Posts Tagged ‘social mobility’

The Bottom Line from Forbes’ Ten Trends from the 2010s: The Rich are Getting Richer

January 2, 2020 Comments off

As the 2010 decade came to an end, several articles appeared summarizing trends in everything from movies, to fashion to politics. An article in Forbes by Carter Cordriet offered Ten trends in higher education which can be summarized by one phrase: the rich are getting richer. The ten trends are outlined below:

1) The Varsity Blues admissions scandal cast a pall on elite admissions

2) Struggling private colleges are closing

3) Student debt has doubled

4) For-profit colleges have closed, contracted or merged

5) The number of high school graduates has plateaued and is predicted to fall

6) International student enrollment at U.S. colleges has leveled off

7) Private colleges are increasing discounts

8) Elite colleges are becoming increasingly elite

9) Endowments are up at the richest schools

10) Rich people have pledged bigger donations

An examination of this list illustrate an unsettling trend over the past decade that is unlikely to change unless some kind of policy changes occur at the federal level. A vicious circle is in place whereby the wealthiest individuals will be controlling the elite schools through their donations and access to those schools will be increasingly limited to a vanishingly small pool of students who can afford to attend those schools. Worse, students who are saddled with debt, especially those students who attended the for profit colleges that closed, will have little to show for the money they spent and little chance to accumulate the wealth they would need to provide their children with access to an elite college. The “varsity blues” scandal notwithstanding, children raised in affluence will continue to be the beneficiaries of the largess of the billionaires who underwrite the elite schools while children raised in poverty will face increasing tuitions at state funded colleges.

The rags-to-riches American Dream is predicated on a level playing field. The last decade tilted the playing field toward the top 1%. If the American Dream hopes to survive in the 2020s a tile toward the 99% is needed.

Assuming Higher Taxes on the Rich is a “Solution” Also Assumes that “Markets” Are Acceptable and Just… and Markets are Neither

December 31, 2019 Comments off

The title of UMass-Boston economics professor emeritus Arthur MacEwan’s recent Dollars and Sense article that was reposted in Common Dreams poses this question:

Are Taxes the Best Way of Dealing With Inequality?

The subheading of the headline elaborates on the framing of the question and the article itself. It reads:

Taxes can redistribute income, but relying on taxes means we are accepting the way the system works—the way markets operate—to create inequality in the first place.

Mr. MacEwan then demonstrates that markets are neither natural nor just, illustrating how regulations and legal constructs undermine the natural impact of markets and, in doing so, distort the way the economy works in a way that contributes to inequality. I agreed almost entirely with Mr, MacEwan’s analysis, but differed with his conclusions about schooling. Here is the section he wrote on that topic:

Schooling and the labor market. Schooling, from pre-K through college, shapes the labor market. The U.S. school system is a multi-tiered system, preparing people for different levels in the workforce. Certain areas of education receive attention—which means funds—according to the needs of employers, as demonstrated by the emphasis in recent years on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. The structure of the school system, good or bad, is not a “natural” phenomenon, but it greatly affects the operation of the labor market and the distribution of income.

Mr MacEwan’s belief that “certain areas of education receive attention” in the form of funds misses an important reality. It is not certain academic disciplines like STEM that receive additional funds, it is certain school districts that receive additional funds… and it isn’t the districts serving poverty stricken areas that receive the additional funds, its the affluent districts. And that reality plays into the conclusions he draws about the difficulty faced in making changes:

…Financial institutions, fossil fuel firms, pharmaceutical companies, software giants, and many others use their wealth and power to see that markets are constructed in ways that work for them… They get the rules made the way they want, play by the rules, and then claim they deserve what they get because they played by the rules. Nonsense, yes, but effective nonetheless.

Of course, it is difficult to fight these powerful firms and the individuals who reap their fortunes through these firms. They are quite powerful. But there is no reason to think it is more difficult than raising their taxes.

A first step is to establish a wide understanding of the fact that markets are social constructs and that they can be constructed differently.They have been structured differently in the past, and they can be structured differently in the future… Even if little change comes in the short run, it is important to send the message that just because firms and rich people play by the rules of the markets, this does not lead to the conclusion that the results are just. (And, of course, they often don’t play by the rules!)

Schools have been structured differently in the past… and not necessarily in ways that helped address inequality. Until child labor laws were passed at the turn of the 20th century education was limited to the elite. Until Brown v. Board of Education our social construct of “separate but equal” schooling for minority students was deemed acceptable. We ostensibly offer an equal opportunity to all children and yet the evidence indicates that systemic change is needed if we want to truly offer such an opportunity to all.

Mr. MacEwan is right in his assertion that the “winners” in our system “…get the rules made the way they want, play by the rules, and then claim they deserve what they get because they played by the rules.’ The school district boundaries are social constructs as surely as the markets and the “sorting and selection” structure of our education system whereby students compete with age cohorts is a construct as surely as the “separate but equal” structure was a construct. Until we change the mental models we use to construct the rulebooks that favor those who claim they deserve what they got we will continue reinforcing the economic system we have in place… and the rich will continue to get richer.

Insightful Inquirer Article Sidesteps Segregation that Resulted from Suburban Exclusionary Zoning

December 30, 2019 Comments off

An insightful article by Jason Laughlin in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer describes how racist covenants in the early 1900s restricted black families’ access to some neighborhoods in that city. Drawing on research done by Larry Santucci, a senior research fellow at the Consumer Finance Institute of the Federal Reserve Bank, Mr. Laughlin’s article describes how “...deeds for Philadelphia homes included racially restrictive covenants, with language barring minorities from buying into the neighborhood.”  His research found that “...the practice was especially widespread in two wards in the Northeast” where “…currently, only 18% of the residents in those wards are African American, compared with 49% in the rest of Philadelphia“. He also sensed that his research scratched the surface and offered this understated paragraph:

Philadelphia’s poshest addresses didn’t need (restricted deeds)… There, minorities were excluded largely by housing being out of their price range.

As noted in earlier posts on this blog noting the link between zoning and school segregation, I wrote an essay on this topic when I attended graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania in 1972. That essay noted that exclusionary zoning practices in suburbs that bordered Philadelphia created artificially high housing process that effectively excluded minorities and families who qualified for Title One funds while generating higher property tax revenues that, in turn, resulted in well funded schools.

Nearly 50 years later, nothing has changed….

Heartwarming Stories About Individuals Helping the Homeless, Churches Paying Medical Debts, and Gritty Students Undercut the Need for Government Aid

December 29, 2019 Comments off

I read a recent Rolling Stone article by Darren Linvill and Patrick Warren that described how Russian trolls are planting “heartwarming stories” that attract liberals who are later fed stories and memes that are divisive. In analyzing how the Russian trolls work, they offered the story of former pro football player Warrick Dunn and his inspiring charity work building houses for single mothers, which was uplifting and inspirational. What Mr. Linvill and Mr. Warren failed to note, though, was that the story itself insidiously reinforces the notion that tough problems like homelessness among single parents can be addressed by big-hearted individuals. That is, tough social problems do not need any government intervention because there are virtuous individuals who will step in to solve the problem. The story may well entice people to follow the “individual” who posted it, but the content of the story effectively undercuts the role of government in providing housing assistance as do the “heartwarming stories” like the recent one I read about a mega church paying off the medical debts of people in LA.

And there is a subset of “heartwarming stories” that pro-school-choice and pro-privatization advocates promote. Stories that tout “gritty” students who overcome the deficient homes they are raised in. Stories that talk about heroic teachers like Jamie Escalante who can help disadvantaged children score high on AP Calculus tests despite gaps in their schooling they experienced prior to entering his classroom. Stories that champion the success of “start up” charter schools whose students score higher than their cohorts who remain in “failing public schools”. All of these stories reinforce the idea that there is sufficient funding for public schools and social services. If one student with grit can succeed then ALL children could succeed “if they put their minds to it”. If one teacher can teach calculus to disadvantaged urban students then ALL teachers could do so if they replicated the methods used by one. If one shiny new “start-up” charter school was able to succeed because it was freed from regulations and “competed in the marketplace” then ALL public schools should be able to do the same.

And these “heartwarming stories” contribute to divisiveness in communities and district in government as surely as the story about Warrick Dunn does. And the real message that these “heartwarming stories” reinforce is that there are cheap, easy and fast solutions to complicated problems. Unfortunately, even if such cheap, easy, and fast solutions exist, arriving at them requires a democratic process that is often more costly, slower, and more complicated.

The apocryphal story about the demise of democracy in Italy is that the voters got behind Mussolini because he was able to get the government operated trains to run on time. The fact is that Mussolini got the trains that served well-heeled tourists and affluent Italians to run on time knowing that by doing so he would generate positive publicity in the West and the support of the plutocrats in his own country. He also spent millions of dollars upgrading roads for the few Italians who had cars and airports for those who could afford to fly. If 100 people were killed building a train tunnel in the Alps and hundreds of poverty stricken residents were displaced to build roads and airports that was not at all problematic. After all, there would be jobs for them in the military, the police force, and guarding dissidents who were placed in prisons.

Our democracy is in peril because we are willing to ignore the costs or providing a sound government. We have elected a President and political party that favors deregulation and the dismantling of agencies that enforce whatever regulations remain in place. We have elected a President and political party that favors the privatization of public services even if it means diminishing compensation for a whole set of workers and diminishing levels of service for the majority of people. We have elected a President and political party who have lowered taxes for the most affluent based on the false promise that— like Warrick Dunn and the Los Angeles mega-church— they will share their largesse and expertise to ensure that everyone else benefits. I hope that voters will examine that premise carefully when they cast their ballots in 2020.

Little Libertarian Home Schooler on the Prairie and Cato Homeschooler in Cambridge

December 25, 2019 Comments off

Earlier this month, the Foundation for Economic Education, a libertarian economics site dedicated to promoting the ideals of Milton Friedman and his acolytes, posted an article by Kerry MacDonald extolling the virtues of home schooling based on the mid-20th Century works of Rose Wilder Lane. Ms. Lane, whose mother Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote the Little House on the Prairie series beloved of children (including my two daughters) and the basis for a TV series of the same name, was a staunch opponent of any and all government coercion, including public education. Ms. Lane’s views on public schooling, written in 1943, are quoted in Ms. MacDonald’s article:

American schooling is now compulsory, enforced by the police and controlled by the State (that is, by the politicians in office) and paid for by compulsory taxes. The inevitable result is to postpone a child’s growing-up. He passes from the authority of his parents to the authority of the police. He has no control of his time and no responsibility for its use until he is sixteen years old. His actual situation does not require him to develop self-reliance, self-discipline and responsibility; that is, he has no actual experience of freedom in his youth.

Surprisingly, I find myself concurring with Mr. Lane on this perspective, particularly given the increase in surveillance and the introduction of “good guys with guns” in schools. And Ms. Lane’s observation that:

…this type of American education, imported from Prussia by 19th-century education reformers, “is ideal for the German state, whose subjects are not expected ever to know freedom,” but it is “not the best preparation for inheriting the leadership of the World Revolution for freedom”

But I was a bit unsettled when I read her ultimate thinking about schooling, which effectively sought to eliminate all compulsion:

(Ms. Lane) laments the “substitution of compulsory State education for the former American free education,” saying that formerly “American children went to school because they wanted to go, or because their parents sent them,” not because it was mandated of parents under a legal threat of force.

Maybe Ms. Lane’s 1943 memory of “American free education” was untarnished based on her prairie experiences, but urban children who three decades earlier worked in mines, mills and factories probably appreciated compulsory education as compared to compulsory slave labor. And, while Ms. McDonald, who resides in Cambridge MA is able to provide her curious and well educated children a robust curriculum outside the conventional classroom, it is unlikely that some of her neighbors who are working two jobs in the gig economy can do the same thing for their children. But in the rarified atmosphere of the Cato institute these discrepancies probably don’t matter.


NY Post Editorial Opposing Full Funding Illustrates Conundrum of Achieving Equity

December 18, 2019 Comments off

When I initially read the headline of the NY Daily News’ editorial I was appalled! Titled “The Insane, Dishonest Drive for a “Full Funding”  Boost to State Aid“, the article enumerated all of the reasons such an idea was wrongheaded. Unfortunately the logic used to defend less than full funding was flawed…. until the closing point.

First and foremost, the editorial board asserted:

It is up to the governor and the Legislature to decide state spending, period full stop. The state Constitution and the entire American system of government doesn’t let even New York’s highest court horn in. 

Clearly the editors overlooked the role of the courts when laws fly in the face of the constitution. If the courts had not “horned in” in 1954 school segregation would still be the law of the land and the constitutional rights of minority students would be abrogated.

Continuing on the path of illogic, the editors write

…then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer used the CFE rulings as an excuse to budget even more school aid starting in 2007. Yet lawmakers can’t bind future lawmakers, and the 2008 fiscal crisis forced some cuts. Then Cuomo in 2011, his first year in office, junked the still-“scheduled” Spitzer hikes.

Court orders dealing with funding equity issues are not “an excuse” to budget more school funding but they DO bind legislators to follow through with adjustments to funding formulas even if that flow is diminished due to recessions.

But in the end, the editorial board DID make one valid point:

Is the aid distributed fairly? Probably not: Long Island districts, for example, get vastly more than most analysts think they should — because “swing” districts in Nassau and Suffolk have long decided control of the state Senate. For years, Republican senators used to bring home the school bacon; now that Democrats have swept most of those seats, they’re doing the same thing.

That’s the sausage factory that is lawmaking in a democracy.

And therein lies the problem— and the conundrum of equitable funding: it is impossible to redistribute funds equitably without provide more funding to all school districts… and so governors like Eliot Spitzer are forced to raise spending across the board for education in order to provide MORE funds for property poor districts. And the editorial board should realize that this is not a new problem. Lyndon Johnson faced this when he instituted Title One funding. Instead of providing federal funds exclusively to districts who served predominantly poor children, Congress devised a system where the money followed the child, which meant that districts with ANY needy children received SOME federal money. In this way, wealthy suburban districts received a marginal sum of federal dollars, dollars that arguably could have been earmarked to help neighboring districts that served a larger percentage of needy families. Was this aid distributed fairly? Probably not… but it DID help mitigate the inability of property poor districts to provide adequate funding to children raised in poverty.

This Just In! A Rise in Family Income Results in a Rise in the Well Being of Children

December 17, 2019 Comments off

Jason DeParis’s NYTimes article today, “Tax Break for Children, Except the Ones Who Need it Most“, describes how the recently enacted tax cuts benefit all but the neediest 35% of children in the country. How could this be? Well… it seems that you only qualify for a tax break if you pay taxes. Therefore those who don’t earn enough to pay taxes are not qualified for a full benefit:

The 2017 tax bill, President Trump’s main domestic achievement, doubled the maximum credit in the two-decade-old program and extended it to families earning as much as $400,000 a year (up from $110,000). The credit now costs the federal government $127 billion a year — far more than better-known programs like the earned-income tax credit ($65 billion) and food stamps ($60 billion).

But children with the greatest economic needs are least likely to benefit.

While Republicans say the increase shows concern for ordinary families, 35 percent of children fail to receive the full $2,000 because their parents earn too little, researchers at Columbia University found. A quarter get a partial sum and 10 percent get nothing. Among those excluded from the full credit are half of Latinos, 53 percent of blacks and 70 percent of children with single mothers.

The article describes the convoluted logic that provides affluent families with large sums of federal funding for their children while denying funds for children raised in poverty— especially children of color raised by single parents. All of this flies in the face of the seemingly self-evident but nevertheless proven fact that children raised in poor families whose income increases have corresponding increases in their well being. As Mr. DeParie reports:

The National Academy of Sciences, a group created to convey the scholarly consensus, recently concluded that raising incomes of poor families has “been shown to improve child well-being.” Reviewing dozens of studies, it found child benefits as varied as better test scores and graduation rates, less drug use, and higher earnings and employment as adults.

Conservatives argue that giving poor parents money is a disincentive to work. But those on the left look at what money can buy and argue that more is needed if children hope to have an equal opportunity. De Parie uses the example of Letha Bradford, a Louisiana teacher’s aide, as an example:

Money helps children in part because of what it can buy — more goods (cheesy chicken spaghetti) and services (gymnastics classes or tutors). Ms. Bradford, the teacher’s aide, is so eager to invest in her sons that she has used tax refunds to send them on Boy Scout trips to 42 states — even when a flood left them living in her car. “I’m trying to instill in them that it’s education that gives you knowledge and power, not cars or clothes,” she said….

Money also helps children by relieving stress, which can reach toxic levels in poor families. Earning just $16,000 despite 15 years in the public schools, Ms. Bradford is an accomplished penny-pincher. Still, food often runs short, and the power company recently shut off the lights, leaving Ms. Bradford so upset that the boys could not focus in school.

The GOP can claim it cares about those struggling to make ends meet… but the facts on the tax bill undercut that notion:

While the 2017 law made millions of upper-income families eligible for the $2,000 credit (in part to offset the loss of other tax benefits), it gave a boost of just $75 to most full-time workers at the minimum wage.

It left out 26 million kids” from the full sum, said Senator Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat who has helped write a bill to raise the credit to $3,000 per child ($3,600 for those under 6) and pay a portion monthly. “It’s critical that we don’t leave it as a half measure. Our entire conception of ourselves as a land of opportunity is diminished by the fact that our child poverty rates are as high as they are.”…

Of the $73 billion of increased spending on the credit, 39 percent went to families in the top quintile and 2 percent to those at the bottom, according to Elaine Maag of the bipartisan Tax Policy Center.

One fix that is obvious: boosting the minimum wage so that “the bottom” is higher and fewer of those individuals who ARE working qualify for programs for “the needy”. If the idea behind welfare is to get people working, those who ARE working should not have to seek benefits. The easiest way to accomplish that? Boost wages!