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Making the Undocumented Count

The Next Economic Imperative: Undocumented Immigrants in the 2010 Census (PDF)
By Afton Branche, Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, New York City, July 2009.

The country has asked whether a resident is native born or foreign born since the first U.S. census in 1790. But the census has never asked whether a resident is here legally or not. As late as October, Republican senators tried to force the census to include that question in 2010, not least because a state’s Congressional seats are determined by census counts. In this report, a liberal think tank outlines the economic costs of undercounting the 12 million undocumented immigrants expected to be in the country during the census. If the national headcount is not accurate, the country will underinvest at a time when greater investment is needed to counter the recession.

The study builds on a PricewaterhouseCoopers estimate that the undercount of undocumented people in the 2000 Census meant a loss of $4 billion in federal funds that should have gone to states and municipalities from 2002 to 2012. Among the services underfunded were healthcare and education as well as infrastructure improvements like federal highways and the Community Development Block Grant Program.

An undercount also distorts commercial decisions since many businesses evaluate potential markets using the census’ demographic, income, and residence information. Service industries in particular overlook the consumer power of undocumented populations, possibly leading to underinvestment that could help regional economies.
The report deftly outlines the concrete economic advantages of counting all undocumented persons, but it could have better refuted corrosive arguments presented by the Center for Immigration Studies and Federation for American Immigration Reform. Still, this report remains a useful resource as the census battle continues.


Economic Crisis Changes Women’s Reproductive Decisions

A Real-Time Look at the Impact of the Recession on Women’s Family Planning and Pregnancy Decisions (PDF)
Guttmacher Institute, New York, N.Y., September 2009.

Women’s financial status and sexual health are tightly linked, this study shows, and the current recession is changing women’s attitudes and behaviors. The study sample consisted of 947 women, aged 18-34, for whom pregnancy was a possibility and with an annual household income of less than $75,000.  Those defined as “worse off” reported the greatest shift in attitudes and behaviors.

Effective birth control is a greater priority for women now that the economy is so weak; 44 percent want to reduce or delay childbearing and 64 percent said that they could not currently afford a child.  Women also reported considering changing methods of birth control; 46 percent are thinking more about sterilization because of the economy.  Although 29 percent reported being more careful about using contraception because of the economy, 18 percent of women on the pill cited inconsistent use as a way to save money.  Furthermore, eight percent of women reported not using contraception at all in order to save money.

Guttmacher also found that women are more likely to delay visits to the gynecologist and forgo contraception to cut costs. These statistics show that while financial insecurity leads women to strive to avoid getting pregnant, efforts to save money may actually undermine pregnancy prevention, creating even greater economic stress.


Abortion Access Drops in Massachusetts

Access to Abortion Care in Massachusetts (PDF)
In Focus, NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, Boston, Mass., September 2009.

Those assuming “liberal” states like Massachusetts afford full abortion rights will be sobered by this report, which found that women’s access to abortion in the state declined from 2002 to 2008.  Not only has the number of clinics offering abortion services dropped but they are increasingly clustered in the Metro-Boston area.  Furthermore, state-funded healthcare restricts options to lower income women who need it most.

Forty-three percent of the state’s counties have no accessible providers.  The large western part of the state has the highest rate of unintended pregnancies (34 percent), and only two providers.  Since 2002, the southeast part of the state lost two providers and the central region lost one.

Among providers, NARAL evaluates the differences between hospitals and clinics that affect abortion access for low income women. One third of clinics don’t accept MassHealth insurance, and the average hospital may charge four times the amount of a clinic for an abortion. Providers that do accept MassHealth may take a long time doing paperwork, delaying the procedure, and even pushing it the second trimester when options are more limited.


Gender Profiling as an Anti-Terrorist Tactic

Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms While Countering Terrorism (PDF)
By Martin Scheinin, Special Rapporteur to the United Nations’ Human Rights Council (UNHRC),Geneva, Switzerland, August 3, 2009.

An Algerian woman is arrested and detained as a potential terrorist after reporting sexual violence by armed Islamists.  A transgendered person is pulled aside at an airport, harassed, and beaten because she is “suspected” of passing as a woman and thus passing off as a terrorist. A student in France is barred from wearing her hijab to school, and is discriminated against when she wears it elsewhere.  A family in Pakistan cannot provide for itself after losing its head of household to a long detention with no trial in sight for his suspected terrorist links.

These incidents and others, says Special Rapporteur Martin Scheinin in his UNHRC-commissioned report, are the severely underreported gendered impacts of counter-terrorism tactics.

He named key human rights violations caused in the name of fighting terrorism: gender targeting, profiling, and discrimination; restrictive immigration and asylum controls; overly broad counter-terrorism laws; and suppression of freedom of expression and household security.

“Those subject to gender-based abuse are often caught between targeting by terrorist groups and the State’s counter-terrorism measures that may fail to prevent, investigate, prosecute or punish these acts and perpetrate new human rights violations with impunity,” he said in the report.

Scheinin also observed that funding used to combat terrorism largely goes to the military instead of addressing social and economic conditions that may be conducive to terrorism, including, he says, gender inequality.

The report, however, is drawing more controversy on other fronts.  First, phrases found in the first pages of the report describing gender as “not static” and “as a social and shifting construct rather than a biological and fixed category is important,” and its subsequent advocacy for various gender identities and sexual orientations have caused uproar among right-wing and religious groups.

Similarly, the report’s recommendations to cut down on abuses by repealing counter-terrorism measures that, for instance, profile and harass pregnant women and transgendered individuals as terrorist-bombers-in-disguise at airports, were attacked by organizations such as the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute and Fox News.

"I would be surprised and disturbed if the U.S. took any of these recommendations seriously,” Stephen Groves, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told Fox News. "It seems an inescapable conclusion that their desire is to greatly weaken any effective counter-terrorism measure that is made by the U.S. or its allies.”

Scheinin seemed to take a more moderate approach to his findings and recommendations at a press event in October, countering claims that ensuring human rights is trumping security concerns. "There's been a lot of progress in acknowledging terrorism can most effectively be fought with compliance with human rights, nevertheless there's still a lot to do," he said.


LGBT Progress in a Recession?

Corporate Equality Index 2010: A Report Card on Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Equality in Corporate America (PDF)
The Human Rights Campaign Foundation, Washington, D.C., September 14, 2009.

Despite the tough economic times in 2009, this year’s Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index (CEI) shows that a record number of businesses have progressed and adopted LGBT-friendly policies and benefits in the workplace.

The CEI, which ranks 590 of the top businesses in the United States, grades the companies on a percent scale based on five main criteria for LGBT workplace equality: nondiscrimination policies that include sexual orientation and gender expression, domestic partner benefits, LGBT resource groups, and public commitment to LGBT efforts.  The HRC will also deduct points from a company if “employers were found engaging in activities that would undermine LGBT equality.”

According to the report, the number of businesses that received a perfect rating based on this criteria reached a record 305 this year—a whopping 20 percent increase from last year—and represented more than 9 million full-time workers.  The number is also a striking increase from the 13 businesses that received perfect scores when the CEI started in 2002.

“Even in the most challenging economy, leading employers are forging ahead of federal and state law to recruit and retain a diverse workforce — regardless of employees’ sexual orientation and gender identity or expression,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese in the letter that leads off the report. “It demonstrates tremendous progress.”
Notably, the report gave top marks to six out of the top ten largest publicly traded companies: General Motors, Chevron, Ford, Citigroup, Bank of America and AT&T.  In stark contrast, the HRC gave Exxon Mobil a zero for refusing to amend its nondiscrimination policies, despite reported shareholder pressure.  Wal-Mart also had a low score at 40, compared to the average rating of 86.

Although the HRC generally lauded the positive findings of this year’s CEI, President Solmonese said there is still progress to be made.

“The forthcoming results will show that the majority of LGBT employees – including the newest generation of workers – still fear professional backlash from being open in the workplace,” he wrote. “At a time when holding onto a job is so critical for so many of us, we must be on guard to ensure that we are judged on the quality of our work and not our sexual orientation or fender identity.”


The Right Is Misinformed

The Perseverance of Discrimination: Unequal Opportunity Lenders? Analyzing Racial Disparities in Big Banks’ Higher-Priced Lending
By Andrew Jakabovics and Jeff Chapman, The Center for American Progress, Washington, D.C., September 2009.

In January 2009, the media watchdog magazine Extra! wrote that the accusations that loans to minorities were the main culprit in the subprime mortgage crisis only added “insult to injury, since predatory lending and the foreclosure crisis have already and will continue to wipe out billions of dollars of wealth in communities of color.”  Since then, additional evidence shows that nonwhite mortgage seekers were repeatedly the victims of potentially discriminatory lending practices and not the catalysts of economic collapse that the Right makes them out to be.

While borrowers of all ethnic backgrounds were often subject to expensive loans, this report finds that among the 14 major banking institutions examined, African American and Hispanics faced rates dramatically higher then their White or Asian equivalents.  For example, while 17.8 percent of White and 11.5 percent of Asian “borrowers were given higher-priced mortgages when borrowing from large banks in 2006,” the report says “30.9 percent of Hispanics and a staggering 41.5 percent of African Americans got higher-priced mortgages.”  It is also found that the sort of underwriting criteria that one would primarily expect to apply only to riskier borrowers were also used for “nearly one in seven high-income applicants.”

The authors are careful to point out that, given preexisting disparities in wealth and financial security across racial lines, there is some reason to expect to find differences in lending practices.  Yet researchers found that upper-income African Americans and Latinos faced the same inequities. The report challenges the adequacy of consumer protection and regulatory agencies, and taxpayer subsidies through TARP, to institutions with biased lending practices.  An oversight committee must investigate discriminatory practices.  Further repayments of TARP funds should also be suspended until an institution’s discriminatory practices have been evaluated and changed.