Links of note 9/14/2016

U.S. Household Income Grew 5.2 Percent in 2015, Breaking Pattern of Stagnation [New York Times]
White House trumpeting these three takeaways: (1) median household income in 2015 up 5.2 percent from the previous year — the largest single-year increase since record-keeping began in 1967; (2) about three and a half million people moved out of poverty since last year—the largest one-year drop in poverty since 1968; and (3) the uninsured rate is the lowest since they began keeping records. The Times article emphasizes those points, but notes that median household income is still 1.6 percent lower than in 2007, adjusting for inflation, and 2.4 percent lower than the peak reached during the late 1990s. The Times also notes that the income gains “came mostly from job growth rather than wage growth. More people are working, but many of them are still struggling to maintain their standard of living.”

Related articles:

Goldman Sachs Isn’t That Worried About Technology Destroying Your Job [Bloomberg]
“[W]orkers are already responding to the new employment landscape by taking on “adaptive occupations” that are better insulated from the rise of the machines. Such occupations include nurses and web developers but can also extend to more traditional vocations such as carpenters, plumbers, and tailors.”

An Immigration Reform Strategy That Includes Investments in Skills for All

Jared Bernstein looks at the impact of immigration on poverty in the U.S., and concludes that it doesn’t have much of an impact on poverty trends over time:

The fact that immigration isn’t placing much pressure on poverty rate trends suggests that if we want to reduce those trends, we’re less likely to get there by trying to reduce immigration.  A far better strategy would be to improve the earnings capacity–the skills, the availability of decent paying jobs, the work supports—available to all low-wage working families, regardless of their nativity. (my emphasis)

This was more-or-less the premise we started from when I worked with the National Skills Coalition on this set of immigration reform recommendations. That is, we looked at  immigration reform as an opportunity to begin overhauling the federal workforce development system across the board (including investing in more skills training and adult education). In fact, immigration reform seemed to me at the time to be the best chance to get something resembling workforce development legislation passed in the near term (even if prospects for WIA look a bit better right now), because, at least in the case of last year’s Senate bill, there were some significant dollars attached for education and training.

I also wonder if embedding immigration reform inside a broader education and workforce development strategy might be helpful from a political perspective, by placing it in the context of a political issue with a broader constituency. It might also give some structure by which to diffuse the argument that immigration reforms will result in immigrants taking away jobs from U.S.-born workers. (I know that a lot of people have made the case for immigration reform in the context of broader economic growth , but I’m not sure among that this connects very well with the general public in the way that jobs and job training does.)

Study: Poverty Reduces Brainpower Needed for Things Like Education and Job Training

(Updated Below)

New research out of Princeton University suggests that the stress of poverty requires so much mental energy that poor people have significant less brainpower left in the tank to devote to learning:

A person’s cognitive function is diminished by the constant and all-consuming effort of coping with the immediate effects of having little money, such as scrounging to pay bills and cut costs. Thusly, a person is left with fewer “mental resources” to focus on complicated, indirectly related matters such as education, job training and even managing their time. (my emphasis)

Anyone who has experienced financial difficulties knows how stressful and all-consuming worrying about money can be, but this is one of the few studies I’ve seen that links the stress of financial insecurity to cognitive function. The researchers found that subjects consumed with financial insecurity dropped an average of 13 IQ points—the equivalent of losing an entire night’s sleep.

The researchers go on to suggest that services for the poor should be designed to accommodate this cognition loss:

The researchers suggest that services for the poor should accommodate the dominance that poverty has on a persons time and thinking. Such steps would include simpler aid forms and more guidance in receiving assistance, or training and educational programs structured to be more forgiving of unexpected absences, so that a person who has stumbled can more easily try again.

I would take this even further and suggest that this research supports the argument that, overall, we’d see better retention and greater learning gains in adult literacy and adult education among the poor if we alleviated the highly stressful conditions associated with poverty before they enrolled in a program of study or training, instead of just trying to accommodate those stressful conditions as they go along—somewhat analogous to the “housing first” approach to combating homelessness, in which providing stable, permanent housing is viewed as a critical first step before a homeless individual or family can be expected to address the issues that led to homelessness.

Adult education policy is based in large part on the premise that increasing educational opportunity will provide people with the skills they need to lift themselves out of poverty, which in turn is based on the premise (presumably) that a poor person’s lack of education is the primary reason (or at least one of the major reasons) that they are poor to begin with (as opposed to a lack of jobs, a decent wage, child care, health insurance, etc.)

Increasing funding for adult education is a strategy that seems primarily aimed at increasing access to adult education, but if our policy goal is to help people living in poverty  become successful adult learners, this study suggests that removing the highly stressful conditions of poverty for poor individuals before they embark on a course of study is an equally important strategy, instead of relying on adult education to lift them out of poverty after they have achieved some measure of academic success and confidence.

If so, then perhaps advocating for strong anti-poverty measures, such as living wage bills, or against proposals to cut SNAP benefits, needs to become part of the adult education field’s legislative strategy.

h/t Smithsonian SmartNews

UPDATE 9/3/13: The paragraph above that begins “I would take this even further” has been edited a bit so that it would read a little bit better.

Also, it occurred to me this afternoon that this program, which provides low-income single mothers enrolled in college with subsidized housing in residential communities with on-site child care, is a good example of an approach to adult education (in this case, in a community college context), that provides learners with initial and ongoing economic stability (in the form of housing and childcare). Perhaps, in addition to the broad-based antipoverty measures suggested above, policies that encourage the adoption and expansion of program models like this one should also be in the mix.

Investing in Parents

A couple of weeks ago, in a post about a meeting between a group of adult learners and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, I mentioned being struck by how often the discussion turned to the non-academic barriers that can make adult education a challenge for many people.

Yesterday the National Journal published a story about the Jeremiah Program in Minneapolis, which provides low-income single mothers enrolled in college with subsidized housing in residential communities with on-site child care, in the belief that a lack of secure housing and child care are the biggest barriers preventing these young women from finishing college. (A pilot program in Austin, Texas is also underway, and there are plans to open a new campus in Fargo, North Dakota, next year)

To qualify for the program, these women have to be enrolled in college, but it’s not difficult to envision how this model could be adapted for adult learners seeking to improve their literacy and/or earn a high-school credential.

Jeremiah’s return on investment numbers also demonstrate, once again, the wisdom of investing in parents (especially mothers) in order to improve school readiness and reduce child poverty:

An independent study from Wilder Research of St. Paul found that every dollar invested in Jeremiah Program families can return up to $7 to society at large, both by reducing the family’s dependence on public assistance and by increasing the economic prospects of both mother and child. Sixty percent of the program’s 2011 graduates were unemployed when they entered the program, and the rest were earning an average of $9.46 per hour. Upon graduation, the women started earning an average wage of $19.35 per hour. Graduates leave with better parenting skills, and their children get the benefit of high-quality early-childhood care. 

Gloria Perez, Jeremiah’s president and CEO, told the National Journal that “everybody seems to acknowledge, across all political lines, that the mother tends to be the primary educator of the child and role model for the child,” but unlike the calls to invest in pre-K education, you don’t hear as much about scaling up programs that invest in parents. And yet the return on investment numbers here are just as powerful as those used to support the case for investing in pre-K.