Wednesday, February 10, 2016

ProPublica: Debt and the Racial Wealth Gap

Income inequality is a top policy issue in America. The middle class are no longer the majority and falling behind financially. Meanwhile, the percentage of affluent families and poor families have increased. The racial wealth gap is an even more pronounced problem in America. According to ProPublica, even small debt has an enormous price on the well-being of black families:
IF you are black, you’re far more likely to see your electricity cut, more likely to be sued over a debt, and more likely to land in jail because of a parking ticket.

It is not unreasonable to attribute these perils to discrimination. But there’s no question that the main reason small financial problems can have such a disproportionate effect on black families is that, for largely historical reasons rooted in racism, they have far smaller financial reserves to fall back on than white families.

The most recent federal survey in 2013 put the difference in net worth between the typical white and black family at $131,000. That’s a big number, but here’s an even more troubling statistic: About one-quarter of African-American families had less than $5 in reserve. Low-income whites had about $375.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Social Work Day on the Hill - March 1-2, 2016

March is Social Work Month. Social workers from across the country will gather together for a day on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC:
BSW, MSW, PhD social work students and new entry profes­sionals from across our nation will join together in Washington DC to attend the second annual student-led Social Work Student Advocacy Day on the Hill. The Congressional Auditorium in the Capitol Visitor Center from 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM is the location of the full-day conference that is organized by social work students and sponsored by the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy (CRISP) and the Greater Washington Society for Clinical Social Work (GWSCSW). Come meet and greet other social work students, new entry social work professionals, and other colleagues. The March 1st, Social Work Student Advocacy Day on the Hill is the kick off event for the Congressional Social Work Caucus' Annual “Social Work Day on the Hill” on March 2, 2016.

The goal of the March 1st event is to discuss how policy is shaped and learn the critical issues that affect the social work profession and our consumers. This year's event will focus on H.R. 3712, the Improving Access to Mental Health Act of 2015. Hands on training will provide unique opportunities for engaged social work students and others to learn first hand how advocates can promote professional growth and inclusion. Hear how event speakers and other leaders voice ideas and the professions concerns to legislators and Congressional staff. Most importantly, experience the power of social work by getting involved in collective engagement and experience the impact of direct advocacy efforts.
Click here to register for the event. The cost for registration is $25.00 which includes lunch. Early career professionals, guests, and sponsors are welcomed to participate.

Former congressman Edolphus "Ed" Towns, in conjunction with the Congressional Social Work Caucus and its Chair, Rep. Barbara Lee, invite you to attend the Social Work Day on the Hill. It will be held on Wednesday, March 2, 2016, on Capitol Hill. For more information, contact Charles E. Lewis Jr. at In the meantime, browse the 2015 press release and 2015 report of Social Work Day on the Hill.

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Flint, Michigan Water Crisis

As a former Detroiter who now lives in Washington DC, my heart cries out for the residents of Flint. The blame lies at the incompetent state officials who prioritized cutting costs over providing healthy water to the people. Though the Obama administration announced $80 million in federal aid to the city of Flint, please spread the word about the crisis in Flint because the water is still unsafe to use. Let's be honest -- this preventable tragedy is an example of environmental racism where leadership is indifferent to the deplorable conditions in which poor and minority residents live. State officials would have never provided polluted water to wealthy communities.

From Diversity, Inc:

The city of Flint, with a population of nearly 100,000, is majority African-American — in fact, at 57 percent, its Black population is more than three times the national average. Additionally, more than 41 percent of residents live beneath the poverty line — nearly three times the national average.

The lead contamination occurred after the state decided to separate Flint’s water system from Detroit’s water line in spring 2014 as a cost-saving measure, switching Flint’s water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River — which already had a bad reputation as a polluted water source. A class-action lawsuit alleges the state Department of Environmental Quality did not treat the water for corrosion, in accordance with federal law, and the improperly treated water from the Flint River allowed lead to leach from the pipes into the water supply.

From the Detroit Free Press:
In Flint, where lead-poisoned water has sparked international outcry, the image of Sincere Smith, his skin covered by severe rashes his mother believes are the result of bathing in the contaminated water, has become a symbol of the city's suffering.
Related content in TIME Magazine and the New York Times:

Amid Deplorable Conditions of Detroit Public Schools, Teachers Stage Sickouts

Like the toxic water situation in Flint, Detroit is facing its own crisis. A decade of bad decision-making, privatization of services (e.g., maintenance and transportation), and emergency financial managers has not stopped the declining student enrollment, corruption (as with the federal indictment of ex-Chicago Public Schools superintendent and former DPS academic and accountability officer, Barbara Byrd-Bennett), and mounting debt in Detroit Public Schools (DPS). The school system is so inundated with debt that it lacks funding to focus on repairs to aging school buildings. Years of neglect and delayed maintenance has created a toxic situation where students and teachers are exposed daily to dangerous elements: water leaks, mold, falling ceiling tile, exposed electrical wiring, dead rodents, and other poor conditions. Students cannot use the gym because it is unsafe to use. Students have to wear coats in their classrooms because there is no heat in their building. Yet, the state leadership continues to be indifferent towards poor and minority children learning in inhumane classroom settings.

From Diversity, Inc:

Teachers in Detroit have been protesting the deplorable conditions of their schools and on Wednesday staged their biggest “sick-out,” where teachers refused to work to bring attention to the matter. This forced 88 of the city’s 97 public schools to close, according to the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) Facebook page.

Some of the problems schools face include significantly overpopulated classrooms, leaky ceilings, mildew, broken heaters, warped floors, bugs and rats. In addition to the poor building conditions, teachers are also protesting cuts in salaries and increased health care expenses.

Like Flint, Detroit is also a majority-Black city, with 82.7 percent of its population being Black. This greatly contrasts with the overall population of Michigan, which is 14.2 percent Black, as well as the U.S. Black population of 12.7 percent.

Related content:

Michigan Radio: In fight against Detroit unemployment, study finds "there is no silver bullet"

Detroit suffers from a high unemployment rate for a variety of reasons. I will focus on the distribution of jobs, in which the majority are located in the suburbs. Some suburbs do not have bus routes because a state law allows suburbs to "opt out" of bus service in their community. This creates a haphazard situation for people who rely on public transportation. If there is no bus service in the location of the employer, then the job is not accessible to the person who is most needy for employment. For example, this Detroit man used to walk 21 miles to get to work because he relied on public transportation in the region. This kind of situation is utterly unheard of in other metropolitan areas. But it is not unusual for anyone living in a car-dependent state like Michigan. Unfortunately, there is no regional support for a sustainable regional mass-transit system in Detroit.

From Michigan Radio:

A new study finds there are many challenges to Detroit residents accessing job opportunities.

The report, Detroit’s Untapped Talent: Jobs and On-Ramps Needed, was commissioned by JP Morgan Chase and Company and was compiled by Corporation for a Skilled Workforce.

Jeannine La Prad helped prepare the report.

La Prad says the Detroit unemployment rate is chronically twice that of the statewide unemployment rate. She found that factor has been compounded by an insufficient number of jobs in Detroit, a mismatch between the skills and educational requirements for what jobs are available, and a lack of support structures like childcare and reliable transportation.

Related content:

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Daisy Elliott, Detroiter behind civil rights law, dies

From The Detroit News:

Daisy Elliott, an African-American civil rights advocate and former Michigan representative who helped push through a landmark law aimed at protecting against racial bias as well as other forms of discrimination, has died at age 98, friends and family announced late Tuesday.

The Detroiter spent 18 years with the Michigan House of Representatives, becoming “an effective and eloquent civil rights advocate, especially for workers, education, senior citizens, women, and minorities,” relatives said in a statement. But she perhaps was best known for authoring and co-sponsoring the historic Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.

The Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act is Michigan's anti-discrimination law. Passed in 1976, it prohibits discrimination on the basis of "religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, or marital status" in employment, housing, education, and access to public accommodations. The law is named for its two primary sponsors, Daisy Elliott, a Democrat from Detroit, and Melvin L. Larsen, a Republican from Oxford. It was signed into law by Michigan Governor William Milliken on January 13, 1977 and went into effect on March 31, 1977.