2018 was a year of contentious debates. The separation of immigrant families at the nation’s southern border, the escalating opioid crisis, and many Americans’ continuing struggle to pay for housing or basic needs were a few of many issues that forced us to ask difficult questions about America’s identity and the best ways to support the most vulnerable people.
Policymakers debated fundamental changes to the safety net, like imposing stricter work requirements despite poor economic conditions and a lack of job opportunities in states like Kentucky and Mississippi. Similarly, the administration drafted a “public charge” rule that would penalize immigrants in the citizenship application process if they were to use public services to support their families’ needs.
The 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death offered an opportunity to reflect on the accomplishments of civil rights leaders and to grapple with the reality that racism persists today, both in individual actions and through structurally racist policies.
Meanwhile, high-profile charitable undertakings like those of Jeff Bezos and LeBron James showed how the private sector can help respond to increasing inequality, sparking conversations about the most effective interventions and the role of government in addressing fundamental problems.
On Urban Wire, researchers not only responded to these debates but injected new and overlooked evidence to better inform the public and policymakers. Here are 10 Urban Wire posts that elevated the debate in 2018.
Work alone is often not enough to lift people out of poverty
“Many Americans work full time but remain in poverty and often need federal assistance to cover their families’ basic needs. The latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that in 2015, 8.6 million Americans qualified as ‘working poor’ or spent at least 27 weeks in the labor force but had income below the federal poverty level.
“Workforce development programs are effective antipoverty tools when they create avenues for low-income people to gain skills and find secure, better-paying jobs.”
Mapping the black homeownership gap
“Owning a home can increase a family’s financial security, but black people and other minorities significantly lag behind white people in homeownership rates, a major factor contributing to the racial wealth gap.
“The drop in black homeownership has not been uniform. Some regions have wider gaps than other regions between black and white homeownership rates. To show the geographical spread of the black homeownership gap, we’ve built a map that shows the size of the gap and the scope of the affected population.”
A little-publicized incentive in the new tax law could become America’s largest economic development program
“Given the range of investments and projects eligible to receive benefits in Opportunity Zones, governors must select communities where tax subsidies will maximize the return on public investment. Their selections are doubly important because the statute includes no provision to change which communities are classified as zones over time as local conditions change.
“Many elements will factor into governor decisionmaking. We offer two for consideration:
- Need. While a case could be made for each of the qualifying census tracts, the return on investment for public subsidy is likely to be higher among communities struggling to access capital.
- Benefit. Opportunity Zones will be more likely to bring opportunity to low- and moderate-income residents if those residents are not priced out of their communities as they upgrade.”
Landlords limit voucher holders’ choice in where they can live
“In a new Urban Institute report, funded by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, we found that many landlords routinely reject voucher holders before meeting them, despite the fact that the assistance voucher holders receive guarantees that a share of the rent will be paid.
“We examined landlord acceptance of housing vouchers in five locations—Los Angeles, California; Fort Worth, Texas; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Washington, DC; and Newark, New Jersey—and found consistent rejection from landlords when they were asked if they accepted vouchers.”
Say African American or Black, but first acknowledge the persistence of structural racism
“In February, the United States and several other countries celebrate black history. In the United States, this time is also called African American History Month. The evolution of this celebration and its names over the years reflect differences in views of the population and how we perceive the legacy of racism and structural disadvantage faced by black people in the United States.”
Restoring humanity: Changing the way we talk about people touched by the criminal justice system
“On Election Day, we witnessed the restoration of 1.4 million Floridians’ voting rights from a ballot referendum that repealed a law permanently banning people with felony convictions from voting. But much of the coverage of this historic event referred to these newly eligible voters as ‘felons.’
“When we refer to people who are, or have been, in contact with the criminal justice system as ‘felons,’ ‘offenders,’ ‘inmates,’ or ‘convicts,’ we define them by the worst act of their lives, creating a stigma that lingers long after they’ve paid their debt to society.”
The Bay Area’s housing crisis, in four charts
“The Bay Area in Northern California is a popular place to live and a difficult place to leave. So the area’s epic housing crisis—driven by a lack of supply and sustained demand in this job-rich, coastal region—will likely continue to squeeze homeowners across the income spectrum out of the market for many years to come.”
Affluent households owe the most student debt
“Some students complete their programs only to discover that because of either the institutions they attended or the fields in which they earned their degrees, they can’t find jobs that reward their education. And when the overall unemployment rate is high, even graduates with a good education can struggle to find a well-paying job.
“But these problems do not mean that most student loan borrowers are less well-off than those without student debt—many of whom never went to college. In fact, most outstanding student debt is held by people with relatively high incomes.”
LeBron James’s I Promise School puts a public face to the evidence-based approach of whole-family intervention
“But I Promise’s designers recognize that to create an upwardly mobile community, what happens outside the classroom can be just as important as what happens during school hours. Dual-generation interventions like the I Promise School aim to help parents and students together. The school promises to uplift parents too and aims to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty.”
Six things we learned from young adults experiencing gun violence in Chicago
“In 2017, Chicago experienced more homicides than New York City and Los Angeles combined, and many of these deaths came at the hands of gun violence. Chicago had 3,475 shooting victims (PDF) in 2017. While violence affects everyone in these communities, Chicago’s youth are often both the victims and the perpetrators of gun violence.
“New research by the Urban Institute sought to learn more about young adults in Chicago neighborhoods experiencing high rates of gun violence: whether they currently or have carried firearms and why and what they view as the best strategies to reduce gun violence and promote safe communities.”