Media and Politics

How “Family Values” Conservatives Are Hurting Families

To Lorena Barrientos, the idea that politicians would reduce women’s access to contraception is baffling.

“Do they understand if they cut that off that lots more people are going to be pregnant?” she said.

Barrientos, a 28-year-old woman who I met near her home in New Hampshire, had serious complications when she was pregnant. Her daughter, who’s almost three now, was born three months early. Her doctor has told her that if she gets pregnant again, she’ll have to be on bed rest for the whole nine months. Even so, the pregnancy would still be risky. So, although she wishes she could have another child someday, she uses an IUD to make sure it doesn’t happen—not just for her own sake, but for her daughter’s.

“You can’t be in bed for nine months with a little one,” she said.

Barrientos said she used to work as a pharmacy tech and a line cook, but chronic health problems forced her to quit. She gets her health insurance through Medicaid, which pays the full cost of long-term birth control.

If she had to pay out of pocket, she said, there’s no way she could afford the IUD—it has an upfront cost of around $1,000.

“By the time I pay my bills and my rent, I’m broke,” she said.

This year, Congress is pursuing an array of plans that would reduce access to family planning resources. Repealing the Affordable Care Act could mean employers no longer have to offer plans that cover contraceptives, and defunding Planned Parenthood would eliminate the only place to find free and low-cost family planning in many communities. And for women like Barrientos, a rollback of the Medicaid expansion—and transformation of the entire program into state block grants—would endanger access to all sorts of care.

Lydia Mitts, senior policy analyst with the health care advocacy group Families USA, said that before the ACA millions of women struggled to afford birth control. Many had to pay the entire cost out of pocket, and copays were a struggle for people living paycheck to paycheck before the mandate required insurers to cover the full cost.

“It was a win for women’s healthcare, but it was also a win for families and women’s ability to plan when they want to start a family,” Mitts said. “I think everyone wants to be empowered to make those big life decisions and kind of pursue their dreams at the pace that makes sense for them and their spouse and their children.”

Empirical evidence backs up what most parents—and people who aren’t yet ready to become parents—are well aware of.

Empirical evidence backs up what most parents—and people who aren’t yet ready to become parents—are well aware of: Being able to choose when to have kids leads to healthier families. Kids and their parents are physically and mentally better off, and families are more stable financially. Researchers found that children born in areas with federally-funded reproductive health care clinics were 4.2 percent less likely to live in poverty as children and 2.4 percent less likely to experience poverty as adults.

The current leaders in Congress argue that their policies, which rely heavily on a free-market approach, empower families to make their own decisions free of government coercion. But the ACA mandates and Medicaid expansion, along with providers like Planned Parenthood, are giving women long-term contraception options that used to be hard to come by. Data from states like Texas show what happens when those services are cut—the state has seen a 36 percent decline in the use of long-acting contraceptive methods, a rising birth rate, and an uptick in maternal mortality.

In a particularly distressing twist, the same policy changes that would reduce access to birth control would also make it harder to receive prenatal care. The U.S. Department of Health and Human services has found that, before the ACA, 62 percent of individual market enrollees didn’t have coverage for maternity care. Many women also lacked insurance altogether, putting them at much greater risk for serious health problems during pregnancy.

“It’s challenging to listen to discussion about eroding women’s access to birth control at the same time as eroding their access to care if they end up pregnant,” Mitts said. “We want to make sure women have the reproductive care they need, and then health care they need to have a healthy family, have a healthy baby.”

That seems like common sense to a lot of people. Just a few blocks away from Lorena Barrientos’s home, I ran into Michele Dumont. She recalled going to Planned Parenthood back in the 1980s to get her birth control pills and braving a line of protestors who were angry that the clinic also offered abortions.

“I already had two children in diapers, and I definitely didn’t want a third in diapers,” she said.

Dumont said her children are grown now, but she thinks a lot about people she knows who could be hurt if their family planning options disappeared.

“Believe me, they would not want to see me in Congress,” she said.

Correction: This article originally stated that Barrientos’s daughter was born three weeks premature. She was born three months premature.

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Media and Politics

Trump’s Child Care Plan Will Make It More Affordable—For the Wealthy

Last night, during his joint address to Congress, President Trump promised to “work with members of both parties to make child care accessible and affordable.” This isn’t a huge surprise: for the past several months, Ivanka Trump has been meeting with Republican representatives on Capitol Hill about a child care proposal. When Ivanka—alongside her father—introduced the plan back in September 2016, she asserted that “safe, affordable, high-quality child care should not be the luxury of a fortunate few.”

But the reality is, Trump’s proposal is essentially a tax break for the wealthy disguised as a child care plan.

There is a real child care crisis in the United States. The current system doesn’t work for anyone: Parents are shelling out more for child care than they’ll need to pay for in-state college tuition, and providers are still closing their doors due to lack of funding. Low-income and middle class families need help affording quality child care, but the Trumps have something different in mind.

Here are five reasons why Trump’s child care plan doesn’t cut it:

1. It provides the biggest benefit to wealthy people

The Trump child care plan was written by Ivanka, for Ivanka. It’s centered around a tax deduction, which would let families earning up to $500,000 per year deduct their child care costs from their taxable income up to the average cost of child care in the state.

Unlike a refundable tax credit, which would give money to anyone who is eligible, a tax deduction lowers peoples’ taxable income and increases their tax refund at the end of the year. That benefits high-earners more than lower and middle-income families—under Trump’s plan, 70 percent of benefits would go to families earning at least $100,000.

2. It doesn’t help people when they actually need it

Under Trump’s plan, families would need to pay upfront for child care each week or month, and then wait until tax season to get a small deduction. Most families don’t have that kind of liquid income—a parent working full time at a minimum wage job would have to spend anywhere from 62.9 percent of their income (if they live in South Dakota) to 183.5 percent of their income (if they live in Washington D.C.) to pay for child care for an infant and a four year old.

If Trump was serious about helping middle class Americans, his proposal would provide support for families throughout the year, when they need it. For example, proposals for a High-Quality Child Care Tax Credit—where a family would contribute between 2 and 12 percent of its income on a sliding scale—would advance money to families on a monthly basis so that they would never need to pay full price out of pocket.

3. It won’t improve child care quality

Providing high-quality child care is expensive. Around 60 percent of funding for child care providers comes directly from parents, so providers depend largely on tuition to cover the cost of staff salaries, classroom materials, and building maintenance. So, high-quality providers tend to have higher tuition prices. That creates a gap in the type of care kids ultimately get—children whose parents have money get high-quality care, and kids whose parents don’t settle for less.

Trump’s plan doesn’t address the fact that access to high-quality early childhood education depends on a family’s income. That perpetuates the achievement gap that plagues students later on. Without access to high-quality early childhood education, low-income students and children of color start kindergarten behind their peers in math and reading. They struggle to make up the difference later on.

4. It won’t create more child care options

Many parents have trouble even finding a licensed child care provider in their community. A recent study found that across eight states, 42 percent of children live in child care deserts where child care supply does not meet demand. The problem is particularly pronounced in rural areas, where the majority of children—55 percent—live in child care deserts.

Trump’s plan doesn’t create incentives for new providers to enter the child care market, which would increase the availability of child care for families. A meager tax deduction is not enough to build a child care infrastructure, especially in rural areas where there is the greatest need for child care.

5. It doesn’t support the early childhood workforce

Trump’s plan does not even mention the 2 million—mostly female—early childhood educators that care for the nation’s youngest children every day. The median annual salary for child care workers is just $20,320, which is less than the median for animal caretakers and parking lot attendants. Almost half of child care workers rely on some form of public assistance, and they often lack basic benefits like health insurance. That has consequences for the children in their care.

Early childhood is a critical period when children grow, learn, and develop rapidly. In order to thrive, children need careful attention from adults that make eye contact, engage in dialogue using age-appropriate language, and respond to their expressions of emotion. High levels of stress—like the kind caused by economic insecurityinterfere with an educator’s ability to give a child the meaningful attention that they require throughout the day.

Last night we heard President Trump say that he wants to help financially-strapped families, but families cannot work unless they have affordable child care. Trump’s child care proposal won’t meet most families’ needs—it’s little more than a tax windfall for wealthy people like him. If he understood the child care crisis that low-income and middle class families face each day, he’d put forward a complete plan that addresses child care affordability, quality, and access.

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Safety Net

I Went from Being Homeless to a Full-Time Writer. Trump Wants to End the Programs That Got Me Here.

Six years ago, I lived with my then 3-year-old daughter, Mia, in a studio apartment. During the day I worked full-time as a maid, cleaning the houses of wealthy people. At night, I stayed up completing coursework for online college classes.

It got so cold that winter that my daughter and I slept in the living room, because I couldn’t afford to heat the entire apartment. So instead we kept the doors to the room closed tight, and huddled together on the small pull-out couch I’d found for free.

It snowed quite a bit—more than my 1983 Honda Civic could handle. For an entire week, I tried to will the snow plows to come down the steep little alley where we lived. Every day that I missed work meant another bill I wouldn’t be able to pay: first electric, then rent.

I was in this situation because, two years earlier, I fled from my daughter’s father after he punched out a window in our home in the middle of January. He’d left, then called to say he wanted to return with the landlord (who’d always been a source of fuel for his anger) to fix it. I called the police for safety.

With that decision, I found myself homeless with a 6-month-old. I worked as a landscaper while we moved from a homeless shelter, to transitional housing, and finally to our own apartment. We couldn’t have made it out of the shelter without help from an elusive grant called Tenant-Based Rental Assistance, which helped close the gap between what we could afford and what an apartment actually cost.

Eventually, I found a full-time job that also allowed me to go to school full-time. But the job only paid $8 an hour—not enough to provide for a family. Even working full-time, we had to go without basics. I had to budget for when I could purchase a new sponge or paper towels. I needed food stamps to help feed myself and my daughter, because, after paying rent, gas, and utilities, most months I only had 50 dollars left for things like toilet paper, soap, and tampons.

At the end of that winter, I got money back from the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. I was able to buy tooth brushes, curtains, a desk to do homework on, blankets, and a bed I still sleep on today. I bought a heated mattress pad, so I didn’t have to heat the whole apartment at night. My daughter Mia and I went to sleep at night, cozy and warm, but I still lived in a fog of hopelessness, anxiety, and doubt.

I didn’t have a family who could financially or even emotionally support me. My daughter’s father still tried to cut me down every chance he could. I worked my way through school, but I couldn’t have done that if I hadn’t had help meeting basic living standards. Food stamps, rental assistance, and tax credits were the things that kept us afloat. I received utility assistance, and sometimes a voucher for gas so I could get to work. I used WIC (Women, Infants and Children) coupons for milk, bread, eggs, and peanut butter, which became the staples of our diet.

A month after I graduated college, I gave birth to a second little girl. Eventually we were able to move into safe and secure housing I could afford, and it meant I could focus on my chosen career as a writer. Within eighteen months, I’d published pieces in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post, and secured a book deal with Hachette Books after an essay at Vox about my years working as a maid went viral.

Now all of the programs that helped me and my daughter get ahead are under attack.

These plans would just kick people when they are already down.

The ACA repeal would roll back access to Medicaid, and federal funds for child care, food stamps, rental assistance, and more face the chopping block. They’re at the mercy of an administration and conservative politicians who don’t have to worry about what would happen if they worked full-time and still didn’t have enough to give their children the basics in life.

These plans would just kick people when they are already down. We need good quality food, not whatever has the most calories at the cheapest price. We need regular check-ups and to be able to afford prescription medications. We need treatment for our backs that ache from long hours working jobs that no one else wants to do—like scrubbing your floors, or caring for an elderly person you love. These are jobs that are vital to keep our society running smoothly.

Maybe folks like Donald Trump and Paul Ryan need to work one of those jobs. Maybe they need to stand out in the cold of December, ringing a bell in a Santa suit. Maybe they need to go home to an unheated house with bare cupboards, still hungry from their one meal a day at the soup kitchen. They need to go home to children who won’t have dinner. Children who had to sit in an office during recess because their family couldn’t afford to get them a coat that year.

Maybe Donald Trump and Paul Ryan need to spend a night on a pull-out couch, snuggled up next to their children for warmth, only to wake up the next day and do it all over again.

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Media and Politics

TalkPoverty Radio Is Now Off-Kilter

Anyone else feeling like things are a bit off-kilter?

Inequality remains at historic heights, with the 20 richest Americans now holding more of the nation’s wealth than the bottom half of the population. Meanwhile, two branches of the nation’s government are now run by people who are committed to fighting for the wealthiest among us—instead of the 1 in 3 Americans struggling to make ends meet.

A white nationalist president is sitting in the White House, hell-bent on further marginalizing anyone who doesn’t look or pray or love like him, and proclaiming a “mandate” to advance hateful policies despite having won just one-quarter of Americans’ votes.

Nearly every day we wake up, there’s a new assault on our civil rights. The president has declared war on the media, in favor of “alternative facts.” And the Supreme Court may soon hold five votes to overturn Roe v. Wade.

But momentum is growing every day to resist the new administration’s dangerous and divisive agenda.

Women’s marches across the globe the day after his inauguration drew crowds that dwarfed Trump’s own the day before. “Indivisible” groups modeling the Tea Party’s tactics in service of progressive resistance have sprung up in all 50 states and all 435 Congressional districts, descending upon town halls and demanding meetings with their members of Congress to ensure their voices are heard.

People of all colors and faiths have taken to the streets to stand with immigrants and Muslims, in opposition to hateful and xenophobic policies telling them they’re not welcome here. And earlier this week, protests broke out in cities across the U.S. just minutes after the administration announced that it would be reversing protections to enable transgender students to use the correct bathroom for their gender, as Americans called to #protecttranskids.

For the next four years, resistance is our only option

For those of us who believe in a level playing field; in protection from discrimination on the basis of color, creed, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity; in a safe and healthy environment; in a free press; in high-quality education for all students, whether rich or poor; in women’s rights to control our own bodies; and in health care as a right—for the next four years, resistance is our only option.

That’s why, starting today, TalkPoverty Radio—which launched two years ago as the only weekly radio show dedicated to covering poverty and inequality—will become Off-Kilter, a radio show and podcast by the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Devoted TalkPoverty Radio listeners: Don’t worry, the show will be more of what you already know and love—just with an extra dose of resistance (and snark). You’ll still be able to find us in all the same places—We Act Radio, the Progressive Voices Network, and as a podcast on iTunes—plus a few new outlets as well. And I’ll still be hosting each week.

To kick off our first episode right, we’re joined by Sarah Jaffe, Nation Institute Fellow and author of Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt (a history of American resistance movements, and required reading for the moment we’re living in); Ezra Levin, Executive Director of Indivisible and one of the authors of the Indivisible Guide; and Dorian Warren, President of Center for Community Change Action.

Thank you for listening so far. We hope you’ll join us moving forward.

Editor’s Note: Listen to the first show here, and find new episodes of Off-Kilter on Soundcloud, and follow the show on Facebook and Twitter

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Culture

Bill O’Reilly’s Defense of the White Establishment Shows How Flimsy It Is

After the 2016 election, Bill O’Reilly argued on the O’Reilly Factor that changes to the Electoral College—an issue of heated debate, at the time—would amount to “power taken away from the white establishment” and a “profound change in the way America is run.”

O’Reilly’s rant was essentially a love letter to whiteness. It comes from the same place as Dave Chappelle’s famous SNL skit, in which he gets his first tax bill as a rich person and exclaims: “Ah [man]! I just got this money!”

O’Reilly might as well have said, “Ah, man! I just got this whiteness!”

I. O’Reilly Suffers From “New White Syndrome”

It is said in religion that there’s no zealot like a convert. O’Reilly’s people (the Irish) are converts to whiteness, and a zealot O’Reilly has become. The result is Newly-White Syndrome, a close cousin of Chappelle’s New Money Syndrome. O’Reilly’s overdone chest-thumping about his whiteness reflects the need to hear it aloud—convincing himself as much as us.

O’Reilly surely resents that the English long-regarded the Irish as inferior. He may know that Ralph Waldo Emerson grouped his people with Africans, Indians, and East Asian people—whom he referred to simply as “Chinese”—as individuals who would never “occupy a high place in the human family,” as only the “Caucasian race” could. And he might be aware that Thomas Carlyle opined that the Irish “seem quite unfit for self [-] government.”

This is O’Reilly’s family history. The only glimmer of hope was offered by the head of the American Eugenics Society in 1911: if the Irishman “cleans himself up—very well, we might receive him in a generation or two.”

II. In Search of Whiteness

Bill would’ve had an easier time becoming white in Latin America, where you could literally buy whiteness—a “gracias al sacar.” It was “a royal exemption that provided the privileges of Whiteness.” But in the United States, the English wouldn’t let you buy whiteness. Not outright.

So the Irish intermarried.

Thomas Jefferson thought it took four generations of intermarriage to eliminate inferior blood. By that estimation, many of the Irish who came here in the mid-1800s potato famine were still pushing out mixed breeds when O’Reilly was born in 1949. And O’Reilly – Irish dad, Welsh mom – would be generations from meeting Jefferson’s purity standard.

Therefore, immigrants started changing the things that were within their power—like their names. Allen Konigsberg became Woody Allen. Ralph Lifshitz emerged Ralph Lauren. The Irish and Welsh anglicized with common name changes, like:

Ó Gallchobhair→ Gallagher
Uigínn → Higgins
ap Hywell → Powell
ap Siôn → Jones

And:

Ó Raghallaigh → O’Reilly

Immigrants also jettisoned accents and engaged in what economists call “signaling” to prove their respectability. Wearing “Oxfords, not brogues” is signaling, as is driving a certain kind of car and adopting “WASP sensibilities.” And one of the most important forms of signaling was to play one’s part in the racial hierarchy.

III. Becoming White at the Expense of Black

America is a deeply classed society that is pretending not to be.

It’s easy to see why, with all that loose talk about how “all men are created equal” in our founding documents. But John Adams’ belief that there is always a group of people “who is the last and lowest of the human species” was left out of the Declaration of Independence.  The founders also neglected Ben Franklin’s question about who would choose to be “Slaves to those above them, provided they might exercise an arbitrary and tyrannical rule over all below them?”

The founders had their own ideas about who was at the top, middle, and bottom of these hierarchies. Jefferson divided the country into three classes: “Aristocrats, half breeds, pretenders (or, “pseudo-Aristocrats”) at the top; then the “yeomanry, looking askance at those above, yet not ventured to jostle them for the position.” Lowest are “Overseers, the most abject, degraded, and unprincipled race.”

Franklin, likewise, saw three classes: the “better sort” on top, the “middling people,” and the “meaner sort” on the bottom.  He maintained that the middle wouldn’t jostle the top because the masses prefer a “happy mediocrity.”

A group above, a group below, and one in the middle—carrying out the will of the top upon the people below them, in hopes of gaining access to that elusive elite tier.

IV. Misjudging One’s Interests

This ends tragically for everyone except those at the top. For example, in 1974 Boston, a judge ventured that black students were equal to white ones. But black schools were not equal to white ones, which meant they needed to integrate. Rather than send their kids to school with black children, mostly white and poor South Boston set the city on fire.

Meanwhile, wealthy whites stayed clear of the entire fray. They fled to the suburbs, and took their children from the schools and their capital from the city. This left behind a poorer city, with a diminished property tax base to fund the schools, and trapped both poor white and black children in failing schools. By placing their racial interest over their class interest, the white poor misfired, and made their own lives worse off.

The result, Jonathan Kozol observes, is that “poor whites, poor blacks and poor Hispanics now become illiterate together.” Boston’s Busing War proved that trying to become white at the expense of blacks doesn’t work for the reason Frederick Douglass diagnosed more than a century before: Neither rise. It only ends up “prov[ing] that if we cannot rise to the whites, the whites can fall to us.”

V. Until We’re All Free

Once, while defending the Electoral College, O’Reilly told John McCain that the Left “wants to break down the white, Christian, male power structure of which you are a part, and so am I.” Yet for most of U.S. history, McCain’s Protestants vigorously disagreed that O’Reilly’s Catholics are Christians, at all.

Moreover, clinging to that whiteness membership card the way O’Reilly does only shows he doesn’t have a firm grip on it. After all, ‘I’m the white establishment’ is something no actual member would ever say.

Color-struck, yet systems-blind, O’Reilly cannot see that he is playing the indispensable middle management role described by Jefferson, Franklin and others, without which the racial system would fall apart.  He is another “flunkey…to [the] gentry” (Frederick Douglass’s term).

This is why O’Reilly should be the object of our pity, not our scorn. Made to enter whiteness through the side door, O’Reilly’s sad response is to be grateful for the privilege. O’Reilly has not yet learned that whiteness can be a fickle lover. By the time Martin Niemöller got to write those chilling words, “First they came for the…” but “I was not a…” it was too late. The Nazis had already thrown him in Dachau. This is why Fannie Lou Hammer told a white audience in 1971, “Your freedom is shackled in chains to mine. And until I am free, you are not free either.”

Freedom comes only when we reject these assigned social categories, including race.

“When the Irish leave whiteness, there goes the neighborhood,” activist Tom Hayden notes. The Irish should leave whiteness. The existence of any racial establishment in America can never be in the interest of anyone whose last name has an apostrophe in it.

Race is something we have, not something we are. Since it was constructed, it follows that it can be deconstructed. And it should be. It brings as many burdens as benefits, even for white Americans. It would be tragic if O’Reilly never learns this. Still more tragic if America doesn’t.

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