40,000 Verizon Workers Strike Against Corporate ‘Race to the Bottom’

Verizon workers across the East Coast marched in picket lines on Wednesday in the largest U.S. strike in recent memory to protest the "corporate greed" of the multinational communications behemoth.

Verizon has failed to negotiate a fair contract with its employees despite making billions in monthly profits and multiple concessions on the part of union members. Verizon employees' contract expired eight months ago and talks over a new contract, which have gone on for ten months, broke off last week.

About 40,000 members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBW) unions are joining in the strike.

"We’re standing up for working families and standing up to Verizon’s corporate greed," said CWA District 1 Vice President Dennis Trainor in a press statement.

"If a hugely profitable corporation like Verizon can destroy the good family-supporting jobs of highly skilled workers," Trainor said, "then no worker in America will be safe from this corporate race to the bottom."

Furthermore, the multinational corporation "is also refusing to negotiate any improvements in wages, benefits or working conditions for Verizon Wireless retail workers, who formed a union in 2014."

CWA also detailed the "devastating cuts" Verizon is attempting to force on workers, "even after significant worker concessions on healthcare." The desired cutbacks include offshoring jobs to countries with low wages, cutting job security, sending technicians on jobs away from home for as long as two months, freezing pensions, slashing benefits, and refusing to negotiate improvements to wages and working conditions.

The unions argue that "Verizon is making these demands despite having made $39 billion in profits over the last three years—and $1.8 billion a month in profits over the first three months of 2016," as Common Dreams reported.

"Verizon's corporate greed isn't just harming workers' families," CWA states, "it's hurting customers as well. Service quality has deteriorated to the point that New York State’s Public Service Commission has convened a formal hearing to investigate problems across the Empire State. In the last few weeks, regulators in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have launched similar inquiries into Verizon's operations."

Members of National Nurses United joined a Verizon picket line in Scranton, Pa., and expressed their solidarity with the workers' demands. Net neutrality advocacy group Fight for the Future also announced its solidarity with the striking workers.

Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has lent vocal support to CWA, who endorsed the Vermont senator for president over rival Hillary Clinton back in December. Sanders met with CWA workers preparing to strike on Monday.

In a speech in Rochester, N.Y., on Tuesday morning, Sanders told the crowd that the communications giant's employees "are going on strike because they refuse to be beat down by a greedy corporation who could care less about them or the people of this country."

Sanders went on to lambaste what he described as Verizon's tax evasion and poor labor practices to a cheering crowd:

All they want is more and more profit, and it doesn't matter what happens to their employees or people in America. This is what they want to do: they want to cut benefits for their employees, they want to throw American workers out on the street, and move their calling centers to low wage countries around the world. They are not investing in inner cities in America, where people today do not have quality broadband. And they've got their lawyers and tax accountants working overtime so that in a given year, despite making billions of dollars in profit, they pay nothing, not a nickel, in federal taxes.

Sanders reiterated his support for the workers' demands in a speech on the picket line on Wednesday.

CWA members spoke about their reasons for striking in a video released by the union on Tuesday. "Corporate greed is them constantly getting raises as executives, growing profits, yet crying poor," said a call center employee in Delaware. "I'm worth a good contract. My kids are worth a good contract."

"A good contract would mean a lot to us, because we've fought long and hard," said a retail store employee from Brooklyn. "I truly believe this is something we deserve."


(this article is republished via CC license from CommonDreams. Photo: Verizon Workers picket a Verizon Wireless store in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn)

7 Paths to Development That Bring Neighborhoods Wealth, Not Gentrification

The seven drivers of community wealth building work together. Starting with a devotion to a place, this approach builds on local assets of many kinds. At the heart of it all is an inclusive focus on the needs of low-income families, people of color, and those with barriers to employment. The end goal is a new system that helps broadly held community wealth to flourish.


The plan to build better, more connected, flourishing communities is here—and it won’t require putting a Starbucks on every block.


 

In cities across the nation, a few enjoy rising affluence while many struggle to get by.

An August 2015 study by The Century Foundation reported that—after a dramatic decline in concentrated poverty between 1990 and 2000—poverty has since reconcentrated. Nationwide, the number of people  living in high-poverty ghettos and slums has nearly doubled since 2000. This situation is created in part by the practices of traditional economic development, which prioritize corporate subsidy after corporate subsidy over the needs of the local economy. Current trends threaten to worsen, unless we can answer the design challenge before us.

Can we create an economic system—beginning at the local level—that builds the wealth and prosperity of everyone?

Economic development professionals and mayors are working in partnership with foundations, anchor institutions, unions, community organizations, progressive business networks, workers, and community residents. What’s emerging is a systems approach to creating an inclusive, sustainable economy where all can thrive. The work is place-based, fed by the power of anchor institutions, and built on locally rooted and broadly held ownership. It’s about building community wealth across the United States—in more places than most would imagine, a new kind of economy is beginning to appear. It’s an economy that, because of its fundamental design, tends naturally to create inclusion and prosperity for many, not simply for the few.

If globalization is the hallmark of today’s mainstream economy, relocalization is the hallmark of the alternative.

The answers are beginning to appear in cities nationwide—in the tools and approaches of community wealth building, as they are wielded by cutting edge city economic development professionals. This work is only beginning to be widely recognized as a  cohesive field. Yet as this report shows, it is in fact a coherent, systemic approach to economic development—one that embodies a powerful set of common drivers, and offers a broad set of powerful strategies.

Building a place-based economy

Traditional economic development is too often captured by the demands of major corporations and site development consultants. The place that drives such players is in reality no place at all, for they embody a worldview of a generic, commodified economy, where firms are objects to be lured from place to place by the $80 billion in incentives given annually by cities, states, and counties.

The system that is supported in this way is one of wealth inequality, where most assets are owned by the few. The ownership driver is absentee ownership, with most incentives flowing to corporations owned outside the community. Inclusion is lacking, with benefits flowing to a financial elite—since ownership of publicly traded firms is overwhelmingly concentrated among those in the top 10 percent of society.

A real place is more than a free market of footloose players...

Inadvertently, but pervasively, incentives tend to neglect local firms, which can too often be driven out of business. Thus traditional approaches operate the multiplier effect in reverse: Taxes are extracted from local firms and residents and given to corporations whose ownership is not local, even as local schools and parks suffer cuts in funding. Missing throughout is the driver of collaboration, with little transparency or democratic public input into development decisions.

In its workforce drivers, traditional economic development focuses on counting the number of jobs created, but too rarely tallies whether these are living-wage jobs, or whether they go to those with barriers to employment. Traditional approaches also fail to subtract jobs destroyed when Main Street retailers quietly close their doors—or when firms outsource manufacturing and other work abroad, or move operations out of the community.

The mindset missing in traditional approaches is commitment to place, and a recognition that economic entities can be designed to benefit community.

More than a label, community wealth building is also a framework. It has multiple drivers that work together to create a system that delivers the outcome sought: an inclusive, sustainable community economy where all can  prosper—particularly those normally excluded. This system can be defined as having seven key drivers.

1. Place

Community wealth building begins with loyalty to geographic place. If globalization is the hallmark of today’s mainstream economy, relocalization is the hallmark of the alternative. Globalization works well for capital, which can move across borders with a computer keystroke. But the real economy of jobs and families and the land always lives someplace real. The real economy is place-based. And a real place is more than a free market of footloose players, where firms are like objects that can be moved anywhere.

In contrast to luring companies from elsewhere, building community wealth is about developing underutilized local assets of many kinds—social networks, the built environment, cultural riches, local ecology, anchor institutions—and doing so in a way that the wealth stays local and is broadly shared. When families possess assets—skills, social networks, a home, savings, an ownership stake in a business—they are better able to withstand shocks like unemployment or illness. They can plan for their future, send a child to college, and feel secure in retirement. A job may start or stop. Assets yield greater stability and security. As Boston’s John Barros told us, “It takes a job to get out of poverty, but it takes assets to keep you out of poverty.”

What’s true for families is true for communities. Jobs may be drawn into a community but leave without warning. “There’s nothing worse than a company that you‘ve worked with for ten years just leaving because the incentives wore off,” said Tracey Nichols of Cleveland. “But having the community own the enterprise, it will always be there.”

2. Ownership

Ownership of assets is the foundation of every economy, for it determines who has control and who receives the lion’s share of benefits. Community wealth building deploys a whole spectrum of inclusive ownership models. At the non-inclusive end of the spectrum we see absentee-owned firms. Corporations with shares trading on public stock markets are inherently absentee-owned.

Inclusiveness has more of a chance with locally owned firms. When money is spent at locally owned firms, studies show that revenue recirculates locally at least three times as much. Local ownership is vital. But local ownership by a few wealthy families only gets us part of the way toward broad prosperity. More inclusive are firms owned by women and people of color, who have traditionally been excluded from asset ownership. Still another consideration is a longer time horizon. When local owners retire or sell, how do those firms stay local?

Social enterprises are likely rooted in community over the long term, for they have a primary mission of providing social benefit, and many are owned by nonprofits and unlikely to be sold. Also inclusive are firms with employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs), which allow founders to exit their ownership by selling to employees—who are likely to remain loyal to place over the long term, since employee-owned companies are typically locally owned. Still more inclusive are cooperatives, where all members have one share and one vote. Particularly valuable for job creation are worker-owned cooperatives, where workers are the ones who control the company and elect the board.

When employees not only have a job but an ownership stake, they enjoy greater control of their economic fate.

3. Multipliers

While ownership shapes the skeleton of enterprise, demand is its lifeblood. Community wealth building asks: Where is the large-scale demand that can drive the growth of local, inclusive enterprise? What kind of demand cares about place?

A critical force generating momentum for local enterprises is the purchasing power of anchor institutions, like nonprofit and public hospitals and universities, which are rooted locally and have missions of service. Other types of anchor institutions include museums, community foundations, and local government. When anchors deploy their economic power to strengthen local enterprises, especially inclusive enterprises, they are engaging in what The Democracy Collaborative has termed an “anchor mission.” An anchor mission consciously links the well-being of an institution and its community.

Support for an anchor mission has grown over the last decade among nonprofit hospitals and universities, which together represent well over $1 trillion in economic activity, about 7 percent of GDP.

The procurement, hiring, and investment practices of anchor institutions represent a potentially enormous source of economic development support, which cities like Cleveland, Chicago, Baltimore, and New Orleans are beginning to tap. For instance, when anchor procurement supports locally owned businesses, cities enjoy a powerful multiplier effect, keeping money circulating locally. Over the past decade, more than two dozen studies have shown that local businesses generate two to four times the multiplier benefit, compared to non-locally owned firms. As author Michael Shuman observes, that means that every dollar shifted to a locally owned business generates more income, more jobs, higher local tax revenues, and greater charitable contributions.

4. Collaboration

In traditional economic development, collaboration involves the two traditional players of city government and the private sector. Community wealth building is more broadly collaborative—involving nonprofits, philanthropy, anchor institutions, community residents, local businesses, and workers.

“What’s happening in New York City is fascinating, and I think it’s the way things might happen in the future,” Melissa Hoover, executive director of the Democracy at Work Institute, said. “What it looks like from the outside is that the City authorized $1.2 million for cooperative development [for 2015, increased to $2.1 million for 2016]. What really happened is that grassroots organizations had been working toward this for a long time.” The City’s allocation was encouraged by these nonprofits, and went to fund their work. The process, in short, was highly collaborative.

Among cities taking seriously the power of collaboration is Philadelphia. When the mayor in 2013 created a new anti-poverty office, the Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity (CEO), the initiative embraced the philosophy of “collective impact,” said CEO Executive Director Eva Gladstein. In creating and implementing its action plan, CEO involved close to 200 stakeholders in meetings, focus groups, and interviews.

5. Inclusion

Inclusion lies at the heart of community wealth building, adding a driver lacking in much of economic development. Economic inclusion is the opening up of economic opportunities to previously underserved social groups. It requires creating targets and indicators—as well as participative processes—to ensure that disadvantaged individuals and communities can participate in a meaningful way in the economy.

Consider the seeming success of the innovation economy in Pittsburgh, a former Rust Belt city which in recent decades has enjoyed a resurgence in health care, education, and technology. The City now offers good white-collar jobs and cultural amenities. It’s seen as a “turnaround city,” William Generett, CEO of Urban Innovation21, told us. “But it’s been a very uneven transformation.” The poverty rate among working-age African-Americans remains the highest among the nation’s 40 largest metropolitan areas. “This population has not connected to the new economic drivers,” he said.

To spread the wealth of the technology sector to disadvantaged communities, in 2007 Generett created Urban Innovation21, a consortium of 20 businesses, nonprofits, and government organizations, using business incentives, grants, internships, and training programs. It’s the kind of experiment in inclusion that deserves emulation.

Urban Innovation21 has worked with unions and others to launch an employee-owned commercial laundry, still in development. It’s a wealth-building strategy that takes inclusion into the realm of asset ownership; as Generett said, it goes “beyond the traditional activities that have been used in low- and moderate-income communities,” such as low-income housing and social services.

Inclusion is both a moral imperative and an economic one. Research shows that areas extending greater economic opportunity to people of color enjoy longer periods of growth and shorter downturns. Inclusion is particularly powerful when combined with anchor strategies.

6. Workforce

If worker ownership is a key long-term goal of community wealth building, workforce participation is often a more immediate step toward prosperity. Economic development professionals serving an entire city do not have the luxury of focusing solely on ideal models. They face the tough job of helping those with barriers to employment find good work, and helping low-income workers move up.

Bringing a community wealth frame to workforce development means two things. First, adding a systems approach means linking training to the needs of employers and anchor institutions, and creating support services. Second, it means being intentionally inclusive—deliberately reaching out to communities of color and those with employment barriers.

University Hospitals (UH) in Cleveland, developed the Step Up to UH program to create a pipeline for hiring residents of neighboring low-income African-American communities. The program includes training and wraparound support services to ensure long-term success. A different systems approach to workforce development deploys anchor support for social enterprise. For example, the nonprofit Momentum in Minneapolis operates three social enterprise businesses that provide transitional employment and job training for those facing barriers to employment, such as felony convictions or substance abuse history.

7. System

Beyond time-limited programs, the aim of community wealth building is creating a new system. It does this by building institutions that stand over the long term, creating an ecosystem of support for a thriving local economy. This includes examples like New York City funding the ecosystem supporting cooperative development, Richmond creating a new Office of Community Wealth Building in city government, Cleveland launching a network of worker-owned companies, or North Dakota creating the state-owned Bank of North Dakota (BND). With the support of BND, locally owned banks of small and medium size have been able to extend their lending capacity; 83 percent of all deposits in the state, compared to 29 percent nationwide, are managed by community banks. Community banks, in turn, support local business—lending four times as much to small business as the national average.

These institutions are designed to support communities, not to extract profits from them. They show how—from enterprise ownership up to the banking system—we can design for the outcomes we desire.

The seven drivers of community wealth building work together. Starting with a devotion to a place, this approach builds on local assets of many kinds. At the heart of it all is an inclusive focus on the needs of low-income families, people of color, and those with barriers to employment. The end goal is a new system that helps broadly held community wealth to flourish.


This article was originally featured at Yes! Magazine. All art, including featured image, via Sarah Oberlin/YM.

 

Creating a Constituency for the News

The news industry’s downturn has created another crisis: People across the country are finding it harder to get the information they need to participate in society and be engaged members of their communities.

The public loses the most when local news coverage disappears. According to the latest census from the American Society of Newspaper Editors, newsroom employment dropped by more than 10 percent in 2014 alone. And over the last 10 years, the number of newsroom jobs has plummeted 39 percent.

Empty Newsroom

Each of those lost jobs means one fewer journalist representing the public interest and holding the powerful accountable.

There’s often a real distance between journalists and the communities they’re supposed to serve. To make local reporting more viable and vibrant, it needs to consider perspectives from outside the news industry. That’s why Free Press started News Voices. Our new project will connect newsrooms and communities and build a collaborative network of people invested in local journalism.

There’s no better place to experiment on ways to create this network than New Jersey, one of the most underserved states when it comes to local media coverage.

When Free Press surveyed Garden State residents about their local media, many noted that they craved more coverage of their communities. A significant share of the state’s 565 municipalities lacks a locally rooted news outlet. Many of the outlets that do exist ignore residents’ concerns.

Almost all survey respondents remarked on how the location of New Jersey — sandwiched as it is between the huge media markets of Philadelphia and New York City — means that important local issues often fail to get sufficient coverage.

“The past two decades have seen local newspapers bought out and either closed down, absorbed, or just hanging on with little local coverage,” said a survey respondent from Rumson, a New Jersey suburb. These papers are “merely a shadow of the past when each municipality was well covered.”

This isn’t an indictment of the media in New Jersey. Every U.S. newsroom is under pressure to do more with less, and delivering that extra load in a 24-hour news cycle can come at the expense of quality public-service journalism. Another loss: the capacity to cultivate the sources journalists need to cover vital local stories.

Local journalism is at its best when it’s community-driven. The News Voices project is about listening to what New Jersey residents have to say about their information needs — and bringing journalists to the table to hear those voices. By teaming up with reporters, members of the public can advocate for the kind of reliable, credible, and timely information they require.

We aim to create something that doesn’t yet exist: a constituency for the news. And by that I mean a constituency that not only consumes the news but also advocates for its future.


 

Mike Rispoli is the press freedom campaign director for Free Press. FreePress.net
Distributed via OtherWords.org

(Featured photo via Flickr Jon S/ News Flash)

Report: US Taxpayers Bear ‘Hidden Cost’ of Poverty Wages

Low-wage workers comprise more than 70 percent of individuals enrolled in federal and state-run poverty assistance programs

Stagnant wages and declining employer-provided benefits mean that low-wage workers in the United States are increasingly reliant on federal and state-run public assistance programs.

In fact, U.S. taxpayers pay roughly $153 billion each year to supplement employers who refuse to pay a livable wage, according to report published Monday by the University of California, Berkeley, Center for Labor.

U.S. taxpayers "bear a significant portion of the hidden costs of low-wage work in America," said report authors Ken Jacobs, Ian Perry, and Jenifer MacGillvary.

According to the report, The High Public Cost of Low Wages (pdf), 73 percent of those enrolled in the country's major public support programs are members of working families. The Berkeley study examined state spending for Medicaid/Children’s Health Insurance Program and Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF), and federal spending for those programs as well as food stamps (SNAP) and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

Despite a rebounding economy, U.S. workers are not being compensated. According to the research, when adjusted for inflation, wage growth from 2003 to 2013 was either flat or negative for the entire bottom 70 percent of the wage distribution. Further, the number of non-elderly Americans who receive insurance benefits from an employer has fallen from 67 percent in 2003 to 58.4 percent in 2013.

"When companies pay too little for workers to provide for their families, workers rely on public assistance programs to meet their basic needs," said report co-author Ken Jacobs, chair of the Labor Center. "This creates significant cost to the states."

According to the Berkeley study, the reliance on public assistance spans a diverse range of occupations, including fast-food workers (52%), childcare workers (46%), home care workers (48%), and even part-time college faculty (25%).

In total, more than half of all state and federal spending on public assistance program now goes to working families, the study finds.

The report comes amid a growing push to increase the federal minimum wage. On Wednesday, workers in hundreds of cities across the country are holding an international day of action to call for a $15 minimum wage and the right to form a union without retaliation.

And the Berkeley researchers contend, raising wages "would lift working families out of poverty and allow all levels of government to better target how our tax dollars are used."


This article was originally published by Common Dreams, and is republished here through a CC license. Photo via George Kelly/cc/flickr.

The Homeless Are Still With Us, and They Still Have A Heartbeat

The campaign, with the hashtag #HumansForHumans, seeks to “change the conversation” about the homeless

Among the afflictions and indignities visited upon the homeless, today's surreal news of a Medicaid scheme that preyed on them - perpetrators including 23 New York City doctors and medical workers allegedly made millions by recruiting the poor and homeless from shelters and soup kitchens as "guinea pigs" for bogus medical tests in exchange for a free pair of shoes - is uncommonly vile. Most days, the homeless are just shunned, scorned, ignored and assailed, as a new campaign by the Canadian advocacy group Raising the Roof makes grievously clear.

The campaign, with the hashtag #HumansForHumans, seeks to "change the conversation" about the homeless by presenting them as they are - real people, with real histories and sorrows and pain, living hard lives they did not choose. To foster understanding and hopefully empathy, it includes questions frequently asked of them - "Why can't your family help you?" "How did you become homeless?" "Do you use drugs?" "If you're freezing to death why don't you just get a job DUHHH?" - with their often bleak, pained, patient answers. Another video features homeless people explaining what they want the rest of us to know. But the most searing part is a PSA that - in a nod to the usually light-hearted prank of celebrities reading mean tweets about themselves - shows the homeless reading actual, often pitiless tweets aimed at them. "Maybe if homeless people took care of themselves, looked pretty, we would want to help them," Kubby, homeless for 47 years, dutifully reads. "I don't help yellow teeth." "If home is where the heart is, are homeless people heartless?" asks another. Each brutal reading is followed by a mournful shake of the head, or a soft "wow," or, often, tears. Weep with them, and for them, and then lend a hand or heart.

 

Will NY Stop Prosecuting Children as Adults?

Here’s a review of what Cuomo is proposing and where critics say it comes up short.

New York Still Charges Teenagers as Adults. Will Cuomo's Bill Change That?

by Leticia Miranda ProPublica, March 26, 2015, 10:32 a.m.

In the United States, 16-year-olds can't vote or buy beer. But there is one place where they are treated as adults: New York state's criminal justice system. New York is one of just two states – the other is North Carolina – where 16-year-olds facing criminal charges are automatically put into the adult criminal system.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced a plan to end that policy. He has proposed a bill that would raise the age of adult criminal responsibility to 18 and would prohibit minors from being held in any adult facility. But some critics say the bill is filled with caveats and far less than meets the eye.

Here's a review of what Cuomo is proposing and where critics say it comes up short.

Why does New York automatically prosecute teens aged 16 or older as adults?

Because that's been the law for almost 200 years. In 1824, New York created one of the country's first juvenile detention centers – the House of Refuge – for kids under 16 years old. The issue was briefly revisited in 1961 when New York amended its constitution to reorganize its juvenile courts as family courts that also handle juvenile delinquency cases. But the legislative committee assigned to reorganize the courts couldn't decide whether to raise the age of criminal responsibility. Instead the committee called for a study, which then called for more studies.

Aren't teenagers sometimes charged as adults in other states?

Yes. Nine states automatically charge 17-year-olds as adults. And many other states give prosecutors or judges discretion to decide whether a case should be transferred to adult court for more serious charges like homicide.

What is Cuomo proposing to do?

He wants to gradually raise the age of adult criminal responsibility in New York to 18 through a budget bill. The bill would roll out in two phases. The maximum age of juvenile jurisdiction will be raised to 17 on Jan. 1, 2017 and raised again to 18 by Jan. 1, 2018. The bill would also prohibit the confinement of minors under 21 in adult jails and prisons, prevent minors with first-time misdemeanor offenses or probation violations from being held in detention, and create a separate branch of adult courts for teenagers charged with violent felonies.

The bill is based on a set of recommendations published earlier this year by a governor-appointed commission of experts and advocates.

Many advocates support the bill, including the New York City Bar Association. It is "not perfect but it would be unfortunate if we lost this opportunity to really take a step forward for young people," said Mishi Faruqee, juvenile justice policy strategist with the American Civil Liberties Union. "There is a real urgency to this and I hope New York doesn't squander this opportunity."

What are the criticisms of the bill?

The bill has a variety of provisions that actually create stricter sentencing schemes, particularly for kids charged with violent crimes. Currently, most offenders under 19 have their records sealed. Under Cuomo's bill, a youthful offender's previous violent crimes would be taken into account if the person is charged with another one. The bill would also extend the amount of time a juvenile offender would have to serve before being eligible for probation. Judges would also be prohibited from moving teenagers to the juvenile system if the teen was a principal perpetrator or used a weapon.

Alexandra Cox, an assistant professor of sociology at SUNY New Paltz who has worked in juvenile facilities, wrote that the proposed changes "will actually harm the very individuals it purports to help."

The New York State Defenders Association, which provides legal support to public defenders, has called for the bill to be withdrawn. The group wrote that the bill is "too long, too complicated and too nuanced to be rushed through in the compressed political process that is represented by budget negotiations." The commission whose recommendations the bill is based on did not include defense attorneys.

Cuomo's office, in turn, has defended the bill. "If somebody is unhappy or doesn't think [the bill] goes far enough, we'll point to the wide support the legislation has among children's and civil rights advocates and law enforcement," said Frank Sobrino, spokesman for the governor.

What opposition or criticism does the bill face in Albany?

Plenty, and from both sides of the aisle. At a February legislative budget hearing in Albany, state officials in charge of the juvenile system fielded a slew of questions by mostly Republican lawmakers. Ahead of the hearing, Republican state Sen. Martin Golden criticized the proposal, telling the New York Daily News, "Some of the most heinous crimes are committed by kids who are 16 and 17." A Democratic assemblyman, meanwhile, has said he plans to push competing legislation that would keep more kids out of the adult system.

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Free College Plan Would Help Low-Income Students

The average out of pocket cost facing community college students from low-income families ranges from $8,000-$11,000 per year. That is after all grant aid is taken into account, and it represents the amount that students must borrow and earn in order to make college possible. The situation facing moderate-income families is not much better—and they are often in a more difficult situation since they have little disposable income and yet cannot access the federal Pell Grant.

President Obama recently introduced a proposal to make two years of community college free nationwide. This is a bold effort that might not have been necessary twenty years ago, but today it is sorely needed. There is a popular perception that community college is already free or nearly free, especially for students from low-income households, and that the real challenges facing students have more to do with academic under-preparation or informational barriers.

If only this were true.

The average out of pocket cost facing community college students from low-income families ranges from $8,000-$11,000 per year. That is after all grant aid is taken into account, and it represents the amount that students must borrow and earn in order to make college possible. The situation facing moderate-income families is not much better—and they are often in a more difficult situation since they have little disposable income and yet cannot access the federal Pell Grant.

Thirty years ago, high schools were focused on helping more students envision college as part of their future. Two decades ago they began really focusing on academic preparation for college. But today, ambitious, academically prepared high school graduates are attending college and leaving without degrees because they cannot afford to be there. Among the academically prepared, more than one in five high school graduates from low-income families forgoes college entirely, and about 30 percent who start at a two-year college never complete any degree. These non-completion rates signal talent loss, and things have gotten worse over the last decade.

As an education scholar and researcher who has published extensively on the topic of college affordability, I’m troubled by the response of many progressives and scholars who criticize President Obama’s free community college proposal for not being “narrowly targeted.” The implication is that only a plan that exclusively serves low-income students, and no one else, can meet their needs. This is a false narrative, capable of sowing confusion and killing the prospects of legislation that could do real good.

The truth is that low-income students stand to benefit from free community college in real and measurable ways that will increase their access, boost their persistence, and raise their graduation rates. Since the president’s plan is a “first-dollar” plan, low-income students would receive the greatest subsidies. Students would not have to give up their Pell grants; instead, because tuition would be free, Pell grant funding could be used to meet costs other than tuition. Thus, I predict that low-income and moderate-income students would realize greater gains than their more affluent classmates. The clear and inclusive signal created by “free community college” coupled with the progressive distribution of monetary benefits makes this effective “targeting within universalism.”

Rigorous studies have shown that reducing the cost of community college by even $1,000 a year results in substantial increases across the board. More low-income students enroll directly from high school. More low-income students enroll who would not otherwise have enrolled at all. More low-income students transfer to four-year colleges. And the students who would not have enrolled—except for the fact that community college became more affordable—are more than 20 percent more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree within eight years of high school graduation. All that for a $1,000 discount? Imagine what those numbers would be if the first two years of community college—or any college, as Senator Bernie Sanders recently proposed—were made free.

To help advance a greater understanding of the value and mechanics of making the first two years of college free, I’ve written a response to questions many people have about the president’s proposal. In addition, I’ll be participating in a public discussion with economist Steven Durlauf on the topic that will be held March 12 on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and televised in the state and online via Wisconsin Eye. Our national dialogue on the merits of making postsecondary education available to everyone—and affordable—is, finally, beginning.


 

Sara Goldrick-Rab, Ph.D. is the founding director of the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, a research laboratory aimed at improving affordability and equitable outcomes in post-secondary education. She is a professor of educational policy studies and sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and co-author of Redefining College Affordability: Securing America's Future with a Free Two Year College Option.