How coronavirus is deepening American inequality

Analysis by Brandon Tensley, CNN
Apr 6, 2020
Washington (CNN) – In March, Madonna posted (and then deleted) a video of herself in a milk bath dusted with rose petals calling the global coronavirus pandemic the “great equalizer.”
Fast-forward just a couple weeks, and that already disturbing way of thinking — shared by a number of the rich and famous self-isolating while surrounded by opulence — registers as downright unintelligible: It’s abundantly clear that the virus is only deepening inequality in America.
A scan of the unemployment numbers — in the week ending on March 28, first-time unemployment claims skyrocketed to a record 6.6 million, as businesses continued to shutter in an effort to curb the virus’ spread — shows that people of color are disproportionately affected by the waves of job loss because more hold service-industry or otherwise “expendable” jobs.
Crucially, for many of these Americans, unemployment means more than the loss of a job — it means the loss of employer-provided health insurance, too. This situation leaves them in vulnerable positions should they need to seek out testing or treatment for Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.
“When white America catches a cold, black America catches pneumonia,” Steven Brown, a research associate at the Urban Institute, a Washington-based think tank, told my CNN colleague Chauncey Alcorn.
A group of Democratic lawmakers — including Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren — sent a letter on Friday to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar calling for race-inclusive data in testing.
“Any attempt to contain Covid-19 in the United States will have to address its potential spread in low-income communities of color, first and foremost to protect the lives of people in those communities, but also to slow the spread of the virus in the country as a whole,” they wrote.
It makes sense that racial gaps in equality are being emphasized. After all, thanks to years of discriminatory policy, people of color tend to suffer from poverty, negative underlying health conditions, and poor housing environments at higher rates than their white counterparts. These interacting variables can make the virus’ impact particularly acute, and fuel its transmission. (And this is to say nothing of the phenomenon of the well-off fleeing cities for the comforts of hideaways elsewhere.)
“Decades of structural racism have prevented so many black and brown families from accessing quality health care, affordable housing and financial security, and the coronavirus crisis is blowing these disparities wide open,” Warren said in a statement.
These inauspicious comments track with recent numbers.
While black Americans make up 32.9% of the population of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, they account for 43.9% of its Covid-19 cases. Black Americans account for nearly half of the cases and 81% of the deaths in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, despite the fact that it’s just 26% black. In Michigan, black Americans make up only 14% of the state’s population but account for 35% of cases and 40% of deaths there. (These are the figures as of Friday.)
It’s early days yet; society is still muddling through all the uncertainties of the evolving crisis. But it isn’t too soon to say that the pandemic isn’t the “great equalizer” but rather the precise opposite — the sort of cataclysmic event that’s bolstering hierarchies anew.
TM & © 2020 Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.

Snowden warns government surveillance amid COVID-19 could be long lasting

By Abrar Al-Heeti CNET staff

Edward Snowden on Monday warned that high-tech surveillance measures governments use to fight the outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the newly identified coronavirus, could have a long-lasting impact. That’s according to an interview with the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival.

The US government, for instance, is reportedly in talks with tech companies like Facebook and Google to use anonymized location data from phones to help track the spread of COVID-19. While some say the measure could be a helpful tool for health authorities to track the virus, others have expressed concerns about their information being shared with the government.

Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor who leaked documents about mass surveillance activities, said governments can extend the access they have to people’s personal information during a crisis and use it to monitor their actions. During this pandemic, for example, governments might say they’re worried about public health and could send an order to every fitness tracker to look at measures like pulse and heart rate, and then demand access to that kind of activity, he said.

After the virus is gone and the data is still available to them, governments can use new causes like terrorist threats to justify continually gathering and analyzing people’s data, he said.

“They already know what you’re looking at on the internet,” Snowden said during the interview. “They already know where your phone is moving. Now they know what your heart rate is, what your pulse is. What happens when they start to intermix these and apply artificial intelligence to it?”

In 2013, Snowden revealed details of NSA surveillance programs to journalists, which led to heightened concerns about privacy in the digital era. He faces charges of espionage and theft of government property in the US, and has been living in Russia since 2013.

INTERNATIONAL LOANS The Countries Most in Debt to China

 China

According to research recently published by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, there are seven countries in the world whose external loan debt to China surpasses 25 percent of their GDP. Three (Djibouti, Niger and The Republic of the Congo) are located in Africa, while four (Kyrgyztan, Laos, Cambodia and the Maldives) are in Asia.

Yet, the world map of debt to China amassed through direct loans (excluding debt holdings and short-term trade debt) shows that a majority of countries heavily in debt to China are in Africa, but that Central Asia and Latin America follow close behind.

While China’s overseas lending is coordinated by the country’s centralized government, it is often poorly documented, which the researchers of the paper were trying to change. They found that debt by direct loans started to grow immensely only around 2010 and that loans by China often come at higher rates and with shorter grace periods for the receiving country than comparable loans from the OECD or the World Bank. The authors also caution that countries heavily in debt to China are at risk of defaulting. In the 1970s, a lending boom which consisted of similar contracts offered by U.S., European and Japanese banks had led to this outcome for a number of developing countries which were trying to improve their infrastructure, according to the research.

Meanwhile, external debt to China through portfolio holdings is concentrated in developed nations and passes the threshold of 10 percent of GDP for Germany and the Netherlands. It amounts to between 5 and 10 percent of GDP in the U.S., Canada,France, the UK and Australia.

Infographic: The Countries Most in Debt to China | Statista

DESCRIPTION

This chart shows global debt levels cause by direct loans from China (as percentage of GDP) in 2017.

New evidence that lead exposure increases crime

Due to its toxicity, most cities moved away from lead water-supply piping by the 1920s in the United States, although lead pipes were approved by national plumbing codes into the 1980s, and lead was used in plumbing solder for drinking water until it was banned in 1986.

A recent investigation by Reuters found that lead exposure affects kids in communities across the country — not just in high-profile cities like Flint, Michigan. This is worrisome, because elevated blood lead levels in kids have been linked to an array of developmental delays and behavioral problems. More ominously, this could also increase crime. Kevin Drum and others have argued that lead exposure caused the high crime rates during the 1980s and early 1990s. There has been suggestive evidence of such a link for decades, though it hasn’t gained much traction in research or policy circles. But the case that lead exposure causes crime recently became much stronger.

jennifer doleac
Jennifer L. Doleac
Former Brookings ExpertAssociate Professor of Economics – Texas A&M UniversityDirector – Justice Tech Lab
jenniferdoleac
The “lead-crime hypothesis” is that (1) lead exposure at young ages leaves children with problems like learning disabilities, ADHD, and impulse control problems; and (2) those problems cause them to commit crime as adults — particularly violent crime. For many years, the major source of lead in the environment was leaded gasoline: car exhaust left lead behind to settle into dust on the roads and nearby land. When lead was removed from gasoline, lead levels in the environment fell, and kids avoided the lead exposure that caused these developmental problems. About 20 years later, when those kids became young adults, crime rates fell. This, proponents say, is what explains the mysterious and persistent decline in crime beginning in the early 1990s.

It’s an intriguing idea — particularly since we don’t have a better explanation for the big changes in crime rates during this period. Several studies have found correlations between lead exposure and crime, at varying levels of geography (from neighborhoods to nations). But correlation, as we all know by now, does not imply causation.

The main challenge in measuring the effect of lead on crime is that lead exposure is highly correlated with a variety of indicators related to poverty: poor schools, poor nutrition, poor health care, exposure to other environmental toxins, and so on. Those other factors could independently affect crime. The challenge for economists has been to separate the effect of lead exposure from the effects of all those other things that are correlated with lead exposure. A true experiment — where some kids are randomized to grow up with high lead exposure and others not — is out of the question. So economists have gone hunting for natural experiments — events or policies that divide otherwise-similar kids into comparable treatment and control groups.

And they’ve found them. Three recent papers consider the effects of lead exposure on juvenile delinquency and crime rates, using three very different empirical approaches and social contexts. All have plausible (but very different) control groups, and all point to the same conclusion: lead exposure leads to big increases in criminal behavior.

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One of these papers considers the aggregate effects of lead exposure on city-level crime, using U.S. data from the early twentieth century. The authors, James Feigenbaum and Christopher Muller, noted that one of the primary ways individuals were exposed to lead during this period was by drinking water pumped through lead pipes. But not all cities had lead pipes. If a city was far from the nearest lead refinery, it would likely have pipes made from another material. Comparing places with and without lead pipes might allow us to estimate the effect of lead exposure on crime, but we’d worry that places near lead refineries are systematically different in some way that could confound our estimates: perhaps they’re subject to more pollution, or are wealthier. To address this, the authors exploit another interesting fact: lead only seeps into water when the water is acidic. This sets up a nice natural experiment that sorts otherwise-similar cities into the treatment and control groups we need. Those with lead pipes and acidic water are the treatment group (their populations were exposed to lead in the drinking water). Cities with lead pipes but non-acidic water, and cities with acidic water but non-lead pipes, are the control groups. These control groups account for the independent effects of lead pipes or acidic water — and whatever characteristics those features are correlated with. Using this experiment, the authors measure the effect of lead exposure on homicide rates lagged by 20 years (to give the kids exposed to lead time to grow up). They find that exposing populations to lead in their drinking water causes much higher homicide rates 20 years later, relative to similar places where kids avoided such exposure.

They find that exposing populations to lead in their drinking water causes much higher homicide rates 20 years later, relative to similar places where kids avoided such exposure.

This evidence on city-level violent crime is more compelling than previous correlational studies, but perhaps it would be even better to compare similar kids who live in the same community. This would allow us to control for more factors that might independently drive criminal behavior.

The next paper does just this, using data from more recent years. Anna Aizer and Janet Currie link data on preschool blood lead levels with data on school suspensions and incarceration, for children born in Rhode Island between 1990 and 2004. They note that kids who happened to live closer to busy roads within a neighborhood are more likely to have high blood lead levels, because the soil near those roads was still contaminated due to the use of leaded gasoline decades ago. This was especially true for kids born in the early 1990s, as environmental lead levels have fallen over time. They use those kids as the treatment group (high lead exposure) and similar kids who lived on other roads, as well as kids who lived on the same roads in later years, as the control group. These kids look similar in most other ways — they attend the same schools, their parents have similar incomes, and so on — so we would expect them to have similar outcomes. But Aizer and Currie find that being exposed to higher levels of lead increases kids’ likelihood of suspension from school as well as (for boys) the probability of being incarcerated as juveniles. The magnitude of their estimates suggest that the reduction in lead exposure due to the switch to unleaded gasoline may indeed explain a substantial portion of the decline in crime in the 1990s and 2000s.

The third paper comes at the lead-crime hypothesis from a different direction, and asks whether government programs that aim to reduce lead exposure can protect kids from lead’s negative effects. Stephen Billings and Kevin Schnepel measure the effect of CDC-recommended interventions for kids with elevated blood lead levels. Kids who test above a certain lead level twice in a row are provided intensive services — including lead abatement in their home and nutritional counseling to mitigate the effects of lead exposure. The reason two tests are required is that blood lead tests are extremely imprecise. There are therefore a lot of kids who test over the threshold once but not the second time, for reasons other than their actual lead exposure. Billings and Schnepel use the noise in these test results as random variation that divides kids into treatment and control groups: kids who tested over the threshold twice get these services, while kids who tested over the threshold once and then just below the threshold the second time do not. The intuition is that these kids have similar blood lead levels, but due to random noise in the test, some are treated and others are not. By comparing what happens to those two groups of kids, Billings and Schnepel are able to measure the effects of CDC-recommended interventions on kids’ outcomes.

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They use data on kids born between 1990 and 1997 in Charlotte-Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. The data include results of blood lead level tests as well as school records and adult arrests. They find that, relative to the control group, kids who receive the intervention exhibit substantially less antisocial behavior, including suspensions, absences, school crimes, and violent crime arrests. These results are striking for two reasons: (1) The kids’ blood lead levels — low by historical standards — are high enough to affect their behavior and put them at risk for suspensions and arrests. (2) The CDC-recommended interventions have a big impact and can substantially mitigate those risks. The authors conclude: “It is likely that increasing the frequency and intensity of intervention for lead-exposed children will yield a profound return considering the potential long-term effects of lead on health and human capital.”

These new studies give us compelling evidence that ongoing lead exposure in communities across the country will have long-term costs to society. But they also provide evidence that we can do something to help kids who have been exposed to high lead levels, and that the benefits of such interventions far outweigh the costs. (Billings and Schnepel estimate that for every $1 invested in the intervention they studied, society yields a return of nearly $1.80.) If President Trump is serious about reducing crime rates, this research suggests he should dramatically expand these programs. It would be a smart investment in public safety.

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Parental Kidnapping

What is Parental Kidnapping?

Kidnapping is an unlawful act wherein someone takes another person against their will or coerces another person to leave with them and keeps them captive. A kidnapper can be a stranger to the victim or someone that is very close to the victim, such as a family member.

Parental kidnapping, also known as parental abduction, is a criminal act that typically occurs when a parent takes a child without the other parent’s permission in violation of a standing child custody order.

What are some Examples of Parental Kidnapping?

The key to determining whether or not a parental kidnapping has occurred is to establish if there is a valid court custody order that explains the parental rights of the legal parents or guardians of the child.

So, for example, assume Parent “B” does not have visitation or custodial rights during their child’s spring break from school. However, Parent “B” found a last-minute, bargain airline deal and wants to fly to a sunny destination with their child for a few days of their spring break.  Suppose Parent “B” contacts Parent “A” to let them know their plans. Parent “A” does not approve and states that Parent “B” cannot take the child during spring break. However, Parent “B” picks up their child early from soccer practice and proceeds with their plans to leave town with the child during their spring break. In this scenario, Parent “B” could be charged and found guilty of parental kidnapping.

If the scenario above slightly changed, the outcome may be very different. If the parents (“A” and “B”) were no longer together but never formalized a custodial agreement with the courts, Parent “B” would most likely not be charged with parental kidnapping. Without a court order stipulating the parental rights of each parent or guardian, Parents “A” and “B” have equal rights with regard to their child.

It is also important to note that the legal standing of a parent is also taken into consideration by the courts. If for instance, a couple has raised a child together, but one partner is not a biological parent and has never taken any formal legal action (such as adoption), they may not have any legal standing in the eyes of the court.

Fraud and corruption in CPS and DFS

EXPOSE THE TRUTH

L. Brandeis, Other People’s Money (National Home Library Foundation ed. 1933)

“If we desire respect for the law, then we must first make the law respectable.”

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Inequality, Equality, and Equity

E. J. R. David Ph.D.

Unseen and Unheard

How an equality approach on an unequal world maintains (and worsens) inequality.

I was recently asked to give the keynote address for a youth leadership conference. In the invitation, they informed me that the conference theme was inequality and that I had only 10 minutes to speak.

And so as I thought about what to say regarding inequality, I easily came to the conclusion that there is no way I can get too deep into this very complex and widespread issue in such a short amount of time. But the good thing about this request was that it forced me to narrow down on what I think are the most important points future (and current) leaders need to know about inequality. To this end, I present below some of my thoughts on various forms of inequalities and what I think should be driving our efforts to address them.

The Who, What, Where, When, and Why of Inequality

There are inequalities between men and women, between racial and ethnic groups, between LGBTQ people and non-LGBTQ people, between the wealthy and the poor, between religions, between countries, and between people of different abilities.

There are inequalities in pay, inequalities in wealth, inequalities in educational achievement, inequalities in access to education, inequalities in health and well-being, inequalities in access to health care, inequalities in rights and privileges, inequalities in quality of life, and inequalities in power—just to name a few.

These inequalities are not new issues and are not only happening in few isolated places. Instead, inequalities have been affecting millions of people all over the world for many generations.

And as for why inequalities exist, well, it is important to note that inequalities do not exist simply because some people are inherently inferior—which seems to be a belief that many people hold.

Why Inequalities Exist

Interaction Institute for Social Change
Illustrating Equality Vs Equity
Source: Interaction Institute for Social Change

You may have already seen this popular equality meme. Regardless of whether it was intentional or not, this image presents inequality as existing because of physical or biological differences between people. The image propagates the (racist, sexist, heterosexist, classist, ableist, etc.) myth that some people are struggling or behind simply because they are less developed, immature, uncivilized, less intelligent, or just of lower status in some way—that these inequalities are natural. But in reality, the inequalities that exist in our world are not because of some inherent characteristic. Instead, we must remember that inequality is a result of hundreds of years of exploitation and oppression. Therefore, instead of the popular meme, I propose a more accurate visual representation of inequality below.

With this modified image, it is conveyed that exploitation and oppression happened historically—and are still happening contemporarily—and that such atrocities created and continue to maintain inequalities between people. It is also clear in the modified image that the inequalities are not due to some inherent inferior characteristics of some people or the natural superiority of some people, but instead are due to unfair systems/institutions that were developed and designed to benefit some people while keeping other people down.

E. J. R. David
Real Inequality
Source: E. J. R. David

An Equality Approach

So now that we have a more accurate understanding of inequality, what can we do to address it?

During one presentation of mine, I asked the audience of approximately 300 people to raise their hand if they think that the solution to inequality is equality. And an easily overwhelming proportion of the audience—approximately two thirds—raised their hand. It is not surprising that most people quickly think of equality as the solution to inequality; they are, after all, conceptual opposites so it seems logical! Also, the concept of equality sounds and looks good, thus, for many leaders who are attempting to address inequality, an equality approach provides “good optics” that is safe from further criticism. Indeed, on the surface, an equality approach is attractive because it promotes the intention to treat everyone the same, give everyone the same things, and give everyone equal amounts. In short, an equality approach is consistent with egalitarian values, promotes sameness, and reflects fairness.

But the fairness it exudes is just an illusion.

As we can also see in the popular image above, where each person was given one crate to stand on, an equality approach is not really fair as one crate is not enough to equalize people. Similarly, if we use an equality approach on the modified inequality image I proposed, we see the same effect: some people still end up with more land and resources to stand on than other people. Therefore, inequalities still persist.

E. J. R. David
An Equality Approach to Inequality
Source: E. J. R. David

Therefore, although it may look good on the surface, a deeper look reveals that an equality approach can only work if everyone starts from the same place or level. An equality approach does not correct for historical and contemporary injustices. Furthermore, an equality approach to an unequal reality only maintains inequality—perhaps even worsen and further spread inequality. Indeed, some important questions to ask are “Where did the additional resources come from? Who ended up being exploited and oppressed so that more land and resources can be brought over and equally distributed to some folks so they can watch baseball?”

An Equity Approach

Instead of equality-driven solutions, what seems like a more promising approach is equity. An equity approach acknowledges that there are differences between people and what they need to succeed. Further, an equity approach acknowledges that there are systemic and institutionalized differences in how people have been treated historically and contemporarily, and that these differences and/or historical and contemporary experiences can make barriers to participation. Perhaps more importantly, an equity approach acknowledges and corrects for the exploitation and oppression of the past and of today, and breaks down the unjust systems that have been built to benefit some people while keeping other people down. Finally, an equity approach also calls for the powerful and privileged to share their power and privilege. Instead of simply looking for other land, other people, or other resources to steal, exploit, or oppress, an equity approach calls for those with more than enough to share their resources so that all people can have enough.

To this end, I present the image below that summarizes these points.

E. J. R. David
Equality Vs Equity
Source: E. J. R. David

Conclusion

The reality is that there are inequalities in our world. These inequalities are not because of some inherently inferior characteristics that some people have. Instead, we must remember that inequality is a result of hundreds of years of exploitation and oppression. Further, these inequalities were created and are maintained by systems and institutions to benefit some people while keeping other people down.

As we collectively attempt to address inequality, we must remember that equality is the goal, not the method. An equality approach may look good and project fairness, but it cannot lead to equality. An equality approach on an unequal world will only maintain (maybe even worsen) inequality.

Instead, we need to use an equity approach to drive our solutions. An equity approach is risky and may not produce good “optics,” but it is what is necessary. To be a true ally—to be an accomplice—in addressing inequality, we need to take risks and do what is necessary. To address inequalities, we need to be willing to take risks and have bad “optics” and potentially get in trouble—we need to use our power and privileges—to do the right and necessary thing.

To address inequality, we need leaders who are ready and willing to get into necessary trouble!

P.S. – Another set of important question to ask in these images are: “Why are we forced to watch baseball anyway? Who got to decide that watching baseball is an important thing to do?” Perhaps for another blog.

Unsafe at Any Level Millions of American children missing early lead tests

Many states and Medicaid rules require blood lead tests for young children, but millions are falling through this safety net, leaving them vulnerable to poisoning – and showing lead worries extend beyond Flint, Michigan

LEETONIA, Ohio – When Jennifer Sekerak took son Joshua for his age-one check-up, the pediatrician saw no need to test for lead poisoning. The baby wasn’t yet walking, she recalls the doctor saying, so was unlikely to be playing around hazards like lead paint.

Over the next year or so, Joshua was twice hospitalized for mysterious symptoms. He began refusing food and eating dirt. There was violent head-banging, sleeplessness, skin lesions, vomiting.

“He stopped talking, he wanted to eat dirt, and he would scream like a banshee,” Sekerak said. “To be honest, he was like a wild animal.”

Once, Joshua was rushed to the hospital in Boardman, Ohio, and diagnosed with severe anemia, a common finding in lead-poisoned children. Hospital staff told Sekerak her son, enrolled in Medicaid, might have lead poisoning. But the hospital, Akron Children’s at Boardman, did not test his blood for lead, she says. Citing federal privacy rules, a hospital spokeswoman declined comment.

At the mother’s urging, a new pediatrician tested him at age two. His blood lead concentration was 19 micrograms per deciliter, nearly four times the level Ohio defines as lead poisoning and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers elevated. Had Joshua been tested earlier – as Medicaid and Ohio rules required – the family could have more quickly removed him from a lead-infested rental house, Sekerak said.

Joshua’s case is not unique, a Reuters investigation found. Nationwide, millions of children are falling through the cracks of early childhood lead testing requirements.

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