Category Archives: Op-Ed

Wage Gap vs. Earnings Gap

Source: CNN Money

Source: CNN Money

There are multiple pieces online from prominent publications dispelling the “myth” of the wage gap. Articles from Forbes, The Atlantic, and the Wall Street Journal discuss the wage gap as though it’s a dubious statistic and suggest that men and women’s pay are ostensibly equal for equal work.

If they are to be believed, then it’s only taken 53 years since the passing of the Equal Pay Act to reach a point of income parity. But this premise is false, and the true state of affairs is that the wage gap is painfully real. The reality is that women’s median income for full-time positions is $40,742 while full-time jobs for men earn them a median income of $51,212. The wage gap between men and women currently sits at women earning 79.5 cents to every $1.00 earned by men.

The good news is that the wage gap has steadily decreased since 1960. While 79.5 percent is better than 56 percent, any gap at all is still unsatisfactory. But what explains this difference? Continue reading

The changing landscape of U.S. electric utilities

econf-squareAt the annual Duke University Energy Conference yesterday, I had the opportunity to hear four women – all holding top management positions in the energy industry – speak about the evolution of electric utilities in the United States. Having worked in the energy sector prior to graduate school, I have been to my fair share of energy conferences. This is the first time I have attended an all female panel on energy that was not featured as a diversity event.

The change in the demographic make-up of the panel itself is analogous to the dramatic changes we’re seeing in the changing landscape of electricity today. While the electricity sector in the U.S. still operates as it has for the last several decades – with investor-owned utilities, municipalities, and rural electric cooperatives running the show – today’s utilities are still facing political, social, and economic environments like we have never seen before.
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HOTMA Expands Opportunities for Low-Income Families

hud-logoLow-income families have historically struggled to access low-poverty neighborhoods through federal housing programs. They have been challenged by a number of barriers, from transportation to discrimination, and have been left with no other alternative but to move into areas of concentrated poverty. But with HOTMA, there is hope.

H.R. 3700, the Housing and Opportunity through Modernization Act of 2015 (HOTMA), has unanimously passed both the House and the Senate. President Obama is expected to sign this bill that updates several components of the nation’s low-income housing programs. Among other changes, the bill boosts an effective tool to serve low-income families: project-based vouchers. Continue reading

Can WhatsApp be used for policy innovations in developing countries?

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/87244355@N00/376781013/

When I was traveling through the gorgeous and remote Kerala Backwaters in India last year, I met a bright teenage entrepreneur named Amit, from the local fishing village. He owns three canoes, which he uses as taxis to transport locals and tourists from village to village. This story is as old as time, except for one thing: it was 2015, and his business depended entirely on the popular messaging app WhatsApp.

Amit uses WhatsApp to coordinate with his employees (other young men from his village), who operate his canoes in the area. He also pushes messages about canoe rates and locations to a growing list of customers (he believes he can find enough customers to invest in more canoes). Even as I finished my canoe ride, Amit made sure that we were connected — just in case I had friends coming to the area. “Hey bro, make sure you add me on WhatsApp.” Always hustling.

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A Rising Power in Decline?

On October 19th, China announced its weakest quarterly growth rate since the financial crisis: 6.9%. For the past few years, China’s economic slowdown has been making headlines and raising questions about what role China will play in the global economy when it shifts away from being an export economy. Will China still become the new “economic superpower?” If so, what does that even mean?

China’s “slowdown” is relative, and its growth rate is still consistently two to three times that of the United States. According to a Pew Research Center survey, most people worldwide believe that China either will replace or has already replaced the United States as the world’s economic superpower. Indeed, America and China are already roughly tied in terms of their shares of world GDP, the US is at 16.14% while China is at 16.32%. Estimates as to when China may surpass the US in terms of GDP vary and are frequently revised, but one need not look into the future to find examples of how China conducts itself like a superpower.

China’s steadily decreasing domestic demand for commodities has led to a global drop in commodity prices. Negative effects of this are exacerbated in regions like South America and Africa, where China has invested heavily for the opportunity to access cheap minerals and agricultural products. Critics say that Chinese investment has incentivized many developing nations to specialize in commodities so they can meet China’s demand, and some developing countries have done this at the expense of diversifying their economies to protect themselves from commodity price drops like this one.

China bankrolls massive infrastructure projects worldwide to enable it to cheaply transport commodities across continents, further influencing how developing economies are structured. Its downturn has not stopped this. This year, for example, construction began in South America on a transcontinental rail line across the Amazon and, as recently as October 16, production started on an $11B port in Tanzania that some expect will be East Africa’s largest. China’s push to generate support for its Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has also not lost momentum as it builds ties abroad.

However, this summer’s flailing stock market and the Chinese government’s ham-handed interventions to try and control that market provide us with an example of how China may fall short as a traditional economic superpower. China’s reactions to fluctuations in the stock market ranged from banning selling, requiring buying, and devaluing the yuan to its lowest rate in years. Such economic tinkering is characteristic of the Chinese government, and does not amuse investors. For this reason, it is unlikely that the yuan will soon be as trustworthy a reserve currency as the dollar, regardless of the size of either economy.

One thing is clear; if (when) China’s economy outstrips the United States’, it will be a very different sort of economic superpower. If past behavior is any indication, it is likely that China will focus its diplomatic influence on trade advantage, and that it will micromanage its currency in a way that diminishes demand for it and empowers other currencies. Whether it will be able to achieve its goal of building a global import network as its growth declines will depend on how great this slowdown proves to be.

Gentrification and Concentrated Homelessness

If you look at downtown Los Angeles today, you wouldn’t imagine that there was a housing crash seven years ago. Luxury condominium development in downtown is bursting at the seams, as young professionals flood previously low-income districts in their efforts to minimize the crushing commute along the I-10 freeway. Many great writers have discussed the rising tide of gentrification and its impact on low income and minority communities. But its impact on homeless populations has been severe: cities like Los Angeles have begun to shift homeless encampments — horrifyingly, under the guise of municipal ‘trash cleanup’ laws.

Earlier this year, Los Angeles passed two city ordinances instructing police to remove and impound personal belongings of the city’s homeless, including but not limited to mattresses and tents. The laws also make it easier for police to give tickets to people who try to collect their possessions that haven’t been thrown away. Skid Row, the nation’s largest concentration of homeless, has been specifically targeted: in June, the city embarked on a $66,000 cleanup effort that scattered the homeless population, a test run of sorts for LA’s newly adopted policies. Compound this with LA’s affordable housing crisis, and the effect is obvious: the new policies sweep homeless populations east, away from police enforcement of the new ordinances.

It’s no coincidence that these thinly veiled homeless sweeps come on the heels of major commercial housing development in LA’s growing downtown area. Below is a map of LA’s gentrification by district; as we can see, Skid Row is right in the middle of major downtown gentrification efforts.

The racial overtones in LA’s homeless sweeps have become evident with the city’s new policies. 39% of Skid Row’s population is African-American, and 25% is Hispanic. In the last few years, neighborhoods surrounding downtown have seen an influx of young, white professionals, which has coincided with soaring real estate prices. For housing developers and owners alike, homeless encampments in plain sight of luxury high rise condos represent a negative externality that lowers housing prices.

The city of Los Angeles, in a bid to remove obstacles from local economic growth, has adopted a set of policies that are both institutionally racist and target the city’s worst-off populations. As we think about the pros and cons of gentrification on low-income minority communities, we must also consider policies like those adopted by the city of Los Angeles, which literally sweep homeless encampments out of the way under the guise of municipal trash cleanup ordinances.