Americans live in an aging society. As the Baby Boomers born after World War II retire, older people will become a larger segment of the U.S. population for at least the next two decades. Demand for federally funded Social Security and Medicare benefits will grow, and all fifty states will also face big challenges meeting the needs of elders. Our research shows that some states will do better than others in providing attractions and supports that matter for America’s graying citizens – and women serving in state legislatures will often be leaders in devising public policies that further care for the elderly in ways that improve the quality as well as length of life.
Previous research has documented that female state legislators are more interested than their male counterparts in supporting education and other public programs that meet the needs of families with children. To be sure, research to date leaves much more to be learned about the conditions that translate a female legislative presence into extra support for families. Democratic Party control of legislatures may magnify women’s influence, and so may an active women’s movement in any given state.
In addition to asking how women’s presence in legislatures translates into more support for families, we should also wonder about the extent of female legislative support. Does women’s legislative impact extend to policies that aim to help elders as well as younger families with children? And, if so, do states with more women in their legislatures actually prove to be better places for older people to live and flourish? We have investigated these issues as part of a broader project comparing state-level public policies that help people at various stages of aging. (more…)
“Welfare” as it now exists in the United States aims to provide a short-term safety net for very needy families with children and prepare adults to get jobs. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families law passed by Congress in 1996 said that cash assistance should be limited to no more than five years (sixty months) over a lifetime. But states were allowed some flexibility to extend this limit for up to one-fifth of their welfare recipients who face unusual problems.
Until last year, the state of Maine took advantage of this flexibility to provide extended help to less than 15% of its caseload. Some people could continue to get benefits if they complied with all welfare rules, including the rule about seeking or preparing for employment. But in 2011, the Maine legislature voted to make the sixty-month limit virtually absolute. Exceptions would be granted only if people were awarded a special hardship extension due to coping with disability, domestic violence, or the need to care for a disabled family member.
When the new law took effect in 2012, more than 2,000 Maine families were affected. About 44% requested hardship extensions, but only a quarter of all people scheduled for termination got the exception. Since January 1, 2012, more than 1,500 Maine families, including 2,700 children have lost cash benefits. Who are these families and what are their circumstances? To answer this question and consider whether welfare has adequate protections for the most vulnerable, I surveyed a sample of 54 Maine families whose benefits were stopped and did some additional in-depth personal interviews to probe people’s experiences more deeply. (more…)
Appalling gang rapes in places ranging from New Delhi, India, to Steubenville, Ohio, ignite public outrage and raise concern about violence against women. The problem is persistent and widespread. In the United States, one in six women is sexually assaulted during her lifetime, and one in five experiences domestic violence at some point in her life. In Europe, women face a far higher risk from assaults than from cancer or terrorist acts. Facilitated by ideas positing female subordination, violence against girls and women violates human rights and harms children. It creates tremendous costs and inhibits economic and social progress for everyone.
The kinds of policies that can reduce violence against women are well known – but not all countries adopt them. What makes governments respond to the problem of violence against women? Why do some countries adopt policies earlier than others? To unravel the factors at work, our research probes developments in 70 countries between 1975 and 2005. We conclude that international norms and autonomous feminist organizational efforts are the keys to getting the problem of violence against women on the agenda and prodding governments to take action. (more…)
The United States is among the world’s leaders in imprisoning its citizens – a dubious distinction. America’s prison population has grown more than fivefold since the early 1970s. Minorities have been disproportionately affected, with African Americans incarcerated almost six times as the rate for whites, and Hispanics at twice the white rate. In great detail, scholars have spelled out the negative social consequences of the prison boom. Ex-felons struggle economically and often cannot vote. Their communities lose political clout. Saddest of all, the families and innocent children of prisoners suffer diminished health and life chances.
But what caused rates of imprisonment to shoot upward in the first place? Explanations abound, yet many obscure as much as they reveal because they either ignore or minimize the consequences of crime. Americans of color are more likely to be incarcerated – and they are also more likely to be victims of violent crime. My research explores the political and policy consequences of the facts about victimization. How did people of color, specifically African Americans, respond to rising crime rates? What role did black politics play in the development of mass incarceration? (more…)
The Tea Party soared to national prominence in 2009 and remains a force to be reckoned with. In November 2012, some 45 million registered voters, a fifth of the U.S. electorate, reported in a Fox News exit poll that they identified with the Tea Party. To build political power through the GOP, in the 2010 midterm elections Tea Party factions helped right-wing Republicans win super-majorities in many states, secure gains in the U.S. Senate, and take control of the House of Representatives. Democrats may have rebounded in 2012, yet more than nine of ten Tea Party-backed Republican House candidates also won election or re-election.
Why is the Tea Party enjoying so much success? Partisans and some commentators point to its stated support for fiscal responsibility, lower taxes, and reduced regulation. But support for such long-standing conservative preferences is not all we see in Tea Party politics. Many Tea Party goals – and the angry style of politics – are anything but “conservative” in the sense of favoring social stability. Tea Partiers make flamboyantly extreme claims about President Obama – for example, that he wants to confiscate guns from Americans in order to facilitate massacres of whites. And they have urged Republicans to refuse to raise the debt limit and default on America’s debts, even if that would forfeit our nation’s good credit rating and push the world economy into financial crisis.
Getting at the true wellsprings of the Tea Party requires that we look again at what the late historian Richard Hofstadter famously called the “paranoid style in American politics,” a recurrent tendency characterized by “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy.” In a survey I directed between January and March 2011, questions were put to 1,504 adults across the country. The results show that the paranoid beliefs and political style Hofstadter described have recurred in the Tea Party upsurge of the early 21st century. (more…)
Are there magic bullets that will insure that every person can grow old gracefully – live out the final years with soundness in mind and body? Of course not. Illnesses or accidents can strike unexpectedly, and no one has the capacity to alter completely the influence of genetic destiny or avoid the inevitable decline of bodily systems. Yet there is much that each person can do – along with family members, friends, and caregivers – to maximize the likelihood of completing the final stages of life in strong, active, and satisfying fashion.
Professionally-vetted research, including studies I have completed with my colleague Edward Thompson, Jr., reveal that lifestyles can have a powerful effect on extending both the quality and quantity of the years available to each person as he or she grows older. Optimal choices require people to be well-informed and exercise good judgment about everything from eating habits and physical activity, to keeping in touch with other people and making regular visits to the doctor. (more…)
Democracy comes in many different forms, because communities and nations can devise various rules to shape elections and the processes of government decision-making. The specific rules chosen matter a great deal – especially the rules adopted for voting and elections. After all, who gets to vote, how, and when determine citizen access in a democracy – and decisions about such matters influence the balance of power in government and what public officials are likely to decide about war and peace, taxes and the economy, education, and social benefits. The outcomes of fights over the rules for elections can determine who has a seat at the table of government at all, and whose interests will matter or be ignored. (more…)
Empathy refers to a person’s ability to understand the emotions of others and share in their feelings. Researchers in many fields have shown that empathy – or its absence – matters greatly in many aspects of social life. For example, empathetic people are more likely to have strong ties to family members and others with whom they regularly work or interact. And individuals capable of empathy have higher self-esteem and enjoy life more fully. The flip side is also true: people who have trouble empathizing with others tend to suffer from poorer mental health and have less fulfilling social relationships.
Researchers are showing that empathy also matters in crime and punishment, and recent findings suggest important steps that can be taken to reduce juvenile delinquency and improve relationships between communities and police. (more…)
In its landmark 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, the United States Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms. But the Court also explained that, like all other constitutional rights, this “right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.” Courts have subsequently worked to specify which kinds of firearms are protected for which groups of people – and to determine under what circumstances guns can be regulated. As issues are parsed, one has been too little explored: the question of whether some kinds of places, such as cities, can do more than others to regulate guns.
This omission is unnecessary and unfortunate. The Second Amendment can and should incorporate the longstanding and sensible practice of regulating guns differently in rural and urban areas. Firearm localism would help us move forward from the current stalled debate. (more…)
In many ways, America’s 2012 elections brought government as usual. As an incumbent president was reelected, his party gained nine House seats and two Senate seats – and women continued to be greatly under-represented in Congress.
Only twenty women are found among the 100 U.S. Senators, and 13 of these are the first women to represent their state. Women hold only 77 seats in the House, fewer than 18%. Four U.S. states have never sent a woman to Congress: Delaware, Iowa, Mississippi and Vermont. The U.S. ranks 77th among the world’s nations in women’s representation in the lower legislative chamber – right behind Sao Tome and Principe and just ahead of Madagascar. Not counting ties, the U.S. actually ranks 92nd.
Before the 2012 elections, USA Today had predicted another “Year of the Woman” given an “upward trend of female candidates for Congress.” What actually happened is better characterized as a relatively good year for Democratic women amidst continuing female under-representation. Although neither major U.S. party has nominated sufficient numbers of women for Congress, Republicans nominate fewer and when GOP women are nominated, they very often lose. The difference between the percentage of women in Democratic Congressional delegations and the percentage of women in GOP Congressional delegations hovered between 7% and 11% from 1993 to 2002, but now it has grown to a remarkable 19.5 %. (more…)