New Paper: Against the Coupon State

Dec 3, 2012Mike Konczal

Imagine if current neoliberal policymakers had to sit down today and invent the idea of a library. What would it look like? They'd likely create a tax credit to subsidize the purchasing and reselling of books, like much of our submerged welfare state. They might require a mandate for people to rent books from approved private libraries run by Amazon or Barnes and Noble, with penalties for those who don’t and vouchers for those who can’t afford it, like the recent health care expansion. 

Or maybe they’d create means-tested libraries only accessible to the poor, with a requirement that the patrons document how impoverished they are month after month to keep their library card. Maybe they’d also exempt the cost of private library cards from payroll taxes. Or let any private firm calling itself a library pay nothing in taxes while exempting their bonds from taxation and insuring their losses by, say, paying for books that go missing. You can imagine them going through every possible option rather than the old-fashioned, straightforward, public library, open to all, provided and run by the government, that our country enjoys everyday.
 
I have a new white paper out with New America's "Renewing the American Social Contract" series, titled "No Discount: Comparing the Public Option to the Coupon Welfare State." Here's the introduction, and here's the full pdf.
 
Given that the state wants to provide a certain good, I wanted to find the arguments over whether or not the government should provide that good itself or provide coupons for purchases in the private market. Surprisingly, there were few cohensive summaries, so I created one myself. Though not explicitly stated, It's relevant for discussions over whether or not the welfare state should be entirely replaced with cash (the ultimate coupon).
The rest of the papers in the series are very much worth your time too. I hope you check them out. Mine starts out with:
 
The fundamental ideological conflict surrounding the Welfare State in the U.S. is no longer over the scope of government, but instead how the government carries out its responsibilities and delivers services. The conservative and neoliberal vision is one of a government that provides a comparable range of benefits as conventional liberals, but rather than designing and delivering the services directly, it provides coupons for citizens. Coupons – whether by that name or more anodyne terms such as “vouchers” or “premium support” or tax subsidies – could then be used to purchase the services in the private market. Whenever neoliberals have sought to expand the scope of the welfare state or conservatives have tried to fundamentally shrink it, both have come bearing coupons.
 
Read the rest at New America.
 
Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
  

 

Imagine if current neoliberal policymakers had to sit down today and invent the idea of a library. What would it look like? They'd likely create a tax credit to subsidize the purchasing and reselling of books, like much of our submerged welfare state. They might require a mandate for people to rent books from approved private libraries run by Amazon or Barnes and Noble, with penalties for those who don’t and vouchers for those who can’t afford it, like the recent health care expansion. 

Or maybe they’d create means-tested libraries only accessible to the poor, with a requirement that the patrons document how impoverished they are month after month to keep their library card. Maybe they’d also exempt the cost of private library cards from payroll taxes. Or let any private firm calling itself a library pay nothing in taxes while exempting their bonds from taxation and insuring their losses by, say, paying for books that go missing. You can imagine them going through every possible option rather than the old-fashioned, straightforward, public library, open to all, provided and run by the government, that our country enjoys everyday.
 
I have a new white paper out with New America's "Renewing the American Social Contract" series, titled "No Discount: Comparing the Public Option to the Coupon Welfare State." Here's the introduction, and here's the full pdf.
 
Given that the state wants to provide a certain good, I wanted to find the arguments over whether or not the government should provide that good itself or provide coupons for purchases in the private market. Surprisingly, there were few cohensive summaries, so I created one myself. Though not explicitly stated, It's relevant for discussions over whether or not the welfare state should be entirely replaced with cash (the ultimate coupon).
The rest of the papers in the series are very much worth your time too. I hope you check them out. Mine starts out with:
 
The fundamental ideological conflict surrounding the Welfare State in the U.S. is no longer over the scope of government, but instead how the government carries out its responsibilities and delivers services. The conservative and neoliberal vision is one of a government that provides a comparable range of benefits as conventional liberals, but rather than designing and delivering the services directly, it provides coupons for citizens. Coupons – whether by that name or more anodyne terms such as “vouchers” or “premium support” or tax subsidies – could then be used to purchase the services in the private market. Whenever neoliberals have sought to expand the scope of the welfare state or conservatives have tried to fundamentally shrink it, both have come bearing coupons.
 
Read the rest at New America.
 
Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
  

 

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Keep Calm and Get Excited About the Rolling Jubilee

Nov 15, 2012Mike Konczal

Occupy has created a Strike Debt wing, which has a new project: a Rolling Jubilee. There will be a livestream of the Debt Jubilee fundraiser tonight, starting at 8pm ET, that you can access from their webpage. It features Janeane Garofalo, Jeff Mangum from Neutral Milk Hotel, Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, Lizz Winstead, and many more. You should check it out.

Occupy has created a Strike Debt wing, which has a new project: a Rolling Jubilee. There will be a livestream of the Debt Jubilee fundraiser tonight, starting at 8pm ET, that you can access from their webpage. It features Janeane Garofalo, Jeff Mangum from Neutral Milk Hotel, Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, Lizz Winstead, and many more. You should check it out.

To give you a sense why I find this new project fascinating, I'll quickly review three random projects I've been working on recently, all of which are related to this new project.

The first is on what bankruptcy law professor Ronald Mann refers to as the "sweat box" model of consumer debt and bankruptcy. Mann argues that the 2005 bankruptcy amendments benefit creditors "by slowing the time of inevitable filings by the deeply distressed and allowing issuers to earn greater revenues from those individuals" and functions as a windfall for creditors because it "enable[s] issuers to profit from debt servicing revenues paid by distressed borrowers who are not yet in bankruptcy." More broadly, the distressed debt markets allow debt collectors the right to make huge profits by "sweating" debtors through assessing fees, raising rates, and inflating the debts owed while debtors struggle to pay the debts back over long periods of time. At the distressed end, debts aren't about recovering what is owed or making sure loans that aren't being paid turn into good debts that have reliable payments, but instead about the option to harrass small payments indefinitely. Debt collectors don't want these loans to work. (The same distorted incentives might be in play with those who have missed a mortgage payment.)

Another is focused on student debt, particularly about how the collapse of public higher education has been a planned political project. Rather than student debt levels being the result of individual greed or cost inflation driven by productivity levels, they result from a specific project to shift costs for public education onto the individual that has been consciously planned. This is part of a larger project to dismantle the access and mobility inherent in the centuries-old public higher education system in this country.

The final one is arguing that one explanation for why our recovery is so slow has to do with a debt overhang. Rather than forcing the losses of our housing bubble onto creditors, we've left them to stagnate, dragging down aggregate demand. Or we've solved it through foreclosures, which have huge costs for communities and municipalities. The financial sector itself understands that these loans aren't worth much and are fighting among itself over who will eat the losses, but this knowledge hasn't spread to homeowners or the country at large.

Rolling Jubilee

Explaining these issues and how they connect is difficult, but it is now easier with Strike Debt and its Rolling Jubilee project. What is the Rolling Jubilee? "Banks sell debt for pennies on the dollar on a shadowy speculative market of debt buyers who then turn around and try to collect the full amount from debtors. The Rolling Jubilee intervenes by buying debt, keeping it out of the hands of collectors, and then abolishing it."

The project relentlessly emphasizes the social conditions for the creation of debt: "We believe people should not go into debt for basic necessities like education, healthcare and housing." Debt in our country evolves in a system of institutions where publicly provided goods are missing or being dismantled in real-time, with private systems designed to benefit the few replacing them, and that is something that can be resisted. And the Jubilee also emphasizes that these specific debts that they are buying no longer reflect something that's owed, as they were written to zero on a balance sheet a long time ago. These are debts whose real value consists of a harrassment option to try and collect more than the pennies on the dollar that they were bought for.

Strike Debt can only purchase so much debt. What can it do going forward? There's the obvious ability to use this to highlight how bad debts actually play out in our country and expose the ins-and-outs of this system.

I'd personally like people to make the connection between random groups of people doing this and the government doing this itself through eminent domain. Right now southern California, for instance, is a battlefield between municipalities looking to prevent destructive foreclosures and the financial industry, which is looking to do a capital strike. Other cities are turning to eminent domain to buy mortgage debt at its real value, write it down, and save their communities. It would be great for them to say, "Hey, if cultural studies icon Andrew Ross and some Occupy kids are capable of doing this, certainly we, with our legal powers of eminent domain and power to tax, could do the same!"

And I'm already hearing about people proposing a form of "debt-holder activism" akin to the idea of shareholder activism: exposing wrong-doing, suing debt traders for selling debt without proper documentation, etc. It might be far-fetched, but it is worth exploring.

Critiques

There are reasonable criticisms of this project. But I'll start with some that I don't find convincing.

Doug Henwood, for instance, believes that this is generated by activists' uncritical populism, or the anarchist anthrology of David Graeber's Debt, or the reification of Bowles-Simpson's debt talk. But this is putting the carriage before the horse. A little over a year ago, I wrote some code that went through the We are the 99% Tumblr and parsed it for clues about what was motivating the people submitting their stories. And even I was shocked at how much student debt, medical debt, and debt overall were factors in those people's misery. It is how they identify the challenges they face, and this was equally so at Occupy sites.

It's fun to imagine people writing hostile comments on that 99% tumblr saying that all these people's misery is not useful to the cause because it focuses on the sphere of circulation instead of the sphere of production. But this is what is behind young people's suffering and it is an important project to address it as such. Linking it to a larger project of broad-based propserity is the work of others, and I believe the Strike Debt people are trying to do so.

Henwood also argues that Strike Debt can't buy in sufficiently large amount to buy up all the debt. That's true, but hardly the goal. He also brings up the idea that bankruptcy is a universal solvent here and should be emphasized over other projects. I disagree. To go back to Ronald Mann's "sweat-box" theory of bankrutpcy, the fees, waiting period, and other charges involved in post-2005 bankruptcy means that the legal DNA of bankruptcy code, while very useful, amplifies these problems. You can see it in the academic research that finds a spike in bankruptcy filings after people get tax rebates, because they finally have the resources to declare bankruptcy. You also see it in this random We Are the 99% tumblr entry, which notes, "I have been trying for the last 4 years to save $2000 to file bankruptcy for $5000-$10000 medical debt. It still hasn’t happened."

There are other worries that I find to be more important.

First, it's a big problem that it isn't clear yet whether those whose debt will be forgiven are stuck with a tax bill. Blogs are going back and forth on this issue, though the IRS should have given a comment already. That there aren't, say, tax attorneys Occupy can direct people to is a problem. It's funny that, given Marcel Mauss' influence on David Graeber and many in Occupy, the tax issue might hinge on being able to legally define what a "gift" is.

Another worry is whether or not this will build a community of people committed to the cause going forward. According to a Strike Debt spokesperson, when they forgive debts they send certified mail containing the Debt Resistor's Operation Manual and a notice explaining what the Debt Jubilee is. Contrast it with foreclosure activism,  where there is a lot of work that goes into building up the person in their community and making sure the person has the strength and the resources to both fight and contribute back. I've debated whether or not this is an actual problem, but it is certainly not sufficient to keep me from being excited. The people contributing are more energized than I had expected to see, which means you many see a community of people vested on the donation end as well.

The last issue is debt itself. As Jacob Hacker and Nathaniel Loewentheil argued in the Boston Review forum on debt, "[B]y focusing so much on debt...the challenge of reform appears both smaller and larger than it really is. Smaller because providing write-downs for households with underwater mortgages, while valuable, would not be enough...[yet a debt focus sets] sights higher than necessary... [W]e do not have to change people’s conception of debt or personal responsibility... [A] broad coalition will be based more on effective organizing than on consciousness-raising or cultural change around debt."

I think in the long-run Hacker is right, which is why I'm happy that the Strike Debt coalition has worked to link its concerns back to larger ones of public health care, free education, and a more robust safety net. Weaving these concerns with broader ones is precisely the work that needs to be done.

Last year, Suresh Naidu sent me the following chart, which is an evolution of different tactics during the civil rights movement, 1955-1962, charted by frequency of occurrences:

This chart is taken from Tactical Innovation and the Pace of Insurgency by the sociologist Doug McAdam. Tactists will come and go. What is necessary to keep in mind are the goals and the spirit of experimentation. I hope you check out the telethon tonight and follow the Strike Debt news to see if this is a wave of experiments worth following in the months ahead.

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Obama Can Thank Women Voters By Supporting Real Economic Equality

Nov 15, 2012Bryce Covert

As part of our series "A Rooseveltian Second Term Agenda," a way to recognize the economic needs of the women who helped re-elect President Obama.

As part of our series "A Rooseveltian Second Term Agenda," a way to recognize the economic needs of the women who helped re-elect President Obama.

Both candidates spent a lot of time and energy courting women’s votes this cycle. But as predicted, the gender gap yawned on Election Day and pushed Obama to victory with a 10-point gender gap between him and Romney. How can President Obama thank the women who voted for him as he starts shaping the agenda for his second term? There are a variety of general economic policies that will benefit everyone, including women, such as spending federal stimulus money to kick-start a sluggish economy, ensuring the jobs being created in the recovery pay enough to support workers and their families, and bolstering a failing safety net to support the most vulnerable among us.

But while women hold down half of the jobs in our economy, they still face unique challenges and obstacles to full economic equality. If President Obama cares about women’s economic welfare as much Candidate Obama indicated, there are some important issues he can take on in the next four years.

  1. Truly equal pay for equal work: President Obama often talks about the fact that the first bill he signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which helps address the gender wage gap. The act gives women more time to file a claim alleging discrimination since the truth may take a long time to surface. But while the act gets talked about like a panacea, it’s far from it. The number of pay discrimination complaints filed with the EEOC fell since the signing of the act while the pay gap widened. This is because the gap is caused by a complex array of factors: occupational segregation, hostile courts, and plain old discrimination. A first step to supplement the Lilly Ledbetter Act would be prohibiting salary secrecy, forcing employers to allow employees to talk about their pay with each other, something half of all workers cannot currently do. It will be next to impossible for women to address discrimination if they don’t even know it’s happening. But we also have to talk about how to move women into nontraditional fields, appoint judges to the courts that will stand by women when they sue for discrimination, and raise pay for the service sector jobs that women already dominate. These are large issues, but without putting them on the agenda they’ll continue to hamper women’s equality.
  1. Paid time off to care for family: We are one of just three countries among 178 that doesn’t guarantee any paid maternity leave benefits. Fifty countries go further to offer leave for fathers. Among the 15 most competitive nations, we’re the only one that doesn’t have a paid sick days policy. The reality is that the work of caring for children – when they’re very young, sick, or not in school – still falls mostly to women. Yet they can still lose their jobs when they need to miss work for this important caretaking. And without offering paid benefits, we force many women to take on debt or go hat in hand to loved ones and friends to get through. Not only will paid family leave benefit women, it will benefit men and help to change the care work equation. Men are more likely to take time off to be with a new child if the leave is paid – unsurprisingly, since families have such a hard time financing the lost income. And when men do take leave, they become more involved in their children’s lives. Universal, paid leave policies improve quality of life for all workers while leveling the playing field for women.
  1. Significant support for child care: There are two sides to child care. On one are those who need help caring for family and as mentioned above, they are almost entirely women. On the other are the caregivers, also almost entirely women. Our support for child care is pretty dismal and getting worse. The cost of putting two children in center care exceeds median rent in all 50 states. At the same time, the majority of states have pulled back on child care assistance for two years in a row. The Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit that gives parents who are paying for child care a tax break has only increased once in the last 28 years. The government needs to invest heavily in supporting working parents, men and women alike, with skyrocketing child care costs, allowing all who can and want to go to work to leave their children with quality caretakers. This is also a way to begin ensuring that these caretakers are well paid. In a national survey of in-home child care providers, the most common answer to how much they make in a week is $500, or $26,000 a year – a pitiful amount, not to mention that many don’t receive any benefits. Given how much families struggle with the cost and how many domestic workers don’t make enough to live on, the government must step in.

American women have flooded the labor market in the last half-century. But our economy and society haven’t changed enough to meet them halfway. President Obama won’t be able to fix all of these problems in his second term. But he can begin to address them and put a spotlight on these societal problems that we still think of as private concerns. I’m sure women voters would be grateful.

Bryce Covert is Editor of Next New Deal.

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Roosevelt Reacts: What Does Last Night Mean and Where Do We Go From Here?

Nov 7, 2012

President Obama won a second term. How did he get there? And what should he do now? Roosevelt weighs in.

Thomas Ferguson, Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow, Professor of Political Science, University of Massachusetts, and Contributing Editor, AlterNet:

President Obama won a second term. How did he get there? And what should he do now? Roosevelt weighs in.

Thomas Ferguson, Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow, Professor of Political Science, University of Massachusetts, and Contributing Editor, AlterNet:

Now that it’s over, it’s time to take stock. All counts are incomplete, but something like 116 million votes were cast. The presidential election alone cost about $2.6 billion, or a bit more than $22 dollars per vote. But that money wasn’t spread evenly over America; in battleground states like Ohio, the sums per voter were much larger. Now look at the exit polls in today’s New York Times. Yes, indeed, Obama did very well among women, Latinos, and African-Americans. But in sharp contrast to 2008, the partisan split along income lines is huge. Obama’s vote percentage declines in straight line fashion as income rises. He got 63 percent of the votes of Americans making less than $30,000 and 57 percent of those making between $30,000 and $50,000. Above $50,000, the Other America kicks in. Romney won 53 percent of the votes of Americans making between $50 and $100,000 and 54 percent of the votes of Americans making above $100,000. The Democrats’ poor showing in the House elections – they way under-performed for a party that had lost so many seats two years before – probably reflects a Republican advantage in money, including the famous Super PACs, some of which poured resources into congressional races. It was surely also affected by the White House’s reluctance to spend time and resources trying  to elect Democratic House candidates. As the president negotiates for a Grand Bargain in the face of the fiscal cliff, these are realities that are worth remembering

Jonathan Silverstone, Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network member and sophomore at Yale University:

In the months leading up to yesterday's reelection of President Barack Obama, both candidates said very little about a critical issue in the ongoing economic recovery: housing. Yet President Obama’s reelection can certainly provide affordable housing advocates hope in the face of some of the things Governor Mitt Romney had to say on the campaign trail. Eliminating the Department of Housing and Urban Development and scaling back key grant programs were just two of the possible policies a Romney administration may have enacted had he won the presidency. While this general direction for the federal government has been avoided, there is a larger issue at hand.

A report by the Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness demonstrates just how urgently we need a policy solution to the fundamental lack of affordable housing. It points to HUD figures that show a growing gap between low-income housing demand and current low-income housing stock during a time of increasing rates of homelessness in America. This gap reached 5.5 million units in 2009. The Obama administration must act to ensure demand for affordable housing is met and to assist low-income households in being able to afford this housing.

More immediately, the broad budget cuts constituting January’s scheduled sequestration present the president with a much more pressing housing issue. If Washington does not devise a budget compromise, multiple key housing programs that help fund public housing operations and provide rental assistance to low-income families stand to lose hundreds of millions of dollars. As America looks toward another four years of President Obama, and hopefully toward revamped policy that combines with market incentives to meet affordable housing demand, the lame duck Congress must work with the administration immediately to make sure crucial housing programs remain untouched before we hit the fiscal cliff in January. 

Tarsi Dunlop, member of the Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline in DC:

Now that the election results are in (well most of them are), we can start looking forward to the next four years. It is difficult to figure out where to start, but the first issue will be the rapidly approaching "fiscal cliff." We cannot bask in the glow of the election for long; we must protect the middle class from devastating cuts to essential programs and services. Beyond that, we must advocate for a federal budget that deals with our deficit in a responsible manner over the long-term; we are slowly recovering from the Great Recession, but progress is fragile and many American families are still suffering from unemployment (or underemployment). We cannot afford cuts that will undermine our gradual economic growth, growth that is by some estimates expected to produce 12 million more jobs over the next four years. Building, or in this case re-building an economy, takes time and we won’t turn back now.

This fall, President Obama asked the nation to give him four more years, to continue the work we started in 2008. Other issues that should be on the progressive agenda include protecting and expanding the social safety net for future generations, pursuing policies to reduce our impact on the environment in hopes of addressing the ever-growing threat of climate change (an issue rarely mentioned on the campaign trail), and advocating for responsible policies that will help our nation’s schools provide a quality education for each child. Our efforts to invest in the middle class continue and as we implement the Affordable Care Act, we know we won’t need to defend it against potential attacks from a Romney administration. By 2014, more Americans will feel the benefits of the president’s signature domestic achievement.

President Obama, and the progressive community as a whole, will find powerful allies in the United States Senate come January with Tammy Baldwin’s election as the first openly gay U.S. Senator and Elizabeth Warren’s win in Massachusetts. Indeed, the Bay State has sent another liberal lion to the Senate floor to advocate for policies that help working and middle-class families. These voices will defend a woman’s right to choose and make decisions about her own body. As progressives, we believe in inclusivity and justice for those of all backgrounds, and they will stand for those with no lobby. They will challenge the influence of oil companies and large corporations.  They will push the discussions we should have when it comes to governing and the role of government. It is time to continue that discussion.

However ambitious we are, we must recognize that the work will go on long after President Obama leaves office. The young people who once again broke sharply for the incumbent understand this reality and are rising to the challenge. Although Millennials are faced with dim job prospects, less security in their retirement, and in many cases, high levels of student debt, they are community oriented and civically engaged. They care about the vulnerable children as child hunger rates remain stubbornly high; they care about the dignity and security of our seniors and the mental and physical health of our veterans. They care about our infrastructure and want to see us investing in our nation’s roads, water pipes and public transportation. In 2008, when then-Senator Barack Obama said “Yes We Can,” he meant we, the people. As one man, he (and U.S. presidents before and those to come) cannot create change. We must work toward that change, over the next four years and the next four decades in our communities and local governments. The question we are asking now, one that we should also ask of ourselves, is: what’s next?

Melia Ungson, Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Northeast regional coordinator and student at Yale University:

Last night, I breathed a sigh of relief instead of jumping for joy (though, admittedly, there were shouts of excitement). Watching results from other races and ballot initiatives come in, I was similarly relieved to see voters in so many places support candidates and ballot measures to protect equal rights, which will hopefully elevate the discourse.  

Even though I go to school in Connecticut, which had a close senate race, I vote in California, largely because of the propositions, which are often close. In a state known recently for its budget issues and gridlock in the state legislature, the propositions serve as an alternate route for voters to address issues directly. Last night, California voters narrowly approved Prop 30 to help fund education and approved Prop 36 to reform the three strikes law, both exciting victories. However, voters failed to approve Prop 34 to repeal the costly and archaic death penalty and Prop 37, which would require the labeling of genetically engineered foods. California prides itself on being a forward-thinking state at the forefront of technology, environmental policy, and social equality, but voters do not always reflect this with propositions.

With all these election results, good, bad, mixed, or still to be decided, the pressure is on to start getting things done. I was excited that Obama alluded to issues like climate change and LGBT rights in his speech last night, and am hopeful that he and other re-elected or newly elected representatives will make progress on these and other issues come January. Our job as Millennialis is to continue to drive meaningful discourse, continue to put forth our own ideas on how best to work toward a stronger future, and ensure that issues important to young people don't fall by the wayside. 

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The Maryland Dream Act: Giving Undocumented Students Like Me a Fair Shot

Nov 5, 2012Jonathan J. Green

Higher education should be accessible to all students looking to better themselves and give back to their communities.

Higher education should be accessible to all students looking to better themselves and give back to their communities.

Marylanders will see a long list of referenda items in this year’s ballot when they head to the polls tomorrow. For me, the most important one is the Maryland Dream Act, a bill that would allow the state’s undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at its public colleges and universities if they meet certain eligibility criteria and would give all students an equal shot at higher education. I am a living, breathing example of the type of student who would be helped by this bill – someone simply trying to better himself and give back to his community who met obstacle after obstacle in trying to attain higher education. The whole state stands to benefit when students like me can afford to attend the school of their dreams.

I grew up in an immigrant household. My family and I moved to the United States in 2005 and I entered 8th grade as an ESOL student shortly afterwards. The only guidance I was given in regards to school was “go to school and do well.” So I focused on academics like my parents suggested. I started high school taking all ESOL classes, but managed, with a lot of hard work, to move to honors courses, then AP courses, and even participated in a dual-enrollment program at my local community college.

But in my high school years, something else happened: I became a Marylander. I was so impressed by the dedication of the teachers and adults around me, and felt so fortunate to live in a state where education is valued and made accessible to everyone, that I had to give back. I started volunteering in my church, became part of mentoring groups, organized community service projects, and even became my senior class vice president. I was so involved at the end of my high school career that I racked up over 1,000 community service learning hours, far above the 50 that were required for graduation.

Throughout all of my work, I had thought I was like every other student in my high school. But during my senior year I realized that my parents’ legal troubles would have a significant impact on my road to higher education. Even though my weighted GPA at the end of my high school career was over a 4.0 and I had been involved in several leadership and community service activities, I couldn't attend the college of my dreams because my undocumented status meant I couldn't receive financial aid. Luckily I was able to gain admission into my community college’s highly selective honors program and received a private scholarship to fund my education for two years. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to attend college at all.

At the end of my two years at community college, my dream was to transfer to the University of Maryland, College Park to study public policy or sociology. It seemed like the obvious choice since their programs for both disciplines are among the best in the nation and the school is located about 15 minutes away from my house. Despite gaining admission to the school, I could not attend because, as an undocumented immigrant, I wasn’t considered an in-state student. Instead of paying the more reasonable in-state price tag of $8,500, my legal status meant that I’d have to come up with $24,000 a year without any financial aid. That difference was more than my family could afford.

Again, I was fortunate. Goucher, a private college in the state of Maryland, was able to offer me some aid, which had made it a little more affordable than the public school of my dreams.

I have been lucky. But it is unacceptable that it is more affordable for me to attend a private school and live on campus than to attend the public school around the corner. Tomorrow, Maryland voters will consider Question 4, known as the Maryland Dream Act. It would give Maryland’s undocumented students the opportunity to pay in-state tuition if they meet certain eligibility criteria: attending and graduating from a Maryland high school or its equivalent, filing income taxes, attending a community college for the first two years, and others.

This bill is financially profitable for the state. Its passage will generate $66 million in revenue per graduating class for the state, according to an independent University of Maryland, Baltimore County study. The revenue comes from the fact that the more educated our workforce is, the more workers earn and thus pay in taxes back to the state. According to the study’s calculations, only about 435 students will take advantage of the Dream Act, or about 0.1 percent of the students enrolled in public higher education institutions in Maryland.

The Maryland Dream Act gives young Marylanders like me who come from tax-paying families a shot at higher education. Had it not been for Goucher, I would not have been able to continue my education and had the chance to improve my situation. There are hundreds of Maryland students like me hoping for a chance to succeed in life and give back to their home state of Maryland.

Jonathan Jayes-Green is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's education policy center director at Goucher College and is a junior.

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Standing Up for the 6 Million Americans Who Can’t Vote on November 6th

Oct 24, 2012Brandi Lupo

Voting is a fundamental right -- unless you're ensared in the penal system.

Voting is a fundamental right -- unless you're ensared in the penal system.

This November, the presidential election may hinge on a few thousand votes. This same November, nearly 6 million Americans will be kept from the polls, disenfranchised under a number of ever more aggressive state laws barring felons and ex-felons from the voting booth. This is detrimental to our justice system and a vicious threat to our democracy.

A report by The Sentencing Project estimates that these laws currently disenfranchise 5.85 million Americans. Of them, a whopping 75 percent are no longer inmates in prison or jail. Instead, they are serving parole, probation, or, in the case of 2.63 million individuals (nearly half of the entire population measured), are living in their communities freely, having already completed their sentences in full. Eleven states require a waiting period before voting after one’s sentence is complete; a lifetime ban awaits those with a felony record. The diagnosis is even grimmer when looked at by race. The report estimates that felony disenfranchisement laws in Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia each disenfranchise over 20 percent of their respective adult black American populations.

Undeniably, the convicted felon and ex-felon populations are two of the least politically popular groups facing disenfranchisement, potentially making their case for participation in democracy the most difficult. Opponents deploy a number of arguments against this crucial step toward universal suffrage. Some argue that if someone chooses not to follow the law, then he does not have the right to help select those who make the laws. They say that the right to vote is one that can be taken away as punishment—even well after an individual has completed her sentence.

Yet since the nation’s founding, a key concept prevailed and proved fundamental to democracy: the idea, explicitly stated in the Declaration of Independence, that government must derive its power from the consent of the governed. Despite having committed a crime, most felons and ex-felons are citizens, governed and affected by the decisions made in Washington. As an essential protection from government tyranny, corruption, and unjust laws, it is crucial that all citizens can (and do) contribute to the discussion of what type of society they would like to live in and what the laws dictating that society are.

Laws against voting are not common sense measures promoting the public safety or welfare. For those worried that felons and ex-felons may unite into some powerful anti-criminal justice voting bloc, think again: there is no evidence to support such a unity amongst the group, such illicit views among felons in the criminal justice system, or such single-issue behavior. Like the rest of us, felons who choose to vote have a number of political ideas to balance in the booth.

On top of all of this, public opinion here leans in favor of universal suffrage. Recent studies show that a clear majority favor restoring voting rights specifically to people who have exited prison and have served their entire sentence, are on parole, or are under supervised probation.

Voting is essential to a valid democracy. It is both a right and a duty—not a privilege. It is fundamental to the rigorous and diverse discussion required by our society. Yet this November, nearly 6 million citizens will be barred from the voting booth, silenced and ostracized. This number begs the question: how can this be right? We at the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network want to ask this question through Government By and For Millennial America, our new initiative focused on identifying the current problems in our government and providing solutions to create a better, more equal, and more accountable framework. Our polished vision will be ready to be put in place by Inauguration Day this January. Stay tuned.

Brandi Lupo is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Equal Justice and a student at New York University.

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The Biggest Debate Question: Where Were the Real Policy Solutions?

Oct 17, 2012

After last night's debate performance, did any substantive policy solutions get through? Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network students didn't hear a lot to go on.

Lydia Austin, Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Economic Development and Chapter Head at the University of Michigan:

After last night's debate performance, did any substantive policy solutions get through? Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network students didn't hear a lot to go on.

Lydia Austin, Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Economic Development and Chapter Head at the University of Michigan:

It's unfortunate that political debates are primarily judged on the candidate's personalities, and not their policies. Much of the consensus regarding "who won" is based on who was perceived to be in charge, who didn't get rattled, and who made it through the night without a bemused look upon his face. President Obama won the personality debate, but what about the actual policy proposals? Some of the most outstanding moments from the policy debate came from Mitt Romney: he championed flexibility for working women in a way that indicated how much he truly valued their presence in the workplace, and he put forth an interesting capital gains tax proposal. As part of Governor Romney's tax proposal, he would eliminate capital gains taxes for individuals making under $200,000 a year. The implications of this proposal are interesting: while it would encourage people to invest in savings, it would also benefit those individuals who already earn much of their income from investments (up to a certain point). Democratization of capital holdings is essential for a thriving middle class, and while both candidates implicitly addressed this in the debate, Romney's tax plan was what caught my attention.

Jessie Molloy, Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network member at DePaul University:

The selected voters had some interesting and insightful questions, but neither Governor Romney nor President Obama seemed particularly inclined to answer them. Instead, both candidates fell back into familiar side-step routines and parroted over and over again the same answers and points they have given a dozen times before at the conventions, at rallies, and at the first debate.

One particularly good example of this indirect approach to answers was on the issue of inequality in women’s pay. Obama talked about his mother “hitting the glass ceiling” and then spun the question into a tangent about education and creating opportunities for America’s youth. Romney discussed his experience as governor when he reportedly saw too many male cabinet candidates and sent out his staff to find “binders of women.” In the eight minutes or so the topic was on the table, neither candidate actually acknowledged how he would ensure women would be paid the same as their male counterparts. 

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Bryce Covert: Lack of Ambition Isn't to Blame for the Gender Wage Gap

Aug 28, 2012

In the latest episode of the Roosevelt Institute's Bloggingheads series, Fireside Chats, NND Editor Bryce Covert talks to National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru about what's behind the gender wage gap.

In the latest episode of the Roosevelt Institute's Bloggingheads series, Fireside Chats, NND Editor Bryce Covert talks to National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru about what's behind the gender wage gap. Their discussion began with a recent Bloomberg View column in which Ramesh argued that there may be factors other than discrimination, such as career choices, that account for women receiving lower pay. Bryce responded at The Nation by citing studies that show discrimination is a real problem, and Ramesh followed up with her at The Corner. In the video below, the two finally come face to face (sort of) to get to the bottom of what's keeping women down.

Responding to Ramesh's suggestion that women may be paid less at least partly because they are "not as aggressive as men in asking for salaries," Bryce concedes that "the idea that women aren't ambitious enough is not one that you find only on one side" and that "society does tend to shape men to be more aggressive and women to be more cooperative, for lack of a better word." But she notes that studies have found that "even if there is some sort of ambition gap," women who are just as ambitious as their male peers are "still not getting the money. The ones that ask still are not rewarded for asking." She also cites a study that shows managers are likely to offer men more as a baseline in salary negotiations, which means that "if a woman's going to go in and try to negotiate and be aggressive and ask for the money, she's already at a disadvantage before she even gets there." Given that the same behavior has been observed in female managers, Bryce argues that this "is not just the patriarchy keeping women down," but an "unconscious bias" shared by both men and women in the workplace.

For more on this debate, including our employers' Leave It to Beaver mindset and why fair pay laws alone aren't enough, check out the full video below:

 

Gender gap image via Shutterstock.com.

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Bryce Covert: Lack of Ambition Isn't to Blame for the Gender Wage Gap

Aug 28, 2012

In the latest episode of the Roosevelt Institute's Bloggingheads series, Fireside Chats, NND Editor Bryce Covert talks to National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru about what's behind the gender wage gap.

In the latest episode of the Roosevelt Institute's Bloggingheads series, Fireside Chats, NND Editor Bryce Covert talks to National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru about what's behind the gender wage gap. Their discussion began with a recent Bloomberg View column in which Ramesh argued that there may be factors other than discrimination, such as career choices, that account for women receiving lower pay. Bryce responded at The Nation by citing studies that show discrimination is a real problem, and Ramesh followed up with her at The Corner. In the video below, the two finally come face to face (sort of) to get to the bottom of what's keeping women down.

Responding to Ramesh's suggestion that women may be paid less at least partly because they are "not as aggressive as men in asking for salaries," Bryce concedes that "the idea that women aren't ambitious enough is not one that you find only on one side" and that "society does tend to shape men to be more aggressive and women to be more cooperative, for lack of a better word." But she notes that studies have found that "even if there is some sort of ambition gap," women who are just as ambitious as their male peers are "still not getting the money. The ones that ask still are not rewarded for asking." She also cites a study that shows managers are likely to offer men more as a baseline in salary negotiations, which means that "if a woman's going to go in and try to negotiate and be aggressive and ask for the money, she's already at a disadvantage before she even gets there." Given that the same behavior has been observed in female managers, Bryce argues that this "is not just the patriarchy keeping women down," but an "unconscious bias" shared by both men and women in the workplace.

For more on this debate, including our employers' Leave It to Beaver mindset and why fair pay laws alone aren't enough, check out the full video below:

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Single Women Voters Need One Voice, But Not One Issue

Aug 27, 2012Suzanne Kahn

Not so long ago, single women weren't just an important voting bloc  they were an organized group that made specific political demands.

Not so long ago, single women weren't just an important voting bloc  they were an organized group that made specific political demands.

This political season, single women keep finding themselves at the center of political firestorms. Both parties and the media have recognized that single women are one of the country’s fastest growing demographics and a potentially crucial voting bloc. As the New York Times recently wrote, single women lean strongly toward Obama in polls, but they are not reliable voters, often feeling like politics don’t address their everyday concerns.

Democrats hope to turn single women out by reminding them of the party’s defense of reproductive rights—a job Republicans like Todd Akin make easy. Republicans, in turn, claim that women should and do care about more than their reproductive rights and will turn to the GOP when they consider the bad economy. Absent from this debate is any sense that single women might have some very specific demands beyond reproductive freedom that are not addressed in either party’s appeals.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the number of single women in this country also grew dramatically. A rising number of divorces and increasing economic opportunities for women outside of marriage created new constituencies. Finding their access to economic resources—from credit to pensions—severely limited in a political economy built around the assumed norm of a nuclear family, these women organized. They formed groups like the Older Women’s League and the Alliance for Displaced Homemakers, which demanded legal reform to give single women access to badly needed resources. They proposed creative solutions to the problems single women faced on a day-to-day basis – for example, new ways of calculating Social Security benefits based on a couple’s shared earnings.

These women organized for a number of reasons. Looser divorce laws meant that women who never expected or wanted to be single found themselves suddenly without partners after a lifetime of dependency on their husbands. In this new position, they ran up against laws and customary practices that blatantly discriminated against women. Divorced women, who had paid family credit card bills for years, could not get cards on their own. Women who divorced after less than 20 years of marriage lost access to Social Security benefits. Health insurance companies actively discriminated against women without husbands by charging them far more to purchase an insurance plan. Newly divorced women discovered institutions putting up roadblock after roadblock as they tried to put their lives back together. So they organized—not only within existing women’s organizations, but also by creating their own.

It was, of course, a political moment that fostered identity politics. The burgeoning women’s movement created spaces for single women to meet and discover their shared problems. It also provided organizational support for single women to organize. The National Organization for Women, for example, created special committees to address the problems facing divorced women, widowed women, and never-married women.

Single women identified equal access to credit, affordable health insurance, pension rights, affordable childcare, Social Security reforms, and much more as single women’s issues. They approached these issues not in a general way, but with very concrete demands to address the specific challenges they faced. They proposed specific laws to give women credit access, to reform the Social Security system so that married women were not treated exclusively as dependents, and to provide affordable childcare so that women could work. These organizations won important victories, like the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, but they also left unfinished work, such as the fight for quality, affordable childcare.

Many commentators have pointed out that reproductive rights are deeply tied to economic rights for women, and they are. But a real appeal to single women as voters would recognize the many other ways to improve single women’s economic fate, like paid maternity leave and labor laws that protect the many women who work in the service economy.

Single women today, like those in the 1970s and 1980s, are strapped for time as well as money. Asking that single women create brand new organizations is a tall order. But our absence from the political scene as vocal, self-organized participants has allowed the parties to adopt a severely limited vision of women’s demands.  

Suzanne Kahn is a Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow and a Ph.D. student in history at Columbia University.

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