Orange is the New Black is Dead Wrong About Disability

SPOILER ALERT: This article discusses events within the first episode of Season 3.

Et tu, Orange is the New Black?

The Netflix drama is back with a third season, and if you’re like me, it monopolized the better part of the last two weekends. The show deserves credit for sparking dialogue and increasing awareness about mass incarceration in the U.S., particularly among people who hadn’t previously considered criminal justice reform to be their thing.

The show’s typically smart writing and masterful treatment of a serious and complex topic made the first episode all the more disappointing.

One of the very first scenes of the third season is a flashback to the character Pennsatucky’s childhood. We watch as her mother forces her to chug an entire two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew. Pan right to the sign showing us that they’re at the Social Security Administration office. Then we hear Mom say, with a young Pennsatucky now bouncing off the walls behind her, “So I understand, Supplemental Security Income benefits for kids like mine are $314 a month, is that right?”

The implication is clear: Mom is attempting to simulate the symptoms of ADHD in her child in order to fraudulently obtain SSI benefits.

This scene caused me to have several flashbacks of my own. First, to the mid-1990s, when a flurry of media reports accused parents of “coaching” their children to “act disabled” in order to feign eligibility for SSI benefits. The “crazy checks” media frenzy, as it came to be known, spurred Congress to narrow the program’s eligibility rules, causing more than 100,000 children with disabilities to lose critically needed benefits. The media claims were later shown to be baseless, but the damage had already been done, and Congress had already legislated by anecdote.

I also flashed back to 2010, when media allegations accused parents of seeking psychotropic medications for their children in hopes of SSI eligibility. These claims were similarly debunked after multiple investigations. But again, the media allegations rang loudly in the halls of Congress, leading to hearings and yet more proposals to cut SSI.

My head swirling, I was next transported to 2012, when New York Times columnist Nick Kristof sparked yet another kids’ SSI media hubbub by accusing parents of pulling their kids out of literacy programs in order to obtain SSI benefits. Mr. Kristof’s claims that the program incents parents to keep their kids from learning to read were similarly unsupported by the facts—but that didn’t stop NPR from doubling down on his claims with their own (widely discredited) “reporting” just a few months later. Legislation that would kick young people with disabilities off of SSI if they miss school is now pending in Congress.

Each set of media allegations—as well as the disappointing OITNB scene—reflects a continued lack of understanding of mental impairments. They perpetuate the stereotype that if you have a visible physical impairment, you’re ‘truly disabled,’ but if you have an invisible mental disorder, your impairment is somehow less real, or less legitimate.

What’s more, each set of media attacks—as well as the OITNB scene—reflects vast ignorance about the SSI program, perpetuating the myth that it’s easy to get benefits. Getting hyped up on a caffeinated drink before you walk into the Social Security office may make for entertaining TV, but it won’t get you anything in real life.

SSI serves as a vital lifeline for families caring for children with disabilities. It makes it possible for families to care for their children with disabilities at home and in their communities, instead of in costly and isolating institutions. Only children with the most severe impairments and illnesses qualify for SSI. The majority of children who apply are denied, and fewer than 1 in 4 U.S. children with disabilities receive benefits.

The silver screen’s treatment of important public policy issues has a very real, and potentially destructive, impact.

Raising a child with a disability is extraordinarily expensive. Families caring for children with disabilities are more than twice as likely as other families with children to face material hardships such as homelessness, food insecurity, and utility shutoff. The financial support that SSI provides helps to offset some of the commonly incurred costs, including special therapies, diapers for older children, adaptive equipment, and transportation to doctors and specialists, many of which are not covered by insurance or have high copays. SSI benefits also replace a portion of lost income when a parent must stay home or reduce her hours to care for a child.ADHD is a neurobiological disorder that affects 5 to 8 percent of school-age children.

But only the most severely impaired children are eligible for SSI. More than 75 percent of children with ADHD who apply for benefits are denied, and just 4 percent of U.S. children with ADHD receive SSI.

Moreover, qualifying for SSI on the basis of ADHD—or any other mental or physical impairment—requires extensive medical evidence from approved medical sources (including physicians and specialists) documenting the severe impairment as well as its resulting symptoms. A child’s impairment must result in marked and severe functional limitations and must be expected to last at least 12 months or to result in death.

In fairness to Orange is the New Black, the show is fiction. Unlike the media frenzies over the years, it didn’t claim to be reporting the facts. But, as with the latest season of House of Cards, which was infused with “real-world lies” about Social Security—it’s “sucking us dry”… “entitlements are bankrupting us”—the silver screen’s treatment of important public policy issues has a very real, and potentially destructive, impact. (Coincidentally or not, House of Cards is also produced by Netflix.)

Media portrayals that reinforce myths about mental disorders do us a significant disservice and contribute to the harmful denial of mental illness that persists even in the 21st century. Media portrayals that reinforce negative stereotypes about vital programs and the individuals helped by them are similarly dangerous, sowing the seeds for cuts that will make vulnerable people’s lives all the more difficult.



Pope Francis’s Encyclical and an Urgent Response to Poverty

Pope Francis’s historic, soaring encyclical on ecological and economic justice was made public just hours after the horrifying murders in the South Carolina church, where nine African Americans were gunned down by a young white man. The juxtaposition makes me weep in the realization that such violence is yet more evidence of a brokenness in our world described so eloquently by the pope.

In his encyclical, Pope Francis emphasized the importance of our interconnectedness. “Everything is connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.” He also returned again and again to the injustice of inequality and “the intimate relationships between [people who are] poor and the fragility of the planet.”

The encyclical strongly criticized consumerist, profit-seeking economies like ours as economies of exclusion, where short-term gains take precedence over long-term justice. Those who are left out – most often people who have been pushed into poverty – are denied just access to water, food, housing and other necessities of life, which are all basic human rights. Marketplace solutions favored by many will not address these needs, and the desire of some to privatize water and other resources will cause enormous harm to already struggling families.

Those with the most wealth and power owe a “social debt” to people at the margins.

Those who push technology as the answer to many of our problems are usually seeking short-term results, most often higher profits, at the expense of those at the economic margins. We see the results when low-income workers lose jobs to technology substitutes thought to improve efficiency and lower costs.

And, of course, it is most often poor communities that suffer the most from environmental degradation. People in poor communities are more often exposed to pollutants than those in wealthy areas, and they are less able to afford insurance and other protections during extreme weather events.

Pope Francis calls on all of us, especially those in power, to find bold, integrative solutions to all of these injustices. Those with the most wealth and power owe a “social debt” to people at the margins. They are therefore obligated to make sure they have all that is essential to their survival and wellbeing.

As the pope puts it, “Society as a whole, and the state in particular, are obliged to defend and promote the common good. In the present condition of global society, where injustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable, the principle of the common good immediately becomes, logically and inevitably, a summons to solidarity and a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters.”

In the end, the pope is calling for spiritual conversion and “an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.” Persistent poverty is one of our nation’s most urgent problems, and it deserves an urgent response.



25 Years Later: Lessons from the Organizers of Justice for Janitors

On June 15, 1990, the Los Angeles Police Department viciously attacked immigrant janitors who were striking for the right to organize in Century City, Los Angeles. In a story that is now all too familiar, the police claimed they were defending themselves. Only later, when TV news footage exposed the police clubbing non-violent strikers, was the self-defense claim discredited. Two women miscarried, dozens were hospitalized, and 60 strikers and supporters were jailed.


After the violence, the workers regrouped in a nearby park where one of the strikers said, “What they did to us today in front of the TV cameras, is the way the police treat us every day.” Another woman striker told a reporter, “I wasn’t robbing a bank or selling drugs, I’m simply asking for an increase in pay but the police beat us as if we were garbage.”


However, the police assault backfired, and the response of the campaign organizers and activists is still instructive today. Far from being beaten into submission, the strikers met the next day and voted unanimously to return to the scene of the violence on the following day.

Over the next weeks, public outrage at the police helped galvanize support for the strikers. Janitors in Century City won their union, doubling their pay and benefits. Century City also proved a tipping point for the Justice for Janitors campaign. Many in the labor movement had argued that janitors were impossible to organize—they were undocumented, part-time, subcontracted, workers of color—but the campaign demonstrated clearly that not only could these workers organize, they could win.

Emboldened by success in Century City, Janitors in Washington, D.C. blocked the 14th Street Bridge with school buses, effectively shutting down the nation capital’s rush hour commute.

bridgeAt the University of Miami, Janitors fasted for weeks as part of their lengthy and winning strike. Workers in wheel chairs, weakened by the fast, surrounded the university’s president, Donna Shalala and chanted in Spanish, “Union or death!” In Houston, 5,000 Janitors won a first-time union contract in a “right-to-work” state, despite the fact that bail was set at more than $20 million for people arrested for non-violent acts of civil disobedience in the city. Workers in cities across the nation went on strike in support of the Houston Janitors, and allies in Europe occupied buildings. Finally, pension fund trustees in charge of $1 trillion in workers’ pension fund capital adopted “responsible contractor” procedures—committing to invest only in office buildings where janitors were treated fairly.

The Justice for Janitors campaign succeeded because it relentlessly went after the building owners and financiers at the top of the real estate industry—the people who truly had power over the janitors’ livelihood—not the cleaning companies who were powerless subcontractors. The campaign also exposed an economy that was increasingly using sub-contracting and other schemes to separate and isolate workers from the corporations and companies that were actually in control of their wages, benefits and overall working conditions.

Justice for Janitors became much more than a “union organizing campaign,” it grew into a movement. Its influence and impact extended far beyond the people directly involved in the campaign’s actions. Its success was rooted in its ability to pit the needs of an entire community against the wealth of the real estate industry. The movement penetrated pop culture with Adrian Brody starring in Bread and Roses, a movie based on the Century City Strike. The game show Jeopardy asked contestants, “What is Justice for Janitors?” The campaign was also part of the back-story of the assistant in The Devil Wears Prada. The Justice for Janitors movement became a living example of what was possible—even against the greatest odds.

Hundreds of articles and dissertations have now been written about the keys to the success of the campaign. Some claim that it succeeded through militant direct action, strikes, and disruption rooted in the struggles of Central America. Others state it was through grounding organizing in immigrant communities. Still others say it was due to integrating existing union membership with non-union workers. Additionally, some view global solidarity, corporate leverage, and “top-down” tactics as the basis of the campaign’s success.

As two of the original organizers of Justice for Janitors—with 25 years of distance from the Century City Strike—the key lesson for us is that there is no silver bullet; there isn’t one thing, one strategy, one action, or one tactic that magically beats billionaires or creates the space for a movement to develop.

Yet Justice for Janitors unquestionably provides critical lessons for future organizing: As Wall Street and the finance industry increasingly take control over the global economy, we have to look up the economic food chain and target the real culprits. We have to bring as many stakeholders to the fight as possible, and creatively and aggressively organize to disrupt business as usual for those in control—that can mean strikes, civil disobedience, engaging shareholders, or directly challenging other business, social, and political interests and their exploitative practices and schemes.

Workers’ lives have been disrupted enough. It’s time to turn the tables.




Workers and Georgetown Students Stand Up to Aramark

At Georgetown University this year, students became aware of stark differences in treatment between Aramark’s Georgetown and American University food services employees. At American, food service workers received more health care coverage while paying nearly half of what Aramark employees at Georgetown paid for health care.

These disparities were unacceptable. Colleges are supposed to instill values in their students that make for a just society, and those values must be reflected in the institutions’ decisions to protect or neglect basic fairness. Georgetown and other institutions of higher education must therefore support workers’ rights. But since our current capitalist system places profit above anything else, Aramark and other large corporations will continue to treat workers with minimal respect and pay them as little as possible until people speak up and demand better.

Students at Georgetown chose to speak up. As part of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee (GSC), we responded to these working conditions by launching an Aramark campaign. The end goal? To improve the working conditions in the campus dining hall and to organize the food court and on-campus hotel workers (all of whom work for Aramark) so that they had the opportunity to join the union, UNITE HERE Local 23. The workers demanded consistent 40-hour workweeks; raises of $0.75 per year to the hourly wage; more protections for immigrant workers; affordable health care; and for language of dignity and respect to be used in grievance processes, because too many workers experienced disrespect, such as racial discrimination and verbal abuse, and lacked a process to address their treatment.

Colleges are supposed to instill values in their students that make for a just society, and those values must be reflected in the institutions’ decisions

Our first action occurred in December when the GSC hosted a holiday party for food court workers.  There, we collected addresses under the guise of a holiday raffle in anticipation of future house visits to convince them to join the union. Until a majority of the workers had agreed to join the union, this entire process had to be kept secret from Georgetown administrators and Aramark supervisors, so as not to put workers’ jobs in jeopardy. To boost student support for workers and put pressure on the university, we circulated a sign-on petition for students, faculty, and other community members which outlined the workers’ demands. After 3 weeks, we had collected over 2,000 signatures, or one-quarter of the undergraduate population.

Momentum for the campaign increased in February, when GSC organized a rally of more than 100 students to deliver the signed petition to Aramark’s management office in the food court, known as Hoya Court. Students and workers also delivered union cards signed by workers in Hoya Court and Einstein Brothers Bagels demonstrating their desire to organize under UNITE HERE. Students and workers in attendance marched to Hoya Court to show their commitment to ensuring Aramark gives the workers the dignity and respect they deserve.

Next, we shifted our focus to the workers at the Georgetown Hotel, which is also run by Aramark. Collecting signed union cards from hotel employees was an arduous task, made worse by the managers’ attempts to obstruct organizing. According to workers, Aramark managers had held captive audience meetings to intimidate and dissuade them from joining the union. Upon hearing these allegations, a group of students took to the hotel’s front desk and demanded that the supervisors respect the workers’ right to a fair organizing process. Eventually, after countless hours of students standing outside of the hotel’s back entrances and going to workers’ homes, a majority of hotel workers signed union cards with UNITE HERE.

Ultimately, the workers won almost all of their demands. Among the gains: workers in the dining hall won an increase in the minimum wage by $2.00 over the next 4 years; broader health care coverage with lower premiums; greater protection for immigrant workers; a sustainability committee that oversees the quality of food and how it is disposed; paid training for all cooks; and life insurance and a scholarship fund. The food court and hotel workers were guaranteed a fair bargaining process as they too joined UNITE HERE. Seeing the workers’ reactions to the final contract was an incredible culmination of a year’s worth of organizing––high-fiving a joyous hotel housekeeper when he finally achieved what he had wanted for so long was a true moment of triumph.

Solidarity between students and workers is immensely powerful. One of the best ways to convince workers that they could safely join the union was showing them videos of students rallying on their behalf. The Georgetown administration, prodded by GSC’s student mobilization, issued a letter reiterating the protection of the workers’ right to a fair unionization process. This made an enormous difference in showing non-union workers that the university had their backs.

GSC’s guiding philosophy is to act in solidarity with the workers, according to their expressed needs. This campaign demonstrates that the best change comes when workers and allies organize and create a united front to sway powerful companies like Aramark. Without hearing the demands of the people, wealthy corporations and individuals will continue to dominate at the expense of human life and dignity. Tangible change can come from a small but committed group of people working to expose abuses and to transform the way we think about power.



10 Solutions to Fight Economic Inequality

With a majority of Americans now concerned about wealth and income inequality in our country, TalkPoverty is launching a new feature, “10 Solutions to Fight Economic Inequality.” We asked experts to use this list by economist Tim Smeeding as a sample and to offer their ideas on how to dramatically reduce poverty and inequality in America. We hope you will use these lists as a resource to educate yourself and others, and that you will return here in the weeks and months ahead as we update this post with more lists from more contributors. As always, we welcome your ideas in the comments below. Anything particularly resonate? Anything missing?

Thanks for reading and sharing.

Jared Bernstein’s Top 10 to Address Economic Inequality

Melissa Boteach and Rebecca Vallas: Top 10 Policy Solutions for Tackling Income Inequality and Reducing Poverty in America

Olivia Golden: Policies to Reduce Income Inequality

Kali Grant and Indivar Dutta-Gupta: Ten Ways to Fight Income Inequality

Erica Williams: What States Can Do to Address Inequality

Valerie Wilson: Top 10 Ways to Address Income Inequality

Jared Bernstein’s Top 10 to Address Economic Inequality

(Author’s note: many of these ideas fall under the heading of achieving full-employment in the job market, such that the matchup between the number of jobs and job-seekers is very tight. This is an essential intervention for both real wage stagnation and inequality.)

  1. If the private market fails to provide enough jobs to achieve full employment, the government must become the employer of last resort.
  2. When growth is below capacity and the job market is slack, apply fiscal and monetary policies aggressively to achieve full employment. Right now, this means not raising interest rates pre-emptively at the Fed and investing in public infrastructure.
  3. Take actions against countries that manage their currencies to subsidize their exports to us and tax our exports to them. Such actions can include revoking trade privileges, allowing for reciprocal currency interventions, and levying duties on subsidized goods.
  4. Support sectoral training, apprenticeships, and earn-while-you-learn programs.
  5. Implement universal pre-K, with subsidies that phase out as incomes rise.
  6. Raise the minimum wage to $12/hour by 2020 and raise the overtime salary threshold (beneath which all workers get overtime pay) from $455/week to $970/week and index it to inflation.
  7. Provide better oversight of financial markets: mandate adequate capital buffers, enforce a strong Volcker Rule against proprietary trading in FDIC-insured banks, strengthen the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and encourage vigilant oversight of systemic risk in the banking system by the Federal Reserve.
  8. Level the playing field for union elections to bolster collective bargaining while avoiding, at the state-level, anti-union, so-called “right-to-work” laws.
  9. Maintain and strengthen safety net programs like the EITC and CTC, SNAP, and Medicaid.
  10. In order to generate needed revenue and boost tax fairness: reduce the rate at which high-income taxpayers can take tax deductions, impose a small tax of financial market transactions, increase IRS funding to close the “tax gap” (the difference between what’s owed and what’s paid), and repeal “step-up basis” (a tax break for wealthy inheritors).

Melissa Boteach and Rebecca Vallas: Top 10 Policy Solutions for Tackling Income Inequality and Reducing Poverty in America

  1. Create jobs by investing in infrastructure, developing renewable energy sources, renovating abandoned housing and significantly increasing affordable housing investments, and making other commonsense investments to revitalize neighborhoods.
  2. Improve job quality and strengthen families by raising the minimum wage to $12/hour by 2020; ensuring pay equity by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act; strengthening collective bargaining; and enacting basic labor standards such as fairer overtime rules, paid sick and family leave, and right to request flexible and predictable schedules.
  3. Make the tax code work better for low-wage working families by making permanent the 2009 Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit improvements and expanding the EITC for childless workers and noncustodial parents.
  4. Invest in human capital by expanding access to high-quality and affordable childcare and early education; creating pathways to good jobs such as apprenticeships, national service opportunities, and a national subsidized jobs program; and implementing College for All to ensure that any student attending public college or university does not need to pay any tuition and fees during enrollment.
  5. Ensure that workers with disabilities have a fair shot at employment and economic security.
  6. Reform the criminal justice system to end mass incarceration and remove barriers to economic security and mobility for the one in three Americans with criminal records.
  7. Enact comprehensive immigration reform that provides a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
  8. Expand Medicaid and ensure that all Americans can access high-quality, affordable health coverage.
  9. Close tax loopholes that benefit the wealthy and special interests and raise taxes on capital income.
  10. Protect and strengthen investments in basic living standards such as nutrition, health, and income insurance. This includes reforming counterproductive asset limits, and ensuring that programs such as unemployment insurance are there for more workers if they lose their job.

Olivia Golden: Policies to Reduce Income Inequality

  1. Make work pay for all workers, including childless adults, by raising the minimum wage and strengthening the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit.
  2. Ensure stability for workers and their families through access to paid leave and predictable job schedules. Pass federal bills such as the FAMILY Act, Schedules That Work Act, and Healthy Families Act that mirror strong state and local laws.
  3. Identify and tear down the systemic barriers that people face because of race, ethnicity, language, and immigration status, for example by making college prep courses equally available in high schools attended mostly by students of color or by providing work authorization and a path to citizenship for immigrant parents.
  4. Ensure that every working family can afford high-quality child care through significant investments in the Child Care and Development Block Grant, Head Start and Early Head Start, and preschool for all three- and four-year-olds.
  5. Give children and their parents a simultaneous boost through two-generational policies and investments, including home visiting, support for parental mental health, and support for parents’ career development coupled with high-quality early care and education for children.
  6. Help low-income youth and adults access employment and training opportunities that lead to economic success by fully funding the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) as well as subsidized and summer jobs programs.
  7. Fully fund Pell Grants to help low-income students access higher education and develop the skills needed to compete in a competitive job market.
  8. Ensure that everyone, including low-wage working families and single adults, has access to basic health and nutrition by expanding Medicaid in every state and increasing SNAP benefits.
  9. Strengthen capacity of states to employ more streamlined and integrated approaches to delivering key public work supports (such as health coverage, nutrition benefits, and child care subsidies) so low-income working families can stabilize their lives and advance their career
  10. Rebuild unemployment insurance and cash assistance to ensure a strong safety net that supports poor and low-income children, families, and individuals when they need it.

Kali Grant and Indivar Dutta-Gupta: Ten Ways to Fight Income Inequality

  1. Correct political imbalances—strengthen and protect the Voting Rights Act, level the playing field for political contributions, and limit the influence of corporate lobbyists.
  2. Ensure that the wealthiest people and profitable corporations that benefit the most from our political and economic system contribute their fair share: reform “upside-down” tax expenditures (spending through the tax code that disproportionately benefits those with higher incomes), limit corporate welfare, and enact a robust inheritance tax.
  3. Amplify workers’ bargaining power by increasing fines for illegal anti-union behavior, encouraging minority unions, and reversing state laws that undermine unions and prevent them from collecting dues for benefits they provide workers at unionized workplaces.
  4. Update labor standards—raise the national minimum wage to $12 and index it to wage growth, require fair scheduling for workers, target employee-contractor misclassification and wage theft, and enact the Paycheck Fairness Act.
  5. Modernize the safety net—update Unemployment Insurance to reflect the changing nature of work; increase Social Security benefits and raise the cap on income subject to taxes; expand Medicaid in every state; and address flaws in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to refocus it on employment and child well-being outcomes.
  6. Provide families tools to manage their many responsibilities—provide at least 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, universal early learning and care, an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a child allowance, and comprehensive family planning services.
  7. Expand opportunities for current and future workers—invest in infrastructure and other nationally needed jobs; enact income-based loan repayment to increase higher education accessibility and affordability; and pursue full employment.
  8. Increase affordable housing and bolster consumer financial protection rules—promote fair and accessible banking, savings, and other financial vehicles and services for those excluded or abused by the current system.
  9. Attack racial and other discrimination across the board and enact comprehensive immigration reform, normalizing the status of more children and workers to increase their educational and work opportunities.
  10. Reduce the over-incarceration and over-criminalization by every level of government that restricts millions of Americans’ ability to support themselves and their families—especially among communities of color and high poverty areas.

Erica Williams: What States Can Do to Address Inequality

  1. Make state tax systems less regressive. State tax systems tend to ask the most from those with the least because they rely heavily on sales taxes and user fees, which hit low-income households especially hard. States can move their tax systems in a more progressive direction by strengthening their income taxes, adopting state earned income tax credits (or other low-income tax credits) to boost after-tax incomes at the bottom, and rejecting tax cuts that disproportionately benefit higher-income families and profitable corporations.
  2. Expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
  3. Raise the minimum wage and index it to inflation. States can raise wages for workers at the bottom of the pay scale by enacting a higher state minimum wage and indexing it so that it keeps up with rising living costs.
  4. Protect workers’ rights. States can raise wages by protecting workers’ right to bargain collectively and by strengthening and enforcing laws and regulations to prevent abusive employer practices that deprive workers of wages they are legally owed.
  5. Improve unemployment insurance.Unemployment Insurance helps workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own to avoid falling into poverty and to stay connected to the labor market. States that have cut benefits should restore those cuts; others should build on recent efforts to fix outmoded rules that bar many workers from accessing benefits.
  6. Establish subsidized employment programs for low-income parents and youth that provide temporary jobs of last resort (mostly in the private sector), such as those many states created in 2009 and 2010 through the TANF block grant.  These programs proved popular with participating businesses, families, and state officials of both parties.
  7. Improve the safety net. States can streamline the process for enrolling in child care assistance and other work supports. They also can boost the prospects of poor children by raising the amount of temporary cash assistance available to the neediest families, improving access to food stamps, and helping low-income families afford to rent a home in neighborhoods near good jobs.
  8. Spend less on prisons, more on schools.In recent decades, states imposed extremely harsh corrections policies that greatly increased both the number of prisoners and their average sentence, at great cost to state budgets.  By making these policies more rational, states could shift funding from prison to more productive investments, without harming public safety.
  9. Improve school funding formulas.  K-12 schools in low-income neighborhoods are often poorly funded because the local property tax base is so weak.  As a result, children from these neighborhoods begin their education without the resources and supports they need to succeed.  States can help by adopting funding formulas that give extra support to low-income districts.  Many state funding formulas don’t push back very much against these inequities; some even worsen them.
  10. Expand early education.States can help families work and kids learn by investing in quality, affordable early care and education programs, as well as after-school programs.

Valerie Wilson: Top 10 Ways to Address Income Inequality

(Author’s note: Given that the primary source of income for most Americans is the pay they receive from their jobs, wages seem like a logical place to start addressing inequality. These ideas are drawn from EPI’s Agenda to Raise America’s Pay.)

  1. Raise the minimum wage: Raising the minimum wage to $12 by 2020 would benefit about a third of the workforce directly and indirectly.
  2. Update overtime rules: Moving the overtime threshold to the value it held in 1975—roughly $51,000 today—would provide overtime protections to 6.1 million workers and provide those workers with higher pay.
  3. Strengthen and protect workers: Strengthen collective bargaining rights to help give workers the leverage they need to bargain for better wages and benefits and to set high labor standards for all workers, and support strong enforcement of labor standards to protect workers.
  4. Regularize undocumented workers to lift not only their wages but also the wages of all workers in the same fields of work.
  5. Provide earned sick leave and paid family leave, which would not only raise workers’ pay but also give them more economic security.
  6. End discriminatory practices that contribute to race and gender inequalities through consistently strong enforcement of antidiscrimination laws in the hiring, promotion, and pay of women and minority workers.
  7. Prioritize very low rates of unemployment when making monetary policy: Policymakers should not seek to slow the economy until growth of nominal wages is running comfortably above 3.5 percent.
  8. Create jobs through targeted employment programs and public investments in infrastructure.
  9. Reduce our trade deficit by stopping destructive currency manipulation.
  10. Use the tax code to restrain top 1 percent incomes.