Even after felons pay their dues to society and leave prison, America sidelines them from the public square. Parolees and probationers are often perceived as undeserving of citizen benefits, and they have little power to assert their rights. Not only do governments often deny felons public resources such as Food Stamps, subsidized college loans, public housing and professional opportunities like licenses and contracts, it is also common for U.S. states to deny former prisoners the right to vote and otherwise exercise full and free citizenship. (more…)
The state of Texas leads the nation in the percentage of residents lacking health insurance. In 2012, nearly a quarter of the state’s population went without health coverage, some 6.4 million people. Texas alone is home to 13% of all uninsured Americans, with poor and low-income people the most affected. More than ninety percent of well-off Texans have health insurance. But the ranks of the uninsured include more than two out of five impoverished Texans—as well as more than a quarter of individuals earning modest incomes in 2014 between $11,670 and $46,680 (or between $19,970 and $79,880 for a family of three). (more…)
When the Congressional Budget Office issued its latest report about the Affordable Care Act in early February, public reaction was sharp—and mostly focused on a drop of worrisome news in a sea of encouraging findings. On the good news side, the report found that insurance premiums are considerably lower than previously anticipated by the Budget Office, and that health reform is now projected to cost $9 billion less than previously estimated. And it debunked worries about a legal provision designed to buffer insurance companies from risk; it is not at all a “bailout,” as some have claimed, and indeed the federal government is projected to take in billions more than it spends. These and other encouraging findings were overshadowed by attention to another projection—that reform may reduce employment and worker hours by the equivalent of about two million full time positions in 2017. (more…)
The idea that legislators work on behalf of their constituents and cast votes in accordance with constituency opinion is central to our understanding of how democracy is supposed to work. Political science research often considers whether representatives actually function this way—and new questions arise when legal term limits come into the picture. In recent times, Congress and state legislatures have gotten very low approval ratings from the public, and some reformers have pushed term limits—rules that prevent legislators from seeking re-election after one or more terms—as a remedy.
Legislative term limits are celebrated by proponents as a way to increase electoral competitiveness, limit the “incumbency advantage,” and ensure greater accountability by elected officials. But critics argue that term limits can actually make legislators less responsive to constituents, by allowing representatives to abstain from votes and shirk their duties. We have looked into this issue and found that term limits don’t necessarily lead to avoiding votes. Legislators’ goals for their future careers and the types of votes at issue matter more than term limits alone. (more…)
To many liberal critics, America’s swollen prisons have grown like a rapacious weed—one entirely immune to efforts to hack it back. The growth of incarceration seems inexorable and irreversible, driven by a combination of cynical politics, racial inequalities, and lobbying by corporations, unions, and towns that profit from the prison business.
These self-reinforcing dynamics are very real, but they are not cause for despair. In fact, there is reason to hope that the political momentum is turning against our over-reliance on cuffs and cages. The U.S. prison population declined each year from 2009 through 2012, and the number of new inmates admitted to state and federal prisons has reached a 12-year low. States from Texas to New York have taken aggressive steps to curb their prison populations, and even the U.S. Congress is entertaining sweeping reforms. There is no more important force in this reversal of political fortunes than the willingness of conservatives to take a more critical look at our prison system. (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.