HiredPen Inc. » HiredPen Inc. http://www.hiredpeninc.com Just another WordPress site Tue, 23 Aug 2016 22:45:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.27 What are the social issues that we’ll be talking about in five years? /blog/what-are-the-social-issues-that-well-be-talking-about-in-five-years/ /blog/what-are-the-social-issues-that-well-be-talking-about-in-five-years/#comments Mon, 21 Mar 2016 14:45:10 +0000 /?p=826 I took a highly unscientific survey of social scientists I know, asking them what they’re working on. I asked them because they tend to hone in on topics far before the media picks up on them. Here’s what they said: Inequality: One team is tracking 40 years of private school enrollments to see what role […]

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]]> I took a highly unscientific survey of social scientists I know, asking them what they’re working on. I asked them because they tend to hone in on topics far before the media picks up on them.

Here’s what they said:

    • Inequality: One team is tracking 40 years of private school enrollments to see what role family income inequality plays in education disparities.

 

    • Jobs: Others are thinking about how to make community college more productive for low-income students, and oriented toward a credential that employers actually value. “Tens of billions of Pell dollars are wasted without results to show for it. We need a Race to the Top for states that make their community colleges more accountable, based on education and employment outcomes. We also need to make Pell grants easier to spend on short-term certificate programs that are tied to job demands, and on programs like apprenticeships.”

 

    • Others are looking at the intertwining worlds of the prison industrial complex and concentrated poverty. Relocating to a new neighborhood or city after release provides a fresh start for many parolled prisoners, but lack of income, housing discrimination, and even parole policies make it extremely difficult for ex-prisoners to move away from their old neighborhood.

 

    • Others are looking at a new twist on gentrification—the suburbanization of poverty, and now the suburbanization of ex-offenders. Because of the high costs of residing in urban areas, tight rental markets, and housing discrimination, ex-prisoners are increasingly residing in the suburbs. A decade ago, about 50% of prisoners leaving the Illinois Department of Corrections returned to a Chicago neighborhood. Now, about 38% do, with more living in lower-income suburbs. Given that social services for returning prisoners (e.g., mental health, job training, drug treatment) tend to be located in cities, it may become harder for ex-prisoners to turn their lives around.

 

    • And a twist on the immigration debate. Will punitive immigration policies and practices make it less likely that immigrants will rely on the police? Seems so. They are less likely to report crimes to the police, which makes it harder for the police to do their jobs.

 

    • Even more novel, an approach to health and longevity that moves away from the “disease model” and treatment to altering our biologies to let us lead longer and healthier lives. Simply put, “the choice would come down to the two extremes: (1) the current health-care approach, with most individuals enjoying a relatively long life span but reduced health span and increased, ballooning health-care costs; or (2) the biology-of-aging-based health-span extension, which, if successfully translated to humans, would provide increased health span at a fraction of today’s health-care cost, with a vigorous and engaged older adult population and even a potentially productive older workforce.” Whoa.

 

    • And once we’re living those longer, more productive lives, others are looking at what we might do with all that time. How might we tap the productivity of those over age 60 to benefit society?

 

    • And how might we tap the same among those under age 30? Another group is looking at children’s and adolescents’ understanding of and sense of responsibility for the “environmental commons” – an expansive term that refers to the natural resources on which life depends and the public spaces where people act, discuss, and decide how to defend the commons they share with fellow community members.  They’re asking, can an eco-justice model develop kids’ motivation and capacities for collective action? They’ve been collecting data on kids in Michigan (predominantly from low-income and ethnic minority communities) working to preserve their environmental commons (e.g., river stream mitigation, retrofitting of houses for energy savings, etc.).

 

    • Speaking of health care costs, some are looking deeply at the social determinants of health. Hospitals are looking beyond their in-house mission to cure disease to preventing it (and thus lowering costs). But beyond the calls to lose weight and quit smoking, they’re looking at how our communities contribute to our well-being and health, whether that’s access to parks, clean air,  housing that is both affordable and safe, or access to good jobs.

 

All fascinating ideas, and so critical as we enter this new era of rising inequality amid a country that is rapidly diversifying and changing. Expect to be reading about these innovations… in about five years.

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/blog/what-are-the-social-issues-that-well-be-talking-about-in-five-years/feed/ 0 Last Week at HiredPen: Early Education, Pay for Success, and Wile.E.Coyote /blog/last-week-at-hiredpen-early-education-pay-for-success-and-wile-e-coyote/ /blog/last-week-at-hiredpen-early-education-pay-for-success-and-wile-e-coyote/#comments Sun, 11 Oct 2015 05:07:25 +0000 /?p=783 Read: Not Golden Yet: Building a Stronger Workforce for Young Children in California (by our own Sarah Jackson writing for New America). Bottom line: progress, but early ed teachers are still abysmally underpaid and too often underprepared to take on this enormous and critical job of preparing kids to be ready to learn. Typical: An […]

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Pages-from-Not-Golden-Yet-New-America_Jackson-policy-paper-2015Read: Not Golden Yet: Building a Stronger Workforce for Young Children in California (by our own Sarah Jackson writing for New America). Bottom line: progress, but early ed teachers are still abysmally underpaid and too often underprepared to take on this enormous and critical job of preparing kids to be ready to learn. Typical: An op-ed in the Sacramento Bee cherry-picks the research on early education investments with the tired argument that progress fades by third grade. Thankfully Early Edge’s Deborah Kong and David Kirp at the Times counter with the so-apparent-it’s-amazing-we-still-have-to-say-it caveat that quality in the classroom matters.

Utah, for one, is all-in on early education, among the first in the nation to use a “social impact bond” to pay for a successful expansion of public preK when the state couldn’t cough up the money. And the first to pay out for investors, and kids, too. Of 110 at-risk kids, all but one avoided special education in kindergarten after taking part in the public preK program, ultimately saving the state money. In other SIB (aka Pay for Success) news, Dan Rinzler talks about how housing mobility programs like Moving to Opportunity could be a platform for future SIBs. So far, SIBs have been focused largely on recidivism, supportive housing for the homeless, and early education. The Nonprofit Finance Fund has a list here. Plus, we talked to Rinzler earlier this month for an upcoming story on LIFF’s Social Impact Calculator. Stay tuned for that at the Build Healthy Places Network.

TapClickRead-Book-1Watched: Lisa Guernsey and Michael Levine release Tap, Click, Read, a guide to promoting early literacy in a world of screens. In addition to helping with reporting for the book, we produced a set of videos highlighting some of the most innovative literacy projects across the nation, including a unique in class tutoring program in the nation’s capital, a dual-language project in Maine, and more. After seeing these thoughtful projects, it’s disheartening to read the story about the Disney accelerator for tech startups that makes apps for kids—empty designs that smell like a stab at quick money. (Although the one that allows you to chat with cartoon characters is kinda cool. “It won’t work, Wile. E. Coyote!”)

Noted: More innovative, thankfully, is the announcement of Collective Shift, a spinoff of the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning initiative. Headed by Connie Yowell, they’re creating a way for kids to see all the amazing out-of-school programs in their own city, which in turn can make learning in and out of school more seamless and interconnected. Also innovative—work underway at the Behavioral Insights Lab at the University of Chicago.

Hats Off: Teachers, like babies on a plane, get a lot of grief these days. If they’re not power-grubbing union members, they’re luddites or uninspired. We’re doing our best to counter that notion, profiling teachers who make a difference. A biology teacher in Pittsburgh had her students work with scientists to clone a gene and take part in a videoconference on Ebola. Another instills global awareness and Spanish skills by having her students create their own telenovelas. And a pioneering program taps into Washington DC’s many amazing museums to make history come alive for students. That’s just for starters. Read more here and here.

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A Tale of Two Mixed-Income Communities: East Lake in Atlanta finds the right formula, but Chicago struggles with Cabrini-Green /blog/a-tale-of-two-mixed-income-communities-east-lake-in-atlanta-finds-the-right-formula-but-chicago-struggles-with-cabrini-green/ /blog/a-tale-of-two-mixed-income-communities-east-lake-in-atlanta-finds-the-right-formula-but-chicago-struggles-with-cabrini-green/#comments Wed, 27 May 2015 13:34:43 +0000 /?p=764 I spent the day visiting an inspiring community in Atlanta last week. East Lake is living proof that a comprehensive approach to poverty—one that considers more than housing, more than just income, more than just a job, and more than just a good school, but all of those elements combined—can make a lasting impact on […]

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I spent the day visiting an inspiring community in Atlanta last week. East Lake is living proof that a comprehensive approach to poverty—one that considers more than housing, more than just income, more than just a job, and more than just a good school, but all of those elements combined—can make a lasting impact on children’s lives.

My host was Carol R. Naughton, president of Purpose Built Communities in Atlanta, and we were standing on the playground in an Atlanta neighborhood once so awful that it was called Little Vietnam for its war zone qualities. As the former mayor Shirley Franklin told me, “Even I didn’t want to drive through there.”

On this day, however, kids in matching uniforms were running and shrieking, hanging from modern monkey bars and arguing over the rules of their made-up games. I’d just taken a tour of the school, where light streamed in, libraries were filled with books and computers, and hallways were lined with hand-written messages to President Obama and the current mayor or Atlanta, Kasim Reed. (“I hate GMO food. Can you do something about that?”)

The elementary school is an integral part of the East Lake development, 15 minutes from downtown Atlanta. The community was once home to East Lake Meadows, a public housing site riddled with violence and lost opportunity. Fearing another generation lost to poverty, its residents, the Atlanta Housing Authority, and Tom Cousins, a wealthy real estate developer, came together in the mid-1990s to try something new.

Cousins, Naughton told me, had read an article about how the majority of crime in New York could be traced to a handful of neighborhoods. Surprised, he called up the Atlanta chief of police and asked if that was true in Atlanta. It was. “Which neighborhood is the worst?” he asked. Without missing a beat, the police chief replied, “East Lake Meadows.” And with that, Cousins began to gather a team to change that.

No low-hanging fruit here. Cousins and the team wanted to tackle the hardest problem, the most intransigent poverty, in a new way.

As Naughton, who was at the Housing Authority at the time, said, “It was almost shame on us if we didn’t try something new, even if we knew it wouldn’t be perfect.”

East Lake, then and now

They started with housing, tearing down the public housing that stood witness to crime rates 18 times higher than national averages and to lost generations of young people (the local school had graduation rates of 30 percent by some estimates).

But they quickly realized the problem was not confined to housing. “We started with housing,” said Naughton, “but within a month or two we recognized that housing alone was a necessary but insufficient condition to break the cycle of poverty. We wanted to create a great neighborhood where everyone could reach their full potential.”

“What your environment feels like matters and sets you up to think about what your role can be, how high you can go,” said Naughton. “Imagine what it was like for a child waking up every morning to a frightening R.I.P. skull painted on the building next door, or who was up half the night because she had to sleep in a bathtub because that’s the only place her mom thought was safe from bullets,” Naughton said. “And now imagine what it’s like to wake up to flowers and a yard instead.”

The neighborhood is indeed beautiful. Apartment buildings stand in clusters with plenty of green space between. The subsidized apartments are indistinguishable from the market-rate apartments. There are tennis courts, a swimming pool, golf courses, grilling areas, gardens, and a modern K-12 public charter school.

Drew Senior Academy

That school would turn out to be the linchpin to the neighborhood’s success, a success that other cities turning to mixed-income developments as a solution to concentrated poverty have not always enjoyed.

In Chicago, after the city tore down the Cabrini-Green public housing project on the downtown’s north edge and replaced it with mixed-income housing, the city held its breath to see if the transformation would “take.” It, too, had been a “war zone” by many accounts. The 50-year experiment with high-rise public housing was admittedly a failure. Concentrating poor families in clusters of high-rises—and the disinvestment that inevitably followed—had only led to a spiral of problems. The proposed fix: create neighborhoods with a mix of families and incomes. Chicago jumped on the bandwagon. It tore down Cabrini-Green and other housing projects across the city, replacing them with a mix of townhomes and mid-rises, some market rate and others subsidized.

Fifteen or so years later, the homes are filled with families of a variety of incomes, and the neighborhood is certainly transformed. A Target has gone in, along with a Whole Foods up the street and countless other stores. People feel safe walking along Division Street again, and those families lucky enough to get to stay put seem happy to be there.

Cabrini-Green Public Housing, circa 1990

But as Rob Chaskin finds, while the housing might be “mixed income,” the families are not mixing as envisioned. Chaskin, a professor at the University of Chicago, has been observing families in this and other mixed-income communities for several years, and as he told a panel at the University of Chicago Urban Network forum in spring 2014, “Just remaking neighborhoods is not enough.”

Higher-income parents, he finds, are by and large keeping their kids inside and apart from others in order to avoid “bad influences.” And the culture clashes are frequent. Some families like to socialize on the front stoop or on the sidewalk, but higher-income families look down on that. “Play out back!” is a typical response, he said.

Nor are children attending the same schools, which planners thought would help families integrate better. But the middle class has largely abandoned public schools in the city.

 

Mixed-income housing near former Cabrini-Green
Mixed-income housing near former Cabrini-Green

Naughton thinks this is what separates Atlanta’s East Lake from other mixed-use communities. Because the school is doing so well, middle-class families are not pulling their kids out and sending them to private schools—and their tax dollars with them. As a result, families get to know one another, and they have experience solving problems together. They build social capital together. The school is doing a lot right, too. It is now one of the highest-performing schools in the state—drawing residents from across the metro area. That in turn has helped draw private-sector interest to the neighborhood. A Publix supermarket is located across the street, and two banks and a Wal-Mart are nearby, among other retail.

It makes sense that a school would be a catalyst to success. It is a hub for a community, a place where families join in the shared mission of launching their children on a path to success. It is ground zero for the future. The lessons from East Lake are many, but its main message is clear: start by building a successful neighborhood school that families can be proud of, and that proves that no matter what a child’s income or neighborhood, children can learn and succeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Last week at HiredPen /blog/last-week-at-hiredpen-2/ /blog/last-week-at-hiredpen-2/#comments Mon, 06 Apr 2015 14:17:48 +0000 /?p=743 Read: The War on Poverty: Was It Lost? Sandy Jencks reviews our friend Sheldon Danziger’s new book… with a cliff hanger to boot.  A smart discussion, though a conundrum for the Left perhaps? Or proof that the programs do work, and are needed. Also makes a great case for a relative poverty measure—relative to what middle America […]

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Read: The War on Poverty: Was It Lost? Sandy Jencks reviews our friend Sheldon Danziger’s new book… with a cliff hanger to boot.  A smart discussion, though a conundrum for the Left perhaps? Or proof that the programs do work, and are needed. Also makes a great case for a relative poverty measure—relative to what middle America earns.

Brutal poverty—perhaps one of the most moving pieces of research in years, “Meet Our Prisoners,” Bruce Western and team’s look at the path to prison, beginning with the brutality and chaos in future prisoners’ early lives.  Leave it to the Marshall Project to capture it so well.

Chaos: It was just a crazy house, between my brothers coming in either beat up or having some horrible car accident…or someone falling asleep with a cigarette and a mattress going up on fire. It was a very traumatic house to live in.”…

Violence: Beginning at age 5, Patrick was regularly beaten by his mother’s boyfriends. He witnessed his uncle stab a man and helped him steal a car. As an adult, he recognized that his family life had been “emotionally cold” and “insane,” yet told the researchers that during childhood, the violence had seemed “normal” to him.

To be read alongside Debbie Gorman-Smith’s work in Chicago on youth and violence. On the South and West sides of Chicago, 55 percent of kids ages 5-8 are afraid to go outside and play because of the violence. By their teen years, 87 percent will have been exposed to some type of serious violence.

And speaking of education…Leon Botstein’s thought-provoking answer to the question put to our education system, Are We Still Making Citizens? The best explanation yet of why schools are a critical link in a democracy.

Watched: Finland explain why they’re changing their vaunted approach to education (less history and math; more history of math): “because the world is changing around the school” (meanwhile, back in the US….)

Why low interest rates might be the next gunk in the pipeline for housing. Social Impact Bonds move into health (I can’t resist). Bloomberg Philanthropies’ efforts to figure out what “innovation” means in city government—and codify it.

Interviewed: Keri Lintz and Jill Gandhi at the new Behavioral Insights Lab at University of Chicago—using nudge reading to their kids.

This: simply beautiful in its spare brevity: Solitude (I) by Tomas Tranströmer.

Posted: Net neutrality and schools, an April Fool’s look back at “edtech”; an Apgar score for community developers, and a doctor’s realization that health starts in communities.

New! Excited to begin blogging for Institute for Housing Studies. Stay tuned.

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Last week at HiredPen… /blog/last-week-at-hiredpen/ /blog/last-week-at-hiredpen/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 17:04:43 +0000 /?p=719 We’re trying something new. Each week (or so) we’ll be writing a recap—ala Ann Friedman— of what we’ve been up to, which given our wide range of clients, we hope will become a regular way of catching up with what’s going on in the social policy field. Read: A great Pediatrics article on why doctors should […]

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We’re trying something new. Each week (or so) we’ll be writing a recap—ala Ann Friedman— of what we’ve been up to, which given our wide range of clients, we hope will become a regular way of catching up with what’s going on in the social policy field.

Read: A great Pediatrics article on why doctors should think about neighborhoods. Purpose Built success stories in Atlanta and New Orleans (reminds me that yes, we can build affordable, attractive neighborhoods). Urban planning then and now. Then: Slums and City Planning, by Robert Moses, circa 1945 (best word to bring back: “mossbacks). Now: ULI’s toolkit for developers for how to build for health.

More on my latest obsession: social impact bonds—including nuts and bolts of financing SIBs by MDRC and a paper by Bridges Ventures and BOA for practitioners (geek alert). On a lighter note: Is social impact investing the next venture capital? Even lighter: Adding good deeds to the investment equation. On education: training (or not) early education teachers in California. New Yorker’s Jeb Bush and charter schools—ah the private sector. 2016: The Republicans Write—books by Jeb, Scott, and Paul in which they discover poverty because white people are now affected. Nurse home visiting gets a nod (and makes me think of Ron Haskins’ play-by-play of said program). My regular dip into the always thought-provoking Connected by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler. In the “amen” category: Sandy Baum’s post asking why we can’t focus on real problems without exaggerating them (like college completion rates, anyone?). In the inspiring category: Aspen Institute’s Five Best Ideas of the Day (shout-out to Pittsburgh).

Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy fight—new book debunks Mark Regenerus by finding that kids with two moms/dads flourish—go figure.

Watched: Whiplash, and thought once again about women and competition and my days in boxing ring. Vowed to avoid bloodshed with current staff—write it faster.

Interviewed: Pittsburgh’s Mayor Bill Peduto’s office for a story on teen jobs pipeline; early educators in California on what they need to succeed (where to begin?); the always-a-good-interview, Bob Grossinger of Enterprise Community Partners; Jennifer Tescher of the Center for Financial Services Innovation on new ways to help families save money; and finally, not an interview but a nice chat with Harry (over a beer at the Red Lion Pub) from HUD on affordable housing and the impending—he thinks—bankruptcy of Chicago.

Wrote: Saltwater Batteries, Finland, and Pittsburgh’s Promising Advanced Industries, Getting Games Right: How GlassLab Makes Products Teachers Want, Q&A with Colby Dailey, Build Healthy PlacesThree New Tools Tackle Healthy Development, and (an oldie but goodie) How workers in Chinatown Harnessed Data for Community Change. Plus, stay tuned for community development in Seattle, neighborhood and child health, gender and science, emojis and race, and more.

Send us more! We’d love to know what you’ve been up to.

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What If We Just Gave Young Poor Mothers Money? A New RCT Will Find Out /blog/what-if-we-just-gave-young-poor-mothers-money-a-new-rtc-will-find-out/ /blog/what-if-we-just-gave-young-poor-mothers-money-a-new-rtc-will-find-out/#comments Mon, 16 Feb 2015 17:16:57 +0000 /?p=704 Poverty is a hard nut to crack. We’ve been at it (half-heartedly) for more than two-hundred years now, our solutions swinging between “fix them” (“them” in this case being poor people) to “fix the root causes.” Advocates who claim that poverty hurts children are countered by others who say “it’s not poverty, it’s single-parent families […]

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12821437893_15766ef9d7_zPoverty is a hard nut to crack. We’ve been at it (half-heartedly) for more than two-hundred years now, our solutions swinging between “fix them” (“them” in this case being poor people) to “fix the root causes.” Advocates who claim that poverty hurts children are countered by others who say “it’s not poverty, it’s single-parent families or character” or any number of other explanations. And of course, the hoary argument of who is “deserving” of support has a long and storied history, evident still today in the lopsided support for the “working poor” at the expense of those who aren’t.

All of these arguments are not just hot air or academic diversions. After all, if you believe the problem is a single mother’s character, “the fix” will be very different than if you think the problem of single-parent families stems from a lack of marriageable men because good paying jobs have disappeared. Look no further than the difference between Republicans and Democrats in their policy proposals.

To date, it’s been a he-said/she-said argument, and the pendulum has swung regularly between the two camps. The he said/she said persists for a simple reason. It’s very hard to prove either argument. You can’t get very far into these debates with correlational evidence only, which is what we have.

But we may be on the brink of a “smoking gun” of evidence that could put this argument to rest.

I talked recently with Greg Duncan, the lead researcher on this new project. Duncan, an economist who studies the connection between poverty and child development, is essentially one of the fathers of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), or as he calls it, a “motion picture over last 40 years of rising income inequality” and the 2013 recipient of the Jacobs Research Prize award, a kind of Nobel for social scientists. Adding to his cred, he donated the majority of his $1 million Swiss francs prize to his new study.

His latest project is that smoking gun and his “dream project,” he told me. The results can help settle the role of poverty in early childhood development.

Duncan has assembled a powerful wheelhouse of neuroscientists, economists, and sociologists to conduct a randomized control trial (RCT) of low-income mothers with infants. The study will put to rest the correlational muddiness and offer a definitive answer. With a big enough sample, the mere fact of randomly assigning a group of people to either a “treatment” group or a control group washes out all the other unique factors that influence poverty. The two groups are essentially identical, and thus any changes can be attributed to the intervention.

The intervention in this case is money. The 500 moms in the treatment group will be given a debit card, loaded each month with $333 for first 40 months of their child’s life. This is a “rock steady” stream of income, Duncan said, and if social science theories are right, it should be just the thing to foster healthy early development, which in turn sets off a chain of events that put a child on a more secure road to later success in life.

The 500 moms in the control group also get a debit card, but only $20 a month. That’s a big enough difference to test the impact of money early in life.

“Think of money as providing a cushion against eviction, utility cut-off, emergency child care,” said Duncan. “One could imagine moms using this money to afford a larger or safer apartment, or delaying entry back to work, or buying things for her child. We’ll be monitoring how the kids are turning out and the changes in the families as a result of more money.”

Duncan is essentially taking the work he has done with the PSID to a new level. Research from the PSID shows strong correlations between income in early life and later life circumstances in adulthood.  Children from poor families are less likely to finish school, and they work and earn less than their more fortunate peers. But left unanswered is whether it’s income or something else.

The research team will evaluate the families at 24 months and the children’s cognitive development at 36 months. The first assessment will collect data about the family processes that might be affected by steady stream of income. They’ll look at the sensitivity of parenting, and measure stress levels with biomarkers. At 36 months, they’ll meet the kids in a lab and experts will use EEG’s and conventional measures of executive and cognitive functioning.

While they’re at it, the researchers will also test a number of new theories about the link between poverty and decision-making, like the “bandwidth” problem—our tendency to make poorer decisions after a string of tough decisions leaves us mentally exhausted.  The team will randomly assign families to have their assessments at different times of the month, some closer to their “flush” days when they receive their cash and others at the end of the cycle, when they’re probably down to pennies and forced to do a lot of heavy mental lifting as a result.

In the end, it’s the policy ramifications that may be most important. There’s a saying on the policymaking playground: “Oh yeah?” and “So what?”  This study answers both. The “oh yeah” doubters will have to refute an airtight study. And the “so what?”

As Duncan put it, “There will be two kinds of policy implications from this study. The first keys of finding whether poor children’s cognitive functioning is affected by a stable minimum income. Policy responses to this finding might be not cutting existing safety net programs or, on the positive side, a family allowance with the largest payments to families with very young children. Second, if there’s a really strong pathway, say, moms’ delayed return to work following birth, and in turn the kids benefited, that would suggest a different policy approach to parental leave.”

The project is getting underway, but the team is still raising the approximately $15 million needed to pull it off. They’ve found some early support, but as always, it’s an uphill struggle to get people to invest, even among the “new money” from hedge fund philanthropists and social impact investors.

A group of former hedge fund owners was on the brink of a sizable contribution to the study, even going so far as to double the amount the mothers would receive—until, that is, they asked some DC insiders what the prospects were for policies that would substantially increase benefits to families with very young children. Zero, came the answer. And with that, they pulled their funding.

“It was very disappointing,” Duncan said, “that they didn’t see our project as being as informative about the wisdom of benefit cuts, which are hotly debated these days, as benefit increases.”

Such is the world of cold-eyed business world investors. I have no doubt, however, that Duncan and his team can raise the money for this game-changing study.  Hey crowd-funding, is anyone listening?

 

 

 

 

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A Turning Point for Poverty Policy? /blog/a-turning-point-for-poverty-policy/ /blog/a-turning-point-for-poverty-policy/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 15:34:44 +0000 /?p=677 Happy winter As 2015 swings into full gear, with resolutions to keep and pounds to lose (delicious riddance, ye annual box of Frango mints), we want to take a moment to thank all our clients and colleagues for making 2014 a turning point for HiredPen. It was a big year for us. We expanded our […]

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Happy winter

As 2015 swings into full gear, with resolutions to keep and pounds to lose (delicious riddance, ye annual box of Frango mints), we want to take a moment to thank all our clients and colleagues for making 2014 a turning point for HiredPen. It was a big year for us. We expanded our staff, hiring two full-time writers, Kathleen and Natalie. We opened an office in Berkeley to join our office in Chicago. And we added several new, exciting projects, including Build Healthy Places, a project at the intersection of public health and community development; the Mindsets Scholars Network; and work with New America and the Packard Foundation on early education policy in California.

It’s a special privilege to get to write about ideas every day, and it’s even more amazing to get to write about ideas that change people’s lives.

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So what do these ideas portend for 2015? I’ve been covering US poverty policy for 15 years, and it strikes me that 2014 might have been a turning point for new thinking about this age-old problem in America.

Three trends that took root in 2014 give me hope:

  1. Shift way from silos (in both funding and solutions)—because poverty does not happen in isolation, so why do we attack it as if it does?
  2. Evidence: As Ron Haskins writes in his new book, “Show Me the Evidence,” the Obama administration has gotten behind the push to link funding to programs that work, and that can prove it.
  3. Daring ideas: New thinking from new corners on how to change people’s lives, from Nudges to Social Impact Bonds.

 

During the welfare reform years in the mid-1990s, it was all about personal accountability. No more “welfare queens” milking the system, as Ronald Reagan so famously put it. Work mandates and time limits would make welfare a temporary safety net, and key supports (job training, child care) would help recipients become former recipients on their way up the job ladder, never to need a safety net again (lucky for them, because that safety net was quickly disappearing anyway).

But poverty is not a problem only of individual accountability. Welfare alone does not contribute to poverty, as some argued. If that were the case, the poverty rate should be lower today after the 1996 reforms. It is not. TANF caseloads, however, are. By 2013, poverty rates had returned to 14.5%, exactly what they were in 1994, and the child poverty rate was 20%, a smidge lower than 1994 (21.8%). Meanwhile, TANF caseloads today are averaging 3.5 million in 2013, compared with 14.2 million in 1994. In about one-half of those 2013 cases, only children received benefits.

7514543478_b0a9d1b8e8_zPoverty, it turns out, is not just about an unwillingness to work. Poverty is the combination of poor schools, poor housing in poor and overlooked neighborhoods, poor health, limited choices, lack of hope, and closed doors.

While experts have long known the interconnected cause and effects at play among poor families, it wasn’t until recently that they began working together on the problems. Experts in community development began working together with the experts in public health, housing departments began working with urban designers, juvenile justice systems began working with mental health professionals, and policymakers began talking with researchers. There’s a long way to go, but at least the collaboration has begun. (We’ll be reporting on this kind of collaboration this year with  Build Healthy Places Network.)

At the same time, the Obama administration launched the Social Innovation Fund, which is seeking new ways of funding social programs by drawing in private-sector players to finance programs with proven track records. “Pay for success” and “social impact” financing tools gained ground as these new investors demanded evidence that their investment would bring a return. This, to me, is an exciting shift. Private funding is desperately needed in today’s budget climate, and putting both private and public money behind programs we know work–or that show great promise–is a game changer. We’ll need watchdogs, lest we run into the rush to privatization that we’ve seen in charter schools (ala Jeb Bush), but so far, the philanthropies and investors are from both sides of the ideological aisle.

Amid the gridlock and truthiness in Washington, it’s heartening to know that people like our clients are moving the needle on this difficult, critical issue, and one idea at a time, are working to make people’s lives better.

Here’s a few of those very ideas that we’ve covered this past year

The spread of poverty to the suburbs.

With great fanfare, the Atlantic Monthly proclaimed in July 1992, “The Suburban Century Begins.” The country had recently tipped to majority suburban, and the article’s author, William Schneider, was certain that “city” was over. How wrong he was. Today, the suburbs are aging, malls are being shuttered, and in a stunning reversal, suburban communities are dealing with the same issues that central cities have long struggled to address: poverty and its devastating reverberations. We covered these shifts from Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube at the Brookings Institution in their blog, Confronting Suburban Poverty. There’s no one easy answer, but coordinated efforts across municipal boundaries to build the capacity to tackle this growing issue is a must.

New ways to engage children in deeper learning

We’ve been covering this topic for the Sprout Fund in Pittsburgh, an exciting citywide effort to tap into the many resources cities offer for learning. These resources include the Maker Movement and hands-on learning, embodied learning, game-based learning, as well as the key role of Art in STEM.

New approaches to education reform

Following on the idea first raised by Michael Porter in the “cluster” approach to economic development, Pittsburgh has been developing an “education cluster” that combines the power of local universities such as Carnegie Mellon, the city’s schools, and the many inventive out-of-school resources and cultural institutions in the city. The network is spurring new thinking and creating new pathways to learning for kids that tap the city’s many resources, both people and places.

The urban moment

Cities, said eminent urban scholar Kenneth T. Jackson, are “the most exciting things happening today.” But not all is rosy in this “urban moment.” Gentrification and  “legacy issues” such as poverty, racism, crime, segregation, lagging schools, and inequality remain pressing problems. We took up some of these issues for the University of Chicago Urban Network:

Gentrification and schools: Some say “housing policy is education policy”—but is that true? Do mixed-income, gentrifying communities automatically improve schools? 
DIY Urbanism: Tactical urbanism’s motto is “see problem, fix it,” but its elitist instinct can rub some the wrong way.

The role of technology in young children’s lives

There’s much debate and worry about the effect of technology on young children. But some smart research is showing that, as always, there’s good and bad, and moderation and common sense are key. We covered the topic for the New America Foundation and the Fred Rogers Center.

How text messages can “nudge” families to build toddlers’ literacy
What Mister Rogers can tell us about today’s screen time for kids

The fiscal policy of cities

A “big data” task underway at University of Illinois is creating case studies of the constraints 100 US cities face in raising revenue and balancing budgets. We’re covering the progress on their blog.

The integral role of housing and neighborhood in tackling poverty

We wrote about the tight link between housing and family opportunity in a series of research briefs for the MacArthur Foundation.

The ever-changing demographics of America and what it means for politics and policy

We helped edit the latest book by Brookings Institution demographer, William Frey,  Diversity Explosion

The gorgeous, powerful, endangered Great Lakes, and their potential to spur regional economic collaboration

We spent two days in Chicago with the Urban Land Institute and Owens Skidmore Merrill chronicling how the Great Lakes cities could unite in a regional economic development effort. The report is still in development, but a recap of event gives some flavor.

We love nothing more than to engage with these big ideas and help promote the amazing work that our clients do. We’ve been told that it’s this engagement and our ability to see across the related topics that make our work unique in the world of communications. Our credo is “research well told” and we hope to continue pursuing that aim in 2015.

 

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In Policymaking, the Best Narrative Wins /blog/in-policymaking-the-best-narrative-wins/ /blog/in-policymaking-the-best-narrative-wins/#comments Sat, 06 Dec 2014 00:39:59 +0000 /?p=666 We all like a good story. Even the wonkiest academic with a copy of Thomas Pikerty’s Capital in the Twenty-first Century on her nightstand will agree: There’s nothing quite like being drawn into a good tale, with its hook, its tension, its real people and real quandaries, and its resolution. There’s a reason journalists start […]

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homeless

We all like a good story. Even the wonkiest academic with a copy of Thomas Pikerty’s Capital in the Twenty-first Century on her nightstand will agree: There’s nothing quite like being drawn into a good tale, with its hook, its tension, its real people and real quandaries, and its resolution. There’s a reason journalists start every story with a human being. We can relate.

And yet, read a research report on social welfare issues—the very issues with human beings at their core—and you can almost guarantee it will start with something like this:

In 2012, nearly 16 million U.S. children, or over one in five, lived in households that were food-insecure, defined as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited access to food.

Or this:

It is well-known theoretical result that a risk-averse consumer prefers full insurance offered on actuarially fair terms under expected utility maximization without state dependence.

No wonder why research rarely makes it across the bridge from academia to policymaking.

If it’s not the mind-numbing language, it’s the dusty recital of statistics that makes a reader’s eyes glaze over. What’s lacking is a real person facing a problem—in other words, the beginnings of a story. The research is critical, absolutely, but without something to engage the reader and make the story relatable, the research will go unread, or at best, forgotten.

That point is underscored (with a story, it should be noted) by an insider to the DC political wrangling, Raphael Bostic, in his chapter in What Counts: Harnessing Data for America’s Communities, a new book on using data in community development by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and the Urban Institute.

As former assistant secretary for policy development and research at HUD, Bostic saw firsthand what moves policymakers, even in times of drastic budget cuts. He writes:

“During the 2010 and 2011 legislative sessions, Congress was in a serious belt-tightening mode. Line items were being pitted against each other to try to bring budgets in line with the reduced total spending that Congress authorized.”

HUD was no exception, he said. Affordable housing programs, voucher programs, and others were all on the cutting block. And yet:

“Homelessness was noticeably absent from the conversation about trade-offs. Almost nobody talked about reducing funding for the suite of programs designed to reduce the incidence and severity of homelessness in United States. Why? Because everyone in Washington—from policy experts, to staffers on the Hill, to elected officials—shared the same understanding about the large returns to up-front investments targeted at treating and preventing homelessness.

The question, of course, is: How did such a consensus emerge?

An important component of the answer can be found in an article by Malcolm Gladwell that appeared in The New Yorker in 2006, titled “Million-Dollar Murray.” The article tells the story of Murray Barr, a chronically homeless man in Reno, Nevada, and the police officers who were regularly called to pick up Murray and deliver him to the hospital or county jail. Gladwell reports that local police estimated that Murray had racked up at least $100,000 in hospital bills in only six months. But he’d been repeating the same pattern during his 10 years on the streets, meaning that he’d likely cost public services more than $1 million—far greater than what it would have cost to provide him housing or supportive services.”

But there was something else, writes Bostic, that cemented the point for policymakers.

Although the story would have been quite useful for informing homelessness policy in Reno, Gladwell went further. He chronicled the work of many researchers…to support the notion that there are Murray Barrs in every U.S. city.

The story resonated with members of Congress and, as a result, funding to prevent and address homelessness was not on the cutting block. It is this crucial combination of narrative backed by solid research that won the day—and should be winning the day more often. We all need real-life examples to make the statistics meaningful. Those stories can help put the research in a context that policymakers and their constituents can understand. In many respects, in DC and state capitols, the best narrative wins.

True, personal stories are not representative. And yes, anecdotes and single examples can simplify complex trends. But combined, the narrative and research can become a powerful voice for the most disadvantaged.

We’re excited to be in the midst of bringing some of these stories from the What Counts book to life in collaboration with the great folks at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. Our first story will show how empowering data can be when used to lend evidence to what community members know anecdotally. Stay tuned.

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We’re Hiring! /blog/were-hiring/ /blog/were-hiring/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 20:26:07 +0000 /?p=632 Staff Writer, FT, San Francisco Bay area Do you love to write and want to write about issues you’re passionate about? Want your writing to matter? Come work for us. Our clients hire us to share their work in education, social policy, urban issues with the rest of the world through smart communications online and […]

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Staff Writer, FT, San Francisco Bay area

Do you love to write and want to write about issues you’re passionate about? Want your writing to matter? Come work for us. Our clients hire us to share their work in education, social policy, urban issues with the rest of the world through smart communications online and off.

We’re looking for smart, curious writer/journalists to join the staff of a growing startup that focuses on social media and communications for research organizations, think tanks, foundations, and other nonprofits. Research, write, and code daily research-based blog posts under tight deadlines as well as occasional feature stories in the areas of education, social policy, and digital media and learning. Act as project manager, leading editorial calls with clients and managing several editorial calendars. Promote posts daily through social media (Twitter and Facebook). This position is perfect for a recent journalism graduate or early career writer who is interested in social justice issues and wants transform research into sharp prose. Must write with high degree of accuracy, objectivity, and nuance. Position can be a stepping stone to work in think tanks, science writing, or nonprofit communications.

We are looking for writers who want to be part of our team and grow with us. We will train the candidate in research reporting.

Duties include:

  • Research: read and synthesize academic reports, engage with complex ideas. We will provide training on the topic areas, e.g., education, poverty policy, urban planning, economic development.
  • Writing: Daily blog posts, feature stories, policy papers
  • Format posts for online readership (headlines, deks, links, graphics, with attention to SEO). Will train
  • Manage social media for each post (Twitter/Facebook)
  • Project management/ client relations
  • Some administrative duties
  • Qualifications:

  • Excellent writing skills
  • The ability to maintain high-quality work while meeting tight deadlines.
  • Must write with high degree of accuracy, objectivity, and nuance
  • Write objectively, maintain balance in argument
  • Familiarity with online journalism, read online publications regularly
  • Maturity, professionalism
  • Intellectual curiosity
  • Willingness to engage with complex ideas and topic areas
  • Well read
  • Interest in social welfare issues, such as poverty, education, urban issues
  • Comfort working in basic blogging platforms like WordPress and with social media tools.
  • Full-time. San Francisco Bay Area.

    How to Apply: Send cover letter, resume, and three writing samples (links are fine) by August 15 to: info@hiredpeninc.com

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    What Is a Research Blog? /blog/what-is-a-research-blog/ /blog/what-is-a-research-blog/#comments Mon, 09 Dec 2013 06:50:27 +0000 /?p=522 We know. Social media feels frivolous. You’d prefer to leave the blogging to the soccer moms and the tweeting to, er, Anthony Weiner or Miley Cyrus. With the media frenzy that the young and fabulous often garner, it’s hard to see a place for substantive issues like childhood poverty in the blogosphere. How can you […]

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    We know. Social media feels frivolous. You’d prefer to leave the blogging to the soccer moms and the tweeting to, er, Anthony Weiner or Miley Cyrus. With the media frenzy that the young and fabulous often garner, it’s hard to see a place for substantive issues like childhood poverty in the blogosphere. How can you possibly convey complex ideas like regional transit policy in a 500-word blog post, or worse, a 140-character tweet? And moreover, why would you want to?

    Well, first, because it’s where the exchange of ideas is happening. There is already a conversation taking place on social media about early childhood education, for example, and economic policy, and smart growth. Niche communities of researchers, policymakers, and the media have embraced these tools as ways to share ideas among like-minded colleagues.

    “It became clear that ignoring the phenomenon wasn’t going to work,” MDRC’s communications director John Hutchins told Barbara last year. “We were already part of the conversation. People on Twitter and in the blogs were making us a part of the conversation and we weren’t even seeing it. We’ve realized it’s not a question of whether to get involved. It’s how.”

    If you feel similarly, we can help. Over the past four years, we’ve been perfecting a model for blogging and social media that works for researchers. Instead of strong opinion, our posts are balanced and measured, yet still engaging. Most importantly, they contain smart information that people can use.

    We take advantage of a news moment or a recent research release and use that to highlight your work. We break down your findings into language policymakers can use, and pull in other resources that fill out the context of the findings. The curatorial aspect of the blog—pulling together related content from around the web—means that readers come to rely on your blog as a valuable resource—a one-stop must-read.

    And we stand out in another way: we aren’t afraid to dive in and read complex documents. In fact, we’re likely reading your research and publications already during our daily dive into the social policy landscape. We understand what terms like “randomized control” and “statistical significance” mean. And we know the difference between research and advocacy. We’re not afraid of nuance, and we understand the need to be objective.

    At the Brookings Institution, for example, we’re working with Alan Berube and Elizabeth Kneebone to expand the community and develop the conversation around their book, “Confronting Suburban Poverty in America.” Through weekly blog posts we help put their research and resources into the hands of the regional policymakers across the country who need it most.

    A recent post on homelessness, for example, documented the extent of this widening problem and linked it to the growing poverty in the suburbs—the theme of the book. We then highlighted some solutions that Alan and Elizabeth offer in their book, and did some sleuthing online for similar examples to expand the discussion. Once the post was up, we tweeted it out several times over the course of a few days, mentioning all the people we featured so they could share it with their own networks, bringing new readers to the site.

    Beyond blogging, we also continue to provide editing, writing, and other communications services. We recently redesigned our website, and asked our clients to brag about us in testimonials (not an easy ask for those of us who prefer to work behind the scenes). But what came back was really wonderful. Greg Duncan, an economist who was recently awarded the 2013 Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize for his work on the long-term effects of child poverty, had this to say about Barbara:

    “I find her editorial instincts to be remarkable. She engages with the ideas, never taking liberties with the manuscript but at the same time she does not shy away from making suggestions for substantial changes.”

    The writing and editing we do is different because of our unique set of skills. Let us engage with your ideas—the world needs them. We’d love to dig in. Get in touch here.

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