Thursday, June 26

Thursday, June 26

Poll: Views on poverty have shifted with economy
Almost half of all Americans believe that poverty is mainly caused by circumstances beyond a person’s control, not a lack of initiative, according to a new poll by NBC News. The results are significant because the last time the question was asked, in 1995, only 30 percent of the public thought poverty was caused by external factors while 60 percent thought the poor had themselves to blame for their circumstances. Says NBC News:

Other recent polling shows similar trends. A survey released last week by the Pew Center for People and the Press finds that Americans are now significantly more likely than they were in the mid-90s to say that life is hard for the poor because government benefits do not go far enough to help people live a decent life. The 90s were marked by economic growth and relative prosperity. Coupled with a Washington consensus that welfare was broken, Americans in large numbers flocked to the idea that the poor simply needed to work harder to achieve the American dream.

Yet despite the recent shift in attitudes about the causes of poverty away from an individual responsibility narrative, the Pew poll shows very little change in opinion about spending on government programs traditionally associated with poverty. And similarly, a 2013 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed two decades after President Clinton promised to “end welfare as we know it,” more respondents chose “too much government welfare that prevents initiative” as the leading cause of poverty than any other factor.

The Times-Picayune’s Jarvis DeBerry picks up on the idea that the prolonged economic slump is behind the attitude shift.

Most debates about poverty are little more than swapping of anecdotes. Somebody will mention a family who faced more bad circumstances than they could overcome only to be rebutted by somebody who mentions a family who did in fact overcome similarly difficult circumstances. And back and forth we go. One wonders, then, if the increasingly sympathetic view of poverty derives from increasing numbers of folks who’ve seen hardworking friends, family members and neighbors go under.

Louisiana ranks low on “opportunity” scorecard
The Pelican State is one of four states – along with New Mexico, Mississippi and Alabama – cited for “slow progress” in a detailed new report that tracks how economic mobility and opportunity has changed across America since 1970. The report by Opportunity Nation looks at economic factors such as jobs, wages, poverty and inequality alongside graduation rates, preschool attendance, violent crime and access to health care. The Washington Post sums up the findings:

Americans today have more social and educational opportunity than they did 40 years ago — but they have less economic opportunity, thanks to a bruising recession and the alarming economic trends that preceded it.

The Post cites two “red flags” for policymakers:

Opportunity overall decreased from 2000 to 2010, largely because the economic component of the index is lower now than in any previous decade. … The report also shows how misleading it can be to think of opportunity as a nationwide phenomenon. Recent economic research has shown economic mobility varies widely across states and metropolitan areas. The Opportunity Index is no different: States began in 1970 with wildly varying opportunity scores, and they have improved (or in the case of Nevada and Michigan, fallen back) at different speeds since then.

The good news for Louisiana is that while it still ranks near the bottom on overall opportunity, it’s in the top 10 for most improved score since 1970, joining conservative states such as Arkansas and Kentucky along with liberal ones such as Maryland, Massachusetts and Vermont.

Common Core kerfuffle continues
The showdown between Gov. Bobby Jindal and his hand-picked state Education Superintendent John White escalated on Wednesday, with White telling the governor’s favorite news outlet, POLITICO, that Jindal’s attempt to scuttle the Common Core state standards amounts to a civil rights violation that hurts poor children.

The great benefit of Common Core, White said, is that it sets a high bar for students all across the nation. The consortium test is designed to see who’s measuring up. When the exams are given for the first time next spring, parents in Louisiana will be able to compare their children’s performance to peers in Illinois or New Jersey — or, for that matter, Singapore, since the exams are internationally benchmarked. For Jindal to deny students that opportunity, White said, is unconscionable.

Meanwhile, reports that the standoff, which thus far has mainly been a war of words, might soon affect actual families.

Thousands of Louisiana families could be in extended limbo about whether their fourth- and eighth-graders will advance due to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s suspension of a major standardized test contract in his fight to roll back Common Core. Education Superintendent John White sent an email to the state’s superintendents and charter leaders Wednesday evening telling them to keep completed summer re-tests locked up securely and not send them to the Data Recognition Corporation to be scored.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. to discuss the matter.

Three Southern campuses denied tuition authority
Three campuses in the Southern University System failed to meet performance targeted laid out in a 2010 state law and will not be allowed to raise tuition next year as a result, The Advocate reports. The tuition dollars had already been factored into the campuses’ budgets for the upcoming fiscal year.

For the three already cash-strapped Southern University campuses, it means that they will have less money than they anticipated. During a recent SU System Board of Supervisors meeting, Vice President for Finance and Business Affairs Kevin Appleton told the board that the system has been propping up its budget by depleting its reserves.

Number of the Day

$10.76 – The new average minimum wage at IKEA’s 38 U.S. stores – a 17 percent jump from the company’s current wage and $3.51 above the federal hourly minimum of $7.25. (Source: New York Times)