Why Does Hillary Clinton Champion Universal Pre-K, But Disregard Universal College?

Hillary Clinton has made universal pre-k a major part of her campaign platform. She has thrown her support behind this ambitious policy proposal because she believes that it would offer “better prospects for lifelong economic opportunity.”

She laments how “only 55 percent of all America’s 3 and 4 year olds are enrolled in preschool.” And predictably, lower income families are the most affected. Only 64 percent of four-year-olds from families making 50-60k a year are able to attend preschool. That’s well below the rate of attendance for families making more than $100,000 (89 percent).

What’s worse? The rest of the developed world is passing us by. As Clinton notes, “many of our economic competitors are racing ahead. They are making big investments in preschool and early education.” If America wants to remain competitive, she implores that we must “ensure that every 4-year-old in America has access to high-quality preschool in the next 10 years.”

Her argument for universalizing pre-k is extremely well made and convincing. I agree with her – “every child should have the tools and skills to thrive in tomorrow’s economy, especially those kids from our most vulnerable and at-risk communities.”

But couldn’t all of these points be equally applied to free college?

In fact, the Bernie Sanders campaign uses Hillary’s exact arguments for universal pre-k to advocate for tuition free college. According to Sanders, “in a highly competitive global economy, we need the best-educated workforce in the world.” Sound familiar?

Bernie’s free college plan would originate from federal funding, where “the federal government would pay $2 in matching funds for every dollar states spend on making tuition free at public colleges and universities. In a similar vein, Hillary’s pre-k plan would be achieved “by providing new federal funding for states that expand access to high quality preschool.” Their implementation is nearly indistinguishable.

At this point, Hillary would probably retort that implementing free college would be far more difficult than universalizing pre-k. This, however, would be a broad generalization that doesn’t match the reality. For there are those within the pre-k movement which highlight the difficulty of administering universal pre-k.

As Darleen Opfer, the education director at the policy think tank RAND Coproration, has stated: “You have to look at the trade-off. If you have a state that can’t afford high-quality preschool for everyone, where does the investment really make sense? To me it’s not an issue of whether or not [pre-k is] a good thing. The clashes come over how to do it.”

It’s not just implementation either. Hillary loves using the line that “I don’t think taxpayers should be paying to send Donald Trump’s kids to college.” Yet once again, couldn’t this same critique of free college by applied to free pre-k? Or free community college (a policy she supports as well)? Or hell, even free high school?

Look, every politician maintains inconsistent beliefs. They do so not because they are malevolent, but because they are human. We should always give (slight) wiggle room to politicians to “evolve” on issues and resolve their inconsistent positions. After all, we give family and friends this same benefit of the doubt.

This inconsistency, however, seems egregious. Clinton fancies herself a “progressive who gets things done” – a clear implication that she does not let lofty ideals get in the way of practical policy implementation. By advocating for universal pre-k and community college, while at the same time disregarding universal college, Hillary Clinton doesn’t sound like a pragmatist, she sounds like a disingenuous politician. It highlights a lack of imagination from her campaign and from the candidate herself.

Free college at public institutions will happen – it is only a matter of time. Now, as Hanna Brooks Olsen pointed out yesterday, free college is not a magic wand. It will not solve every problem and even if implemented there will still be systemic roadblocks which will hinder the progress of low income Americans. But the same critique can be applied to universal pre-k. And Hillary Clinton knows that.

Daily Clips: February 24th, 2016

Twilight of the Super PAC: 

Super PACs are new phenomena in American politics. They are a product of two judicial decisions: the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, delivered in January 2010, and the D.C. Circuit’s decision in Speechnow.org v. Federal Election Commission, two months later. Together, these two decisions enabled the creation of a new entity: a political action committee that could accept unlimited donations so long as it did not coordinate its expenditure with any political campaign…

Disgust with the costly ineffectiveness of super PACs may explain one of the most important mysteries of the current phase of the 2016 campaign.

Bill Gates says the energy breakthrough that will “save our planet” is less than 15 years away: Ezra Klein talks with Gates at length (forty minutes) about technology, innovation, and energy. As you may expect, the conversation is riveting. Here are some tidbits from the interview I found particularly interesting (and relates to our robots and automation podcast where we address Gates’ dystopian visions):

EK: I know you take the risk of creating artificial intelligence that ultimately turns against us pretty seriously; I’m curious where you think we are in terms of building artificial intelligence.

I know there’s a lot of disagreement in the field about, are we 40 years away? Are we 500 years away? What do you think is the state of AI research right now, and when do you think it will really begin feeding back into the economy and into innovation?

BG: Well, with robotics, you have to think of three different milestones.

One is just pure labor substitution for jobs that are largely physical and visual manipulation — driving, security guard, warehouse work, waiter, maid. That threshold — I don’t think you’d get much disagreement that over the next 15 years the robotic equivalents in terms of cost, in terms of reliability, will become a substitute to those activities. So that’s the first stage, and you’d get less variance in that prediction.

Then there’s what we think of as “intelligent activities” — things like writing contracts, or doing diagnoses, or writing software code. When will the computer start to infringe? “Infringe” is a pejorative word. When will it start to have the capacity to work in those areas? Some might say 30 years — I might be there. Some might say 60 years. Some might not even say that.

Then you have the sort of third threshold, where the intelligence involved is dramatically better than humanity as a whole, and there you’re going to get a huge range of views, including those who think it won’t ever happen. You have Ray Kurzweil, who says it will happen, I think, at midnight on July 13, 2045, or something like that, and it will all be good. Then you have people who say it can never happen. Then you have the group that I’m more among, that says, “Okay, we’re not able to predict it, but it’s something that people should start thinking about.” We shouldn’t restrict activities or slow things down, but the potential that that exists — even in a 50-year time frame — means it’s something to be taken seriously.

But those are different thresholds, and the responses are different.

Noam Chomsky’s take on Trump: The far-left intellectual has attributed Donald Trump’s rise to “fear” and a “breakdown of society.” He says that “people feel isolated, helpless, victim of powerful forces that they do not understand and cannot influence.”

I would reply to Chomsky by saying that this nothing new. For many centuries Americans have been isolated and helpless. However, the difference now is that white people are feeling “victim to powerful forces” – a subjugation they have often escaped.

Tweet of the day:

Daily Clips: February 23rd, 2016

David Brooks pontificates about marriage: Of course he does. The guy cannot write a column without the words “moral” and “spiritual.” Get a load of this generalization he endorses from psychologist Eli Finkel:

The best marriages today are better than the best marriages of generations ago; the worst marriages now are worse; over all, the average marriage is weaker than the average marriage in days of yore.

Does he provide any specific data to back up such an anecdotal claim? Of course not. Also, check out this amazing reader comment:

One of the most popular forms of marriage until recently was the ‘shotgun’ marriage, where marriage proposals took the form of coitus pregnantus, and a lifelong union was born, for better or for worse.

Many of these marriages lasted a lifetime, and many caused a lifetime of utter misery.

Fortunately, thanks to the waning hypnotic power of both religious prisons and traditional misogyny and modern contraception – including a woman’s right to manage her own body parts – the ‘shotgun’ wedding has mostly been relegated to America’s Bible Belt where the dynamic duo of abstinence ‘sex education’ and Bible Study still seems to produce a bumper crop of impregnated teenage girls, forced pregnancies and shattered economic futures.

Congress has only now banned slave labor in US imports: TIL.

US consumer confidence ebbs: Worries of a recession coupled with “relentless declines in oil prices” contributed to a fade in consumer confidence this month. The Conference Board Consumer reported that its consumer confidence index “fell to 92.2 from a reading of 97.8 in January.”

There Are Kind of a Lot of Reasons Why Poor Kids’ Degrees are Worth Less

poor kids earn less

Hooray! Debt!

New numbers from the Brookings Institute demonstrate something that a lot of first generation college students already know: Your degree, despite being printed on the same paper and costing every bit as much (actually, if you took out loans, it could be much more expensive by the time you’re done paying it off) as that of all the students in your class, seems to be worth less than you’d thought it would be—and certainly less than your guidance counselor promised you.

Exactly how much less, though, is pretty startling. From Brookings:

College graduates from families with an income below 185 percent of the federal poverty level (the eligibility threshold for the federal assisted lunch program) earn 91 percent more over their careers than high school graduates from the same income group. By comparison, college graduates from families with incomes above 185 percent of the FPL earned 162 percent more over their careers (between the ages of 25 and 62) than those with just a high school diploma.

So while a bachelor’s degree will help you earn more than if you had no bachelor’s degree (at least until you’re in your 60s), if you grew up in an economically distressed household, you can expect it to be a much smaller bump than if your parents had means.

That result flies in the face of the popular notion that going to college is a one-way ticket out of poverty and into a better life…which again, is something that most students who grew up poor and went to college have already discovered. And it’s not for one single reason; instead, the modesty of the “bachelor bump” for students who come from poorer households can be explained in any number of ways.

In the Brookings blog post on the data, nonresident fellow Brad Hershbein posits several explanations, including “family resources during childhood and the place where one grew up, to the colleges that low-income students attend“—all of which are plausible and in fact likely to contribute to the earnings gap. However, those are just a handful of the many, many, many, many forces and systems and assumptions and realities which make digging out of poverty difficult, despite a degree.

This is why, though reducing the economic burden of debt would be a large step in reducing income inequality, free college (which we recently wrote in favor of!) will not—in fact, it cannot—by itself break the cycle of poverty. Because though the cost of tuition is certainly a barrier to entry, it’s not the only one—and reducing it doesn’t curb the obstacles upon entrance or exit. Until myriad other systemic and academic issues are addressed, poor kids may earn a little more if they get a degree, but they certainly won’t be delivered from poverty entirely simply by virtue of obtaining it. 

It literally begins at childhood and continues through the maze of secondary school, in and out of college, past the burden of student debt, and then onward into the job market.

Let’s start at the beginning, when poor kids experience more stressful, traumatic situations than affluent children, which can lead to behavioral issues and learning delays. Let us also consider the well-documented impact of poverty on the education students receive in elementary, middle, and high schools, and the scholastic advantages that wealthier kids get from an early age. Before a child is even close to studying for the SATs—where they’re likely to under-perform—they’re set up for failure.

Now, assume a child from a poor household graduates from high school—which is statistically less likely than if they were wealthy—and goes to college. They are more likely than wealthier kids to have parents who did not go to college, which present a host of social and economic barriers which their peers don’t have to deal with. First-generation college and poor college students are more likely to self-select mediocre colleges or simply not get accepted to better schools due to their background, often have to work during school, may still be supporting family back home, land typically have to take out more loans, which means they graduate with more debt (though even if that weren’t the case, investigations have found that colleges just saddle poor kids with more debt anyway.) That is, if they graduate at all, which again, they are less likely to do even if they’re smarter than rich kid sitting next to them.

But still, lots of poor students do graduate from college, obtaining that coveted degree and also a hefty loan tab which they’ll have to pay back. The specter of that debt often drives middle-income kids back in with their parents (you’ve heard of boomerang kids, I assume), but for poorer students, moving back home often isn’t an option, or it means moving back to an economically-depressed area where job prospects are limited. This is one of many reasons that just under half of low-wage workers also happen to have college degrees.

If the new college graduate, though, does manage to finagle their way into a situation where they can both make their loan payments and their rent in a city where they may be able to find a job, they’ll still miss out on key indicators of success that their wealthier peers may enjoy. Those include but aren’t limited to: Social and networking connections throughs parents or alumni organizations that can lead to more prestigious internships or jobs, the ability to take unpaid internships which may pay off down the road, the ability to take slightly lower-paying positions which may ladder up to something more lucrative, and not knowing what options are available to them.

In its initial report, Brookings doesn’t break down the “bachelor bump” by race, but it would be a mistake, not to factor in the role of racial income disparities when talking it; though class and income are, of course, important indicators, race is still a major division when it comes to test scores, graduation rates of both high school and college (though those gaps are closing slowly), unemployment even with a degree, and overall earnings. Today’s most lauded jobs—the ones with the highest earning power—are often those in tech, which statistically has a terrible reputation of hiring a diverse workforce. The truth is that people of color are still simply doing worse in the United States, even when they go to school.

Though college is still one of the better tools in breaking the cycle of poverty, it’s untrue to plainly state, without qualification, that going to school will unequivocally help poor kids earn more than their parents. If we are serious about closing the gap between the wealthy and the not-wealthy, the solutions we choose much start early, acutely and directly address systemic racial discrimination, and prioritize more than just college attendance and graduation.

There Is No Evidence That Marco Rubio Would Be a Better President Than Donald Trump

Trust him. He knows exactly what he's doing.

Trust him. He knows exactly what he’s doing.

This morning, Nick Cassella shared an excellent Vox video about why the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency is so scary. And I agree: Donald Trump’s success is terrifying and disappointing. Obviously. He’s made his name, repeatedly, through hate speech. (It’s not a coincidence that the people Trump has problems with are nonwhite.)  He retweets white supremacists with alarming regularity. He is a terrible candidate, and the fact that he’s right now the Republican frontrunner should be a cause for shame among Americans.

But as the presidential field starts to slim down—so long, Jeb!—Republicans are coalescing behind a single establishment candidate. And it looks like that establishment candidate is Marco Rubio. Vox has also published a piece by Matthew Yglesias about why Rubio is a terrifying candidate. It identifies Rubio’s three biggest problems—his budget is ludicrous, his foreign policy is potentially disastrous, and he’s bad on civil liberties—clearly and concisely. We here at Civic Skunk Works have been on the Rubio tip for a while now. We’ve written a lot about his failures as a candidate. A partial list follows:

• Hanna Brooks Olsen wrote about Rubio’s problematic take on the minimum wage. In short: Rubio knows you can’t survive on the minimum wage, but he still wants to keep the minimum wage low. What alternative does this give the working poor in America?

• Nick Cassella has written about Marco Rubio’s plans to address college debt, which many people suggest would result in something no better than “indentured servitude.”

• And I have written about Rubio’s astounding lack of ideas, and investigated the many serious problems with Rubio’s tax plan:

What you have here is a candidate who believes the wealthiest Americans—the top 1 percent, yeah, but more importantly the top 0.0003 percent, according to Bernstein—pay too much in taxes. And so naturally Rubio’s tax plan would result in significantly less revenue for the government. Wait, did I say “significantly?” I mean “disastrously.” Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor for the conservativeNational Review, noted in Bloomberg: “The Tax Foundation estimated that over the first 10 years that revenue reduction would amount to $6 trillion, unless the reform boosted economic growth.”

One would hope that as Rubio gains attention as the establishment candidate, the media will do more digging into the papier-mâché of his policies and uncover them as farcical.

The truth is, the Republican establishment is betting the house on a candidate who is about as reactionary as the outsider candidate they’re trying to defeat. The difference between Trump and Rubio is not nearly as huge as the Republican National Committee would have you think. Beneath that younger and slightly slicker package is a dangerously unrealistic candidate — just like Trump.

Here’s Why Unemployment Is Not the Best Measure of the $15 Minimum Wage

minimum wage increase

Damn you, $15 an hour minimum wage!


There are a handful of anti-minimum wage propagandists who jump on any monthly uptick in Seattle’s already low unemployment rate (or whatever statistic they’re obsessing on this month) as evidence that Seattle’s $15 minimum wage ordinance is an unmitigated job killer. Sure, anybody who actually lives here knows firsthand that Seattle’s economy is booming, but, you know, statistics don’t lie, or something.

Of course, it will take years to tease out the real impact of Seattle’s higher minimum wage, so all this short term analysis is just so much bullshit. But let’s for the sake of argument assume that the righties are right, and that a modestly higher minimum wage does in fact result in a modestly higher rate of unemployment.

Would that necessarily be a bad thing?

If you think about it, if you’re unemployed, what really matters to you personally is unemployment duration, not the unemployment rate — that’s the amount of time it takes you to find a new job. You know, the time during which you might expect to be unemployed.

Historically, the median unemployment duration has tended to be about 5 weeks, while the average came in somewhat higher at about 15 weeks, with both figures rising and falling somewhat in line with the unemployment rate. Likewise, the rate of longterm unemployment (defined as 27 weeks or more of unemployment) has tended to average about 1 percent, again, fluctuating somewhat in line with the overall rate of unemployment.

(The exception to all this was the Great Recession, when the rate of longterm unemployment soared compared to past downturns. Given that the number one predictor of your likelihood of finding a job is the length of time you’ve been without one, many Americans who lost jobs during the Great Recession may never work again.)

Seattle’s seasonally adjusted (though preliminary and uncorrected) unemployment rate has in fact risen about a point since bottoming out at a near historic low of 3.5 percent this summer. It would be stupid given what little data we have to blame this on our minimum wage, but again, for the sake of argument, let’s be stupid and do exactly that. So what exactly does this mean for our city’s low-wage workers?

Well, the fact is, at about 4.5 percent, Seattle’s unemployment rate is still so low as to fall within the range of what most economists consider to be “full employment,” and thus history tells us that at this rate it is reasonable to assume that unemployment duration should remain low as well. But even if unemployment duration increased substantially, Seattle’s minimum wage workers would still come out way ahead. That’s because any lost income from an increase in unemployment duration would quickly be made up by an increase in hourly wage.

At $13 an hour, Seattle’s minimum wage workers already earn $3.53 an hour more than the state’s $9.47 minimum wage, meaning it would take less than three weeks of work to make up for each additional week of lost wages at the lower state rate. Except, that’s not counting for unemployment insurance. Throw in WA state’s minimum unemployment compensation of $158 a week, and it takes only about a week and half of work at $13 an hour to make back the lost wages from each additional week of lost wages at $9.47 an hour.

Let’s put this another way. Let’s say, on January 1 of this year, two workers, Mark and Tim, got laid off from their $13 an hour jobs at a franchise of a national fast food chain. Mark immediately took a $9.47 an hour job tossing pizzas in Renton, while Tim took 14 weeks of unemployment — until April 1 — until he could find another $13 an hour job in Seattle. By September 2, Tim’s year-to-date income would already surpass Mark’s, despite three full months of unemployment! Assuming full-time work, by the end of the year, patient Tim would have out-earned Mark by more than $2,400.

But the real payoff for Tim comes in 2017, when Seattle’s minimum wage climbs to $15, and the inflation-adjusted state minimum wage inches up to maybe $9.66, tops. Over the course of the year, Tim would earn more than $11,100 more than Mark for the same 2,040 hours of full-time work!

Or, let me put this in a way even one of our city’s well-paid tech workers might understand: If you suddenly lost your current job, would your rather take another one immediately at $96,000 or would you rather take a few extra months to find a comparable job that pays $150,000? If you choose the former, I’m guessing you can’t do the math well enough to command either.

The point is, the goal of our economic policies shouldn’t be to lower unemployment or increase GDP (or boost corporate profits, for God’s sake); the goal of our economic policies should be to broadly improve the lives of our people. And while we’d rather keep the unemployment rate low — and while there’s no empirical evidence suggesting that minimum wage hikes boost unemployment — we’re more than willing to accept a modest increase in unemployment in exchange for a substantial increase in wages, if that’s what’s best for our community.

The problem with focusing on metrics like the unemployment rate is that you end up prioritizing those things that are easiest to measure rather than those that best reflect outcomes. But in the end, as I’ve said before, whatever the statistics, only Seattleites get to decide whether $15 has succeeded or failed.

Daily Clips: February 22nd, 2016

Donald Trump’s rise is a scary moment in America: Yesterday, Vox uploaded this gorgeous video which outlines the absurdity of Trump’s campaign and its implications for our country. It’s extremely well produced and Ezra Klein does a great job of explaining why a Trump presidency could be so dangerous.

Can Sandy Hook families hold the gun industry accountable? 

The most chilling legacy of the entrustment of AR-15s to the general population may be that Americans are no longer shocked when combat weapons are used to kill people as they work, shop, commute, attend school, and otherwise go about their lives. We may be horrified, saddened, even sickened, but we can no longer be shocked,” lawyers wrote in their filing.

Center for American Progress’ Neera Tanden talks Hillary: Tanden has worked with Hillary Clinton during various stages of her political career. Consequently, the Center for American Progress Executive Director can offer some interesting insights into Hillary’s mind.

No doubt, there are plenty of men who have been fierce and laudable advocates for women’s issues. But I know from my many years in Washington that when setting priorities and creating an agenda, it matters who sits around the table. We’ve accomplished so much for women over the last few decades, but we’re still far from where we should be. We’ve fallen short on ensuring equal pay and protecting reproductive rights. And we remain the world’s only developed nation that doesn’t guarantee the basic protection of paid family leave to its citizens. If we want to make meaningful progress, we need more than just promises and policy proposals.

We’ve Got A New Podcast Episode Out! This Time We Look At Robots & Automation

Whenever we talk about raising the minimum wage, some supply-sider/trickle-downer/Jeb! supporter always shoots back that if we raise wages, employers will automate low-wage workers out of a livelihood. So on the latest episode of The Other Washington, we ask the questions: Are the robots coming for our jobs? And if so, is that necessarily a bad thing?

Our guests include renowned tech visionary (but not a futurist) Esther Dyson, Institute for the Future research director Bradley Kreit, and Hointer co-founder Nadia Shouraboura, who takes us on a tour of what the future of brick-and-mortar retail might look like in a highly automated age (hint: different jobs, not fewer).