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| Posted: November 20th, 2013
For many years Urban Institute studies have provided fundamental information about American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) communities, including demographics, housing conditions, and federal assistance designed to help AIAN households in need.
An Urban report highlighting tribal use of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) was released November 8. And two other studies, a congressionally mandated assessment of Native American housing needs and research on the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), are ongoing.
As America recognizes Native American Heritage Month this November, here’s some of what we know.
1. More than 5 million people identify as American Indian and Alaska Native. During the 2010 census, when asked their race, 2.9 million US residents identified as AIAN only or what demographers refer to as “AIAN alone,” and an additional 2.3 million people selected AIAN as one of multiple races.
2. Hispanic AIAN individuals have grown as a share of the AIAN population and generally live in different places than Non-Hispanic AIAN persons. The US Census Bureau considers race and ethnicity separately, with Hispanic heritage treated as an ethnic distinction. The Hispanic share of the AIAN alone population climbed from 8.4 percent in 1990 to 23 percent in 2010. In 2010, only 32 percent of Hispanic AIAN alone lived in tribal areas and their adjacent counties. In contrast, tribal lands and their surrounding counties accounted for two-thirds of the population of non-Hispanic American Indian and Alaska Natives.
3. Native Americans have seen gains in housing quality, but large gaps in access to basic facilities still remain. In larger tribal areas, the share of AIAN households lacking full in-home plumbing fell markedly, from 9.5 in 2000 to 6.1 percent in the 2006-
2010 period, but was still 11.5 times the national average.
4. Not all Native Americans benefit from casino revenues. In 2011, 18 percent of tribal gambling enterprises accounted for 75 percent of revenues. This means a large share of gaming revenues flow to a relatively small number of tribes and benefit a small percentage of the AIAN population.
5. Native Americans are utilizing the flexibility of some federal programs to tailor services to respect cultural traditions. The Urban Institute’s Tribal TANF study illustrates how some Native American communities are using TANF to meet the program’s goal of enhancing family stability while supporting tribal cultural activities and values. In the area of food provision, participating tribes consider tribal preferences and nutritional needs when selecting the foodstuffs available through the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR).
These data come from the Decennial Census, the American Community Survey, and National Indian Gaming Association.
More Urban Institute work on Native American communities, including a 2009 report on tribal food assistance, is available here.
For announcements of forthcoming reports, sign up for the Urban Institute's Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center newsletter.
Filed under: People |Tags: AIAN, alaska native, native, native american, Urban Institute Add a Comment »
| Posted: November 20th, 2013
This morning the US Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) is holding a hearing called “Dying Young: Why Your Social and Economic Status May Be a Death Sentence in America.” Is there much evidence for this provocative and alarming title? Sadly, the answer is a decisive “yes.”
Earlier this year, I wrote about a study I recently directed for the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine that documented a large and growing US “health disadvantage” relative to other high-income countries. This disadvantage shows up in higher rates of disease and injury from birth to age 75 for men and women, rich and poor, across all races and ethnicities. Study after study confirms that the health of Americans is suffering dramatically and even slipping, and that real solutions to this situation lie far outside the health care system and the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as important as these are.
The real drivers of health in modern America are the non-medical or social determinants of health. These are things such as education, income, and neighborhood conditions that shape so many of our individual choices and behaviors—including behaviors such as smoking, diet, exercise, and driving—but also broader local, state, and national policies that shape our social and economic circumstances in very powerful and fundamental ways.
Unfortunately, for many of these social determinants, the United States is doing very poorly. Recent work at the Urban Institute shows this through our work on long-term unemployment, widening wealth inequality, and insecurity in children’s lives. Even social mobility, a cherished American ideal, is increasingly limited.
Rather than wait for breakthroughs in biomedical research, we can start attending to the social determinants of health through sound social and economic policies. Many other countries are doing this as part of their “health in all policies” approaches, and today’s HELP committee hearing suggests that the United States may finally be heading in this direction too.
In the months ahead, Urban Institute researchers and affiliated scholars will be contributing to this knowledge base and highlighting public policy implicitions for the social determinants of health.
Illustration by Daniel Wolfe, Urban Institute
Filed under: Quality of Life |Tags: health, health care, U.S., Urban Institute 1 Comment »
| Posted: November 19th, 2013
This post first appeared on November 18, 2013 in Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity
Investments in the next generation are threatened in these fiscally austere times. Federal spending on children fell in in 2012, even as many families continued to suffer from unemployment and low earnings. Recent budget deals and long-term trends further threaten spending on children. If it wants to protect children’s programs from future cuts, Congress should take a more balanced approach to deficit-reduction, and include revenue increases in the next budget deal, rather than focusing exclusively on the spending side of the budget ledger.
In the seventh annual Kids’ Share report, my colleagues and I document a $28 billion drop in federal spending on children in 2012, with lower spending on K-12 education, the children’s portion of Medicaid, refundable tax credits, and other programs. This is the second year in a row that federal outlays on children have fallen, and the 7 percent drop this year is the single largest since the early 1980s. Since federal funding is critical for the health, education, nutrition, safety, health, and the overall development of children, these trends are troubling.
Much of the decline results from the depletion of funds provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), which increased federal spending on children during the recession. It expanded nutrition assistance benefits and the Child Tax Credit in order to stimulate the economy and support families in need. It also offered relief to states and localities, including enhanced federal spending on Medicaid and child welfare and the creation of the education-focused State Fiscal Stabilization Fund. With these priorities, almost one-quarter of ARRA funds went to children. As these funds have been spent down, spending on children has fallen.
Though the loss of temporary funds designed to fight the recession was expected, the funds are being exhausted even as the effects of the recession are still lingering. Unemployment rates averaged more than 8 percent in 2012, down from their peak of 10 percent but still well above pre-recession levels of less than 6 percent. Many of the unemployed have children, and an estimated 6.2 million children lived with at least one unemployed parent last year, including 2.8 million children living with a parent unemployed for six months or longer.
Child poverty rates also remain elevated: 22 percent of children, or 16.1 million children, lived in families with incomes below the federal poverty level in 2012, compared to a much lower 16 percent in 2001.
The combination of these trends – the decline in spending on children and the continued high levels of unemployment and child poverty – calls into question whether Congress and the president are placing a sufficiently high priority on the needs of children, the poorest age group, as they enact funding bills and budget deals.
The bigger concern, however, is not with current spending levels on children, but future ones. Spending on children is at risk of being squeezed as future federal budgets are increasingly consumed by interest payments on the federal debt and the ever-rising costs for health and retirement benefits under Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. With these rising costs, total federal spending is projected to be more than $1 trillion higher in 2023 than in 2012 under Congressional Budget Office projections. Children’s programs will get a tiny fraction of that increase, just 2 cents of every new federal dollar in federal spending, or $20 billion. All the children’s share of the increase will go to Medicaid and other health programs. Excluding healthcare, fewer dollars will be spent on children in 2023 than in 2012, according to our estimates. The largest projected reductions are in federal education programs and refundable tax credits.
And future spending on children may drop well below the level assumed in current law projections. As revenues continue to fall below outlays year after year into the future, the federal debt continues to grow, and there are repeated calls for spending reductions. It is short-sighted, however, to focus exclusively on spending reductions when trying to reduce the deficit. Children’s programs would fare better if Congress enacted a budgetary package that combined revenue increases and spending cuts. Adopting proposals that slow the growth in Social Security and Medicare, while still protecting current recipients most dependent on those benefits, is another step that would help protect future investments in children.
As budgetary discussions continue to unfold, it will be important to keep an eye on how broad budgetary and tax reform packages further affect resources for children and investments in the next generation of leaders, workers, and parents.
School lunch photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (CC BY 2.0)
Filed under: Economy |Tags: children, poor, poverty, spending, Urban Institute Add a Comment »
| Posted: November 18th, 2013
This piece originally appeared in the Orange County Register.
During the Great Depression, Congress committed the first national resources to public housing. That decision altered the course of millions of lives for the better – providing the most vulnerable Americans with a home that was otherwise out of reach and giving children the promise of a better future.
Today, the long bipartisan legacy of affordable rental housing is in doubt. Millions of Americans, including thousands in Orange County, are unable to find affordable places to rent even when they qualify for assistance.
How did we get here? After passage of the Wagner-Stegall Housing Act of 1937, the production of public housing accelerated in response to the growing need. Today, there are over 1.1 million units nationally, nearly one in five of them in rural areas. No physical units were built in Orange County.
Over time, the federal commitment to affordable rental housing grew to also include vouchers that low-income renters can use in the private market, subsidies for private owners that rent to low- and moderate-income households, and financing that helps create and preserve affordable rental units. Orange County has over 25,800 rental homes supported through these programs.
Federal rental assistance now enables 5 million low-income households -- encompassing more than 10 million people, including 4 million children -- to afford modest homes. A third are families with children, another third are seniors, and the remaining third are disabled, childless adults, disabled adults with children, and seniors with children.
While 10 million sounds like a lot, it represents just a quarter of the renters eligible for assistance. There is simply not enough federal, state, or local government funding to support all the need.
Housing is expensive, especially for low-income people. In Orange County, households need to earn $31.17 an hour — three times California’s new minimum wage — to afford a typical two-bedroom apartment in the county, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Low-income families often have to spend more than a third of their income on rent, leaving them less money for other things needed to live healthy and productive lives, like nutritious food, transportation to get to work, health care, and books and supplies for school.
Another way to think about the affordable housing squeeze is the gap between what people can afford and what is available to rent. This gap in Orange County is nearly 120,000 units, which means that for every 100 very low-income households looking for a place to rent, only 41 homes are affordable and available. For households earning below $20,000 a year, only 18 rental homes are affordable and available.
To solve this problem we can raise people’s incomes through federal tax incentives like the earned income tax credit, increase the minimum wage, help workers attain the skills for higher-paying jobs, or remove regulatory barriers to lower the costs of producing housing in the private market. These are all good strategies, but as long as rents continue to rise, the incomes of low-wage people in the service economy will never catch up. We need equivalent strategies to lower the costs of renting.
With the housing budget under increasing pressure, federal efforts are focused on preserving existing public housing, not creating more. Meanwhile, tax credits for developers help produce 100,000 affordable rental units a year across the country, but without additional subsidy they are not affordable for the lowest income families. The largest source of federal assistance for these families are rental vouchers. But as rents rise, the cost of serving existing voucher recipients has grown, leaving limited resources for additional low-income households to benefit from the program.
Once the crisis besetting the conventional housing market wanes, we need a renewed and balanced national housing policy that assists both renters and owners. The federal resources subsidizing homeownership far exceed those dedicated to subsidizing rental housing for America’s lowest income citizens. All the subsidies for homeownership – the mortgage interest deduction, the deduction for property taxes, and the housing value that is not taxable – add up to about $300 billion annually. Compare this to the $37.4 billion the US Department of Housing and Urban Development spends on rental housing assistance. Throw in the tax subsidies for developers of affordable housing, which is about $8 billion a year, and there is still room for improvement.
As lawmakers in Washington get back to making policy, a balanced approach to housing finance reform should be at the top of many agendas. This would mean ensuring affordable mortgages for homeownership, as well as federal financing for affordable rental housing.
Even with more capital for affordable rental housing production and preservation, we still need a commitment to rental assistance to help the lowest income Americans secure decent, safe places to live. In a country as rich as ours, both can be done.
Rental housing in Washington, D.C. Photo by Zach McDade, Urban Institute.
Filed under: Government |Tags: homes, housing, income, poverty, rental, Urban Institute 2 Comments »
| Posted: November 15th, 2013
The somewhat radical idea of guaranteeing income to every single American adult with no strings attached has gained attention from people and entities as diverse as Charles Murray, Switzerland, George McGovern, and Matt Yglesias. Would it work? What would be its drawbacks? How big would the income have to be? What might it mean for the rest of our safety net? Check out our Branch conversation below to see what some of our Urban Institute experts had to say.
Continue reading “Thoughts on a guaranteed annual income” »
Filed under: Economy |Tags: guaranteed annual income, poverty, safety net, Urban Institute Add a Comment »
Linda J. Blumberg
| Posted: November 15th, 2013
Until full implementation of health reform, insurers can consider the health and age of a small firm’s employees before deciding what to charge in premiums. Based on their expected health care costs, younger and healthier firms often pay less than older and less healthy firms.
A key provision of the ACA is to remove this ability of insurers to price-discriminate, instead requiring cost and risk sharing across firms in the small-group market. This change will produce some winners and losers—in healthy years firms may pay somewhat more while in less healthy years firms will save.
After the ACA is fully implemented in 2014, in their healthier years, small firms will have an increased incentive to leave the small-group insurance pools and join the now very small group of small self-insuring firms. Self-insurance, which is excluded from many of the ACA’s market reforms, enables firms to cover their own employees’ health costs while purchasing “stop-loss” coverage to protect themselves from catastrophically expensive claims.
As I testified to the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday, an increase in the number of small firms choosing to self-insure poses two serious risks.
First, self-insurance can put small firms in financially vulnerable positions. Stop-loss coverage is not regulated like insurance, meaning that—among other limitations—policies can be denied outright to less healthy firms, and the policies are not required to cover specific benefits. Further, stop-loss policies may not pay claims until after the first quarter of the following year, leaving small, financially vulnerable firms on the hook for big initial payouts. What’s more, firms may be left entirely liable for very large claims incurred in a year covered by a stop-loss policy but filed in the next year, after that policy ended.
The second serious risk is that a growth in the number of self-insuring firms could remove many young, healthy people from the small-business group insurance pool. A primary goal of the ACA is to bring more people into a unified risk pool, lowering overall average risk, making premiums more stable and predictable, and lowering premiums and increasing access to coverage for less healthy groups. The ACA’s exclusion of self-insured plans from many of its market reforms could incentivize healthy small groups to move out of fully insured products, seriously curtailing that intended effect, and potentially raising the health care costs of millions of people.
In my testimony, I offered lawmakers several recommendations to address these two risks.
First, policymakers could set the attachment point (i.e., the deductible) for stop-loss coverage at a minimum of $60,000 per insured individual, the amount recommended recently by an actuarial subgroup of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC). Analysis with the Urban Institute’s sophisticated microsimulation model, HIPSM, suggests that this high threshold would expose small employers to significant financial risk and effectively dissuade the vast majority from self-insuring.
The analysis also suggests that if the NAIC parameters were implemented in a uniform manner nationally, compared with a scenario with no stop-loss regulations, the fully insured small-group insurance market would be about 1.5 times as large, and premiums in that market would be 20-25 percent lower.
Alternatively, the federal government could prohibit the sale of stop-loss insurance to small employers (as some states already do) or require its sale to small employers be regulated by small-group rules.
At a very minimum, the federal government can develop and implement an effective plan for closely monitoring increases in small firm self-insurance nationally and by state. Given the magnitude of other ACA implementation tasks and their associated time pressures, states are not inclined to do so on their own. That means that, in the absence of a concerted federal effort, states will be unprepared to intervene as warning signs increase, which is when major market disruptions could more easily be avoided.
Cake shop photo from Shutterstock
Filed under: Health Care |Tags: ACA, health, insurance, Obamacare, reform, Urban Institute Add a Comment »
Taz George Lan Shi
| Posted: November 13th, 2013
Homebuyers in San Francisco are willing to take on over twice as much monthly debt, relative to income, as borrowers in Atlanta, so a listing that seems affordable in one city may feel too pricey in another. A new analysis by our colleagues in the Housing Finance Policy Center finds that variations among regional housing markets make a major difference in how cities stack up when it comes to affordable homeownership.
Like the National Association of Realtors’ Housing Affordability Index, we measure affordability by comparing the median house price in an area to the maximum price a median-income family can afford. If the affordable price is less than the median price, the index is less than one, indicating that the area is not affordable; if it exceeds the median price, the index is greater than one, which means homeownership is affordable at the median.
But accurately calculating the maximum affordable price is a tricky process that requires a few key assumptions. Traditional measures of affordability use a standard debt-to-income ratio of 28 percent and a down payment of 20 percent of the house price. These assumptions overlook regional differences and can lead to faulty comparisons of affordability.
Our regionally specific measure better captures differences in the amount that median-income borrowers are willing to pay for a home, and in the size of the down payment they typically make. For each of the 37 largest metro areas, our analysis uses loan-level origination data from CoreLogic to compute average debt-to-income ratios from 2000 to 2003 (a relatively stable period for housing prices) and average down payment on purchase loans in 2013.
Some metros turn out to be less affordable, some more
Not surprisingly, results from the standard measure and the regionally specific measure varied significantly, with some metros shifting far along the affordability spectrum.
Washington, D.C. is considered solidly affordable under the standard affordability measure, but the regionally adjusted measure reveals that D.C. is modestly unaffordable at the median due to its below average debt-to-income ratio of 20 percent. In other words, because D.C. borrowers are accustomed to spending less of their monthly income on mortgage payments relative to borrowers in other MSAs, the current regional housing market is substantially less affordable than the standard, fixed debt-to-income method suggests. The new analysis found that the price a median-income D.C. family can afford is nearly $90,000 less than what the standard method projected, bringing the affordability index down from 1.25 to .84.
With the new methodology, San Francisco’s affordability improved, in part because Bay Area borrowers are accustomed to larger down payments—28 percent in 2013—than other regions. But the city still remains one of the least affordable areas due to the resurgent housing market there.
Industrial, Midwest metros like Detroit and Cleveland, where prices have remained fairly low even during the housing recovery, were some of the most affordable regions under the regional measure.
Refining measures of housing affordability
The Housing Finance Policy Center will continue to study the nuances of housing affordability, especially for low-income households. Replicating the index at lower incomes and adjusting other borrower and loan characteristics (in particular, funds available for a down payment) would yield a more relevant measure for distressed households, and could significantly alter the order of metros by affordability. In the meantime, we will continue to publish our updated and improved affordability analyses in our monthly chartbook.
Filed under: Economy |Tags: affordability, homes, housing, metros, Urban Institute 2 Comments »
Nancy La Vigne
| Posted: November 13th, 2013
With holiday hiring upon us, job prospects for the hard to employ are looking up – if only on a temporary basis. But for the 65 million Americans with criminal records, even a temporary job is often out of reach.
That’s why the Target Corporation’s removal of criminal history questions from its employment applications is such promising news. While many state and local governments have decided to “ban the box” on job applications asking applicants if they’ve ever been convicted of a crime, Target represents one of the most prominent companies to do so.
The fact that the big box store offers entry-level jobs makes the decision even more meaningful for the 650,000 prisoners released each year in search of gainful employment.
Our research shows that former prisoners with jobs are less likely to go back to prison than those who remain jobless. But by checking a box on a job application, the odds are good that their application will end up in the trash bin.
Make no mistake: employers who choose to ban the box are not foregoing criminal background checks altogether. The vast majority of employers conduct background checks on prospective employees as a matter of course.
The problem with the box is that is doesn’t let applicants explain what their crimes were, how long ago they were committed, and what they may have learned from their incarceration experience. Removing the box allows qualified applicants to advance to the interview stage, rather than be rejected outright.
With any luck, Target’s decision, no doubt prompted by legislation to be enacted in 2014 in its home state of Minnesota, will lead others to follow suit. In the meantime, much can be done to debunk employment myths about former prisoners.
One is that former prisoners turn down jobs they think are “beneath” them. Our research indicates that over two-thirds of those who found employment – primarily in food service, sanitation, and construction– are highly satisfied with their jobs, enjoy their work, get along well with their coworkers, and feel their jobs will lead to better opportunities.
Given the opportunity, the formerly incarcerated can be productive workers, holding jobs that citizens without records might not want. Such opportunities would benefit former prisoners and their families, and would help contain costly prison population growth while increasing public safety.
Target image from Flickr user Fan of Retail http://www.flickr.com/photos/fanofretail/
Filed under: Quality of Life |Tags: crime, employment, jobs, recidivism, Urban Institute 1 Comment »
| Posted: November 12th, 2013
Last Tuesday, voters in several states approved modest tax hikes. Increasingly, states are using ballot measures to determine whether to support new taxes. Some of these referenda are binding, others just advisory. But in 2013, voters in several states seem to be hungering for more revenue—though sometimes from unusual sources and decidedly not by raising income taxes (at least in one state).
Here is a rundown of the results:
- Colorado: Voters approved a 25 percent state-wide tax on marijuana, on top of some additional county dope taxes. But they soundly rejected adding a new top rate to their income tax. While some of the new state marijuana tax revenue is designated for school construction, the public education system missed out on $1 billion in new aid when voters rejected the income tax hike.
- New Jersey: The Garden state overwhelmingly reelected Governor Chris Christie and also voted to increase the minimum wage to $8.25 per hour with increases for inflation. Currently, the New Jersey minimum wage is the same as the federal, $7.25 per hour. New Jersey’s neighbors follow the federal minimum wage for state minimum wage.
- New York: Let the games begin. New York State voters expanded gaming to allow seven new casinos including three in New York City after seven years. Until now, legal betting has been restricted to “racinos” (horse racing tracks with slot machines and video gaming), charitable gambling such as bingo, and state approved lotteries. The recession stopped the growth nationally in state gaming revenue, but several states have expanded their gaming venues to try and keep some of this money at home.
- Texas: Lone Star State voters decided to tap the state’s rainy day fund for…water. Texas managed to keep a sizable reserve fund through most of the recession. This measure authorizes the transfer of $2 billion from the Economic Stabilization Fund, which has a balance of about $8 billion, to two funds that will be used for water infrastructure projects.Under the heading “Tax Law That Probably Didn’t Need a Citizen Referendum,” Texas voters also increased the number of days that property imported for the manufacture of airplanes could remain in the state as exempt personal property. Since the exemption is in the Texas constitution, amending it had to go to the voters. Texas, according to Ballotpedia.org, has the longest constitution and every other year there are about 16 more amendments to vote on.
- Washington State: Voters in the Evergreen State get to pass judgment on laws that have already been enacted. On August 1, 2013, the state imposed the same levy on landline phones faced by wireless users. On November 5, voters called in their response: They didn’t like it. Voters barely endorsed an increase in the estate tax and a switch from a personal property tax on commuter airlines to an airplane excise tax--both of which have also been enacted already. All these votes were purely advisory, however, and the legislature is not bound by the results.
Even when they are non-binding, these ballot measures are a useful look at voter moods, especially in off-year elections. They are one of the few opportunities for the voters to be heard on specific issues. Coloradans are ok with a new tax on pot but they like their flat income tax just as it is; meanwhile, Texans are willing to spend a little of their savings for something as important as water.
Election day photo from spirit of america / Shutterstock.com
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