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Backgrounder — Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Updated August 8, 2014)

August 22, 2014 Comments off

Backgrounder — Islamic State in Iraq and Syria
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a predominantly Sunni jihadist group, seeks to sow civil unrest in Iraq and the Levant with the aim of establishing a caliphate—a single, transnational Islamic state based on sharia. The group emerged in the ashes of the U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and the insurgency that followed provided it with fertile ground to wage a guerrilla war against coalition forces and their domestic allies.

After a U.S. counterterrorism campaign and Sunni efforts to maintain local security in what was known as the Tribal Awakening, AQI violence diminished from its peak in 2006–2007. But since the withdrawal of U.S. forces in late 2011, the group has increased attacks on mainly Shiite targets in what is seen as an attempt to reignite conflict between Iraq’s Sunni minority and the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Burgeoning violence in 2013 left nearly eight thousand civilians dead, making it Iraq’s bloodiest year since 2008, according to the United Nations. Meanwhile, in 2012 the group adopted its new moniker, ISIS (sometimes translated as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL) as an expression of its broadened ambitions as its fighters have crossed into neighboring Syria to challenge both the Assad regime and secular and Islamist opposition groups there. By June 2014, the group’s fighters had routed the Iraqi military in the major cities of Fallujah and Mosul and established territorial control and administrative structures on both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border.

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CRS — Guatemala: Political, Security, and Socio-Economic Conditions and U.S. Relations (August 7, 2014)

August 22, 2014 Comments off

Guatemala: Political, Security, and Socio-Economic Conditions and U.S. Relations (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. State Department Foreign Press Center)

Since the 1980s, Guatemala, the most populous country in Central America with a population of 15.5 million, has continued its transition from centuries of mostly autocratic rule toward representative government. A democratic constitution was adopted in 1985, and a democratically elected government was inaugurated in 1986. A violent 36-year civil war ended in 1996.

This report provides an overview of Guatemala’s current political and economic conditions, relations with the United States, and several issues likely to figure in future decisions by Congress and the Administration regarding Guatemala. With respect to continued cooperation and foreign assistance, these issues include security and governance; protection of human rights and human rights conditions on some U.S. military aid to Guatemala; support for the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala; combating narcotics trafficking and organized crime; trade relations; intercountry adoption; and unaccompanied children at the U.S. border.

A survey of public opinion about connected vehicles in the U.S., the U.K., and Australia

August 22, 2014 Comments off

A survey of public opinion about connected vehicles in the U.S., the U.K., and Australia
Source: University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute

This survey examined public opinion regarding connected-vehicle technology across three major English-speaking countries—the U.S., the U.K., and Australia. The survey yielded useable responses from 1,596 persons over the age of 18. The main results were as follows:

  • The majority of respondents had not previously heard of connected-vehicle technology; however, most had a positive initial opinion of the technology.
  • The majority felt that the expected benefits presented in the survey are likely to occur.
  • Respondents generally expressed a high level of concern regarding the security and performance issues presented in the survey.
  • The majority of those surveyed stated that safety was the most important benefit of connected vehicles.
  • Most individuals said that it is important for personal communication devices to integrate with connected vehicles, as well as for such vehicles to have Internet connectivity.
  • The majority of respondents expressed a desire to have this technology in their vehicle.
  • Willingness to pay for connected-vehicle technology was very similar across the three countries.

The main implications of these results are that the general public in the three countries surveyed feel positive about connected vehicles, have optimistic expectations of the benefits (while still maintaining some concerns), and generally appear ready and willing to embrace connected-vehicle technology when it becomes available.

Cost Containment in the WIC Program: Vendor Peer Groups and Reimbursement Rates

August 21, 2014 Comments off

Cost Containment in the WIC Program: Vendor Peer Groups and Reimbursement Rates
Source: USDA Economic Research Service

This study looks at current WIC cost containment strategies in an effort to make them more effective, enabling the program to serve more participants with its fixed budget resources.

Gap Between Higher- and Lower-Wealth Households Widens, Census Bureau Reports

August 21, 2014 Comments off

Gap Between Higher- and Lower-Wealth Households Widens, Census Bureau Reports
Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Median net worth increased between 2000 and 2011 for households in the top two quintiles of the net worth distribution (the wealthiest 40 percent), while declining for those in the lower three quintiles (the bottom 60 percent), according to new statistics released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. The result was a widening wealth gap between those at the top and those in the middle and bottom of the net worth distribution. Each quintile represents 20 percent, or one-fifth, of all households.

The 2014 KIDS COUNT Data Book

August 21, 2014 Comments off

The 2014 KIDS COUNT Data Book
Source: Annie E. Casey Foundation

The KIDS COUNT Data Book is an annual publication that assesses child well-being nationally and across the 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Using an index of 16 indicators, the 2014 report ranks states on overall child well-being and in four domains: (1) economic well-being, (2) education, (3) health, and (4) family and community. For 2014, the three highest-ranked states for child well-being were Massachusetts, Vermont and Iowa; the three lowest-ranked were Nevada, New Mexico and Mississippi. The report also provides national trends, comparing the latest data with mid-decade statistics.

The 2014 Data Book is the 25th edition of the Casey Foundation’s signature publication. As such, the report also examines trends in child well-being since 1990, the year of the first report. It highlights positive policies and practices that have improved child health and development and features stories from several states on advocacy efforts that have improved outcomes for kids and families.

City Replanning

August 21, 2014 Comments off

City Replanning
Source: Social Science Research Network

In this paper we provide a new defense for one of the most criticized ideas in land use law, that city plans should constitute settled deals about the proper uses of land that should be sticky against subsequent zoning amendments. In the middle of the last century, several prominent scholars argued that courts should find zoning amendments that were contrary to city plans ultra vires. But this idea was largely rejected by courts and scholars alike, with leading figures like Carol Rose, Robert Nelson and Bill Fischel arguing that parcel-specific zoning amendments provide space for the give-and-take of democracy and lead to the efficient amount of development by encouraging negotiations between developers and residents over externalities from new building projects. Their case against plans and in favor of deals suggested that zoning authorities act either as arbiters in land use disputes or as agents for existing residents to encourage negotiated solutions.

We argue, by contrast, that the dismissal of plans was shortsighted and has helped contribute to the excessive strictness of zoning in our richest and most productive cities and regions, which has driven up housing prices excessively and produced outcomes that are economically inefficient and distributively unattractive. In contrast with both planning’s critics and supporters, we argue that plans and comprehensive remappings are best understood as deals. Plans and remappings facilitate trades between city councilmembers who understand the need for new development but refuse to have their neighborhoods be dumping grounds for all new construction. Further, by setting forth what can be constructed as of right, plans reduce the information costs borne by purchasers of land and developers, broadening the market for new construction. We argue that land use law should embrace a version of plans as a procedural tool that packages together policies and sets of zoning changes in a number of neighborhoods simultaneously through procedures that make such packages difficult to unwind.

We conclude by arguing that modern property law scholarship has failed to recognize that real property law is now substantially a public law subject and should be studied using the tools of public law. Leading scholars, most notably Tom Merrill and Henry Smith, have developed sophisticated tools for analyzing the ways in which the common law of property is designed to reduce information costs, which we employ here. But the field has ignored the fact that the common law of property is far less important than it once was as a method for regulating real property ownership and use. Legislatures and administrative agencies at a variety of levels determine most of the rules governing how real property is used and purchased. In order to understand how today’s property law increases or reduces the information costs facing owners, users, potential purchasers and third-parties to property, the field must make an “institutional turn,” studying the likely effects on policy of different institutional arrangements and procedures.

Labor Force Characteristics by Race and Ethnicity, 2013

August 21, 2014 Comments off

Labor Force Characteristics by Race and Ethnicity, 2013 (PDF)
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

In 2013, the overall unemployment rate for the United States was 7.4 percent; however, the rate varied across race and ethnicity groups. The rates were highest for Blacks (13.1 percent) and for American Indians and Alaska Natives (12.8 percent) and lowest for Asians (5.2 percent) and for Whites (6.5 percent). The jobless rate was 9.1 percent for Hispanics, 10.2 percent for Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders, and 11.0 percent for people of Two or More Races.

Labor market differences among the race and ethnicity groups are associated with many factors, not all of which are measurable. These factors include variations across the groups in educational attainment; the occupations and industries in which the groups work; the geographic areas of the country in which the groups are concentrated, including whether they tend to reside in urban or rural settings; and the degree of discrimination encountered in the workplace.

It’s the Family, Stupid? Not Quite…How Traditional Gender Roles Do Not Affect Women’s Political Ambition

August 21, 2014 Comments off

It’s the Family, Stupid? Not Quite…How Traditional Gender Roles Do Not Affect Women’s Political Ambition
Source: Brookings Institution

Following Chelsea Clinton’s pregnancy announcement in April of 2014, media outlets speculated whether the future grandchild to Hillary Clinton would impact her potential presidential campaign in 2016. In this research paper, Jennifer Lawless addresses the question of whether family roles and responsibilities affect a potential candidate’s political career. Lawless analyzes both female and male candidates and finds that traditional roles and responsibilities have little influence on candidates’ decision to run for office.

Lawless conducted a study that examined the relationship between family arrangements and political ambition, looking specifically at whether being married, having children and having other household responsibilities affects the desire to run for office. She found that none of these variables had significant impact on candidacy considerations. While women’s numeric under-representation in politics is glaring, regardless of the level of office studied and the gender gap in political ambition among potential candidates is as large now as it was a decade ago, Lawless concludes that none of these disparities are influenced by family roles.

The Role of the Informal Economy in Addressing Urban Food Insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa

August 20, 2014 Comments off

The Role of the Informal Economy in Addressing Urban Food Insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa
Source: Centre for International Governance Innovation

Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is facing high rates of urbanization and increasing food insecurity. The informal food economy addresses food insecurity by providing access to affordable food and significant employment opportunities to the urban poor in the SSA. The authors of the latest installment of the Junior Fellows Policy Brief Series state that different policy approaches need to be taken into account to address the diverse needs of the informal food economy, including the needs of “survivalist” traders, larger constrained enterprises and female vendors. They recommend that there should be a targeted social protection scheme for survivalists in the informal economy; informal-sector policies should consider the structural barriers women face in the informal sector; budgets for municipal governments should be increased; and government officials should consider policies to create an enabling environment for informal-sector enterprises facing constraints to growth.

Analysis of Kindergartners Shows Wide Differences in School Readiness Skills

August 20, 2014 Comments off

Analysis of Kindergartners Shows Wide Differences in School Readiness Skills
Source: Mathematica Policy Research (Sesame Workshop)

New research shows there is still a strong relationship between socio-economic factors and how well American children fare when entering kindergarten. In fact, a new study finds 44 percent of children enter kindergarten with one or more risk factors based on their home environment. These risk factors are incrementally associated with lower school readiness scores for children than for those with no such circumstances. Despite an increase in programs to level the playing field by giving disadvantaged children opportunities for preschool education, these gaps persist.

The analysis examined four risk factors that have been shown to affect children’s development and school achievement: single parent households, mothers with less than a high school education, households with incomes below the federal poverty line, and non-English speaking households. High-risk children (those with all four risk factors) were found to be almost a year behind their peers with no risk factors in their reading and math abilities.

The researchers also created composite readiness scores based on teacher ratings of children’s academic and social skills. Based on the researchers’ calculation, less than one-third of children were rated by teachers as “in-progress” or better on both reading and math skills.

Puerto Rican Population Declines on Island, Grows on U.S. Mainland

August 20, 2014 Comments off

Puerto Rican Population Declines on Island, Grows on U.S. Mainland
Source: Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project

Puerto Ricans have left the financially troubled island for the U.S. mainland this decade in their largest numbers since the Great Migration after World War II, citing job-related reasons above all others.

U.S. Census Bureau data show that 144,000 more people left the island for the mainland than the other way around from mid-2010 to 2013, a larger gap between emigrants and migrants than during the entire decades of the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s. This escalated loss of migrants fueled the island’s first sustained population decline in its history as a U.S. territory, even as the stateside Puerto Rican population grew briskly.

The search for economic opportunity is the most commonly given explanation for moving by island-born Puerto Ricans who relocated to the mainland from 2006 to 2013, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.1 A plurality (42%) gave job-related reasons for moving stateside, compared with 38% who gave family-related reasons. Among all immigrants from foreign countries who migrated over the same time period, a similar share gave job-related reasons (41%), while 29% said they migrated for family reasons. Mexican-b0rn immigrants were even more likely to cite job-related reasons (62%), while 25% cited family reasons.

What if You Earned a Diploma and Delayed Parenthood? Intergenerational Simulations of Delayed Childbearing and Increased Education

August 20, 2014 Comments off

What if You Earned a Diploma and Delayed Parenthood? Intergenerational Simulations of Delayed Childbearing and Increased Education
Source: Child Trends

This brief reports the results of using the Social Genome Model to provide a better understanding of how delaying childbearing and improving the educational attainment of teen mothers in one generation can be linked to the improved economic well-being of their children. This brief specifically reports results from “What if” simulations, in which teen mothers’ age at their first birth was increased by two or five years and in which the mothers earn a high school diploma. The implications of these changes on the life of the mothers’ children are estimated through childhood and up to age 29.

Economic Characteristics of Households in the United States: 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Quarters 2012

August 20, 2014 Comments off

Economic Characteristics of Households in the United States: 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Quarters 2012
Source: U.S. Census Bureau

This collection of seven tables for each quarter comes from the Survey of Income and Program Participation. The tables that examine the role of government-sponsored benefit programs and the labor market among the nation’s people and households within the economic climate of each quarter of 2012. Specifically, the tables present statistics on average monthly income, participation in government-sponsored social welfare or social insurance programs, and labor force activity during each period.

The Rules of Implicit Evaluation by Race, Religion, and Age

August 20, 2014 Comments off

The Rules of Implicit Evaluation by Race, Religion, and Age
Source: Psychological Science

The social world is stratified. Social hierarchies are known but often disavowed as anachronisms or unjust. Nonetheless, hierarchies may persist in social memory. In three studies (total N > 200,000), we found evidence of social hierarchies in implicit evaluation by race, religion, and age. Participants implicitly evaluated their own racial group most positively and the remaining racial groups in accordance with the following hierarchy: Whites > Asians > Blacks > Hispanics. Similarly, participants implicitly evaluated their own religion most positively and the remaining religions in accordance with the following hierarchy: Christianity > Judaism > Hinduism or Buddhism > Islam. In a final study, participants of all ages implicitly evaluated age groups following this rule: children > young adults > middle-age adults > older adults. These results suggest that the rules of social evaluation are pervasively embedded in culture and mind.

Parental child abduction within the EU

August 20, 2014 Comments off

Parental child abduction within the EU
Source: European Parliamentary Research Service

The separation of parents is always a complicated and sensitive issue for the ex-partners and the child(ren). Citizens recurrently turn to the European Parliament asking for help in cases of alleged discrimination on grounds of nationality regarding parental authority or in cases of possible parental child abduction.

The number of bi-national marriages in the EU is constantly growing. When such a marriage breaks down the ex-partners often decide to return to their respective country of origin. If a couple has a child the situation can become very complicated. Frequently, once parents have separated, the parent who does not have custody of the child(ren) abducts them or refuses to send them back following an access visit. Another scenario is even more common: children are removed or retained by their primary carer, but without the permission of the other parent. This is in breach of the legal rights of the other parent and often leads to court proceedings.

Parents Projected to Spend $245,340 to Raise a Child Born in 2013, According to USDA Report

August 20, 2014 Comments off

Parents Projected to Spend $245,340 to Raise a Child Born in 2013, According to USDA Report (PDF)
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its annual report, Expenditures on Children and Families, also known as the Cost of Raising a Child. The report shows that a middle – income family with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend about $245,340 ($304,480 adjusted for projected inflation * ) for food, housing, childcare and education, and other child – rearing expenses up to age 18. Costs associated with pregnancy or expenses occurred after age 18, such as higher education, are not included.

While t his represents an overall 1.8 p ercent increase from 2012, the percent ages spent on each expenditure category remain the same . As in the past, the costs by location are lower in the urban South ($230,610) and rural ($193,590) regions of the country. Families in t he urban Northeast incurred the highest costs to raise a child ($282,480).

Interactive Map: Where Can Renters Afford to Own?

August 19, 2014 Comments off

Interactive Map: Where Can Renters Afford to Own?
Source: Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University

Homebuyer affordability remains near an all-time high, so where are all the first-time homebuyers? According to indexes that incorporate gross measures of house prices, interest rates, and household incomes, affordability remains at unprecedented levels. The National Association of Realtors® index, for instance, shows that the median-income household can afford to buy a home in all but 7 percent of the largest metros. Given that affordability looks good on paper, the lack of first-time homebuyers in all metros has been surprising. In 2013, first-time homebuyers made up 38 percent of home purchases, below the historical average of 40 percent, dating back to 1981. The most recent American Housing Survey shows that 3.3 million households were first-time buyers in 2009-2011, a 22 percent drop from the 2001 survey, which covered 1999-2001. This decline in first-time buyers comes in spite of real mortgage payments for the median home that remain below $800 (levels unprecedented before the recession) and a 7 percentage point decline in the mortgage payment-to-income ratio since 2001.

Historically, the majority of first-time buyers are households aged 25-34. Looking at renters in this age group, most would find the monthly costs of homeownership affordable in many metros across the country. Indeed, in 42 of the 85 metros studied, more than half of renters can afford the monthly costs of homeownership. Nearly 30 percent of the 25-34 year old renters in our sample lived in these affordable metros. Only in six metros, concentrated almost exclusively in California, are renter incomes so low compared to house prices that less than 30 percent of renters aged 25-34 can afford the costs of owning.

So why, given that so many metros are affordable to potential 25-34 year old first-time buyers, has the first-time buyer share remained low? Many demographic and economic forces are constraining the transition to homeownership for renters in their 20s and 30s.

Reasons for Emergency Room Use Among U.S. Children: National Health Interview Survey, 2012

August 19, 2014 Comments off

Reasons for Emergency Room Use Among U.S. Children: National Health Interview Survey, 2012
Source: National Center for Health Statistics

Key findings
Data from the National Health Interview Survey, 2012

  • In 2012, children with Medicaid coverage were more likely than uninsured children and those with private coverage to have visited the emergency room (ER) at least once in the past year.
  • About 75% of children’s most recent visits to an ER in the past 12 months took place at night or on a weekend, regardless of health insurance coverage status.
  • The seriousness of the medical problem was less likely to be the reason that children with Medicaid visited the ER at their most recent visit compared with children with private insurance.
  • Among children whose most recent visit to the ER was for reasons other than the seriousness of the medical problem, the majority visited the ER because the doctor’s office was not open.

New Policy Makes It Easier for Community Eligibility Schools to Participate in E-Rate Program

August 19, 2014 Comments off

New Policy Makes It Easier for Community Eligibility Schools to Participate in E-Rate Program
Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

A new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) policy will make it easier for school districts adopting the Community Eligibility Provision — through which they can serve meals at no charge to all students — to apply for discounted telecommunications services and Internet access through the E-rate program. The new E-rate policy streamlines the discount calculation process for community eligibility schools so that they do not face any additional burdens relative to other schools.

The Community Eligibility Provision, a relatively new option within the federal school meal programs, eliminates school meal applications. Schools are eligible to adopt the Community Eligibility Provision based on the share of their students who are low-income, as assessed by other programs. Schools that adopt community eligibility must serve all meals at no charge. Community eligibility has been implemented a few states at a time over the past three years and is available nationwide for the 2014-2015 school year.

Since community eligibility schools do not determine which individual children are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, the E-rate program has developed ways for them to calculate their E-rate discount level. For school years 2011-2012 through 2014-2015, the FCC (which sets E-rate policy) directed community eligibility schools to continue using the share of students approved for free or reduced-price meals in the year prior to implementing community eligibility for purposes of determining their E-rate discount. Schools with 75 percent or more of their students approved for free or reduced-price meals receive a 90 percent discount; most schools that adopt community eligibility likely fall into this category.

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