Category Archives: Uncategorized

America has a growing food inequality problem

Income inequality isn’t the only gap the U.S. needs to mind these days; the country is amassing a sad and expensive discrepancy between what its poor and rich eat.

The Alternate Healthy Eating Index, which incorporates the latest scientific evidence on the relationship between diet and health and assigns values to certain foods based on their relative nutritional value (sugar-sweetened juices, for instance, have a lower rating than vegetables).


Part of that divide is likely price-driven. Health foods, while growing in popularity (and fast), can be expensive, and, in turn, inaccessible to poorer people not just in America, but anywhere. “Price is a major determinant of food choice, and healthful foods generally cost more than unhealthful foods in the United States,” the study said. A significant portion of the U.S. population, after all, has enough trouble feeding itself any food, let alone fancy food—some 15 percent of the U.S. population and 17 percent of U.S. households were food “insecure” as of 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which means that they occasionally run out of money for food, or food entirely.

Read the full article  here.

A great interactive presentation on ABC Community School Partnership (Prezi)

ABC Community School Partnership presentation on progress and results from program start in 2006 to 2012.

You may want to cycle through it twice – it’s very information rich!

Click here   to view it,   then click the gear-wheel in lower left to set the timer for changing views.

Thanks to Michelle Bloodworth and Catherine Bornhorst for all the work that went into creating this.

The myth of meritocracy

The Meritocracy Myth, Spring 2004, Stephen McNamee and Robert Miller, University of North Carolina – Wilmington (academic paper)

Appreciation to Diane Torres-Velásquez, professor, Department of Education, Educational Leadership and Educational Policy, College of Education, UNM, Albuquerque, NM, for telling me about this paper. I thought it might be supportive for busy people, to try to boil down and summarize the 9 pages of academic writing and footnotes.

 “There is a gap between how people think the system works and how the system actually does work. We refer to this gap as  ‘the meritocracy myth,’ or the myth that the system distributes resources – especially wealth and income – according to the merit of individuals.”

  • While merit does affect who ends up with what and who owns what, the ideal of “The American Dream.” vastly overestimates the impact of merit.
  • A number of non-merit factors create real barriers to individual access and mobility.

It is widely reported in America today,  income and wealth are unequally distributed. Let’s define “income” and “wealth.”

  • Income comes from wages and salaries – from jobs and work.
  • Income also comes from non-work – capital gains, interest, dividends, government assistance, rental property, …
  • Wealth is not an income stream, it is assets owned: cars, houses, businesses, real estate, stocks, bonds, trusts, …
  • The more wealth one owns, the more likely significant income is created from these owned assets.
  • Many assets also appreciate in value, contributing to more income and more wealth.
  • (Much) More income arises from owned assets than from individual achievement/jobs/work.

In today’s America, lots of current data show income and wealth being concentrated at the top of the system. A large number of non-merit factors cause and perpetuate this state of affairs:

  • Intelligence, as measured by IQ tests, reflects individual capacity and environmental influences or experience.
  • Experience is enhanced through access to greater income and wealth.
  • Really big money comes from owning assets which requires little expenditure of effort, while really hard work or physical effort is often poorly paid
  • Attitudes –  it’s not clear whether certain attitudes cause success or rather success causes certain attitudes.
  • “Poor people” tend to adjust ambition and outlook according to their assessments of their more limited life chances, not “deviant or pathological values.”
  • “Present-oriented” or “short-term gratification” can be a function of not knowing where a next meal is coming from or whether to buy food or gas or kids clothes or medications with this paycheck.
  • The economically successful are not more honest or ethical than the rest of us – examples: Enron, WorldCom, Bernie Madoff, The London Whale, white-collar crime, insider trading, tax fraud, LIBOR, pay-to-play …
  • Where we start out in life has the greatest effect on where we end up; inheritance of wealth, position, access and connections, health care, comes first; merit comes second.
  • Most jobs becoming available in the past twenty years have been in low-wage and service sectors.
  • Geography matters – for the same job, economic opportunity and wages are greater in New York City or Los Angeles than in Albuquerque, Las Cruces, or Farmington.
  • For poverty rates, it’s just the reverse.
  • Unequal education matters; the quality of schools and educational opportunity vary according to where one lives, and where one lives depends on family economic resources and/or race.
  • Wal-Mart, McDonalds, Starbucks type businesses have shut down uncounted small businesses and entrepreneurial opportunities.
  • Corporate off-shoring of manufacturing has eliminated uncounted decent paying jobs.
  • Finally, merit is often neutralized or trumped by race, religion, age, physical disability, physical appearance, sex, and region.

Individual  “Merit” is not the myth.

The myth is the idea that social, financial and career resources and opportunities are distributed on the basis of individual merit.

The rich and the poor have always been among us, but exalting the rich and condemning the poor is not based on a complete situational assessment.

(My personal feeling is, such exalting and condemning moves us as a community and society, towards a less live-able and less fulfilling environment.)

To read the full paper, click here

To get a copy of their book, revised in 2009,  Click here.

The Heckman Equation – economic development and education

This article in Businessweek January 20-26, 2013 is a wider public distribution of the concept, problem, and solution early child education speaks to that Governor Martinez spoke of in her State of the State address today. Heckman’s Equation brings hard, observable data into the realms of making public policy.

James Heckman, is a PhD economist at the University of Chicago and views education for 3- and 4-year olds as fix to a current serious market failure.  In terms of economic development, early child education is a hard-nosed investment that pays off in lower social welfare costs, lower teen pregnancy rates, decreased crime rates, and increased tax revenue, as opposed to  spending on prisons, health and adolescent special education remediation.

Through the Heckman Equation, he found that an initial investment in free instruction of $17,758 per child per year in 2006 dollars, yielded between $60 and $300  return on investment (ROI) in state and federal welfare monies, increased tax revenues, and, most significantly, savings in police and court costs. As an economist, he finds this is  a 7% to 10% annual ROI.

So, not only did this turn out to not be a cost, it more than paid for itself in annual ROI in improved human capital to business and society, he also found it consistently beat historical ROI on equity (the stock markets) of around 5.8%.

The data further show that the earlier a child gets help, the better the results continue to be through each stage of education. Literally, the greatest ROI or ‘bang for the buck’ exists in early intervention – early child education, and this effective ROI reduces throughout adolescence.

A big problem arises when kids ought to be in early education programs which most young parents can’t afford. Heckman says, “The accident of birth is a huge, huge imperfection in the (economic) market.”

The good news is, and data show, this is overcome-able through targeted early child education and it appears to be scalable.

As an aside, in a 2011 Heckman lecture, he points out that cognitive testing stressed by NCLB and Race to the Top, only speaks to one dimension of a multidimensional system that includes, at least: integrity, socio-emotional skills, character, collaboration, grit. Yet data strongly indicates these untested characteristics may account for the largest share of human development, effectiveness in life, and contribution to the economy and society. These are the “soft” skills that are so widely reported today to be both in short supply and increasing demand.

Beyond interesting, the data also show these “soft” skills even affect scores on cognitive tests!