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Being in the Minority Can Cost You and Your Company
July 24, 2013 7:06 AM   Subscribe

The racial wage gap in the United States — the gap in salary between whites and blacks with similar levels of education and experience — is shaped by geography, according to new social science research.

"The average racial gap [in wages] in metropolitan areas of around 1 million people — and you can think of a place like Tulsa, Okla. — is about 20 percent smaller than the gap in the nation's largest metro areas of Chicago, L.A. and New York," Ananat says. Ananat's research suggests that the racial gap is not directly the result of prejudice or, at least, prejudice conventionally defined. Rather, it has to do with patterns of social interactions that are shaped by race — and a phenomenon that economists call spillovers.
posted by DynamiteToast (80 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
As expected, the abstract is understated compared to the NPR story:

"These findings are consistent with the possibility that blacks, and black-majority firms, receive lower returns to agglomeration because such returns operate within race, and blacks have fewer same-race peers and fewer highly-educated same-race peers at work from whom to enjoy spillovers than do whites. Data on self-reported social networks in the General Social Survey provide further evidence consistent with this mechanism, showing that blacks feel less close to whites than do whites, even when they work exclusively with whites. We conclude that social distance between blacks and whites preventing shared benefits from agglomeration is a significant contributor to overall black-white wage disparities."
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:13 AM on July 24, 2013


MisantropicPainforest: “As expected, the abstract is understated compared to the NPR story...”

"More technically stated" and "understated" are not the same thing.
posted by koeselitz at 7:16 AM on July 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


(Which is to say: there is, as far as I can tell, absolutely no sense in which the NPR piece overstates the abstract's claims.)
posted by koeselitz at 7:17 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Every time there is a social science article & news story FPP, someone inevitably comes in and says, 'well have you thought about X'? or 'this doesn't prove anything!'

My goal is to show that no one is talking about proving anything, as these findings 'are consistent with' the conclusion, not 'dispositive'.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:26 AM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm just not sure I buy that this has nothing to do with prejudice. The makeup of people's social circles often has to do with prejudice.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:27 AM on July 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't think the researchers or NPR are claiming that this 'has nothing to do with prejudice.'

Ananat's research suggests that the racial gap is not directly the result of prejudice or, at least, prejudice conventionally defined.

posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:31 AM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


These results would seem to jibe pretty well with the big study on social mobility we were discussing the other day.

I'm just not sure I buy that this has nothing to do with prejudice.


I don't think the claim is really "this has nothing to do with prejudice" so much as "prejudice interacts with these other, geographical, factors in ways which are far more complex than a simple 'white folks hate black folks and don't want to hire them or pay them properly' model would suggest."
posted by yoink at 7:31 AM on July 24, 2013 [11 favorites]


I'm just not sure I buy that this has nothing to do with prejudice. The makeup of people's social circles often has to do with prejudice.

The thing is that these structural issues can operate independently of individual level prejudice. In much the same way someone who competes in a race can lose if they are required to start half an hour after the others (or say several centuries) dispute none of the individuals cheating.

We can all be perfect now and there will still be injustice because black people in the U.S. have to compete with people who have an inheritance of several hundred years of cheating even if the current people themselves are not cheaters.
posted by srboisvert at 7:36 AM on July 24, 2013 [14 favorites]


This is quoting Prof. Ananat from the study:

"People of the same race are much more likely to have conversations where they share ideas," she says. "The fact is you just talk more about everything with people who you feel more comfortable with than with people you feel less comfortable with. And we know that one of the big predictors of who you feel comfortable with is whether you are of the same ethnicity."
It's not because of racism that social groups at the company are segregated... it's just about feeling comfortable.
Obviously, in the real world, social encounters are not totally segregated and other factors — including out-and-out prejudice — could play a role. But what seems to be happening, Ananat says, is that minority groups often miss out on the valuable tips and mentoring that make these ecosystems so productive and profitable.
It's possible that this is because of racism... but that's unpossible.


I get the message.
posted by ennui.bz at 7:39 AM on July 24, 2013


I heard this on the radio this morning--I like that the takeaway is to hire people who are good code-switchers and encourage people to make social connections with people from different groups.
posted by box at 7:59 AM on July 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


So if you went back 100 years you could say these Italians and Jews aren't doing as well because lack of spillovers and lower returns to agglomeration, which are a result of these different ethnicities naturally not feeling as comfortable socializing with white people and vice-a-versa. It's nothing to do with prejudice.
posted by crayz at 8:09 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Nothing to do with prejudice" -- but everything to do with (structural) racism.
posted by edheil at 8:23 AM on July 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


It's possible that this is because of racism... but that's unpossible.

ennui.bz, as in the other thread that you link to, you're rather desperately looking for a "there is no racism in the United States!" message where none is being presented. Do you really think that racism is lower in small US cities than in large US cities? And yet the study finds that racial wage gaps are much greater in large US cities than in small US cities. If the driving force behind that was simply "I don't want to pay black people as much as I want to pay white people because grrrrr, I'm an evil racist who hates black people!" (which would seem to be your favored hypothesis) then one would expect the wage gap to be larger in small cities where a relatively smaller black population would be more easily excluded from the workforce.

Yes, obviously, racism (historic and structural) plays a very large part in the social practices of in-group clustering that the study is describing, but what is interesting about the study is that you get these effects of disparate earning capacities without any significantly higher personal racial animus on the part of employers or others making hiring decisions. That's a really, really important finding (if further studies bear it out) because it tells you about what kinds of strategies might usefully tackle the problem. In other words, if you think "what we need to do is to educate employers" or "we need to ensure fair hiring practices" or what have you then--if this study is correct--you really won't be addressing the root cause of the disparities, because it's not simply personal racial prejudices on the part of those making hiring decisions that are at play (in other words, if you took all the HR people from the small cities and swapped with the HR people from the large cities you wouldn't suddenly see the racial wage gap narrow in the large cities and widen in the small cities).

So studies like this are really, really important if you actually give a damn about fixing these problems rather than just being reaffirmed in your righteous anger about what is causing them.
posted by yoink at 8:46 AM on July 24, 2013 [20 favorites]


So if you went back 100 years you could say these Italians and Jews aren't doing as well because lack of spillovers and lower returns to agglomeration, which are a result of these different ethnicities naturally not feeling as comfortable socializing with white people and vice-a-versa. It's nothing to do with prejudice.

Yeah, because black people are recent migrants to the US? That is the assumption that makes your analogy work.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:52 AM on July 24, 2013


I'm reminded of similar information now well known that one way things like the glass ceiling are maintained is because a lot of informal information is passed along during events that women aren't invited to (golf outings, etc). To me this smells of prejudice, whether or not it isn't the conventional way many conceive of it. It strikes me as learning about overt vs covert.

So studies like this are really, really important if you actually give a damn about fixing these problems

Indeed. And I have yet to get through all 28 pages, but my initial thoughts are that information sharing needs to take place at work, not behind the scenes. Not at the bar. Not during golf outings. Not when you've invited a couple of people from work over to your house to grill up burgers.

Thought this was interesting:
"Most relevant to the central question of this paper is the following: while black employees of otherwise all-white firms report being 0.7 (nonsignificant) points closer to whites than do blacks employed in all-nonwhite firms, they are still significantly less close to whites than are whites—even whites employed in all-nonwhite firms (who are 1.3 points closer to whites than are blacks in all-nonwhite firms). These results are suggestive (although they cannot be conclusive) that African-Americans fail to access white social networks to the extent that whites do, even when the African-American in question works in an all-white firm."
posted by cashman at 8:58 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


my initial thoughts are that information sharing needs to take place at work, not behind the scenes. Not at the bar. Not during golf outings. Not when you've invited a couple of people from work over to your house to grill up burgers.

The problem is that such informal sharing is so inevitable that even when legal & ethical concerns demand that it not happen (as in Sunshine Laws and insider trading regs), people socialize and share information with other people they like (and "like" can be very loosely defined here) because that's what people do.

Years ago when I covered school board meetings, the board members had to go look at a potential school site. A few board members from the far-flung reaches of the county wanted to ride together because of the ludicrous distances involved. They ended up asking me to go with them, just so they couldn't inadvertently discuss public business in private, and probably only then because I had already heard them decide to ride together.

Even when you know what's the right thing to do, and you want to do it, it's hard. Imagine if you *don't* have a mandate against informal networking.
posted by toodleydoodley at 9:09 AM on July 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


my initial thoughts are that information sharing needs to take place at work, not behind the scenes. Not at the bar. Not during golf outings. Not when you've invited a couple of people from work over to your house to grill up burgers.

Except that that's a rule that's almost certainly impossible to enforce. Even with the best will in the world it would be impossible to live by it. Because the study isn't talking about "information" in the sense solely of obviously work-related stuff like "we are announcing a new training program for people who wish to move into management positions." They'll be talking about, for example, the kind of thing that someone might ask on AskMe about strategies they might use to make themselves more attractive to potential employers. I'll bet you Metafilter's demographics skew whiter than the US overall, actually, so that's a salient example of the kind of "intra-racial" exchange of information that preserves and reinforces historical advantages without any deliberate intent to exclude those who simply do not happen to be part of that conversation.
posted by yoink at 9:11 AM on July 24, 2013 [10 favorites]


That's a great story, toodleydoodley. And both you and yoink have a good initial point that it won't be easy to solve the problem. But it isn't insolvable.

What solutions would either of you offer up?
posted by cashman at 9:18 AM on July 24, 2013


What solutions would either of you offer up?

I don't see any easy ones. I think one of the implications of both this study and the one on social mobility, however, is that everything than can be done to promote mixed socio-economic and racial neighborhoods should be done. A lot of that work is in the hands of city councils which are actually pretty responsive to local citizen activism, so it seems like a realistic target for political action. Obviously there are also broader, national, policy issues involving the curbing the insane economic inequalities of the current system that are important, but one of the really telling messages of both of these studies is just how local many of these poverty-trap effects are.

Within workplaces the implications of this study would seem to be that mechanisms need to be put in place to encourage cross-racial (and cross other group identity) informal exchanges. This is easy to pronounce as a desirable principle but hard to envision in practice in any way that wouldn't come across as patronizing or forced. Still, I imagine one might be able to come up with various kinds of subtly coercive strategies that would encourage socialization across conventional group-identification boundaries.
posted by yoink at 9:36 AM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Within workplaces the implications of this study would seem to be that mechanisms need to be put in place to encourage cross-racial (and cross other group identity) informal exchanges. This is easy to pronounce as a desirable principle but hard to envision in practice in any way that wouldn't come across as patronizing or forced. Still, I imagine one might be able to come up with various kinds of subtly coercive strategies that would encourage socialization across conventional group-identification boundaries.

I think this is the easiest (or most practical) thing that might help. Since the wage gap is actually due to the minorities being less skilled (since they get less spillover), it makes sense that it's in the interest of companies to hire people who are diverse and better at being "code switchers" as the article says, so that they'll experience spillover and become better employees.
posted by DynamiteToast at 9:43 AM on July 24, 2013


My solution would be to change the world. In 1971, Nixon vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have provided free preschool for everyone. I would undo that injustice and I would mega-expand Head Start and Early Head Start to include everyone regardless of financial need.

In my experience as a teacher and schools reporter, all but the very top minority students are starting kindergarten less school-ready than whites in general, just because of what their family networks don't know and what (lesser) early education options are open to them. As a result, when bright minority students get to college, more of them end up in remedial classes and frequently have to down-adjust expectations in the ambitiousness of their major.

While I'm being king for a day here, obviously I'd fix school funding to be pooled and redistributed statewide (at the minimum), instead of mostly local, because duh. And who really thinks 18-22-25/1 are appropriate class sizes? Obviously nobody who sends their kids to private school. I'd also keep & expand Affirmative Action programs everywhere, because AFAIK, I'm still enjoying the historic Affirmative Action for White People program, and that's not ok either.

White families of middle income and above (well, and a lot of tradespeople) have the expectation of bringing family members into their professional network because everyone in the family has more or less the same educational and social opportunities. My husband & I can't do that with our family, because we pretty much got our education & status through a unique set of circumstances, relative to everyone else in the family. Better universal education should mean more stabilization of preparation to meet opportunities.
posted by toodleydoodley at 9:47 AM on July 24, 2013 [8 favorites]


My solution would be to change the world.

Tackle the low-hanging fruit first, eh?
posted by yoink at 10:04 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


No sense going about things piecemeal.
posted by toodleydoodley at 10:18 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd fix school funding to be pooled and redistributed statewide (at the minimum), instead of mostly local, because duh.

This is the worst crime perpetrated against school districts.
posted by desjardins at 10:24 AM on July 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Do you really think that racism is lower in small US cities than in large US cities? And yet the study finds that racial wage gaps are much greater in large US cities than in small US cities. If the driving force behind that was simply "I don't want to pay black people as much as I want to pay white people because grrrrr, I'm an evil racist who hates black people!" (which would seem to be your favored hypothesis) then one would expect the wage gap to be larger in small cities where a relatively smaller black population would be more easily excluded from the workforce.

I suspect (though I can't find any proof this morning) that there might be more social integration in small and medium size cities than big cities. This would be an interesting factor to integrate into the study; if true it would support its conclusions.
posted by kanewai at 10:38 AM on July 24, 2013


This reminds me of an old Atlantic article about using Conway's Game of Life to model segregation: here.

Seeing those illustrations and playing around with CGoL myself a little bit was one of the first big lightbulbs I had for how individual intentions were often less important than big structural incentives in dealing with prejudice, etc. It's rarely enough to have individuals try to change their behavior on their own — the rules have to change for the outcomes to change.
posted by klangklangston at 10:42 AM on July 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Everything than can be done to promote mixed socio-economic and racial neighborhoods should be done

Actually, that might be another reason as to why those things are less prevalent in smaller cities than in big cities. Who even really knows their neighbors in a big city? I feel like as long as I've lived in New York City, I've never known more than five-ten apartments or houses near my own, and we didn't exactly socialize. People socialize among groups, but it's not generally "Where you live" alone.
posted by corb at 10:56 AM on July 24, 2013


"I don't want to pay black people as much as I want to pay white people because grrrrr, I'm an evil racist who hates black people!"

that's a straw man. the straw man in the previous thread was that if poor white people have almost as hard a time climbing the social ladder as poor black people, then it's not about racism.

Now, it's pretty easy to notice that if you walk into any area with a significant black population, black people work the majority of shit jobs. In that proverbial cafeteria, the reason white and black workers aren't talking is that the black people are cafeteria workers.

Of course they say:
We then look within cities and document that wages of blacks rise less with agglomeration in the workplace location, measured as employment density per square kilometer, than do white wages. This pattern holds even though our method allows for non-parametric controls for the effects of age, education, and other demographics on wages, for unobserved worker skill as proxied by residential location, and for the return to agglomeration to vary across those demographics, industry, occupation and metropolitan areas.
As if "non-parametric controls" was some objective mathematical process rather than an attempt to *model* structural problems like, say, the majority of black workers in your business are cafeteria workers, to correct for the effect of wide opportunity gaps based on race on their attempt to correlate wage gaps with metropolitan area size. So, they are implicitly modelling racism in their project through "non paramentric controls." And the people involved appeal to have the racial sensitivity of a white-bread freshman at their first college sensitivity "training" (and god do I hate those)... again:
"People of the same race are much more likely to have conversations where they share ideas," she says. "The fact is you just talk more about everything with people who you feel more comfortable with than with people you feel less comfortable with. And we know that one of the big predictors of who you feel comfortable with is whether you are of the same ethnicity."
That's a pretty straight description of racism in the workplace by Prof. Ananat but she sees it as being about feeling "comfortable." But you can see where she is going with this:
"minority groups often miss out on the valuable tips and mentoring..."
She could have easily said: "minority groups are systematically excluded from valuable tips and mentoring..." Indeed, that's what her research purports to show. But then the remedy would be something very different from she suggests:
Companies that want to take full advantage of spillover effects would do well to find ways to encourage employees to share information, set up mentoring programs and generally encourage employees to connect informally and socially...

You see, it's not because of systematic racism that your minority workers are excluded but we just have to help everyone feel more comfortable.

The message I would take from this study is: "It's all really complicated why black people aren't getting ahead in my company. Maybe we should have some more sensitivity training... or how about a retreat! I mean, I don't hate black people so it's not about racism in the society within which we all work. Look, Zimmerman got a fair trial; it's only that technical problem with the SYG law."

But the real problem becomes that no one actually reads the study. Indeed, you can't (for free) unless you join the NBER. So, now we have this objective study proving that it's all about network effects and really complicated. And you can quote that and feel satisfied, I mean, you don't hate black people and neither do any of your friends so it's all just some technical problem which someone will fix someday. Meanwhile, Trayvon Martin decomposes and George Zimmerman is writing a book about his experiences.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:58 AM on July 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


In case I distracted from the main meta-point:

These studies implicitly model race relations. But the economists doing that modelling have very little interest or background in the sociology of race (as evidence by her comments). They are doing bad sociology and pretending it's objective economics.
posted by ennui.bz at 11:01 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


She could have easily said: "minority groups are systematically excluded from valuable tips and mentoring..."

Why would be a different thing than what she's describing, as she seems to be saying that since people self-select to socialize with their own ethnicity, numerically large groups will benefit more when the population is higher:

"Those social settings tend to be segregated, with whites tending to spend time with whites and blacks with blacks. (The next time you are in an office cafeteria, notice who sits next to whom at lunch.) In a world where ethnic groups cluster together, those in the minority are less likely to share and benefit from spillover effects in the ecosystem and are therefore less likely to learn early on about important company developments or technological innovations.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:10 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


As if "non-parametric controls" was some objective mathematical process rather than an attempt to *model* structural problems like, say, the majority of black workers in your business are cafeteria workers, to correct for the effect of wide opportunity gaps based on race on their attempt to correlate wage gaps with metropolitan area size. So, they are implicitly modelling racism in their project through "non paramentric controls."

This is gobbledygook. Look, the study is finding systematic racial deficits in employment and proposing direct action to remedy those. How, exactly, in your view an attempt to wave away claims of structural racism in US society? The only thing the study is failing to do from your perspective is blame all of this on moustache-twirling villains (hence your bizarre attempt to drag George Zimmerman into this). But the whole goddamned point of their "non-parametric controls" is to show that the results they're finding are rooted in race, specifically (i.e., not age, education etc.--the things people would traditionally turn to if they wanted to claim that race had nothing to do with the problem). All they are pointing out is that these racially disparate effects are not correlated with specific racial animus on the part of those involved in making hiring, firing and promotion decisions. It seems that you would rather engage in inefficacious action so long as it preserved the possibility of having moustache-twirling racist "villains" to direct your ire against that engage in efficacious actions that do not.

But the real problem becomes that no one actually reads the study.

Irony.
posted by yoink at 11:13 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


"As if "non-parametric controls" was some objective mathematical process rather than an attempt to *model* structural problems like, say, the majority of black workers in your business are cafeteria workers, to correct for the effect of wide opportunity gaps based on race on their attempt to correlate wage gaps with metropolitan area size. So, they are implicitly modelling racism in their project through "non paramentric controls.""

Generally, cafeteria workers and other staff have different levels of education, so it seems like you're actually working to make their model fit your conclusions, rather than the other way around.
posted by klangklangston at 11:14 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'll bet you Metafilter's demographics skew whiter than the US overall, actually, so that's a salient example of the kind of "intra-racial" exchange of information that preserves and reinforces historical advantages without any deliberate intent to exclude those who simply do not happen to be part of that conversation.

Perfect example of the complexity of the issue. Because not only is "deliberate intent to exclude" not the only factor, but there may also be some degree of self-segregation.

Take Metafilter. I have no idea what the racial and ethnic demographics of mf are. Participation online should have theoretically less of the "feeling comfortable" hurdle, what with relative anonymity. But then you have meetups. I have been to two meetups, both in Los Angeles. At neither have I seen any black people. Why? Nobody was being excluded, either deliberately or by accident. It's not the case of a bunch of people looking around and gravitating to their own kind - especially when you have first timers in large numbers. Nobody knew who would come - people made those decisions on their own, without seeing the race of the participants ahead of time. What if in such a social setting various exchanges take place and people build social capital and it results in jobs and economic impact down the road? Would one still say - geez, all these white/asian people excluded black folks, though we'll be charitable and not ascribe it to overt racism on the part of the meetup people?

The legacy of racism and structural issues are embedded throughout the society at a much deeper level, and addressing this is going to be hard.

I think one of the implications of both this study and the one on social mobility, however, is that everything than can be done to promote mixed socio-economic and racial neighborhoods should be done.

That is much more difficult than seems at first glance. There was a mathematical study done some time ago, and an FPP here on the blue, I believe, where it was demonstrated that even a tiny imbalance in the racial makeup of a neighborhood would over time lead to voluntary segregation by race to an astonishing degree. All without resorting to racist practices of discriminatory rental and buying practices. And this segregating tendency is present in all races, and therefore must be addressed more broadly.
posted by VikingSword at 11:21 AM on July 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


That is much more difficult than seems at first glance.

True enough: and at first glance it looks damned hard. Still, there are things that can be done. Mixed income housing is, undoubtedly, easier than mixed-race housing (you can require developers of large inner-city housing developments to incorporate a percentage of smaller, cheaper units among the big-money ones, for example). A lot can be done with careful placement of subsidized housing, too. This is always politically difficult, of course, because you get NIMBYism from the existing residents. You also have push-back from traditionally black neighborhoods when non-black families move in.
posted by yoink at 11:29 AM on July 24, 2013


"I have been to two meetups, both in Los Angeles."

While MeFi is whiter than a Toby Keith audience, it's worth noting that LA's pretty historically geographically segregated. If we had the meetup at the Forum, we'd stand a better chance of getting black members to show up (assuming there are any black members in LA at all).

"That is much more difficult than seems at first glance. There was a mathematical study done some time ago, and an FPP here on the blue, I believe, where it was demonstrated that even a tiny imbalance in the racial makeup of a neighborhood would over time lead to voluntary segregation by race to an astonishing degree. All without resorting to racist practices of discriminatory rental and buying practices. And this segregating tendency is present in all races, and therefore must be addressed more broadly."

That's in that Atlantic article I linked to.
posted by klangklangston at 11:44 AM on July 24, 2013


But part of this is that it's also a pretty huge justification for affirmative action — relying on current social structures to shift the segregated nature of capital as it exists will be doomed, requiring a specific, proactive approach to including people of color and (economic) minorities.
posted by klangklangston at 11:45 AM on July 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


At neither have I seen any black people. Why? Nobody was being excluded, either deliberately or by accident. It's not the case of a bunch of people looking around and gravitating to their own kind - especially when you have first timers in large numbers. Nobody knew who would come - people made those decisions on their own, without seeing the race of the participants ahead of time. What if in such a social setting various exchanges take place and people build social capital and it results in jobs and economic impact down the road?

Well, the first simple, not overtly racist reason I thought of is that more white people have the kind of jobs and income where more of their time is their own, and thus are more likely to risk time on an event like a meetup, where you might or might not like your online friends when you meet them in person (or might simply be really uncomfortable).

Middle income & above white people have more robust networks for a lot of things, like covering child care & eldercare, and redundancies so that a coverage situation isn't a burden on one of your resources. That's a big element of a diverse social/network life.

Plus, because white people spend relatively little social time with people of color, we're more likely to unintentionally say something mean, stupid, or racist, just out of inexperience and lack of reflection. If I'm a person of color making social outing decisions on my limited time off, expectation of social discomfort is going to be a factor. (I am in a mixed ethnicity marriage, and these are real concerns for how we spend our time and with whom; I'm not just pulling these speculations out of my ass.)
posted by toodleydoodley at 11:49 AM on July 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


But part of this is that it's also a pretty huge justification for affirmative action

Yes, indeed; and that's also one of the big problems with the demand by the likes of ennui.bz that we must see racism in terms of individual, personal animus. As that becomes (thankfully) rarer and more socially unacceptable you get this rising argument to the effect that everyone should simply be judged "as individuals." So long as the people doing the judging (hiring/placing in colleges etc.) aren't suspected of harboring racist beliefs, then why should we assume that the outcomes will be anything but fair? And, of course, the problem is that you could wave a magic wand tomorrow that removed every last vestige of active racist belief from every single person in the US and racial inequalities would still persist for generations without some active attempts to counteract their legacy.
posted by yoink at 11:55 AM on July 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well, the first simple, not overtly racist reason I thought of is that more white people have the kind of jobs and income where more of their time is their own

This is true. They're also more likely to have the kind of educational background that is necessary to feeling like a full participant in the kinds of discussions that take place on Metafilter, more likely to have the kinds of cultural competences that are constantly invoked in those discussions etc. etc. But this is just to reinforce the point of the study, right? Certain kinds of privileges tend to reproduce themselves through social networks even when no one is actively policing who does and does not participate in those networks.
posted by yoink at 11:58 AM on July 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


Which is why I'm arguing for preschool, rather than trying to get adults to be nice to each other. I think we're on the same team.
posted by toodleydoodley at 12:07 PM on July 24, 2013


Preschool and affirmative action, meant to say.
posted by toodleydoodley at 12:09 PM on July 24, 2013


Which is why I'm arguing for preschool, rather than trying to get adults to be nice to each other.

I think you need concerted efforts at all levels. From what I've read of Head Start's long-term effects they seem to be pretty mixed. I think the headwinds those kids run into after they move out of the Head Start programs often end up undoing all the good that was done.
posted by yoink at 12:10 PM on July 24, 2013


[...]it's worth noting that LA's pretty historically geographically segregated. If we had the meetup at the Forum, we'd stand a better chance of getting black members to show up (assuming there are any black members in LA at all).

Maybe. The meetups were in the Mid-Wilshire-Fairfax, Hwd-We-Ho, neighborhoods, but the participants certainly did not reflect the racial makeup of those areas; plus I wonder how relevant that is, considering that a huge number were folks who commuted from pretty far distances like OC - or happened to be visiting on other business out of state (hi ColdChef!).

Middle income & above white people have more robust networks for a lot of things, like covering child care & eldercare, and redundancies so that a coverage situation isn't a burden on one of your resources. That's a big element of a diverse social/network life.

Sure, but that still does not account for the sheer numbers, as you would expect the economic disparities to be reflected proportionately. They were not. So it may be a factor, but cannot be the only factor.

Certain kinds of privileges tend to reproduce themselves through social networks even when no one is actively policing who does and does not participate in those networks.

Yes, and other groups may not take the opportunities even when they present themselves, because they feel conditioned to exclusion.

While MeFi is whiter than a Toby Keith audience [...]

That's especially troubling, in my view, because MF is a general interest site. It is easy to understand why f.ex. black participation might be low in a hobby group dedicated to Bavarian folk dances, or some other associations which reflect historic economic barriers, but a general interest site? I mean, it hardly gets broader than saying "interesting links found on the web", and it's all done anonymously so you don't need to even know the race of other posters. And yet. This shows the depth of the problem, when there are studies out there that show that various groups even use the web differently (I read somewhere that, f.ex. African Americans use twitter proportionately more than other groups etc.).

But part of this is that it's also a pretty huge justification for affirmative action[...]

Yep. We've tried to address the low-hanging fruit of super obvious stuff like Jim Crow laws, but as we move toward more complicated and subtle problems, it gets more difficult, and it gets more difficult simply because we have had very little practice or even objective research to point us in the right direction. And even the low-hanging fruit is in danger of being walked back on by certain political forces like in the recent VRA debacle. The problems are deep-seated, and here you have various tea-party politicians who actually want to roll-back the little progress made so far - facepalm.
posted by VikingSword at 12:16 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


A lot of the points I was just about to make got pointed out. Which is great. I do feel like we have to continue to make it clear that many of these things didn't just "get" the way they are. A good part of the reason they happened because of bias and racism.

Which I'm sure is realized, but I think needs to be pointed out with each example. This example:

In much the same way someone who competes in a race can lose if they are required to start half an hour after the others (or say several centuries) despite none of the individuals cheating.

A very good one. And I think for some of us the anger comes in when people run that race and look around like "why are you mad at me - I just ran normally". And we're looking like, you know you had that unfair advantage. You know what happened. So if you're turning to the other white runners in the stalls and telling them how to adjust their shoes, and giving them tips and pointers on top of it, and then you turn around and say "what? I didn't do anything wrong?!" Yes you did - you have resources and capital and you are only sharing it with those who 'not-so-mysteriously' were there to get even more of an advantage.

I think the message some are trying to convey is to not act like that isn't a problematic act in and of itself.

Bottom line, using an example that often gets used - leveling the playing field - if you imagine a field where one offense and defense's football players get to always run downhill while the other's always has to run uphill. If you level out the playing field, it's going to seem a lot easier for the people who have been unfairly running uphill. And it's going to feel a lot harder for those unfairly running downhill.

So the solution for these problems might necessarily entail having those with much of the capital feeling like things are a lot harder. So if the talk is "well see, these people can keep acting how they want to (even though we'd prefer they changed) because they themselves aren't specifically harboring racial animus" - that may be a tipoff that things aren't going to change with that approach.

Control over resources. Benefiting from the "the historic Affirmative Action for White People program" as toodleydoodley noted. Here you have white people needing to reach down and strain and sweat to lift up the people they stood on to get ahead, while those people essentially let themselves be lifted up.

Which sounds a lot different than any solutions that really just involve having the people with the capital maybe tell someone outside of their race something, every so often. A solution that is going to work might involve some struggling and straining, something that when it's done makes those with the capital say "oh god, that was hard".

Just some thoughts. I think the good thing is that we've come a long way in this society, and at least we mostly agree that these problems can be and should be solved.
posted by cashman at 12:22 PM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's especially troubling, in my view, because MF is a general interest site.

Yes, indeed. And it's a really good example of why it's wrong to suggest that saying that racial groups tend to stick together out of "comfort" must just be a willed blindness to active racial prejudice. Those of us who keep participating actively on Metafilter do so, precisely, because we feel "comfortable" doing so. We feel, by and large, "oh, these are conversations I get the point of having, I understand the rules of participating in, I feel I can contribute to etc. etc. etc." There is absolutely no overt or covert "whites only need apply" in any of the framing of the site and there is active suppression of any expression of racial animus in any conversations on the site. And yet, despite that, there is a marked (not, of course--thank god--total, but marked) racial and socio-economic homogenization in the active membership. That is, of course, an historical result of a bloody and oppressive racial history, but I think it would be absurd to suggest that it is therefore also evidence of active racist beliefs or actions on the part of Metafilters moderators or members.
posted by yoink at 12:27 PM on July 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


So if the talk is "well see, these people can keep acting how they want to (even though we'd prefer they changed) because they themselves aren't specifically harboring racial animus"

Has anyone--in this thread or in the linked article--made anything remotely like that claim?
posted by yoink at 12:33 PM on July 24, 2013


I think you need concerted efforts at all levels. From what I've read of Head Start's long-term effects they seem to be pretty mixed. I think the headwinds those kids run into after they move out of the Head Start programs often end up undoing all the good that was done.

Yeah, that's really a problem. Because you can teach a kid prereading and premath and school socialization, but you can't make their parents send them to school EVERY SINGLE DAY NO MATTER WHAT, or not move 5 times in a school year, or not get a hostile divorce, or not become homeless or a million circumstances concerning the movement of adults that you can't control and there's little political will to help with. But you can sell preschool, and reasonable class sizes. At least, that's what I tell myself.
posted by toodleydoodley at 12:46 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's crap that some smart economists who have explicitly learned about geographic variation don't know the history of geographic exclusion...

Honsetly they have to think this way because actions have to be "rational" and these guys can't take a normative stance on history or behavior...

Shelling's spatial sorting agent models, which lead to "natural" geographic separation are interesting but they're built on a model of what people are "comfortable with"... you could be "comfortable with" being a GD racist, and surrounding yourselves with others... and you could be "comfortable with" making exclusionary laws, redlining, and subconsciously denying employment to others for "comfortable with" reasons...

message me for a link to the full paper.
posted by stratastar at 1:14 PM on July 24, 2013


Has anyone--in this thread or in the linked article--made anything remotely like that claim?

That is, of course, an historical result of a bloody and oppressive racial history, but I think it would be absurd to suggest that it is therefore also evidence of active racist beliefs or actions on the part of Metafilters moderators or members.

I think making the first part of the statement and leaving it there would be a start. But when it gets thrown in that one shouldn't consider any actions of metafilter members as bad (the context is racially), that's when yes, the talk is not to consider those actions as problematic.

So if you do consider the everyday actions of people who have been given an unfair advantage problematic, then I guess we believe the same things. If you are just intent on separating people who say "I hate blacks" from people who just accept their unfair advantage, that's fine I think until (and unless) there is an attempt to say nothing is problematic with that.

If we're on the same page saying people with unfair advantages acting without acknowledging those is problematic, then the rest is probably just misunderstanding. But some of the wording to me seemed to be saying "oh, see, these people aren't doing anything wrong", though they are. But I realize that part of the conversation was merely to categorize people's behaviors and separate people who are specifically being biased and bigoted, apart from people who just accept their unfair advantage. And that was done to know which strategies to use to correct the problem.

But I'm sure you can see how that gets portrayed to some as saying "you're not doing anything wrong" to people who are engaging in problematic behaviors.
posted by cashman at 1:36 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Another thing. I read the paper earlier. Did I read the paper incorrectly, or is this limited to men?
"The main models in this paper are estimated using the confidential data from the Long Form of the 2000 U.S. Decennial Census. The sample provides detailed geographic information on individual residential and work location. A subsample of prime-age (30-59 years of age), full time (usual hours worked per week 35 or greater), male workers is drawn for the 49 Consolidated Metropolitan and Metropolitan Statistical Areas that have one million or more residents.15 These restrictions lead to a sample of 2,343,092 workers, including 1,705,058 whites, 226,173 blacks, 264,880 Hispanics, and 135,577 Asians."
posted by cashman at 1:39 PM on July 24, 2013


But when it gets thrown in that one shouldn't consider any actions of metafilter members as bad (the context is racially), that's when yes, the talk is not to consider those actions as problematic.

A: That's a pretty odd reading of that statement.

B: so, what are you really saying? That participating on Metafilter is racist? Why are you here, then? That participating on Metafilter is racist unless you're actively working to increase its racial diversity? O.K., may I ask what steps of that kind you, personally, are taking? And how are they working out?

You seem to be ignoring everything I'm saying in this thread about the very real, concrete steps that need to be taken at all levels to address racial diversity--steps that, of course, involve real "costs" and real "discomfort" to existing privileged classes--in order to cling to a pretty tendentious reading of my claim that racially distorted outcomes need not be the result of deliberate, personal racial animus. Absolutely nowhere in this thread, or elsewhere, have I suggested that the absence of such animus absolves people from the moral obligation of working to resolve racial disparity in the wider society.
posted by yoink at 1:45 PM on July 24, 2013


A: Okay, take that statement out then. Perhaps no one was suggesting that white people's actions as the beneficiaries of this system are not problematic.

B: What I'm saying is that if I have an unfair advantage and know it, acting like my actions are normal is kind of bogus. If I am playing ruzzle and given 3 rounds to score while the other person gets 2, and I act like "sweet, I like playing this game and making words" while conveniently forgetting about my advantage and then making money off of my record, that's a problem.

You seem to be ignoring everything I'm saying in this thread about the very real, concrete steps that need to be taken at all levels to address racial diversity--steps that, of course, involve real "costs" and real "discomfort" to existing privileged classes

I didn't think I did. I actually quoted you as my very first act in this thread, and said "Indeed". So I'm not ignoring your suggestions for steps. I don't know that I've seen anything suggested that would involve real costs and discomfort to people engaging in these behaviors that keep capital in the hands of those who already have an unfair advantage.

Absolutely nowhere in this thread, or elsewhere, have I suggested that the absence of such animus absolves people from the moral obligation of working to resolve racial disparity in the wider society.

Well, I think you almost touched on what my point was. Not that the absence of such animus absolves people from working to resolve racial disparities, but that the absence of such animus removes the negative effects of their behavior that continues to give advantages to those that already have an advantage.

It shouldn't be that in playing this 3-vs-2 ruzzle (which is basically boggle, for the unaware) I can say "well I didn't remove that round from people who look like yoink, and I don't believe you should take away a round from people who look like yoink, but I'm not doing anything wrong by just making words". I don't think it is odd or controversial to say that many will look at that and feel like "hey, all I'm doing is having a barbecue and talking about work. I'm not doing anything wrong", and think that specific behavior isn't problematic.

Ah, if only it was as clear how much advantage one had gained from the "historic Affirmative Action for White People program" as being down a round in ruzzle.
posted by cashman at 2:16 PM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


that the absence of such animus removes the negative effects of their behavior that continues to give advantages to those that already have an advantage.

Where on earth did I say that, or anything like that? I instanced Metafilter's relative racial homogeneity as precisely an example of a cultural institution that perpetuates racial privilege despite the personal desires and beliefs of those participating on the site. You are really imputing some deeply offensive positions to me that are based solely on uour apparent inability or unwillingness to read what I'm actually writing, and I wish you'd stop.
posted by yoink at 2:29 PM on July 24, 2013


Easy, man. My whole point was that saying these behaviors were absent any specific bias on the part of those doing them could be or can be seen by people (by them) as a flag that nothing is problematic with their behavior.

I feel like we're on the same side here. I'm not trying to argue with you or say you're saying these things - I'm saying (and I thought you'd share the experience) that some people will definitely see that and feel like "hey, I'm good - I'm not prejudiced and there is nothing problematic with my behavior".

I feel like we're kind of arguing over nothing here. I guess I assumed you were familiar with that line of thought, and perhaps you aren't, or I wrote my statements in such a way that they were confusing. Sorry.
posted by cashman at 2:42 PM on July 24, 2013


"so, what are you really saying? That participating on Metafilter is racist? Why are you here, then? That participating on Metafilter is racist unless you're actively working to increase its racial diversity? O.K., may I ask what steps of that kind you, personally, are taking? And how are they working out?"

That's a little aggro, especially to level at a black dude. Just sayin'.
posted by klangklangston at 2:48 PM on July 24, 2013


Klang!
posted by cashman at 2:52 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


And I think for some of us the anger comes in when people run that race and look around like "why are you mad at me - I just ran normally". And we're looking like, you know you had that unfair advantage. You know what happened. So if you're turning to the other white runners in the stalls and telling them how to adjust their shoes, and giving them tips and pointers on top of it, and then you turn around and say "what? I didn't do anything wrong?!" Yes you did - you have resources and capital and you are only sharing it with those who 'not-so-mysteriously' were there to get even more of an advantage.

This was perfectly said. While I was out just now, I was thinking about what that means to be white, and to not know or see all the little advantages that accrue to you every day, every hour. And then as I was walking through an intersection that I had driven a car through an houR before, it occurred to me that being white is like driving a car, relative to all the other people and vehicles that need to, and are legally allowed to use the road.

I was on the corner about to enter the crosswalk; the WALK light was with me, when suddenly I had to wait while a guy who was turning right on red pulled into the crosswalk, looked left for traffic, and turned right WITHOUT EVER LOOKING AT ME.

Now, everybody knows that when you're driving, you're not allowed to hit pedestrians in the crosswalk. And there are signs on the road that warn you that drivers turning right on red have to yield to pedestrians. But drivers aren't concerned about yielding to pedestrians who aren't already in the crosswalk - they're worried about getting nailed by vehicles in cross traffic. So they're not looking at the person on the corner who's waiting for their legally mandated turn to cross.

As a driver, I know I'm not allowed to hit pedestrians. But unless traffic enforcement (or traffic calming structures) changes a lot, who's going to stop me from keeping them on the sidewalk when I've got to make my right turn? Fill crosswalks with reflectors and rumble strips, and put a flashing STOP AT THE STOP LINE sign in every right lane in America, and pedestrians might get to see crosswalks the way they're intended.

The conventions of road use privilege cars, no matter what the laws say. The conventions of race and socialization in America privilege white people and segregation, no matter what the laws say, and so to make laws work, structures have to change.
posted by toodleydoodley at 3:38 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


All of this discussion reminds me of a research presentation I went to last year. It was by a very renowned scholar from Harvard. He said then that for him, the worst thing his institution did on a regular basis was to continue to give advantages to children of alumni, donors, etc. He said that while it seems like a good thing to help these kids, the implicit effects were very racially biased. In fact, there is a lot of recent research on how things like helping, mentoring, and networking end up reinforcing existing racial and gender divides and biases, because we tend to help and mentor people who are like us.
posted by bove at 4:06 PM on July 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


bove: so how do we stop giving privileged people what they ask for, particularly when they are asking while holding in their other hand a fat check for the Capital Campaign?

Anecdatally, my stepdad, who is a rich white guy, used to volunteer as a mentor at a low SES elementary school right outside his community. Although he'd done it for years, he recently told me they didn't call him all last school year. He didn't call them, because he figured they didn't need or want him any more.

Based on my own experience with poor schools, my guess is the volunteer who was tasked with scheduling mentors either quit or got delegated onto something more "urgent." But that would never happen at the posh school in his community, because they have enough volunteers (hell, they can probably afford employees for that) to make sure a mentor would *never* get lost in the shuffle.
posted by toodleydoodley at 4:57 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well for places like Harvard, they really don't need the money anymore, so doling out privileges to the privileged seems completely unjustifiable. In a larger sense though, I don't claim to have any answers. It is a very tough question. A lot of it stems from the completely natural tendency to want to help your friends and family. I have kids and extended family (nephews, nieces, etc.) that I want to see succeed. So, naturally I talk to them and give them advice and if I can extend a helping hand somewhere, I do. I think that desire to help is good. Professionally, I try to combat this insular tendency by being aware of racial disparities at work and how those play out professionally. So, when we hired a new person who needed mentoring, even though she was very different from me, I tried to mentor her. But individual solutions often do not fix structural problems.
posted by bove at 6:51 PM on July 24, 2013


So studies like this are really, really important if you actually give a damn about fixing these problems rather than just being reaffirmed in your righteous anger about what is causing them.

Why is it anger to point out structural racism?

Doesn't the study say that we would get more "code-switchers" and perhaps lower the wage gap if we committed, as a society, to anti-racist trainings and education, within institutions and informally?

Why can't we talk about structural racism? shouldn't we point it out?

I guess this assumes you believe in a society, and many people in the U.S. don't seem to.
posted by eustatic at 9:36 PM on July 24, 2013


I've read the comments on MF skewing whiter than the national average and wanted to throw out two hypotheses. It may be that $5 on a message board is something that poorer blacks who don't have access to easy means of internet payment might not be as interested in doing (although as the internet spreads this is becoming less and less true). It could also be that blacks don't have as much interest in internet message forums in general or MF in particular for cultural reasons. I know that black people are more likely to have primary internet access through their phone than is the case generally in the population, so they may use mobile access websites more. I think there was a kind of implicit assumption that MF would be a "social good" that blacks might be excluded from based on race, which might be true, but they could also be less interested for cultural or technical issues.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 10:14 PM on July 24, 2013


srboisvert:
We can all be perfect now and there will still be injustice because black people in the U.S. have to compete with people who have an inheritance of several hundred years of cheating even if the current people themselves are not cheaters.
... which in now way relieves the urgency of reducing systemic prejudice.

We can all stop smoking now, and there will still be lung cancer because it has many causes.

We can all stop ignoring traffic laws like speed limits and full stops at stop signs and traffic lights, and there will still be traffic-related deaths.

None of these truisms in any way says, "It's OK to smoke, and go ahead and ignore that SLOW - SCHOOL CROSSING sign."
posted by IAmBroom at 8:55 AM on July 25, 2013


desjardins:
This is the worst crime perpetrated against school districts.
This is the single most insidiously racist law enacted in the US.

It's Jim Crow under 100 layers of camouflage, in bulletproof kevlar.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:07 AM on July 25, 2013


Bottom line, using an example that often gets used - leveling the playing field - if you imagine a field where one offense and defense's football players get to always run downhill while the other's always has to run uphill. If you level out the playing field, it's going to seem a lot easier for the people who have been unfairly running uphill. And it's going to feel a lot harder for those unfairly running downhill.

I think it's important not to use the words "seem" or "feel" here, but otherwise I think your analogy is exactly spot on.

Because yes - if one team has been running uphill and suddenly they get to stop and run on a level surface, they don't feel like it's easier, it objectively is easier than what they've been doing before. And if the other team has been running downhill and suddenly they have to stop and run on a level surface, they don't feel like it's harder, it objectively is harder than what they've been doing before.

And I think we need to collectively have an honest conversation about that.

For example, take the school issue listed above. Yes, absolutely, there are segregated schools because there are income-segregated districts. And you can have schools where they barely have supplies and only the worst teachers, less than a mile away from schools that offer elective dance and poetry classes. This is absolutely, one hundred percent true.

But it is also one hundred percent true that by evening the field, you may be making that school with barely any supplies better, but that other school won't be able to afford their elective dance and poetry classes any more, or the extra teachers to help alleviate the classroom crowding, or what have you.

And it is not unreasonable that parents aren't going to want to do that, if they have their kids in the good schools. And it's not enough to say "no one's schools are going to get worse", because that is a platitude - they objectively and quite provably are.
posted by corb at 9:22 AM on July 25, 2013


… unless you do some crazy socialism thing like raising the floor by providing more funding overall, something that parents in more well-off districts will be more motivated to acquiesce to if they understand that they'll be suffering rather than some abstract poors across the tracks.
posted by klangklangston at 1:10 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Like, this isn't an intractable problem unless you put irrational, arbitrary constraints on it (tacitly deciding that's more important than addressing systemic racism).
posted by klangklangston at 1:11 PM on July 25, 2013


klangklangston - But the money still doesn't stretch as far, no matter what, without being prohibitively high such that the tax base cannot sustain it. I don't even mean my own ideas about taxes which are admittedly unusual, I mean, it seems that with the amount of schools compared to the amount of people, especially high-earning people, it would be difficult, even with increasing the tax base, to have the veryvery best standards in all schools. I'm not saying that we can't raise the schools to bare competency or even to have all decent schools - I think we absolutely can, to a certain extent.

But the problems I see with that even as an intellectual proposition:

1) I'd think for the parents in the well-off districts, they'd be weighing the cost of the tax increase to pay for the schools to get to ideal quality versus the cost of private school. I'm not sure, but I think in many cases the private schools win out in that deal. Private school can be as inexpensive as 5,000$ a year even in large cities, which would be about 5% additional tax to a person making 100K.

2) The thing is, for schools to be truly equally producing, not just superficially equal or equally funded, they would need a lot more resources at the schools with the poorer students. They would need professionals to fill in for a lot of what the parents can't do - teaching life skills as well as academic skills. They would need more mental health counselors and guidance counselors on hand. They'd need nutritionists and they'd need to pay for multiple meals. They would need more protection to keep a safe zone around the borders of the school. They would need greenspace to block out the noise. They'd need some form of computers so that they could take them home and get familiar with them. And that's just what I could think of off the top of my head.

The funding needed for that would be enormous. And it would be much higher for that school than for other schools. So you have to say - does that school get to get special funding? Or do we still say that everyone gets the same funding? If the former, we're defeating our idea of flat funding. If the latter, even if we're raising the bar for everyone, that means that the school in the better neighborhood, that doesn't have to spend money on all those things, can spend money on language immersion and dance and trips to places the other school can't go to. So they are always going to be behind, no matter what.
posted by corb at 8:30 AM on July 29, 2013


corb: "1) I'd think for the parents in the well-off districts, they'd be weighing the cost of the tax increase to pay for the schools to get to ideal quality versus the cost of private school. I'm not sure, but I think in many cases the private schools win out in that deal. Private school can be as inexpensive as 5,000$ a year even in large cities, which would be about 5% additional tax to a person making 100K. "

You're using the bare minimum cost ("can be as inexpensive as $5,000 a year") as a proxy for what the average person would pay, but the last time I checked, the laws of supply and demand apply to private school tuition, which means that if everyone was enrolling at these cheaper schools (which, again, because of supply and demand, are likely ones that aren't providing as good of an education as the more expensive private schools) the tuition would go up significantly. Of course, the supply of private schools would go up as well, and we can quibble about what the market equilibrium would look like, but beginning with this fundamental distortion of what people could expect to pay is not a sign of a good faith argument.

Furthermore, in the absence of school vouchers, your hypothetical $5,000 education really costs closer than $15,000 when you factor in the cost of the public education they're paying for and not using. You, of course, would see this as an argument for vouchers, but you need to be explicit about the fact that your $5,000 scenario (which, again, underestimates what the average cost would be) assumes a jurisdiction that provides full reimbursement of taxes collected for public education to those who choose to enroll in private schools.

corb: "2) The thing is, for schools to be truly equally producing, not just superficially equal or equally funded, they would need a lot more resources at the schools with the poorer students."

You started off arguing against the feasibility of "rais[ing] the schools to bare competency or even [having] all decent schools", but here you move the goalposts to "truly equally producing, not just superficially equal or equally funded", which is an argument I've seen nobody in this thread making. I don't know anyone who thinks that we can raise all public schools to parity with the best-performing public schools in wealthy areas without spending a lot more than we do today. The point of contention is whether the current situation is acceptable, or if we can improve things by spending some more money in poorer performing districts.

You need to pick an argument and stick with it, or, at a minimum, not switch arguments mid-stream.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:40 AM on July 29, 2013


My apologies, let me clarify. I think it's absolutely possible to get all schools up to bare competency or decent-school standards. I do not think it's possible to do so without anyone losing out, though, which is what I was arguing above.

your $5,000 scenario (which, again, underestimates what the average cost would be)

$5,000 is not bare-minimum cost of private school, though. A quick google reveals $3100, $3500 , $4,000 as rough tiers of acceptable tuition, with small class sizes, in the one of the most expensive cities in the world - and that's for single children, without family discounts or scholarships.
posted by corb at 11:55 AM on July 29, 2013


I'll see your "quick google" for anecdotes (all heavily church-subsidized Catholic schools, natch) and raise you a research report with comprehensive data:
Results indicate that (1) the less-regulated private school sector is more varied in many key features (teacher attributes, pay and school expenditures) than the more highly regulated public schooling sector; (2) these private school variations align and are largely explained by affiliation—primarily religious affiliation—alone; and (3) a ranking of school sectors by average spending correlates well with a ranking of those sectors by average standardized test scores.
...
Public schools spend, in dollars adjusted for both region and inflation, more than Christian Association Schools (CAS) and Catholic schools, but less than Hebrew or independent day schools: nearly $15,000 per pupil for independent schools, over $12,000 for Hebrew schools, $7,743 for Catholic schools, and approximately $5,727 for CAS. For public schools, the comparable average spending figure was $8,402.
...
It makes a significant difference whether tuition reasonably represents costs, or whether the size of margin between tuition and costs is 1% or 20%. For example, a group of church-subsidized private schools might charge $3,500 per child in tuition but actually operate at a cost of $7,000 per pupil. When students come from the church community, parents pay tuition per child and likely also offer a tithing, along with non-parent parishioners, in amounts that we can presume are cumulatively equal to or greater than the difference between tuition and cost.

However, if policymakers wanted to send 100 additional children from the public system to the church schools on vouchers matched to the full tuition of $3,500, and if actual operating costs were $7,000 per pupil, then someone would have to contribute an additional $350,000 to cover the tuition shortfall. (Of course, taxpayers already help to pay this amount, in the form of income tax deductions for contributions to religious organizations,) If the incoming students from the public voucher system were both poor and non-parishioners, it is unlikely that their families would provide the additional resources. The larger the desired voucher system and the more students participating, the larger the required additional philanthropy.
In other words, the only categories of private schools that beat public schools on a tuition-per-pupil basis are Catholic and Christian schools, and that is only because they heavily subsidize the schools with funds from their (tax-exempt) philanthropy budget, which, of course, could not scale up to cover a sudden influx of students.

And, even ignoring the subsidies which artificially reduce the tuition, your three data points are all well below the real average of even the most affordable category of Catholic schools.

Furthermore, because current private schools self-select for well-off kids with involved parents, they start with a built-in advantage, and this is an advantage that would erode as they take on educating more and more kids who would theoretically be coming in from public schools.

Please try harder.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:08 PM on July 29, 2013


Oh, one more thing. Your anecdotal low-cost Catholic school options all require that the students at a bare minimum play along with the charade of being Catholic if they aren't already, meaning it won't be an acceptable option for anyone with a religious objection to, say, being baptized just to get a cheaper education.

OK, one more more thing. Because private schools have freedom of association, they are not required to admit anyone who applies, so many people will be kept out even if they are Catholic or pretend to be. Those who can pay full freight would naturally be more attractive than those who need an extra subsidy, and those who, shall we say, "don't fit in, you know, culturally..." with the district's current population would also have a harder time getting in.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:31 PM on July 29, 2013


You seem to be operating under the belief that I think people would be going to private schools out of fairness, or that private (or Catholic) schools would best serve all comers. This is emphatically not the case.

What I was arguing is that it would be the most cost-effective for wealthy parents acting in their own self-interest to send their children to private schools, rather than campaigning for higher taxes to make the flat public schools better.

Private schools do have a lot of advantages in being able to self-select their pupils - and that's actually one of the things that lets them keep costs down. They can (and often do, for example) choose not to select individuals with behavioral problems. They have greater leeway for expelling individuals who do not show themselves able to keep to the conduct standards. This means they can often do without a lot of the expensive support networks that public schools are required to engage in. You also generally sign a waiver agreeing that if the school is doing its best, you will not sue them - which cuts down on legal costs.

Their self-selection for well-off kids with involved parents is exactly what I was talking about here.
posted by corb at 12:42 PM on July 29, 2013


But your numbers were still bullshit, and you still haven't addressed the voucher issue, or the issue that those "cheaper" schools are subsidized in ways that won't scale as they add pupils.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:49 PM on July 29, 2013


I am not sure why you think the numbers are bullshit. I am deeply familiar with Catholic school, those numbers seem normal to me. Catholic schools rarely cost more than 5 grand, ever: their prime purpose is in fact to make private religious education inexpensive so people can use it, and it gets cheaper with each kid.

I don't actually think vouchers are the answer, so I'm not going to defend them. If I were making the law, I would just suggest that people be able to write off their children's school tuition as the simplest option - a more ambitious one would be exempting anyone who privately educates their kid from school taxes. But vouchers have always struck me as a bad idea.
posted by corb at 12:54 PM on July 29, 2013


I just pointed you at a paper that shows that the average unsubsidized cost for Catholic scohols is $5,727. This undermines your "rarely cost more than 5 grand, ever" unless you think your anecdotal experience is better than the comprehensive study I linked to.

I didn't ask you to defend vouchers, I asked you to be explicit that your cost comparison requires reckoning with the fact that people still need to pay the cost of public tuition even if they don't use it.

And you're still silent on the subsidies that artificially lower the tuition at Catholic and other religious-affiliated schools.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:59 PM on July 29, 2013


When I referred to the cost of tuition, I was referring to the cost to the parents.. Thus, it is irrelevant if other people or institutions are assisting with the costs of the school, because it does not, nor should it, factor into the calculations of the parents. If you have some statistics showing the average cost to parents is 5,727$, then please feel free to display them.

But my point on this was effectively:

Let's take someone who is mathematically simple - they make exactly 100K a year. Let us suppose they're paying 4K in school taxes a year. Under the current system, they live near a lot of other people who make similar sums or more. Their school doesn't have as many critical needs and can spend lots of time on extras.

A proposal is floated that involves making up the shortfalls in other school districts. In order to bring everyone in the state up to the current standard of that person's child, how much actual money would it take? I'd say probably quite significant sums. Let us suppose the proposal would involve an additional 5% tax in order to contribute to schools - which I'd argue is actually far lower than would be needed in that system.

Up until that moment, it has been financially sound for that individual to send their child to public school - their taxes were around the amount of private school tuition, plus they had the ability to have more input into the decisionmaking process, and their child was in a great school.

But at that moment, that proposal does not look good for the individual. 4K+ the additional 5K is 9K. It would thus cost significantly more than private school tuition to educate children in the public school, and for them, the school does not get better. It may even get worse, as everything evens out. Yes, they are already paying the 4K in taxes no matter what they do - but they do not have to pay the additional 5K yet. In fact, it would be entirely logical for them to lobby against it, because it would involve them paying more simply to keep the status quo.

But this is all detail. My point was simply that people who are already benefiting from the system would indeed lose if changes were implemented. Are you seriously arguing that the wealthy would be better served if all funds for public schools were pooled, their taxes were raised, and their schools defaulted to being merely mediocre?
posted by corb at 3:08 PM on July 29, 2013


corb: "When I referred to the cost of tuition, I was referring to the cost to the parents.. Thus, it is irrelevant if other people or institutions are assisting with the costs of the school, because it does not, nor should it, factor into the calculations of the parents."

You staked out a claim that increasing taxes in wealthier districts would create a rush for families to send their kids to lower-cost private schools, which you later defined down as Catholic schools, even though not everyone would be eligible for them, nor would everyone want to send their kids to a religious school.

My point is that, even accepting your thought experiment with all those caveats at face value, this rush of new enrollments, in addition to being constrained by the supply of classroom seats, materials, etc. would be additionally limited when the schools can no longer subsidize the tuition as much on a per-pupil basis as they did before the rush. So the value proposition might look great for the first set of parents who takes advantage of those tuition rates, but what about the second, third, and hundredth?

The point is that the church subsidies can't scale linearly as people keep signing up, which means they will have to raise tuition to cover the difference. You refuse to acknowledge this in your hypothetical, and additionally did not mention the fact that the parents are still on the hook for the pubic tuition dollars.

corb: "If you have some statistics showing the average cost to parents is 5,727$, then please feel free to display them."

The average nationwide out-of-pocket tuition cost to parents only for Catholic schools is $4,363 (Appendix A on pp. 44 of the paper). Given that the average for Catholic schools in the Central region is around $6,000 (Figure 15 on pp. 31 of the paper) your "rarely over 5 grand" statement can not be possibly true nationwide, and is unlikely to be true even within the regions where there are more subsidies, except for exceptionally common values of "rarely."

corb: "A proposal is floated that involves making up the shortfalls in other school districts. In order to bring everyone in the state up to the current standard of that person's child, how much actual money would it take? I'd say probably quite significant sums. Let us suppose the proposal would involve an additional 5% tax in order to contribute to schools - which I'd argue is actually far lower than would be needed in that system."

Are you seriously intending "an additional 5% tax" to mean taking an additional 5% of the hypothetical couple's income? If so, that's ridiculous! Average property taxes rarely go higher than 2% of income. Taking $5,000 more away from a couple that makes $100k would mean tripling their property taxes and then some. Who would possibly suggest such a thing?

If you're talking about a 5% increase in the school tax they already pay, then the right number would be somewhere around $100, not $5,000.

corb: "But this is all detail."

But the details matter! And you're getting them spectacularly wrong.

corb: "Are you seriously arguing that the wealthy would be better served if all funds for public schools were pooled, their taxes were raised, and their schools defaulted to being merely mediocre?"

How many people are you expecting to fool with this straw man?

klangklangston's proposal was to raise the floor for poorer districts. This would not require pooling public school funds across all districts, as we already have mechanisms called "state budgets" and "the federal budget" that span rich and poor districts. It also would not, by any means, force exceptional districts to suddenly become "merely mediocre."

Look, of course any tax dollars the wealthy pay for services received by the non-wealthy make the wealthy unhappy, but that's a feature of our progressive tax code, it's built into our federal system with states that take in more federal dollars than they generate in taxes, and, yes, it's built into state budgets when they earmark funds for poorer districts. You may not like these things, but it's just not right to express that dislike in the form of a grossly dishonest characterization of your opponent's position using comically far-fetched numbers.
posted by tonycpsu at 5:14 PM on July 29, 2013


klangklangston's proposal was to raise the floor for poorer districts. This would not require pooling public school funds across all districts, as we already have mechanisms called "state budgets" and "the federal budget" that span rich and poor districts. It also would not, by any means, force exceptional districts to suddenly become "merely mediocre."

I may have been reading klangklangston wrong, but I thought that what he was proposing was, in fact, pooling public school funds across all districts and equalizing them - thus having the effect of lowering the quality of schools for the wealthy districts, such that the wealthy would be motivated by their own suffering.

Are you seriously intending "an additional 5% tax" to mean taking an additional 5% of the hypothetical couple's income? If so, that's ridiculous! Average property taxes rarely go higher than 2% of income. Taking $5,000 more away from a couple that makes $100k would mean tripling their property taxes and then some. Who would possibly suggest such a thing

Average property taxes aren't linked to income, though - they're linked to property value. But in terms of who would suggest such a thing - honestly, I have no idea what people who want to raise taxes think is reasonable, because to me taxes already seem unreasonable. If you have better figures on how much money you think it would take to make, say, every school in NYC operate cleanly and decently and well, I'd be all ears.
posted by corb at 5:26 PM on July 29, 2013


corb: " I may have been reading klangklangston wrong, but I thought that what he was proposing was, in fact, pooling public school funds across all districts and equalizing them - thus having the effect of lowering the quality of schools for the wealthy districts, such that the wealthy would be motivated by their own suffering. "

I'll let klang speak for himself, but he said "raising the floor", which only means "equalizing them" if you lower the ceiling at the same time.

When you're talking about redirecting money to other districts, the specific mechanism that's used is less important than the dollar amounts, but we know it's easier to slightly increase existing tax mechanisms (like state/federal income taxes) than introduce new ones. So, speaking only for myself, I'd rather see it handled with state and federal budgets than some Rube Goldberg transfer between districts.

corb: "Average property taxes aren't linked to income, though - they're linked to property value."

Of course you're right -- I was rushing to finish the comment before I left work and totally screwed the pooch on that one. Still, we know that the historical average for home price to income is about 2.5, so your hypothetical $100k/yr couple probably has a $250k house, which means increasing their property taxes by 5% is still just $250, nowhere near your $5k number.

corb: "If you have better figures on how much money you think it would take to make, say, every school in NYC operate cleanly and decently and well, I'd be all ears."

You're the one who planted a stake in the ground with the wildly unrealistic $5k example that no public school superintendent could imagine in their wildest dreams. I don't have any specific number for NYC or any other area, but do I know that more funding correlates pretty strongly with better outcomes, and I dislike your use of an artificially inflated number to caution against plans to increase funding to poorer students.
posted by tonycpsu at 6:24 PM on July 29, 2013


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