Mary Jo Bane: Bringing Equal Opportunity for Children to an Unequal Society


– [Voiceover] The McFarland
Center sponsors and supports lectures, discussions, exhibitions, performances and the like that support questions of meaning, morality, and mutual obligation on campus. Today’s lecture is part of our hallmark lecture series, the Deitchman Family Lectures on Religion and Modernity. We’re really grateful to
John Deitchman and his family for having made that series possible. You can learn more about the center and find out about its many lectures online at holycross.edu/mcfarlandcenter, and, as some of the students will know, you can find many of our lectures online, including, in a few days, today’s lecture. So you can go back to
your friends and say, “You missed something good.” They can watch it in their dorm rooms at 4:00 a.m. or something. It’s not as good as
being here, but you know, tell them they should do it. Today we’re going to take up a topic that it really strikes me. I was saying to our speaker,
I have not really heard in any substantive way except for maybe abstract talk about
schools, about children. Children seem to me to be totally absent from all the debates I’ve heard on both sides in fact, in the campaign that’s been going on. The welfare of children in America is one that we obviously ought to take quite, quite seriously. I’m really happy to introduce today one of the most eminently
qualified speakers I know to help us think about children’s welfare, Professor Mary Jo Bane. Mary Jo Bane is the
Thornton Bradshaw Professor of Public Policy and Management at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where she teaches and does research in areas of public management, poverty, welfare, and social policy. Previously she was Assistant Secretary of Children and Families in the U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services under President Clinton. For those of us old enough to remember, she famously and very publicly, with Peter Edelman, one of her colleagues, quit that position. It was on the front page of the papers, because Clinton was putting
welfare reform in place. I gather you had been involved in the discussions behind that, but not happy about how
that would have turned out. It would have been her job to enforce those welfare reforms, and she quit rather than enforce those policies. She did find a good berth,
I believe, at Cambridge. Professor Bane is the author
of many books and articles on poverty, education,
families and welfare, including with Lawrence
Mead, “Lifting Up the Poor, “A Dialogue on Religion,
Poverty, and Welfare Reform,” published in 2003. She’s co-edited books, including “Poverty and Poverty
Alleviation Strategies “in North America” in 2009, “Taking Faith Seriously” in 2005, and “Who Will Provide, The Changing Role “of Religion in American
Social Welfare” in 2000. She’s had a lot of
interest in Catholic issues and public policy as
they’ve related together, and that’s a place – she’s one of the people
who’s brought them together in really great and interesting
ways over the years. She serves today on the
boards of the Pine Street Inn, Project Hope, and the
Community Builders, Inc., a nonprofit founded by a Holy Cross alum, whose properties include in
Worcester, Plumley Village, and other affordable housing
options here in Worcester. She chairs the board of the MDRC, a nonprofit research
council for social policy. Today she speaks to us on the topic “Bringing equal opportunity for children “to an unequal society.” Please join me in welcoming Mary Jo Bane. (applause) – [Mary Jo] Thanks, Tom. It’s a real pleasure to be here, and thank you all for coming out. When Tom sent the publicity for this talk, I noticed that I was here at Holy Cross during Eat, Drink, and Be Merry Week. This is not a particularly
merry talk, I’m afraid, but eating, drinking, and being merry seems like a splendid idea. I am very pleased to be here, and pleased to be part
of this lecture series. I compliment you for
your interest in the ways morality and public policy come together, and particularly for your interest in the welfare of children. I think it’s hard to imagine
a more important topic for our country and indeed for the world, and also one that’s
really appropriate for us to be thinking about as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday. Thank you for being here. What I want to focus
on today is inequality among children in America, how we can understand it and
do a little bit of thinking about what one might do about it. The fortunes of American children are really more unequal now
than they have ever been. That’s obviously something
that should trouble us all. I want to talk about
a couple of indicators and show a couple of graphs about the unequal fortunes of children, and then as I say, talk a little bit about what is behind them. One example, a good one to focus on, is inequality in college opportunities. This was a report done
by The Pell Institute for the study of opportunity
in higher education. This is the graph. What this graph shows is the extent, just one example showing
the extent to which kids’ opportunities and kids’ prospects are shaped and determined
by their families’ incomes. What this graph is showing is over time, from 1965 to about 2013,
I think is the last, The percentage of kids who finish college, conditional on their starting college, so kind of keep that in mind, depending on their family income. This top line shows the
percentage finishing college for the top fifth of
the income distribution, and this line shows the
percentage finishing college for the bottom fifth of the
family income distribution. You can not only see
the astonishingly large differences between these two numbers, but also how the gap between lower income and higher income families has increased really quite
dramatically over time. You see that kind of a diversion, that kind of a growing inequality in many, many indicators
of kids’ well being. If you look at things like
high school graduation, if you look at who enters college, if you look at how well
kids do on various things, you will see all these. Bob Putnam has recently
published this book called “Our Kids, the
American Dream in Crisis.” I recommend it to you if you
are interested in this topic. He has lots of graphs,
but also lots of stories. One of my friends described Bob as an Old Testament prophet with graphs, because he is really making it his mission to think about inequality among kids and what it is doing to our society, and that graph is just one of them. I want to talk a little bit about what’s behind the graph that I just showed and many of the other graphs
that Bob has in his book showing the differences
between the prospects of kids from lower income or lower class families, and from upper income
or upper class families, and try to understand what’s going on. One thing that’s going on
is pretty straightforward. Income matters in a variety of ways for the kinds of childhoods
that children experience, and the kinds of experiences they have. I made just a couple
of points in the slide. Better-off families are more
able to pay for college. I mean that’s probably one
of the most simple one. Better off families can send their kids to better elementary
and secondary schools, either because they are able to live in school districts
which are higher income and have better schools, or because they may be able to send their kids to private schools. Better-off families
invest more in their kids’ after school activities. Better-off families can
give their kids a head start in terms of quality daycare
and early education. The point about better-off families investing more in their
kids after school activities is really quite striking. This graph is also from Bob Putnam’s book, and it shows parental
investment in dollar terms, how much parents spend on their kids, on extracurricular activities, on the piano lessons,
on the club memberships, on the swimming, on the
tutoring, and so on. This graph shows, again,
the difference between parental spending in
the top income quartile and in the bottom income quartile. Again, as we saw in the first graph looking at college opportunities, what you see is not only a
really very large difference in the amount that is spent
by parents on their kids in the two different income groups, but also a huge gap
that’s growing over time. I think it is both the size of these gaps and the fact that they are
really growing over time that is especially troublesome. You also see this, and in
some ways this is a result of the things that I’ve
just been talking about, the fact that parents
are able to invest more, that schools are better and so on, that you see these
differences are associated with differences in academic achievement, as measured by a variety of tests. This particular graph comes
from data from the college board which is looking at college board scores in critical reading, math, and writing, again by family income. What you’ve got on the lower scale is family income going
from $20,000 to $200,000. But you can see, again, and
extremely large difference. If you could see this one over time, this gap, too, has been growing over time. What we have is we have
a set of indicators, and as I say, there are many of them, which show substantial differences between the kids of better educated
and better-off parents, the kids of not so well educated and not so well off parents, along a variety of indicators. Some of them are very directly associated with income, what you can pay for, what you can buy in terms of extra help for your kids and so on. But lower income means
other things as well, some things that are more
psychological perhaps, more social, not so
directly related to income. Lower incomes can mean
more housing mobility. One of the things you see when you look at the studies on housing mobility is how many times lower income
families have to move, often with disruptive
effects both on the family and on the kids’ schooling. Lower incomes can lead to food insecurity, and obviously to nutritional
deficits that affect kids. Lower incomes can also create a good deal of stress in families. Because when parents are
worried about what they have, parents are worried about
whether they can provide, that creates stress in the families, and that may mean less
consistent parental supervision, less consistent involvement. Another thing you see, which
is actually quite interesting, is that lower income
families, families with kids, are not as involved in communities, and indeed, in churches, than upper income and better educated parents. We sometimes have a stereotype that it’s the well
educated, the Harvard guys, who don’t go to church anymore. It turns out that actually
religious affiliation, church attendance, etc., are higher among better educated and better off people than they are among lower class or lower income people. I want to come back to that later on when we talk about some
things that can be done. I also want to talk about something that’s maybe a little
different way of looking at the opportunities for kids and the reasons for the growing inequality. That is the fact that
family structure matters. Family structure matters in
a number of different ways. The research on this is
actually pretty telling. Talking about family structure
I know can be controversial. It’s often very personal. But I think it’s really
important to talk about it when we’re talking about
the well being of kids. Why does it matter? Well, household instability matters. It turns out that very
tumultuous households, households which are not only experiencing residential moves but lots of different adults moving in and out, turns out those are
very damaging for kids. On average, the shared
long-term commitment of two adults is good for kids. It’s good for kids to have
that kind of stability in their life and the
investment of two adults. On average, more parental investment of time and resources improves
the prospect for kids. The research, I think, now, much of it done by Sara McLanahan, is really quite startling
and quite telling. And it turns out that there are
huge and growing differences in family structure, again
related to income and class. This is another of Bob Putnam’s graphs. Bob Putnam produced a lot of what he calls these scissors graphs. But this one, I think, is very
striking and very important. What this graph shows
is the percent of kids, and these are kids between
0 and 7, so young kids, the percent of kids who are
in single-parent households, usually female headed, but not always, but in single-parent households. What the graph shows is
the percentage of kids in single-parent households, first when their parents have
a college degree or more, and this line is for kids whose parents have a high school education or less. What you see is that for the
kids of better educated parents are much more likely, much more likely, this number is only about 9% of kids of better educated parents are in single-parent households
when they are young. This number is now above 60% for parents with a high school education or less. Again, you can see that there is just a dramatic increase over time, and a dramatic widening of the gap between better educated parents and less well educated parents. This, I think, is really worth exploring. Why does this not always work? There we go. Talking about family structure often leads to people shouting
at each other, frankly, and shouting at each other as to whether this is simply driven by economics, or whether it is really
a matter of culture. I actually think this is a false debate. I think it’s actually
very important that we listen to both sides of this debate and think about what they are saying. Now, the caricatures of the
culture or economics debate is to some extent exemplified
by these two books, Charles Murray’s book “Coming Apart.” Charles Murray is one of the people who really makes the
strong culture argument. Andy Cherlin is a
sociiologist at Johns Hopkins, and who makes the economics argument. Now to be fair to both of those authors, both of them recognize, to some extent, the truth of the other. But they do take these
different positions. One position says that
family and parenting choices are private. Behavior is shaped by
economic circumstances, and opportunities could be equalized through income transfers. The others say, well, you
know, that’s all fine, but you can’t really
explain it all by economics, and it is true that when people, what they would describe as behaving well, finish school, get married,
delay child bearing, read to their children,
the kids do just fine. That’s the way the debate is often framed. But the argument I want to
talk about with you today is an argument that says
that these two dimensions, the economic dimension and
the cultural dimension, are really interrelated. My own position is that much
is shaped by the labor market, but that it interacts
with family behaviors, it interacts with the way people
think about their prospects and that’s the argument
that I want to try to make. When you think about
inequality in general, when you think about income inequality, we know that one of the drivers of income inequality
overall, not the only driver, but one of the drivers, is
a pretty dramatic change in the labor market over
the last couple of decades. What we have seen in the labor market over the last couple
of decades is a growth in both high end jobs and low end jobs, and a shrinking of the
good jobs in the middle, a shrinking of the number of jobs that provide good incomes and good wages to folks with a high school education or less than a high school education. We’ve seen that change
in the labor market, and it means that the
better educated people are doing better, less well educated people
are doing not so well. It’s also interesting
that the labor market has changed in ways that differentially affect men and women. Much of the job growth at the
lower end of the labor market, or the lower end of
the income distribution is in jobs that have been traditionally, not necessarily rightly, but traditionally been considered women’s jobs. There is growth in the healthcare sector. There is growth in the education sector. There is job growth in the
retail and hospitality sector. Many of those jobs have traditionally been and remain jobs that
disproportionately attract women. We’ve also obviously seen a change in the opportunities for women, especially at the upper end
of the income distribution. It is now, as you all well know, but I’ve seen the change over my lifetime, in the kinds of things
that women could do. It is really so many more opportunities now open to women at the top. I think that these changes in the economy kind of shape the way people think not only about their
economic opportunities, but also about their families. Let me talk a little bit about – Let me illustrate this by talking about what I think is kind of a virtuous circle for the well educated. If you think about the
opportunities that are – Let’s think about what things look like for well educated men and women. Both men and women have
pretty good career prospects if they invest in their education, and if they invest in
establishing a career. What you find is that empirically, both men and women want
both careers and families. Both expect to share, by and large, in both income earning and child care. When you do surveys of
what people aspire to and what they’re looking for, but also when you look at
what they’re actually doing, when they’re getting married, how often they’re getting
married, and so on, you see that these expectations are there. When you think about the coming together of those expectations and desires, with the opportunities facing both men and women in the labor market, it makes sense for both men and women to delay childbearing, to
establish their careers, and when they are ready to enter into a committed partnership
and to have children, to do that at later ages. What you see among better
educated men and women is delays in both
marriage and childbearing, because people are
establishing their careers. You also then have families
that are established with resources, with the
kind of income resources that come from two earners, and the kind of of
resources that come from better educated parents, and those families are also able to bring more community resources to support themselves and their
children and their families. So they’re able to live
in supportive communities and support their children. The circle for the less well
educated is not so virtuous. Again, I believe that this
is shaped by economics, but interacts with the way
people see their opportunities, the way they see what can work for them, and therefore the way they see
parental and childbearing – the way they behave with regard to children and marriage. What you see, both among
less well educated adults, adults with less good
economic opportunities, they’re facing unstable job prospects, but the women, frankly, are
in a slightly better position. Women are in a better
position to take advantage of some of the economic
opportunities that there are. The men may drift into
the informal economy. They may drift into crime. They may resent the fact that
the women are getting the jobs but they certainly don’t
want to, themselves, it’s hard for them to think about many of the kinds of jobs
that might be open to them. That leads to a situation, and Bill Wilson, the sociologist, has written about this very eloquently, this leads to a situation
which for many women the men, frankly, don’t look like particularly good marriage prospects. They know that they
can support themselves. They are afraid that if they do make a partnership with somebody that they will end up supporting
that other adult as well. The dynamic that goes on
then is a dynamic that says, well, not sure we want to do this. The sociologist Kathy Eden
has done some wonderful work, which again I recommend to you, some wonderful qualitative work talking to women about
their family patterns, when they had children,
when they didn’t and so on. The title of the book is
“Promises I Can Keep,” and really many of the women
made the argument that, “I’m not going to get married until I know “I can keep the promises that I make, “and meanwhile I can
build a life for myself.” I think another element of this is that for less well educated women, women with not so good economic prospects, there are actually few
incentives to delay childbearing. When I talked about better educated women I made the point that for them, investing in education,
investing in a career, making sure they get
themselves established before they enter into
a committed partnership and have children, and for the better educated women it is usually done in that order, that that makes sense. That makes sense as a way of making sure, or making it more likely that they will have economic security, that they will be able to
enter into a partnership that is good for both of them. When you look on the other hand at the opportunities and the situations facing less well educated women, there is often not the incentive to delay childbearing. There are strong norms
in the community that having children is the most
important thing that you can do, that once you are established yourself that there is no reason not to do it. When you go back and look at this graph and the proportion of kids
in single parent families, when their parents are less well educated, high school education or less, this is not divorce. This is women having children
before they are married. Again, it kind of interacts with instability in the household. These households often have people moving in and out, and
I think that’s actually another thing that’s really
very, very bad for kids. We can think about, as
I say, a virtuous cycle of economic prospects and
economic opportunities, and both the opportunities
and the resources to be able to enter into stable
families for the well off, and a not so virtuous circle for those who are not so well off. As I say, I want to make the argument here that these are interconnected, and that we need to think, for thinking about prospects for kids, and believe, as I think
actually most people do, and as the research certainly shows, that a stable, two-adult
household is the best for kids. We have to worry about how
these things interrelate. That’s the background. This is a reasonably depressing picture. But I now want to talk some about what are some of the public policies, or what are some of the
ways that we can think about what to do about this. I’ve tried to think about it, and have tried to describe
it a little bit as a circle, so that the economic factors influence the behavioral factors, which in turn influence
the opportunities for kids, which in turn influences the economics. If you’ve got a circle,
you want to think about where in the circle does
it make sense to intervene? What are the places
that one might actually think about intervening? So to start with the economic side, again, as I said at the beginning, when you look at economic
inequality overall, it is large and it has been growing. To some extent this is driven by the differences in the returns to skills. We continue to see in the economy as it is developing in the United States, better returns to skills. Investment in education
and in job programs for both men and women
who do not go to college I think is actually very important. How to think about creating jobs. How to think about making
sure that there actually are economic opportunities for people. There’s huge disagreements
about how to do that. Obviously, a growing economy
is better for everybody than a not growing economy. How you actually provide
the infrastructure and so on to create jobs is not so easy, but something that we
sure need to think about. Another thing to think
about is earning support. There is obviously an argument going on in the presidential campaign, as well as in other places
about raising the minimum wage. There is pretty good evidence, I believe, that raising the minimum wage, at least if you don’t
get too carried away, is a good thing on average, even though, any of you who have
taken economics will know that raising the minimum
wage does have some effect on employment opportunities
for certain groups of people. But I think there are good arguments for raising the minimum wage. The Earned Income Tax
Credit is obviously a policy that supplements low
earnings for families. It’s quite substantial now. It was expanded a lot
under President Clinton, and is an important piece. People are now talking about not only maintaining the Earned Income Tax Credit, but making sure that it’s
available to more families and can do more for people. Criminal justice reform
and reentry programs is another topic that is
getting a lot of attention now, quite rightly and quite importantly. I think there is no question that the criminal justice system has wreaked havoc in many communities, especially
communities of color, and that has done enormous damage to the families in those communities, and to the individuals that have ended up incarcerated for periods of time. I think there is finally actually almost – There is finally a bipartisan recognition that a lot of this was
really like a bad idea, and some move to change it. It really is very important,
because again if you’ve got – The situation now is that, as you know, when people have criminal records they are often kept out of public housing. They are often kept out of employment. It just creates a terrific
dilemma for the people and for the families. I think a stronger
safety net is important. We have a large food stamp program. It’s extremely important. But part of what happened
in welfare reform, and Tom mentioned that I left the Department of Health
and Human Services because of the welfare reform. What happened with welfare
reform during the Great Recession is that it did not in fact respond to the income needs of families and left many families much poorer than they should have been. I think we need to think about that. Of course, investments in
early education and child care and home visiting programs are very good. We need to think, though, also about whether there are interventions, whether there are
policies that can address some other pieces of the circle, that can address the
childbearing piece of the circle and the entering into
committed partnerships or marriage piece of the circle. One thing that we know from research, and also from a lot of
cross-culture experience, is that educational and
economic opportunities for girls and women are
perhaps the best policy for providing incentives
and opportunities for them to delay childbearing and to delay entering into a committed partnership until they are able to do so. Again, I kind of see
that around the world, that when girls are educated and have more opportunities open to them, those things happen. Also, some education on the advantages of delaying childbearing and emphasis on planned and responsible childbearing. One interesting thing, I
don’t have a graph for it so you’ll just have to trust me, teen pregnancy rates,
teen pregnancy rates, have actually gone down a lot
over the last decade or two. They have gone down across classes. That is, pregnancy rates for
high school age girls and below not talking about 19-year-olds here. But teenage pregnancy
rates have gone down a lot. People don’t really understand quite why, but this is a good thing. It seems to have been a combination of delay in sexual activity
and also, to some extent, better protection during
sex for those who have it. I think that the change
in the teen pregnancy rate illustrates that abstinence
is indeed part of the message and can be effective, and that people are willing to do that. Most people, however, don’t believe that abstinence is going to
be the perfect message for people who are delaying
committed partnerships and childbearing until their 30s. Might be nice, but being realistic, it’s not something that people think, or that the research
shows, is a particular part of bringing about
childbearing at a later age. Obviously, contraceptive
use is important here. One of the policies that seems to be having an effect thought there now, we’re now doing some
randomized trials of it, are what are called LARCS, long-acting reversible contraceptives. These are contraceptives
that you don’t have to think about taking your pill every day, but indeed act in the long term, and I think that’s something
very important to do. What can be done in terms of public policy and so on in terms of marriage? You know, people have
been thinking about this and talking about it
for quite a long time. In the Welfare Reform
Bill back in the mid 1990s there was a lot of rhetoric, and a lot of incentive
money and so on put in for programs that encourage marriage. Frankly, they have not proven
to be particularly effective. I think we have to admit
that there’s no going back to the not so good old days, where a woman really had to get married because there wasn’t
anything else she could do. We’re not going to go back
there, and we shouldn’t. There are some public policy quirks, which are called marriage penalties, in both the tax code and benefit programs. That is, under certain
conditions you pay more taxes if you’re married than
if you’re not married or get less benefits if you’re married than if you’re not married. There are quirks that are worth fixing. I don’t believe that they
really have very much effect, but it sends a good message to fix them, and I think we should do that. It’s not clear that
punitive child support laws have done very much for us. There’s been a fair
amount of experimentation with marriage promotion
and education programs, and those have not proved very effective. There have been some good studies done, and it just doesn’t seem to be something we really know how to do. That’s from the public
policy point of view, not so many good ideas. These are two interesting books, I think, one by Isabel Sawhill,
“Generation Unbound,” who talks about really trying to build on the efforts to reduce teen pregnancy, to try to educate everyone
about the advantages of delayed and responsible parenting. The book “Marriage Markets,”
which is written by two lawyers really tries to think
about all the ways in which laws affect our behavior
and can be shaped. So I recommend those two. I’ve also been kind of trying
to think a little bit about, what the church can do, and especially what
parish communities can do. I hope I don’t get in
trouble for saying this, but I was watching the Synod on the Family and what the bishops were talking about. They were getting all
tied up in pretzel knots about whether people
should receive communion if they’ve been divorced. You know, I sit looking
at these statistics about marriage and
childbearing out of marriage, and sort of saying, “You’re not being particularly
relevant here, guys.” If you really want to think about making it easier for families to be genuinely committed partnerships, genuinely committed to raising their kids, think about all this economic stuff, and think about all the things that are getting in the way of
families staying together and investing in their kids. Think about that. Think about providing
a welcoming community, a community that can
be supportive of adults in different kinds of family situations, but especially to
provide communities where people can interact and see models of committed partnerships. Moralizing, I must say,
seems to me like a bad plan, and welcoming seems to
me like a better plan. I hope that as we live in our communities, especially our religious communities, we think about some of those things. That’s all I have to say in a formal way. There’s obviously lots more to say. One reason I like this
picture, by the way, which is from some propaganda
for the Boys and Girls Clubs, is that it really shows
the astonishing diversity among our children now. There could be a whole talk,
which I’m not going to give, about the challenges of that. The number of the births now, when you look at just
the children being born, almost 50% of them are children of color, or immigrants in one way or another, not the traditional
thing, and so we really have to take advantage of that, and I think that’s important. But it looks like we
have about a half hour for questions and discussion, so let me open up for that. One pretty cynical explanation, which I will offer, is that
poor people don’t vote. If they did it would, like, help. That’s certainly one thing to think about. I think another part of
the cynical explanation for why there has not been
much talk about poverty is the diversity of the poor population and the anti-immigrant, the racism that we know is an important
part of our society. We know that all too well. What can be done about it? Well, I hope that people
will understand that the future of the country is in its kids. The kids who are being born now, who are growing up now,
are both very diverse, and disproportionately
affected by poverty. Twenty percent of kids and
25% of kids who are under 6 live in families with incomes below the official federal poverty line. That’s quite shocking. The number overall, 14%,
is quite shocking also, but the fact that it’s
considerably higher for kids is very, very shocking. I think that to try to
help think both about our moral obligations, but
also our practical obligations. This is the future of the country. This is the group that will
be supporting us old people, that will be developing the
economy as it goes forward. That’s the only thing I can
think of that will do it. I think sometimes – Hilary Clinton, just for an example, has a long history of
concern for poor kids. She started off her career, many years ago when I first knew her, when she was working for the Children’s Defense Fund, and doing legal work in behalf of kids and wrote an article that
became sort of infamous about the rights of kids. She really does care. Politically, though, she is talking only about the middle class. I suspect that what’s
going on in her brain is saying, “Well, the
things that are going to be “good for the middle class are also “going to be good for the poor.” We just have to hope that
that’s going to carry on, and I think to some extent that’s true. If there are better jobs, if there are better income supports for folks with high school education that want to go into the middle class, that is going to help the poor. Nobody’s talking about
the safety net, though, except to talk about how to cut it. So that’s a real shame. Somebody way in the back. Way in the back. – [Voiceover] Thank you. – [Mary Jo] So your question is whether we should also be thinking about opportunities for kids
who don’t go to college. I absolutely agree with you on that. A little bit of a shorthand
of job preparation programs, but also more opportunities. It does seem as though the
economy as it is developing, and an economy which is
relying more on automation, the jobs that are completely routine are no longer being done by human beings. They are being done by machines. You can twitch about that,
but it does seem to be true. I think that better education,
even beyond high school, including community college
and vocational programs, is actually very important. But I think there’s an
interesting question, should everybody go to college? Well, maybe everybody should
go for a couple years, or we should have opportunities for them. But I think it’s a
legitimate question to ask. Do you have a position
or something that you – Well, you hope that programs can both support the families and
supplement the families. There’s a fair amount of good research now that suggests that preschool education, that a high quality pre-K program can improve the opportunities
for kids pretty dramatically. There are also some mentoring programs, some after school programs,
which have good results, and again, which help to
improve the kids prospects. There are also some programs, which again have been evaluated and show some promise of helping kids recognize
their college opportunities and match them up with them. It turns out, this
shouldn’t shock anybody, but it turns out that if
an application to college is really difficult to find and fill out, fewer people do it. This is especially true if your parents aren’t hanging over you making you do your college applications. So programs that try to
dramatically simplify that. One thing you see in the data, again I don’t have a graph for it, is that if you look at income
and test scores together, you find that the higher income
kids with low test scores go to college more often than poor kids with high test scores. That shouldn’t be. To some extent, the poor kids don’t know what their opportunities
are, and aren’t able to take advantage of the
opportunities that are there. It is also, of course,
the case that many places are very expensive, and we
need to something about that. But I think all of those kinds of things, supporting the kids
through school and so on, and obviously you can’t go to college if you don’t graduate from high school. Programs that try to identify
early on in high school the kids that need some special support, need some special academic support, have proven to be pretty important, too. The Earned Income Tax
Credit, as you probably know, is a supplement to earnings. You get it if you have earnings, not if you don’t have earnings. The Earned Income Tax Credit goes up as your earnings go up, to a plateau, and then goes down. As Tom said, it is helpful for
families which have earnings, and not helpful for families
which don’t have earnings. It is very politically popular,
partly for that reason. Don’t talk against it, because
it’s a really important part of the safety net. But what we have, then you say, okay, well, that’s great. What are the other pieces of
the safety net that we need? If you look at what happened during the worst parts of the Great Recession, food stamp recipiency tripled. Food stamps has become, in effect, the base safety net program. That’s good, because it provides people the opportunity to at least
have minimal nutrition. It was a life saver for families
during the Great Recession and is really very important. But cash support for families
during the Great Recession was virtually nil. There was unemployment insurance for some who were eligible for it. It actually turned out that
the Earned Income Tax Credit, there were enough families
with some earnings that it helped them some. But I think what happened in the mid 1990s when we reformed welfare, is that we reformed
welfare to be basically a system that supported working people, low-wage working people. It did that by a big expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, by making it much harder
to get regular welfare, expansion of Medicaid, and so on. It turned out that that
actually worked great when unemployment was like 4%. Because during that
period in the late 1990s you saw poverty rates go down. You saw poverty rates go down even for single-parent families, and that’s because the economy was so good that everybody was getting taken up in it. But we’re not there now,
and I do think we need to think about how we can
buttress the safety net. I try to think about it politically, and try to recognize
there’s this huge backlash against cash support for people. So what can we do about that? One thing we could do is
expand housing vouchers. That would be an
enormously important thing. But we really do need to think about the fact that families, for
certain periods of time, oftentimes reasonably
short, really do need cash, and really do need a cash safety net. I think it’s quite a shame that we are not talking about that at all. But I look at the politics,
and it doesn’t make me pleased. Again, and I talked a
little bit about this, but I think it’s important to recognize that when families are,
most low income families, are really struggling,
and are really stressed. Another change that you’ve
seen in the labor market over the last decade or
so is what’s being called the casualization of work. That is that there are fewer jobs with regular set schedules, and more jobs where you’re kind of called in, and so on. So the people – think about being a parent and having one of those jobs. Reading to your kid
comes quite a bit after getting to your job and
getting the meals prepared and putting the kids to bed. But I think it’s interesting
that you’re thinking about what are some of the ways that you might intervene there, and
home visiting programs are probably something that
you also have in Worcester, and they’ve proven to be quite effective. Getting the kids into pre-K at
age 3 is an important thing. Many cities now are starting
to think about that. I think there are ways to think about it. Again, think about, is this something that churches and community organizations can be more of a part of? Can they be supportive in this way, providing the setting, providing the means for people to do it. It’s a tough question,
especially for people whose first language is not English. I know that’s a huge
issue here in Worcester, as it is in Boston. I think the most important thing education institutions can
do is educate the kids. We tend to put a huge
number of burdens on schools in terms of solving social problems. Many schools are places that provide supports for the community
of various sorts. But I think that delivering
education to kids that engages them, that makes them think, and that provides the
skills that they need, and the knowledge that
they need to succeed, is really crucial. I don’t think that there
is a silver bullet solution to education policy. I think charter schools, many
charter schools are terrific. Many charter schools,
with all due respect, are not terrific. There are some public
schools that are terrific. There are many public schools
that are not terrific. I think that to say,
“Oh, well, if we just had “all charter schools
everything would be wonderful,” I think is just wrong. Because what we really need are schools where the teachers are well
prepared and dedicated, and where instruction – where the setting is safe and calm, and where instruction goes on. I spent some time last year
in the Boston public schools just kind of hanging around, kind of looking for what’s going on. They were trying to make the
transition to the Common Core, and to the new Park test, which now everybody is arguing about, actually I think a very good test, and watched, especially
in the math classrooms. The Common Core math is
actually quite sophisticated. It’s trying to teach the
kids to really reason and conceptualize and think. The teachers had never
been taught how to do that. There’s a huge job in improving
the skills of teachers, and also I think being willing, I think admitting as a society
that teaching is a profession which ought to attract the best, and ought to pay them well. Now, one of the – back in the old days, when girls could become
teachers or nurses or nuns, it turns out that the girls who are now becoming doctors and lawyers
and heading tech companies, were teachers. But now they’re not. The boys aren’t doing it either. You think about where are the top-notch school systems in the
world, and what do they do? They treat their teachers really well, and they pay them really well. I just don’t see how we can pretend that we can solve the education problem with more testing or more charter schools, and not recognizing that the key is what goes on in that classroom with that teacher and those kids, and making that a high
quality, challenging experience for the kids in the schools. I just think that’s the key. But it’s a lot harder than saying, “Well, if we just paid
teachers for performance “everything would be fine.” Well, yeah, maybe. Sorry. I get a little carried away
on this particular topic. Yes. I guess one point I would make is that the dialogue at the national level, and especially at the level
of the presidential campaign, is, with all due respect
to the candidates, pretty dreadful. It’s actually pretty hard to think, given the polarization in Congress, that a lot is going to
happen at the federal level. But, where things do happen
is at the state level and at the local level. Mayors, and mostly, though
not entirely governors, they really have to do things. Thinking about what can be
done at the level of the city, what can be done at
the level of the state, I think is actually much more promising. The federal government
is never going to fund pre-K education, but states
are funding pre-K education. Cities are funding pre-K education. Cities and states are investing in home visiting programs for their kids. Cities are experimenting with how do they work with the nonprofits, and how do they work with
the places in the community. I think there are promising
things to do there. I also think kind of thinking about what we can do in our
community institutions, what we can do in our churches, in our congregations, in our parishes, I actually think is really very important. So to think about what
are the particular places that people can intervene, I think there really are
some promising places. Okay. – [Tom] Thank you. (applause)

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