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    The Partisan Gap Among Women in Elective Office in 2020 and Beyond

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    The 2020 elections saw robust gains for Republican women in state legislatures and Congress. Republican women increased their numbers from 13 to 31 in the U.S. House of Representatives, and from 662 to 729 in state legislatures nationally. The impressive performance of Republican women in elected office led CBS News to label 2020 as “The Year of The Republican Woman.” To those who believe that American democracy will be stronger—more legitimate, more representative, and produce better policy outcomes—if its members more fully embody the diversity of the American population, the gains for Republican women were welcome news.

    Since the early 1990s, almost all of the gains for women in state legislatures and Congress have occurred on the Democratic side of the aisle, resulting in a dramatic partisan gap. Overall, Democrats contribute 72% of the women in the 117th Congress, and a similar pattern exists at the state level. Women will never reach parity in elective office unless both Republican women and Democratic women increase their numbers. And while many associate “women’s issues” with a progressive policy agenda, the reality is that close to half of American women lean in a more conservative direction and typically support Republican candidates.

    The Structural Causes of the Partisan Gap

    The causes of the partisan gap—the steady success of Democratic women and the plateauing of Republican women’s representation—have not been the product of Donald Trump’s election or any single election cycle. Rather, they are driven by long-term structural changes to the U.S. electoral environment. Research has examined how American partisan politics have undergone ideological, regional, and racial realignments over the past half century, but insufficient attention has been paid to the consequences of these realignments for women’s representation. Each of these realignments has contributed to the growth of the partisan gender gap by creating conditions that help Democratic women run and win while erecting obstacles for Republican women.

    • Southern partisan realignment: The heavily conservative climate of the South used to act as a barrier for women in both parties, but as conservatism has become concentrated almost exclusively on the Republican side of the partisan aisle, the Southern electoral landscape only acts to constrain the election of Republican women. Even though the South is the region where the Republican Party does the best, southern Republican women hold relatively fewer of their party’s seats (15% of Republican state legislators in the South are women, compared to 21% nationally.) Republican women have their lowest levels of representation in heavily Republican states that enjoy the most opportunities for building seniority, which is critical for attaining party leadership positions and wining higher office.
    • Racial realignment: The South no longer hinders the representation of Democratic women in a parallel manner. In fact, Democratic women have made remarkable gains in southern states, making up 42% of southern Democrats in Congress and of Democrats in southern state legislatures—with women of color leading the surge. Women of color have made gains in Congress and state legislatures at a faster rate than white women, a pattern that has benefitted the Democratic Party almost exclusively since over 90% of women of color in elective office are Democrats. In the 117th Congress, women are 43% of the Members of Congress of color, whereas they are only 22% of the white members of Congress. A similar pattern exists in state legislatures, especially in the South.
    • Ideological realignment: Although at one point in the 20th century, the Republican Party was arguably more progressive on issues of gender equality than the Democratic Party—it embraced the Equal Rights Amendment in its platform before the Democrats did for example—the parties have undergone a significant realignment. Today the Democratic Party is vocal and active in making gender parity in elective office a goal. The party is also comfortable making specific efforts to recruit women, and its decentralized open culture has enabled outside groups, most notable EMILY’s LIST to act as a recruiting arm of the party. The Republican Party’s more hierarchical culture, as well as its individualistic ideology which rejects the idea of explicit female recruitment as problematic “identity politics,” tends to reproduce white male majorities and leaves groups interested in recruiting Republican women in a precarious and weakened position.

    The Partisan Gap in 2020 and Beyond

    The modest success of Republican women in 2020 is in part due to women in the Republican Party—especially Representative Elise Stefanik—defying Republican traditions to call out the lack of women in the party as a problem and specifically recruit and fund women candidates, starting early in the 2020 election cycle. Republicans also benefited from having a more diverse group of women candidates. Republican women of color in Congress increased from one in the 116th Congress to five in the 117th Congress. If Republicans continue with such efforts, they may continue the gains made in 2020. However, the huge prior advantage of Democratic women over Republican women coupled with high re-election rates will make the closing the partisan gap a steep challenge.

    It remains unclear whether Republican Party leaders are interested or able to make sustained efforts to recruit more women candidates, especially those of color. The Republican Party has pushed one of its women members, Liz Cheney, out of a leadership position and failed to elect the widow of a deceased Republican member to an open seat in Texas. Indeed, the regional, racial, and ideological forces behind the partisan gap for candidates and office holders portend a further widening, not narrowing, of the partisan gap among women in elective office—unless Republican leaders across the board to take strong, proactive steps are taken to counteract those forces.

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    Elder's research focuses on issues of public opinion and representation in American politics with a particular focus on issues of gender, parenthood, and race. Overarching themes in Elder's writings include women's continued underrepresentation in U.S. political institutions, the politics of parenthood and the family, and the public's perceptions of presidential candidate spouses and first spouses. Elder serves on the the Executive Council of Pi Sigma Alpha, the National Political Science Honor Society, and has won multiple best chapter awards recognizing her work with students to design and deliver civic engagement programming. This article was written in collaboration with the Scholar Strategy Network.

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    Justice

    In A New World, Social Work Leads the Way

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    This is a sponsored article by California State University at Northridge

    How Cal State Northridge is doing its part.

    The pandemic, if nothing else, exacerbated the unequal distribution of resources in society. For millions of people, access to food, shelter, and health care is now more uncertain than ever.

    What’s emerging is a new, somewhat dire need for experienced social workers – professionals able to compassionately address a disparate and evolving set of issues. Not only here in Los Angeles, but all over the world.

    For much of the pandemic, the field has championed relief efforts, such as the rent moratorium. This provided a necessary, if temporary, reprieve from the daily fear of eviction. Outside of California, however, this moratorium is over. As are federal unemployment benefits.

    And the impact is tragically visible. In California alone, the homeless population is over 151,000, with 41,000 of that in Los Angeles. And that’s just according to official estimates. The true number, allege some experts, may be much higher.

    This is the sad, beautiful truth of social work. No matter where a client is, whether it’s in the classroom, at home, or on the streets, the field will be there.

    But the field itself is evolving, too.

    Following the death of George Floyd, social workers are increasingly involved in policing, augmenting first responders with a new option: one aiming to mitigate crisis and, as importantly, prevent the use of force.

    As cities and states consider policing alternatives, social workers can help to ensure each community’s voice is heard, especially communities of color. Gaining popularity, the idea is to offer a more compassionate approach to law enforcement. Rather than responding with aggression, an arriving unit could instead respond with care, assessing the situation from a mental health standpoint, not one of criminality.

    Likewise, opportunity youth – sometimes referred to as “at-risk” – now face many new challenges (among them, a skills gap from a year of remote learning). On top of food scarcity and uncertain housing, there’s also the real risk of contracting COVID. And for these youth, who often lack access to health care, this can be especially dangerous.

    In all these cases, a humane approach is needed. Many social work programs incorporate hands-on experience, giving students access to the communities they’ll serve. One such program is the Master of Social Work (MSW) at California State University, Northridge (CSUN).

    Unlike many social work programs, CSUN’s MSW expands participants’ career possibilities by offering a generalist approach. This enables graduates to work at ALL levels of the field: individual/family (micro); group/community (mezzo); and societal/policy (macro).

    The program is offered fully online in two- and three-year formats. The two-year option is a full-time program with an intensive curriculum designed to help students complete their degrees and enter the field in as little time as possible. The three-year option, on the other hand, is an excellent choice for those who would prefer the same curriculum at a less intensive pace.

    The master’s degree, which is often ranked among the best in the country, promotes the well-being of urban communities. Through its curriculum, participants learn how to assess a community’s needs from the inside, in large part through active listening.

    As the field continues to evolve, those who comprise it must evolve too. That begins with knowledge of the new world, but ends, as it always has, with the people who need us most – the ones for whom we care.

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    Health

    Poverty, Racism and the Public Health Crisis in America

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    Although extreme poverty in the United States is low by global standards, the U.S. has the worst index of health and social problems as a function of income inequality. In a newly published article, Bettina Beech, clinical professor of population health in the Department of Health Systems and Population Health Sciences at the University of Houston College of Medicine and chief population health officer at UH, examines poverty and racism as factors influencing health.

    “A common narrative for the relatively high prevalence of poverty among marginalized minority communities is predicated on racist notions of racial inferiority and frequent denial of the structural forms of racism and classism that have contributed to public health crises in the United States and across the globe,” Beech reports in Frontiers in Public Health. “Racism contributes to and perpetuates the economic and financial inequality that diminishes prospects for population health improvement among marginalized racial and ethnic groups. The U.S. has one of the highest rates of poverty in the developed world, but despite its collective wealth, the burden falls disproportionately on communities of color.” The goal of population health is to achieve health equity, so that every person can reach their full potential.

    Though overall wealth has risen in recent years, growth in economic and financial resources has not been equally distributed. Black families in the U.S. have about one-twentieth the wealth of their white peers on average. For every dollar of wealth in white families, the corresponding wealth in Black households is five cents.

    “Wealth inequality is not a function of work ethic or work hour difference between groups. Rather, the widening gap between the affluent and the poor can be linked to unjust policies and practices that favor the wealthy,” said Beech. “The impact of this form of inequality on health has come into sharp focus during the COVID-19 pandemic as the economically disadvantaged were more likely to get infected with SARS CoV-2 and die.”

    A Very Old Problem 

    In the mid-1800’s, Dr. James McCune Smith wrote one of the earliest descriptions of racism as the cause of health inequities and ultimately health disparities in America. He explained the health of a person “was not primarily a consequence of their innate constitution, but instead reflected their intrinsic membership in groups created by a race structured society.”

    Over 100 years later, the Heckler Report, the first government-sanctioned assessment of racial health disparities, was published. It noted mortality inequity was linked to six leading causes of preventable excess deaths for the Black compared to the white population (cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, infant mortality, chemical dependency and homicide/unintentional injury).

    It and other reports led to a more robust focus on population health over the last few decades that has included a renewed interest in the impact of racism and social factors, such as poverty, on clinical outcomes.

    The Myth of Meritocracy

    Beech contends that structural racism harms marginalized populations at the expense of affording greater resources, opportunities and other privileges to the dominant white society.

    “Public discourse has been largely shaped by a narrative of meritocracy which is laced with ideals of opportunity without any consideration of the realities of racism and race-based inequities in structures and systems that have locked individuals, families and communities into poverty-stricken lives for generations,” she said. “Coupled with a lack of a national health program this condemns oppressed populations such as Black and Hispanic Americans, American Indians, and disproportionately non-English speaking immigrants and refugees to remain in poverty and suffer from suboptimal health.”

    Keys to Improvement

    The World Health Organization identified three keys to improving health at a global level that each reinforces the impact of socioeconomic factors: (1) improve the conditions of daily life; (2) tackle the inequitable distribution of power, money and resources; and (3) develop a workforce trained in and public awareness of the social determinants of health.

    The report’s findings highlight the need to implement health policies to increase access to care for lower-income individuals and highlight the need to ensure such policies and associated programs are reaching those in need.

    “Health care providers can directly address many of the factors crucial for closing the health disparities gap by recognizing and trying to mitigate the race-based implicit biases many physicians carry, as well as leveraging their privilege to address the elements of institutionalized racism entrenched within the fabric of our society, starting with social injustice and human indifference,” said Beech.

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    Environmental Justice

    How American Cities Can Promote Urban Agriculture

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    In his original plan for the city of Philadelphia, William Penn declared that every home should have ample space “for gardens or orchards or fields, that it may be a green country that will never be burnt and always be wholesome.” Before militiamen or throngs of protestors, the Boston Common nourished grazing cattle. Urban agriculture has cropped up again and again in cities throughout American history – from “relief gardens” for the poor in the 19th century, to “victory gardens” of World War II – and for good reason. If embraced and encouraged, urban agriculture can create economic, cultural, environmental and educational benefits. In recent years, various cities have developed good urban agriculture programs. By distilling their successes and struggles, my colleagues and I identify a series of best practices in this area.

    Tailoring Programs for Varied Communities

    “Urban agriculture” is an umbrella term encompassing a wide array of practices. Good programs take account from the start of community preferences that vary. Beekeeping or backyard chickens, for example, might be considered progress in Portland but backwardness in Baltimore. Controversies often arise, but they offer opportunities for dialogue. When disputes erupted about the 140-acre Hantz Farms proposal in Detroit, for example, officials convened public meetings to fashion a vision of urban agriculture. Cities like Portland and Vancouver have formed urban agriculture task forces composed of private citizens, government representatives, and organizational partners to advise the cities on planning and code issues.

    In most cities, urban agriculture of some form is already practiced, whether regulations officially enable it or not. It is important to take stock of these existing operations and practices. Important elements to consider include: the number of gardens and gardeners, their demographics, the type and location of existing gardens, popular agricultural practices, and where space exists to expand urban agriculture. Numerous cities have benefited from conducting “urban agriculture land inventories,” in which mapping professionals use satellite imagery and public records to determine which publicly-owned plots are best suited to urban agriculture.

    Communities should develop an independent agency or department to manage urban agricultureBecause urban agriculture is a multi-faceted process, many city agencies currently regulate its disparate aspects; Parks, Public Works, Environmental Protection, Sustainability, Health and Sanitation, Land Banks, and other departments all have their hand in working with growers. Centralizing this authority under one department can streamline regulation and simplify the process of establishing gardens and farms. Boston’s Grassroot program, Chicago’s Neighborspace program, and New York’s Green Thumb program are all excellent examples.

    Municipalities should audit existing codes and laws. Although most relevant regulations will be found in local zoning ordinances, other codes might have unexpected effects on urban agriculture – including ordinances regulating produce sales, market stands, shade trees, and noise. In Los Angeles, a near-forgotten, yet narrowly-worded, 1946 “Truck Gardening Ordinance” threatened to limit agricultural sales exclusively to vegetables before it was amended by the city’s governing body. Municipalities should also be aware of state and federal regulations that might affect agriculture policy decisions. Right to Farm laws typically operate at the state level and may restrict localities. Notably, Detroit and other large cities in Michigan had to postpone regulation of urban agriculture until they were exempted from their state’s Right to Farm rules.

    Ways to Facilitate Urban Agriculture

    Although public sentiment should determine where urban agriculture is appropriate, there are opportunities to incorporate some form of agriculture or gardening in every land use zone. Cities from Seattle to Philadelphia have incorporated urban agriculture into existing land use codes. Small acreage projects unlikely to create nuisances include backyard gardens typical of single family homes and should be permitted virtually anywhere. Yet large acre, high nuisance projects – such as multi-acre urban farms relying on heavy machinery or animal husbandry – are better suited for the city edges or industrial zones.

    While permitting urban agriculture outright in this fashion has proven successful, other creative ways that cities have enabled urban agriculture include:

    • Creating new zones for urban agriculture specifically, as in Boston and Cleveland.
    • Permitting urban agriculture as “conditional” or “accessory” rather than primary use. This allows local planning and zoning boards to maintain control over how such uses are developed, without restricting them. However, this approach can become too cumbersome and likely to disproportionately burden applicants with fewer resources.
    • Land can be directly supplied — through adopt-a-lot programs and leasing underused spaces to citizens or qualified urban farmers. Offering flexible, medium- to long-term leases is critical, as security of land is vital to the success of urban farms.

    Good Management to Sustain Citizen Projects

    Finally, municipalities must take steps to ensure that citizens practicing urban agriculture do so responsibly. Some of the most effective approaches include:

    • Passing or revising codes that limit the use of pesticides and fertilizers
    • Enforcing time restrictions on the use of noisy farm equipment (although this is not typically an issue on small plots where hand tools are most common)
    • Providing training opportunities through city departments or local cooperative extension services
    • Requiring preliminary testing of land and monitoring of soil toxicity, soil nutrition, and any utility lines running through a property
    • Offering  access to rain barrels or municipal water hookups
    • Including urban agriculture in all future urban planning efforts, including master plans.
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