06 Oct

Unions, inequality, and wealth: Making visible the value of worker power

With new evidence that the middle class may be vanishing, the role of unions in driving the expansion of the American middle class in the mid-20th century is a hot topic again. Arguments for worker power are rooted in research that shows that unions help families build wealth and secure the wages they need to create opportunities for their children.

Unions have been a partisan issue for decades, but the best statistical models reveal that the relationship is simple: the more people join unions, the more wages rise and the more wage inequality declines. Despite the troubled history of racism in unions, the wage premium for workers is even higher for less-educated workers and workers of color.

How to make the value of unions visible? The Economic Policy Institute put together a strong chart showing how income inequality, but they missed two opportunities: using a secondary axis to normalize scale and tracking wealth inequality. At the top of this post is what the chart looks like tracking income inequality with a secondary axis on the right.

And here’s wealth inequality over the same time period:

The regression studies linked above are a crucial part of the picture, and without them the graphs above wouldn’t have nearly the power that they do. With the backing of statistical models, these charts make visible how important worker power should be to any vision for a more equal world.

31 Aug

Political exclusion patterns: who gets ignored?

How can cities fight political inequality and push toward an equal voice for all their residents? The everyday grind of politics elevates some voices and leaves others behind, but there often aren’t ways to trace who is being ignored. So I developed a set of tools to measure, critique, and ultimately change exclusion patterns in city politics.

Talking with neighbors in West Oakland and the insightful students of the Bay Area Urban Debate League back in the day revealed a potential trap: when asked where they would go with a problem in their city, most people said they would go to a city council meeting – but every expert I talked to said that those meetings were the last place an everyday person should go to have their voice heard.

It wasn’t hard to find people who had attempted to engage their council and left feeling disappointed, shot down, or ignored – and I had a hunch that this experience was widely shared. So I put together a research project to trace patterns in political exclusion in the city councils of Oakland and Berkeley – who gets listened to and who goes ignored – and developed a toolkit for anyone who wants to trace exclusion patterns in their own cities.

The context: National political inequality

From all the think pieces debating the role of the working class in the 2016 presidential elections, it would be easy to get the idea that low-income people are highly engaged and empowered in American politics. On average this is far from true. Class-based political inequality is still real, with census data showing that the voting gap is big as ever:

Starting into the research, my hunch was that everyday political institutions like city councils contribute to this political inequality by giving less attention, affirmation, and applause to non-elites. In diverse liberal cities like these, it’s hard to find open prejudice by race or gender by a public official, so they are perfect places to study implicit bias – and the first step in fighting implicit bias is bringing invisible patterns to light.

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19 Jul

Social Innovation in Political Science: CaSES Spring 2018

This year’s CaSES was a packed week of events bringing together over 200 students, families, local residents, practitioners, and researchers to discuss innovative proposals to advance social justice. The presentations below come from Political Science events where students engaged local government and policy advocacy alongside community-based civic entrepreneurs to address wicked problems in their communities.

Summit Presentations Political Science: Dr. Marla Parker

Summit Presentations Political Science: Dr. Jessica DeShazo

20 Dec

Cal State LA: Redefining Entrepreneurship

CaSES: Civic and Social Entrepreneurship Summit
California State University, Los Angeles
Dec 7-8, 2017

At the first ever CaSES event at Cal State LA, over 100 students presented innovative solutions to wicked problems in their communities. Working with Professor Marla Parker in Political Science and Professor Dmitri Seals in Sociology, students first conducted research in their own communities to explore the connections between course themes and real-life experience. They worked in teams, analyzing qualitative and quantitative data to design solutions and considering the challenges of implementing big ideas for social change.

The final result is a set of presentations that help to define a model of entrepreneurship rooted in responsible research, community accountability, and practical innovation. Thanks to all the partners who made this possible – and particularly to the students who went above and beyond, bringing their classroom learning to life to benefit their communities.

Want to see these great ideas? Click any course below to see their presentations:

For more information, contact Professors Marla Parker or Dmitri Seals.