Not long ago, accounts of homeless people in America focused on single white men, who indeed made up the majority of those without a sure place to live. A skid row lifestyle, drug and alcohol abuse, mental health problems, and a lack of social ties to people not themselves homeless—these were the realities for homeless white men. But homelessness in America took an unexpected turn starting in the 1980s, when the share of women and children on the streets began to grow.
By now, the United States has unthinkably high numbers of homeless children. Roughly two of every hundred American children find themselves without a home in any given year. Rates of child homelessness are higher in cities, and black children are especially at risk. In New York City, for example, black children are up to 35 times more likely than white youngsters to have lived in a homeless shelter at some point during the last year. (more…)
Debates about higher education often focus on helping students afford tuition, but overlook another important challenge many students face: how to find a secure, affordable place to live. A weak economy, shortages of affordable housing, high college costs beyond tuition alone, and insufficient financial aid can combine to create a perfect storm. Students who pursue degrees without consistent access to affordable housing are more likely to leave college without degrees. (more…)
“We know we are in a war for the ballot. Raleigh is our Selma. The general assembly is our Edmund Pettus Bridge.” That is how Reverend Doctor William Barber II explained a major purpose of Moral Monday protests against extreme laws enacted by North Carolina Republicans.
If there is a sacred tenet of American democracy, it would be one person, one vote, but this basic underpinning of a functioning and healthy democracy is being threatened by conservative takeovers of many state governments in the United States. The 2010 elections ushered in Republican super-majorities and an unfettered wave of right-wing activism, much of it focused on making voting more difficult for minority, low-income, and young voters. Perhaps no state felt this change as dramatically as North Carolina, where Republicans took control of the legislature and governor’s office in 2010 and unleashed radical changes. The state has cut off unemployment insurance benefits to many workers and refuses to expand Medicaid with new federal funding. To keep themselves in power, Republicans have also enacted what some analysts have called the most extreme voter suppression law in the country. The new law cuts back early voting by a week, rules out early voting on Sundays when many African Americans go to the polls in groups, ends early registration for high school students, and requires voters to present by 2016 a specific type of government-issued photo identification that many do not have. (more…)
Stuck in a corporate job he called “not exactly fulfilling,” a 35-year-old man in Austin, Texas, told an NBC News reporter in September 2013 that he looked forward to the advent of Affordable Care reforms on January 1, 2014, because he will be able to quit and start working as an independent consultant. He couldn’t move on earlier because his wife has rheumatoid arthritis, a pre-existing health problem that made his employer benefits indispensable. Insurance companies would have charged him very high premiums for any plan he tried to buy on his own.
About three-quarters of Americans who work full time get health insurance through their employers, so the Austin man is not alone in experiencing what experts call “job lock” – a reluctance to change jobs for fear of losing employer health benefits. It’s a problem not just for would-be entrepreneurs but also for employees who just want to consider changing jobs. (more…)
U.S. health care is in the midst of a major transformation. With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, tens of millions of Americans are getting health insurance coverage for the first time. Expanded coverage will bring a tsunami of new demand, and current transformations underline the truth that insurance is not the same thing as access to appropriate health care. Across the nation, front-line providers of primary care – safety net providers – risk becoming overwhelmed by the arrival of millions of people newly insured or enrolled in Medicaid, including many vulnerable people with special needs. As happened after the start of Medicare in 1965, the United States faces the prospect of tremendous strain on the vital primary care infrastructure – with the risk that many people could still go without adequate care.
Bolstering safety net services will be essential to meet the needs of the newly insured – as well as the needs of millions who will still remain uninsured (either because Affordable Care does not include them or because they live in conservative states that refuse to expand Medicaid). (more…)
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 – popularly called ObamaCare – was designed to increase access to health insurance. The law does this in several ways, including by setting up exchange marketplaces where uninsured Americans can comparison shop for private health plans and (if they have low or moderate incomes) get subsidies to help pay the premiums. Medicaid expansion is another, equally important, method by which the Affordable Care Act will enlarge health insurance coverage. (more…)
Why are there so few women in politics? This question has long puzzled journalists, pundits, and scholars. With women making up less than one fifth of the U.S. House of Representatives, America ranks 79th among national legislatures worldwide. However, a focus on the overall dearth of females masks the crucial fact that steadily growing numbers of Democratic Congresswomen now exceed Republicans by threefold. A close look reveals that the GOP’s recent sharp shift to the right has limited the growth of its female contingent in Congress.
Citizen engagement is essential for democracy, but an increasing number of regulatory policies are formulated by international organizations beyond the reach of established national democratic processes. For example, member nations negotiate agreements regulating investments through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. These rules may seem technical, but they directly affect ordinary people through their insurance plans, pension plans, and savings accounts.
Even when the nations involved are themselves democracies, international regulation increases the distance between the decision-makers and those regulated. Often with no more than a few clicks on computer keyboards, Americans and citizens of other advanced democracies can easily contact their representatives in Congress or various parliaments. But contacting a national minister serving on the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development takes more effort. Even well-informed citizens are unlikely to know where to begin.
The debate over same-sex marriage – or “gay marriage” – has been contentious in national and state politics for nearly twenty years. After voters in many states rushed to ban same-sex unions, the tide turned. In recent years, sixteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage and another three states have approved civil unions or domestic partnerships that include full spousal rights for lesbian, gay and bisexual couples. Despite this progress, as of the end of 2013, only 37% of Americans live in a state with marriage equality; and many lesbian, gay, and bisexual people still do not enjoy the full rights and benefits associated with marriage. This is unfortunate for moral and economic reasons. Equally important, a growing body of public health research documents the many health benefits associated with legal same-sex marriage. (more…)
“Public life is too important to be left solely to the professionals,” former Senator Bill Bradley once aptly said – and the small New England coastal town where I live is experimenting with new forms of collaboration between civil servants and civic-minded citizens. New England has a venerable history of town meetings, and our town had one until 1992, when citizens voted to do away with it because we had learned that activists could pack an auditorium for crucial votes and intimidate others with more tentative views. To allow wider participation and anonymity, secret ballot referenda were instituted instead. But many townspeople missed the dialogue in face-to-face meetings, so some of us looked for new ways to engage the public in formulating public policy. A small steering committee of active and respected citizens met for nearly a year and devised a plan for regular Community Dialogue Forums. (more…)