Friday, January 28, 2022

It Is Always About Redistributing Income

1/28/22 Inside Higher Education:

Scott Myers-Lipton, a professor of sociology at San José State University, was dismayed to hear the same stories from his students semester after semester: students were routinely struggling financially; some were sleeping in their cars, “scared out of their minds” about their safety. Others were even spending nights in the campus library or the student union building.

When he co-authored the 2020 Silicon Valley Pain Index, an annual report on wealth and racial inequalities in the surrounding area, he found more than 4,000 students at the university experienced homelessness in the year prior to the survey. Half of the students surveyed reported eating smaller portions or skipping meals altogether because they couldn’t afford food costs.

Myers-Lipton and William Armaline, co-author of the report and director of the university’s Human Rights Institute, decided something had to be done. They turned to local, state, and federal lawmakers for help. The researchers set up a call with California state senator Dave Cortese, whose district includes San José.

“We said, ‘Here are the numbers. What ideas do you have to address the crisis around inequality … and racialized wealth inequality, income inequality?’” Myers-Lipton said.

Myers-Lipton didn’t expect the outcome of that September Zoom call—an idea by Cortese to conduct a pilot program to support low-income students by giving them monthly state assistance payments of $500. The program is modeled on universal basic income programs that have grown in popularity over the last five years and are used by municipalities and other government entities as a tool to reduce persistent poverty and economic inequality. 

Now, once upon a time, I was a college student in deep financial trouble.  But I also know that if you pay people to be poor college students, you will get more poor college students.  During the 2008-2012 housing bubble crisis, my wife and I saw students who were there to get their FAFSA checks or student loans and disappeared shortly thereafter.  

It was a hard time. Jobs were scarce and not well paid.  Jobs are not scarce now, and even fast food is paying $15/hour around here.  Ten hours a week is about $600 per month, and ten hours a week almost any college student should be able to fit into even a full load of easy classes such as calculus, organic chemistry and freshman physics.

The goal is to get students used to the dole so they cannot imagine self-sufficiency.

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