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Falling Behind in NC

If you work hard and play by the rules, you deserve a chance to get ahead. This is why the Earned Income Tax Credit was invented: to help families with low-paying jobs make ends meet.

Unfortunately, North Carolina is the first state in 30 years to eliminate its Earned Income Tax Credit. This move abandoned a bunch of our neighbors, people with stories like Kara’s:

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There is no more stark illustration of why tax policy matters. With NC job growth coming primarily in low-wage industries, we’re going to need the Earned Income Tax Credit — and other measures that work for working people — more than ever.

 

Women and the Economy

Today, in Washington DC, hundreds of business leaders, workers, moms and advocates from around the country will be discussing what needs to change to make work something that works for our 21st century families at the White House Summit on Working Families (you can live-stream it from the link.)

It’s the first time a conversation like this has happened at such a high level. And thanks in large part to Women AdvaNCe, North Carolina will have a strong, loud voice at the meeting.

We’re expecting the Tar Heel delegation to be 28 strong. Women AdvaNCe has been working in targeted counties to bring the conversations about pay equity, paid earned sick leave and the need for stronger family support and worker protections. Now they are going to tell Washington what they think.  Twenty-three women from six different counties—from Alamance, Durham, Guilford, Orange, Wake, and Robeson counties—will be providing feedback on these issues and more in Washington. Another five of us will be attending through MomsRising, the North Carolina Families Care coalition and the NC Justice Center.

“The number of women in today’s U.S. workforce has grown to 47%, and many women serve as both their family’s breadwinner and primary caregiver,” said Mary Swann Parry, Director of Advocacy at Women AdvaNCe.  “Today’s families need workplace flexibility with supports like paid sick and family leave, so that parents don’t have to choose between staying home with a sick child or going to work so that they can afford to buy groceries. It’s about economic stability.”

Lack of paid sick and family leave also hurts business, according to Durham’s Laura Helms Reece, CEO at Rho, Inc. “It is not financially smart to lose people to bad policies,” she said. “It is more expensive to hire someone else than to offer current employees those sick days.”

Reece participated in a recent round table discussion led by Women AdvaNCe in preparation of the D.C. Summit, where working women and business leaders gathered to discuss how NC businesses and policymakers can help close the leadership gap for women in North Carolina.

Expect to hear a lot more about the need for workplace policies that make good business sense and that don’t force parents to choose between putting food on the table and letting a sick child recuperate at home with mom. Local laws are being passed around the country to provide this basic protection.

 

Not only is Women AdvaNCe planning a local summit on September 26 related to these issues of equity, but they and others like Working America and MomsRising are working in coalitions like NC Women Matter, NC Women United, and North Carolina Families Care to raise our voices so families aren’t forced into impossible choices.

 

Poverty and Policy Matters

In 20 states, undocumented students that graduate from an in-state high school can go to college for in-state tuition. Studies show that these states are reaping serious economic benefits — and a new report shows why it’s time for North Carolina to join them.

Given the demographic and economic changes driving the state’s need for an educated workforce, tuition equity is a cost-effective way to make sure North Carolina isn’t left behind. The report, released today by the Budget & Tax Center, does a great job of presenting the facts and dispelling myths. 

According to Alexandra Sirota, director of the Budget & Tax Center and one of the report’s authors, we need tuition equity to prepare our state’s workforce for the jobs of the future.

“Tuition equity is an important tool for furthering the state’s goal of increasing the education of its residents and ensuring that the workforce is ready for the jobs of the future,” Sirota said. “By lowering the cost barrier to college for undocumented students, North Carolina will come out ahead, with minimal costs and strong economic benefits.”

Read the whole news release here, and the report here.

Poverty and Policy Matters

We use tools to fix things. Just like you’d use literal tools to improve your house, we all use metaphorical tools to improve our lives.

Money is a tool. You would expect a fabulously wealthy technology executive turned venture capitalist to understand this. You might not expect said one-percenter to shout it from a media platform. That’s just what Chamath Palihapitiya has done, though, in this fascinating story about his journey from welfare to wealth.

Two pieces of this story fascinate me. First, Palihapitiya is explicit about the role that affordable health care and subsidized university tuition played in his ability to succeed. Without these tools, his family would have been worried about basic survival, not figuring out how to contribute to the technologies of the future.

The second piece is related: without these vital public investments, how would brilliant but disadvantaged individuals like Palihapitiya find their way to success? With the odds already stacked against them, how would today’s poor but bright future entrepreneurs make it happen?

“I’m acutely aware that there are many other people who grew up like me who are frankly, 1,000 times more talented then I am,” he said. “We should ask ourselves, ‘Can somebody like me grow up with the exact same problems and disadvantages and yet get to the equivalent place as me 20 years from now?'”

It’s in everyone’s best interests to get kids growing up today — many of whom with the same potential — access to economic security and a high quality education. Personally, I think that’s a human rights issue.

If you don’t, perhaps you will consider the issue of human capital: to have brilliant children with unlimited potential struggling even to survive, with limited access to any upward mobility, is a tragic waste of human capital.

As Steven Jay Gould once put it: “I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.”

Right now the next Einstein or the next Chamath Palihapitiya may be working in, to name one example, North Carolina’s tobacco fields. I would like to believe that we, as a community, will find a way to give that person some tools and a chance.

Because, really, that’s all that person would need.

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An American hero has died.

It’s not often I’ll post here about someone not based in North Carolina. But Billy Frank Jr. was a titan of a man whose life deserves wide celebration and remembrance. If you knew Billy, then you know why. If you weren’t aware of his life and work, I’d like to take a few minutes to explain.

Where I come from out West, the treaties Indian tribes signed with the United States government were largely made in peace. In exchange for all of the land that now makes up western Washington, 2.2 million acres, tribes like Billy’s Nisqually tribe signed agreements with Gov. Isaac Stevens to preserve their way of life.

It was a pretty sweet deal for the settlers: they got rich, fertile land upon which they could prosper. All the tribes really wanted: to keep fishing and hunting, feeding their families and preserving a culture that had been around since time immemorial. By signing these treaties, the tribes were codifying those rights into law: Article 6, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution says that treaties are the “supreme law of the land,” on a par with the constitution itself.

But soon, those rights were violated by settlers who wanted to take all the fish and game for themselves, and by state governments who were less than interested in honoring treaty commitments.

What the Pacific Northwest needed was a leader with the passion, charisma and guts to stand up for what was right. Luckily, it had Billy.

The Martin Luther King of Northwest coast native rights was arrested more than 50 times during the so-called “fish wars” of the 60s and 70s for acts of civil disobedience. He was beaten, shot at, slandered and spit on, but he never let it embitter him.

Billy was larger than life, too. A gregarious, friendly man with the firm handshake of a lifelong fisherman, you always knew he was in the room and were always glad of it. It says something that, though he was in his 80s, his passing has stunned many of us. Billy Frank Sr. lived to be 104. I assumed we’d have Billy around for another decade or two, at least. Even his political opponents largely loved Billy, and those that didn’t had to respect him.

Billy was one of the reasons I went to work for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, an organization he chaired for more than 30 years. Besides his passion for treaty rights, Billy understood as few do that healthy fish runs require paying close attention to ecological preservation.

Without habitat, fish and elk have no way to sustain themselves — and neither do we. Billy was a leader with vision who always saw the big picture. He saw the connections between social justice for communities of color and environmental protection. He was passionate about building a better future for native youth — and for everyone.

Up until his last days, Billy was working to make sure that his kids, and yours, and theirs, and theirs — and however many “theirs” you want to attach on the end — would have a healthy planet that would support wild salmon. He was working to protect the sacred commitments that in turn protect the communities he loved.

If you care about the U.S. Constitution, you should care about Billy Frank. If you’re concerned with honoring oaths and the dignity of keeping your word, you should be glad he lived. If you fight for social justice in any capacity, you had a fellow traveler. If you’re concerned about the fate of the planet we’re leaving to our children, you owe him a debt.

And if you have a beating heart in your chest, as God is my witness, you would have loved him.