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| Posted: September 20th, 2013
“I’m supposed to set goals and take night classes that will expand my horizons, and I guess that works, Mary, I guess so. But to be honest, I feel like the real opportunities are the ones that fall into your lap. Like winning the lottery or someone’s rich uncle needing a personal assistant. That almost happened to me once, Mary. And everything would have been different.”—Sharon, Detroit
As anyone who’s familiar with the Urban Institute’s research on the changing wealth of Americans can tell you, not every person in the United States has the same opportunity to achieve that elusive American dream. Whether due to generational challenges, race, or even their parents’ economic standing, many face significant obstacles on the path to securing gainful employment and a safe place to call home—no matter how hard they work.
Lisa D’Amour’s Pulitzer-nominated play, Detroit, touches on these issues and more. The dark comedy follows two suburban couples as they deal with job loss, drug addiction, and the struggle to make it through another day in times of economic uncertainty. After successful runs in Chicago, London, and New York, Detroit arrived at Washington, DC’s Woolly Mammoth Theatre earlier this month.
On Saturday, September 28, the Urban Institute is partnering with Woolly Mammoth to host a post-show discussion on the play’s major themes, including long-term employment, substance abuse, and housing and suburban issues, set to follow the 3:00 performance. Featured panelists include Gregory Acs, Director of the Income and Benefits Policy Center; Nancy La Vigne, Director of the Justice Policy Center; and Rolf Pendall, Director of the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center. Erika Poethig, an Institute Fellow and Director of Urban Policy Initiatives will moderate.
Tickets to the performance and the panel are still available to the public. For those who can’t make it in person, @urbaninstitute will be live-tweeting the discussion that afternoon. Follow along: #WoollyDetroit
Filed under: People |Tags: Detroit, play, Urban Institute, Woolly Mammoth Add a Comment »
| Posted: September 13th, 2013
Most of us have a strong emotional reaction to the stories of gun violence that we hear almost daily on the local and national news. But this issue especially hit home to me this year when two things happened.
First, I was called to sit on the homicide grand jury for the District of Columbia, where for one month I heard hours of testimony about horrific shootings in our own city.
Then a young person that I had tutored for years was shot as an innocent bystander, and spent two weeks in the hospital followed by weeks of physical therapy recovering from her wounds.
As a health services researcher concerned with issues of the cost of care and access to services by the underserved, I became intrigued with learning about the health costs of such violence for the victims themselves and taxpayers. I found that there have been few studies of this issue, so my colleagues and I sought to remedy that. A new issue brief, The Hospital Costs of Gun Violence, is the result of a new Urban Institute study on the actual financial price we pay for gun violence.
While the total cost of such care is hard to measure due to lack of readily available data, I found that national data are available on the cost of emergency department and hospital inpatient care. This allowed us to examine the most expensive part of health care for victims of gun violence: their hospital care.
In 2010 alone, 36,000 victims of firearm assaults went to the emergency room, and 25,000 were admitted to the hospital. The total cost of that medical treatment for one year came to $630 million. As a comparison point, total Medicaid expenditure for the single state of Wyoming in 2010 was just $534 million.
What’s more, 52 percent of those costs are for people with publicly funded health insurance (primarily Medicaid), and another 28 percent of costs went to the uninsured. This makes it clear that taxpayers pay the largest share of these costs through Medicaid or uncompensated care, although some costs are borne by other payers or the uninsured themselves.
These findings provide some new evidence for policymakers who are embroiled in two separate, politically contentious debates, one concerning gun control and one concerning the Affordable Care Act (or “Obamacare”).
Under the insurance expansions that begin next month, millions more people—including many uninsured young males, who are often victims of gun violence— will receive Medicaid coverage.
As policymakers focus on how to contain health costs under an expanded program, our data point to the prevention of gun violence as a way to lower health costs, particularly those borne by taxpayers. It's a solution that would save taxpayers money and improve the lives of many young people.
Filed under: Government, People |Tags: gun control, gun violence, hospital costs, medicaid, taxpayers, Urban Institute 2 Comments »
| Posted: September 4th, 2013
I’ve written before about the HOST Demonstration, which is testing strategies for delivering intensive services to adults and children in public and mixed-income communities in four cities.
In Benning Terrace, our Washington, D.C. site, we are working with the community to develop a unique set of services for youth to address the critical problems of sexual health and safety that threaten children’s life chances—high rates of teen pregnancy, HIV and other sexually-transmitted infections, intimate partner violence, and older men who pressure girls to engage in “transactional sex.”
To address these sensitive issues, we are working actively with an advisory board made up of community residents, all of whom agree that these are big problems for their community. But they are teaching us that there is an even more basic issue we need to address first—these children and youth are hungry.
The community we’re working in is 10 minutes from the Capitol, not far from the booming neighborhoods that are attracting thousands of educated young people to D.C. It is hard to imagine that there are hungry and desperate children living so close to all of this affluence. Although it is not news that D.C. has a lot of poor communities, I think most of us assume programs like food stamps (SNAP) and free school lunches have taken care of the worst problems. But we know from our research in Chicago and other cities that substantial proportions of residents in public and assisted housing report problems affording enough food for their families and that they sometimes make painful trade-offs between buying food and paying their rent and utilities.
A report from Feeding America says that Washington, D.C. has a child food insecurity rate of 30 percent—the second-highest in the nation. Sometimes kids go hungry because of parental neglect, but more often it is because the money simply runs out before the end of the month, leaving the family struggling to make ends meet.
The lack of affordable and healthy options adds to the problems for families trying to feed large numbers of kids on a minimal budget. In too many poor D.C. communities, the “ice cream truck”— basically a convenience store on wheels—is the only source of groceries, charging high prices for low-quality food.
The shocking reality is that for kids in communities like Benning, hunger may push them into risky behavior—trading sexual favors for money or food. The threat is very real—we have heard stories from people who work in the community about older men pressuring girls for sex in exchange for money to buy things from the “ice cream truck.”
If we truly want to help these children to succeed in school and have better life chances, we are going to first have to ensure that their basic needs are being met.
Photo of Capital Building at night from Shutterstock
Filed under: Economy, People |Tags: Benning terrace, Capitol, child poverty, HOST, hunger, poverty, Urban Institute 1 Comment »
| Posted: August 27th, 2013
In the 1960s, black families looking for a place to live faced blatant discrimination from apartment building owners, home sellers, real estate agents, and community associations. Because of their race, they were denied homes and apartments in neighborhoods of their choice. Housing discrimination helped produce high levels of residential segregation in metropolitan areas across the country, excluding blacks from neighborhoods with high-quality housing, schools, and other public services.
The 1963 March on Washington called for an end to housing discrimination and segregation, and among the landmark legislation passed in the years immediately following, the federal Fair Housing Act (1968) outlawed racial discrimination in the private housing market. Soon thereafter, the newly founded Department of Housing and Urban Development launched the first of what became a roughly decennial series of studies measuring the prevalence of housing discrimination nationwide.
The latest national discrimination study was published in June and reports levels of discrimination against black, Hispanic, and Asian renters and homebuyers. Today, the blatant “door slamming” discrimination of the 1960s and 1970s is rare, but other, less easily detectable forms of discrimination persist. Most important, minority homeseekers are told about and shown fewer homes and apartments than if they were white, raising their housing search costs and restricting their housing options.
The fact that blatant discrimination against well-qualified minority homeseekers is rare doesn’t mean it never occurs. For example, the Fair Housing Justice Center recently brought suit against a real estate broker marketing two large housing cooperatives in the Bronx. Paired testing revealed that blacks weren’t offered or shown any homes in these co-ops, while comparably qualified whites were offered and shown nine homes. The lawsuit was resolved for injunctive relief and a monetary award, and the real estate broker agreed to surrender her license.
Although we’ve made a lot of progress since 1963, fair housing enforcement and education are still needed. The forms of discrimination that persist today are very difficult for victims to detect. So enforcement strategies can’t rely on individual complaints of suspected discrimination.
And fair housing enforcement alone can’t reverse the persistent patterns of segregation that past discrimination helped create. The evidence argues for multipronged strategies that include vigorous enforcement of anti-discrimination protections along with:
- education—about the availability and desirability of diverse neighborhoods;
- local regulatory reforms and affordable housing development—to open up exclusive communities and preserve affordable options in gentrifying neighborhoods;
- neighborhood reinvestment—to equalize the quality of services, resources, and amenities in minority neighborhoods; and
- new incentives—to encourage and nurture stable diversity.
All these elements are required to achieve the calls for free and fair housing choice still echoing from the 1963 March on Washington.
Photo from Flickr user Mr T in DC (CC BY-ND 2.0)
Filed under: People |Tags: discrimination, housing, March on Washington, MLK, race, Urban Institute 1 Comment »
| Posted: August 26th, 2013
[Negro Americans] must march from the cemeteries where our young and our newborns die three times sooner and our parents die seven years earlier. They must march from there to established health and welfare centers. – National Urban League Director Whitney Young, August 28, 1963
It is hard to believe that after half a century of social, scientific, and medical progress, these words by Whitney Young are as telling today as they were in 1963 when he spoke at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Today, as in the early 1960s, black infants are more than twice as likely as white infants to die within their first year of life.
Infant mortality has long been considered to be an important indicator of a nation’s health, and while it has fallen dramatically over the past five decades, there are still stark differences along socioeconomic, geographic, and especially racial lines. In 2009, the infant mortality rate was 12.4 infant deaths per 1,000 live births among blacks, compared to 5.3 among whites. Equally large and persistent differences by race are found for other birth outcomes – including stillbirths, preterm births, and low birth weight – and many of these contribute to the racial gap in infant mortality.
Many factors are known to affect birth outcomes – these include the mother’s age, education, health status, and behavior during pregnancy. But study after study show that these factors fail to explain large differences by race.
Highly educated white women who wait until their 20s and 30s to have a child have much better birth outcomes than highly educated black women of the same age. In fact, black mothers with college and even advanced degrees have a higher infant mortality rate than white mothers who have not finished high school.
Nor do genetics explain the difference. The birth weights of babies born in the US to African-born mothers are similar to those of babies born to white American mothers – and both are significantly higher than those born to black American women.
Researchers and others are still trying to solve this complex and worrying puzzle. They are expanding their inquiries by looking at women’s experiences across the course of their lives – including health early in life, in utero, and even in the prior generation – in an effort to understand what’s going on. They are also looking beyond individual level factors, to family and community conditions such as father involvement, reproductive social capital (how connected a pregnant woman feels to her to community), and community supports.
Finally, researchers are also looking more closely at how broader social and economic conditions, including racism, stress, and material hardship, shape the experiences and health of black women and their families. The evidence on the biology of disadvantage – how social and economic conditions affect our health and survival – is rapidly building and points to the need for radically different approaches to closing the black-white gap in birth outcomes.
Fifty years after the March on Washington, it is clear that we still have a long way to go before the life chances of a black newborn resemble those of a white newborn. We need to heed Whitney Young’s call to action now more than ever.
Graphic from Figure 2 of "From Figure 2 of Infant Mortality in the United States, 1937-2007: Over Seven Decades of Progress and Disparities"
Filed under: People, Quality of Life |Tags: health, infant mortality, March on Washington, MLK, Urban Institute Add a Comment »
| Posted: August 19th, 2013
Fifty years after the March on Washington, we are still dealing with the legacy of the federal government’s decision to permit local housing authorities to build huge public housing developments in poor, black communities.
As my colleagues and I discussed in our 2008 book, Public Housing and the Legacy of Segregation, the consequences of this decision were disastrous for both residents and communities. Instead of offering poor, African-American families decent housing and new opportunities, public housing helped reinforce patterns of concentrated poverty and racial segregation.
The original motivation for building this housing was to alleviate poverty—to clear slums and provide decent, affordable places to live. Much of this housing was intended for the many African-American families who had made their way north as part of the Great Migration and were now crowded in tenements that lacked basic facilities—running water, flush toilets, and reliable heat.
Initially, it seemed like these new developments might live up to their promise. In St. Louis and Chicago, the opening of high-rise developments like Pruitt-Igoe and Robert Taylor Homes were greeted with great fanfare, touting the modern, clean apartments.
But these developments were built in already poor, racially segregated communities. Chicago and Washington, D.C. constructed new highways and train lines that cut residents off from the rest of the city. These “modern” high-rises quickly became national symbols of the failures of the War on Poverty, suffering all the ills of chronic poverty and disadvantage: female-headed households, high rates of unemployment, low levels of education, shocking levels of physical and mental illness, and most of all, overwhelming drug trafficking and violent crime. After just 15 years, the St. Louis Housing Authority declared its showplace Pruitt-Igoe uninhabitable; film of the 1975 demolition of the homes made the national news.
Many factors contributed to the failures of public housing in the United States.
- Poor design and construction coupled with ineffective management meant that the buildings quickly deteriorated.
- The large numbers of multi-bedroom units meant that the properties were dominated by big families, creating an “unnatural” adult-child ratio that contributed to vandalism and disorder.
- The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) failed to provide adequate funding for operations, prompting housing authorities to hike tenant rents, driving out those who could afford better options.
- The Brooke Amendment, passed in 1969, capped rents at 30 percent of tenants’ income and provided operating funds, but made public housing less attractive for working families with higher incomes.
- The Reagan administration, under pressure to do something about the rise in homelessness, gave homeless families and individuals priority for public housing.
- As conditions deteriorated, families who could afford better options fled, leaving behind a population increasingly dominated by the poorest and most vulnerable families.
The transformation of public housing that began in the 1990s with the HOPE VI program has led to the demolition of much of the worst housing. New mixed-income developments constructed with today’s best design principles have replaced dilapidated properties in many cities. And the Section 8 voucher program has offered poor families the opportunity to find housing in the private market, sometimes even providing assistance with finding housing in areas that should offer greater opportunity—better schools, parks, and access to jobs.
But, while these efforts mean that many residents are now living in better housing in safer neighborhoods and have a better quality of life, even the most ambitious efforts have done little to help lift these families out of poverty. As we concluded in our book, until we as a nation are willing to have an honest conversation about the legacy of racial segregation in public housing, these families are likely to continue to be left behind.
Public housing photo from Shutterstock
Filed under: Built Environment, People |Tags: March on Washington, MLK, public housing, segregation, Urban Institute 2 Comments »
| Posted: August 13th, 2013
When Martin Luther King Jr. led the March on Washington in 1963, blacks were dramatically underrepresented in high-wage local government employment—good jobs in the police and firefighting forces, in public schools, in elected office.
This inequality undoubtedly compromised these governments’ ability to represent and serve their black constituents. It also held blacks back from an important avenue of social, economic, and political advancement from which their white counterparts benefited.
Fifty years later, our cities have become dramatically more diverse. Has black and other minority representation in local government jobs caught and kept up?
To answer this question, our Census Bureau partner Todd Gardner harmonized restricted-use data from 1960 through 2006-2010, categorizing government employment into low- and high-wage jobs. He broke the data down by race and by metro, central city, and region. The change over 50 years is fascinating.
The graphic above shows the share of each race group employed in local government, divided by the share of that race group in the working-age population. Values greater than one show overrepresentation; values less than one show underrepresentation.
Overall, in the nation’s large metro areas:
- High-wage minority representation increased dramatically between 1960 and 1970, the period encompassing the Civil Rights movement.
- Blacks gains in high-wage representation continued after 1970, but blacks are still overrepresented in low-wage jobs.
- Other minorities have been and still are underrepresented in high-wage employment.
- Whites remain overrepresented in high-wage employment.
As usual, there is critical and fascinating variation by region and metro. For example:
- In Columbus, Ohio, blacks and Hispanics have actually lost high-wage representation since 1980.
- They have also become less overrepresented in low-wage jobs.
- In Chicago, blacks were nearly proportionally represented in 1970 (the first year of Chicago data) and remain so today.
- Other racial groups in Chicago have also remained steady, though underrepresented.
- Atlanta exemplifies how stark differences in representation can be between metros and their central cities.
- In central Atlanta, all race groups except whites have become better represented since 1960.
- In the metro overall, blacks and Hispanics are less well-represented, and whites have climbed back to their 1960-level of overrepresentation.
- In Midwestern metros, minorities have actually become less well-represented since 1990, dropping close to 1960 levels.
- In other regions, all minorities made large gains between 1960 and 1970 and have held steady since then.
What does the story look like in your city? How does it enhance the narrative of social and economic equality brought to light so forcefully 50 years ago by MLK and other civil rights leaders? What role should local government play in actively advancing equality and prosperity?
City Hall image from Shutterstock
Filed under: Government, People |Tags: Census, local government, March on Washington, race, Urban Institute 1 Comment »
Margery Turner Matthew Rogers
| Posted: August 1st, 2013
August 28 marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, best remembered for Martin Luther King’s visionary speech anticipating the day when Americans “will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
But the March on Washington was not only a demonstration for civil rights. Its full name was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and its demands extended beyond civil rights and voting rights to include economic rights. The 250,000 Americans who assembled around the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool demanded the rights to get and keep a job, live in a decent home, obtain quality healthcare and education, and escape from poverty.
Over the five years that followed, Congress enacted a broad and ambitious array of “Great Society” initiatives introduced by Lyndon Johnson in response to the nationwide calls amplified by those who marched in 1963. The most famous programs of that era include the Civil Rights Act (1964), the Voting Rights Act (1965), Medicare (1965), and Medicaid (1965). But those years also saw passage of legislation touching almost every dimension of our social and economic lives:
- The Economic Opportunity Act (1964) created Job Corps, VISTA, and other job training programs intended to alleviate poverty;
- the Food Stamp Act (1964) expanded the Food Stamp Program that had been piloted in 1961;
- the Urban Mass Transportation Act (1964) authorized funding for mass transit and created what is now the Federal Transit Administration;
- the Immigration and Nationality Act (1965) ended immigration preferences for northern Europeans;
- the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965) provided federal financial assistance for educational opportunities and emphasized equal access to education for all;
- the Higher Education Act (1965) provided financial assistance for postsecondary students;
- the Older Americans Act (1965) funded health, nutrition, and civil rights services for the elderly;
- the Demonstration Cities and Metropolitan Development Act (1966) provided for better coordination of public projects in cities and transportation projects nationwide; and
- the Fair Housing Act (1968) outlawed racial discrimination in the private housing market.
LBJ recognized that not all these new programs would work—that some would be effective while others would fall disappointingly short of their goals, that problems would evolve over time, and that causality wasn’t yet well understood. So he chartered a commission of business and civic leaders to figure out how best to apply scientific evidence and analysis to the social and economic policy challenges of the day—the challenges that brought so many Americans to Washington in 1963.
The Urban Institute is the product of that commission’s deliberations. At its launch in 1968, Johnson’s remarks echoed the idealism of the March for Jobs and Freedom: “The work the Institute will do—the studies and the evaluations and the free and searching inquiries—will build the strongest foundation upon which we can renew our cities and transform the lives of people.”
In the years since, we’ve done our best to live up to LBJ’s vision for the Urban Institute. The March on Washington’s calls for equity and access to opportunity echo through our research on health care, tax policy, criminal justice, workforce development, housing and neighborhoods, and the social safety net.
But the poverty, inequality, and hardship that catalyzed the March on Washington haven’t been eradicated. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be posting our most current analyses of disparities between blacks and whites in America, and how they’ve changed (or not) since 1963. We hope you’ll join us in a fact-based conversation about how our country can move closer to the realization of MLK’s dream.
March on Washington image used with 17 U.S.C. § 105 permissions.
Filed under: Economy, Government, People |Tags: Civil Rights, March on Washington, Martin Luther King, MLK, Urban Institute Add a Comment »
Abigail Baum Mary Cunningham
| Posted: July 30th, 2013
Ziggy was kicked out of her house by her brothers when she was 14, because she was a lesbian. She tried every morning to get up and continue to attend school, even though for weeks at time, she didn’t know where she would sleep each night.
There are many more youth who, like Ziggy, experience homelessness, but the true number is unknown. While there are annual efforts to count the number of people who experience homelessness, youth tend to be a hidden population that is missed and misrepresented.
The methods commonly used for counting adult homeless do not accurately capture the survival strategies common to youth. Instead of frequenting shelters and food pantries, youth are mobile and transient, preferring to hang out in public settings like bus depots, fast food restaurants, or the mall.
Further, homeless youth try to hide in plain sight, not wanting to draw attention to themselves for fear of being placed in or returned to an undesirable home situation, fear of police, wariness of the stigma attached to being homeless, and concern about being taken advantage of. They try to blend in or disappear into the background. Instead of entering homeless shelters, most of which are set up for adults, many double up or couch surf.
Strategies to remain invisible leave homeless youth vulnerable to victimization. Many experience violence and are lured into prostitution.
Last winter, nine communities across the country (Boston; Cleveland; Hennepin County, MN; Houston; Los Angeles; New York City; King County/Seattle, WA; Washington State; and Winston-Salem, NC) participated in the Youth Count! initiative to improve counts of unaccompanied homeless youth—those not connected to their families. The sites used various strategies, including conducting surveys, expanding their coverage areas to include places where youth congregate, holding magnet events to encourage youth to be counted, and coordinating with runaway and homeless youth providers, LGBTQ organizations, and schools.
The Urban Institute conducted a process study of the initiative to identify promising practices that could be adapted and taken to scale to produce credible and useful data nationwide. We just released the results today, and you can read more here.
Why count homeless youth? It is crucial to obtain more accurate, detailed information on the prevalence, characteristics, and needs of homeless youth in order to develop a system that supports youth in need and will end or prevent their homelessness. Better data on youth homelessness will strengthen the ability of agencies to design solutions and better serve youth like Ziggy.
Filed under: People |Tags: count YouthCount!, homeless, Urban Institute, youth Add a Comment »