Who Counts? Whose Voice is Heard?

The Trump Administration’s recent request to add a citizenship question to the upcoming 2020 Decennial Census has revived a contentious debate concerning the rights and privileges of political voice and power in our democracy. This debate, and the ugly compromises embedded in our country’s founding documents, are often centered around a simple question: In a representative democracy, who counts, and whose voice is heard in the halls of Congress or in our state and local governments?

Though the current answer to this question is more inclusive since our founding, the intentions of this latest effort, particularly in the backdrop of rhetoric and a contentious debate surrounding the issue of immigration, should cause us to reflect seriously upon what values and principals will guide the future of our democracy.

All this points to the importance of having an accurate 2020 Decennial Census.

The significance of the results is hard to overstate: a comprehensive count of all the people in the U.S. portends a shakeup of political power and voice that affects every facet of our lives. Through a process known as apportionment, 435 seats in the House of Representative will be allocated across 50 states in time for the 2024 presidential and congressional elections (U.S. territories and the District of Columbia have a representative, but not an actual vote in Congress). Some states are aggressively pursuing strategies to avoid the loss of a congressional seat, while other states are eagerly and confidently anticipating one or more new seats.

The factors influencing the potential shakeup of congressional apportionment are complicated; they include recent natural disasters (e.g. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria), immigration and migration patterns, the lingering effects of the Great Recession and the housing crisis and, increasingly, the availability of jobs.

Defending its request to add a citizenship question to the Census, the Trump administration defends its efforts by suggesting it needs more data to properly enforce the Voting Rights Act; skeptics and immigration rights advocates suggest that the natural consequence will be lower response rates (leading to a more expensive survey) and heightened distrust and anxiety among both legal immigrants and undocumented populations. Most controversial, however, is the idea advanced by a small contingent of congresspersons that it would wholly exclude the count of undocumented residents for the purposes of apportionment—a debate that combines hardline immigration policy with a political calculus driven by an effort to curtail the influence of more urbanized and coastal communities that are home to substantial portions of immigrant and undocumented populations.

To tackle the complex intersection of issues that are core to the work we do at MDC, this post will serve as the first in a five-part series about the 2020 Census, and more broadly an examination of country’s history of who gets counted and whose voice is heard.

The five themes covered will include a Southern perspective on congressional representation (through apportionment) and political power, gerrymandering, immigration, and race. The final post will discuss how the continually eroding trust in our core institutions, like the Census, threatens to jeopardize community-driven efforts to build an inclusive and an equitable Infrastructure of Opportunity. In each of these pieces, we aspire to offer a positive vision for how the South can acknowledge its unique role as home to our country’s most painful history, and more importantly, how we can emerge as a region that is increasingly characterized by equity and opportunity for all.

In this first post, we’ll discuss the controversial origin of the South’s political power (e.g. congressional representation) and how the continued growth of the region portends considerable influence in shaping the country’s direction for decades to come.

How the institution of slavery propped up the South’s political power

In prioritizing the formation of a stable government over addressing the issue of slavery following the Revolutionary War, our country’s founders came to what is now commonly called the “Great Compromise.” To win over a powerful contingent of Southern representatives to the Constitutional Convention, our country’s founders created a bi-cameral legislature with a House, where membership was determined by state population, and a Senate that would have two representatives regardless of population.

Underlying this compromise, however are the origins of our country’s original sin—a twisted logic that counted slaves (as well as women) as persons for the purposes of congressional apportionment, without conferring the same rights or privileges as white men. The relevant section of the Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution reads:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. [italics added]

 The first census in 1790 was a count of the U.S. population by U.S. marshals who recorded the name of the head of household and the count of persons using only five categories: the number of free white males (under and over age 16), free white females, all other free persons, and slaves. The Census results produced the first clear portrait of the institution of slavery—a system of oppression and economic dependence that the South, which was home to the clear majority (78 percent) of slaves living in the U.S., was desperate to keep in place.

With only 65 House seats at play for apportionment, the region ended up securing 23 (or 35 percent) of the seats—a result that solidified a voting block that effectively rejected sustained efforts to dismantle the institution of slavery. It took another 73 years, with the election of President Abraham Lincoln, and the secession of Southern states from the Union, that ultimately led to the Civil War and the formal end to slavery. It required three Constitutional Amendments (the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments) to officially mark the end of slavery, craft a new definition of citizenship and equal protections under the law, and the right to vote regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude (the voting franchise wasn’t guaranteed for nearly 100 years).

Even though the South would go on to lose more than 6 million African Americans during the Great Migration of 1910 to 1970, and the simultaneous rapid westward expansion and formation of new states, the region’s political representation in the House of Representatives never fell below 27 percent of the current chamber size of 435 representatives.

The South’s distinct and ugly history during the period of Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights era (and perhaps beyond) can be summarized by a struggle for the heart and soul of the region (often overtly violent, but also backed by a multiplicity of forms of de jure segregation) and its position on of equal rights and representation of African Americans and other oppressed populations.

The portrait of today’s South eloquently described by MDC’s Senior Fellow, Ferrel Guillory, as a place that “has a contradictory economy, polarized politics, an anxious populace, a divided head, and a conflicted heart” is precisely why the upcoming 2020 Census, and the resulting apportionment,  are an important benchmark for the region’s future. With substantial population growth since 1970 (accounting for 49 percent of the country’s population growth), the states of Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia have accounted for the net increase of 26 House seats since the 1913 reapportionment. Alternatively, the states of Tennessee, Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, West Virginia, Mississippi, and Kentucky accounted for a loss of 21 seats during the same period (South Carolina held constant at seven seats).

Projecting the impact of Congressional Apportionment on the South

Election Data Services, a political consulting firm, recently completed analysis of the specific states that are likely to be gain or lose seats through apportionment following the 2020 Census. Based upon their latest analysis, the South and West are estimated to add a net of four congressional seats, while the Midwest and Northeast are projected to lose a net of four and three seats, respectively. As shown on the map below, the core states of the Rust Belt (including the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and Michigan) are all currently expected to lose at least one seat. Meanwhile, the Southern states of Florida (+2), North Carolina (+1), and Texas (+2-3) are all expected to gain seats..While unforeseen circumstances (legal challenges, natural disasters, and unreliable or suppressed counts) may still affect the outcome of the final Census count, and the state-by-state tallying of congressional seats following the 2020 Census, one reality seams all but certain – the South is going add seats to its congressional delegation. The big open question is what affect our polarized politics, and conflicted heads and hearts, will have on how the maps for new congressional districts are drawn.

With no shortage of challenging issues to tackle on the horizon, recent evidence suggests that the principals and practices (let alone the art and science) of crafting new congressional maps will either work to strengthen or harm the region’s ability to embody a place where all people can belong, thrive and contribute. In our next post, we’ll examine the process and history of drawing congressional maps and how these they can be used as a tool to better represent the diversity and character of the modern South.

Land of the Free and Home of the Unequal Income

A new report released last month by the Economic Policy Institute displays data on the extensive income inequality across the United States. With the gap between the rich and the poor increasingly widening, traversing what CityLab best describes as an income “chasm” can be exceptionally difficult for those at the bottom of the income distribution. A person’s ability to improve her economic security is inextricably linked to income and as the rungs in the ladder move further and further apart, the more momentum required to make the leap and the higher the risk of never scrambling to the next step. The share of all income controlled by the top 1 percent of the U.S. population has steadily increased for the past thirty years, climbing to 21.1 percent, the highest concentration of wealth controlled by the top 1 percent since before the Great Depression.

How did this happen?

Since the 1970s, those already at the top have reaped the benefits of productivity gains, while those lower on the distribution didn’t, as worker wages didn’t keep pace with increasing productivity. Because of the difficulty of upward economic movement, those at the top often stay where they are—and so do those on the lower end.

Income inequality in the South

Inequality varies across the South and from state to state and continues to be a pressing issue for many Americans. The stickiness at the top and bottom is a national issue, but it’s particularly problematic in the South, even though what you need to make to be considered in the top 1 percent is much lower here than in other parts of the country.

NC Income Inequality

In North Carolina, Kentucky, and Mississippi, an income of less than $330,000 would, at minimum, put you in the top 1 percent, while in some New England states like Connecticut and New Jersey, the top 1percent starts at more than $600,000. New York has the highest rate of income inequality, with the top 1 percent making 45.4 times more than the other 99. That 1 percent collects almost a third of New York’s entire income.

So while the South’s income inequality might not be as drastic as other areas, it’s harder to move up here than anywhere else—in large part because of policies that have concentrated affluence and poverty in different places, limited investment in public education and infrastructure, and reinforced racial inequity that limits the mobility of a large portion of Southerners. The South is home to centers of economic and cultural growth, but also elevated levels of poverty and socioeconomic stagnation.

With the right tools and resources, Southern states can work to alleviate the burden of income inequity and make upward mobility an achievable reality. Financial empowerment efforts to address the racial wealth gap and local programs to build strong connections between education and career advancement are key to creating a region where people can thrive—no matter where they start.

Expect More Jobs, Education, and Opportunity

When we talk about the future of work, we often look at the number of jobs likely to be created in aggregate, with special attention paid to entry level jobs for recent college graduates. The pipeline of labor and the strength of our economy are dependent on people believing that education has a great return on investment and that the investment increases the economic mobility of each generation—parents encourage their kids to go to college because they want them to do as well or better than they have.

And there’s plenty of evidence to support that belief: the economic trajectory of people with a postsecondary degree is far more secure than those who were not able to pursue education after high school:

  • Median earnings for bachelor’s degree recipients working full time is $21,000- $56,000 more than the median earnings for high school graduates
  • Over 10 percent of high school graduates age 25 and older live in a household that relies on SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) benefits, compared to 2 percent for those with at least a bachelor’s degree
  • According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, only 10 percent of children born in the lowest quintile of the income distribution who get a four-year college degree remain in that quintile as adults, compared to 47 percent of those without a four-year degree

But in much of the South, too few jobs require a postsecondary education and allow for economic security. Arkansas, for example, added 40,000 jobs between 2010 and 2013 and the state is forecast to add 546,000 jobs by the end of 2023. Nearly 70 percent of current jobs are low-skill and only 30 percent of jobs require a postsecondary credential for entry-level employment. Low-skill jobs are also conflated with lower wages, producing a workforce that is unable to move up the economic ladder and generate significant economic growth through their consumption, investment, and tax dollars. In Arkansas, 87 percent of jobs that pay less than a family-sustaining wage are those that don’t require education beyond high school. Moreover, in 2013, 65 percent of the jobs in the state did not meet that yearly threshold of a family sustaining wage.

Arkansas is not alone in this issue. The low-wage, low skill economy is an issue throughout the South. MDC called attention to the lack of well-paying jobs across the region in the State of the South report, and we are currently preparing a study of economic mobility in North Carolina that raises similar concerns about the low-wage jobs in our home state. And as you can see from the maps below, the states with the most jobs for high school dropouts are in the South while the opportunities for growth for those with bachelor’s degrees are in the North and the Midwest.

Educational concentrations of total jobs by state in 2018

PS jobs

Source: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Educational Requirements through 2018 (June 2010)

HS drop

Source: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Educational Requirements through 2018 (June 2010)

The Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas, understands that career opportunities that pay family sustaining wages are important for the Arkansas economy, and that students need to realize the return on investment of postsecondary education within their home state. The Foundation wants students, parents, policymakers, educators, and employers to EXPECT MORE. The EXPECT MORE campaign asks people in the state to change the status quo by investing in the right advanced-skills training and education, investing in every region of the state to attract family-supporting jobs, and redesigning career pathways that offer family-supporting wages. The goal is to reverse the 70-30 equation (of jobs that require no postsecondary education for entry-level employment compared to those that do) through a series of strategies to transform the Arkansas public education system and build a pipeline of family-supporting jobs across the state.

Check out more videos from the EXPECT MORE website to learn more about how Arkansans are building an Infrastructure of Opportunity for their future. You can join MDC and The Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation in a conversation about how Arkansans can make sure tomorrow’s jobs are better by live streaming the event today at 1:00 pm EST at the Clinton School of Public Service.

All the People, Not Just Some

“We the People.” Our Constitution begins with those three simple words, words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people, not just some; words that insist we rise and fall together, and that’s how we might perfect our Union.

In his final State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Obama covered a range of important issues—from foreign relations to scientific and tech innovation to a call for respectful bipartisanship (yes, please!)—but the theme that resonated most for us on the State of the South blog was about economic trends that have made it increasing difficult for working and middle class families to get ahead:

All these trends have squeezed workers, even when they have jobs; even when the economy is growing. It’s made it harder for a hardworking family to pull itself out of poverty, harder for young people to start their careers, tougher for workers to retire when they want to. And although none of these trends are unique to America, they do offend our uniquely American belief that everybody who works hard should get a fair shot.

This struggle for a fair shot has been particularly acute in the South, where even in our most economically dynamic places, people who grow up in low-income families are more likely to stay there as adults than almost anywhere else in the nation, and only small numbers make it to the middle- or upper-income levels. According to the Equality of Opportunity Project, intergenerational mobility is lowest in the South, as shown by comparing outcomes for adult children who grew up in families with the same incomes but in different places. In the following chart, the 100 largest U.S. commuting zones are ranked by the estimated percentage gain or loss in income for an adult child from a low-income family, compared to the national average. One way to think of this is that there is a greater “penalty” for people who grew up in low-income families in some places than in others. At 95th, people from low-income families in Raleigh earn an estimated 13 percent less as adults than those born in a place with average mobility. Nine out of ten of the lowest ranked metros are in the South; in the highest ranked third of metros, only two Southern cities, both in Texas, make the cut:

CZ Future Income

The problem is not just that too few people have a chance to escape poverty; there are large numbers working and middle class Southerners who are economically insecure. When so many people are unable to find consistent work that pays reasonably well, our whole economy suffers: people cannot build savings and wealth through critical investments like homeownership. They cannot afford to go back to school and build skills for a new career in an emerging industry. They cannot save up to take a risk and start a business. And, critically, they cannot invest in educational and extracurricular enrichment for their children or save for their postsecondary education. For every generation that is not adequately prepared for economic success, the situation remains the same for their children.

Say a hardworking American loses his job — we shouldn’t just make sure that he can get unemployment insurance; we should make sure that program encourages him to retrain for a business that’s ready to hire him. If that new job doesn’t pay as much, there should be a system of wage insurance in place so that he can still pay his bills. And even if he’s going from job to job, he should still be able to save for retirement and take his savings with him. That’s the way we make the new economy work better for everybody.

There are policies that can make supposedly “transitional” jobs in our economy quality jobs. Educational policies can support training with stackable credentials so people can move up the ladder from entry-level to a career. And, as President Obama said, there are policies that can support start-ups and small businesses and larger employers “who’ve figured out that doing right by their workers or their customers or their communities ends up being good for their shareholders.” But as important as good public policy is, it must be implemented through public and private systems and institutions—schools, colleges, social service agencies, and employers—that are often not working together to address barriers to economic security. Policy can provide direction and incentives for systems change, but changed outcomes at scale require changed systems.

This Washington Post story from Chico Harlan, demonstrates the massive systems failure —in access to and quality of transit, housing, education, and employment—for low-wealth people in the South. The story follows a woman in Atlanta who faces a two-hour journey on public transit to get to a job interview: sixty-nine stops on a bus; a nine-minute train ride; an additional 49 stops on a bus; a quarter-mile walk. All for what would have been a 27-minute drive. Harlan’s article reveals the additional barriers individuals face—those hardworking Americans mentioned above—when available housing and quality child care are far from job opportunities. Those barriers arise when systems—which may appear invisible to many of us, because they are working well enough for us—are not designed to achieve the outcomes we often say we want: a fair shot for everyone who is willing to put in the effort.

If you’d like to discuss your Southern mobility experience with the President, you can join a post-State of the Union interview today on YouTube at 2:15 ET. If you’d like to discuss mobility in the South with less presidential people like us, find us on Twitter and Facebook, #stateofthesouth.

Abby Parcell contributed to this post. 

Your Daughter’s Teacher Needs a Raise

The beginning of the year always makes me revisit my annual budget, evaluate my savings plan, and start to think about taxes. As I think about the additional amount of money I still need to save for my family to be comfortable in the future, I am reminded that there are many people I encounter on a daily basis that are not as fortunate. When it comes to having enough income to cover my basic expenses, I’m lucky. I can pay my bills and still save for my family’s future—assuming we don’t have any unexpected medical expenses that deplete our savings. My job pays me a family-sustaining wage, but what about the people I depend on to take care of my family and me on a daily basis?

Last year, Fortune reported that more than 42 percent of U.S. workers hold jobs that pay a low wage. The article assumes any job with wages below $15 an hour is a low-wage job. The $15 an hour rate is based on national studies which have calculated an equilibrium where wages are high enough to lift families out of poverty, but still low enough to not result in massive job losses. In North Carolina, the percent of jobs paying a low wage is 48.7 percent.

We often associate jobs that pay low wages in our economy with low skilled or unskilled labor. Many of us think of fast food jobs and teenagers. However, many of the jobs that pay a less than what is needed to maintain a normal standard of living are the very jobs our society depends on to take care of our family members and teach our children. As the Fortune article points out, low-wage jobs are held disproportionately by women, people of color, and persons 20 years of age or older.

Is $15 an hour enough?

Another definition of low-wage job is one that pays less than a living wage, which is defined as the amount of money a person must earn to cover their family’s basic living expenses. In 2014, MIT and the Living Wage Project calculated the living wage for North Carolina to be $10.53 for one person, living alone. The addition of children obviously increases a family’s expenses. Hence, one adult with a one child will need to make $44,990 a year ($21.63 an hour) to break even every month. This amount does not include emergency savings or funds to splurge on birthday and holiday gifts. Overall, 72 percent of our state’s workforce makes less than $44,990 a year. Here are the living wage calculations for other family configurations:

NC Living Wage

Many of the jobs that pay less than a living wage typically require postsecondary credentials and are occupations that are growing in our economy:

NC Occupations Wages

Half of the preschool teaching jobs in the state earn less than $11.35 an hour. At this wage rate, someone working as a preschool teacher, with a child at home, would not be able be able to cover his basic living expenses. He would not be able to save for his family’s future, and he is probably asking himself a different set of questions at the beginning of the year. All of the jobs listed in the table above require some kind of investment in postsecondary training; the very investment that is touted for getting ahead and securing employment that leads to economic security. But the investment can’t just be on the worker’s side of the equation. We have to invest in making those jobs that require skill and training—and there aren’t many jobs that don’t—quality jobs that provide wages commensurate with the training and value they bring to individuals and communities. Our society is dependent on a host of skilled labor to take care of our families, so we need policies and wage rates that help them take care of theirs.