The Benefits of President Obama’s Program to Protect Undocumented Immigrants Who Arrived as Children Before 2007

August 15, 2014 marks the second anniversary of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama administration program to protect young undocumented immigrants originally brought to the United States as children. If these young people were brought across the border before 2007 as minors under the care of adults, America is effectively the country they have grown up in and, the President argued, it makes no sense to threaten them with removal. Under the Deferred Action program, if such youths and young adults have stayed out of legal trouble and go through a specified application process that includes paying a hefty $465 fee, they are exempted from the threat of deportation for two years at a time and granted Social Security numbers and renewable work permits. As of March 2014, 673,417 young people had applied to the program and 553,197 were approved for its protections and benefits. Very soon, temporary protection will begin to expire for the earliest Deferred Action applicants. Many beneficiaries have begun to apply for renewals, but community-based organizations realize that they need to mobilize, both to encourage renewals and to draw more eligible applicants into the program. (more…)

Understanding How Mexican Immigrants Become Full Members of American Society

Image from Graham Lees
via Flickr Creative Commons

Several decades ago, most immigrants to the United States settled in a few urban areas in California, Texas, and Illinois. But that has changed in the past twenty years, as immigrants have spread out to build their lives in communities all over the country – including suburbs, smaller cities, and even rural towns. Mexican immigrants and their families account for many of the new arrivals living in what scholars call “new destination” communities, and the best estimates suggest that about one-third of people from Mexico live in communities outside of the original big three immigrant states. Are the Mexican immigrants who have settled in new places doing better than their counterparts who settled in traditional immigrant hub locations? (more…)

A Sign of Progress: Mike Brown Could Not Be “Willie Hortoned”

In 1986 a black Massachusetts prisoner serving life for murder brutalized a Maryland couple during a weekend furlough. The prisoner’s name was Willie Horton. During the 1988 presidential election the George H.W. Bush campaign made extensive use of the story and the image of Willie Horton to attack his opponent, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis. Dukakis was branded as a coddler of criminals, unable and unwilling to protect the public. There was of course nothing new about the tactic of manipulating white fear of black criminality for political gain. (Dukakis neither initiated the furlough program nor did he have control over it as governor.) But the spectacular success of the ploy in the 1988 presidential campaign made “Willie Horton” shorthand for this maneuver. (more…)

The Downsides of Excluding Millions of Immigrants From Health Reform

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The Affordable Care Act of 2010 promises to extend health insurance coverage to tens of millions of uninsured people across the United States – but not to everyone. Non-citizens are among those most likely to lack health insurance coverage, yet large segments of the immigrant population have been excluded from the benefits of health reform – and may face greater barriers in the future than in the past. (more…)

Will the United States Adopt Start-Up Immigrant Visas to Foster Economic Innovation?

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In the fall of 2013, Stanislav Korsei and Oleksandr Zadorozhnyi arrived in Vancouver, Canada, bringing with them from their home country, the Ukraine, a new tech company called Zeetl Incorporated. Their arrival to build a new life in Canada was enabled by a successful application to that country’s Start-Up Visa program, one of the world’s first to offer permanent residency status to young immigrant entrepreneurs and their families. Korsei and Zadorozhnyi secured $30,000 in funding from a Canadian business accelerator, which entitled them to apply for the program. One year later, Zeetl was acquired by Canadian social media company Hootsuite. The exact valuation of Zeetl has not been disclosed; the deal illustrates tangible results for Canada’s Start-Up Visa Program, and Korsei and Zadorozhnyi are already working on their next startups. (more…)

Feeding Families Better- Moving the Conversation Out of the Kitchen

Cooked by Michael Pollan

The wonders of family dinners are routinely celebrated in magazines, television shows, and other popular media. Many would have us believe that a family gathered to eat a healthy, home-cooked dinner at the end of the day is the answer to many of the ills that afflict modern America – including rising rates of obesity, family dysfunction, and a disengaged citizenry. The call for good parents to cook dinner for their families is mostly directed at women. This message reflects prevailing but often unrealistic standard for “good mothering.”   (more…)

New Measures Reveal the True Impact of America’s Anti-Poverty Programs

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Half a century ago, President Lyndon Johnson launched America’s War on Poverty; yet by the 1980s President Ronald Reagan famously declared that “we waged a war on poverty and poverty won.” To back up this claim, conservatives point to official U.S. statistics showing that the percentage of Americans living in poverty, around 15%, has changed very little over the decades.

But the official poverty measure is outdated – so I teamed up with several colleagues to produce estimates using a more accurate one. When we use the improved measure, it turns out that U.S. social programs and taxes have had a powerful effect on reducing poverty since the mid-1960s. Back then, government programs did little to alleviate poverty, but today public programs and taxes cut the percentage of people living in poverty by almost half, from the 28.7% it would be without government efforts to 16% after public programs are included. Far too many Americans continue to have inadequate incomes, but U.S. policies have helped millions avoid poverty.

The Need for a More Comprehensive Poverty Measure

America’s longstanding official poverty measure is outdated, because it is not adjusted appropriately for the needs of different types of individuals and households and it fails to take into account the full range of income and expenses that individuals and households face. In particular, it does not calculate the income effects of the full range of government programs whose aim it is to reduce poverty in the United States. Because of these and other failings, researchers cannot simply track official poverty measurements if they want an accurate picture of trends in poverty or the role of government policies in alleviating it.

Along with Liana Fox, Irv Garfinkel, Neeraj Kaushal, and Christopher Wimer, I re-analyzed trends in poverty using an improved measure – called the supplemental poverty measure – that includes near-cash benefits, in-kind benefits, and tax credits that go to various individuals and families. This supplemental measure also adjusts income calculations for taxes paid and for unavoidable child care, work-related, and medical expenses.

Since 2009, the U.S. Census Bureau has estimated annual poverty levels using both the traditional and the supplemental poverty measure, but it has not estimated historical trends using the revised measure. My colleagues and I have taken this extra step, estimating trends in poverty since 1967 using two new measures, one similar to the supplemental poverty measure in which the poverty threshold is calculated for each year using contemporary living standards, and another using an “anchored supplemental poverty” measure, in which we take today’s supplemental threshold and carry it back historically. The second approach is the one we use here in this brief. Data on incomes over the years come from the Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey.

When we use the supplemental poverty measure to track the percentages of Americans under the poverty line, a different picture emerges. The traditional poverty measure says that 14% were poor in 1967 and 15% in 2012, but the anchored supplemental measure shows the percentage living in poverty falling by more than 40%.

A New Perspective on U.S. Anti-Poverty Efforts

Our estimates also provide new insights as to the role of government programs. Using the supplemental measure anchored to 2012, we tracked the percentages of the U.S. population that would have been in poverty with and without including income from taxes and government social benefits. The green line shows poverty without taxes and benefits, and the blue line shows how much poverty has been reduced by taxes and social benefits.

Government benefits include food and nutrition programs such as Food Stamps, school lunches, and programs for pregnant women and infants; cash welfare benefits of various kinds; housing subsidies; and Social Security, unemployment benefits, workers’ compensation, and public pensions. Taxes include both those that reduce income (payroll taxes, federal and state income taxes) and those that boost incomes (like the Earned Income Tax Credit and other tax credits). Clearly, U.S. taxes and benefit programs have greatly reduced the percentage of Americans living below the poverty line. If we only counted incomes and expenses in the private market, poverty would have increased slightly over the past half century. But when taxes and social benefits are included, poverty sharply declines.

These results underline a key point: if we want to properly assess the progress the United States has made in fighting poverty, we must include all income and expenses. Properly measured, poverty has fallen substantially since the War on Poverty was declared. The war is far from over, but hard-won ground has been gained – and millions of Americans would suffer if anti-poverty efforts cease now or suffer major reverses.

How Better U.S. Food Policies Could Foster Improved Health, Safer Jobs, and a More Sustainable Environment

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U.S. efforts to ensure safe and healthy food are falling short. Even as more than 49 million Americans lack access to adequate nutrition, corporations are aggressively marketing unhealthy foods that contribute to epidemics of diet-related diseases. Many of the 30 million workers in the food industry face unsafe conditions and do not earn enough to support themselves and their families. The production and transport of food often spurs pollution and global warming.

In classic economic theory, when markets fail to meet human needs, government steps in to protect the public. Today’s U.S. public food programs and regulations amount to an incoherent and ineffective jumble – but fixing them could contribute to a healthier, more prosperous and sustainable American food economy. (more…)

$2-A-Day Poverty in the United States

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Is it possible for people to live on $2 a day? This is a question most think applies to bygone centuries or impoverished Third World nations. But it turns out to matter for the 21st century United States as well. The U.S. welfare reform enacted in 1996 ended rights to cash assistance for poor families with children. Instead, welfare in America now gives cash assistance for a limited time only. Able-bodied people who apply for welfare must quickly try to find paid employment and participate in activities directly related to preparing for work. In the new system, extra benefits and tax credits go to low-income people with jobs. But what happens to those who cannot find employment – especially during prolonged periods of joblessness like the aftermath of the recent Great Recession?

To find out, we used data from the U.S. Census Bureau from 1996 to 2011 to study U.S. households with children getting by with a daily income of $2 or less, per person – adapting the poverty indicator used across the globe by the World Bank. (more…)

Why America’s Food is Still Not Safe

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Each year, 48 million Americans suffer from illnesses caused by dangerous microbial pathogens lurking in the food they eat. For most people, food poisoning just leads to temporary stomach aches or diarrhea. But the effects can be much more serious. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 125,000 Americans are hospitalized and 3,000 die each year from pathogens in our food. Estimates of the cost of food borne illness exceed $75 billion a year – taking into account the cost of health care and lost time on the job for people who get sick. The actual suffering and economic cost could be much greater, because many incidents of mild illness caused by tainted food go unreported.

That eating dinner can result in disability or death comes as a shock to most Americans. Most of us believe that the United States fixed these problems more than a century ago, after Upton Sinclair’s famous book, The Jungle, revealed the ghastly facts about unsafe methods of commercial food processing for a mass market economy. But in fact, the rules and regulations we assume will protect us are inadequate. Duplication and gaps in government responsibilities leave Americans highly vulnerable to a variety of risks from industrial food production. (more…)