By: Harry Levine
It is no secret: there are countless children throughout the world today who are mired in poverty and chaos. Children who go hungry every day, children who lack access to clean water, children whose lives are threatened by violence and crime, and sadly, so many more children facing so many other hardships. Given these tragic circumstances, it is easy for one to see how so many children throughout the world grow up without any prospects for a happy, prosperous, and peaceful life. However, let’s suppose that all of the societal, cultural and environmental factors which were holding a child down were suddenly lifted. Let’s say a child under the boot of discrimination, living in a dangerous neighborhood, in a broken home, and in a poor school district, was suddenly placed in the exact opposite situation. Surely, given such a radical change of circumstances, this child should thrive? Now that the barriers to advancement have been lifted, shouldn’t the child’s future be bright? Well, no, not necessarily. To understand why this outcome is the case, we need to look at a crucial component in the wellbeing and success of children - one which psychologists and social scientists have truly began to grapple with in recent years: stress.
We are all stressed, each and every day; getting to class or work on time, getting enough sleep, eating well, maintaining happy personal lives, paying the bills, one could go on. All stressors in our lives cause us anxiety, which is simply a natural response to the problems stressors pose us. However, once these stressors are removed, this anxiety fades. But what if the stressors are subtler, and long-term? What if the state of anxiety that we enter when stressed doesn’t fade? The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders identifies this state as toxic stress, and it is key to understanding how stress can harm child development.
“Time heals all wounds,” as the old adage goes. But in the case of children and stress, this largely is not so. It all happens in the brain, and specifically the brain stem, when children are very young. The brainstem is the brain’s first part to undergo development - it is responsible for responding to perceived threats, and having us give emotional, “flight or fight” responses in the short-term. Because the brain stem is the first part of the brain to develop, it is what children use primarily to respond to stress. Once they are older, the part of the brain used for reason and complex thought, the frontal lobes, is developed enough that they can begin to respond rationally and calmly to stress.
Here’s the problem: what if young children are constantly exposed to stress? What if their brain-stems are always being stressed, to respond to constant adversity in a tough environment? The result of such a situation is that children’s brains are irrevocably altered, likely for life - their brain stems become overdeveloped, at the expense of the parts of the brain which deal with rational thought, such as the frontal lobes. Better Brain for Babies, funded by the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, states that an overdeveloped brainstem can lead to “anxiety, impulsiveness, hyperactivity, poor impulse control, lack of empathy, and poor problem-solving skills.” In a study from the United Kingdom, boys were analyzed from birth until roughly their university years. The researchers found that boys who faced excess stress before the age of six ended up being more depressed in their teenage years than those who did not. In the landmark Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, it was seen that a stressful and overly-adverse childhood experience had negative cognitive effects on children for life. One can clearly see how the behaviors detailed earlier from an altered brain development, such as poor impulse control and poor problem solving skills, make it harder for children to attain employment and develop rich social lives as they age. Simply put, children can literally be trapped from the start.
So what are we to do? Well, Better Brains for Babies points out that “In order to handle stress and return to calm, young children needs caregivers to comfort and reassure them that they are safe.” In other words, it is not enough to simply address the “hard” aspects of poverty - such as food insecurity, access to clean water, and physical safety - later in life. Such changes would be welcome, but children will still suffer from the earlier trauma of poverty as they age. Time does not heal all wounds, in this case. We all agree that the health and wellbeing of children should be promoted everywhere - and that should their include personal, emotional health and wellbeing as well. An array of policy programs which contain an aspect of stress reduction - of providing intimate emotional support to young children in stressful situations - is clearly necessary in addressing this problem.
So, what would such programs entail? For starters, one idea would be the promotion of community centers, particularly those that provide programs for new parents. Such centers, if of low-cost to the parents, could provide education on key stress-relieving activities for children. Indeed, if the centers become a place where parents could bring their children - even if just for a limited period of time - to help relieve them of stress, it would go far. Another idea would be policies which would reward companies that allow their employees to bring their children to work. While there would be some obvious complications with this idea, such that the line of work parents are in would dictate its feasibility, it is nonetheless true that separation from parents can lead to higher stress levels in children. These policies, as well as others, would go far in bettering such children's prospects for future happiness.
By: Emma Kiesling, Adam Graubart
Bold vs. Old Recap: Part 4 of 5
In the United States, we face a stark reality: we remain the only industrialized country in the world to lack paid family leave and universal healthcare. At the Bold Versus Old policy conference, Ai-jen Poo and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal discussed the gaps that exist in our healthcare, childcare, disability services, and elder care systems, proposing bold ideas to adequately address the long-standing health disparities that pervade throughout America.
Ai-jen Poo, Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, outlined a bold proposal for universal family care that subsidizes services for children, the elderly, and the disabled. She argued that the current costs of in-home care are enormous and getting larger, but at the same time, at-home care can be back-breakingly expensive. Unlike a siloed paid family leave plan or Medicare expansion, Poo wants to create a system that provides the care necessary at various stages of life, viewing our care needs along a continuum. Under Poo’s proposal, everyone would contribute to a fund for caregiving based on the idea that our nation’s young people and its wise, older adults enrich the common good into our future. As when Franklin Roosevelt fought for Social Security so that all Americans could retire with dignity, this plan takes care of past and present generations in an esteemed way, relieving the financial and emotional stress felt by middle and low-income Americans. Poo’s proposal streamlines several governmental services, including many within Medicare, in a way that adds value to the economy while allowing for more affordable, comprehensive care.
Medicare for all isn’t a new idea, but never before has it been so popularly expounded by our elected representatives. Universal healthcare now seems like a required credential for progressive members of congress and presidential candidates. At Bold Versus Old, we discussed the life-saving possibilities that exist if we “public-tize” our health and grant government greater ability to regulate cost-prohibitive elements of the healthcare industry, such as prescription drug prices.
Jayapal stated her case in a global context, pointing out America’s declining life expectancy and increasing, inequitable rate of infant and maternal mortality, unique and alarming trends among the world’s developed countries. Healthcare costs are still higher than any other developed nation, and 30 million Americans remain uninsured. Jayapal’s proposal is a full-scale medicare expansion, shifting healthcare back to being patient-driven and affordable. The plan proposes long-term coverage for older and aging Americans and ensures that the default for their care is at home, and not in collective facilities. In addition, the plan powerfully tackles our country’s healthcare market inefficiencies. It provides for a rapid transition from the Affordable Care Act-era public-private healthcare system to an entirely public system. But that doesn’t mean it’s all broad and sweeping plans; the details of Jayapal’s proposal far surpass the previous Medicare for All bill–the text of this version supersedes its predecessor by over 100 pages.
During World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt's support for employer-provided health insurance established the inertia for privatized healthcare to dominate our policymaking space in the twentieth century. Nevertheless, there seems to be momentum for universal care and Medicare for All among our current politics. Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren introduced a new universal child care plan, and Congresswoman Jayapal’s proposal have been introduced and boasts 106 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives. The way we achieve these policy changes remains unclear, but one thing is clear–these bold policy proposals aren’t going anywhere.
By: Emma Kiesling, Adam Graubart
Bold vs. Old Recap: Part 3 of 5
There’s been a lot of buzz about Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, the Sunrise Movement, and growing enthusiasm for the Green New Deal. The name suggests sweeping reform reminiscent of President Roosevelt’s agenda to put America back to work during the Great Depression. Last Thursday, we learned about the equally ambitious policy goals behind all the rhetoric. Demond Drummer, an organizer of New Consensus and one of the Green New Deal’s primary architects, outlined why he believes his policy is right for this moment. He explained how the aims of this policy offer solutions backed up by careful research and dutiful consideration of its impact on working-class Americans.
As a representative of the Green New Deal brain trust, Drummer described the plan as a World War II-level industrial policy that would mobilize the entirety of the American economy. With a series of national projects, each described by Drummer as a “moonshot,” he discussed his aspiration to transition to a carbon neutral economy, prioritizing energy efficiency and water safety. Of note, the plan focuses on the entire economy, and Drummer hopes it will serve as a tool for economic justice and equality in addition to curbing climate change. He explained how decreasing our dependence on carbon presents an opportunity for large public investments in much-needed infrastructure and enables us to valorize the work of all Americans. In particular, the Green New Deal decarbonizes agriculture, and it aims to neutralize carbon emissions in manufacturing while offering a jobs guarantee as these sectors transition. By involving all Americans in the growth related to the new green sector, Drummer argued that the Green New Deal will be “sustainable and prosperous not just for a handful of families but for everyone.”
With a federal jobs guarantee, extensive carbon regulation, and numerous infrastructure projects, this policy is perhaps the most ambitious and wide-reaching legislative agenda since FDR’s historic New Deal. But maybe that’s what this extreme moment for our planet calls for. The policy might resemble an old-fashioned, government-centered approach, but it also constitutes something undeniably bold: a popular agenda to stop ignoring the most pressing crisis of our generation.
By: Emma Kiesling, Adam Graubart
Bold vs. Old Recap: Part 2 of 5
Over the course of the day, three U.S. senators, two of whom are also Democratic presidential candidates, pitched their ideas for reviving America’s middle class.
In conversation with Darrick Hamilton of the Kirwan Institute at Ohio State, Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) began by articulating the importance of critical governmental programs in his father’s success. Booker also explained a couple bold proposals aimed at tackling pervasive racial income and wealth gaps: baby bonds and a housing-aware tax credit. Baby bonds would grant every American newborn their own account from the government that would accrue value over time and turn into a pool of startup funds once a child reaches adulthood. Such a program would grant every child in America the means to finance their initial professional or personal pursuits, regardless of socioeconomic status. Booker also proposed creating an additional tax credit for renters spending more than 30% of their income on housing. The tax credit provides another source of income for families who face the threats of eviction, displacement, or homelessness as they navigate rapidly increasing rents in America’s urban centers. As Washington, D.C. faces its own “affordable housing crisis," we found this policy proposal for low to middle-income renters particularly encouraging and intriguing. Hearing about the prospect of this tax credit on the federal level raised the question whether the DC Council and other city legislatures could likewise create housing-aware credits for municipal or state taxes, reducing the burdens associated with soaring rents.
Next, Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) was joined in conversation by Felicia Wong of the Roosevelt Institute. Both women hail from the San Francisco Bay area, and the conversation began as a reflection of their home state’s progressive influence on our national policymaking. Harris recounted her experiences fighting for homeowners crippled by the 2008 subprime mortgage loan crisis as California’s attorney general. Harris compelled 5 banks to cede over $25 billion for California homeowners when they had initially been offered only a fraction of that amount. The presidential hopeful also described a sweeping earned-income tax credit (EITC) proposal that would make up to $500 per month available for low-income Americans. Many of the beneficiaries of this proposal currently lack any savings, and when faced with an emergency expense, they turn to payday lenders who charge up to 1,000% interest on loans. The plan is her own answer to growing racial inequality in America, and we look forward to hearing more about her strategy to pass and implement such a massive expansion of America's social safety net.
Finally, fresh off his Dignity of Work tour, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) spoke about the need to reclaim progressive populism. He declared, “The dignity of work should unite all of us,” expressing that choosing between appeals to social Democrats and workers who want a respectable, decent-paying job represented a false choice. To restore dignity in the lives of working people, Senator Brown emphasized that we must similarly “overhaul the tax code” to prioritize people over corporations. He proposed giving people a once-annual advance on the earned income tax credit, citing that 40% of Americans lack $400 in the case of an emergency. Brown expressed a vision for our country that took root during the mid-twentieth century – that dignity of work requires a combination of a sturdy social safety net and substantial worker power. The speech was a striking throwback to liberalism, and Brown made sure to emphasize that a pro-worker policy platform – one that restores workers’ control over their lives, their schedules, and their voice in industry – rejects our contemporary divisiveness. He proclaimed, “Populism is never racist, populism is never anti-Semitic.”
In his second inaugural address, President Franklin Roosevelt declared, “we will never regard any faithful law-abiding group within our borders as superfluous. The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” It appears that Senators Booker, Harris, and Brown internalized this duty, and they appear willing to creatively utilize our tax code as a means to reduce our stark social and economic inequalities.
By: Emma Kiesling, Adam Graubart
Bold vs. Old Recap: Part 1 of 5
Last Thursday, we had the pleasure of participating in the Bold vs. Old conference at Union Market. The event, hosted by the Roosevelt Institute, Community Change, the Economic Security Project, and the Hewlett Foundation convened noteworthy leaders to discuss progressive policy proposals. During the course of the day, we listened to talks with Stacey Abrams, Mehrsa Baradaran, Senator Sherrod Brown, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, and many other progressive leaders and intellectuals. We also heard from two presidential hopefuls: Senator Cory Booker and Senator Kamala Harris. While the star-studded lineup proved exciting, we particularly enjoyed the policy-oriented focus of the event. Throughout the day, we learned that embracing the bold does not necessarily require rejecting the “old.” Rather, we need to replace our present cynicism with a restored faith in our public institutions. On topics ranging from postal banking to Medicare for All to the Green New Deal, we repeatedly reflected on how combining our resources and intellect presents the vast potential to establish a prosperous society for every American.
In a series of posts this week, we will review some of the most noteworthy policy lessons discussed during the conference. In doing so, we will reflect upon the momentous opportunities that exist in rehabilitating our trust in government’s capacity to serve our common welfare.
Part 1: Reviving Union Power
The day’s first panel included Mary Kay Henry of Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Palak Shah of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), and Andrea Dehlendorf of the Organization United for Respect (OUR). Henry emphasized that recent labor wins for fast food workers and teachers across the nation were achieved through loopholes against the general grain of written law. To truly achieve labor rights in the United States, the panel agreed that we need to rewrite the rules so that workers have a voice on corporate boards, as well as the basic right to form unions in the first place.
Unionization is gaining popularity in our current moment, noted Dehlendorf, but it is largely unavailable among the majority of the private sector workers. For instance, Shah, speaking on behalf of domestic workers, noted that the industry faces a unique moment of dangerous market concentration—but also great opportunity. Here the term “monopsony” was introduced to describe sites like sitter.com, handy.com, and care.com, which are gaining larger shares of the labor market and, thereby, power over wages, working conditions, and unionization. As domestic care markets begin to concentrate, Shah argues, so too should workers set their own base rules to escape the “wild west” of the current market.
In the early twentieth century, America’s unions possessed a vast influence in the policy realm, including collaboration with the Roosevelt Administration to architect and pass the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, which established the minimum wage, overtime pay, and the 40-hour work week. Starting with President Ronald Reagan’s interference with the air traffic controllers’ strike in 1981, Americans have borne witness to a decline in union power accompanied with general wage stagnation and a concentration of wealth in the upper strata of our society. Reinvigorating collective bargaining rights under federal law—restoring the power of the unions as they existed before neoclassical economics dominated our policy space—represents the best pathway to ensuring that laborers have a voice for their individual and collective interests, especially as the content of our work continues to evolve.
By: Raagini Chandra
On Tuesday, Feb. 19th Roosevelt at GW held a Fireside chat by the name of “Who is our Transportation Built For?” We hosted a panel which included David Alpert, Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST); Nancy Augustine, faculty member at George Washington University and research consultant for urban policy, planning, and administration issues; and Andrew Small, freelance writer in Washington DC and author of the CityLab Daily newsletter. The discussion consisted of each panelist speaking about how inclusivity in public transportation affects people from all backgrounds and walks of life.
Since 2014, public transit ridership in the District has been on the decline, which is significant considering that D.C. has the second highest ridership in the country, despite the city ardently neglecting to build a subway system until the 1970s. The panel then went on to examine the different types of public transportation offered by the district and how each form affects different groups of people. For example, the District of Columbia's public transportation includes buses and the metro, as well as capital bike-share and scooters which have been increasing in usage over the past years.
Problems with Bikes and Scooters
David Alpert mentioned that despite the benefits of new innovative programs like bike and scooter rentals, newer forms of transport inherently favor young, non-disabled people who tend to be of means. Older, working-class D.C. residents either cannot use these forms of transportation, or they feel deterred from using these newer, more physically-demanding forms of transport. Moreover, the increasing popularity of these newer types of public transportation tend to attract more young, white, upper-middle-class residents to the district in areas that house historically black working-class communities, and so they can, therefore, expedite gentrification. The panelists urged us to remember that while the scooters and bikes are wonderful new forms of public transportation, it is important to realize that there is a problem when those vehicles are the only form of cheap public transportation available to a diverse public.
Problems with Metro and Buses
One of the largest problems with the DC Metro, our panelists elaborated, is how expensive it is to live near Metro stations. According to a report from RentHop, in the areas around 61 of the 91 Metro stops, rents have increased, compared to last year. Panelist Nancy Augustine made sure to note that buses often get stuck in DC’s heavy traffic, and this makes it harder for individuals who cannot afford to live close to the Metro to rely on those buses. Augustine did state that creating bus priority lanes could help with the reliability of buses during high-traffic hours and offered Rio de Janeiro, San Juan, and Seattle as examples of large cities where bus-priority lanes have been effective.
Our D.C. metro system isn’t only affected by being in D.C. since the metro area comprises regions within Maryland and Virginia. It is difficult to effectively provide public transportation changes to both buses and metros since these services stretch across many jurisdictions and encompass numerous ordinances and policies that differ for each municipality. Also, in addition to the disconnect between the Metro and Metrobus system in D.C., our panelists brought attention to the fact that the government penalizes riders for transferring between the bus and rail systems, which doesn’t occur in other large cities such as New York.
The Amazon HQ
One student who attended the discussion asked about the new Amazon headquarters that is being built in Crystal City and asked the panelists to elaborate on how the influx of a younger, wealthier, middle-class would affect the city and transportation system as a whole, seeing as Crystal City is very easily accessible through the metro. Panelist Andrew Small believes that the issue, as far as transportation and gentrification at least, is not actually as problematic as the public seemed to think. He noted that Crystal City and the greater Arlington area already have low-density neighborhoods--mostly empty--around where the Amazon HQ is going to be built. This is due to the fact that Crystal City used to be a hub for military bureaus and agencies that have since left the area. The people left with the businesses, but the infrastructure in Crystal City remains. Although gentrification would affect the neighborhood that still exists— an effect that Small believes is still significant--Amazon’s new HQ wouldn’t uproot an entire community.
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