Tapped: The Prospect Group Blog

Why Doesn’t South Carolina Care About Climate Change?

Democrats in South Carolina do not prioritize climate change as much as Democratic voters in other 2020 primary and caucus states do, according to a new survey published by the Environmental Defense Action Fund.

And three major hurricanes since 2016 and several devastating floods apparently have not convinced Palmetto State progressives either, much less Democrats who tend to be more conservative than their counterparts in other early primary states.

An overwhelming majority of Democrats in New Hampshire, Nevada, California, and Iowa (80 percent and higher) say they are “more likely to support candidates who back the Green New Deal and favor 100 percent clean energy sources by 2050.” In South Carolina, that figure is slightly lower.  

Meanwhile, Iowa, the other Republican state in the survey, has the highest percentage of voters (at 88 percent for the Green New Deal and 87 percent for clean energy by 2050) who are likely to prioritize climate change as the presidential campaign season progresses.

South Carolinians do not deny the reality of climate change: Only 3 percent of the state’s voters deny its existence, according to a poll published by Winthrop College in December. Rather, South Carolinians don’t believe climate change is a major priority. They like to imagine that the crisis doesn’t affect them and that the state hasn’t experienced any of the consequences yet.

But South Carolina is on the front lines of the climate crisis. A Climate Central study found that floods that used to happen once every 100 years now happen every 11 years, the number of days with dangerously high temperatures is increasing, and mosquitoes are multiplying faster and spreading diseases for more than half the year—the biggest increase since the 1980s. Sea-level rise is higher than the global average.

Even though these developments might be hard to detect, there devastating effects of climate change are everywhere in South Carolina. Historic floods have ruined agricultural fields and roads, destroyed homes, and killed loved ones.  

So why isn’t everyone on board with mitigating climate change? Perhaps because people worry about other issues more. Southerners overall care more about immigration, with political corruption and racism rounding out the top three key issues for the region, according to a December survey by Winthrop College. Environmental policies do not even make the list. Climate change is also low on the list of national public policy priorities: A January Pew Research Center survey found that climate is near the bottom of key issues for Americans, as it has been for nearly a decade, along with global trade and improving transportation.

Democrats Stand to Benefit as More Young Republicans Embrace Progressive Values

The Pew Research Center released a survey in January highlighting the left-leaning values of Generation Z. While most of Gen Z has yet to reach voting age, its members are now 13-to-21 years old, those who identify as Republican hold more progressive values than Republican millennials, Generation Xers, Baby Boomers, or the Silent Generation. If these trends hold, they could presage a broader disillusionment with a GOP in thrall with its right wing. A Democratic Party that actively embraces its progressive youth would be well-situated to make inroads with this group.

Generation Z and millennials share common perspectives, and both generations are more progressive than their elders. Both generations hold negative views of President Donald Trump's job performance, believe that government should be more involved in problem solving, and think that racial and ethnic diversity is good for society. 

Overall, Generation Z has little enthusiasm for Trump’s tenure in office. Only 30 percent of them approve of his job performance, compared to 29 percent of millennials, 38 percent of Gen Xers, 43 percent of boomers, and 54 percent of the Silent Generation. Although Trump remains very popular among older Republicans, a smaller majority of Gen Zers support him. 

Younger generations have more positive views of the role of government: 53 percent of Generation Z respondents believe that ordinary citizens can do a lot to influence the government in Washington. Gen Z Republicans share this optimism: They are much more likely than older generations to believe that government should work to solve problems. Most older Republicans responded that the government does too much; problem-solving, they feel, should be left to businesses and individuals. 

Gen Z is even closing the partisan gap on divisive issues like race, immigration, gender, and climate. Generation Z Republicans are notably more aware of social inequities compared to previous generations: 43 percent of Gen Z Republicans surveyed believe that African Americans are treated less fairly than whites compared to 30 percent of millennials. Roughly 20 percent of Gen Xers, boomers and silent Republicans believe that blacks are treated unfairly. 

Of the Gen Z Republicans surveyed, 41 percent believe that application forms should include gender options besides just male or female while only 27 percent of millennial, 17 percent of Generation X, and 16 percent of both boomers and silent generation Republicans do.

And on climate, only 18 percent of young Republicans attribute the Earth’s warming to natural patterns rather than human influences; while 30 percent of millennials, 36 percent of Gen Xers, 42 percent of boomers, and 41 percent of silent generation Republicans do.

It’s hard to know whether this leftward tilt will persist as Generation Z Republicans reach voting age, but it’s a trend that bears watching. If the GOP continues to stoke fears about immigration and racial and ethnic diversity; downplay the importance of gender; and sow doubt about climate change, the Democratic Party’s progressive values may be much more appealing.

How Unpaid Internships Reinforce the Racial Wealth Gap

When discussing racism in the United States, few statistics are more revealing than the racial wealth gap. According to the Economic Policy Institute, median household wealth for white families is 12 times higher than that of black families. This disparity makes it much harder for black households to weather crises like unemployment or medical emergencies, or to invest in the future. And while there are many drivers of this gap, often neglected is the role of unpaid internships, which have grown steadily more pervasive in recent years.   

Between 500,000 and one million Americans intern for free every year, including as many as half of all graduating college seniors. And with good reason: Studies show that internship experience enhances marketability in the job search, with 60 percent of employers expressing preference for hiring applicants with internships on their resume according to one survey. Some 90 percent of employers say students should have one or two internships before they graduate.

Exploitation in these programs is rife and under the Trump administration, it’s only gotten worse. Early last year, the Labor Department rolled out new guidelines for unpaid internships, thereby making it easier for companies to employ workers without paying them. And unlike traditional workers, unpaid interns are not covered by Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Civil Rights Act. In fact, outside of Oregon, New York City, and Washington, D.C., they’re not protected against sexual harassment in the workplace. 

Even so, internships have increasingly become a critical gatekeeper in many growing industries, one that often shuts out low-income and minority applicants. A 2016 report from Intern Bridge, an internship research and consulting firm, found that women were 77 percent more likely to be engaged in an unpaid internship than men. Another report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that students in majoring in more diverse fields like journalism, fashion merchandising, and human development were more likely to apply for unpaid internships than students in majors dominated by white males, such as business, engineering, and computer science.

Lacking significant household wealth, families of color in particular often struggle to ensure their child doesn’t go into debt for college or working an unpaid internship. As a result, these students leave school with a less comprehensive resume than their peers who were able to take various internships throughout college.

One area where this barrier is at least beginning to erode is Congress, where unpaid internships have long been pervasive—on both side of the aisle. A 2017 report from my organization, Pay Our Interns, found that only 8 percent of Republican House representatives and 3 percent of Democratic reps actually pay their interns. Last year, the House and Senate passed spending bills that included intern pay for the first time. Yet even with this protection, NPR reports that many members of Congress have been slow to advertise internships with pay, instead waiting for federal guidelines to appear on using the new appropriations. And away from Capitol Hill, unpaid internships remain commonplace in government at the federal, state, and local level. 

Experts have identified increasing incomes of black people as one of the critical ways to narrow the wealth gap. While addressing income disparities, it’s essential that we simultaneously address the current inequitable structure that students use to build experience. Unpaid internships only further opportunities for those who can afford to take them, while leaving those who can’t behind. Dismantling the unpaid internships structure is just one of the multiple steps that need to be taken to accomplish racial and economic equality and one that the federal government should play.

No student should be forced to take out a loan to intern at the White House. Internships are the backbone of successful careers; they provide students with the foundation for a successful career in their respective industry. Unpaid opportunities essentially block a subset of students from applying and weaken their starting salary outcomes after graduation.

African American and Hispanic Unemployment Rates Continue High

There have been nationwide improvements in job prospects for African American and Hispanic workers, but unemployment rates remain high compared to white workers in states across the country. 

The Economic Policy Institute’s research shows that 12 states and the District of Columbia have a black unemployment rate at least twice the white unemployment rate: The highest African American unemployment rate in the country was in the District at 12.4 percent. (For whites in the city, it was 2 percent.) The District of Columbia also had the highest black unemployment rate during the previous eight quarters.

The highest African American unemployment rate was in Illinois at 9.3 percent, followed by Louisiana, 8.5 percent; Alabama, 7.1 percent; and New York, 7 percent. (African American unemployment rate estimates are available for 22 states and the District of Columbia.)

Where are the lowest unemployment rates for African Americans? Massachusetts and Virginia, both at 3.8 percent.

Nebraska had the highest Hispanic state unemployment rate at 5.9 percent. Connecticut came up next with a 5.7 percent rate. Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Washington state all had rates of 5.6 percent. The Hispanic unemployment rate was lower than the rates for whites in two states: In Colorado, Hispanic workers unemployment rate was 2.3 percent, and the rate for white workers, 2.9 percent; while in Georgia, Hispanic workers’ unemployment rate was slightly lower than whites, at 2.8 percent compared to 3 percent for white workers. (Hispanic unemployment rate estimates are available for 24 states and the District of Columbia.)

West Virginia has the highest unemployment rate for whites at 5 percent; the lowest is Hawaii’s 1.2 percent.  

In September, the national unemployment rate was 3.7 percent, down from 4 percent at the end of the second quarter of 2018. Nationally in the third quarter of 2018, African American workers had the highest unemployment rate, at 6.3 percent, followed by Hispanics, 4.5 percent; whites, 3.2 percent; and Asians, 3 percent.


Climate Change Heats Up Midterms for Gubernatorial Candidates

Climate change has forced candidates for governor in several states to confront growing voter anxiety about the issue in their final debates.

In the wake of Hurricane Michael and toxic algae blooms, Florida’s gubernatorial candidates Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum continue to spar over climate in one of the country’s most high-profile contests. In their last matchup, Gillum faced scrutiny for his promise to hold those who are the biggest polluters accountable, even though he is good friends with Sean Pittman, who lobbies on behalf of Florida Crystals, one of the largest sugar companies in the state and a major polluter.

Gillum responded by pointing out that he has been endorsed by almost every major environmental organization. The mayor of Tallahassee also noted that the same day Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement, the city broke ground on a 120-acre solar farm that tripled the amount of energy produced by the municipal utility. DeSantis chimed in that he didn’t want to be labeled as an “alarmist” when it came to climate change, and that he’s there for those affected by Hurricane Michael. (DeSantis has often expressed skepticism about climate change on the campaign trail.)

Fracking is a major concern in Colorado where Democrat Jared Polis and Republican Walker Stapleton discussed the different possibilities for drilling locations. Proximity to buildings has become a major issue: One ballot initiative, Proposition 112 , would require drilling to take place a minimum of 2,500 feet away from occupied structures, water sources, and other vulnerable places. Asked what he thought was a reasonable distance for drilling near homes, Stapleton danced around the question. Pressed to answer, he replied “exactly where it is now,” which is 500 feet from an occupied building or 1,000 feet from high-occupancy buildings. 

Polis said that he does not support 112, because it would be too divisive, and “all but ban fracking in Colorado.” However, in 2014, he supported legislation that would include a 2,000-foot setback inclusive with property rights for the owner to negotiate different setbacks with drilling companies.

In Michigan, Republican Bill Schuette and Democrat Gretchen Whitmer faced tough questions in their final debate about how they would respond to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that sounded warnings about increasing temperatures and whether they believed that the 14 governors across the country who’ve decided to independently work toward the goals of the Paris Agreement that Trump abandoned were right to do so.

Whitmer said she would bring Michigan into the bipartisan U.S. Climate Alliance of governors until a president is elected who will rejoin the Paris climate accords. Schuette said he believes climate change is real and that the earth is getting warmer, but other countries need to be involved too, not just the United States. (A jaw-dropping statement: There are big holdouts like Russia, but most countries have agreed to the pact.)

According to polling done by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, about 70 percent of adults believe global warming is happening, and 57 percent believe global warming is caused by humans. But an October 15 Pew Research Center poll found that Democratic voters are much more worried than Republicans: 72 percent of Democrats believe that climate change is a “very big” problem compared with just 11 percent of Republicans.

Tree of Life Vigils Assert Unity in the Face of Hate

(Miho Watabe)

On Tuesday, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, a nationwide movement of progressive Jews, led a vigil in front of the White House in the wake of the October 27 massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue that left 11 dead. The action, along with similar vigils coordinated across the country, mourned the shooting’s victims while also protesting President Donald Trump’s silence on the rising wave of white supremacy.

In an open letter, Bend the Arc leaders in Pittsburgh declared that Trump was not welcome in the city until he publicly condemned white nationalism and ceased attacks on vulnerable communities. Trump ignored their statement, visiting Tuesday amid mass protest.

“Solidarity is important,” Cari Shane, a D.C. resident, told me as we stood in front of the White House. “We have more power and more strength as people who do not believe in hate.” Ahead of us, families attempted to capture the president’s residence in selfies, seemingly unaware of the intimate gathering taking shape only a few feet away.

Totaling about 50 people, what the service lacked in numbers it made up for in diversity. Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block, the Washington director of Bend the Arc, was the first to address the crowd, speaking on the importance of togetherness before reading out the names of the victims of the Tree of Life shooting.

Among the organizations that came out to show support were United We Dream, Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), the Arab American Institute, and Jews United for Justice. In a show of multicultural and interfaith unity, spokespersons from each organization spoke of uniting communities and building solidarity to fight the rise of hate.

Omar Baddar, who attended the vigil with the Arab American Institute, told The American Prospect that coalition-building across communities was important now, more than ever. “This is a common fight for everybody who cares about the diversity of this country,” said Baddar. “It’s crucial to the soul of the country.”

Kelsey Herbert decided to come out after an organization she belongs to, Faith in Public Life, promoted the vigil. “It’s critical as a Christian that I stand with Jewish people and immigrant students,” Herbert told the Prospect.

“I don’t think it’s so political or radical to say, ‘Don’t promote white nationalism,’” Rabbi Kimelman-Block told The American Prospect, after pointing out how Republicans continued to air ads that played up anti-Semitism over the weekend.

This vigil was only the latest, as similar multicultural and interfaith actions take place across the country. Shane told the Prospect that she attended a vigil in the D.C. neighborhood of Cleveland Park that was so packed they had to hold a second vigil outside. “It was all about hate,” said Shane, “and how hate needs to stop.”

(Miho Watabe)

China Keeps Displacing U.S. Jobs. Where's Trump?

Here is today’s must read: the definitive piece on just how much Chinese abuses of the trading system are costing U.S. workers. 

Economists Robert E. Scott and Zane Mokhiber, in the most exhaustive study yet of the costs of the lopsided U.S.-China trade, report in an Economic Policy Institute study that since China was admitted to the World Trade Organization in 2001, U.S. trade with China has been responsible for a $100 billion increase in the annual trade deficit—and the loss of 3.4 million U.S. jobs. 

Three-quarters of the lost jobs were in manufacturing, a sector that pays well above the average wage. All this translates to a direct loss of 1.5 percent of GDP. Manufacturing job losses due to the China trade deficit account for roughly four out of five U.S. manufacturing jobs lost in this entire period.

Jobs displaced by imports from China paid 17 percent more than jobs exporting to China—$1,021.66 per week versus $872.89 per week. This flatly contradicts Bill Clinton’s projection that letting China into the WTO would be a “win-win” for both nations.

Even advanced tech jobs, supposedly a big winner for the U.S., are actually dominated by China, EPI reports. The growing trade deficits reduced U.S. incomes by $37 billion between 2001 and 2011 alone, and more since.

None of this was the result of China’s natural advantages. The trade imbalance and the lost U.S. jobs are the result of China’s suppression of free unions and wages, its industrial subsidies, and its currency manipulations, the EPI study finds.

Where is our self-proclaimed “nationalist” president in all this? China is a much bigger deal than NAFTA and a far more serious threat. 

The U.S. has immense leverage, as the lopsided deficit shows, because we are China’s biggest customer. Yet Trump’s China policy has been mainly bluster plus scattershot tariffs that add up to no strategic approach. 

A lot of blue-collar workers voted for this guy. They and we deserve a lot better. 

Climate Change Report Calls for Immediate Action

In early October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) got the world’s attention with a new report, outlining what may happen if the Earth heats up just a few degrees. Every passing year of inaction jeopardizes life on the planet. For the IPCC that means that keeping temperature increases in check is key to slowing down the ravages of climate change.

The main goal of the Paris Agreement, the treaty designed to foster an international consensus on combating climate change, is to keep global temperatures from rising any more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Human-induced global warming is no longer an “if.” The more ambitious goal is to keep future increases under 1.5 degrees Celsius since that small increase means the impacts of global warming on land, water, and humans will be much worse as temperatures continue to increase. In 2017, the Earth had already experienced a 1-degree Celsius increase above pre-industrial levels.

The process, which slowly accelerated during the Industrial Revolution, leading to increases in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, has contributed to warmer ocean water temperatures. Marine aquaculture and fisheries are already suffering as a result of the carbon dioxide that the ocean has absorbed, resulting in ocean acidification.

At this pace, the Earth will become 1.5 degrees warmer between the years 2030 and 2052. In order to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, carbon dioxide levels need to decline by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030 to reach “net zero,” when carbon dioxide emissions are non-existent or balanced out by other natural factors, such as forest carbon sinks (places in the natural environment where more carbon is stored than released).

Warmer water temperatures and acidification inhibit shell development in shrimp, oysters, corals, and some species of zooplankton—the base of the marine food chain. Some ocean species such as bass, salmon, and shad will relocate to cooler waters earlier in the year to beat the heat.

But some species like kelp and coral, which can’t migrate, will die out. Additionally, as ocean temperatures increase and the seas rise in places like the Arctic, there is a chance that those waters will be free of ice one out of every 100 summers. (If temperature increases reach 2 degrees Celsius, the chances increase to one out of every ten summers.)

Risks to health, food security, water supplies, and economic growth are projected to increase. If adaptation and mitigation efforts do not come into play in the meantime, human mortality rates from climate events like heat waves will rise. Indigenous people, the poor, and people who depend on agriculture and coastal livelihoods like fishing or tourism also will be affected.

In order to keep temperatures in check, the IPCC proposes governments work together immediately and quickly. Some regions have already implemented plans to lower greenhouse gases, but those are still not enough.

There is no definitive way to keep warming increases below 1.5 degrees Celsius, but shifting to renewable energy sources; making diet changes, such as moving away from land-intensive animal meat production; utilizing green infrastructure, such as green roofs; and implementing smart urban planning strategies could help. It’s going to take a lot of international effort to control global warming—and it’s going to need to happen quickly.

Trump and the Political Hysteria of Rural Life

Just for a moment, let’s ponder President Trump’s claim that the caravan of 5,000 Hondurans embarked on an epochal walk to the United States contains “unknown Middle Easterners” and other presumably would-be terrorists.

There is, of course, no factual basis for Trump’s claim. Even as a hypothetical, though, it doesn’t make sense. Terrorist wannabes should want to slip across our borders undetected. Coming in a caravan of 5,000, subjected to the relentless eye of the media, doesn’t seem the way to do that. Should the caravan actually make it to the border, it will definitely be detected and then some—its members all locked up and investigated, if not sent back to Honduras immediately.

But then, Trump isn’t particularly concerned with the accuracy of his characterizations, or even the plausibility of his hypotheticals. He has Fox News and his fellow Republicans to bolster his charges by sheer dint of repetitions and variations on his theme. Newt Gingrich, for one, has termed the march an “invasion.”

With the Kavanaugh passions fading, the Republicans have decided to crank up this xenophobic echo chamber as the best way to turn out their base come Election Day. If that’s what it takes to get their targeted voters—insulated from facts, drenched in Goebbelsesque fake news, disproportionately white, elderly, and rural—to go to the polls in sufficient numbers, so be it.

And this strategy is hardly peculiar to American Republicans. The electoral divide in nations too numerous to quickly count now runs along the same lines. On Sunday, Poles went to the polls to elect their local governments, and while urban Poles soundly defeated candidates from the nation’s virulently xenophobic and increasingly authoritarian ruling party, rural Poles conferred victory after victory on such candidates in one small town after another.

Marx famously bemoaned “the idiocy of rural life,” while counting on the urban proletariat to wage socialist revolutions. In the period in which he wrote, however, most proletarians had only recently relocated from farms to factory towns and cities, a transformation with which he was fully acquainted. He didn’t write or mean, therefore, that people in rural areas were themselves idiots; he meant that the conditions of rural life—in which workers were dispersed and didn’t come together as workers in factories were compelled to do—weren’t conducive to building class consciousness.

Today, the distinctive political consciousness of white rural and small town life in many nations appears to have less to do with Marxian class consciousness or the absence thereof, and more to do with a sense of cultural, racial, religious, and (only then) economic distance from, apprehension about, and anger toward increasingly diverse and cosmopolitan cities. It’s about those residents’ perception that they’ve been dropped from their once honored place in their respective national narratives, replaced—worse yet—by other races with other religions and other values.

Such sensibilities may or may not emerge spontaneously, but to rise to the level of electoral majorities, they need to be whipped up. Right-wing parties and media do all they can to increase their potential voters’ sense of victimization, of being cast aside, of being imperiled by alien hordes, helping foster a collective consciousness more successfully than Marxian proletarianization ever did. West Virginia, the state that gave Trump his biggest margin in 2016, has virtually no foreign-born residents; in such a state, it takes a media echo-system and ecosystem to create a sufficiently intense and widespread fear of immigrants and cosmopolitanism. There is no idiocy of rural life; increasingly, there is, if properly stoked, a distinctive hysteria.

Diversity Triumphs as Women Candidates Gain Ground in 2018

Not only are record numbers of women running for office across the country, the 2018 list of candidates is markedly more diverse than in previous elections.

According a new report released by the Reflective Democracy Campaign, an offshoot project of the nonprofit Women Donors Network, it’s the closest that the party has gotten to genuinely reflecting the country’s demographics. For first time since 2012, less than half of Democratic candidates are white men.

Since 2012, the number of women of color have shown a remarkable 75 percent increase in both state and federal races. The group analyzed the demographics for state and federal elections from 2012 through 2018.

Reflective Democracy Campaign

This development is nothing to brush off: The Democratic Party made serious strides in getting women and minorities on the ticket. The numbers of women candidates increased across party lines, but Democratic women candidates had the largest increase, 46 percent.

White women candidates saw the second largest gains, with a 36 percent increase in their numbers for federal contests and 14 percent in state legislative races. Minority men candidates also increased their ranks by 13 percent in state legislative races and 8 percent in races for Congress. White male candidates, on the other hand, declined by 12 percent in state legislative and 13 percent in congressional races.

Reflective Democracy Campaign

While these trends are exciting, they also underline the enduring legacy of white male domination of American political institutions. A 75 percent increase in women candidates of color sounds like a game-changer, but the lack of women of color to begin with makes this shift much less impressive than it would otherwise be. Compared to other groups in the study, women of color are still underrepresented, making up only 7 percent of candidates in both federal and state races. 

Meanwhile, white men are still overrepresented. Despite being the only group to experience a decrease, white men make up well over half of all candidates in the midterm elections. 

This data point is underscored in gubernatorial races. White male Republican candidates predominate those contests and there has been little change in candidate diversity. 

It’s also important to remember that getting on the ballot isn’t the same thing as winning a seat. From 2012 to 2016, white men won about two-thirds of all elected offices year after year, despite comprising only one-third of the population. 

In the wake of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court and the chaos unleashed by President Trump, the report sounds an encouraging note for women and progressives. Getting more diverse candidates on the ballot is the first step toward opening up the decision-making ranks in our democracy.