Category Archives: Social Policy

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.

Racial profiling of Arabs finds less support among blacks and Latinos

Post developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Nicholas Valentino

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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.

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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

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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.

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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?

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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.

African Americans More Supportive of Immigration, Even When They Stand to Lose More

Post developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Nicholas Valentino.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Two weeks ago, the Gang of Eight immigration bill passed in the Senate. The bill overhauls immigration policy, from border security to legalizing undocumented citizens. The bill passed 82-15. While the Senate support was a large majority over the 60 needed, the 15 votes against came from Republicans.

Prior to that, House Speaker John Boehner (R) highlighted the party lines of such overhaul, saying, “I don’t see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn’t have majority support of Republicans.” He vowed not to bring the bill to a vote in the House without majority Republican support upfront.

Support for immigration varies powerfully along party lines, but the explanation for this difference does not appear to be a simple matter of economic interest.

Forthcoming research by Center for Political Studies Researcher Nicholas Valentino, along with Ted Brader and their students Ashley Jardina and Timothy Ryan, shows that despite higher levels of competition for jobs and wages, blacks are less hostile to immigration than whites. The researchers suggest that this gap in support is explained best by differences in empathy for the dominant immigrant group in the U.S., Latinos.

Survey research from the Globalization Threat Study show that blacks are more supportive of immigration than whites. American National Election Studies data also support these results. A powerful explanation for the gap appears to be differential feelings toward Latinos: Blacks feel much more warmly toward this group than whites, and these differences account for different policy preferences on immigration. Using an experiment, the researchers also gauged the malleability of these attitudes. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three news conditions: a positive story about immigration, a negative story about immigration, or an unrelated story. Results suggest that blacks are more resistant to negative news stories about immigration than whites.

This research counters past works that suggests that minorities may be less supportive of other minorities, as these groups tend to have to compete for a smaller slice of the pie. In fact, the researchers distinguished between financially secure and insecure blacks and found the least secure blacks in their study were most likely to reject news accounts that blamed immigrants for social problems.

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As Valentino concludes, “Symbolic attitudes are powerful and expansive, crossing ethnic lines to bind groups with competing interests.”