Inequality’s Racism

Darrick Hamilton on Bernie’s #InequalityTownHall; Raj Chetty breaks down his groundbreaking study on the “punishing reach of racism for black boys”; Tracey Ross on what cities can do to tackle racial inequality; and two moms turned activists on what the ACA and Medicaid mean to their families as we say happy birthday to the ACA. Subscribe to Off-Kilter on iTunes.

This week on Off-Kilter, a new study out of Stanford and Harvard sheds harrowing new light on what’s driving persistent racial inequality in America. It found that even when children grow up next to each other — with parents earning similar incomes — black boys fare worse than white boys in 99 percent of the country. Rebecca talks with Raj Chetty, the lead author of the study, and Tracey Ross, former co-host of this show (back when it was TalkPoverty Radio) who now leads the All-In Cities Initiative at PolicyLink.

Next, with this week marking the 8th anniversary of the Affordable Care Act’s passage, Rebecca sits down with two moms turned healthcare activists whose daughters are alive today thanks to the ACA and Medicaid — Elena Hung and Marta Conner.

But first, earlier this week Sen. Bernie Sanders joined forces with Sen. Elizabeth Warren and documentarian Michael Moore to host a town hall on inequality in America. Rebecca talks with Darrick Hamilton, a professor of economics and urban policy at the New School who shared the town hall stage with Sanders, Warren, and Moore, about a federal job guarantee, reparations, and what they talked about in the green room.

This week’s guests:

  • Darrick Hamilton, professor of economics and urban policy at The New School
  • Raj Chetty, professor of economics at Stanford University
  • Tracey Ross, associate director of the All-in Cities Initiative, PolicyLink
  • Elena Hung, cofounder, Little Lobbyists; co-chair, Healthcare Voter; and mother of Xiomara
  • Marta Conner, health care activist and mother of Caroline

For more on this week’s topics:

This program aired on March 23rd, 2018

Transcript of show:

REBECCA VALLAS (HOST): Welcome to Off Kilter, the show about poverty, inequality and everything they intersect with powered by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. I’m Rebecca Vallas. This week on Off Kilter, a new study out of Stanford and Harvard sheds harrowing new light on what’s driving persistent racial inequality in America. The study found that even when children grow up next to each other with parents who are in similar incomes, black boys fare worse than white boys in 99% of this country. I talk with Raj Chetty, the lead author of the study and Tracey Ross, my former co-host of this show who now leads in the All In Cities Initiative at Policy Link about how we close those racial gaps. Next, with this week marking the 8th anniversary of the Affordable Care Act’s passage, I talk with two moms turned health care activists whose daughters are alive today thanks to the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid. But first, earlier this week senator Bernie Sanders joined forces with Senator Elizabeth Warren and documentarian Michael Moore to host a town hall on inequality in America. The even was viewed by nearly two million people and focused on the many ways inequality manifests today. Let’s take a listen to some of the town hall.


SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: How often have you guys seen on television any discussion of poverty in America? Do you ever see it?


SANDERS: Virtually not at all. 40 million people struggling and what I would say to our friends in the corporate media, start paying attention to the reality of how many people in our country are struggling economically every single day, let’s talk about that issue.



DARRICK HAMILTON: William Barber had the right narrative. Why are we relying on the private sector to begin with? Somebody’s dignity should not be based in the profit of a firm. That’s just the bottom line.


SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN: You watch America coming out of the Great Depression, 1935, forward, you watch GDP doing this and you watch America investing in the things that help create the middle class, investing in education, investing in infrastructure, investing basic research, the things that help us go forward. Doing all of this based on progressive taxation. Those who have more, pay a fair share and help pick up the ticket for that. And what happens, 1935 to 1980, the 90% of America, everybody not in that top 10%, the 90% of American gets 70% of all new income growth in this country. Yeah, the rich did better but everybody did better. What happened in 1980? Ronald Reagan gets elected, we move to trickle down economics, cut taxes for those at the top and start cutting back on investments and opportunity.


SANDERS: And I think one of the hardest things that has to happen, again this is not easy is ordinary people to stand up and say this is my life and I am in pain, this is the United States of America, we should not be happy.

UNIDENTIFIED: That’s right.


VALLAS: One of the voices that you just heard belonged to Darrick Hamilton, he’s a professor of Economics and Urban Policy at the New School in New York. He shared the stage with Senators Sanders and Warren and Michael Moore at the town hall earlier this week and I’m thrilled to speak with him now. Darrick, thank you so much for joining the show. So just to kick us off folks just heard a couple of quotes, a little bit of a taste of what happened in the event but before we get into any of the policy or where we go with the debate and where it should be around how we address the problems that were raised in this town hall, what was it like to be sitting on a stage for a couple of hours with not just Bernie Sanders but also Elizabeth Warren and also Michael Moore?

DARRICK HAMILTON: Well, I can definitely tell you I was extremely nervous. It took the first answer to the first question before I could calm down but in a lot of ways, this is the culmination of a dream. I’ve worked very hard to come up with policies and understand of inequality and have an opportunity to sit on that stage with giants was an honor and a privilege.

VALLAS: Was there any good green room talk you can divulge with you, me and a few thousand listeners?

HAMILTON: I would say that someone asked me the question later what are they like in real life? They are exactly like you would picture them. So the image that they [exude] on TV and other forms is really how they are. They have authenticity and I think is something that should be praised and recognized.

VALLAS: With that out of the way because I had to ask questions, let’s get into some policy because I’m a nerd, you’re a nerd, let’s go there. So one of the things that came up just a little bit in the town hall and there was a lot to be discussed and so there wasn’t a ton of space for individual policy problems and solutions but one of the things that came up was something that we are hearing more and more about in Washington and in policy circles and really even in the mainstream media these days than I can remember and that’s the idea of a job guarantee. Tell us a little bit, what is a job guarantee, what does that mean and then I would love to hear you share a little bit about why you think we’re at a point now where we’re seeing all kinds of support in a mainstream way for what used to be viewed as an extremely radical policy?

HAMILTON: A job guarantee is exactly how it sounds. It literally would be guaranteed employed to anyone who desires to work. Some of the goals of a job guarantee would be to eliminate working poverty altogether. Which in my view is an oxymoron to begin with. No one working should be poor. Another goal of a federal job guarantee is literally to get rid of involuntary unemployment. So when we hear things like a natural rate of unemployment, what does that mean? That is something that the Fed determines what’s going to be the natural rate of unemployment. Well I say we can do better, why don’t we just eliminate it altogether. So those are the big lofty goals and in general what the federal jobs guarantee does, it increases the bargaining power of workers althroughout the labor market because it removes that threat of unemployment and then the final big feature of a federal job guarantee actually there are more than the final one I’m going to mention right now is it generates useful public goods so it improves our infrastructure, that’s physical which we’ve seen from a recent bridge collapse in Florida needs to be improved but also a 21st century federal jobs guarantee would deal with human infrastructure as well.

How can we come up with structures and goods and services that enable people to be their best self? So, care work for example, can we provide quality childcare, quality elder care, can we improve our hospitals with auxiliary work, can we improve our schools? The imagination is the only limit we have, so that’s what a federal job guarantee [is], but you also asked the question of how did we get here where such an idea, I think we need to get away from using the term ‘radical’. I would prefer if we used the term bold, where such a bold idea is now politically on the agenda, that many people are starting to champion or consider it. And how did we get here? I don’t know, I guess there’s probably a confluence of things that got us here, one is perhaps we can owe this to Trump, dare I say, and that what we’ve considered impossible in the past is no longer impossible. We are open to lots of ideas but I think something more deeper than that. That’s kind of superficial.

I think something deeper than that is we’re fed up. We’re fed up with inequality, we’re fed up with struggle. If we want to have the rhetoric around people want to work, blah, blah, blah, well then we need to provide structures to allow people to work. So there’s too many people that want to work that can’t work, a federal job guarantee would literally facilitate work for anybody who wants to work and not as a punishment but rather as a mechanism for agency to give you access, not to punish you for seemingly bad behavior of not working because that’s not the root cause of inequality or poverty. The root cause is we don’t have avenues or structures so that people can have access.

VALLAS: One of the points that you made and I feel like every time you opened your mouth at this event I wanted to give you an extra five minutes to talk or an hour or ten hours to talk about what you were raising that you had to sort of move through so quickly because there was so much packed into that town hall, but one of the points that you made that deserves it’s own whole conversation is about the barriers that people with criminal records who are now one in three Americans as well as the barriers that people with disabilities face to jobs that pay good wages to pathways out of poverty and the role that those barriers play in reinforcing poverty, reinforcing inequality and in particular when it comes to the issue of criminal records, racial inequality. How does that connect to a conversation around a job guarantee?

HAMILTON: Yeah, you kind of hit the nail on the head with that last comment about the racialized aspects of incarceration for instance but other areas of society as well. If somebody pays their debt to society then they should not be continually penalized. They should be afforded the opportunity to have gainful employment to be incorporated into the society. And that’s not even to mention how they ended up incarcerated in the first place, perhaps if we had a federal job guarantee that would dramatically reduce the number of people that would have to turn to other areas outside of work to sustain themselves. It would probably reduce incarceration a great deal. So one thing it would do, a federal job guarantee, what it does is it enables stigmatized and marginalized workers in ways that the private sector does not by offering that guarantee.

The other thing that a federal job guarantee would do is for disability populations, for example, we could have some of the work focused on advocacy so that they can have long term solutions for dignified employment, they could improve their livability, they could have work directed at making them more financially independent so the work would not only employ them some of the activities they would be involved in would be how can we facilitate a community so that they could have a better life in general. And the same would be true for incarcerated individuals. If you are removed from society for say 15 years, the transition back to society is not going to be easy, well it would be a public good if we can create avenues so that they can have a greater facilitation into general population away from being incarcerated. So I’ll reiterate the point, one is it provides direct employment in the way that the private sector has not been providing employment for either disability populations or incarcerated populations to the tune that they would have reasonable amount of representation in the employment sector. And also the work itself would be directed towards facilitating avenues so that they can have a better quality of life like the rest of us enjoy.

VALLAS: So often conversations, I’m just going to call out the elephant in the room that a lot of folks might have been thinking about on Monday as this conversation around inequality was playing out, often in these conversations the issue of class is kept separate from the conversation around race, as though they are separate things that need to be treated separately. That was not the case in this even, you in particular but other folks as well brought up race in several different parts of the conversation but you brought up that one of the policy solutions that needs to be brought into the mix here as we’re talking about poverty and inequality and in particular, racial inequality that persists today is reparations. Help us understand how that fits in here and whether there’s a serious conversation to be had along those lines that we could ever actually see become a real and very serious people embraced idea.

HAMILTON: So let me start with the first part of your question, class and race and how they are intersected. One problem with the rhetoric is people often think about race only as it relates to being convoluted with being in lower classes of society. So there’s a whole narrative around race matters to the extent that you’re caught up in poor neighborhoods where you have lack of role models, you have attitudes and norms that lead to detrimental attitudes towards your success so you develop things that become self-sabotaging towards school, towards work. So first, let’s put to rest that those narratives have very little empirical validity. Independent of resource, we don’t find that people are being held back because they don’t want to work or because they desire to have worse outcomes or they don’t want to achieve in school. That’s a strong narrative but it’s not supported empirically. But beyond that, here’s something that we need to recognize.

All across the education spectrum, all across the income spectrum the living experience of somebody who is black is very different from that who is white and what better indicator to make that case than wealth itself. And we know that if you are a head of household and you work full time and you’re black, your net wealth position is typically lower than that of somebody who is white and is not working, unemployed. Similarly with regards to education if you are black and head of household and graduated from college, your family wealth position is lower than that typically than a white person who dropped out of high school. I can look at other outcomes as well such as health outcomes. Another dramatic one that drives home the point is black women who graduated from college have higher infant mortality rates than white women who drop out of high school. And you brought up incarceration earlier as well, with regards to employment, an older study done the sociologist Devah Pager demonstrates that in respondents who signal prior incarceration that are white are more likely to get call backs than respondents who are black who did not signal prior incarceration.

So my point in telling you all of this and reciting all of this is that race matters beyond poverty. Race matters in general. Inequality is horrible in the United States and it becomes apartheid like once we consider race. So we are beyond our race problem in terms of stratification in the US. But you asked the question about reparations. And with regards to reparations, not only would there be redress because reparations would include some compensation for the harm that was committed, there would be acknowledgement for the specific harms that have be committed on black people throughout our history. not just slavery, we can look at Jim Crow, we can look at some of the policies that came about from New Deal in which through administration with basically the Faustian bargain, blacks were excluded from some of the benefits systematically. Well we could not only have redress for that but we can actually acknowledge it and the acknowledgment allows for us to move on. It allows for healing, we can deal with our race problem so that black people can have the dignity to be acknowledged that this inequality is not something that’s organic, it didn’t just happen natural, but rather was systematic, we recognize it, we’re going to redress it and then now here’s what black people would have to do along with all of us if this was properly addressed, move on. And the last comment I’ll make about reparations unless you ask another question is the acknowledgement also will help us deal with some of these prevailing narratives that we have today around black people being responsible for their own conditions.

If we were to acknowledge the harm in an official capacity along with the redress that eliminates these things that poor people are poor because they are irresponsible or making poor decisions. Because race provides the fodder to make those political narratives, it is often times black people that are scapegoated as being indicative of the poor so we can come up with these narratives that lead us away from addressing our inequality.

VALLAS: In the last minute or so that I have with you, are there any issues that didn’t come up in the town hall that you wish had and that you think are under discussed when it comes to the conversation around poverty and inequality in America?

HAMILTON: You know, what would I say, you know we didn’t have a lot of time to talk about the health consequences associated with this narrative of work hard, get a good education, often times we hear people say if you come from a stigmatized group, if you have been incarcerated if you are black, if you are disabled, if you are a woman, you might hear somebody say yeah you’re going to face discriminatory barriers but you know what, plow through. Work hard, show some grit and if I had a child, I don’t have a child but if I had a child I probably would tell my child the same thing. But from a structural standpoint when somebody says work twice as hard to get by from a structural standpoint we need to ask a question at what cost? What are the costs of asking somebody from a marginalized group to plow through given that we have structures that inhibit their likelihood of success? Those consequences are going to manifest in some ways and it might be, for example, why black people have twice the hypertension rate at every level of education compared to white individuals, why with virtually every leading cost of mortality, blacks have higher rates than whites, regardless of education or income.

VALLAS: Darrick Hamilton is professor of economics and urban policy at The New School in New York, he was one of the panelists at the inequality townhall earlier this week with Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and documentarian Michael Moore and I have to say he makes economics look pretty cool, Darrick Hamilton, thank you so much for coming on the show and we will have to have you back sometime soon.

HAMILTON: It was a pleasure Rebecca, I thank you so much.

VALLAS: Don’t go away, more Off Kilter after the break, I’m Rebecca Vallas.


You’re listening to Off Kilter, I’m Rebecca Vallas. Earlier this week a study by researchers at Stanford, Harvard and the Census Bureau shed unprecedented light on the quote “punishing reach of racism for black boys in America”. Even when children grow up next to each other with parents who are in similar incomes, the study found black boys fare worse than white boys in 99% of America. And perhaps even more staggering, those gaps only worsen in neighborhoods with low poverty rates and good schools. To unpack this new study and what it means, I’m so pleased to speak with Stanford economic Raj Chetty, the lead author of the study. Dr. Chetty, thanks so much for joining the show.

DR. RAJ CHETTY: Thanks for having me, it’s a pleasure.

VALLAS: So the fact of racial inequality, the gap between whites and blacks when it comes to income as well as wealth has long been documented but your study sheds new light on what’s driving income inequality across racial groups. What did you find with your colleagues?

CHETTY: Well so what’s new about the study is that it takes a perspective across generations. So most prior work on racial inequality in the US has looked at people with a snapshot at a point in time. So comparing adults who were, let’s say 40 years old who were black versus white versus Hispanic and looking at how their incomes and other outcomes differ. What we do here is use data that spans cross generations where we can link kids to their parents and in this case we’re able to use anonymized data covering about 20 million kids and their parents and look at how these disparities evolve across generations. And the key finding that emerges from this analysis is that there are very large differences by race and kids chance of climbing the income ladder and staying at the top of the income ladder. So in particular and most strikingly, even among kids who grow up in high income families, if you’re black you have a much lower chance of remaining in the next generation at the top of the income distribution or even in the middle of the income distribution than if you’re white. Black kids have almost an equal chance of ending up at the bottom as they do of staying at the top if they start out in a high income family and the reason that’s so important is that it tells us these disparities are not just arising from something that’s happening today but it’s that this process of think of the American dream as being, the idea of trying to climb the income ladder for black Americans it’s almost like you’re on a treadmill. You climb up in one generation only then to fall behind again and have to climb up once more and it’s that feature, that cycle that has to be broken to combat these disparities in the long run.

VALLAS: So in addition to controlling for income and where people grew up, your study also found that racial inequality can’t be explained by differences in cognitive ability which maybe sounds common sense to a lot of folks listening but is actually pretty important as an empirical finding considering a lot of the narratives that still persist out there about what explains poverty in America.

CHETTY: Yeah, that’s right. We really don’t think differences in ability explain the gaps that we’re documenting and there are two simple reasons for that. The first is the pattern that I just described of downward mobility across generations. It’s really there only for black boys. Black women do just about as well as white women once you control for their parental income. And that suggests first of all, if you look at most prior theories of differences in cognitive ability, the bell curve book for example, it does not present evidence that you’d expect these differences to vary by gender. Furthermore if you look at test score data which is the basis for most prior theories about differences in ability the fact that black kids when they’re in school tend to score lower on standardized tests than white kids, that actually is true for both black boys and for black girls to the same extend. In contrast when you look at earnings there are dramatic gender differences.

And so that suggests these tests are actually not really capturing in a very accurate way differences in ability as they matter for long term outcomes which casts doubt on that whole body of evidence. And so based on that type of reasoning we really think this is not about differences in ability. One final piece of evidence that echoes that is if you look at kids who move to different areas, areas where we see better outcomes for black kids, you see that they do much better themselves which again demonstrates that environment seems to be important. This is not about immutable factors like differences in ability.

VALLAS: Now you mention gender there and that was actually one of the most interesting pieces of this study to me in particular. Here you are, telling this story and finding new data backing up this really interesting and horrible story when it comes to black boys and their trajectory for the rest of their lives. But when it comes to women it seems to be a very different story.

CHETTY: Yeah, that’s exactly right. I think we were quite surprised by that. So there is earlier evidence showing that gaps in wages, for example are smaller for women between black and white relative to black and white men. What we were struck by is if you just control for parental income so you look at two children, say growing up in a family making $50,000 a year, if you look at their daughters they have essentially the same outcomes in terms of earning, wage rates, employment rates, their chance of going to college. Lots of different outcomes you can look at. If you look at boys, it’s a completely different picture, if you compare black boys to white boys you see enormous gaps in earnings and employment rates, perhaps most starkly in the context of incarceration. One in five black men born to a low income family is incarcerated on a given day which was just an astonishingly high rate and you don’t see anything like that for women which is not surprising, much lower incarceration rate for both black and white women.

Now, one thing I want to emphasize here is that in some of the public discussion following the paper people have been a little bit surprised, are you saying there is no issue here for women that doesn’t really sound right. I want to emphasize that that is not what we’re saying. So first of all, if you just look in the raw data there is still a significant difference in the earnings of black women and white women and the reason for that is black women still grow up in much lower income families than white women. So it’s only once you control for parental income that their outcomes look much more similar. The second important point to note is that black women, white women and white men all have relatively similar levels of earnings, that it’s really white men who have considerably higher levels of earnings. So you might ask, given that, why is the right perspective to focus on black men as a opposed to saying there are these three other groups, different from white men where we see different outcomes and so I just want to clarify the reason we focus on black men is when we look at certain outcomes like the probability that they have a job or their odds of being incarcerated or their chances of completing high school, they do look like an outlier relative to all the other groups. Black men are significantly less likely to be employed than black women, they are significantly more likely to be incarcerated, they’re significantly less likely to complete high school. And so it does seem like there are a special set of challenges confronting black men but that is not to say that there’s no issue for black women or that gender equity is not an issue, that’s just not the focus of this study.

VALLAS: And then one last head scratcher to me, to throw at you and that I would love to hear a little bit more about what’s behind it, as I mentioned up top the gaps that you found in your research only worsen in neighborhoods with low poverty rates and good schools. Why is that and what’s going on there?

CHETTY: So what’s going on there is that both black kids and white kids do much better in places that have better schools, that have low poverty rates that you might think of intuitively as good neighborhoods. So that makes sense intuititvely, right? So we’re not challenging that intuition at all, however, what you see in the data is that white kids gain more from being in these lower poverty areas from attending better schools than black kids do. And as a result the gap between white kids and black kids actually are larger in those areas. So the takeaway from that is not that schools are not important or that having lower poverty, lower crime areas are not important, all of those things would help black kids and white kids as we’ve shown in our prior work for instance, studying moving to opportunity experiment, creating more affordable housing, giving people the chance to live in better neighborhoods, we think is extremely important to reviving the American dream for everyone. However what this study is showing is it is not adequate by itself to close black white disparities. You need to do more than that. You need to perhaps integrate black kids into these better schools so that they can take advantages of the resources they offer to the same extent that white kids do. You need to offer them mentoring programs. Perhaps within these areas, so one of the patterns we find is that in areas with a large fraction of black fathers present in the home tend to have better outcomes for black boys. What is that picking up? We don’t think it’s directly about whether your parents are married or not, we think it’s more about perhaps the effect of having black male role models in an area or changes of social norms in an area, whatever it is, there are a set of factors that cut differently by race within neighborhoods that seem really important to think about. To put it differently, thinking about socioeconomic class and neighborhood is not a substitute for thinking about race. We need to think about how to narrow racial disparities separately.

VALLAS: I’ve been speaking with Raj Chetty, he is the lead author of a new study shining unprecedented light on the punishing race of racism for black boys in America. He’s an economist at Stanford, Dr. Chetty thank you so much for joining the show and for this important work.

CHETTY: Thank you.

VALLAS: Next up I am so pleased to welcome back my friend, my colleague, Tracey Ross in a past life as listeners may remember Tracey was a co-host of this very show back when it bore the name “Talk Poverty Radio”. Oh, the memories. She today runs the All In Cities Initiative at a west coast organization called Policy Link. All In Cities works with local leaders to give them the policy, data and support they need to bring about equitable communities across the country and of course she is the perfect person to continue the conversation about racial mobility in America. Tracey, thank you so much for coming back on the show, I miss you.

TRACEY ROSS: Absolutely, I’m so glad to be back on. I’ve been waiting for my invite so I’m glad to finally be welcomed home.

VALLAS: I sort of feel like this is one of those things where I’m like she hasn’t called me in a while, and you’ll well she hasn’t called me in a while and I’m like maybe she doesn’t like me anymore, OK maybe we can get over that and we can talk about mobility in America. [LAUGHTER] So Tracey, Raj Chetty has brought us up to spend on his fascinating and also terrifying new research unpacking the barriers to upward mobility that black boys in America continue to face in 2018. I’d love to go with you to a more policy focused place about what we do with this information and how we break down these gaps. So first to kick us off, you run the All IN Cities Initiative, tell us a little bit about what you guys have been up to when it comes to the policies that we need to see to break down these gaps.

ROSS: Sure so the initiative was created in response to the fact that cities have been attracting more investments, more residents, more companies than probably ever but the folks who have paid their dues during the long decline in cities, namely people of color and low income people, they’re not connecting to this renewed opportunity. So we created this initiative to help leaders both inside and outside of city government with data support, technical assistance and capacity building to create agendas, policy agendas to create opportunity and we help coach them through implementing those agendas. So we’re working in cities across the country, sometimes with coalitions of organizations, sometimes directly with leaders in mayors offices to help them figure out how to have a results driven results to this work, not tinkering around with policies that haven’t proven to produce results but to actually move the needle on achieving equity.

VALLAS: Now we heard earlier in this episode from Darrick Hamilton about a job guarantee, about reparations, a whole range of really big picture and far reaching policies that he says would help us end racial inequality in America. Help us understand the policy landscape here and how those fit in with some of the other types of policy solutions that people are talking about to address racial inequality.

ROSS: Sure, and I’m glad you all had Darrick on, we consider Darrick here a close colleague and friend of Policy Link. I think that the policies that he outlines are exactly right because I think there is a tendency to hear about the individual gaps or shortcomings, quote, unquote or barriers that people face, particularly black men and boys to accessing jobs or opportunity and there is a tendency to think well what is it that we can do to help equip these young men to make sure that they can navigate a workplace or navigate a school system. That puts the onus of structural racism on those that are being oppressed so these ideas of fixing the culture, pulling up your pants, all these respectability politics does not to actually overcome barriers. So the great thing about the study is that it shows these are things that men, boys face across the income spectrum, across the wealth spectrum so it really isn’t about education level or anything that the individual is doing. It’s about systemic issues, so Darrick is exactly right in talking about some of these big audacious goals that we should be considering. There are some things that we can be looking at in the near term future to try and remove barriers. So again, all of these policies shouldn’t be looking at necessarily what boys and men should be doing differently but what are the barriers they’re facing.

So if we’re looking at the school system we know that young boys of color, particularly black boys get suspended at higher rates even in kindergarten. So we should be looking at what we can do in schools to not have a punitive system that creates this school to prison pipeline. We should be looking at police officers and how we have community policing and making sure that black men and teens are not overly policed. We should be considering some of the work that you’ve been championing through clean slate, making sure that the criminal record does not stick with someone for life, particularly because some of these records are erroneous altogether so really drilling down on policies that remove barriers for these boys and men and looking at more systemic solutions.

VALLAS: Now one of the things that you in particularly work on and you seeded this by describing a little bit about what the All In Cities initiative does but part of what you do and part of what you spend a lot of time thinking about is what cities in particular can do to embrace policies and in some cases also practices that can tackle racial inequality at the local level. Some of the cities that you’ve looked at have been New Orleans and Seattle. What can we learn from places like those that are taking racial inequality into their own hands and not waiting for leaders in Washington to act?

ROSS: Yeah, absolutely and I would say that looking at the local level is critical as these studies outline that your neighborhood has a particularly strong effect on your neighborhood, your life outcome. So in the work that we have been able to do in New Orleans, it really is in alignment with the results of the study. They found that in 2011, about 52% of working age black men in the city were jobless. And so I think that sometimes there is a tendency for policymakers to think well OK, then let’s have a job fair or let’s have an apprenticeship program. What New Orleans did and what we advocate that all cities do is to understand what is the problem at hand. What is the actual data saying so if you really drill down you might see OK, the barrier is that people have not completed high school or the barrier is criminal records. So once the city actually drilled down on the data they decided what they wanted to do was to connect training opportunities, social services, community advocates really building this system to help fill the gaps where black men don’t have the same social networks that white men tend to have at all income levels. And so they created this program, through the network for economic opportunity and they’ve been able to help 500 of all backgrounds by 60% of those black men were able to find jobs. And so we work with cities to make them better understand through data what the problem that they’re actually experience rather jumping straight to solutions and then tailoring those solutions to the problem at hand.

VALLAS: You mentioned New Orleans. Seattle has also done some really interesting work in this space. What has Seattle been up to?

ROSS: Yeah so Seattle really is a leader in this work. They put out a racial equity analysis tool, so all city departments look at any time a policy comes up, what are the benefits that this policy will have on various communities? What are the burdens these policies will have? They use this tool to gut check themselves with every policy, with every budget. They are able to anticipate unintended consequences because of this racial equity tool. And they’ve been able to see governments serving people in more efficient and effective ways and it’s become this racial equity tool has been adopting in various cities now and I was doing a training recently with some local leaders in a majority white city and I think sometimes these conversations can be uncomfortable particularly for white leaders but I made it very clear that I’m not on a hunt to find who has racism in their heart or bias, everyone has bias but the truth is that if you are working in the city government you have inherited an institution that’s filled with racism and bias from it’s inception. So you inherited this so now it’s your responsibility to find out what you can do to change the course of this work. I think that it was a bit liberating for the folks that I was working with because it’s less about finding blame and more about finding solutions and that’s what these racial equity tools that Seattle became the champion of have been able to do for cities.

VALLAS: One of the things that I spoke about with Raj Chetty and also that has been getting a lot of attention in the wake of his new research is that the gaps that we’re seeing for black men that originate in their time as his research now shows, as black boys, are not quite the same thing that we’re seeing when it comes to women. And so while black girls and women face deep inequality on many, many measures, what we end up seeing, he finds is that black and white girls from families with comparable earnings attaining similar income levels as adults. I talked a little bit with him about why that might be and why that’s important that we not take away from his findings we’re fine when it comes to racial inequality among women, it’s just a problem when it comes to men. Would love to hear you comment a little bit on those findings and how they fit into the broader research and where that should be taking us in a policy direction.

ROSS: There’s a couple of things to take from it. One, I think that the gap being able to see the gender differences, it’s incredibly helpful that in making sure that we’re having a conversation where we’re not trying to blame quote, unquote “black culture”. So seeing the fact that there are differences between black boys and black girls we know that something else is at play and that it’s not race. In terms of the comparison between black girls and white girls and going into black womanhood and white womanhood seeing that there aren’t differences, it’s challenging to unearth what the path to achieving that income level is. So what I mean by that is we don’t have data on what barriers and what it took for black women to achieve the same income level as a white woman. So if that means having to have worked overtime, being quote, unquote “twice as good,” these things can’t be captured in the study so it takes a bit for granted, it seems like the path is equal for these women but it’s not. We know that educated black women face higher mortality rates, increased levels of hypertension, we know are more likely to be evicted than any other group. So there are barrier that black women still have to overcome in order to achieve the same level of stability.

So we’re not able to understand that from the data. So I think that’s what Chetty is referring to when he’s saying it doesn’t take away from what black women experience, levels of discrimination. So it isn’t a good enough I think that we have those income levels because we don’t know the stress and the experience that actually has to go into getting, the journey essentially should be equal not just the outcomes. So all of that being said I know that Darrick Hamilton, I was listening to a recent interview that he did about this study as well, we might not know if that’s even the best comparison, comparing black women and white women. I can do a crude example, we know that examples are not trends but you are a white woman, I am a black woman, does it make sense for us to compare our paths if we both face barriers because we are women, should we be comparing ourselves to white men who face the fewest barriers. So I think comparing a discriminated group to another discriminated group might not be the best way to fully understand the experiences that women in this study have.

VALLAS: Tracey Ross leads the All In Cities Initiative at Policy Link out in the west coast where I see lots less of her because she has decided to live tragically far away from me on the east coast. She is absolutely worth following on Twitter @TraceyLRoss, did I get that right, Tracey, I really hope I did because I follow you because everyone should follow you.

ROSS: You got it perfect!

VALLAS: And Tracey where can folks learn more about the All In Cities Initiative and the great work you guys are doing on the ground?

ROSS: Yeah, folks can go to and we also have a great tool kit that can walk you through what it takes to pass a lot of the policies that we’re championing in cities across the country.

VALLAS: And folks can find links to both of those on our nerdy syllabus page on Medium. Tracey, thanks so much for taking the time and call me when you get a chance so we can catch up.

ROSS: I will, absolutely, thanks for having me on.

VALLAS: Talk to you soon. Don’t go away, more Off Kilter after the break, I’m Rebecca Vallas.


You’re listening to Off Kilter, I’m Rebecca Vallas. This week marks the 8th anniversary of the Affordable Care Act’s passage. To celebrate the ACA, which remains under attack by Republicans in congress despite it’s own growing popularity amid threatened repeal Leader Nancy Pelosi gathered advocates at the Capitol this week to talk about how important the law is to so many people across the country and why any attempt to repeal the ACA or cut Medicaid must fail. As Off Kilter says ‘Happy Birthday’ to the ACA I am so pleased to speak with two good friends of mine who are total powerhouse healthcare activists because of what the ACA and Medicaid mean to their families. Elena Hung is the co-founder of Little Lobbyists, she’s also a co-chair of Health Care Voter and Marta Connor is a good friend of this show who is a health care activist because of her daughter, Caroline. Thank you so much for having me.

ELENA HUNG: Thank you so much for having me.

MARTA CONNOR: Thank you.

VALLAS: And Elena, you brought a special guest with you, you brought two special guest.

HUNG: So my daughter Xiomara is here so you might hear her in a little bit.

VALLAS: She might join us for this conversation, we’ll see what she wants to do. So just to kick things off, I’m going to turn to both of you to share a little bit about what the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid mean to you personally. So Elena, you first.

HUNG: So my daughter is three and a half years old and we have travelled this journey, when she was born it was, she was rushed to the NICU about 15 minutes after her birth and that’s where everything started. She was in the NICU for about 5 months and I was basically thrust into this world of medically complex children. Xiomara has a tracheostomy; she depends on a tracheostomy to breathe and a feeding tube for all of her nutrition. So that’s the medical part of it, then there is the therapy side of it where she has [XIOMARA SPEAKS] Hi, Xiomara!

VALLAS: There she is.

HUNG: She has needed physical therapy and speech therapy, which has paid off very nicely as you can hear. And I have realized how important that access to medical care is, access to therapy is and I have met lots and lots and lots of families who are in my shoes, travelling the same journey that I am and what access to medical care has meant for them, what access to therapies, to Medicaid, to all of these services has meant.

VALLAS: And Marta, you also have a daughter and her name is Caroline.

CONNOR: Yes, so Caroline is 8 years old and she’s in second grade. She has a neurological disorder called Rett Syndrome which essentially is a disorder that interferes with her ability to control her body so she can’t walk, she can’t talk, she can’t use her hands, and she can’t even chew her own food. But we actually didn’t that Caroline had Rett Syndrome until after she was 1, so she used to actually be able to feed herself and play with her toys but from 14 months we saw her struggling, she was not walking, she wasn’t even crawling, she was starting to drop her toys although we didn’t really notice it right away, she was losing her words and it all happened really quickly, within a month she was robbed of all of those ability and we got a diagnosis when she was 17 months old. So today Caroline is 8 and she is a bright and happy girl. And she is defying the odds and she’s alive and my husband and I have no doubt that she is alive because of ACA and Medicaid. And so what ACA does for us is that Caroline’s medical costs are so expensive, at least $200,000 a year and medications at least $2,000 every month. So ACA protects her from basically being denied treatment, life saving treatment and because of either preexisting conditions which she has a number of, she has seizures, she is susceptible to pneumonia and respiratory failure and like I said, her bills are really, really expensive so she can’t be denied care because of ACA. [XIOMARA SPEAKS] And Medicaid comes in so, Medicaid covers things that our insurance doesn’t so basically –

VALLAS: We’re hearing some love for Medicaid over there, the crowd is cheering for Medicaid!

CONNOR: Yes, honey! I feel it too. [LAUGHTER] So Medicaid helps cover things that our insurance doesn’t and it’s essentially hospital grade medical equipment and nursing services so this allows us to raise Caroline in our own home instead of a hospital or an institution. It allows us to administer daily, hours and hours of therapies and interventions just so she can stay alive and it’s worked really well. We’ve been able to keep her out of the PICU for a number of months now. And it also allows my husband and I to hold jobs and we really believe, so back in 2015, Caroline was in the hospital for a really long time and the doctors were honest with us and they prepared us for the possibility of Caroline not being around for more than 2 or 3 years. And that story has completely changed. That’s not even on the table anymore and it’s because of Medicaid. We would not be able to do this without it and without the nursing care and without all the equipment. We would not be able to afford it. I don’t know too many people who have $200,000 laying around just out of pocket to pay for these things.

VALLAS: So as we commemorate 8 years of the Affordable Care Act, the Medicaid exapansion that was part of that and that has changed so many lives and really in the process we’re also commemorating Medicaid as a fundamental piece of the nation’s health insurance system. There is so munch anxiety and fear that is palpable other there in communities across the country as threats to both the ACA and Medicaid continue to move forward and be in the air in this current political climate. What does it feel like to wake up everyday not knowing if today is the day when there will be yet another legislative or executive attack on the health care that allows your daughters to be the people that you know that they deserve to be and can be. Elena, you first.

HUNG: Well short answer, it is terrifying, longer answer I want to talk a little bit about my journey post ACA. Xiomara spent five months in the NICU, 169 days to be exact. And during those 169 days I was at her bedside every single day and I never once worried about how to pay for her care. I worried about a lot of other things, don’t get me wrong, but I was able to be there for her, to support her, to love her without the distraction of having to worry about how we’re going to pay for this, how much will this be, will we lose our home, will we have to file for bankruptcy, I didn’t have to worry about any of that. And now today I’m hearing from families who are sitting in the NICU right now where I was 3 and a half years ago and they’re going through the same things I was going on, hearing new diagnoses, googling the new diagnoses, and on top of that going through all of that and on top of it, on top of it worried about exactly how are they going to pay for it, worried about upon this charge, will they qualify for Medicaid, will they be able to receive Medicaid to pay for the skilled nursing that their child needs, you can’t just drop off a child like Xiomara in a day care, they need round the clock care, skilled care and so what I’m hearing from families is this uncertainty, this fear of not knowing what to do, not knowing what their future looks like, whether they’ll have to go a second job, third job, whether they will have to sell their home, that uncertainty is out there, it’s terrifying.

VALLAS: Marta.

CONNOR: I think Elena pretty much summed it up. Our whole family is terrified that ACA will be repealed and that we’ll no longer have access to Medicaid. We can’t even fathom what that will be like and I’ll just say that parents, like Elena and the Little Lobbyists going up on the Hill and sharing their stories, that’s been so incredibly powerful and I myself, I don’t particularly enjoy telling our story, public speaking and that sort of thing but I’m scared enough that I’ve been motivated to get up there and tell our story because people need to hear it. And our kids, I don’t think so anymore but I have in the past felt that our kids are often forgotten.

HUNG: That’s what I’ve heard from so many parents, I myself am a rather private person and so many of the other parents as well but we felt unheard, this is a very isolated life, nobody really gets our life and that’s really why we’re speaking up and sharing our stories.

VALLAS: And a big part of the conversation around what the resistance looks like and who the folks on the front line of that resistance have been across so many issues has been about how it’s women. It’s women in so many ways leading the charge not just to protect programs like the ACA and like Medicaid but out there leading the charge when it comes to fighting for a higher minimum wage and paid leave and other policies that we know will disproportionately impact women. I would love to hear you Elena, talk a little bit about the story behind founding the Little Lobbyists and what that adventure has been.

HUNG: I do want to give a quick shout-out to the dads, the dads have been great but it has been mostly moms that you see on the Hill for a number of reasons. Little Lobbyists started with my friend Michelle Morrison and I, she also has a child with a [tracheostomy] so we knew each other from before and have this great support network here in the DC area and we were watching the healthcare debate unfold like the rest of the country and in the summer of last year, so we saw what happened in the house and then in the summer we said OK let’s see what is going to happen in the senate, surely the senate won’t take the same path, surely. And unfortunately we were wrong. News broke that the senate was planning to fast track a health care bill at the end of June. So we sprung into action, really, we couldn’t just sit still anymore, we had been making the calls, we had been emailing, we had been attending rallies but we really wanted to do more and we had heard from families across the country particularly in red states but all over the country that they were unable to get a hold of their senators. A lot of them were not holding town halls, they were calling and they weren’t reaching anybody. So we thought well let’s help them out. We’re a thirty minute train ride from Capitol Hill, let’s collect these stories and show up on the Hill. Let’s show up with our children and hand deliver these stories and that was just a wacky idea at 10 o’clock at night, and we planned it out and so we showed up on the Hill on June 20th we called the media, we called other families. [XIOMARA SPEAKS]. Yes, you were there that day.

VALLAS: She remembers, you can see it on her face.

HUNG: That’s right. And we had such an incredible reaction, we felt some empowered that we said well let’s come back tomorrow, there’s so many more people to meet, there’s so many more stories to deliver that we need to amplify those voices and so we went back the next day and we went back the day after that and we just kept going back and I think it was resonating. People were meeting children like my daughter, they saw what a child with a ventilator and a tracheostomy and a feeding tube looks like. She looks like a child. And I felt like those person stories were resonating so we just had to keep showing up. [XIOMARA SPEAKS]

VALLAS: We are not the only one who thinks they’re resonating. We’re hearing that first person experience over there. Marta, you actually have a similar story, you actually took time away from your day job to really be on the front lines of the fight protecting the ACA and Medicaid. What has that experience been like for someone who has always been behind the scenes and never the visual face speaking at the rallies, the press conferences and in the press.

CONNOR: So I was motivated by fear and just, you know, love, the love for my daughter and I think that’s what motivates all of us. But I initially, my plan was just to do some work in Virginia, locally and then I had the opportunity to participate in CAP’s video, a video that you produced with The Ark.

VALLAS: Throwback to a year ago when we met, it feels like it’s been much longer than a year.

CONNOR: I know, I know and so that was really the beginning of the big fight and honestly I never imagined that ACA would be under such a high level of threat. It just, we were terrified and I just had such a hard time believing that something like that would be possible, that our elected officials would rob our children of their lifeline. And then from there I think is just participating, being invited to participate in rallies, again, these are not things that I love to do but I just think it’s so important to get our stories out there. But what it’s been like, it’s also terrifying a little bit to be honest with you, but I’m always happy that I’ve participated, that I’ve done it because I know that it’s Caroline’s story and her story is important and it represents the stories of so many other families across the country.

VALLAS: Elena, in the last minute or so that we have, what is the road ahead between now and November as the Little Lobbyists and others who are continuing to remind us everyday of why the ACA matters so much, why Medicaid matters so much, what is the message to folks who are out there wanting to stay engaged and what is the message to policymakers in Washington especially given that we are in an election year.

HUNG: The message is we’re still here, we’re not going away, we’re going to continue telling our stories, we’re a part of Health Care Voters which is a campaign to mobilize Americans to hold their elected officials accountable to their health care votes. Remind them, you work for us, you work for us and we’re telling you what we need, we’re telling you what our children need so we’re not going away as tiring as it has been Marta, and Marta does not enjoy this but we’re going to keep on telling these stories, we’re going to continue to keep showing up.

CONNOR: Yeah, this is a long-term thing.

VALLAS: Well you heard it from these moms, they’re not going away, neither are the many, many countless mothers out there and dads too, let’s give the dads credit as well, fighting to protect the ACA and Medicaid who you guys have been critical in organizing and in turning out for these events and thank you so much for the many, many, many hours that you’ve put into making sure that the ACA is still the law of the land and that Medicaid is here to stay. Thank you ladies so much for joining the show.

HUNG: Thank you so much for having us.

CONNOR: Thank you.

VALLAS: And that does it for this week’s episode of Off Kilter, powered by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. I’m your host, Rebecca Vallas, the show is produced each week by Will Urquhart. Find us on Facebook and Twitter @offkiltershow and you can find us on the airwaves on the Progressive Voices Network and the WeAct Radio Network or anytime as a podcast on iTunes. See you next week.

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