Obesity accounts for 6 percent to 10 percent of U.S. health care spending, compared with 2 percent to 3.5 percent in other Western countries. The burden of obesity-related medical costs falls disproportionately on public health care in the U.S., draining resources from public programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Obesity accounted for 27 percent of the growth in real U.S. health care spending between 1987 and 2001.
Friday, February 29, 2008
Thursday, February 28, 2008
In the inaugural issue of Pathways magazine, poverty researcher Rebecca Blank features her priority list of top anti-poverty strategies. Out of her six recommendations, two relate directly to early childhood education and child care; two others address children in some way. According to Blank, many potential solutions for eliminating poverty should be implemented early in life when the chances for making a difference are greatest.
To combat poverty, Blank recommends two hallmarks of early childhood education success: a guaranteed pre-kindergarten program for all four-year-olds from low-income families, and expanded child care subsidies for low-income families.
Blank stresses broadening the EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit) subsidy for individuals not living with children, particularly for fathers of poor children. She writes, “[I]f their lives are more economically stable they will be better able to help raise their children and this will help stabilize the communities in which they live.”
In her most unconventional antipoverty recommendation, Blank encourages the government to work to provide every low-income family with low-cost Internet access so that “children are ready to live and work in an interconnected world.”
Blank’s priority list underscores how early childhood education is not just a schooling or a parenting issue; rather, it could be key to antipoverty efforts. The Public Policy Forum is continuing its multi-year research project focusing on early childhood education policy in the southeast Wisconsin region.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
So what’s the connection? Well, it has to do with one’s assessment of the appropriate federal role in solving economic development problems on the state and local level.
As the Hoffer story notes, “earmark” is a dirty word to many, including the group that authored the report. As a former congressional aide who staffed a member of the House Appropriations Committee, you won’t get an argument from me. My contention, however, is not that providing federal dollars for local projects always is wasteful; rather, it’s that appropriations for such projects should be determined by the project’s ability to meet an objective set of criteria determined by the relevant federal agency, and not by the clout of an individual member of Congress or the lobbying skills of project supporters.
Which brings me back to Katz’s piece. He and Brookings have been at the forefront of a movement that is calling for federal reinvestment in struggling metropolitan areas in recognition of the critical role they will play in enhancing the nation’s economic competitiveness in the global economy. This argument was summarized in a recent op-ed he co-authored in the Chicago Sun Times:
Chicagoland simply does not have the power or resources to achieve meaningful reforms to metro-scale problems such as crushing traffic gridlock and inadequate work force housing on its own. Whether we appreciate it or not, the federal government has a powerful role to play in helping metros address these and other issues -- through smart investments, market-shaping information and environment-strengthening regulation. This potential is not being realized since for too long the federal government has been strangely adrift and unresponsive to the dynamic forces at play in our country.
Wouldn’t it be nice to see federal resources steered toward transportation improvements, affordable housing and other solutions in metropolitan areas whose health directly impacts the national economy, and whose problems cause the biggest drain on federal, state and local social services budgets, as opposed to projects that benefit those legislators who have best mastered the game of congressional earmarks?
Friday, February 22, 2008
Wedding Bells are Tolling Less in Milwaukee: Considering the Implications and Misconceptions Related to Poverty
Milwaukee has marriage on the mind – or, the lack thereof, that is. Two February articles in the Journal Sentinel – a column by Patrick McIlheran and, most recently, a news story, have highlighted declining rates of marriage. The news story describes how, in 1980, there were 8.7 marriages for every 1,000 people state-wide. Today Milwaukee County shows 5.2 marriages per 1,000 people, and Waukesha County is only slightly higher at 5.5 marriages per 1,000 people. McIlheran notes that 58% of Milwaukee’s children live in single parent homes.
Since marriage is associated with a variety of positive outcomes, proponents believe that policy makers should promote marriage as a solution to problems facing low-income children. Programs funded by Bush administration marriage promotion grants aim to increase and support marriage in a way that builds relationship skills, at times with added strategies to increase income. While proponents see a clear link between marriage and poverty, others find little research-based evidence that an absence of marriage is the factor causing child poverty. When it comes to marriage as a policy issue, the “association is not causation” chant from your statistics 101 class has never been more relevant. In considering marriage’s potential association with poverty, it is helpful to consider the following:
- Is it about lack of a ring, or family disruption? Do we want our public policies to encourage children to grow up in households with married people, which may mean step-parents, or do we prefer policies geared toward encouraging situations in which children grow up in households with both of their birth parents, which may mean unmarried cohabitation? Neither scenario necessarily spells success or disaster, but research by Sara McLanahan in The American Prospect in 2002 identified growing up with birth parents as more vital to positive child outcomes. Her research suggests that it is more prudent to consider family disruption rather than the low rates of marriage, and concludes, “What matters for children is not whether their parents are married when they are born, but whether their parents live together while the children are growing up.”
- What about quality? If we are to promote marriage, can we do that in a way that also dissuades people from staying in abusive marriages, and offers strategies to guard against making a bad match in the first place (i.e., programs that might end up advising “Don’t marry this one”)? Researchers Karen Edin and Joanna Reed published a study in The Future of Children in 2005 that found the quality of many (but obviously not all) romantic relationships of low-income people to be of low quality. In their study, low-income people cited domestic abuse, infidelity, and substance abuse as common reasons for break-ups. (The federal Healthy Marriage Initiative stresses that it only promotes healthy, nonabusive marriages.)
- Where’s the economic payoff? Are we fully facing the economic and social barriers to marriage for low-income people that make it more complicated than wanting to get married or valuing the institution of marriage? Edin and Reed agree that it’s not about needing to value marriage. Their research concludes that “disadvantaged men and women highly value marriage but believe they are currently unable to meet the high standards of relationship quality and financial stability they believe are necessary to sustain a marriage and avoid divorce.” Some couples must overcome unemployment or underemployment, criminal records, and complicated blended family structures.
- Association is not causation . . . but it could drain a budget. It may be a good idea to keep marriage promotion programs as one component in a multi-front assault on poverty that also contains more traditional efforts. However, we must do so with our eyes open to the limitations: there is a lack of convincing evidence that growing up in a single-parent home or with unmarried parents causes poverty. On the other hand, there is much evidence proving that other things do cause poverty. Dialogue on this issue should include the question: should our tax money go to promoting something that, when absent, is only associated with, but not necessarily causing, the poverty problem?
While marriage deserves to be on the radar screen when discussing poverty in Milwaukee and surrounding areas, the complex task of marriage promotion is easier said than done. The recent news stories on low marriage rates and the high numbers of single parent homes in Milwaukee underscore the continuing need for a host of community efforts to support healthy and stable families for children.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
My move back to Wisconsin from California in 2001 was largely fueled by my desire to live in Milwaukee - a community that simultaneously embraced the construction of the daring Calatrava addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum and the destruction of the divisive Park East freeway spur. It seemed to me that such forward thinking, risk-taking endeavors surely revealed a city on the brink of an urban renaissance. I moved to a city on its way up.
Now, in 2008, I'm left wondering what will be Milwaukee's next big thing. Of course, I'm under no illusion that it will be a quick fix to our deeply entrenched economic and social woes. But, I do harbor a hopefulness that bold new ideas can fuel a resurgence of civic pride and national attention that can only help our great city.
Bold ideas. We need more of them to sustainably grow the economies of the upper Midwest. In an age where the Midwest's cities have been left to address the gaps left by decades of federal indifference, urban economic development will require bold ideas from visionary public sector leaders at the local level.
What ideas qualify as such? One example is the idea hatched by the City of Atlanta to use tax increment financing (TIF) to fund its ambitious BeltLine project. From the Forum's recent Research Brief:
The City of Atlanta has long been known for its dynamic business environment and explosive growth. Unfortunately, it is also known for sprawl, air pollution, lack of greenspace and traffic congestion. In an effort to address these “quality of life” issues and reassert the region’s competitive position, the City of Atlanta recently approved the creation of a TIF for its “BeltLine” project. The BeltLine is currently the largest redevelopment project in the United States and will encompass 8% of the city’s total land area and generate $1.7 billion dollars in revenue. The project will transform a ring of blighted and underutilized land encircling the city to multi-use trails, parks, transit improvements, affordable workforce housing and Atlanta Public Schools projects. In what promises to be the most ambitious use of TIF in the country, after 25 years the BeltLine TIF will contain over $20 billion of increment value—larger than the sum total of all TIF districts in the state of Wisconsin. Atlanta’s Beltline TIF is not only big, it’s also innovative and is continually cited as a model for transparency and accountability.Let's be clear, a developer didn't walk up to Atlanta's city hall one afternoon and request a $1.7 billion TIF. The BeltLine is a public sector led project at its core.
In Milwaukee, TIF has been used to fund bold public-sector driven initiatives like the construction of the downtown riverwalk, the demolition of the Park East freeway, the clean-up of the Menomonee Valley, and the revitalized 30th St. Industrial Corridor. What other opportunities might there be?
I can think of two:
- A modern transit system—Use TIF to finance station and land development costs associated with transit upgrades (express buses, KRM, high-speed rail)
- Slow employment and income growth—Use TIF to finance growth in emerging regional industry clusters (financial services, water technology, advanced manufacturing) as identified in the M7 Strategic Framework.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
The Public Policy Forum is about to place research and analysis of this issue at the top of its "to do" list, as well. While it is possible that the full-blown crisis can be delayed past 2010, there is grave danger in waiting. For one thing, many of the solutions that have been put on the table so far -- such as a dedicated sales tax or capturing the annual growth in motor vehicle sales tax revenue for transit -- could take years to enact and implement, particularly if referenda are involved.
Friday, February 15, 2008
Tax Increment Financing (TIF) is southeastern Wisconsin’s largest economic development tool. With 176 TIF districts and $8.4 billion in property value, the collective tax base devoted to TIF districts in our region ranks behind only the city of Milwaukee among our region’s largest tax bases.
Despite the impressive scale of TIF in the seven-county area, the tool is used less here than in the rest of the state. Whether that’s due to reluctance or lack of need is unclear. What is clear is that if the region decides that it can become more aggressive with TIF, it has ample capacity to do that. It’s critical that we know where this capacity exists and how best TIF can be deployed to shape the region’s future growth. After all, economic development needs finance.
The use of TIF is growing in our region. There were 56 municipalities using it in southeastern Wisconsin in 2007 - up from 51 in 2000. Today, a quarter of the 56 municipalities are “TIF’d out” - communities that can no longer approve new TIF districts because the value in their existing districts exceeds the state limit.
TIF use in the city of Milwaukee has increased in tandem with the rest of the state and region despite the successful retirement of three large TIF districts in 2006. While the city’s use of the tool continues to trail regional and state averages, Milwaukee has increased TIF expenditures under Mayor Tom Barrett’s administration.
As TIF use increases in Wisconsin, so too will the public’s scrutiny of this popular development tool. Municipalities in our region could benefit from implementing the following “best practices” aimed at ensuring the strategic, accountable, and efficient use of TIF:
- Use TIF to build community partnerships - More can be done to educate and engage the public during the TIF approval process.
- Establish developer need, not want - Strong due diligence of incoming TIF proposals is needed to ensure their efficient use.
- Align TIF use with community goals - Municipalities should use TIF to fulfill goals within an economic development plan.
- Monitor and report TIF performance - The accomplishments (and failures) of the region’s 174 TIF districts should be readily available to the public.
- Use TIF to compete globally - TIF could play a central role in strengthening the region’s competitive position.
Much work is needed to ensure the strategic, accountable, and efficient use of TIF in our region, but if we can learn to better use TIF can we also learn to use it more often?
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
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Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Wisconsin’s working poor face “disincentives” at certain income levels due to the tax structure and the phase-out of federal and state benefits. A single parent of two moving from an income of $17,000 to $18,000 experiences a marginal tax rate of 190% due to loss of food stamps and reduced tax credits.
Almost half (45 percent) of black children whose parents were solidly middle class end up falling to the bottom of the income distribution, compared to only 16 percent of white children. Achieving middle-income status does not appear to protect black children from future economic adversity the same way it protects white children.
Friday, February 8, 2008
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
The Forum's tenth annual census of private schools participating in the school choice program is released today. Our analysis finds that the results of the 2006 legislation lifting the enrollment cap in exchange for greater accountability are not as expected. Lifting the cap allowed enrollment to grow 16% in the first year, but that growth moderated to only 7% the following year. Meanwhile, the effect of the requirement that schools become accredited is moderated by the inclusion of several atypical organizations on the list of allowable accrediting agencies. Fifty-six schools, enrolling 42% of all voucher students, get their accreditation from agencies that were not in the accrediting business before the statute was passed and were affiliated with private schools prior to becoming accrediting bodies.
Other key findings include:
*Turnover among schools--10 schools joined the program and 11 schools left the program.
*Demand for private options by public school students--Of the 1,282 new voucher users, at least 44% appear to already be enrolled in private school.
*Teaching staff diversity compared to diversity of students--Of the 38 schools with 100% minority students, 28 have teaching staffs comprised of more than 75% minority teachers.
*Demand by grade level--In Kindergarten, there is one voucher user for every three MPS students, in high school there is less than one voucher user for every five MPS students.
*High school dropouts--On the aggregate, voucher users appear to stay enrolled in high school at a higher rate than MPS students.
Click here for a poster-sized directory of all private schools participating in the voucher program.