Tuesday, October 15, 2013

We've Moved - New PolicyforResults Blog!!!

We are excited to announce that we have a brand new blog! Our new blog is housed on our newly designed PolicyforResults website.  Don't worry - we've moved our old content over so you can still read and comment on the policy posts found here. And, there will be even more new information on the new blog!
There will be a lot of new content and updated data coming soon! Come and visit!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Impact of the Government Shutdown on Children and Families

While the government shutdown is well into its second week, it is important to keep in mind the devastating consequences that are continuing to impact the most vulnerable children and families. Though programs that directly ensure public health and safety have avoided the spending freeze, including Medicaid and Social Security, most of the programs that are affected are still vital supports and services that help sustain young women and children, low-income families, and the elderly.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which provides temporary financial assistance to help pregnant women and families pay for food, shelter, utilities, and expenses other than medical costs, has stopped awarding new funds, however states have the option to continue providing benefits with state dollars. Since TANF provides significant services in addition to cash assistance, such as GED preparation, vocational training, postsecondary education, vocational rehabilitation, help with child care, work stipends, job retention services and more, discontinuing the program during the shut-down – particularly if it continues for much longer - would be a devastating for families in need.

Head Start programs will also be affected by the shutdown—a total of 23 programs serving 19,000 children will be affected as their grants begin to expire. Those cuts are in addition to the 57,000 children pushed of Head Start as a result of the sequester, on top of a $400 million mandatory cut to the program nationwide. The longer the shutdown continues, the more Head Start programs and young children will be adversely impacted.

Implications of the government shutdown to nutrition programs are equally alarming. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which helps over 47 million low-income Americans, will continue providing benefits, but only until the end of October. States have the option of continuing the SNAP program through 2014, but the $2 billion available for contingency funds that would be used to compensate the loss of funding would not be enough to support the program in the long-term, since SNAP provides about $6 billion in support to families per month.

The Special, Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which assists over 9 million at-risk mothers, infants, and young children in accessing healthy food, nutrition information, and health referrals, will also continue until the end of October. Like SNAP, most states have funds to continue WIC for a week or so, but the program won’t be able to continue for very long, with emergency funds running out by the end of the month.

The impact on supplemental nutrition programs is also impacting the elderly. Senior Nutrition Programs have stopped as a result of the shutdown. The Department of Health and Human Services can no longer fund Meals on Wheels, which provides more than one million home-delivered meals to seniors who need them each day. This crucial service has also been impacted by the sequester, which is discussed in this previous post.

The government shutdown is risking the basic supports and services low-income families need to survive. Although there are emergency funds to continue certain programs in the meantime, the long-term consequences will be harmful and widespread. State policymakers should use their discretion to continue the programs that can provide supports and services to vulnerable families; however, the only sustainable solution is for the government to go back to work in serving children and their families as soon as possible to minimize the impact.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Poverty and the Brain

Recent findings show that living in poverty, and the mental strains associated, can impede proper brain functioning. A series of experiments run by researchers at Princeton, Harvard, and the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom concluded that living in poverty can tax the cognitive abilities of anyone experiencing it and that those cognitive abilities return when the burden of poverty disappears. In essence, the research found that poverty imposes such a substantial burden that people living under those circumstances have difficulty making important decisions.

Previously released studies showed a correlation between poverty and “counterproductive behavior.” For example, these studies found that the poor are less likely to have preventative health care, fail to adhere to drug regimens, are tardier, and less likely to keep appointments. These behaviors can deepen poverty; however, previous explanations have only focused on the impact of environmental conditions as an explanation—predatory lenders in poor communities may create high interest rate borrowing, and unreliable transportation can cause tardiness and absenteeism. Other studies have focused on what they deemed the “characteristics of the poor,” for example lower levels of formal education that can create misunderstandings about contract terms, and less parental attention that may influence the parenting style of the next generation.

The research recently conducted at Princeton, Harvard, and Warwick is dedicated to a different explanation of poverty, one which focuses on the mental processes required for living in impoverished conditions. Their findings suggest a strong relationship between poverty and mental functioning. The poor must deal with having an inconsistent stream of income, juggle expenses, and are often forced to make difficult compromises, and these everyday occurrences can be distracting. Constant worries about budgetary concerns diminish the cognitive resources available to make thoughtful choices and actions-restricting the ability of people living in poverty to provide full consideration to problems that arise. The findings show that the mental burden of poverty is equivalent to losing 13 IQ points, which is the same as losing an entire night of sleep and is comparable to the cognitive difference observed between chronic alcoholics and “normal” adults.

As the report states, “Being poor means coping with not just a shortfall of money, but also with a concurrent shortfall of cognitive resources.” The importance of this research indicates that the problems associated with the poor are not actually within poor people themselves, but with anyone who finds themselves living in poverty. These findings have important policy implications—policymakers should create strategies and solutions that reduce and avoid cognitive taxes on the poor. Policies focused on alleviating poverty through raising the minimum wage as California recently did, help to address some of the institutional factors impacting poor families across the country. Other policies, which mitigate the effects of poverty, such as food assistance and health care are also ways to assist families trying to make ends meet.

In response to the recently released poverty data, it is important to keep in mind how many people are living within these conditions. Federal budget issues such as the maintained sequester cuts, totaled at a reduction of $986.3 billion in overall discretionary funding, are detrimental to the families that depend on these supports and services to survive.  This not only impacts parents and their children financially – but also cognitively.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Far-Reaching Impact of Parental Incarceration on Children

September is National Recovery Month, a time to promote the societal benefits of prevention, treatment, and recovery for mental and substance use disorders, celebrate people in recovery, laud the contributions of treatment and service providers, and promote the message that recovery in all its forms is possible. Nowhere is this emphasis on recovery more profound and necessary than for families involved with the criminal justice system, because of the far-reaching impact that incarceration has on parents, their children and future generations. Nonviolent offenders with drug-related charges would be much better served by drug treatment rather than mandatory minimum sentences, which do little to rehabilitate individuals or to increase public safety.  In fact, incarceration can have the opposite effect.

In line with this view, last month Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the U.S. Justice Department would cease pursing mandatory minimum sentences for certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders.  Citing racial disparities, prison overcrowding as well as the related economic and social impacts, Holder questioned some assumptions about the criminal justice system's approach to the "war on drugs," saying that excessive incarceration has been an "ineffective and unsustainable" part of it.

In their article in the Future of Children, authors Christopher Wildeman and Bruce Western compiled multiple sources of research to describe the intergenerational effects of imprisonment on inequality. Research on adult men suggests that imprisonment diminishes their earnings, disrupts their romantic unions, and compromises their health. Likewise, the imprisonment of a partner, on average, compromises the well-being of those who are left behind. Parental incarceration has been linked to increased physical aggression in boys, and criminality and delinquency throughout the life course.

Many studies have considered the consequences of parental incarceration for children’s behavioral problems more broadly. Having a parent incarcerated causes children of all ages to express a mix of internalizing behaviors, such as being anxious, depressed, or withdrawn, and/or externalizing behaviors, such as acting out or having temper tantrums. The internalizing behaviors tend to occur in older children, but the externalizing behaviors hold across the life course.

Not only does parental incarceration affect children’s behavior, but it is associated with other social problems that can lead to severe marginalization in childhood and adolescence. Children of incarcerated parents are at elevated risk of homelessness, foster care placement, and infant mortality. Maternal incarceration may have even more substantial effects on foster care placement than paternal incarceration does, a risk especially high for African-American children.

In an effort to keep families together whenever possible and to further the action taken by Attorney General Holder, policymakers can support several policies that will decrease children’s exposure to having a parent incarcerated:
  • Limit prison time so that nonviolent drug offenders are not needlessly exposed to the psychological damage of incarceration, are free to work and earn an income, and spend time with their families.
  • Provide effective drug treatment for nonviolent drug offenders to support their recovery, enabling them to improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.
  • Identify and address substance use disorders early on. Research shows that for every $1.00 invested in prevention and early treatment programs, $2.00 to $10.00 could be saved in health costs, criminal and juvenile justice costs, educational costs, and lost productivity.

Providing drug treatment is a family strengthening policy that rehabilitates individuals, promotes the integrity of the family, and furthers  the justice system’s goal of public safety. For more policies related to reducing incarceration, including promoting workforce strategies for reintegrating ex-offenders, see It is also important to consider alternatives to detention for juveniles.  Brain science has shown that juveniles are resilient and are very likely to be successfully rehabilitated with appropriate interventions.   Many juveniles are also parents, and thus strategies to reduce juvenile detention will prevent the youngest generation from inheriting the stressors associated with the incarceration of their young parents.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Look at the 2012 American Community Survey Data & Three Cities

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Community Population Survey, in 2012 46.5 million people lived in poverty – 16.1 million of them children. The report showed that Black and Hispanic families continue to have disproportionally higher poverty rates and lower incomes than White families.

While the national data provide a sense of the magnitude of poverty and disparities in the U.S., it is often difficult to imagine what that means for communities. However, the subsequent American Community Survey (ACS) data - which was released today - provides a more detailed look at demographic characteristics in cities and states. 

CSSP believes that place matters and strongly impacts the health, safety, educational and employment opportunities of children and families. We work in a number of communities that face significant challenges due to years of disinvestment, including unemployment, failing schools and housing instability. These communities are trying to take a more comprehensive approach to addressing these issues. The ACS data highlight some of the significant obstacles in place.
  • California is one of only three states that has seen an increase in poverty since 2011. In 2012 Fresno, CA – a recipient of Promise Neighborhoods planning grant and a Building Neighborhood Capacity Program (BNCP) grant – faced a poverty rate of 31.5 percent, up from 28.8 percent in 2011. In Fresno, nearly half of all Black residents (47.1 percent), 30.1 percent of Asian residents and 38.1 percent of individuals identifying as Hispanic lived in poverty.
  • Though median incomes in the state of Wisconsin remain unchanged in 2012, residents of Milwaukee, WI – a BNCP grant recipient –  continue to experience an unacceptable level of disparity. More than 42 percent of Milwaukee’s children lived in poverty, including 55.2 percent of Black children. An immense gap remained across income levels as the median household income for Black families was $24,994, compared to $45,268 for White families.
  • Tennessee’s poverty level in 2012 was not statistically different from the 2011 rate. In Memphis, TN – also a BNCP grant recipient – 28.3 percent of residents lived in poverty including more than a third (33.6 percent) of Black residents and 14.7 percent of White residents. In Memphis 27.1 percent of households relied on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) benefits at some point in 2012. 
The data released today provide a snapshot across several indicators and capture information that can be used to make informed public policy and funding decisions – critically important in the midst of sequester cuts. State and local poverty rates can only be significantly and sustainably reduced if opportunity gaps are addressed. A growing number of communities are learning how to help policymakers better understand what is actually happening in their neighborhoods and the kinds of resources required to address local needs.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

2012 Poverty Data: New Data from the U.S. Census on Poverty, Income, and Health Insurance.

Earlier today, the U.S. Census Bureau released the 2012 data on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage. For the second consecutive year, neither the official poverty rate nor the number of people in poverty at the national level were statistically different from the previous year’s estimates—the poverty rate remained at 15 percent – amounting to 46.5 million people living in poverty. While there was not an increase in the poverty rate, the 2012 data still indicated significant racial disparities in both poverty and income. The poverty rates among non-Hispanic Whites and Asians were 9.7 percent and 11.7 percent respectively, while the poverty rates for Blacks and Hispanics were 27.2 percent and 25.6 percent respectively.

Poverty and Income Data Highlights
  • The percent of people in deep poverty, with incomes below 50% of the poverty threshold, remained at 6.6 percent from 2011, which is still a substantial increase from the 5.2 percent rate seen in 2006 and 2007 (prior to the recession) and even from the data collected in 1967 where deep poverty was at 4.4 percent.
  • The poverty rates for children, those under the age of 18, was 21.8 percent, not statistically different from 2011.
  • Median household income in 2012 was $51,017, not statistically different from the 2011 median income of $51,100.
Health Insurance Data Highlights
  • The percentage of people without health insurance coverage decreased to 15.4 percent from 15.7 percent between 2011 and 2012, while the number of uninsured people in 2012 was not statistically different from 2011, at 48 million people.
  • The percentage and number of people covered by government health insurance increased to 32.6 percent and 101.5 million people in 2012 up slightly from 32.2 percent and 99.5 million people in 2011.
  • The percentage of Asians and Hispanics without health insurance decreased from 16.8 percent and 30.1 percent to 15.1 percent and 29.1 percent respectively.
  • The percentage of uninsured children decreased from 9.4 percent to 8.9 percent in 2012.
Safety Net Programs
  • Unemployment insurance was able to raise 1.7 million people out of poverty in 2012.
  • Social Security income helped 15.3 million people aged 65 and older out of poverty in 2012 – if these payments were excluded - it would quadruple the number of elderly people living in poverty.
  • The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), while not included in the poverty calculations used for the data today, if considered, would have reduced the number of people in poverty by 4 million people in 2012.
  • The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) also reduced the number of children classified as living in poverty in 2012 by 2.9 million children.
The Important Role of Public Policy. Public policy helps create pipelines of educational opportunity and new jobs. It also creates the supports and services that help poor individuals and families while they work toward those opportunities. As evident in the data, the most noticeable statistic changes that occurred in 2012 were in health insurance coverage – with the number of uninsured children dropping from 9.4 percent to 8.9 percent in 2012.  This demonstrates the critical value of policies that make a public investment in children and families. Public investments have proven to have a real impact on reducing poverty – and subsequently improving the quality of life for millions of children and families. Unfortunately, the $85 billion in cuts to supports and services as a result of sequestration are likely to only exacerbate the conditions of poverty and increase the percentage of those living in unacceptable conditions – unable to meet their basic needs.

The Need for a Focus on Equity. The racial disparities in the poverty data indicate that Black and Hispanic families have continued to have disproportionately higher poverty rates and lower incomes compared to White families, which has been consistent for more than three decades. This inequity shows the need for innovative solutions and public investments aimed at supporting real change.  Policy strategies should take into account the existence of disparate opportunities and outcomes—attention to equity creates solutions that best meet the needs of the entire community.

To read CSSP's Statement on the New Poverty Data and Implications for Children and Families please click here.

More from our blog: a primer on poverty measurement and the Census instruments used.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A New Well-being Resource! Webinar Recording: Raising the Bar: Child Welfare's Shift Towards Well-Being

Over the last decade, there has been an increasing awareness about the poor developmental outcomes for children and youth in the child welfare system. The recognition of the need to improve well-being as a central focus of child welfare’s work has grown from an understanding of the importance of early childhood and adolescence in shaping outcomes, and the impact of toxic stress on the development of children and youth.
To address the importance of focusing on well-being for children and youth in the child welfare system, SPARC and the Center for the Study of Social Policy hosted a webinar on Thursday, September 12, 2013. 
Speakers included:
  • Clare Anderson, Deputy Commissioner, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services;
  • Amy Templeman, Well Being Supervisor, Office of Well-Being for the District of Columbia Child and Family Services Agency;
  • Carla Perkins, Well Being Education Supervisor, Office of Well-Being for the District of Columbia Child and Family Services Agency;
  • Aisha Hunter, Trauma Grant Specialist, Office of Well-Being for the District of Columbia Child and Family Services Agency;
  • Julie Fliss, Supervisory Planning Advisor, Office of Well-Being for the District of Columbia Child and Family Services Agency;
  • Dr. Cynthia Tate, Deputy Director, Office of Child Well Being, Illinois Department of Children & Family Services
To  watch this webinar please click here.  To read the corresponding policy brief co-released by SPARC and the Center for the Study of Social Policy, click here.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Making Higher Education More Affordable

Over the past couple weeks, affordable education, and the Obama administration’s related policy proposal, has been a highly publicized area of interest. In the new economy, higher education is an important investment for students working to ensure opportunities and success for their future.  A good example of this can be seen through the unemployment rate—it is a clear indicator of the benefits of higher education—showing considerable variation based on education status. For individuals with just a high school diploma, the unemployment rate in 2012 was 8.3%, as opposed to individuals with a bachelor’s degree at just 4.5%. Median weekly earnings also jumped to $1,066 for those with a bachelor’s degree, compared to $652 for those with only a high school diploma. The new job market is transitioning into a higher skilled workforce, and anything less than a college degree is frequently insufficient to maintain a position within the middle class.

However, the costs of higher education limit who can access these benefits, often leaving low-income families far behind. Many families are forced to choose between a heavy student debt load or skipping college altogether.  College is too important a benefit to professional success and financial security for this to be a decision that families have to make.

According to the White House Fact Sheet on the President’s Plan to make college more affordable:
  • The average tuition at a public four-year college has increased by more than 250% over the past three decades, while incomes for typical families grew by only 16%.
  • Declining state funding has forced students to shoulder a bigger proportion of college costs; tuition has almost doubled as a share of public college revenues over the past 25 years from 25% to 47%.
  • The average borrower is now graduating with over $26,000 in debt.
  • Only 58% of full-time students who began college in 2004 earned a four-year degree within 6 years.
  • Loan default rates are rising, and too many young adults are burdened with debt as they seek to start a family, buy a home, launch a business, or save for retirement.
As part of the Obama Administration’s plan for a Better Bargain for the Middle Class, there have been three alternatives proposed to make college more affordable: pay for performance, promote innovation and competition, and ensure that student debt remains affordable. Paying for performance includes tying financial aid to student outcomes instead of enrollment rates, in addition to identifying colleges that do the most to assist students from disadvantaged backgrounds as well as colleges that are improving their performance.This information will be available on a college “scorecard.” The administration plans to spark innovation and competition by highlighting colleges where innovations are enabling students to achieve good results. Lastly, the “Pay as You Earn” plan caps federal student loan payments at 10% of discretionary income, so students have more flexibility in managing their debt.

Although these alternatives offer some promise and developing new solutions is a step in the right direction, more policies and programs to increase affordability for college are necessary for students, especially those who are first-generation, those who come from disadvantaged circumstances, students with disabilities, and many others who come from non-traditional backgrounds.  

For results-focused state strategies aimed at increasing college completion, visit

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Where we are now 50 years later--The March on Washington

The 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington that took place last Wednesday highlighted significant areas of progress, while also drawing attention to the advancements that still need to be made. Although there are many reasons to celebrate, including equal access to public accommodations, laws against racial discrimination and employment and African American voting rights as a result of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the hard economic goals of the march that were critical to transforming the life opportunities of African Americans have not entirely been achieved.
In fact, there are growing economic divides, and despite the important protections established through the law, discrimination has taken new forms. Fifty years after the march, and 45 years after the passage of the Fair Housing Act, major banks still discriminate on the basis of race through predatory practices and lending activities. For example, an investigation into the nation’s largest home mortgage lender, found that the bank charged higher fees and rates to more than 30,000 minority borrowers across the country than they had to white borrowers who posed the same credit risk. Another concern related to housing can be seen when you look at the population in homeless shelters. African Americans make up 40 percent of the population living in homeless shelters, while comprising of only 13 percent of the U.S. population.
The inequality extends to other areas of financial security – including other types of assets and income. In the last 30 years, there has been no significant progress in closing the gap between the income of African Americans or Hispanics and white Americans. In 2011, the median income for African American families was $40,495, just 58 percent of the median income of white families. By 2009, the median wealth of white families was 20 times that of African American families. The Great Recession also had a disproportionate impact on African Americans—the median wealth among African American households dropped by 53 percent between 2005 and 2009, and the poverty rate increased to 27.6 percent by 2011, 3 times the poverty rate for white households that year at 9.8 percent. About 65 percent of African-American children live in low-income families—45 percent of which live in communities with concentrated poverty, as opposed to 12 percent for white children. Living in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty can significantly impact the lives of children and their families.  Concentrated poverty is closely linked with many social and economic challenges, including behavioral problems in young children, higher crime rates, and environmental hazards that impact health.
Discrimination is also still prevalent in the job market. Research shows that applicants with “African American sounding” names get 50 percent fewer calls for interviews, and are twice as likely to be unemployed. In 2012, the African American unemployment rate was 14.0 percent, 2.1 times the white unemployment rate at 6.6 percent, and even higher than the national unemployment rate during the Great Depression from 1929 to 1939 (13.1 percent). 
Despite being the land of opportunity, many young children growing up in America are dependent on their parents’ income and education to determine the probability of their success into adulthood. Unfortunately, discrimination and lack of education and job opportunity is often persistent from one generation to the next, which limits the opportunities for improving future outcomes. The good news is – there are ways for public policy to begin to address the inequities that still exist. In keeping with the progress that has already been made, improving equitable access to decent housing, maintaining high-quality, integrated education, creating opportunities for equitable early childhood initiatives and creating a federal jobs program for full employment are all policy options aimed at advancing equity. To read the report on The Unfinished March by the Economic Policy Institute, click here

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Impact of the Sequester on Head Start

The on-going effects of the federal sequester are continuing to hit low-income children and families the hardest. As a result of the mandatory $400 million cut, Head Start programs this school year will eliminate services for 57,000 children, 1.3 million days from Head Start Center calendars will be cut, and 18,000 employees will have to undergo layoffs and reduced pays. These changes will affect tens of thousands of poor families across the country who rely on Head Start for early learning programs, day care, and a network of social services and medical care.

Some Head Start centers are trying to minimize the impact as much as possible by cutting administrative costs and support services, but the effects are still unfavorable. For example, Head Start in Arlington County, Virginia is reducing their bus services this year, which means that many children will no longer have a reliable form of transportation to make it to class. Other Head Start programs are shortening their school year or the school day. The latest figures show that 18,000 program hours will be cut next year by centers that will start later in the day or end earlier. The cuts also force Head Start programs to lay off staff, reduce hours, and reduce benefits.

While some places are reducing services and staff, most programs have had to completely cut their services to children. In California and Texas, services were cut to 10,000 children combined. Virginia has trimmed nearly 1,200 spots, Maryland cut 460, and D.C. is reducing participants by 100. Nationwide, these cuts compromise 6,000 children in Early Head Start, which is designated for infants and toddlers up to age 3, and another 51,000 in Head Start programs. 

Some locations have been able to use local funds to compensate the drop in federal funding to maintain the level of service, and more affluent communities or outside organizations were able to fill-in for the loss, which is the primary reason why the budget cuts were not as dramatic as the initial projections; however, these solutions are not sustainable.

In addition to the important educational benefits for children in Head Start, the program also allows low-income families a form of quality daycare that they otherwise would not be able to access or afford. The exorbitant costs of daycare force many parents, and mothers in particular, to decide whether or not working is even affordable. Many women cannot be assured of both working and making a decent income after taxes and child care costs. For instance, daycare can cost up to 30% of one income in a two-salary couple and is the greatest expense for low-income households surpassing both food and housing. In New York, costs of daycare can average $25,000-$30,000 per child—higher than the cost of a year of public college.

The effects of sequestration on Head Start programs are devastating for low-income children and families nationwide.  It is essential to keep in mind that public investments in the health, welfare, and education of young children and their families have significant positive returns on investment, but the sequester is clearly eliminating lifelines.