I just had the fun school assignment to write a party platform for a fictional national level political party. As a candidate for county council, I recognize that 99% of what’s written here is far outside the scope of county government. And the large majority of it is still outside the scope of what is possible at a federal level given the current fractured state of our national politics. So — this is more of a wish list than an actual party platform. And, because it’s a school paper, it’s somewhat limited to the subjects we’ve covered in-depth in class (so don’t yell at me that there’s no mention of universal health care, etc).

Ensure affordable housing
Government policy in America has led directly to the high cost of housing, the exclusion of poor and minority families from good neighborhoods, and our sprawling development patterns which lead to congestion and automobile dependency (Blackwell, 2006). Ensuring that we’re building more homes in the right places is the first step in reducing the cost of housing (Durning, 2017). Local policy makers need to reform zoning codes to allow for higher density construction, multifamily units, and mixed use. This allows not only for increased housing options for low income families, but it also enables “community development” (Blackwell, 2006). If done properly, higher density construction “encourages pedestrian activity, improves local environmental conditions (by reducing congestion), and connects residents to economic opportunities throughout the region” (Blackwell, 2006). State-level policy tools for achieving this are to remove height restrictions and increase density near transit stops and to ease zoning restrictions and regulations on additional dwelling units (Chapple, Wegmann, Mashhood, and Coleman, 2017). Because inclusionary zoning policies (requiring a certain number of affordable units in a new development) lead to less construction, more luxury developments, and higher home prices (Bento, Lowe, Knapp, & Chakraborty, 2009; Tom and Stringham, 2012; Been, Meltser, and Schuetz, 2010), states and localities should only implement them if they are paired with density bonuses or tax credits.

Increasing access to housing in high income neighborhoods is an important way to break the cycle of poverty (Chetty, Hendren, and Katz, 2015). As Chetty, Hendren, and Katz (2015) write in their groundbreaking study, adults who receive a housing voucher and move into higher income neighborhoods don’t experience higher earnings, but their children do (if they were under the age of 13 when they moved). To maximize their benefit, federal support for housing vouchers should be expanded, their use should be restricted for use by low income families moving to higher income neighborhoods, and families with young children should get priority. The increased costs necessary to encourage families to move into higher income neighborhoods will be more than offset by the increased lifetime tax revenue from the beneficiaries (Chetty, Hendren, and Katz, 2015).

Housing policies in the past were focused around just providing low cost units, but modern housing programs have to achieve both racial desegregation and economic self-sufficiency (McClure, 2006). That means encouraging “families to locate in neighborhoods that will improve the life opportunities of family members (Khadduri, as cited by McClure, 2006). To achieve this, we need a combination of vouchers and zoning policies that can enable the private sector to build more housing in high value or multipurpose locations like transit stops.

Universal free Pre-K
Every child in America should be able to attend preschool for free. Increased spending on pre-K education results in a net cost savings on total education spending (Pre-K-12th grade), but, it takes awhile for those savings to begin to accrue (Barnett, 2013). Because of this initial time lag, we propose ten years of federal support for state Pre-K programs to ensure universal free access for every student. After ten years, states will be mandated to continue to provide universal Pre-K coverage, but by that time the spending will result in a net savings for the state as a result of less kids needing to attend special education classes and repeating grades. Aside from the cost savings, universal free Pre-K education will result in increased academic achievement, decreased risky behaviors and crime, and increased lifetime earnings (Barnett, 2013). By ensuring that it is free for everyone (and not just lower income students), the increase in socioeconomic diversity will also help increase the educational outcomes of lower income children without any cost to higher income children (Copperwheat, Swab, & Winiski, 2017).

Education reform
Reversing inequality and preparing America for the 21st century economy needs to begin with our school system. We propose eliminating mandatory standardized tests, increasing teacher pay, ensuring that free breakfast and lunch are provided at every school, increasing teacher flexibility in developing curriculum, and, most importantly, ensuring that every student in America has an equal opportunity to receive a high quality education — regardless of their income level, place of birth, or color of their skin. The primary problem with America’s education system isn’t our nation’s size or diversity, it’s our inequality (Partanen, 2011). Instead of allocating funds based on property tax revenues, which creates radically unequal school districts, the federal government should ensure that funds are distributed approximately equally across the nation, with schools in distressed areas receiving more money to attract qualified teachers into the neighborhood.

End poverty
According to the CBO (2014), the Earned Income Tax Credit is the most efficient way to boost the earnings of low income families while encouraging workforce participation. Whereas only 19% of the benefits of a minimum wage increase would go towards low income families, an increase in the EITC “would go almost entirely towards low income families” (CBO, 2014, p. 15). However, because impoverished families living in metropolitan areas or high cost regions are often not eligible for EITC benefits (because their wages are above the federal standards but still below the regional poverty line due to high housing costs), we should adopt regional cost-of-living differences in allocating EITC benefits (Fitzpatrick and Thompson, 2008) to ensure that everyone working a full time job will be above the poverty line. Also, because an increase in the EITC puts downward pressure on wages (as more people enter the workforce), it’s important to simultaneously raise the minimum wage. However, rather than a drastic increase to the federally mandated minimum wage — which can hurt depressed areas with high unemployment or large numbers of unskilled workers — we propose tying the minimum wage to one half of the median wage in each region of the country and future increases directly to the consumer price index (Arindrajit, 2014).

Regional control over immigration
We recognize that immigration has a net positive impact on the wages and employment of native born Americans, that it increases economic productivity, that immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native born Americans (NAS, 2016), and that 2nd generation immigrants contribute the highest rate of tax money of any group in the United States (Su, 2010). Because urban development is inextricably linked to immigration, we support a policy of allocating visas based on regional need (Su, 2010). Instead of a top-down approach to immigration, we should move towards a bottom-up approach. Cities and regions will determine how many immigrants they want in their communities and the federal government will grant visas according to local need. The national quota on immigration will then reflect the sum-total of regional requests. Regions with a need for new arrivals will get them, and those who don’t have the infrastructure or who already have a high population of low-wage workers or over-burdened school systems can choose to request no additional immigrants. Those immigrants who work hard and follow the law will have a clear path to full citizenship.

A path to citizenship
The constant threat of deportation comes with clear negative life outcomes, including “delayed cognitive development, lower educational performance and clinical levels of anxiety” (Suro & Suarez-Orozco, 2015). While only 14 percent of children with undocumented parents receive a college degree, a full 43 percent of children who’s father was legalized in the 1986 immigration reform act went on to college (Suro & Suarez-Orozco). This extremely high rate of college education for the children of naturalized immigrants is among the reasons why second generation immigrants contribute more in lifetime taxes than native born Americans (Su, 2010). Given these clear benefits and the history of our country as a nation of immigrants, we need to remove the looming threat of deportation for millions of undocumented Americans and provide them with a clear path to citizenship.

Invest in infrastructure
We recognize that infrastructure spending provides a bigger stimulus than tax cuts (Zandi as cited by Clemmit, 2009) and that America’s aging infrastructure needs to be replaced to allow us to transition to a zero carbon economy. Our lack of infrastructure spending in the past has made us dependent on single occupancy vehicles, hurt our competitiveness in the global economy, and reduced economic growth (Zandi as cited by Clemmit, 2009). Given that, we propose a massive investment in overhauling our nation’s infrastructure with priority given to high speed rail, public transportation, upgrading the electrical grid, and energy efficient building upgrades. No federal funds should be used for road widening projects. This will not only create short term jobs and reduce our contribution to climate change, but it will increase our long term prospects for economic growth and reduce our dependency on single occupancy vehicles (Clemmit, 2009).

Zero carbon emissions by 2050
To avoid the devastating effects of climate change and provide a blueprint for the world to follow, the United States needs to get to zero carbon emissions by 2050. That will require a wholesale transformation of our electricity sector, transportation network, and economy. On a federal level, we need to rapidly implement a comprehensive cap and trade system for the country. That means we need to determine an annual cap on emissions; large emitters will purchase permits from the government to emit carbon dioxide; the number of available permits will go down every year until we reach zero at 2050; and the regulated industries can buy, sell, or trade their permits. This gives us a clear path to zero carbon emissions, and it will provide funding for farmers who are sequestering carbon dioxide in soil or the growth of tree crops. Cap and trade has been successful in limiting the emissions of other noxious gasses and it is especially well suited for limited greenhouse gasses (Chan, Stavins, Stowe, & Sweeney, 2012). While higher fuel efficiency standards and increased support for renewable energy research are also important components of getting to zero emissions, the biggest local policy impact is to use zoning codes to encourage higher density construction (Glaeser, 2011) as a tool for reducing energy use (Gold, Pincetl, & Federico, 2015).

Environmental justice
Low income communities are more likely to be adjacent to industrial sites like landfills and powerplants (ProPublica, 2017), have less access to green space (Wolch, Bryne, and Newell, 2014), and less access to healthy foods (Sloane, Diamant, Lewis, et al., 2003). These inequities lead to negative health outcomes in poor communities including higher death rates (Grist, 2016), higher rates of obesity, and lower rates of physical activity (Wolch, Bryne, and Newell, 2014). Every decision made by every level of government has to be framed around reducing these inequities. The EPA (2003) suggests that to reduce low income and minority groups exposure to environmental pollutants we need not only better regulation and methods to ensure pollution prevention and waste reduction, but we need to ensure that minority and low income groups are included in every aspect of the planning process. A holistic approach to improving access to green space include the construction of more parks, better maintenance of the parks, and improved multimodal access to them (Wolch, Bryne, and Newell, 2014). To improve access to healthy foods we need to reevaluate our current federal price subsidies for unhealthy foods as well as changing the physical environment of low income and minority neighborhoods to ensure easier access to health food options and physical activities (Sloane, et al., 2003).

Reparations to undue the effects of discrimination
While the middle decades of the 20th century were a period of rapid economic growth in America, minority communities were left out. During that time, government backed FHA loans allowed low-income families to purchase homes, build equity, and cash in on a rapidly growing economy. At the same time, however, FHA policy ensured that black neighborhoods were ineligible for FHA backing simply due to the skin color of the residents (Coates, 2014). As land values appreciated rapidly through the 20th century, African Americans were “locked out of the greatest mass-based opportunity for wealth accumulation in American history… their homes and communities deteriorated and lost value in comparison to those homes and communities that FHA appraisers deemed desirable” (Oliver and Shapiro as cited by Coates, 2014). The FHA process of redlining along with exclusionary zoning ordinances (such as minimum lot sizes, prohibitions on multifamily units, and discriminatory neighborhood covenants and zoning codes) ensured that African American families were stuck in the concentrated poverty of inner-cities and away from jobs, good communities, and home ownership (Blackwell, 2006).

A similar process locked Native Hawaiians out of benefitting from the rapid appreciation in the value of land in Hawai’i through the 20th century. Not only was their land taken after the illegal overthrow, but the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920 gave priority access for land under the Homestead Act to those families who didn’t currently own land. This disincentive for land acquisition left Native Hawaiians out of the wealth generation that benefited every other ethnic group in Hawai’i as land values rapidly appreciated throughout the 20th century (Ward, 2018). Further, the high blood quantum level necessary to inherit a Hawaiian homestead lot has ensured that Native Hawaiians are locked out of the intergenerational accumulation of wealth and equity as each new generation has less Hawaiian blood than the generation before.

After centuries of these types of discriminatory practices, these communities have been locked into a cycle of poverty which includes lower educational attainment, higher rates of ill-health, and higher rates of incarceration. While reversing these trends and breaking the cycle of poverty requires an interdisciplinary approach which includes all of the steps outlined above, we need to recognize that there is no way to make up for the massive wealth gap that is a direct product of discriminatory government policy without direct cash reparations to these disenfranchised communities. The form and scope of these reparations is up for debate — but the need for them is no longer debatable.



References:

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Barnett, Steven (2013) “Why expanding quality PreK is a sound public policy.” National Institute for Early Education Research

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