In the 2012 election, minorities turned out in droves to vote for progressive Democrats. But have progressive policies really served to benefit minorities?
In the field of education, the answer is a resounding no. Progressives have long opposed school choice. In 2009, Obama and other Democrats killed a program which gave low-income Washington, D.C. students money for private-school tuition, leaving only existing scholarship recipients to continue. Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan actually rescinded 216 scholarships. Imagine how those parents and students felt when they received word from the Department of Education.
In 2011, Republicans in Congress introduced a bill re-authorizing the program. The White House opposed the bill because it expanded private-school voucher programs. They argued that the “private school vouchers were not an effective way to improve student achievement.”
It seems the Obama administration didn’t bother to read its own Education Department’s study which found “a positive and statistically significant impact on the average reading test scores of the students in the study,” while performing on par with public-school students in math. The voucher students graduated at a rate of 91%, more than 20 points higher than those who sought a voucher but either didn’t get one or didn’t enroll in the program after being accepted.
The voucher schools achieved these outcomes with an average tuition of $6,620, versus $26,555 in the District of Columbia ’s public schools. Despite the whopping per-pupil tab, the public schools are graduating just 53% of their students, with just 15% of eighth graders proficient in reading and math according to national testing.
The Obama administration did ultimately relent in 2011, when the program was re-authorized, but its budget proposals for 2012 and 2013 eliminated the funding for new enrollees, demonstrating the president's continued opposition. Behind the scenes, the Education Department has been throwing up road blocks to further enrollment in the program. As a result, only 319 scholarships were offered in 2012, despite demand for many more.
While Democrats opposed the D.C. voucher program which was proven to work, they strongly support Head Start, which has cost billions and been shown to have no appreciable benefit. A study from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reveals that Head Start failed to improve cognitive abilities, access to health care, and parenting practices of participants. To make matters worse, the study found some negative impacts on enrolled children, including worse peer relations and lower teacher-assessed math ability. Remarkably, HHS completed collecting data in 2008, and printed their findings in a report dated October 2012. They didn’t release the publication until the Friday before Christmas, when it was most likely to be overlooked by the masses. Not to worry, though — poor results haven’t deterred Democrats from continuing their support for the failed program.
Democrats also strongly support increased subsidization of higher education, in the form of grants and loans. From 2000 to 2010, federal student lending went from $42 billion to $96 billion annually, and Pell grants increased from $9 billion to $28 billion. Between 1987 and 2009, per capita state spending on higher education increased by 31% in real terms. In turn, colleges and universities have increased their tuition rates dramatically. The money is diverted to “low-demand majors, low faculty teaching loads, excess compensation, and featherbedding.” Many colleges and universities look more like four-star resorts than institutions of higher learning, with luxurious amenities and accommodations. In the end, the subsidization of higher education has made college less affordable for everyone, including low-income students and minorities.
Minorities have been particularly harmed by progressives’ unquenchable thirst for ever more regulation. Most of these regulations are sold to the public as being helpful to minorities, yet the outcome is generally something very different. For instance, studies have shown that minimum wage laws have a particularly negative impact on young black males. Rent control efforts have also plagued minorities for years, reducing the quantity and quality of homes. Even left-leaning economists like Paul Krugman recognize the folly of rent control. Of course, not all minorities are harmed by rent control. Representative Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) held four adjacent rent-stabilized apartments. He used one as an office. Former New York Governor David Paterson also leased a rent-controlled apartment.
Regulations increase the cost of starting a business, thus making it more difficult for the poor to become entrepreneurs. They can’t afford the high priced attorneys and accountants necessary to clear the regulatory hurdles, not to mention the fees and taxes. In New York City, the regulatory burden imposed by progressives has grown so heavy that it now takes up to 65 days to simply open up a lemonade stand.
Progressives build up barriers to entry to protect their political allies. This is now playing out on the streets of Washington, D.C. The city’s taxicab industry is dominated by independent drivers, operating their own vehicles. But not for long if Democrats running the City Council have their way. They are seeking to pass a law limiting the number of new taxicab licenses. The net result will be a huge increase in the cost of these permits. In New York City, a taxicab medallion, which must be affixed to every vehicle, costs about $750,000.
Erecting barriers to entry is nothing new for progressives. The Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, widely supported by progressives, requires private contractors to pay “prevailing wages” to employees on all construction projects receiving more than $2,000 in federal funding. The law was passed to prevent non-unionized black and immigrant laborers from competing with unionized white workers. Studies have demonstrated that repeal of Davis-Bacon would increase minority wages in the construction industry.
Progressives often cite their support for the “War on Poverty” as evidence that they are working to help minorities. The “war” was declared in 1964, and has been about as successful as the “War on Drugs.” Since 1964, we have spent nearly $15 trillion on anti-poverty programs, and are now spending nearly $1 trillion per year. This amounts to $20,610 for every poor person in America, or $61,830 per poor family of three. Despite all of this spending, the poverty rate has been essentially flat since 1964. Remarkably, the poverty rate was falling precipitously before 1964.
The results are in: Four decades of overwhelming support for progressives at the ballot box has yielded little in the way of results for minorities. In fact, most of the measures supported by progressives have caused far more harm than good.