Category Archives: Social Policy

How housing sheds light on the politics and economics of Angola

Post developed by Katie Brown and Anne Pitcher.

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Housing construction in Angola’s capital of Luanda; Photo credit: Anne Pitcher

Research and news about Africa tend to focus on failed states, poverty, and corruption. While these themes ring true for some African countries, others have witnessed the expansion of urban areas, rising demand for consumer goods, and the growth of a middle class. Angola has “done it all.”  Angola has experienced conflict but has now transitioned to peace. It has high rates of poverty but also has an emerging middle class.

Located in Southern Africa, with the Atlantic Ocean to the West, Democratic Republic of the Congo to the North, Zambia to the East, and Namibia to the South, Angola achieved independence from Portugal in 1975 only to become embroiled in a decades long civil war. Further, as an ally of Russia and Cuba, Angola remained isolated from the Western world for the duration of the Cold War.

Due to political instability and isolation, Angola’s nearly 20,000,000 citizens have been largely ignored in rigorous analysis. In fact, Angola is one of the least researched places in the world. Although there are several reputable research institutions based in Angola, most major surveys of the continent, like those conducted by the Afrobarometer, World Bank, or the African Development Bank, do not include Angola. Meanwhile, the results of the Angolan government’s own first census data will not be released for several more years.

Owing to her research experience in Mozambique, another African country formerly colonized by the Portuguese, Center for Political Studies (CPS) faculty associate Anne Pitcher decided to include Angola in her research beginning several years ago. Pitcher, also a Professor of African Studies and Political Science and Coordinator of the African Social Research Initiative, is interested in understanding patterns of goods distribution in Angola following the end of the civil war in 2002.

In particular, she wants to be able to explain why the government of this oil producing country had made a commitment to build a million homes for the urban poor and the middle class; how such an ambitious commitment is actually being realized in a country where revenues from oil completely dominate the Gross Domestic Product; and who is really benefiting from construction and sales in a place with a tightly knit elite and huge disparities in wealth.

To this end, Pitcher has teamed up with Angolan scholar Sylvia Croese and Allan Cain, the director of Development Workshop (a widely respected organization based in Luanda, Angola, and one of the few to attempt systematic studies of land, property rights, and patterns of urbanization in Angola). The researchers are currently conducting 200 tablet-based surveys of housing finance and satisfaction in Kilamba, a new city consisting of 20,000 units located on the outskirts of the capital city of Luanda. Financed by a 3.5 billion USD credit line from the Chinese government to the government of Angola, Kilamba is being built by the Chinese International Trust and Investment Corporation (CITIC) to house Angola’s growing middle class. Housing purchases are partly subsidized by the government and when fully occupied, Kilamba will house 150,000 people.

Conducting research in Angola has proven both easier and more difficult than expected. Pitcher anticipated that survey respondents might be reluctant to participate since Angola does not have a history of conducting public opinion surveys. Instead, she has found participants excited to voice their opinions. Pitcher attributes this eagerness to the limited avenues for self-expression in the relatively closed country. The survey’s timing has also tapped into the gradual opening of the society, as evidenced by support for the survey from the country’s Ministry of Urbanism and Housing. Yet the team has faced some obstacles. Building the participant pool has proven challenging, as the country lacks confirmed population data; exact occupancy rates in Kilamba are unknown; and there is very little existing background data from which to build hypotheses about how residents earn their incomes or finance purchases.

But so far, the survey team has persevered. Data collection ends this month, and the product will serve as some of the most comprehensive data of its sort ever collected in Angola (in addition to the still unreleased census). Beyond a number of questions drawn from Afrobarometer public opinion surveys conducted across the rest of Africa, the survey includes questions that have never been systematically asked about housing finance, satisfaction with housing, education, and commute times. It also measures public opinion on issues like the distribution of wealth, poverty, taxes, and unemployment.

A completed Kilamba housing development; Photo Credit: Anne Pitcher

A completed Kilamba housing development; Photo credit: Anne Pitcher

Pitcher believes that understanding real estate finance and the opinions of new middle class homeowners will offer valuable insights into the quickly evolving politics of the country. Why? The Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) party has ruled the country since the nation’s independence in 1975. With the recent shift from a Marxist-Leninist one party system to multi-party politics, the MPLA wants to maintain power. Constructing houses is part of this effort. Among other models, the MPLA modeled this venture on Margaret Thatcher’s campaign to offer housing to Britain’s council residents in the 1980s. Thatcher hoped that providing housing would lead to more conservative and more loyal citizens. The MPLA may likewise hope that creating homeowners will create stability in a country marred by decades of war. Currently, many young people in Angola express great discontent, particularly with respect to a lack of housing. The study by Pitcher, Croese, and Cain will offer a better understanding of whether that discontent is being addressed or modified.

With data collection nearly complete, Pitcher is very excited to dive into the data. In the near future, the research team hopes to expand the scope of the survey to include additional types of urban housing such as social housing that is offered for free to those with minimal resources; self constructed housing built by individuals themselves; and cooperative private housing. Because the government is involved to varying degrees with each of these types, understanding the differences may not only shed light on politics and economics, but also offer insight on best practices with respect to housing finance and citizen satisfaction in developing, post-war countries.

Measuring and Understanding Empathy

Post developed by Katie Brown and Nicholas Valentino.

ICYMI (In Case You Missed It), the following work was presented at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA).  The presentation, titled “The Attitudinal Structure and Political Consequences of Group Empathy,” was a part of panel “32-8. Race and Political Psychology” on Thursday August 28th, 2014.

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Photo credit: ThinkStock

Group empathy is the ability to see through the eyes of another, to take their perspective and experience their emotions. The ability to experience empathy is adaptive in families and friendships. But how can we best measure empathy? And how do life experiences condition one’s ability to feel empathy?

Center for Political Studies (CPS) Research Professor and Professor of Political Science Nicholas Valentino, along with Cigdem Sirin-Villalobos and Jose Villalobos, both of the University of Texas, El Paso, seek to answer these questions. To do so, they conducted a survey with Knowledge Networks.  The survey included 1,799 participants, of which 633 were White, 614 Black, and 552 Latino/a.

The authors contend that empathy is not just the ability to take another’s perspective, but the motivation to do so. To this end, they asked 14 questions to create a “Group Empathy Index” (GEI). Examples of the items included statements such as “The misfortunes of other racial or ethnic groups do not usually disturb me a great deal” and “I am often quite touched by things that I see happen to people due to their race or ethnicity.” They also asked about empathy toward specific groups. Analysis showed the new scale to be both reliable and valid.

In addition to better measuring empathy, the authors wanted to understand the role of related personal traits. They found that race, gender, and education condition empathy. In particular, being a minority or a woman, and having more education, are related to higher empathy. Further, personally experiencing unfair treatment by law enforcement also related to higher empathy. Minorities reported more unjust treatment by law enforcement, which might underlie the different levels of empathy by race.

The survey also included questions to gauge political implications of empathy. The study found that those who display higher empathy showed greater support for immigration, valued civil liberties more than societal security, and were more likely to volunteer and attend rallies. The authors concluded that, “Such variations in empathy felt toward social groups other than one’s own may thus have powerful political consequences.”

Studying international forest interventions and their impacts

Post developed by Katie Brown and Arun Agrawal.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

Center for Political Studies (CPS) faculty associate and Professor in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment (SNRE) Arun Agrawal studies environmental policy.

Professor Agrawal and the International Forestry Resources and Institutions (IFRI) program he coordinates just received a grant of 1.9 million pounds (about $3.2 million) over four years from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID).

Agrawal’s proposed research seeks to improve measurement of the outcomes of forest investments. Forest investments try to minimize the negative impacts of forest-related changes: by influencing land use, agriculture, institutions, migration, and commodity production. Substantial forest investments have occurred in the past few years, driven in part by concerns about climate change and the role of land changes in contributing to global emissions. Assessing the impacts of these programs, therefore, and improving their effectiveness is urgent. As Agrawal explains, “there is a lack of rigorous and generalizable empirical analyses of the effectiveness of past forest investments. Existing knowledge is often anecdotal, based on non-systematically selected indicators, usually supported only by information from a small number of unrepresentative cases, and through studies without rigorous counterfactual analysis.”

With this grant, Agrawal and his collaborators will methodically study the impact of forest investments with empirical data and quantitative analysis. In particular, Agrawal will seek answers to three key questions:

  1. What is the impact of specific types of forest interventions across different policy and governance contexts?
  2. Where and under what conditions do forest interventions deliver positive impacts?
  3. Which forest interventions have resulted in more positive impacts and why?

The research will focus on Brazil, Ethiopia, Ghana, Indonesia, and Nepal, using these countries to generate rigorous, valid, reliable, and generalizable findings.

A fisher people’s association in the Philippines

Post by Rosemary Sarri.

This post was written by Center for Political StudiesSchool of Social Work and Women’s Studies Professor Emerita Rosemary Sarri, after her visit to the Philippines in the spring of 2014.

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A fishing project in the Philippines

As covered in an earlier post, the population of the Philippines has skyrocketed from just 26,272,000 people in 1960 to 98,734,000 people in 2014, a growth rate of 254%. The limited size and resources of the Philippines limits employment opportunities for the adult population. Even professionals educated as teachers, nurses, physicians, and other health workers struggle to find work. Today, nearly 50% of the adult population is employed overseas in the Middle East, several Asian countries, and the United States. Young parents often leave their children with extended family and work overseas for many years.

Fishing is an important occupation in the Philippines for men and women. I visited a cooperative fishing community in Rizal Province and was impressed by the active participation of local community people in developing the fishing industry in Laguna Lake, home to fishing ponds for developing and testing fish for a variety of purposes. Several in this community were active in advancing legislation to promote the industry in a variety of ways.

The response to the weed menace of water lilies showcases the creativity and ingenuity of this community. They now cut the water lilies, dry them, and make them into a variety of projects such as mats for sleeping, slippers, and bags. They also have promoted the planting of mangroves along the ocean coasts of the Philippines to control water damage from typhoons.

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A mat woven with dried water lilies

The fisher people’s association shows one avenue for securing better employment for the Philippines’ growing population. Another activity of the fisher people is the promotion of the planting mangroves in many the shoreline communities. These mangroves have been shown to be effective in reducing the water damage that these communities suffer because of typhoons.

Gawad Kalinga: a Partial Hope for Overpopulation in the Philippines

Post by Rosemary Sarri.

This post was written by Center for Political StudiesSchool of Social Work and Women’s Studies Professor Emerita Rosemary Sarri, after her visit to the Philippines in the spring of 2014.

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Manila slum from a car window

The island country of the Philippines is the 12th most populous country in the world with a growth rate of 1.89% per year. The population skyrocketed from just 26,272,000 people in 1960 to 98,734,000 people in 2014, a growth rate of 254%. Tremendous cost has accompanied this explosive growth. Most of the population live below the poverty line and reside in urban or metropolitan areas which are extremely crowded. The slums of Manila have become almost inhuman places in which to reside. Because the land prevents the creation of a subway system, the country primarily relies on motor vehicles for transportation, creating terrible pollution that tripled in recent years.

Recently, some local non-profit organizations have organized efforts to foster community development. One of these organizations is Gawad Kalinga, established by a small group of benefactors to work with the people of the slums to provide them with land, food, and housing.

I visited one of their projects in Cavite Province, located a short distance from Manila. They emphasize the restoration of community empowerment and training for gainful employment and active citizenship. Gawad Kalinga gives priority to dismantling the pattern of despair and abandonment that overwhelms the lives of the very impoverished.

Gawad Kalinga believes moving people out of the slums is essential to eradicating poverty. The project that I visited in Cavite provides brightly painted single or duplex housing for about 45 families with a community center, health center, an informal education center and a grocery store. The residents learn to care for their own facilities. Overall the community survey indicated that they received good health care and education for their children. Employment of the men in nearby communities is strongly encouraged, but many, especially women, wanted more assistance in obtaining employment.

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Buildings of Gawad Kalinga

While Gawad Kalinga is making strides in the right direction, birth control and family planning are issues that probably deserve more attention. Families in the community have a median of three children. And over-population is a country-wide problem. The strong influence of the Catholic Church since its colonization by Spain resulted in strong opposition to most methods of contraception or birth control. In 2012, this influence started to wane as the government began to address over-population with the passage of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act. Yet, a recent community survey by the Philippine School of Social Work at The Philippine Women’s University indicates that 69% of Filipinos rely on “natural methods” of family planning or abstinence. Despite a national campaign for vasectomy, few Filipinos opted for the procedure.

Gawad Kalinga embodies the Philippines’ overpopulation problems, both as a solution to the inhuman living conditions of Manila’s slums, a partial answer to unemployment woes, and an underscoring of the country’s population problem.

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Sarri with some of the women residents of Gawad Kalinga

 

Could some seemingly racist sentiments be more about white in-group identification than out-group animosity?

Post developed by Katie Brown and Ashley Jardina.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

This month, Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy made headlines. What started as a battle against the U.S. Federal Government for his cattle and land turned into daily press conferences. As part of the Sovereign Movement, Bundy used the attention to propagate an anti-government agenda and racist ideas. Across the country at Princeton University, freshman Tal Fortgang also made headlines with his essay, “Checking my Privilege.” His championing of white privilege garnered backlash in the press. What do Bundy and Fortgang have in common? Both demonstrate reactions to a perceived status threat to whites.

Center for Political Studies (CPS) affiliate and Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at the University of Michigan Ashley Jardina studies white identification. In particular, she argues that threats to dominant status make racial identity salient. Does this in turn influence support for political policies that could eliminate such status threats?

To answer this question, Jardina analyzed data from the American National Election Studies (ANES). Especially relevant is a measure of racial identity importance available for the first time in the 2012 ANES. This measure let Jardina gauge the extent to which white Americans feel that being white is important to their identity. She looks at whether this white identity relates attitudes toward policies (e.g., immigration) and candidates (e.g., Barack Obama) that exacerbate threats to white dominance. Immigration especially threatens whites’ dominance, because it drives demographic changes whereby whites are being displaced as the majority racial group in the nation. Likewise, as the country’s first African American president, Obama also represents a status threat.

Previous work has argued that out-group attitudes, either toward Hispanics or blacks, primarily drive whites’ attitudes toward immigration policy and support for Obama. But Jardina constructs models to explicitly test the relationship between in-group / out-group feelings. She finds in-group identity to be a more powerful and consistent predictor of restrictive immigration policies than out-group attitudes, including evaluations of Hispanics. Furthermore, whites who identified with their racial group were significantly less likely to vote for Obama, even after controlling for racial prejudice or resentment.  Her results are replicated using two other datasets. Jardina concludes, “These results lend support for the notion that, in some important cases, a desire to protect the in-group, rather than dislike for the out-group, primarily drives opinion.”

Ashley Jardina will join Duke University in the fall as an Assistant Professor of Political Science.

Runaway youth in child welfare placements are more likely to enter the justice system

Post developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Rosemary Sarri.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock

400,000 youth are placed out of home in residential treatment institutions in the United States because they were abused or neglected their family. Just 2% of these youth placed out of home in institutions will run away each year, compared to the annual runaway rate of of 6-8% for American youth overall. But the ramifications for the institutionalized runaway youth are grave, including homelessness, poverty, substance abuse, exploitation, and crime.

Center for Political Studies (CPS), School of Social Work, and Women’s Studies Professor Emerita Rosemary Sarri studies the impact of social policy on children. A forthcoming paper with her colleagues Joseph P. Ryan and Elizabeth Stoffregen, who are also of the Institute for Social Research (ISR), considers the serious risks for these youth running away from the child welfare system. The article asks: Does running away from these institutional placements pose an increased risk of future involvement with the juvenile and/or adult justice systems?

Focusing on Wayne County, Michigan, home of the city of Detroit, the study includes 371 children aged twelve or older from the child welfare system that ran away at least once in 2003, matched against similar children in the system that did not run away. The data trace involvement of the youth from the two groups in the justice system over eight years.

Sarri finds that running away is indeed associated with negative outcomes. Overall, youth who run away from institutional placements have a 40% chance of ending up in the adult justice system. For males, this increases to 71.5%. The table below breaks down the most serious offenses by status and gender for the youth who ran away from institutions. Indeed, youth who run away from institutions commit more serious crimes, especially males.

Most Serious Juvenile Justice Offense by Gender and Runaway Status (the term “AWOL” identifies youth who ran away from institutions)

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Given these staggering results, what can be done? Most of the youth are neglected, often with deep issues relating to substance abuse, mental health, homelessness, and crime. As such, Sarri calls for a positive, restorative approach that sets goals and offers resources to help youth achieve them. The Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform have developed an inter-agency collaborative proposal to provide more effective treatment for these “crossover” youth who are at high risk when they drift to the justice system.

How do the American people feel about gun control?

Developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Darrell Donakowski.

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Source: Thinkstock

On September 16, 2013, a former reservist killed 12 people in a Washington, D.C. Navy Yard. This latest high profile mass American shooting prompted President Obama to urge another push for stronger gun control. Obama first marked the issue as a national priority after a gunman shot and killed 20 first graders and six educators in a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school in December 2013. Obama promised to do everything in his power to prevent another such tragedy. In a Newtown vigil, and referencing the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting of the previous summer that killed 12 and injured 70, Obama declared enough.

Obama’s post-Newtown proposals included tougher background checks to purchase arms and the ban of military-style assault weapons used in several high profile mass shooting. But the package stalled in Congress. After the Navy Yard shooting, Obama urged the electorate not to accept mass shootings as a new normal, instead to demand common sense gun laws.

How do the American people feel about gun control?

For 65 years, the American National Election Studies (ANES) have interviewed a representative sample of voting age Americans on a variety of topics, including but not limited to voting and turnout, public policy support, societal values, and demographics.  As ANES describes, the resulting data “inform the nation about itself.”  Data from the 2012 survey were released at the end of June 2013.

One question in particular from the ANES sheds light on national attitudes toward gun control. The question was asked in 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012, allowing us to trace responses over time. The graph below displays these trends (leaving out the small fractions who did not know or refused to answer).

Do you think the federal government should make it more difficult for people to buy a gun than it is now, make it easier for people to buy a gun, or keep these rules about the same as they are now?

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As we can see, the proportion of the public supporting tougher regulation is shrinking over the time period, while satisfaction with current regulations increased. Yet, support for tougher gun laws is the most popular choice in all included years. It is important to note that these data were collected before Aurora, Newtown, and the Navy Yard shootings. The 2016 ANES study will no doubt add more insight into this contentious, important issue.

The future of affirmative action is unclear, but public opposition remains stable

Post developed by Katie Brown.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock

In June of this year, the Supreme Court of the United States maintained the legality of affirmative action programs at American colleges and universities – for now. The Supreme Court’s seven-to-one decision pushes American colleges and universities to prove the utility of affirmative action programs. The court declined to rule specifically on a case regarding the University of Texas at Austin’s affirmative action policy. This week, the UT Austin case was debated before a federal court.

How does the American public feel about affirmative action, and has their support or opposition changed over time? The American National Election Studies (ANES) can be used to examine such trends. For 65 years, the ANES has interviewed a representative sample of voting age Americans on a variety of topics, including but not limited to voting and turnout, public policy support, societal values, and demographics.  As ANES describes, the resulting data “inform the nation about itself.”

There are many ways to measure levels of support or opposition for affirmative action.  Since 1992, ANES has asked the American voting age public whether it is “for or against” one type of affirmative action: preferential hiring and promotion of blacks.  As the graph below illustrates, public opposition in the United States for this type of affirmative action appears both dominant and stable over the time period 1992-2012.

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In 2012, ANES also asked a question about support or opposition for the use of quotas to admit black students to colleges and universities.  The results were similar, with 77% of respondents opposing such a program and 23% of respondents being in support.

The latest Supreme Court ruling comes on the heels of a 2003 Supreme Court decision regarding the University of Michigan‘s use of affirmative action in its decision-making process for admitting students. The Court upheld the use of affirmative action by the University’s law school but negated the use of affirmative action in its undergraduate admissions. In 2006, voters from the state of Michigan voted in support of a ballot referendum, Proposition 2, which made affirmative action illegal in the state.  Then in November of 2012, the state of Michigan’s 6th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Proposition 2. Last month, the constitutionality of Proposition 2 went before the Supreme Court of the United States.

The latest court proceedings suggest that the future of affirmative action remains unclear, but results from the ANES suggest that public opposition to affirmative action remains stable. Yet, no single question or two can encapsulate feelings toward an issue as complex as this one.

Tracing incarceration along family trees

Developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Rosemary Sarri

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock

In June of 2013, Sesame Street debuted its first character with a parent in prison. The Sesame Street website now features a page of video clips and guides to help children facing this situation. But how likely is it a child will see his or her parent go behind bars?

The U.S. has a high rate of incarceration, about 760 per 100,000. The rates are higher than peer countries – five times the rate of Britain, and eight times the rate of Germany. But are the rates even higher for families with criminal pasts?

Center for Political Studies (CPS), School of Social Work, and Women’s Studies Professor Emerita Rosemary Sarri studies social policy, with an emphasis on children in the justice system. In a paper just published with Irene Ng and Elizabeth Stoffregen in the Journal of Poverty, Sarri considers the intergenerational nature of incarceration.

The study grew from a larger effort to understand preparation of youth returning from detention to the community. Data analysis revealed high levels of parental imprisonment among the youth in the sample. So the researchers considered the issue in more depth.

The researchers broke their participants into three groups: low, medium, and high levels of parental incarceration. Then they performed a cluster analysis to determine if these three groups varied along different factors.

The results indicate that higher levels of parental incarceration correspond to negative life events, parental substance abuse, receiving federal assistant, placement in foster care, neighborhood quality and instability, stigma, and negative youth outcomes. The graph below displays four of these associations by level of parental incarceration.

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So having a parent in prison not only increases the risk of a child facing juvenile lock up, but is also associated with other negative experiences. The troubles appear to perpetuate along family trees. A staggering 53% of the juvenile offenders in the study have children themselves. Further, most of the male participants expected little future contact with their children.

It would be easy to be pessimistic given these results, but the results highlight a situation that needs to be addressed.  In response, Sarri calls for a re-examination of imprisoning parents. She argues that these families and society at large could benefit from community programs that support families. Such community programs demonstrate long-term positive effects for both parents and children. When used for non-violent offenses, like drug abuse, such community programs protect public safety while potentially redirecting the growth of ill-fated family trees. Sarri also suggests parenting training, substance abuse and mental health treatment, workforce development, and community organization to relieve disorganization. These preventative services could help redirect families before there’s a problem.