Policy Shop Weekly Digest: Poverty, Social Mobility, Higher Education

I had 3 posts over at Demos’ Policy Shop this week. Here is a rundown with links:

Poverty is Poison. Excerpt:

The lead analogy is a good one for purposes of policy construction. In response to learning that lead was messing up kids brains, we sought to eliminate exposure to it, e.g. by banning leaded gasoline, by banning lead paint, and by undertaking lead remediation projects. But we don’t do that for poverty, not really. Neither party is out there saying we need to eliminate poverty exposure. Instead, we’ve decided to keep in place the economic institutions that cause poverty to exist, and frantically construct policies that mop up part of the disaster that impoverishment then causes. It would be as if, instead of eliminating exposure to lead, we just kept poisoning kids with it, and created a bunch of Lead Charter Schools that were specifically targeted for the needs of lead-poisoned students.

The Upper Middle Class Is Doing Fine, Better Than They Should Be Doing. Excerpt:

In a society with perfect relative social mobility, the average outcomes of all kids at all starting points will always be the 50th percentile. This is not because every kid winds up with literally the same income. Rather, it is because if kids from every given starting point have an equal chance of winding up in every possible ending point (from the 1st to 99th percentile), the average outcome of kids from any given starting point will always be right in the middle, i.e. the 50th percentile. In the same vein, if you randomly distributed 100 people into a single-file line, their average place in the line will always be the middle of the line.

So kids born into the 87th percentile in NYC (one of the group’s Callahan uses as an example) should, on average, wind up in the 50th percentile (just like kids born into any other percentile). But, in fact, kids born into the 87th percentile are winding up, on average, in the 64th percentile. That is, they are doing better than they should be. They are net beneficiaries of our rigged system of social advancement.

Pay It Forward Coming to Ohio?. Excerpt:

Two weeks ago, a couple of Democratic state representatives in Ohio proposed legislation that, if passed, would make Ohio the second state to begin a path towards a Pay It Forward (PIF) free higher education system. Under a PIF system, higher education is subsidized all the way to free by levying an income surcharge tax on those that attend the funded schools. So it is exactly like the usual liberal policy of increasing taxes to provide subsidies to higher education, except it exempts from the tax the disproportionately poor people who do not utilize higher education. This tax exemption makes PIF much more progressive than more traditional ways of funding free higher education, which is why I think we should all support at least the general idea of PIF, if not specific implementations.