Daily Digest - August 19: With Inequality, It's Women and Children First

Aug 19, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Among the Poor, Women Feel Inequality More Deeply (NYT)

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Among the Poor, Women Feel Inequality More Deeply (NYT)

The burden of inequality falls more heavily on poor women, says Patricia Cohen, because they are more likely to be raising a family and get little support for the "second shift" of household management.

Blame Employers, Not Workers, for Any Skills Gap, Economist Says (WSJ)

Josh Zombrun looks at a new working paper from a University of Pennsylvania economist, which argues that employers who complain about lack of skills are accountable for refusing to provide training.

The Hunger Crisis in America’s Universities (MSNBC)

Ned Resnikoff reports on how colleges across the country are tackling rising food insecurity. Many are looking to Michigan State University, home of an established campus food pantry, for guidance.

A Co-op State of Mind (In These Times)

Ajowa Nzinga Ifateyo looks at the rise of worker cooperatives in New York City in light of the City Council's new $1.2 million initiative to support and grow such enterprises.

What Does the Fed Have to do with Social Security? Plenty (AJAM)

Dean Baker notes that Federal Reserve policy can influence unemployment rates, and when more people work, especially in low- and middle- wage jobs, Social Security revenues increase.

How Outdated Parking Laws Price Families Out of the City (CityLab)

A-P Hurd argues that requiring developers to build parking lifts the costs of housing out of the affordable range for most families. Hurd looks at a more family-friendly urban housing model.

New on Next New Deal

Curbing Campus Sexual Assault is Not About the Money

Campus Network's Hannah Zhang responds to critics of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act who call the bill's fines outsized to the problem of sexual assault on campuses.

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Daily Digest - August 15: Social Security at 79

Aug 15, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Social Security Marks 79th Birthday with Declining Service (WaPo)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Social Security Marks 79th Birthday with Declining Service (WaPo)

Joe Davidson says that the Social Security Administration continues to aim for providing "the best possible service for the American public," but budget and staffing cuts have hampered that goal.

  • Roosevelt Take: Campus Network member Brian Lamberta calls for eliminating the cap on Social Security taxes to ensure the program's sustainability through Millennials' retirements and beyond.

Starbucks to Revise Policies to End Irregular Schedules for Its 130,000 Baristas (NYT)

In response to an article in The New York Times about a single mother's struggle with erratic scheduling, Starbucks plans to revise its scheduling practices to improve worker stability, writes Jodi Kantor.

Why the Minimum Wage Issue is a Win-Win for Obama (MSNBC)

Timothy Noah explains that if Congress won't pass a minimum wage increase, then Democrats have an easy wedge issue for the 2014 elections, which is especially important as they fight to hold the Senate.

Education Alone Is Not the Answer to Income Inequality and Slow Recovery (TAP)

Many economists are emphasizing education as a way to spread the economic recovery beyond the 1 percent, but Robert Kuttner argues for a job-creating solution instead: infrastructure investment.

It's Time to Pay Prisoners the Minimum Wage (TNR)

Josh Kovensky argues that using prison labor as a cost-cutting measure is ineffective and creates unexpected costs, particularly relating to the dependents of prisoners.

When Your Employer Doesn’t Consider You an Employee (AJAM)

The recently proposed Payroll Fraud Prevention Act would help balance power in the workplace by ensuring workers know their rights as employees or contractors, writes Malcolm Harris.

Why it’s No Easy Task to Determine What the GSEs Should Charge for Their Guarantee (MetroTrends Blog)

Laurie Goodman, Ellen Seidman, Jim Parrott, and Jun Zhu lay out the difficulties in determining what fees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should charge for guaranteeing mortgage-backed securities.

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Daily Digest - August 11: Big Business's Frenemy in the White House

Aug 11, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Your Call: The U.S.-Africa Summit and Corporate Taxes (KALW)

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Your Call: The U.S.-Africa Summit and Corporate Taxes (KALW)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal discusses President Obama's interview with The Economist, and explains the administration's relationship with big business. His segment begins at 34:00.

Libertarian Fantasies (NYT)

Paul Krugman says that the libertarian vision of society bears little resemblance to reality, and references Mike Konczal's recent piece on libertarians and basic guaranteed income as an example.

Paul Ryan's Magical Poverty Tour (AJAM)

Susan Greenbaum points to an existing welfare block grant – the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program – as proof that Ryan's plan would not serve enough of the eligible families.

Franchise Association Sues Over Seattle’s $15 Wage (MSNBC)

The law requires large businesses, including franchisees, to raise wages faster than smaller ones. Franchisees claims this discriminates against their business model, reports Ned Resnikoff.

Decline in 'Slack' Helps Fed Gauge Recovery (WSJ)

Pedro da Costa explains how the gap between economic resources we have and those that we use, particularly in the labor market, is influencing Federal Reserve decisions about interest rates.

Fed's Fischer Calls U.S. and Global Recoveries Disappointing (Reuters)

Howard Schneider reports on Federal Reserve Vice Chair Stanley Fischer's concerns regarding how central banks must respond to the possibility of permanently slowed growth post-recession.

‘Eat Your Vegetables’ Is Easier for Low-Income Mothers Who Get Help (Pacific Standard)

A new study shows financial incentives at farmers' markets do work to increase vegetable consumption, writes Avital Andrews, which makes a strong case for government nutrition incentives.

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Daily Digest - August 8: The Man with the Misguided Anti-Poverty Plan

Aug 8, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Paul Ryan’s Magical Thinking (The Baffler)

Paul Ryan's belief that poverty is rooted in personal failure isn't the only problem with his anti-poverty plan, writes Ned Resnikoff. It's also impractical to implement and too easily abused.

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Paul Ryan’s Magical Thinking (The Baffler)

Paul Ryan's belief that poverty is rooted in personal failure isn't the only problem with his anti-poverty plan, writes Ned Resnikoff. It's also impractical to implement and too easily abused.

An Interview With the President (The Economist)

While discussing corporate responsibility in this wide-ranging interview, President Obama points out that companies profess to care about social issues, but only lobby for their tax breaks.

Let's Do It! Let's Bring Back Earmarks! (HuffPo)

Ending earmarks has done nothing to reduce American cynicism about government's motives, and has contributed to congressional gridlock, writes Jason Linkins.

When U.S. Companies Skip the Country to Dodge Taxes, Their Shareholders Can Foot the Bill (Quartz)

Since shareholders are hit with a capital gains tax bill when companies use inversion (merging with a foreign company) to avoid taxes, Tim Fernholz says raising those rates could slow the problem.

These 7 Charts Show Why the Rent Is Too Damn High (MoJo)

Erika Eichelberger and AJ Vicens lay out the data explaining shifts in rental housing. They say that reducing government's role in housing finance could direct funds toward affordable rental housing.

New on Next New Deal

Without Public Investment, the U.S. Will Fall Into Chaos

In her video speculation for the Next American Economy project, Sarah Burd-Sharps, Co-Director of Measure for America, predicts that fiscal moderates will push public investment out of fear of a more costly future.

The Pragmatic Libertarian Case for a Basic Income Doesn't Add Up

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal says that Matt Zwolinski's case for a basic income guarantee makes faulty assumptions about what government is already providing through welfare.

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The Pragmatic Libertarian Case for a Basic Income Doesn't Add Up

Aug 8, 2014Mike Konczal

Cato Unbound has a symposium on the “pragmatic libertarian case” for a Basic Income Guarantee (BIG), as argued by Matt Zwolinski. What makes it pragmatic? Because it would be a better alternative to the welfare state we now have. It would be a smaller, easier, cheaper (or at least no more expensive) version of what we already do, but have much better results.

Fair enough. But for the pragmatic case to work, it has to be founded on an accurate understanding of the current welfare state. And here I think Zwolinski is wrong in his description in three major ways.

He describes a welfare state where there are over a hundred programs, each with their own bureaucracy that overwhelms and suffocates the individual. This bureaucracy is so large and wasteful that simply removing it and replacing it with a basic income can save a ton of money. And we can get a BIG by simply shuffling around the already existing welfare state. Each of these assertions are misleading if not outright wrong.

Obviously, in an essay like this, it is normal to exaggerate various aspects of the reality in order to convince skeptics and make readers think in a new light. But these inaccuracies turn out to invalidate his argument. The case for a BIG will need to be built on a steadier footing.

Too Many Programs?

Zwolinski puts significant weight on the idea that there are, following a Cato report, 126 welfare programs spending nearly $660 billion dollars. That’s a lot of programs! Is that accurate?

Well, no. The programs Zwolinski describes can be broken down into three groups. First you have Medicaid, where the feds pay around $228 billion. Then you have the six big programs that act as “outdoor relief” welfare, providing cash, or cash-like compensation. These are the Earned Income Tax Credit, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Supplemental Security Income, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), housing vouchers and the Child Tax Credit. Ballpark figure, that’s around $212 billion dollars.

So only 7 programs are what we properly think of as welfare, or cash payments for the poor. Perhaps we should condense those programs, but there aren't as many as we originally thought. What about the remaining 119 programs?

These are largely small grants to local institutions of civil society to provide for the common good. Quick examples involve $2.5 billion to facilitate adoption assistance, $500 million to help with homeless shelters, $250 million to help provide food for food shelters (and whose recent cuts were felt by those trying to fight food insecurity), or $10 million for low income taxpayer clinics.

These grants go largely to nonprofits who carry out a public purpose. State funding and delegation of public purpose has always characterized this “third sector” of civil institutions in the United States. Our rich civil society has always been built alongside the state. Perhaps these are good programs or perhaps they are bad, but the sheer number of programs have nothing to do with the state degrading the individual through deadening bureaucracy. If you are just going after the number of programs, you are as likely to bulldoze our nonprofit infrastructure that undergirds civil society as you are some sort of imagined totalitarian bureaucracy.

Inefficient, out-of-control bureaucracy?

But even if there aren’t that many programs, certainly there are efficiencies to reducing the seven programs that do exist. Zwolinski writes that “[e]liminating a large chunk of the federal bureaucracy would obviously...reduce the size and scope of government” and that “the relatively low cost of a BIG comes from the reduction of bureaucracy.”

So are these programs characterized by out of control spending? No. Here they are calculated by Robert Greenstein and CBPP Staff.

The major programs have administrative costs ranging between 1 percent (EITC) and 8.7 percent (housing vouchers), each proportionate to how much observation of recipients there is. Weighted, the average administrative cost is about 5 percent. To put this in perspective, compare it with private charity. According to estimates by Givewell, their most favored charities spend 11 percent on administrative costs, significantly more than is spent on these programs.

More to the point, there isn’t a lot of fat here. If all the administrative costs were reduced to 1 percent, you’d save around $25 billion dollars. That’s not going to add enough cash to create a floor under poverty, much less a BIG, by any means.

Pays for Itself?

So there are relatively few programs and they are run at a decent administrative cost. In order to get a BIG, you’ll need some serious cash on the table. So how does Zwolinski argues that “a BIG could be considerably cheaper than the current welfare state, [or at least it] would not cost more than what we currently spend”?

Here we hit a wall with what we mean by the welfare state. Zwolinski quotes two example plans. The first is from Charles Murray. However, in addition to the seven welfare programs mentioned above, he also collapses Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, and social insurance more broadly into his basic income. If I recall correctly, it actually does cost more to get to the basic income he wants when he wrote the book in 2006, but said that it was justified because Medicare spending was projected to skyrocket a decade out, much faster than the basic income.

His other example is a plan by Ed Dolan. Dolan doesn’t touch health care spending, and for our purposes doesn’t really touch Social Security. How does he get to his basic income? By wiping out tax expenditures without lowering tax rates. He zeros out tax expenditures like the mortgage interest deduction, charitable giving, and the personal exemption, and turns the increased revenue into a basic income.

We have three distinct things here. We have the seven programs above that are traditionally understood as welfare programs of outdoor relief, or cash assistance to the poor. We have social insurance, programs designed to combat the Four Horsemen of “accident, illness, old age, loss of a job” through society-wide insurance. And we have tax expenditures, the system that creates an individualized welfare state through the tax code.

Zwolinski is able to make it seem like we can get a BIG conflict-free by blurring each of these three things together. But social insurance isn’t outdoor relief. People getting Social Security don’t think that they are on welfare or a public form of charity. Voters definitely don’t like the idea of scratching Medicare and replacing it with (a lot less) cash, understanding them as two different things. And social insurance, like all insurance, is able to get a lot of bang for the buck by having everyone contribute but only take out when necessary, for example they are too old to work. Public social insurance, through its massive scale, has an efficiency that beats out private options. If Zwolinski wants to go this route, he needs to make the full case against the innovation of social insurance itself.

Removing tax expenditures, which tend to go to those at the top of the income distribution, certainly seems like a good way to fund a BIG. However we’ll be raising taxes if we go this route. Now, of course, the idea that there is no distribution of income independent of the state is common sense, so the word “redistribution” is just a question-begging exercise. However the top 20 percent of income earners will certainly believe their tax bill is going up and react accordingly.

So?

Zwolinski is trying to make it seem like we can largely accomplish a BIG by shuffling around the things that state does, because the state does them poorly. But the numbers simply won’t add up. Or his plan will hit a wall when social insurance is on the chopping block, or when the rich revolt when their taxes go up.

The case for the BIG needs to be made from firmer ground. Perhaps it is because the effects of poverty are like a poison. Or maybe it will provide real freedom for all by ensuring people can pursue their individual goals. Maybe it is because the economy won’t produce jobs in the capital-intensive robot age of the future, and a basic income will help ensure legitimacy for this creatively destructive economy. Heck, maybe it just compensates for the private appropriation of common, natural resources.

But what won’t make the case is the idea that the government already does this, just badly. When push comes to shove, the numbers won’t be there.

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Cato Unbound has a symposium on the “pragmatic libertarian case” for a Basic Income Guarantee (BIG), as argued by Matt Zwolinski. What makes it pragmatic? Because it would be a better alternative to the welfare state we now have. It would be a smaller, easier, cheaper (or at least no more expensive) version of what we already do, but have much better results.

Fair enough. But for the pragmatic case to work, it has to be founded on an accurate understanding of the current welfare state. And here I think Zwolinski is wrong in his description in three major ways.

He describes a welfare state where there are over a hundred programs, each with their own bureaucracy that overwhelms and suffocates the individual. This bureaucracy is so large and wasteful that simply removing it and replacing it with a basic income can save a ton of money. And we can get a BIG by simply shuffling around the already existing welfare state. Each of these assertions are misleading if not outright wrong.

Obviously, in an essay like this, it is normal to exaggerate various aspects of the reality in order to convince skeptics and make readers think in a new light. But these inaccuracies turn out to invalidate his argument. The case for a BIG will need to be built on a steadier footing.

Too Many Programs?

Zwolinski puts significant weight on the idea that there are, following a Cato report, 126 welfare programs spending nearly $660 billion dollars. That’s a lot of programs! Is that accurate?

Well, no. The programs Zwolinski describes can be broken down into three groups. First you have Medicaid, where the feds pay around $228 billion. Then you have the six big programs that act as “outdoor relief” welfare, providing cash, or cash-like compensation. These are the Earned Income Tax Credit, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Supplemental Security Income, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), housing vouchers and the Child Tax Credit. Ballpark figure, that’s around $212 billion dollars.

So only 7 programs are what we properly think of as welfare, or cash payments for the poor. Perhaps we should condense those programs, but there aren't as many as we originally thought. What about the remaining 119 programs?

These are largely small grants to local institutions of civil society to provide for the common good. Quick examples involve $2.5 billion to facilitate adoption assistance, $500 million to help with homeless shelters, $250 million to help provide food for food shelters (and whose recent cuts were felt by those trying to fight food insecurity), or $10 million for low income taxpayer clinics.

These grants go largely to nonprofits who carry out a public purpose. State funding and delegation of public purpose has always characterized this “third sector” of civil institutions in the United States. Our rich civil society has always been built alongside the state. Perhaps these are good programs or perhaps they are bad, but the sheer number of programs have nothing to do with the state degrading the individual through deadening bureaucracy. If you are just going after the number of programs, you are as likely to bulldoze our nonprofit infrastructure that undergirds civil society as you are some sort of imagined totalitarian bureaucracy.

Inefficient, out-of-control bureaucracy?

But even if there aren’t that many programs, certainly there are efficiencies to reducing the seven programs that do exist. Zwolinski writes that “[e]liminating a large chunk of the federal bureaucracy would obviously...reduce the size and scope of government” and that “the relatively low cost of a BIG comes from the reduction of bureaucracy.”

So are these programs characterized by out of control spending? No. Here they are calculated by Robert Greenstein and CBPP Staff.

The major programs have administrative costs ranging between 1 percent (EITC) and 8.7 percent (housing vouchers), each proportionate to how much observation of recipients there is. Weighted, the average administrative cost is about 5 percent. To put this in perspective, compare it with private charity. According to estimates by Givewell, their most favored charities spend 11 percent on administrative costs, significantly more than is spent on these programs.

More to the point, there isn’t a lot of fat here. If all the administrative costs were reduced to 1 percent, you’d save around $25 billion dollars. That’s not going to add enough cash to create a floor under poverty, much less a BIG, by any means.

Pays for Itself?

So there are relatively few programs and they are run at a decent administrative cost. In order to get a BIG, you’ll need some serious cash on the table. So how does Zwolinski argues that “a BIG could be considerably cheaper than the current welfare state, [or at least it] would not cost more than what we currently spend”?

Here we hit a wall with what we mean by the welfare state. Zwolinski quotes two example plans. The first is from Charles Murray. However, in addition to the seven welfare programs mentioned above, he also collapses Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, and social insurance more broadly into his basic income. If I recall correctly, it actually does cost more to get to the basic income he wants when he wrote the book in 2006, but said that it was justified because Medicare spending was projected to skyrocket a decade out, much faster than the basic income.

His other example is a plan by Ed Dolan. Dolan doesn’t touch health care spending, and for our purposes doesn’t really touch Social Security. How does he get to his basic income? By wiping out tax expenditures without lowering tax rates. He zeros out tax expenditures like the mortgage interest deduction, charitable giving, and the personal exemption, and turns the increased revenue into a basic income.

We have three distinct things here. We have the seven programs above that are traditionally understood as welfare programs of outdoor relief, or cash assistance to the poor. We have social insurance, programs designed to combat the Four Horsemen of “accident, illness, old age, loss of a job” through society-wide insurance. And we have tax expenditures, the system that creates an individualized welfare state through the tax code.

Zwolinski is able to make it seem like we can get a BIG conflict-free by blurring each of these three things together. But social insurance isn’t outdoor relief. People getting Social Security don’t think that they are on welfare or a public form of charity. Voters definitely don’t like the idea of scratching Medicare and replacing it with (a lot less) cash, understanding them as two different things. And social insurance, like all insurance, is able to get a lot of bang for the buck by having everyone contribute but only take out when necessary, for example they are too old to work. Public social insurance, through its massive scale, has an efficiency that beats out private options. If Zwolinski wants to go this route, he needs to make the full case against the innovation of social insurance itself.

Removing tax expenditures, which tend to go to those at the top of the income distribution, certainly seems like a good way to fund a BIG. However we’ll be raising taxes if we go this route. Now, of course, the idea that there is no distribution of income independent of the state is common sense, so the word “redistribution” is just a question-begging exercise. However the top 20 percent of income earners will certainly believe their tax bill is going up and react accordingly.

So?

Zwolinski is trying to make it seem like we can largely accomplish a BIG by shuffling around the things that state does, because the state does them poorly. But the numbers simply won’t add up. Or his plan will hit a wall when social insurance is on the chopping block, or when the rich revolt when their taxes go up.

The case for the BIG needs to be made from firmer ground. Perhaps it is because the effects of poverty are like a poison. Or maybe it will provide real freedom for all by ensuring people can pursue their individual goals. Maybe it is because the economy won’t produce jobs in the capital-intensive robot age of the future, and a basic income will help ensure legitimacy for this creatively destructive economy. Heck, maybe it just compensates for the private appropriation of common, natural resources.

But what won’t make the case is the idea that the government already does this, just badly. When push comes to shove, the numbers won’t be there.

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Education Left Behind

Jul 31, 2014Edyta Obrzut

Young people in Illinois recognize that many aspects of the state's education system are broken, and they have some first steps for improving it.

Young people in Illinois recognize that many aspects of the state's education system are broken, and they have some first steps for improving it.

“Part of what is at risk is the promise first made on this continent: All, regardless of race or class or economic status, are entitled to a fair chance and to the tools for developing their individual powers of mind and spirit to the utmost. This promise means that all children by virtue of their own efforts, competently guided, can hope to attain the mature and informed judgment needed to secure gainful employment, and to manage their own lives, thereby serving not only their own interests but also the progress of society itself’”   — A Nation at Risk, 1983

In August of 1981, Secretary of Education Terrell Bell chartered the National Commission on Excellence to review and synthetize scholarly research on public schools nationwide, with a special focus on the educational experience of teenage youth. In their report, A Nation at Risk, they promised a comprehensive change to the students, their parents, and teachers. Years after National Commission on Excellence’s promise was made, The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and Young Invincibles have banded together under the NextGen Illinois project in order to bring a youth-led agenda to state government officials. It is time to assess what has been done and what needs to be improved to completely fulfill the dream of equal access to the quality education and equality of opportunity for young people in the state of Illinois.

To that end, the NextGen project is hosting a series of caucuses across the state that offer an opportunity for young people to brainstorm and create a youth-lead policy agenda for the state of Illinois on issues that matter most to them. They foster discussion about state level politics and some of the most significant problems that are facing Illinois today. Through their participation, young adults offer their own insight about potential solutions to those problems that can result in positive change in their communities.

The NextGen project held its second caucus at DePaul University on Tuesday, May 27, where students pointed out several problems with the current education system in Illinois, including inequality in the distribution of education funding and challenges created by a centralized curriculum. In this system both teachers and students feel pressures created by the demands of accountability and insufficient resources.

Youth from the DePaul caucus further explained that demand for academic achievement and penalties for low-test scores have put extraordinary emphasis on accountability with both students and teachers being measured on their efficiency. The idea of consequences vs. high achievement creates a problem in which teaching in public schools is mostly directed toward test preparation rather than challenging and interesting classes. The lowest scoring schools are struggling with fewer funds and risk being placed on probation or being closed.

The use of standardized tests in high stakes decisions about the individual student is also problematic, as not all students receive an equal opportunity to learn. As recently as 2010, Illinois received a grade of F in equitable distribution of funds per pupil and in relation to the students’ poverty. Education funding distribution in Illinois has been assessed as regressive and unfair. And to make matters worse, in 2009, Illinois law makers cut assistance for P-12 education from the General Fund by more than $861 million (12%). Without addressing these problems, current practices focused on test scores and accountability may only deepen inequality. The top-down accountability model is shifting responsibility for the failure of the educational system from the state to the individuals and hurts not only teachers and parents, but most of all, kids. NextGen youth believe that market-style competition is not working well for them and that it is time to change it.

What can we do to get education back on track? Young people who participated in the caucus at DePaul argue that Illinois has to reevaluate its budget and increase funding for education. Students believe that improved support from the state to schools, granted on a per student basis, will be more effective. They believe that each student should have the same access to quality education and resources so youth can obtain proper preparation for college and competition on the job market. NextGen participants also stress the importance of early career exploration courses and financial counseling, which will help students in their life after high school.

Students’ commitment to the issue of improving the Illinois public schools demonstrates the significance of the problem. They emphasize that improving educational outcomes of students in Illinois requires an effective educational reform that can only take place by including parents, teachers, and most of all- youth into the policy making process. High rate of participation in the NextGen caucuses by Illinois youth proves that if we try hard, we can make a difference!

Edyta Obrzut is the NextGen Illinois Research Fellow for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

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Leadership Wanted: The College Access Crisis Needs You, Mayor de Blasio

Jul 31, 2014Kevin Stump

Focusing on programs that help at-risk college students achieve doesn't get them in the door, so the mayor must put more energy and funding into college access.

Focusing on programs that help at-risk college students achieve doesn't get them in the door, so the mayor must put more energy and funding into college access.

This time a year ago, New York City residents were knee-deep in sorting through the promising rhetoric offered by hopeful bureaucrats vying to become the next Mayor of New York City. "The Tale of Two Cities" – the signature campaign phrase that helped propel Bill de Blasio into becoming the next chief executive of America’s largest city – speaks to the severity of the economic inequality that exists in New York City and across the country.

Mayor de Blasio’s election was an overnight mandate for progressive reform, which greatly emphasized increasing resources for New York City’s schools. This year’s final New York City 2014 budget did take steps in the right direction by investing more in the City University of New York (CUNY) and programs like the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs and the Black Male Initiative to help the most at-risk students succeed while at college. These investments are necessary – especially given that 42 percent of CUNY community college students experience housing insecurity, 39 percent experience food insecurity, and 65 percent come from households with incomes less than $30,000.

However, let's be clear: the mayor is not placing equal priority on college access, a choice that is dangerously shortsighted and will be much more costly in the end. The programs and opportunities that at-risk New York City high school students have available to help them access college are just as important as the programs that help students after admission.

While most New York City high school students know that a high school diploma is no longer good enough, and acknowledge the need for a college degree, almost 70 percent of students believed that a high school diploma alone would adequately prepare them for college-level coursework. Yet only 25 percent of students are graduating college ready in New York City. Just 29 percent of high school graduates in the class of 2012 had test scores high enough to avoid remedial courses at the City’s public schools. What’s worse is that 74 percent of first-time freshmen entering CUNY community colleges needed remedial coursework in math, up 15 percent from 2002. Nearly three out of four high school students are either failing to graduate on time or lack the basic academic skills needed to hit the ground running at CUNY.

It is clear that the City should be doing more to help the most at-risk communities access college while simultaneously injecting the CUNY system with enough resources to effectively meet the demand.

There’s no debate: public higher education, while not perfect, is a proven and successful model to help socially and economically prepare young people to become life-long contributing citizens. However, the critical four years leading up to a young person's path to college can make or break a student’s college attainment. The Mayor should seize the opportunity and lead the nation’s cities and the people of New York to address this issue head on by jump-starting an inclusive public policy process that will lay out an aggressive plan for other cities across America to follow.

In addition to the obvious players like the NYC Department of Education, New York State Education Department, and CUNY, the Mayor must bring to the policy table local stakeholders like the College Access Consortium of New York and groups like the Goddard Riverside Community Center as well as national models such as College Track and key stakeholders like the Lumina Foundation to put New York City on a collaborative path to increasing college attainment and by doing so, tackling economic inequality.

To start, initial conversations should include how to best leverage existing government infrastructure and systems to think collaboratively and across agencies about policy solutions. For example, we could analyze programs offered by the New York City Department of Housing to integrate effective and proven programs in public housing facilities. The issue of college access is an intersectional problem and requires intersectional solutions. This issue requires Mayor de Blasio to employ a policy process that is inclusive, grounded in research and analysis, utilizes all the resources we have available, and injects even more resources to change this much-talked about but greatly under-addressed issue of college access or the lack thereof.  

Kevin Stump is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Leadership Director.

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Quick Thoughts on Ryan's Poverty Plan: What Are the Risks?

Jul 25, 2014Mike Konczal

Paul Ryan released his anti-poverty plan yesterday, and lots of people have written about it. Bob Greenstein has a great overview of the block-granting portion of the plan.

Paul Ryan released his anti-poverty plan yesterday, and lots of people have written about it. Bob Greenstein has a great overview of the block-granting portion of the plan. I'm still reading and thinking about it, but in the interest of answering the call for constructive criticism, a few points jump out that I haven't seen others make yet.

How did we get here?

Republicans obviously have an interest in branding themselves as a "party of ideas." And many liberals and Democrats also have an interest in trying to make the GOP seem like it's been devoid of any ideas in the past several years.

But it's worth noting that within a year of Democrats and liberal thinkers getting actively behind a serious increase in the minimum wage, and many activists making strides toward it on the local level, Paul Ryan just wholesale adopted President Obama's EITC expansion program. That demonstrates the value of pushing the envelope.

Complexity and the EITC

Ryan's plan, correctly, makes a big deal out of the complexity of receiving the EITC. The difficulty of navigating the system, the large number of improper payments, people not receiving what they should, people having to use tax-prep services to get the credit, and so on.

This is why I'm a huge fan of higher minimum wages as a complement to the EITC. Instead of 40 pages of rules and a dozen potential forms to fill out, you just put a sign that reads "$10.10 an hour" on the wall. Bosses and workers can't trick each other or get confused about this, and nobody has to pay a tax-prep service to figure it out. Easy peasy.

Ryan wants to "direct the Treasury Department to investigate further" how to fix this, but in practice Treasury just turns around and yells at the IRS. And if the IRS knew how to fix it, they'd probably be on it.

There is also a simpler plan to fix this issue: just have the government mail people their tax forms already filled out, for them to either sign or correct. When a trial version of this, "Ready Return," was tried in California, people immediately saw the potential for this to fix EITC delivery issues. Perhaps anti-poverty advocates can help provide momentum on this front.

Bosses and the EITC

Both Ryan and Marco Rubio have referred to putting the ETIC credit directly into workers' paychecks. Ryan: "[A]nother potential area of reform should focus upon EITC simplicity and delivery. If families received the credit with their paychecks, the link between work and the EITC would be that much clearer."

I'd be worried if employers were the ones responsible for adding this wage subsidy. I don't think there's a convincing argument that the EITC or food stamps lower wages directly (though there is one indirectly for the EITC), but if employers got a wage subsidy themselves to pass to their workers, it's easy to imagine them pocketing part of it through lower wages, especially in the monopsony of low-wage labor markets.

A discussion of welfare reform

Rather than a "welfare reform -- yay or nay?" conversation, it would be really useful if people arguing for the block-granting of the entire anti-poverty agenda would point out what they do and do not like about what happened in the 1990s. Especially as proponents hold up welfare reform as the model.

As Matt Bruenig notes, the work requirements and other restrictions go against the concept of subsidiarity. Greenstein writes, "the block grant would afford state and local officials tantalizing opportunities to use some block grant funds to replace state and local funds now going for similar services...That’s what happened under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant." In retrospect, TANF didn't survive the business cycle, and it clearly has cut spending by cutting the rolls. Is that what people want to accomplish with food stamps, which have done wonders to boost childhood life outcomes? If not, what can be done other than assert that this time will be different?

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Daily Digest - July 25: The Bad Science Behind the Anti-Woman Agenda

Jul 25, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Debunking the Bad Science on Abortion and Women's Health (The Hill)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Debunking the Bad Science on Abortion and Women's Health (The Hill)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Andrea Flynn explains the truth behind the anti-abortion myths that are presented as fact by lawmakers who pass legislation that harms women's health.

Setting the Table for Housing Reform (Progressive Massachusetts)

Alex Lessin summarizes Roosevelt Institute | Boston's deep dive into housing policy, which led them to focus on increasing public participation at zoning meetings as a key step for fair housing.

Some Republicans Push Compassionate, Anti-Poverty Agenda Ahead of 2016 Contest (WaPo)

Zachary Goldfarb speaks to Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal, who says many of these Republican reform ideas only put a nicer spin on radical proposals like the Ryan budget plan.

Parts of Paul Ryan's Poverty Plan Even a Liberal Can Love (U.S. News & World Report)

Fixing mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines and limiting unnecessary professional licensing in some occupations are opportunities for bipartisan agreement, writes Pat Garofalo.

United Airlines' Outsourcing Jobs to Company That Pays Near-Poverty Wages Is Shameful (HuffPo)

Robert Creamer decries United for eliminating hundreds of middle-class jobs for the sake of financial performance. He writes that companies can't be permitted to put stock performance ahead of people.

Forget Too Big to Fail. Banks Bro-down to Borrow, and It May Cause a New Crash (The Guardian)

Heidi Moore calls on regulators to push new requirements on banks for their short-term lending, which she sees as a key piece of financial regulation to keep banks from failing.

New on Next New Deal

White House Summit Speakers: Look Beyond Congress for Action on Working Families

With Congress in gridlock, Julius Goldberg-Lewis, Midwest Regional Coordinator for Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network, praises the White House Summit on Working Families' focus on states and businesses.

Big Data is Watching You

In his speculation on the future for the Next American Economy initiative, Mike Mathieu, founder of high-tech business incubator Front Seat, says data-mining is coming for the human brain.

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White House Summit Speakers: Look Beyond Congress for Action on Working Families

Jul 24, 2014Julius Goldberg-Lewis

The White House Summit on Working Families showed paths to creating change that work around a gridlocked Congress.

The White House Summit on Working Families showed paths to creating change that work around a gridlocked Congress.

On Monday, June 23, Roosevelt Institute Fellows and Campus Network members attended the White House Summit on Working Families in Washington, DC. The Summit, which was the culmination of months of town halls across the United States, presented the audience with the stark reality that in order to truly help working families, there must be a dramatic culture shift. The day was filled with speakers like the President, the Vice President, and both their wives, and the CEOs of multibillion-dollar companies and startups alike, all of whom shared anecdotes about their experiences as the breadwinners of working families.

The focus of the conference was the need to change the outdated laws and culture that govern the modern-day workforce. Today, women make up 47% of the labor force, and 60% of children grow up in a family where both parents work. The status quo, however, leaves most Americans without access to any form of guaranteed leave, and even fewer with basic necessities such as paid maternity leave. Everyone has endured challenges finding a work/life balance, and as Vice President Biden explained in his own experience, not all employers are as forgiving as the people of Delaware when one needs to miss work to take care of a child. He pointed out that in his first years in the Senate he had the lowest attendance rate — but that his constituents gave him a chance. The summit challenged its participants to bring that kind of culture of flexibility and empathy to the workplace.

The Summit illuminated the two mutually reinforcing paths that are necessary to ensure that working families have the ability to support themselves and care for their children and elderly parents. On a policy front, there is already the Family and Medical Leave Act, which stands as one of the few policy solutions in place to alleviate the burden on working families. However, this only covers 60% of workers and only guarantees unpaid leave, which is often an unworkable option for families that rely on a daily wage. The United States is alone among OECD countries in that we do not guarantee paid parental leave. Paid leave is necessary not only to soften the financial burden associated with having children, but also, as was repeated throughout breakout groups and panels, because parents who take maternity/paternity leave are far more likely to reenter the workforce than those who don’t. There also need to be long-term policy solutions that will ensure that a working family can earn a living wage. The Summit reiterated the push for a $10.10 minimum wage, and invited several business owners who pay a living wage and provide paid leave to share their success stories.

Legislative change is not the only means of tackling this issue, and the Summit pointed out that as long as Congress remains gridlocked, it is up to businesses to implement higher wages and better leave policies on their own. Change at the business level requires that companies change both their explicit policies and their workplace cultures. Both in multinational companies and small businesses, it’s just as important for managers to offer paid leave as it is for them to take it themselves. While many workers in the US do, in fact, have access to some form of leave, workers often do not take full advantage of these benefits because of stigma or because no one else in the office uses all of their leave. The private sector must lead by proving that businesses can provide paid leave without hurting their bottom line (and sometimes even helping it), and by ensuring that people feel comfortable using that leave.

Working families in the United States face numerous challenges, from providing care to their families when they need it to having the resources to do so, but if there was one message that was repeated throughout the Summit it was that there is a tremendous amount of energy to work with. On the legislative front, vast majorities of voters support a higher minimum wage and family leave. While Congress has not taken up the call to action, cities like New York and Seattle have taken it upon themselves to raise wages and ensure time off. The energy around this issue must be channeled in every way possible: by pressuring elected officials to pass laws, by encouraging business to raise their wages, and by fostering a culture where everyone feels comfortable putting their family first. 

Julius Goldberg-Lewis is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Regional Coordinator for the Midwest and a Summer Academy Fellow in Washington, DC.

Photo by Pete Souza.

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