Daily Digest - March 24: Public Financing: Compromise Won't Fix Corruption

Mar 24, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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A Promise Cuomo Can Keep (Albany Times Union)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Jonathan Soros and Frederick A.O. Schwartz call on New York's Governor Cuomo to avoid compromise on public campaign financing where concessions just extend a corrupt status quo.

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A Promise Cuomo Can Keep (Albany Times Union)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Jonathan Soros and Frederick A.O. Schwartz call on New York's Governor Cuomo to avoid compromise on public campaign financing where concessions just extend a corrupt status quo.

The Tea Party and Wall Street Might Not Be Best Friends Forever, But They Are for Now (TNR)

Tea Party Republicans in Congress insist that the financial crisis was all government's fault, says Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal. That narrative, and the corresponding legislative agenda, couldn't make Wall Street happier.

Why Charity Can’t Replace the Safety Net (Slate)

Jordan Weissmann praises Mike Konczal's recent piece in Democracy Journal, emphasizing that charity can't replace government aid during recessions. Charitable donations drop just when need rises.

All Economics Is Local (NYT)

Raising the local minimum wage is an effective step towards reducing inequality, say Michael Reich and Ken Jacobs. Moreover, their research shows that low-income industries can absorb the increase and benefit from greater employee retention. 

Payday Lending: The Loans with 350% Interest and a Grip on America (The Guardian)

David Dayen explains the vast regulatory conundrum of these predatory loans. He lays out how state and national regulators, Congress, and the Justice Department are working side-by-side, but often a step behind lenders.

The End of Jobs? (In These Times)

Sarah Jaffe argues that under our current system, the shrinking of secure full-time work increases inequality. Instead, we could restructure our economy to push for a universal basic income and shorter working hours.

New on Next New Deal

Memo to Congress: Family Planning Needs More Funding

In her remarks at a Congressional briefing last week, Roosevelt Institute Fellow Andrea Flynn explains why publicly funded family planning needs to expand as the Affordable Care Act is implemented. 

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Memo to Congress: Family Planning Needs More Funding

Mar 21, 2014Andrea Flynn

On Thursday, March 20, Roosevelt Institute Fellow Andrea Flynn joined the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association for a briefing on "The Publicly Funded Family Planning Network: An Essential Partner in the New Health Care Environment." Her prepared remarks are below.

On Thursday, March 20, Roosevelt Institute Fellow Andrea Flynn joined the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association for a briefing on "The Publicly Funded Family Planning Network: An Essential Partner in the New Health Care Environment." Her prepared remarks are below.

The Affordable Care Act represents an historic investment in the health of American women and girls. It has already improved the lives of millions of Americans and will make health care accessible for many more as rollout continues. Fulfilling the promise of the ACA, however, depends on the continued support of existing programs, such as Title X, which must remain as pillars of the country’s public health infrastructure.

For more than 40 years, Title X has provided critical medical care to low-income women, immigrant women, and young women across the country.  Some have suggested that the ACA’s expanded coverage of women’s health care will obviate the need for Title X. In fact, the opposite is true. Title X will play a number of important functions in the coming years.

First, Title X will support a network of qualified family planning and reproductive health care providers who will deliver care and services to the growing ranks of insured. Clinics funded by Title X will become an even more critical building block of our nation's health system. Even when individuals obtain coverage, many will continue to choose publicly funded clinics as their main source of care. As one of my colleagues here will further explain, during the four years following the implementation of Massachusetts’ health care reform patients continued to rely on Title X centers even after they gained insurance coverage. 

Women who are already fully insured will also continue to rely on Title X clinics because they can access care with complete confidence. Issues such as intimate partner violence and religious beliefs of employers, family members, and partners, cause many women to circumvent their insurance plans when accessing family planning services. Sadly, these concerns will persist regardless of the coverage status of American women.

Second, Title X will guarantee family planning access to those still uninsured. The ACA was intended to provide a path to health insurance for most Americans. However, because of the Supreme Court’s decision to allow states to opt-out of Medicaid expansion, fewer uninsured Americans will gain coverage than originally planned.  As Clare mentioned,  today, 22 states are still refusing to expand Medicaid, leaving more than 3.5 million low-income women without coverage. As a result, two-thirds of poor black and single mothers, and more than half of uninsured, low-wage workers, remain without coverage. Title X clinics will continue to be a trusted place of care for these women.

Moreover, even in states that participate in Medicaid expansion, many low-income individuals may still remain uninsured. Estimates suggest that between 25-35 percent of those eligible for Medicaid still do not know it, and are failing to enroll.  Many immigrants will also remain uninsured, given the federal 5-year eligibility requirement for Medicaid. And millions of others will churn among coverage plans. One study estimates that up to 29 million people under age 65 will be forced to change coverage systems from one year to the next. Individuals who fall into these categories will rely on the Title X network for quality, affordable, and confidential care.

Third, and equally important, Title X will continue to set a comprehensive standard of care for family planning and reproductive health services.

Finally, Title X clinics are a primary and trusted point of entry into the health system. Six in ten women who receive services at a publicly funded family-planning center consider it their primary source of medical care. As such, the Title X network will continue to play an important role in ACA outreach and enrollment efforts to ensure that health coverage is realized by as many Americans as possible.

Title X is particularly important given the health challenges facing many women in the United States. However, current funding for U.S. public family planning programs extends care and services to just over half of the women in need. Per capita, the United States spends two and a half times more on health care than other developed countries, yet Americans overall have less access to services and experience worse health outcomes. The United States reports among the highest rates of teen birth, unintended pregnancy, and maternal and infant mortality of any industrialized country. Almost half of all U.S. pregnancies – approximately 3.2 million annually – are unintended. Poor women, women of color, and immigrant women bear a disproportionate burden in this regard. They are also more likely to experience chronic disease, maternal mortality and have a lower life expectancy than women with higher incomes.

Unintended pregnancy and teen pregnancy remain persistent issues in the United States, ones that Title X has been tackling for decades. Unintended pregnancies have a number of larger health implications. Women who have unintended pregnancies are more likely to develop complications and face worse outcomes themselves and for their infants. They often receive inadequate prenatal care, and the care they do receive begins later in pregnancy. Research has shown that pregnancies that occur in rapid succession pose additional risks for both mother and child.

The U.S. teen pregnancy rate has declined dramatically over the last decade, thanks to services offered by programs like Title X. However, it is still considerably higher than in any other developed country, where rates are generally 5 to 10 births per 1,000, compared to the current U.S. rate of 29.4 per 1,000. Racial disparities are especially pronounced in relation to teen pregnancy, with teen birth rates for white women hovering around 21.8 per 1,000, while the rates for Hispanic, Black, and American Indian teens are at least twice that. Research has shown that increased access to comprehensive reproductive health information, care, and services, including a broad range of contraceptive methods, reduces rates of unplanned pregnancy among teens.

Title X has prevented these various health disparities from becoming even more troubling. With an increased investment the program could replicate its incredible results many times over, leading to significant health improvements for American women.

In times of economic uncertainty the demand for publicly funded family planning services increases. Since the 2008 financial crisis and the ensuing recession, the need for Title X has grown dramatically, while funding levels have declined or remained flat. Over the past few years the Title X budget has been cut by $40 million. To make matters worse, the anti-family planning and overall austerity sentiments that have since prevailed reduced and restricted family planning budgets in many states. There have been fewer state and federal funds for women’s health during the very time that women have also lost jobs and insurance coverage.

When Title X centers lose funding, they are forced to make cuts in three places: services and supplies, hours, and staff. As a result of funding challenges, six in ten Title X clinics have been unable to stock the most costly contraceptives, particularly long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) such as the IUD and implants, methods considered highly effective and most desirable among women wanting to avoid pregnancy.

Family planning is first and foremost a matter of women’s health and rights. But it is also central to women’s economic security. The continued fragility of the U.S. economy and the recession’s devastating impact on low-income families requires an increased investment in family planning. American families, many of them now headed by single women, face enormous challenges. Access to affordable contraception enables women to pursue educational and professional opportunities that strengthen their families and their communities. The majority of women who participated in a recent Guttmacher Institute study report that birth control enables them to support themselves financially, complete their education, and get or keep a job. 

Given the tenuous state of the U.S. economy, the vulnerability of women’s health programs in the face of unrelenting political attacks, and the fraying social safety net more broadly, public funding for family planning is more critical than ever. Continued – indeed, increased – funding of Title X will maximize the impact and reach of the ACA and ensure continued quality care for those who remain uninsured.

Thank you. 

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

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Daily Digest - March 20: The Safety Net - Government = ?

Mar 20, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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The Voluntarism Fantasy (The Majority Report)

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The Voluntarism Fantasy (The Majority Report)

Sam Seder speaks with Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal about Mike's new piece in Democracy Journal. Mike says the social safety net has always depended on the government.

The Tyranny of the On-Call Schedule: Hourly Injustice in Retail Labor (The Nation)

Michelle Chen explains the ways that retail scheduling has harmed workers' ability to plan their lives. On-call schedules mean not knowing how much you'll make or when you'll work, ever.

Journalists’ and Activists’ Strange Approach to Low-Wage Workers (WaPo)

Sarah Jaffe calls out the habit of representing low-wage workers as poor, unfortunate Others in need of our help. Any one of us could share the concerns and needs of low-wage workers.

Why Not Peg EITC Benefits to the Local Cost of Living? (PolicyShop)

David Callahan suggests President Obama could do better than simply increasing the earned income tax credit. For low-income workers living in high-cost areas, it would make a big difference.

Janet Yellen's Rookie Mistake: Speaking Too Clearly (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Janet Yellen, the new Federal Reserve Chair, needs to speak with less specificity, writes Peter Coy. Attaching a six-month timeframe to a vague written statement set off a market selloff.

The Key Question for Yellen: Is This Economy As Good As It Gets? (FiveThirtyEight)

Andrew Flowers considers the ways to measure economic potential, and what the Federal Reserve ought to do if we agree that the U.S. is still falling short.

Do We Need to Force People to Live in the Homes They Own? (Pacific Standard)

Real estate that isn't actually lived in may be a good investment, but it isn't good for a city, writes Kyle Chayka. He suggests that residency requirements could control rising rents.

New on Next New Deal

There's More to Fixing the Minimum Wage Than Just Raising It

Azi Hussain, Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Economic Development, says that instead of tying the minimum wage to annual inflation, we should peg it to inflation over the business cycle to ensure flexibility.

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Daily Digest - March 18: Society Doesn't Work on a Volunteer Basis

Mar 18, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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The Voluntarism Fantasy (Democracy Journal)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal looks to the history of public and private social insurance in the U.S. to explain why the conservative belief that private charity could take the place of government is deeply misguided.

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The Voluntarism Fantasy (Democracy Journal)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal looks to the history of public and private social insurance in the U.S. to explain why the conservative belief that private charity could take the place of government is deeply misguided.

In City's Job Growth, Faces of the Working Poor (WNYC)

New York City now has 237,000 more jobs than it did before the recession, reports Mirela Iverac, but too many of those jobs aren't paying enough to live on.

Hunger Crisis: Charities are Strained as Nearly 1 in 5 New Yorkers Depend on Aid for Food (NY Daily News)

Over five years, the number of people relying on food aid has increased by 200,000, and Barry Paddock and Ginger Adams Otis report that charities have seen even more need since November's food stamp cuts.

Low-Wage Workers Are Finding Poverty Harder to Escape (NYT)

Steven Greenhouse reports on the lives of the working poor in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where workers with many years of experience can still make only $9 per hour.

Inside Low-Wage Workers’ Plan to Sue McDonald’s — and Win (MSNBC)

Timothy Noah explains that these workers are targeting the franchise system, arguing that McDonald's as a corporation created the conditions that led to wage theft, not just the franchise owners.

New on Next New Deal

Florida Election Shows Danger and Promise in Obamacare Debate

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch says polling from the recent special election for Florida's 13th congressional district shows that standing up to "keep and fix" Obamacare is a path for Democratic success.

The Progressive Budget Reminds Us That Government Can Create Jobs

The Congressional Progressive Caucus's budget is a reminder that an aggressive approach is still needed to push job growth, writes Nell Abernathy, Program Manager for the Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative.

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The Progressive Caucus Budget Makes the Right Decisions

Mar 12, 2014Jeff Madrick

The "Better Off Budget" is the only budget proposal in Congress that really places people's needs ahead of political compromise.

The "Better Off Budget" is the only budget proposal in Congress that really places people's needs ahead of political compromise.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus has issued its annual budget and it is in different ways the antithesis of what both the Republicans and Democrats are offering. The Caucus calls it the “Better Off Budget," and it puts its money where its mouth is. Thank goodness they’ve issued it, because it puts in perspective how much is actually within our nation’s reach. It is aimed right where it should be: at creating jobs. The budget acknowledges that our jobs crisis is far from over (I’d call it the jobs emergency budget, of course). And it rightly says we can solve our problems.

The proposals errs slightly on the side of economic optimism, but that is as it should be. It stands in contrast to the modest improvements in social policy proposed by the Democrats, which won’t get unemployment down to 5 percent in the foreseeable future, and to the insensitive regression proposed by Paul Ryan and the Republicans. Those proposals are all politics, with little caring about the people’s thirst for jobs and opportunity. The progressives toss political compromise aside to do the right thing.

Their proposed budget does a lot of good in a lot of areas. It refuses to reduce entitlements; it provides a middle class tax break; it raises income tax rates on the wealthy; it provides a lot of money for infrastructure investment. I could go on.

But in this brief analysis I want to focus on the question of how much stimulus the economy can stand, which is really a question about how much slack there is in the economy. Conventional analyses say that slack—the potential to grow—has fallen. It’s mostly not because the economy is growing and catching up with its potential. The reason is that people are dropping out of the work force, maybe for good. They are losing skills. Some are retiring or getting close to retirement. Capital investment has been okay, but it has been far from stellar and therefore not likely to create exciting new products and industries that also increase productivity.

If the potential is not as high as typical economists, including the Congressional Budget Office, thought just a couple of years ago, we can’t push the economy up as fast as we might like, they argue.

The irony is that potential is down, as conventional economists measure it, because of the Great Recession and historically slow recovery, not because of a structural change in the economy. In particular, labor productivity growth is not very good. Total factor productivity, which (allegedly) measures the productivity of capital and labor combined, is somewhat stronger by historical comparison. I say allegedly because total factor productivity is a pretty flaky number.

Now, there is a pretty good relationship between how fast demand is growing and productivity growth, both labor and total factor productivity. In any case, if the potential of the economy is reduced because growth is slower, people can’t get jobs, and investment in research is far from hot—well, then potential would likely rise if we got the economy growing rapidly again. There is good theory, partly Keynesian but also something called Verdoorn’s Law, to suggest this could well be the case. 

So, in sum, that’s what this debate turns on. Will stimulus bump up against a genuine GDP ceiling and cause inflation, or is that ceiling only an artificial one based on recent data generated in a very slow economic recovery? I’d argue the CBO analysis and that of others is proposing an artificial ceiling. We can growth much faster, and we can get unemployment down to 5 percent. More demand can and often has led to faster productivity growth and more aggressive capital investment.

That’s what the Progressive Caucus Budget is all about. The nation can afford a decent social safety net and adequate investment in its future, and can get five to 10 million more people working again. If the progressives’ budget overstates the possibilities, it is not by much. 

Jeff Madrick is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and Director of the Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative.

 

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The Story of Atalissa Highlights America's Long-Term Care Problem

Mar 11, 2014Sarah Galli

America's health care system neglects people who require long-term care and denies them the opportunity to lead full, rewarding lives.

Since the moment my brother was rendered a quadriplegic in a diving accident when we were teenagers, I have maintained a constant, silent stress in my body. I am worried about health complications inherent in a paralysis injury, terrified for what happens when my parents are no longer able to serve as Jeff’s primary caregivers.

America's health care system neglects people who require long-term care and denies them the opportunity to lead full, rewarding lives.

Since the moment my brother was rendered a quadriplegic in a diving accident when we were teenagers, I have maintained a constant, silent stress in my body. I am worried about health complications inherent in a paralysis injury, terrified for what happens when my parents are no longer able to serve as Jeff’s primary caregivers.

My brother is, aside from requiring constant care for his injury, in good health. My parents have done an exceptional job of keeping his life, unlike his cervical vertebrae, stable.

We are, in many ways, lucky.

The same cannot be said for a group of men my father’s age in Atalissa, Iowa.

In a groundbreaking feature released last weekendThe New York Times profiled a group of Iowan men with intellectual disabilities who were forced to perform backbreaking hard labor for more than 30 years, housed in filth by "caregivers" who did nothing of the kind. These men, who worked in a slaughterhouse for hours on end, with no treatment or support for their disabilities, lived in a schoolhouse so squalid they had to cover their dinner plates to protect them from cockroaches. Many still have chronic health issues resulting from such neglect.

Wrote Times reporter Dan Barry, “Every morning before dawn, they were sent to eviscerate turkeys at a processing plant, in return for food, lodging, the occasional diversion and $65 a month. For more than 30 years. Their supervisors never received specialized training; never tapped into Iowa’s social service system; never gave the men the choices in life granted by decades of advancement in disability civil rights. Increasingly neglected and abused, the men remained in heartland servitude for most of their adult lives.”

Since they were discovered in 2009, advocates and social workers have worked to give these men a sense of freedom seemingly granted to everyone but individuals with disabilities. These men each lost over 30 years of their lives because Iowa failed to protect them from their designated protectors. Families were told Henry’s Turkey Service was the best option for their sons and brothers. Instead, these men were as much prisoners as the turkeys they were told to tear apart.

Reports of barbaric conditions surfaced every few years; no action was taken.

A few men tried to escape; one, Alford Busby Jr., ran away during a 1987 snowstorm: “Local officials searched the wintry landscape without success. Three months later, during the spring thaw, a farmer found a body along a field’s fence row, a quarter-mile from the main road. Mr. Busby was 37, or maybe 43. 'Mentally retarded man wandered away from home in subzero temperature,' his death certificate says, citing hypothermia.”

The men were rescued five years ago. They now receive Social Security and Medicaid, they have homes to live in and care for them, and they are paid wages for jobs worked. They have the freedom to meet new people, date, and live a life they’ve chosen.

The Times piece exposed my greatest fear: what will happen when my parents are no longer able to provide for Jeff, when my brother will have to join the ranks of thousands of Americans who require 24/7 care and lodging somewhere separate from their chosen home.

My father spent the summer as an embedded journalist in Baghdad a few years ago, and because my mother couldn’t work her full time job and also fill the holes in nursing care normally covered by my dad, my brother was forced to stay temporarily in a nursing home. I would travel from Manhattan to see him in Rhode Island, and attempt to hide my tears until after I’d left. A nurse came over at the end of one such visit, and in what she intended to be a moment of trust between us, gave Jeff a kiss on the cheek. I wanted to tackle her to the ground, furious that this stranger was playing at false intimacy with a young man she knew nothing about.

Instead, I choked back tears and left my twentysomething brother in his room, a bright young man relegated to living in a home with elderly residents in a system that treats them all as if they're just waiting to die.

President Obama proposed the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) program as part of the Affordable Care Act, which offered voluntary long-term care insurance. But that support (granted to eligible workers after five years, not taking into account exceptions for those whose disabilities preclude employment) capped out at a lifetime cash benefit of $75 a day/$27,000 per year. According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, the average yearly expenses for someone with a high-level spinal cord injury run an average of $181,328, not including indirect costs.

The CLASS Act has since been repealed and replaced with a long-term care commission; there is no word on what recommendations will come, nor when.

The Christopher & Dana Reeve Paralysis Act, passed in 2009, aimed to further scientific research and improve “quality of life” and rehabilitation options for individuals living with paralysis. But there has not yet been comprehensive legislation to protect Americans with chronic spinal cord injuries as their caregiving options change over time. There is no mechanism to support independent living for someone with a high-level injury, and no understanding that an otherwise healthy, capable person should not be relegated to the same care granted to the elderly. 

Curt Decker of the National Disability Rights Network said the Iowa story “is what happens when we don’t pay attention.” I read about the men of Atalissa and I mourn for the years lost, taken away from these sons and brothers.

And I wonder who will care for mine.

Sarah Galli is the Political Action co-chair of Women’s Information Network (WIN.NYC). She is also the Founder & Executive Producer of Born for Broadway, whose mission is to raise funds for paralysis research through special events, education, and advocacy. For more information, please visit www.sarahgalli.com.

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Daily Digest - March 11: What is the GDP of the Internet?

Mar 11, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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The Benefits of Internet Innovation are Hard to Spot in GDP Statistics (The Guardian)

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The Benefits of Internet Innovation are Hard to Spot in GDP Statistics (The Guardian)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz explains why technological innovation has little effect on measurements of economic success, even though most agree that it improves quality of life.

This is What a Job in the U.S.’s New Manufacturing Industry Looks Like (WaPo)

Lydia DePillis profiles one of the rising number of temp workers at factories in Tennessee, for whom the return of manufacturing hasn't meant the return of solid middle-class jobs.

Finding Home: Voices of the Baltimore Housing Mobility Program (The Century Foundation)

Stefanie DeLuca and Jessi Stafford examine the program's successes in moving families from low- to high-opportunity neighborhoods through two families' stories. They suggest this could break the cycle of poverty.

Let Them Eat Dignity (TAP)

Republicans think that accepting government handouts harms the soul, says Paul Waldman – but only if you're poor. No one talks about the lack of dignity in the mortgage interest deduction.

More Evidence That SNAP Caseloads Have Started Falling (Off The Charts)

For the fourth straight month, Dottie Rosenbaum reports, food stamps have dropped compared to the previous year. Critics can stop worrying about out-of-control safety net spending.

Schools Across the Country Offering Universal Free Lunch (MSNBC)

Ned Resnikoff reports on districts adopting community eligibility for school lunch: if over 40 percent of students qualify, then the entire district can get rid of the paperwork and give every student free lunch.

No, Americans Are Not All To Blame for the Financial Crisis (TNR)

Subprime mortgage holders shouldn't be blamed for today's economy, writes Dean Starkman. He places all the fault with Wall Street and the culture of profit above all.

When the 1 Percent Opposes Long-Term Economic Growth (The Week)

Ryan Cooper suggests that the wealthy care about long-term growth only as far as it helps them. When pro-growth policies would probably mean higher inflation, they don't see an urgent need for growth.

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What Les Misérables Can Teach Us About Paul Ryan's Poverty Plan

Mar 7, 2014Nell Abernathy

Conservatives who say getting a job is the answer to poverty fail to acknowledge the realities of low-income work.

Conservatives who say getting a job is the answer to poverty fail to acknowledge the realities of low-income work.

Les Misérables returned to Broadway last week, just in time for Victor Hugo’s tale of poverty and redemption to provide some context for thinking about the poverty report Rep. Paul Ryan released Monday. With a history of more than 6,000 Broadway performances and a Hollywood spin-off starring Anne Hathaway, the lavish musical has probably engendered more popular sympathy for the down-and-out than any progressive politician sticking to her talking points ever could.

When the resident villain, Inspector Javert, castigates characters who can’t find jobs, can’t feed children, can’t escape a past mistake, with his motto, “honest work, just rewards,” the American viewing public – conservative and progressive alike – laugh bitterly at his naïveté. “They are trying,” we want to shout at the stage.

But what if you live in a society where honest work doesn’t always lead to just rewards? This question, at the center of upheaval for both the characters and the society Les Mis portrays, is also worth asking in 21st century America.

The central flaw of Ryan’s report is his assumption that a job will lift incomes for poor Americans. Progressives agree that work should provide a path out of poverty, but given the dysfunction of our current labor markets, we know that Ryan's assertions hit the same false notes as Javert’s.

It is impossible to talk about poverty in the U.S. without addressing the fact that today work does not guarantee economic security.

Of the 26 million working-age adults living in poverty in 2012, more than 10 million were working full- or part-time. (This is according to the Official Poverty Measure used by Ryan, though most anti-poverty advocates, including me, prefer the Supplemental Poverty Measure.) Two-thirds of children in poverty live in a household with at least one working adult. But with the minimum wage stagnating at nearly 25 percent below its historical value, and part-time work at historic highs, a job in America no longer means independence. More than half of fast-food workers rely on one of the public assistance programs mentioned in Ryan’s report, according to an analysis from the UC Berkeley Labor Center. Nearly a quarter of the total workforce relies on public programs.

There are 16 million poor adults who aren’t working. Ryan suggests they are stuck in a “poverty trap” of federal programs that create disincentives for work. Incentives aren’t the whole story (there are plenty of Jean Valjeans out there facing structural disconnection from the labor market), but I will concede that incentives are a part of the problem. Indeed, research shows that single mothers must often choose between a bad job with no benefits or a meager government check that at least allows them to care for their children.

The conservative solution has been to cut government support in order to force workers into poverty-level work. This was the philosophy behind the 1996 welfare reform law, which Ryan’s report trumpets as one of the great successes in the war on poverty. Welfare reform did raise incomes for some of the American poor, but as my colleagues Andrea Flynn and Ellen Chesler write in a forthcoming paper, “increases in employment and wages moved many women off welfare, but also failed to enable them to achieve long-term economic independence” because the work they took on did not allow them to complete their education or provide health care benefits.

Progressive solutions to poverty include a range of policies designed to make work a true pathway out of poverty. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would lift 900,000 people out of poverty, according to the conservative CBO report, or nearly 6 million, according to Arindrajit Dube’s review of 12 different minimum wage studies. Paid family leave can help single moms stay in the workforce and earn higher wages. Recent reviews of California’s 10-year-old paid leave policy show that women who have paid leave work 16 percent more weekly hours and make 5 percent more in hourly wages than women who don’t. A government-funded work program could reintegrate the 3.8 million adults who have been out of work and looking for more than 27 weeks, and has been supported by conservative economists who understand that sometimes the down-and-out need a hand finding “honest work.” None of these policies were mentioned by Congressman Ryan, nor did he even acknowledge the state of work in America.

I believe Mr. Ryan is sincere in his attempt to propose solutions to poverty. Javert himself is ultimately a sympathetic character, eager to do his duty. The problem with Javert, and some conservative leaders, is that they cannot tolerate a world of nuance and moral ambiguity where truisms like “honest work, just rewards” are insufficient answers to societal challenges.

With so many Americans living in poverty, including 22 percent of our children (the highest child poverty rate among rich countries), we should have an honest debate about which policy responses are effective and which are not. The reality of low-income work must be part of that debate.

Nell Abernathy is the Program Manager for the Roosevelt Institute's Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative.

 

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Daily Digest - March 7: Holding Banks to a Higher Standard

Mar 7, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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What's the Deal: How to Make the Financial System Safer for Everyone with Mike Konczal (YouTube)

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What's the Deal: How to Make the Financial System Safer for Everyone with Mike Konczal (YouTube)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal explains why banks need higher capital standards to prevent another collapse and discusses the economic reform issues that the Roosevelt Institute will be working on throughout 2014.

Obama's Budget and the Politics of Poverty (To The Point)

Mike Konczal speaks with Warren Olney about how the parties aim to split the budget for anti-poverty programs. The GOP would increase funding for some programs, but at the cost of others.

Paul Ryan Accidentally Makes the Case Against Means-Testing (MSNBC)

When Paul Ryan brings up a child who feels unloved because he gets free lunch instead of a brown-bag lunch, Ned Resnikoff sees an opening for giving all students free lunch.

Together, New Haven Activists and Leaders Strike Back Against Wage Theft (In These Times)

For the first time, local police brought larceny charges against an employer who shortchanged his workers. Melinda Tuhus says these steps will help to protect low-wage workers, including undocumented workers.

Unions and Job Security (PolicyShop)

Matt Bruenig counters a recent argument that unions can't provide real job security anymore. He says the point isn't absolute job security anyway, but safety from firing without cause.

The Foreclosure Nightmare Isn’t Over Yet (MSNBC)

Suzy Khimm reports on one family's five-year fight against foreclosure in Maryland. Policies requiring mediation have kept them in limbo, as have the mortgage servicer's repeated runarounds.

Democrat Says CFTC's Low Budget 'Sucks' (The Hill)

Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) says that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission's lack of sufficient funding could be very dangerous if it handicaps enforcement, reports Tim Devaney.

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Daily Digest - March 6: Washington State Points the Way on Wages

Mar 6, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Highest Minimum-Wage State Washington Beats U.S. Job Growth (Bloomberg)

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Highest Minimum-Wage State Washington Beats U.S. Job Growth (Bloomberg)

Victoria Stilwell, Peter Robison, and William Selway report that Washington hasn't just shown higher job growth – it also has lower poverty rates, and the supposedly vulnerable service industry is growing.

Minimum Wage Raise Would Reduce Food Stamp Spending By $46 Billion Over Decade: Report (HuffPo)

A new report from the Center for American Progress analyzes how higher wages would reduce need, writes Dave Jamieson. Raising the minimum wage would decrease the "culture of dependency" that Republicans decry.

The U.S. Economy's Big Baby Problem (The Atlantic)

The American birthrate has hit a new record low. That wouldn't be a big deal, writes Derek Thompson, if our economy didn't rely so heavily on families' consumer spending.

Over 2 Million People Now Without Unemployment Benefits (MSNBC)

The number of long-term unemployed workers in the U.S. keeps growing, and Ned Resnikoff says it's looking less and less likely that Congress will reauthorize their extended unemployment insurance.

When Regulation Threatens, Bankers Predict Doom For Main Street (ProPublica)

Jesse Eisinger explains how banks are trying to chip away at financial reform by negotiating behind the scenes on little-known issues. Going after collateralized loan obligation rules doesn't get much public scrutiny.

Does America Need a Robin Hood Tax? (Pacific Standard)

Kyle Chayka says a financial transactions tax could raise enough money to fight many social problems. Focusing such a tax on high-frequency trading would also curtail the banks' worst excesses.

It’s Still Paul Ryan’s Party (WaPo)

Greg Sargent calls out Ryan's hypocrisy in claiming the president's budget contains no attempt at compromise. Ryan's budget seeks even less common ground, with absolutely no funds for Democratic priorities.

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