Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, many adults are now eligible for health care coverage, such as Medicaid, that had been closed to them before. Among these newly eligible adults are many people leaving prison — and Medicaid can make a big difference in helping them transition back home. This Promising Practice Policy Brief discusses options for states.
By Allyson Fredericksen and Linnea Lassiter
As a first-year student at Brown University I was detained for trespassing by campus security.
In my own dorm. In sock feet.
You see, I left my dorm room to go to the bathroom and didn’t bring my college ID along. I guess I should have known better. As a black student it was always an unstated expectation that I justify my presence on campus. Black students were a small minority on campus. And we were often seen as interlopers even after admission.
I was reminded of this incident this week as protests escalated at the University of Missouri (Mizzou) over a string a racist incidents there culminating in the ouster of the state university System President Tim Wolfe. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, many being veterans of the Ferguson struggle nearby, using a wide range of tried-and-true and cutting edge tactics, Mizzou students won one of their main demands, something many observers had said was impossible.
This powerful example of the power of protest and student organizing was met with rightwing media ridicule, attack by the Missouri Lt. Governor and even death threats against students. Just a day after the jubilation at the resignation of the University President, the campus was a ghost town as Mizzou students stayed away from class amid the tense climate.
Missouri students were not alone. Students at Yale University were in motion as well. Outrage over racism there was sparked by an administrator’s email communication stating that cautioning against racist Halloween costumes was a violation of free speech. Then grew over reports of a “white girls only” fraternity party the same weekend. Students at Yale were fired up by the time Mizzou made national news.
The fight was joined Thursday when the already planned Million Student March — demanding the elimination of all student debt, free college education for all, and $15 minimum wage for campus workers — stood in solidarity with Mizzou students.
What is new today is not racism on campuses both elite and public. It’s not student protest around the issues affecting their lives. What is new is the national scope of the protest and the breadth of the support, from professors to trade unions, to community supporters, to civil rights organizations. It brings together traditional and innovative student organizations, student governments and individuals.
Some 115 campuses took part in the protests, which were organized by United States Student Association, the Student Labor Action Project, and others. More than 1,000 students gathered at the University of California at Berkeley Thursday. It’s the kind of student action not seen in a generation.
To cap off the week, in Southern California, Claremont McKenna College Dean of Students Mary Spellman resigned Thursday amid protests there over racism on campus.
Ultimately the protests at Mizzou and elsewhere are not so much about this administrator or that as they are about demanding that institutions of higher learning create a space for students of color. It’s the same issue we were struggling with years ago.
Some commentators seem to think students protest because they are young and naive and motivated by intellectual concerns (or even under the influence of radical professors). But students today — as always — are largely motivated to action by the pressing issues impacting their lives and educations. It’s not academic.
Certainly the students in the struggles today have made mistakes — and they will certainly make more — but if sustained and nurtured, this week could signal a new multi-racial campus movement, with racial justice at its core, that could spark national change in the country in a wide range of issues. And maybe inspire others to get in motion as well.
When I was detained as a student it was not an isolated incident. Police and security harassment of black male students in particular was commonplace and some of us took to wearing our IDs around our necks as a visible sign of our alienness and defiance on a majority white campus.
It was no accident then that the student of color dropout rate at Brown was higher than for whites. We often lacked needed support and student services. Many of us were on financial aid and under constant economic pressures of working full-time while trying to get an education. A recent report says students of color at Brown today are still facing similar challenges.
So we had meetings, wrote up demands, protested and marched. We even achieved some small victories. We were also aware that our very presence at Brown was due to the successful protests of those that preceded us. It was the protests of a small group of black students in the 1960s that forced Brown to adopt goals for diversity in admissions that opened the door to our very presence.
That’s the nature of the struggle for progressive social change. Each struggle builds on those of the past. If we are successful, learning the lessons along the way to raise the struggle to a higher level.
In recent years, a number of cities have raised their minimum wage to $15 an hour, which is significantly above federal and state minimum wages. These changes have prompted debate around the country regarding what constitutes an adequate minimum. This report contributes to that conversation by providing living wage figures, finding that current minimum wage rates are far too low to meet individuals’ and families’ needs.
How many hours does a minimum wage worker have to put in to make ends meet?
Throughout the nation, the call for a $15 minimum wage is rightfully gaining momentum and – if enacted – would lift millions of low-wage workers from struggle to stability. While detractors suggest the wage is too high, a new report by the Alliance for a Just Society released today shows that $15 is really a modest demand.
The report, “Pay Up! Long Hours and Low Pay Leave Workers at a Loss” reveals that the minimum wage in many states is half the pay a single adult needs to cover basics like housing, food, utilities, and transportation.
Nationally, the living wage for a single adult ranges from $14.26 an hour in Arkansas to $21.44 in Hawaii.
At $7.25 an hour, the current federal minimum wage, workers would have to put in up to 110 hours a week (as is the case in Hawaii) to cover the basic costs of living for just one person.
The numbers are more disturbing when a worker is also supporting children – even with two parents working full time.
“A wage that keeps families trapped in poverty and despair, no matter how hard or how many hours they work, is a national crisis,” said Jill Reese, associate director of the Alliance for a Just Society.
“We know that it’s not unheard of in our country that someone is working full time and is still homeless – this is unacceptable,” Reese said.
The study calculates a living wage for a single adult in all 50 states, then reports the stunning number of hours a minimum wage employee must work in each state, Washington D.C., and nationally, to make a living.
“The answer to low wages is not expecting people to work a ridiculous number of hours, or to make severe cutbacks in basic necessities,” said Allyson Fredericksen, report author and policy analyst at the Alliance for a Just Society.
“Instead, the answer is to pay workers enough to ensure that full-time employment provides some measure of financial stability. Our research shows that’s twice the current minimum wage in many states,” said Fredericksen.
In Washington D.C. workers paid minimum wage have to work 83 hours a week to make ends meet for one person. In New York it’s 91 hours a week, and in Virginia it’s 103 hours.
Even in states like California, with a relatively high minimum wage at $9 an hour, workers there would still have to clock 86 hours a week to equal a living wage.
“Pay Up!” is part of The Job Gap Economic Prosperity Series research by the Alliance for a Just Society. The Alliance has produced the reports since 1999.
The full report is available here: Pay Up! Report (pdf)
Additional information is available on the report website: www. thejobgap.org
Alliance for a Just Society is a national policy, research, and organizing network that focuses on health, racial, and economic justice.
Martin Shkreli wants you to swallow his bitter pill — and to thank him for making you pay $750 for it.
For 62 years, the drug Daraprim has been the standard method to treat parasitic infections that are particularly life-threatening to AIDS and cancer patients. It was relatively affordable — though low-income patients might take issue with calling an $18 pill “affordable” — and highly effective in treating these infections.
Then last month, Shkreli and his company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, came along and acquired rights to the drug. Their contribution to better the lives of these patients?
Jacking up the price 4,000 percent. Read more
At a time in history when crime continues to decline, same-sex marriage is legal, and innovation is powering advances in technology and bioengineering – one issue fails to progress: racial justice.
The unemployment rate for African-Americans continues to be more than twice that of whites. Public schools are more segregated now than they were in the 1950s and young black males are 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by the police than their white equivalents.
Widespread media coverage and outcry at the murders inside the African-American church in Charleston, and protests sparked by the killings of Freddie Gray and Michael Brown, transform the statistics into real faces.
Yet outside the political sphere, there is a continued lack of recognition and acknowledgement in the U.S. that institutionalized racism and white privilege are pervasive.
Derald Wing Sue – professor of psychology and education at Columbia University, internationally acknowledged expert on multiculturalism and diversity, and author of Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence – said he asks his students:
“How many of you socialize with people who are racially, culturally different than yourself? How many of you go into communities of color to celebrate the community events, to attend Asian Baptist churches, the black churches, how many of you do that? How many of you live in an integrated neighborhood?”
The reality here is that residential racial segregation is condoning a system of institutionalized racism where specific demographics are bearing the inevitable, negative consequences of policies set by those in power. Ultimately, race – a social construct – becomes a crucial factor in the outcome of violence whether that violence be physical, economic, political, or legal.
In the Architecture of Segregation Paul Jargowsky describes the rapid re-concentration of poverty since 2000. The concentrated poverty is racial in nature and the result of measured policy choice. Exclusionary zoning has developed with the movement and investment toward suburban neighborhoods. The wealthier suburbs reject affordable housing, keeping poor and low-income individuals in the city or fading suburbs.
Ruth Peterson, retired professor of Sociology at Ohio State University and former director of the Criminal Justice Research Center, and Lauren Krivo, professor of Sociology and affiliated professor in Criminal Justice at Rutgers University, introduce the concept of racial-spatial divide in their work Divergent Social Worlds: Neighborhood Crime and the Racial-Spatial Divide. In an extensive study accumulating crime and related data for 9,593 neighborhoods in 91 cities in the year 2000, the authors verify a connection between race, place, and crime, and prove that residential segregation is the principle reason why social worlds of people are so opposing. In short, the disadvantaged are isolated from the advantaged, and it runs across racial lines.
What the Architecture of Segregation Report and racial-spatial divide illustrate are two neighborhood studies showcasing structural housing policies – which stem from racial segregation – making particular groups more susceptible to cases of violence. Exclusionary zoning and private discrimination create the concentration of urban poverty, which inevitably means education disadvantages, labor disadvantages, increased welfare dependency, social disorder, and a loss of commercial business.
And it is an argument made again and again as young men like Michael Brown are killed on the streets, igniting a demand for change, but progress is still invisible and emotions raw a year later.
In a powerful reflection on race, John Metta, an African American who spoke to an all white audience at the Bethel Congregational United Church of Christ in White Salmon, Wash. said: “… People are dying not because individuals are racist, but because individuals are helping support a racist system by wanting to protect their own non-racist self beliefs.”
In the realm of racial justice, personal choice significantly reflects public policy and vice versa. Evident, are not only structural housing policies gone wrong, but also an inability to call them out.
If we commit an active effort in putting ourselves in unfamiliar situations, events, and discussions where authentic relationships and conversations can be cultivated, we can convert an increased understanding of institutionalized racism into righting the wrong and making restitution. We like to consider ourselves nondiscriminatory, multicultural, bias-free, and nonracist – yet this has yet to be transcended to a point where we are open to living side by side with each other.
It is time to demand that our political dogmas reflect the inclusive, nondiscriminatory attributes we claim to have. But first, we must represent those qualities outright.
Andrea Rocha is senior at the University of Washington and an intern at the Alliance for a Just Society.
Last month, President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison as he begins pushing congress to reform the nation’s criminal justice system.
Obama is urging meaningful sentencing reform, steps to reduce repeat offenders, and reform for the juvenile justice system to improve public safety, reduce runaway incarceration costs and make the criminal justice system fairer – and for good reason. The U.S. criminal justice system is in desperate need of reform.
To start, the system is riddled with racial bias and inequity. In 2011, the New York City Police Department made more stops of young black men than there are young black men in the city. Nearly one in three black men are imprisoned in their lifetime, while only one in 17 white men are imprisoned. When sentenced, black men are sent to prison for periods that are up to about 20 percent longer than white male defendants with similar crimes.
Sixty percent of incarcerated persons are black or Hispanic, even though they compromise only 28.6 percent of the population combined. While African Americans make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population, 40 percent of prisoners are black. According to Politifact, an organization that investigates and evaluates public political statements, the United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid – a reality that should quickly put the issue into perspective.
In addition, over the last four decades, the number of incarcerated persons increased 500 percent, and now includes about 2.2 million adults in local jails, state prisons, and federal prisons. The number of women in prison increased 832 percent between 1997 and 2007 while the male population grew by 416 percent during the same 30-year period. Black women are more than six times as likely as white women to be incarcerated during their lifetimes.
Despite crime rates steadily declining during the last 25 years, incarceration rates have risen steeply. While increasing police force sizes can be an effective crime reduction strategy, studies suggest long prison sentences have little effect on crime rates. What this tells us? The resources spent confining people to boxes, for years and years, proliferates a system not even proven to work.
Policy decisions such as mandatory sentencing, long sentences for violent and repeated offenses, and intensified criminalization of drug-related activity, have also added to the explosion of state and federal prison populations. While the portion of persons in state prisons convicted of violent crimes makes up more than half that population, at the federal level violent crime accounts for only 7 percent of the federal prison population. More than 1/3 of the federal prison population is black, and more than 1/3 is Hispanic, yet those figures pale in comparison to the demographics of state prisons, where there are more than 5.5 times as many black inmates as there are white inmates.
Further, state spending on correction has outpaced spending on most other government functions, and in most states it is the third largest expenditure category behind education and healthcare.
At these costs, we might expect prisoners’ most basic economic rights to be respected. But that’s not what we find. Nearly half of the U.S. prison population works, but “the median wage [earned by inmates] in state and federal prisons is 20 and 31 cents respectively.” Because incarcerated persons do not qualify as “employees” under the law, they do not have labor rights.
Many see this as an extension of 19th century slavery due to its historical legacy. The comparison is not far from the truth. In three states – Texas, Georgia and Arkansas – inmates work for free.
So where does this put us and what should reform look like?
In light of these numbers we must not only recognize the inadequate state of our criminal justice system, but also demand a response to change it.
Meaningful reform must:
- Target racial bias by fighting institutional and structural inequities
- Reduce prison populations in a responsible manner (for example through rehabilitation and reintegration of incarcerated persons)
- Provide measures to enforce inmates’ human rights.
Likewise, the president and congress should urge states to follow suit.
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