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Urban Culture Archive
| Posted: February 20th, 2013
When I was a teenager, my friends and I knew that any argument we had on the phone with a love interest was privy only to anyone within earshot of our families’ landlines. If it got ugly, we always knew we could leave the phone off the hook and the badgering would stop.
That was before the dawn of the Internet, cell phones, text messages, and social media. The digital age has made it nearly impossible for teens to tune out the noise and even harder for parents, teachers, and other mentors to hear it.
This is what I think about when I read news stories describing young people falling victim to abusive partners only to have investigators unearth a long history of digital harassment afterward.
The story that got the most media attention in recent years involved two student athletes at the University of Virginia, but there have also been haunting reports involving even younger couples.
In one case, a 16-year-old Pennsylvania girl died after being stabbed 16 times by her ex-boyfriend. Afterward her parents found hundreds of concerning text messages that they never knew about. By then it was too late to save her.
These are two extreme cases, but digital abuse and harassment threatens the psychological and physical well-being of many, many teen boyfriends and girlfriends every day. And the scariest part is that these kids rarely ask anyone for help, even their friends.
How big is the digital abuse problem among teens?
My colleague Meredith Dank and I spent the past two years examining the role technology plays in teen dating abuse. We set out to learn how perpetrators use digital means to hurt their partners, when they do it, and what victims do, or don’t do, about it.
Digital abuse and harassment includes having an email or social media account hacked and misused, “sexting” demands, and constant or threatening text messages.
The results show that we have a long way to go. Surveying 5,647 middle-school and high-school students in the tri-state area, we found that more than 1 in 4 dating teens feels they’ve been digitally victimized by their partners, but only 9 percent seek any help and almost never from their parents and teachers.
Even more, our study told us that this often-undetected form of harassment is a red flag for other abuse:
- 84 percent who reported digital abuse said they were also psychologically abused,
- 52 percent said they were also physically abused, and
- 33 percent said they were also sexually coerced.
How can we fight digital abuse?
We now know that digital abuse is prevalent among teenagers, we know it hurts them, and—from the news stories I mentioned earlier—we know it can have fatal consequences. We still need to learn the best ways of fighting it.
We need to determine what makes teens reluctant to report digital abuse and get solid answers to some key questions:
- Have teens come to accept that electronic harassment is just part of growing up?
- If teens are more likely to speak with friends about it, would organizing digital abuse peer groups in school help?
- Could other in-school programming make a difference?
- How involved in a teen’s digital life should parents be?
Maybe it starts with an open-ended conversation with kids about using digital media, beginning even before they start using it. Maybe using monthly phone bills to keep track of the number of text messages teens send and receive is a good idea.
We don’t have all the answers yet, but we owe it to our kids to keep asking questions about digital abuse and gathering actionable information that can be used to foster healthier, safer, and happier childhoods.
Filed under: People, Quality of Life, Urban Culture Add a Comment »
| Posted: February 14th, 2013
Homeless man sleeping in John Marshall Park, NW Washington, DC. Photo by: Flickr users rjs 1322 used under a Creative Commons License (cc-by-sa 2.0)
It is difficult to reconcile the recent reports of 600 children living in improvised shelters in abandoned DC General Hospital buildings with the District’s year-end surplus of $400 million. As someone who has studied the lack of affordable housing in DC for more than a decade, I agree with Mayor Gray: it’s time to pay out a "prosperity dividend."
Living in a resilient, booming city has meant great things for middle- and upper-income DC residents: ramen on H Street, oysters at Union Market, ice-skating at Canal Park, and events at Living Social. New amenities like these have made the city more attractive. People want to live and play in DC, and they are buying houses in Bloomingdale, Hill East, Trinidad, and along H Street.
At the same time, the city’s prosperity has put pressure—in the form of rising rents—on its poorest families. Most are rent burdened, so even a minor fluctuation in salary or benefits puts their housing at risk. The result: homelessness among families in DC has steadily risen every year for the past five (increasing 72 percent during that time). Stimulus programs that helped slow the rise, like the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program (HPRP), are long gone.
The Washington Post’s picture of two adorable babies sharing a stroller to keep warm is likely to pull on some heartstrings—and it should. However, budget-minded policymakers should also know that the temporary option isn’t necessarily the cheapest option. Shelters can cost significantly more than subsidizing rent. (See this HUD study.) Some homeless families languish in shelter and transitional housing for months, or even years, a very costly response. So the lack of action is not only morally repugnant; it is bad policy.
In his state of the city address, Mayor Gray announced a $100 million commitment to affordable housing. It is unclear what he plans to do with those funds, since his office has yet to share any formal strategy. If the mayor wants to help the 600 children and their families living in DC General, along with other homeless families throughout the city, here is where he should put the money:
- $10 million for a new Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program (HPRP). During the recession, HPRP provided DC $7.5 million from the federal government to fund housing and supportive services. The program ended in September 2012, leaving an enormous gap to fill. This model is critical for helping families pay the rent and avoid long, costly stays in the shelter system.
- $40 million for the Local Rent Supplement Program. This established program, which operates similarly to the housing voucher program, is ready to provide subsidies to families so they can rent housing in the private market. All it needs is more money. For the past several years, funding for local rent supplements has hovered between $12 and $19 million and has served only a fraction of the need.
- $50 million for the Housing Production Trust Fund. In recent years, the Housing Trust Fund has been an unstable source for affordable housing preservation and production. It is time to shore up resources, set preservation and production goals, and build capacity among nonprofit housing developers, especially ones that develop permanent supportive housing for poor, disabled families and veterans.
A surplus of this size leaves no excuse. It is time to act.
Filed under: Built Environment, Economy, Government, People, Quality of Life, Urban Culture, Washington DC |Tags: homeless children, homeless prevention and rapid rehousing program, homelessness, housing production trust fund, HUD, local rent supplement program, washington dc budget surplus, Washington dc mayor vincent gray 1 Comment »
| Posted: July 24th, 2012
For middle-class families, summer means fun outdoor activities and a break from school schedules. But for many youth from poor, isolated, inner-city communities, it also means too much free time. Middle-class options such as camps, summer jobs, and sports are often either too expensive or not readily available in poor neighborhoods. The lack of high-quality, engaging summer programming means youth may not have a safe place to go while their parents are at work. Even those engaged in daytime activities may not be receiving the quality educational or recreational programming necessary to keep them healthy and to avoid the “summer slide.” Johns Hopkins’s National Summer Learning Association reports that, on average, youth from lower-income families lose two months of learning, or 22 percent of the school year, during their summer break—and those losses are cumulative, meaning that lower-income youth are also less likely to graduate from high school or attend college. Lower-income youth are also more likely to experience negative health outcomes, such as obesity, over summer break. On average, weight gain is three times faster during summer months.
Ensuring that youth are involved in positive summer activities is also important for the strength and safety of a community’s living environment. Teenagers without jobs or a place to go can create a challenge for the people and community around them.
Many public housing authorities, including the communities participating in the Urban Institute’s Housing Opportunities and Services Together Demonstration (HOST), struggle to serve their young residents during the summer, relying on limited resources to reach large numbers of kids.
HOST Portland site—Home Forward, New Columbia, and Humboldt Gardens developments
As part of HOST, Home Forward (formerly the Housing Authority of Portland) developed a package of creative strategies to support families and their children age 0–18 throughout the summer. These programs include family reading hours and Zumba classes, community gardening, summer internships, and volunteer experiences. Run to Live, a mentoring and exercise program for youth, seeks to show kids how daily choices can help support a healthy lifestyle and connects them with peers and a mentor for support and guidance.
Although Run to Live is popular among Home Forward youth, consistently engaging youth in outdoor exercise-driven, summer activity remains a challenge. The Home Forward staff are exploring the idea of providing stipends or rewards for youth who participate in Run to Live on a regular basis.
HOST Chicago site—Chicago Housing Authority, Altgeld Development
UCAN, in conjunction with Project Match, are the youth service providers for the HOST Demonstration’s Chicago site. Their programs are geared toward achievement, competition, motivation, empowerment, and goal setting. With youth under 18 representing more than 50 percent of residents, staff describe the sometimes daunting challenge of meeting the diverse needs of so many young people.
Among the more successful programs are those aimed at older youth and those that provide youth with a financial stipend. Learn and Earn is a CHA program available to HOST participants. The six-week program for 155 youth ages 13–15 that offers career exploration and weekly field trips, along with a weekly stipend. For the Growing Power program, youth ages 16–21 must compete for the 120 slots available to work in Altgeld’s community garden through a summer youth employment program. Participating youth receive a $700 stipend for six weeks of participation. Certain youth are able to work in the garden throughout the year. Another popular activity is the year-round (though space-limited) Martial Arts program that helps youth ages 5–17 focus their energy on goal setting and behavior management, a common struggle for tweens and teens.
The Chicago and Portland HOST sites have made tremendous progress in addressing the needs of their younger residents, though they both struggle to keep their kids engaged in positive, goal-oriented activities. Providing consistent, year-round programming and offering incentives and stipends seem to help maintain participation. The hope is that the activities and mentorship programs they provide will help improve youth outcomes (physical, behavioral, and educational) and promote healthier communities overall. The Urban Institute will be evaluating their progress over the next few years.
Filed under: Built Environment, People, Quality of Life, Urban Culture 3 Comments »
| Posted: July 11th, 2012
Who fared worse in terms of unemployment during the Great Recession—men or women? And who’s doing better in the recovery? The conclusions differ among researchers and politicians alike. So, who’s right?
Looking at the total 6 million jobs lost during the official recession period, December 2007 to June 2009, we find that 74 percent of those jobs were held by men, compared with 26 percent held by women. Men’s employment declined by roughly 6 percent while women’s employment decreased by 2.4 percent. So, it’s true that men were disproportionately affected by job loss during the Great Recession.
But unemployment peaked at different times for men and women. Men’s unemployment peaked at 11.2 percent in October 2009, when overall unemployment also peaked, roughly coinciding with the end of the recession. From the beginning of the recession to the peak unemployment level, men’s unemployment rate rose by 120 percent. Women’s unemployment peaked at 9 percent over a year later in November 2010 and represented an 84 percent increase from where it was at the start of the recession. Even though the rates peaked at different times, the conclusion is pretty much the same. When comparing unemployment rates, men were hit harder during the recession with both a higher level of unemployment and a larger percentage increase in the rate.
Unemployment Rate, by Gender, Dec 2007 - May 2012
Source: BLS Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey (CPS)
Now what about the recovery period? From its peak in October 2009 through May 2012, men’s unemployment fell by 2.8 percentage points, a 25 percent decline. At the same time, the total number of men employed grew by 2.5 million, a 3.4 percent increase. As of May 2012, women’s unemployment had fallen by 1.1 percentage points, a 12 percent decline from its peak in November 2010. An additional 1.3 million became employed, a 2 percent increase from the November 2010 employment level.
Employment, by Gender, Dec 2007 - May 2012
Source: BLS Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey (CPS)
Since reaching peak unemployment through May 2012, men and women have had steady increases in employment and decreases in their unemployment rates. But men appeared to bounce back earlier than women, with steadier positive employment growth and consistent declines in the unemployment rate. Women did appear to gain some employment traction beginning in December 2011 that has continued through the first half of 2012. As of May, women have experienced a net loss of 1 million jobs since the beginning of the recession, or 2 percent of jobs held in 2007. Men had a net loss of 2.9 million jobs over the same period, or 4 percent of jobs held in 2007.
A look at the employment-to-population ratios provides further insight into the labor market dynamics of each group because they take account of people who might have left the labor force because they thought no jobs were available. During the recession, men’s employment-to-population ratio fell from 69.4 to 64.6, a 7 percent decrease. For women, the ratio fell from 56.5 to 54.5, only a 4 percent change. Since the recession’s end, men’s employment-to-population ratio has roughly remained steady. Among women, the employment-to-population ratio dropped post-recession between June 2009 and November 2010 when women’s unemployment peaked; it has remained fairly steady since. Although people are no longer dropping out of the labor market in droves, both men and women are still well below their pre-recession employment-to-population levels.
Bottom line: several different measurements of labor market strength suggest that men fared worse in the recession, suffering greater job loss than women. But the numbers also indicate that men are recovering those jobs faster. We should use caution and not overstate the significance of these differences in the recovery. The industries in which the majority of women are employed are more “recession-proof” than those with higher concentrations of men; they didn’t shed as many jobs during the recession and therefore have much less ground to make up. Still, despite being overrepresented in the hardest hit industries, men appear to doing better in the recovery.
Filed under: Assets and debts, Government, Quality of Life, Urban Culture 1 Comment »
| Posted: July 10th, 2012
Could the debate over gay marriage force the federal government to correct the crazy ways our broken welfare and tax systems treat the institution? So far, the marriage discussion has focused on the rights of different couples to wed, but the issue stretches way beyond this rather limited focus. The government today spends hundreds of billions of dollars annually both fining and subsidizing marriage. Yet the funds are distributed unevenly and poorly, typically penalizing married couples during their childraising years and rewarding them when the children are grown. They also tend to penalize marriage more for those who are poorer. Those who can gain the most from this system are those who, legality aside, consider a marriage vow optional.
As social pressure for adults to marry has declined, government marriage penalties have risen and reinforced that decline. Though many forces are at play in both developments, these trends have made a huge equity issue loom ever larger. Current law benefits most those who are willing to opt not to marry when there are penalties and opt into the system when there are bonuses. Couples who choose to marry—for love, family, religion—despite the penalties they’ll incur are the ones who lose.
A little explanation. Marriage penalties today arise in spending and tax subsidy programs largely as a byproduct of historic efforts to support children. Outside of public education, these supports for children are removed as income rises. And marriage tends to increase that income.
This trend affects low-income – often metro – areas in particular. In effect, not taking the marriage vow is the primary “tax shelter” available for low- and moderate-income individuals, and aggregate incomes in those communities would fall substantially should they start to marry in greater proportions.
In contrast, Social Security provides large subsidies for married couples. Unlike private pensions, spousal and survivor benefits are paid for by all workers, including those who are ineligible because they were married for less than 10 years. And workers get these benefits for their spouses independently of raising children or paying a dime more than other workers. As a result, many workers, especially low-income women raising children, pay more taxes and raise more children than many Social Security spouses and survivors who do neither but still get higher benefits. Think of this marriage bonus as a penalty for singles, including abandoned parents.
These structures, unfairly and inefficiently designed in the first place, have become increasingly outdated relative to the conditions and needs of the modern society. Yet year after year, both political parties have indiscriminately created and added to these various marriage penalties and subsidies. Because so much money is at stake, they have been afraid so far to engage in any fundamental reform.
As wedding vows become more of an optional item for those who do not believe in the institution of marriage, one wonders how long this increasingly inequitable structure can stand.
A longer version of this column is available on Gene's new blog, Government We Deserve. Subscribe to more from Gene Steuerle.
Filed under: Quality of Life, Urban Culture 1 Comment »
| Posted: July 5th, 2012
In 2010 almost half of 17-year-olds, two-thirds of 18-year-olds, and three-fourths of 19-year-olds were licensed drivers. Sadly, motor vehicle crashes are the single largest cause of death for this age group in the United States and around the world. In 2009 over 2,300 teen drivers were killed and almost 200,000 more were injured in motor vehicle crashes in the United States. In fact, the majority of teen drivers have a crash within six months of getting their licenses. And shockingly, for two out of three 16- to 19-year-old drivers who were killed in a car crash, it was their first crash.
Licensing rates and crash rates among teens are down, although the cause is debated: is it the poor economy, the lure of online pursuits and computer games, a growing green sentiment, or a response to safety programs? No one really knows, although such successes surely have many “mothers.” Yet despite these impressive gains, in 2009, when drivers ages 15 to 20 represented only 6.1 percent of all drivers on U.S. highways, they accounted for 11 percent of all drivers involved in fatal crashes and 14 percent of all drivers involved in police-reported crashes.
We know that young drivers face special challenges in driving due to a combination of immaturity and inexperience: they’re more likely to speed, take risks, drive distracted, and lose control of their vehicles. Young drivers often feel invincible; that, combined with poor decisionmaking and inadequate recognition of risk, leads to crashes. Not surprisingly, teen drivers are at fault in almost 80 percent of the serious crashes in which they are involved. Teens of color, those most likely to live in metro areas, are at special risk; for example crash rates among male Latino teen drivers have been going up even as they’ve been dropping for all other teen drivers.
We know that female teens are safer than male drivers—but young women are becoming bigger risk takers and so may start to close the gender gap in teen crash rates. We also know that driver education programs are NOT associated with lower crash rates. Then what’s the answer? Data from the United States and around the world show the same thing: keep young people off the road for as long as possible and you will significantly reduce teen crashes and crash deaths. Nothing works better than that—crash risk drops remarkably for every 6 months of age; 18-year-olds are many times safer than 16-year-olds. Graduated License Programs that seriously constrain the total amount of driving young people are allowed to do in their teen years are clearly linked to lower teen crashes. Better yet: follow the European and especially Scandinavian lead and raise the driver licensing age to 19 or 20. Because, on average, no teenager is a safe driver.
Filed under: Quality of Life, Urban Culture Add a Comment »
| Posted: March 31st, 2012
Last week, MetroTrends bloggers brought evidence to bear on both current controversies and future visions:
Filed under: Built Environment, Crime, Quality of Life, Urban Culture Add a Comment »
- John Roman and Mitch Downey assemble key facts on homicides to show that Stand Your Ground laws, like Florida’s, likely lead to miscarriages of justice.
- Margery Turner argues that affordable housing is a critical ingredient in DC’s efforts to ensure kids’ success in school.
- Barbara Ormond envisions a future of urban bike commuting – and the health benefits it could bring.
John Roman and Mitchell Downey
| Posted: March 29th, 2012
By any measure, the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman was a tragedy. As has been widely reported, George Zimmerman was monitoring his community in an unofficial neighborhood watch role and spotted the teenaged Martin walking through the Sanford, Florida streets. Zimmerman found Martin to be suspicious and the altercation that ensued left Martin dead.
From this incident, important questions have been raised about “Stand Your Ground” (SYG) laws in place in Florida and 28 other states. In all states, private citizens have the right to use lethal force in their homes in self-defense. SYG laws extend that right to public places, such as the Sanford streets. And, these laws transfer the fact finding about whether the homicide was justifiable from a jury to law enforcement. That is, in most states without these laws, a jury must determine that the homicide was a justifiable use of lethal force in self-defense. In SYG states—including Florida—the shooter cannot be arrested unless law enforcement finds probable cause the shooting was unlawful.
That moves this crucial decision from the courtroom to the street and tilts the odds in favor of the shooter. Thus, the Trayvon Martin case provides ample evidence that SYG laws weaken justice.
While we cannot know for certain what happened in Sanford, we can look at years of homicide data to determine where the burden of proof should lie in these types of homicide cases. If there are types of homicide where shootings are often justified, SYG laws are reasonable. However, if there are few circumstances where shootings are justified, those laws will impede justice.
We turned to the Supplemental Homicide Report (SHR) maintained by the FBI, which includes all reported homicides in the US, including justifiable homicides, to determine what types of cases—and how often—civilian use of deadly force was justified.
First, it is important to note that justifiable homicides are exceedingly rare. Between January 2005 and December 2009 there were more than 73,000 homicides in the United States but less than 2 percent (1,148) were found to be justifiable.
We combed the data to identify homicides which resemble the known facts from the Trayvon Martin case—cases in which there was a single victim and a single shooter (both of whom were civilians and strangers) and in which the victim was killed by a handgun. We identified 4,650 of these cases in the SHR. Of these, just 10.9 percent (506) were ruled to be justifiable homicides.
However, we note that these numbers vary by whether a state is a SYG state. In SYG states, 13.6% of homicides under these circumstances are found to be justified. In non-SYG states, only 7.2 percent are justified.
We then looked for a scenario where homicides are justified more than half the time. It turns out that the scenario with the highest probability of being a justified homicide is much like the Martin case—a single, White civilian handgun shooter who is a stranger to (and older than) the Black victim. But even then, the shooting is found to be justified less than half the time.
Finally, we searched the SHR data for cases that matched all the facts of the Martin case (including ages and races). Out of 70,000 cases, we find that the homicides similar to the Martin case occurred just 23 times in five years. Of those 23 cases, only 9 (39 percent) were ruled to be justifiable homicides.
Since the overwhelming majority of shootings are not justified, it seems clear that SYG laws reduce the chance for justice by moving the burden of proof from the shooter to law enforcement.
In the Martin case, since Florida is a SYG state, the law strongly favors Zimmerman. It appears as though local law enforcement will not find probable cause that Zimmerman’s shooting was unjustified. By contrast, without the SYG law, it seems reasonable to predict that Zimmerman would not be able to demonstrate to a jury that the shooting was justified. Thus, history suggests Florida’s Stand Your Ground law will lead to a miscarriage of justice.
Filed under: Crime, Quality of Life, Urban Culture 60 Comments »
| Posted: March 27th, 2012
Bicycle commuting is on the rise, albeit from a low base, according to data from the American Community Survey. In Washington, DC, commuting by bicycle has more than doubled over the past decade from 1.2 percent of commuters to 3.1 percent. Portland, OR, claims the largest share of bicycle commuters in the country—a share that has grown rapidly from 1.8 percent in 2000 to 6.0 percent in 2010.
Among Bicycle Friendly Communities, as defined by the League of American Bicyclists, commuting by bike is more common. The League awards the “Bicycle Friendly” designation to cities that encourage bicycling and provide “safe accommodation for cycling,” in part through public policies. Portland received a platinum award in 2011, while DC earned silver.
So, bike-friendly policies may encourage more cyclists or it may be that cities with lots of cyclists are more likely to enact bike-friendly policies. Either way, the policies that cities enact can facilitate the trend. DC has added bike lanes to many streets. National Capital Bike Share makes bicycles available at strategic points around the city, giving residents easy access to bikes for short trips around town or for commuting to and from work. Similar programs have sprung up in many cities across the country (including Portland) and the world (for example, in Paris, France). And for good reason: bicycle commuting can lead to reduced pollution, less traffic congestion, and improved fitness. It can also be faster than other ways of commuting. The National Bike Summit was held in DC, March 20-23, to bring attention to ways that national policy can support bike-friendly communities.
Over time, traffic in DC may resemble more bike-friendly cities abroad. I remember watching rush hour from my hotel window in Bamako, Mali, some 25 years ago. Streams of bicycles mixed with a smattering of mopeds, a few real motorcycles, and an occasional car or truck—all crossing the river into the capital city as the sun came up. Pedestrians walked along the sides of the bridge. Last year, I saw rush hour in Hanoi, Vietnam. The components were the same but the mix was different. Motorcycles dominated, cars and mopeds came next in about equal numbers, and a few brave bicyclists joined in. This morning’s rush hour in Washington, DC, was composed almost completely of cars, with very few motorized bikes of any sort. But I have been struck by the gradual increase in bicycles over the past couple of years. DC has nowhere near as many bicyclists as Hanoi does, but they are no longer the novelty they were when I moved here in 1981. Rush hour is evolving, if slowly, and that will be good for urban health.
Filed under: Quality of Life, Urban Culture, Washington DC Add a Comment »