Category Archives: Social Policy

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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.

Racial profiling of Arabs finds less support among blacks and Latinos

Post developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Nicholas Valentino


Photo credit: Thinkstock

Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, airport security has become a grave and expensive endeavor, projected to cost $45 billion by 2018. News stories about airport security scares or the ridiculousness of airport security scares proliferate. Other stories concern the efficacy of racial profiling, particularly of Arab passengers. A new Transportation Security Administration (TSA) program called SPOT – Screening of Passengers by Observation Technique – targets suspicious behavior in security lines with in-depth questioning. This program alone has cost $878 million. And SPOT faces criticisms for propagating racial profiling.

Forthcoming research by Center for Political Studies researcher Nicholas Valentino, along with colleagues Cigdem Sirin and Jose Villalobos from the University of Texas El Paso, explore the factors that explain support for racial profiling. In particular these scholars wondered whether different racial groups, with their different experiences with discrimination, react distinctly to security policies that involve profiling.

Valentino and colleagues investigated this question in an experiment. The sample focused on three racial groups and included 221 whites, 193 blacks, and 207 Latinos. All participants read a vignette:

Recently, a passenger was flying from New York to Chicago when he was pulled out of a security line, searched, and questioned.  The passenger was talking on his cell phone while waiting in line to board his flight.  One of the airport security officers standing nearby said that he heard the passenger say, “It’s a go!” which qualifies as suspicious behavior according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) guidelines.  In response, the airport security officer took the passenger aside for further screening.  The passenger, however, claims that when it was his turn to board the plane, he had told the person on the phone, “I’ve got to go!” and hung up.  Amid the controversy, the airport security officer said that he had a reasonable cause to search and question the passenger.  The passenger, on the other hand, said that the additional screening was unwarranted.

The picture presented alongside the text varied, with participants randomized to see a suspect from one of four racial groups: black, white, Latino, or Arab. Pictures were pretested to ensure equality on all dimensions except ethnic identity. After reading the story, participants answered several questions, including, “Who are you more likely to agree with in this case—the airport security officer or the passenger?” and “What do you think about the response by the airport security officer—do you think he had a reasonable cause to search and question the passenger?”

The graph below displays the results for the Arab passenger scenario. Compared to whites, blacks and Latinos showed less support for extra airport security measures targeting an Arab passenger. Further, the likelihood of siding with the Arab passenger is about 36 percent higher for black respondents and about 26 percent higher for Latino respondents.


Yet, blacks and Latinos perceive themselves to be at higher risk of personal threat from terrorism. Valentino and colleagues suggest this pattern is consistent with Group Empathy Theory, which holds that empathy for one group by another, even when the two are in competition for the same resources, mitigates support for harsh security tactics.

Lawmakers and TSA programs should keep in mind, as Valentino states, “These results demonstrate that anti-Arab sentiment is not distributed uniformly throughout society, and support our theory that the power of existential threats on tolerance is moderated by group empathy.”

Juvenile Justice in Detroit Champions Community, Rehabilitation in a Declining Metropolis

Post developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Rosemary Sarri

blog7_1Detroit makes headlines often: declining population, high crime rates, blocks of urban blight and, recently, the city’s declaration of bankruptcy. How does living in this bad news impact the city’s children? And, perhaps more importantly, how are we coping with the inevitable fallout this has on Detroit’s children?

Center for Political Studies, School of Social Work, and Women’s Studies Professor Emerita Rosemary Sarri studies the impact of social policy on children. In a forthcoming book chapter – “Juvenile Justice in a Changing Environment” – Sarri considers the developing approaches to juvenile offenders, focusing on Wayne County, Michigan, home of Detroit.

The concept of approaching juveniles in the justice system as distinct from their adult counterparts emerged just over a century ago. Two Supreme Court decisions – Roper v. Simmons in 1995 and Graham v. Florida in 2010 – reasserted the necessity of lesser sentences for youth offenders. Further, there is a large capital investment in the system. With 70,000 children in the justice system at an individual incarceration cost of $88,000 per year, the total exceeds $6 billion annually. This large amount of money coupled with the increasing emphasis on viewing children as in the midst of development shifted focus to rehabilitation over punishment. Wayne County, including Detroit, has paved the way.

In the 1990s, the state of Michigan controlled Wayne County’s youth offenders, punishing both serious and lesser crimes with long periods of detention, often out of state. U.S. Department of Justice threatened to close the in-county detention facility itself due to overcrowding and poor physical conditions, while the Michigan Auditor General issued a report criticizing the whole process. Without adequate mental health services and educational aid, recidivism – committing crimes again upon being released – topped 50%. The county and state spent $150 million per year on this ineffective program.

In the late 1990s, crime overall declined, but youth crimes associated with Detroit’s problems of homelessness, substance abuse, and gangs continued. Public outcry and political pressure to revamp the juvenile justice system was answered in 1997, when the system was overhauled.

The new mission, as Sarri writes, was to, “Treat each individual as a person in need of opportunities and resources rather than one with a societal disease that needed to be contained.” Wayne County spearheaded the initiative, which emphasized mental health care, education, and alternatives to incarceration, as summarized by the table below


The information management also built into the new approach allows the effects to be quantified. In 1998, 731 youth were incarcerated. In 2012, there were six, with no juveniles placed out of state. From 2004 to 2012, the number of new delinquency cases dropped by 38.4%. Further, more children have access to diversion and prevention programs, totaling 9,319 in 2012. And recidivism dropped to 17.5%!

As Detroit’s woes deepen, the toll on Wayne County’s children will likely increase. But, as Sarri argues, the juvenile justice system initiated in the late 1990s is an investment in the community, rehabilitating youth instead of punishing them for their declining environment.

Head Start: Back to the Beginning to Map out the Future

Post developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Maris Vinovskis

The recent sequester – or deep budget cuts to counter the national debt – has taken a toll on many public services, including the Head Start program. Head Start offers education, nutrition, and other services to children under five from low-income families.


Photo credit: Thinkstock

Center for Political Studies researcher, Professor of Public Policy, and Bentley Professor of History Maris Vinovskis is an expert on education programs. He was Research Adviser to the U.S. Office of Education and Research Improvement in both the administrations of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He served on the Congressionally mandated Independent Review Panels for Goals 2000 and No Child Left Behind. He has also testified before six different House and Senate committees about education, as well as served as an evaluator of the Even Start Family Literacy Program, the National Education Goals, the National English Standards, and the National History Standards.

With an almost 50 year history, Vinovskis believes Head Start is both important and here to stay. Yet, he urges a critical look at the trajectory of Head Start in order to determine best practices.

In his book The Birth of Head Start: Preschool Education Policies in the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations, Vinovskis traces the origins of the program. The 1950s and 1960s witnessed two key changes in societal views. First, perceptions of IQ shifted from fixed at birth to partially determined by early childhood. Second, poverty came to be seen as a crucial problem. Together, these views led to a perceived need for early childhood learning opportunities for the poor. And the Federal government answered the call, beginning under John F. Kennedy and continuing under Lyndon B. Johnson.

Rolled out in 1965 by the Office of Economic Opportunity, and part of the larger War on Poverty and Great Society programs, Head Start catered to 100,000 children amid bipartisan support.  Initially an eight-week summer program, the next wave – launched later that year – featured a year-round model. This created many jobs but, without enough qualified teachers, local parents and community members were frequently hired.

Initial evaluations of the program were disheartening, as children participating in Head Start demonstrated no lasting effects of participation. Critics noted the lack of qualified teachers and suggested eight weeks was too short of a time span. Yet support for Head Start as important remained strong. Several government task forces called for higher quality and additional programs to build on Head Start. Project Follow Through was developed under the Johnson administration to transition Head Start kids into schools. During the nearly three decades of Project Follow Through, the Federal government spent about 3 billion dollars (in constant 2010 dollars) to improve Head Start. But Project Follow Through failed its objectives, which may be attributable in part to the continued lack of coordination of Head Start with elementary schools. Project Follow Through faced termination in 1995. But Head Start continues today.

In looking to the future of Head Start, what can we learn from the history of Head Start, particularly its earlier years? Vinovskis supports the original goals of the program because providing better education to disadvantaged children is crucial. But, he notes that the program may better do so if considered as part of public education, which would in turn bring better qualified teachers. Further, he stresses the need to focus more of the Federal support for early childhood programs on children from the most economically disadvantaged families.

Yet, the most successful models are also the most expensive. For example, the HighScope Perry Preschool approach, pioneered in Ypsilanti, Michigan, utilizes high quality education principles to develop children’s innate talents with the help of teachers and families. A study finds that a group of 3-4 year-olds who participated decades ago earn more, attain higher education, are more likely to be employed, and commit fewer crimes than their peers at age 40. Likewise, Finland offers universal, full day preschool – and ranks above the U.S. in reading, math, and science aptitude.

While this time of sequester limits the budget for Head Start, it also underscores the importance of utilizing best practices to make every dollar count.

Minnesota, Rhode Island and SCOTUS open to gay marriage, mirroring ANES measures of public opinion

Post developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Darrell Donakowski

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock

On August 1, 2013, the states of Minnesota and Rhode Island began issuing same sex marriage licenses. This move follows on the heels of two recent rulings by the Supreme Court of the United States that effectively increase the rights of same sex couples. In a 5 to 4 decision, the Court ruled in favor of Federal benefits for same sex couples, negating a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In Hollingsworth vs. Perry, another 5 to 4 decision, the court declined to rule on the constitutionality of California’s ballot proposition passed in 2008 banning gay marriage in the state.

Yet the 5-4 votes were cast differently than usual splits, with liberals and conservatives falling on both sides of the issue. The narrow margins and different layout of each vote point to the contentious nature of same sex marriage in the U.S.

But how does this relate to how the U.S. public at large feels about same sex marriage?

The American National Election Studies (ANES; @electionstudies), conducted by the Center for Political Studies at the University of Michigan and the Institute for Research in the Social Sciences at Stanford University, illuminates these trends. ANES has been conducting surveys of representative samples of voting age Americans since 1948.

The ANES included questions about levels of support for gay marriage in its 2004, 2008, and 2012 surveys. Tracing the answers to these questions over time, we can see that support for same sex marriage is on the rise among the American electorate.  At the same time, those persons having no opinion – indicated by a “don’t know response” – is becoming less common.

Question from the 2012 ANES:
Which comes closest to your view?
1. Gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to legally marry.
2. Gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to form civil unions but not legally marry.
3. There should be no legal recognition of a gay or lesbian couple’s relationship.

[Note that the “civil unions” response was recorded only if volunteered in 2004 and 2008, and was first listed among the available response options in 2012.]

blog4_image2Support for the legal right for same sex couples to adopt children follows similar trends.  As seen in the below table, in 2000 a majority of respondents indicated being against legally permitting same sex adoption, while in 2012 a majority of respondents indicated being for legally permitting same sex adoption.

Do you think gay or lesbian couples should be legally permitted to adopt children?


According to results from the ANES, public support in the U.S. is likewise on the rise both for legal protection from on-the-job discrimination and for the right to serve in the military for persons who are gay. The recent Supreme Court decisions appear to be consistent with the changing values of the American electorate on these issues in general.