Archive for the 'Urban & social policy' Category


Your government hates you

Senate Dems lack the votes to pass the stimulus bill.  Cuts will likely come

…out of spending and not tax cuts…since Republicans and moderate Democrats are driving the boat on this one [and] then the bill will be completely unable to accomplish its goals on job creation. It may provide a temporary boost, but won’t do what’s needed to stop the bleeding. The recession will continue for years and maybe slip into depression.

Taxpayers to absorb bailed out bank losses; banks to keep any profits from any healthy assets.

Barbara Boxer rips the GOP for suddenly discovering “fiscal responsibility.

Contact your congressperson and Obama and even Biden’s middle-class office, and tell them you want the stimulus passed yesterday!

And people wonder why I’m so angry…


If you read one piece…

…about Bush’s horrendous HHS ruling, read Amanda at Pandagon. She nails it. Dirty girl!!

(h/t Astraea)


Friday afternoon news dump

Say hello to’s newest blogger!!  (No, over here!!!)

Yes, me!

I will be blogging about poverty in the U.S.

It’s expected to curb my personal blogging here, but stay tuned for details.

Many thanks I think to Feministe who originally linked to their job postings.  Many thanks to friends and fellow bloggers for thinking through issues of poverty with me here.


Resources, Not Just Role Models

I wanted to get to this one prior to Thanksgiving…

Research shows that children in New York City public housing academically underperform compared to non-public housing peers.  The scholars cite the absence of “role models” and potential presence of immeasurable “differences” between these families and the rest of us. Man, if these kids had a dime for every “culture of poverty” explanation for their achievement gap…

Behavioral explanations emphasize that a lack of “role models” and social networks brought about by “concentrated poverty” lead to unequal outcomes between poor people and an abstracted middle-class cohort (one that might include university researchers, perhaps?) Yes, crime and widespread incarceration of able-bodied men from poor urban communities robs kids of potentially engaged fathers (who also could provide relief for overburdened mothers and grandmothers). But few are mourning their lost wages as a key explanation for the grinding poverty and lack of mobility here.

Public housing is the “shelter of last resort” for the poorest Americans – mostly single moms, children, elderly and disabled. More than half of these kids in NYC live below the poverty level; the average annual household income is about $22,000. Although typical rents are less than $5,000 per year, these figures and adjusted estimates by anti-poverty advocates suggest that after meeting basic needs,these families with greater health and childcare requirements are getting by on less than $400 per month. So should we be surprised that kids fall behind by the fifth grade? Or don’t finish high school or take longer to do so because of the immediate economic or care-giving needs at home?

Culture of poverty arguments obscure the tangible resources required for the effective parenting and mentoring alleged to be absent in the projects. Look at Groundwork, the non-profit mentioned as assisting two young women to succeed at school. Its family and child programs, beyond just “modeling” proper behavior, provide books; music, arts and sports programs; field and camping trips; literacy training; tutoring; test prep; paid internships; financial incentives; parent support groups; mental health services and preventative healthcare; and income supplements. These kids and their parents now have access to the stuff that most middle-class families get through high performing suburban and private schools or their checkbooks.

We tend to use culture of poverty theories to wash our hands of investments in poor communities. (Those teenage girls are just going to have kids anyway; those boys are just going to turn to drug dealing. It’s what they know; what can we do?) Or, we use them to justify marriage support programs rather than drug law reform or alternative sentencing projects. (If they would just get married, he’d stay away from all that criminal behavior!) We’d be better served as activists if we responded critically to the paucity of resources in the projects and the schools – the money, activities, and services that help parents raise their kids and give kids a safe and nurturing environment. An environment, that is, from which role models grow and shine.


The Emergency Room

The New York Times reports that intakes at Broward County, FL one-stop career centers are up 60% from one year ago, with people queuing up for one-third fewer jobs. 40% more families are now on public assistance.

Welcome to the “emergency rooms” of The Bush Economy, where desperate neighbors meet overwhelmed service providers, and anxieties about putting food on the table and gifts under the Christmas tree drown out optimism over Obama’s recent victory.

One-stops are the decade-old delivery system for numerous federal employment and public assistance programs for unemployed and low-income individuals. Since 2000, Bush has slashed one-stop funding by 14%, leaving mainly black and immigrant Americans with fewer services in a time of rapidly rising need.

Attorney-blogger TChris proposes that the Obama Administration repair this frayed social safety net as part of its planned infrastructure investment.  I agree.   I’d like to see Obama restore funding to one-stops, further extend unemployment benefits, increase funding and eligibility for food stamps and heating assistance, expand S-CHIP coverage for low-income kids, and expand the Earned Income Tax Credit so low-wage workers have more money in their pockets this spring. And I haven’t even gotten to the foreclosure and state budget crises in this holiday wish list!

The percentage of individuals living in poverty could grow by 25% during the first Obama Administration.  (Stimulus be damned!)  Yet, no doubt President “the E/R = universal healthcare” Bush is giving thanks for his smoothly functioning economy this week. I’m grateful he’s finally on his way out, though our work remains – including this Thanksgiving.


Boys Club

If Sen. Clinton leaves the Senate to become Secretary of State, she leaves behind 16 fellow women Senators (among 82 men) and joins 25 women foreign ministers around the world (5 of whom also came to the post this year).  Assuming the 180 or so country governments worldwide all have this position, Clinton leaves one boys club for another.

Forgive me for not being totally jazzed about this development…yet.

Like many former Clinton supporters, I was enjoying Clinton’s late- and post-primary aggressiveness on reproductive rights and economic justice.  I fancied her hanging out in the Senate alongside Sen. Murray and other allies, fighting the good fight for women, children, families, the uninsured and those at risk for losing their homes and jobs.  Count me in as one of many indulging in the idea that she’d be the next “liberal lion” of the Senate.

Turns out, Uncle Teddy isn’t quite ready to give up the title just yet, and she lacks the seniority (star power just doesn’t cut it, unless you’re Obama) to really rise to the occasion anyway.  Bummer.

As I ponder the idea of Clinton in the SoS role, I picture her, of course, in pantsuits or culturally-appropriate clothing, but that’s about it for the displays of womanhood.  The rest of the image is Clinton negotiating with men, or shaking the hands of men, or posing for photo ops with men, to eventually take back proposals hashed out with men to our President Obama.  Surrounded by men.  Men men men men men men men men.  (Try singing it.)

Believe me, I realize Clinton and her sixteen women colleagues weren’t a monolith or a voting bloc, nor do I expect them to be strictly due to their gender.  Duh.  I also know that the US is no role model in terms of gender parity in politics, and that our SoS will conduct business in countries with far more impressive women’s representation than ours.  It’s just…I was just getting used to Clinton in her new role as the prominent-elected-leader-with-nothing-to-lose-by-being-an-outspoken-powerhouse-for-women’s-rights-and-economic-security Senator from NY.  Or some such vision.  (YMMV.)  I liked it.

But, in our new post-partisan domestic reality, it strikes me that Clinton needs a stronger foil than she’d find in Obama – what could be the equivalent of her partisan rancor towards Bush now?  It’s hard for me to see a similar soapbox for Clinton in an Obama Administration, given how so many of her prominent senior male colleagues rallied around Obama (yes, Kennedy and Kerry, I’m talking to you).  There’s no real space in the Obama-Biden 111th Congress for her to step out of line, if you will; I have no idea what the rules are for Dem attack dogs in the face of a small but hostile GOP minority, Rahmbo notwithstanding.

Despite her and Obama’s mutual calls for renewed diplomacy and engagement with the world, I have a hard time visualizing her not negotiating arms treaties (or withdrawals) or various strategies of aggression or other militiarized concerns.  (Yes, foreign policy is not my area.)  It will take time for me to wrap my head around her new job and its major issue areas and the new cohort of dudes she’ll be running in.  But I do have faith that given her well-regarded work as a First Lady, her selection as SoS indicates women’s, children’s, and human development will be priorities in an Obama Administration.  Which is a potential change in scope and focus that really excites me.

And as an added bonus for Sen. Clinton and President-Elect Obama, should she become SoS, she’s got that helpful wife spouse to support our diplomatic efforts via her his pet projects that showcase the plight of special populations around the world.  Every elected leader should be so lucky!



There’s been a  lot happening on and off the tubes in the last couple days: if you haven’t sent some love Melissa McEwan’s way, please do so.  If you are cranky from Thanksgiving and holiday plans, I can sympathize.  If you are bridled by Obama’s alleged sudden appreciation for Sen. Clinton’s foreign policy experience built on “tea” parties, join the club.

I’ve been pretty reflective this week, imagining what it’d be like to have a role in the Obama Administration and whether it’d be a good fit.  A colleague of mine is on the transition team, and the Administration’s job application sits in my inbox.  But, I’m cowed and more than a little aghast at the information required.  The disclosure of closet skeletons (and outraged blog screeds) is one thing; more importantly, I can’t get past the language about whether or not my information would “be a possible source of embarrassment to you, your family, or the president-elect.”  (I realize this is s.o.p. for vetting potential Administration staff, but this election is really my first as a fully engaged adult.  It’s all enthralling, unsettling news to me.)

Without question, there are recorded and secret moments in my past that are totally mortifying.  So I think I can confidently assure President-Elect Obama that yes, I could be “a possible source of embarrassment.”  Who wouldn’t be?  The larger issue is what the transition team considers “embarrassing,” or a “conflict of interest,” or disqualifiers.  Our President-Elect tried coke, no prob after Bush, and worshipped with a preacher steeped in black liberation theology, which turned out to be not easily understood by and a major but not insurmountable problem for the bulk of the (white) American public.   Our Vice President-Elect has a plagarism scandal behind him, as well as the dubious position of being the guy who referred to his new African-American boss as “clean” and “articulate.”  No biggie?  Not now, it seems, but it certainly was at the time.

When I think about willingly filling out the job application, I wonder: a) who’s going to be reading this?  (Is it too much to want to know which lucky sap gets to read the tawdry yet mundane details of my life?) and b) short of criminal behavior, what is really considered too scandalous for the incoming Administration?  It’s likely not my Clinton support (right?), but I can see President-Elect Post-Partisan bristling at my blog references to the Bush Administration’s post-Katrina HUD as “public enemy #1.”  I don’t exactly mince words, nor play nice.  Diplomacy is a learned behavior for this Virgo. (I should probably also stop referencing the zodiac.)

And really, isn’t this one of the fault lines within the Democratic Party, the progressive-liberal blogosphere and in party versus movement politics in general, writ large as we argue with one another over how or whether to support Obama?  Does doing so require me to compromise my principles?  What are my principles?  What are my political beliefs versus my pragmatic politics?  Is incrementalism ok?  How can or should a progressive agenda be enacted?  Do I care about a particular political issue above all others?  Do I adhere to a general political philosophy that outweighs any particular issue or policy area?  Am I partisan?  What do I make of a politics of conciliation?  Questions like these are at the heart of political activism, movement building, and Party identification and support.

The job app in my inbox and the fallout over at Shakesville both leave me thinking deeply about my political values and where I see myself in the “inside-outside” game of governance and political advocacy.  I’m disinclined to apply, not wanting to find myself apologizing for my outraged passion over the GOP and Bush’s failure to do right by the Gulf Coast.  There’s also that pesky dissertation demanding my attention.  Can we talk in 2012?


Mayors’ “to-do list” for the Obama Administration

MSNBC surveyed 1,000 mayors by e-mail from around the U.S. on “their top two suggestions for the president-elect’s “to do” list.”  205 responded from every U.S. state but Delaware and New Hampshire, and including Puerto Rico.  What’s interesting for urbanist junkies like me is the majority of replies come from smaller cities not normally front and center in discussions on cities.  There’s no input from New York, Los Angeles, Chicago or even Boston, but instead requests from Binghamton (NY), Manhattan Beach (CA), Evansville (IL), and Cambridge (MA).

MSNBC created this cool interactive map of responses, the majority of which come from cities east of the Mississippi.  It should come as no surprise then, that the economy and aging infrastructure dominated the Mayoral agenda.  Other priorities include immigration reform, healthcare reform, transit development, and economic development.

Check it out.  After the jump I highlight Mayoral priorities from cities I know whether through proximity, residency, work or travel.
Continue reading ‘Mayors’ “to-do list” for the Obama Administration’


Funding choices

One Obama-Biden campaign promise is to make government run more efficiently – by connecting disjointed programs, increasing transparency, and fully funding programs so they might actually deliver results.  This promise is nothing new, but I’m hoping the Obama’s team’s technological savvy and the Democratic legislative majority behind him translates into some real improvements.  That said, what’s the point in fully funding or linking questionable and bad programs and policies, such as No Child Left Behind or welfare-to-work initiatives?

I say this because the Bush Dept. of Education is pushing a much needed streamlined higher ed financial aid process that to me has one fundamental flaw: its calculation of aid based on the average cost of a two-year college.  They estimate that this would cover for the neediest students 100% of the cost of a community college, 60% of a four-year public college, and one-third of the cost of a four-year private institution.

Led by the Gates Foundation, and suggested in this financial aid change, there appears not only a growing emphasis on improving access to community colleges, but an increasing push to help students graduate from community colleges.  But how does this help us reduce our record socioeconomic inequality, when the differential returns of a bachelor’s degree (or higher) versus a high school diploma has been the single largest cause of rising economic inequality since 1980? (see pp.7-9)

I am not sure what the wage returns are for an associate’s degree.  What I do know is that among the U.S. adult population, 70% have a high school diploma, 19% have a bachelor’s degree, 17% have some college education, 10% have a master’s or higher, and only 8.5% have an associate’s degree.  Well, you wonder, perhaps an associate’s degree is uncommon because students are transferring to four-year colleges from community colleges.  Maybe, but I’m not optimistic.

Continue reading ‘Funding choices’


Black Homophobia and White Appalachian Racism

Now that the election is over, can we agree to think more analytically and carefully about a couple of popular memes going forward? Can we get to some truths and action opportunities versus defeatist generalizations?

Homophobia in the black community led to the passage of Prop 8.

(Working-class) Whites in Appalachia are racist and won’t vote for Sen. Obama.

Speaking of the working-class, the AFL-CIO is proud of union turnout for Sen. Obama. Check out their terrific stats.