Repeal and Replace is a Women’s Issue

By Susan Starr Sered, co-author of Uninsured in America and Can’t Catch a Break

In recognition of Women’s History Month, this post is republished with permission from the author. #RepealAndReplace #WomensHistoryMonth

The Republican plan to eliminate or change substantial portions of the Affordable Care Act is likely to have a disproportionately deleterious impact on women. This is why.

Women compared to men use more medical services and spend more on health care. Thus, any reduction in government support for health care will affect women more than men.

Women make more visits each year to primary care physicians than do men and are more likely than men to take at least one prescription drug on a daily basis.  According to the Health Care Cost Institute, “In 2015, spending was $5,684 per woman and $4,581 per man. …  From 2012 to 2015, the difference in spending between genders rose from $1,071 per capita to $1,103 per capita.  Per capita spending for women was higher than for men on every type of service, except brand prescriptions.”

Given women’s higher healthcare needs, the ACA protected women by requiring all plans to meet a minimum level of coverage that includes a basic basket of necessary services. The Trump administration has announced that they will reduce the price of premiums so that Americans can have more “choice” to select less expensive insurance.  Less expensive insurance typically covers less, which disproportionately hurts people who have need of more medical services. Lower premiums also may come with higher annual deductibles, meaning that people need to spend a large sum of money out-of-pocket before insurance will pay. Again, this places a particularly heavy burden on people who need more healthcare services.

In particular, women are more likely than men to suffer mental health challenges and women make substantially greater use of mental health services. Beginning in 2020, the GOP plan would eliminate the current requirement that Medicaid cover basic mental-health and addiction services. This roll back of mental health parity requirements will disproportionately hurt women.

Women are less able than men to afford health care.

According to the Department of Labor, women earn less than men. In 2014, for example, women who worked full time in wage and salary jobs had median usual weekly earnings of $719, which was 83 percent of men’s median weekly earnings ($871).

The Republican plan emphasizes tax credits and health savings accounts, both of which are irrelevant to low-income Americans.

According to the Department of Labor, women are more likely than men to be among the working poor. This is the group that has the most to lose with the Republican plan to decrease subsidies and eventually eliminate the Medicaid expansion.

The Republican approach to Medicaid disproportionately impacts women.

Nationally, women make up 56% of Medicaid recipients (in 2015). In states that did not expand Medicaid under the ACA, women are an even greater proportion of Medicaid recipients. In South Carolina, for example, 67% of Medicaid recipients are women. In Nebraska 66% are women. Thus, phasing out the Medicaid expansion will disproportionally hurt women.

The ethos of suspicion directed at Medicaid recipients will further hurt women. For example, the Republican plan requires states to re-determine Medicaid eligibilities “no less frequently than every six months.” Given that women bear the greater share of responsibility for arranging health care in American households, the need to frequently recertify eligibility will place an increased time burden on women to keep track and show evidence of eligibility.

Near elderly women are at particular risk of losing coverage under the Republican plan.

Women are less likely than men to be insured through their own job (35% vs. 44% respectively) and more likely to be covered as a dependent (24% vs. 16%), a disparity that reflects the fact that women are more likely than men to work at part-time jobs in order to carry out duties as primary caregivers for children, sick and disabled family members, and elderly parents.

At the same time, many American women are married to men who are slightly or significantly older than they. This means that when the husband retires and becomes eligible for Medicare, the wife loses the “dependent” coverage she had while her husband was employed, but she herself will not yet be Medicare eligible.

This age group has particularly high healthcare needs that may become exacerbated while waiting for Medicare eligibility.

Under the A.C.A., plans can charge their oldest customers only three times the prices charged to the youngest ones. The Republican plan allows insurers to charge older customers five times as much as younger ones and gives states the option to set their own ratio.

Planned Parenthood

The Republican plan singles out Planned Parenthood, prohibiting federal funding for Planned Parenthood for one year beginning with the enactment of the law. This will have a disproportionately negative impact on women.

Two and a half million women and men in the United States annually visit Planned Parenthood affiliate health centers for a variety of healthcare services. Most of these people are women who would stand to lose a wide range of primary healthcare services including, but not limited to, contraception.

Abortion

Under the Republican plan, qualified health plans cannot include abortion coverage except for pregnancies that present life-threatening physical risks (not mental health risks) and pregnancies that resulted from rape or incest.

This provision not only reduces access to a needed medical procedure, but it also seems to require some sort of process for determining whether a pregnancy is life-threatening or confirming that a pregnancy is a result of rape or incest. This potentially could force women to prove (to the satisfaction of an insurance company) that she indeed was raped, and it certainly would delay performing the abortion – a delay that in and of itself presents health risks to women.

The Republican plan does allow insurance to pay to treat “any infection, injury, disease or disorder that has been caused or exacerbated by the performance of an abortion.” Since legal abortions performed by a qualified medical provider in a suitable medical setting are extremely safe, this provision seems to be set up for women who have resorted to “backstreet” abortions. While it is unlikely that the plan’s intent is to encourage illicit abortions, this provision seems to acknowledge that an increase in unsafe abortions may be a consequence of the plan.

This analysis was prepared by Susan Sered on March 8, 2017. Healthcare legislation currently is highly volatile with many changes proposed. Stay tuned – I will come back and update this analysis as more information becomes available.


Susan Starr Sered is Professor of Sociology and Senior Researcher at the Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights at Suffolk University in Boston. She is the author of Uninsured in America: Life and Death in the Land of Opportunity and Can’t Catch a Break: Gender, Jail, Drugs, and the Limits of Personal Responsibility. Read more on Susan’s blog at http://susan.sered.name/blog/.


Pregnant and Behind Bars: The Experience of Incarcerated Women and Mothers

This guest post is published as part of a series in relation to the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences conference, which occurred from March 21 – 25 in Kansas City, MO, and in recognition of Women’s History Month. #ACJS2017 #WomensHistoryMonth

By Carolyn Sufrin, author of Jailcare: Finding the Safety Net for Women behind Bars

March is Women’s History Month, created to celebrate women’s often overlooked contributions to history. But the celebratory tone must also recognize the tenacious, exclusionary gender oppressions of the present. Let’s consider this for the U.S.’s penal system: the number of males in the criminal justice system far outnumbers the number of females in the U.S., with females comprising 14% of the jail and 7% of the prison. Reflecting this numerical proportion, we have seen public discourse, policies, and even scholarship overlook the experiences incarcerated women, an omission which implicitly equates male and female incarcerated individuals while simultaneously disregarding how correctional systems are already deeply gendered. Yet we know the pathways and collateral consequences of incarcerating women are different than for men, especially considering that two-thirds of incarcerated women are mothers and the primary caregivers for young children. And we know that the war on drugs and welfare restructuring have disproportionately affected the rate of incarcerating women.

If incarcerated women in general are overlooked, then pregnant women behind bars are even more so. Though data are scarce, it’s estimated that about 1,400 women give birth while in custody every year, and thousands of pregnant women pass through our nation’s prisons and jails. With no mandatory national standards for pregnancy care in correctional settings, these women have astonishingly variable experiences of adequate to shamefully dangerous prenatal care, of being denied their legal right to abortion, of being shackled in labor, of being separated from their newborns after birth. Amid this variability, incarcerated pregnant women and mothers are also enshrouded in derisive, punitive cultural narratives of being “bad mothers,” without regard for broader circumstances structuring their pathway to incarceration.

These are not new injustices. But the policies and sentiments of the current administration, with its renewed “tough on crime” rhetoric, its punitive disdain for “deviant” women (such as President Donald Trump, as a candidate, declaring that women should be punished for having an abortion), its rounding up of undocumented immigrants (many of whom will linger in jails and detention centers), will likely exacerbate conditions in a system that is already ill equipped for and, in many cases, dangerous for pregnant women. If Women’s History Month amplifies that classic feminist project of consciousness raising, then we must engage and respond to the experiences of pregnant women behind bars—one of the most overlooked groups of women in the country.


Carolyn Sufrin is a medical anthropologist and an obstetrician-gynecologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.


Why Do Some Countries Disapprove of Homosexuality? Money, Democracy and Religion

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article. This post is republished during the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences conference occurring March 21 – 25 in Kansas City, MO. #ACJS2017


By Amy Adamczyk, City University of New York, author of Cross-National Public Opinion about Homosexuality: Examining Attitudes across the Globe

Image 20170227 18526 18hfh5y
Gay pride – but not everywhere. bensonkua/flickr, CC BY-SA

With Trump’s removal of federal protections for transgender students, debate over LGBTQ rights rage again across the U.S. The Conversation

Despite these disagreements, Americans are relatively liberal compared to countries across the world, where the consequences for gay or transgender citizens are far more dire.

In Europe and here in the Americas, only a minority of people believe that homosexuality is never justified. The percentage increases in places like Russia, India and China. In Africa, the Middle East and parts of Southeast Asia, attitudes become even more conservative.

Why are there such big differences in public opinion about homosexuality? My book, Cross-National Public Opinion about Homosexuality, shows that a key part of the answer comes in understanding how national characteristics shape individuals’ attitudes.

Within countries, a similar set of demographic characteristics tend to influence how people feel about homosexuality. For example, women tend to be more liberal than men. Older people tend to be more conservative than younger ones. Muslims are more likely to disapprove of homosexuality than Catholics, Jews and mainline Protestants.

Just like people, countries too have particular characteristics that can sway residents’ attitudes about homosexuality. I have analyzed data from over 80 nations from the last three waves of the World Values Survey, the oldest noncommercial, cross-national examination of individuals’ attitudes, values and beliefs over time. It is the only academic survey to include people from both very rich and poor countries, in all of the world’s major cultural zones. It now has surveys from almost 400,000 respondents.

My analysis shows that differences in attitudes between nations can largely be explained by three factors: economic development, democracy and religion.

Money matters

Sweden, Switzerland and the Netherlands are some of the richest nations in the world. They are also some of the most tolerant. In sharp contrast, countries like Uganda and Nigeria are quite poor and the vast majority of residents disapprove.

How does the amount of money a country has shape attitudes? In very poor countries, people are likely to be more concerned about basic survival. Parents may worry about how to obtain clean water and food for their children. Residents may feel that if they stick together and work closely with friends, family and community members, they will lead a more predictable and stable life. In this way, social scientists have found that a group mentality may develop, encouraging people to think in similar ways and discouraging individual differences.

Because of the focus on group loyalty and tradition, many residents from poorer countries are likely to view homosexuality as highly problematic. It violates traditional sensibilities. Many people may feel that LGBTQ individuals should conform to dominant heterosexual and traditional family norms.

Conversely, residents from richer nations are less dependent on the group and less concerned about basic survival. They have more freedom to choose their partners and lifestyle. Even in relatively rich countries like the United States, some people will still find homosexuality problematic. But, many will also be supportive.

Regardless of how much money they make, most people living in poorer countries are likely to be affected by cultural norms that focus on survival and group loyalty, leading to more disapproval.

Freedom of speech

The type of government also matters. People living in more democratic countries tend to be more supportive of homosexuality.

Democracy increases tolerance by exposing residents to new perspectives. Democracy also encourages people to respect individuals’ rights, regardless of whether they personally like the people being protected.

Freedom of speech also allows residents to protest and not be arrested. When residents feel that they can freely express their ideas, they become even more inclined to speak up for themselves and others. This leads to more tolerance.

Dominant religious views

The final factor shaping individuals’ attitudes is religion. Countries dominated by Islam, Eastern Orthodoxy and those that have a mixture of conservative and mainline Protestant faiths are more likely to disapprove.

In contrast, nations dominated by mainline Protestant religions and Catholicism – such as Sweden, Spain and the United Kingdom – are much more liberal.

Why are people from Muslim majority nations so opposed to homosexuality? Both Islam and conservative Protestant faiths generate high levels of religious belief. Most religious texts say that homosexuality is problematic. More religious people are more likely to take these religious precepts seriously. When a large proportion of people are highly dedicated to their religion, everyone within the country tends to develop more conservative views.

In these countries, the media are likely to reflect dominant religious views. Schools and businesses are more likely to support religious perspectives that disapprove of homosexuality. The government may censor the media so that they do not violate religious sensibilities. They may also restrict nonprofit organizations and human rights groups that promote views inconsistent with conservative religious values. Religious friends and family members are likely to reinforce anti-homosexual views.

Finally, there may not be any gay bars or other places to meet people with friendlier attitudes in these countries. Likewise, there may be limited internet access where residents could get more information about gay men and lesbians. In these countries most people are likely to disapprove, regardless of whether or not they are personally religious.

Are most nations becoming more liberal?

In 1996, there were only six nations that allowed for civil union or marriage. Seventeen years later, 43 nations allowed for it.

However, there has also been an increase in the number of nations that have a constitution or legal ban on homosexuality, indicating that there seems to have been a small backlash. These actions could be a reaction against the liberal legislation put in place in other countries.

As people across the world develop more liberal attitudes, many still disagree. Countries that are highly opposed to homosexuality tend to put in place policies and laws that reflect this disapproval.

While religion, economic development and democracy have a major role in shaping attitudes, the march toward greater liberalization is less straightforward than these factors alone would suggest.

Nations are embedded in a global context. Many countries located in Europe and North America were the first to become wealthy and democratic. Because they were the leaders, they were not subject to the pressure that currently up-and-coming countries now face from more powerful countries that led the way for gay rights.

Additionally, religion remains relevant, even in many rich societies, like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and up-and-coming countries, like Egypt and South Africa.

Future changes in attitudes are likely to be complicated by international forces and the continuing significance of religion.

Eighty percent of the countries I examined are becoming more liberal. However, we can’t assume that these changes will always be linear or simple. While we’ve seen a general trend toward more liberal views regarding homosexuality, there are likely to be hiccups along the way that affect how these different socioeconomic and cultural influences take shape nationally and across the world.


Amy Adamczyk is Professor of Sociology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Graduate Center, City University of New York.

 


Tell The Children Not To Be Afraid

By Joanna Dreby, author of Everyday Illegal: When Policies Undermine Immigrant Families

Over the past eight years of the Obama administration, there has been a record high number of deportations, more than under any other President historically. Researchers have recorded the impacts of such a focus on immigration enforcement, my own contribution documented in the book Everyday Illegal. Men, mostly from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean have been the primary targets of enforcement actions. Yet men live in families; they have wives and girlfriends and children, many of whom are legal residents or U.S. citizens. Immigration enforcement has torn families apart.

When a parent is deported, a child experiences sudden economic hardship along with the emotional trauma of having the state take away a parent one day to the next. These are the immediate impacts. But what of the aftermath? In some cases spouses or children decide to return to their deported spouses’ country of origin, in many cases forfeiting their rights as U.S. citizens to live freely in this country. In other cases, families live through painful separations and the on-going financial and emotional trauma that entails. The deported face many difficulties in finding employment in countries of origin: they rarely can make enough money to support family members living in the United States.

The consequence of a system that increasingly criminalizes immigrants goes beyond that of those who are the target of enforcement. There are rippling effects. One of those unintended impacts is that the young children in the immigrant families I interviewed often reported that they did not feel comfortable with the word “immigrant.” At times they misused it, telling me that immigrants are people who are “illegal” or “not supposed to be here.” I heard the same thing from unauthorized kids, from kids whose parents were legal permanent residents, and from U.S. citizens; the legal status of children’s own family members mattered, but the rhetoric about immigrants impacted children in all types of families.

Under Donald Trump’s presidency, there are a lot of unknowns. How much of the Obama administration’s policies will remain intact? Will Trump make good on his promises to build a wall? Will he revoke DACA or will it simply expire? Will the deportations increase or stay the course? We do not yet know what changes to immigration policy the new administration will bring.

Yet for children I believe that much damage has already been done. Policies that criminalize immigrants and the rhetoric behind them instill fear in children. It is the fear that a loved one will be taken away or those children’s rights to be in the United States will be questioned because they live in a family of immigrants. We saw these policies under the Obama Administration. And yet Trump’s campaign planted even more seeds of fear in children. This past week, children had their fears legitimized in the form of the Presidency. I expect many of the experiences I documented in Everyday Illegal to become ever more common. But perhaps too young children will also become more bold in confronting those fears in days to come, like 6-year-old Sophie Cruz who told the audience of hundreds of thousands at the Women’s March on Washington, in Spanish and English: “Let us fight with love, faith, and courage so that our families will not be destroyed. I also want to tell the children not to be afraid because we are not alone.”


Joanna Dreby is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University at Albany, SUNY, and the author of Everyday Illegal and Divided by Borders.


A Human Rights-Based Approach to Women’s Health

Today, on International Women’s Day, people and organizations around the world pay tribute to women’s contributions to our social, economic, cultural and political lives. But we also recognize that progress on gender parity continues to face obstacles. Health care is one area where women’s and girls’ ability to make decisions about their own bodies affect their ability to improve their health and future.

Women’s Rights as Human Rights

In Women’s Empowerment and Global Health: A Twenty-First-Century Agenda, editors Shari L. Dworkin, Monica Gandhi, and Paige Passano—with the support of the University of California’s Global Health Institute’s (UCGHI) Center for Expertise (COE) on Women’s Health and Empowerment (WHE)—bring together work on women’s empowerment in health. The book shows how the idea of women’s rights as human rights is not new, coming into view during:

… the flurry of international activity in the 1990s, spurred largely by women’s rights organizations from around the globe, that international instruments recognized the links between women’s health and gender equality. For example, these instruments began to recognize sexual and reproductive health and rights and the right to be free from gender-based violence as key components to full realization of women’s human rights. The approach of the 1990s represented a more inclusive approach, emphasizing the right to health services as well as the right to access key material and social determinants such as clean water and adequate housing, sanitation, and nutrition. This human rights–based approach to health used sexuality and reproduction as central themes in shaping gender inequality, while also addressing violations of women’s human rights by directing attention to the issue of bodily integrity. It emphasized laws, policies, and programs that would both advance gender equality and advance sexual and reproductive health and rights. …

Part of the challenge of linking health, human rights, and gender equality is the sometimes stark difference in perspectives, approaches, methodologies, and language used by those in the health sciences and the social sciences and those working in the realms of law, policy, and human rights advocacy.

The volume includes several short videos, produced by local filmmakers, that highlight the immediate need from a human rights perspective.

Now and For the Future

The editors and contributors discuss key findings, which include:

  1. realizing that it is not adequate to view global health programs through the lens of a one-size-fits-all strategy
  2. the necessity to meaningfully involve local community members to ensure that problem definitions and solutions emerge from those who are most affected by a lack of resources, agency, and achievements
  3. understanding the mechanisms and pathways through which empowerment shapes health and vice versa
  4. the need for multi-sectoral work, whereby sectors that may or may not have previously worked together join forces to make change.

The next generation of work will also need to press beyond global health approaches with women and men that focus exclusively on gender; it will need to consider the racialized, classed, and sexualized nature of empowerment and health. Intersectionality reveals how it is not just gender relations but also its simultaneity with race, class, sexuality, age, and other key axes of inequality and marginalization that matter for empowerment and health outcomes. For example, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women have issues that impact them as women and also as sexual minorities; a gender analysis is necessary but not sufficient, to understand the health implications of these intersecting forces. Global health scholars have been slow to embrace intersectional think-ing, which in contrast emerged over twenty-five years ago in law, in the humanities, and in the social sciences. It took until 2005–2006 to focus on intersectionality as key to understanding health outcomes and it remains critical to continue to understand this.

Learn More

Learn more about UCGHI’s Center for Expertise (COE) on Women’s Health and Empowerment (WHE) and how it was established to help push scholars and practitioners to expand their perspectives, and work collaboratively to produce knowledge and educational programs that benefit from a multi-disciplinary perspective.

Stay up-to-date with World Health Organization’s for Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health.

And read our other posts on Women Authors and Their Pledge for Parity and A Clear Path for Women’s Rights as Human Rights.


Brown and Uncomfortable in America

This post was originally featured in Latterly, a news magazine that covers social justice issues globally, and has been reposted here with their kind permission. 

By Deepak Singh, author of How May I Help? An Immigrant’s Journey from MBA to Minimum Wage

Ann Arbor, Michigan.

I usually work from a café. Every morning, between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., you’ll find me there, often writing, sometimes reading. I can usually walk to the place, but sometimes I drive to the ones that are a little far. I park my car, walk in, drop my bag on an empty chair and get in line for a cup of coffee. This is a routine.

About a year ago, I was in a coffee shop, writing. The place had a chair against the wall with small square individual table in front. I liked to sit there because I could sit upright and focus, instead of lounging on one of its comfy chairs.

Since I was a regular customer, a lot of the staff members knew me by face and some of them by name. When I arrived, I set my computer on a table and went to the counter to order a cup of coffee. The barista took my money and said, “You are Abdullah, right?”

Author Deepak Singh, outside of a cafe.

“No, I am not.”

“Oh, sorry. You do look like Abdullah, the guy from Saudi.”

“Okay, but I am Deepak, the guy from India.”

“I’ll try to remember that, sorry.”

“No problem,” I said.

I got my coffee and sat down.

A few minutes later, I noticed people’s eyes skipping around me as they passed by or waited in line. Then I saw the person sitting on my left reading the news on his laptop. His computer screen had a picture of the couple who had killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California. It was a day after the shooting had taken place. I looked at it for a few seconds and then went back to writing. I didn’t want to think much of it, but I looked at it again and then looked around. There was a woman sitting to my right wearing a hijab. She hadn’t been there when I came into the coffee shop. Somehow, I hadn’t noticed. She was busily chatting in English on her phone and typing on her laptop at the same time. Her white veil covered her head but not her face. Her long-sleeved top covered her arms and wrists. This was not the first time I had seen a hijabi girl in the coffee shop, but I didn’t remember when the last time had been. I looked at her from the corner of my eyes and then my eyes shifted to the picture on the laptop to my left. Tashfeen Malik, the female shooter, didn’t look very different from the lady sitting next to me. I thought that might be what people were looking at.

It dawned on me that I, myself, could be confused for someone who looked like Syed Farook, the male accomplice. There was an early morning rush, and there were more people in line now. A lot of them were looking at their phones and also looking at me. At least that is what I thought.

I was not able to focus on my work anymore. I was fidgeting. The lady next to me was still talking and typing. It seemed to me the more I tried to avoid attention, the more conspicuous I was getting.

“She’s not with me,” I wanted to say to them. “I’ve never seen her before!” Then I thought even if she moved away from me, the folks in the coffee shop could still think of me what they might have been thinking of her. A part of me thought that I was overreacting. But then I remembered all those times working a day job in an electronics store, when so many Americans asked me if I was from Syria or Iraq.

All kinds of thoughts were brewing up in my head as I sat there staring at my computer, my fingers frozen.

I was irritated at the people who were looking at us. I wanted to move to a different spot, but all the seats were taken. The only choice was to get up and leave. Or just sit there and let people stare at me. I left. Later, I thought to myself that I was being worried for no reason. It was all in my head.

Last week, as I read the news in another coffee shop, the big story was about two Indians enjoying a few drinks at a bar in Kansas. Reports say that a prejudiced man shot them and killed one of them. They didn’t look much different than me — in fact, they looked exactly like me. Now their parents are mourning back in India. I could have been one of those men.

I thought of my time at the coffee shop a year ago and how I had felt threatened and uncomfortable. I can only imagine how Muslims are feeling now that Trump is president.

I came home and held my wife and my daughter and felt happy and lucky to be together and alive. And then I thought about the most powerful men in America who seem to be waging war on everyone who resembles me.


Deepak Singh is a writer, radio producer, and journalist. He is a frequent contributor to PRI’s The World and has written for The New York Times, NPR, The Boston Globe and The AtlanticHe tweets at @deepakwriter and now lives in Brunswick, Maine.


America Through Their Eyes

From the moment that Donald Trump was elected president, the vote was considered a “a revolt of working-class whites”. Many people lay a portion of the blame of the current state of the U.S. at the feet of the working-class whites.

Pulitzer Prize winner Dale Maharidge has worked for decades as a journalist chronicling the lives of the working poor across America. During that time, he saw how growing income inequality in working class towns lead to the reactionary populism that we now see in this country.

Maharidge states: “Right now, people feel alienated. And they are disconnected from each other. A lot of the initiatives I am writing about, a lot of them are building communities. Through that, people can meet each other, know each other, give money to each other. That’s what any nation is about, it’s about community. And Americans, a lot of the people over the years are going to see a part of it. When you reinstall a sense of community, you also create a political stability, and you get democracy. When people feel disconnected and powerless you get authoritarian regimes.”

In the updated edition of Someplace Like America: Tales from the New Great Depression, Maharidge and photographer Michael S. Williamson share the experiences of this community:

Frances and Frank in their shanty beside the Colorado River, after their nighttime shifts at a Nevada casino. Bullhead City, Arizona, 1995.

My America is also seen up close in the eyes of its people. They are eyes that speak without words.

Among those Michael and I remember the most: The eyes of a woman who has fallen from upper-class privilege and is now standing in a charity food line are still proud and hurting a year after she lost the big home. A frugal white-collar mom, raising children on her own, works two jobs year-round, in some seasons, three; her eyes fill with tears as she talks about how she is barely surviving. A waitress in her sixties, whose tips are way down, will never be able to retire and believes she’ll work until she falls dead; her sleep-deprived eyes gaze into a realm of numbness as she sprints between tables. Unbridled fear is in the eyes of a Latino man, a U.S. citizen, who is terrified of being stopped and once again bloodied by cops who assume that he’s undocumented because of his brown skin.

There are so many more, named and nameless, thousands of eyes. … The eyes you see tell a story of decades of economic assault.

There is something else visible in these eyes: toughness. Study the image of Ken Platt and his son on the cover of [Someplace Like America] — both generations epitomize this steel-like resiliency. Or turn to the second section of photographs and look into the eyes of the woman who has just come home with her husband to a little shanty made of blankets strung over wooden poles, hidden in the bushes beside the Colorado River, after she has put in a long night shift working at a casino. You cannot defeat people with eyes like these.

Maharidge reminds us that people and community are still at the heart of America:

Thirty-five hundred people waiting as long as fourteen hours to seek health care from the Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps, an organization that once served only the desperately ill poor in Third World nations but now operates in the United States. Wise, Virginia, 2008

This is not a wonky book about government policy or the merits of specific economic remedies. Rather, it aims to describe the human side of where we are today, trapped in an economy whose fruits have been denied to a majority of Americans.

It has taken thirty years of war against working-class Americans to get where we are. It may take a generation to get out of this mess. We are at a cultural and economic turning point. One era has ended; another, as yet unnamed, is dawning. How will it be shaped? As we begin to understand the pointed, painful questions that must be addressed, perhaps we can begin to change.

After a long career as a journalist and documentarian, I’m deeply disillusioned and cynical about our political and business “leaders.” They have failed us, repeatedly.

Yet I am ever the optimist about the American people. One thing I’ve discovered in all these years of hearing Americans talk about their lives and dreams is that collectively we are strong. We are survivors. We emerged from hard times in the 1930s. We will do so again and will begin the long process of rebuilding an economy that works for everyone, but this can happen only if we relearn some lessons about caring for and relying on one another. And relearn we will, for we have no other choice.”


What’s in a Name? W. E. B. Du Bois vs. W.E.B. DeBois

By Aldon Morris, author of The Scholar Denied: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Birth of Modern Sociology

Today marks the 149th anniversary of the birth of W. E. B. Du Bois. Just over a week ago, The United States Department of Education, headed by its newly appointed Secretary Betsy DeVos, set out to honor Du Bois during Black History Month. On the Department’s official website Du Bois’ famous quote “Education must not simply teach work – it must teach life” was emblazoned. It was wonderful that this great controversial scholar and activist was being honored by the Department of Education. However, all hell broke loose once the quotation made its rounds through social and print media, and radio and television. The reason for the explosion is that the Department of Education attributed Du Bois’ quote to “W.E.B. DeBois!”

Du Bois was precise when it came to the written word. He would have been unamused by the misspelling of his name and by all people, the Department of Education. Responding to a speaking invitation by the Chicago Sunday Evening Club in 1939, Du Bois made it clear that: “My name is pronounced in the clear English fashion: Du, with u as in Sue; Bois, as in oi in voice. The accent is on the second syllable.” Given Du Bois’ exactness regarding the spelling and pronunciation of his name, the Department of Education was derelict in its duty to educate. Like the school children it represents, the least DeVos and her Department should do is their homework before going public.

We should not merely obsess with this terrible spelling error. The significance of Du Bois’ work for the nation and the world should be the focus always. Du Bois excelled as a social scientist, man of letters, journalist, philosopher, poet and novelist and prodigious activist. He is the scholar of the twentieth century that taught us most about race and its future place in America and the world. His penetrating work on the global color line unraveling the souls of black and white people remains highly relevant in these troubling times. No person today should be labeled “learned” without having read Du Bois’ timeless classics, The Souls of Black Folk, and Black Reconstruction as well as his unsettling article, The Souls of White Folk.

Du Bois’ activism influenced social change throughout the twentieth century. Du Bois’ radical ideas and activism helped overthrow colonialism and race oppression in Africa, Asia, and South America. Du Bois was crucial in changing America. By being a founder of the Niagara Movement, the NAACP and the Crisis Magazine, Du Bois created the blueprint by which Martin Luther king, Jr. and the civil rights movement overthrew Jim Crow. In honoring Du Bois’ pioneering activism, Dr. King wrote, “One idea he insistently taught was that black people have been kept in oppression and deprivation by a poisonous fog of lies… The twisted logic ran if the black man was inferior he was not oppressed-his place in society was appropriate to his meager talent and intellect. Dr. Du Bois recognized that the keystone in the arch of oppression was the myth of inferiority and he dedicated his brilliant talents to demolish it.”

Du Bois supported young black student protesters reminiscent of activists in Black Lives Matter today. Responding to Black student protests in the 1920s, Du Bois exclaimed, “And here again we are always actually or potentially saying hush to children and students, we are putting on the soft peddle, we are teaching them subterfuge and compromise, we are leading them around to back doors for fear that they shall express themselves. And yet whenever and wherever we do this we are wrong, absolutely and eternally wrong. Unless we are willing to train our children to be cowards, to run like dogs when they are kicked, to whine and lick the hand that slaps them, we have got to teach them self-realization and self-expression.”

The Department of Education should not have misspelled Du Bois’ name. However, on Du Bois’ 149th birthday, we should not mistake the trees (misspelled name) for the forest (prodigious body of scholarship and activism) when considering the meaning of Du Bois. Indeed, the mythical “DeBois” withers from sight when confronted with the real W. E. B. Du Bois.


Aldon D. Morris is Leon Forrest Professor of Sociology and African American Studies at Northwestern University and the author of The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement: Black Communities Organizing for Change, among other books. And read more about Aldon’s thoughts From Du Bois to Black Lives Matter.

 


Day Without Immigrants

Today, immigrants across the country have decided to miss work, skip school, and not shop as part of the “Day without Immigrants” protest. The protest aims to demonstrate the true nature of the economic impact of immigrants in the workforce and in our everyday lives.

Below are some additional titles that share the contributions of immigrants to the U.S. economy.

And learn more about how to integrate immigration topics into lecture discussion by using an Immigration Syllabus to foster a broader understanding of immigrants’ impact on U.S. society.

Share using #DayWithoutImmigrants.


Trump’s American Dream: You’ll Have to Be Asleep to Believe It

By Victor Tan Chen, author of Cut Loose: Jobless and Hopeless in an Unfair Economy

While there are many reasons why Donald Trump won the election, it’s clear that the movement of the white working class away from the Democratic Party had something to do with it. Given that this demographic seems to have put Trump over the top in the Electoral College, what do we expect his administration’s policies to do for this group—and for the working class (which, importantly, is increasingly nonwhite) more broadly?

First, his proposed tax plan will dramatically increase income inequality in this country. It will be a windfall for elites—particularly the richest 0.1%, America’s corporate executives and Wall Street financiers—who already have rewritten the rules of the economic game to favor them. Meanwhile, it will punish millions of low-income and single-parent families by stripping away some of their tax deductions. (Ironically, the white working class that broke decisively for Trump has been increasingly falling into this latter camp.)

Second, labor unions—historically, a voice for ordinary workers and an engine of greater economic equality—will take a hit. The Republican Party will accelerate its nationwide push to enact state “right to work” laws—which, shockingly, now hold sway in states where unions once thrived, like Michigan. They will likely put forward a national version of “right to work.” Trump’s Supreme Court appointee will hold the decisive vote in the coming court battle over efforts to further weaken public-sector unions, whose growth in recent decades has been a rare bright spot for organized labor in this country. The person he chooses will undoubtedly side with the rest of the conservative majority to allow nonmembers to freeride—partake of the benefits won by these unions without contributing anything from their paychecks in return. As I argue in my book, labor unions were essential in creating the “moral economy” that reigned in America in the years after World War II, when workers without much in the way of education could organize, collectively bargain for high wages, and persuasively lobby for pro-worker policies—in the process, securing a degree of middle-class prosperity. Further declines in union membership and government social spending will also erode the institutional foundations of a valuable support and retraining system that today’s workers will sorely need if they are to adapt to a quickly changing economic landscape.

On the other hand, Trump’s efforts to shame companies into keeping jobs in America could bear fruit. One of the problems that American workers face is that norms among business leaders have changed, so that not only is extravagant executive compensation no longer seen as unseemly, but downsizing, outsourcing, and offshoring have become standard operating procedures. The presidential bully pulpit can be a potent weapon—as abrupt changes in norms about gay marriage following Obama’s about-face on this issue showed. In a similar vein, it is conceivable that Trump’s in-your-face approach to foreign affairs will give the administration some leverage in future negotiations over global trade deals. All this said, I am generally pessimistic about Trump’s ability to win back many of the good manufacturing jobs that have been lost to trade—mainly because automation has eliminated even more of those jobs. Technological change, and not foreign competition, seems to be the chief threat moving forward, with even middle-class jobs for well-educated workers likely to be automated away in the years ahead. But any comprehensive strategy to deal with the potentially massive net loss of jobs—such as enacting a universal basic income—will get no traction in a Republican-controlled Congress. Likewise, America’s trading partners now hold a stronger hand than they did when deals like NAFTA were brokered. Within this changing world order, trade wars are not likely to turn out well for the US economy.

In my book, I argue that a crucial reason that unemployed Canadian workers do not fare as poorly as their American counterparts is the single-payer healthcare system up north—which means that an unexpected trip to the hospital, for instance, won’t saddle them with a hefty bill. (Surviving without a job often amounts to having the luck to avoid these sudden income shocks—and health insurance, by definition, insures against those shocks.) With Trump in the presidency, I’m less sanguine than many commentators are that Obamacare can survive in any substantial form. Without the need to overturn a presidential veto, Republican lawmakers can pursue a variety of strategies to either roll back its various measures or indirectly starve them of funding. Of course, some Republicans are having cold feet at the moment about taking away the insurance of millions of Americans. But gerrymandered congressional districts mean that many of them won’t pay much of a political price for their votes, and in any case the ideological extremism of today’s Republican Party is such that fear of being primaried from the right will likely outweigh fear of any general-election backlash.

The conclusion of my book makes the case for a politics of grace—a push, led by social movements, to move society away from the unrelenting and unforgiving culture of success and status-seeking that now prevails, and that debases the self-worth of the working class above all. Unfortunately, the Trump administration will likely advance the exact opposite set of values: a politics of vengeance and domination. Short-fused, mercurial, and unable to control his fury over the tiniest slights, Trump seems driven more by a desire to settle scores with those who oppose him than any core ideological commitments. In his pronouncements from the bully pulpit, he has made it clear that he is about America “winning”—as he personally, through his attainment of extravagant wealth and fame, believes he has done. But the pursuit of a Trumpian American dream of materialism and self-interest will take us even farther from the civic-minded ideals of the early republic. As rising inequality stamps out opportunities for rags-to-riches stories of success, and the Trump administration’s promises to working people prove to be worthless, that narrow dream of national greatness may, in fact, take on another, darker meaning: as George Carlin put it, “It’s called the American dream ’cause you have to be asleep to believe it.”


Victor Tan Chen is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University and the founding editor of In the Fray magazine. He is the coauthor, with Katherine S. Newman, of The Missing Class: Portraits of the Near Poor in America.