Posts Tagged ‘vicious cycle of poverty’

Paul Krugman Argues that Americans Have Too Many Choices… and, as the Texas Electricity Debacle Illustrates, More Choice Is Not Always Good.

March 2, 2021 Leave a comment

Paul Krugman’s essay this morning, “Too Much Choice is hurting America“, makes a powerful argument against the notion that more choice is always a good thing. Using the recent debacle in Texas as an example of how deregulation of electricity markets led to a devastating power outage, skyrocketing bills for consumers, and the bankruptcy of one the major electricity providers, Krugman suggests that choice has been oversold. The result? EVERYONE suffers from cognitive overburden… especially the poor!

There’s a growing body of research suggesting that the costs of poverty go beyond the trouble low-income families have in affording necessities. The poor also face a heavy “cognitive burden” — the constant need to make difficult choices that the affluent don’t confront, like whether to buy food or pay the rent. Because people have limited “bandwidth” for processing complex issues, the financial burdens placed on the poor all too often degrade their ability to make good decisions on other issues, sometimes leading to self-destructive life choices.

What I’m suggesting is that a society that turns what should be routine concerns into make-or-break decisions — a society in which you can ruin your life by choosing the wrong electric company or health insurer — imposes poverty-like cognitive burdens even on the middle class.

And here’s a question I posed in the comment section: “Given the powerful arguments against choice… why do we think introducing choices into public education is a good idea? I compare my eldest grandson’s labyrinthine decision-making regarding middle school and high school— the fruits of NYC’s “choice” system— to the complete absence of choice prevalent in most of the country and wonder why anyone thinks “choice” will fix the challenges public schools face. To paraphrase Mr. Krugman’s concluding paragraphs, We’re a rich country, it wouldn’t take much to ensure that the children of ALL Americans get the same opportunities for schooling that the children of affluent parents receive… So the next time some politician tries to sell you on the notion that deregulated privatization of public schools will increase choice, be skeptical. Having more options isn’t automatically good… in fact, when it comes to public services it is demonstrably bad!

Readers of this blog know that the whole choice argument applied to public education is deeply bogus because choice is limited to schools WITHIN a district. If Bronx parents had a real choice, they might choose to send their children to Scarsdale or Bronxville, or any number of school districts that are within commuting distance— especially since the choices they are offered WITHIN NYC often require longer and more complicated bus trips than attendance at a neighboring suburban district might require. Choice, especially the bogus choice offered now to parents in underperforming and impoverished districts, is NOT the answer.

Big Government and Racial Equality are Joined at the Hip. Could THAT Be the Reason the GOP Does Not Support Aid to State and Local Governments as Part of Pandemic Relief?

February 27, 2021 Leave a comment

AFL-CIO officer Lee Saunders and anti-poverty advocate William Barber III co-authored a Common Dream posts titled “Austerity as Fake News: It Is Time to Bury the Myth that a Race to the Bottom Will Get US to the Top“. The article argues that government policy during a financial crisis presents a fork in the road for policy makers: they can either support more government funded jobs or undercut the role government can play in job creation and retention. Mr. Saunders and Dr. Barber assert that in the last government crisis, the market meltdown in 2008, the government made the wrong choice and, in doing so, eliminated government jobs that employed many minorities who have already experienced a history of economic disenfranchisement by government policy for decades. 

Through their work in public education, public transit and public health, millions of African Americans have been able both to provide for their families and strengthen their communities. But now, those jobs are on the chopping block. Without federal aid, more layoffs loom, dragging down the entire job market with it. How do we know? The same thing happened a decade ago.

With the nation in the throes of the Great Recession, politicians of both parties responded by drastically cutting spending. Austerity became the watchword. Right-wing activist Grover Norquist, who once famously said he wanted to shrink government to a size he could drown in the bathtub, had his day in the sun. States and communities nationwide slashed public services to the bone, and African American families took the biggest hit. In 2012, 200,000 fewer African Americans held public sector jobs than just four years earlier.

When I read this analysis, a light bulb went off. When the GOP was in control of spending, one of their non-negotiable items in formulating the second round of pandemic relief was the demand that no funds be allowed to help state governments fill budget gaps. This stance was built into the 2017 tax package, which included a provision that limited the deductions for state and local taxes, a notion that was disingenuously promoted as a way to shift the tax burden to wealthy citizens. What this gambit would do in the long run is gut government services at all levels, especially in those states who offered robust safety nets and jobs that enabled wage earners to “provide for their families and strengthen communities”. 

Mr. Saunders and Dr. Barber assert that we have not learned from our experience of a decade ago:

Ten years later, inexplicably, we are in danger of making the same public policy mistakes again. It is devastating enough that African Americans are disproportionately contracting Covid-19 and dying at higher rates than the population at-large. But because of the gutting of public services, we are also being pummeled economically. In just a year’s time, between September 2019 and September 2020, the number of Black people on the nation’s public payrolls shrunk by 211,000. This is one of the critical, yet often unspoken, reasons the pandemic has raged out of control. Giving pink slips to the very people who can bring the virus to heel is the worst possible crisis management strategy.

And things will get worse if Congress does not step in. Who will get shots into arms if more public health professionals are axed? How will laid off Americans get the unemployment benefits they have paid into when states shed more claims processors? How will small businesses survive when basic services like sanitation, clean water and road maintenance—normally so dependable that they are never included in any business model—erode even further?

Mr. Saunders and Dr. Barber do not state the obvious: the GOP has conflated government anti-poverty spending with providing assistance to “undeserving recipients”, and when they speak of “undeserving recipients” they refer implicitly or explicitly to the “Welfare Queens” Ronald Reagan wrongfully singled out decades ago. The article concludes with these paragraphs:

In the immediate term, we need Congress to come through with emergency aid to save these jobs and services. But in the long term, to vanquish the virus, build a prosperous economy for all and ensure that people earn a living wage as well, it is time to bury for good the fake news of austerity: that somehow a race to the bottom will take us to the top.

This is the moment to remind people about the power of government action, especially but not exclusively during moments of crisis. When it is run competently, when public services are performed by dedicated and compassionate people, government can affirm human dignity, provide basic needs and improve lives on a grand scale.

Let’s get public service workers back on the job and bring back real investment in the essential services that sustain us all.


Sorry… We Don’t Need to Administer Standardized Tests to Figure Out Who Needs Support!

February 25, 2021 Leave a comment

In a post I wrote yesterday evening I lamented Biden’s decision to break his promise to teachers about standardized testing, a decision I attributed to his unwillingness to break a bipartisan covenant that such tests are the best means of “measuring learning”. Today, in catching up on my reading, I came across a Hechinger Report post titled “Educators Weigh the Value of Standardized Testing During the Pandemic” by Kelly Field. Published on February 13, the article describes the rationale for administering the tests… and it is preposterous:

Those who favor a return to standardized testing say policymakers need comparable, state-level data to focus their spending on districts where the “Covid-slide” has been the steepest.

“We know the impact of Covid has not been distributed equally across communities, so it’s not going to make sense to spread our resources broadly, like peanut butter,” said Jennifer O’Neal Schiess, a partner at Bellwether Education Partners, a national nonprofit focused on the needs of underserved children. “We need to be strategic.”

Of course we know the impact of Covid has not been distributed evenly across communities… just as we’ve always known the schools that are “failing”: they are the schools that serve children raised in poverty! And yet, despite this knowledge which we’ve possessed for nearly 50 years we continue to spread our resources “like peanut butter” because failing to provide ANY funding to districts who DON’T need it is politically unfeasible. And the Hechinger Report says as much:

Opponents counter that testing during a pandemic will add to the stress students and teachers are under and cut into this year’s already constrained instructional time. They say schools already have plenty of evidence on which students have suffered the most under remote learning: low-income students and students of color.

It’s only going to tell us what we already know,” said Joshua Starr, chief executive officer of PDK International, a professional organization for educators.

According to the report, though, both sides agree that the pandemic IS providing an opportunity to revisit the testing policies that have driven schooling in “low performing” schools for at least two decades. Will it happen? I keep hoping against hope…