Daily Blog Roundup

Spencer Overton at the BlackProf blog  has an update on the Georgia voter ID law. Professor Overton links to an NPR interview he did on the subject yesterday, as well as a forthcoming article on voter identification.

Sara Solon at DMI Blog also tackles the supposed menace of "voter fraud," writing about how such ID laws are disenfrachising all sorts of folks - and not just poor, rural voters or people of color.  As a bonus, she also links to Bronx Defender (And DMI fellow) Ezekial Edwards' interiew on WBAI about how the the census count of prisoners is distorting our democracy in other ways.  Longtime Opportunity Agenda readers will remember that we covered this issue in the spring with an article by Kirsten Levingston of the Brennan Center.

Ezra Klein has a must-read about changes in Wal-Mart's employee health coverage, and what it means generally for the health security of working Americans.  You should read the whole piece, but here's a quote:

Among the most striking findings outlined in Wal-Mart’s 2007 benefits booklet is the substantial health care cost a low-paid Wal-Mart worker would be forced to pay under the so-called ‘Value’ plan. A typical individual Wal-Mart worker who enrolls in the Value Plan will face high upfront costs because of a series of high deductibles, including a minimum $1,000 deductible for individual coverage, a $1,000 in-patient deductible per visit, a $500 out-patient surgical deductible per visit, a $300 pharmacy deductible, and a maximum out of pocket expense of $5,000 for an individual per year.

In total, when factoring the maximum out-of-pocket expense and the cost of the yearly premium ($598 a year for an individual under the Value Plan), a typical full-time worker (defined by Wal-Mart as 34 hours) who earns 10.11 an hour or $17,874 a year, would have pay nearly 30 percent of their total income for health care costs alone.

Incredibly, the health care cost burden actually worsens should an uninsured Wal-Mart worker enroll their family under the Value Plan. Again, because of multiple deductibles for each family member, and when factoring in the cost of the medical premium ($780) and maximum out-of-pocket expense ($10,000), a Wal-Mart worker whose family is insured under the “Value Plan” could pay as much as 60 percent of their total income towards health care costs under Wal-Mart’s most “affordable “health care” plan.

The Insure Blog has some information about the "doughnut hole" - the gap in medicare coverage that many seniors now face. The blog notes that a study by Wolters Klewar Health estimates that 16% of seniors who fall into the hole will discontinue therapy due to the costs.  And for some treatements, that figure may climb as high as 33%.

For more on healthcare, The Century Foundation is hosting this week's edition of The Health Wonk Review, a summary of the best of the health blogosphere.

On a cultural note, Jack Turner of Jack and Jill Politics alerts us to the unfortunate news that Aaron Mcgruder's Boondocks comic strip may have come to an end.  Fortunately the reason is that Boondocks was renewed for a second season on the Cartoon Network and a Boondocks movie might be in the works.  The first blog I ever wrote was about the Washington Post's boneheaded suspension of  Boondocks.  It's unfortunate that the second time I blog about Boondocks may be to chronicle its permanent end.  At least this time McGruder is going out on his own terms and taking his brilliant cartoon to the next level.

Also take a look at Black Prof Spencer Overton's analysis of racial diversity in Grey's Anatomy.

Finally, economist Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute proposes a $3000 solution to Treasury Secretary Paulson's $64,000 question: why are Americans unhappy with the current state of the economy?


21st Century Poll Taxes and Better Fences: Today in the News

The Washington Post reports on an important - if temporary - victory protecting the voices and rights voters.  Yesterday a Georgia judge overturned a controversial law that would have required voters to provide government-issued photo identification before being allowed to vote.  In his ruling, the judge stated that the law placed too great a burden on the citizens of Georgia.  Others have not been so kind in their wording:


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


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).

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


Katrina's Aftershock: Jobless in the Diaspora

Guest Blogger Jared Bernstein is a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute and the author of the book All Together Now: Common Sense for a Fair Economy.

August 29 marks the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall.  In New Orleans, the storm not only scattered homes and belongings, but also thousands of residents who now represent a diaspora of Katrina survivors around the country.

For those of us following the economic numbers coming out of New Orleans and the diaspora, two lessons have become clear over the last twelve months: that race still makes a difference in the opportunity people enjoy, and that our government still has an important role to play in ensuring opportunity for all.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has been tracking the labor market status of Katrina evacuees.  Its data have some limitations, the biggest of which is that the BLS survey covers only households, and thus misses people still living in shelters, hotels, and churches.  But even with that drawback, the data tell a compelling story about the hardship that African-American evacuees have encountered in starting over.

For African Americans who remain away from home, the share with jobs is extremely low, 32 percent, and unemployment rates are at recessionary levels.   In the most recent quarter, April-June of 2006, the jobless rate for African-American evacuees was 46.5 percent, about where it has been since the Bureau began tracking evacuees a few months after the storm.  In contrast, most blacks who have returned to the city are working: their employment rate was 60 percent last quarter, comparable to the national average for black workers. 

For whites, however, relocation has had virtually no effect on job opportunities.  Sixty percent of white evacuees are working, regardless of whether they stayed in their new communities or returned home.

What explains this vastly different experience for whites and blacks?  The characteristics of black non-returnees are slightly less favorable than those of returnees—they’re a bit younger with somewhat fewer skills—but not enough to explain the 28-point employment-rate gap.

Given the size of that racial difference, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that whites have simply faced fewer hurdles than blacks integrating into their new communities.

Whatever the causes, it’s apparent that government intervention is needed to clear the pathway home for evacuees of all races, and to address the labor market hurdles that disproportionately face displaced African Americans.   Otherwise, this trend of unequal opportunity will only continue, shutting out hundreds of thousands of storm survivors who have already lost everything.

In the short term, Congress should restore unemployment benefits to the 80,000 Katrina victims who lost their jobs because of the hurricane yet saw their disaster-related unemployment benefits end last month.  That effort should be coupled with incentives to rebuild the most disadvantaged communities rapidly, as well as job training and other services for groups that face the steepest employment barriers.

The promise of America is that opportunity should not depend on where you live or what color you are.  As we mark the one-year anniversary of Katrina, Congress should act to fulfill that promise for those who have lost so much over the last twelve months.


Recovery in New Orleans: A Compromised Promise

Today's Guest Blogger is Father Vien thé Nguyen, pastor of Mary Queen of Vietnam Catholic Church in East New Orleans.


One cannot describe America without illustrating
this country with the ideas of “free” or “opportunity.”  The reality of
this picture lies largely in the promise that our government will keep
us safe, listen to our concerns and provide us a fair chance to move
forward.  When that promise is fulfilled, we all rise together.  When
it’s broken, the entire country suffers.  So what do we, as the people,
do when the fulfillment of that promise is not on the right path?

Right now, we are suffering.  This is especially
apparent here in New Orleans where we are attempting to recover from
one of the country’s worst disasters.  After experiencing a
disappointing response effort that left many people behind and rarely
sought the input of the people affected most, I will admit that I have
lost some faith and trust in the government.  Ultimately, the success
of our rebuilding effort depends on repairing our partnership with our
government, at all levels, and in reinvesting in its ability to serve
us well and protect our safety and opportunity.

As a member of the Vietnamese community in New
Orleans, the promise of opportunity is particularly important to
me—especially for a person who has escaped deliberate communism to the
land of the free.  It drew us all to this country.  We took advantage
of the resources available, and because of it, our community has grown
and thrived for over 30 years.  We have built homes, businesses,
churches and a full sense of community.  We’re proud to call the city
of New Orleans and this country home.

After Hurricane Katrina, we were one of the first
communities to return.  Our leaders came back, took stock, and
determined the needs of the community.  As a result of this work, we
are making great strides toward recovery.  In the East New Orleans
community, over three quarters of our businesses have reopened.  Our
church offered rent-free land for 199 FEMA trailers that are filled
with residents anxious to return and rebuild their lives.  We are on
our way.

However, the efforts of the business and faith
sector have not been matched by the government.  We need the
government’s full partnership to address the barriers to our
community’s full restoration.  For instance, while we enthusiastically
welcomed the arrival of our FEMA trailers, only 65 of 200 interested
households have been approved for occupancy.  Also, almost a year
later, FEMA still has not assigned a site manager for maintenance
care.  At the same time, not enough schools have reopened to
accommodate our children’s need to stay on track educationally. Our
water pumps and the entire infrastructure of East New Orleans still
need to be repaired as well. There is plenty of work to be done.


Despite the return of more than half of the Vietnamese-American
original population and many others, no hospitals are open in East New
Orleans, making it unsafe for many elderly or ill community members to
return.  Meanwhile, the health issues that plague the city were
recently exacerbated here with the opening of a landfill at the edge of
our community to accommodate debris from the clean-up; we were silenced
in the decision of the opening of the landfill.  In addition to
threatening our air quality and groundwater, the potentially toxic
contents of the dumpsite could also seep into the canals that feed our
gardens.


While these disappointments have certainly given me pause, I know that
we can be successful in restoring the promise of the land of
opportunity.  Recent events have shown us how badly we all suffer when
that promise is compromised.   When the government doesn’t listen to
us, doesn’t step forward when it’s needed, and when years of
disinvestment in its infrastructures cause the kind of failures we’re
witnessing today, the consequences are dire.

America’s history shows that when we ensure a
voice for everyone in public decisions and invest in effective
government systems that serve all communities fairly, everyone
benefits.  In our case, that means more transparent and inclusive
decision-making, amplified public resources and staffing, and a more
equitable distribution of the burdens and benefits of the rebuilding
process.

Impediments of the past year have made clear how
important it is to invest in our government, to work on our
partnership, to consistently strengthen our democracy so that, when
another Katrina comes along, we can all rise and move forward together.


Human Rights Are Not Just a Foreign Affair

Today's Guest Blogger is Gay J. McDougall, United Nations Independent Expert on Minority Issues.

Commanding a center stage in the international
community, America has the responsibility to lead as it expects others
to act.  As we mark the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, that
leadership is sorely needed here at home.

Our nation’s inadequate response to low income
and minority people during and since Katrina was cited in a report that
the United Nations Human Rights Committee released last month.  The
Committee expressed concern that “poor people and in particular African
Americans, were disadvantaged by the rescue and evacuation plans
implemented when Hurricane Katrina hit the United States of America,
and continue to be disadvantaged under the reconstruction plans.”  That
pattern of unequal treatment violates our national values.  It also
violates international human rights standards and undermines our
leadership role at home and abroad.

The UN Committee’s findings followed a hearing
last month in Geneva in which a sizeable U.S. delegation offered
dramatic, first-hand testimony about the treatment of Katrina evacuees
and the still substandard response to pressing human needs.  An elderly
African American woman described how she was prevented from returning
from her house to claim her belongings, including those of her deceased
husband.  She commented that the items were “Cultural things that
brought freedom to him – the freedom that his country could not give to
him, as a disenfranchised African American.”

That testimony is supported by mounting evidence
of continuing unequal treatment.  In one of the most comprehensive
studies of post-Katrina conditions, the Advancement Project found that
many African American survivors of the hurricane have been shut out of
reconstruction jobs as a result of inadequate housing reconstruction,
lack of transportation, and job discrimination.  An Economic Policy
Institute analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data revealed that
African Americans and Latinos in the Gulf Coast were more than twice as
likely as whites to be unemployed two months after the storm.

People still displaced by Katrina have
encountered similar obstacles.  A study by the National Fair Housing
Alliance, for example, found that nearly two-thirds of African
Americans displaced from the Gulf Coast have encountered housing
discrimination in their attempts to relocate.

The Human Rights Committee’s findings should be
our call to action.  As we mark Katrina’s first anniversary, the United
States has an opportunity to claim a leadership role in protecting the
human rights of all people.

An important first step is implementing the UN
Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, which the U.S. has
consistently supported in its application to other countries.  The
Guidelines call for equal and adequate access to resettlement, housing,
education and healthcare for affected people and communities, whatever
their race or ethnicity.  It’s time to apply them here at home.

More broadly, the unequal opportunity facing
displaced Gulf Coast residents in other parts of the country
underscores the need to increase civil rights enforcement in housing,
employment, and other sectors.  Our anti-discrimination laws offer an
important model for human rights enforcement, but they require far
greater resources and enforcement than they currently receive.

How a nation treats its racial and ethnic
minority populations is a statement on how tall it stands in the
world.  The Katrina tragedy has called on our government to exert
leadership, not in the far-flung corners of the globe, but within our
borders.  Doing so will strengthen our nation, rekindle the confidence
of the American people, and lead by example within the world community.


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