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Blog Post Why Now is the Time to Tackle Poverty

Window of Opportunity

Every couple of generations, the stars align to create the potential for monumental, transformative social change. It turns out we're in just such a moment right now when it comes to tackling poverty in the United States.

I don't blame you for being skeptical. Economic inequality is growing, big corporations are consolidating their political power, and our federal government is mired in partisan gridlock. So why am I still smiling?

Sep 26 2014
Page Top Public Opinion Insights To Begin The New Year


Photo courtesy of Flickr/kelly88ros

By Jhanidya Bermeo 

Dec 17 2013
Blog Post Poverty, Opportunity, and the 2012 Presidential Election

 A recent forum in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, provided an in-depth discussion into the level of concern in the United States about poverty and opportunity, particularly concerning children. Spotlight on Poverty also looked at whether or not these issues will be factors in the upcoming presidential election. Overall, people believe strongly that equal opportunity for children of all races is very important; that not all children currently have full access to opportunity; and that presidential candidates’ views on poverty are very important. But, many think that neither the candidates nor the media are discussing poverty enough.

Feb 21 2012
Blog Post Public Opinion Roundup: Equal Opportunity and Fairness

 Year after year, equal opportunity and fairness are critically important values on the minds of Americans. Surveys find a collective desire for greater economic equality, greater government involvement in employment and opportunity, and a more widespread distribution of wealth, but people don’t think that these values are reflected in the current economy.  For example, a November 2011 poll found that just over half of Americans said that a major problem in the U.S. is that “everyone does not have an equal chance in life.” The same number agreed with this statement in September 2010. More than two of three Democrats and one in two Independents agreed, but more than half of Republicans disagreed. 

 

Dec 21 2011
Blog Post Women Hold Up Half the Sky

In light of International Women’s Day and the 54th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, on Tuesday, March 9th, the Urban Agenda’s Human Rights Project, The National Council on Research for Women and the Center for Women’s Global Leadership joined together with The Opportunity Agenda to hold a side event at the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

Mar 12 2010
Blog Post A Crisis for America

Across the country, our youth – the future of our country – took to the streets today. Protestors closed college campuses and secondary schools in a national day to defend the current state of public education. With rising tuition costs, budget cuts, increased layoffs and growing class sizes, parents, students and concerned citizens are trying to get their voices heard in the education crisis.

Mar 4 2010
Blog Post What Can an Equitable Recovery Look Like?

Recovery from a natural disaster should be able to make survivors “whole.” However, when the starting point is life in one of the poorest and most dangerous countries in the Western hemisphere, getting back to normal becomes a trickier proposition.  Haiti has the highest rates of infant, under-five and maternal mortality in the Western hemisphere.  In 2003, 80% of the population was estimated to live under the international poverty line.  As demonstrated by the extended recovery process from Hurricane Katrina, economic condition has a determinative effect on the a

Jan 25 2010
Blog Post Cold Times in New York Town

The coldest, most bitter part of winter is upon us.  Even those of us with a warm home and a proper coat have good reason to fear that truly awful type of wind, the kind that cuts through the skin and chills to the bone. And, for those among us without, this is the time of year when life becomes a struggle for very survival.

Jan 12 2010
Blog Post The Future with a Green Economy

While we are making significant strides in leveraging our economy – and our country – out of a very difficult time period for millions of people, we need to be cognizant of how we do so. As new stimulus-funded opportunities take shape, communities and groups who are traditionally marginalized, historically overlooked, and most affected by the recession deserve priority in seizing these opportunities. However, it is up to us to ensure that the recovery makes investments that are equitable, transparent, and fair.

Nov 20 2009
Blog Post Tale of Two Health Crises

Maria Foscarinis, a lawyer, is Founder and Executive Director, of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, a not-for-profit organization based in Washington, D.C.

Twenty two years ago I received shocking news: I had Hodgkin’s disease, a cancer of the lymphatic system that affects primarily young people. At the age of 30 I began a long and to date successful effort to fight the disease and regain my health.

Aug 18 2009
Communications Talking Points: The State of Opportunity Report (2009)

This memo offers guidance for using the 2009 State of Opportunity in America report, which examines various dimensions of opportunity, including health care, wealth and income, education, and incarceration. While expanding opportunity in America remains a goal of policymakers and advocates alike, this report finds that access to full and equal opportunity is still very much a mixed reality. Our recommendations to address this reality offer concrete ideas for moving us forward together.

Apr 15 2009
Research Book: All Things Being Equal (2007)

1695.cover__1.jpgThe Opportunity Agenda's first book, All Things Being Equal, documents critical ideas about the state of opportunity. 

Apr 1 2009
Research Report: The State of Opportunity Report (2009)

This is the 2009 State of Opportunity report.  Here you may download the final report, the final report with accompanying charts, a synopsis, and each of the indicators individually.

Read more about the report here.

SoO2009.png

Apr 1 2009
Research Report: The State of Opportunity Update (2007)

This is the 2007 update to the State of Opportunity report.  There are two files, the full chart of indicators and a summary.

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Mar 15 2009
Blog Post Van Jones as Green Jobs Czar

Brentin Mock at The American Prospect reports on the nomination of West Coast green jobs and urban revitalization advocate Van Jones to the White House position of Green Jobs Czar. Van Jones is the founder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and Green For All.  He is author of the New York Times Bestseller The Green Collar Economy.

Mar 11 2009
Research Report: Home Ownership and Wealth Building Impeded (2006)

subPrime_0.pngContinuing Lending Disparities for Minorities and Emerging Obstacles for Middle-Income and Female Borrowers of All Races

Mar 1 2009
Research Report: State of Opportunity (2006)

SoO2006_0.pngIf the promise of opportunity is a core national commitment, it is essential to measure our success in fulfilling that commitment.  This report assesses the nation’s progress toward protecting and expanding opportunity for all Americans and encourages our policymakers, through bold leadership and innovative policies, to ensure the promise of o

Feb 15 2009
Blog Post The State of Opportunity in America (2009) Released

The Opportunity Agenda is pleased to announce the release of our 2009 State of Opportunity in America report. The report documents America’s progress in protecting opportunity for everyone who lives here, and finds that access to full and equal opportunity is still very much a mixed reality.

Feb 1 2009
Research Public Opinion: State Policy Makers and Human Rights (2008)

statePolicyMakers.pngThis analysis of the interviews in California and Illinois addresses how fifty policy leaders see human rights issues at the state level.

Oct 15 2008
Blog Post The Promise of Opportunity

Taking another look at "New Progressive Voices," a collection of essays outlining a new long-term, progressive vision for America, today we turn to our Executive Director, Alan Jenkins', contribution.

The piece paints a bleak picture.  Alan outlines many of the problems facing regular Americans today.  Many people are having trouble getting a job that pays a living wage, paying for health care, and getting their children into quality schools.  Tying this together with the present high rates of incarceration, all signs point to a general lack of opportunity in America.

In keeping with goals of this essay collection Alan's essay, "The Promise of Opportunity," strives to give concrete solutions to these communal ills.  Alan's essay suggests making "opportunity" a metric by which to consider the viability of federal programs.

As with the environmental impact statements currently required under the National Environmental Policy Act, the relevant agency would require the submission of information and collect and analyze relevant data to determine the positive and negative impacts of the proposed federally funded project. Here, however, the inquiry would focus on the ways in which the project would expand or constrict opportunity in affected geographic areas and whether the project would promote equal opportunity or deepen patterns of inequality.

While the measures of opportunity would differ in different circumstances, the inquiry would typically include whether the project would create or eliminate jobs, expand or constrict access to health care services, schools, and nutritious food stores, foster or extinguish affordable housing and small business development. At the same time, [these Opportunity Impact Statements (OIS)] would assess the equity of the project's burdens and benefits, such as whether it would serve a diversity of underserved populations, create jobs accessible to the affected regions, serve diverse linguistic and cultural communities, balance necessary health and safety burdens fairly across neighborhoods, and foster integration over segregation.

To read the full article, click here.

Sep 23 2008
Blog Post Monday Health Blog Roundup

•   This past week there have been a number of news articles about the Black AIDS Institute study on the racial disparities among those living with HIV/AIDS in the United States.  The New York Times pointed to the part of the study that said that if one only counted the African American population in the U.S., the country would have the 16th highest rate of people with AIDS:

Nearly 600,000 African-Americans are living with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, and up to 30,000 are becoming infected each year. When adjusted for age, their death rate is two and a half times that of infected whites, the report said. Partly as a result, the hypothetical nation of black America would rank below 104 other countries in life expectancy.

The Washington Post's coverage of the study focused on the Institute’s criticism of the federal government’s approach to addressing the AIDS crisis in black communities:

African Americans with HIV -- at least 500,000 -- are more numerous than in seven of the 15 "target countries" in the Bush administration's global AIDS initiative, which has spent about $19 billion overseas in the past five years.

A DMI Blog posting last Thursday also discussed the study and questioned whether the next President would choose to focus on tackling racial disparities in the American HIV/AIDS population, or would continue to ignore the issue:

The bottom line is that the HIV epidemic in the US continues to spread, and at a rate greater than was previously thought. The real measure of political leaders and the American people is if this bad news spurs good action – the establishment of a comprehensive and accountable national AIDS strategy that will eliminate barriers to effective prevention, generate adequate resources, and hold the government accountable for ending this epidemic.

The Black AIDS Institute study can be accessed here.  To learn more about the general prevalence of health disparities in the U.S., read The Opportunity Agenda fact sheet Healthcare and Opportunity.

•    The Kaiser Health Disparities Report has pointed out that new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the presence of racial disparities in the current U.S. infant mortality rates.  According to the new data, black infants are 2.4 times more likely to die before they turn one year old than white infants are:

CDC officials say the higher rates in large part can be attributed to low birthweights, shorter gestation periods and premature births. Experts say that it is difficult to identify a link between race and higher infant mortality but noted that higher rates of poverty, limited access to health care and dietary differences are possible contributors.

•    An editorial in last week’s Los Angeles Times discusses how rising food prices are actually likely to increase obesity rates in the U.S., not decrease them.  In many other parts of the world, an increase in food prices leads to an increase in rates of hunger (not obesity).  However, the article points out that obesity has a lot to do with the type of food people consume, not just the amount:

Obesity isn't simply about too much food. It's about the type of food, how it's prepared and the balance of calorie intake with physical activity. Stress and social conditions can also play a role.

Obesity rates have long been more prevalent in poor communities in the U.S. - the article also points out that the states that have the highest rates of obesity also have the highest proportion of families living in poverty.  People living in poor communities, particularly poor communities of color, must have access to healthy food in order to prevent these health disparities from becoming more extreme.  To learn more about inadequate health care access in communities of color, read the CERD report to the UN, Unequal Health Outcomes in the United States.

•    An essay in The New York Times discusses how the American Medical Association’s apology for its past racism towards black physicians and patients brought to light the historical split between the AMA and the National Medical Association, a group that represents black physicians.  The essay pointed out that while last month’s apology was an important step in bridging the gap between the two organizations, more needs to be done to overcome the inadequate representation of black physicians in the medical profession:

Yet reminders of this rancorous history persist, and the A.M.A.’s apology remains pertinent, if long overdue. Consider this statistic: In 1910, when Abraham Flexner published his report on medical education, African-Americans made up 2.5 percent of the number of physicians in the United States. Today, they make up 2.2 percent. 

Aug 4 2008
Blog Post Still Changing After All of These Years

Celebrating forty years of outreach to America's marginalized, the Center for Community Change has helped carry on the dreams of America's most inspirational dreamers. Launched in 1968, following the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the center was a direct response to the war on poverty that was embarked upon during the 1960s.

The Movement Vision Lab has posted a well produced video that looks at the movement that launched the center, and the work CCC has done over the years to lift up American communities.

We're excited about the work that we've been able to do with the Center for Community Change, working to foster values that bring our communities together and open the doorway for opportunity to all Americans. Forty years after RFK was gunned down in front of the nation's eye, I find a great sense of satisfaction and hope in the cry for change that many have been calling for in recent times.

The spirit of Kennedy seems alive and well in the hearts of the many attendees I encountered last Friday at the Better Deal Conference in Washington. The conference set out the many issues that young Americans face; issues such as the fact that many find themselves achieving a lesser standard of living than that of their parents. Key issues such as housing raise some serious questions as to the obstacles that our Future Majority will face.

However, in spite of the mountain that has risen in front of young Americans since their parents traveled down these same roads, a great energy was felt throughout the crowd. Rev. Lennox Yearwood, from the Hip Hop Caucus said that the children born after 1968 are part of the "Dream Generation," those who have lived in the world that Dr. King had dreamed of when he imagined freedom ringing from the highest mountain.

with the National Mall only a few blocks from the Beter Deal conference, where Dr. King had cried out his dream, change seemed well masted in the horizon.

The seeds that the Center for Community Change has planted over the past forty years continue to grow, and bear the fruit of our future leaders. Their voice is strong, and when reflecting on the work CCC has done over the past forty years, I'm excited to think what the next forty will hold.

May 12 2008
Blog Post Disappearing Food

Rising rents are not only displacing New York residents but their food as well.  As the New York Times reports, the city of eight million now has just over 550 moderately sized supermarkets, defined as at least 10,000 square feet.

The dearth of easily available fresh food isn't confined to poor communities but these areas are disproportionately affected.  A Health Department study from last year specifically compared the Upper East Side with Harlem finding a vast disparity in access to healthy foods.  Harlem has twice as many bodegas, or corner stores, than the Upper East Side but these stores typically offer less healthy food.  Only three percent of Harlem bodegas even sell leafy green vegetables.  Expanding to other food options, 16 percent of Harlem restaurants serve fast food compared to only four percent on the Upper East Side.

Predictably, the result is Harlem residents are three to four times as likely to be obese or have diabetes.  Yesterday's NYT article features an excellent citywide map (see below) showing the correlation of low supermarket density and incidences of diabetes.  Pay particular attention to the Bronx and the intersection of Queens and Brooklyn.

2008_05_supermarketmap_2

May 6 2008
Blog Post Baking More Pie

Our_prices_are_insane

With a tongue-in-cheek ad declaring “Our prices are insane!,” last week’s Education Week section of the New York Times ran a cover story entitled “The Low Cost of College.”  Inside, an article by David Leonhardt describes a surprising trend among elite American universities.  They are actually reducing tuition and increasing aid for low-income and middle classed students.

Beginning next fall, schools including Dartmouth, Haverford, and Rice will offer grants instead of loans to lower income students.  They are following the lead of schools like Harvard, which announced in 2006 that parents making less than $60,000 would not have to pay anything toward their kids’ education.  And many schools are reaching out to middle class families too—Harvard announced in December that it would also offer significant financial aid to families making less than $180,000.

Leonhardt’s article points out that these efforts are extremely modest compared to the substantial decrease in low-income students at elite schools over the last two decades.  As we reported in The State of Opportunity in America, “since 1983…the increase in tuition costs at both public and private four-year institutions has greatly outpaced the increase in median family income.”

As Leonhardt’s piece correctly notes, increases in the federal Pell grant—which typically goes to families making less than $40,000—would accomplish far greater positive change, as would reforms that transcend these elite schools, like “preparing more low- and middle-income children to attend college, lifting the graduation rates at community colleges and large four-year colleges, and simplifying and expanding federal financial aid.”

The article falls short, though, when it comes to discussing the reasons why any of these changes are worth making in the first place.  Explaining that “there are several arguments for increasing economic diversity at elite colleges,” the article says (1) “it makes the universities more consistent with their self-image as meritocracies;” (2) these colleges “have come to play arguably a larger role in American society;” and (3) “recent research also suggests that lower-income students benefit more from an elite education than other students do.”

Is that really it?  Those reasons, it seems to me, are both cynical and narrow.  They are out of touch with the promise of opportunity that a quality college education represents for successive generations of Americans.  What about these reasons:

➢    A fundamental value in our society is mobility—the notion that where you start out in life should not determine where you end up—with access to college serving as a primary rung on the upward ladder of opportunity.  If the country’s most prestigious schools are effectively open only to the rich, the mobility ideal is thwarted, and these institutions’ public mission must be called into question.

➢    Economic diversity is crucial within institutions like these that train so large a share of our nation’s leaders.  Not only should those leaders hail from the breadth of our population, but their education should include learning from and with people from different backgrounds.

➢    It’s in our national interest to ensure that opportunity is available to everyone in our society.  Taping the genius of kids and communities that have traditionally been shut out of the American Dream will generate untold societal benefits—cures to deadly diseases, new technologies, economic and social advances—that we can barely conceive of today.

➢    With manufacturing jobs disappearing, empowering working class families to make the leap to a globalized, information economy through a top-notch education is critical to our success as a nation.

Why do the reasons matter?  Because if opening elite schools to low-income families is just about making Ivy League bureaucrats proud of themselves, or because poor kids may get an incrementally greater value than rich kids, then it's about others, not about all of us. 

Just as important, connecting financial aid polices to our national values and interests leads to other, more profound questions.  Like so many articles about higher education, the piece fails to ask how we can go beyond ways of dividing up the existing educational pie, and actually bake more pie.   Clearly, the future of our nation depends not only on achieving a mix of students from different backgrounds, but also on expanding educational opportunities so that every kid who can do the work has access to a school that taps her or his full potential.  Expanding opportunity and, therefore, shared prosperity, is where we should set our sights as a nation.

Apr 29 2008
Blog Post Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?

The United States is a vastly unequal country, not just in terms of income and wealth, but also in terms of access to opportunity - some communities have it, some don't.  And it turns out this inequality of opportunity hurts not just the poor or people of color who face a legacy of discrimination, but everyone in our society. That’s because inequality literally harms our health – people at every descending step of the socioeconomic ladder have worse health than those just one rung above, and societies characterized by high levels of inequality have poorer health than those that are more equal. 

Public health scholars have known this for quite some time. But now a new, powerful documentary series by California Newsreel promises to inform a far broader audience of the pernicious effects of inequality on health. This series, “Unnatural Causes,” is airing on PBS stations around the country, and tells the stories of real people – some poor, some middle class, some well-off – and how their access to opportunity affects not only their health, but the health of others in their communities. It shows how, for example, the health of nearly every resident of a small town in Western Michigan declined when a major factory closed, relocating the plant to Mexico where the company could pay workers wages one-tenth of those earned by the Michigan workers. It shows how subtle, persistent racism and social deprivation can lead to a higher incidence of low birth weight babies among black women. And it shows how a Pacific Island community’s health was compromised when the U.S. government uprooted it, disrupting traditional health and nutritional practices.

Cynics might suggest that inequality is a natural phenomena – some people are “winners,” others “losers” in a competition for resources. Or that attempts to solve – or even raise awareness of – these problems are un-American, and can lead only to radical strategies such as the redistribution of resources.

But addressing inequality doesn’t take a revolution. We can begin by asking ourselves what kind of country we want to be. If we believe – as most Americans do – that the United States should be a place where everyone has a fair chance to achieve their full potential, then we can focus on achievable policy solutions. These include things like providing access to high-quality early child education programs for all children, reforming school financing to equalize the quality of education in K through 12th grade, and reducing financial barriers to college. We should also support living wage policies, so that no one who works full-time is forced to live in poverty, and expand the Earned Income Tax Credit program. We should provide job training so that more people can participate in high-growth jobs, such as in the technology industry. We should invest in affordable housing and fix the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. We should support housing mobility programs, so that people in low-opportunity communities can move to better neighborhoods, and invest in jobs and schools in low-opportunity communities so that they become attractive places to live and work.

These are but some of the ways to restore opportunity and improve our health. It doesn’t take a revolution – just a reconciling of our beliefs with our actions.

Apr 2 2008
Blog Post Alan Jenkins on The Tavis Smiley Show

Listen to the Tavis Smiley Show as The Opportunity Agenda's
Executive Director, Alan Jenkins, joins Tavis to discuss issues as part of Smiley's series Below the Line: The Changing Face of American Poverty.


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The Tavis Smiley Show airs
nationally on Public Radio International (PRI) affiliates.

Mar 31 2008
Blog Post A Debate on Housing, Live from the New Orleans City Council
  • Louisiana news station WDSU is offering a live video feed from the New Orleans City Council meeting on the impending demolition of public housing.  In addition to those speaking at the meeting, hundreds of people are standing outside City Hall in protest of the lack of affordable housing in the region since the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina two years ago. Present-day inequities in New Orleans are often framed with respect to human rights; the demand for affordable housing is just one aspect of ensuring that residents have the social and economic security needed to provide for their families with dignity.
  • Bloggernista has reported that Congress has lifted a nine-year ban on using public funding to support needle exchange programs in Washington, DC.  Despite the fact that syringe exchange programs have proven effective in reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS, this ban had held firm while the capital city has the developed the highest rate of HIV infection in the nation, a true modern epidemic noted for its immense racial disparities.
  • The Real Cost of Prisons Weblog reposted an Associated Press article entitled 'State supreme court rules counties are liable for inmates' care,' including conditions that existed prior to imprisonment. It's great to see a court ruling in favor of the responsibility of the community to provide a basis level of health care for those in custody without other options -- this is a good step towards the recognition that all Americans deserve access to health care.

Justices voted 8-0 on Tuesday in favor of HCA Health Services of
Oklahoma, the parent company of OU Medical Center. The hospital sued
Oklahoma County commissioners and Sheriff John Whetsel over $2.2
million in medical payments for treating prisoners in the jail from
February 2003 through September 2006.

The county's argument was that much of the expense was to treat
conditions that predated the prisoners' arrests, Justice Marian Opala
wrote in the court opinion.

  • The DMI Blog analyzed a recent New York Times editorial on Arizona's new law intended to crack down on undocumented immigrants, offering praise for what it refers to as an 'example of smart immigration policy.' Author Suman Raghunathan expounds:

I am, in fact, waxing poetic on a stellar editorial in yesterday’s  Times.  This gem of a piece outlines in plain, centrist-liberal-speak why
going after employers who employ undocumented immigrants instead of
enforcing existing labor law makes for poor immigration policy.

What’s more, Arizona’s law (and believe me, there are many more in
the works across the country) will do nothing to address our nation’s
desperate need for smart and fair policies that welcome immigrant
contributions into our economy. Worse yet, it does nothing to bring
undocumented workers out of the shadows with a legalization program to
level the playing field on wages and labor conditions for all workers –
documented and undocumented, green card holders and US citizens.

Meanwhile, the Presidential election campaigns continue to work themselves into a fevered state, trying to say as little as possible on immigration policy (pick a party, any party) while sounding tough on undocumented immigrants (again, pick a punching bag, any punching bag). 

Here’s to hoping those high-falutin’ political operatives take a page from the Times’ editorial board’s playbook when they think about immigration. 

Dec 20 2007
Blog Post Undocumented Immigrant Honored in Arizona
  • Latina Lista wrote about yesterday's ceremony in Arizona to honor Manuel Jesus Cordova Soberanes, the man who saved the eight-year-old boy who spent a night in the desert after his mother died in a car accident. Given that Cordova gave up his opportunity to find work in order to ensure the boy's safety, "U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz. wants to reward Manuel for his
    selfless act of kindness with a special visa that would allow him to
    come to work in the US."  Grijalva's aide Ruben Reyes admitted the chances of having a such visa issued are slim, but spoke of the importance of recognizing Cordova's generosity:

"We think he actually brings another tone into the
discussion of immigration. Unfortunately the discussion of immigration
is (mostly) negative but with his acts of heroism it counters so many
of the other negative aspects," Reyes said. "It brings a face of
dignity, humanity and a bond that the two countries can share and he's
a shining example of that."

Author

There is no doubt Manuel is that and so much more when you compare
him to the critics of illegal immigrants in this country whose rhetoric
is violent and hate-filled.

Yet, if Rep. Grijalva really wanted to help Manuel, why not award
the man enough money to help him do something constructive in his
hometown so that he doesn't have to leave his own children again?

Grijalva already knows the chances for a special visa are next to
nil for passage. So, basically the Congressman is dangling another
false hope in front of Manuel to give the appearance of helping him
when in reality, he's not.

And in the end, Manuel will still have disappointment and poverty — along with, a certificate of heroism.

  • The Inteligenta Indiĝena Indigenismo Novaĵoservo blog reposted a New York Times article on 'Brazilians Giving Up Their American Dream.'  Hundreds of middle-class Brazilians who had immigrated to the US years ago in search of social and economic security are now choosing to return to Brazil.  For undocumented Brazilians, life has become too difficult to justify the risk of staying, when they are unable to obtain driver's licenses and there is no comprehensive immigration reform in sight.  As the American dollar loses value and Brazil's economy is booming, it seems only logical to follow the job opportunities back to the Southern hemisphere.
  • Too Sense has given us an update on the Jena Six case: While it looks like the six students will all be accepting plea bargain agreements, the victim of the beating has just brought suit against "the adults accused of beating him, the families of the juveniles
    allegedly involved and the board of the school where the attack
    occurred."
  • Prometheus 6 linked to a Birmingham News article about the local school district's decision to acquire and distribute 15,000 of the new $200 XO laptops which were created to increase computer access in the developing world. According to they city's mayor Larry Langford, "We live in a digital age, so it is important that all our children
    have equal access to technology and are able to integrate it into all
    aspects of their lives...we are proud that Birmingham
    is on its way to eliminating the so-called 'digital divide' and to
    ensuring that our children have state-of-the-art tools for education." While the laptops are available for purchase in the US (for every laptop bought, another goes to a child in a developing country), this is the first reported large-scale purchase for use within the country -- and one which highlights inequalities in access to technology within our nation.
  • The Huffington Post has reported on today's Supreme Court hearing on "whether the detainees at Guantánamo have habeas corpus rights - a
    cornerstone of civilization and a principle established 800 years ago
    in England, giving prisoners the right to challenge the basis of their
    detention in court."  The ACSBlog is also covering the case, which is a matter concerning basic human rights in America.
Dec 5 2007
Blog Post Birth of a Movement

"The forum was revolutionary in at least two ways. First, it was
organized not isolated issues, but around shared values and a
progressive vision. And second, it featured real people—grassroots
leaders from around the country—sharing their stories and asking the
candidates pointed questions.

The grassroots leaders who took the stage voiced again and again the
ideas that embody Community Values—that "we are all in this together,"
that "we are all connected" and "share responsibility for each other,"
that we "love our neighbors as we love ourselves," and that it's time
to reject the "politics of isolation" and embrace the "politics of
connection."

But it was their diverse and compelling personal stories that brought that message home in vivid color."

"Poor and working people in New Orleans and across the globe are living
on property that has become valuable for corporations. Accommodating
governments are pushing the poor away and turning public property to
private. HUD is giving private developers hundreds of millions of
public dollars, scores of acres of valuable land, and thousands of
public apartments. Happy holidays for them for sure.

For the
poor, the holidays are scheduled to bring bulldozers. The demolition is
poised to start in New Orleans any day now. Attempts at demolition will
be met with just resistance. Whether that resistance is successful or
not will determine not only the future of the working poor in New
Orleans, but of working poor communities nationally and globally. If
the US government is allowed to demolish thousands of much-needed
affordable apartments of Katrina victims, what chance do others have?"

  • Rather than stand trial, Mychal Bell of the Jena Six has elected plead guilty to a juvenile charge of second-degree battery.  Skeptical Brotha
    has explained that Bell will serve eight more months in prison, as the
    eighteen month sentence will honor the ten months he has already spent
    in jail.
  • The last couple days have seen a few stories on human trafficking in the US.  Angry Asian Man has reported on a trafficking ring just busted in Vermont, and the New York Times has written about a newly-surfaced case of modern-day slavery on Long Island.
  • Finally, a number of immigration blogs have commented on the upcoming reality TV-show called "Who Wants to Marry a US Citizen."  With a new take on reality television, programming which blends contemporary political issues with the classic dating series, the show "aims to show love knows no borders. Besides, that is what America is about: a multi-cultural nation."  The Unapologetic Mexican has cited our 'national obsession with immigration' as pointing to the need for comprehensive reform of immigration policies.
Dec 4 2007
Blog Post The Katrina of Public Health
  • The Huffington Post published an opinion piece yesterday on health equity entitled The Katrina of Public Health. Author Jayne Lyn Stahl begins:

Some alarming, awe-inspiring, news today out of Washington, D.C., and
no, it's not Trent Lott's resignation. The results of a study, the
first of its kind, of HIV cases in the nation's capital are out, and
they show that AIDS has reached "epidemic" proportions in D.C. (WaPo)

In the five-year test period in question, ending in 2006, while
African-Americans comprise roughly 60 percent of the city's population,
they account for more than 80 percent of the more than 3,000 HIV cases
that have been identified. Ninety percent of women residents who tested
positive for the disease are African-American. And, nearly 40 percent
of reported cases were among heterosexuals showing, in the words of a
District administrator, that "HIV is everybody's disease" in D.C.

The presence of an epidemic of this magnitude so close to 1600
Pennsylvania Avenue can't help but make one wonder if federal policy,
or non-policy is at the nucleus of this health catastrophe. Yet, where
is the public outrage that a campaign of misinformation,
disinformation, or information/education blockade should claim the same
demographic casualties as that of Hurricane Katrina.

Stahl continues to cite the government policies that have contributed to DC's epidemic, public health negligence compounded by the absence of needle exchange programs in the area:

On this administration's watch, more than $100 million in grants have
been allocated for abstinence-only education programs. The president
pressured the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to eliminate,
from its Web site, anything that might promote the efficacy of using
condoms to prevent STDs, and AIDS. Roughly 90 percent of the $15
billion set aside for fighting HIV globally has been made available to
domestic groups for use in their ongoing worldwide campaign to promote
abstinence, and to discourage the use of condoms in the fight against
HIV/AIDS.

  • The Republic of T has highlighted a recent decision by Florida's Palm Beach Community College to provide health insurance coverage for employees' pets but not their domestic partners.  With the rationale that “Your pet is a member of your family — his quality of life is important to you,” the college trustees have provided employees with a 5 percent discount and
    group rates on a range of health insurance plans for their pets, covering "wellness care, vaccinations, X-rays,
    surgery and hospitalization (although pre-existing conditions may not
    be covered)." Yet in August the college opted not to extend the same affordable benefits to same-sex partners of their employees, despite the fact that it would not have cost them anything to do so.
  • Immigration News Daily discussed a new trend in which foreign consulates have begun providing health care services for immigrants in the US without medical insurance. Both the Salvador and Mexican consulates in Washington, DC are offering medical services, and are expanding the health programming around the country in collaboration with the Hispanic Institute for Blindness Prevention.
  • Immigration News Daily has also reported on a new initiative by Latino organizations in the US to register one million new Latino voters before the 2008 elections.  The coalition is hoping that current affairs such as the health care, education, the Iraq war and immigration will drive many voters to the polls for the first time.
  • Latina Lista has posted about Mexican TV network Azteca America's decision to produce and include English classes in its US programming.  The Spanish-language network does not intend to imply support for an English-only America but to recognize the benefits of a multilingual society. According to Luis J. Echarte, chairman of Fundación Azteca America and the Azteca America network:

Spanish-language television is often a first-stop and
point-of-reference for information for recently arrived immigrants. Our
community looks to us for guidance on immigration, legal changes, and
natural disasters, to name a few examples.

There’s no doubt that our community can better assimilate
themselves and increase their economic and political power with
increased linguistic skills.

Nov 27 2007
Blog Post 'Reckless Optimism': People Really Are Able to Turn Their Lives Around
  • The Real Cost of Prisons Weblog has reposted an interesting New York Times article
    on an innovative program providing prenatal care for homeless women in
    San Francisco. With nineteen years as a non-profit agency, and a staff
    of fifty-three people, half of whom have been homeless in the past, the
    program is a model of the core value of redemption, or the idea that we all deserve the support needed for a new start:

"The Homeless Prenatal Program has evolved from its original mission
of helping destitute women give birth to and then keep healthy babies
to become a resource dedicated to stabilizing entire families. It
offers what this particular woman excitedly described here as 'a
plethora of services' for mental health, housing and substance abuse
problems. It combines those with an array of alternative health
approaches not usually available to the poor, like yoga, massage and
chiropractic treatments.

'People call me a reckless optimist, and you have to be to do this
kind of work,' said Martha Ryan, founder and executive director of the
Homeless Prenatal Program. 'But I see enough success. I see people
really able to turn their lives around, and I see their children be
able to move forward and have a different life.'”
 

  • The Huffington Post has a great piece up by Sally Kohn of the Movement Vision Lab on the writers' strike. Speaking of the absence of the community frame in television or film media, Kohn praises the writers for joining together but contributes a larger cultural analysis of what has shaped our values of individualism:

"If you turn on your TV today or sit for a matinee at your local
cineplex, you'd wonder whether it's an entirely different crop of folks
holding the pens behind the scenes. After all, much of the shows and
movies they write promote extreme greed, competition and the notion
that we have to pull ourselves up from our individual bootstraps ---
NOT that we're all in it together, in solidarity. While most of us in
real life, like the striking writers, have learned that we can't
succeed without the help of others around us, most reality TV shows from American Idol to Survivor tell us that the only way to the top is fierce competition against one another.  Meanwhile shows like Desperate Housewives
tell us that selfishness is good and there's no such thing as too much
greed and status --- mind you, the same greed that is keeping the
Hollywood execs from sharing the wealth with writers. And in countless
movies, writers resort to racist and homophobic 'humor' that helps
further divide our country rather than unite us together."

  • The DMI Blog has written about the Coalition to Raise the Minimum Standards at New York City Jails, a multi-organizational campaign that achieved a number of victories this year as "the Board of Corrections (BOC) proposed a number of changes to the
    Minimum Standards for New York City Correctional Facilities" which cover rules and regulations for city jails. Author Ezekiel Edwards reports that while the BOC was not swayed on every issue of importance to prisoners and their families, significant progress was made in preserving and improving conditions of incarceration: "As a result of the Coalition's relentless efforts, the BOC voted
    against the 'overcrowding' policy, against putting those in need of
    protection in 23-hour solitary confinement, and against reducing
    Spanish translation services." 
  • Feministe has a new post entitled 'Housing is a Human Right' which provides information on upcoming protests against the fact that all public housing units in New Orleans are slated for demolition after a recent federal court ruling. The Facing South blog has also posted about the controvery over the formaldehyde-laced trailers provided as temporary housing -- while Gulf Area families have been living in the trailers, FEMA has cautioned its own employees against entering them.
  • Finally, Latina Lista has reported on a DailyKos post by the author of the Migra Matters blog called 'A progressive plan for immigration reform,' referring to the resource as "the most insightful, certainly most thorough and step-by-step approach into fully understanding the immigration issue." Given his opinion that immigration is the new topic du jour, author Duke1676 prefaces his summary with "I figured it might be a good time post up a diary that sums up
    everything I've learned in my past three years here posting on
    immigration issues." With some 454 comments by readers, it's worth a read.
Nov 13 2007
Blog Post San Francisco Hospital Closure Will Deny Health Care Access to Underserved Communities
  • The Happening Here blog has a new post up on a newly-announced hospital closure in San Francisco's Mission District.  While a hearing will be held next week on the plan to shut down St. Luke's Hospital, author Janinsanfran notes:

"Opponents of the closure quickly discovered unearthed evidence that the impact
of CPMC's plan would be to dump most of their Black, Brown and charity
care patients. CPMC wants to build yet another North of Market Street
hospital on Cathedral Hill, while leaving the South of Market area
entirely to the care of the over-crowded, under-funded county hospital."

Decreasing access to medical care for communities of color and low-income communities is a reality in New York City as well, as illustrated by our google map mash up Health Care That Works. This process continues despite the fact that the majority of New Yorkers agree that health care is a human right.

  • Feministing has blogged about a recent Kansas City ruling on women's access to contraception, in a lawsuit in which women had alleged discrimination because AT&T refused to provide health insurance coverage for birth control for female employees. The appellate court ruled that "contraception was not 'related to' pregnancy for purposes of the law" and therefore AT&T's actions did not comprise discrimination.
  • The Facing South blog has posted about the recent introduction of the Gulf Civil Works bill in Congress, legislation aimed at addressing the problem that "there are still about 100,000 fewer jobs in the Gulf than there was pre-Katrina." In the spirit of the New Deal construction works, the program would create these jobs working on much-needed public infrastructure projects. According to Stephen Bradberry,
    head state organizer of ACORN Louisiana, the region’s largest
    association of low and middle income families,

“Communities across the Gulf Coast suffer from crumbling roads and
water systems, ill constructed flood protection, and closed police
stations, fire house, schools and hospitals...We have an opportunity
to jumpstart the recovery by empowering communities with the resources
they need to lead.”

  • Finally, Ezra Klein has written an insightful piece on Affluence vs. Security.  Discussing whether or not American living standards are getting better or worse, Klein says:

"I haven't quite worked this theory out yet, but my sense is that economic status has been cleaved free of economic security.
So the sort of goods that signal affluence -- iPods and iPhones and
laptop computers and plasma televisions -- are becoming much cheaper,
more broadly accessible, and thus more widely owned. Lots of people,
particularly young people, can thus claim economic status. The
trappings of our wealth are all around us.

Yet economic security is quite a bit further from reach. It's
impossible for me to imagine how I'll ever buy a home. Further
education for me and eventual education for my kids are far beyond what
my salary seems able to bear. And let's not get into health care. Point
being: The affluence I can easily purchase into my 20s seems liable to
crash right into the security I discover is out of reach in my 30s.

Meanwhile, from where I sit, the American Dream is a pretty weak force.
White picket fences aren't the culturally transmitted vision of
prosperity. Electronics are. Awesome stuff
is. We're seeking goods, not security. And we can buy goods. Which
makes us feel prosperous. And if you feel prosperous, if you consider
yourself affluent, you can't merge that self-conception with economic
insecurity, and thus it's hard to consider yourself part of a coalition
in need of economic reform, or more advantageous public policy. By
offering status without security, folks lose the class discontent that
would turn them into a constituency for the security. And so they don't
get it."

Do we agree that true economic security remains elusive for our younger generations? What can we do to bolster the American Dream, to promote policies that will create opportunities and stability for everyone in America?

Nov 5 2007
Blog Post Crime is Not an Isolated Action, in New Orleans and Beyond
  • Bill Quigley at the Black Agenda Report has written a piece on the apparent meltdown of the criminal justice system in New Orleans, where violent crime rates are hovering at seven times the national average. Quigley speaks of the integral relationship between socioeconomic security and crime rates:

"Crime is not an isolated action. It is impossible to fix the crime problem if
the rest of the institutions that people rely on remain deeply broken....Only when the criminal justice system is supported by a
good public education available to all children, sufficient affordable housing
for families, accessible healthcare (especially mental healthcare), and jobs
that pay living wages, can the community expect the crime rate to go down."

  • The Real Cost of Prisons Weblog has highlighted a community in Western Massachusetts in which those without the financial means to post a few hundred dollars in bail are held for months before their trials. While eighty-five percent of women being held have substance abuse problems, and many have families to care for, the county has opted to spend thousands of dollars each month to keep women in newly-constructed jails rather than offer treatment programs that would offer inmates a chance at rehabilitation and redemption. Author Lois Ahrens notes that "holding women and men who are too poor to make bail results in
    devastating consequences: more jail building, greater impoverishment of
    the poor, and continued criminalization of addiction and mental illness."

Jack and Jill Politics has alerted us to the fact that the Bush administration is working with the Senate to discontinue federal downpayment assistance for first-time homebuyers. Some striking statistics from the post: "From 2000 through 2006, more than 650,000 buyers got their down payments through nonprofits" working with this program, and "the move to get rid of downpayment assistance programs will bar approximately 40% of African-American homebuyers from utilizing Federal Housing Administration insured loans. Also affected are potentially 30% of Latinos."
  • We'd previously noted that the California wildfires had resulted in undocumented immigrants turning themselves in to the border patrol because they feared for their safety. A number of blogs, however, have exposed other effects of the fires on immigrant communities. The Black Agenda Report has discussed raids of the displaced people at Qualcomm stadium as well as farmers not permitting their workers to evacuate. IntraPolitics talks about how the San Diego Sheriff's department is checking for ID among people returning to their homes, and continues to the draw further comparisons between the wildfires and New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina:

"The policies undertaken by law enforcement and developers in these
regions of natural disasters, in my opinion, is part of a general
scheme to displace the poor and minority property owners and renters.
The backlash against social programs designed to help people obtain
affordable housing, combined with the expected pitfalls of subprime
mortgage lending, have placed us in a crisis of vulnerable populations
losing the small allowances of economic power and self-determination
they've had."

  • 'Just News Blog' and the ImmigrationProf Blog have covered the story of 'a new low' in immigration raids: harassing a Latino community on their way to and from church services. Local law enforcement officials have been setting up roadblocks along two streets in Mount Olive, North Carolina in order to request documentation of churchgoers, many of whom are employed at the Butterball slaughterhouse two miles away.
  • Finally, in honor of the holiday, Racialicious has a very interesting post up entitled 'Reasons I Hate Halloween,' which discusses the prevalence of costumes that "reinforce the eroticized and/or dangerous stereotypes associated with Muslim and Middle Eastern men and women." Author Fatemeh Fakhraie provides a variety of examples to support her discomfort with the use of these stereotypes as 'dress-up' options.
Oct 31 2007
Blog Post Spitzer Reaches Agreement with Federal Government on Licenses for Immigrants
  • After announcing his intention to provide driver's licenses without respect to immigration status, New York's Governor Spitzer reached an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security to offer a tiered licensing system that will exclude licenses for undocumented immigrants from operating within the confines of the Real ID Act intended to curb terrorism, essentially ensuring that the licenses can not be used for official purposes such as identification at the airport. Angry that Spitzer's reversed decision will "push immigrants further into the shadows," a coalition of immigrants rights advocates held a protest yesterday outside the governor's New York City office.
  • Consideration of the DREAM Act in Congress seems to have had some unintended consequences on an immigrant family: Angry Asian Man reports on the recent arrest of the family of Vietnamese college graduate Tam Tran.  Tran had testified before a House subcommittee in May, urging representatives to support a path to citizenship for immigrant students, and was quoted by USA Today earlier this month.  Three days later, her parents and brother were arrested and charged "with being fugitives from
    justice, even though the Trans have been reporting to immigration
    officials annually to obtain work permits." It's unfortunate that Tran's family is paying the price for her having spoken for what she believed in, that our nation can do a better job supporting the potential of all its young people.
  • Also related to legislation introduced by Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, Culture Kitchen notifies us of the pending Child Soldier Prevention Act, a measure to end military and other support to nations that employ children in their armed forces. According to Ishmael Beah who spoke at the University of Buffalo, "9 of the 20 countries with known child soldiers in combat have received military aid from the United States." Beah's newest work, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs Of A Boy Soldier explores the prevalent issue of child soldiers which runs contrary to basic human rights doctrines such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that decrees a secure and peaceful existence for all children.
  • The DMI Blog has written about a new program to increase graduation rates, in which high school students take college courses while finishing high school. A recent report by the  Community College Research Center (CCRC) concludes that "Students who participate in dual enrollment – or those who take
    college courses for credit while still in high school – are nearly 10
    percent more likely to pursue a bachelor’s degree." A New York Times article about the report notes that “the study…also found that low-income students benefited more from such programs than other students did” and that New York state is planning to implement the dual enrollment program. Author Maureen Lane is hopeful that implementation of the program will provide "an
    opportunity to break barriers to college for poor and low-income
    students."
  • Marian's Blog has highlighted an upcoming documentary by Martin Luther King III entitled "Poverty in America." Airing on American Life TV on November 14-15th, the documentary provides King a method of asserting his belief that "We can build a society where everyone gets a fair chance
    to succeed, despite the circumstances of their birth. That's what my
    father fought for, and that's what I'll fight for."
Oct 29 2007
Blog Post DREAM Act Vote Today in Senate
  • The DREAM Act legislation which would provide undocumented students the means to stay in the country legally if they attend college or join the military is up for a vote today in the Senate. The Border Line reports that it remains unclear if enough Senators will come out in support of the bill, measure which would provide many students who arrived in the US legally as young children with access to federal funding for continue their education in hope of giving back to their communities.

As the wildfires continue to rage in Southern California, Immigration News Daily has posted that about fifty undocumented immigrants have turned themselves into border patrol agents out of fear for their safety. Various bloggers such as Prometheus 6 are starting to draw comparisons between the immense devastation of the wildfires and that of Hurricane Katrina, and how the socio-economic status of the displaced populations has affected the care and attention each received.

RaceWire has done a piece about Blackwater's new bid to get involved with security on the US-Mexico border.  Author Seth Wessler explains how problematic this situation would be, despite apparent bipartisan support in Congress:

"Given Blackwater’s 'shoot first' policy, enacted with bloody clarity in Iraq and on the streets of New Orleans after Katrina,
the plans to expand to the border region do not bode well. With
vigilante groups like the Minutemen already taking their racist,
nationalist stance to the front lines, guns in hand, the addition of
Blackwater to the scene would only mean more dead immigrants with less
accountability.

In a political climate where the rhetoric on immigration employs the
lexicon of war, the possibility of Blackwater’s entry into the border
security scene seems to fit the frame. As if it were not enough that
the United States is building a wall along
the border and the the total number of deportations has increased by
over 400% in the past ten years, the border itself may be handed over
to private firms whose interests could not be less in line with the
common good."

  • The Unapologetic Mexican has joined the ranks of those reporting on a coalition of major newspapers and television networks who are petitioning to gain access to Jena Six member Mychal Bell's sealed criminal trial.  Bell's lawyer seems to agree that the media presence may help temper further questionable rulings by District Attorney Reed Walters, and that the case has been publicized enough to date that Americans have a right to know what is going on.

The Republic of T is spreading the news about the just-announced date of next July's 'Blogging While Brown' conference.  In a blogosphere in which people of color remain the minority, it is tremendously important for bloggers of color to organize themselves in order to maximize potential to publicize issues of import such as the Jena Six case.

Feministing posts that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke this past weekend about the Roe v. Wade abortion ruling, about how she doesn't forsee the ruling being overturned in the next few years.  She added, however, that if it were overturned, abortion would always be available to 'women of means' who could afford to travel to other states, but "would have a devastating impact on poor women."
Oct 24 2007
Blog Post Life in a Diverse America

"National faith, civil rights and labor leaders today unveiled a
campaign to counter the growing anti-immigrant movement in the U.S. by
uplifting the voices of everyday Americans who have grown weary of the
division created by anti-immigrant politics. The campaign presents one
of the few organized alternatives for those Americans who may find
themselves conflicted on immigration and immigration reform, but are
thoroughly at odds with the tenor and ideological background of the
anti-immigrant movement.“

The campaign website states that:

"Campaign for a United America is made up of
Americans from all walks of life who are standing up to defend our
nation’s historic commitment to unity, equality and opportunity. We’re
working to promote a dialogue that respects the contributions of all
community members including our immigrant friends and neighbors and
explores a sensible, humane, and compassionate approach to life
together in a diverse America."

We look forward to watching this media work as it unfolds and tells stories of real people in two opposing camps, 'Voices for a United America' and 'Voices of Intolerance.'

  • Immigration Equality posted that the San Pedro immigration detention facility where Victoria Arrellano died has lost its government accreditation.  Whether or not this means the facility will be shut down is unclear.  The organization notes, "Our fear is that DHS is treating the symptom and not the problem" of an immigration system which is built to hold people in inhumane living conditions for indefinite periods of time.  The entire way we approach immigration needs to be restructured with respect for the human right of mobility, the idea that we should all have the capacity to cross borders or social class lines in our drive for great opportunities.

As the SCHIP legislation vetoed by President Bush goes back to Congress for another vote today, Firedoglake has written that three members of the House have already announced a change in opinion in favor of expanding funding for children's health care.  Two more votes are needed to pass the bill that will provide health insurance for ten million American children whose families live closest to the poverty line.

In affirmative action news, the Mirror on America blog has reported that, in November 2008, five more states will be considering measures to ban the use of racial, ethnic, or gender preferences by public colleges and other state and local agencies.  Well-known affirmative action critic Ward Connerly has pushed for referenda in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma, in which voters will voice their opinion on policies meant to level the playing field for minorities.  Given that all five states have populations that are more than three-quarters white and lack large-scale minority advocacy groups, the approval of such bans seems likely.
Oct 18 2007
Blog Post A Human Right to Health
  • First up, Alan Jenkins' newest opinion piece is live on TomPaine.com. Talking about A Human Right to Health, Jenkins begins:

News coverage of President Bush's recent speech
to the United Nations General Assembly has focused on his announcement
of economic and political sanctions against Myanmar. But the real news
about the president's speech is that he chose as a central theme the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
which he described as "a landmark achievement in the history of human
liberty." In particular, the president focused on Article 25 of the
Declaration, which provides in part that "everyone has the right to a
standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself
and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care
and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event
of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack
of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control."

The president's focus on Article 25 was remarkable for at least two
reasons. First, although the United States played an important role in
crafting the Universal Declaration almost 60 years ago, our government
has, since the time of the Cold War, distanced itself from the economic
and social rights embodied in Article 25, at times denying that they
are rights at all. And second, less than two weeks after delivering the
speech, Bush vetoed legislation that would have expanded the popular
State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to cover more of
America's 9 million uninsured kids.

  • On the same topic, the vote to potentially override President Bush's veto of the SCHIP legislation has been scheduled for October 18th.  In the meantime, the biggest thing happening in SCHIP news is the right-wing smear campaign against 12-year-old Graeme Frost, who assisted Democrats in delivering a radio address about the president's opposition to the bill.  After the family spoke about the big difference SCHIP has made in their lives, when Graeme and his sister were involved in a terrible car accident, conservatives have not only attempted to invalidate them by depicting them as rich kids pampered by the government, but they have posted the address and contact information of the Frost family online.  It's too bad that this family is having their major life decisions deconstructed in order to illustrate that they are not deserving of public assistance.  We're all deserving of affordable health care, and our government should be enacting policies that benefit the community as a whole rather than just private insurers.

Matthew Schwieger has a piece in the Huffington Post about 'the new class-based affirmative action.'  The New York Times has published a series of articles about new inititatives in California which are geared to increasing diversity without taking race into consideration, though that has been prohibited by the state's Proposition 209.  Schools such as Harvard and UNC-Chapel Hill have similar programs in place, in an effort to rectify the "stunningly meager number of low-income students enrolled at selective colleges." Given that "nearly 85% of Americans favor preferences based on socioeconomic status," this model may be successful in increasing opportunity for underprivileged youth. In discussing the importance of a college education, Schwieger cites Columbia professor Andres Delbanco, who notes that higher education is a "primary engine of social mobility."

Columbia University Teacher's College unfortunately had a noose-hanging of its own yesterday, as rope was found in front of the office of professor Madonna Constantine, a black psychologist and educator known for her contributions on addressing racism.  Too Sense has written an insightful post discussing whether or not people were surprised by the incident, arguing that "the idea that somehow the graduate school would be exempt from issues of race when it lies on the fault line between gentrifying Harlem and the Upper West Side is really hopelessly naive."  Author dnA continues:

"Surprise is really a failure to accept our own role in allowing racism
to continue by ignoring it, or believing it can simply be erased by
time or proximity, rather than asking hard questions both about
ourselves and the world around us."

  • In a post on Racialicious last Friday, Latoya Peterson does actually take the time to unpack her thoughts on gentrification in Washington, DC.  Defining gentrification as the premeditated process of displacing poor women and people of color by the raising of rents, the piece quotes a USA Today article which claims that the city's residents will be primarily white by 2015. Peterson further acknowledges her own hesitance to settle in an area with less amenities and security, courageously admitting that "as much as I may disagree with gentrification on principle, I complicity agree with it by my neighborhood selection practices." She does, however, offer us the example of progressive housing policies in her native Montgomery County that "require developers to include
    affordable housing in any new residential developments that they
    construct" in order to create socioeconomically mixed
    neighborhoods and schools.  Such policies are commendable for their support of the value of community, the idea that the strength of our nation lies in our diversity.
Oct 10 2007
Blog Post On Being a Kid: Health Care, Photo-Ops, and Video Games
  • Latina Lista just wrote a piece entitled "It's Been a Bad Week to Be an Immigrant Child in the U.S.A.," citing the recent upsets of the SCHIP veto plus the shelving of the DREAM Act and the Immigrant Children's Health Improvement Act (ICHIA).  Additionally, Irving, Texas has seen about 90 immigrant children pulled out of school in the past month, while the nearby city council of Farmers Branch has demanded that the school district provide it with the names and addresses of all enrolled students, a move of which many are suspicious.  The post then ties all these are happenings together with a great use of the opportunity frame: "As a country, we can't afford to abandon any child. Why? Because there's potential in their destiny, and that's worth caring about every time."  Every child deserves the chance to succeed, and this requires that the child have a basic level of good health, education, and security.
  • Unfortunately, the examples of the neglect of a child's potential don't stop there.  A recent study by the University of Maryland reveals that families caring for foster children receive "far less than what middle-income families spend to raise their children."  At its core, foster care is a progressive societal mechanism meant to provide greater opportunities for children that are at risk. With 500,000 children in foster care nationwide, a lack of financial resources for foster families will certainly curtail the options of many.
  • Back to the SCHIP debate, another video has been released, this one by the Campaign for America's Future. Posted on YouTube as "Kids Warn Conservatives: No More Photo Ops," the footage urges Congress to override Bush's veto by questioning the use of children as a media tactic without regard to their well-being.  Looking at the comments on the YouTube page, it seems like many are in favor of the attack ad format of the video, which is framed as a cute and cheeky threat to politicians. Others question the heavy-handed use of the actor in the video, wondering how this use of a child in public media is different from that of politicians.  What do we think about this?  Is the video effective way to frame the argument for increased health coverage?
  • Briefly, a middle school in South Carolina has been in the news for its
    assignment to students to re-imagine plantation life, to the point of
    rationalizing and romanticizing slavery.  Too Sense's post "They Were Just Trying To Show Both Sides Of The Debate" is entertaining and insightful, as author dnA expresses concern for the black kids attending the school.
  • Iced_4
    On the other side of the educational spectrum, we're eagerly awaiting next month's release of ICED! I Can End Deportation, a downloadable video game being developed by Breakthrough, an organization that works in the US and India to build human rights culture through new media.  After presenting the project at the Games for Change conference, Breakthrough has received a surprising amount of mainstream media attention. Executive Director Mallika Dutt was even interviewed on Fox News about the game, whose name is a play on the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICED! has been designed as a fun educational tool to illustrate the human rights violations inherent in immigration policies introduced in 1996.  Players get to role-play the experiences of five characters, each based on true case studies such as a student on a temporary visa or a permanent resident, and they make a series of moral choices which may bring them into contact with immigration agents seeking to arrest them.  There are also periodic myth/fact questions built into the game about immigration laws, which if answered correctly affect a player's score, level of risk, freedom, or health. If a player makes the wrong decisions they land in a detention center, where they endure inhumane living conditions and separation from their families as they await a random outcome.  Like the well-known Darfur is Dying, the detention process is anything but a game for thousands of people. But here's hoping that ICED! will be able to increase public awareness of deportation as a critical human rights issue, such that Americans begin to push harder for fair and equitable reform.
Oct 5 2007
Blog Post The Revolution Is Digitized
  • Big news today concerns an incident at a high school in California in which a young black woman had her wrist broken by a school security guard for failing to clean up a piece of her birthday cake that fell on the floor.  16-year-old Pleajhai Mervin was subsequently arrested, along with her mother who complained (and was fired from her school district job) and the fellow students who used their cellphones to videotape the struggle. There are many things wrong with this footage, from excessive violence in our schools to unjust racial profiling. With respect to the way in which this story has been disseminated in the media, the blogger Oh No a WoC PhD notes that "YouTube may be one way in which the revolution is in fact digitized."  With increased access to technology comes more power to force reporting and increase public awareness to fight social injustice.

Also related to new media, Racialicious alerts us to a lawsuit pending against Virgin Mobile over the unauthorized use of a photograph posted on Flickr.  A friend of Asian-American Alison Chang posted photos of his teenaged group of friends, one of which then appeared on billboards in Australia, taken out of context in a way that advertises a "perpetual foreigner" stereotype. A recent report by the Justice Policy Institute entitled "Employment, Wages and Public Safety" reveals that increased employment and wages are associated with positive public safety outcomes. In short, increasing security via economic well-being decreases the crime rate.  This report is one in a series that link public safety with various types of opportunities, from education to housing and drug treatment. Finally, the last few weeks have seen a number of racially-motivated incidents in New York, from a noose hung in a police station on Long Island to swastikas painted on synangogues during the Jewish holidays in Brookyln.  The continued use of these symbols to provoke fear and submission among specific ethnic or cultural groups is devastating.  At such times it's helpful to refer to the ethical framework of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) to illustrate where we have gone wrong. Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, Article I proclaims:

"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

Article II goes on:

"Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status."

At their core, hate crimes violate the equality we value, a concept that is held globally as one of our most basic human rights. Unfortunately, many Americans do not consider human rights to be relevant to their day-to-day reality.  We tend to think of human rights as an issue in Latin America or in Myanmar, not at home.  What the above incidents make clear, though, is that defending human rights is just as important and necessary a task within the US -- and not just in New Orleans or in Jena, Louisiana, but in everyone's backyard.

Oct 2 2007
Blog Post Immigrants Boycott Western Union
  • First off, a coalition of more than 150 immigrants rights groups are advocating a boycott of Western Union for charging exorbitant fees and using innapropriate exchange rates for its wire transfers abroad.  Organizers also assert that the company reinvests very little in the immigrant communities it serves despite profits of over $1 billion per year.
  • As in the Colbert video below, the Immigrants and Politics Blog has recapped a September 5 New York Times article about farmers relocating their business to Mexico given the difficulties of finding labor within the US. Given recent crackdowns on the mobility and capacity of the migrant workforce, many US companies are struggling to find workers, and farmers often experience labor shortages during harvest time.  In response, the profiled farmer has chosen to "southsource" to Mexico.  This type of action could very well have long-term negative effects on the American economy.
  • Another story that was all over the blogosphere yesterday was that of the 20-year-old black woman in West Virginia who was abducted and held hostage while forced to suffer intense physical and sexual abuse.  Although her six white captors have been arrested and charged with a total of 108 counts of criminal conduct, federal prosecutors have decided not to consider this a hate crime despite the fact that the six alledgedly referred to the woman as a "nigger."  This decision has been quite controversial given the brutality of the incident and the fact that hate crimes laws are in effect to mandate a heavier sentence for acts motivated by exactly this sort of unthinkable discrimination.
  • Additionally, a study has been released by the Medicare Rights Center which demonstrates that "low-income people enrolled in Medicare private fee-for-service plans pay more for their health care in some counties than people enrolled in the same plans in neighboring, more affluent counties." It hardly seems fair to inflate costs for those who can barely afford to pay for medical services, or smart to force the government to subsidize medical bills at a higher rate.  Perhaps the report will force us to rethink that one.
Sep 13 2007
Blog Post Economic Opportunity Hot in the Primary States

The ONE Campaign has conducted a poll of likely Iowa Caucus-goers, and the results are extremely encouraging for those working on issues of economic opportunity and mobility:

More than nine in ten Iowa Democrats (93%) agree it is in keeping
with the country’s values and history of compassion to lead an effort
to solve some of the most serious problems facing the world’s poorest
people. The ONE Poll–Iowa also found that more than eight in ten
Democrats (86%) agree that reducing poverty, treating
preventable diseases and improving education in poor countries will help make the world safer and the United States more secure.

When it comes to addressing these issues, more than eight in ten
Democrats (82%) would be more likely to vote for a candidate who
supports reducing by half the number of the people who live in extreme
global poverty and suffer from hunger.

The poll found that 30% of Iowa caucus-goers favor John Edwards for
president in 2008. Hillary Clinton is favored by 22% of Democrats,
Barack Obama by 18% and Bill Richardson by 13%.

Aug 17 2007
Blog Post Online organizing against new BET show
  • Mirror on America reports on the controversial show set to premiere on BET next week, "Hot Ghetto
    Mess." Using viewer-submitted home videos and
    BET-produced man-on-the-street interviews, this reality show attempts to
    broadcast a side of the black community and hear people’s opinions on
    issues. “Hot Ghetto Mess” is based on a
    website with a purpose to showcase all parts of the black community, negative
    or not, in order to promote reflection on how this community is perceived. The online editor explains: “I want each and
    every person that reads these words to look at your life and ask how you can
    make yourself better, your community better or your kids better.” However, after many people expressed their
    offense to such a show, Gina McCauley, creator of the blog What About Our
    Daughters?
    (discussing how the black female community is represented in the
    media) turned to a coalition of religious and women’s groups to protest the
    show. The coalition targets advertisers
    for the show, and two companies (State Farm Insurance and Home Depot) have
    already asked BET to pull their ad time. At the premiere, this coalition has organized “watch parties” in many
    cities across the country to record which companies purchased advertisements,
    then plans to boycott these businesses or organize demonstrations. We’ll wait and see how effective their
    strategy is, but the approach - mixing blog outreach, new media, and good old fashioned boycotts - demonstrates a creative mix of action that could make a good model for future online/offline organizing. Racial justice activists could take a page out of McCauley’s book in their
    own campaigns
  • The Washington Post reports on the resolution passed
    yesterday in Loudoun Country, VA that limits undocumented workers access to
    county services and penalizes employers who hire them (Thanks, ‘Just News’
    blog
    !). This legislation is one of many strong statewide and countywide that have passed since the Senate’s
    failure to organize a comprehensive nationwide immigration policy. Without the national government setting the
    limits, we will be faced with different localized laws that will lead to an even more chaotic system. In addition,
    laws like these which focus on employer sanctions rather than face the problem, avoid the main issue - that of the rights of workers.
  • DMI Blog reports on Massachusetts' decision to implement a new social welfare program called
    Choices.  The program allows people receiving welfare the option of receiving counseling about viable options for education and occupational advances. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research
    explains that for low-income students, higher education is the best way to
    acquire good jobs, and this positive step has a ripple affect in the students’
    families and communities.
Jul 23 2007
Blog Post More problems in structuring immigration reform
  • DMI Blog reports on the problems with the new face of immigration
    reform: employer sanctions for hiring undocumented workers. Author Suman Raghunathan explains that these sanctions are an underhanded approach to sidestep the main issue, which is not that employers hire undocumented workers, but rather that they exploit those workers with poor labor conditions and low pay.  Raghunathan cites numerous examples of employers that
    force undocumented immigrant workers into low wages, employer harassment, and
    no labor protection, a situation that is equally bad for undocumented workers and native born workers alike.
    • Our view: Holding employers accountable is important, but let's be
      clear about the real issues and make sure the frame of this debate doesn't
      shift away from what is important – that we're all in this together: African Americans,
      immigrants, native born workers and undocumented workers. If we improve working conditions for one
      group, they will be improved for all groups. Focusing on the worker sanctions Raghunathan highlights can only divide
      us and pit one group against the other. If we want to see real change, we need to work together. For more information about immigrants and
      their contributions to the workforce, check out our immigration reform fact
      sheet
      .
  • Our friends at the Sentencing Project have released a new report: Uneven Justice: State Rates of Incarceration by
    Race and Ethnicity
    (pdf).  This report compares the
    racial and ethnic disparities in incarceration in all 50 states, including
    prison and jail populations. Highlights
    include
    • African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six (5.6) times the rate of
      whites and Latinos at nearly double (1.8) the rate of whites.
    • There is broad variation among the states
      in the ratio of black-to-white incarceration, ranging from a high of 13.6-to-1 in Iowa to a low of 1.9-to-1 in Hawaii.
    • States with the highest black-to-white
      ratio are disproportionately located in the Northeast and Midwest, including
      the leading states of Iowa, Vermont, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Wisconsin.

For more information about racial disparities in
incarceration populations, check out our Criminal Justice fact sheet or visit The Sentencing Project.

  • Facing
    South
    reports that John Edwards' Poverty Tour stopped
    in New Orleans,
    where the Senator spoke about his plan to create "50,000 stepping stone jobs"
    in places like schools, libraries and community to help revitalize the community
    and build a "work ethic."
Jul 18 2007
Blog Post Without Prejudice: Entirely too much prejudice?
  • Racialicious reports on a new game, “Without Prejudice”, in which five
    judges must decide which contestant deserves a $25,000 prize. Hosted by psychotherapist Robi Ludwig and
    working with partners like GLAAD and National Council of La Raza, “Without
    Prejudice” asks the five contestants to be honest about their lives and the
    judges must narrow down these contestants based on any reason. The show hope to teach viewers about prejudice, and the affiliated website features a number of educational resources on the subject.  There are also discussion guides for starting
    conversations about prejudice. After the
    pilot episode premiered last night, The New York Times reports that the show is
    anything but “without prejudice": each participant seems to have his own biases
    that are hard to miss. Check it out for
    yourself on Tuesdays on the GSN.

  • The New York Times profiles younger members of the New York immigrant community, as well as its support of the DREAM Act. Many of these
    children of undocumented workers are legal citizens, born in the US.  Not all are registered to vote, but they could be a powerful voice on behalf of their parents in the U.S. and local politics. Some groups are trying to gather support there for
    the DREAM Act, a provision of which has been added as
    an amendment to the Department of Defense authorization bill (thanks,
    ImmigrationProf Blog!). In this
    amendment, undocumented residents of military age who arrived in the US before age 16 and could immediately enter a
    path to citizenship if they serve at least two years in the armed forces.  The Boston Globe has an update of the bill's progress.
  • In a review of over 100 studies, The Boston Globe reports that black women are less healthy because of the pressures of racial discrimination (thanks, RaceWire!).  In one study, black women who indicated that
    racism was a source of stress in their lives developed more plaque in their
    carotid arteries – an early sign of heart disease – than black women who
    didn’t. These studies could reshape
    racism as a public health problem. These
    findings come at a time of severe racial disparities in American health care. African Americans face a higher risk than any
    other racial group of dying from heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and
    hypertension. These health disparities
    are exacerbated by lack of access to quality health care and health
    insurance. Higher poverty rates and
    lower wages also hinder progress in equality. Check out our fact sheet about African Americans and Opportunity.
  • DMI Blog reports on Rinku Sen’s reflection on the possible
    unity between immigrants and US.-born Blacks, Latinos, Asians and American
    Indians. She looks at the origin of the
    term “people of color”, and how it has affected identity in political
    action. In her experiences
    as an advocate working in partnership with multiracial organizations, she felt it necessary to “expand [her] identity
    in a way that tied [her] to Black people as part of their rebellion.” Sen confronts the impact the term has on our immigration debate, and asks whether immigrants fall under the definition of
    “people of color.” At the end of the day,
    she acknowledges that she cannot decide this question, but expresses that a
    positive immigrant policy will include dialogue on race and color as well as
    nationality and class.

    Our view:

    The best way to achieve fair legislature and rights for
    immigrants is to understand the common struggles we all face in achieving
    equality. “People of color” everywhere
    want the same basic rights – better education, living conditions, wages, and
    health care – and the only way to achieve anything is to recognize this common
    struggle. We’re all in this together,
    and achieving opportunity for one group will be best fought with many partners.
Jul 18 2007
Blog Post Does socioeconomic balancing also integrate schools?
  • Prometheus 6 links to a New York Times article
    about the
    success (or lack thereof) in using socioeconomic status as an indirect
    method to integrate public schools. School officials in the San
    Francisco public schools have found that the district is actually
    resegregating by using the type of plan many districts may try in light
    of the
    recent Supreme Court ruling. As many as
    40 districts around the country are already trying these plans. The
    article compares successes in many of
    these districts across the country.  After realizing the failure of
    using income to integrate schools,
    David Campos, the general counsel to the school district, is looking
    for loopholes through Justice Kennedy's statement if methods not based
    on race fail. For
    more updates on the status of the country’s integration attempts, check out the
    NAACP Legal Defense Fund page, as well as The Opportunity Agenda’s talking points.
  • Immigrants in the USA Blog posts a column from The
    Bakersfield Californian
    with a different perspective on the DREAM Act, a
    legislative bill which would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented
    immigrant students, thus making them eligible to receive in-state financial aid
    from colleges.  Author Leonel Martinez
    argues that children should not be punished for their parents’ decision to immigrate.
  • Many immigrants are from poor
    families, and, he believes, should have access to college, which could make
    them greater contributors to society. The
    controversy over this act mirrors the “hysteria” thirty years ago in the
    controversy surrounding the Plyler v. Doe Supreme Court decision. In this ruling, the Supreme
    Court declared unconstitutional a Texas statute which charged certain families $1000 per year for school tuition,
    effectively preventing undocumented children from attending school. This article offers
    background on the case, comparing that situation to the atmosphere around
    immigration decisions today.
  • Ezra Klein writes about the hypocrisy in our criminal “justice”
    system by pointing out that while incarceration does separate dangerous individuals
    from society, in separating the millions of non-violent offenders, the system
    only reinforces their identity as criminals, and renders them unfit for many
    jobs. Klein cites economic studies which
    show that prison makes many inmates more violent. As incarceration rates in America skyrocket, more attention needs to be focused on rehabilitation –
    preparing inmates for society.  For more
    information about criminal justice, check out our fact
    sheet
    .
  • Immigration Equality Blog reports on another downloadable
    video game
    attempting to teach players about a societal issue: “ICED! I Can End
    Deportation!” Recently featured in the
    LA Times This 3D game teaches players about the unjust nature of U.S. immigration policy by following the day-to-day life of an immigrant teen as
    he/she encounters obstacles like being chased by immigration officers and
    answering myth & fact quizzes about current immigration policies. The point of the game is to avoid detention,
    which separates one from his/her family and forces unjust conditions. Check out
    our previous coverage of Games for Change.
  • In the Huffington Post, David Sirota responds to New York
    Governor Eliot Spitzer’s plan
    to expand health coverage to nearly three million
    more residents in an attempt to ultimately provide universal health
    insurance. While expanding access to a
    greater population is a good first step, it fails to ensure that all insured people are getting the same quality of care.  Access is a problem, but so are racial disparities in quality of care, and
    comprehensive health care reform needs to address these equity issues to ensure that the vulnerable populations aren’t left
    behind.  Check out healthcarethatworks.org for an example of quality care and access.
Jul 16 2007
Blog Post Schools Decision Feedback

        In the aftermath of the Supreme
Court’s decision on school integration plans in Seattle and Louisville, it seems as though everyone has an opinion. After a slower 4th of July week, here are the articles you might have
missed:

  •  

    Arguing against the ruling, Irene
    Monroe of the Windy City Times reports on the devastating effects of this
    decision: limiting our rights. She warns
    that a decision that declares separate facilities constitutional – 53 years after Brown – limits the rights of not only
    students of color, but also female, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and
    queer students. She cites a high school in New York City designed to offer a supportive environment for LGBTQ students that might be
    considered discriminatory under the latest ruling.
  • Describing another deleterious effect, Eric
    Mayes of the Philadelphia Tribune investigates how this ruling may affect
    teacher placement, since the district’s procedures stipulate that the racial
    balance of the schools applies to teachers as well. Therefore, African American and white
    teachers can only work at certain schools.  Many officials, however, see for the ruling as opening the door to end integration policies in their own districts.
  • As the Boston Globe reports,
    a new case has been filed to stop the 20-year desegregation policy in the Lynn School district in Massachusetts.   The attorneys in Lynn are following the blueprint Parents Involved in
    Community Schools, the public policy group behind the Seattle case.  For more information on that group, check out this LA Times
    report.
  • In the Seattle PI, Sharon Browne, one of the
    lawyers for the Pacific Legal Foundation, explains the reasons why the Seattle decision is
    a net positive for the city.

In addition to the many opinions
against this ruling, another group of writers believe in the constitutionality
of the decision.

  • David Brooks argues in The New York Times that integration is counter to human nature. Brooks argues that racial disparities
    in poverty still exist, and that even when income is standardized,
    neighborhoods are still segregated. Brooks ends his analysis by stating that “maybe integration is not in
    the cards.” (Thanks, Prometheus 6, for
    the tip!)
  • In the Washington Post, George F. Will explains how the decision takes the country back to the Brown mentality, and how the decision is
    a positive step.

In light of Justice
Kennedy’s discussion of alternative ways to diversify schools, many writers
advocate balancing socioeconomic status rather than race.

  • This New York Times article discusses the achievement gap between income levels. Poor neighborhoods often lack the resources
    to provide their children with equal education to neighboring, more affluent
    communities. Ted Shaw, president of the
    NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., acknowledges that using income
    levels won’t entirely substitute for achieving racial integration, but it’s a
    good start. (Thanks, Racialicious, for
    the tip!)
  • The Des Moines Register
    reiterates this idea in this article
    discussing the school districts which already utilize an integration plan that
    uses the socioeconomic status. Writer
    Matthew Schwieger argues that this constitutional way of allocating the
    students to different schools could be the solution to unfair disparities.

However, not all writers agree with this
assessment.

  • In the Milwaukee Journal
    Sentinel
    , School Board member Brian Dey explains that socioeconomic status in
    his district is identical to race, so using family incomes to place students
    still violates the Supreme Court decision.
  • Another solution to balancing
    schools comes from the Louisville Courier-Journal: charter schools. Writer Liam Julian
    argues that racial balance in the classroom is not as important as racial
    balance in achievement, and that charter schools give principals the freedom to
    make a truly effective school.

For more commentary on the ruling,
try Joel Achenbach’s
(of the Washington Post) anecdotal
memories
of his own district’s integration tactics, or Newsweek’s post-decision
interview

with Justice Kennedy. Also check out our
past coverage here.

Jul 10 2007
Blog Post FEMA's tactics in the post-Katrina climate
  • We continue to learn many lessons from Hurricane Katrina, nearly two years after the storm struck the Gulf Coast, chief among them the consequences of misplaced governmental priorities.  In a case where we most needed a strong and positive governmental role, instead we witnessed a monumental failure of will and dodging responsibility.  For example, Facing
    South
    reports that federal agencies responding to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita
    gave the startling amount of $2.4 billion in contracts guaranteeing profits for
    big companies, according to a Center for Public Integrity investigation. FEMA, which has seen its support consistently cut and its core mission altered over the past seven years, was responsible for nearly 94% of these
    contracts. The tragedies in Hurricane Katrina should have provided an opportunity
    for the government to act as a positive resource, but many reports show many
    poor decisions, increasing suffering for the victims. Check out the Center for Social Inclusion’s
Jun 28 2007
Blog Post From commercials to detention reform: Immigration from All Sides
  • DMI Blog reports on a new support
    campaign for immigration, Long Island WINS, seeking to elucidate the shared
    interests of immigrants and middle class Long Islanders. Last week, they launched a multitude of
    intriguing T.V. commercials explaining the economic and cultural contributions
    immigrants make to the island.  These ads
    highlight the important message that immigrants only want what everyone in the
    country wants: the opportunity to pursue the American Dream and participate
    fully in our society. Immigrants
    revitalize communities like these Long Island ones by reviving commerce and provided needed products, in addition to tax and
    net contributions. For example,
    immigrants in California gave an estimated $4.5 billion in state taxes and an additional $30 billion in federal taxes in 1999-2000.
  • Immigrants in the USA Blog
    emphasizes a main idea of the Long Island WINS campaign: everyone benefits from
    working together. This Democrat & Chronicle story highlights
    the triumphs of the Rochester City School District in graduating many seniors who struggled
    with language barriers and cultural disparities. The school helps the students in the
    63-language population by providing resources like teachers with specialized
    language skills and connecting parents with community agencies. These success stories demonstrate the
    importance of providing immigrants with an adequate integration strategy.  Funding for adult basic education and English
    classes has not kept pace with the growing demand
    , and such resources are vital
    to proper integration.
  • ‘Just News’
    reports on a New York Times article continuing this conversation about the high
    rate of immigrants dying in custody after being detained. Because no government body is charged with documenting deaths in immigrant detention, the details and extent of the
    sub par conditions are hard to find. Latina Lista references the same article in explaining how immigrant
    detention is the fastest growing form of incarceration in the United States.  For example, over 27,000 immigrants are
    detained on any given day in almost 200 prison-like facilities all over the
    country.
  • Happening-here blog explains some effective ways to counter anti-immigration ways to frame an argument. The blog proposed fighting for a human
    security state (where the government fights for our freedom rather than
    constricting our rights), working toward all forms of racial equity, and
    encouraging globalization in understanding the ways in which we can all provide
    important resources for each other. An
    important facet of the immigration struggle is highlighting the ways in which
    all groups can benefit from fair immigrant rights. For more information about this shared
    interest, check out this article.
Jun 27 2007
Blog Post Daily Blog Round-Up 6/18/07
  • Firedoglake blogs about the Employee
    Free Choice
    , a bill which aims to restore workers’ freedom in choosing a union,
    especially establishing stronger penalties for violation of employee rights
    when workers seek to form a union. FDL
    explains that while 60 million workers say they would join a union if they
    could, but many people are intimidated by corporate giants. By stating that this act is a “workplace
    rights issue,” a “human rights issue,” and a “civil rights issue,” FDL frames
    the issue in universal terms that appeals to the broad advantages for
    everyone. The benefits in unionizing
    workers appear in many forms. With union
    workers receiving an average wage 30% higher than the nonunion worker, creating
    greater access to membership will help lessen the growing wage
    inequalities.  Here's hoping this rights-based frame can help push the issue forward.
  • Feminist blogs comments on a piece on Salon.com which compares the rate of obesity in black women to that of white women
    (78% of black women are considered overweight), and essentially opts to blame
    black women for preferring to keep the extra pounds and purposely
    eschew advice to lose weight. Feminist blogs skewers the Salon piece, nothing the complex causes of obesity rates among black women. In 2000, low-income African-American families were 7.3 times
    more likely than poor white families to live in high poverty neighborhoods with
    limited resources
    . In addition, black
    women are more likely to lack adequate health care access. While 11.2% of white Americans were uninsured
    at any point in 2005, 19.5% of African Americans were uninsured and more likely
    to be dependent on public sources of health insurance.
    It's disappointing to see Salon reduce this alarming trend to individual behaviors.  This is not a question of individual responsibility.  It is one aspect of a larger social issue - which requires increased public awareness and collective action to reach a solution.
  • Racial_composition_2Prometheus 6 reports on the alarming disparities in the
    racial composition of the 30% of students who fail to graduate high school. In a recent Education Week report, only half of
    American Indians and black students graduated, compared with more than
    three-quarters of non-Hispanic whites and Asians. The reports uses information from the 2003-04
    school year to estimates the number of graduates in 2007.  Their analysis shows
    that while minority students make up less than half of the total public school
    population, they make up more than half of the nongraduates. In addition, Hispanic youth are four times
    more likely to drop out than are white youth
    (pdf), creating an education gap that limits opportunities for young people of color and widens other disparities - in income and health coverage, for example - later in life.
  • PrisonsSentencing Law and Policy reports on a new article from
    stateline.org about how increasing prices to maintain the overcrowded prisons
    are leading lawmakers to provide different alternatives to prisons. Some of these ideas include an expanded
    program to help prevent offenders from being incarcerated again (like diverting funds from prisons to rehabilitation centers), earlier release
    dates for low-risk inmates and sentencing revisions. State spending on prisons continues to
    increase at an alarming rate to account for the high number of incarcerated
    persons. Between 2004 and 2005, not only
    did the number of incarcerated persons increase, but so did the rate (491 per
    100,000 people in 2005 versus 486 per 100,000 in 2004
    ).
Jun 18 2007
Blog Post Daily Blog Round-Up 6/11/07

We wanted to first give a shoutout to Racialicious, which is fast becoming one of our favorite blogs for their great reporting and abundance of good links to reporting on issues of racial justice.

  • Immigrants in the USA Blog reports on the Board of
    Alderman’s Connecticut decision
    to administer identification cards for undocumented
    workers in New Haven. The cards were issued primarily to allow undocumented workers to open bank accounts, as current habits of carrying
    large sums of money on their person make undocumented workers targets for crime.  The decision to help protect undocumented workers is a positive step taken that underlines the empathy needed by government officials to help
    undocumented workers succeed in society. Too often, their plight is overlooked, but with creative solutions such
    as this one, all people will be given the opportunity to prosper.
  • Racialicious reports on a recent George Washington
    University School of Medicine study
    showing that white children were more likely than children of color to be admitted to a hospital for medical conditions that could be
    treated at home, highlighting yet again that disparities exist not only in access to care, but in the quality of care that one receives based on one's race.
  • NytimesincomeThe New York Times featured an interesting reflection on the
    wealth inequalities and increasing gap between the rich and poor. Counter to many economists’ predictions, the amount of wealth going to the rich and super rich is increasing at an unprecedented rate. According to the Congressional Budget
    Office’s dat
    a, in 2004, while households in the lowest quintile of the country
    were making 2 percent more than they were in 1979, the top quartile had increased their income by
    63%. These figures parallel the State of Opportunity in America study (pdf), which also adds that much of the discrepancies can be explained by race.  White households gained more in real income
    than African-American and Hispanic households between 1974 to 2004.
Jun 11 2007
Blog Post Daily Blog Round-Up 6/4/07
  • Ezra Klein reports on new figures in a Brookings Report
    regarding the state of social mobility in this country, especially in
    comparison to other industrialized nations. Klein highlights the
    changes in income of men in their thirties, and shows that growth for
    the top 1% of income-earners has increased the
    most out of any group. His post corroborates data from The State of Opportunity in America (pdf), which found the least mobility in the bottom and top income quintile. People in the lowest income quintiles
    experience the least mobility, from 19-38 percent average annual mobility over
    10 years. Only 7 percent of those
    starting in the bottom quintile were in the top on follow up. These figures are particularly troubling when
    viewed in context with racial imbalances. In a 20-year study, African-American and Hispanic median household
    income was lower than that of whites at each point, and increased to a smaller
    degree. Only when greater opportunities
    are given to the lower income brackets can the “American Dream” of rising to
    the top based on one’s merits exist.
    International_mobilitytm_4
    Income_mobility_mentm Growth_in_income_since_79tm
  • Related to last week’s blog post, Facing South continues the
    discussion on the changing racial trends in school. Facing South points out that recent reports don't take into
    account private school students, who comprise a large percentage of Southern
    white families.  A Duke University study shows that private schools have contributed to the re-segregation of
    schools in the south, although they accounted for less than a fifth of all
    school segregation. Importantly,
    segregation tends to be the highest in the school districts that have non-white
    percentages between 50 and 70 percent. This comes as the public awaits two Supreme Court decisions on critical
    school segregation cases
    which will determine whether school districts may
    voluntarily continue to integrate the schools. The State of Opportunity in America (pdf) cites
    that since the mid-1980s, virtually all large school districts have had
    increasingly lower levels of integration. The 1954 Brown decision promise of acceptance and diversity cannot be
    fulfilled until school districts encourage integration in ways that work for
    community.
  • Feminist Blogs reports on new statistics from the National Center for Children in Poverty (pdf) about how
    state policies affect low income children. Most notable is the comparison between the level of poverty among
    children and the percentage of Non-Hispanic White members of the population. These figures parallel those in The State of Opportunity in America (pdf), which states that in
    2000, the poverty rate among African Americans and Hispanics was slightly over
    2.6 times greater than that for white Americans. In addition, from 2001 to 2003, poverty rates
    for all racial and ethnic increased more than for whites. Poverty is represented disproportionately
    based on race in this country, which threaten the well-being of a diverse
    country.
  • Feminist Blogs also reports on a Department of Public Health study which shows that minority women in Los Angeles country have disproportionately higher rates of chronic disease than others. The report found that black women have the
    highest mortality rate of any group, and many minority groups reported
    significant percentages of poverty and low access to health care. The large gaps in health status among
    racial/ethnic groups are obvious in The State of Opportunity in America (pdf),
    which explores figures that mortality rates among African American females’
    mortality rates have been consistently 25 percent higher than for women
    overall. Examples like the LA Country’s
    disproportionate health care coverage and poverty situations highlight a national
    problem requiring new social reforms.
Jun 5 2007
Blog Post Daily Blog Round-up: 6/1/07
  • Ally Work reports on an article from Lip Magazine which breaks down the ways in which white supremacists exploit tragedy to further their own causes.  Besides using any crime committed by a non-White as a race crime attempted to bring down the majority, many of these groups believe that the media purposely ignores black-on-white killings.  In reality, the media over-represents blacks as offenders, relative to their share of crimes committed. The State of Opportunity in America (pdf) cites findings from the General Social Survey that significant majorities of African Americans are more prone to violence than whites.  When Americans continue to endorse these racist attitudes, the goals of equal access through renewed social policy become compromised.
  • Prometheus 6 reports on a New York Times article exposing the rapid growths of minorities in school rolls, especially Hispanics.  This number has peaked at 42% of public school enrollment from 22% thirty years ago.  These figures reflect the changes in the greater composition of the country, where great ethnic shifts are taking place in all regions.  Despite rising enrollment, large test score gaps exist between whites and minority groups.  The State of Opportunity in America (pdf) cites that while 87% of U.S. adults have obtained a high school diploma or the equivalent, the high school degree attainment among Hispanic adults is only just above 60%.  Schools need to provide the proper resources to close this immense gap.  As a way to combat the prejudice that students from lower socioeconomic status may face, some higher education institutions are courting low-income students with offers of grants and tuition wavers, recognizing that their test scores and performance is only in reflection to their resources. This New York Times article highlights the ways in which Amherst seeks to make their class more diverse, not only racially, but also across class differences.
  • The Huffington Post reports on the disadvantages of living with such large discrepancies between the top of the wealth index and the bottom, even if you find yourself in the better half.  Citing his new book, The Trap: Selling Out to Stay Afloat in Winner-Take-All America, Daniel Brook explains how the more unbalanced a society is, the more the top will need to pay to keep it afloat.  The State of Opportunity in America (pdf) cites the increases in class divide in the past three decades, in which the wages for the top 5 percent of wage earners grew by 31%, but the wages for the bottom 10% of workers slightly declined.  With these severe trends, it becomes that much more challenging for social mobility and equal opportunity to all members of society.
  • The Real Cost of Prisons Weblog reports on the recent increases in California spending on prison budget, extrapolating that in five years, this budget will supersede spending on the state universities.  The author attributes the disorganization in California’s prison department and unprecedented numbers of incarcerations to unclear goals for the function of prisons, either a way to remove criminals from society or rehabilitate them.  These figures in California parallel those found on the national level.  The State of Opportunity in America (pdf) found that in mid-2004, more than 21.13 million people were incarcerated, a number higher than other nations and unprecedented in our history.  Without proper rehabilitation programs, these rates will continue to increase, forcing our law-makers to spend high percentages of budget money to sustain the populations when the money could be used better elsewhere.
Jun 4 2007
Blog Post Opportunity in Images: Take Two

Earlier this year, we teamed up with students in the Masters in Media Studies program at the New School University here in New York.  As part of a media production class, we became the "client" and the students became graphic designers, tasked with creating images representing the core values of community, equality, and human rights apply to one of three initiatives: Immigration reform, health care equity, and the 2008 election.

Here's a sample of some of the great work they produced.  These images are creative commons licensed (Attribution), and the name of the designer can be found in the description.  We encourage everyone to Remix and Reuse them in your own work.  You can find the full set of images here.

Fernanda-OAGraphic-Larger OA_Buttons_2008Elections_ OA1 OA_Healthcare_1_notext_Braudaway

This is the second time we've worked with students at the New School on creating images illustrative of our Opportunity FrameYou can find past work here.

May 14 2007
Blog Post Opportunity Agenda in the News

Two op-eds by the Opportunity Agenda are making their way around the net.

Over at Tom Paine, Opportunity Agenda co-founders Alan Jenkins and Brian Smedley have an article assessing the state of health care equity five years after the release of the ground breaking study, Unequal Treatment:

Five years ago last month, the Institute of Medicine released a congressionally-mandated report, Unequal Treatment,
concluding that minority patients receive a lower quality of health
care than whites—even after taking into account differences in health
insurance and other economic and health factors. Authored by a
blue-ribbon panel assembled by the nation’s foremost health and science
advisory body, the report went on to say that such inequalities in
health care carry a significant human and economic toll and therefore
are “unacceptable.” Yet despite these urgent appeals, little has been
done to address disparities—leaving too many Americans vulnerable to
inequitable and inadequate health care.

In the current issue of The American Prospect, Alan Jenkins contributes to a special report on poverty in America with an article on the role that race plays in poverty in America.

Many Americans of goodwill
who want to reduce poverty believe that race is no longer relevant to
understanding the problem, or to fashioning solutions for it. This view
often reflects compassion as well as pragmatism. But we cannot solve
the problem of poverty -- or, indeed, be the country that we aspire to
be -- unless we honestly unravel the complex and continuing connection
between poverty and race.

Both pieces offer solutions as well as critiques of the problem.  Go give them a read.

May 3 2007
Blog Post The Real Costs of Bush's Budget

An editorial  in today's New York Times takes a closer look at Bush's '07 budget, and notes that programs designed to increase access to health care among low-income Americans - particularly children - are the latest casualty of Bush's crusade to lower taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

The most shortsighted restrictions would come in the highly
acclaimed State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which uses federal
matching funds to provide coverage for low- and moderate-income
children who are not quite poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. The
program has been enormously successful in reducing the number of
uninsured children. Yet now the administration wants to reduce its
matching rate and limit enrollment to children in households earning no
more than twice the federal poverty level. That would undercut programs
in 16 states that have expanded coverage to children above that level.

Although the administration’s budget would grant the children’s program
a small $5 billion increase spread over five years, that’s less than
half, and possibly only a third, of the amount needed just to maintain
current enrollments and participation rates.

As Families USA notes in a press release, this is contrary to previous statements by Bush:

“America’s children must also have a healthy start in life.
In a new term, we will lead an aggressive effort to enroll millions of
poor children who are eligible but not signed up for the government’s
health insurance programs. We will not allow a lack of attention, or
information, to stand between these children and the health care they
need.” (President George W. Bush, Republican National Convention,
September 2, 2004)

Families USA also notes that, besides funding SCHIP at a level inadequate to retain current enrollment numbers, the president's plan will actually reduce SCHIP eligibility in 18 states including California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland,
Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New
Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and
West Virginia.

Hundreds of thousands of children in these states will lose their coverage and enter the ranks of the uninsured.  The move is a stark contrast to current public opinion, as well counterproductive to new policy initiatives that seek to expand coverage for children at the state level.

Health care is a human right.  Until we provide a fair, equitable system that provides access to those most in need, our nation will never live up to its full potential as a society of equal opportunity for all Americans.  President Bush's proposed cuts to Medicaid and SCHIP, which will put hundreds of thousands of children at risk for unnecessary health complications, moves us further away that ideal America we all want to achieve.


 

Feb 12 2007
Blog Post Separate and Unequal Transport

Doors of Opportunity (no text)At the end of December, three advocacy groups in San Francisco released MTC, Where Are Our Buses?, a report about disparities in transportation funding which adversely affect people of color and low-income populations.  Public Advocates, Urban Habitat, and Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) have labeled the Bay Area's transit system "Separate and Unequal," and provide compelling evidence to support their claim.

Released on the 50-year anniversary of the civil rights campaign to integrate bus service in Montgomery, Alabama, the report details recent funding and route decisions made by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), and how they have impacted the local population.  At issue are the differences in subsidies provided to Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), Caltrain (both of which service primarily white suburbs), and AC Transit buses to the East Bay area (a region in which 80% of the residents are people of color).  According to a press release by Urban Habitat, the report "details both the sizeable funding disparities per passenger, and the resulting disparities in transit service as BART and Caltrain services have more than doubled, while AC Transit service has contracted by 30%."  Further, the report provides data that "public dollars subsidize the trips of BART and Caltrain commuters, who are disproportionately white, at three to five times higher levels than the trips of AC Transit’s mostly minority ridership."

The report also discusses local efforts to hold the MTC accountable, from a class-action law suit filed in federal court, alleging racial discrimination, to the MTC Minority Citizens’ Advisory Committee’s (MCAC) which has issued a series of recommendations on improving environmental justice.  So far, the MTC has yet to institute any changes in its policy.

According to AJ Napolis of Urban Habitat, "At stake is not only the access of low-income bus riders and their families to economic and educational opportunities, but the vitality of our communities," citing a study that a cut in transport funding can cost a community ten times more in travel costs and lost income.

Feb 8 2007
Blog Post State of Opportunity; State of the Union

Last night President Bush delivered his 6th State of the Union Address.  Thanks to a terrific interactive tool put out by the New York Times, we're able to determine that Bush mentioned opportunity 8 times in his speech - more than in any other State of the Union address he has delivered thus far.  In almost each instance, he referenced the need to spread hope and opportunity and build a brighter future for our country. 

It's wonderful to hear the President promote the value of opportunity
when addressing the nation, but unfortunately, opportunity has been on the decline since President Bush last ascended the podium to address the nation; and the President's proposed policies - centered less around expanding opportunity so much as promoting individual responsibility - will do little to increase opportunity for those most in need in our country.

Last year, just after the President's 2006 Address (in which one of the only references to opportunity came coupled with a broken promise to rebuild New Orleans - curiously absent from last night's speech), The Opportunity Agenda released a report - The State of Opportunity in America.  In this report, we measured America's progress in expanding opportunity along a variety of indicators and issues.  Our findings were not encouraging.

Next month, we'll release an update to the State of Opportunity Report.  For now, here's a sample of our findings:

  • A lower proportion of young adults earned high school degrees;
  • The number and rate of incarcerated people has increased, to 2.2 million today, consistent with a three-decade trend;
  • The wealth and income gap increased again, following a trend of growing economic inequality;
  • The gender poverty gap increased between 2004 and 2005, as a larger percentage of women fell into poverty in this period;
  • The number of Americans lacking health insurance increased from 45.3 million in 2004 to 46.6 million in 2005.

We'll have more in a few weeks.  Stay tuned.

In the meantime, you can fact-check the President's statements and policy proposals through this tool created by Think Progress.

We also recommend you check out the SOTU review offered by our friends at the Drum Major Institute.

What did you think of the President's address and his newfound commitment to spreading opportunity?

Jan 24 2007
Research Brochure: About The Opportunity Agenda (2008)

Read about The Opportunity Agenda in our new brochure.

brochure.png

Jan 20 2007
Blog Post Update: (Google) Mapping Health Care Disparities

We've only been live for a few days, but Health Care That Works, our Google Maps Mashup of health care disparities and hospital closings in NYC, is already getting a lot of attention.  So far we've been featured on the following blogs:

If you haven't yet, please check out the site, email your friends about it, and take the time to send an email to your state representatives.

Jan 18 2007
Blog Post Mapping Disparity - Healthcarethatworks.org

HealthCareThatWorksToday we're happy to announce the launch of a new project that we've had in the works for  a  few months now - www.healthcarethatworks.org.

Health Care That Works is a  new website designed to visually illustrate the economic and racial disparities that exist in New York City's health care system, and drive all New Yorker's of conscience to take action by emailing their elected officials.

The site is a Google Map mash-up
that takes data on NYC hospital closures between 1985 and 2005, and
overlays it on an interactive city-wide map that can display either the racial or economic demographics of the Five Boroughs.  Using this tool, visitors can visually see how hospital closures disproportionately impact poor neighborhoods and communities of color.  Text on the sidebar guides the user through each decade and demographic overlay, explaining the changing conditions of the city and the impact that closures have on underserved communities.

But the site is more than just a visual resource, it is also  a data-rich resource for researchers that contains a variety of reports and fact sheets (as well as data on the patient demographics, payer source, and quality scores for each hospital), a community forum for health care advocates and New Yorkers, and an activism tool that encourages New Yorkers to write to their elected officials in support of creating a health care system that works equally for all.

We think that Health Care That Works can be a valuable resource that sheds light on the underreported issues of racial and economic disparities in health care.  Let us know what you think here in the comments, or over in the Health Care That Works forums.

If you have accounts, recommend us on Daily Kos, or give us a Digg.

Jan 16 2007
Blog Post Schizophrenia at The Times; Unequal Treatment for the Patients

Over at the New York Times, it looks like the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing.  Readers today may have noticed a distinct schizophrenia between the Times coverage of New York State Hospital closures on the front page and on its editorial pages.  Unfortunately, despite two tries, the Times still fails to get the story right.

The front page notes that while the Berger Commission proposed closing 9 hospitals, other recommendations on "right sizing" 48 other institutions constituted sweeping change that could have profound effects on NY State health care:

The nine hospital closings, with five of them in New York City, have received the most attention, but other elements in the plan could have
greater effects. Stephen Berger, the commission chairman, said at a news conference that far more significant were the commission’s proposals to reshape dozens of other hospitals through mergers, downsizing, the elimination of some services and the addition of others.

“The reason this is a big deal is the 48 reconfigurations,” he said.

Industry
officials agreed with that assessment, and said they were taken aback by the number and detail of changes that some described as micromanaging.

Over on the Op-Ed page, however, the Gray Lady's editorial board praised the Commission for its "modest" and "courageous" actions in reigning in New York's wayward hospital system.  For the editors, the only real problem lies with the legislature - "cowards" who might choose to reject the courageous commission's recommendations. 

Both articles fail to note that the closings and restructuring will likely exacerbate existing health disparities - particularly in major metropolitan areas - and take jobs away from many health care workers.  Both articles also fail to note that the chance of the legislature rejecting the Commision's recommendations are next to zero due to a promised federal bail-out of the system (to the tune of $1.5 Billion) contingent upon the state's acceptance (pdf) and implementation of the commission's recommendations.

Our partners at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest covered this much more thoroughly and eloquently than I could.  Here is a letter they sent to Governor Pataki and Governor Elect Spitzer about yesterday's announcement:

Governor Elect Eliot Spitzer

Governor George Pataki

State Capitol
Albany, NY 12224

Re: The Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century’s Failure to Address Racial Disparities in Access to Health Care

Governor Pataki and Governor Elect Spitzer:

We write today because we are deeply concerned that the recommendations of the New York State Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century (the Berger Commission) did not fully address the disparate impact down-sizing of health care will have on already medically underserved communities
of color and poverty in New York City. Scant resources stand to be further depleted for communities that simply cannot withstand, and should not be required to withstand, any further reduction – particularly without any plan for building health care infrastructure to address the critical health needs in these neighborhoods. 

We appreciate the hard work that the Berger Commission has undertaken to tackle serious financial strains in our health care system. However, priority should have been given to addressing racial disparities in access to health care, disparities which have been known for decades, and which are intolerable in a modern society with resources such as ours.

The tragic disparities in incidence of disease, morbidity, and mortality have been known for many decades. During a period of economic trouble in the late 1970s, experts such as Alan Sager testified before Congress about the dangers of closing urban hospitals that were needed in medically underserved communities. In the early 1980s, communities fought the threatened closure of Sydenham and Metropolitan Hospitals serving Harlem.

In 1993, the now defunct Health Systems Agency (HSA) of New York City issued a final report, “A Framework for Primary Care Needs Analysis in New York City,” which documented gross disparities in access to care and severe health care shortages in communities of color.  On a national level, in 2003, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences issued a report, “Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care,” which crystallized the need to address and remedy disparities in access to care. And, in 2005, Bronx Health Reach published a report, “Separate and Unequal: Medical Apartheid in New York City,” documenting extreme disparities in access to health care institutions in New York City. 

Why,after so many decades of awareness of the terrible problems with racial disparities in health status and access to care, does the state of New York propose a plan that fails to challenge, much less begin to fix, the dire state of our status quo when it comes to racial disparities in health status and access to health care?

Communities such as Central Brooklyn are medically underserved areas by any definition of the term, including the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ definition. Nonetheless, Central Brooklynhas recently suffered losses of critical hospital services. Why, after years of hospital losses and down-sizing in areas like Central Brooklyn, did the state of New York create a Commission that sets in motion further down-sizing without a concomitant mandate to tackle the problem of the underserved?

The debate to ensue around the Commission’s recommendations and the transition in leadership in 2007 presents us with a critical opportunity to focus, and to redirect resources to address critical health care needs in underserved communities in New York City and across the state. We ask that you work together during this period of transition to ensure that the Berger Commission’s down-sizing is not the legacy of this moment. We ask for a moratorium on closures and down-sizing in medically underserved areas until real plans are made for new institutions to fill in the gaps; until plans are created for conducting needs assessments; until plans for primary, ambulatory, and specialized care for underserved populations are developed. We ask that you follow the principle first do no harm.

The Crisis in Central Brooklyn

A number of communities of color in New York City do not have sufficient access to health care facilities or health professionals, resulting in well documented and extreme health disparities. Despite these shortages, the State has made the untenable decision to close financially struggling hospitals, but yet has
made no express commitment to preserve—let alone improve—health services in medically underserved areas, and the health of the poorest New Yorkers will only deteriorate and become a further burden on the safety-net hospitals that escape closure.

Without comprehensive community and health planning, closing hospitals is a short-sighted attempt at saving dollars, as it will immediately overburden nearby hospitals, and over time allow some of the sickest and the poorest to become much sicker.  Building access to primary, ambulatory and specialty care to treat and control chronic illnesses would have long term financial benefits for the state, but thus far the state has unfortunately not chosen to cast its sights in that direction.  Any workable solution to New York’s health care crisis, including the State’s Medicaid budget, must include community health planning and a needs assessment to ensure sufficient access to health care. Yet, the Berger Commission has taken none of these necessary steps before making recommendations that will irreparably change the State’s health care system. 

A prime example of the inequities in New York’s health care system can be found in Central Brooklyn, a medically underserved community that is approximately 90% African-American and Latino, and in some areas suffers an infant mortality rate approximately three times the rate in wealthier parts of Manhattan. The health risks to infants born in Central Brooklyn should come as no surprise given the shortage of hospitals and other providers in that area. Despite a surge in population over the last forty years, Central Brooklyn has experienced a 40% reduction in hospital beds during that time period, and recently lost desperately needed maternity beds at St. Mary’s Hospital (now closed) and Interfaith Medical Center Central Brooklyn, with a population of more than 350,000 women, now has only 104 certified obstetric beds. By comparison, the Upper East Side, with an 82% white population, and a population of only approximately 111,060 women, has at least 234 certified obstetric beds. The inequitable distribution of hospital resources has dire consequences: the Brownsville section of Central Brooklyn has an infant mortality rate of 12.2 infant deaths per thousand, while across the river in the Upper East Side, the infant mortality rate is a mere 3.7. These disparities should not be tolerated.

By approving the hospital closures and down-sizing in recent years in Central Brooklyn, which is already medically underserved, the State not only deprived African-American and Latino mothers of critical health care, but also treaded on federal regulations promulgated under Title VI, which prohibits actions with racially disparate impacts.  Given this landscape, the Berger Commission’s failure to propose community planning to redirect resources toward addressing critical health care needs in underserved communities is a missed opportunity.

The Berger Commission

Had the Berger Commission examined racial disparities and more fully taken community needs into account, the resulting recommendations could have included recommendations for the development of infrastructure in medically underserved communities. But instead, the Commission’s process lacked
transparency, public participation, and consideration of the most pressing problems in medically underserved communities – lack of access to care. 

It is unconscionable to change the State’s health care system fundamentally without a transparent process, public participation, and political accountability. Yet, the Berger Commission’s structure has resulted in a patently undemocratic process that disadvantages the residents of New York City. For example, despite having 42% of the State’s population, New York City was considered only one of six statewide health care regions.  New York City is underrepresented in the Commission’s body, which is equally represented by six regions, which may account for why five of the nine hospitals slated for closure are in  New York City.

An unelected body is effectively rewriting established public health law. Even the limited oversight that the Senate and Assembly retains over the Commission is illusory, as the legislature will not convene in regular session during the 26 days they have to debate and pass a resolution rejecting the recommendations.  It is telling that the state has devised a relatively quiet and unaccountable method for making these politically difficult choices about hospitals. Would that such imagination was applied to solving the problems of racial disparities in access to health care in this city and state.

A Call to Action

In reaction to the Berger Commission, the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation has found that, “hospital closures could eliminate a major source of primary care and exacerbate existing shortages, particularly those experienced by low-income New Yorkers. This would worsen community health status, heighten disparities, and increase costly but avoidable emergency room and inpatient
utilization.”  The Boston School of Public Health has issued a report, “Closing Hospitals Won’t Save Money But Will Harm Access to Health Care,” warning of the short-sightedness of the Berger Commission.
The Save Our Safety Net Coalition, a group of community advocates and labor has advocated for repeal and re-tooling of the Berger Commission’s enabling legislation. The Primary Care Development
Corporation has issued a report calling for much needed investment in primary care for underserved areas. The message is clear: first do no harm. 

The Department of Health and the office of the Governor have the ability to envision creative solutions, and the power to execute them. We ask that you take this critical opportunity to focus, and to redirect resources toward addressing critical health care needs in underserved communities in New York  and across the state. We ask for a moratorium on closures and down-sizing of hospitals in medically underserved
areas until plans are made for new institutions to fill in the gaps, for conducting needs assessments, and plans for the development of primary, ambulatory, and specialized care for underserved populations. We ask that you do no more harm. After 40 years of neglect, medically underserved communities deserve your leadership now.

We would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss plans for building health care infrastructure in medically underserved areas, and addressing the racial and ethnic disparities in health care in New York in the coming days.

For more information - including fact sheets, maps (of New York City), and reports, visit The Opportunity Agenda

If you would like to take action, you can send you comments to the state assembly here:

HealthHearing@assembly.state.ny.us

Or write to the New York Times about its coverage.

Nov 29 2006
Blog Post Podcast: Participate in a Conversation About Health Equity

On Thursday, The Opportunity Agenda will record the 7th edition of Opportunity Radio - our monthly podcast.  In this edition, Brian Smedley, Research Director and co-founder of The Opportunity Agenda, and director of the Institute of Medicine study "Unequal Treatment," will talk with Rinku Sen, executive director of the Applied Research Center and publisher of Color Lines magazine, about the issue of health care disparities.

Brian and Rinku will define health disparities, discuss the scope of the problem, and explore what Rinku and ARC are doing to combat disparities and help all Americans achieve health equity - or equality in access to, and quality of, care.  During this conversation, we would  like Brian and Rinku to answer questions posed by you, our readers. 

If you have a question about equity, access, and the role that race, ethnicity, and gender play in American health care, please post your question in the comments.  Brian and Rinku will do their best to provide answers to your questions during their conversation.  If any questions are not addressed during out podcast, we'll do out best to answer those questions in the comments or through an additional blog post.

This is a topic not often addressed in health care debates or in the blogosphere.  Even health policy blogs frequently gloss over the topic or avoid it alltogether.  Never the less, it is an important issue affecting millions of Americans every day and in many places across the country it is an issue that is getting worse.

No question is too big or small, and we genuinely want to hear from you on this issue.  If you'd like to become more informed before diving into the conversation, here are some facts and resources to get you started:

Read our complete fact sheet.

  • While about 21% of white Americans were uninsured at any point in 2002, communities of color were more likely to be uninsured at any point (including 28% of African Americans, 44% of Hispanic Americans, 24% of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and 33% of American Indians and Alaska Natives), and are more likely to be dependant upon public sources of health insurance.
  • While Hispanic children constitute less than one-fifth of children in the United States, they represent over one-third of uninsured children.  Among children in fair or poor health who lack insurance (nearly 570,000 children in 2002), over two-thirds are Hispanic.
  • More than 11 million immigrants were uninsured in 2003, contributing to one-quarter of the U.S. uninsured. The uninsurance rate among immigrants increased dramatically in the late 1990s, following the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, which imposed a five-year limit on most new immigrants’ ability to participate in public health insurance programs. Prior to and shortly following passage of the Act (between 1994 and 1998), immigrants accounted for about one-third of the increase in the number of uninsured individuals. Between 1998 and 2003 they accounted for 86% of that growth.
  • Foreign-born people are 2.5 times more likely than the native-born to lack health insurance, a gap that remains unchanged since 1993.
  • African Americans, Hispanics, and the poor and near poor (of all racial and ethnic groups) are more likely than white non-poor groups to face barriers to having a regular source of health care. These gaps have increased since 2000. Over 42% of Hispanic poor and 37% of Hispanic non-poor people lacked a regular source of health care in 2001 and 2002, an increase of more than 30% and 18%, respectively, since 1995 and 1996.
  • During this same period, the percentage of poor and near-poor African Americans and whites without a regular source of health care went largely unchanged. But these groups were up to 75% more likely than non-poor African Americans and whites to lack a regular source of health care in 2001 and 2002.
  • Minorities are less likely to receive necessary procedures than whites but more likely to receive undesirable treatment than whites, such as limb amputation for diabetes.
  • African-American heart patients are less likely than white patients to receive certain kinds of care, such as diagnostic procedures, revascularization procedures, and thrombolytic therapy, even if they have similar patient characteristics.
  • Minorities are less likely to be put on waiting lists for kidney transplants or to receive dialysis.

Read our complete fact sheet.

Oct 23 2006
Blog Post 650 Economists Agree . . .

Five Nobel Prize Winners and 650 economists agree, raising the mimimum wage is a good idea. 

Right now, the minimum wage is at its lowest real value since 1951.  As the experts all note below (5 Nobel winners - how's that for backing up my claim?), indexing the minimum wage to inflation is an excellent way to protect our lowest paid workers and provide them with the economic security they need to support their families and pursue the American Dream. 

My one quibble is that they make a special effort to note that this increase will mostly assist low-income, female, adults.  Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but it sounds like a counter argument to the oft-repeated claim that a raise in the mimimum wage will primarily effect teenagers.  To which I would respond - what's wrong with that?  College costs are skyrocketting, student debt is at unmanageable levels.  Don't working teenagers deserve a pay raise as much as anyone?

As I said though, maybe I'm reading too much into those lines.  In any case, a strong statement in favor of workers, economic security, and the American Dream.  Check it out.

The minimum wage has been an important part of our nation’s economy for 68 years. It is based on the principleof valuing work by establishing an hourly wage floor beneath which employers cannot pay their workers. In so doing, the minimum wage helps to equalize the imbalance in bargaining power that low-wage workers face in the labor market. The minimum wage is also an important tool in fighting poverty. The value of the 1997 increase in the federal minimum wage has been fully eroded. The real value of today’s federal minimum wage is less than it has been since 1951. Moreover, the ratio of the minimum wage to the average hourly wage of non-supervisory workers is 31%, its lowest level since World War II. This decline is causing hardship for low-wage workers and their families.

We believe that a modest increase in the minimum wage would improve the well-being of low-wage workers and would not have the adverse effects that critics have claimed. In particular, we share the view the Council of Economic Advisors expressed in the 1999 Economic Report of the President that "the weight of the evidence suggests that modest increases in the minimum wage have had very little or no effect on employment." While controversy about the precise employment effects of the minimum wage continues, research has shown that most of the beneficiaries are adults, most are female, and the vast majority are members of low-income working families.

As economists who are concerned about the problems facing low-wage workers, we believe the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2005’s proposed phased-in increase in the federal minimum wage to $7.25 falls well within the range of options where the benefits to the labor market, workers, and the overall economy would be positive.

Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have set their minimum wages above the federal level. Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Nevada and Ohio, are considering similar measures. As with a federal increase, modest increases in state minimum wages in the range of $1.00 to $2.50 and indexing to protect against inflation can significantly improve the lives of low-income workers and their families, without the adverse effects that critics have claimed.

Read the full list of signatories.

Oct 13 2006
Blog Post For Better or Worse

If you are in DC and have some free time on September 28th, we recommend you check out this (free) forum at the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.  It should be an engaging and informative discussion about the impact of race, poverty, and gender on African American women and their families.  Details below.

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For Better or For Worse: The Implications of Poverty, Gender and Race on African American Women and Their Families

When: Thursday, September 28, 2006, 4 PM – 6 PM

Where: Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
            1629 K Street, NW
            10th Floor – conference room
            Washington, DC 20006

RSVP: RSpraggins@deltafoundation.net or call (202) 347-1337.

The Forum Discussion brings thought-provoking speakers, scholars, activists and community leaders to discuss poverty, race and gender and their impact on African American women and their families. These discussions promise to generate personal reflection and social action within our communities.

This event will show the depths and varieties of women’s poverty.   A distinguished panel will discuss and examine the connection between the social, economic, cultural and political impact of poverty on African American women and their families

Moderated by:  Dr. Chester Hartman, Director of Research, Poverty & Race Research Action Council, and co-editor of There is No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster: Race, Class, and Hurricane Katrina just published by Routledge.

Confirmed panelists include:

Dr. Roderick Harrison, Director of Databank at The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, DC.

Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever, Director of the Poverty, Education and Social Justice Programs at The Institute for Women Policy Research in Washington, DC.

Dr. William Spriggs, Chair of the Economics Department at Howard University in Washington, DC.

Dr. Susan Popkin, Senior Research Associate, Metropolitan Housing and Communities Planning center at the Urban Institute in Washington, DC.

A Q&A session will follow.

Sponsored by: Delta Research and Educational Foundation, The Center for Research on African American Women, and The Poverty & Race Research Action Council

Sep 19 2006
Blog Post Opportunity Radio: After the Storm

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Episode 6 of our podcast, Opportunity Radio, is now available.

After the Storm: A Conversation with Author David Dante Troutt

In this edition of Opportunity Radio, Creative Director Phoebe Eng talks with Rutgers law professor David Dante Troutt about his new anthology, After the Storm: Black Intellectuals Explore the Meaning of Hurricane Katrina  (The New Press).  The author discusses forced migration, geographic disparities, his views on Spike Lee's HBO documentary, and what will be required to rebuild New Orleans as a city of true opportunity.  Also featured: music by singer/songwriter Jonah Smith (30 min).

Subscribe: iTunes | Feedburner

If you have trouble with our subscription links, you can open your iTunes Music Store and search for Opportunity Radio.

Sep 18 2006
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