Archives for category: Poverty

Homi Kharas of the Brookings Institution writes about ways that the world’s billionaires could solve persistent global problems by paying an annual tax of 1% of their wealth.

He writes:

Until recently, even the wealthiest individuals did not have enough money to make a material dent in global problems, let alone “solve” them. Compared to the size of national economies, or the budgets of the governments of national economies, their wealth appeared small.

This is no longer the case. There are 2,755 billionaires in the world today, with an estimated wealth of $13.2 trillion. Even just 1 percent of this wealth (equivalent to a tax rate of 15-20 percent on the accrued income that billionaires have received with returns of 5-7 percent per year) would yield a flow of $130 billion per year. This can be compared with annual official aid (net ODA) of roughly $160 billion from all countries and multilateral institutions combined. Looking for contributions from billionaires has moved from a nice-to-have niche improvement to becoming part of the conversation on financing to solve large-scale global issues.

What could be done with $130 billion each year?

Figure 1 below provides some estimates of the cost of solving selected global problems. For example, updating previous work, I estimate that $95 billion would be enough to eradicate extreme poverty for all the 708 million people in the world living below the international threshold of $1.90 per person per day. Yes, a 1 percent contribution from the world’s billionaires would provide more than enough resources to end extreme poverty today.

Other major global issues have less precise costing estimates but paint a similar picture. The issue of “solving” world hunger has a range of estimates, partly because solving hunger is not simply about having enough food, but about having consistent access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food, often in conflict-prone, or climate change-affected areas. Preferably, the food should also be grown in a sustainable way and the food system changes required depend on simultaneous system changes in health, energy, and transport. The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) nevertheless estimates that annual investments of $39 billion to $50 billion would be required to achieve a world without hunger by 2030. This includes both the 800 million people suffering from acute food insecurity, as well as the 1.5 billion additional people suffering from moderate food insecurity.

If you were a billionaire, wouldn’t you be willing to support a 1% tax on your wealth that would save the lives of millions of people living in desperate conditions?

Jan Resseger, one of our best informed bloggers and social justice advocates, lauds President Biden’s Build Back Better program for its benefits for children. It would end decades of policies that punish poor children. Our nation has dramatically reduced poverty among the elderly, but neglected our children.

She writes:

The U.S. House of Representatives finally passed President Biden’s infrastructure plan last Friday. The Senate passed it a while ago, and the bill is headed to Biden’s desk for signature.  At the same time, Democrats in the U. S. House of Representatives pledged that if the Congressional Budget Office confirms cost estimates for the Build Back Better Bill, Democrats in the House will pass the current version of the plan and send it on to the Senate for consideration. For months, Congress has been debating the programs that are part of this plan, and even if Congress passes it, it won’t be perfect.

Even if imperfect, however, the Build Back Better Bill in its current form would signify a truly revolutionary investment in America’s children. That is because the United States has, for decades, utterly failed to use government to begin to eradicate a morally reprehensible level of childhood economic inequality.

Cara Baldari of the First Focus Campaign for Children explains: “For the first time in generations, we are on the precipice of making serious and long-term progress to reduce our stubbornly high rate of child poverty in the United States. Historically, the United States has had a significantly higher rate of child poverty than other developed countries because we have continually failed to sufficiently invest in our children. While the establishment of Social Security has permanently reduced poverty for seniors, children have remained the poorest group in America. This situation is not due to a lack of evidence on what works to reduce child poverty, but rather the lack of political will to act.”

Since 1997, families who earn enough income to pay federal income taxes have benefited from a tax credit for each child. Last spring’s American Rescue Plan Covid-relief bill made the full Child Tax Credit available to children in families with low earnings or without income, and it increased the credit’s maximum amount—$2,000 per-child last year— to $3,000 per child and $3,600 for children under age 6—but only through the end of 2021. Without the extension of this reform, many children will fall back into deep poverty in 2022.

Balderi presents some recent history: In 2015, advocates for children “worked with Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) to secure federal funding for the landmark National Academy of Sciences study, A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty, which was published in 2019. This study, written by a committee of experts… confirmed that… providing families with flexible cash assistance through a monthly child allowance was the most effective way to combat child poverty, reduce racial-economic inequality, and improve children’s long-term outcomes.”  In a tragic irony, until this year families without income or with income so low they payed little in federal income taxes could not receive the full tax credit, while middle class and even wealthy parents could receive the full credit, thereby reducing their federal income tax.

Last week the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities examined several provisions of the Build Back Better Bill which will, if the law is passed in its current draft form, reduce racial disparities.  The brief leads with the Bill’s provision to reduce child poverty by extending last spring’s expansion of the Child Tax Credit: “Build Back Better extends the American Rescue Plan’s expansion of the Child Tax Credit for 2022, which is expected to lift 4 million children above the poverty line and narrow the difference between poverty rates for Black and white children by 44 percent (compared to what the rates would be otherwise) and to narrow the difference between the poverty rates for Latino and white children by 41 percent.  Build Back Better also permanently ensures that the full Child Tax Credit is available to children in families with low or no earnings in a year.This is particularly important for Black and Latino children, about half of whom received a partial credit or no credit at all before the Rescue Plan expansion because their families’ incomes were too low, compared to about 20 percent of white children.”

In late October, a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Senior Research Analyst, Claire Zippel reported data collected from late July through September by the U.S. Census’s Household Pulse Survey. These data documented that, “Some 91 percent of families with low incomes (less than $35,000) are using their monthly Child Tax Credit payments for the most basic household expenses—food, clothing, shelter, and utilities—or education… Many of these households are receiving the full Child Tax Credit for the first time thanks to the American Rescue Plan’s credit expansion. The Rescue Plan temporarily increased the credit amount, provided for the credit to be paid monthly rather than once a year at tax time, and halted a policy that prevented 27 million children from receiving the full credit because their parents earned too little or lacked earnings in a given year.”

How did parents use the money?  Zippel continues: “Among households with incomes below $35,000 who received the Child Tax Credit, 88 percent spent their payments on the most basic needs: food, clothing, rent, a mortgage, or utility bills.  The Child Tax Credit payments also helped many parents and other caregivers invest in their children’s education, Pulse data suggest. Some 40 percent of families with low incomes used their Child Tax Credit payments to cover education costs such as school books and supplies, tuition, after-school programs, and transportation to and from school. (In some cases, these expenses may be for adults’ own education. About 5 percent of adults in low-income households with children are enrolled in school, other Census data show.)

The NY Times’ Claire Cain Miller adds that in its current form in the U.S. House of Representatives: “The Build Back Better Bill also includes extensive investment in pre-Kindergarten for 3 and 4-year-olds and assistance for parents to afford childcare as well as dollars to ensure that “teachers in child care classrooms be paid a livable wage, equivalent to that of elementary teachers with the same credentials… Also as part of the proposal, pre-K lead teachers must have a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education or a related field, though they would be given six years to get the degree with some exemptions based on professional experience.”

Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman strongly endorses these and other proposals to help families and their children: “Democrats may—may—finally be about to agree on a revenue and spending plan. It will clearly be smaller than President Biden’s original proposal, and much smaller than what progressives wanted. It will, however, be infinitely bigger than what Republicans would have done, because if the G.O.P. controlled Congress, we would be doing nothing at all to invest in America’s future. But what will the plan do?  Far too much reporting has focused mainly on the headline spending number.”

Krugman continues: “So let me propose a one-liner: Tax the rich, help America’s children.  This gets at much of what the legislation is likely to do. Reporting suggests that the final bill will include taxes on billionaires’ incomes and minimum taxes for corporations, along with a number of child-oriented programs.”

Krugman, the economist, comments on the economic arguments for Congressional passage of this bill: “(T)here is overwhelming evidence that helping children, in addition to being the right thing to do, has big economic payoffs. Children who benefited from safety-net programs like food stamps became healthier, more productive adults. Children who were enrolled in pre-K education were more likely to graduate from high school and go to college…. As I’ve argued in the past, the economic case for investing in children is even stronger than the case for investing in physical infrastructure.”

Krugman also believes that President Biden’s Build Back Better Bill, philosophically conforms to American political tradition: “Remember, we are the nation that basically invented universal education… America led the way in creating ‘common schools’ that were meant to include students from all social classes, and were justified by many of the same arguments now being made for universal pre-K and other forms of aid to children. So when Republicans denounce pro-child policies as socialist and try to promote private schools, they, not Democrats, are rejecting our nation’s traditions.”

John Tanner is a blogger in San Antonio. In this post, he asks a question that I have asked myself many times: Why do ”reformers” and politicians keep funding failure? Why do they demand more charters and vouchers when neither has matched their claims, neither has closed achievement gaps or dramatically higher scores (except when they cherrypick their students)?

Tanner asks the question about test-based accountability, which Texas has embraced for decades.

He begins:

It is inexplicable to me how the failed policies of test-based accountability continue to be championed as if they have worked in the past and will continue to work into the future. The position of those espousing the effectiveness of test-based accountability can only be valid if at some point in the past all schools were essentially equal, and then good or bad educators created the disparities between what are now labeled “good” and “bad” schools. Then, the current accountability systems might reflect the efforts of those educators and the judgments would be warranted.

Of course, that is a joke. Schools never started at a level playing field. The first time anyone administered a standardized test to the universe of students in America what it showed were the effects of an inequitable society as well as the size and scope of a problem. But it was much easier for Americans to ignore the problem and instead declare that poor children were just dumber than rich children and that the cause of that was the educators in their lives. Pretending that at some point everything had been equal and then it just so happened that all the bad educators migrated towards the bad schools now serving poor children was easier than admitting the truth—that we were a society rooted in inequity and that our approach to schooling reflected that fact.

Reality is a good bit different than the test-based accountability crew would have you believe. The Coleman report pointed out way back in the 1960s that an effective, research-based approach to creating a great educational system for all students required two major policy efforts: address the ravages of generational poverty and make teaching into a position as revered as medicine and the law. So far, more than half a decade later, we are 0/2.

Now, instead, we look askance at the schools that serve students who are the victims of generational poverty and who are as a result behind their wealthier peers. We pretend that what we are seeing in these schools is not the consequences of ignoring Coleman, but of laziness and incompetence on the part of the educators in them.

And because test scores of the types used by states are designed to order students from the furthest below to the furthest above average within a content area as of a certain date (that’s a mouthful—sorry), they make for a beautiful tool for confirming the bias that schools serving poorer children became bad because of bad teachers that just need to try harder. That denies the reality that student exposure to academic content occurs in two places: inside and outside school, and that exposure differs a great deal as a direct result of generational poverty. Make no mistake—schools and teachers matter, as they will account for about 1/3 of the difference in test scores between students (and could account for more with the right supports that do not now exist). But what happens outside of a school will account for almost 2/3 of the difference. Any judgment based on a test score that fails to acknowledge that very real fact is unethical and needs to be dismissed as specious.

Read on. He nails the failure of test-based accountability.

Privatization of important parts of the public sector is a great scourge of our times. No institution is more fundamental to the American Dream than public education, and it is under assault by powerful and well funded forces. By billionaires who have dreams of lower taxes and libertarians who want to destroy whatever government provides. We must fight privatization of the goods and services that belong to us.

Frankly we should join together to fight for a society where there are no billionaires and no poverty. Let us agree to take care of one another and have a fairer society, where everyone has a decent standard of living, where there is no hunger or homelessness. I recommend a book called The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, in which two British sociologists-Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett-demonstrate that societies with more equality are happier than those where great inequality persists. By contrast, scan Bloomberg Billionaires Index. I am not a socialist, but I don’t believe we should have either billionaires or poverty.

The pandemic impoverished millions of people. But the billionaire class got richer, much much richer. Senator Bernie Sanders said recently that the fifty richest people in this country have wealth equal to the bottom 50 percent of the population. That is gross, disgusting, obscene inequality.

Our nation and its democratic ideals are being undermined by extremes of wealth and income. The middle class is struggling not to slip into poverty.

From Forbes in 2018:

In the 1950s, a typical CEO made 20 times the salary of his or her average worker. Last year, CEO pay at an S&P 500 Index firm soared to an average of 361 times more than the average rank-and-file worker, or pay of $13,940,000 a year, according to an AFL-CIO’s Executive Paywatch news release today.

This is not the America I grew up in, and it’s not what America should be.

I have found these old English rhymes to be inspiring.

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from the goose.

The law demands that we atone
When we take things we do not own
But leaves the lords and ladies fine
Who takes things that are yours and mine.

Politico writes that Senator Bernie Sanders deserves credit for key features of the $1.9 trillion Biden plan and for encouraging Biden not to compromise with moderate Republicans who offered a $900 billion plan.

Politico said:

 Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) played the most dramatic role during the passage of the Covid relief bill into law. But the senator with the greatest imprint on the script itself was his colleague on the opposite end of the Democratic ideological spectrum: Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). 

Sanders’ influence on the most ambitious piece of domestic legislation in a generation is evident in several places, particularly the guaranteed income program for children, the massive subsidies for people to buy health care, the sheer size of the $1.9 trillion measure and the centerpiece of it — direct checks to working Americans. 

But the specifics of the law tell only part of the story. The calculus by which the legislation was crafted and passed — a belief that popular bills endure more than bipartisan ones — is quintessentially Sanders. And it raises a thought-provoking question: Has any elected official in American history had such a profound influence on a major political party without ever formally joining it? 

Six years ago, Democrats were in a different place. Austerity politics were still gripping parts of the party. The ambitious agenda items were more social than economic: immigration reform, gun control, police reform after Ferguson. And in a few months time, the Republican Party’s presidential nominee would make serious inroads among the white working class voters who had served as the bedrock for Democrats for decades. 

Within that landscape, Sanders was a throwback: a labor-oriented big-government liberal who seemed like more of a gadfly than a serious player. He was known for passing little-noticed amendments but also found a knack for making well-noticed public spectacles, often as acts of disagreement with the Obama White House on items like domestic surveillance laws and the extension of the Bush tax cuts. As his following picked up, a depiction of him emerged as an ideologue who valued ideological purity over progress and was content to undermine a historic president in the service of it.

That never jibed with reality. Though admittedly stubborn, Sanders voted often for major bills that fell short of his ambitions (Obamacare), cut deals that went against his ideology (VA reform), and made sure his public shows of opposition didn’t actually turn into catastrophes for the Democratic Party. When his legislative white whale (a $15-an-hour minimum wage hike) was nixed by the parliamentarian a few weeks back, he could have insisted that his fallback option be given a vote. He didn’t, calculating that it wasn’t worth jeopardizing or delaying the entire enterprise over the minimum wage. As one Sanders aide described it: “He knows when to throw down and when it’s time to get s— done…”

The Democratic Party today holds razor-thin majorities in both chambers and is helmed by a president who might have been the most moderate of the 20 or so candidates who ran in the primary. And yet every single member — save one in the House — voted for a nearly $2 trillion deficit-financed bill that sends money without strings attached to the poorest Americans, all while embracing a unionization effort targeting the biggest e-commerce giant in the world and entertaining a $4 trillion follow-up bill to revamp American infrastructure that will likely include tax hikes on the rich. If Sanders was just a touch more extroverted, we’d likely see signs of euphoria in Burlington.

Of course, credit (or, if you’re so inclined, blame) isn’t his alone. The enlarged child tax credit has been the project of countless Democrats, including Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.). The bill’s $86 billion bailout for multi-employer pensions was spearheaded by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). And none of it would have been possible without twin Senate wins in Georgia or Biden’s insistence that he needed to go big out the gate. 

But, it’s worth recalling, that Biden easily could have charted a bipartisan approach instead. In early December, Manchin and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) announced the outlines of a $900 billion relief bill of their own, with a splashy Washington Post op-ed framing it as the logical step toward ideological comity. Five other senators in the Democratic caucus were on board with the idea

Sanders rejected the proposal out of hand. His move sent an early signal to the White House that it would have to scramble for votes even on a center-of-the-road approach. Weeks later, the Georgia election happened, Biden stuck to the script that bigger was better, and the pieces of a $1.9 trillion package — upon which the success of the Demcratic Party now hangs — fell into place.

Sheelah Kolhatkar, a staff writer for The New Yorker, describes the most remarkable part of the Biden COVID rescue plan: its income payments for children. The fate of this experiment depends on electing enough Democrats in 2022 to extend it into the future and convincing Republicans that the program is so popular that they should support it. Now that the legislation has been passed, Biden must work hard to forge a bipartisan coalition to make it permanent.

On Tuesday, March 9th, Amy Castro Baker stood on her front porch and watched as her two teen-age children boarded a bus and went off to school together for the first time in a year. Her sense of relief was profound. Baker, a researcher of economic mobility and an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy & Practice, had been through a challenging period familiar to most parents—and especially to working mothers. For the past year, she had balanced the demands of a full-time job with overseeing her kids’ online schooling, while also cooking, cleaning, and running the household as a single parent. “We’re at the point in my home where it’s a choice between what’s higher risk, covid or my kids’ mental health,” Baker said. “I’m not sure I could have handled another month.” These are the kinds of difficulties that the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9-trillion pandemic-relief bill recently passed by Congress, was designed to address. Benefits in the bill could help millions of families who are facing similar challenges and are living under much greater financial precarity.

The bill, which was signed by President Joe Biden on Thursday, offers a variety of benefits intended to address economic hardship caused by the pandemic. No Republicans voted for the legislation, largely based on the argument that the pandemic will end soon and the economy doesn’t need the help. And it’s true that some aspects of the legislation go beyond the demands of the pandemic, addressing economic disparities that existed before covid-19 hit. The bill includes provisions to give one-time, fourteen-hundred-dollar payments to individuals earning fewer than eighty thousand dollars a year, and to increase unemployment insurance by three hundred dollars per week until early September. But it is the plan’s expanded, fully refundable child tax credit—which is worth thirty-six hundred dollars for each child under age six and three thousand dollars for those aged six to seventeen—that has the greatest potential to change the way that the United States addresses poverty.

A typical child tax credit can only be claimed by people earning enough money to pay taxes in the first place, which excludes those with an earned income of fewer than twenty-five hundred dollars—in other words, those in the most dire need. The new child tax credit works differently: starting in July, the federal government will send cash each month, until December, to parents for every child that they have regardless of the family’s employment status, and the remaining balance will be disbursed once families file their taxes next year. “It will actually maintain and lift living standards for millions of women and their children,” Heidi Shierholz, a senior economist and director of policy at the Economic Policy Institute, told me, adding that she hopes the credit will eventually become a permanent benefit. “There’s also a massive racial-justice angle here, too. This will disproportionately help families of color, and it will disproportionately bring Black kids and Hispanic kids out of poverty. This is groundbreaking.”

In some ways, the credit resembles much debated proposals to set up a universal-basic-income program, which would send cash to families every month to help them get by. Such a program never seemed possible in the United States, but lessons from the 2008 financial crisis, the Trump Presidency, and the pandemic have changed what policymakers are willing to try. “It signals a turn in the way that we approach alleviating poverty and supporting the unpaid care work of women that makes the economy move,” Baker told me.

From the earliest days of corporate reform, which is now generally recognized to have been a failed effort to “reform” schools by privatizing them and by making standardized testing the focal point of education, we heard again and again that a child’s zip code should not be his or her destiny. Sometimes, in the evolving debates, I got the sense that some people thought that zip codes themselves were a problem. If only we eliminated zip codes! But the reality is that zip codes are a synonym for poverty. So what the reformers meant was that poverty should not be destiny.

Would it were so! If only it were true that a child raised in an impoverished home had the same life chances as children brought up in affluent homes, where food, medical care, and personal security are never in doubt.

But “reformers” insisted that they could overcome poverty by putting Teach for America inexperienced teachers in classrooms, because they (unlike teachers who had been professionally prepared) “believed” in their students and by opening charter schools staffed by TFA teachers. Some went further and said that vouchers would solve the problem of poverty. All of this was nonsense, and thirty years later, poverty and inequality remain persistent, unaffected by thousands of charter schools and TFA.

In effect, the reformers held out the illusion that testing, competition, and choice would level the playing field and life chances of rich and poor kids. After 30 or more years of corporate reform, it is clear that the reform message diverted our attention from the wealth gap and the income gap, which define the significant differences among children who have everything and children who have very little.

Imagine the cost of assuring that every school in the nation were equitably and adequately funded. Imagine if all students had small classes in a school with beautiful facilities, healthy play spaces, the best technology, and well-paid teachers. That would go a long way towards eliminating the differences between rich schools and poor schools, but our society has not taxed itself to make sure that all kids have great schools.

None of the promises of “reform” have been fulfilled. The cynical among us think that the beneficiaries of reform have been the billionaires, who were never willing to pay the taxes necessary to narrow income and wealth inequality or to fund good schools in every neighborhood. They gladly fund “reforms” that require chicken feed, as compared to the taxes necessary to truly make zip codes irrelevant.

Valerie Strauss writes about the dramatic effect that the Biden COVID relief plan will have on children. The effects will last only for one year, but Democrats hope to make the family income provision permanent. To do that, they need to retain a majority in 2022 because the GQP doesn’t believe in direct cash benefits to families. They prefer tax cuts for the rich, which might (or might not) incentivize them to create new jobs. That’s trickle-down economics. The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan called it “feeding the sparrows by feeding the horses.”

Valerie Strauss suggests that the plan

President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan is aimed at helping the country recover from the coronavirus pandemic — but it is another thing, as well: a major federal school reform unlike those we’ve seen in the past few decades.

While the new law is aimed at helping families get back on their feet and helping businesses and schools reopen after a year of turmoil, it includes measures that together have the potential to slash poverty among the 12 million students who live in low-income households.

Biden himself tweeted recently: “No child should grow up in poverty. The American Rescue Plan will expand the child tax credit and cut the child poverty rate in half.”

Outside estimates on its impact have come to the same conclusion, including one from the nonprofit Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, which said that two key tax credit provisions could “together lift more children above the poverty line, 5.5 million, than any other economic support program.” An Urban Institute analysis of the plan said the child poverty rate in 2021 will fall by more than 52 percent, largely from changes in tax law and the $1,400 stimulus checks that are part of the relief package.

It should be noted that most of the provisions in this new law will remain in effect only for a year or two — and there is no guarantee what will happen beyond then. But directly aiming to reduce child poverty is exactly what many advocates for children have long said is needed.

Policymakers have been focused for decades on improving public schools with a culture based on standardized testing, the expansion of charter schools and other “school choice” measures, and, in some places, the demonization of teachers. Child poverty, they said, was an excuse for poor performance by adults.

But the testing/choice/big data approach has not closed the achievement gap, and on some measures, it has barely moved.

Critics say research clearly shows that standardized test scores are fundamentally a metric of the state of child poverty in America, not of school quality. Students who live in low-income Zip codes virtually always have lower test scores than those who don’t.

While conditions inside many schools do need to be overhauled — and some teachers need better training — what happens to children outside of school has a far larger effect on their performance than what happens in class, researchers have said.

“On nearly every single outcome that we can assess, public schools have a marginal impact that is really small relative to the impact of families,” said Robert Pianta, dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia and founding director of the university’s Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning.

Many schools nationwide have attempted to address the out-of-school lives of students, including “community schools” that forge partnerships with local agencies and organizations to provide wraparound services for children.

But federal policy has been focused on other things since 2002′s No Child Left Behind law ushered in an era of standardized-testing accountability systems for schools and districts. While running for president, Biden had said he wants to make education equity a top priority.

Biden’s rescue plan will, among other things, send direct cash payments of $1,400 to more than 85 percent of U.S. households, make health care more affordable and extend unemployment benefits.

It will also make key changes in federal tax law, including with the child tax credit, which until now has largely helped middle- and high-income families. Under the new law, many more low-income families will be eligible for the credit, which will rise from $2,000 to $3,600 per child every year. The money will be sent to families over the course of the year in installments — essentially a guaranteed income.

Biden has said he wants the changes in the child tax credit to be permanent, which would have a lasting effect on the child poverty rate. At this time, they aren’t.

In 2011, writer Sarah Garland said in the Hechinger Report,“Increasingly, educators and experts are questioning the reformers’ tactics and asking whether the single-minded focus on schools has become an excuse to avoid the hard work of addressing poverty.”

The American Rescue Plan seems to be a start.

Joe Biden just signed the most sweeping economic relief package since the New Deal. He has addressed poverty and inequality directly and fearlessly. Trump could boast of a massive tax cut for the rich. Biden can boast of putting money in the pockets of most Americans at a time of dire need. The number of children in poverty, by most estimates, will be cut in half.

A significant and permanent decline in the child poverty rate—currently higher in the U.S. than in other industrialized nations—will improve the lives of not only children, but families and communities. Children will have better nutrition, better child care, better access to medical care, and more stable lives, as the economic prospects of their families improve.

The plan establishes the benefit for a single year. But if it becomes permanent, as Democrats intend, it will greatly enlarge the safety net for the poor and the middle class at a time when the volatile modern economy often leaves families moving between those groups. More than 93 percent of children — 69 million — would receive benefits under the plan, at a one-year cost of more than $100 billion.

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The bill, which is likely to pass the House and be signed by Mr. Biden this week, raises the maximum benefit most families will receive by up to 80 percent per child and extends it to millions of families whose earnings are too low to fully qualify under existing law. Currently, a quarter of children get a partial benefit, and the poorest 10 percent get nothing.

Robert Kuttner of The American Prospect calls this “a watershed moment” that could demonstrate to working people that government is on their side. He writes:

With the passage of the American Rescue Plan, people who voted for Donald Trump grasped that the government, under a Democratic president, is sending each of their kids at least $3,000 a year, paying for their health coverage if they lose their jobs, topping up their unemployment compensation, keeping their local governments from cutting services, and a great deal more.

Government, in friendly hands, just might be on the side of the people—in a way that is simple, direct, and not filtered through private profiteers. Imagine that. Reprogram some tax breaks for the very rich that do nothing for anyone else, and government might deliver even more.

All of this public outlay will boost the economy so much that conservatives, who once emphasized the need for fiscal discipline and business tax breaks, are now warning that direct government help to regular people might cause the economy to grow too fast. What a nice problem to have.

Activist government has been demonized for more than a generation. A great many working-class people, who saw government under both parties getting into bed with elites rather than providing practical help, joined in the demonizing. Now, they just may give government and the Democrats a second look.

The New York Times said that the rescue plan’s direct income support for children amounts to “a policy revolution.”

Obscured by other parts of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimuluspackage, which won Senate approval on Saturday, the child benefit has the makings of a policy revolution. Though framed in technocratic terms as an expansion of an existing tax credit, it is essentially a guaranteed income for families with children, akin to children’s allowances that are common in other rich countries.

The plan establishes the benefit for a single year. But if it becomes permanent, as Democrats intend, it will greatly enlarge the safety net for the poor and the middle class at a time when the volatile modern economy often leaves families moving between those groups. More than 93 percent of children — 69 million — would receive benefits under the plan, at a one-year cost of more than $100 billion.

The bill…raises the maximum benefit most families will receive by up to 80 percent per child and extends it to millions of families whose earnings are too low to fully qualify under existing law. Currently, a quarter of children get a partial benefit, and the poorest 10 percent get nothing.

Joe Biden has staked his presidency on policies that echo FDR. He is the right leader for the moment. I have and will criticize his education policies. Mandating testing in the middle of a pandemic is thoughtless and cruel. But in confronting a once in a century pandemic and economic peril, his leadership has been peerless. And as Robert Kuttner wrote, Biden may even persuade working people to vote in their own interest and not to be swayed by the endless culture wars (e.g., trans bathrooms, cancel culture, Colin K’s knee) that Republicans use to mask their lack of any economic policy that benefits the vast majority of Americans.


Historian of education Christina Groeger writes that Americans have long believed that education is the key to equality, but she thinks that this faith is misplaced.

She writes:

“The best way to increase wages and reduce wage inequalities in the long run is to invest in education and skills,” wrote economist Thomas Piketty in his landmark Capital in the Twenty-First Century. For nearly 200 years, education has been seen as a central means of reducing the gap between rich and poor. Today, this idea has become something of a national faith, as politicians across the political spectrum tout the power of education to shape a more egalitarian society. However, faith in educational expansion as a means of achieving the American Dream has obscured the ways the same process has in fact deepened economic inequality at different historical moments. If we don’t explore its full consequences, education as a policy tool can become a dangerous trap.

In the U.S., the relationship between education and social inequality points to a paradox. On the one hand, the U.S. has long had among the highest rates of school enrollment and attainment in the world. In 2017, the United States ranked second-highest globally for the average years of schooling for individuals over the age of 25. On the other hand, the U.S. currently has one of the highest rates of social inequality and lowest rates of social mobility in the Global North. In sum, even though many Americans are getting educated at unusually high rates, the U.S. economy is extremely polarized between the 1% and the rest. If education were indeed the great equalizer, this could not be true.

This seeming paradox stems from the fact that the American educational system and the modern corporate economy grew up together and mutually shaped one another from the start.

After briefly reviewing the importance of education in opening up new opportunities for clerical and sales workers and for white collar workers, she maintains that education does not produce equality.

The uneasy truth is that educational solutions often were and are politically palatable to those with the most economic power precisely because they do not directly threaten that power. Educational solutions have tended to place the burden of reform onto individuals to improve their skill level, rather than the larger structure of a vastly unequal economy. The notion that we can “upskill” our way out of an unequal economy, however, misdirects our attention away from the role of employers and economic elites in maintaining their immense workplace authority.

Between the 1940s and 1970s, inequality fell. What role did education play? Many scholars have attributed the decline in social inequality to massive public investment in education. However, the mid-20th century decline had to do with much more than just education. Particularly important was the power of new industrial unions. Unlike exclusive craft unions, industrial unions organized workplaces across lines of skill, race, ethnicity, and gender, reaching a peak of 36% of all private sector workers by 1953. Organized workers became the mass base of support for public policies like a high progressive income tax and social welfare programs. The expansion of public education on its own would not have been able to account for the significant decline in inequality in this period; rather, the growth of worker power, economically and politically, was the primary driver of these changes.

Since the 1970s, workers’ rights have been stripped away, unionization rates have fallen to a mere 6% of private sector workers, budgets for public services have been slashed, and the wealthy pay less in taxes. The economy is increasingly polarized between low-wage service jobs performed disproportionately by women and people of color, on the one hand, and the professional beneficiaries of the “knowledge economy” on the other. The history of the early twentieth century teaches us that there is nothing inherent in educational expansion that means its economic benefits will be equally distributed. In fact, as we are seeing today in the highly-credentialed fields of financial services, corporate law, and specialized medicine, when worker power is at an all-time low, educational expansion without additional protections can simply concentrate the power of existing elites.

The meaning and significance of education is much greater than economic advancement. But until economic subsistence is addressed, education will be tied to these vocational ends, understandably for so many students for whom education is a means of securing a living. If we want to free education up for non-vocational ends, we need to ensure that all people can achieve a livelihood first.

School expansion must be coupled with efforts that build worker power, which historically has been the basis of a more egalitarian society. These include building strong and inclusive unions, raising the minimum wage, expanding social welfare programs, and implementing the progressive taxation necessary to fund them. The collective power of workers, not education level, is ultimately what will matter most for creating a more egalitarian society.

Thus, we can understand the ongoing barrage of attacks on teachers’ unions and the growth of nonunion charter schools as efforts by elites to prevent workers from having any power and from building the egalitarian society that is part of our national creed.