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“Confronting The Pathologies Of Poverty:” Do We Invest In Preschools Or Prisons?

Congress is often compared to pre-K, which seems defamatory of small children. But the similarities also offer hope, because an initiative that should be on the top of the national agenda has less to do with the sequester than with the A.B.C.’s and Big Bird.

Growing mountains of research suggest that the best way to address American economic inequality, poverty and crime is — you guessed it! — early education programs, including coaching of parents who want help. It’s not a magic wand, but it’s the best tool we have to break cycles of poverty.

President Obama called in his State of the Union address for such a national initiative, but it hasn’t gained traction. Obama himself hasn’t campaigned enough for it, yet there’s still a reed of hope.

One reason is that this is one of those rare initiatives that polls well across the spectrum, with support from 84 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of Republicans in a recent national survey. And even if the program stalls in Washington, states and localities are moving ahead — from San Antonio to Michigan. Colorado voters will decide next month on a much-watched ballot measure to bolster education spending, including in preschool, and a ballot measure in Memphis would expand preschool as well.

“There’s this magical opportunity” now to get a national early education program in America, Education Secretary Arne Duncan told me. He says he’s optimistic that members of Congress will introduce a bipartisan bill for such a plan this year.

“When you think how you make change for the next 30 years, this is arguably at the top of my list,” Duncan said. “It can literally transform the life chances of children, and strengthen families in important ways.”

Whether it happens through Congressional action or is locally led, this may be the best chance America has had to broaden early programs since 1971, when Congress approved such a program but President Nixon vetoed it.

The massive evidence base for early education grew a bit more with a major new study from Stanford University noting that achievement gaps begin as early as 18 months. Then at 2 years old, there’s a six-month achievement gap. By age 5, it can be a two-year gap. Poor kids start so far behind when school begins that they never catch up — especially because they regress each summer.

One problem is straightforward. Poorer kids are more likely to have a single teenage mom who is stressed out, who was herself raised in an authoritarian style that she mimics, and who, as a result, doesn’t chatter much with the child.

Yet help these parents, and they do much better. Some of the most astonishing research in poverty-fighting methods comes from the success of programs to coach at-risk parents — and these, too, are part of Obama’s early education program. “Early education” doesn’t just mean prekindergarten for 4-year-olds, but embraces a plan covering ages 0 to 5.

The earliest interventions, and maybe the most important, are home visitation programs like Nurse-Family Partnership. It begins working with at-risk moms during pregnancy, with a nurse making regular visits to offer basic support and guidance: don’t drink or smoke while pregnant; don’t take heroin or cocaine. After birth, the coach offers help with managing stress, breast-feeding and diapers, while encouraging chatting to the child and reading aloud.

These interventions are cheap and end at age 2. Yet, in randomized controlled trials, the gold standard of evaluation, there was a 59 percent reduction in child arrests at age 15 among those who had gone through the program.

Something similar happens with good pre-K programs. Critics have noted that with programs like Head Start, there are early educational gains that then fade by second or third grade. That’s true, and that’s disappointing.

Yet, in recent years, long-term follow-ups have shown that while the educational advantages of Head Start might fade, there are “life skill” gains that don’t. A rigorous study by David Deming of Harvard, for example, found that Head Start graduates were less likely to repeat grades or be diagnosed with a learning disability, and more likely to graduate from high school and attend college.

Look, we’ll have to confront the pathologies of poverty at some point. We can deal with them cheaply at the front end, in infancy. Or we can wait and jail a troubled adolescent at the tail end. To some extent, we face a choice between investing in preschools or in prisons.

We just might have a rare chance in the next couple of months to take steps toward such a landmark early education program in America. But children can’t vote, and they have no highly paid lobbyists — so it’ll happen only if we the public speak up.


By: Nicholas D. Kristof, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, October 26, 2013

October 27, 2013 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Education, Poverty | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Billionaires’ Row And Welfare Lines”: It’s A Great Time To Be Rich In America

The stock market is hitting record highs.

Bank profits have reached their highest levels in years.

The market for luxury goods is rebounding.

Bloomberg News reported in August, “Sales of homes priced at more than $1 million jumped an average 37 percent in 2013’s first half from a year earlier to the highest level since 2007, according to DataQuick.”

A report last week in The New York Times says that developers are turning 57th Street in Manhattan into “Billionaires’ Row,” with apartments selling for north of $90 million each.

And there’s no shortage of billionaires. Forbes’s list of the world’s billionaires has added more than 200 names since 2012 and is now at 1,426. The United States once again leads the list, with 442 billionaires.

It’s a great time to be a rich person in America. The rich are raking it in during this recovery.

But in the shadow of their towering wealth exists a much less rosy recovery, where people are hurting and the pain grows.

This is the slowest post-recession jobs recovery since World War II. The unemployment rate is falling, but for the wrong reason: an increasing number of people may simply be giving up on finding a job. The labor force participation rate — the percentage of people over 16 who either have a job or are actively searching for one — fell in August to its lowest rate in 35 years.

This disconnecting is particularly acute among young people. Measure of America, a project of the Social Science Research Council, recently released a study finding that a staggering 5.8 million young people nationwide — one in seven of those ages 16 to 24 — are disconnected, meaning not employed or in school, “adrift at society’s margins,” as the group put it.

Median household income continues to fall, according to recent data from the Census Bureau. The data showed, “In 2012, real median household income was 8.3 percent lower than in 2007, the year before the most recent recession.”

And according to an April Pew Research Center report, “During the first two years of the nation’s economic recovery, the mean net worth of households in the upper 7 percent of the wealth distribution rose by an estimated 28 percent, while the mean net worth of households in the lower 93 percent dropped by 4 percent.”

The dire statistics take on even more urgency when we consider what they mean for America’s most vulnerable: our children.

According to First Focus, a bipartisan advocacy organization focusing on child and family issues: “The 1,168,354 homeless students enrolled by U.S. preschools and K-12 schools in the 2011-2012 school year is the highest number on record, and a 10 percent increase over the previous school year. The number of homeless children in public schools has increased 72 percent since the beginning of the recession.”

A report last month by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire bemoaned the stagnation of the child poverty rate in this country, saying, “These new poverty estimates released on Sept. 19, 2013, suggest that child poverty plateaued in the aftermath of the Great Recession, but there is no evidence of any reduction in child poverty even as we enter the fourth year of ‘recovery.’ ”

Nearly one in four American children live in poverty.

A report last year from the National Poverty Center estimated “that the number of households living on $2 or less in income per person per day in a given month increased from about 636,000 in 1996 to about 1.46 million households in early 2011, a percentage growth of 130 percent.”

And yet, the value of aid for those families is shrinking and under threat.

A report this week by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found, “Cash assistance benefits for the nation’s poorest families with children fell again in purchasing power in 2013 and are now at least 20 percent below their 1996 levels in 37 states, after adjusting for inflation.”

The number of Americans now enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is near record highs, and yet both houses of Congress have passed bills to cut funding to the program. The Senate measure would cut about $4 billion, while the House measure would cut roughly ten times as much, dropping millions of Americans from the program.

Next week, lawmakers will start trying to find a middle ground between the two versions of the farm bills that include these cuts.

There is an inherent tension — and obscenity — in the wildly divergent fortunes of the rich and the poor in this country, especially among our children. The growing imbalance of both wealth and opportunity cannot be sustained. Something has to give.


By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, October 25, 2013

October 27, 2013 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Income Gap, Poverty | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Bursting At The Seams”: No Tent Is Big Enough For The GOP’s Crazy Wing

The problem with a big tent is that it takes just a couple of people inside to ruin everyone’s afternoon by misbehaving, yelling or refusing the bathe ahead of time. And that is the very problem the Republican party is facing as it seeks to placate the crazy wing of the party while trying to present a more serious and dignified conservative front.

Both major parties have their share of malcontents and blowhards. Both have people who make outrageous comments or comparisons to get attention (Democrat Alan Grayson recently compared the tea party movement to the Ku Klux Klan, which seems an especially provocative comment given that we have an African-American president who might not see the tea party’s rogue actions as being quite on the level of lynching and hanging black men).

But when that element starts to define the party, then it’s trouble.

The people who think not raising the debt ceiling will not cause a default, or that a default on the nation’s debt would not create a massive global economic problem are not conservatives. Nor do they reflect anything in the Republican Party platform. They are either ill-informed about basic economics or are simply ready to win a war by dropping the fiscal equivalent of an atomic bomb. There is nothing conservative about that, and it’s an insult to the genuine conservatives on the Hill to characterize it as such.

Then we have folks like Don Yelton, the (now former) precinct chair of Buncombe County in North Carolina. Yelton gave an interview for The Daily Show in which he defended North Carolina’s new voter ID law – not because it won’t disenfranchise voters, Yelton suggested, but because he simply doesn’t care about the people who might not be able to vote. He told the Comedy Central show:

The law is going to kick the Democrats in the butt. If it hurts a bunch of college kids too lazy to get up off their bohonkas and go get a photo ID, so be it. If it hurts the whites, so be it. If it hurts a bunch of lazy blacks that want the government to give them everything, so be it.

The North Carolina GOP, to its credit, asked for Yelton to step down, calling his comments “completely inappropriate and highly offensive.” Yelton did resign.

The GOP can’t ask tea party members to step down (nor should it – it’s up to the voters who gets elected to office). But the party can make it clear that racism or serial intransigence or failure to recognize economic reality are not conservative values. No tent needs to be big enough for people like Yelton.


By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, October 25, 2013

October 27, 2013 Posted by | Politics, Racism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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