Tag Archives: socioeconomics

Why The Most Important Educational Instruction Comes Before First Grade (Infographic)

When we talk about educational inequality in our country and the poor conditions of public schools in low income areas, we tend to focus on middle schools and high schools, and their inability to reach “troubled” youth.

This is definitely an important aspect of the problem, but the issues start much, much earlier.

Click to enlarge

One of the most important and most ignored aspects of educational inequality is the disparity in resources available for early childhood education.

In middle class or upper class families, a child is often given all kinds of educational toys and games to help the mind grow, develop, and prepare for formal schooling. Parents are also typically active in teaching the child basic lessons and skills through play.

But for low income children, this experience is very different. For one, many of them live with single parents who are working 80+ hours a week just to keep the lights on and put food on the table.

Click to enlarge

These parents don’t have money for all of the educational toys, games and camps that more well-off parents provide to their kids. Also, their demanding work schedules tend to leave them with very little time to spend with their child (and it is often only for a short period of time after an exhausting day of labor).

Although it can’t totally make up for the economic differences, pre-school was designed to help bridge that gap a bit. Unfortunately, less than half of pre-school aged children are actually even attending pre-school.

Check out the infographic below to see how this lack of quality early childhood education affects a child’s future:

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Despite All the Depressing News, The World Is Not Getting Worse, It’s Getting Much, Much Better

Today, I woke up and skimmed the world news headlines. 80% of the stories were about the Israeli-Palestinian crisis or the Malaysian aircraft shot down in Ukraine. The other 20% was mostly news on the Air Algerie flight which disappeared earlier this morning and ISIS’s exile and persecution of the Christians in Mosul.

It was a very depressing experience. But then, I thought to myself: are things really that bad? And I realized, the answer is undoubtedly NO.

What we must realize here is that it’s only in the last 10 years or so that the average person has really had unlimited access to news and information with the emergence of the internet. And it’s only in the last five or so years that social media emerged as a platform to share news.

Click to enlarge

 

It may seem like more bad things are going on, but really we are just more aware of world events than we have ever been in the past.

Ignorance may be bliss, but awareness solves problems. It can be hard to read about the bad things happening in other places, but often times, the only reason those bad things persist is because not enough people around the world have been made aware of them.

And, with all that being said, the world is actually getting better- much, much better. Here’s a few pieces of evidence to support that claim.

First off, our health and medicine is improving at an extremely fast pace. Infant mortality is down about 50% since 1990, and we have significantly reduced the number of deaths from treatable disease like measles and tuberculosis as well.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

A second indicator is the rapid decline in poverty worldwide. Since 1981, the proportion of people living under the poverty line ($1.25/day) has decreased by 65%. 721 million fewer people were living in poverty in 2010 than in 1981.

The third indicator is violence. Or more specifically, the lack thereof. It may seem like the world is constantly embroiled in one conflict or another, but overall, war is almost non-existent when compared to past decades:

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

And while we regularly see reports of gang violence and constantly debate how much guns should be regulated, violent crime and murders has been plummeting:

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

So when you start getting too down from watching, reading, or listening to the news, just remember:

We can change the world for the better. We are changing the world for the better.

(h/t Think Progress)

States That Increased Minimum Wage Have Seen 40% Faster Job Growth Than Those Who Didn’t

There’s has been a big debate lately about whether or not raising the minimum wage is a good thing for the overall economic health of America.

On one side, those in favor say that putting more disposable income into the pockets of consumers would mean that they purchase more stuff, increasing sales and profits for businesses.

On the other side, those opposed mainly argue that raising the minimum wage will increase costs for employers, forcing them to lay off workers to avoid having to increase how much they spend on wages.

Well, new data released by the Department of Labor just dealt a blow to that opposing argument.

The report, released on Friday, found that the 13 states that recently increased their minimum wages saw an average job growth of 0.85% for the first six months of 2014. The 37 states that didn’t raise the minimum wage saw job growth of only 0.61%.

Though the data has a small sample size (only 6 months) and doesn’t necessarily establish cause and effect between higher minimum wages and job growth, it definitely pokes a big hole into the idea that raising the minimum wage leads to a disaster in the job market.

The Economist also points out that the U.S. minimum wage is relatively low compared to other developed countries around the world.

The OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) compiles and compares economic data for different countries. One of its indicators of economic health is how the minimum wage in a country compares to its median and average wages.

Minimum wage compared to average wage for a number of developed countries. Click to enlarge
Minimum wage compared to average wage for a number of developed countries. Click to enlarge

The American minimum wage is only 38% of the median wage and 27% of the average wage. These numbers are lower than almost every other country on the OECD’s list.

Also worth noting, Costco, which pays it’s employees a minimum of $15 an hour, has been outperforming Wal-Mart in profitability recently.

Read the original story from NPR here.

Californians Prepare to Vote On A Plan to Split the Golden State Into 6 New States

The idea is the brainchild of Timothy C. Draper.

Draper is the son and grandson of successful venture capitalists. His father founded the Draper & Johnson Investment Company in 1962 and served as both chairman and president of the U.S. Export-Import Bank.

His grandfather founded Draper, Gaither and Anderson, one of the U.S.’s first venture capital firms in 1958.

Timothy Draper has a vision of six separate Californian states

Timothy attended Stanford University, where he earned an electrical engineering degree before going on to get his MBA from Harvard Business School.

After spending a year at Alex, Brown & Sons (the oldest investment bank in the U.S., founded in 1800), Draper left to start his own venture capital firm with Jon Fisher and Steve Jurvetson.

Draper and Jurvetson are credited with coming up with the idea of advertising at the bottom of Hotmail messages, and the firm, DJF, owned 10% of Skype when it sold to eBay for $4.1 billion in 2005.

Early this year, Draper proposed an initiative to divide California into 6 separate states.

Click to enlarge

In support of his plan, he argues that the state is too big to be representative of its citizens or to be competitive economically:

“With six, you do get a good sense that you can drive 45 minutes in any direction and maybe be part of a different state and it keeps those states on their toes,”

he said while speaking at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. If his plan is approved, each of the six states would have its own government, with it’s own elected officials and Congressional representatives.

Draper recently used Twitter to announce that he had submitted a petition with 1.3 million signatures to put his 6-state initiative up to a popular vote.

The plan definitely has its opponents though. Steve Maviglio is the spokesman for the OneCalifornia committee:

“This is a colossal and divisive waste of time, energy, and money that will hurt the California brand, our ability to attract business and jobs, and move our state forward together,”

he told the San Jose Mercury News. Many opponents also point out that even if Californians vote in favor of the plan, carrying it out would require an act by Congress.

Steven Maviglio is one of the plan’s biggest opponents

Draper also has plans to expand the use of digital currencies. On June 27th, he won an auction to buy 30,000 bitcoins (worth an estimated $19 million) that were confiscated from the dark web’s illicit marketplace Silk Road by U.S. Marshalls.

He plans to use the bitcoins to help start-up bitcoin exchange Varuum increase the use of dgital currency:

“With the help of Vaurum and this newly purchased Bitcoin, we expect to be able to create new services that can provide liquidity and confidence to markets that have been hamstrung by weak currencies,”

Draper said through a statement from Varuum.

As for the six state initiative, the signatures on the petition are currently being verified before an official date for the vote is announced.

Rad more from CBS News here.

Poverty Is Increasing WAY Faster In the Suburbs Than In the Cities (Infographic)

Poverty is often thought of as a predominantly urban problem. The inner city tends to be the most impoverished with wealth generally increasing as you get further and further out into the surrounding suburbs.

However, this trend may be reversing. In the decade between 2000 and 2010, poverty in the suburbs rose a whopping 25% while poverty in cities only rose 5.6%.

The infographic below shows how poverty rates changes in the urban areas and the suburbs of the largest U.S. cities during that time period (click to enlarge):

The figures in the infographic above are from a Brookings Institute study released in 2010. A year later, the Institute released another study, this time estimating that suburban poverty rose by 64% between 2000 and 2011.

There are a number of reasons for this trend. The first is simply that more people are moving from the cities to the suburbs.

The suburbs, particularly in the South, having been growing much faster than the urban areas. With growing suburbs come businesses like retail and restaurants, which employ primarily lower-wage workers.

With these new businesses requiring more and more low wage work, more affordable housing options have been emerging in the suburbs as well.

As a result, many of the poorer people living in the cities have migrated to the suburbs. The 2000s were the first time the suburban population surpassed the urban population in the U.S.

Total number of people living in poverty: cities vs. suburbs. Click to enlarge

Another big factor was the recession of 2008, which hit the manufacturing and construction industries especially hard. Both of those industries are based primarily in suburban areas, further increasing suburban poverty rates.

To read more about the increasing trend of poverty in the suburbs and learn more about the Brookings Institute’s 2011 report, check out this Washington Post piece from last year.

Fatal Drug Overdoses Have Tripled In Russia Since 2012, Reaching 100,000 Per Year

Russia’s Federal Drug Control Service announced some chilling statistics on Russian drug use this past Monday.

The most frightening data was on the number of fatal drug overdoses per year in the country. Last year, that number climbed over 100,000, making it nearly three times higher than it was in 2012.

The Service also announced that of the 108,700 people convicted of drug-related crimes last year, 66% were between the ages of 19-29, and another 2% were minors.

Viktor Ivanov, head of Russia’s Federal Drug Control Service

Russia has the highest population of injecting drug users (IDUs) in the world at 1.8 million. A third of these IDUs are HIV positive and a whopping 90% have Hepatitis C.

To make the problem worse, Russia’s drug treatment programs are woefully inadequate. Many people open businesses masquerading as treatment center while using arcane “treatments” like flogging, starvation, and electric shock among others.

Russia’s Federal Drug Control Service has also admitted that more than 90% of Russians who check into a treatment center are using drugs again within a year.

A large portion of the intravenous drug users are addicted to heroin or other opioids. These drugs are derived from the poppy plant.

One factor that has contributed to the increasing use of these drugs is an increase in poppy production in Afghanistan.

Poppy production in Afghanistan. Click to enlarge

Cultivating poppies that can be processed into opium or heroin has been a lucrative business in Afghanistan since the 90s. But when the Taliban took power in 2001, the militant group outlawed the growing of poppies, reducing production to almost zero.

Since the U.S. invasion however, there has been a rapid resurgence of opium production in Afghanistan. Last year saw the highest poppy production in Afghanistan in the past 20 years. The level of production was nearly 3 times higher than the average levels before the Taliban’s time in power.

This flood of poppies means cheaper prices for opium and heroin manufacturers and consequently cheaper prices for users, not to speak of the increase in availability.

About a quarter of the heroin manufactured in Afghanistan in 2010 ended up in Russia, and that percentage has only been rising in the past 3 years.

Click to enlarge

Though many people, like Viktor Ivanov, head of Russia’s Drug Control Service, like to blame U.S. involvement in Afghanistan for Russia’s drug problems, this simply isn’t the full story.

Heroin use has actually been on the rise in Russia since the early 90s, when the fall of the Soviet Union left high levels of unemployment and poverty across the country.

In the decade between 1994 and 2004, the total number of drug users in Russia rose an astounding 900%. The war in Afghanistan and the subsequent boom in the poppy supply has only poured gasoline on a problem that was already burning out of control.

Read the original story from RBTH here. Read more about drug abuse in Russia from DrugWarFacts.org here.

The Streets of Chicago Are 4 Times More Deadly Than the Battlefields of the Middle East

This Fourth of July weekend saw joy, laughter, fellowship and fun. It also saw another rash of murders in the streets of Chicago.

The 3-day weekend starting on the 4th saw eight murders in Chicago. Two more have already been reported for today.

While this weekend was slightly more violent than others, it is definitely not an aberration. Easter weekend this year saw 45 separate shootings in Chicago. The weekend before that, there were 35 shootings in 36 hours.

In recent years, Chicago’s violence has the nickname “Chiraq”. Since the start of this year, the city has has seen 196 murders. That’s more than four times as many American fatalities as the 46 so far in Afghanistan and Iraq this year.

The homicides this weekend were a result of multiple shootings at Independence Day celebrations around the city which left another 60 people injured.

Total murders per year in Chicago from 1991 to 2011. Click to enlarge

Murder totals in Chicago actually peaked at 943 in 1992, and steadily declined in the decade that followed. But that number spiked again in 2012, which saw 521 murders. The majority of these murders were related to gang activity and the increasingly lucrative drug trade in Chicago.

To combat the rise in violence, Chicago dispatched hundreds of extra police into particularly dangerous neighborhoods, and reached out to community leaders for support.

“We will keep building on our strategy, putting more officers on the street in summer months, proactively intervening in gang conflicts, partnering with community leaders,”

said Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said in a recent statement.

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy

It seems to be working. Last year, Chicago tallied 415 murders, the lowest that number has been since 1965. And as of June 30, Chicago had experienced nine fewer homicides than in that same period last year.

But these rates are still much higher than most cities. By comparison, New York City (which has three times more residents than Chicago) only had 350 murders in 2013.

So why is the murder rate so high? Many people would point to high rates of poverty, but Chicago actually has lower poverty rates than other major cities like New York, Los Angeles and Miami.

Poor schools also play a major part in the crime, but Chicago actually has a higher percentage of high school graduates over the age of 25 than New York City, Los Angeles or Houston.

A breakdown of the victims of Chicago’s 2012 murders. Click to enlarge

There is no one reason for the violence in Chicago, but there are a few other major factors that have contributed to it. One of these factors is depopulation and gang fragmentation.

In the 80s and early 90s, the majority of the homicides in Chicago centered around low-income government-subsidized housing projects like Cabrini-Green and the Robert Taylor Homes.

A picture of Cabrini-Green before it was demolished

Starting in the late 90s, the city carried out an aggressive campaign to demolish these high-rises as part of a plan to reduce crime. However, this just displaced tens of thousands of residents, exacerbating the issues of poverty they faced while simply spreading the criminals who had been sharing the buildings with them out to new neighborhoods.

The demolition of these centralized crime hubs has also led to a fragmentation of the gangs in Chicago. During the early 90s, much of the drug trade was controlled by Larry Hoover, who was head of the Gangster’s Disciples street gang.

This gang (which controlled a number of Chicago’s subsidized high-rises) was no stranger to violence, but it also had a very strict hierarchy that maintained unity and order amongst its gang members.

The arrest of drug lords like Hoover and the destruction of their headquarters created a power vacuum that broke Chicago’s gangs into countless smaller “sets”, which now battle amongst themselves for turf, power and money.

Larry Hoover is currently serving a life sentence for a murder in August of 1973

But maybe the biggest reason for Chicago’s high crime rates is the lack of jobs. Despite the fact that Chicago has higher levels of education than other large cities like New York, Houston and Los Angeles, it still has a much higher rate of unemployment (13.7%) than these other cities.

The gang violence exacerbates this problem by driving potential employers out of the inner cities, leaving only a handful of low-paying jobs to the residents who remain. This de-population also reduces property values which in turn further limits the public funds (ie. taxes) available to help fight crime and improve conditions.

Whatever the reasons are, the reality is inarguable: Chicago has a serious violence problem, and the fact that it doesn’t get the media airtime that Iraq, Al Qaeda ad ISIS do won’t change the fact that for every soldier we have lost overseas this year, we’ve lost another four youth in Chicago.

Continue reading

The Algerian Team Will Be Donating Their World Cup Earnings to the Poor in Gaza

The Algerian soccer team had their best showing ever at the World Cup before losing in extra time to global powerhouse Germany in the first knockout stage.

They made it out of group play for the first time in their country’s history and gave us an extremely exciting and competitive game with the Germans, who outranked Algeria (22) by twenty spots.

Algerian forward Islam Slimani takes on two German defenders

The team won the hearts of of their north African fans along with many others around the world with that gutsy performance, pushing Germany to the very end.

And now, you’re going to love them even more.

The Algerian team got a hero’s welcome upon their return home

Yesterday, Algeria’s star forward Islam Slimani announced that the team would be donating all of their World Cup earnings ($9 million) to the poor in the disputed Palestinian territory of Gaza.

Why? Slimani’s answer is simple: “They need it more than us.”

As of last year, the Gaza Strip was the 3rd poorest region in the Arab world, after only Yemen and Sudan. 38% of the country lives in poverty, with about 22% living in extreme poverty

Those living in extreme poverty lack the resources to obtain the basic necessities of food, clothing, housing, and health care.

Major props, Team Algeria. Read the original story from the Daily Mail here.

Why Are We Losing Confidence in Our Public Schools? (Infographic)

Only 34% of Americans have faith in our public school system today. That’s less confidence than we have in our police, the medical system, and even the Supreme Court.

Check out this great infographic which shows how we’ve lost faith in public education, and why most people think the system is failing. Click the image to enlarge.

We’re Losing the Ability to See Things In the Long Term. And It’s Slowly Destroying Us

The world we live in today is very much absorbed in the here-and-now.

Modern technology has given us access to a virtually infinite amount of information, and social media allows us to keep up with all the latest news in realtime.

To compensate for this overwhelming amount of information, we’ve drastically reduced our attention spans. Driven by the fear of missing out on some amazing video or juicy piece of gossip, we skip over people who post long statuses and skim over headlines instead of reading full reports.

Twitter based their entire business model off of this phenomenon, creating a service that forces people to express themselves in 140 characters or less. Our unwillingness to to be patient on the internet is causing an increasing number of very real problems.

For one, there’s a shitstorm of questionable or straight up fake content out there that is designed to take advantage of our headline abuse.

The biggest value of the internet is that it gives us access to unprecedented amounts of information. But ironically, our predictability and quick emotions have created a growing industry of misinformation.

The trend is also affecting the so called “reputable” news agencies, which have rapidly degenerated to a point not too far above sleaziest of tabloids. The key word here is sensationalize. It’s so important I’ll give you the full definition (courtesy of my MacBook dictionary):

sensationalize |senˈsā sh ənlˌīz| ; verb: (esp. of a newspaper) present information about (something) in a way that provokes public interest and excitement, at the expense of accuracy

So what are the two best ways to “provoke public interest and excitement” in our society today?

The first is pop culture. There’s an army of paparazzi all across the country just waiting for an athlete, musician, actor or other public figure to do something crazy, or dumb, or funny, or ya know… whatever honestly.

Reality TV has made us obsessed with these people, to the point where many people have to know what’s going on with their favorite celebs all the time. Hell, Samsung even made an entire app just for people to follow around Lebron James, who has a promotion agreement with the company.

The second way to “provoke public interest and excitement” is, unfortunately, anger. This anger is typically fueled by politically-poisoned social issues.

See, politicians have also realized that we’re not willing to put in the time to do any real research into what they’ve actually voted for and against in the past (to be fair, it’s tough for the average working person to keep up with), so their best tactic to get your vote is to get you mad.

First they have to get you mad that their primary opponent isn’t extreme enough in their political views. That’s pretty much how the Tea Party emerged and how Eric Cantor, who was on his way to House Majority Leader, lost to an economics professor from Randolph Macon College (Cantor spent more on steak dinners than Dave Brat did on his entire campaign).

People were mad that Congress has been ineffective and Cantor, who had realized the only way to get things done was to compromise with the Democrats, was blamed for being to weak of a conservative. People were mad that he didn’t “stand up for his ideals”, whatever that means these days.

Eric Cantor, Republican House member from Virginia

Once the primary is won the real fun starts, because the candidates get to make you mad about stuff the things you’re most sensitive about: social issues. Guns, abortion, religion and education, gay people getting married. Most people have very strong views about these things, and these views are almost always closely entwined with our emotions.

Most people don’t vote for someone because they particularly like that candidate, they do it because they dislike or distrust the other guy even more. Get people mad about something that the other guy did some time in the past, and you win yourself votes.

Rather than basing our vote off of candidate’s long-term record, we base it off some random 30-second sound bite. And we wonder why Congress is so ineffective…

The media is complicit in this farce, because they know that discussing the issues that make us emotional will get them more viewers, so the news industry has become political polarized, with the major stations becoming more and more biased one way or the other.

Meanwhile, both parties are quietly screwing us all. Do you remember when we bailed out Wall Street after the housing bubble burst causing the recession in 2008? Well after that happened, legislation was passed letting investment banks know that the government would no longer bail them out for any risky investments they made (like the derivatives which bankrupted so many of them).

Well, late last year, the House of Representatives quietly repealed this provision, allowing banks to move their riskiest assets back into government-insured accounts. A few people reported it, but it went widely unnoticed for the most part.

Why didn’t it spark the outrage it should have? Because legislation, provisions and the general proceedings of Congress are on almost everyone’s filter of things not to read as we fly down our news feeds.

Need another example? How about the USA FREEDOM Act, which was passed by Congress after the Snowden revelations to end the NSA’s practice of mass collection of American’s phone records.

Well at least that’s what we were told it would do. But by the time it actually passed, the legislation was so watered down that it is virtually powerless to stop the mass collection of phone data.

Or how about our entire economic system, which is based off of the constant accumulation of debt?

When central banks set their interest rates super low, everyone borrows and spends a lot of money.

But when everyone realizes that most of the money being spent is money people don’t actually have, the bottom falls out.

That’s what happened in 2008. A piece of legislation designed to give more people access to housing ended up just making it very easy to give out home loans, even to people who banks knew couldn’t afford the payments.

But they gave out the loans anyways. Why? Because the government promised to pay them back for any losses. Banks went crazy giving out these toxic loans, and everyone started buying houses with money they didn’t have, slowly inflating the housing bubble.

Then one day, somebody realized the emperor had no clothes, and the housing bubble burst, dragging the economy down into a recession which screwed the average American pretty hard.

The banks, on the other hand, got bailed out to the tune of $1 trillion. The rich got richer, the poor got poorer. And this was definitely not the first time something like that happened. In fact, just 8 years before the housing bubble burst, we went through a similar downturn when the dotcom bubble burst.

This constant accumulation of debt causes cycles of inflation and deflation, but they happen over a number of years, so most people are unaware of the cycles, preferring to discuss only how  the market has performed in the past few months .

Click to enlarge

The European Union has gotten so desperate to get people to spend money that their central bank recently set the standard interest rate for banks to -0.1% (yes that’s a negative sign), meaning that banks will actually lose money if they try to hold onto their cash instead of loaning it out.

The bottom line is that history repeats itself because we allow ourselves to be so consumed in the present that we forget about the past.

We’re so obsessed with staying “current” that we have blinded ourselves to the long-term trends which are really hurting us the most.

It’s basically a massive societal drug addiction: we opiate ourselves with material things to help us avoid confronting the serious problems that we all face together these days.

Rather than trying to do something about these problems, we get drunk off retail and high off social media, feeding the cancers of our world, rather than treating them.

We need a collective awakening to these issues. Otherwise, one day very soon, we’re going to reach a point when these cancers are no longer treatable, no matter how much we pray for recovery.