Via Flickr
New GED regulations have significantly reduced the number of successful applicants. Photo by rik-shaw, Flickr.

Americans think of themselves as highly educated, yet more than 37 million adults – more than one in ten – have not earned high school diplomas. This has dramatic implications for individual lives. Less than half of all adults without high school degrees have jobs, compared to 64% of those with such degrees and 88% of adults with college degrees. Even with prior work experience, many employers require proof of a high school diploma for even the most basic positions, even more so since the recent recession. Adults without high school diplomas who are fortunate enough to have jobs can expect to earn nearly $10,000 less per year than those with a high school degree, and are much more likely to live in poverty, experience poor health, and end up in prison.

Any way one looks at the social realities, chances to obtain a high school equivalency degree are critical for adults who did not graduate from high school, if they are to flourish in life. For more than sixty years, the General Education Degree – popularly known as the “GED” – has offered such a chance. But current strategies of education reform are handing the GED program to profit-making corporations, and the effect has been to create new educational obstacles for the predominately low-income Americans who have not graduated from high school.


woman reading
Item 139224, Fleets and Facilities Department Imagebank Collection (Record Series 0207-01), Seattle Municipal Archives.

Picture a small office with three employees: Jake, a white man; Anita, a Latina woman whose husband lost his job a year ago; and Crystal, a Black single mother. Even though all three have similar duties, Jake takes home $1000 per paycheck, while Crystal gets $700 and Anita earns $600. The office also used to employ Anne, another Black woman, but she was laid off in 2009. Crystal and Anita are fortunate to still have their jobs, but their wages put their yearly earnings below the federal poverty line. Unable to get by on their wages alone, their families also depend on public benefits.

This specific scenario is imaginary, but it reflects on-going trends. The Great Recession brought hard times to most Americans, but it was especially devastating for women of color. Today, Black women and Latinas face worse job and wage prospects, and experience higher poverty rates and greater difficulties in gaining access to health care. Many female-headed households have depleted their “rainy day” savings and depend on a patchwork of low wages and bare-bones supplements like food stamps and unemployment insurance to make ends meet. The 2009 recession and slow economic growth since then have derailed many women’s previously modest economic progress. Seven years later, America’s women of color are still worse off than they were before the economic crisis hit.


Photo by Clemens v. Vogelsang, Flickr CC.

Economic inequality is growing in America and economic mobility is declining. Most observers agree these are worrisome trends, but there is no consensus about solutions. In highly polarized public debates, some say that the government’s role should be limited to ensuring equal opportunity. Others emphasize the need for policies to encourage more equality. We believe that these extremes present a false dichotomy; a middle ground is possible. By looking for ways to further “school readiness,” citizens and policymakers can come together in support of giving all children what they need to take advantage of opportunities to learn and prepare for success in later life.

To Reduce Future Economic Inequality, Ensure That Children Succeed in School

Policy leaders from both sides of the aisle should be able to agree that can young children need to gain the basic attitudes, skills and knowledge required to succeed in school. Children will not enter the labor market on equal terms if stark inequalities begin to hold them back even before age five. Many children who are not ready for school cannot realize their potential – and that makes no economic sense for our country. Failure at school leads to losses of income and tax revenues as well as higher costs for social services, policing, and incarceration. Put another way, differences in school readiness influence kids’ capacities to take advantage of opportunities – and contribute to society – over the course of their whole lives.

Can we address educational disparities simply by make schools themselves more equal? If all schools had the same financial resources and the same number of teachers for every 100 students, and if all teachers were well-compensated and well-motivated and trained, would students from all groups have the same chance to perform well? The answer is no, according to available research. Even school systems of comparable quality cannot produce fair results when some children arrive at the first day of class unprepared to learn. To be ready to learn, youngsters must already have certain language, motor and social skills, and they must be able to pay attention, follow directions, and control their emotions. A lot must happen before the first day of kindergarten. more...

Photo by Rebecca Krebs via Flickr
Photo by Rebecca Krebs via Flickr

The share of births to unmarried women in the United States has almost doubled over the last 25 years, going from 22% of births in 1985 to 41% in 2010. These are not just teenagers or older women having babies on their own. Parents who are living together but not married account for much of the overall increase in births to unmarried women, especially in the last decade.  

For babies and children growing up, living with two cohabiting parents in many ways resembles living with two married parents. There are two potential earners contributing to the economics of the household and two potential care-givers. But we cannot just assume that cohabitation and marriage are the same, because couples who have a child while living together are more likely to separate at a later point than married couples who have a child. Furthermore, researchers have found that children’s wellbeing can be undermined when the living arrangements of their parents change.

To draw meaningful conclusions about the impact of rising childbearing among cohabiting couples, we need to learn more about whether cohabiting families are becoming more or less stable over time. Our research focuses specifically on couples who have had a child together. These couples express high hopes that their relationships will last, but what actually happens and with what consequences for their children? We used nationally representative survey data from the 1990s and 2000s to examine changes in the stability of married families, cohabiting families where marriages do not happen, and cohabiting families where parents marry around the time a child arrives. more...

Demonstrations about abortion were front and center at the Texas State Capitol in 2013. Ann Harkness//Flickr CC.
Demonstrations about abortion were front and center at the Texas State Capitol in 2013. Ann Harkness//Flickr CC.

The American abortion debate features “pro-life” activists wielding pictures of fetuses and “pro-choice” advocates telling horror stories about women forced to travel for hundreds of miles to access safe abortions. The struggle seems an irresolvable moral conflict – and both sides claim to be “pro-women.” Pro-choice organizations advocate that abortion be kept legal and made increasingly accessible because women have the right to privacy in matters of reproduction. Pro-life groups argue that the acceptance of abortion unjustly pits women against their children.

My research takes stock of activists on both sides – and identifies those that focus not just on the moral aspects but also on the socioeconomic context of abortion. In fact, abortion is mainly an issue for less privileged women, and if more pro-life and pro-choice groups recognized the economic realities, there would be possibilities for compromise.  more...



Health care providers who perform abortions routinely use ultrasound scans to confirm their patients’ pregnancies, check for multiple gestations, and determine the stage of the pregnancies. But it is far from standard – and not at all medically necessary – for women about to have abortions to view their ultrasounds. Ultrasound viewing by patients has no clinical purpose: it does not affect the woman’s condition or the decisions health providers make. Nevertheless, ultrasound viewing has become central to the hotly contested politics of abortion.

Believing that viewing ultrasounds will change minds, opponents of abortion – spearheaded by the advocacy group Americans United for Life – have pushed for state laws to require such viewing. So far, eighteen states require that women be offered the opportunity to view their pre-abortion ultrasound images, and five states actually go so far as to legally require women to view their ultrasound images before obtaining an abortion (although the women are permitted to avert their eyes). In two of the five states that have passed such mandatory viewing laws, courts have permanently enjoined the laws, keeping them from going into effect.

As the debates continue to rage, both sides assume that what matters for an abortion patient is the content of the ultrasound image. Abortion opponents believe the image will demonstrate to the woman that she is carrying a baby – a revelation they think will make her want to continue her pregnancy. Ironically, supporters of abortion rights also argue that seeing the image of the fetus will make a difference. They say this experience will be emotionally distressing and make abortions more difficult. Paradoxically, such arguments from rights advocates reinforce assumptions that fetuses are persons and perpetuate stigma about abortion procedures. more...

Eric Garner Protest 4th December 2014, Manhattan, NYC
A Black Lives Matter protestor in New York City in 2014. Black youth suicide is increasing due to what researchers describe as a complex web of factors including greater exposure to poverty and violence and a lack of access to mental health treatment. Photo by The All Nite Images via Flickr CC.

The suicide of a young person is always a tragedy, an event deeply mourned by the youth’s family and community. Sadly, the prevalence of this kind of tragedy is greater than many might think. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 2005 through 2013 indicate suicide has been the third or fourth leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 14, and the second or third leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24. Within these age groups, suicide rates can be further differentiated by race. Although suicide incidence has tended to be lower for Black youth than for other demographic groups, today suicides of African American children and young adults are on the rise. In order to understand how to reverse this worrisome new trend, a complex set of factors need to be examined.

Suicide by Race, Age, and Gender

In the total U.S. population not taking age into account, whites have the highest rate of suicide followed by American Indians and Alaskan Natives, and Asians and Pacific Islanders. Blacks and Hispanics have the lowest rates of suicide. For young people, the highest rates of suicide-related deaths occur among American Indians and Alaskan Natives. Rates of suicide for Black youth and the overall Black population tend to be lower than these other demographics – but things have changed recently. more...

Posters in Washington D.C display a popular photo of Hillary Clinton texting while she served as Secretary of State

Nearly 175 women ran for House and Senate seats in the 2014 congressional elections, and enough of them won to push women’s ranks to a record high of 104 members in Congress. More women are running for U.S. political offices then at any other time in history, but they remain underrepresented at all levels. Women hold only a fifth of seats in Congress, a quarter of state legislative posts, and six out of fifty gubernatorial seats – and of course no woman has as yet been nominated for the presidency by a major party. Female candidates face many obstacles – including lack of support from party gatekeepers. My research focuses on the role of gender stereotypes as a potential source of bias among voters. more...

A protest for the rights of fast food workers at the University of Minnesota, April 15th, 2015 Photo by Fibonacci Blue
A protest for the rights of fast food workers at the University of Minnesota, April 15th, 2015
Photo by Fibonacci Blue via

And What Can Be Done To Make Jobs and Family Life More Predictable

For decades, work-family activists have pressed for policies to give workers flexibility. Some workers, most of them relatively affluent, have seen gains. They have won the ability to adjust their schedules, to choose how many days a week to work, and even to work from home. But as my colleague Dan Clawson and I document in our new book, Unequal Time, many employers in the United States are turning the concept of work schedule flexibility on its head. For employers using disturbing new tactics, “flexibility” means that employees – especially low-wage workers – must come in whenever the boss wants and can be sent home whenever demand is slack.

Unpredictable Schedules and Insufficient Hours 

News stories have featured the chaotic schedules of young people working in retail, cleaning, and fast food jobs – many of whom must come to work with just one day’s notice or work split shifts. About a third of young adults do not know their schedule more than a week in advance. But similar problems are faced by workers of all ages. Unpredictable schedules are becoming the new normal for many U.S. employees – ranging from low-wage nursing assistants to well-paid physicians. In the retail and health care sectors, many workers must call in the night before to find out if they will be needed – and if they will earn the wages they have counted on getting. At a nursing home we studied, for example, one out of three shifts turned out to be different from the official schedule planned in advance. more...

The San Diego Tijuana border.  Photo by Kordian bia
The San Diego Tijuana border
Photo by Kordian via

Donald Trump has made immigration into a front-burner issue in the 2016 presidential election, in ways that encourage unworkable, politically hyped solutions appealing only to a hard-core minority of voters. Released on August 16, Trump’s six-page immigration program blended appeals to nationalism, populism, and nativism with sketchy policy ideas based on little understanding of the realities of U.S. immigration. Given Trump’s rise in the polls, the rest of the Republican primary field is reacting to his claims, so it is important to specify their inadequacies.

Repealing Birthright Citizenship

Taking a step that some other GOP candidates have been hesitant to fully endorse for fear of alienating Latino and moderate voters, Donald Trump declares that he would “end birthright citizenship” – the principle that babies born in the United States are automatically citizens. Trump wants to look tough on the “anchor baby” problem, the notion that undocumented pregnant women try to gain legal status by giving birth in the United States. The general public probably does not realize that the undocumented parents have to wait 21 years, until their child born in the U.S. grows up, to file an application on their behalf. Most immigrants come for jobs, not to have babies, so abolishing birthright citizenship would do little to reduce undocumented entries. In an equally deceptive move, Trump tries to make abolishing birthright citizenship sound easy, neglecting to mention that it would require amending the U.S. Constitution, a protracted process that has happened only 27 times in all of our nation’s history. Birthright citizenship was first established by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution adopted in 1877 to ensure full citizen status for African-American ex-slaves; and it was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in 1898. more...