Changing of the guard

Changing of the guard

Joe Biden assumed the presidency on Wednesday at a moment of historic challenge. The coronavirus pandemic, spiraling joblessness, deep and persistent racial and economic inequity, a warming climate and teetering institutions of democracy will frame the work of his administration. Biden moved quickly to address some of those challenges through administrative actions, including several executive orders aimed at coordinating America’s pandemic response. The Nation’s John Nichols runs down the list of Biden’s other first-day orders, which seek to unwind some of President Donald Trump’s signature policies:

Reversing the Trump administration’s climate denialism, he re-embraced the Paris climate accord, canceled the Keystone XL pipeline, and initiated what League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski hails as an “all-of-government approach to climate action, environmental justice, a clean energy economy, and a healthy democracy.” Recognizing the need to bury Trump’s twin legacies of racism and xenophobia, Biden put an end to the anti-historic efforts of the 1776 Commission to make excuses for human bondage, ordered federal agencies to take steps to ensure racial equity, barred workplace discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, and required that noncitizens be included in the Census. He halted construction of Trump’s border wall, reversed the former president’s expansion of immigration enforcement, and ended a Muslim ban that, in the words of Representative Ilhan Omar, stemmed “from a hateful ideology that justifies dividing people based on their religion and country of origin.”

Biden also moved quickly to remove several Trump-era officials who had declined to resign before the transition. Among them, reports Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern, was Peter Robb, general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board, and a longtime foe of organized labor:

The NLRB was created to enforce federal laws that guarantee workers the right to form a union and bargain collectively. Yet Robb is vehemently anti-union; during his tenure, he tried to limit employees’ free speech, give managers more leeway to engage in wage theft, hobble unions’ ability to collect dues, and prevent employers from helping workers organize. He also tried to seize near-total control of the agency by demoting every regional director and consolidating power in his office. If successful, this gambit would’ve given him unprecedented authority to bust existing unions and prevent new ones from forming.

A slow unwinding of harmful Medicaid waivers
While President Joe Biden can change many Trump administration policies through executive orders, some policies will take longer for the new administration to undo. This includes waivers that allowed states to impose harmful work reporting requirements on Medicaid recipients, which federal courts recently struck down. As Nicholas Bagley explains in the Atlantic, states are appealing those court decisions, and procedural changes Medicaid administrators made on the way out the door may complicate efforts to walk back policies that cut tens-of-thousands off from health coverage before the pandemic:

(T)he law requires federal agencies to follow certain procedures—many quite persnickety—when they make changes to government policy. And reversing Trump-era policy is all the more difficult because the administration is using its remaining days in office to create additional procedural obstacles to insulate its decisions from reversal. The Biden administration will therefore have to balance a desire for speed against the need to protect its actions from court challenges. The threat of judicial review looms especially large because President Trump has stacked the courts with zealous conservatives who view the administrative state with suspicion and who are unlikely to take a charitable view of the new administration’s actions.

Fewer men are enrolling in college
For many families, the economic hardships of the coronavirus pandemic have forced hard choices about how to make ends meet. Now, Jon Marcus writes in the Hechinger Report, colleges are seeing many young men skipping college to enter the workforce, a move that offers relief from immediate economic pressures but often hobbles the earning potential of those same people over time:

Not everyone has to go to college. Faster and less costly career and technical education can lead to in-demand, well-paying jobs in skilled trades, automation and other fields. Graduates with bachelor’s degrees still generally make more than people with lesser credentials, however. And the pandemic has shown that people without degrees are more vulnerable to economic downturns. Unemployment for them, nationwide, rose more than twice as fast in the spring as unemployment for people with bachelor’s degrees, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco found.  

Fewer Louisiana kids started school
State funding for Louisiana’s public schools is tied to the number of students a school enrolls; schools with fewer students receive fewer state resources. This year, with many parents of young children concerned about Covid-19 exposure and many workers sidelined by public health requirements, schools across the state are seeing enrollments drop, driven by declines in pre-K and kindergarten attendance. As | The Advocate’s Della Hasselle and Faimon Roberts explain, these declines are steepest in the New Orleans region:

Four of the area’s seven public school districts — Jefferson, Orleans, St. Tammany and St. John the Baptist — saw drops exceeding the state’s average decline of 2.3%, and all seven parishes saw at least some enrollment decline this year, according to Oct. 1 counts released by the Louisiana Department of Education this week. The downtick marked the biggest drop in at least three years, an analysis of the state data shows, and in several cases bucked longer-term trends that show steady increases over a several-year period.

Job opportunity: State Policy Fellowship
The State Policy Fellowship is an exceptional opportunity to develop in-
depth policy expertise.  Fellowship responsibilities include tracking and analyzing legislative proposals and state budgets as well  as conducting research and analysis on state budget, tax and other issues to improve the lives of families from all backgrounds. Fellows will also produce reports and other materials for use by  policymakers, journalists, advocacy groups and civic organizations and collaborate with community based advocates to engage the public on the impacts of public policies on their communities. Check out the information session on Thursday, January 21 at 3:00 PM ET. Click here to register

Number of the Day
9% – Projected drop in homeownership among young Black millennials in 2040, compared to homeownership rates among Black boomers. Structural barriers to homeownership, and the disproportionate impacts of the Great Recession, Covid-19 and other disasters on Black households, have widened the homeownership gap between Black and white Americans. (Source: The Urban Institute)