Alabama’s Legislature Continues to Wage War on the Poor

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Alabama made headlines last week over a dispute between the Democratic City of Birmingham and the Republican state legislature on whether the city can pass a law to increase its minimum wage higher than the federal mandate. Last summer, the Magic City passed a law raising it’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2017.  The law would have been enacted incrementally beginning in July 2016 by raising the current minimum wage of $7.25 to $8.50. 

However, lawmakers have since fast-tracked a bill that would prevent any municipality from requiring employers to provide benefits such as paid leave, vacation time, or even a marginally livable wage not already mandated by federal law. On Thursday, the state legislature sent their obstructionist bill to the governor who signed it into law an hour later. 

Anyone familiar with Alabama politics shouldn’t be surprised. It appears Alabama’s state government does not care about poor people–nearly 20% of its population which is over 900,000 people including 300,000 children are living in poverty. With only 30 meeting days left in the state’s legislative session, you would think there would be more pressing concerns than thwarting the will of the people. 

Alabama has cut funding for education, social services, and continues its refusal to expand Medicaid. And while this is all evidence of the state’s complete disregard for impoverished residents, its efforts to block Birmingham’s minimum wage increase is a direct assault on the very notion that citizens might govern themselves. Alabama has nothing to lose by allowing Birmingham to implement a $10.10 minimum wage.

You can make all the political arguments you want about how a similar statewide increases might deter businesses from coming to Alabama or result in layoffs–results not seen after wage increases in other states—but Birmingham should be a win-win. There’s no political liability to allowing Birmingham to set a higher minimum wage, the extra income means more tax revenue for the state’s anemic budget, and any perceived negative consequences–let me reiterate that empirically there are none–would only affect the city.

The leadership in Birmingham is hardly radical. The fact they stood up to the state legislature by attempting to put their minimum wage law into effect before the state could take action to delay only furthers evidence of how needed the increase really is. The proposed wage increase still isn’t enough to afford a 2-bedroom apartment, child care, or eliminate the need for other forms of assistance, but it could mean a little more food on the table for working families.

 Alabamians have endured the ridiculous priorities and imaginary fears of the Republican-dominated statehouse for far too long. Alabama residents must begin to organize themselves to bring change to the state. Academics understand the scope of the problem, churches and service-based nonprofits see the real-world impact, and everyday people experience the constant struggles of living on poverty wages. 

It won’t be easy, and it won’t happen in a single election. However, if people concerned about a living wage start talking to one another to come up with solutions–including running for office–then we can start to see change in Alabama.

Global Social Work Agenda and Social Development

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Recently, I had chance to watch “The Inequality Movie” narrated by former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich where it outlines how the United States has one of the poorest distribution of wealth in the world. This was a great movie highlighting the need for change on the legislative and policy levels. Although the film focuses on inequality in the United States, it is no surprise this is an issue faced by many societies around the globe. In response to the inequality around the world, Social work has developed it’s first global response to the issues of inequality and the distribution of wealth.

F1.mediumIn the last four years, three lead organizations facilitated conversations on each developed continent to address the cause and solutions for those most effected by inequality. Through the leadership of the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW), International Council on Social Welfare (ICSW) and International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW), social workers from around the wold are attempting to problem solve and develop actionable measures to address inequality.

The Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development: First Report -promoting social and economic equalities at first appearance seems like a humongous effort, but it demonstrates the ability of the profession to works towards collective impact in coordination of efforts to improve outcomes for those we serve.

The report examines the unique conditions of each continent and how social workers presented their solutions. Policy changes and macro interventions were at the heart of this report.

Africa

Social Workers in this forum called upon the UN to develop regulations to curb this process. They also noted that there was a huge disconnect between social policy and those most affected by it.  Solutions need to be more locally driven.

Asia Pacific

Social work is getting more organized in this region focused on disaster relief, more direct engagement with consumer groups, and respect for indigenous peoples.

Europe

The primary problem is drastic cuts in programs since the economic crisis in 2011.  The group gathered evidence of how these programs being cut increased suicide, joblessness, and homeless rates. They have placed emphasis on health inequalities to treat these issues are more of a public health problem.

Latin America Caribbean

Politics in this region have often quieted more macro-efforts  however their  voice is getting louder. The focus has been on more community organization and involve clients in more decision making.

North America

The CSWE (Council on Social Work Education, USA), NASW (National association of social workers, USA) and Canadian Association of Social Workers developed several guidance documents to deal with issues of inequality and poverty.

Conclusion

As a result of these conversations the theme became “Asserting Your Voice“.  The Global Social Work agenda about Promoting Social and Economic equality will be based on the following values and actions:

•• The cornerstone of a thriving economy is a stable, well-resourced and educated community.

•• People are happier and wellbeing is better for all in more equitable societies.

•• When people have a collective voice, they are more able to advocate for their rights and participate in decision-making processes resulting in better wellbeing.

Social Work clearly have a lot to offer the world. The theme of inequality is at the heart of our practice. Problem solving inequality seemed like a grandiose project, but the global social work community broke it down into manageable steps.  I hope this inspires you to let your voice and the voice of the individuals you serve be heard.

Reference

Wilkinson, R. and Pickett, K. (2009) The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone. Harmondsworth: Penguin

Alternative Food Banks: Offering Fresh Ideas for Fresh Foods

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According to Feeding America, 48.1 million, or 14.8 %, people are food insecure in the United States. There are many programs that offer food assistance, both governmental and non-governmental. These include food banks, SNAP benefits, and WIC benefits, which specifically help women and children. Due to the growing need of American families, some communities have established non-traditional food programs.

Mobile Foodshare, which serves Hartford and Tolland counties in Connecticut, uses converted trucks to deliver food directly to those in need. Instead of having to go to a specific site, which may be difficult for some service users to get to, the trucks visit over seventy different sties throughout Hartford and Tolland counties, brining fresh, nutritious food directly to those in need.

Oftentimes, people who rely on food stamps and other forms of nutritional assistance do not eat as healthily as they would like. Fresh, healthy foods cost more than many pre-packaged, sugar and sodium laden foods, and for those who are on a strict budget, it is easy to see the appeal of buying less healthy foods and stretching the budget. While many farmers’ markets accept SNAP benefits, the produce is still expensive. The Produce Plus program has seen this problem and is working to solve it.

Produce Plus is an incentive program, run through the D.C. Department of Health, which gives individuals and families with SNAP or other governmental benefits extra money to use at farmer’s markets. Each day, an individual or family who qualifies can get two $5 checks per market, per day, to help them afford fresh, healthy, local foods. These checks are in addition to their benefit money, thus expanding their budget for fresh foods by at least $10 per day.

Operation Sharing, a church based charity in Ontario, began their Food for Friends project around ten years ago. Instead of the traditional food bank model, which is often full of processed, sugar, and sodium laden options, the system uses pre-loaded grocery cards which people can use to buy non-taxable food items. At local grocery stores, community members can donate to Food for Friends when they check out. Typically, non-taxable food items include fresh foods, such as meats, dairy, and vegetables, as opposed to processed, boxed goods.

BackPack Beginnings is a North Carolina based charity, which provides food, and comfort backpacks to local children. The comfort packs are for children who are being removed from their homes due to trauma, abuse, or neglect and contain items such as clean clothes, toiletries, and a stuffed animal.

The food backpacks were created to fill the weekend gap for children in food insecure households. Many students who receive free or reduced price lunches during the school week go home to empty cabinets on the weekends. Students are given a backpack with four meals for the weekend on Thursday, all of which include milk, fruits, and vegetables.

Hunger continues to be a major problem for many Americans. Traditional forms of food assistance are very helpful for food insecure individuals and families, but for many reasons, sometimes these forms of assistance are not available for people, or their assistance falls short of what is needed. The many alternatives to the traditional model aim to fill the gaps for struggling families.

Foundations for Tomorrow: Helping Huntsville’s Homeless

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Foundations for Tomorrow is a community initiative that provides a tiny home community where Huntsville’s homeless can reside whilst transitioning back into society. This unique initiative was founded by Nicky Beale after the eviction of Huntsville’s Homeless from tent city in the Spring of 2014.

Foundations for Tomorrow has set its sights on building 30 tiny homes that will populate an acre of land, and allow its inhabitants to develop a community where they will live, eat and work together, according to the group’s fundraising site. Foundations for Tomorrow gained tremendous community support, helping this unique organisation help those who need it most.

SWH: Could you tell us about the mission and vision you have for Foundations for Tomorrow?

Beale: Our mission is to provide a tiny home community in which Huntsville’s homeless can reside while transitioning back into society. We hope to have a village for our homeless to temporarily reside in while they find a job, apply for public housing, and get the services they need to help them contribute to society.

SWH: How did your first tiny homes project come about?

Beale: It all started with my passion for tiny homes. I am a single mom with a five year old so living tiny would be a hard transition for us. But, I had a passion to give back to my community and a passion to change lives, so I decided to start building tiny homes and letting the homeless live in them. I thought it was a genius idea, but when I googled it, Andrew Heben with Opportunity Village has just stood up a village in Eugene Oregon. I connected with him and people in the Huntsville community and it all started to come together in a snowball way. I truly believe that if you start living your purpose, things will align in a divine way. At least with me, it did and still is.

SWH: What types of challenges and barriers have you run into?

Beale: There are a lot of challenges and barriers when trying to implement tiny homes as a viable solution to homelessness. First and foremost are zoning codes. Tiny homes are considered camping and in most cities, you are not allowed to camp within the city limits. These rules are to protect property value so it is hard to get city support to allow tiny homes. Another challenge we face is the lack of education on homelessness. People have stereotypes about the homeless that have to be undone.

City officials here believe that our tiny homes are inhumane because they don’t have running water or electricity. This is understandable coming from a person with a house, but when you spend any time in tent cities you realize that providing a hardened structure for our homeless citizens is the first step to reintegrating them back into the community. It provides them with security, privacy, a dry place to sleep, an address, and most importantly gives them a big dose of hope that living in a tent takes from them.

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SWH: For people who are interested in replicating what you did in their local communities what steps would you advise them to take?

Beale: First and foremost educate yourself by reading Andrew Heben’s book Tent City Urbanism. It walks you through all the important steps of taking a tent city and transitioning the people to a hardened structure. He touches on all the barriers and challenges and how they overcame them. Second, would be to start talking to people in the community that already deal with the homeless on a regular basis to try and build support through other non-profits.

They can be very helpful in addressing who the important stakeholders are in the community. Another step is to familiarize yourself with the homeless in your city. See what challenges they face and what their day consists of so you can be an educated representative for them. After all that preparation and homework you can start to address city leaders.

SWH: What is next for Foundations for Tomorrow, and how can people support your efforts?

Beale: Foundations for Tomorrow is currently finishing our third house. We have an event with a local brewery and pizza place on Valentine’s Day to raise money and awareness. The Foundation is hosting a Tiny Home Build Workshop in April so people can learn how to build a tiny home and give back to the community at the same time. If anyone would like to help in our mission they can donate on our website, foundationsfortomorrowal.com

The Top Twelve Grand Challenges Facing Society Today

Last year, the Society for Social Work and Research Conference in Washington, DC, the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW) unveiled its 12 Grand Challenges for Social Work with a bold call to action to help solve the toughest problems facing our society today.

When we reflect and take inventory of our ever changing society, a path of progress towards justice and equality can be seen on the horizon. However, we must be diligent in identifying those challenges and barriers that may retard our progress and growth while increasing inequality for our most vulnerable citizens.

In September 2015, the United Nations unveiled 17 Global Goals for Sustained Development in an effort to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and fix global climate change by 2030. The idea behind the global goals was to identify areas with the ability to affect the most change. Then, microtarget those areas through individual, organizational, and governmental action in order to maximize impact and improve outcomes.

However, the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare have narrowed down their target areas even further by identifying 12 Grand Challenges in which they believe social workers both domestic and international can directly impact to improve outcomes for those we serve.

“This critical effort identifies and seeks to address the full range of major challenges facing society, from ending homelessness and stopping family violence to promoting smart decarceration and reversing extreme income inequality.”

Twelve Grand Challenges for Social Work

1. Ensure Healthy Development for All Youth

“Each year, more than six million young people receive treatment for severe mental, emotional, or behavioral problems. Strong evidence shows us how to prevent many behavioral health problems before they emerge. By unleashing the power of prevention through widespread use of proven approaches, we can help all youth grow up to become healthy and productive adults.”

2. Close the Health Gap

“More than 60 million Americans experience devastating one-two punches to their health—they have inadequate access to basic health care while also enduring the effects of discrimination, poverty, and dangerous environments that accelerate higher rates of illness. Innovative and evidence-based social strategies can improve health care and lead to broad gains in the health of our entire society.”

3. Stop Family Violence

“Family violence is a common American tragedy. Assaults by parents, intimate partners, and adult children frequently result in serious injury and even death. Such violence costs billions of dollars annually in social and criminal justice spending. Proven interventions can prevent abuse, identify abuse sooner, and help families survive and thrive by breaking the cycle of violence or finding safe alternatives.”

4. Advance Long and Productive Lives

Increased automation and longevity demand new thinking by employers and employees regarding productivity. Young people are increasingly disconnected from education or work and the labor force faces significant retirements in the next decades. Throughout the lifespan, fuller engagement in education and paid and unpaid productive activities can generate a wealth of benefits, including better health and well-being, greater financial security, and a more vital society.”

5. Eradicate Social Isolation

Social isolation is a silent killer—as dangerous to health as smoking. National and global health organizations have underscored the hidden, deadly, and pervasive hazards stemming from feeling alone and abandoned. Our challenge is to educate the public on this health hazard, encourage health and human service professionals to address social isolation, and promote effective ways to deepen social connections and community for people of all ages.”

6. End Homeless

“During the course of a year, nearly 1.5 million Americans will experience homelessness for at least one night. Periods of homelessness often have serious and lasting effects on personal development, health, and well-being. Our challenge is to expand proven approaches that have worked in communities across the country, develop new service innovations and technologies, and adopt policies that promote affordable housing and basic income security.”

7. Create Social Response to a Changing Environment

“The environmental challenges reshaping contemporary societies pose profound risks to human well-being, particularly for marginalized communities. Climate change and urban development threaten health, undermine coping, and deepen existing social and environmental inequities. A changing global environment requires transformative social responses: new partnerships, deep engagement with local communities, and innovations to strengthen individual and collective assets.”

8. Harness Technology for Social Good

“Innovative applications of new digital technology present opportunities for social and human services to reach more people with greater impact on our most vexing social problems. These new technologies can be deployed to more strategically target social spending, speed up the development of effective programs, and bring a wider array of help to more individuals and communities.”

9. Promote Smart Decarceration

“The United States has the world’s largest proportion of people behind bars. Mass incarceration and failed rehabilitation have resulted in staggering economic and human costs. Our challenge is to develop a proactive, comprehensive, evidence-based “smart decarceration” strategy that will dramatically reduce the number of people who are imprisoned and enable the nation to embrace a more effective and just approach to public safety.”

10. Reduce Extreme Economic inequality

“The top 1% owns nearly half of the total wealth in the U.S, while one in five children live in poverty. The consequences for health and well-being are immeasurable. We can correct the broad inequality of wealth and income through a variety of innovative means related to wages and tax benefits associated with capital gains, retirement accounts, and home ownership. Greater lifelong access to education will also provide broader economic opportunities.”

11. Build Financial Capability for All

“Nearly half of all American households are financially insecure, without adequate savings to meet basic living expenses for three months. We can significantly reduce economic hardship and the debilitating effects of poverty by adopting social policies that bolster lifelong income generation and safe retirement accounts; expand workforce training and re-training; and provide financial literacy and access to quality affordable financial services.”

12. Achieve Equal Opportunity and Justice

“In the United States, some groups of people have long been consigned to society’s margins. Historic and current prejudice and injustice bars access to success in education and employment. Addressing racial and social injustices, deconstructing stereotypes, dismantling inequality, exposing unfair practices, and accepting the super diversity of the population will advance this challenge. All of this work is critical to fostering a successful society.

How will academics, practitioners, schools of social work, governmental and NGO social welfare agencies respond to the call? As a practitioner, we have all seen grand action plans created only to sit on the shelf and never see implementation. Will they provide information to impact change, then wait for someone else to spring into action to implement, or will the experts in our profession lead the charge by engaging in public debate on the issues social workers have the most direct impact?

Together, the 12 Grand Challenges define a far-reaching, science-based social agenda that promotes individual and family well-being, a stronger social fabric, and a just society.

Why Psychologists Are Marching Against Austerity

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As a profession, British psychologists have traditionally been slow to rush to the forefront when it comes to societal, political or social injustices. This is in spite of available information and data – the British Psychological Society, which represents psychologists in the UK, has a list of articles related to Government and Politics alone.

Dr. Libby Watson of the University of East London wrote, “Rather than sitting in ivory towers or locked in clinic rooms, we as a profession need to get out – reach out to communities in need; talk to the people with the ‘power’”. In Keith Tuffin’s Understanding Critical Social Psychology, he notes that political ‘neutrality’ has led to a lack of reflection on where psychological research and practice sit within society – notably, what ideas and values underlie certain research topics.

There has been a call to go ‘beyond the therapy room’ and for psychologists to ‘speak out’ about things that matter. ‘Things that matter’ to psychologists might include the overuse of deadly anti-psychotic drugs in dementia, the personal and social implications of psychiatric diagnoses, gender disparity in ‘attempted’ and ‘completed’ suicides (the article’s terminology), and race differentials in treatment for ‘schizophrenia’. More recently, however, the United Kingdom’s austerity measures have mattered. They have mattered a lot. The key question is – why does austerity matter to psychologists?

Arguably, psychologists’ “speaking out” action has started with petitions. There were some intra-professional actions, for example psychologists have joined initiatives to provide free psychotherapy to the poor. However, now psychologists have started to march, and they marched 100 miles from Leicester to London.

The Walk the Talk 2015 campaign was set up by psychologists who wanted to walk alongside those affected by austerity – most notably, the benefits system, food poverty, and homelessness. They state that the UK is the second most unequal country in the world; over 25% of British children live in poverty and the use of food banks has quintupled since 2010. “Social inequalities have been shown to have a detrimental impact on mental health and well-being, as well as physical health and academic achievement, across the lifespan”.

What of these claims? Take the first point, the UK benefits system. Sanctions drove one gentleman to set his car alight, with him inside. Another man hanged himself due to his disability benefits being cut and the coroner ruled the benefits cuts as an unequivocal cause. Stephanie Bottrill wrote in her suicide note, after being subject to the ‘bedroom tax’, “The only people to blame are the government”. Calum’s list, a memorial for those who have ended their lives due to cuts, put the number at 60+. And the deaths don’t end there.

Between 2011 and 2014, 90 people per month died after their Employment and Support Allowance was stopped and approaching half of these had appealed the decision; this does not support causal effect, but proportions of deaths were higher than the general population. Indeed, research from the World Health Organisation suggests that the life expectancy of people with disabilities in 2010 should be 68.6 (compared to 79.9 for people without disability) – how many ‘working age adults’ whose benefits were stopped have reached close to 68.6 years old? Research by UK mental health charity The Samaritans found that poorer men are 10 times more likely to end their lives than richer men; ideas of money and power being salient in cultures with toxic societal ideals of masculinity.

Few people would disagree that food poverty is detrimental to wellbeing. We have this understanding in all areas of Western life, from a well-known chocolate bar suggesting “You’re not you when you’re hungry”, to psychologists talking about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (Maslow & Lewis, 1987). The hierarchy of needs suggests that a human needs a foundation of being well-fed and physically safe and secure to pursue other goals that facilitate wellbeing. However, it may be reductionist to suggest that food is only at the bottom of the ‘needs’ pyramid.

More broadly, food is an important ritual – friends meet for coffee, birthdays are celebrated with meals in restaurants, gifts are often edible or drinkable, people may invite close ones to their house for dinner. Food poverty can exacerbate social isolation, as one is unable to partake in such seemingly ordinary social rituals. The group Psychologists Against Austerity have specifically noted the social shame of having to attend food banks. Malnutrition affects a child’s cognitive development. A lack of breakfast has little effect on a well-nourished child, but affects malnourished children.

Homelessness, which no doubt exposes people to food poverty, paints a bleak picture of people’s psychological wellbeing, according to the American Psychological Association. Crucially, there are a number of interlinking factors that leads to lack of housing having an impact on mental wellbeing. Feeling low or ‘depressed’ is characterised by loss, powerless and guilt (not necessarily all at once, or by all theorists), problems with anxiety or anger are related to threat, substance abuse can be related to ‘numbing’ difficulties.

Add to this an uncertain, transitory lifestyle, condescending or abusive social environments, the increased risk of sexual assault and physical assault – not to mention traumatic events that might have led to homeslessness, or ongoing physical of mental health problems – and we have an utterly deplorable picture. Problems such as poor hygiene (hair, teeth, clothes, body…), sleeping lightly or sporadically, exposure to unsavoury weather conditions, and a lack of basics such as deodorant or shaving equipment have a huge part to play in our self-image and overall wellbeing.

So yes, it seems that psychologists do have a stake in the UK’s current austerity measures.

And psychologists are by no means the only group invested. The anti-austerity movement is growing across the county. Psychologists aren’t just walking with other mental health professionals. On October 4th 2015, Psychologists Against Austerity marched against austerity in Manchester, with tens of thousands of British people – from disabled people against austerity, an alliance of psychotherapists, anti-fracking groups, concerned parents, charity workers, student assemblies, human rights activists, junior doctors, university lecturers, anti-racism campaigners, politicians, trade unions, although not all of these groups got a mention in the media. Indeed, the media is reporting numbers up to 40,000 people fewer than the “100,000 and growing” number given to those who attended the march before it had even started moving.

Notable clinical psychologists David Smail wrote extensively about the effects of society on the individual – his “radical environmentalist theory of personal distress” rejects the idea that personal problems are inside an individual and their immediate environment, and advocates consideration of macro, political factors. The British Psychological Society is to hold a conference in his honour in November 2015, crucially stating “David proposed that to understand why we are unhappy, rather than insight, we must cultivate ‘outsight’ into the world around us. This perspective – which encourages personal modesty, appreciation of luck, compassion, and recognition of our common humanity – is today more relevant than ever”. More relevant than ever.

So – psychologists are marching because it’s necessary. They’re marching because it makes sense. They’re marching, crucially, because even an apolitical profession in an apolitical organsation is unable to stand by and keep quiet whilst austerity measures disempower, disable, and dismiss British citizens. Whilst people beg, and die begging. That’s not what national wellbeing looks like. That’s not what basic humanity looks like. And until things begin to change, psychologists will continue to march.

Paul Ryan and the Poor

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Watching the proceedings on the floor of the House of Representatives on the occasion of the election and swearing-in of Rep. Paul Ryan (WI-) as the 54th Speaker of the House, one might be convinced that discord had been banished from this hallowed legislative arena and that all is well with at least one chamber of Congress.  I think Rep. Ryan may have gotten more hugs from Democrats than he did from Republicans.  Members from both sides of the aisles greeted the incoming Speaker enthusiastically hoping that the Wisconsin Republican will be the leader who can curtail the rancor in the House and make it more legislatively productive.

That’s a tall order even for someone presidential candidate Mitt Romney declared to be the intellectual leader of the Republican Party.  His party is fractured.  The 40-member Freedom Party believes it has been betrayed by the House leadership which led to the ouster of John Boehner.  Their support of Speaker Ryan is conditional on his support for their policies.  Democrats seem willing to give the new Speaker the benefit of the doubt, but they will not countenance repeated attacks on President Obama.   Outgoing Speaker John Boehner provided Ryan with an extended honeymoon when he ushered through a two-year budget plan at the consternation of the Freedom Caucus and the 167 Republicans who voted against the bill.  Speaker Ryan acknowledged the honeymoon will be brief—“about 35 minutes,” he said during hisMeet The Press interview.

promised changes in procedure.  He says he’s going to wipe the slate clean—that the House will reinstitute “regular order” and give all members a voice in proposing legislation.  Let’s see how that goes.  He promised no changes in policies or politics.  He promised not to work with the President on immigration reform and to continue to undermine the Affordable Care Act.

Speaker Ryan has established a reputation as a policy wonk and economic maven based on several glossy and well-promoted proposals.  His budget 2013 budget proposal The Path to Prosperity was excoriated by Nobel laureate and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman as not a plan but a set of assertions with magic asterisks about trillions that will be saved on to-be-announced spending cuts.  He was clear about what he would cut: Medicaid by turning it into a block grant, Medicare by transforming it into a voucher program, and taxes for corporations and the wealthy.  The National Journal rates him as the most conservative speaker in history.

Paul Ryan’s elevation to Speaker does not bode well for the poor in this country.  During a recent hearing of the House Budget Committee, conservative philosophy reverberated throughout testimony and remarks: poor people can only be helped by removing government assistance that erodes their motivation to be personally responsible.  Last year Rep. Ryan released his vaulted plan to help the nation’s poor, Expanding Opportunity in America, that Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) said would likely increase poverty and reduce resources for the poor.

In the long run, Speaker Paul Ryan may have been right when he flatly turned down the job when it was first offered.  In his new position, he must face the public—something he has not done well in the past.  Remember not long ago he was completely overwhelmed by Vice President Joe Biden during the 2012 vice presidential debate.  Sooner or later the Speaker must give straight answers.  He will have to provide specifics about the policies.  During his Meet The Pressinterview, moderator Chuck Todd repeatedly pressed him for one idea he would advance as Speaker.  Ryan would only say that Republicans would no longer be timid about their policies but will be offering a bold agenda.  As chair of the Ways and Means Committee, Paul Ryan has spent the last year working on tax reform yet he could not or would not offer one specific item that he would promote as the new leader of the House Republican Caucus.

I do not want to be a hater, and I sincerely hope Paul Krugman, Bob Greenstein and a host of others are wrong about the new Speaker.  I really hope those Democrat who recalled how much they enjoyed working with him are spot on.  I sincerely hope he proves me wrong.  But my guess is the months leading up to November 2016 are going to be pretty ugly.

Remove Obstacles to the Work of Women’s Rights Defenders

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Human rights defenders and civil society organisations working to protect the human rights of women and gender equality perform an essential role in Europe. They provide much needed assistance to victims of gender-based violence, combat discrimination against women, contribute to peace-building and hold authorities accountable for fulfilling their human rights obligations. Unfortunately, as I learned at a roundtable with a group of women’s rights defenders in Vilnius in July, they also face serious obstacles in their work.

Multiple challenges as human rights defenders and promoters of women’s rights

Along with other human rights activists, the situation and working environment of women’s rights defenders are affected by several negative trends in the Council of Europe area. Restrictive legislation and repressive practices against civil society in Azerbaijan, the Russian Federation and Belarus have also had an impact on those who work to protect the human rights of women and promote gender equality. In Hungary, several women’s rights organisations were among the beneficiaries of the Norwegian NGO Fund and have been targeted by smear campaigns, audits and inspections.

In addition, women’s rights defenders face specific obstacles when they challenge patriarchal values, sexist stereotypes and the traditional perception of gender roles. They can be portrayed as destroyers of family values and national traditions or as agents of what has pejoratively been labeled “gender ideology”. I highlighted this issue in my latest report on Armenia,where women’s rights organisations and defenders were violently targeted in 2013 during the discussion and adoption of the Law on Equal Rights and Equal Opportunities between Women and Men.

Women’s rights defenders also face intimidation, pressure, threats, attacks, defamation, cyber-attacks and disruption of victims’ hotlines. Those working on sexual and reproductive rights or advocating the rights of women victims of domestic violence have often been specifically targeted. For example, in Ireland, defenders working on abortion issues experienced a smear campaign and stigmatisation. In many countries, segments of ultraconservative movements and far-right or extremist religious groups have been the instigators of such attacks. A serious problem lies in impunity for such actions. All too often state authorities do not fulfill their duty to protect human rights defenders by ensuring effective investigations into these violations and adequate punishment for those responsible.

Most defenders of women’s rights are women. Women human rights defenders are at a high risk of experiencing gender-based violence, rape and other forms of sexual violence, harassment and verbal abuse as well as attacks on their reputation on-line and off-line. A worrying phenomenon which has been identified recently is the increasing use of hate speech targeting women human rights defenders. In Serbia, for example, members of the NGO Women in Black have faced gender-motivated attacks because of their human rights work.

National authorities often fail to consult or listen to women’s rights defenders on relevant policies and laws. In some countries, independent activists feel overshadowed by NGOs which are close to the government – the so-called “GONGOs” (Government-Organised Non-Governmental Organisations). Another disturbing element is that women’s rights defenders are not considered as equals by some fellow human rights defenders, who mistakenly consider women’s rights and gender equality as a soft or secondary human rights issue.

The current period of austerity has made it particularly difficult for civil society organisations to find sustainable and long-term funding.  NGOs running shelters for women victims of violence, for example, have been weakened by cuts in public services at the local level.

Ways to improve the working environment of women’s rights defenders

The difficult situation of defenders of women’s rights highlights the fact that progress achieved towards gender equality has not yet been fully consolidated. As most defenders of gender equality are women themselves, the enduring discrimination of women can affect their work directly. Therefore even today it is essential to stress that equality between women and men is a fundamental right and a crucial element of the human rights agenda.

I urge Council of Europe member states to reaffirm and implement the national and international obligations they have undertaken to end discrimination and human rights violations based on sex and gender. In particular, I call upon all member states to ratify and implement the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the Istanbul Convention).

States must also meet their obligations to protect human rights defenders and ensure an enabling environment for their work free from intimidation and pressure. These obligations are recalled in the 1998 UN Declaration on human rights defenders and the 2008 Declaration of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers to improve the protection of human rights defenders and promote their activities. States should notably refrain from putting in place policies, legislation and practices which run contrary to freedom of association, assembly and expression.

In 2013, the UN General Assembly adopted a specific resolution on the protection of women human rights defenders, expressing concern about the discrimination and violence faced by them and urging states to protect them and support their work. In July 2015, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women called on States parties to ensure that women human rights defenders are able to access justice and receive protection from harassment, threats, retaliation and violence.

At the national level, I urge member states to adopt and implement laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex and gender as well as legal provisions specifically aiming to combat gender-based hate crimes and hate speech. I also encourage member states to develop national guidelines and other measures to support and protect human rights defenders and to integrate a gender perspective in this work. It is time to put an end to impunity for violations that human rights defenders face because of their work. Expressions of support from the government and state institutions for the work of women’s rights defenders are of great importance and should also extend to the effective inclusion of women’s rights defenders in official consultations on relevant issues.

Solidarity and cooperation among human rights defenders are necessary for the protection of defenders and promotion of their work. International, regional and national networks of human rights defenders are instrumental in assisting those defenders who face difficulties in their work and threats to their personal security. It is therefore essential for the wider community of human rights defenders to support women’s rights defenders and fully cooperate with them.

Human rights defenders work closely with national human rights structures (NHRSs) on many issues of mutual interest. However, in many cases ombudspersons, human rights commissions and equality bodies have not yet acquired sufficient trust among defenders of women’s rights so that they would turn to these institutions for help when they are under threat. We need more intense co-operation and joint action between NHRSs and human rights defenders to advance human rights agendas and to assist those who are at risk. I encourage NHRSs to fully take on board issues related to the human rights of women and gender equality, and to work together with women’s rights defenders in this field.

In several instances, women’s rights defenders have successfully partnered with the media in countering attacks, including smear campaigns, and in raising public awareness of their work and the importance of protecting the human rights of women and of promoting gender equality. I find it extremely useful to build on such experiences and to foster a culture of human rights and strengthen the defender’s interaction with the public.

It is time that women’s rights defenders receive the acknowledgment, support and protection they deserve for their committed work for human rights.

The Sixth Annual Social Good Summit Will Inspire World Action

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Since 2010, the Social Good Summit has grown substantially aided by the increasing popularity of social media and technology. Mashable in partnership with the United Nations General Assembly decided to bring people together global leaders to discuss how to utilize technology to eradicate poverty. People over the globe are becoming empowered to share their voices in an effort to be heard, and the Social Good Summit has committed to listening to those diverse voices.

The Social Good Summit is a two day conference discussing the impact of technology and media on current social good initiatives. Starting today on September 27th, days after the United Nations ratification of its Global Goals, the goals aim to eradicate poverty, inequality, increase access to education and protect the environment.

It is hoped that these goals will create sustained growth of the bottom 40% of the population to empower and promote their general welfare. These goals will guide policy and funding, and the purpose of the Social Good Summit is discuss the coordination of these goals globally. With now over 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24, it is clear why the UN has a youth focus to work towards the eradication of poverty by 2030.

The venue for this year’s Social Good Summit is 92nd Street Y which is a world class cultural and community centre that encourages people to connect through culture, the arts, entertainment and conversation. This year’s speakers include Kathy Calvin and Pete Cashmore, the CEO’s of the United Nations Foundation and Mashable respectively, as well as Sienna Miller, Charlize Theron and Savannah Guthrie. Using the hashtag #2030Now, social media and live streaming will definitely allow everyone to get involved!

In 2014, over 170 countries were connected through video and social media, with 65 countries and counting for 2015 it is thought this year could be even bigger. Jamaica, Turkmenistan and Guatemala have signed up and for the first time ever will be involved in the Social Good Summit. Global meet-ups will play a huge part in the Social Good Summit and allow people around the globe to take part and discuss how communities are using the digital tools to build a brighter future.

Also in 2014, #2030 trended at number one globally, breaking down any language barriers between the 45 different languages involved! The Social Good Summit is surrounded by a week of related events which provide encouragement to take action and identify innovations that can create the world we want. Two days of jam-packed sessions, including ‘The Tipping Point for Human Rights’, ‘Sustainable Cities’ and regular global meet-up check-ins, to keep everyone involved.

The voices of global citizens will be a necessary force for change, and the Social Good Summit has taken on the role of helping to facilitate conversations with UN officials, pop culture icons, activists and entrepreneurs around the world who want to create this change. Be a part of the Social Good Summit in helping to create the kind of world we all want to make a reality. Watch the summit via live stream at https://livestream.com/Mashable.

Global Citizen Encourages You to Help Eradicate Extreme Poverty by 2030

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With poverty and inequality being extremely prominent in the media recently, the Global Citizen’s Festival is well timed to advocate on behalf of their goal to end extreme poverty by 2030. So what is Global Citizen and how does it aim to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030? It’s a mission that can not be achieved without your help.

Global Citizen is a community of people committed to tackling societal challenges in the world and encouraging other people to do the same. Global Citizen believes courageous actions taken by those who believe in a better world will shape history and change society. Extreme poverty is one of the greatest injustices at the present time and it strips people of their basic rights as well as access to opportunities.

Whilst extreme poverty has halved in the last 30 years, there is still more work to do. Poverty can be a vicious cycle but if we come together to learn and take action we can change the rules trapping people in these cycles. Global Citizen does not ask for charity, it asks for help in fighting injustice. Global citizen wants people to advocate and use their passion to take action on issues that will help eradicate extreme poverty.

Global Citizen have several themes that we all can become involved in:

The first theme is food and hunger, and it is thought that people who are well fed will perform better in education and create more stable communities which will allow them to take advantage of the opportunities to end extreme poverty. The world has enough food to feed everyone, and we need to ensure this is spread more equally! The second theme is education, and by focusing on education for all children, it will encourage more leaders to lead society out of poverty and build communities that will thrive.

There are still millions of children without a good standard of education. Education is a basic right that we all deserve. The third theme focuses on health because everyone must be healthy in order to end extreme poverty. Healthy people can live fuller lives and take more opportunities to develop themselves. Health is vital for pregnant mothers, new-borns and children who require vaccines and access to healthcare that many are not receiving.

It is estimated that over a billion people suffer the indignity of having to defecate in open areas which is why water and sanitation is a top priority of Global Citizen. Waste systems and clean water are not a luxury, and it is a necessity that could save millions of lives each year and help eliminate diseases. Finance and innovation is also highly important. By funding development, it will help the global community to empower people to make changes and innovate in order to help themselves break the poverty cycle.

Women and girls are often subjected to some of the harshest aspects of poverty.  Global Citizen believes promoting better education for women and girls will also them become powerful leaders. A great example of the power of education for women and girls is Malala Yousafazi who was shot by the Taliban for speaking publicly about the importance of girl’s education. I received an email that Malala has now started a petition to encourage support to stand up for over 60 million girls around the world who do not receive the opportunity of education, which you can also sign here. This shows we can all make change, but we need to take the steps to do it like Malala Yousafazi.

Most importantly, we should not forget about the environment. Working towards these goals will mean more healthy people who can help take care of the earth and protect those who live on it. To participate and work on these themes Global Citizen have recommended actions such as tweeting, writing, making phone calls and/or email. These can all be found by clicking on each theme on the Global Citizen website. By completing these simple actions, we can make the goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030 happen a lot sooner!

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Anthony Quintano via Flikr

On September 26th, Global Citizen will host its annual Global Citizen Festival on the Great Lawn of New York’s Central Park which also coincides with the launch of the United Nation’s global goals. To date more than 150,000 people have attended the festival with more than 30 million watching the festival.

The festival channels the power of thousands of global citizens to achieve policy and financial commitments that shape success. The Global Citizen Festival is supported by many brands from YouTube, to H&M to Unilever and many more. YouTube will feature a special livestream and a live simulcast of the full concert will be available on MSNBC and msnbc.com.

Screenwriter Richard Curtis will also produce a one-hour special to air on NBC on Sunday, September 27th. For all those in the UK, don’t worry. It will also air on BBC One on Monday, September 28th. The festival also involves artists such as Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran and Coldplay to name a few. The Global Poverty Project is a registered non-profit organisation who works in partnership with business leaders, world leaders and global citizens to call on governments to support policies that would impact the poor.

So far, Global Citizens have taken a massive 2.3 million actions to fight against extreme poverty in the last four years which have resulted in 87 commitments and policy announcements including cash commitments which are valued at around $18.3 billion.

With your help, extreme poverty can be ended and Global Citizen encourages us all to help in that journey. We tweet and email every day, let’s do it today to create change! Global Citizen has taken on an amazing goal which encourages everyone to participate, and we can eradicate extreme poverty by 2030.

The Employment Paradox with Technology

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I attended a workshop on accessible employment recently and was reminded, as I’ve written about before, what a fraught topic employment is these days — for anyone, let alone those with access needs.

As welfare states come crashing down around the (western) world, the demand for employment and requirement to be employed increase. New Zealand’s welfare lexicon has changed from “beneficiary” to the default “jobseeker”.

Meanwhile industry and technology improves, meaning more machines, computers and robots do more and more jobs for us. I mean, that has been the whole idea of industrial and technological revolutions, hasn’t it? To decrease the need for humans to do stuff.

But, it’s like the world hasn’t quite caught up with itself. There are fewer things to do, but more pressure than ever for us to be gainfully employed. It’s all a bit Stupid, with a capital S, as Bernard Keane and Helen Razer might ubiquitously insist.

UK Research exploring “the future of work and how jobs, and the skills needed in the workplace, will change by 2030”, gives the following key messages:

  1. Technological growth and expansion: As digitalisation grows, we can expect a significant impact on employment and skills in the decades ahead, at all levels and in all sectors.
  2. Interconnectivity and collaboration: Work in the future will be more interconnected and network oriented.
  3. Convergence of innovation: We can expect more and more innovations to take place at the borders of disciplines and sectors.
  4. Increased individual responsibility: International competition and technological development is likely to continue to increase the flexibility that employers demand from their employees.
  5. The shrinking middle: The shrinking middle will challenge the workforce. The high-skilled minority (characterised by their creativity, analytical and problem solving capabilities and communication skills) will have strong bargaining power in the labour market, whilst the low-skilled will bear the brunt of the drive for flexibility and cost reduction, resulting in growing inequality.
  6. The four-generational (4G) workplace: The future workplace will be multi-generational, with four generations working side-by-side. Traditional notions of hierarchy and seniority will become less important.

(Key findings, The future of work: jobs and skills in 2030, UK Commission for Employment and Skills, p24-25)

If the world’s idea of employment were an ostrich, its entirety is well buried in sand, not just its head. We’re hardly thinking about these things — and we are far from conversing about them. Things like:

  • What happens when up-to-the-moment digital literacy is a pre-requisite for employment, given its exponential speed of development?
  • What factors influence who has access to interconnectivity and network orientation?
  • How are we encouraging innovations between disciplines and sectors?
  • What does increased employee responsibility look like?
  • If the high-skilled minority out-bargains the low-skilled majority, what becomes of “jobseekers”, who are out-bid before their seeking begins? After all, to seek successfully, one must also be sought.
  • How is the education system preparing school leavers to manage and lead people of their parents’ and grandparents’ ages? And how are employers preparing for this somersault?

These questions are fascinating to me, but I’m fairly sure they terrify many. But we’ve got to start using them to lead our conversations about employment in the future.

Quite simply the question, “How do more people become employed?” is not an adequate level of inquiry anymore. To meet the huge diversity, complexity and change that is ‘careering’ towards us in the next 15 years, we need to be asking, “What is employment becoming?” and “Who are the employees and employers of the future?”

But, most importantly, we need to grapple with this one: “What will become the valued, dignified alternatives to employment?” Because there will be more and more people, with and without access needs, seeking them out.

Pope Francis Visit to the US Aims to Highlight Poverty and Discrimination

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This month, on September 22nd, Pope Francis will arrive in America for his first ever visit which will begin in Washington, DC. Upon being greeted by President Obama, he will conduct a midday prayer with U.S. bishops at Saint Matthew’s Cathedral before attending the Junipero Serra Canonization Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Pope Francis’ final day in Washington on September 24th will involve a speech to the Senate and House of Representatives as well as a visit to St Patrick’s Catholic Church and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.

Upon arriving in New York on September 25th, Pope Francis will visit the United Nations General-Assembly followed by a religious service at 9/11 Memorial and Museum. The Pope will also visit Our Lady Queen of Angels School as well as ride in a papal motorcade through Central Park followed by a mass in Madison Square Garden. The final destination of what is sure to be a busy trip is Philadelphia for the World Family Meeting.

He will attend mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, visit the Festival of Families at Benjamin Franklin Parkway and Prayer vigil with World Meeting of Families. Earlier in the morning on the last day of Pope Francis’ trip, he will visit Curren-Fromhold Correctional Facility to meet with 100 inmates and their families.

The trip comes at a crucial time for the Catholic Church which has seen decreasing numbers for some time and has been accused of failing to prevent the sexual abuse of children. For every one person entering the Catholic Church, it has been estimated that around six are leaving. The US is home to more Christians than anywhere else in the world. However the number of Americans identifying themselves as Catholic has been decreasing for some time.

It is thought that this is because the values of the Catholic Church are not in line with contemporary society. An example of this has been seen recently as the Supreme Court of the United States made a monumental decision that the constitution should contain a right to same-sex marriage. This comes just a few months after Ireland, where 83.6% of the population is Catholic, had an overwhelming “yes” vote to same-sex marriage showing a huge leap towards equality in an increasingly contemporary society.

Whilst it is amazing that society is changing to become more equal, will religion keep up with this change? Whilst the Catholic Church has previously not supported same-sex marriage, Pope Francis is known for having more forgiving views. His statement towards the LGBT community has been received as being non-judgemental and an equality driven approach.

Additionally, Pope Francis adopts use of social media and is making vital steps towards bridging the growing gap between religion and society. A study showed that people who defined themselves as agnostic or atheist actually viewed Pope Francis in a positive regard showing that his attitudes to discrimination stretch beyond the religion and apply to even those who do not follow it.

Although his visit could be seen as an attempt for Pope Francis to change the dwindling numbers in the Catholic Church, it is thought to be an attempt to encourage people to take a more active approach to minimising poverty and discrimination. Eradicating discrimination could be an appealing message considering the racial and social tensions which are prominent in the US.

As beneficial as it would be for Pope Francis’ visit to increase the numbers joining the Catholic Church, it would be as beneficial if he
encouraged more people to become involved in Catholic charities and advocating for the poor. This comes at a time when the globe is witnessing the biggest refugee crisis since World War II, which stresses an importance on eradicating discrimination and helping those in poverty.

Pope Francis announced that he will open the Vatican to refugee families and the Roman Catholic Church has expressed hope that others will do the same showing his commitment to helping the poor and encouraging universal solidarity.

Many believe the US visit will help to engage and promote society in coming together to change the systems that create poverty. This message will help provide hope to those in poverty and those living in slums, in which Pope Francis has visited in Paraguay. Hopefully, his message will pave the way for the Catholic Church to follow. Pope Francis’ focus on poverty is necessary as more than 3 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day, which prevent people from living a healthy lifestyle that we all have the right to.

Furthermore, approximately 750 million people worldwide do not have access to clean drinking water, a necessity we frequently take for granted. This visit presents an exciting event for the US, but it is also a reminder to help those who are marginalized and oppressed within society.

Whereas this message will hopefully help encourage people to join the Catholic Church, it will also promote a sense of commitment to eradicating discrimination and poverty. His approach to equality and discrimination has changed the way people not only view the Catholic Church and the Pope, but how they respond to social issues.

Europe Can Do More to Protect Refugees

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For many years European countries have been warned about the inadequacy of their immigration and asylum systems. Now, with increased refugee arrivals and more frequent tragedies, this system is showing all its weaknesses. But refugee arrivals are not the real cause of this collapse. The real reason is political.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, a little more than 430,000 asylum applications have been lodged in the European Union member states since January. 40% of them have been received by Germany alone, while Hungary has taken 1 out of 4 of the remaining ones. This means that 26 EU countries are dealing with just over 180,000 asylum applications, an effort which is all but epic.

Even including the almost 300,000 people who arrived in Italy and Greece since January – mostly Syrians who will be granted asylum – we are still far from experiencing the real refugee arrival pressure faced by much less rich and stable countries like Pakistan, Lebanon and Ethiopia, or, without looking too far, Turkey, home to some 2 million Syrian refugees.

Regrettably, more often than not, politicians ignore facts. With the outstanding exception of Germany, in the majority of the EU countries politicians are competing with each other in sending bad signals to the public. France and the United Kingdom – the latter being a country where asylum applications have remained stable over the last few years – could not find a better answer to the needs of some 3,000 migrants in Calais than to send the police and allocate money to reinforce surveillance.

In Denmark – where asylum applications have not increased significantly compared to 2014 – the parliament approved last Wednesday a cut in refugee benefits, with the declared intent to make the country less attractive to refugees. In Poland – where asylum applications in 2014 dropped by 50% compared to 2013 – the country’s president spoke against the possibility of taking more asylum seekers, although the number of asylum applications remained low in the first half of 2015 too.

With a steep increase in asylum applications and little if any help from fellow EU countries, Bulgaria and Hungary have made the bad choice of sealing off their borders. This is certainly not the right answer to those who seek international protection. But the inconvenient political truth is that this comes also as the result of an EU asylum system which penalises countries placed at the border of Europe.

The real problem is not the arrival of refugees, but this desultory, almost hysterical response to it. More than a refugee crisis, this is a political one, where States demand less Europe, when in reality we need more. To save a Europe of solidarity and human rights, we must rethink its approach to migration.

The first thing to do is to fundamentally review the Dublin Regulation, an unfair mechanism which allows the majority of EU member states to allocate responsibility for dealing with asylum-seekers to a few frontline countries like Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Malta and Spain. The latest blow to this system comes from Germany which suspended a few days ago its application as regards Syrian refugees. This decision should be extended to all categories of asylum seekers and applied by all EU member states.

EU countries and the European Commission should build a system where countries fairly share asylum-seekers based on the principles of solidarity and human rights protection. This would help improve the protection Europe affords to refugees and, at the same time, relieve the pressure on some EU countries.

Such developments should go hand-in-hand with improved co-operation with states in the Western Balkans. So far, the EU has pressured them in various ways to hold off asylum-seekers, a choice that has led some of these countries to adopt a series of unlawful measures like ethnic profiling at border crossings and the confiscation of travel documents. Now, the EU has to help these states develop their asylum systems and their capacities to host refugees in accordance with European standards. This will not only help save lives, but also give effect to the promise to “achieve a greater unity” that all EU and Western Balkans states agreed to when they joined the Council of Europe.

In addition, European states have to provide more legal avenues for refugees to reach the continent, for example by easing humanitarian visas and family reunification rules. This would not only help refugees avoid perilous sea and land routes, but would also weaken the grip of smugglers, who thrive when migration restrictions are harsh.

Protecting refugees is both a moral and a legal obligation. It is not an easy task, but neither is it impossible. We must do more to protect those who flee wars and persecution. With political will, Europe can hold true to its values.

The New Koch: Anyone Buying?

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Charles and David Koch

Back in April of 1985, the Coca Cola Company sensing a decline in its leading share of the cola market, tried to rebrand its soft drink by tweaking the secret formula that had been successful for nearly a century. Thus we got the “New Coke.” Unfortunately, consumers were not convinced that the New Coke was better than the old Coke. In fact, they saw through the marketing ploy and demanded that the Coca Cola revert to its true self. Less than three months later, Coca Cola began restocking shelves with what became classic Coke.

Now, it seems Charles and David Koch (pronounced “coke”) have grown weary of their characterization as villains. They are tired of being viewed as fat cats who are making a mockery of our election process by spending millions to support Republican candidates who have become the pawns of the rich and well-to-do—the job creators.

Supply-side Republican tax policies have been very favorable to the rich while efforts to shrink government by scaling back resources for social welfare programs have hurt the middle class and the both the working and non-working poor. Reductions in Pell grants make it harder for middle and low-income families to afford college education. Assaults on unions and a 16-year freeze on the minimum wage have exacerbated wage stagnation.

So during their retreat last weekend in Dana Point, California, the Koch brothers began their campaign to rebrand as champions of the poor—zeroing in on criminal justice reform as a particular concern. Fellow donors and beneficiaries like the five Republican presidential candidates attending the retreat embraced this new brand of Koch. But will it sell to the general public? United Negro College Fund (UNCF) president Michael Lomax warmed up to the brothers last year when he accepted $25 million from them. Former Obama administration official Van Jones became another strange bedfellow when he teamed up with the Koch brothers to push for passage of the SAFE Justice Act.

frabz-The-Media-mentions-koch-brothers-I-picture-Randolph-and-Mortimer-16c057The Koch brothers would like us to believe that policies promoted by the Cato Institute—the think tank they created—have negligible negative impact on the poor and middle class but are advancing their principles of limited government.

For them and other patrons of Ayn Rand, smaller government means more freedom. Taken to its logical extreme—the smallest government results in the greatest freedom—but for whom?

They would have us accept that unfettered, unregulated capitalism would create a more just society, but only if you buy into social Darwinism and have no problem discarding the poor and less fortunate.

It’s the kind of thinking that empowered anti-tax maven Grover Norquist who said he did not want to abolish government but to “get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” Depriving the government of revenue would surely shrink it.

Norquist’s organization Americans for Tax Reform boasts on its website that nearly 1400 elected officials—including 49 Senators and 221 Members of the House of Representative—have signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge—avowing not to raise taxes. It is a silly pledge. The cost of living does not stop increasing because taxes are frozen. The population continues to grow and our infrastructure continues to wear down.

Then, there are those annoying expenses like war. The idea of conflating smaller government and freedom doesn’t wash. Dictators can have small governments. The government should be as large as needed to efficiently promote the general welfare. Libertarians and conservatives believe government assistance promotes dependency and makes us slaves of the government.

The purpose of the pledge was to reduce government revenue until there was little choice but to begin dismantling the welfare state through block granting of social service programs and attacking the solvency of Social Security and Medicare. It’s not about freedom; it’s about ideology.

The results have been disastrous. By not taking in adequate revenue through taxes, future generations will be saddled with 18 trillion dollars in debt and counting. Our system of government is corrupt beyond belief because the wealthy are able to finance policies that increase their wealth.

Economic inequality is off the charts. Millions of Americas, particularly children languish in poverty with minimal hopes of escaping. Thousands forgo college because of the enormous expense and concomitant burden of student loan debt. Who knows what inventions and cures are being lost because we live in a society where only the haves can optimize their talents and skills.

The new Coke was a flash in the pan, and I am not buying the new Koch either. We’ve seen this before with compassionate conservatism. It has a nice ring to it, but it’s the same old song.

When Basic Living is Considered a Utopia for the Poor

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With our fast paced lives in a technological age of instant gratification and easy distraction, it’s no wonder news channels are beginning to advertise “distractify” sections on their web pages. It’s not difficult to see how quiet unassuming people may get pushed aside, and their needs relegated to the back burner. We assume that they’ll get social security which will provide some basic living. After all, we are told that all Americans can get social security once they retire. Right?

But, retiring means that you have worked, and social security is based on earnings over your lifetime. For homemakers, this doesn’t help much. We assume that they’ll receive Medicare, and yes we might even hear about the problems and costs associated with what Medicare doesn’t cover. We might even assume that the elderly will get food stamps without realizing just how meager food stamp grants really are. In an age of cuts to social programs, not only are all of these so-called entitlements at risk, programs such as food banks, meals on wheels, and utility assistance are also at risks which leads me to tell you about Mrs. Jones.

Mrs. Jones* is a vibrant and lovely elderly woman, free with stories of years gone by and quick with an ear for friends and neighbors. She loves working in her garden and sitting on her porch chatting with passers-by. Many in her community in Atlanta look forward to the spritely older woman and her tales. Many more loved her homespun wisdom and down home recipes, both of which she’s quick to share.

So, it was with great shock and profound sadness that the community witnessed its first day without the fixture that was Mrs. Jones and the loss was palpable. The shock and sadness only increased as the story behind Mrs. Jones’ absence spread.

In all the time she was cornerstone of the community, the very bedrock that most communities seek to cultivate, no one guessed she might have a secret. Mrs. Jones was used to being relied upon in her community and never thought to ask for anything in return. While her neighbors were friendly, caring, and even supportive of her, no one thought to inquire into how this lovely elderly woman, a widow who’d largely been a homemaker, was fairing. Sadly though, Mrs. Jones is one of countless citizens in an unenviable position. She is one of the 3.4 million citizens aged 65 and over in our country who live in poverty making her part of an extremely vulnerable population and one that is often forgotten in our society.

As a widow she did qualify for survivor’s benefits, but as someone who was largely a homemaker, her social security was meager at best. She did happen to qualify for Medicare, but was judged to be over the resource limit for food stamps. Living alone without dependent children reduced her benefits limit to the point that she was deemed to make too much. In short, after a lifetime of raising children, keeping house, and being a good and supportive wife to her husband all things lauded as family values to be protected, the system failed Mrs. Jones.

On the night where we pick up Mrs. Jones’ story, the night before her community witnessed the absence of its cornerstone, Mrs. Jones dialed 911 in a panic. She was having incapacitating abdominal cramps coupled with vomiting. When she arrived at the emergency room she was quickly diagnosed with a bowel obstruction and raced into emergency surgery. Afterward she was admitted to the ICU to recover from surgery and to stabilize her condition. A few days after she was admitted, a concerned friend came to visit and that’s when the true tragedy of Mrs. Jones case was revealed.

Her neighbor, perhaps one of her closest friends, knew that Mrs. Jones had been diagnosed with a heart condition, and that the treatment course was not covered by her insurance. This is not uncommon among the elderly who frequently have too many medical bills and not enough money or insurance. Many Americans think that supplemental insurance like Medicare part D picks up the rest, but the truth is it doesn’t cover everything and creates what some call the Medicare donut. In this position, Mrs. Jones was left to decide between medication and other necessities like food, which also is not uncommon among the elderly.

What makes this story less common, but by no means unheard of, is how Mrs. Jones decided to solve the problem. With too many financial needs and too few dollars at her command, Mrs. Jones decided that she would have to resort to eating dog food to afford her medications. That’s right, as she was trading recipes with her neighbors, offering an ear to all and being the foundation of her community, Mrs. Jones had resorted to eating dog food.

Mrs. Jones had been failed by the very society of whom she was a bedrock. Even more tragically, she is now saddled with even more medical debt which lead to her illness in the first place. Only time will tell how Mrs. Jones’ story will end. With her grown children having moved away and her husband  now deceased, it is very likely her community will forever lose its cornerstone. The debt she’s incurred will drive her to even more austere measures and ultimately lead to her being placed in assisted living.

Mrs. Jones’ story and the stories of millions like her doesn’t have to end this way. It doesn’t have to be a story of poverty, increased health care costs, and increased demand for limited assisted living spaces. The only solution that eliminates poverty and corrects societal tragedies like Mrs. Jones story is a universal basic income.

Had Mrs. Jones lived in a country that provided a guaranteed basic income for its citizens, Mrs. Jones would not live in poverty. She’d receive a stipend that guaranties her a comfortable existence where she could afford food and adequate health insurance. Insurance where her medication is covered, thus eliminating the strain of poverty on our health care system.

Clearly our current system, which leaves 3.4 million of our elderly in poverty, estimates as many as 44% of seniors would be living in poverty if it were not for social security. As stated in the findings by Center for American Progress, the system is broken, and it’s time to find a solution. 

Editors Note: *Mrs. Jones and staff at Emory University Hospital spoke to me on condition of anonymity. Mrs. Jones name was changed to protect her privacy.

Blue Cross Report: Social Services Critical to Improving Health

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In a new report by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation, social, behavioral, and environmental factors are shown to determine a staggering 60% of one’s overall health. The report provides overwhelming support for increased investment in, and collaboration with, social services as a way of improving overall individual and community health.

The report’s key findings include:

-Providing housing support for low-income, high-need individuals can result in net savings due to reduced health care costs. The net savings range from $9,000 per person per year to nearly $30,000 per person per year for the Housing First model, a harm-reduction approach in which adults who are homeless and who have behavioral health conditions are provided supportive housing.

-Nutritional assistance for high-risk women, infants, and children as well as older adults and people with disabilities lowers infant mortality rates, improves birth weights, reduces nursing home admissions, and significantly lowers federal and state Medicaid costs.

-Vulnerable populations experience health gains when their care is coordinated across primary, specialty, behavioral, and social services and that hospitalizations and emergency department visits are demonstrably reduced.

-Partnerships between health care and social service providers, particularly housing service providers, have been effective in improving health outcomes in certain high-need populations.

-Income support programs, specifically the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), were associated with better health outcomes for those individuals who qualify for such programs.

By attributing 60% of one’s health to social, behavioral, and environmental factors, Blue Cross Blue Shield is making known that social workers and social service programs are the key to improving the health of individuals and communities. The report opens the door for unprecedented collaboration between social workers and private sector health insurers, who can work together to address patient care as a whole unit.

The report adds to the increasing evidence that integrated healthcare is the future of care delivery. Integrated care involves primary care providers and behavioral/mental health providers working in unison to treat the whole patient. Social workers, who are trained in interdisciplinary collaboration, are uniquely qualified to serve in this capacity.

Most importantly, the message of the report is clear: achieving optimal health is impossible without increased investment in social service programs, especially for vulnerable populations. This provides a major opportunity to advocate on behalf of increased investment in programs that improve health while reducing healthcare costs. When one of the nation’s largest health insurers says that social service programs are critical to the health of our nation, policy makers will have to listen.

Will Social Workers Embrace Hillary Clinton

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton waves before she delivers her "official launch speech" at a campaign kick off rally in Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island in New York City, June 13, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid - RTX1GCOG
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton waves before she delivers her “official launch speech” at a campaign kick off rally in Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island in New York City, June 13, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid –

Saturday’s rally in Freedom Park on New York City’s Roosevelt Island provided Hillary Clinton with an opportunity to present ideas about what she will do to boost opportunity for prosperity for the poor and middle class. She spoke of four fights she will wage as President—getting the economy working for everyone, strengthening families, defending the country, and restoring integrity to the democratic process.

She vowed to support a constitutional amendment to undo the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that allows unlimited money in the electoral process. She defined herself as a fighter who has been knocked down but not knocked out. She received criticism early in her public career beginning with the 1993 healthcare fiasco early in her husband’s presidency and the wasteful Whitewater investigation led by Ken Starr that cost taxpayers nearly $60 million. She is now embroiled in an investigation of her handling of email while Secretary of State.

The relentless attacks on Hillary Clinton’s character have taken its toll. There are many who literally despise her. She has admittedly made mistakes but has not been found guilty of any criminal wrongdoing. The voices that are loudest and heard the most are the haters. They wish she would go away. Take the money and run.

At 67 years old, why would she want to take on a Republican-led Congress? What is there to gain? She’s had the White House experience. She says she is seeking the Presidency because of her lifelong commitment to children and those less fortunate. There are millions of Americans who believe in Hillary Clinton and look to her for leadership and she will not abandon them.

Secretary Clinton is taking heat because of the millions she and Bill Clinton have amassed through their Clinton Global Foundation. There is nothing wrong with becoming rich in America as long as most people have a reasonable chance at success and you are not trying to destroy those chances by undermining unions and depressing wages.

Yet, both she and Bill missed opportunities to be magnanimous with their largesse instead of piling up huge sums of money for their personal use. Allegedly charging nonprofits huge fees for speeches seems a bit over the top. She needs to address this issue because it will not go away and while it may not prevent her from reaching the White House it puts a damper on her public support.

Should she be elected President—and the odds are truly in her favor because of the demographic makeup of the electorate during Presidential elections—she will have no magic wand that will bring about the sweeping changes she is proposing with her policy agenda. She will need an active and vibrant citizenry working with her and the Democratic Party to rebalance our political and economic systems to expand opportunities for prosperity.

She will need every supporter she can muster. Social workers should not just be part of the effort social workers should be leaders in the pursuit of a more egalitarian society. That means helping to register new voters, empowering individuals and communities to become more involved, getting people to vote, and running for elected office. Changing the system often requires changing people in the system.

Democrats have a nine point advantage over Republicans among Americans who identify with either party, 48 percent to 39 percent. Yet Republicans were able to win control over the Senate and control 31 state governorships. They are also in control of the State Senate in 35 states and the State House in 33 states. Republicans won 52 percent of the votes for the House of Representatives in 2014 but gained 57 percent of the seats. Hillary Clinton has pledged to rebuild state Democratic parties that were largely abandoned during the Obama presidency.

The next President of the United States may be in the position to nominate four Supreme Court justices over the course of two terms. That alone should motivate progressives not to sit idly on the sidelines but to be actively organizing and working to get more like-minded people to register and vote. It would be wonderful if Secretary Clinton was flawless but it’s enough for me to know that she wants to improve circumstances for the poor and middle class. I have no reason not to believe her other than the words of those who would like to see her fail.

Inclusive Education Vital for Social Cohesion in Diverse Societies

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Public debates on the need to ensure more inclusive education for children and young adults who face social exclusion in diverse societies have recently rekindled in Europe. Evidence shows that in many European states the dropout rate of children coming from migrant families or minority groups, such as Roma, is at least twice as high as that of native or ethnic majority students.

In many countries, children with disabilities and Roma continue to be educated separately, though adequate support would permit their full integration into mainstream education. Poverty, persistent discrimination and social marginalisation are the main underlying reasons for this inclusive education deficit, which needs to be reversed by determined and systematic action by all European states.

Exclusion from or divisions in education along ethnic and language lines have a devastating impact on social cohesion and reconciliation in multi-ethnic societies struggling to come to terms with a violent past. In Bosnia and Herzegovina generations of young people have been educated in mono-ethnic schools or in segregated “two schools under one roof”.

Regrettably, there appears to exist no political will to change this system despite a national court ruling that found it discriminatory. Segregated education is also a reality for many Serb and Croat children in Vukovar, Croatia. I have also been concerned at the adverse effects of segregated education in “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” on pupils’ life and relationships as well as on this country’s social cohesion.

Everyone has a right to quality education

Inclusive education, as defined by UNESCO, is a process that addresses and responds to the diversity of needs of all children, youth and adults through increasing participation in learning, cultures and communities, and reducing and eliminating exclusion within and from education. It is a principle that places the responsibility (a ‘positive obligation’) on states to educate all children without any discrimination within the mainstream system.

As noted in 2014 by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, schools must become places where priority is given to teaching young people to live in harmony in an environment which respects freedom of thought and conscience, encourages learners to open up to others and develop a critical mind, while providing adequate support to those who need it.

Every child’s right to quality education ‘on the basis of equal opportunity’ is firmly enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is intrinsically linked to inclusive education and consists not only of one’s cognitive development but also of the inculcation of values and attitudes of responsible citizenship, and is a fundamental pillar of democratic societies.

In addition, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities requires the provision of quality education in a mainstream, inclusive environment to children with disabilities, establishing this as an international legal obligation. In fact, it has been estimated that non-inclusion of persons with disabilities in Europe and Central Asia has cost a loss of 35.8% of these regions’ GDP.

In its landmark 2007 judgment in D.H. and others v. the Czech Republic the Strasbourg Court’s Grand Chamber concluded that segregation of Roma in education was discriminatory and noted that discriminatory barriers to access to education for Roma children are present in a number of European countries. Similar judgments have been rendered in respect of Greece and Hungary. Regarding minority education more generally, the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities requires states to promote equal opportunities for access to education at all levels for persons belonging to national minorities.

The Revised European Social Charter guarantees the right of persons with disabilities to independence, social integration and participation in the life of the community, including in education. The European Committee of Social Rights has upheld these principles in decisions on collective complaints concerning the lack of access to inclusive education, for example those concerning France and Belgium.

Inclusive education benefits all learners. It is not limited to integrating children with specific needs into mainstream education, but has a positive impact on all children, the school institutions and the community at large, as noted in a 2006 General Comment by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Inclusive, inter-cultural education is supported by the Council of Europe programme on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education, which includes a specific programme on South East Europe: “Regional Support for Inclusive Education”. This project promotes the concept of inclusive education as a reform principle that respects and caters for diversity among all learners, with a specific focus on those who are at higher risk of marginalisation and exclusion, such as members of national minority groups.

Ways forward

Inclusive education requires a mentality shift at state level, from seeing children or adults as a problem to identifying the existing inadequacies and improving the education systems themselves. It should target any child who may be excluded from mainstream education programmes. Particular attention needs to be given to members of vulnerable groups, such as migrants and national minorities, especially Roma, who often find themselves, or risk ending up, in situations of poverty and social exclusion.

Drawing upon Article 30 of the European Social Charter, effective measures are required in order to promote these persons’ access to quality education. These should include positive measures to increase children’s presence in all education levels, as well as the recruitment and promotion of education professionals with migrant or national minority backgrounds.

There are good practice examples, like the Czech and Slovak Roma pupils who have been successfully integrated in primary or secondary mainstream education in the United Kingdom, after having attended special or de facto segregated (Roma-only) schools in the Czech Republic or Slovakia.

As regards in particular Roma and Travellers, school mediators and/or assistants recruited from Roma and Traveller communities should be employed to facilitate the relations between these communities and the teachers and schools. They should be provided with adequate training and support and be accepted as far as possible as full members of the schools’ professional teams.

Much needs to be done for the true inclusion of children with disabilities as well. In my country reports, for example those on the Czech Republic and Romania, I have often highlighted the need for accepting inclusion as a fundamental principle and as an enforceable obligation on mainstream schools which must become accessible and, where necessary, provide the individual support needed.

A worrying tendency I encountered in this respect in some countries is the perpetuation of segregation while using nicer-sounding concepts such as “appropriate education” (the Netherlands) or even by labelling special schools “inclusive education centres” (Romania). True inclusion requires adequate resources – austerity budgets can never justify sub-standard education for children with disabilities, as I have stressed in respect of Spain.

Inclusive education needs to be clarified in national contexts and its principles promoted and reflected in national legislation and education policies and practices all over Europe. To this end, the schools’ capacity to create an inclusive environment needs to be increased, notably by improving teaching practices to prepare teachers for diversity in the classrooms. Inter-sectorial and inter-institutional cooperation in this field must be strengthened in particular between education, health and social protection bodies.

Furthermore, it is necessary to develop systems of support in inclusive education including by making enrolment policy flexible and inclusive for all disadvantaged students. Monitoring and evaluation of school inclusiveness also need to be developed. Last but not least, parents’ involvement in these processes should be increased and their capacities strengthened.

Data indicate that each additional year of schooling raises the average annual GDP growth by 0.37%, thus helping to alleviate poverty and to eradicate social exclusion and marginalisation. European states can no longer afford to ignore modern societies’ need for inclusive education. Equitable and efficient budgetary allocations to promote inclusive education are needed. It is a necessary investment for the long-term development and social cohesion of all European states.

Useful background documents

  • UNESCO, Policy Guidelines on Inclusion in Education, 2009
  • The Council of Europe Committee of Ministers’ Recommendation CM/Rec(2012)13 on ensuring quality education
  • The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child General Comment N° 9 (2006) on the rights of children with disabilities
  • European Council conclusions of 12 May 2009 on a strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (‘ET 2020’)
  • CM Recommendation CM/Rec(2009)4 on the education of Roma and Travellers in Europe
  • Migration Policy Institute, Europe, Migrant Education and Community Inclusion – Examples of Good Practice, Brief, 2015
  • Index for school inclusion, Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, 2002

President Obama, A Social Worker Is Your Ideal Poverty Czar

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Last week, President Barack Obama once again did the unusual by participating in a panel discussion as part of Georgetown University’s Catholic-Evangelical Leadership Summit on Overcoming Poverty. It was a rare setting for a sitting president but proved to be an interesting exchange of ideas with a couple of thought leaders on the subject of why so many (45 million below the poverty threshold) have so little in the land of plenty.

Moderated by Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, the discussion included Harvard professor Robert Putnam, and American Enterprise Institute’s president Arthur C. Brooks. Putnam’s latest book, “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis,” has renewed interest in the numbers of American children who are mired in poverty with bleak hopes for the future. Brooks has captured the imagination of many with his own brand of compassionate conservatism which sees free enterprise’s most important work as not generating wealth but creating opportunities for the poor.

It was a bold move for President Obama to put himself on the proverbial hot seat because his administration has garnered criticism from those who believe he could do more for the poor. This appearance prompted Martin Luther King, III to renew his call for a “poverty czar” to coordinate poverty reduction efforts across agencies. King was among those who called for the appointment of a poverty czar during the run up to the 2008 presidential elections. Candidate Obama was noncommittal then, however, candidate Hillary Clinton embraced the idea. Appointing a poverty czar this late in President’s tenure does not seem likely, yet those living below the poverty line can use all the help available.

What other profession equips you with the knowledge and skills needed to bring people together to address issues of great magnitude such as poverty? At the top of the list would be Oakland, California Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who currently chairs the Democratic Whip Task Force on Poverty, Income Inequality, and Opportunity. She is the co-founder and co-chair of the Out of Poverty Caucus and chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus.Should the President decide to appoint someone as poverty czar, it would be wise to consider a social worker for the position. Who else would you appoint? Who better understands the many dimensions of poverty than a social worker?

Reducing and eliminating poverty has been at the forefront of Congresswoman Lee’s legislative agenda. One of the first bills she introduced in the 114th Congress in January was H.R. 258—the Half in Ten Act of 2015 that would establish a Federal Interagency Working Group on Reducing Poverty within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that would develop a national strategy to reduce the number of persons living in poverty in America by half within 10 years after release of the 2014 Census Report on Income and Poverty in the United States. She also sponsored H.R. 1305—the Income Equity Act of 2015 that would address escalating income inequality by denying employers tax deductions on excess compensation. However, Congresswoman Lee has much unfinished business as a Member of Congress and may wish to remain.

One might think retiring Senator Barbara Mikulski would consider taking on the challenge of being poverty czar but that’s probably not in the cards as newly-elected Republican Governor Larry Hogan could appoint a Republican as her replacement diminishing the Democrats very good chance of recapturing the Senate in 2016. Should the President look off the Hill, there are several highly qualified social workers who would fill the role of poverty czar.

Michael Sherraden, the George Warren Brown Distinguished University Professor at Washington University in St. Louis is director of the Center for Social Development and has done extensive research on asset development for the poor. Jane Waldfogel, professor of social work and public affairs at Columbia University, played a significant role in crafting policies that help cut Britain’s child poverty rate in half.

Social workers have provided significant leadership for the federal government, most notably Frances Perkins and Harry Hopkins who were key administrators for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the implementation of the New Deal. Social workers are uniquely trained to understand poverty and address it roots causes. If President Obama decides to appoint a poverty czar, he should have social workers at the top of his list.

We All Win by Helping Kids Escape Poverty and the Ghetto

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A new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) by three Harvard economists provides conclusive evidence that the Moving to Opportunity experiment worked. Prior research failed to document any significant economic gains for older children and adults who moved into lower poverty neighborhoods, but findings for younger children shows significant improvements. Data are now available to analyze their outcomes as adults.

Children in the program who moved before they were 13 years old (eight years old on average) were more likely to attend college, have substantially higher earnings as adults, and females were less likely to become single parents. They also wound up living in better neighborhoods and paying more taxes. These findings were consistent across race and gender.

The Moving to Opportunity experiment was conducted between 1994 and 1998 in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City with a sample of 4,604 families who were randomly assigned to one of three conditions. The experimental voucher group received a subsidized housing voucher and was required to move to a census tract with a poverty rate of less than 10 percent.

A second group received a Section 8 voucher that provided standard subsidized housing, a third group was not offered a housing voucher and remained in public housing. Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren and Lawrence F. Katz, the study’s authors, restricted their analysis to the 8,603 children born in or before 1991 who would be 21 years old in 2012—the latest year that they had tax.

Prior research by Jens Ludwig found little or no impact on the economic outcomes of adults in the MTO experiment although he did find improvements in mental health, physical health, and subjective well-being of adults as well as family safety. His analyses found statistically insignificant differences among older children in the experiment—those 13 to 18 years of age.

In fact, moving to a lower poverty neighborhood had a slightly negative effect on older children in the experimental group which was explained by a disruption effect on social networks and other child development. However, this latest research found younger children in the experimental cohort were expected to increase their lifetime earnings by around $302,000. Researchers did not find a “critical” age a child had to be moved from a high poverty area, but they did find that every extra year living in a low poverty area had benefits.

Their findings complement previous research by Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Greg Duncan and others that documented significant correlations between exposure to high-poverty neighborhoods and later poor outcomes. Some studies found that exposure to negative environments in the earliest years of childhood produced larger negative outcomes. These results cry out for social engineering. Unfortunately the free market will not sort this out.

While it is obvious that all poor families cannot benefit from such an experiment, perhaps there can be a lottery system that can move as many poor families as possible out of the ghetto into lower poverty neighborhoods. There are never enough vouchers to go around. Back in October 58,000 people signed up for a lottery when the City of Baltimore re-opened its waitlist after more than a decade. Less than half—25,000—would make the waitlist and just 6,000 to 9,000 of them would actually receive a Section 8 voucher. Something is very wrong with this picture.

Similar conditions will continue in many municipalities if no changes are made in the FY2016 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development bill released two weeks ago by the House Appropriations Committee which—according to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition—underfunds tenant-based rental assistance by $665 million denying thousands of young children a chance to escape high-poverty environments.

Perhaps today’s Republican leaders should be reminded of the words of President Dwight D. Eisenhower who said: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”

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