Don’t Lie to Poor Kids About Why They’re Poor


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Work hard and you’ll get ahead — that’s the mantra driven into young people across the country.

But what happens when children born into poverty run face first into the crushing reality that the society they live in really isn’t that fair at all?

As new research shows, they break down.

A just released study published in the journal Child Development tracked the middle school experience of a group of diverse, low-income students in Arizona. The study found that the kids who believed society was generally fair typically had high self-esteem, good classroom behavior, and less delinquent behavior outside of school when they showed up in the sixth grade.

When those same kids left in the eighth grade, though, each of those criteria had degraded — they showed lower self-esteem and worse behavior.

What caused this downward slide?

In short, belief in a fair and just system of returns ran head-on into reality for marginalized kids. When they see people that look like them struggling despite working hard, they’re forced to reckon with the cognitive dissonance.

This problem doesn’t afflict the well-off, who can comfortably imagine their success is the result of their hard work and not their inherited advantage.

Erin Godfrey, a psychology professor at New York University and the study’s lead author, explains that for marginalized kids who behave badly, “there’s this element of people think of me this way anyway, so this must be who I am.” She points out that middle school is the time when many young people begin to notice personal discrimination, identify as a member of a marginalized group, and recognize the existence of systemic discrimination.

The existence of a permanent and rigid system of inequality can be hard to grapple with at any age. The United States leads the world in overall wealth yet is also near the top in childhood poverty, with one in five kids born into poverty.

Despite an often-repeated myth about social mobility — the ability of the poor to become rich — the United States lags behind in this category. Canada now has three times the social mobility of the United States.

The gap between the rich and poor starts early. A 2016 study by the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund reports: “From as early as the age of 3, children from more affluent backgrounds tend to do better in cognitive tests.” By age 5, children from poor families are three times more likely to be in the bottom 10 percent in cognitive ability.

It’s a complex problem. But the solutions to this deep structural inequality are actually fairly straightforward.

In short, we need major investments in universal public programs to rebuild the social safety net, ensure early childhood education as well as debt-free higher education, and good-paying jobs.

In other words, we need to help those born without inherited assets to get the same shot at education and employment as everyone else — and also reassure them that if they fail, they won’t end up homeless.

Those who claim the country can’t afford such programs should look at the massive subsidies lavished out to the ultra-wealthy. In 2016, half a trillion dollars were doled out in tax subsidies, overwhelmingly to the already rich.

But before we do all that, we simply have to tell the truth: Our economic system is far from fair. It’s tilted heavily against marginalized communities.

Teaching that to kids, rather than perpetuating a myth about “fairness,” is an important step forward.


They’re Killing Us. Help Us Stop Them.


(Photo: Flickr / Ted Eytan)

The weekend of June 12 sent me on a rollercoaster of emotions I never thought possible.

The previous Friday, I was an invited participant in the first-ever White House Summit for African American LGBTQ Youth. I felt amazingly supported, empowered, and valued — by my school, by my family and friends, by President Obama, and by my LGBTQ community.

I was inspired.

On Saturday, I marched in the Pride Parade in our nation’s capital. I sang and danced with neighbors from every race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity. We celebrated ourselves, each other, our allies, and our bright futures.

We were so beautiful and full of promise. I was so proud to be an Afro-Latina-Anglo transgender teen.

Then came Sunday.

I woke up to find that a hatred-filled assassin in Orlando had brutally murdered 49 members of our young, innocent, beautiful, and beloved community, and injured over 50 more.

They say the murderer was a U.S.-born Islamic terrorist. But Omar Mateen’s hatred for my community echoes the headlines I see about right-wing fundamentalists of other faiths who call for discrimination against people like me — and for the erasure of my rights as a human being.

His hatred echoes the oppression, arrests, and killings of my black and Latino brothers and sisters on the streets, in schools, and in our prisons. It reflects the cruelty of those who want to keep Muslims and Latinos away from our country — by force — and who still want to keep LGBTQ people from marrying each other.

They’ll even deny us the right to pee in peace, if that’s what it takes to dehumanize and humiliate us.

I’m not trying to be partisan. But it’s hard not to notice that President Obama held a summit to tell us how valued we are, while Donald Trump and many conservative lawmakers want to erase us.

Many Republicans invoked fears of international terrorism, but most said nothing about the members of our LGBTQ communities, who were the very targets and victims. They vow more Islamophobia, but make no mention of the ease with which the killers get and use assault weapons.

I’m only 15 years old, but I know what it’s like to have deep love and support, and I’ve witnessed and been the object of deep hatred and ignorance. I feel angry and heartbroken by this massacre.

A culture of fear and bigotry is again taking hold of this country. But my generation demands our equality and our human rights. We want to lead, and to determine our own future. We want you not just to love us, but to support us and to listen to us.

So if you don’t understand who we are and what we need, ask us.

To start, you can fight back against laws aimed at hurting us or erasing us, like thosebigoted and ridiculous bathroom bills. Punish politicians who block sensible gun control. Stop supporting lawmakers who want to exploit and exclude immigrants. Stop the people who are expelling and suspending and arresting and incarcerating us.

They’re killing us. Help us stop them.

We’re stronger than you think. We’re Generation Z, and we come of age in 2018. Our future is majority black and brown, and more openly queer than any before us.

We know that many of you are allies. We need you, and you need us. Together we can stop the rollercoaster of fear and terror and start the climb to the mountaintop of love and liberation.

The post They’re Killing Us. Help Us Stop Them. appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Grace Dolan-Sandrino is a transgender teen activist and the daughter of the director of IPS’s Criminalization of Poverty Project, Karen Dolan.


Can Americans Born in Jerusalem Say They’re From Israel?

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

(Image: Shutterstock)

During his now-famous nomination speech, Justice John Roberts remarked that it’s the Supreme Court’s job to call “balls and strikes, and not pitch or bat” when it comes to interpreting the law. Though it may sound a bit silly, this baseball analogy is an apt description of the Court’s role in mediating conflicts between the White House and Congress — even when Israel is up to bat.

The U.S. government is often thought to have a single, unified policy toward Israel-Palestine. But a recent court case over a seemingly simple rule revealed deep divisions between the branches.

The case — Zivotofsky v. Kerry — centered around a 2002 law ordering the State Department to accommodate requests from Americans born in Jerusalem to list “Israel” as their country of birth on their passports. Simple enough, right?

Actually, it isn’t. The U.S. government doesn’t officially recognize divided Jerusalem as belonging to either Israel or the Palestinian territories, leaving control of the city as a matter of “final status negotiation” between the parties. Allowing Jerusalemites to list their birthplace as Israel would contradict this long held policy, implicitly recognizing Israel’s control of the holy city.

Both the Bush and Obama administrations have ignored the law, rejecting requests from Jerusalemites to list “Israel” on their passports. That led Ari Zivotofsky, an American-Israeli citizen, to push the case for his son Menachem to be listed as Israeli-born. After two denials from the State Department, Zivotofsky decided to take legal action, spawning a case that lasted 13 years.

Far from a matter of simple semantics, the case prompted a debate over who gets to shape U.S. foreign policy, particularly on sensitive issues such as sovereignty over Jerusalem.

 The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the State Department, on the basis that it’s the president’s responsibility to diplomatically engage with other nations. The law was struck down, in Justice Stephen Breyer’s words, because the “case presents a political question inappropriate for judicial resolution.”

In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy recognized the president’s exclusive power to treat with foreign nations, stating the United States “must speak with one voice. That voice is the president’s.”

Striking down this provocative law signals the judiciary’s support for the presidential role in diplomacy, and a check on Congress’ attempt to usurp this responsibility.

This decision comes amid months of strained relations between Israel and the United States. It also signals an ongoing tension within the U.S. government itself, particularly between the White House and a Congress that tilts noticeably right on issues related to Israel.

Repealing this law relegates diplomatic agency back to the president, a move that seems to have settled the divide for now. This resolution also showcases a degree of nuance in otherwise “unconditional” U.S. support for the Jewish state.

The post Can Americans Born in Jerusalem Say They’re From Israel? appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Laith Shakir is a fellow of the Next Leaders program at the Institute for Policy Studies.