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Aging behind bars

Author: KiDeuk Kim and Bryce Peterson

| Posted: September 8th, 2014

Did you know that people who have spent time behind bars can experience “accelerated aging” so that the physiological age of some older prisoners is up to 15 years greater than their chronological age? While this may be caused by a host of related factors—including histories of unhealthy behaviors and inadequate healthcare—there is little doubt that the trauma and stress of the prison environment can have an impact on prisoners’ accelerated aging and deterioration of health.

What’s more, state and federal prisons are now experiencing unprecedented levels of older inmates, which have significant implications for corrections budgets. Not only do older prisoners require more treatment and medical care than younger prisoners, their needs may also require more time and effort from the prison staff, such as when a staff member gives them medicine or monitors their daily chores. Staff may also need to provide more surveillance and protection to older prisoners, as they are more likely than younger prisoners to experience physical injuries and victimization.

It’s no surprise, then, that the annual cost of incarcerating an individual age 50 and older has been estimated at $68,270, double the cost of a younger offender. This estimate equates to $16 billion a year spent on older inmates nationally, even though they make up less than 20 percent of the total prison population. To put that number into perspective, $16 billion is enough to put 170,000 people through a four-year college.

As our new report shows, the growth of elderly prison populations is not expected to slow down anytime soon. For the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP)–the largest corrections system in the United States—we project that the proportion of BOP inmates age 49 and younger will only grow marginally over the next five years, while the proportion of those age 50 and older, especially those age 65 and older, will grow at an exceedingly fast rate. By these projections, older prisoners could make up nearly 28 percent of the BOP population by FY2019 – an increase of almost 10 percentage points compared with FY2011.

Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 9.04.55 AM

What can we do about the aging prison population and the associated health risks and costs? A lot of policy discussions have centered on compassionate or geriatric release, but that is not the only available option (and it is just not realistic for some older prisoners). Correctional administrators can provide more cost-effective management and prevent (or at least slow down) the process of accelerated aging. Here’s how:

  • Develop policies for all types of older prisoners. The current discussion about aging prisoners tends to focus on geriatric prisoners who are severely ill or dying. Correctional programs and policies for aging prisoners (such as the existing hospice care, palliative care, or compassionate release programs) should be extended to a broader population of older prisoners.
  • Develop an easy-to-use assessment/screening tool. A set of guidelines for assessing the health of older prisoners would help correctional officers detect common geriatric symptoms (e.g., sensory impairment, functional impairment, incontinence, and cognitive impairment) as well as prison-based functional impairment (e.g., getting from cell to dining hall, climbing on/off bunk, hearing orders from staff, getting down on floor for alarms). A screening tool could also provide useful baseline information about the needs of aging prisoners and serve as an early intervention point for preventive care.
  • Train correctional officers about aging and the needs of older prisoners. Training would also help staff identify older prisoners who need to be monitored for health and safety concerns.
  • Consider expanding the use of preventive health care/dental care, early diagnosis, and early treatment among aging prisoners. These practices can help prisoners avoid more serious health problems and lead to savings in health care costs.

They may only account for a fraction of the BOP population, but the costs of incarcerating older prisoners can be substantial. However, existing federal sentencing policy offers limited options for effectively addressing the needs of aging prisoners. Policymakers and lawmakers should devise options for better managing and treating a broader population of older prisoners to avoid serious health problems and hefty incarceration costs.

Filed under: Aging, Corrections, reentry, and community supervision, Courts and sentencing, Crime and Justice, Crime and justice statistics, Health insurance, Justice Policy Center, Long-term care |Tags: , , ,

The $400 million case for a single GSE security

Author: Laurie Goodman

| Posted: September 5th, 2014




Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the government-sponsored enterprises or GSEs) keep capital flowing for mortgage lending by buying, guaranteeing and pooling mortgages and then selling mortgage-backed securities to investors. Currently, both entities issue their own separate securities, but their conservator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), has put forth a plan to have both entities issue and guarantee a single security. FHFA’s single security proposal is well-thought out and worthy of serious consideration and support by all the key stakeholders.

In August, the FHFA issued a request for input on the proposed structure of a single security for the GSEs. Currently, each entity’s securities have different features and trading prices. Freddie Mac’s securities are less liquid, and thus less desirable. To keep its market share, Freddie is forced to subsidize the fee paid by lenders for its guarantee, the cost of which is ultimately borne by US taxpayers. The development of a single security, described by the FHFA as a “multi-year” project, is intended to eliminate the liquidity differential and hence the cost differential to save taxpayer dollars.

While this may seem like an obscure technical issue, it is actually a critical initiative for three reasons, discussed more fully in our recent commentary.

  1. This initiative will save the US Treasury between $400 and $600 million per year, the amount Freddie Mac is forced to pay to its originators to keep its market share.
  2. Fannie’s current price advantage undermines competition and renders the market less responsive to the needs of borrowers and lenders. Moving to a single security would remove that advantage, boosting competition, with potential benefits to mortgage rates and the availability of mortgage credit.
  3. Moving to a single security could help pave the way for GSE reform.  The development of the Common Securitization Platform (CSP) and a single security means that market participants in a new system will not need to provide their own securitization infrastructure, as Fannie and Freddie do today.

Under the single security proposal, Fannie and Freddie would each issue securities under the CSP currently under construction by the GSEs.  The securities would have identical characteristics, which would combine the best features of each of the current securities. Thus, the new security would have the superior pooling features of the current Fannie Mae securities and the superior disclosure features of the Freddie Mac securities. After a certain date, both entities would issue only securities with these features. To ensure maximum liquidity, legacy securities would be fungible with the newly issued single securities. It is expected that legacy Fannie securities will not need to be converted to the new security; legacy Freddie securities could be converted at any time.

The most interesting part of this proposal is the ability to place Freddie Mac securities into Fannie Mae re-securitizations, such as Megas (pools backed by Fannie Mae securities, not loans) or Real Estate Mortgage Investment Conduits (REMICs), and Fannie Mae securities into Freddie Mac re-securitizations, such as Giants (pools backed by Freddie Mac securities, not loans) or REMICs. This structural option makes it makes it very likely that the securities backed by the entities will trade equivalently.

That is, if Freddie securities traded cheaper, dealers and investors would be able to deliver their Freddie securities into Fannie Megas; the ability to do this would keep price spreads in line.

Note that The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) must endorse a proposal to make a “single security” good delivery in addition to or in substitution for existing Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac Securities.  However, since under the proposal,  Freddie’s and Fannie’s would be good delivery into re-securitizations of the other, SIFMA would have to change existing rules for the express purpose of blocking this alternative, which seems unlikely.

While we are concerned that the FHFA may be contemplating a slower pace in the project than it warrants, the request for input charts out a thoughtful path to a single security. The path charted makes it likely to succeed ultimately —to the benefit of taxpayers, borrowers, and lenders.

Photos: Frontpage/

Filed under: Agency securitization, Credit availability, Federal programs and policies, GSE reform, Housing and Housing Finance, Housing and the economy, Housing Finance Policy Center |Tags: , , ,
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Everyday violence: Gunfire near DC schools

Author: Serena Lei

| Posted: September 3rd, 2014



On May 6, just after 9 a.m., gunmen in Southeast DC opened fire on people standing near a bus stop on Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, wounding three, including two 17-year-olds reported to be Ballou High School students. Nearby, Ballou and Imagine Southeast Public Charter School were put on lockdown as police searched for suspects.

In April, a man was shot and killed steps away from Ludlow-Taylor Elementary School in Northeast DC. Parents and neighbors said that kids were on the playground at the time, close enough to hear the gunfire before teachers rushed them inside. One parent, quoted in DCist, said that her 4-year-old son had nightmares following the shooting; another said that her daughter was afraid to go back to school.

For some DC students, nearby shootings like these are unfortunately common. Some schools have been in close range of as many as 16 incidents in the course of a school year, according to a newUrban Institute analysis. Even when there are no victims—when it’s just the sudden, loud sound of gunfire and the risk of being shot—everyday violence can have a profound effect on children.

“When people think about school violence, they think about mass shootings, which—as horrible as they are—are very rare events,” said Nancy La Vigne, director of the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center. “All too often, the children who are exposed to gun violence on a day-to-day basis are overlooked.”

To learn more about gunfire in DC, explore our interactive feature with maps and data visualization. 

Filed under: Other
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How do we help children thrive amid instability?

Author: Julia Isaacs

| Posted: September 2nd, 2014




How can we help children thrive even during times of instability? When parents lose a job or when children have to frequently move or change schools or caregivers, the resulting instability can threaten healthy child development. We may wonder what we can do—as parents and as members of society—to cushion children from the negative aspects of instability.

As parents, we can do quite a bit. Our children look to us for guidance and support during times of change. Before children start kindergarten or transfer to a new school, we can visit the classroom with them. We can read them a story about how another child (or a cartoon animal) has dealt with change and loss. We can share some of our own feelings about how a change is affecting the family, while being careful not to lean on the child for emotional support.

If instability is overwhelming our own coping skills, we can turn to our relatives, neighbors, friends, and others in our child’s life to offer additional supports. As adults, it is our role to provide emotional and practical support for children as they face many of the inevitable changes and transitions in life.

Similarly, as a society, we can play a part in mitigating some of the negative effects of instability on children. After attending a day-long symposium on instability and child well-being, and reflecting on my own research on the effects of the recession on children, I come away with three policy recommendations:

1)      Provide a strong safety net. Several types of instability—including job loss, divorce or separation, family illness, involuntary reductions in hours worked—put a strain on family income and reduce the amount of economic resources available to support children’s healthy development. Public benefits, including unemployment insurance, nutrition assistance, and cash welfare, can help a family get through hard economic times without cutting back on children’s needs for food, shelter, clothing, and education and care.

While many public benefits expanded to meet increased needs during the recession, the safety net fell short in important respects. It could be improved by expanding coverage of unemployment insurance benefits, which supported less than half of children with unemployed parents in 2012; rejecting proposals to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), which supports more children with unemployed parents than unemployment insurance does; and amending the Temporary Assistance for Families program to make its contingency fund more effective at providing additional resources in times of high unemployment.

2)      Examine program policies to see whether they needlessly exacerbate instability. Program policies may inadvertently contribute to a “cascade of instability,” such as when parents lose child care benefits when they lose a job, or when a housing move leads to loss of benefits or services linked to certain geographic areas. With creative thinking, policymakers can design policy solutions to maintain stability despite changing circumstances. For example, federal child care law and regulations give states the option of providing child care subsidies during employment gaps in order to improve the stability of child care.

3)     Consider targeting services to directly address instability. Certain communities and families are more affected by instability than others. One policy option is to target services toward particular populations, such as providing additional supports to homeless students under the McKinney-Vento Homeless education programs or providing additional resources, such as family resource centers, to schools with unusually high rates of student mobility. Another good example is the Housing Opportunity and Services Together (HOST) demonstration, which is testing whether taking a whole-family approach to providing intensive services can help stabilize children, youth, and families living in public housing.

Children are resilient, and many children will thrive even as their families and communities undergo considerable instability. We can improve our children’s chances of success, however, by taking proactive steps to buffer them from some of the downsides of instability.

For more on instability, read the paper and collection of essays that resulted from Urban's recent convening on instability.

Photo: An unemployed mother with her daughter. (AP Photo/Gosia Wozniacka)

Filed under: Adolescents and Youth, Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population, Child care, Child support, Child welfare, Children, Children's health and development, Cross-Center Initiatives, Economic Growth and Productivity, Economic well-being, Economic well-being, Economic well-being, Families, Family and household data, Job Market and Labor Force, Kids in Context, Labor force, Low-Income Working Families, Low-wage workers, Neighborhoods and youth, Public service/subsidized employment programs, Unemployment |Tags: , , , ,
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The costs of gun violence go beyond the hospital price tag

Author: Embry Howell and Sam Bieler

| Posted: August 29th, 2014

Our new study on the consequences of gun violence in six states has gotten a lot of attention for its findings about the cost of hospital care and who pays for it. And with good reason—the financial costs of gun violence are enormous. In 2010, national costs totaled nearly $670 million, most of which is paid for by the public, either through public insurance programs like Medicaid or through the public subsidy of  uncompensated care costs for the uninsured.

But our report touches on far more than just money. Our research also revealed new information about the victims of firearm assault who sought care at a hospital, including the range of hospital mortality rates and disparities across race, ethnicity, and gender. These factors may not be attached to an imposing price tag, but their societal costs are just as significant.

Males—especially black males—are more likely to be victims of firearm assault

In all of the states we examined, the vast majority of firearm-assault-injury hospital patients were male. Boys and young men between the ages of 15 and 24 composed the largest share. Men ages 25 to 34 were the second-largest share, and males of all other ages came in third.


Of all firearm-assault victims, girls and women of all ages compose a comparatively small share of hospital use, ranging from 7.4 percent in Maryland to 11.1 percent in Arizona.

The gender disparities are stark, but the racial disparities are even more glaring. Among young people ages 15 to 34, black boys and men are much more likely to come to the hospital with a firearm assault injury, with rates up to 7.2 times higher than the next-highest category, Hispanic males.

Similarly, black females have a higher hospital-use rate than either white or Hispanic females. In every state except Arizona, black females also have a higher rate than white males.

Such concentrated violence can have a destabilizing effect not only on the victims, but also on their communities, and this victimization, disproportionately concentrated among men and women of color, should serve as a clear call to action to find new solutions to gun violence.

The health insurance-mortality rate connection

If you’re shot in North Carolina and make it to a hospital for treatment, your chances of survival are higher than any of the other five states we studied. In contrast, Maryland’s mortality rate for those who arrive at the hospital—15.6 percent—is more than double the national rate of 6.5 percent.

Mortality rates can’t be pinned on one factor—for instance, in the case of North Carolina, victims with severe injuries may not survive the longer trip to the hospital— but it appears that having health insurance does play a role. In five of the six states, uninsured victims of firearm assault have higher mortality rates than those with some form of insurance. Nationally, both publically and privately insured firearm assault victims have about the same mortality rate (about 5 percent), more 3 percentage points below the uninsured mortality rate (8.4 percent).

What’s next?

So, what does this information mean?

First, if initiatives to help young men, like President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper, are to succeed, we need to take the initiative to protect young men and especially young men of color from gun violence. Programs like Cure Violence can help reduce violence in neighborhoods where shootings and other assaults frequently occur, while juvenile justice research can devise new ways to divert youth from both crime and the criminal justice system.

Second, we need more research to determine why the uninsured die from firearm wounds at higher rates than the insured. Identifying why being uninsured is linked to higher mortality rates would be vital intelligence for improving hospital care and reducing gun deaths.

Gun violence imposes disproportionately high tolls on the communities least able to bear those harms. By identifying those groups and the burdens they face, we can begin to create strategies for reducing the harms of gun violence. These efforts could save and enhance lives, and yes, ultimately reduce taxpayer costs.

Filed under: Adolescents and Youth, Crime and Justice, Delinquency and crime, Health and Health Policy, Health care delivery and payment, Health care spending, access, and utilization of care, Health Policy Center, Justice Policy Center, Policing and crime prevention, Social determinants of health, Uninsured, Victims of crime, Vulnerable populations |Tags: , , , ,

A life out of balance: when parents’ work affects children’s well-being

Author: Margaret Simms

| Posted: August 28th, 2014




The passage of welfare reform in the late 1990s was the final stage in a cultural shift away from expecting mothers to put childrearing first to putting work first. Most able-bodied adults are expected to work, but public and business policy have not made it easy for mothers—and fathers—to also tend to their children’s well-being. When parents are unable to effectively balance work and family needs, children often suffer. The outcome of this uneasy dynamic has been most severe on low-income working families.

Low-income working parents are more likely to work nonstandard hours without paid leave

Many low-wage jobs don’t pay nearly enough for families to rise above “low income,” which is defined as incomes less than twice the federal poverty level. A single mother with three children would need to work full time, year round for $22.80 an hour to no longer be considered “low income.” Two full-time working parents with two children would each need to earn about half that hourly wage.

Workers at the low end of the wage scale are least likely to have benefits such as sick leave or personal leave that they can use to take care of themselves or their sick children. And without paid time off, these workers often cannot participate in activities at their children’s school or day care center, which limits their ability to keep up with their children’s special needs or accomplishments.

Low-income workers are also most likely to work nonstandard hours, meaning they work most of their hours on the weekends or from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. on weekdays, outside of the usual work day. Sixty percent of workers with nonstandard hours work in low-wage jobs. Parents working nonstandard hours have a difficult time finding stable childcare arrangements because few child care centers operate much outside standard work hours and even fewer are open on weekends.

When child care centers are not available, parents often rely on relatives or neighbors, but these informal arrangements tend to break down at the most inconvenient times. This leaves parents with a choice of not showing up for work or leaving a child alone or in a makeshift child care situation. But children strive on a regular schedule and a consistent set of caregivers. The instability they feel by being at home without a parent or being bounced from caregiver to caregiver can be distressing.

Job loss can bring instability to children’s lives

If parents decide that their child’s developmental, health, or emotional needs come first in a crisis situation, they put their job at risk. Whether they lose their jobs with or without cause, low-wage workers face unemployment more often than other workers and are less likely to receive unemployment compensation when they lose their jobs.

When parents lose their jobs, they may no longer be able to afford child care or pay rent. Some may double up with other family members or friends, which could involve moving to another neighborhood and a different school. While this means that children still have a roof overhead, the instability and change can be very disconcerting and lead to lower school performance or emotional problems.

What can policy do?

Policies to address the instability generated by low-wage work have been slow in coming. One area where we’ve seen development is housing instability. The McKinney-Vento Act requires school districts to allow homeless children, including those who are doubling up, to stay in their school throughout the academic year and receive transportation to and from school if necessary.

While this is progress, the change in the law is not sufficient to ensure that children get these services. The law does not require school districts to ask families about housing changes, it only requires that they provide the services should parents ask for them. But many parents and children are reluctant to admit to the economic stress they might be living under and so do not ask for help.

As imperfect as McKinney-Vento is, however, it is a step in the right direction to stabilize the situations in which children in low-income families might find themselves. But more is needed. We don’t lack for ideas about what to do, we lack the will to carry them out.

For more on instability, read the paper and collection of essays that resulted from Urban's recent convening on instability.

PhotoMaggie Barcellano, who lives with her father, enrolled in the food stamps program to help save up for paramedic training while she works as a home health aide and raises her daughter. Working-age people now make up the majority in U.S. households that rely on food stamps, a switch from a few years ago when children and the elderly were the main recipients. (AP Photo/Tamir Kalifa)

Filed under: Adolescents and Youth, Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population, Child care, Child support, Child welfare, Children, Children's health and development, Cross-Center Initiatives, Economic Growth and Productivity, Economic well-being, Economic well-being, Economic well-being, Employment and income data, Families, Family structure, Job Market and Labor Force, Labor force, Low-income working families, Low-Income Working Families, Low-wage workers, Parenting, Wages and nonwage compensation, Work-family balance |Tags: , , , , , ,
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America's public schools remain highly segregated

Author: Reed Jordan

| Posted: August 27th, 2014

Fifty million children will start school this week as historic changes are under way in the U.S. public school system. As of 2011 48 percent of all public school students were poor* and this year, students of color will account for the majority of public school students for the first time in US history.

What is surprising about these shifts is that they are not leading to more diverse schools. In fact, the Civil Rights Project has shown that black students are just as segregated today as they were in the late 1960s, when serious enforcement of desegregation plans first began following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Despite our country’s growing diversity, our public schools provide little contact between white students and students of color. We’ve mapped data about the racial composition of US public schools to shed light on today’s patterns at the county level. These maps show that America’s public schools are highly segregated by race and income, with the declining share of white students typically concentrated in schools with other white students and the growing share of Latino students concentrated into low-income public schools with other students of color.

In every state but New Mexico and Hawaii, the average white student attends a school that is majority white.This is unsurprising for large swaths of the Northwest, Great Plains, Upper Midwest, and Northeast, which are home to very few kids of color. But even in diverse states like Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York, few white children attend diverse schools.

The separation of races is most clearly seen in large metropolitan counties that hold the bulk of a state’s population and most of its students of color. For example, in Chicago (Cook County), the overall student population is about 25 percent white, 31 percent black, and 37 percent Latino, but 96 percent of black students attend majority non-white schools and 67 percent of white students attend majority white schools. In other words, white students tend to attend schools with other white students and black and Latino students attend schools with other students of color. Similar patterns emerge in other large midwestern cities like Detroit (Wayne County), Minneapolis-St. Paul (Ramsey and Hennepin County), and Indianapolis (Marion County).

In Worcester County, MA, white students account for 73 percent of the overall student body and almost all of them (91 percent) attend a majority white school, while the few Latino and black students in the county (15 and 5 percent, respectively) typically attend majority non-white schools.

In the South and Southwest, where the number of Latino students is growing especially fast, Latino students typically attend majority non-white schools with other children of color, while the few white children in these areas attend schools that are majority white.

In an increasingly diverse society, our public schools give us the unique opportunity to cross traditional racial and class boundaries. Ideally, they would be spaces where students can interact with and learn from peers with backgrounds different than their own, ensuring that future generations have friends outside their own racial group and helping mold them into productive members of a multi-racial society. Unfortunately, this potentially productive exchange is not happening in most public schools across the country.

We hope these maps provide a starting point for further analysis and for serious conversations—at local, state, and national levels—about the complex forces sustaining school segregation and the actions we need to take if we want our public schools to better reflect the diversity of our population.

The post originally stated that over half of all public school students were poor. It was 48 percent as of 2011.

Follow Reed Jordan on Twitter.

Filed under: Adolescents and Youth, Child welfare, Children, Children's health and development, Demographics and trends, Economic well-being, Education and Training, Education reform/No Child Left Behind, Elementary/secondary schools, Geographies, Head Start and elementary education, Immigrants and Immigration, Metro, Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center, Neighborhoods and community-building, Neighborhoods and youth, Neighborhoods, Cities, and Metros, Race, Ethnicity, and Gender, Racial and ethnic disparities, Racial segregation, School-based partnerships and services, Schooling |Tags: , , , ,

Are government workers ready to cut their own pensions?

Author: Richard Johnson

| Posted: August 25th, 2014




A firefighter wants the state to cut his own pension? It’s hard to believe, especially as the increasingly acrimonious debate over public pensions divides public servants and their employers. But that’s just what the The New York Times reported earlier this month. And it’s not as crazy as it sounds.

Bryan Jeffries, head of Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona, argues that pensions must be reduced to prevent layoffs and wage cuts. Like counties, cities, and towns in other states, municipalities across Arizona are being forced to contribute more to the state’s pension fund for police officers and firefighters to make up for past shortfalls.

Contributions now average one-third of payroll, more than twice as high as they were 10 years ago. A typical Arizona city that pays a firefighter an annual salary of $60,000 must send another $20,000 to the state to cover pension costs. Some localities, such as Tempe, must contribute as much as half of payroll to the pension fund. As pension costs escalate, something has to give. Taxes must rise, some public-sector jobs must disappear, or public-sector salaries must be trimmed.

Jeffries’s plan to cut his own pension—and those of other public servants

Jeffries’s solution is to cut pensions for new hires, retirees, and veteran police officers and firefighters (like himself). Currently, retirees receive pensions that initially pay benefits equal to 2.5 percent of their final average salary multiplied by years of service. Jeffries doesn’t want to change this benefit formula. Instead, he advocates boosting required member contributions, raising the number of years that police and firefighters must work before qualifying for benefits, and reducing post-retirement benefit escalators.

Under Jeffries’s proposal, all plan participants would have to contribute 11.65 percent of their salaries, up from 10.35 percent today, and new public safety workers would need to complete 25 years of service to qualify for benefits—up from 20 years for workers already hired. As before, they could begin collecting as early as age 52.

The last piece of his proposal is the most consequential but also the trickiest. The plan now automatically raises benefits 4 percent per year. Such escalators are usually justified to protect beneficiaries from inflation, and many state and local retirement plans—as well as Social Security—link annual increases to the change in the consumer price index. All retirees in the Arizona plan, however, receive annual raises regardless of how much prices change. Such automatic increases don’t make much sense.

Jeffries’s proposal would limit automatic benefit increases to no more than 2 percent per year and forbid them if the pension plan is not adequately financed. Halving automatic escalators would reduce the value of lifetime benefits by about a third, even when the plan is fully funded. However, slicing benefit escalators for retirees involves the additional hurdle of amending the state constitution, because the courts recently ruled that reducing retirement benefits already promised to state workers is unconstitutional.

Better ways to reform Arizona’s police and firefighter pensions

It’s encouraging that some public employees are acknowledging the financial burdens that rising pension costs impose on local government. But there are better ways to reform Arizona’s police and fire plan.

  • First, eliminate automatic benefit escalators altogether, but add real cost-of-living adjustments that tie benefit increases to changes in the consumer price index.
  • Second, push back the retirement age, so employees can no longer begin collecting retirement benefits at age 52, when nearly everyone is still able to work.
  • Third, distribute benefits more evenly across the workforce. Our state and local pension report card recently gave the Arizona plan a D, partly because it failed to provide any benefits to shorter-term employees. Instead of raising the required years of service needed to qualify for benefits, reforms should provide some benefits to retirees with as few as five years of service. And the earnings base used to compute benefits should grow with inflation for those who leave the job before they begin collecting, so that benefits aren’t based on decades-old salaries that have lost much of their real value.

Such reforms would provide some retirement security for all public servants protecting Arizona’s communities, without upending local government budgets.

Photo: Arizona Firefighters in 2010. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Filed under: Aging, Asset and debts, Economic well-being, Income and Benefits Policy Center, Income and Wealth, Job Market and Labor Force, Public service/subsidized employment programs, Retirement, Retirement/pensions, Social Security, Wages and nonwage compensation, Wages and nonwage compensation |Tags: , , ,
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Here's how can maximize their innovative effort to collect police shooting data

Author: Zach McDade and John Roman

| Posted: August 21st, 2014




In the wake of the recent deaths at police hands of Michael Brown, Kajieme Powell, and so many others, people have rightly called for a thorough empirical analysis of how often and under what circumstances the police shoot civilians.

Unfortunately, to our knowledge, the data don't exist for that analysis. This is likely not the result of some grand police conspiracy; the problem is we don’t know much about most non-fatal shootings. It’s extremely time-consuming for police to record the facts of every incident, and police departments simply lack those resources.

We therefore applaud's effort to crowdsource the assembly of an incident-level dataset of police shootings of civilians. Having those data is important for public policy and, in our view, for addressing the important social questions related to these events and dominating headlines.

But to be useful, the data must be valid and reliable. As social scientists, we spend a lot of time thinking about this in our own research. Valid police shooting data must measure exactly what we want them to measure. That is, they must report all incidents of police officers shooting civilians and only incidents of officers shooting civilians. And the data must be reliable, meaning that someone could use the same data collection process again to produce the exact same dataset.

So, what can Deadspin do to ensure validity and reliability?

1) Ensure that the data are unbiased.

Data collectors and the Deadspin quality controllers should cull reported shooting incidents from every valid news source and not just media outlets from major cities. Clear reports of police shootings in the The New York Times or Chicago Tribune count, but so do reports in the Northern Wyoming Daily News, which might be the only source on a police-shooting incident in Washakie County, Wyoming (population 8,400). As long as the details of that incident are clear and not in dispute, it should be counted.

2) Set rules for judging reliability and validity.

An incident is valid for this dataset if one or more such news sources unambiguously reports it as an officer shooting, and no other reputable source contradicts that report. When the details are unclear or in dispute, the case should be included in the dataset but flagged as having an ambiguous status*.

The data are reliable if the collection process is reliable. Each collector must receive the same set of precise instructions on how to collect data and how to troubleshoot unclear news reports. Collectors should also have a forum for reporting questions or problems, and Deadspin staff or social scientists should document all decisions and judgment calls for future reference.

3) Quality check the data.

The beauty of this project is that it relies on cheap and abundant labor. Deadspin should take advantage of that again after the data are fully assembled. They should randomly select a sample of the days for which incidents were gathered—say, 10 or 15 percent of all days—and crowdsource them to different data collectors. If a second crowd can use the exact same process and generate the exact same results as the original collectors, we can feel comfortable that the full dataset is (close to) valid.

At the end, the whole process should be written up in clear and non-scientific terms, including documentation of questions, troubleshooting, and judgment calls. Deadspin should then invite social scientists to review that process. It's possible that staff will have to go back and make some improvements or adjustments, which is a frustrating but necessary part of every data collection process.

4) Gather as much data as possible.

Once the data exist, people will naturally want to use them to answer big questions: Was the killing justified? Was it racially motivated? Did the officer act out of line or simply make a tough judgment call? Were drugs involved? Were lives at stake?

Quality news reports will provide a lot of the context we want, and collectors should take care to gather as many of the facts as systematically as possible. How many officers were present? How many discharged their weapons? What were their races, genders, and ages? What was the race, gender, and age of the victim? Was the incident outside on the street or in a house? Did the police suspect drugs were present? Did the civilian demonstrate a threat of force? What other details were unique to that case, but are still relevant?

Deadspin's effort is innovative and exciting. With care and diligence, this dataset could help us answer some tough questions about tragic events.

*This post has been updated. It originally suggested leaving out cases that are unclear or whose facts are in dispute. Better to include those cases but clearly note their unambiguous status.

Follow Zach McDade and John Roman on Twitter.

Photo: Police in Ferguson, MO. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Filed under: Adolescents and Youth, Crime and Justice, Crime and justice statistics, Justice Policy Center, Policing and crime prevention, Victims of crime |Tags: , , , ,
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