As the new Affordable Care marketplaces get under way in each state, how many Americans without health insurance will learn about their new options – including the generous subsidies available to help people with low or moderate incomes afford premiums for health insurance plans? Public confusion has been widespread, but outreach experiences suggest that providing accurate information – especially face-to-face – makes people more positive toward the health reform law and increases their willingness to sign up.
In the words of outreach specialist Libby Cummings of the Community Health Center in Portland, Maine, “When we have a chance to explain it to people, it’s been very positive. People are excited about it and want to have health insurance. People see it as an opportunity to get coverage that was never open to them before.” (more…)
Charter schools operate in the public sector and are supported by taxpayers, but like private schools they grant considerable autonomy to principals and teachers and allow parents to make choices not constrained by zip codes or neighborhood boundaries. Boosters often make extravagant claims for charter schools, promising to fix deficits in American education and close achievement gaps between minority and white children and between students from richer and poorer backgrounds. Understandably, such glowing promises capture the imagination of public officials – and, above all, appeal to parents searching for quality schooling who are disillusioned with neighborhood public schools yet unable to afford tuition at Catholic or elite private schools.
But is the hype about charter schools backed up by the evidence? Is there solid research suggesting that charter schools are doing any better for students than traditional neighborhood or magnet schools? So far, the best objective research studies have arrived at mixed results, and there is a strong need to supplement existing approaches with a closer look at the on-the-ground experiences of teachers, principals, parents, and schoolchildren, comparing the daily operation of charter schools with other schools in their areas. Parents and citizens alike need to learn much more about how well charter schools actually are performing. (more…)
Stand Your Ground laws are suddenly in the spotlight, as Americans debate whether they counter violence or put more people in danger of death or injury by gunfire. It is a good time to look closely at what these laws do – and what we know, so far, about their effects. (more…)
Reelected to a second term, President Barack Obama is speaking with new force and clarity about the threat of climate change; and he is encouraging the Environmental Protection Agency to take bold steps to reduce dangerous greenhouse gas emissions. To make up for Congressional unwillingness to legislate, the Obama administration seems ready to do all it can through executive actions. Many professional environmentalists are delighted, and will rely on inside-the-beltway lobbying to urge regulators onward. That is fine for the short run, but it would be too bad if efforts to counter damage from global warming stopped at insider advocacy.
The new few years are exactly the right time to build a broad nationwide network of popularly rooted organizations committed to supporting carbon-capping as part of America’s transition to a green economy. To be prepared when the next opening arises in Congress, organizational efforts must reach far beyond the Beltway – to knit together alliances and inspire tens of millions of ordinary Americans to push for change. (more…)
All U.S. states provide tax credits and exemptions to older Americans, who clearly benefit and appreciate the help. Of course, people retired from the labor force do not owe payroll taxes, and their income tax rates may fall as well. Nevertheless, most citizens over age 65 must get by on relatively fixed budgets – and income for the typical older household is about half the level for all U.S. households. For many seniors, the cost of state and local taxes can loom large.
Not just older residents, but entire states may reap benefit from these tax breaks for seniors. Migrant retirees may move in, establishing new homes and spending pensions earned elsewhere. But there can also be disadvantages for localities and states that provide large and growing tax breaks to older residents. The pros and cons become evident when we look more closely at the various kinds of elder tax abatements and consider their consequences in the context of growing public budget pressures. (more…)
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a milestone in the long fight to ensure all Americans access to the ballot box. For nearly two centuries before President Lyndon Johnson signed this legislation, most African Americans were disenfranchised by law, force, or trickery. Starting in 1965, the U.S. Justice Department gained special authority to enforce minority voting rights, including the use of a Section 5 provision to review, in advance, any changes in election rules in states or districts with a proven history of discrimination. Where poll taxes, literacy tests and sheer terror once kept them from the polls, African Americans gained unprecedented citizen clout. Black interests and candidates gained new representation, and decades later high African American turnout helped elect and re-elect Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States. (more…)
Image by Ken Teegardin via Flickr
“Almost half of all Americans pay no taxes!” That’s the claim bandied about in elections and overheated television talk-fests. It refers only to federal income taxes, from which various groups are exempt. But many other taxes are also collected at the federal, state, and local levels. When all kinds of taxes are added up, almost all Americans pay substantial amounts. In fact, poor and middle-income people frequently fork over higher shares of their incomes than the very rich.
Federal Income and Payroll Taxes
The U.S. federal government relies on two big taxes collected from large numbers of Americans: the federal income tax and payroll taxes regularly deducted from wages and salaries to cover Social Security and Medicare benefits. Income and payroll taxes each contribute about 40% of federal revenues. Almost half of U.S. households currently do not owe federal income taxes, but over three-fifths of these “non-filers” are workers who contribute very substantial payroll taxes. For example, Americans making the lowest incomes pay nearly 9% of their wages in payroll taxes, about the same percentage as middle-income workers pay.
Only about 17% of American households pay neither income nor payroll taxes, because they are headed by people in special sub-groups:
- Elderly men and women, who previously contributed payroll taxes during their working lives, living on their Social Security benefits.
- Students or disabled individuals.
- Workers unable to find jobs. During the recent recession, the numbers of long-term unemployed people not filing income tax returns went up.
- Active-duty members of the U.S. military, who do not have to pay taxes on their combat pay and do not owe income tax after having been deployed. (more…)
Occupy Wall Street has put a public face on the backlash against growing inequality. As most Americans struggle to make ends meet, income and wealth at the very top continue to burgeon, in bad times as well as good. Although rag-tag protesters have been vilified, protests against the widest economic disparities in more than a century resonate with the wider public. For some time, the best research has documented shared American worries about inequality and broad support for steps to enhance opportunity. (more…)
Not long ago, the U.S. Census Bureau delivered very bad news about poverty in the United States. In 2010, 15.1% of Americans had incomes below the poverty line—set at $22,113 for a family of four—and the poverty rate for 2011 will be even higher. For older people who remember that poverty fell to 11.1% back in 1973, it may seem puzzling that things have gotten so much worse. Rising poverty is not a recent development either. Things were getting worse well before the Great Recession of December 2007 through June 2009. Given the way the U.S. economy works in our era, sluggish growth, high levels of joblessness, and persistently high poverty are likely to persist for years—unless our political leaders change course and do more to help the poor and near-poor. (more…)
Enterprises generating wind and solar power are growing fast in Europe, Asia, and the United States. As countries seek to limit fossil fuel emissions that spur global warming, the search for cleaner energy sources is on. Thirty years ago, the wind and solar industries did not exist, but now they are coming into their own, actively nurtured by governments across the globe.
On a good site with convenient access to transmission lines, wind power is highly competitive with power generated from fossil fuels like coal and oil. Texas and Iowa alone have installed over 15,000 megawatts of wind-power generation, equal to the energy that can be generated by fifteen nuclear power plants. In the last couple of years, solar prices have dropped as much as fifty percent, reaching parity with other sources in parts of Europe and the United States. California will soon have solar power capacity equal to several large nuclear power plants. (more…)