Why Apprenticeships Should Go Soft

For the 2020 Washington Monthly College Guide, I profiled what I think should be the gold standard for apprenticeship programs – a program called FAME, which began out of a Toyota plant in Kentucky.

Apprentices lucky enough to land a spot in FAME are likely to get a great job after they graduate; they will have earned an associates’ degree; and they will have been paid enough for their work to pay for tuition and living expenses. The curriculum is also cutting-edge. FAME teaches much more than the technical skills someone needs to be a competent worker in advanced manufacturing. Two-thirds of the curriculum is focused on so-called “soft skills” – such as critical thinking, team work and communications skills – that are becoming increasingly important.

I interviewed the founder of the program, Dennis Dio Parker, who is one of the most charismatic and visionary workforce development leaders I have ever met. Parker was a graduate of the Navy’s nuclear engineering program, which he described as the academic version of the Navy’s SEALs – few students are recruited and few make it through. The high standards inculcated by the program clearly carry through Parker’s vision for FAME.

Read it here.

The Fallacy of Meritocracy on America’s College Campuses

In The Merit Myth, In The Merit Myth: How Our Colleges Favor the Rich and Divide America, veteran researchers Anthony P. Carnevale, Peter Schmidt, and Jeff Strohl argue that America’s top colleges and universities uphold a biased infrastructure that props up students from the one percent of U.S. families to the detriment of everyone else.

Read my review of this important book for Washington Monthly here.

A Simple Way to Demilitarize the Police

One of the most frequent images we saw in the summer of 2020 was police deployed in full riot gear, confronting peaceful protesters demanding racial justice.

If you noticed, the police often looked like soldiers of an occupying force, not like the community guardians they are supposed to be. That’s because many local police departments across the country have the benefit of a federal program that hands out surplus military hardware for free. Tiny rural towns can get armored personnel carriers, assault rifles and other gear that has no place on American streets. More than one scholar believes that this “militarization” of police has led to an escalation of violence as well as adversarial attitudes by police toward the people they are committed to protect.

I wrote about an easy way to demilitarize the police: By ending the program providing weapons of war to local police.

Read it here.

Even Before the Covid-19 Pandemic, Black Americans Were Dying More

Black Americans are dying from the novel coronavirus at a shockingly disproportionate rate. In majority-black counties, the Washington Post found, infection rates are triple that of majority-white counties. Deaths among Black Americans, meanwhile, are six times higher than that of whites.

Yet long before the pandemic, Black Americans have been dying at far higher rates than other Americans. They are victims of a longstanding epidemic of structural racism and unequal access to care. Unfortunately, the disparate impact of COVID-19 is only the latest chapter in an ongoing national tragedy, one that the virus has only brought into sharper relief.

Read more at Washington Monthly here.

Punishing Fathers for Being Poor

In 1965, the now-infamous “Moynihan Report,” authored by the late sociologist and senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, blamed the “breakdown of the Negro Family” for high rates of child poverty and welfare dependency in that community. 

Moynihan’s analysis led to a slew of harsh policies aimed at cracking down on “deadbeat dads.” These policies, it turns out, not backfired but are based on false assumptions about low-income fathers.

I review  an important new volume by the scholars Paul Florsheim and David Moore, Lost and Found, that shows the complexities of low-income fatherhood and argues for a more constructive approach to helping poor fathers support their children.

Read more here

The Widening Racial Gap on Jobs and Wealth

Research from the Brookings Institution finds that Black workers hold a disproportionately large share of the economy’s lowest-paid jobs. Black Americans make up 15 percent of the 53 million Americans who earn less than two-thirds of the median wage (or less than $16.03 an hour). On average, these low earners earn a median of $10.22 an hour and $17,950 a year.

Black Americans cannot catch up to whites in accumulating wealth unless the quality of the jobs they hold—and the wages they earn—catch up first.

Read more here.

What White America Still Doesn’t Understand About Racism

In 2016, the median white household held roughly ten times the net wealth of the median black household; the average black worker earned 73 cents on the dollar compared to his or her white colleagues; and even among college graduates, blacks earned 20 percent less than their white counterparts. For decades, racial disparities in wealth and wages have been stark and enduring – and frustratingly impervious to change.

To many liberals, these inequities are the obvious legacy of slavery and decades of legalized discrimination, such as under Jim Crow. The substandard education to which black Americans have been relegated has meant fewer students succeed in school and in the workforce. Segregated housing, too, has left many people living in neighborhoods without access to good jobs, reliable public transportation, or quality health care.

These systematic inequalities are among the many destructive by-products of “structural” racism. But too many white Americans simply do not understand this as a phenomenon, argues a new report. Instead, they tend to see racism through the narrow prism of individual—not institutional—behavior.

This failure to grasp the systemic nature of racism today could explain why the nation hasn’t made as much progress as it should—and could—on racial equity.

Read more at Washington Monthly

How One White Mayor Wants to Heal the Racial Divide

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast as one of the worst storms in U.S. history. The Category Three hurricane killed 1,833 Americans across five states and caused an estimated $108 billion in property damage. It also laid bare the deep impacts of decades of segregation and institutionalized racism in the South.

The brunt of the devastation fell on the region’s low-income and minority residents, many of whom remain displaced to this day. In New Orleans, for instance, heavily African-American neighborhoods, such as the flood-prone Lower Ninth Ward, were wiped out while affluent white neighborhoods further inland were spared.

Many progressives hoped that the gross inequities exposed by Katrina would spur broad national action on racial equity, but progress has been disappointingly slow. An April 2019 poll by the Pew Research Center, for instance, found that 76 percent of black Americans say they’ve experienced discrimination or unfair treatment. And a stunning 58 percent of Americans think race relations are “generally bad”—with 69 percent think things are getting worse.

For former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, the lessons of Katrina remain unfinished business that the nation needs to tackle.

Read more via Washington Monthly…

Still Missing: The Women Wonks

In August 2018, Mexico’s Ministry of Health convened a high-profile conference on the benefits of breastfeeding. It was part of a long-standing effort to boost the nation’s breastfeeding rate, among the lowest in Latin America. But what drew the most attention was a photo of the keynote panel: six dour men—presumably incapable of lactating themselves—arrayed under a banner reading “Uniendo esfuerzos por la Lactancia Maternal,” Spanish for “Joining Forces for Breastfeeding.” The photo sparked viral outrage on social media and instantly established the event as a prime example of all-male panels—also known as “manels,” “colloqui-hims,” or “him-posiums.” 

I first wrote about the preponderance of testosterone at think tank panels and policy events—particularly
in Washington—in a 2012 Washington Monthly article titled “Where Are the Women Wonks?” The imbalance is about more than appearances. “Without greater representation from women, maybe it’s not such a surprise that so many of the policy debates in Washington seem to be missing half the picture,” I wrote at the time.

Read more at Washington Monthly.

Are blue-collar white women Trump’s red wall?

Despite a nonstop onslaught of fresh and damning revelations about his misconduct in office, President Donald Trump has so far maintained his core supporters’ loyalty. As of the start of this week, Trump’s average approval rating holds at 42 percent—only slightly less than the share of Americans opposing the inquiry into his impeachment.

But for Democrats desperate to oust the president, either by impeachment or the ballot, breaching this “red wall” of support (if, in fact, it can be breached) is a matter of utmost importance. Democrats face two key questions: who are Trump’s most stalwart defenders, and can they be persuaded to abandon him?

New research suggests an answer to the first of these queries. It’s a group that Democrats should—and could—be winning over: blue-collar white women. While Democrats made crucial gains among these voters in the 2018 election, these women may now be rallying to Trump’s defense.

Continue reading at Washington Monthly.