How rules and regulation can  shape opportunity.

A New Voice for Kids: a National Children's Commission?

Feb 1, 2013

As a child growing up in 1970's and '80s Grand Rapids, I had the opportunity to try many things: basketball, flute lessons, acting, and sewing, to name a few. This might account for my inability to stay in one place, doing one thing. You say, "flakey," I say, "rich and varied interests." But one of my long-standing interests was and continues to be public radio as a tool of informed citizenship.

Official press photo of Governor Rick Snyder

Early childhood education got a shout out from Governor Snyder last night in his annual State of the State speech. But was it a big enough shout?

Let's start with the major focus of Snyder's speech: roads and transportation. He called it the "toughest single issue" that he wants passed: roads. Over the next decade, Snyder wants to spend $1 billion more a year on the state's infrastructure. Here's a clip: 

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Be honest: How many of you made a New Year's resolution to save more money?

Saving money can be especially hard to do in a tough economy, so kudos to you. For families at the bottom of the economic ladder, saving money can make a real difference.

Erin Currier directs the Pew Economic Mobility Project. She says "when low income families can develop their own savings, their own assets, their children are significantly more likely to move up the income ladder."

Currier's team did a 2009 study called "A Penny Saved is Mobility Earned," and they found that savings and upward mobility are linked together, especially for families in the lowest income bracket.

Children of low-saving (i.e., below median), low-income parents are significantly less likely to be upwardly mobile than children of high-saving, low-income parents.

Seventy-one percent of children born to high-saving, low-income parents move up from the bottom income quartile over a generation, compared to only 50 percent of children of low-saving, low-income parents. 

By now you might have heard about Newark Mayor Cory Booker's food stamp challenge. It all started on Twitter, where Booker engaged in a debate over the government's role in preventing hunger. The debate ended in Booker agreeing to live off of food stamps for one week, spending roughly $33 on food. This article praises Booker for his advocacy but cautions Americans and government officials not to lose sight of a more important goal: getting Americans out of poverty.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Things are moving at lightening speed over in Lansing. I'm no lame duck expert, but this has got to be one of the busiest lame duck legislatures we've seen in a long time.

Sure, sure, we all know about the Right to Work bill, which Governor Rick Snyder just signed into law. But what else is happening in Lansing? Michigan Radio's Kate Wells has this handy dandy list of bills that are moving through the legislature as we speak.

4Elevenimages / flickr

Yes, I too am incredibly sick of hearing about the fiscal cliff. The fact that negotiations don't seem to be going anywhere and that we're all just waiting for Congress to do something does make it hard to care.

But then I tell myself that if we do go over the cliff it could be the single biggest federal government action affecting low-income families since welfare reform, and I have to care.

So if it's going down what should you know? One resource is the Urban Institutes' Fiscal Cliff Toolkit. It's a guide that in plain language explains some of the cuts to entitlement programs being talked about. The  Urban Institute comes from left-of-center, so for those of you looking for another perspective the Heritage Foundation has put together something similar.  

Most of the talk now is about Medicare and Social Security, because those are the big ticket items. But, as negotiations move forward, listen closely for talk about some things that could really impact low income kids. There is talk of inclusion of the Farm Bill and food stamp spending. There is also chatter about Medicaid moving to a block grant program administered by the states. In the past, turning federal programs into state run block grant programs has led to more restrictions and fewer people getting benefits.

Nicholas Kristof wrote in the New York Times on Friday about a trip to Kentucky, where he heard stories of parents removing their children from literacy programs so they could keep getting disability payments from the government: "There’s a danger in drawing too firm conclusions about an issue — fighting poverty — that is as complex as human beings themselves. I’m no expert on domestic poverty. But for me, a tentative lesson from the field is that while we need safety nets, the focus should be instead on creating opportunity — and, still more difficult, on creating an environment that leads people to seize opportunities."

Photo courtesy of Focus Hope

If you've been following State of Opportunity over the past couple months, you've probably heard us talk about the Harlem Children's Zone. It's this 100-block zone in central Harlem that's designed to create a safety net so strong and so wide that no child could fall through and fail. The program covers all kids from birth through college. 

Unearthing an old "war on poverty" campaign ad

Nov 27, 2012

Last week, I was looking for archival sound from an LBJ speech where he declared war on poverty. I wanted the footage for a story I was working on about whether or not we measure the poverty rate wrong.

Dustin Dwyer

You've been hearing about it. I've been hearing about it. We're all sick of hearing about it. 

We wouldn't even be talking about a "fiscal cliff" if lawmakers in Washington had been able to reach a real compromise on raising the debt ceiling last summer. Or if the congressional "supercommittee" had come to an agreement last fall

You can read the doom and gloom predictions of what might happen  if lawmakers don't reach a deal on avoiding the "fiscal cliff" before the end of the year. If you want details, you can read the White House report on exactly what will get cut from the federal budget. You can also read a primer from the Tax Policy Center on how it will affect your taxes

You could spend every waking hour reading up on this manufactured crisis, but do you really want to? Me neither. 

But here's one thing that caught our attention at State of Opportunity: