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paying for civilization
"The other day I was walking the dogs along a favorite trail, turned a corner, and realized there’d been a significant re-routing. They’d closed a section of the old trail, which was rocky and treacherous and steep in winter, and rerouted a new, evenly graded trail to the side. A few yards down, they’d planted a new row of saplings, protecting them from the hungry deer with chicken wire. A bit farther down the trail, they’d opened up a once-fenced and densely wooded section of the trail to create a small sitting area overlooking a small, usually hidden reservoir. I actually gasped when I saw it. I was so surprised, happy, grateful. What a gift!

I use the word ‘they’ as if it were people, and of course people did the work. But in a way, I gave that gift to myself. Or everyone in Missoula gave that gift to me. A whole host of trail maintenance programs are funded by the Missoula Open Space Bond, which funds the conservation and maintenance of trails, rivers, and open spaces in the county. It helps restore busted habitats, and continues work on a project making it so that there’s a trailhead within ten minutes of everyone in the county — not just people who live in the more desirable areas. It’s regrading hills to make trails more accessible. It’s making civilization better, more livable. And I fucking love paying for it. That’s what I say every time I pay my taxes: I love paying for civilization.

I don’t know where the American attitude towards taxes came from. I do know that growing up, through some combination of pop culture and adult figures, I somehow internalized the idea that taxes are bad, and smart people spend a lot of money figuring out how not to pay them. It’s not tax evasion, it’s good business sense. Or something like that. Weirdly, that began to change when I actually started working. I didn’t make enough in my 20s to pay hardly any taxes. In fact, I was making so little for much of my grad school career that I became accustomed to large refunds at the end of every year, which felt like bonanzas, but made me feel sheepish: you don’t even make enough for us to really tax you.

After grad school, those refunds began to disappear. I moved to New York, where everyone bitches about the city taxes. But I also looked around me and saw marvels of the city everywhere. Every time I walked along the Brooklyn piers, or used a public drinking fountain, or watched the streets being cleaned of New York filth, or even riding the broken subway. Did I want the subway to be fixed? Of course! Was I nonetheless grateful for a marvel that transports 4.3 million people in the city every damn day? Yes. Again: I love paying for civilization.

I had to find a financial advisor earlier this year, mostly because I had a book advance and needed to come up with a strategy to pay down my still massive student loans. He’s a nice guy, very smart, but when we sat down, he immediately started telling me about the complex ways I could shelter my earnings from taxes. When I told him I was down with paying taxes, it was difficult to tell if he was just surprised or just thought I was stupid — which presupposes the idea that smart people pay less taxes. I’m not dumb, and I take deductions like everyone else. But I’ve also made a conscious decision to think of paying taxes not as a burden to get out of, but as a willingly performed obligation, a way of being a citizen in my community.

My property tax statement came in the mail last month. In Montana, it lists the specific allocation of every tax dollar, down to the penny. We’re spending $50.66 on the county library. $3.84 on “relationship violence services.” $14.08 on “aging services.” $519.98 on elementary schools, and $168.90 for “elementary equalization,” which goes towards school districts that don’t get the same $$$ in property taxes. $14.48 in weed control. $35.99 towards the beloved neighborhood park, where there’s a natural iceskating rink and hoards of children and so much room for the dogs to run. $7.68 in substance abuse prevention. And $56.70 towards the Open Space bond, which includes that regraded path and sitting area.

I don’t have kids, so I don’t personally “use” the public school system. I don’t have friends or family members in substance abuse programs, or in need of assistance fleeing domestic abuse. I don’t (yet) need aging services. But the idea that I should only pay for things that benefit me directly is anathema to me. Every single thing on that list benefits me in some way, because it benefits the community around me. Kids’ education matters not because they’re my kids, but because education matters, in general. I might not need rescue services in the woods out in the corner of the county, but some day, maybe I would. Maybe I would need help in some way that’s currently unimaginable to me. Paying taxes means caring for other people, even if their circumstances aren’t identical to your own. And for all of our best intentions, sometimes we need incentive to care about other people.

I’ve spent a lot of time reporting on and talking to libertarians and conservatives who object to nearly all forms of taxation and government spending, apart from roads. They believe that individuals should be able to decide which programs are important to them, and fund them accordingly — personally, through non-profits, through churches. I get the impulse; we work hard for our money and we’ve internalized a “right” to agency over where it’s directed. Within that model, there are all sorts of services that would fall through the cracks — and not just weed control. Just look at the GoFundMe model: if you have a cute kid, an incredibly tragic or melodramatic story, and a good marketing sense, your plea for assistance might go viral and be filled. But the vast majority go unfunded and unfound. Leaving services up to subjective giving means allowing so many people, and projects, to fall through the cracks. Taxes create a remove — and foils our very human, but very uneven, impulses.

Which isn’t to say that I like everything my taxes fund — military spending in particular. I don’t like bloat or waste; who does? But I also don’t think that entire programs and services should be cut, or cut to the bone, in the name of giving me $14.07 more a year. I support and vote for candidates who advocate for responsible spending — but spending nonetheless. I get annoyed at the hand-wringing over whether or not something like Elizabeth Warren’s health care plan will raise taxes on the middle class, because I’d much rather pay more taxes and far less in personal health care costs and premiums — while also reveling in the ways universal health care would liberate myself and others from “job lock,” and the constant fear of medical debt, and fear in general. How much is too much to pay to make life substantively better for so many people around you?

This all comes back to an idea I touched on a few weeks ago, thinking about how you can decrease burnout in others. One way is by not practicing burnout behaviors that affect everyone you encounter. Another is working to create and normalize social safety nets that take away even one massive burden and fear — for yourself, for your neighbors, for your coworkers, for people you’ll never meet but whose mental and physical contributions to society nevertheless matter.

I love that a huge truck comes by the first week of November and sucks up all the leaves from the street. I love my trails. I love that the roads get plowed, even when it takes a bit. I love that the bus is free, even though I’m going to keep voting for people who want more buses, more routes. I love the library — it doesn’t matter that I hardly use it; I love that it’s there for others, and that it’s always full. I love the weed control that prevents the forests from being overtaken by noxious invasive species. And I love all the projects that seemingly benefit me not at all, because they make life better and livable for someone else.

Think about all the things in your life and community that you help pay for every day. You create and maintain civilization, every day. Taxes! What a blessing, to be able to care for others in this way."
taxes  society  civilization  collectivism  education  healthcare  parks  socialsafetynet  annehelenpetersen  2019  well-being  politics  libertarianism  communities  community  government  missoula  aging  retirement  socialsecurity  publicschools  care  caring  taxation  roads  infrastructure  services 
21 days ago by robertogreco
What’s Happening In Sweden? – Bella Caledonia
"When it comes to making absurd exaggerations about this country to suit their beliefs, they are latecomers. If Sweden occupies an outsized position in the dystopian geography of the nativist right, this is derivative, a sacrilegious inversion of the role it has held for generations in the belief system of their progressive opponents.

It seemed harmless enough, a few years back, when no one talked about ‘fake news’ – but actually, what’s the difference between taking a small local experiment and blowing it up into a story about a whole country switching to a six-hour day, and taking a few local incidents involving immigrants and blowing these up into a story about a whole country where law and order is breaking down? The content is different, sure, and the consequences darker, but the basic pattern is the same."
sweden  dougladhine  myths  socialism  democracy  history  socialsafetynet  2019  bureaucracy  immigration  nationalism  whitesupremacy  arms  weapons  andrewbrown  dominichinde  scandinavia  nordiccountries  welfarestate  chile  pinochet  austerity  schools  schooling  education  privatization  markets  capitalism  labor  work  misinterpretation  england  uk  military  neutrality  foreignpolicy  coldwar  wwii  ww2  exceptionalism  modernity  socialdemocrats 
8 weeks ago by robertogreco
These 3 Policy Failures Are Killing the American Dream
"In sum: The “middle-class crunch” is a choice. The American Dream isn’t dying of natural causes. We know what must be done to revive it. The problem is simply that a lot of powerful people would rather pull the plug than pay for the cure."
policy  inequality  economics  taxes  history  us  ericlevitz  2019  middleclass  wages  work  wealth  wealthinequality  income  housing  healthcare  highered  highereducation  socialwelfare  socialsafetynet 
8 weeks ago by robertogreco
Does Relative Deprivation Condition the Effects of Social Protection Programs on Political Attitudes? Experimental Evidence from Pakistan
when relative deprivation is salient, those receiving
cash transfers experience increased support for their political leaders and institutions, while
those denied transfers become more politically disgruntled
socialsafetynet  universalprograms 
june 2019 by brycecovert
Opinion | The Economy Is Strong. So Why Do So Many Americans Still Feel at Risk? - The New York Times
The United States spends more on social benefits than any affluent country besides France once you take into account tax breaks and employer-sponsored benefits. But there is a big difference: We have a system that is premised on employers providing many of the benefits that governments elsewhere provide directly.
socialsafetynet 
may 2019 by brycecovert
You Don’t Want Hygge. You Want Social Democracy.
"It’s the holidays, and you long to be cozy.

You want to curl up in a plush armchair next to a crackling fire. You want the softest of blankets and wooliest of sweaters. You want to devour grandma’s pecan fudge, get tipsy on eggnog with your cousins, and watch Miracle on 34th Street — mom’s favorite — for the thirty-fourth time. Or maybe neither Christmas nor family gatherings are your thing, but you like the idea of sipping hot toddies and playing board games with a few close friends while outside the snow falls and the lights twinkle.

But you can’t have it, because you couldn’t spring for a plane ticket. Or relatives are in town, but times are tight, and it seemed irresponsible to pass up the Christmas overtime pay. Maybe everything circumstantially fell into place, but you can’t relax. You’re eyeing your inbox, anxious about the work that’s not getting done. You’re last-minute shopping, pinching pennies, thinking Scrooge had some fair points. Or you’re hiding in your childhood bedroom, binge-watching television and scrolling social media, because a rare break from the pressures of daily life feels more like an occasion to zone out than to celebrate and be merry.

Either way, you feel terrible, because you know that someone somewhere is literally roasting chestnuts on an open fire, and you’re missing out.

The Danes have a word for the thing you desperately want but can’t seem to manifest: hygge.

The word isn’t easy to translate. It comes from a Norwegian word that means “wellbeing,” but the contemporary Danish definition is more expansive than that.

In The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living, author Meik Wiking writes, “Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It’s about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allowed to let our guard down.”

You can have hygge any time, but Danes strongly associate it with Christmas, the most hyggelig time of the year. When asked what things they associate most with hygge, Danes answered, in order of importance: hot drinks, candles, fireplaces, Christmas, board games, music, holiday, sweets and cake, cooking, and books. Seven out of ten Danes say hygge is best experienced at home, and they even have a word for it — hjemmehygge, or home hygge.

But Wiking stresses that while hygge has strong aesthetic properties, it’s more than the sum of its parts. You don’t just see it, you feel it.

“Hygge is an indication that you trust the ones you are with and where you are,” he writes, “that you have expanded your comfort zone to include other people and you feel you can be completely yourself around other people.” The opposite of hygge is alienation.

It’s no coincidence that this concept is both native to and universally understood in the same country that consistently dominates the World Happiness Report and other annual surveys of general contentment. On rare occasions when Denmark is surpassed by another country, that country is always a Scandinavian neighbor.

What makes people in these countries happier than the rest of us is actually really simple. Danes and their neighbors have greater access to the building blocks of happiness: time, company, and security.

Scandinavians don’t have these things just because they value them more, or for cultural reasons that are congenital, irreplicable, and beyond our reach. People all over the world value time, company, and security. What Scandinavians do have is a political-economic arrangement that better facilitates the regular expression of those values. That arrangement is social democracy.

The Politics of Hygge

Denmark is not a socialist country, though like its neighbor Sweden, it did come close to collectivizing industry in the 1970s. That effort was driven by “unions, popular movements, and left parties,” write Andreas Møller Mulvad and Rune Møller Stahl in Jacobin. “It was these mass forces — not benevolent elites, carefully weighing the alternatives before deciding on an enlightened mix of capitalism and socialism — who were the architects and impetus behind the Nordic model. They are the ones responsible for making the Nordic countries among the happiest and most democratic in the world.”

A strong capitalist offensive stopped this Scandinavian coalition from realizing the transition to socialism, and the legacy of their efforts is a delicate compromise. The private sector persists, but taxes are both progressive and high across the board. The country spends 55 percent of its total GDP publicly, making it the third-highest government spender per capita in the world. Meanwhile, the power of employers is partially checked by strong unions, to which two-thirds of Danes belong.

This redistributive arrangement significantly reduces the class stratification that comes from capitalism. As a result, Denmark has one of the highest degrees of economic equality in the world.

All of that public spending goes to funding a strong welfare state. Everybody pays in, and everybody reaps the rewards. This egalitarian, humane, and solidaristic model allows the values associated with hygge to flourish. It also gives people more opportunities to act on them.

In Denmark, health care is free at the point of service. Same goes for education, all the way through college and even grad school. Twenty percent of the Danish housing stock is social housing, regulated and financially supported by the state but owned in common by tenants, and organized in the “tradition of tenants’ participation and self-governance.” Denmark offers year-long paid parental leave, and guarantees universal child care for all children beginning the moment that leave ends, when the child is one year old.

Similarly, due in large part to the past and and present strength of unions, Denmark has worker-friendly labor laws and standards which make for a more harmonious work-life balance. Danes get five weeks’ paid vacation, plus an additional nine public holidays. Unlike the United States, Denmark has a national paid sick-leave policy. Denmark also has generous unemployment benefits and a wage subsidy program for people who want to work but, for reasons outside their control, need more flexible arrangements.

The normal work week in Denmark is set at thirty-seven hours, and people tend to stick to it. Only 2 percent of Danes report working very long hours. In a survey of OECD countries Denmark ranked fourth for people spending the most time devoted to leisure and personal care. (The US ranked thirtieth.)

All of this has a profound effect on individuals’ ability to experience pleasure, trust, comfort, intimacy, peace of mind — and of course, the composite of these things, hygge.

For one thing, there are only so many hours in a day. And there are some activities that make us happy, and some that make us unhappy.

The Princeton Affect and Time Survey found that the activities that make us happiest include playing with children, listening to music, being outdoors, going to parties, exercising, hanging out with friends, and spending time with pets. (These are also the activities that Danes associate with hygge.) The ones that make us least happy include paid work, domestic work, home maintenance and repairs, running errands, personal medical care, and taking care of financial responsibilities.

Everyone has to do activities in the unhappy category in order to keep their affairs in order. But it makes sense that if you take some of those responsibilities off people’s plate and design the economy to give them more time to do activities in the happy category, they will be more content and lead more enriching lives.

Many working-class Americans don’t have much time for activities in the happy category, because they work multiple jobs or long hours and also have to keep a household in order without much assistance. Many more are afraid that if they take time away from their stressful responsibilities, they will overlook something important and fall behind, and there will be no social safety net to catch them — a pervasive anxiety that creeps up the class hierarchy. This breeds alienation, not intimacy.

Additionally, working people in highly capitalist countries, where economic life is characterized by cutthroat competition and the punishment for losing the competition is destitution, tend to develop hostile relationships to one another, which is not very hyggelig.

The social-democratic model is predicated instead on solidarity: my neighbor and I both pay taxes so that we can both have a high standard of living. We care for each other on the promise that we will each be cared for. By working together instead of against each other, we both get what we need. Universal social programs like those that make up the Scandinavian welfare states are thus engines of solidarity, impressing upon people that their neighbor is not an opponent or an obstacle, but a partner in building and maintaining society.

By pitting people against each other, neoliberal capitalism promotes suspicion and animosity. This frequently maps onto social divisions and manifests as racism, sexism, xenophobia, and so on. But it also just makes people guarded and antisocial in general. People who live in social democracies are far from invulnerable to prejudice or misanthropy, but the social compact remains more likely to promote kindness, trust, and goodwill among people than neoliberal capitalism — and indeed the Danes are some of the most trusting people in the world, of friends and strangers alike.

One of these political-economic arrangements strengthens people’s connection to the fundamentals of happiness, and of hygge — time, company, and security — while the other severs it. The abundance or scarcity of these fundamentals forms the material basis of collective social life.

The Ambiance Agenda

Hygge is not just a cultural … [more]
hygge  meaganday  2018  denmark  socialdemocracy  socialism  socialsafetynet  politics  policy  happiness  comfort  us  coreyrobin  scandinavia  solidarity  wellbeing  responsibility  uncertainty  anxiety  neoliberalism  capitalism  risk  civics  qualityoflife  pleasure  multispecies  family  trust  intimacy  peaceofmind  leisure  work  labor  health  healthcare  unions  time  slow  fragility  taxes  inequality  company  security 
december 2018 by robertogreco
They Grabbed Her Baby and Arrested Her. Now Jazmine Headley Is Speaking Out. - The New York Times
Since January 2017, law enforcement agencies have been called to food-stamp offices across the city 2,212 times and have arrested 97 people

a case worker told her that she would have to reapply for child care benefits, a process that could take up to a week.

“I should’ve left, and I didn’t because if I would’ve left, my son would not have the things that he needs,” Ms. Headley said.

Mr. Banks said his agency was reviewing tactics for dealing with people accompanying children and would retrain the peace officers. The guards also will now be ordered to talk to a supervisor before calling the police, unless there is an immediate threat to someone’s safety, he said.

Her public assistance benefits have been restored. The Brooklyn district attorney dropped charges of resisting arrest and child endangerment, and New Jersey authorities agreed to dismiss the unrelated charges against her if she completes a pretrial diversion program.
poverty  socialsafetynet 
december 2018 by brycecovert
The Making of a Democratic Economy | Ted Howard | RSA Replay - YouTube
"While not often reported on in the press, there is a growing movement – a Community Wealth Building movement – that is taking hold, from the ground up, in towns and cities in the United States and in the United Kingdom, in particular.

Ted Howard, co-founder and president of the Democracy Collaborative, voted one of ‘25 visionaries who are changing your world’, visits the RSA to share the story of the growth of this movement, and the principles underlying it. Join us to explore innovative models of a new economy being built in cities from Cleveland, Ohio to Preston, Lancashire, and to discuss how we might dramatically expand the vision and reality of a democratic economy."
economics  tedhoward  inequality  democracy  extraction  extractiveeconomy  us  uk  2018  capitalism  privatization  finance  wealth  power  elitism  trickledowneconomics  labor  work  universalbasicincome  ubi  austerity  democraticeconomy  precarity  poverty  change  sustainability  empowerment  socialism  socialchange  regulations  socialsafetynet  collectivism  banking  employment  commongood  unemployment  grassroots  organization  greatdepression  greatrecession  alaska  california  socialsecurity  government  governance  nhs  communities  communitywealthbuilding  community  mutualaid  laborovercapital  local  absenteeownership  localownership  consumerism  activism  participation  participatory  investment  cleveland  systemicchange  policy  credit  communityfinance  development  cooperatives  creditunions  employeeownership  richmond  virginia  nyc  rochester  broadband  publicutilities  nebraska  energy  utilities  hospitals  universities  theprestonmodel  preston  lancashire 
november 2018 by robertogreco
We can’t educate our kids out of inequality
"Those who tout the advantages of a good education like to conjure an image of some future society full of educated professionals all working stable, fulfilling, and salaried jobs. But even the worst students can look around the world and see through this. They can see the economic instability facing most people, and they know that a good education won’t undo the vagaries of the gig economy, or replace the protections of a union. But, they’re told, if you do well enough in school, then hopefully you won’t have to worry about that stuff.

This false promise was more disheartening that any other realization I had while working with students. Unfair tests, confusing admissions policies, unequal schools — all that is bad but sadly unsurprising, so you can prepare yourself for it. On the other hand, I was not prepared to lie to students about how, if they just figured out trig functions, then everything would be OK.

Education fetishism gives the illusion of fairness to society’s inequalities. Grades and test scores and college rankings mirror the stratification of the economy, and apply a thin veneer of meritocracy to that hierarchy. What students internalize about school is that it is primarily about ranking people. So attempts to improve education are really attempts to make those rankings more accurate, instead of making them less determinative. As long as this is true, then education is not really the solution to society’s problems. Even bold steps to improve schools and bring down college costs will not fix the problem of inequality, since status and sorting are also the results of education in America.

None of this is to say that education is bad or that schools should not be improved for their own sake. Learning things, after all, is fun. Education is great when it’s about teaching people stuff they want to know. But because school has to serve this burden of fixing social problems it is not equipped to fix, it cannot simply teach students interesting things they want to learn. Students should learn trig functions because they are an elegant solution to a complicated problem. They should read Hamlet because it’s a good play. They should learn things because there is value in learning them.

Instead, educators have to rend these subjects apart, breaking them into supposedly marketable skills like “reading comprehension” and “analytical reasoning” so that they can be used to demonstrate a student’s market value and justify patently unjust economic outcomes. As long as this is the case, then not only will inequality fail to get better, but education will continue to get worse. Instead of insisting we can educate ourselves out of the social problems capitalism creates, we should learn something new."



"This false promise was more disheartening that any other realization I had while working with students. Unfair tests, confusing admissions policies, unequal schools — all that is bad but sadly unsurprising, so you can prepare yourself for it. On the other hand, I was not prepared to lie to students about how, if they just figured out trig functions, then everything would be OK.

Education fetishism gives the illusion of fairness to society’s inequalities. Grades and test scores and college rankings mirror the stratification of the economy, and apply a thin veneer of meritocracy to that hierarchy. What students internalize about school is that it is primarily about ranking people. So attempts to improve education are really attempts to make those rankings more accurate, instead of making them less determinative. As long as this is true, then education is not really the solution to society’s problems. Even bold steps to improve schools and bring down college costs will not fix the problem of inequality, since status and sorting are also the results of education in America.

None of this is to say that education is bad or that schools should not be improved for their own sake. Learning things, after all, is fun. Education is great when it’s about teaching people stuff they want to know. But because school has to serve this burden of fixing social problems it is not equipped to fix, it cannot simply teach students interesting things they want to learn. Students should learn trig functions because they are an elegant solution to a complicated problem. They should read Hamlet because it’s a good play. They should learn things because there is value in learning them.

Instead, educators have to rend these subjects apart, breaking them into supposedly marketable skills like “reading comprehension” and “analytical reasoning” so that they can be used to demonstrate a student’s market value and justify patently unjust economic outcomes. As long as this is the case, then not only will inequality fail to get better, but education will continue to get worse. Instead of insisting we can educate ourselves out of the social problems capitalism creates, we should learn something new."
education  inequality  tutoring  schools  2018  hierarchy  economics  admissions  class  meritocracy  sorting  johnschneider  schooling  society  capitalism  gigeconomy  colleges  universities  grades  grading  learning  deschooling  unions  socialsafetynet  testing  bias 
november 2018 by robertogreco
Here's Fresh Evidence Student Loans Are a Massive, Generational Scam - VICE
"Over the centuries, America has bestowed generous, state-sponsored privileges upon select classes of its citizens. Veterans and old people get free socialized healthcare—and, for the most part, they love it. Corporations (who count as people, look it up) get sweet tax breaks and, in the case of defense contractors, no-bid deals to build extremely expensive weapons unlikely to be used in the near future. And young people get thousands and thousands of dollars of student loans to pay for college, putting them in a hole they might spend the rest of their lives digging out of.

Obviously, one of these things is not like the others—the United States has put many students in the position of making decisions that can determine their financial futures when they're teenagers. This has nightmarish consequences: Some 44 million people have $1.5 trillion in student loan debt on the books. And even when young people do get through college and find a decent job, many can't fathom possibly buying a home or taking on other trappings of adulthood when faced with decades of monthly loan bills.

The worst part is that those who sought an elite education on the widely accepted notion that it would help them later in life were basically sold a bad bill of goods.

All that debt provides awfully little payoff in terms of boosted wages, even as it ensnares more and more people and hits youth of color especially hard, according to a new paper released Tuesday by two researchers at the left-leaning Roosevelt Institute. Research fellows Julie Margetta Morgan and Marshall Steinbaum concluded that more and more debt hasn't significantly boosted income for college grads—it just seems that way because high school grads without BAs are making less than they once did. They also found that looking at decent rates of repayment by student debtors is a misleading way to look at the scale of this crisis. And thanks to workers lacking the power they once enjoyed in an increasingly skill-obsessed economy, young people are often being pressured into getting extra degrees on their own dime (which is to say by taking on more debt) for minimal payoff.

For some perspective on how America let student loans get so out of control, why taking on debt is so often a mistake, and what we can do about it, I called co-author Julie Margetta Morgan for a chat.

VICE: Why do you think this has been allowed to get so bad, to the point not only that it's widely known as a crisis, but one that gets worse and worse?

[A] Julie Margetta Morgan: We have seen the overall amount of student debt grow and we've seen some of the industries around repayment get worse over time, although default rates recently got a little bit better. But I think that the reason why it's sort of been allowed to exist as this quiet crisis is that there's not a lot of agreement among experts that, on the whole, student debt is getting worse. I think that's because experts primarily look at measures around successful repayment of the loan as the target. And in this paper we try to take a slightly different look. First of all we interrogate those questions around repayments themselves—so we have a section around, like, experts have said that student debt is not a bigger burden now than it was a generation ago. And yet if you delve into the figures a little bit deeper you can see that, in fact, it is worse—the burden is worse but the repayment plans are slightly better, which masks the burden on students.

So part of what we're trying to do here is combat some of the common wisdom in the higher education policy world—what we tend to hear is: Yeah, students are taking on a lot of debt but ultimately that debt is worth it because their degrees are paying off in the long run. And we're finding that that's not necessarily true.

[Q] Is the most radical conclusion you reached here that the increased debt burden people are bearing is not paying off in terms of boosted income? Or is that already well known?

[A] That higher education is not paying off in terms of overall changes in the distribution of income is definitely apparent to labor economists but not necessarily apparent to higher education policy experts and those who advocate on behalf of students, because we are so often fed the college earnings premium as the single measure of whether college pays off over time. Yes of course college still pays off, but it pays off because it's becoming less and less viable for someone to make a living with just a high-school diploma. It's no longer this thing of, I'd like to earn a higher income, I guess I'll go to college. It's like, I have to go to college in order to not end up in poverty—and I'm also forced to take on debt to get there.

[Q] Is there any evidence that, thanks to income growth in the last year or two, college debt is paying off more than it did?

[A] It remains to be seen, but I'm not sure that it's a good idea for us to tie higher education policy—how we fund college—to the swings of the labor market. Our focus should be on taking the risk off of the individual and spreading it across the public, because the public is getting a lot of the benefit of college degrees.

[Q] Have you seen any indicators that people—including the communities hit hardest by college debt—might actively be avoiding college because of the specter of endless debt?

[A] We have lower levels of college attainment already among African American and Latino populations and we do see polls that suggest people are more and more skeptical of the value of college. And that's exactly the result we don't want to see. We don't want to see the people already discriminated against in the labor market avoiding going to college.

The other trend that comes to mind is this trend of programs that we would have previously considered trade programs, whether they're now being offered at for-profit colleges or as industry credentials that are trying to become part of the mainstream higher education system and get access to the loans. So there's a world in which people are trying to avoid getting the loans but the loans are actually following them to these trade programs.

[Q] But given that discrimination, is it not rational to—in some cases—calculate against attending college given the massive debt burden and how it hits some communities extra hard?

[A] I think it's absolutely at an individual level a rational decision that we're seeing people make. And at a national level we ought to be concerned about that and looking to change policies so people don't have to make that decision.

[Q] I know one of your aims here was to reinforce that this is a worse crisis than people think, but isn't the problem that Republicans just don't care?

[A] There's obviously a group of policymakers who don't want to deal with it. But I think there's another subset of policymakers who are looking at the student debt crisis through the lens of repayment—that the goal is to ensure that people can repay their loans. Keeping people out of default shouldn't be the biggest goal we set for ourselves.

If student debt is a crisis, is the answer that we should have less student debt? Or just that people are able to make their monthly payments? Our answer is that we should have less debt overall.

[Q] Part of your paper is about how workers keep getting pressured to gain new degrees and credentials that load them up with debt—all because they have no power. Is this about unions disappearing, or what would help there?

[A] Certainly the declining power of unions is one part of it. The lack of say for average workers in the decision-making at the companies they work for, the increase in corporate concentration within the economy—the rise of monopoly power makes it harder for workers to have a say, because there are fewer employers. And back during the recession, the scarcity of jobs made it harder for employees to have power and negotiate for themselves.

[Q] It's hard not to read the paper and feel like taking on student loans is maybe (very often) a mistake or even that the larger system is a scam. Even when students are not being preyed upon by for-profit schools or predatory lenders, the whole seems flimsy or even fraudulent. Is that unreasonable?

[A] I don't think it's unreasonable. I think of it as a failed social experiment that young people are caught in the middle of. It wasn't intentionally sold like a scam, but the way young people experience this is they were told: You go to college, you study, don't worry so much about how much it costs, it's going to be worth it in the end. And they get out on the other side, they have a ton of debt, they are working as hard as they can, but they're not getting ahead—they're treading water. They're making payments on their debt, but not able to buy a house, they're not able to save for retirement. You were sold on a promise, you come out on the other hand that that promise was false, and everybody looks at you like, What's wrong?

One of the things I thought was so exciting about writing this paper is it puts data to that deep frustration that we see in younger generations right now.

[Q] It doesn't seem likely that we'll see a major overhaul of the system in DC right now, with unified Republican control. But what can and should be done, the next time Democrats have control of the government, or in the meantime?

[A] There are things we can do right now. it's encouraging to see what's happening in the courts—some great student advocates and lawyers have taken action to make sure the [Education Secretary Betsy] DeVos administration at least enforces rules on the books to help get student loan cancellation for a smaller group of borrowers and limit predatory practices at for-profit schools.

As we look to the future, we have to think a lot bigger. We should be looking at both free and debt-free options for college. Free college at public universities and more debt-free options for students. That's how we take care of generations… [more]
studentloans  health  healthcare  inequality  2018  economics  socialsafetynet  society  us  education  highered  highereducation  colleges  universities  juliemargettamorgan  marshallsteinbaum  debt  income  policy  politics  labor  markets  capitalism  work  unions 
october 2018 by robertogreco
McConnell Blames Entitlements, Not GOP, For Rising Deficits
“It’s disappointing, but it’s not a Republican problem,” McConnell said Tuesday in an interview with Bloomberg News when asked about the rising deficits and debt. “It’s a bipartisan problem: unwillingness to address the real drivers of the debt by doing anything to adjust those programs to the demographics of America in the future.”

McConnell said it would be “very difficult to do entitlement reform, and we’re talking about Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid,” with one party in charge of Congress and the White House.

“I think it’s pretty safe to say that entitlement changes, which is the real driver of the debt by any objective standard, may well be difficult if not impossible to achieve when you have unified government,” McConnell said.
budget  deficit  socialsafetynet 
october 2018 by brycecovert
Why Donald Trump Wants a Department of Public Welfare - CityLab
Mulvaney’s plan would also create a Council on Public Assistance. According to the proposal, this fellowship of stakeholders from USDA, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and other agencies would have the statutory authority to “set cross-program policies including uniform work requirements” across all agencies that provide public benefits. The Council would become the government’s “welfare policy-making apparatus,” centralizing powers from all these agencies.
socialsafetynet  workrequirements 
june 2018 by brycecovert

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