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Whose Side Are Asian-Americans On?


A proposal to integrate New York City’s top public high schools would be a boon to black and Latinx students—and a disaster for Asians.

Katherine Sanchez, a 16-year-old with curly hair and glasses, is unique among her peers at Stuyvesant, one of eight specialized high schools considered the “crown jewels” of New York City’s public education system. In seventh grade, when she found out about the entrance exam—a single three-hour test known as the Specialized High School Admissions Test, or SHSAT—she enrolled in a local prep school on the weekends. During the summer before eighth grade, Sanchez upped that commitment to five days a week, spending four hours each day being taught to the test. “You’re not learning material that’s relevant,” Sanchez told me. “You’re like, ‘How can I do these questions as fast as possible? How can I get used to these questions?’”

Of course, other students at Stuy also spend years cramming for the SHSAT. But unlike the vast majority of them, Sanchez is Latina. In 2016, Stuyvesant’s school newspaper found that, in comparison to Asian students, black and Latinx students were more likely to start studying later and on their own. Even in prep school, Sanchez recalled being the only Latina in a majority-Bengali class. Aside from kids in the honors class, most of the students in her middle school in the Bronx hadn’t heard of the SHSAT or specialized high schools.

In fact, Sanchez was told that she was the first person from her middle school to get into Stuyvesant in over a decade. “I don’t know anyone from my school who takes the 2 uptown after 42nd Street,” Sanchez told me in August, as she gave me a tour of Castle Hill, the predominantly working-class Latinx and black neighborhood where she grew up. When pressed, she conceded that she had heard rumors of a freshman at Stuy who also lives in the Bronx.

Stuyvesant has been criticized in recent years because of one stark fact: almost no black or Latinx students attend. In the 2015-2016 school year, the student body was 74 percent Asian-American and 20 percent white. Only 3 percent of students were Latinx and even less—1 percent—were black. This school year, black and Latinx students made up only 10 percent of offered seats across all eight specialized high schools, despite making up nearly 70 percent of the city’s public school population overall.

Sanchez, whose parents immigrated from the Dominican Republic, is acutely aware of the disparity. She had rarely even gone into Manhattan before high school, let alone the posh neighborhood of Tribeca where Stuyvesant is located. Entering the school itself was a culture shock, especially when it was clear many of the students already knew each other. “Waiting on the bridge for the doors to open on the first day was so scary, just standing there,” Sanchez said. “Everyone was in clusters, but I knew nobody.”

In June, Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed changing the admissions policies of the city’s specialized high schools in an effort to integrate them. Under de Blasio’s proposal, the SHSAT would be phased out over three years and eventually replaced with a system that automatically admits the top 7 percent of students from every middle school in the city, based on a combination of grades and state exam scores. He also wants to expand the Discovery Program, which sets aside a certain number of seats for low-income students. According to city officials, the impact of eliminating the test would be sweeping: When the new plan is fully implemented, 45 percent of offers would go to black and Latinx students.

In response, many in the city’s Asian-American community, which is represented in lopsided numbers in the city’s specialized high schools, rose in protest. Spurred mainly by New York’s vocal Chinese-American community and alumni groups, protesters amassed outside de Blasio’s office, chanting, “Keep the test!” They claimed that the move was racist, targeting a disadvantaged minority that historically has had little clout in New York politics compared to other minorities. Their protests were quickly plastered all over the news, adding yet another layer of racial tension to the effort to fix the most segregated school system in the country.

Though the plan did not pass muster with the state legislature, it created the opening for a summer of outrage from members of the Asian community, some of it fueled by legitimate grievances (a “profound sense of powerlessness” as Jiayang Fang put it in The New Yorker), some by resentment toward other minority groups. As Kenneth Chiu, president of the New York Asian American Democratic Club and one of the most outspoken leaders against de Blasio’s plan, told NY1: “He never had this problem when Stuyvesant was all white. He never had this problem when Stuyvesant was all Jewish. All of a sudden, they see one too many Chinese and they say, ‘Hey, it isn’t right.’”

The outrage surrounding De Blasio’s plan also prompted some difficult questions: If racial integration is essential to educational equality, as many education experts believe, then are Asian-Americans an obstacle to that equality? Is the scramble for opportunity the zero-sum game that Asian activists make it out to be? And, more broadly, where do Asian-Americans fit in this city’s minority politics?

From a young age, Amy Lam knew that specialized high schools were the path she was expected to take. “I didn’t have much of a choice,” said Lam, a 17-year-old senior at Brooklyn Tech. She started preparing for the SHSAT, which tests students on English and math, in sixth grade, two full years before the test is usually taken. She attended a free program that she was accepted into in the Upper West Side, but her mother felt that wasn’t enough, so she enrolled Lam into a second, paid program in Chinatown. At that point, Lam was going to test prep every weekday after school for two hours. On Saturdays, she went to both prep classes, studying from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Lam grew up in a public housing complex in Chelsea. When her parents moved to New York City from China in the 1990s, they first worked as fruit vendors in Chinatown. Her mother, who speaks mostly Cantonese, is now a home attendant.

As we sat in the one-room office of New York’s Chinese Progressive Association, where Lam interned this summer to help register voters, she belied the stereotype of the personality-less Asian student who is interested in nothing but her studies. She was quietly confident, well-spoken, and fully aware of the politics surrounding the school she attends. She had already thought about what she might do with her life, saying that her dream college was Georgetown and that she was interested in pursuing a law career.

In Lam’s mother’s eyes, Stuyvesant and Bronx Science were the gold standard, while Brooklyn Tech was a safety school. What about other public high schools? “When I was researching high schools I would be like, ‘Hey mom there’s this good high school that’s not specialized,’” Lam said. “And she’d be like ‘Oh do you want that to be your other safety?’”

This intense focus on specialized high schools is common for New York’s Asian immigrant community. “My mom mostly talked to Asian-American moms,” Lam said. “She met them either at my test prep place, even on WeChat, and pretty much all they talked about on there was ‘Oh my son went to Bronx Science.’”

This do-or-die mentality is partly a product of New York’s labyrinthine public school system. The SHSAT offers a bright, simple path for the city’s poor Asian immigrant population, many of whom face language barriers and a dearth of accessible information. And in many of these immigrants’ ancestral countries in East Asia and South Asia, rigorous test prep is a cultural norm.

“A lot of newly arrived Asian immigrants have this erroneous idea that there are three public schools that are good and then there’s the abyss,” explained Amy Hsin, a professor of sociology at CUNY and a member of the city’s school diversity advisory group. “And we have these test prep companies who are feeding off of that fear. You see these immigrant families who don’t have a lot of money spending enormous amounts of money prepping these children to test to get into these schools.”

This deep investment is evident in the numbers: In addition to dominating Stuyvesant, Asians comprise 62 percent of the student body at Bronx Science, and 61 percent at Brooklyn Tech. New York City’s public school population itself is 16 percent Asian. (White students are also overrepresented, garnering 27 percent of offers to specialized high schools this year, despite the fact that they make up 15 percent of the city’s students.) Their outsized presence makes them wary of change, particularly since de Blasio didn’t offer Asian-American communities any kind of recompense for a proposal that would disproportionately affect them. They would just have to take the hit.

Asian-American community groups were blindsided by the mayor, whose office failed to consult them before the proposal went public. Shino Tanikawa, a school integration advocate, told me that de Blasio’s proposal was part of a depressingly familiar pattern of Asian-Americans either being lumped in with white people or brushed aside. Tanikawa agreed that the admissions system needs to be reformed, but pointed out that for de Blasio “to not even talk to any Asian community leaders before he made the announcement, it’s disrespectful. It’s another example of, what about us, do we not exist?”

Richard Carranza, New York City’s new school chancellor, made matters worse when he bluntly told a local news organization, “I just don’t buy into the narrative that any one ethnic group owns admission to these schools.” And by failing to get buy-in from New York’s Asian-American community, de Blasio undermined his own project. “Those people are needed,” Mae Lee, executive director of the Chinese Progressive Association, told me, referring to the mainly Chinese-American contingent that is rallying against de Blasio’s plan. “We need to draw those people in more and it’s not being done.”

It didn’t help that it was easy to read de Blasio’s announcement as a cynical political move. He campaigned on integrating specialized high schools in 2013, but he let the issue languish until this summer. De Blasio has often said that his hands are tied because reforming the admissions system needs approval by the state legislature, but he also announced it less than a month before the end of the legislative session, meaning that it was almost surely going to be shunted to next year—which is exactly what ended up happening. And if he wanted to, de Blasio could re-designate five of the specialized high schools and change their admissions policies on his own.

Furthermore, the focus on specialized high schools, which make up only 6 percent of the city’s entire public high school system, fails to address the greater, systemic problem of school segregation throughout the city. “It really is a challenging issue because it ends up being a debate about a small number of schools that you can’t really have without opening up a much bigger questions about screening,” said Halley Potter, a fellow at The Century Foundation who focuses on integration policy in New York. “I’m hopeful that a year from now we can look back and say this is just one of multiple fronts that the administration has been looking at to tackle segregation.” Addressing just a few high schools out of an entire K-12 system is, in many ways, a distraction from the bigger issues.

Still, the fact remains that specialized high schools are in dire need of integration. Unless New York gets rid of elite schools altogether, which some advocates have in fact proposed, it will have to diversify them in some way. This inevitably means that Asian-Americans will have to figure out where they fit into this new reality—and, perhaps, reassess their political priorities when it comes to their kids and New York City’s school system.

Sanchez took me to a small park in Castle Hill not far from where she grew up, before she moved to a one-bedroom apartment in Morris Park with her mother, her mother’s boyfriend, and her three siblings. Sanchez now finally has her own bedroom, an exciting development that she told me she is definitely “still not over.” When we first started speaking, Sanchez was a little nervous, but quickly opened up about her experiences. Despite her criticisms of New York’s school system, Sanchez cheerfully pointed out all the things she loves about Stuyvesant—her peers and teachers, the fact that Tribeca is “really nice.” She told me that she wants to go to Wesleyan, but is worried about burdening her mother with the cost of tuition—a whole other educational system they’ll have to navigate.

The test’s proponents claim that the SHSAT is the only truly meritocratic method of admitting students into specialized schools, and that getting rid of it will compromise these schools’ academic integrity. This is despite the fact that the test itself has been subject to very little evaluation. In August, the education news site Chalkbeat obtained through a public records request a 2013 study from the mayor’s office that de Blasio declined to release, showing that the SHSAT is a strong predictor of academic achievement. Yet outside experts told Chalkbeat that the study didn’t answer the question of whether alternative admissions methods would admit just as strong or even better students.

Hsin, the sociology professor, told me, “If you were to put aside any concerns about goals of diversity at all and you just wanted to come up with mechanism for identifying the most talented individuals to be admitted to specialized high schools, you would never come up with the admissions policy you have now.” Grades, which are repeated measures over time, are considered better indicators of academic acumen. It’s also been shown that they are better than standardized test scores when it comes to predicting success for black and Latinx students.

And if you put aside the evidence—or lack thereof—regarding the effectiveness of the test, defending the status quo means defending the idea that admitting black and Latinx students would bring down the quality of the student body, as New York Times reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones has pointed out.

This racist principle is baked into the history of the admissions policy itself. The original bill that mandated the use of a single standardized test was passed in 1971 by state legislators in order to preempt moves by the city to try to make the specialized schools more diverse. According to Politico, state legislators at the time argued that the bill would “protect the current status and quality of specialized academic high schools in New York City.”

Sanchez told me that many of her peers at Stuyvesant have been talking about the mayor’s proposal since it came out. Common remarks that she’s heard include things like, “People aren’t being accepted because they aren’t smart” and “Stuy is ruined.” I asked her how she feels when she hears those responses. Sanchez paused for a beat, then said, “I think it’s just insensitive to think that way.”

Asians in America have long sat at the messy crux where minority politics and education meet. They are often the poster-children of conservative attempts to roll back affirmative action and integration, despite being some of these policies’ biggest beneficiaries. The model minority myth—the idea that Asians are successful because they have better values and work harder than other minorities—is pervasive, and often used as a cudgel by whites against black and Latinx Americans for their supposedly wayward values and lax worth ethic.

The sight of Asian-Americans marching against integration efforts in New York City plays into these storylines. It is why Donald Trump’s Justice Department is siding with Asian-American students challenging affirmative action programs at Harvard, which they say discriminate against them by privileging less qualified students.

How did they reach this point? For one, because most of the Asian adult population are immigrants, they lack a lived understanding of America’s racial history. Asians have been excluded by this country’s racist immigration policies (see: the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882), but they have also benefited from the loosening of immigration laws in 1965 that brought in more highly educated Asian immigrants. Those trends are set to accelerate: The foreign-born population in the U.S. is at a record high thanks to Asians, according to new Census data, and more Asians with college degrees are expected to emigrate to the country in coming years.

There is also the glaring fact that Asian-Americans—who hail from a vast continent composed of different cultures and ethnicities—are far from a unified group. In fact, a survey by AAPI Data, a policy research site, shows that the Asian-American opposition to affirmative action is almost entirely driven by Chinese-Americans.

Historically, Chinese-Americans have been on both sides of the civil rights divide. OiYan Poon, a professor at Colorado State University, noted two examples that should have resonance for Asian-Americans involved in the ongoing controversies surrounding minority rights and education. First was the case of Gong Lum, a Chinese immigrant who lived in the Jim Crow South in the 1920s. When Lum’s daughter was placed in a colored school, he sued, trying to get his daughter into the local white school. Lum lost the case in Supreme Court, but the battle he chose to fight—securing the privileges of whiteness for his daughter, rather than against a racist system—is instructive. “You can imagine how that case could have been a different possibility,” Poon pointed out. “It could have been Brown vs. Board of Education. Instead Gong Lum argued, ‘We want to be white.’”

Poon juxtaposed this approach with the 1974 Supreme Court case Lau v. Nichols, in which Chinese students who weren’t fluent in English had been recently integrated into the San Francisco Unified School District, which wasn’t providing them with English language instruction. The parents of Kinney Kinmon Lau, along with other non-English-speaking Chinese parents, argued that their Fourteenth Amendment rights were being violated since their children did not have equal educational opportunities. They won the case and secured the right to supplemental language education for non-English speaking minorities across the board. In collaboration with the Latinx community, Poon explained, the Chinese community was able to “push for systemic transformation and totally new possibilities.”

In New York today, members of the Asian community have lined up behind a system that results in blatant racial disparities. And they are doing so without examining the costs this system extracts, alongside the clear benefits it provides to a select few. The SHSAT effectively functions as a tax on poor Asian immigrants, both in terms of the actual dollars spent on prep courses as well as the years of childhood spent studying for a test that has little real-world relevance. “Thirteen- and 14-year olds don’t want to spend a lot of their sixth and seventh grade locked up in a classroom on weekends preparing for this dumb test,” Jade Wong, a daughter of Chinese immigrants and a senior at Brooklyn Tech, told me.

Lam said that when her mother found out about de Blasio’s plan, even she acknowledged that “maybe now certain students can focus more on their grades in middle school, focus into getting into a high school they would actually like to go, that they won’t have to study hours and hours to get into.” Potter, the education policy researcher, pointed out that in Brooklyn’s 15th District, which is going through a similar debate about integration and screening, she found that even advocates of screening recognized that the system felt broken. “If we started with this premise around specialized high schools,” Potter said, “we would find many folks in the Asian American community for whom that would resonate.”

In a broader sense, these specialized schools not only fail the black and Latinx community, but cannot even serve the vast bulk of the disadvantaged Asian-American community. Forgotten in the debate are the Asian children who are turned away; the ones who get in, but then struggle with mental health issues; the ones who would have flourished in different or more diverse schools.

Despite media headlines that might indicate otherwise, the city’s Asian-American community—which, again, includes an impossible multitude of ethnicities and immigrant experiences—is far from unified in opposition to the mayor’s plan. In July, a group of Asian-American alumni from specialized high schools published an op-ed that called for reform of the admissions process, writing, “Asian Americans ought to stand in solidarity with all marginalized communities by advocating for equity in the educational opportunities and outcomes of all New York City students.” That same week, Asian-Pacific American community groups released a statement arguing that “diverse and inclusive school environments are beneficial to all students” and that the city needs to “address inequities in education across Pre-K through 12th grade and examine current processes and admission policies.”

Barring action from politicians, Asian parents will also have to be convinced that there are alternative paths to success in this country, and that the binary of “test or no test” is failing all minorities in one way or another. As Lam put it to me, “It would benefit parents to know that it doesn’t have to be this way.”


By            :               Clio Chang

Date         :               September 24, 2018

Source     :               The New Republic


Posted in Latest Post, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment

China Must Solve Urban-Rural Divide to Solve Income Inequality


On Sept. 20, the International Monetary Fund  painted a stark portrait of income inequality in China, with officials writing in a blog post that “More than two decades of spectacular economic growth in China have raised incomes dramatically and lifted millions of people out of poverty. But growth hasn’t benefited all segments of the population equally. In fact, China has moved from being moderately unequal in 1990 to being one of the world’s most unequal countries.”

The IMF’s statistics show that the post-tax, post-transfer Gini Index – with 0 indicating absolute equal income distribution while 100 indicates total unequal income distribution – has risen by about 15 points since 1990 to hit about 50 of the 100 scale in 2015.

That surge makes China stand out in two regards. First, the indicator is calculated after taxes and transfers – meaning it represents the income distribution of the country after everything the government has done to try to narrow the gap between rich and poor, haves and have-nots. Second, the unrelenting rise in income inequality in China outpaces the average of five ASEAN countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand – as well as the average for the OECD, comprising 36 countries including many of the world’s most advanced countries but also emerging countries like Mexico, Chile and Turkey.

The IMF attributes a significant part of the rise in income inequality in China to its urban-rural divide, which for example is exhibited in lower educational attainment in the rural areas. One inference flowing from such a result might be that the rural areas won’t benefit as much from an increase in jobs that require higher skills even though such changes in labor market opportunities are made accessible for those in the rural areas.

As indicated in the OECD’s 2017 economic survey of China, income inequality in the rural areas in China is consistently higher than that in the urban areas. This oft-neglected aspect of the rural-urban divide can be illustrated by comparing the ratio of disposable income of the top 20 percent over that of the bottom 20 percent of the rural areas against the same ratio of the urban areas. The higher the ratio goes, the more income inequality there is.

In 2005 and 2010, the ratio was higher than 7 in rural areas but lower than 6 in urban areas. In 2015, the ratio rose to over 8 in the rural areas and fell to slightly above 5 in the urban areas. One interpretation is that not only is income inequality a bigger problem in the rural areas than in the urban areas but the problem is also getting bigger and bigger.

To shrink the growing gulf between rich and the poor, China thus needs not only more progressive tax and transfer policies but also policies that can significantly alter the urban-rural dynamics. Despite Beijing’s apparent efforts to slow the rise in income inequality by raising the minimum wage along with the minimum threshold for income taxes, the IMF warned “inequality is likely to rise further without additional policy changes.”

One idea the IMF floated in the blog post is to make the tax and transfer system more progressive, i.e. those who earn more and have more will be asked to pay more. “China could rely more on the personal income tax and less on regressive consumption taxes,” the IMF notes. “The design of personal income taxes and social security taxes could be made more progressive. And there is also room to further increase spending on social services, especially in rural areas, reducing inequality even more.”

The OECD, in discussing measures to generate more tax revenues in its 2017 economic survey of China, has offered a glimpse of what can be done: “Potential sources of revenue include a more progressive personal income tax, and more comprehensive taxation of income beyond wages (including rent and other types of income) as well as a recurrent tax on immovable property and an inheritance tax. There is also ample room to raise environmental taxes. A fairer tax system would help reduce income and wealth inequalities and make growth more inclusive”.

The big picture is clear. Based on what the IMF and the OECD say, if China wants to tackle income inequality, a more progressive tax-and-transfer system will be needed – more tax revenue will need to be raised, and the revenue will need to be used to fund more expenditures to bolster social protection. As shown by the Asian Development Bank, China’s social protection expenditures have been hovering around 5 percent of GDP since 2008 and rose to 6.5 percent in 2012, only to fall back to 4.2 percent in 2013.

The income inequality fix seems straightforward but no doubt it’s easier said than done. Those who live in China’s megacities in contrast with those living in small rural villages appear to be living in parallel universes. In order to take on the urban-rural divide, how about tax the rich in the urban areas a lot more and at the same time spend on the poor in the rural areas a lot more? That would make the tax-and-transfer system more progressive, but to start with, any change to China’s tax system would draw criticism. Some would consider any tax cut as too timid while others would consider any tax increase too risky.

But even if the barriers of inertia to fiscal policy changes could be overcome, are all obstacles blocking China’s possible very long march toward less income inequality cleared? How to figure that out anyway?

If an unprecedented bridging of the urban-rural divide could be done, there might be hope for economic justice. However, it’s a long and winding road to even just develop substantial longitudinal data to explore a topic like this further. To illustrate the point, this is how researchers including Thomas Piketty talked about the needs for reliable data about China: “An income tax has been in place since 1980, but until recently no detailed tax statistics were available, so that scholars had to rely on household surveys based upon self-reported information.”

They have embarked on this journey to develop useful data for informative analysis. But given the starting point there will be such a daunting amount of work to be done, not the same but in spirit analogous to tackling the urban-rural divide in China.


Thaddeus Hwong is an Associate Professor at York University, Canada. Hwong (@policyquests) aspires to contribute to our understanding of advocacy and mobilization for redistribution through progressive taxation and public expenditures.


By            :               Thaddeus Wong

Date         :               October 3, 2018

Source     :               Asian Sentinel


Posted in Latest Post, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment

The danger of rising income inequalities


Inequality is “the defining challenge of our time,” former US President Obama said in 2013. Last week at a conference in Kigali Rwanda, participants revisited these words to expound on the danger of rising inequalities, which were said to be opening Africa to new vulnerabilities, including possible domination. Like a nagging pain that keeps on recurring, income inequality remains a major challenge in our time.

Many African countries, including Kenya, form the leading pack of countries with the highest income disparity. In spite of the fact that this is a serious economic issue in the country’s endeavour for sustained stability for economic progress, it is virtually never addressed.

Yet we know that although inequality manifests physically, it also does the same in the digital space where those who control online content influence behaviour and actions.

It is perhaps why the issues of social justice as a mitigating factor of inequality are never brought to the fore. At the Kigali conference, Prof. Laura Czerniewicz of the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching, University of Cape Town, said in her presentation that what happens online shapes and augments what happens in the physical world; power dynamics online echo, refract and reshape global socio-cultural dynamics; in a knowledge society, what counts as valid legitimate knowledge is increasingly determined online (if its not online it does not exist), and the material world is produced and reinforced by online language, content and algorithms.

Prof. Czerniewicz was reinforcing why Africa needs Nancy Fraser’s concept of “participatory parity” that seeks to address disparity. It does so through arrangements, which enable all to participate in, and be represented, as equals in the inextricably interconnected virtual and material worlds. In reality this never happens since the creators of content shape the global socio-cultural dynamics.

The tragedy is the fact that Africa, a major consumer of online content, contributes less than one percent of the content and there is no where to validate such content for information hungry, online dependent citizens. New language translation algorithms are being developed sometimes without the input of the native speakers.

Africa has opened herself to serious manipulation by those who control content across platforms. The solution is not running away from online but to reflect on the past and think about a future without the culture. Prof. Czerniewicz warned that the algorithms whose products we have come to love are not neutral.

They are designed by humans with existing biases and assumptions, reflect existing beliefs, are built on existing educational practices and have become engines of value risking exacerbating and accelerating inequalities and privilege.

The emerging digital platform economy is yet to be understood. Although some of these digital platforms are mega companies, such as Facebook, Google, Amazon, Salesforce, Alibaba and Uber their disruption especially on matters taxation and redefinition of corporate structure remain a thorny issue across the world.

These persistent disruptions are coming as the world ushers in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In it, we Africa shall either leapfrog or falter into oblivion, and that is perhaps why at the conference, we had a lively mock debate and the motion was “This House believes Africa has nothing to fear from a ‘fourth industrial revolution’ and should seize the opportunity it represents.

”In the end, the motion was defeated owing to the fact that the continent may enter into new age of exploitation by western enterprises in control of these frightening new technologies. However, there must be a concerted African strategy to encourage growth of innovations from the continent and become participants rather than just consumers of Western technologies

Bottom line; Africa needs to invest in education and build human resource capacity to comprehensively deal with income inequalities as a mitigation measure for the emerging radical changes on how we socialize, work, compete for the share of profits and create value in the economy.

In the absence of this, Africa remains vulnerable to manipulation by others for years to come. Africa must therefore discard AU’s Vision 2063 and leverage on SDGs to make leaders accountable soon and not when they are dead.


Bitange Ndemo is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi’s School of Business.


By            :               Bitange Ndemo

Date         :               October 7, 2018

Source     :               The New Times


Posted in Latest Post, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment

The human instinct to embrace inequality


Some of the world’s democracies have little difficulty introducing systems that are specifically designed to be unequal.


A SECRETLY stupendously rich man falls in love with a poor girl. His mother declares her a gold-digger. Much gnashing of teeth ensues. Beyond its simple romcom plot, however, the film Crazy Rich Asians has a less palatable aspect to its story: inequality and our apparent acceptance of it. For all the indigestible wealth on awkward display, the film attracted much praise and positive interest from critics and audiences alike, despite it being so far removed from the hoi polloi.

As far back as October 2013, then-US President Barack Obama called rising inequality and the lack of upward mobility in society “the defining challenge of our time”. More recently, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was even more blunt in a parliamentary speech. “We must discourage people from flaunting their social advantages,” he said. “We should frown upon those who go for ostentatious displays of wealth and status, or worse, look down on others less well-off and privileged.”

Social imbalance and inequality is a problem that continues to plague human society in the 21st century. And the gulf between the haves and have-nots cannot be starker than in Asia. According to a BBC news article, the Asia-Pacific is now home to the greatest number of millionaires and billionaires in the world, yet it also hosts about two-thirds of the global working poor. The region’s income Gini coefficient, a number that measures inequality from 0 (most equal) to 1 (most unequal), rose from 0.37 to 0.48 between 1990 and 2014. In 2017, 79 per cent of the wealth created in China went to its top 1 per cent, who now hold almost half of the country’s accumulated wealth.


The bedevilment of inequality manifests itself in today’s intellectual heroes and political rock stars. A mere 25 years ago, Thomas Piketty and his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century would have been branded “communist” for recommending that governments adopt a global tax on wealth – to prevent soaring inequality contributing to economic or political instability – and banned in many a country. Similarly, just 15 years ago, Bernie Sanders’s socialist election platform would not have posed a challenge to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.

Instead, Piketty has been anointed to celebrity status and politicians railing against social inequality are lauded as progressive. Income inequality is no longer a tired shibboleth trotted out by hippy socialists. That is because ever-increasing inequality has fostered a greater distrust of politicians, governments and corporate leaders, whose promises of better times ahead seem never to materialise. In extreme cases, this has resulted in populism and the embracing of demagogues.

1,888 years ago, Roman Emperors kept the common people in check by providing entertainment in the form of gladiatorial contests and chariot races, and distributing free bread. The act of hurling loaves into the heaving masses is, however, no longer an option for the governing class. So in its place, politicians feed the voting public a diet of commitments to affordable medical care, housing and education, assuring them of rising incomes and “decent paying jobs” for the “middle class”.



One would have thought that amid all this hand-wringing about inequality, humans would naturally reject measures or initiatives that derogate from the fundamental principle of egalitarianism. There is evidence to suggest the contrary.

The economies of some of the most enlightened and democratic countries appear to have little difficulty introducing systems that are specifically designed to be unequal. Take, for instance, dual-class shares, in which holders of a special class of shares have a larger number of votes per share. All the major stock exchanges embrace dual-class shares as a necessary component of the market. No politician in a democratically elected government of today would dare to suggest such a system of electoral voting; yet a clearly differentiated and class-based voting system is seen as defensible, even justifiable, in profit-driven companies.

In our modern age where governments struggle to control information circulation and sharing, almost a quarter of the world’s population live under an authoritarian regime, absolute monarch or military government without even the basic right to vote. Significantly, a good majority of this 25 per cent exhibit little overt ambition to change the status quo. Another 12 per cent of the people in the world continue to accept the imposition of a caste system. Unsurprisingly, many of the countries where these occur have very high levels of income inequality.

The issue does not seem to be one of simple indifference. On the contrary, our species seems to have an unhealthy, almost primordial, attraction to inequality and celebrating it. Like the proverbial moth drawn to fire, our modern and informed society seems entranced by enshrining differentiations, class and inequality, or at least not wrestling against them. Think about the success of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Real Housewives of New York, and the constant fascination with toppled politicians’ wives and their treasure troves of luxury goodies.

Perhaps Pope Francis expressed it best in his apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” when he wrote: “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

All may not be lost. That the conversation about inequality continues and occupies such a significant part of our current narrative is a sure sign that the issue remains in focus. Maybe our present-day obsession with how the one-percenters live, fed by constant Internet updates, and the constant refrain about inequality, will ultimately see lasting adjustments to society that allow the “Top One” to co-exist peacefully with the middle class without any significant ructions. One can always be hopeful. After all, Rachel and Nick did get engaged in Crazy Rich Asians.


By : Derek Loh
Date : September 4, 2018
Source : Business Times

Posted in Latest Post, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment

Rising hate drives Latinos and immigrants into silence


EUGENE, Oregon — Sergio Reyes and two other Mexican immigrants were busy landscaping at their worksite in early 2018 when they were accosted by a man hurling racial epithets and threatening to cut off the head of one of them.

“It doesn’t matter if I become an American citizen,” Reyes said. “If your skin color is not white and your English is not perfect, you don’t blend. Bottom line.”

The man’s later acquittal of all charges was seen by the three men as yet another in a long string of injustices they, and many immigrants to America, say they experience regularly.

More than one in five suspected hate crimes victimized Latinos, according to a News21 analysis of responses to the National Crime Victimization Survey data from 2012 to 2016.

Hate incidents targeting Latinos and immigrants often go beyond name-calling and intimidation. Victims and advocates also say they are too often the targets of assault, robberies and even murder.

As targeting of their communities is on the rise, Latinos and immigrants are increasingly fearful of reporting racially motivated crimes and incidents to law enforcement, according to victims, experts and advocates interviewed by News21 in Florida, Oregon, California and Texas.

“In immigrant communities, the fear is palpable,” said Monica Bauer, director of Hispanic affairs at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). “It’s so much fear that I think the word doesn’t really convey. It’s almost terrified, like it’s beyond fear. It’s paralyzing fear.”

Latino victims made up only 11 percent of racial-bias crimes reported to the FBI in 2016, but studies have shown the FBI substantially undercounts such crimes. Of 15,254 agencies providing statistics to the FBI in 2016, 88 percent reported zero hate crimes.

Hate-crime experts, victims and witnesses told News21 that two major factors have exacerbated the problem recently: a perceived climate of anti-immigrant animosity encouraged by the election of President Donald Trump; and fears of reporting to authorities, especially among undocumented immigrants who fear deportation.

Nationwide, a 2018 report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, found 34 anti-Latino hate crimes were reported in America’s largest cities in the first two weeks after the 2016 election, a 176 percent increase over the year-to-date daily average.

“Post election, I could tell that there was a change,” said Pricila Garcia, 20, the daughter of Mexican immigrants living in Cleburne, Texas. “People became a little more brave with their words, especially when it came to hateful things that they said.”

The word “emboldened” came up repeatedly in interviews with victims and advocates who say immigrants, particularly those from Mexico and other Latin American countries, are being singled out with an impunity unique to this political moment.

But U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, a democrat from Arizona, said that anti-immigrant and anti-Latino sentiment started merging after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and today they’re one and the same.

“By 2010, there were Latino families in Arizona that were being told to go back to their country, to go back to Mexico — these are people that have lived in Arizona for generations,” Gallego said.

Gallego, who was in the Arizona Legislature in 2010, said he was receiving death threats from white supremacists for trying to fight anti-immigrant legislation.

A 2018 report by Janice Iwama, a sociology researcher and professor at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, said the doubling of the immigrant population in the U.S. from 1990 to 2015, to more than 43 million, prompted anti-immigrant legislation at the state and federal levels.

Iwama’s study also said there is “the common misperception that all Latinos are immigrants.” In fact, two-thirds of the 57 million Hispanics living in the U.S. in 2015 were natural-born citizens, according to a 2017 Pew Research Center study.

Advocacy groups, law enforcement and government officials across the country say they’re trying to educate Latino community members and police to properly and sensitively identify and document hate incidents.

The ADL has been working with Mexican consulates in the U.S. to create an alternative method for vulnerable immigrant communities to report hate crimes. ADL’s Bauer said the league will create a new database from these reports to share with law enforcement. To date, the ADL has trained hundreds of people in consulates across 23 states to understand hate crimes and anti-immigrant extremism.

Detective Christopher Keeling, coordinator of the hate crime unit of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, said the department is reaching out to immigrant communities, emphasizing that hate-crime victims shouldn’t fear consequences for their documentation status, and that officers “will help you stay here.”

The California State Auditor has also recommended that law enforcement better educate “specific targeted communities, such as Muslims and immigrants” on hate crime, something the LA Sheriff’s Department is already doing.

“They have to first see us as an equal, as a friend, as a partner. And that takes time,” Keeling said. “We can’t protect what we don’t know.”

Eugene: A city striving for inclusion against a rising tide of hate

In picturesque Eugene, home to the University of Oregon, the city is building strategies and resources to protect its residents, but the experiences of Latinos show that change comes slowly.

“Sadly, hate-motivated crimes are a growing phenomenon throughout Oregon,” Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said in a May 23 press release announcing the formation of a task force to tackle the problem.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, an advocacy group in Montgomery, Alabama that tracks hate and bigotry, has identified at least 10 white supremacist or nationalist groups in Oregon. In addition, Oregonians for Immigration Reform, has an initiative on the November ballot to reverse Oregon’s three-decade-old sanctuary law, which prevents local governments from using resources to enforce federal immigration law.

An annual report from Eugene’s Office of Human Rights and Neighborhood Involvement said hate crimes nearly doubled from to 44 to 87 in 2017. Three violent anti-Latino attacks were reported in that time. The report noted, however, that some of this increase may be in response to city programs encouraging crime reporting.

One event on Jan. 16, which Reyes witnessed, illustrates the complicated dynamics of such situations.

eyes, 39, recalled that he and his landscaping crew were working outside a shopping center in Eugene when a man later identified as Brandon Scott Berry, 27, approached and began yelling. “I’m going to cut your head off and nobody will care because I’m white and you’re not!” Reyes remembered him saying.

A police report said Berry shoved Edu Martinez, 28, multiple times, and pushed his cellphone camera into the face of Victor Herrera, 48. Herrera slapped Berry, knocking his phone out of his hand.

“He said that he was going to get us in trouble,” Martinez told News21, “that we did not have any rights here … that we didn’t belong in this country. And then he called the police.”

The responding officer determined there was probable cause to arrest Berry for intimidation, according to a police report. “Berry’s verbal insults, conduct, and threat to cut off Victor’s head was a serious threat to cause serious physical injury and made in a heated, racially motivated manner,” the officer wrote.

Police referred Martinez to the city’s Office of Human Rights, which brought in Centro Latino Americano, a nonprofit providing services to the immigrant community in Lane County, Oregon, to support the three landscapers and their families.

Prosecutors charged Berry with three counts: menacing, and two counts of intimidation. On May 31 in Eugene Municipal Court, a one-day trial resulted in a jury finding Berry not guilty on all counts, court records show.

“It was horrible,” Reyes said. “It was a horrible thing to go through, you know.” He blamed the verdict on bias by the jury, which he said was “all white.”

Trevor Whitbread, assistant director for Centro Latino Americano, who sat in on the trial, agreed.

“A lot of white community members are still not familiar with issues of hate,” he said. “I think the jury was not prepared to be as receptive as other groups of people could be.”

Berry saw the situation differently.

“(Martinez) was calling me gringo and all sorts of stuff, trying to instigate me to fight him,” Berry said in a telephone interview. In response, he called Martinez a beaner, which also was noted in the police report.

Berry denied using intimidating or threatening language, particularly to cut off Herrera’s head.

Berry said he felt intimidated in the courtroom, noting there were “a lot of cops” in the courtroom that day.

“You could tell there was a bias, and the reason why this cop arrested me was he has a prejudice against me from the start,” Berry said. He said the arresting officer may know him because of past incidents and his recognizable tattoos, adding that he’s been harassed a lot by Eugene police.

Berry also credited his attorney, John Kolego, for persuading the jury and the judge to not hold any bias against him. When bias is removed, he said, the “justice system works every time.”

As an immigrant, Reyes said he has faced many injustices over the years, including harassment, abuse, and wage theft by employers. One refused to pay him, put a knife to his throat and told him to go back to Mexico, Reyes said.

Mayor Lucy Vinis said Eugene is taking steps to protect Latinos, who represent 7 percent of the population. She pointed to the work of the city’s Human Rights Office and its police auditor, who reviews the department’s handling of sensitive cases, as well as a 2017 ordinance preventing city officials from sharing documentation information with federal agents.

Herrera, Martinez and Reyes agreed they felt support from police and their community, but they were disappointed, if unsurprised, they didn’t get justice.

Outside the shopping center that day, Reyes said, he recalled Berry telling him: “I have more rights than you do and I’ll never get in trouble because I’m white and you’re not.

“You know what happened? We went to court and he’s a free man right now,” Reyes said. “He was right.”

Cleburne: Daughters of immigrants grapple with uncertainty

Train tracks bisect Cleburne, a sparse, rural town in north Texas, named in honor of a Confederate general. Its population is 66 percent white and 28 percent Hispanic, according to U.S. Census data.

“On one side,” said Pricila Garcia, “you have the rental houses that are falling apart, and it’s nothing but minorities, and on the nicer side of town you have the kids that have the nice houses, the pools, the big yards.”

The tracks symbolize Cleburne’s identity as an agricultural railroad center. But Garcia, 20, said they mark a deep, insidious racial divide in a town where everyone knows each other but few know the struggles of immigrants.

Garcia, a daughter of Mexican immigrants, said she has experienced firsthand the fear and isolation that many immigrants feel with the justice system in America today.

“I really truly believe that the majority of us are victims of (hate) crimes,” she said. “We’re told not to draw any unnecessary attention to ourselves — even if you get robbed or exploited or you’re in danger.”

Cleburne is an hour drive south from Dallas, and lies in an area of north Texas that saw a 71 percent increase in arrests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement from 2016 to ’17 — second only to Florida, according to Pew Research Center.

Garcia and Blanca Reyes, who also is a 20-year-old daughter of Mexican immigrants, said they and their peers constantly fear losing their parents to deportation if they report crimes or even apply, as citizens, for college student aid.

“Less involvement with state, local government the better because you’re just trying not to give any red flags off,” Garcia said.

She said her family is often the target of hate speech, and she recalled how her mother was called “a stupid (expletive) Mexican” at a store parking lot.

“Words make you feel inferior, subhuman — almost like you’re not worthy enough to be here,” she said. “It’s never really physical violence, but it’s always aggression. It’s always people yelling in your face … you get called disgusting names.”

Since the 2016 presidential election, she said, many immigrant families, including her own, are in a state of fearful silence. One of the worst conversations of her life was with her parents after the election.

“They sat me down and said, ‘Hey, we’re putting you as the main on all of our bank accounts,” she recalled tearfully. “If anything happens to us, sell our stuff. The furniture, our clothes, everything, go sell everything, go live with your uncle and take care of your brother and your sister.”

She said she’s became even more concerned after Trump administration began to detain and separate immigrant families at the Arizona border.

Reyes said normalization of anti-Latino rhetoric even made her afraid to call out her former manager for saying racist things. She declined to identify her workplace but said she quit after dealing with several racist incidents over a span of months.

“I would get anxiety attacks every single time I had to go to work,” she said.

On July 4, Reyes chose to watch fireworks from outside her home, rather than joining the city-sponsored festivities near Lake Pat Cleburne.

“It’s really hard to celebrate a holiday where we’re supposed to celebrate our country when our country really isn’t celebrating our existence,” she said.

Jupiter: A culture of hate preys on Florida’s “invisible” Guatemalans

Florida, the third most populous state, where one in five — about 4 million — are immigrants, has one of the worst records in the nation for reporting hate crimes, according to experts. The Florida Attorney General’s Office reported just 52 hate crimes related to race or ethnicity in 2016.

Mike Shively, senior associate at Abt Associates, a research group that produced a 2014 report on hate crimes against Latinos for the National Institute of Justice, said Florida’s numbers “really knocked our socks off.”

“It’s a very populous state with a very large percentage of the population that has Latin roots of some kind,” Shively said. “Really miniscule numbers.”

In Palm Beach County, one case broke through the reporting blackout, but only for its extreme nature, said Bauer of the Anti-Defamation League. The case, she said, showed the culture of hate targeting the isolated, almost invisible, Guatemalan immigrant community.

On April 18, 2015, Onésimo Marcelino López-Ramos, 18, was confronted outside his home in Jupiter by three men who beat him with a rock, a metal rod, and an ax handle — crushing his skull, prosecutors said. Assistant State Attorney Jill Richstone said the men were “Guat hunting,” referring to a practice of robbing and assaulting Guatemalans walking home on paydays.

“The reason we know what happened to Onésimo is because they killed him,” Bauer said. “And my fear is that things are happening every single day, all the time, without us hearing about them because people are so terrified to come forward.”

In May, one of three defendants, David Harris, 22, was convicted in a county court of first-degree murder, as well as a hate-crime charge, and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Trial is set to begin Nov. 5 for co-defendant Austin Taggart, 22. His brother, Jesse Harris, 21, will be tried later.

Even as Jupiter police pushed for hate-crime charges in López-Ramos’s case, the city did not report any hate crimes in 2015, according to FBI statistics.

An analysis by ProPublica, a nonprofit journalism organization in New York, showed Florida had four of the top-10 largest cities in the country that did not report significantly, or at all, hate crimes to the FBI in 2016. The largest, Jacksonville, has not reported a single hate incident since 2014.

Tim Gamwell, assistant executive director of the Guatemalan-Maya Center in Lake Worth, near Jupiter, said the decision by prosecutors in the López-Ramos case to pursue hate-crime charges was pivotal.

“It’s an acknowledgement that this community deserves protection, deserves recognition,” he said. “It’s a very difficult thing to report a crime in Palm Beach County if you’re an immigrant.”

Gamwell said López-Ramos’s murder should serve as a wake-up call for the community, although he said there needs to be more focus on the culture that gave rise to “Guat hunting” in the first place.

“People used to call them walking ATMs” because Guatemalans are often paid in cash and don’t have access to banking, said Suzanne Cordero, executive director of El Sol, a community center in Jupiter that hosted a memorial for López-Ramos.

Maya from Guatemala have fled to south Florida since the 1960s, at the beginning of the country’s four-decade-long civil war in which 150,000 indigenous Maya were “disappeared” or killed by government forces, according to the Center for Justice and Accountability.

Maya sustain much of the local agricultural sector, but cultural factors and language barriers — many only speak one of several Mayan dialects, rather than Spanish or English — have kept the community isolated, even invisible, Gamwell said.

Esperanza, an undocumented Guatemalan who preferred not to use her real name, said she immigrated to Florida in 1997, and has feared interaction with authorities since. Florida had a 76 percent increase in ICE arrests from 2016-17 – the highest in the nation, according to a Pew Research study.

Gamwell said Esperanza, a client of the Guatemalan-Maya Center, drives her kids less than a mile to school every day, and constantly fears being stopped, deported and separated from her children.

“Sometimes the police are behind me, I say, ‘Please God, put his eyes on the side,’ ” Esperanza said. “Maybe they catch Mom.”

Esperanza has forged a new life away from the poverty and violence in Guatemala, but she said she’s harassed everywhere in her daily life, whether because she has four children or because of the language she speaks.

After the murder of López-Ramos, Jupiter police reached out to the Guatemalan community. Cordero of El Sol community center, said former Police Chief Frank Kitzerow gave an important and emotional address at the center shortly after the incident, and the police work closely with the center and its clients, even playing regular soccer matches there.

Los Angeles: Violence follows the most vulnerable Latinas

In California, the state with the largest Latino population — more than 15 million — reported that incidents of anti-Latino bias increased from 83 in 2016 to 126 in 2017, according to the California Department of Justice’s annual hate crime report, released in July.

In Los Angeles County, violent hate crimes targeting transgender Latinas accounted for 20 of the 31 crimes motivated by gender identity, according to the 2016 Commission on Human Relations report. Ninety-seven percent of anti-transgender incidents were violent crimes, such as simple and aggravated assaults, a proportion higher than for any other group the commission tracks, including Latinos. And the actual number of hate crimes targeting trans Latinas may be higher, according to Marshall Wong, the principal author of the report.

Trans Latinas are doubly reluctant to call police, experts say. Latinos overall fear reporting due to possible deportation, and trans Latinas also say that law enforcement rarely takes crimes against their community seriously, often blaming them for their own victimization.

Robin Toma, the Commission on Human Relation’s executive director, said its 2017 hate crime report featured a trans Latina’s story to highlight the exceptional threat to this group of Latinos.

In January, Viccky Gutierrez, a trans immigrant from Honduras, died after she was stabbed multiple times in the Pico-Union neighborhood of LA. Her home was set ablaze, leaving her body unrecognizable. Kevyn Ramirez pleaded not guilty to first degree murder and two counts of arson, and awaits trial in Los Angeles County Superior Court, according to court records.

Toma said “there is every reason to believe that it was hate motivated.”

Those who knew Gutierrez say they have no doubt she was killed for who she was, and they hold out hope for a conviction with a hate-crime penalty enhancement.

“I was born and raised in Mexico and came here trying to find a better way of life and seek the American dream, only to find the American nightmare,” said Bamby Salcedo, founder and CEO of the TransLatin@ Coalition, a nonprofit that provides resources for trans Latinas, many of whom are immigrants. Salcedo said Gutierrez was a sister to her, who “was one of our clients, but also an up-and-coming leader” of the nonprofit. Her murder was hate motivated, Salcedo said.

“Stabbing someone, obviously, is not good, but the fact that he went the extra mile to make sure that there was no way for us to recognize her — it was very intentional,” Salcedo said. “When we walk out into the streets, violence follows us everywhere we go — whether it’s because we’re Latinas, whether it’s because we’re immigrants, whether it’s because we’re trans, or maybe because we’re all of those things.”

Angel Mendoza and Brendan Campbell are Donald W. Reynolds Fellows.

This story was reported in partnership with ProPublica’s Documenting Hate Project, which is collecting reports about hate crimes and bias incidents.


By : Brendan Campbell, Angel Mendoza, Tessa Diestel, News21 Staff
Date : August 22, 2018
Source : The Center for Public Integrity

Posted in Latest Post, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment

Are You Middle Class? This Calculator Claims to Tell You


We have all heard the grim news. The middle class is shrinking. Income inequality is rising. It raises the question: What does it really mean to be middle class in 2018? Well, that depends on who you ask. And also where you live.

According to an updated income calculator created by the Pew Research Center, a before-tax salary of $37,106 for a three-person household is considered middle class in Jackson, Tenn., the lowest threshold in the country.

But in the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara metro area of California, it takes about $20,000 more; households of that size must earn at least $57,443 a year to attain middle-income status, the most money required of any area in the United States.

“Our determination of whether or not you’re in the middle class is based on income alone,” said Rakesh Kochhar, a senior researcher at Pew.

Pew defines the middle class as a wide range that is two-thirds to double the median household income in the United States. Those numbers are then adjusted to account for location and household size. By this standard, about half of American adults live in middle-class households.

That is why the calculator, which is based on government data from 2016, says a household of three in the New York-Newark-Jersey City metro area that earns between $55,138 and $165,413, before taxes, is considered middle income. A household earning more than $165,413 is upper income and anything below $55,183 is lower income.

“There’s nothing magical about twice the median,” Elliot B. Weininger, a sociology professor at SUNY Brockport, said. “There’s no consensus about this.”

Although income typically correlates with education, job security, the ability to own a home and saving money, it is only one of many measures that has been used to define class. That is one of the reasons research by Pew and others often refers to “middle income” instead of “middle class.”

“I think intuitively in people’s minds, when people use class terminology it doesn’t just refer to purchasing power,” Dr. Weininger said. It often relates to the type of work someone does, he added. “They definitely don’t imagine blue-collar work.”

When Pew asked Americans in 2015 what was needed to be considered middle class, they said it was necessary to have a secure job and the ability to save money.

There was less agreement as to whether it was important to own a home or take vacations. And in 2015 a college education was seen as less relevant to middle-class status than it was in 2012.

After the Great Recession, there was a big increase in the number of people who identified as being lower class, said Tom W. Smith of NORC at the University of Chicago, a public opinion research center.

“This measure is at 9 percent, the highest ever,” said Dr. Smith, who runs the organization’s Center for the Study of Politics and Society.

That may have to do with political rhetoric, he added, in particular Donald J. Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again,” which suggests that typical Americans are not well off.

The size of the nation’s middle class has remained fairly stable since 2011, according to Pew. Even so, the income gap between upper-income households and middle- and lower-income households has widened, and the median wealth of middle-income Americans fell by 28 percent from 2001 to 2013, Pew reported.

Painting an even darker picture, in 2016, the most recent data available, the median income of middle-class households was about the same as in 2000, Pew said, in part because of the Great Recession and an earlier recession in 2001. In addition, “the wealth gaps between upper-income families and lower- and middle-income families in 2016 were at the highest levels recorded,” Pew said.

Wealth, which is not part of the Pew income calculator, is yet another measure of class.

“If you really want to capture someone’s class position you need multiple measures of resources at their disposal,” said Daniel Laurison, an assistant professor of sociology at Swarthmore College who has studied class and social inequality.

It is natural to be curious about one’s social class, in part because “we use these class terms in the U.S. all the time,” he added. “And there’s no agreed-upon term or definition of those terms in any arena.”

When Pew introduced its income calculator in 2015, “it steadily drew traffic,” Mr. Kochhar said, receiving 4.6 million visitors since its debut. “That is one reason we updated the calculator, and the background research, using 2016 income data.”

Whether you are living paycheck-to-paycheck, or saving 20 percent of your income, it is tempting to wonder how your situation compares with that of your peers. Especially because money tends to be a taboo topic.

“It gives you some sense of where you are relative to other people,” Dr. Laurison said of the income calculator. “I think that is useful.”


A version of this article appears in print on Sept. 13, 2018, on Page B4 of the New York edition with the headline: Are You Middle Class? An Income Calculator Claims to Have the Answer.


By : Christina Caron
Date : September 12, 2018
Source : The New York Times

Posted in Latest Post, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment

Asia’s growing wealth gap is a problem that can no longer be ignored


Many leaders at this year’s World Economic Forum on ASEAN are deeply concerned about the widening gap between rich and poor. But solutions to the problem are thin on the ground.

The growing inequality in the Asia-Pacific region is a hot topic at the World Economic Forum on ASEAN being held in Hanoi, Vietnam, from September 11-13. More than 1,000 participants are taking part, among them six heads of government from the region.

One big topic on everyone’s mind is the widening gap, despite economic growth, between rich and poor. A point politicians can simply no longer ignore.

Muhammad Chatib Basri was Indonesia’s finance minister in 2013-2014. Today, he is an advisor to the World Bank on development policy and teaches economics at the University of Indonesia. The inequality in his country has him deeply concerned. He sees the root of the problem partly in misguided policy.

“We need to make sure the people who are getting the benefit of social spending are really the poor people. In Indonesia’s case, we subsidize fuel but it is a fact that the ones who benefit from this subsidy are the middle and upper classes, not the poor. So rather than giving this subsidy, it would be better to give a conditional cash transfer. That kind of change in policy is very important,” he told DW during the conference.

The growing gap

But he is not the only one who sees a need for change. In 2017, Oxfam reported that the four richest men in Indonesia have accumulated more wealth than the poorest 100 million people combined. The situation hasn’t changed significantly since then.

Vietnam is hosting this year’s conference and is one of the fastest growing economies in the region. But here, too, inequality is visible wherever you look. Huge skyscrapers in Hanoi’s super-modern business district stand in stark contrast to the neighborhoods where the poorer residents of the city live.

“The wealth gap in Asia is largely driven by wage disparity and differing levels of access to education,” the Asian Development Bank states soberly. Stephen P. Groff, the bank’s vice president is concerned: “Actually, the situation in Asia is getting worse,” he stressed during the Accelerating Inequality Reduction discussion, which the WEF jointly organized with DW in Hanoi. “This will have a negative impact on social cohesion and is slowing economic growth,” he said.

Digitization as a solution?

But how can inequality in Asia be reduced? For some, the answer is digitization.

Nadiem Makarim created Indonesia’s first unicorn. In 2010, he founded Go-Jek, one of Indonesia’s best-known ride-hailing services, which has since expanded to other Asian countries. “Don’t underestimate the power of smartphones,” he emphasized during the discussion. Cheap mobile phones and inexpensive internet services could help many people in Asia get access to the online world and improve their lives.

The ability to easily make bank transactions using a smartphone means more opportunities to participate in economic life, regardless of location. In some parts of Indonesia this is already noticeable, says Makarim.

The Go-Jek founder is happy his smartphone app is no longer just available in Indonesia but is successful in other Southeast Asian countries as well. The app lets you order a motor scooter taxi, hire a hairdresser to come to your home or have food delivered.

Vietnam’s prime minister also wants all citizens to benefit from digitization, at least economically. He announced in Hanoi that the cost of internet access in Vietnam will be drastically reduced, though he didn’t elaborate on how that would be accomplished.

The digital gender gap

Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, CEO of Plan International, an organization with a particular focus on improving the lives of women and children, paints a less rosy picture of digitization.

“The digital divide is increasing. Women have less access to the internet than men and only 10 percent of employees in digital boardrooms are women,” she said, calling for special training programs for women. Albrectsen, who held a top post at the UN for many years, is this year’s co-chair of the WEF on ASEAN meeting.

Decision makers in Asia have long recognized the issue of inequality. So far there are no specific solutions as to how that inequality can be reduced. Basri, the former Indonesian finance minister, calls on politicians to act. “Rather than subsidize the goods, subsidize the people.”


By : Manuela Kasper-Claridge
Date : September 12, 2018
Source : DW

Posted in Latest Post, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment

Commentary: This is what the face of poverty looks like


Consider the complexities in tackling poverty to avoid superficial solutions that assume the root is the lack of skills or wisdom to make certain choices, says one social worker.

SINGAPORE: Charis, 24, and Alan, 45, was a couple who sought help from my agency. They married six years ago and have a young child, who is 5. While Alan is gainfully employed and earns a decent salary of S$2,500 a month, the family of three struggles financially.

They have no savings but sustained debt, amounting to approximately S$5,000. It appears that the couple lacks the wisdom to budget, and had not been prudent in their expenses.

Mani is a 21-year-old with a Primary 5 education who struggles to secure employment. She has a child, aged 5, with her first boyfriend whom she no longer keeps in touch with. With her second boyfriend, she has a second child, aged 2. Mani and her 25-year-old boyfriend, Selva, have no savings and rely on Selva’s parents for their children’s basic needs.

They approached our social workers for help with their young children’s expenses. It appears that the couple had made a poor decision to have children out of wedlock, which seemed like an irresponsible choice especially when they are not economically self-sufficient.

Siti, a stay-home mum for 20 years, was another individual who sought help. She has three children, aged 16, 13 and 10. Her 45-year-old husband, Abdullah, is gainfully employed as a security guard and earns S$1,800 a month but his health does not permit him to work longer hours.
While it seems like a reasonable expectation for Siti to go into the workforce and earn an income to supplement her husband’s, she experiences great anxiety going for interviews. She also experiences great distress thinking that her children’s needs might be compromised should she work.

On the surface, it appears that all three households lacks the skills and wisdom needed to make the “right choices” and live self-reliant and independent lives.

In a bid to improve their situations, social workers are quick to teach Charis and Alan budgeting skills, persuade Mani to accept any job that comes her way, and convince Siti to step into the workforce.

The practitioners typically hope to see some improvements in their situation in three to six months – the same period over which recipients of the most commonly-known and most widely distributed social assistance scheme ComCare receive aid.

The assumption is that these families should be able to resolve their situations in that period, since ComCare is not meant to be a long-term assistance scheme.


Within a few months of interacting with Charis and Alan, we soon found out that Charis had experienced abuse as a child. Alan himself had been trapped in the poverty cycle all his life.

We then wondered if their fractured early childhood experiences, the everyday stress and lived insecurities from a young age made it different for them to focus on seemingly simple tasks that the rest of us take for granted, such as budgeting.

As we got to know Mani, we realised that she struggled to secure employment because she has no one to help care for her young children on weekends. Given her educational qualifications, the jobs available to her typically require her to work weekends or after childcare operating hours.

When many working mothers have the support of grandparents, domestic workers or family friends to care for their children, Mani does not have that luxury.

Siti reacted angrily to her social worker pressing her to work. She gave many reasons why she could not find a job. A few weeks later, when under tremendous stress, Siti yelled at her social worker. She asked her social worker to stop pressing her to work. She said:

You do not understand my situation.


Economic self-sufficiency has always been the goal of all anti-poverty programmes and all social service practitioners wish this for the poor. However, in our urgency to move these families to economic self-sufficiency, we sometimes forget to delve deeper into the complexities of poverty.

Children from poor families are more likely to experience developmental delays and learning difficulties compared to their peers. They are also more likely to experience anxiety, depression and difficulties with impulse control.

Plenty of research point to the impact of the toxic stress of poverty on children’s brain development, which sometimes continues into adulthood.

When these children grow up, they are more likely to experience similar psychological problems, including persistent negative thinking. These problems are not easily reversed by budgeting exercises or financial management workshops.

Employment assistance programmes may help with money and give them the confidence to secure a job, but will not eradicate this scourge of poverty.


When we understand the psychological impact of poverty and the effects on a person’s mental and emotional well-being, we may realise that six months isn’t enough to help someone move out of poverty.

We may also realise that behavourial strategies focusing on changing individual behaviour should only be applied after we address some of these adults’ more pressing and fundamental mental health issues and early childhood trauma.

When we focus only on skills development and mindset change, we miss the mark, because we do not truly address the root of the problem that traps people in poverty.

Charis and Alan are still meeting their social worker regularly. Charis sometimes ignores her social worker and accuses her of not being supportive. Her social worker, understanding that she has difficulties trusting others, is still pressing on to connect with her, offering her empathy and understanding.

With the help of their social worker, Mani has managed to engage Selva’s mother to care for the two young children. The social worker helped the family negotiate a care arrangement that is sustainable for the family.

After two years, Mani and Selva married and moved into a new flat of their own but they continue to require the support of Selva’s mother to care for their children.

With a lot of handholding, support, understanding and encouragement, Siti finally stepped out to work part-time after eight months. She struggled to cope with the household responsibilities and the demands of her new job. She finally gained regular employment in a restaurant but the path to that, which included securing but losing another job along the way, was not linear or easy.

In eradicating poverty, efforts must be made to understand the complexities behind poverty.

The poor can’t just snap out of it and the privilege of being economically comfortable that confers us advantages in pursuing success is invisible to those who have it.

Those of us who enjoy this privilege must find ways to understand the psyche of those who experience poverty daily. Perhaps it is when we do so that we can change the way we design and implement our anti-poverty programmes to greater effectiveness.

 Pseudonyms were used in this commentary to protect the identities of those mentioned.

Cindy Ng is a social worker with extensive experience working with low-income families and persons experiencing violence and abuse.


By : Cindy Ng
Date : September 8, 2018
Source : Channel News Asia

Posted in Latest Post, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment

The Fog of Immigration


Throughout the West, millions of voters have formed negative opinions of immigrants, which populist politicians have exploited to make unprecedented electoral inroads. But there is a gap between the reality of immigration and the perceptions of it.

CAMBRIDGE – If France were to give the United States the Statue of Liberty today, one wonders if Americans would still embrace the spirit of its inscription: “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Given the divisiveness of immigration-policy debates in the US, one suspects that many Americans would prefer to slam shut “the golden door.”

After all, plans to build a full-fledged wall on the border with Mexico have polarized Americans. The US Supreme Court has now upheld the president’s executive order barring travel from certain predominantly Muslim countries (plus North Korea and Venezuela), after lower courts struck down earlier versions for their religious animus. And throughout the summer, headlines have been filled with haunting accounts of migrant children being torn away from their parents at the US-Mexico border and held in cages.

The situation in Europe hasn’t been all that different. The United Kingdom’s bid to withdraw from the European Union was fueled largely by the promise of ending the free movement of people and “taking back control” of the country’s borders. And since 2015 – when one million refugees fleeing violence in the Middle East arrived in Europe – images of migrants corralled in holding areas and drowning at sea have regularly dominated the news cycle in Europe.

At the same time, extremist violence and economic insecurity associated with immigration have opened the door for nationalist parties to take power, most recently in Italy. And just two months ago, immigration shot back to the top of the European agenda after Italy’s new anti-establishment government turned away a rescue boat carrying more than 600 asylum seekers.


One might think that we would all be well acquainted with the facts about immigration, given the impact that it has on our politics and societies. But the truth is that Americans and Europeans have a deep misunderstanding of the issue, both in terms of its scale and its social and economic consequences.

For starters, consider your own knowledge of the issue: Do you honestly know how many immigrants there are in your country, where they come from, or what share of them are poor or unemployed? If your answer is “no,” you are hardly alone.

In a recent study, my Harvard University colleagues Alberto Alesina and Armando Miano and I surveyed 22,500 native-born respondents from France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, the UK, and the US. We concluded that much of the political debate about immigration takes place in a world of misinformation. Across the board, respondents’ attitudes towards immigrants – and thus the policies that they want elected politicians to pursue – are based not on facts, but on widespread misperceptions and falsehoods.

For starters, people’s estimates of the number of immigrants in their country tend to be way off base. On average, the survey respondents in the study believed that there are between two and three times as many immigrants in their respective countries as there actually are. US natives think that legal immigrants make up 36% of the population, yet the real share is just 10% (13.5% if one includes illegal immigrants).

Large discrepancies exist in Germany, France, Italy, and the UK as well. In these countries, the actual share of immigrants ranges from 10-15%, but respondents’ estimations averaged around 30%. Swedish respondents had the most accurate perceptions, but they were still wide of the mark. They guessed that immigrants make up 27% of the population; the actual share is 17%, the highest in our sample.

But survey respondents were not just mistaken about the scale of immigration. They also had a false sense of where most immigrants come from, what religion they follow, and how much they contribute to the economy. On the first two points, we found that respondents overestimated the share of immigrants hailing from regions that the Western media has branded as “problematic,” as well as the share of non-Christian immigrants.

For example, in all countries except France, respondents inflated the share of Muslim immigrants; and in all of the countries surveyed, they underestimated the share of Christian immigrants by at least 20 percentage points. In the US, native-born respondents tend to think that Muslims constitute 23% of the immigrant population while Christians make up just 40%. In reality, 61% of immigrants in the US are Christian, and 10% are Muslim. In the UK, respondents believed that only 30% of immigrants are Christian; the real figure is almost twice that (58%).


Furthermore, in all of the countries surveyed, immigrants are believed to be poorer, less educated, more likely to be unemployed, and more reliant on government transfers than is actually the case. For instance, US respondents thought that 37% of the poor are immigrants, though just 12% are; and they believed that 38% of all those without a high-school degree are immigrants, though the real figure is less than half that (17%).

Moreover, a non-trivial share of respondents in the countries surveyed believed that the average immigrant receives at least twice as much in government transfers as the average native-born citizen.

Respondents were also asked to guess the government assistance received by a native-born man named “John” and an immigrant of the same age, income, and family situation named “Mohammad.” A significant share of respondents – 20% in the UK and Germany, 25% in the US, and 35% in France and Italy – said that Mohammad must be receiving more in transfers or paying less in taxes than John.

And yet, the assumption that immigrants are a major drain on public finances is belied by the data. Because immigrants are typically younger than the general population, they receive significantly less in government transfers if pension payments are included. In Italy, the average immigrant receives 70% less in transfers – including pensions – than does the average native-born citizen, according to OECD estimates; and in the US, the average immigrant receives 35% less.

For the US, the Hamilton Project finds that, “Taxes paid by immigrants and their children – both legal and unauthorized – exceed the costs of the services they use.” This makes sense, given that the US receives a large share of highly skilled immigrants. The share of legal immigrants with a college degree in the US is around 41%, according to our calculations; and immigrants have been estimated to take out patents at twice the rate of natives. It is little wonder, then, that in 2017, a major study by the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concluded that “immigration has an overall positive impact on long-run economic growth in the US.”

Added dynamism from immigration is not new. Ufuk Akcigit and John Grigsby of the University of Chicago, along with Tom Nicholas of Harvard Business School, find that immigrants also constituted a disproportionately large share of inventors during America’s “Golden Age” of innovation, between 1880 and 1940. And, looking ahead, Jason Furman of Harvard University reminds us that immigrants’ economic contributions will become all the more important as the population continues to age.

Similarly, a number of European countries have succeeded at attracting highly skilled immigrants: 38% of immigrants in Sweden and 48% in the UK have a college education. Yet, in our study, UK respondents tended to believe that only half as many immigrants (25%) have a college degree. Other countries such as France, Italy, and Germany actually do receive significantly higher shares of less-educated immigrants. But immigrants in these countries still are not as poor or as likely to be unemployed as native-born citizens believe.


As our study shows, most people tend to be mistaken about immigration. But it is worth noting that some are far more misinformed than others. Generally speaking, non-college-educated citizens, supporters of right-wing political parties, or those with lower levels of educational attainment who work in immigration-intensive sectors have a greater negative bias in their perceptions of immigrants. On the other hand, people who are acquainted or friends with an immigrant have both more positive and more accurate perceptions about immigrants generally.

Of course, correlation is not causality. Having more accurate views about immigrants could itself be the reason for knowing an immigrant in the first place.

The widespread confusion about immigration across Western democracies has real-world consequences. The public’s misperceptions can have a significant impact on policy – and not just on immigration policies, narrowly defined. Social-science research has shown time and again that generosity does not travel well across different ethnic, national, or religious groups.

In our study, for example, we found that simply prompting people to think about immigrants reduces their support for redistributive policies such as progressive taxation or social insurance, and even makes them less likely to donate to charities that help low-income people.

We also conducted three experiments in which respondents were given some of the facts about immigration. In the first, respondents were told the actual share of immigrants in their country; in the second, they were shown where the immigrants in their country come from; and in the third, they heard an anecdote about “a day in the life” of a hard-working immigrant woman. In each case, the additional information made respondents more supportive of more open immigration policies.

But what about support for redistribution? Interestingly, we found that giving respondents the facts about the number and origins of immigrants did not increase their support for redistribution, but that showing them just the anecdote of a hard-working immigrant did. This indicates that attitudes toward redistribution are strongly influenced by one’s views about the perceived “deservingness” of the poor.

Still, even when respondents are confronted with the facts and a favorable depiction of an immigrant, their previously held negative views persist, and their support for redistribution declines, if they are also prompted to think in detail about the characteristics of immigrants, such as religion, age, education, or employment levels. In other words, when people are primed to think about immigrants, they tend to show less generosity and empathy toward the poor, and less support for redistribution.


Owing to this phenomenon, politicians who already oppose redistribution can gain a leg up simply by playing the immigration card. This has become one of the favored tactics of populists and nationalists, and it points to a very real danger. A failure to correct public misperceptions about immigration could have unintended consequences in a wide range of areas, from taxation and social spending to education and health care.

Making matters worse, no one really knows where misperceptions about immigration come from – at least not yet. Most likely, there are several different sources. One obvious culprit is the media, which could be – unwittingly or otherwise – distorting public perceptions through what it chooses to cover and how. One does not see front-page stories about lawful, honest, hard-working immigrants filing their taxes or picking up their kids from soccer practice. But one does not need to look far to find sensational coverage of immigrants committing crimes or abusing the welfare system.

At the end of the day, immigration is a profoundly complex economic, moral, and social issue. There are no easy answers for how a country should confront the challenges associated with it, just as there is no magical solution that could eliminate the inequality, wars, or natural disasters that drive global migration flows in the first place.

Integrating immigrants into labor markets and creating peaceful, functioning multi-ethnic societies is ultimately the job of politics. But for our politics to work, we first must make sure that we are all working with the facts – not myths and misperceptions.

Stefanie Stantcheva is a professor of economics at Harvard University.


Date : August 3, 2018
Author : Stefanie Stantcheva
Source : Project Syndicate

Posted in Latest Post, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment

One in three Moroccan graduates jobless in slack economy: planning chief


RABAT (Reuters) – One in three Moroccan university graduates cannot find a job due to slow economic growth, under-investment and an education system that fails to develop employable skills, the kingdom’s planning chief said in an interview.

Morocco sidestepped the uprisings that upended much of the Arab world in 2011 but has seen protests driven by poverty and unemployment erupt more recently in some neglected regions.

King Mohammed sacked the minister for the economy and finance, the Royal Cabinet said on Wednesday, three days after he urged action to tackle social and economic problems including meager investment.

“In the last five years, an average 60,000 people have graduated annually from Moroccan higher educational institutions, of whom 20,000 can’t find a job,” Ahmed Lahlimi, head of the High Planning Commission, told Reuters.

Lahlimi said the jobless rate dropped to 9.1 percent in the second quarter of 2018 from 9.3 in the same period in 2017 but this was down largely to the farm sector after abundant rainfall.

Based on likely future agricultural output, however, GDP growth is expected to slow to 2.9 percent in 2019 from a forecast 3.1 percent this year, Lahlimi said. Agriculture represents 15 percent of GDP.

“With such slow growth, Morocco is not doing enough to significantly curb unemployment and bridge social disparities. The impact of growth on job creation has continued to diminish since 2000.”

The education system needs improvement ranging from pre-school to university, he said. “Education is the social ladder that could lift people out of poverty, reduce disparities and fight social inequalities.”

Vocational training is key but continues to attract largely failed students. “(It) should attract people who are motivated to do jobs that meet the needs of the job market in tandem with technological advancements,” Lahlimi said.

The North African country has in recent years lured of dollars in investment in renewable energies, the automotive sector, aeronautics and tourism, but many young people still struggle to find jobs.

“Morocco needs to strengthen the competitiveness of its economic fabric, notably small- and medium-sized enterprises,” said Lahlimi.

Rising exports, he said, do not reflect the reality of Morocco’s dependence on imports that weigh on the trade balance. The biggest exporting industries such as the automotive sector depend largely on imported parts.

“This further impacts Morocco’s finances and deepens the trade deficit,” he said.

The deficit widened 7.8 percent to 100.832 billion dirhams ($10.64 billion) in the first six months of 2018 compared with the same period last year, with cars topping exports.

Lahlimi also said Morocco recorded an exceptional harvest of 10.3 million tons of cereals this year but in 2019 anticipates a harvest lower than those in 2017 and 2018, he said.

“We can only have a clear picture of the crop year in January,” Lahlimi said.


Date : August 3, 2018
Authors : Ahmed Eljechtimi, Ulf Laessing
Source : Reuters

Posted in Latest Post, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment
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