Tapped: The Prospect Group Blog

Teachers Struggle to Teach Students About Slavery

Educators struggle to teach their students about the nuances of slavery, its crucial role in shaping U.S. history, and its lasting impact on African Americans, according to a new study conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The organization surveyed 1,000 high school seniors across the U.S. Only 8 percent of students could identify slavery as the root cause of the Civil War; 68 percent did not know that slavery ended after Congress passed and the states ratified the 13th Amendment.

Despite a willingness to bring these topics into their classrooms, 40 percent of teachers believe that they receive insufficient instructional support from their state education departments to teach students about slavery.

Virginia first mentions slavery in its state curriculum in second grade, when students learn Abraham Lincoln was the “president of the United States who helped to free American slaves.” That lesson comes two years after students learn about Martin Luther King Jr. According to the study, that oversight means that they have no way to understand the history behind the fight for civil rights.

In Alabama, slavery isn’t mentioned until third or fourth grade, when students learn that it was a cause of the Civil War. Presenting slavery as only one of many causes, the study said, is “a disingenuous representation that obscures slavery’s central role in causing the Civil War.”

Another 58 percent of teachers find their textbooks to be a problem when covering slavery. Textbooks used in Alabama say that a fight for “states’ rights” was the primary cause of the Civil War. When the textbook’s authors mention Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, they highlight his military exploits and ignore that he was the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

But even when teachers recognize these issues, they struggle with the right approach to the topic. Teachers interviewed for the study mentioned that re-enactments of the Middle Passage and slave auctions are some of the ways to teach their students. Some teachers even report giving their students “slave names” and tying their hands behind their backs. “A discussion follows,” one teacher said, “between the two groups of students [slaves and slaveowners] as to how they felt and why things were done this way.”

Yet that kind of role-playing may not be the best method to use as a white teacher in the Bronx discovered earlier this month when she instructed students lie on the floor during a lesson on slavery. These lessons “cannot begin to convey the horror of slavery and risk trivializing the subject in the minds of students,” according to the study. Such activities can be especially traumatizing for black students.

Textbooks and lesson plans also fail to address white supremacy’s role in the institution of slavery, even though the study says “the American ideology of white supremacy … developed precisely to justify the perpetuation of slavery.” Because students aren’t taught about racism and its legacy, they fail to understand issues like police violence or mass incarceration today.

“Our interest in education about slavery isn’t just about good history education,” Kate Shuster, an independent education researcher who authored the report, said in the introduction to the study. “We are convinced that students cannot fully understand the current state of race relations in the United States if they do not understand the history and extent of American slavery.”

To combat the lack of resources and help teachers better incorporate the history of slavery into their curriculum, the SPLC and Teaching Tolerance created a guide that includes a framework for instruction and a library of primary sources. The study also recommends using historical documents in classroom instruction and strengthening state curriculum frameworks. The SPLC also suggested that to help students better understand the topic, textbooks need to convey more of the realities of slavery and present the lasting impact of African cultures and ideas.

Congress Looks to Weaken the Americans with Disabilities Act

No area is safe from plunder in the Trump era, even decades-old laws as seemingly untouchable as the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Congress is expected to vote on the ADA Education and Reform Act this week (H.R. 620), which has already passed the House Judiciary Committee. Don’t be fooled by the “reform” in the bill’s title—H.R. 620 would gut key ADA protections for people with disabilities, all in the name of defending business.

For decades, businesses have used vague language in the ADA to seek favorable court rulings, claiming at various times that providing “reasonable accommodations” would constitute an “undue burden” on their finances—forcing people with disabilities to financially justify their rights in a way no other marginalized group has to.

But for Republican sponsors of H.R. 620, this doesn’t protect businesses enough. The bill requires complainants to notify a business of an accessibility violation in writing, then gives that company a full 60 days to respond, and another 120 days to make changes.

And instead of requiring actual compliance with ADA standards, H.R. 620 simply mandates that those changes show “substantial progress” in that direction. As Rebecca Cokley, the senior fellow for disability policy at the Center for American Progress, says, “Businesses could be claiming ‘substantial progress’ for decades.”

“Businesses have had 27 years to learn about and conform to the ADA’s requirements,” wrote Samuel Bagenstos last September after H.R. 620 passed through committee. “Rather than protecting legitimate business interests, the bill … would give a reprieve to enterprises that have had 27 years to comply with the law but have not yet done so.”

Supporters of H.R. 620 claim that the bill protects businesses from unprincipled lawyers and “drive-by lawsuits.” But Cokley points out that state courts and bar associations are equipped to deal with frivolous lawsuits. “H.R. 620,” she says, “is further evidence of the war on marginalized communities’ access to public accommodations. If this was any other community, we wouldn’t be talking about taking their rights back.”

Welcome to the One-Time Bonus Economy, Where Your Pay Doesn’t Go Up

The new trend of companies rewarding employees more often with one-time bonuses and less often with permanent pay increases has drawn greater attention in the aftermath of the Trump tax cuts, as corporations have made flashy announcements about how they are delivering one-off rewards to employees (though not all employees).

The New York Times had a front-page story on Sunday entitled “What Happened to Your Raise? It Could Have Become a Bonus.”

As economics reporter Patricia Cohen writes, “Ordinarily, the jobless rate and wage growth are like two ends of a seesaw: When one drops, the other is supposed to rise. But that link seems broken, and like film-noir detectives, analysts have scrutinized hard-edge statistics and fuzzier psychological indicators for clues about why.”

Part of the reason is that companies are opting to spend less of their profits on higher regular employee paychecks and more on one-time bonuses that, as we’ve seen recently, make for savvy public relations. According to a Times analysis of a survey by Aon Hewitt, a human resources consulting firm, spending on bonuses amounted to an average of 3.1 percent of total compensation budgets in 1991, but by 2017, that share rose to 12.7 percent. Meanwhile, the share dedicated to permanent raises fell from 5 percent to just 2.9 percent.

The average worker’s pay has remained stagnant for the past few decades. The shift to a bonus-based economy is part of a larger effort by business leaders to cut labor costs down to the bone. Bonuses, of course, are welcome news for many workers—but not if they’re coming at the expense of a sustained pay bump. 

Permanent salary increases mean higher fixed costs—and slimmer profit margins. One-time bonuses, with no guarantees, are cheaper. As is the outsourcing, union-busting, contracting, on-demanding, and part-timing of the American workforce. That is what is keeping wages low even in a very tight labor market.

The problem is not that corporations don’t have the money to invest in their workforce. It’s that they’re just choosing to plow it all back to the shareholders and CEOs. A recent analysis found that S&P 500 companies have promised $3.7 billion in one-time bonuses and announced more than $157 billion in stock buybacks.

The problem is that even with what many economists say is close to full employment, a tight labor market is apparently not a strong enough countervailing force for sustained pay increases over skimpy one-time bonuses. At one point, unions were that force.


Why Are Uber Drivers Working 12-Hour Shifts?

In a bid to combat drowsy driving, Uber recently announced a new policy limiting drivers to 12-hour shifts without breaks. After 12 hours, the app will go offline, and drivers must take at least a six-hour break.

While the effort to encourage safer driving is laudable, one must ask: Uber drivers sometimes work nonstop for 12 straight hours? That doesn’t sound like a “side hustle,” which is how Uber markets the job.

But so many Uber drivers work until they’re exhausted that the company decided to force them off the road, instead of paying them more to work fewer hours.

Indeed, it shouldn’t be surprising that some Uber drivers find themselves nodding off after a long shift. While many drivers work for Uber to supplement their regular pay, others drive for Uber full-time. Uber drivers do not have workplace protections like a minimum wage—and that encourages workers to push themselves to drive for long hours to pay their bills. After all, “setting your own schedule” is a major incentive to drive for Uber.

Uber drivers also get the privilege of setting their own benefits, since the company doesn’t provide them with any. In this sector of the “gig economy,” drivers don’t get benefits like health insurance or retirement accounts, so if drivers want these things, they have to pay for them.

Yes, we should keep sleepy Uber drivers off the road. One way to do that could be to pay them more. 

Study: International Students Avoiding U.S. Graduate Schools

International students vote with their feet. For the first time in more than a decade, university admissions officials reported a decrease in the number of applications to graduate school programs from international students, according to a recent Council of Graduate Schools study. Researchers found that international graduate applications declined by 3 percent and first-time enrollments declined by 1 percent from the fall of 2016 to the fall of 2017.

The study singled out new immigration policies, such as Trump’s eight-country travel ban, as a major factor discouraging international students from studying in the United States. “The graduate education community remains concerned that the ban—in its substance and rhetoric—might have hampered the global competitiveness of the United States and its ability to attract the best and brightest prospective international graduate students,” researchers found.

The sharpest decreases occurred among Middle Eastern and North African students: In the fall of 2017, applications from those countries declined 17 percent. University officials also saw an 18 percent decrease in applications from Iranian students (first-time enrollment decreased by 16 percent). Applications from Saudi Arabian students also decreased by 21 percent, but Saudi students accepted offers to study in the United States at a significantly higher rate than Iranian students (40 percent compared with 17 percent), suggesting that Trump’s travel ban and his harsh rhetoric toward Iran may have alienated Iranian students. Applications from Canadian, Chinese, Indian, and Mexican students applying to American graduate programs also declined.

The only increase in applications came from European students (up by 18 percent) and students from sub-Saharan African countries (up by 12 percent).

Although overall applications declined in fall 2017, international acceptances rose slightly compared with the previous academic year, from 16 percent to 17 percent. The study credits efforts made by individual institutions “to ensure that [students] feel welcome” despite the uncertainty surrounding U.S. immigration policy.

There are currently more than one million international students (about 25 percent of all graduate students) enrolled in American colleges; ten years ago, there were fewer than 650,000.

Scott Walker Doubles Down on Foxconn-omics

(Gage Skidmore)

It was just a few months ago that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker unveiled a massive deal that would give the Taiwanese manufacturing giant Foxconn $3 billion in tax subsidies to open a $10 billion LCD TV factory, promising to bring 13,000 jobs to southeastern Wisconsin.

That’s a public cost of $230,000 per job. Initial estimates found that the state wouldn’t break even on its investment until 2043. On top of the massive tax subsidies, Foxconn will benefit from a host of other goodies—lower electricity rates, state funding for road construction and worker training, exemptions from certain environmental regulations, and unprecedented special treatment in the state court systems.

In short, Walker handed a foreign corporation the keys to the government.

Now, with another major manufacturer threatening to cut hundreds of jobs in Wisconsin, Walker is doubling down on his corporate welfare program. Following the passage of the GOP tax cut, Kimberly-Clark (the company that makes Kleenex, Huggies diapers, and Cottonelle toilet paper) announced in January that it would deliver a dividend increase for its shareholders and a $2.3 billion share buyback. The company said it would then use the remainder of its tax cut savings to restructure its operations.

That apparently means cutting 5,000 jobs in the United States, including 600 positions from its operations in northeastern Wisconsin. The company turned a $3.3 billion profit in 2017.

In a last-ditch effort to save those jobs, Walker is falling back on his Foxconn playbook. On Monday, he proposed legislation that would give Kimberly-Clark the same deal as Foxconn: 17 percent tax credits on qualifying wages at the company’s two plants.



As the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel points out, Wisconsin taxpayers would be on the hook for $8,500 in Kimberly-Clark tax credits for one $50,000 salaried job.

Walker is running for re-election in 2018 and he’s faced scrutiny over his failure to make good on a 2010 campaign promise to create 250,000 jobs in the state. He’s not only failed to meet that mark by nearly 65,000 jobs, but Wisconsin’s manufacturing industry has continued to wither away.

The conservative governor has failed to entice businesses to set up shop with his policies of union busting and deep budget cuts to everything from the public university system to infrastructure. 

As Walker has attacked public welfare programs (he’s pushed for drug-testing requirements for state welfare recipients and work requirements for Medicaid beneficiaries), he’s unabashedly set up a generous corporate welfare program that flies in the face of the GOP’s purported vision of free-market capitalism. 

After privatizing the state economic development agency in 2011, Walker has lavished companies with lucrative tax subsidies. In return, companies like Ashley Furniture have announced layoffs, offshored operations, or simply failed to meet job-creation promises.

The Foxconn deal may be the biggest, but, as Walker has shown, it will be far from the last. The governor has now invited any Wisconsin company to threaten to uproot unless it gets a sweet new tax subsidy.

Call it Foxconn-omics.

Tipping Has Long Reinforced Inequality—and Trump’s DOL Wants to Make It Worse

A proposed Department of Labor rule would allow employers to pocket their employees’ tips. The proposed rule in no way requires that these pocketed tips are distributed among employees—employers could simply take them (a fact the DOL tried hard to cover up). The Economic Policy Institute estimates that the rule would cause workers to lose $5.8 billion in tips per year. While being rightfully outraged by this prospect, we should revisit why tipping exists in the United States in the first place.

In the late 1800s, wealthy Americans brought home from aristocratic Europe the bourgeois practice of tipping, meaning to impress by providing inferior laborers with spare change. And many employers were delighted at being able to hire formerly enslaved African Americans and pay them nothing, making them rely solely on tips.

Yet Americans were angered by tipping, claiming that it was anti-democratic and would only contribute to classism. A union-led movement against tipping in the early 1900s saw six states ban tipping altogether.

But as we know, that movement fell apart in the United States (though not in Europe), and tipping is now an ingrained standard in American society. And just as its racist and classist history would predict: Black workers receive less in tips than their white counterparts, sexism plays a role in who receives the highest tips, and nearly one-fifth of tipped workers in states that ascribe to the federal minimum tipped wage live in poverty.

Calls for a higher minimum wage don’t often include the tipped wage, which has stubbornly remained at $2.13 since the 1990s. Sure, restaurants are required to ensure that tipped employees receive at least the federal minimum wage, but that doesn’t always happen. And sure, many employees prefer receiving tips because there’s the chance they could make many times more than the minimum wage—but that is by no means typical for the average tipped employee: The median hourly wage for servers was $9.61 in 2016.

Once a practice becomes the norm, it’s easy to forget the discriminatory history and oppressive institutions that set it in motion in the first place. The DOL’s proposed tip-stealing rule could add yet another chapter to tipping’s long, unjust history.

Watchdog Groups Catalogue a Year of Trump Tales

Compiling a comprehensive list of Donald Trump’s lies, norm-flouting acts, and other abuses of power during his first year in office is no small task. But two watchdog organizations dedicated to upholding integrity in American government have taken up the challenge.

The Art of the Lie,” a report published Monday by Common Cause and Democracy 21, slots the Trump administration’s indiscretions into 20 categories, ranging in scope from “Trump’s Attacks on the Judiciary” to “Keeping White House Visitor Logs Secret.” The study paints a picture of an administration operating with unprecedented opaqueness and disregard for America’s democratic norms.

Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn and Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer note, “Given the chaotic and erratic nature of President Trump and his administration, it is easy for Americans to become overwhelmed. Some of Trump’s wrongful actions have been high-profile; others are more subtle.”

Trump’s “high-profile” actions are old hat by now: He has uttered “more than 2,100 lies, false or misleading statements, and untruths in his first year.” He continues to wage open war against the press; denounces the entire judicial system as “broken and unfair” when the courts issue decisions he personally dislikes, and still has not released his tax returns.

But Trump’s subtler actions demonstrate the more pernicious ways the president has undermined government integrity. While attacks on the Census Bureau have so far not shown up in Trump’s bombastic tweets, the groups warn that “recent decisions by the Trump administration risk making the 2020 Census grossly inaccurate.”

The groups argue that the 2018 budget request for the bureau is “woefully inadequate” and condemn Trump’s expected appointment of Thomas Brunell, an ardent proponent of racial gerrymandering, as the bureau’s deputy director—and the federal official charged with overseeing the 2020 survey. These moves will have far-reaching effects, as the decennial count is the basis for congressional and state legislative redistricting—as well as nearly $600 billion in annual government spending.

The damaging consequences of a cabinet currently overseeing an intentional hollowing-out of the federal bureaucracy, and whose secretaries are often hostile to the fundamental missions of the agencies they head, also raise major concerns: “The Trump administration has failed to fill an unprecedented number of critical positions throughout the federal government [which] leads to dysfunction and wasted government resources as policies await direction.” The authors highlight the dramatic staff cuts taking place at Rex Tillerson’s State Department—a “national emergency,” according to former Secretary of State Madeline Albright.

Elsewhere, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who sued the federal agency numerous times as attorney general of Oklahoma, has dismissed hundreds of EPA employees, as has Betsy Devos at the Department of Education. And at Ben Carson’s Department of Housing and Urban Development, the report includes this telling quote from a career HUD employee: “No agenda, nothing to move forward or push back against. Just nothing.”

Many of President Trump’s missteps have been widely covered. But as “The Art of the Lie” cautions, the American public must remain vigilant about the serious consequences of the administration’s lesser known actions and about the equally damaging consequences of deciding to take no action at all.

The Proof Is in the Jobs Report: Minimum-Wage Hikes Work

The first jobs report of 2018 is out, and overall the news is pretty good. President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans will certainly try to take credit for the job growth and higher wages. But it would be more accurate to attribute this uptick to state labor policy—not the superiority of MAGAnomics and massive tax cuts.

The United States added 200,000 jobs in January, making this the 88th straight month of job growth, and the unemployment rate held steady at 4.1 percent (though the black unemployment rate jumped back up to 7.7 percent, just days after Trump boasted about historically low rates in his State of the Union). Meanwhile, average hourly earnings for private-sector workers increased by 0.34 percent this month, and 2.9 percent over the past year.

Wage levels have struggled to gain traction in recent years, even as the labor market has tightened. But for labor economists and workers alike, these most recent increases could be a sign that wages might finally be on the upswing, thanks to progressive state policies. In the new year, 18 states across the country—from Florida to Maine, and from Washington state to Michigan—hiked their minimum wages, bringing $5 billion in additional pay to 4.5 million workers, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Despite staunch resistance from Republicans and the business lobby, worker-led movements like the Fight for 15 have had a great deal of success in increasing pressure on state and municipal lawmakers to increase minimum pay. The results are now evident in jobs reports, and it’s pretty clear that one of the best ways for the Trump administration to boost pay is to push for a higher minimum wage.

But will Trump and congressional Republicans finally come to accept minimum-wage increases as sound economic policy? Don’t count on it. The federal minimum wage, which is still $7.25 an hour, hasn’t gone up since 2009, and its value has only withered since. The issue has become highly polarized in Congress, with Republicans doubling down on the argument that any increase to the federal minimum wage will kill jobs and hurt business, and that the only way for wages to go up is to ease taxes on corporations and let it all trickle down.

We know how that story goes

Indiana to Join Kentucky in Tying Medicaid to Work

The new Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, will announce today that Indiana will follow Kentucky's lead and receive approval to implement work requirements in the state’s Medicaid program, according to a Politico report. Last month, the Trump administration signaled they’d allow requiring work for low-income people seeking health-care assistance, and Kentucky quickly became the first state to receive the greenlight to radically change their Medicaid model.

Indiana actually inspired some parts of Kentucky’s plan, as the state has included aspects of “consumer-driven” health insurance, like premium payments, in its Medicaid program since 2015. Data show that 25,000 Medicaid recipients were dropped from Indiana’s Medicaid program between 2015 and 2017 for failing to pay their premiums.

Now, like Kentucky, Indiana will be adding work requirements to the mix.

But not so fast. Three organizations have brought a lawsuit against the state of Kentucky on behalf of 15 Kentucky Medicaid recipients, alleging that forcing Medicaid recipients to work to continue receiving health care is a violation of federal law. The Kentucky Equal Justice Center, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the National Health Law Program are arguing that the Trump administration’s willingness to allow work requirements and their approval of Kentucky’s plan to restructure Medicaid “are unauthorized attempts to re-write the Medicaid Act.” As I reported in September, nearly 100,000 Kentuckians are expected to lose Medicaid as a result of the approval to change the state’s program.

The Obama administration resisted allowing work requirements in Medicaid, reasoning that such requirements, which would reduce coverage, were inconsistent with the purpose of the program: to provide health care to low-income people.

As more states add a work requirement to Medicaid receipt, the benefits of Medicaid expansion (more people accessing preventive care and folks getting healthier) will begin to erode. While states with conservative governors may be willing to expand Medicaid if it means they can require poor people to work, this would be a Pyrrhic victory for the left: Work requirements mean that the neediest people won’t receive care, and they reinforce the idea that assistance should be given only to (a harmful assumption of) who is most “deserving.”