by neoliberalism subjectivity creation. There’s something awful in a teacher having to break up 5 year olds trying to help each other learn and overcome obstacles, saying that they can’t help other, but instead should be looking to compete and win.

Three. In early 2006, I decided I was going to visit a variety of churches across Chicago, both to see the ceremonies and as an architecture tour. I grew up attending a Catholic Church with an aggressively modern design that shocked the Poles in Chicago’s Gage Park when it arrived, so I always had a fascination with church architecture.

One stop I wanted to make was at First Unitarian Church of Chicago, in a gothic Hyde Park building. I checked their schedule and Melissa Harris-Lacewell was giving a talk on “The Ethics of Getting Away With It.” ("How can our diverse religious and humanist traditions help us to understnad why bad acts so often seem to bring prosperity and reward?") I had seen her give an interesting talk on public access when my DVR box recorded that instead of the normally scheduled Chic-a-go-go, and I was intrigued. (Harris-Lacewell is now Melissa Harris-Perry, of the weekend show on MSNBC. I debated trying to bring this story up during commercial when I was on that show, but thought better of it.)

Before the ceremony, the children in the audience were given a bunch of pieces of wrapped candy and told that they could pass them out or do whatever they want with them. And the kids handed them so that each person in the church got some. They didn’t stockpile them, or only pass them out to their friends, but ensured that there was something for everyone. A basic distributional concern that society would eventually try to remove from them.

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:

  

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AOL's CEO Proves Women and Children Make Easy Scapegoats in the Workplace

Feb 14, 2014Andrea Flynn

The law has put maternity care on an equal footing with other health benefits for decades -- but some executives still haven't caught up.

The law has put maternity care on an equal footing with other health benefits for decades -- but some executives still haven't caught up.

AOL CEO Tim Armstrong recently ignited a firestorm of criticism when he announced the company would be restructuring its retirement benefits. Armstrong explained that the financial burden of Obamacare and the deliveries of two “distressed babies”, which cost the company $1 million each, had forced the company to reduce 401(k) matching contributions:

We had to decide, do we pass the $7.1 million of Obamacare costs to our employees? Or do we try to eat as much of that as possible and cut other benefits? …Two things that happened in 2012. We had two AOL-ers that had distressed babies that were born that we paid a million dollars each to make sure those babies were OK in general. And those are the things that add up into our benefits cost.

Sorry, AOL employees: you can either get your expensive babies or your retirement benefits, but you can’t get both.

Armstrong has since issued a public apology and, amidst uproar from his employees, reversed the benefits decision. But his remarks remain significant, illustrating the readiness of employers to use maternity costs and the new health law as scapegoats for other business decisions that affect company profits. His comments also reflect the extent to which pregnancy, childbirth, and childcare are considered lower priorities in the workplace than other health benefits.

In an era of ever-rising health costs, it is certainly reasonable for AOL to seek ways to reduce health spending. But why single out premature births instead of, say, cancer or diabetes cases? Apparently in American corporate culture maternity coverage is still considered a “bonus” benefit that employees should feel lucky to have. You’d think this wouldn’t be the case at AOL, whose decade-old Well Baby program provides education and support for employees throughout the pre-natal and post-partum stages. Armstrong’s comments run counter to AOL’s public persona of being a company truly invested in the health and wellness of its parents and their families.

Maternity coverage should be considered a routine component of employee benefits, especially since they have been mandated in employer health plans for more than three decades. In 1978, Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) – an amendment to the 1964 Civil Rights Act – in an effort to end pregnancy-based discrimination in the workplace. Benefits required by the PDA are both ethically sound and financially prudent. Research has shown that every dollar spent on prenatal care saves employers $3.33 in postnatal care expenses and $4.63 in long-term morbidity costs.

Based on Armstrong’s comments one might assume $1 million births a commonplace occurrence, but they aren’t. It’s true that one in every eight infants in the United States is born pre-term, but the average cost of care for the majority of those babies doesn’t come close to seven figures. Approximately 70 percent of infants admitted to the NICU stay for longer than 20 days, which typically costs between $40,000 and $80,000. The high costs associated with the two pre-term births to which Anderson refers are not the norm.

Why should the economic security of employees be first on the chopping block? Armstrong might have been a bit more introspective before publicly pointing his finger at his employees’ pre-term babies. After all, shortly before his gaffe went viral, he was in the harsh glare of the media spotlight for the overwhelming failure of Patch, a media venture he championed that lost AOL $300 million (last month the company cut its losses and sold its majority stakes in the site).  Two million dollars in NICU expenses seems quite reasonable by comparison.  

AOL, like many large companies, is self-insured.  As such, it directly pays employee health costs and assumes that the risk of catastrophic health events is worth the expanded choices in health benefits and the increased savings that results when income from premiums exceeds health costs. It’s unfair for companies to sacrifice the economic security of their employees when those bets don’t pay off.

It is simply dishonest to lay the blame for such losses of maternity care and Obamacare expenses. After all, the new law will improve the health of employees and generally lower employer costs in the long run by mandating the full coverage of family planning, women’s preventive health care, and extended coverage for children of employees. These measures will reduce unplanned and mistimed pregnancies (which still account for nearly half of all U.S. pregnancies) and enable women and their families to prevent and treat health conditions long before they become emergencies.

We must not regard maternity coverage as a bonus benefit. It is indeed a benefit central to employee health coverage and essential to the economic security and overall wellbeing of American workers and their families. The inherent value in such coverage was enshrined in laws passed more than 30 years ago, and has been reaffirmed by Obamacare. It’s long past time for executives like Armstrong to live and speak those same values when making decisions that affect the health and security of their employees. 

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. She researches and writes about access to reproductive health care in the United States. You can follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.

 

Images via Thinkstock

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Conservatives Concerned About the CBO and the Dignity of Work Should Consider a Higher Minimum Wage

Feb 13, 2014Mike Konczal

It’s a shame that Ron Unz’s conservative case for a higher minimum wage gets caught up in the debate over immigration politics, because the arguments are broader and more fascinating, and incredibly important to have as part of the debate. This is especially true in light of last week’s CBO report, which has sent conservatives running to the barricades over the impact of Obamacare on waged work in this country. The conservative case for a minimum wage would address the two main concerns the right has displayed on this topic.

Broadly speaking, as summarized by Josh Barro here, there are two separate elements of the conservative take on Obamacare and the CBO’s findings. The first is that it allows people to break “job lock” and leave the labor market. This means there are fewer people working, which concerns conservatives because, as Ross Douthat put it, paid wage labor is “essential to dignity, mobility and social equality,” and they “see its decline as something to be fiercely resisted.” [1]

The second is that, because of the subsidies that are given to low-wage workers, these workers face a higher marginal tax rate. If there are subsidies for low-wage workers, as those workers make more money those subsidies are phased out. The fact that they are losing money while earning more money, or that a higher income means a smaller subsidy, functions like a tax. And this means that workers will work a bit less. Liberals in general don’t like this (though they do like that both effects will increase wages, as well they should), but understand it is going to be part of any type of means-tested income support.

Where does the minimum wage come in?

To address the first complaint, it’s important to keep in mind that the “dignity of work” isn’t a static concept, but tied directly to the conditions of work itself. If you ask the people striking against their low-wage job right now, you’ll find that things like working unpaid hours or erratic scheduling are also part of their complaints. As a result of these conditions, the work is socially tagged as undignified, degrading, erratic, and unpredictable. [2]

So driving the wages straight up can help counteract this. As Ron Unz writes, “consider the impact of a sharp rise in the minimum wage, sufficient to remove the taint of poverty overhanging so many of our lower-tier jobs.” This would, in turn, make lower-tier service jobs more attractive from a social perspective, increasing the level of dignity for those who hold them. This would in turn make people much more likely to seek out and hold said jobs. As I’ve argued elsewhere, by reducing vacancies, encouraging job searches and tightening the low-wage labor market, a higher minimum wage would also de facto give low-wage workers more power in the workplace, which would help reduce the petty tyrannies that come with low-wage work.

The second issue comes from effective marginal tax rates, or the burden low-wage workers face as income support is phased out. And the common bipartisan alternative to the minimum wage, increasing the earned-income tax credit (EITC), doubles down on this. There are ways to manage it and make the effective tax rate have less of a bite. But it’s essential to the DNA of means-tested income support that it’ll eventually phase out, and as a result impose some higher marginal tax rate. Conservatives who support a higher earned-income tax credit play into this as well.

The minimum wage, however, poses no such higher effective tax rate. If you work more hours at the minimum wage, there’s no effective tax because the minimum wage doesn't phase out. So if the slight effect of higher effective tax rates of Obamacare is driving you up the wall, perhaps now is a good time to consider this positive side of the minimum wage.

Additional:

I’ve seen many people point out that there’s an administrative simplicity and cost-effectiveness to the minimum wage over the EITC, amplifying the case for them to act as complements to each other instead of substitutes. But I had no idea that, according to the IRS and Treasury, the EITC’s improper payment rate is between 21 and 25 percent. This includes overpayments as well as underpayments.

That simply doesn’t happen with the minimum wage. And if you are a conservative who wants to “simplify” government, or if bringing the impact of government as close as possible to those who need help - say directly in the workplace rather than in the complicated and confusing tax code administered by a faraway IRS - is important to your subsidiarity view of policy, a bigger role for the minimum wage is essential.

[1] This will sound snarky, but I genuinely mean it: I want to see a conservative take on Nickel and Dimed, where maids cleaning bathrooms experience “social equality” with the people paying them.

[2] Remember that Dave Chappelle comedy skit about the person who gets a fast food job to impress his community, and finds that it isn’t quite as dignified as he thought?

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It’s a shame that Ron Unz’s conservative case for a higher minimum wage gets caught up in the debate over immigration politics, because the arguments are broader and more fascinating, and incredibly important to have as part of the debate. This is especially true in light of last week’s CBO report, which has sent conservatives running to the barricades over the impact of Obamacare on waged work in this country. The conservative case for a minimum wage would address the two main concerns the right has displayed on this topic.

Broadly speaking, as summarized by Josh Barro here, there are two separate elements of the conservative take on Obamacare and the CBO’s findings. The first is that it allows people to break “job lock” and leave the labor market. This means there are fewer people working, which concerns conservatives because, as Ross Douthat put it, paid wage labor is “essential to dignity, mobility and social equality,” and they “see its decline as something to be fiercely resisted.” [1]

The second is that, because of the subsidies that are given to low-wage workers, these workers face a higher marginal tax rate. If there are subsidies for low-wage workers, as those workers make more money those subsidies are phased out. The fact that they are losing money while earning more money, or that a higher income means a smaller subsidy, functions like a tax. And this means that workers will work a bit less. Liberals in general don’t like this (though they do like that both effects will increase wages, as well they should), but understand it is going to be part of any type of means-tested income support.

Where does the minimum wage come in?

To address the first complaint, it’s important to keep in mind that the “dignity of work” isn’t a static concept, but tied directly to the conditions of work itself. If you ask the people striking against their low-wage job right now, you’ll find that things like working unpaid hours or erratic scheduling are also part of their complaints. As a result of these conditions, the work is socially tagged as undignified, degrading, erratic, and unpredictable. [2]

So driving the wages straight up can help counteract this. As Ron Unz writes, “consider the impact of a sharp rise in the minimum wage, sufficient to remove the taint of poverty overhanging so many of our lower-tier jobs.” This would, in turn, make lower-tier service jobs more attractive from a social perspective, increasing the level of dignity for those who hold them. This would in turn make people much more likely to seek out and hold said jobs. As I’ve argued elsewhere, by reducing vacancies, encouraging job searches and tightening the low-wage labor market, a higher minimum wage would also de facto give low-wage workers more power in the workplace, which would help reduce the petty tyrannies that come with low-wage work.

The second issue comes from effective marginal tax rates, or the burden low-wage workers face as income support is phased out. And the common bipartisan alternative to the minimum wage, increasing the earned-income tax credit (EITC), doubles down on this. There are ways to manage it and make the effective tax rate have less of a bite. But it’s essential to the DNA of means-tested income support that it’ll eventually phase out, and as a result impose some higher marginal tax rate. Conservatives who support a higher earned-income tax credit play into this as well.

The minimum wage, however, poses no such higher effective tax rate. If you work more hours at the minimum wage, there’s no effective tax because the minimum wage doesn't phase out. So if the slight effect of higher effective tax rates of Obamacare is driving you up the wall, perhaps now is a good time to consider this positive side of the minimum wage.

Additional:

I’ve seen many people point out that there’s an administrative simplicity and cost-effectiveness to the minimum wage over the EITC, amplifying the case for them to act as complements to each other instead of substitutes. But I had no idea that, according to the IRS and Treasury, the EITC’s improper payment rate is between 21 and 25 percent. This includes overpayments as well as underpayments.

That simply doesn’t happen with the minimum wage. And if you are a conservative who wants to “simplify” government, or if bringing the impact of government as close as possible to those who need help - say directly in the workplace rather than in the complicated and confusing tax code administered by a faraway IRS - is important to your subsidiarity view of policy, a bigger role for the minimum wage is essential.

[1] This will sound snarky, but I genuinely mean it: I want to see a conservative take on Nickel and Dimed, where maids cleaning bathrooms experience “social equality” with the people paying them.

[2] Remember that Dave Chappelle comedy skit about the person who gets a fast food job to impress his community, and finds that it isn’t quite as dignified as he thought?

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In 'Nuestro Texas,' A Call for Human Rights in Reproductive Health Care

Feb 4, 2014Andrea Flynn

A new report on access to reproductive health care in the Rio Grande Valley highlights the human rights violations happening right in the U.S.

A new report on access to reproductive health care in the Rio Grande Valley highlights the human rights violations happening right in the U.S.

During the past three years, more than 150,000 women in Texas have lost access to reproductive health services, thanks to a relentless barrage of laws and policies that have shuttered 76 family planning clinics across the state. A disproportionate number of those women live in the Rio Grande Valley, a region with extreme health disparities and some of the nation’s highest levels of poverty and unemployment.

Cover of the Nuestro Texas reportA recent report – Nuestra Voz, Nuestra Salud, Nuestro Texas – co-authored by the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) illustrates the dire impact that three years of draconian policies have had on women in the valley. During a briefing at the Roosevelt Institute last week, Katrina Anderson, Human Rights Counsel at CRR, and Jessica González-Rojas and Diana Lugo-Martinez, NLIRH’s Executive Director and Senior Director of Community Engagement, shared the report’s findings and conveyed the stories and experiences of the more than 180 local women they have interviewed.

Nuestro Texas stands out because it illustrates the deeply personal impact of the state’s restrictions and regulations, but it is also unique because it frames Texas women’s rights as fundamental human rights issues, using international standards – a framing infrequently used when addressing women’s health in the United States.

Communities across Texas are feeling the acute pain of the rapid destruction of a once robust public health infrastructure, and the most harm has been done along the state’s Southeast border with Mexico. Nine of the Valley’s 32 health clinics have closed, and those remaining open have curtailed hours, reduced staff, increased fees, and eliminated some services. Before the cuts, public clinics in the valley served nearly 20,000 patients. Today they serve just over 5,000.

Nuestro Texas tells the stories of women who now seek care in Mexico, or purchase black-market medications, or forgo family planning and medical care altogether because the barriers of cost, travel, and immigration status are simply too great. Women live with the anxiety of undiagnosed and untreated breast lumps, cervical pain, sexually transmitted diseases, and a host of other adverse health issues.

Beyond declining access to family planning and a full range of women’s health care services, abortion services have all but disappeared in the Valley thanks to the sweeping anti-choice legislation passed last year by the state legislature in Texas. As a result, reports of incidents of self-abortion are becoming commonplace, because without other options women will take the termination of unplanned pregnancies into their own hands, as they did for decades before abortion was legalized in 1973. Even before the 2011 budget cuts and recent abortion restrictions, the estimated rate of self-induced abortion in Texas was more than twice that of the nation overall, and the rate along the border was more than five times greater than the national rate. Recent articles by Andrea Grimes (RH Reality Check) and by Lindsay Bayerstein (The New Republic) illustrate the dire consequences of regulating reproductive health care into obscurity.

Despite the profound stresses women in the valley now endure, at the Roosevelt Institute briefing González-Rojas maintained that they are not simply “victims of systemic barriers.” They are using their voices to advocate for the health and rights of women and families. Outreach workers help navigate immigration and transportation barriers so that women can access needed care in Mexico, if necessary. They host community meetings where women can share their frustrations, fears, and experiences. They teach self-breast exams and educate about the warning signs of sexually transmitted diseases, even though there are few clinics to see women who may need care.

González-Rojas explained that framing women’s rights as human rights has positioned reproductive health as a family and community issue, one that requires multiple voices and solutions to address. Focusing on human rights has empowered women in the valley to organize and mobilize for policy change. They teach communities about immigration, health, and economic policies and encourage them to fight back by protesting, petitioning lawmakers, and – when possible – by voting. Lugo-Martinez said Valley residents have become engaged and excited about human rights and are routinely sharing copies of the landmark 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights at community meetings.

“Women in the Valley will not rest until they can get care when and where they need it,” González-Rojas said. Nor should we remain complacent, for it would be wrong to assume that what is happening in Texas will stay there. “Texas is the epicenter of bad reproductive health policy, but it is also the incubator of those policies. What happens in Texas really matters,” said Anderson.

States across the nation are now following Texas’s lead in significantly restricting women’s access to reproductive health care. Nuestro Texas demonstrates the urgency of accelerating legal and policy trends across the country, as conservative legislators pursue an unrelenting anti-choice, anti-women’s-health agenda. 

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. She researches and writes about access to reproductive health care in the United States. You can follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.

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Move Over, Shareholders: Let Workers Have a Say in Corporate Governance

Jan 15, 2014Azi Hussain

A model of corporate governance that brings in employees and other stakeholders alongside shareholders could ensure corporations make decisions based on more than stock prices.

A model of corporate governance that brings in employees and other stakeholders alongside shareholders could ensure corporations make decisions based on more than stock prices.

At this point, saying that inequality in the United States is a problem is almost cliché. There is plenty of data illustrating the extent of inequality. Proposed solutions range from education reform and minimum wage increases to tax and spending reform and public employment programs. Yet there is one area that has been largely neglected in policy discussions around inequality: corporate governance.

Corporate governance may at first seem like a marginal (and boring) issue, but it is in fact the opposite. Our corporate governance laws create the power structures of some of the most formidable economic forces on the planet. These laws are key to how economic and political power is distributed across society, and as such we should pay much more attention to them.

Currently, the U.S. has a shareholder corporate governance model. There are two major implications of such a model: practically, the shareholders are the ones who “own” the company and elect the board. Philosophically, the purpose of the corporation is to maximize value for shareholders. There are problems with this model. Because the corporation represents shareholders, there are incentives in place to externalize costs onto other groups. For example, in an effort to increase stock prices, corporations may dump waste into rivers, lay off workers, or engage in illegal accounting schemes.

However, there is an alternate model that could change how corporations function and what their purpose is: the stakeholder corporate governance model. In the stakeholder model, stakeholders are the “owners” of the corporation and elect the board of directors. The corporation’s purpose becomes maximizing value for stakeholders. Who exactly are these stakeholders? There are many, and definitions vary. But for our purposes, let’s focus on one particular stakeholder: employees.

In a stakeholder corporate governance model, employees would elect board members along with the shareholders, so the employees’ interests would be represented in business decisions. Employees would have much more bargaining power over their own wages and management’s wages, in a way that echoes unionized workplaces. However, this system would not be based on the antagonistic arrangement between unions and management, but rather on a cooperative, insider relationship between employees and shareholders. With symmetrical information between employees and shareholders, decisions could be made without misunderstandings and outrage.

When companies are doing well, employee representation in decision-making processes would ensure employees also benefit from the company’s success through increased wages. In companies that aren’t doing so well, employee representation can ensure cost-cutting measures don’t disproportionately affect employees while executives continue to get bonuses. Additionally, if a corporation is doing poorly and needs to lay off workers, there will be fewer tensions if workers understand they are properly represented in decision-making processes. For a real-life example of a successfully implemented stakeholder model, check out Germany. There’s also evidence that corporations that follow the stakeholder model outperform ones that follow the shareholder model.

This is just the tip of the iceberg for what stakeholder governance could achieve. There could be even greater impact if other stakeholders, such as communities and customers, could be represented. With this expanded definition, the interests of these various stakeholders would be strongly represented in the corporate decision-making process. Thus, corporations would not impose potentially damaging costs (such as dumping waste into rivers or producing poor quality goods) on to communities and customers. External costs would be effectively “internalized” into corporate decision-making. Under the stakeholder model, maybe, just maybe, corporations could save the world.

Azi Hussain is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Economic DevelopmentHe is a junior in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University majoring in International Political Economy.

Image via ThinkStock.

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Guest Post: Max Sawicky on the Liberal Case Against a Universal Basic Income

Dec 17, 2013Mike Konczal

Earlier this month, I was on a Wonkblog live event panel discussing a Universal Basic Income (some video clips here), a topic I wrote about at Wonkblog earlier in the year. There was two people for and two people against, one from the left and one from the right. The person who represented the liberal side who was against a Universal Basic Income was Max Sawicky, formerly of EPI and the blog Maxspeak. He had prepared remarks for his introduction. I asked him if I could post them here and he agreed, and here it is:

With the coming referendum in Switzerland has come a flurry of commentary about a “Universal Basic Income” (UBI). There are some strange bedfellows from left and right are saying nice things about it. I suggest that it can be a distraction from more important things.

If you don’t have time to read this, just consider that a payment of $10,000 to every U.S. adult, a pretty basic basic income, would cost $2.5 trillion. Game over.

That aside, first off we need to distinguish between the objective of ensuring a minimum standard of consumption for all persons and the specifics of a UBI. You can support the first without the baggage of the second. More plausible ways to pursue the objective include: promote full employment, raise the minimum wage, rationalize and expand our system of refundable tax credits in the Federal individual income tax, federalize the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (reversing the welfare reform of 1996), establish the Federal government as an employer of last resort, support trade unions, and establish pay for caregivers. All of these in some combination are worth more of our time than a UBI. They are all more in keeping with our current system and our political culture.

What’s wrong with the UBI? It is not the utopianism. The measures I note, if you scale them up, are pretty ambitious. Nor do I see incentive problems with a UBI or similar measures. I do not believe that the availability of a UBI would spawn an army of slackers and moochers.

Let's start with the rationale for the UBI, which I would summarize as eliminating poverty with a low overhead cost. That still leaves a lot to the imagination. UBI proposals tend not to be fully baked. Presumably you reduce overhead by eliminating existing programs, but which ones? Are you willing to ding people at 105% of the poverty line to help others below it? Note you would still need eligibility determination and verification with a universal program. And how universal would it be? Immigrants? The aged? Children? Prisoners? Ex-convicts?

Like good fiction, the way to read the UBI is not as a real proposal, but as a message about something else: our existing system. But the implicit critique of the existing system underlying UBI advocacy is not well-founded.

Overhead cost is typically exaggerated in conservative discussions. Conservatives present comparisons of spending under a long list of Federal programs, many of which have broader or entirely different objectives than reducing poverty. The costs of programs that try to do things requiring public employees are not the same as ‘overhead,’ nor are these employees necessarily a bureaucracy. Even the programs explicitly aimed at reducing poverty are designed to cover more than just those under the poverty line. Moreover, the overhead costs of the main programs noted below are low, for the most part.

We also see exaggerations of the number of programs that are dedicated to reducing poverty. The fact is that most anti-poverty spending is concentrated in relatively few places: Medicaid, food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit, Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, unemployment compensation, and housing subsidies. Coverage in most of these programs goes well above the official poverty line.

In the current system, there is plenty to criticize. Eligibility could be simplified and broadened. Assistance could be increased. The main gap in coverage where a UBI would have the most impact is on able-bodied adults without children, who currently get the least from the current system as far as cash transfers are concerned. I’ve already mentioned easier ways to remedy that deficiency.

So why are we talking about the UBI? Dissatisfaction with the current system feeds a dream of wiping the slate clean, but motivations for a clean slate vary drastically.

Some on the right would like to replace existing programs because they disapprove of what those programs do, not because they fail to erase poverty. What the programs do is masked with the epithet of “bureaucracy.” Or they imagine a scenario where Federal spending decreases, and the remaining UBI programs can then be further whittled down over time. In effect, conservative supporters of the UBI concede their major, historic critique of anti-poverty benefits – the moocher issue. One naturally wonders how deeply felt this conversion really is.

Some on the left would like more ample, broader, simpler provision of benefits. This critique actually goes back to the 60s, when the principal anti-poverty program – Aid to Families with Dependent Children – was viewed as intrusive and demeaning.

If you like the transfer of cold cash, your chief target ought to be Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the fruits of the Clinton/Gingrich welfare reform of 1996. The Feds provide a grant to state governments, who busy themselves with helping people to help themselves. In the actual event, states helped a lot of people off the welfare rolls and into poverty. The national poverty rate, notwithstanding this reform, steadily went up after 2000. So if you want to strike a blow for reduced overhead, simplicity, and adequacy – if you’re serious – go ahead and make my day: Federalize TANF and establish it as an individual, adequate cash payment to which every resident has a legal right. To constrain its cost, limit eligibility to families with dependent children and phase it out as other income grows.

We do have a mix of programs – what’s been called a “mish-mosh” -- aimed at poverty reduction, among other objectives. Why this complexity?

1.  No surprise, poor people don’t have much political power. They are obliged to seek alliances with provider interests – most famously with agriculture behind the food stamp program (an alliance that may be ending).

2.  The disorganization of Congress and associated interest groups encourages fragmentation. Every member wants something specific to attach his or her name to. (In recent decades, instead of spending programs, we have tax breaks named after Members of Congress).

3.  Federalism, hard-wired into our constitution.

4.  Public opinion, a Tower of Babel.

In light of these constraints, why dwell on a proposal founded on the mirage of wiping the slate clean to start from scratch that presumes a completely fantastical political environment? The answer is, to avoid devices that have been used successfully in the past, that exist at some level and actually work, that stand better than a ghost of a chance at being enacted, and importantly, surviving.

People need a basic income, so they need us to talk about the best ways to get it.

Max Sawicky is employed with the Federal government. His views here do not represent those of his employer.

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:

  

 

Earlier this month, I was on a Wonkblog live event panel discussing a Universal Basic Income (some video clips here), a topic I wrote about at Wonkblog earlier in the year. There was two people for and two people against, one from the left and one from the right. The person who represented the liberal side who was against a Universal Basic Income was Max Sawicky, formerly of EPI and the blog Maxspeak. He had prepared remarks for his introduction. I asked him if I could post them here and he agreed, and here it is:

With the coming referendum in Switzerland has come a flurry of commentary about a “Universal Basic Income” (UBI). There are some strange bedfellows from left and right are saying nice things about it. I suggest that it can be a distraction from more important things.

If you don’t have time to read this, just consider that a payment of $10,000 to every U.S. adult, a pretty basic basic income, would cost $2.5 trillion. Game over.

That aside, first off we need to distinguish between the objective of ensuring a minimum standard of consumption for all persons and the specifics of a UBI. You can support the first without the baggage of the second. More plausible ways to pursue the objective include: promote full employment, raise the minimum wage, rationalize and expand our system of refundable tax credits in the Federal individual income tax, federalize the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (reversing the welfare reform of 1996), establish the Federal government as an employer of last resort, support trade unions, and establish pay for caregivers. All of these in some combination are worth more of our time than a UBI. They are all more in keeping with our current system and our political culture.

What’s wrong with the UBI? It is not the utopianism. The measures I note, if you scale them up, are pretty ambitious. Nor do I see incentive problems with a UBI or similar measures. I do not believe that the availability of a UBI would spawn an army of slackers and moochers.

Let's start with the rationale for the UBI, which I would summarize as eliminating poverty with a low overhead cost. That still leaves a lot to the imagination. UBI proposals tend not to be fully baked. Presumably you reduce overhead by eliminating existing programs, but which ones? Are you willing to ding people at 105% of the poverty line to help others below it? Note you would still need eligibility determination and verification with a universal program. And how universal would it be? Immigrants? The aged? Children? Prisoners? Ex-convicts?

Like good fiction, the way to read the UBI is not as a real proposal, but as a message about something else: our existing system. But the implicit critique of the existing system underlying UBI advocacy is not well-founded.

Overhead cost is typically exaggerated in conservative discussions. Conservatives present comparisons of spending under a long list of Federal programs, many of which have broader or entirely different objectives than reducing poverty. The costs of programs that try to do things requiring public employees are not the same as ‘overhead,’ nor are these employees necessarily a bureaucracy. Even the programs explicitly aimed at reducing poverty are designed to cover more than just those under the poverty line. Moreover, the overhead costs of the main programs noted below are low, for the most part.

We also see exaggerations of the number of programs that are dedicated to reducing poverty. The fact is that most anti-poverty spending is concentrated in relatively few places: Medicaid, food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit, Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, unemployment compensation, and housing subsidies. Coverage in most of these programs goes well above the official poverty line.

In the current system, there is plenty to criticize. Eligibility could be simplified and broadened. Assistance could be increased. The main gap in coverage where a UBI would have the most impact is on able-bodied adults without children, who currently get the least from the current system as far as cash transfers are concerned. I’ve already mentioned easier ways to remedy that deficiency.

So why are we talking about the UBI? Dissatisfaction with the current system feeds a dream of wiping the slate clean, but motivations for a clean slate vary drastically.

Some on the right would like to replace existing programs because they disapprove of what those programs do, not because they fail to erase poverty. What the programs do is masked with the epithet of “bureaucracy.” Or they imagine a scenario where Federal spending decreases, and the remaining UBI programs can then be further whittled down over time. In effect, conservative supporters of the UBI concede their major, historic critique of anti-poverty benefits – the moocher issue. One naturally wonders how deeply felt this conversion really is.

Some on the left would like more ample, broader, simpler provision of benefits. This critique actually goes back to the 60s, when the principal anti-poverty program – Aid to Families with Dependent Children – was viewed as intrusive and demeaning.

If you like the transfer of cold cash, your chief target ought to be Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the fruits of the Clinton/Gingrich welfare reform of 1996. The Feds provide a grant to state governments, who busy themselves with helping people to help themselves. In the actual event, states helped a lot of people off the welfare rolls and into poverty. The national poverty rate, notwithstanding this reform, steadily went up after 2000. So if you want to strike a blow for reduced overhead, simplicity, and adequacy – if you’re serious – go ahead and make my day: Federalize TANF and establish it as an individual, adequate cash payment to which every resident has a legal right. To constrain its cost, limit eligibility to families with dependent children and phase it out as other income grows.

We do have a mix of programs – what’s been called a “mish-mosh” -- aimed at poverty reduction, among other objectives. Why this complexity?

1.  No surprise, poor people don’t have much political power. They are obliged to seek alliances with provider interests – most famously with agriculture behind the food stamp program (an alliance that may be ending).

2.  The disorganization of Congress and associated interest groups encourages fragmentation. Every member wants something specific to attach his or her name to. (In recent decades, instead of spending programs, we have tax breaks named after Members of Congress).

3.  Federalism, hard-wired into our constitution.

4.  Public opinion, a Tower of Babel.

In light of these constraints, why dwell on a proposal founded on the mirage of wiping the slate clean to start from scratch that presumes a completely fantastical political environment? The answer is, to avoid devices that have been used successfully in the past, that exist at some level and actually work, that stand better than a ghost of a chance at being enacted, and importantly, surviving.

People need a basic income, so they need us to talk about the best ways to get it.

Max Sawicky is employed with the Federal government. His views here do not represent those of his employer.

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:

  

 

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Corporate Education Reform Won’t Solve the Problems Caused by Poverty

Dec 11, 2013Raul Gardea

Arne Duncan’s latest gaffe highlights the critical inequities of federal education “reforms.” Reversing these trends will require policymakers to acknowledge that education alone cannot create perfect equity of opportunity. 

Arne Duncan’s latest gaffe highlights the critical inequities of federal education “reforms.” Reversing these trends will require policymakers to acknowledge that education alone cannot create perfect equity of opportunity. 

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan hastily walked back his comments recently after dismissing Common Core opponents as “white suburban moms”  who had suddenly realized that their kids aren't as bright as they thought. This sparked a furor amongst parents and educators and thrust the Common Core back into the spotlight. Although the controversy over standards-based education is nothing new, it speaks volumes that the outrage doesn’t make the evening news until white suburban moms are singled out. If there is something positive to be gleaned from Duncan’s tactless comments, it is the public recognition that these federal policies have stratified education along race and class divisions—policies that Duncan presides over and advocates for as Obama’s education secretary.

Perhaps the uproar prompted by Duncan’s comments has less to do with white suburban outrage and instead signals a tipping point: a mainstream rejection of policies that are finally being exposed for their disproportionately detrimental impact on poor and minority communities. Duncan’s remarks provided a glimpse at the man behind the curtain. Race and class matter in education and Duncan simultaneously acknowledged and dismissed this.

It’s hard to sympathize with Duncan’s dismissiveness.

Common Core is just one of several examples of corporate influence in education. The foundations and consortiums behind these policies, like the Gates Foundation, Pearson, and others, all stand to profit from adoption of their methods, resources, and technology. But that’s neoliberalism in a nutshell. What is truly surprising has been the full-fledged support of high-stakes testing by the US Department of Education (DoE) under a Democratic president, continuing the infamous legacy of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The mission of the DoE has been to fire “bad” teachers, as determined by their students’ test scores, and close schools which don’t meet these arbitrary and subjective goals.

Few would dispute that we should hold our educators and the children they are entrusted with to a high bar of excellence, but evaluating performance on test scores has never been a viable strategy. As Common Core test results have started trickling in, the results aren’t pretty. In New York, they show a widening of the achievement gap between black and white students. This leaves young teachers at a disadvantage since they are often placed in high poverty schools and are still learning on the job. They often have to also play the role of counselor, psychiatrist, and day care provider. So while the White Suburban Mom is disappointed because she’s tried her best to ensure the highest quality of life for her daughter, the Single Black Urban Mom who works two jobs simply can’t be as engaged with her son’s education: a child afflicted with toxic stress who then takes the same exam on an empty stomach. Ignoring these elements and relying solely on improving testing scores demeans the teaching profession and puts the students who need the most attention and wraparound services at a disadvantage.

Of course, this forms the ideological basis of corporate reform: firing “bad” teachers will fix education which will lead to middle class prosperity which will alleviate poverty. “College and career readiness” are the choice buzzwords found in the text of the Common Core. Speaking to Politico, Duncan said, “the path to the middle class runs right through the classroom.” Such a perspective, keen in the 1960s, sounds positively outmoded in 2013. As Millennials are quickly realizing, that rose-tinted vision of education as the great social equalizer simply cannot reconcile the effects of the Great Recession and decades of bad policy.

This is the crux of the issue. It really is all about money. Merit pay, standardization, union-busting, school closures, austerity budgets, unregulated charters, all coupled with persuasive messaging and the endorsement of both major political parties means corporate reform will make a few people very rich at the expense of equity and inclusiveness. Education is just another avenue where the profit motive has been pecking away at the remains of public institutions that we spent decades building.

It seems like grassroots uproar is finally coming to a head. The start of National Education Week this year saw anti-Common Core protests in New York, South Carolina, Maryland, and several other states. Much like the solidarity seen in recent fast food employee strikes and Black Friday protests from workers demanding fair wages and labor practices, teachers, parents, administrators, and legislators from all political stripes are uniting in opposition to unproven policies and their slapdash implementation across the country. Parents and educators should not be pitted against one another but realize their interests are very much aligned.

We have to acknowledge that non-school factors play a major role in learning outcomes and policymakers must know that enough is enough. Vast income inequality can lead to inequality in education, so we must ensure adequate funding formulas can meet the needs of diverse demographics. We must ensure access to affordable, quality healthcare for all families. We must further integrate schools to reduce achievement gaps. We must support the collective bargaining rights of teachers, who are often overburdened by factors outside the scope of their profession. As progressive populism is reignited, we must recognize that these issues are not about ideology but about pragmatism. Reinventing our social infrastructure for the 21st century means we simply cannot afford to treat our schools as a market ripe for competition any longer.

Raul Gardea is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's Senior Fellow for Education.

Photo via Shutterstock.

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